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OT111: Ophion Thread


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

1. There were some great comments on the schizophrenia thread. They convinced me I made a couple of mistakes both of fact and emphasis on there: first, that in many prodromes the negative symptoms come before or at the same time as the positive; second, that I forgot to mention there’s a large population of people with schizophrenia (or schizophrenia-like symptoms) who never worsen at all no matter how long their psychosis is untreated. I’ve also been reminded of many things about psychosis that don’t fit this model, which I might talk about more later. Beyond that, see this comment by local schizophrenia research JRG, and this thread of comments by local schizophrenic Vaticidalprophet. And see also Seppo on shamanism and thedixon on psychedelics.

2. Other good discussions from the subreddit: is Britain really poorer than Mississippi, and in what sense? and JudyKateR on useless jobs.

3. New South Bay meetup, Saturday October 6, see here for details. And you can always find the latest meetups around the world on the meetup sidebar on the left.

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1,080 Responses to OT111: Ophion Thread

  1. Deiseach says:

    Asking for a nephew, so reproducing his query here:

    Has anyone ever taken the GRE or GMAT tests? Would greatly appreciate any help with applying/tips for studying.

    All advice gratefully received and passed on 🙂

    • Matt M says:

      I’ve taken the GMAT and did quite well. Advice generally needs to be customized to the needs of the person. If I assume your nephew is Irish and speaks English as his first language, my general advice would be to study hard on the math portion and basically ignore the rest. A lot of your competition is coming from Indian, Chinese, and other students for whom English is a second language, and a lot of them are engineers, finance, or other heavy math-users.

      In a practical sense, I’d recommend re-creating the test conditions. Purchase a little dry-erase flip-book and pen similar to the one you’ll use on the test, and use that for studying. Always do practice problems under time pressure (because you’ll have a lot of it on the real test). Learn the weird shortcuts that help you do certain kinds of problems faster. For study materials, if you’re really rusty on math, I’d recommend a basic algebra book / practice problems before getting into GMAT-specific study materials. Almost every GMAT math problem can be tackled algebraically and having a good foundation of how to model problems and write equations is absolutely essential (and not all GMAT books go over this or drill it sufficiently)

    • Incurian says:

      Took the GRE. Found the English study guides were helpful after one read-through (and completing the accompanying practice tests) and flash cards were fun and useful to do a little bit each day (make sure you get the advanced set). Learn the difference between “tone” and “timbre.”

      On the Math side, I had a little trouble with the study guides. I really should have spent a lot more time taking practice math tests rather than trying to memorize all of algebra. I came away with the wrong impression of what the math problems would be like and was not fully prepared for the test, which has simple problems (most of them are “which number is bigger?”) but they must be completed quickly. If you try to solve the inequalities long hand you’re taking up too much time, you need to be able to recognize patterns and algebraic rules. If I had taken more practice tests I could have focused on my speed, and tailored my studying to the problems I tended to get wrong.

      • Deiseach says:

        Thanks for the advice, gentlemen! Have passed it on and he’s got six or seven weeks to prepare, so we’ll see how he does 🙂

    • andrewflicker says:

      My wife recently took (and did extremely well) on the GRE. She found a number of GRE study mobile apps very helpful- there was on in particular that had a paid version for $15, I think, and did an extremely good job of working through micro-lessons, identifying weaknesses, and predicting score based on responses and trends so far. (Had the numeral 4 as an app icon, I think?)

  2. Droch says:

    A few months ago there was a thread about people in the trading/HFT industry in London wanting to meet up. Did anything come up from it?

  3. Statismagician says:

    Unrelated to above, would anybody in Saint Louis, MO, USA like to get together this coming weekend? [Unaware of proper procedure for above; hope this isn’t too bad]

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      I could be open to this. Depends on the venue and other people committing, but I’m free most Saturdays.

  4. Statismagician says:

    Okay, so – as you’re all aware there has been a great deal of ink spilled during the past few years about the idea that it’s generally concerning that [x, y, z companies] are creating ever-more-detailed profiles of our web browsing patterns to sell to advertisers. This is generally portrayed as a bad thing, and there are variously-sophisticated articles running around concerning the equally-variously-plausible negative outcomes.

    I’m almost sure I’ve seen a similar thread, but… why should I care about this? My subjective experience is that advertising generally is almost entirely ignored, in the strict sense [i.e. it literally does not register], and that tailored advertising is almost entirely ignored in the weak sense [i.e. it doesn’t register except to say something like ‘huh, not gonna click on that’]. What, specifically, am I supposed to be worried about because Google/Amazon/Whoever knows that I searched for men’s 32/34 straight-leg pants last week, as an example? I’m not pro this – why would I be? – but it seems… I don’t know, just not that big a deal? Tell me why I’m wrong, as I’m pretty sure I ought to be given the quality of persons on the contrary viewpoint.

    • dick says:

      It’s 2027. Partial browsing histories for you and 50M other people have gotten in to the wild due to (hackers / disgruntled employee / tech bankruptcy / something else). Some bright soul trains a machine learning algorithm on it to predict outcomes like arrests and bankruptcies and so forth. It works. They sell it to Experian and the FBI and some other folks, who do with it about what you’d think they’d do.

      • Statismagician says:

        They do… what? The FBI presumably hasn’t got enough agents to investigate everyone implicated statistically [also, due process and basic evidence rules, and I’m not in fact guilty of anything], and I literally cannot imagine a plausible scenario where I have to worry about Experian agents bursting through my door; I’m willing to bet actual money that search histories turn out not to correlate statistically-significantly with criminality, and there are real financial incentives for Experian et. al. to not care about anything short of that. Again, please, enough people who I think are smarter than I am think differently, which is concerning, but can we please skip to the second- or third-tier arguments?

        • CatCube says:

          You don’t think you’re guilty of anything. Have you picked up a bird feather? If so, you might be a felon.

        • dick says:

          I’m willing to bet actual money that search histories turn out not to correlate statistically-significantly with criminality

          You would think that you can’t combine a thousand arbitrary “are there at least 10 green pixels less than an inch from a red pixel” style pixels to get an algorithm that can tell you with 99% certainty whether the picture has a cat in it, but here we are. And that’s what we can do today.

          That said, the worry is more about nebulous rankings like the Chinese citizenship score than about specific accusations. Big Brother isn’t going to say, “Our algorithm says you’re 99% likely to get a DUI someday so we’re locking you up now.” More like, “Our algorithm says you’re 79% similar to a model of an undesirable citizen, we need to get that below 75% for you to be considered for a management position.”

          • Eltargrim says:

            You would think that you can’t combine a thousand arbitrary “are there at least 10 green pixels less than an inch from a red pixel” style pixels to get an algorithm that can tell you with 99% certainty whether the picture has a cat in it, but here we are. And that’s what we can do today.

            Google recently auto-generated a video for me out of pictures I had taken. Titled something like “Doggy Video”, it was a charming little montage of my little girl, set to a barking melody.

            Too bad it was of my cat.

            Not a criticism of Google, recognizing that the photos were all of the same small animal is no mean feat! I just found it funny at the time.

          • Matt M says:

            Assuming they actually define “desirable citizen” correctly, why is this a problem?

            The existence of Experian has made my life, as a financially responsible person, a lot better. I look forward to them having more detailed information about how responsible I am, and how irresponsible everyone else is.

            The problem here isn’t the technology itself, it’s the terminal values of those who will use it.

      • LesHapablap says:

        Most of the people here won’t post under their own name because they are afraid of the known and unknown consequences years down the line. Having your browsing or posting habits from decades prior used against you is very likely to be a real thing. Just imagine confirmation hearings 30 years from now, if facebook messenger logs or profile searches from high school are floating around.

        Targeted advertising itself doesn’t bother me, and you’re right, it does seem odd that a lot of people have a problem with just the part where facebook uses it for ad targeting.

        • Matt M says:

          Just imagine confirmation hearings 30 years from now

          I have made my peace with the fact that I’m never going to be a CEO or a Supreme Court Justice.

          And I’m not convinced that people who aspire to those things shouldn’t be strongly encouraged to live lives of total purity, given the rewards involved.

          • albatross11 says:

            I suspect that the kind of person who shapes his whole life, from age 16 on, toward becoming a supreme court justice or president or CEO is a very unusual kind of person. It’s not at all clear to me that this is the kind of person who will be best in those jobs.

            And supporting the quote-mining-for-outrage operations of political operatives (like quote-mining Kavenaugh’s high school yearbook, for God’s sake) seems like it leads to a world where highly ambitious people don’t dare express any political or social opinion other than the most conventional ones imaginable, in order to protect themselves from future quote-mining attacks where someone finds one line from an essay you wrote in high school and turns it into evidence that you’re the reincarnation of Hitler, and all the partisans on their side pretend like it makes sense because winning today’s battle is the only thing in the universe that matters.

            I think we will have a better world if we can figure out how to have some forgiveness for both unorthodox views and insensitive remarks, and even for bad behavior in the past. I also think that once a high-stakes political battle is underway, most partisans will bend or throw away any principle to win today’s battle.

            Five years from now, there will be a Democrat being nominated and Republicans trying to bring him down, and they’ll all swap positions on what the relevant rules of evidence and standard of proof should be. And the really amazing thing is that millions of their followers, who (unlike the top political operatives) aren’t actually shills, will go along.

          • Jaskologist says:

            The kind of person who shapes his whole life, including childhood (there’s no way the cut-off would stay at 16, that’s already past the potential Schelling point of 18) toward political power is the kind of person whose parents were grooming him for the position.

            Which is to say, it’s not an individual at all, it’s a hereditary aristocracy.

            There have been many around here who would argue for precisely that. Let’s just be clear that that’s what we’re asking for.

          • seems like it leads to a world where highly ambitious people don’t dare express any political or social opinion other than the most conventional ones imaginable

            For a real world example …

            Richard Posner is, and has been for quite a while, one of the most prominent living legal scholars. His opinions as an appeals court judge have been very frequently cited.

            It is widely believed that one reason he was never seriously considered as a Supreme Court candidate was his having written in favor of permitting payments by adoptive parents to biological parents for permission to adopt, easily described as “buying babies.”

        • The Nybbler says:

          Most of the people here won’t post under their own name because they are afraid of the known and unknown consequences years down the line.

          I’m not worried about the FBI (who certainly could find out who I am, if they cared), or the credit agencies (who according to Discover are my best buds anyway) or even my enemies (who know who I am; I recently got a nasty PM on reddit from someone who clearly knew who I was at Google. I imagine it was supposed to be threatening). I use a pseudonym to keep my name from showing up in casual searches, that’s all. Keeping work-life separation from those who won’t maintain it on their own but are too lazy to really try and break it.

      • Brad says:

        Forget experian and the FBI, do you really want a world when anyone that can install tor can find the browser history of anyone that doesn’t browse with no script? The downsides of a leak are so high that the information shouldn’t be collected.

      • The Nybbler says:

        It’s pretty useless to Experian, because it’s a snapshot — the algorithm would be useful if they had a continuous stream of browsing history, but they don’t. They can make a one-time adjustment to credit scores, but realistically they’re not even going to buy this thing.

        It’s even less useful to the FBI; they would be interested in the raw browsing histories to connect to specific cases, but a snapshot giving them statistical predictions of crime is useless.

        For completeness, the NSA would find the algorithm useful, but they already have one.

    • Murphy says:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2ra7ixXM10

      I think scott talked about something related in an old article, about how countries that kept great records about their citizens: when the nazis rolled in all they had to do was stroll down to the court house to find out who was a a jew and their addresses etc.

      Nazis are an extreme case but I’m gonna call this a case of high-energy-ethics.

      Those marketing profiles include lots of things probably not in official government records. If some evil party comes to power in future and decides they want to round up all the gays into concentration camps… that’s not in your government records but lots of these companies will have nice little columns with how likely to be gay they think you are so that they can try to advertise gay clubs to you.

      The same goes for if this hypothetical evil future party wants to round up and kill any other unpopular minority.

      Further, the same tech that can watch a crowd and decide who’s interested in a particular billboard or product and what social networks they’re attached to can and almost certainly will be pivoted and abused by repressive governments to identify dissidents and agitators for culling as the tech matures and becomes better and more accurate.

      The more mundane threats include things we’re already starting to see, political advertisements crafted to appeal to peoples specific fears of very specific groups. The same mechanism used to gently make you feel like company X has an good reputation by making sure you hear their brand names surrounded by lots of positive affect can just as easily be used to give you the vague impression that political candidate Y is probably vaguely corrupt.

      Even if it doesn’t work on you it seems to work pretty well in aggregate .

      • albatross11 says:

        Yeah, the existence of detailed databases on everyone is a hazard–it makes the transition from decent country to nightmare state potentially a lot faster and easier.

        • At a slight tangent …

          The Nazis attempted to eliminate both the Jews and the Romany. The estimates I have seen suggest that they got only about a quarter of the latter group. My conjecture is that the reason is a long standing Romany tactic of staying below the radar, making it hard for non-Romany to keep track of them.

          • To put the point differently, I would rather see advertisements for the sorts of things I might want than attempts to get me to refinance my nonexistent mortgage.

          • Plumber says:

            I think I read that the Nazis were able to kill a higher percentage of Jews in countries like The Netherlands were Jews where more integrated in the larger society, and for longer (and where bettet records were kept), but a higher percentage survived where pograms were still in living memory.

            Not paranoia when they’re really out to get you!

          • Incurian says:

            Scott wrote a little about this, sections IV and V are most relevant, https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/01/30/book-review-eichmann-in-jerusalem/

          • Aapje says:

            @Plumber

            An interesting fact is that The Netherlands was the only country that had a general strike to protest the prosecution of the Jews… and yet it had one of the highest death rates among Jews.

          • Matt M says:

            Didn’t the German government engage in a lot of propaganda asserting that the rumors of a holocaust were all fake, that the Jews were being re-settled into nice communities, etc.

            A theory might be that overall integration of Jews into mainstream society in the Netherlands made the non-Jewish populace more likely to believe such stories, in the sense that they didn’t see Jews as an “other” and so, were not typically inclined to believe that anti-Semitism was as bad and as serious as all that.

          • Aapje says:

            The British radio spread information about gassings in 1942. Anne Frank wrote that she heard about it from the British radio in October 1942.

            However, listening to the British radio was illegal, of course. I think that it is most likely that different segments of the Dutch population heard different things, depending on what bubble they were in and how anti-authoritarian they were (to dare listen to British radio and such). Note that back then, the Dutch people were far less anti-authoritarian than later on and now.

            Of course, it was obvious that the Jews were not being treated well, but people probably had very different beliefs about the extent to which they were mistreated (and Nazi propaganda indeed tried to misinform people about this).

            Secondly, I think that it was hard to believe for many people. Nowadays we have the pictures, testimony, etc, but back then they just heard claims. I suspect that quite a few dismissed it as exaggerated propaganda, like many people today would not be so eager to believe in Pizzagate or Rotherham*.

            * And yes, I realize that one of these is false and one is true, it’s an intentional choice to do so, because back then people most likely also were faced with a mix of nonsense and truth.

    • Matt M says:

      I am very much in favor of targeted advertising. It gets awful publicity but is a great advance, and makes all of our lives better.

      I look forward to a day where my male children will spend their entire lives without ever viewing a single ad for feminine hygiene products.

  5. johan_larson says:

    PAX is a series of multi-day annual conferences dealing with gaming and various nerdy activities. People who attend these conferences often complain of an ailment called “PAX pox” with non-specific symptoms like a common cold.

    https://kotaku.com/pax-psa-bring-hand-sanitizer-to-the-con-or-youll-die-1224251809

    Could this be some sort of actual ailment spread by having many people with unfamiliar regional micro-fauna mingling in close proximity, or is it more likely simply people being tired and irritable after several days of disrupted routines, not enough sleep, rich food and more booze than usual?

    • Nornagest says:

      It’s a common complaint among conventiongoers: see “con crud”. Probably it’s the same deal as getting a cold after a long plane flight (read: being crammed into a metal tube with two hundred strangers for several hours).

      • RDNinja says:

        I remember being warned about this at the beginning of college. It was said that bringing all these people from across the country into one place, with all of their regional variations on the cold, meant that there was probably a version around that you hadn’t built an immunity for yet.

        On top of that, the poor diet and sleep schedule that usually accompany convention life will weaken your immune system.

        • Matt M says:

          This was a thing when I went to boot camp in the US Navy too. Despite being given a large shot of “preventative” penicillin in the rear end, almost every ended up with some version of the “recruit flu” pretty early on.

          • johan_larson says:

            I wonder if there’s an opportunity there. Sell a not-quite-pharmaceutical that carries the normal germs of a broad set of regions. People who are going to widely-sourced meetups could apply the product to give their immune systems an early taste of what they are about to encounter.

            It would be like shaking hands with 100 people from all over the country (or world.) Maybe that would do for a name: “100 Handshakes”.

  6. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Bronze Age Collapse: The Hittite angle

    When we left off, Suppiluliuma II had come to the throne. It is (probably) 1207 BC, (probably) a year after Merneptah defeated the Sea Peoples in his fifth year. So the Collapse was already beginning. Merneptah also left behind a text saying that he sent grain to the Kingdom of Hatti due to famine there. While one-off famines were just a thing civilizations had to weather, in this case it’s supporting evidence for the “economically catastrophic drought” hypothesis, because we also have a letter from the earlier Hittite queen Puduhepa (consort of Hattusilis III) to Ramesses II pleading for grain and a letter from Suppiluliuma II’s father Tudhaliya to the king of Ugarit saying that shipping 450 tons of grain to him “is a matter of life or death!”
    As I said before, archaeologists can usually only date settlement destruction layers relatively, by pottery, and so we can never know the sequence in which the Hittite Empire was destroyed without textual sources. We know that the Hittite ports had not yet been destroyed when Merneptah sent Suppiluliuma’s older brother and short-lived predecessor grain in 1208 BC. Once the Empire lost the provinces of classical Cilicia (probably Kizzuwatna) and Lycia (Lukka), getting grain by sea would no longer be an option. Then Suppiluliuma must have controlled ports because he recorded a naval campaign against Alashiya (Cyprus or part of it). Pre-eminent Hittitologist Trevor Bryce believes the casus belli was probably a Sea Peoples alliance overthrowing the government of Alashiya to use its harbors as bases for further raids.
    Hammurabi of Ugarit, the king who lived to see his city destroyed by the Sea Peoples, responded to a king of Alashiya asking for ships thusly:

    “My father, behold, the enemy’s ships came (here); my cities(?) were burned, and they did evil things in my country. Does not my father know that all my troops and chariots(?) are in the Land of Hatti, and all my ships are in the Land of Lukka? … Thus the country is abandoned to itself. May my father know it: The seven ships of the enemy that came here inflicted much damage upon us.”

    This presents a mystery. If the Sea Peoples who were attacking Ugarit also overthrew Cyprus, the king whom Ugarit’s ruler addresses as “my father” would have also been the Sea People’s enemy. Did Alashiya and its vassal Ugarit attack the Hittites overland with Ugarit’s chariotry and infantry support while also trying to land infantry on the western section of the empire’s Mediterranean coast in a flanking maneuver? Or were Ugarit’s chariots and ships in the empire because it was still a vassal of the Great King of Hatti? But if so, why would he address any other king as “my father”?
    (OTOH, Hammurabi of Ugarit could have thrown in his lot with the usurper of Alashiya and the people in the seven enemy ships were a different faction.)

    In any case, the handful of texts from Suppiluliuma’s reign tell a mixed story of military victories over rebellious vassals in southern and western Anatolia and off the coast of Cyprus but also unrest among both elite and common elements of his population. Then, according to recent archaeological findings, Hattusa was abandoned! The fire destruction layer, for which the Kaskas are the probable culprits, was an attack against a minority of hold-outs. “hoi polloi were left to fend for themselves. Those who stayed behind scavenged through the leavings of those who had departed. When Hattusa was little more than a decaying ruin, outside forces moved in, plundering and torching a largely derelict settlement.” We don’t even know what year Suppiluliuma died or abdicated: Bryce gives his reign as 1207-? BC.
    In addition to Hattusa and Hisarlik (generally accepted as Wilusa and Troy), the coastal cities of Tarsus and Alalakh were burned, as were Carchemish and Aleppo far inland. However, while civilization collapsed in western and inland Anatolia, Carchemish and Aleppo soon bounced back. Indeed, the fertile parts of Syria had “Neo-Hittite” dynasties in the Iron Age.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      “If anyone impresses an ox, a horse. a mule or an ass, and it dies at his place, he shall bring it and shall pay its rent also.” — Hittite Law 76

      I’ve limited this series to the Hittite New Kingdom (or Empire), since it’s been focused on the couple of centuries leading up to the end of the Bronze Age. But some important things about a civilization have a broader temporal scope. In the case of the Hittites, we know to a remarkable degree what it was like to live under their law from about when they first conquered Hatti* through Suppiluliuma II (~1650-1187 BC, minimum). Law tablets have been recovered in Old, Middle and New Hittite dialects. They are usually identical except for attempts to update grammar: one OH copy includes a clause beginning “formerly they…” in many laws, while only one NH copy dares to update the penalties for some crimes. You can read a translation here.
      Some examples:

      10 If anyone injures a person and temporarily incapacitates him, he shall provide medical care for him. In his place he shall provide a person to work on his estate until he recovers. When he recovers, his assailant shall pay him 6 shekels of silver and shall pay the physician’s fee as well.

      Laws 17-18 set the fine for causing a free woman to miscarry at 1 shekel per month into the pregnancy and half that for a female slave. The late reform applied double the former maximum fine starting at conception.

      26b If a man divorces a woman […] Whoever buys her pa[y him] 12 shekels of silver. (Wait, what?!)

      37 If anyone elopes with a woman, and a group of supporters goes after them, if 3 or 2 men are killed, there shall be no compensation. “You (singular) have become a wolf.”

      182 The price of a … garment is 12 shekels of silver. The price of a fine garment is 30 shekels of silver. The price of a blue wool garment is 20 shekels of silver. The price of a … garment is 10 shekels of silver. The price of a tattered(?) garment is 3 shekels of silver. The price of a … garment is 4 shekels of silver. The price of a sackcloth garment is one shekel of silver. The price of a sheer/thin tunic is 3 shekels of silver. The price of an ordinary tunic is [broken]
      (Good luck keeping so many prices static for 450 years…)

      199 If anyone has sexual relations with a pig or a dog, he shall die. He shall bring him to the palace gate (i.e., the royal court). The king may have them (I.e., the human and the animal) killed or he may spare them, but the human shall not approach the king. If an ox leaps on a man (in sexual excitement), the ox shall die; the man shall not die. They shall substitute one sheep for the man and put it to death. If a pig leaps on a man (in sexual excitement). it is not an offense.

      *The people who spoke the language modern scholars call “Hittite” actually called it Nesili, “Nesa-speech”, after the city-state where they believed they originated. I say “believed” because as Indo-Europeans they must have come from wherever the IE homeland was before settling the villages in central Anatolia that went on to support the urban settlement of Nesa. Closely-related languages were Luwian from the west and Palaic on the Black Sea coast. Hatti was the name of the land, later Cappadocia, and had its own non-IE language.

      • dndnrsn says:

        If an ox leaps on a man (in sexual excitement), the ox shall die; the man shall not die. They shall substitute one sheep for the man and put it to death. If a pig leaps on a man (in sexual excitement). it is not an offense.

        Is there any reason speculated for this?

        • The Nybbler says:

          I don’t know, but I suspect that if an ox leaps on a man in sexual excitement, in most cases the man shall die whether the law says so or not. Oxen are… not small.

          • dndnrsn says:

            More why pigs get off the hook.

          • Thegnskald says:

            I’d guess somebody did survive, and somebody had to make some revisions to the law to deal with a circumstance that nobody had anticipated when the original law was created.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          The man who penetrates a bovine, a sheep, a pig or a dog is a polluted freak, while a human who gets penetrated is, to use a modern phrase, a rape victim. The pig, I would speculate, is getting let off the hook because its act is not homicidal and it lacks the capacity to be held accountable in any other way (i.e. humans were usually punished with a fine rather than death).
          I could point you to published academic speculation, but it appears hopelessly postmodern.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Tangent: How big were Hittite pigs? A modern pig is big enough to be very dangerous.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nancy: This should be unusually easy to answer, since the Hittites buried pig bones or entire skeletons in many graves. I don’t have descriptions of Hittite grave excavations at my fingertips, but pigs were domesticated from Sus scrofa libycus in Anatolia and the Levant, and those wild boars are only about 50 kg, like a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig or a large German shepherd. Once the West Asian Neolithic “package” of domestic animals and crops were introduced to Europe, the locals domesticated their own larger wild pigs. I don’t know if Asian pigs had been bred significantly larger by 1500 BC, but as I said it’s something that can be found locked up in archaeology papers.

      • Thegnskald says:

        Personally I am a fan of the law that says that if you steal someone’s door, you are responsible for anything else that gets stolen until it is replaced.

        Somebody found a loophole in the law and it got closed.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Bonus section: Underground cities

      I can’t leave Hatti/Cappadocia without mentioning its underground cities. More than 100 underground settlements were carved into the soft volcanic rock by local people. They range from village-size to large enough for 20,000 people with all their livestock, with eight or more levels that could be sealed off separately in case of invasion with wheel-shaped stone doors with a central peep hole, and using wells up to 60 meters deep as ventilation shafts and elevators as well as for water. Not only are some of them huge, but some of the largest cities like Derinkuyu and Kaymakli were connected to each other by tunnels at least 8 km long.
      We don’t know when they were built. They can’t be carbon dated and the trash archaeologists typically use for dating had to be cleared out by the inhabitants because, you know, stone ceilings. They were most recently used by Christian subjects of the Ottoman Empire, and at least expanding them must be credited to their forebears during the Roman persecution of Christians, since one level of Derinkuyu was excavated into cruciform shape for the city’s church.
      Did they already exist in the Late Bronze Age? No one knows, but I’d like to think so!

      • Nornagest says:

        That sounds like something out of an RPG. Did the inhabitants have horned helmets? Magnificent beards? Scottish accents?

        Jokes aside, though, I think I’d mainly be interested in why they were built. Even in tuff — I’m guessing that’s what “soft volcanic rock” means, and it’s consistent with the photos — doing that much tunneling would be a huge amount of effort, and it’d take a very long time. I can’t see anyone going to the trouble unless they had some serious threats on the horizon but also a long time to prepare, which is a combination you don’t see very much.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Yes, tunneling your entire city out of tuff is still a huge amount of effort compared to just putting up wooden houses. The best-documented threatened population with a long time to prepare would be the Greek-speaking Christians. Remember that just refusing to sacrifice incense to the emperor was a capital crime from after the Great Fire of Nero until the Edict of Milan, but most emperors chose weak enforcement. However, this better explains the small settlements than the “megadungeons” (a city of 20,000 Christians cooperating semi-incognito during the pagan Roman era?). Back in the Bronze Age, the Hittite Old Kingdom collapsed into anarchy with the assassination of Mursilis I shortly after 1595 BC and we can’t be sure that the royal dynasty of Nesa and Hattusa securely controlled all of Hatti/Cappadocia again until after 1340 BC. So it’s possible but not provable that they were started by Hattians during that 250-year period to keep their independence from the ever-present threat of Nesili resurgence.

        • Matt M says:

          I toured some of these caves and “cities” when I visited Cappadocia.

          Despite the claims of housing tens of thousands, most of the caves you were allowed to walk in were quite small and cramped. I believe the explanation was something like that they didn’t literally live in the caves anything approximating full time. The caves were essentially meant to serve as long-term “shelters” in the event of an extended enemy presence. Like a bomb shelter or what have you.

          Also I recall something about the construction happening very slowly over generations, and being done somewhat in proportion to increasing population. (That is to say, you didn’t need space for 10,000 people right away, just the amount of people you had at first, and as you had more babies, you dug more caves, etc.)

      • Lambert says:

        Are there any good maps of the place?
        I may or may not have a plan for the next time I play Dwarf Fortress.

  7. Paul Brinkley says:

    Test comment. Has anyone else stopped getting comment notifications on this thread, or others? I saw about 100 new comments on a reload, but no emails…

  8. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    Anyone seen this list of culture war memetic tribes? (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/11Ov1Y1xM-LCeYSSBYZ7yPXJah2ldgFX4oIlDtdd7-Qw/edit#gid=0)

    Tweeted by this guy (https://twitter.com/peternlimberg/status/1040393891218972672), don’t know who he is but he seems to have done a decent job and AFAICT resisted the urge to throw in a sick burn against his outgroup.

    • Randy M says:

      No… looks comprehensive.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      That’s pretty good. I laughed though that the only group with an existential threat that doesn’t exist* in some form is the Rationalist Diaspora.

      * I consider that “white genocide” doesn’t literally exist, but is used mostly as political hyperbole to draw attention to declining birthrates and population replacement through mass immigration.

      • albatross11 says:

        I think most claimed existential threats are hyperbole. I mean, if you’re an opposition political activist in Bahrain or a Christian missionary in North Korea, yeah, there are genuine threats to your continued existence. But most political versions of that are way overhyped–if the Supreme Court rules that employers can be required to provide birth control in their health plans, it’s the end of religious freedom in America; if some random wedding-cake baker is allowed to refuse a commission for religious reasons, it’s the end of gay rights and everyone will be forced back into the closet.

        Hyperbole and extreme rhetoric is how you get attention. If there’s not a countervailing force of people tuning you out as an obvious lunatic, then the whole world ends up full of dire “this is the end of the world” claims, even about boring crap like who Trump chooses as his secretary of education.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          That’s why I said “in some form.” There is some form of threat to religious liberty. There is some form of threat to gay rights. I had to put in a * about “white genocide” because that doesn’t exist (maybe in South Africa?) except in an extreme hyperbolic form.

          There is no AI, hyperbolic or not.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        The flip side is that they’re the only group whose existential threat is actually an existential threat if it did happen (assuming “white genocide” is defined as in your footnote)

    • Nick says:

      This is pretty comprehensive, yeah.

      A few things pop out at me, though:
      1. Michael Anissimov is considered a “chieftain” of the Enn Arr Ex? Didn’t they exile him for being incredibly toxic, or am I thinking of someone else?
      2. Where are all the libertarians? Looks like “Optimists” is sort of in the ballpark, but that’s more about cosmopolitanism. Establishment right and Tea Party sort of cover it too. Is libertarian just not a natural category in the culture wars?
      3. Where is the Christian Left? Come on, I know they’re trying to liberalize themselves out of existence, but they still have pull. Here’s a try at it—it’s too Catholic-centric, obviously:
      Telos: Christian democracy
      Sacred values: Christianity, liberalism
      Master status: op-ed writer
      Existential threats: return of Christendom, dissolution of Christianity
      Combatants: Benedictines, Christian Right
      Campfire: Patheos?, Churches
      Chieftains: Pope Francis, Elizabeth Bruenig?, Mark Shea?
      Mental models: conscience, aggiornamento, ralliement
      Forebearers: Jacques Maritain, Joseph Bernardin, MLK?

  9. Markus Ramikin says:

    Ugh, what did you do to your “you are still crying wolf” article. It’s one of your best, and it’s a pain to read now. Also there were well-placed italics for emphasis, which are now of course impossible to tell from the rest of the text.

  10. meiscooldude says:

    Is anyone here very Anti-Gun / Pro-Gun Control and well enough informed on the subject to participate on a collaborative essay?

    Less interested in the contest and more interested in exploring the potential for congressional legislation that provides a benefit to society in relation to this issue while also avoiding the culture war.

    For some of my personal background on the subject: I don’t even know how many guns the wife and I own…. probably close to 30 or so. My wife is a professional gunsmith, currently apprenticing under a traditional American stock maker.

    I’m personally fairly familiar with the regulations placed on Federal Firearm Licensed dealers (at least Types 01 and 07), several state regulations on firearms & related business, and the basic design and function of most firearms. Where I am lacking in these subjects I know where to find the info and have plenty of friends in the business I can ask direct questions. I’ve been in the vaults of some of the largest firearms collections in the US, shared dinner with high ranking members of the NRA, and I have friends in some of the largest manufacturers of firearms in the US.

    I believe there is a huge potential for collaboration on a solution for the reduction of firearm suicides… maybe even more.

    If you’re interested, let me know.

    • Randy M says:

      You didn’t say what side you would be taking?

      • Nick says:

        It’s hard to say, but he sounds like a gun control person to me.

        • Vorkon says:

          What makes you say that?

          I mean, I know that pro-gun people are (perhaps understandably) primed to read everyone who so much as attempts to reach out to the other side as being insincere Fudds, just because of the sheer amount of defection we’ve received every time we’ve so much as attempted to compromise with people claiming “we don’t want to take your guns,” but here, of all places, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a legitimately pro-gun person trying to emulate the adversarial collaboration model Scott has been promoting recently. To me, a collection of 30+ guns, a gunsmith wife, and contacts with various gun manufacturers doesn’t exactly scream “pro gun control.”

          Even the subject he’s trying to collaborate on, suicides, is the one area where even the most staunch pro-gun types will usually agree that gun control could theoretically make a difference, if they’re being honest with themselves. After all, even though guns don’t make people any more likely to attempt suicide, there are good reasons to believe they make those attempts more likely to succeed. It’s dishonest attempts to conflate gun suicide numbers with gun murders and other gun crimes that people have a problem with, not addressing the issue of gun suicide on its own.

          I know I’m about as pro-gun as you can get, and other than some concerns about how most any attempt to solve this problem would constitute an “infringement,” I think that suicide by gun is definitely a problem worth addressing, and that there are probably ways to address it that aren’t unconstitutional. This guy strikes me as having more or less the same opinion.

          (Well, either that, or you’re being sarcastic and I’m a dumbass. You know, whichever. :op )

          • Randy M says:

            What makes you say that?

            I would wager a wry and ironic sense of humor 😛
            That said, I’ll cop to not noticing he was specifically talking about suicides, so it is not implausible he could be in favor of various measures for tightening access to guns specifically for those at risk of mental illness.

          • Nick says:

            Randy is right; I was just joking. FWIW I’d very much like to see an adversarial collaboration about this topic.

    • baconbits9 says:

      The School District of Philadelphia covers the cab, which costs roughly $228 a day, or $41,040 over a 180-day school year. The district also pays Kareem’s aide $17,500 each year.

      The average special needs teacher in Philly makes around $58,000 a year, so one teacher going to the child’s home to work 1 on 1 would cost roughly the same here without considering his school costs. If one teacher could go to a home and work with 2 kids that would slash costs in half.

      But then there is this

      Last school year, it took until spring for the district to finally provide the ride-along transportation aide promised in Kareem’s individualized education program or IEP. So far this school year, which started at the end of August, Kareem’s already had three different drivers, a nightmare scenario for a 20-year-old who craves routine and structure.

      Kareem, who stands about 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighs 300 pounds, assaulted one of those drivers during a recent morning commute.

      Oh.

      He’s 20, enormous and unpredictable to the point of violence and the district is paying 70-80,000 a year to educate someone who is astonishingly unlikely to have a positive outcome from the experience.

      We are literally looking at No Child Left Behind where the slogan meets the policy and there is nothing left to do but twist people and budgets in knots to show that you are trying to achieve the impossible.

      • gbdub says:

        Does anyone honestly believe that the world is better place spending $60k a year on cab rides for this “kid” as opposed to putting a gifted student through Columbia. Or like half a dozen students through a smaller state college?

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          No, not when you pull it down to the object level. No Child Left Behind was a high-level value statement, not something GWB would believe in each object-level case if he had any brains (insert joke here).

    • j1000000 says:

      I only skimmed the article because it was very long, but I didn’t see anywhere in there — why is a 20 year old still going to school?

      • Matt says:

        No… erm… ‘Child’ Left Behind?

        The youth group at my wife’s church had a similar problem with a pair of kids who had developmental problems. The girl never really got large so I guess I should say she was never a problem, but the young man got to his mid-teens with the mind of a 7-year-old, and his parents wanted to keep him with kids he could relate to better, which actually resulted in some weird ‘compromise’ where he was physically 16, mentally 7, and grouped with kids 11-13 years old. That was the worst of all worlds, in my opinion.

        Eventually, the church aged them both out of the youth group.

  11. dndnrsn says:

    RPG thread:

    What, as a GM (or a player, I suppose), are your biggest weakness? More productively: how can people think to fix other people’s issues?

    The one I think causes the most actual problems for my game is that I’m awful at keeping track of atmospheric effects. Keeping track of light sources is hassle enough; I’m not going to remember to determine if it’s raining or shining every day. Which means weather basically defaults to “OK” most of the time, unless I specifically determine for a given adventure what the weather is, or put a note to do that (I never remember to put these notes in reliably, either). If I could reliably remember to do this, the atmosphere would be a bit better, tactical combat would be a bit more interesting, distance travel might be affected, etc. It would make the game a bit more varied.

    • Ventrue Capital says:

      What, as a GM (or a player, I suppose), are your biggest weakness?

      What am my biggest weakness? 😀

      Seriously, though, right now my biggest weaknesses as a GM are:

      1. Lack of free time to perform campaign maintenance (e.g. posting session logs);

      2. Physical issues which make me sleepy so that I’m slow responding even when I’ve taken caffeine;

      3. Not prodding the players to choose a course of action, particularly on the issue of which adventure to go on, which rumor to pursue, what to do about a random encounter, etc., so they spend a lot of real-world time not doing anything, even making plans.

      More productively: how can people think to fix other people’s issues?

      I’m not sure exactly what you mean by that, but merely getting me to put the above challenges down in writing has helped me think of solutions to them.

      Regarding the issue of remembering to track weather, I’ve found that the meta-principle behind setting up a new habit is:

      1. Make sure that it’s easy to actually *do* Action X;

      2. Make sure it’s easy to *remember* to do it.

      2.1. Figure out a way to set a reminder such that every time you need to do that action, the reminder goes off.

      2.1.1. Figure out what other action you always perform, or what else always happens, every time you need to be reminded to do Action X.

      2.1.2. Then set up a trigger for the reminder.

      If you have difficulty with step 2, probably your Unconscious is dragging its feet because it isn’t confident that step 1 is handled!

      • dndnrsn says:

        I might try putting the weather in the random encounter chart, or a note in there. That might work; thanks.

        With regard to getting players to make a decision: one thing I’ve found useful is to, if the players are spending a long time arguing over different choices, I’ll speak GM-to-player and give them a vague idea of what each adventure hook is. Not anything specific, but “this adventure hook will lead to a wilderness adventure, that one will lead to a dungeon crawl” makes it clear that they’re different choices and makes it difficult for someone to say they didn’t know what they were getting into.

        If their lack of information something lower level than that (“will we get kidnapped by elves if we go into that forest?” within the wilderness adventure, say) I’ll let them gather info within the setting, but they don’t get out-of-character knowledge. At that point they’ve at least chosen what kind of game it’s going to be.

        • Ventrue Capital says:

          You’re welcome for my advice to you, and thank you for your advice to me!

          After thinking about your advice, I believe the issue may be that my campaign world is so familiar to me that I have been mistakenly assuming that my players have various important pieces of information that their characters would have.

          So from now on, when the players are just sitting around silent, or at least not planning productively, I will try to find out what sort of information they need/want in order to make a decision. Because in my campaign, if a character doesn’t have a particular piece of information, it’s usually very easy to at least find out how to get it.

          Now, how do I set a trigger to remind me to do that? How can I set an alarm or reminder to occur whenever the players are indecisive?

          • deathtales says:

            Epistemic status: « works for me » only a few sessions as a GM.

            What I do is make intensive use of notes. In particular I have notes on what the player can learn in a scene and what they should know at the end. As when pacing slows down I am drawn to my notes i already have the check list handy.
            If you do use notes like that but find these insufficient. Maybe adding an explicit reminder (like « don’t forget to check if the player have these ») in a different color on these notes might help.

    • ing says:

      As a DM, here are some things I regret doing recently:

      (1) I got excited by worldbuilding and told my players their empire was ruled by a CR15 dragon. The final villain of their campaign is less than CR15, and has a plan which threatens the empire. I will soon need to come up with a reason why the Dragon Empress doesn’t handle it personally. I don’t have a good solution.

      (2) I narrated my players coming across a passage into that same Dragon Empress’s treasure hoard. A group of villains had used the passage to steal an artifact. The players defeated the villains and took the artifact, and promptly piled into the passage so they could loot more things from the Dragon Empress’s treasure hoard. This is a stupid plan. I now have the choice between running a TPK, or pulling my punches enough that they can burgle the Dragon Empress’s treasure hoard (the second time it’s been raided in a week!) and not get caught.

      Complicating the situation is that this is my game at a game store, and the group changes from week to week. If new players join my table and I’m like: “okay, you continue traveling through the passage to the Dragon Empress’s treasure hoard. You arrive, and she’s sensed you coming and she’s waiting for you. Roll initiative. You all die.”, that’s a lousy experience which I shouldn’t inflict on people who don’t “deserve” it.

      (3) One of my characters (female player, female character) keeps seducing NPCs. I don’t know how to handle this.

      When a male player tells me his male character is seducing a female NPC, I do know how to handle that: I say “okay, the two of you retire to a private room, and you’ve successfully distracted her while the rest of the group advances their own plans.”

      My female player told me her character was seducing two fire cultists, so I narrated that the three of them left town and bedded down for the night. Then I noticed the player was getting really uncomfortable, so I walked it back quickly: “but they’re not doing anything inappropriate, they just argue over who has to take first watch and then go to sleep. Do you want first watch?”

      The next couple of times she did this, I wised up and just told her: “okay, this NPC is doing what you want. What do you want them to do?” I feel like that’s a a safe way to handle it but it’s sort of a missed opportunity.

      • Evan Þ says:

        (2) Hmm, what if the Dragon Empress doesn’t want to kill these adventurers? Maybe she thinks they’re interesting, or maybe she wants to hire them? If you want to drag the adventure way off-track, “You get assigned to the Dragon Empress’s punishment squad” could be an interesting prompt.

        (3) FWIW, the GM of the one quest I’ve played handled this with “… Okay; roll for Charisma… great; you get a success. Interpret that however you want. Next morning…”

      • Ventrue Capital says:

        (1)

        I will soon need to come up with a reason why the Dragon Empress doesn’t handle it personally.

        Yes, you will.

        How about “The Dragon Empress physically can’t fit into the villain’s location”? Although if she can shapeshift, that reason doesn’t work.

        Also, out of curiosity, why doesn’t the Dragon Empress send a legion, or at least a cohort, of her army instead of a small band of unreliable adventurers?

        (2)

        Complicating the situation is that this is my game at a game store, and the group changes from week to week.

        That is a major challenge which I’ve had to deal with in my online game, and *lots* of games, perhaps a majority, have to deal with the issue of how to handle absent players.

        My first piece of advice is for you to Google {D&D absent players} and look at the advice that’s out there and try whatever sounds best to you.

        My second piece of advice is to read “Opening Your Gaming Table” and “The Open Table Manifesto” and consider switching to a more episodic setup, maybe a “West Marches” sort of thing.

        (3)

        One of my characters (female player, female character) keeps seducing NPCs. I don’t know how to handle this.

        When a male player tells me his male character is seducing a female NPC, I do know how to handle that: I say “okay, the two of you retire to a private room, and you’ve successfully distracted her while the rest of the group advances their own plans.”

        Why don’t you just say the exact same thing, but gender-flipped? “Okay, the two/three of you retire to a private room/your tent in the wilderness, and you’ve successfully distracted him/her”?

        What am I overlooking?

        • engleberg says:

          Challenge ratings can include Expert and Aristocrat. The Empress is some kind of (soaks up CR numbers) aristocrat. She could be an expert political economist, aerobatic dancer, calligrapher, or a Sage (why aren’t all dragons Sages? Smart, around forever). CR doesn’t have to be fighter.

        • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

          Why don’t you just say the exact same thing, but gender-flipped?

          Sounds to me like that’s exactly what the OP was trying to do, but it made the player uncomfortable. I’m wondering if the player’s intent was to flirt rather than to seduce and the OP misinterpreted it?

          • Nornagest says:

            My read was that the character had some kind of seduction ability, and the GM had gotten used to describing its results, for other players, in terms that this player wasn’t comfortable with.

            That might be reading too much into it, though.

      • beleester says:

        1. The villain is planning things in secret and the Empress hasn’t found out. The Empress doesn’t believe the players because they just burgled her treasure hoard and her trust is at rock bottom.

        2. Some sort of warning before they get into the treasure hoard? Presumably, their fight over the artifact wasn’t particularly quiet, so the Empress and her guards might have noticed the secret passage by now. “As you approach the other end of the secret passage, you hear the Empress roaring in anger. She’s ordering her squad of Big Scary Not-Level-Appropriate Guards to go into the passage and hunt down the thieves! What do you do?”

        • John Schilling says:

          Big Scary Not-Level-Appropriate Guards

          Can such a thing exist in the D&D-verse?

          I’m not sure they can in a pick-up game involving random store customers joining an open table for a session. As has been discussed here before, the general tradition of murderhoboism and the particular mishandling of CRs in recent D&D editions has lead many players to believe that A: absolutely every encounter will be with level-appropriate combat adversaries and B: the DM will not reward them for any encounter outcome other than victory in combat. Expecting new players to catch on to the fact that they are supposed to run away from the first encounter of the session, might not work. Telling them so explicitly, might leave them to wonder what fun any of this is going to be.

          In a long-running campaign with the same players, sure, you can probably establish early on that this sort of thing is expected and there will be adequate rewards elsewhere.

          • dick says:

            “As you approach the temple, you hear loud talking and grunting. Creeping closer and looking through the foliage, you see two very large, burly men dressed in chain mail bearing the Duke of Evilton’s insignia. One has an enormous pickaxe, the other is swinging a shovel, and they appear to be digging a grave. Beside them is a pile of bodies, maybe three or four, recently slain. Actually, you recognize one of them from the adventurer’s guild! You didn’t know him well, but he was a fighter you’ve sparred with, and he was no slouch. The guard with the pickaxe sets down his tool and drags the fighter’s body over to the pit and laughs as he tips it in. I guess you won’t be sparring with him anymore…”

          • Nornagest says:

            I’ve played with groups who’d respond to that with “Leeeeroy Jenkins!”, hints or no hints.

          • dick says:

            Yes, I too know dumb people 🙂 My point is just that unwinnable encounters are not inherently unfair, they can be unfair or fair depending on the options and hints given, just like traps.

          • John Schilling says:

            The unfair part is when, having gone through the trouble of crafting an unwinnable encounter that is a plot hook for an interesting story to come, the players in your pick-up game all whine and quit. But life isn’t fair, and you should plan for that.

          • dick says:

            You lost me. Why are the players quitting?

          • John Schilling says:

            Because, after the very brief “Leeroy Jenkins!” moment, the DM told them their characters were dead and they’d have to roll up new ones, and they decided that pretending to repeatedly die in unwinnable fights concocted by a DM they didn’t know and could only model as a sadistic twerp, sounded less fun than any of the other things they could be doing in A: an active game shop in B: a cosmopolitan area capable of supporting a game shop.

          • dick says:

            Who said you had to kill them? They could wake up in jail, they could be intimidated in to fleeing, they could be captured and sold to the fighting pits… Granted, this may throw your plans to disarray, but that’s the price of giving the characters agency and meaningful decisions, not the price of giving them tough encounters.

          • John Schilling says:

            Those, also, are the sort of outcomes that often make casual drop-ins want to exercise their agency by finding a new DM.

          • dick says:

            *shrug* Those are the sort of outcomes that have happened to Jaime Lannister, Jack Sparrow, Bilbo Baggins and Indiana Jones. If the players don’t like adventure then there’s not a lot to talk about.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @dick: Some players only like adventures where they consistently win, alas.
            Me, my only problem with death is if the system says I can’t get back into the action in 5 minutes by generating a new character. What makes death unfun is, like, GURPS character creation.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Players generally fight very hard to avoid having their characters taken captive.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @dndnrsn: And yet, just the other week I was playing an official Wizards of the Coast module in a game store with my bestie (she’s also the current GM in the Greek mythology setting I initiated!) that requires the PCs to get captured. It’s amazing how many known problems professional designers publish.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            It makes sense if you take the approach that the adventures are being written as fiction.

          • Lillian says:

            Players generally fight very hard to avoid having their characters taken captive.

            This is something i often hear people say about other groups, but have never experienced and don’t understand. For example, when i was playing Earthdawn our group surrendered to the authorities on two separate occasions while visiting the Orkish nation of Cara Fahd.

            The first time they were looking for a notorious Thief Adept whom they had been credibly tipped-off would be a particular soiree. Because Thieves are known to have magical disguise abilities, they arrested everyone present, including most of the PCs. We surrendered without a fight, though my character did try to sneak the merchant she was guarding out the back door, she was met by a squad of militia spearmen who insisted they go back inside. Meanwhile, the Thief in question used the distraction to rob the money changers, which we all thought was hilarious.

            The second time we were ambushed in the street by people intent on killing us, and over the course of defending ourselves accidentally set part of a tent city on fire. When the guards showed up they proceeded to arrest everyone, which meant just us because our honour guard was dead, and the surviving assailants had fled. We threw down our weapons and surrendered, figuring the justice system would absolve us. Well it turned out the justice system was infiltrated by Horror cultists, but fortunately we had an agent of the queen’s as an ally, and he was able to find a non-corrupt judge. She agreed to let us out on condition that we swear a Blood Oath to uncover what was going on. Long story short, we left town as heroes, really really rich heroes.

            It’s hard for me to imagine how it would have made any sense for our characters to have resisted arrest in either of these two occasions. Sure being a squad of magical mercenaries, we probably could have escaped the city guard, but why would we want to do that? There was no benefit to becoming outlaws in Cara Fahd, and plenty of benefit to cooperating with the authorities. It’s weird to me that other groups would apparently have resisted capture against all reason.

            Similarly, the very first time i played a game of Exalted, the ST decided that our first fight had attracted the attention of an angel-like Exalt. He rolled to determine which one, and the dice came up with literally the strongest one on the list, way stronger than all the PCs combined. We of course didn’t know what she was, and flush from our first victory, we vigorously defended ourselves against her attack. When it became clear we weren’t making a dent in our opponent, i had my character ask for terms of surrender, at which point the angel-Exalt had some kind of seizure and we took the opportunity to escape.

            When told the story, another Exalted player not in our group said he would have fought to the death in the same circumstance. This struck me as incredibly foolish and irrational. If you can’t defeat your enemy, then obviously you try to effect a retreat or negotiate a surrender. You don’t fight to the death unless you have no better options.

          • dick says:

            Out of curiosity, how common for you guys’ games is it for someone’s pc to die? Really die, like the player has to roll up a new character, as opposed to a few minutes of death before being carted off to the town healer? IME it’s pretty rare, but this is a big game with room to be played a lot of ways.

          • Nornagest says:

            Really, really depends on the game. New-school D&D is on the forgiving side, along with World of Darkness and most other narrative-heavy games. Old-school D&D is pretty far on the lethal side, but some games of Paranoia I’ve played haven’t even made it out of the briefing room without a body count.

          • johan_larson says:

            Out of curiosity, how common for you guys’ games is it for someone’s pc to die? Really die, like the player has to roll up a new character,

            In most games I can remember, permanent death was rare. The DM would scale encounters to be survivable, fudge the occasional dice roll that would have produced a really bad result for the players, and sometimes just rewind and rerun scenarios where the players did something that got them all killed.

            The only scenarios I can remember with permanent death were one-off wargame-like scenarios that were straight fights rather than continuing adventures.

            My impression is that this sort of narrative agreement was pretty standard. Still, it’s striking how contrary to old-school rules it was. Original D&D could have you starting out at a single hit point, and if you got to zero you were dead.

            I can only assume that if you played the game that way, you had to treat beginning characters sort of like replacements in a war zone: don’t get too attached to them until they’d had a chance to prove themselves.

          • Nick says:

            In my experience a big factor is how hard it is to build a new character. If my Pathfinder level 10 paladin dies and I want to build a replacement inquisitor, that’s… going to take a while. It’s common among my friends for such builds to take a few hours, especially if you start trawling pfsrd for just the right archetype or spell.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            I mean it seems like a pretty basic bit of psychology that people don’t like being captured.

            Death in battle is glorious, at least when you’re not the one dying, whereas capture is humiliating. In real life combatants generally are willing to accept humiliation if it means not being stabbed to death, but since the players themselves aren’t in any danger it’s a no-brainer to choose glory over humiliation.

            Is that realistic? Does it fit with tropes from non-interactive fiction like books and movies? No, but it doesn’t really have to be either.

          • Vorkon says:

            Really, really depends on the game. New-school D&D is on the forgiving side, along with World of Darkness and most other narrative-heavy games. Old-school D&D is pretty far on the lethal side, but some games of Paranoia I’ve played haven’t even made it out of the briefing room without a body count.

            Wait, does that mean you’ve played games of Paranoia where everyone actually did make it out of the briefing room without a body count?

          • johan_larson says:

            Death in battle is glorious, at least when you’re not the one dying, whereas capture is humiliating.

            If I have invested a lot of time in a character, I think I would rather have the character captured than killed. Capture allows the possibility of escape, ransom, or rescue.

            It also depends on how the death happens. If my tenth-level character who I have spent a year developing dies because he failed to notice a pit-trap, that sucks. But if he gets to exit in some “You shall not pass” moment, that’s an end befitting a hero.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Lillian

            My personal experience is that “you’re taken captive” is so often pulled as a bullshit railroad move in adventures that require the PCs be taken captive, that any instance of it instantly sets me on edge. This is as a GM and a player – it’s very rare for PCs being taken captive to be something that can emerge from play; it’s very common for the book to say “OK and now one of the PCs has to be taken captive! Or, they all do! There’s no way to stop this!”

            @dick

            The two long-running games I’ve been a part of recently, one is a D&D “old school” game I’m running. Pretty soft for something allegedly old school – why, I even let them have max HP at first level, and I’ve never been a fan of traps, as most traps in games make zero sense – but clearly more lethal than the norm, because the players have adjusted to it by having their characters become very careful (slash cowardly). Couple PC deaths, a lot of hireling deaths, but more importantly, they have and will avoided things, cut and run, etc, because they’re not making the assumption that they’re guaranteed survival, a story arc, combats that are balanced to them, etc.

            The other game I played a lot of recently was as a player in a game that was, sad to say, an utter railroad. Over dozens of sessions we had not a single player death, because the PCs were part of the story, and you can’t have PCs die and ruin the story.

            Nornagest, johan_larson, and nick all have it right. The latter is probably the norm in a lot of games now. People are encouraged to show up with characters with elaborate backstories and intended story arcs (and they will get pissed off if their Chosen One heroine with the cool backstory they spend an hour on dies in some basement because a goblin stabbed her in the eye), GMs are encouraged to work that into the story (or, worse, plot) of their game, published adventures and campaigns explicitly or implicitly promote fudging so the PCs can neither succeed or fail unexpectedly, and in a lot of systems characters take so long to make that killing a PC any time but the end of a session puts a player out (and, depending on the party balance and so forth, can put the entire party out) for the rest of the session.

          • Randy M says:

            My personal experience is that “you’re taken captive” is so often pulled as a bullshit railroad move in adventures that require the PCs be taken captive, that any instance of it instantly sets me on edge

            I agree with you that it makes a big difference whether being captured is a way to clumsily set up the next story arc versus an alternative to killing the PC’s in situations where they get in over their head against foes who don’t happen to be so blood thirsty. The former is “sit there and listen to my cool story for awhile” while the latter is “this is a sensible outcome for the world and also a second chance at life for you if you’re clever”. I guess the trick is making it obvious which is it.

          • dndnrsn says:

            If it’s something that has to happen for the game to work (leaving aside setups like “you all meet in a prison cell”) then it’s bad. Knowing what could happen if they’re taken prisoner or surrender is good, but having it as an event in the game is bad.

          • Matt M says:

            If The Elder Scrolls has taught me anything, it’s that if your character begins their adventure as a prisoner, you’re almost certainly the reincarnation of some sort of powerful god-like figure.

          • dick says:

            It sounds reasonable that maybe a generation of bad DMs relying on the party getting captured as a method of railroading have given the very concept of capture a bad connotation, but that’s not the kind of problem you have to worry about if you’re not a bad DM, and if you are a bad DM, simply avoiding jail cells won’t help you much. Back to the starting point though – can you have the players encounter mobs they can’t kill? – I think the answer is Absolutely, as long as you’re not also doing the stuff that bad DMs do.

            On the topic of player death, I agree with a lot of what dndnrsn and johan said, it seems like player permadeath is inversely correlated to player backstory. If you’re in the kind of campaign where the PCs are basically just a name/class/weapon/spell list, then you can roll up a new one in five minutes and get back to it; if you’re in the kind of campaign where the players know what kind of home life their elf had as a child and why they decided to become a cleric in the first place, then a death can kind of mess up most of a session.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @dick

            Nevertheless, the long tradition of railroads using unavoidable captivity means that players will often seek to avoid any sort of captivity they don’t essentially initiate themselves (eg marching into an enemy fortress intending to be taken POW as part of some scheme). They might try to surrender if they think the only alternative is death. But the moment the DM says “the enemies demand you surrender” players will start thinking the whole thing was a setup.

            Regarding how long it takes to make a PC, more complicated mechanics in character generation and more mechanical choices available to the player in making and advancing their character is probably the main villain here.

            (I’m not a huge fan of detailed character backstories. The stuff people remember is gonna happen in play!)

            EDIT: This isn’t just “a generation of bad GMs” but rather that most published adventures are going to be written in a way that demands railroading, including sketchiness involving making sure the PCs get captured. The worst I ever encountered was probably “an NPC betrays you and when you meet him the lights go out and you’re shot with tranquilizer darts” with no way whatsoever to find out the NPC is planning betrayal, no way to avoid the capture, and no guidance to the GM what to do if the PCs, I dunno, only send part of the group to the meeting.

            If people aren’t taking their cues from the published stuff, they’re often taking their cues from advice to “tell a story” and emulate works of fiction (maybe emulating atmosphere and so on are good, but emulating a written (or filmed or whatever) narrative style is a great way to end up railroading.

            It’s not a generation of GMs, it’s an endemic thing.

          • Lillian says:

            Never in any game i’ve played have i experienced a player character dying. The closest was a Vampire game where shortly before i joined an injured and hungry PC picked an ill advised fight with a Setite sorceress instead of running away, and got melted to goo for his trouble

            Frankly, i would be perfectly happy never having any of my characters die, unless it’s a game like Paranoia where characters are disposable joke items. In most games i play i get deeply invested in my characters. Should i ever lose one, i expect that i will not be able to continue playing, since i would be far too distraught to make a replacement.

            @Nabil ad Dajjal: Isn’t the point of a role-playing game to play the role? Sure you as the player may not mind your character being stabbed to death, but your character probably minds very much, and part of playing the role is to take that into account when narrating the character’s decisions. Even in games where there is contractual PC death immunity, i do my best to play as if there wasn’t, because my character doesn’t know that she’s death proof.

            Similarly if my character is mind controlled i make a good faith effort to act according to the control’s directives. Or if i fail a knowledge check and get false information, i try my hardest to act as if i thought the information were true, because my character doesn’t know she failed. If you’re not willing to play the role, i feel like the whole exercise breaks down, you know?

            @dndnrsn: Honestly i’ve never had a bad GM. The closest it’s come have been flakey GMs who were unable to continue running, but when a game is going, it’s always been good for me. This perhaps makes me inclined to see any given GM action as being in good faith. It also helps that since i’ve had good GMs, events usually flow naturally from whatever was going on before. It’s never been the case for me that someone gets captured out of nowhere because the GM said so, it’s always a reasonable consequence of earlier decisions.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Lillian

            Well, they’re out there. In the case of capture, it’s an easy way to move PCs from one place to another, put them in situations where they can be fed information without the ability to cause shenanigans (they don’t have their equipment, are in chains, whatever). It happens pretty egregiously in some published adventures.

            With regard to character death, I can’t really enjoy a game without it. I was in a long-running campaign where it became increasingly obvious it was a railroad, and part of this was that fudging and rigging of combats was being done to protect our PCs. It basically was a collaborative storytelling game, by the end of it – we got to input little bits and pieces, but the main details of the story were decided. I enjoyed it less and less, because it is a game. I think there are better ways to do collaborative storytelling than RPGs. As a player and a GM one of the best parts is when the unknown flies in and messes stuff up.

      • Civilis says:

        I got excited by worldbuilding and told my players their empire was ruled by a CR15 dragon. The final villain of their campaign is less than CR15, and has a plan which threatens the empire. I will soon need to come up with a reason why the Dragon Empress doesn’t handle it personally. I don’t have a good solution.

        Something I’ve learned about storytelling: the players don’t need to know everything. It’s good to have an idea for yourself as to what’s going on in the background, but leave what you tell the players as vague as possible. Some general possibilities to consider (assuming she knows about the villain’s plan):
        A) She has another more serious threat she’s spending her effort to solve.
        B) The villain has planned for her intervention (perhaps has some magic item which is good against dragons) and so she’d rather have someone else deal with it than take the risk of facing the threat if she can avoid it.
        B1) Even if the villain doesn’t have such a plan, if it becomes common knowledge that she personally intervenes every time the country is threatened, someone that wants her dead could easily contrive to lure her out.
        C) She knows of a flaw in the villain’s plan that the villain doesn’t know about (the artifact doesn’t work, for example), so there’s no pressing need to solve it, still she’d rather have the heroes stop the villain before the flaw is exposed so the next villain won’t know about it
        D) There are political or social barriers to her direct intervention that she’d rather avoid if possible
        Keep in mind, she can deceive the players if need be (and if good, can justify it by citing the safety of the realm). Also, none of the solutions preclude using her as a Deus Ex Machina (Draconus Ex Machina) if the situation needs it.

        If necessary, expose her rationale after the adventure is over. “Thanks for saving the empire, I was busy eating an arch-lich that was trying to set up in one of the northern provinces. Blech; he tasted nasty. By any chance, did you find a bundle of arrows in the villain’s possession? You did? Can you put them on the stone floor over there?” *Breathes fire* “The empire will reimburse you for those Arrows of Dragon Slaying. Thanks again!”

        The underlying flaw, and this is something a lot of game developers have problems with, is giving a stat number to a prominent NPC that doesn’t need it. The players shouldn’t know how powerful the Dragon Empress is. At the very least, given that your players are looting her treasury, anything with stats is a potential target for bored players.

        (2) I narrated my players coming across a passage into that same Dragon Empress’s treasure hoard. A group of villains had used the passage to steal an artifact. The players defeated the villains and took the artifact, and promptly piled into the passage so they could loot more things from the Dragon Empress’s treasure hoard. This is a stupid plan. I now have the choice between running a TPK, or pulling my punches enough that they can burgle the Dragon Empress’s treasure hoard (the second time it’s been raided in a week!) and not get caught.

        You’ve got two things you need to do: limit the damage, then work this into the plot. One way to limit the damage, probably not usable at this point, but for future use: a note on the lead villain from his boss saying something like: “Important! Take only the artifact! Don’t touch anything else!” If you want to drive the point home, have a member of the villain’s squad dead in the treasure chamber from a particularly nasty contact poison, and no sign of what he had touched. Clever players will still grab a few things, but not too much. You can also make the loot hard to steal. Since it’s a dragon’s hoard, piles of coins are a necessity, but nobody says they are neatly sorted, and most will be copper. Further, have something in the chamber set off an obvious alarm, forcing the party to hurry or face an army of guards.

        Working it into the plot is easy. You can have a messenger approach them (especially if they think they made a clean get-away and are nice and hidden) and hand them a message with a royal seal asking them to return what they stole. Or you can pretend to forget about it and wait until they’ve saved the empire, and deduct the theft from their reward… and throw in a bill for the accounting fee. You don’t need to justify any of this, beyond ‘it’s magic’.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Regarding 1., I’ve found that “flavor” detail of settings can sometimes distract and confuse players. Players generally expect that the more detail you give in a description, the more important the thing that you’re describing. That’s a reasonable assumption most of the time but it also means that it’s hard to showcase more fantastical elements of the setting that aren’t directly relevant to what the players are currently doing.

        On the lighter side, I’ve had sessions veer off into weird side-quests when players drop everything to haggle for pack apes or wrangle mammoths. More frustratingly, this kind of misplaced emphasis might lead players to assume that particular people or organizations are much more important than they actually are.

        2. If it’s something that you’re not prepared for you have the option of calling the session early or taking a half-hour breather to quickly figure out what sort of guards and traps might be left on the hoard. Normally a powerful dragon’s hoard would be more than most PCs could handle, but given that the defenses were just breached it seems reasonable to me that the previous thieves neutralized a significant fraction of the defenses. If they want to take advantage of that rare opportunity it seems like an interesting adventure to run.

        3. Yeah I had a similar problem a while back. One of my players tried to, and succeeded in, seducing the priest in Keep on the Borderlands for information. The situation got pretty uncomfortable because she’s my girlfriend’s roommate and both of them were new to role-playing, although luckily I was able to defuse the situation with minimal drama.

        It seems like in general when male players try to seduce NPCs it’s just for it’s own sake, whereas female players are more likely to try to get information or some other tangible benefit. That’s not always the case but from what I’ve seen it’s heavily weighted that way.

      • The Nybbler says:

        1) Perhaps the Empire’s borders are under threat elsewhere, and she’s distracted? Or she underestimates the threat and thinks her minions can handle it?

        2) Does the passage have to remain open? Perhaps it collapses due to a trap or something.

        3) Perhaps her seduction ability could desert her entirely?

      • Another Throw says:

        [W]hy the Dragon Empress doesn’t handle it personally

        1. Palace politics. The answer is always palace politics.

        If the empress were to disappear, even for a couple of hours, to go handle something herself the halls of the palace would run red with blood blue with eldritch fire as every faction in the palace devolves into a free for all murder orgy. Within hours of her disappearance, someone would be coronating themselves astride a pile of corpses and disseminating the cover story that there was a coup attempt that the *ahem* “loyalists” were able to repulse but, alas, not until after the Empress herself was slain. The entire empire should immediately be put on high alert in preparation for the counter-counter coup, and anyone claiming to be the late empress is an imposter that must be immediately slain. Because, of course, we have definitive evidence that their entire plot was to place an imposter on the throne, but we were unable to capture said imposter during the initial round of fighting.

        In order for the Empress to go anywhere, she has to take the entire court with her. Not only is this ruinously expensive (and we all know how dragons feel about depleting the treasure horde), but it is incredible dangerous. All the courtiers would, of course, rally all their most loyal warriors and gird themselves with their most powerful artifacts. The whole point of keeping the courtiers hemmed up in the palace was to keep them away from their most loyal warriors, and their most powerful artifacts safely stored in their mansions on the other side of the empire! [Why would you need your lance of dragon slaying to go to a garden party??] Having gathered all your enemies and their allies together for the purpose of killing things, you’re one betrayal in battle and a mad dash back to the capital away from a coup.

        Likewise, she can not delegate the task to one of the courtiers (or legionnaires) because they would immediately rally all their most loyal warriors and gird themselves with their most powerful artifacts. After their inevitable victory she would be obliged to give them a victory parade to the palace, resplendent in their full battle regalia. Not only are her loyalists not likewise equipped [because why do you need your lance of rebellion suppression to watch a parade??], but the victory and the showering of praise and honors that would follow empower them among the palace factions. It only takes a couple decisions to back a different horse before she is relegated to a ceremonial role and the victor has gone full shogun. Assuming they don’t just dispose of her.

        And sending a loyalist is equally problematic because, not only is loyalty relative, but they would take a considerable amount of her power base with them.

        The solution, obviously, is to send a bunch of inconsequential nobodies and pretend it isn’t a big deal.

        2. Pride / Sloth

        The whole point of becoming an Empress is to have an entire empire of minions to take care of these things for me!

        3. Is it a threat? Is it really?

        Common. The Empress is an elder dragon. The Supreme Grand Marshall, the Grand Marshall of the Imperial Guard, and Grand Marshalls of all fifteen legions are all CR15 warriors, with a dozen CR14 lieutenants each. The Supreme Wizarding Council is made of of a dozen CR15 Wizards. Same with the priests of the Imperial Temple. The Thieves Guild Master is on the Empress’ take. Any one of them could certainly handle it themselves, but, frankly, its beneath them. Let some inconsequential nobodies take care of it. Of course you tell them it is of vital importance to the safety of the realm, how else are you going to get some murderhobos to do your grunt work for you on the cheap!

        4. Wait a minute, this sounds like a trap…

        “Your majesty! I have urgent news about a mortal threat to the realm! If you act now, personally and immediately, without even a second to think about it, the threat can be neutralized, but if you wait—again, for even a second to think about it—the Chaos Gates will be opened and ten thousand years of darkness will descend upon the realm. And it’ll be none too good for your complexion, too.”
        “Um, no, Grand Vizar. I am going to send a ragtag band of inconsequential nobodies because, if what you say is true, they shall be able to take care of it handily. If they fail I will know you tried to betray me. In which case, I would have you disemboweled and wear your entrails as a necklace as a reminder to the rest of the court to never try that.”

        Not only does he have to make sure it gets taken care of (assuming it wasn’t his plot in the first place), but he has to expend substantial more effort to do so in secret while keeping those damn bumbling buffoons alive and thinking they did it themselves. All without any of the benefits of doing so publicly. And as a DM this kind of sets you up for a periodic grand vizar ex machina.

        5. What are the lives of mortals in the games of Dragons and Empresses?

        The Grand Prince of Mauve’s attempts at intrigue are so bumbling and transparent that they are a continual source of mirth for the entire court. Having a bunch of mortals—peasants!—throw his carefully laid plans into disarray is a cutting joke at his expense. And if they fail, who cares. Everyone [that matters] knows what’s going on, and his plans will never succeed. She’ll just come up with an even more cruel way to goading him over it.

        Or, as a twist, his incompetence has been a Hundred Year Long Con, and she has played right into his hands! Mwahahaha. And, having neutralized the Empress and launched into his climactic villain soliloquy before delivering his killing stroke/activating the Orb of Destruction/opening the Chaos Gate, in a fit of irony he succumbs to the same hubris that brought her low by failing to neutralize the players. Who are perfectly situated to deliver their own killing stroke/shatter the Orb/destroy the Gate.

        Or, you know, let him do it because screw her for using us as pawns.

        Or seizing the upper hand and bargaining between them to see who will pay them the handsomest reward.

      • dndnrsn says:

        2. If you’re running a pick-up game, or if your group will play with a minimum number of people, you can’t end sessions in the middle of things. It also makes it very hard to have something that’s to any degree story-driven.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      My biggest weakness as a DM is that I get way too into world building. I have to reign myself in or it’s easy to overload the PCs with irrelevant detail.

      My homebrew settings usually aren’t at the ACKS “roll for the price of wool in this hamlet” level of detail, but I like to know e.g. whether people
      in a given town drink small beer or have access to fresh water. Most of the time players don’t really care about the details of daily life so it ends up being so much wasted effort. I can’t even call it verisimilitude because most of the time nobody notices.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Somehow I’ve had the good luck for small details to pay off with my players. Even “People in this town drink diluted wine” led to the party Barbarian taking the side of a random encounter centaur who set his host’s house on fire because, as a centaur, he thought the foodstuff that sealed sacred hospitality was unmixed wine rather than bread with salt. That centaur I thought they’d fight wound up getting persuaded to become a priest of Apollo and defended Delphi from offended Gaia cultists.

        • Nornagest says:

          If you haven’t read Gene Wolfe’s Soldier books (Soldier of the Mist, Soldier of Arete, Soldier of Sidon; the first two are currently being sold as an omnibus under the name of Latro in the Mist), you should. They’re full of this sort of stuff.

          I think there’s actually a scene where a centaur fights offended Gaia cultists, although it wasn’t at Delphi. (This isn’t much of a spoiler for complicated reasons.)

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I definitely have not, so thank you! Alas, I can’t recall anything I have read by Gene Wolfe beyond the obligatory New Sun quartet and The Fifth Head of Cerberus.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Maybe try to include a few little chunks of world building in the “general description” of a town or whatever? “Springstown is known as a health destination because of its unbeatable combination of hot and freshwater springs. They never shit themselves t’death, neither.” The world building details players remember are going to be the weird stuff and the goofy stuff and so on. (Or just roll 2d6 and players run into some kind of basic gross medieval illness in town on boxcars; Springstown doesn’t have this effect – make the players care!)

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Not being able to recruit more than 3 players, which leads to changing things to keep the worst player content.
      After that would probably be not doing the book-keeping for passage of time. I should be narrating things like “after a day’s march interrupted by an encounter with a mother bear, you stumble into this village a couple of hours before dark, seeking hospitality for the night. No woman will let you in their door because it’s the first day of harvest time, their menfolk are still out scything, and the family needs all the food she’s prepared to fuel tomorrow’s labor.” or “the cold rain of this winter day interferes with your overland journey” and have it all be consistent rather than fiat.

      • Ventrue Capital says:

        Not being able to recruit more than 3 players, which leads to changing things to keep the worst player content.

        Have you considered running your game online rather than face-to-face? It’s *much* easier to find players when you can meet people from around the world.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Yes. I was thinking of pitching a campaign over Roll20 here on SSC. 🙂

          • Nick says:

            Depending on the system, I’d be up for playing that!

          • Nornagest says:

            I haven’t had the best luck with online tabletop in the past, but I’d be willing to give it a shot.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nick: I’ve been wanting to run retro-D&D for a couple of years, which would probably mean specifically Rules Cyclopedia/its free retroclone Dark Dungeons. ACKS is also very similar.

            @Nornagest: Yeah, I’ll need some prep time to figure out how to make it work. There are a bunch of interface questions to address.

          • bean says:

            I did that a couple years ago, and it worked pretty well. That said, it was a limited-time adventure, so I’m not sure how well it would work long-term. Go for it.

        • toastengineer says:

          Trouble with online games is that people are a lot more likely to just disappear weeks or months in.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Have you tried recruiting non-gamers? I’ve made it work two or three times.

    • Ventrue Capital says:

      BTW I’d like to invite anyone on SSC to play in Terramar, my online tabletop rpg campaign.

      Our regular sessions are 6pm to Eastern Time (currently UTC-4, so 2200 to 0200 UTC). We play using text on Roll20.net for IC actions and speech, and using our Discord server for OOC and between-sessions communication.

      I have also started a separate channel on our server for play-by-post one-on-one roleplaying, for those who expressed a desire to play and can’t make our regularly-scheduled sessions.

  12. DragonMilk says:

    Would the following mechanic jump start third parties?

    Change the voting system to as follows for a single seat:
    1. You must provide your first choice and second choice
    2. If you pick the same person for first and second choice your vote is tossed out.
    3. The first choice is given twice the weight of the second
    4. Winner is the highest sum of weights

    Thought is that it people are two-tribal, forcing a second choice may introduce fresh blood.

    Ideally, for senate elections, I’d have each state have 3 seats up for grabs under the following mechanic:
    Every three years, either seat 1 or 2 is up for grabs. The first choice candidate gets either seat 1 or 2 for six years. The second choice candidate gets the 3rd seat which is a 3-year term.

    • Matt M says:

      Thought is that it people are two-tribal, forcing a second choice may introduce fresh blood.

      Would it?

      Or would the GOP/DNC just run dual candidates for every relevant seat?

      I guess you could make a rule saying the votes have to be for different political parties, but I feel like that would just result in a new “Just like the Republicans/Democrats but with a different name” parties suddenly coming into existence.

      The two party system exists in America because Americans want it to exist. There is no “democratic” way to get rid of it.

      • Eric Rall says:

        That was my first thought, too, but I don’t think that works except in districts where your party has a much stronger position than the other major party. Otherwise, you’re risking splitting your voter base and losing the election for the first-place seat.

        A simple scenario where a two-candidate strategy works is a district that’s about 60% Democratic and 30% Republican in a two-party race, with the Republican voters uniformly preferring Libertarians to Democrats. If the Democrats run two candidates and coordinate effectively to split their voters between the two candidates, Dem A and Dem B each has 30% of first-place votes and 30% of second-place vote, while the Republican candidate has 40% of first-place votes and the Libertarian candidate has 40% of second-place votes. The totals are then 90% for Dem A, 90% for Dem B, 80% for the Republican, and 40% for the Libertarian. With perfect coordination and no crossover votes (two unrealistic assumptions that cut in opposite directions), I think the threshold is a 4/7 majority (about 57%).

        Granted, there are a lot of districts like that, especially for gerrymander-able races (House of Representatives and state legislature districts), but there are also a lot of races where running two candidates isn’t worth the risk that splitting your first-place votes makes you lose the more-valuable first-place seat.

        There’s probably a viable strategy for districts where one party has an advantage but not an overwhelming majority (say, a 55/45 split) to make a play for both seats by running two candidates with significant ideological separation: a hard-liner to turn out your base and attract their first-place votes, and a moderate to attract crossover support from moderate Republican voters (or moderate Democratic voters in a reddish-purple district) who would otherwise be casting their second-place vote for a conservative or libertarian third-party candidate. While this scenario doesn’t really support DragonMilk’s stated goal of jump-starting third parties, it would have the beneficial effect of increasing ideological diversity within each party’s caucus in the legislature.

        • Matt M says:

          The party is capable of communicating to voters that their two candidates are running as a ticket, similar to Pres and VP. The party can make it clear that you’re supposed to vote for this guy first, and this guy second. And most people will.

          Assuming some type of primary process, they would anyway.

          Like, if we had this rule in 2016, it might have given us Bernie or Cruz or Jeb, but it damn sure wouldn’t have given us Gary Johnson or Jill Stein…

          • albatross11 says:

            There are many countries where each party puts up a list of candidates in order–people can vote for specific candidates but if their candidate doesn’t get in, I think the vote rolls over to the party list in order. If you looked at how elections go in those countries, you could learn something about how it’s likely to go in this proposed system.

      • BBA says:

        A personal pet peeve: don’t use “DNC” as a counterpart to “GOP”. The latter refers to the entire Republican Party, the former only to the Democratic Party’s executive committee, counterpart to the RNC.

        Unless you mean it as Bernista derp about how the committee controls the party and the superdelegates forced Hillary on us from on high, in which case we have more than two problems.

      • DragonMilk says:

        If you run two candidates per party you’d split the vote – Let’s say D runs two candidates and R runs one. Suppose further that there are two independent parties G and L.

        If R would have had 51% of the vote vs. 47% D1, 1% G, 1% L. Introducing D2 may mean they split the first vote and say their differences mean they take more of R, so it would be R 49%, D1 30%, D2 19%, 1% G, 1% L.

        Now as for the second choice, let’s say the R voters all go 49% L and vice versa for simplicity, but the D1 and D2 votes stay the same, with G voting for D1. The results of the race would be as follows:

        First choice: 49 R, 30 D1, 19 D2, 1 G, 1 L
        Second choice: 49L, 31D1, 19D2, 1R

        Weighted result:
        R = 49.5, D1 = 45.5, L = 30.5, D2 = 28.5, G = 1.

        So R still wins.

        Now reconsider the above example without vote splitting, maybe should have done this first:

        First choice: 51 R, 47 D1, 1 G, 1 L
        Second choice: 51 L, 47 G, 1 D1, 1 R

        R = 51.5, D1 = 47.5, L = 26.5, G = 24.5

        So the final outcome did not change in the above case, but the weighted result boosts the proportion and voters see these results. They may think, hmm, maybe L and G actually have a chance! I’ll vote based on preference rather than assume two major parties always win. So let’s say the next election the first order preference becomes the following:

        First choice: R = 40, D = 26, L = 20, G = 14
        Second choice: R = 20, D = 14, L = 40, G = 26

        Final result: R = 50, D = 37, L = 40, G = 27

        Again, the final result didn’t change, but upon seeing the tally, the third party candidates may get more of an ear now that they seem to command a larger “share” of voters interests. If nothing else, new ideas rather than new people get introduced as “fresh blood”

    • Nornagest says:

      There’s a large literature on voting systems, and the general answer to questions like yours is “yes, but there are side effects”. As for the specific answer, what you’re describing is a simple Borda count system. That article’s worth reading, and it outlines several criticisms in detail.

      For now, though, one potentially problematic feature is that it’s possible for a candidate who’s the first choice of a majority of voters to not be elected. Imagine a polity with 100 voters and two front-running candidates, Alice and Bob. If Alice gets 60 first-choice votes but isn’t anyone’s second choice, and Bob gets 40 first-choice votes but also 41 second-choice votes, then Alice’s weighted score is 60 and Bob’s is 60.5. Bob wins, even though Alice had 50% more voters who wanted her as a first choice.

      That’s highly counterintuitive, and it means that the details of how many candidates a party runs and how close they are to each other ideologically become very important. I predict a lot of Electoral College-style drama.

      • Nootropic cormorant says:

        Why don’t any of the Bobites accept Alice as a second choice? If 40% of voters won’t compromise with Alice maybe she shouldn’t be elected.

        • Nornagest says:

          Because it’s a thought experiment. I’m trying to illustrate a counterintuitive feature of the system in an understandable way, not present the kind of (messy, complicated) scenario with the same underlying math that you’d actually see in the wild.

          • Nootropic cormorant says:

            I know, but my point is that this doesn’t intuitively strike me as a drawback.

          • albatross11 says:

            This comes back to Arrow’s theorem–there’s no way to get a democratic voting scheme that’s rational in the same way a single human might be expected to be rational.

        • beleester says:

          Maybe there’s a third party, Charlie. Charlie is a fringe candidate who’s like Bob but more extreme, so Bobites pick him as their second choice, but Alicians would rather have Bob than Charlie.

          That gives us:
          60 first-choice votes for Alice.
          40 first-choice votes for Bob
          60 second-choice votes for Bob
          40 second-choice votes for Charlie.
          Final score: Alice 60, Bob 70, Charlie 20.

          Charlie sort of acts as the opposite of a spoiler candidate – because he provides a place for Bobites to dump their second-choice votes besides Alice, Bob gets an advantage.

          It gives both voters and political parties some really weird incentives. Even if a Bobite would prefer Alice to Charlie, it’s rational for him to vote for Charlie as his second choice because he knows Charlie has no chance and it gives Bob a better chance of winning.

          It also means that both political parties have the incentive to nominate a “second choice” candidate to keep the second-choice votes under their tent. If Alice is smart, she’ll get David to run on her fringe, and soak up the second choice votes on her side.

    • Tenacious D says:

      I think the struggle for third parties to get traction in the US has more to do with the presidential system* than first-past-the-post voting. When everyone in the country is voting for [electors for] a single position it is easy for the two major parties to cast it as a binary choice. In a parliamentary system, in contrast, strong local candidates (or a focus on issues that are of concern to a specific region) can help third parties break out. For example, my province (which uses FPTP) had an election today and there will be four parties with seats in the next session of the legislature.

      *Granted there are countries that use the presidential system and have viable 3rd+ parties, but I can’t think of any countries with a parliamentary system that don’t have viable 3rd+ parties.

    • Plumber says:

      I want four different parties that were:

      Economic libertarianist/social conservative

      Economic libertarianist/social liberal

      Economic statist/social conservative

      and

      Economic statist/social liberal

      To rule you’d have to have a coalition.

      I’d want coalitions to change every few years.

      And I’d want voters to clearly know who stood for what.

  13. Statismagician says:

    Why are lawns a thing? How did all of suburban America decide that it would assign everyone an onerous chore trying to keep plants that generally don’t want to be there within a very specific height range? This has baffled me for years and I’m curious to know if there’s an actual answer.

    • Randy M says:

      In this book review, Card argues that they are derived from wealthy Americans imitating aristocratic English manor houses.

    • gbdub says:

      If you’ve got a yard big enough to run around and play in, a grass lawn is objectively a very nice surface for that.

      But ornamental lawns, as in a tiny patch that is worthless for anything but proving you can be more meticulous than your neighbor? Tear it up and replace with gravel and cacti.

    • j1000000 says:

      Wikipedia’s article contains the basic narrative I’ve heard, something along the lines of: various incremental improvements in agriculture/technology over a century made the lawn a possibility beyond just the richest class of society — better/more widespread seed for heartier grasses, more effective/affordable lawnmowers — then Levittown cemented the lawn’s status as a middle class staple by creating the front lawn/white picket fence ideal, right as VA loans for the huge number of WW2 vets created a new generation of potential homeowners ready to buy.

      But responding to specifically your use of “onerous,” I find lawncare enjoyable and satisfying in the way I think a lot of people do, and I think that’s why they stick around even though they are not natural and in many ways are tremendously wasteful. A tiny connection to our history as farmers.

      • Matt M says:

        that’s why they stick around even though they are not natural and in many ways are tremendously wasteful. A tiny connection to our history as farmers

        And for the rest of us, well, you probably live in a HOA where it’s mandatory to have a well-cared for lawn anyway…

        • j1000000 says:

          Yeah fair point — I have no idea what number of people actually enjoy caring for their lawn so I’m probably vastly overestimating that as a factor in them sticking around. Not every American is Hank Hill.

          • Matt M says:

            Well, my point was more “There are enough of you crazies around who will vote to make these sort of things mandatory for the rest of us – even if we’d rather not participate.”

    • RobJ says:

      As someone who grew up with a large lawn and currently doesn’t have one with 2 young kids… I really want one and am considering spending a ridiculous amount of money and/or time to get one put in instead of our current “low maintenance” landscaping. Mostly it’s just for an outdoor versatile play area that also looks nice. It’s a place to throw a football or baseball around, set up soccer goals, have a croquet or badminton game, set up the sprinkler on a hot day, etc. Lawns are great.

    • The Nybbler says:

      In desert areas they’re kinda silly, but in the Northeast, _something_ is going to grow like it or not, unless you take extreme measures to prevent it (paving over it is not sufficient unless you also regularly drive over it, or treat it with herbicide). So you’ve got some sort of maintenance task no matter what.

      • Matt M says:

        Heh. I grew up in Oregon and this was definitely true. Planting and caring for a lawn wasn’t any more work than dealing with the weeds that would inevitably show up on any bare patch of land left to its own devices.

    • RobJ says:

      As for more ornamental lawns (like small front lawns that are never used for anything). I’d guess it’s a combination of things. For one, it’s just become the norm of what a nice landscape looks like for whatever reason. But I also think, while mowing is constant and can be a nuisance, it’s also very straightforward. We moved into a house with a lot of plants that don’t require much water and are appropriate for our climate, but they also require more knowledge to keep looking nice and require replacement every few years when they start getting overgrown.

    • baconbits9 says:

      More onerous than what though? A lawn is probably the easiest thing to manage in modern times and have it look well tended. Trees tend to have bare spots at their roots, lose limbs during storms, and require raking and pruning. Bushes and shrubs need pruning that is more difficult than pushing a lawn mower, and ‘whatever grows, grows’ either looks a mess or requires a ton of work.

      • The Nybbler says:

        A lawn is probably the easiest thing to manage in modern times and have it look well tended.

        Especially if you follow the lazy suburbanite’s mantra: “Crabgrass is still grass”.

    • Matt says:

      I live on the side of a hill and the parts of my yard that don’t have grass have a real erosion problem. The lot uphill from my house is just woods, which means I’ve got poison ivy that would expand into my yard but for the grass that can choke it out. Further, the area had a pretty bad tick problem that I solved for my yard this spring by just hitting the perimeter of the woodsy lot uphill. If I even could let the lot go wild I’m pretty sure the ticks would expand aggressively into my yard. Other options for my backyard that would resist erosion AND keep my dogs from getting muddy paws every time it rains… I’m not sure what a better choice would be. Maybe rocks, lots of pesticides and herbicides?

    • Dack says:

      How else are you going to feed your horses/cows/sheep/etc?

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      It’s not really onerous. Most people have motorized lawnmowers that can chew through practically anything in short order, and it doesn’t take particularly long to mow an eight-to-quarter acre. You fertilize 4 times a year and spray for weeds twice on top of that. Edging is optional, but can be done with a motorized weed whacker.

      Once every few years you aerate and you dethatch once a year, if you choose to. Both of those are motorized machines you can rent from Home Depot.

      The biggest PITA is watering it, but a lot of people have in-ground sprinklers that make that really easy.

      Grass grows relatively easily, it just gets outcompeted by certain weeds, and most weeds look disgusting. It actually takes a great deal of effort to grow a blended garden, which is why most people don’t even bother with a lot of garden beds and instead put up low-maintenance shrubs.

      All in all, the lawn on my 5500 sq ft property takes up a lot less time than my 36 sq ft vegetable garden and the 20 sq ft “whatever grows grows” spot. And I use a reel lawnmower! no engine

  14. FlorianDietz says:

    A thought experiment:

    What would happen if someone developed a lie-detector that actually worked?

    Imagine:
    -Criminals can be found by just asking people “Did you commit any crimes this week?”
    -For the first time in history, people can be sure that politicians are not lying to them and genuinely do have their best interests at heart.
    -A dictator becomes virtually impossible to remove, because “thoughtcrime” is now a very real thing.

    Both the benefits and the drawbacks would be massive.

    I suspect that such a technology would be easier to develop than strong AI and would arise eventually, and yet I have never found any articles giving the idea any thought.

    I have written some more about the subject on my blog: https://floriandietz.me/accessible_mind/

    What are your thoughts on the topic?

    • Matt M says:

      Assuming it operates under the same general principles as current lie detection (i.e. looking for minute but measurable changes in a person), I feel like there would still be a certain type of person who is immune – those who are literally insane, or suffer from various other mental illnesses.

      As was said by one of the pre-eminent philosophers of the late 20th century: “It’s not a lie, if you believe it.”

      • FlorianDietz says:

        I agree that some people would be immun due to insanity. It should still be possible to detect those kinds of people by asking calibrating questions. You wouldn’t be able to tell if the person is lying, but you would be able to tell that you can’t trust the lie detector and that the person has some kind of mental illness.

        • albatross11 says:

          You can imagine all kinds of ways this would work, if it worked. The Vorkosigan stories have fast penta, which basically makes it impossible to keep a secret (with a few exceptions). Non-horrible places limit its use to people who are under suspicion of a crime with some reasonable level of civil liberties protections.

    • Randy M says:

      I think there would be a black market in fast acting roofies.

      -Criminals can be found by just asking people “Did you commit any crimes this week?”

      I think eventually we might get to a cultural norm of such questions being okay, but even law abiding people who are sure they will be believed don’t like being asked that. And of course this only works for crimes that are generally known about.

      Anyway, this is an excellent example of a post advertising the posters blog in a way that doesn’t attempt to move discussion away from this one. I point this out because occasionally people ask here if they can or how they should do such things.

      • FlorianDietz says:

        The fast acting roofies are an interesting point I hadn’t considered!

        You could counter that by asking this, though:
        “have you ever bought fast acting roofies? Why?”

        What would happen if there was a list of questions designed to uncover crimes, and everyone just has to answer all of these questions once a month?
        It would become impossible to get away with committing a crime, wouldn’t it?

        • Evan Þ says:

          But wouldn’t the roofies remove your memory of taking the roofies?

          • Randy M says:

            For those who missed it–perhaps wisely–this was one of the plots of the Netflix arrested development episodes, where one man, in order to remove shameful memories, gets caught in a “roofie circle”, leading to lengthy periods of amnesia.

          • gbdub says:

            Forget-Me-Nows were actually introduced during the original Fox run, although the roofie circle plotline you mention was in the not-so-good season 4 as you note.

            If it wasn’t clear from Randy’s description, the key was that he took the pills too late to actually forget the shameful memory, but they still made him forget taking the pill. So every day he woke up with his last memory being the shameful thing, and needing to go get a Forget-Me-Now to remove it.

          • Randy M says:

            Forget-Me-Nows were actually introduced during the original Fox run

            Not, iirc, in the context of Gob taking them himself, but rather giving them, forcibly, to others. In that case, Michael’s mentally handicapped girlfriend.

    • Eric Rall says:

      It depends a lot on the specifics of what the lie-detector detects as lies. For example:

      Lie Detector A detects intent to deceive.

      Lie Detector B detects the subjects’ belief that they are not speaking the literal truth.

      Lie Detector C determines the objective truth value of the statement.

      • FlorianDietz says:

        For the sake of argument, let assume this:

        There is a part of the brain that lights up whenever we knowingly say something false, in order to prevent ourselves from believing our own lies. The lie detector can detect this. Both variant A and variant B you mention are similar.

        Of course, you could always just build a hybrid lie detector that looks for all of those criteria instead of only one.

        (except of course variant C. That’s clearly impossible.)

      • Matt says:

        C is my favorite. Imagine the discoveries that could be made!

        • FlorianDietz says:

          While I agree that C would be awesome, it also makes no sense and detracts from the point I’m trying to make.

          (Sorry if I sound a bit aggressive, I have talked about this before IRL and the discussion about political and economical impacts tends to get derailed hard once people start talking about variant C.)

        • fion says:

          You’d have sweatshops of people saying statements about the world into lie detectors. Whenever a lie detector wasn’t set off, the statement would be sent to the research teams to interpret and exploit.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Criminals can be found by just asking people “Did you commit any crimes this week?”

      Reading Three Felonies a Day would become a very bad idea. Really, one should strive to be as ignorant of the law as possible.

      • albatross11 says:

        What is the state of the art w.r.t. whether existing polygraphs work? I’ve spent many decades hearing about how they’ve not reliable, but I don’t know enough to have much of an opinion beyond the vague “this is supposed to be pseudoscience” notion I have from reading stuff on the internet about it.

        • engleberg says:

          According to Paul Ekman, the state of the art with existing polygraphs is that they work great at detecting emotions, specifically the six basic emotions in Darwin’s Expressions of Emotions in Animals and Man: happiness, unhappiness, anger, fear, appetite, disgust. Lie detectors suck at detecting lies, because lies are, well, less basic? Metaphysical? Aggressive cops are too good at intimidating suspects whose emotions they can read? Sneaky felons are too good at explaining away their lies? Lawyers?

          • My very non-expert understanding is that the lie detector detects your response to a question. If the question is “did you murder her,” there is likely to be a significant response from both the innocent and the guilty defendant, so it doesn’t tell you anything.

            On the other hand, if the question is “where were you Monday” followed by Tuesday, Wednesday, …, the guilty defendant who knows the murder occurred on Tuesday is likely to respond differently to the Tuesday question than to the other. The innocent defendant who doesn’t know won’t. So the lie detector is detecting guilty knowledge.

            Ideally, the question is being asked by someone who doesn’t know what day the murder occurred and so can’t signal the significant day by facial expression, voice tone, and the like.

            This is similar to the approach used in the Visigothic law of torture. Torture was only legal if there were facts of the crime that the guilty person would know and the innocent would not, and evidence obtained by torture was only accepted if it revealed such knowledge.

          • Lillian says:

            This is similar to the approach used in the Visigothic law of torture. Torture was only legal if there were facts of the crime that the guilty person would know and the innocent would not, and evidence obtained by torture was only accepted if it revealed such knowledge.

            Somehow i doubt the safeguards against the interrogator feeding the subject such knowledge were anywhere near as strong as the innocent would have liked.

      • FlorianDietz says:

        I agree. I mention this on my blog: Many contemporary laws are not designed with the idea in mind that they could actually be enforced all the time.

        • The following is from my legal systems book, not yet published:

          Suppose there were a substitute without those problems, a truth drug that produced reliable information with no harm to the defendant. The arguments against torture would then not apply. Should we use it?
          A possible response is that we want to do a good job of enforcing the law, but not too good. My analysis so far has taken it for granted that the laws being enforced are ones that should be enforced. That may not always be the case. An easy and reliable way of convicting all criminals is also a way of enforcing tyrannical laws. Limits to how good the technologies for law enforcement are may be justified as limits on the power of whoever is making and enforcing the laws.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think the optimal set of laws is very different in a world where laws can all be enforced. If once each year you answered a question under fast-penta along the lines of “Have you robbed, raped, or killed anyone?” you wouldn’t get a crapsack world. But it would be awfully tempting to add in a couple other questions, like “have you thought ill of the emperor” or “have you doubted the doctrines of the church,” and you can see that leading to a bad place pretty quickly.

            Having fast penta/perfect lie detectors only usable with a court order, when you are accused of a crime or are a witness to a crime, would be pretty useful. False accusations would basically disappear. But again, there would be a lot of incentive to stretch that use. The president’s advisors and office staff get fast-pentaed once a month to ask if they’ve leaked anything to the press; prosecutors looking to nail someone get to go on fast-penta fishing expeditions where they can always find *something* the bastard has done, etc.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’ve been mulling the idea of cultures needing to be modest about what they enforce.

            In particular, we have the case of laws against homosexual behavior making people’s lives worse for no good reason– and presumably nothing would have been done about that if people didn’t have a good bit of freedom to break those laws.

            I don’t know whether that sort of flexibility can be designed.

          • engleberg says:

            Justinian said that even a perfectly just law, if enforced perfectly, would result in perfect injustice. When is your book coming out?

          • When is your book coming out?

            Assuming the question was directed to me, I expect to have it out sometime in the next six months. But a late draft is webbed.

          • IsmiratSeven says:

            If once each year you answered a question under fast-penta along the lines of “Have you robbed, raped, or killed anyone?” you wouldn’t get a crapsack world.

            What about the cashier who forgets to ring up sales tax, or the cubicle warrior browsing SSC on company time, or the customer who is inadvertently given an extra side order with their meal and doesn’t return it, or…?

            Seems like you’ve created a hell for anyone with a strong conscience.

            (Leaving aside the culture war minefield of #2…)

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            Seems to me that even if the subject was misinterpreting the question in such a way, the follow-up questions would exonerate them.

    • Deiseach says:

      Criminals can be found by just asking people “Did you commit any crimes this week?”

      As Hamlet said, “Use every man after his desert, and who shall ‘scape whipping?” Ask everyone did they break any laws/rules and you’ll get 99.9% of respondents have done something, whether minor or major (“Crap! I never sorted out my recycling!”).

    • baconbits9 says:

      If your lie detector detected if a person thought that they were lying then people who bought into their own BS would get by easily, cult leader type of personalities and people like Bill Clinton who are able to wonder what “is” means. Everyone else would be in as much, or as little, trouble based on their ability to avoid a turn under the lie dector.

    • mrjeremyfade says:

      The Truth Machine by James Halperin covered this in a sci-fi style. It’s been years since I read it, but I recall it as a fun read with interesting ideas.

    • massivefocusedinaction says:

      I think the interesting question is what happens to all the societal structures we’ve developed to solve access to commons if it becomes costless to simply negotiate access to any commons.

      Transaction costs get very low if no one can get away with lying anymore.

      • Lillian says:

        Nobody except for all the people who believe their own lies. Oh and sociopaths, who generally can’t tell the difference between lying and telling the truth except in the most abstract and intellectual sense, and therefore probably would show up as being utterly truthful under the lie detector.

        Currently their ability to do damage is somewhat limited by some portion of the population not being taken in by their superficial charm, they notice there is something off about them and instinctively mistrust them. If they could call upon an objective measure of their trustworthyness, they would be able to bypass most of these people’s mistrust, allowing them greater reign to do as they wish.

        If the proportion of sociopaths in the population turns out to be high enough, we might find that many of these structures for negotiating access to the commons need to stay up, lest they run roughshod over everyone else.

        • FlorianDietz says:

          There is no reason to assume that you couldn’t find out when a sociopath lies.

          Sociopaths are aware that they are lying (else they would be tricking themselves too), they just don’t feel bad about it and don’t get nervous while doing it.

          • Lillian says:

            Well you see, that depends.

            It’s possible to hold beliefs which you know are false and yet believe to be true without deceiving yourself. Consider for example the statement, “Captain Jean-Luc Picard is a Frenchman.” This statement is false, Captain Picard doesn’t exist, and yet i genuinely believe it to be true. In fact i believe it to be true in spite of contradictory evidence like the fact that Picard speaks with a British accent and never uses the French language, but nonetheless this belief does not at all affect my ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality.

            If you hooked me up to a lie detector, it would register me saying “Picard is a Frenchman” as a true statement. What’s more, i don’t think it would be able to distinguish the truth value of this statement from the truth value of the statement, “I post in SSC as Lillian”. As far as i’m concerned, they are both equally true, except that one applies to the world i live in, and the other applies to the world that Picard lives in.

            Any person who is able to apply this “true, but different world” tag to any arbitrary statement, should be able to beat the lie detector. While it is not necessarily the case that sociopaths can do it, they may very well not be any more capable of it than it than i am, i think they are the strongest candidates for having this ability.

            You could counter this by making your lie detector able to distinguish between a person’s mental categories, but by that point your device has evolved into a full on mind reader, which carries a whole slew of additional implications.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @Lillian on Picard being French- just last week I was having a discussion about how, given the existence of the Universal Translator, we can’t be sure that Picard isn’t speaking French at least some of the time.

            Picard also sings in French on-screen at least once. Although in that same episode, when he is visiting his French family in France, the dialogue between them is in English. I assume that they are actually speaking French, and it is rendered as English by the same convention that allows dialogue between Germans in WW2 films to be in English when there is no English-speaking character present.

          • FlorianDietz says:

            I’m pretty sure you could develop a standard suite of questions to rule out deceptions like this:
            “is any of the stuff you just said only true in some alternate world?”
            “do you think that there is any part of what you just said that you understood differently than we did?”

            It would slow things down, but by asking enough meta-questions about the questions to which you want answers, you could probably get very reliable results.

          • Matt M says:

            Hell, there’s an episode where Picard teaches some of the children on the ship to sing Frere Jacques.

            The universal translator must be good at recognizing an artistic rendition of words for a musical purpose, as it chooses not to translate, for anyone.

            Possibly confirmed by its inability to handle the infamous “Darmok” language.

          • Matt says:

            The universal translator must be good at recognizing an artistic rendition of words for a musical purpose, as it chooses not to translate, for anyone.

            The universal translator can also tell when NOT to translate a Klingon word or phrase.

          • Lillian says:

            When i played a Star Trek roleplaying game, we toned down how good the universal translator was such that there was still actual value in learning other languages. Most people didn’t bother because the translator was good enough, but being able to speak a language fluently was still superior since you could speak to people directly rather than having to filter it through the translator. So of course my character, an aristocratic and very politically inclined Romulan, went out of her way to learn the two primary languages of the Romulan Empire’s chief rivals: English and Vulcan for the Federation, tlhIngan Hol and Klingonaase for the Klingons. After the Cardassian-Federation War she also picked up the principal Cardassian tongue. Together with her native Romulan this made her fluent in six languages. However, she didn’t speak a word of Reman, because why would she learn the tongue of a filthy servant race?

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Lillian, IIRC, I’ve read the same thing in Diane Duane’s excellent Star Trek tie-in (really, takeoff) novels.

          • IsmiratSeven says:

            @Florian

            I’m pretty sure you could develop a standard suite of questions to rule out deceptions like this:
            “is any of the stuff you just said only true in some alternate world?”
            “do you think that there is any part of what you just said that you understood differently than we did?”

            “No” [it’s true in many alternate worlds]
            “Yes” [every single statement will be understood differently by whoever experienced it, in a sense even more basic than that of Rashomon – I may be able to tell you I went to the store at 8:00am, but I remember the smell of the fresh-cut grass, and you do not]

            You’re very, very optimistic. 🙂

    • Lillian says:

      It would be a horrifying development. There are a lot of laws that are passed based on notions of how people ought to behave rather than to deter and punish the victimization of others, and for the most part i consider these laws to be inherently tyrannical and unjustified under the maxim that if there is no victim, there is no crime. Topping the list are prohibitions against drug use and prostitution (also gambling, though that is declining a bit). Sin taxes and certain excessive and unnecessary regulation also falls under a similar category.

      People respond to these foolish prohibitions by routing around them, black markets are created allowing people to indulge their desires in spite of the majority’s democratic despotism trying to stop them. This is a good thing, and we need to have more of it, not less. Anything that decreases people’s ability to avoid these pointless and evil impositions, from mass surveillance to working lie detectors, is therefore an instrument of tyranny. The widespread use of truly reliable lie detectors would force those of us who try to live lives free of government imposition of what we do with and to ourselves to stop doing so, destroying some of our freedom. This is both unequivocally bad and quite terrifying.

      • FlorianDietz says:

        I agree that a lot of terrifying stuff would happen. However, I think it’s worth pointing out that that would be a transitional phase. The problem is not that lie detectors are bad, but that the combination of lie detectors + laws that were made before lie detectors existed is bad. The question is how much terrible stuff would result from this before the legislative gets its act together and removs the laws that don’t work well with the existence of lie detectors.

        • Lillian says:

          Existing US laws against child pornography don’t work well at the intersection of horny teenagers, widely available digital cameras, and ease of dissemination of digital images. Yet somehow the legislature seems much more inclined to make the problem worse than it seems inclined to make it better. There are myriad of examples along these same lines. Just recently the US government decided to respond to the rise of internet prostitution, which was serving to make prostitution less dangerous for everyone involved, by passing a law making the online promotion of prostitution into a Federal crime, which helps no-one and puts many at risk.

          You will have to forgive me if i don’t share your optimism about the government’s ability and willingness to adjust the law to minimize its harms in light of new technology. Their track record thus far is to make the law ever more tyrannical and oppressive on everyone. Perhaps working lie detectors will make it so oppressive as to trigger a voter revolt and a sea change towards more reasonable laws, but i wouldn’t hold my breath.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Well, you know what they say; the opposite of progress is congress.

          • Lillian says:

            And the only thing worse that partisanship is bipartisanship. Most of the nation’s worst laws sailed through state and federal legislatures with broad support.

          • engleberg says:

            If someone has perfect working lie detectors, you lie to them by finding a sucker who honestly believes you and sending them the sucker. This would make being a sucker valuable, as we think we are today.

    • fion says:

      I think the equilibrium that this would lead to is basically your “dictator becomes impossible to remove” scenario. Liberal democracies would go through a turbulent transition period where almost all politicians are discredited and the police force makes a huge number of arrests, with no overall guidelines yet about which laws to enforce and which to ignore.

      Those in power try to maintain it. The super-rich remain super-rich, for they had little need to lie. The government won’t just stand aside and let a load of honest but inexperienced politicians take over, and the public won’t be happy about this. There will be unrest, there will be “honest demagogues” trying to lead movements, and there will be the military. The military will be largely unaffected by the introduction of lie detectors and will be the only force capable of restoring order.

      Eventually you end up with some savvy, not-necessarily-honest person who has command of armed bodies of men being in charge. This person refuses to take lie tests and uses normal methods (i.e. threat of violence) to dissuade anybody from trying to disagree with this. The new leader figures out how to restore order and decides which laws should be enforced. This includes maintaining his or her own power.

      This is a stable state that will be virtually impossible to get out of, and it’s the only stable state I can think of that is reasonably easy to get into, so I think it’s what would happen approximately everywhere. In short, I think the world becomes almost unambiguously worse.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      My cynical reaction is that a lot will depend on who gets questioned.

      In the real world, low-level people get drug tested, but CEOs and high officials don’t get drug-tested, even though in theory the high status people are making more important decisions.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        > making more important decisions

        I don’t want to bring this down to one word, because there are lots of reasons for drug-testing, but “dangerous” is the better determinant than “important.”

        If a lawyer is high and writes a bad argument in a brief, he might have a colleague catch it, or be able to amend it later, or even rewrite it before it is due.

        If a truck driver doesn’t see someone crossing the street, there’s no recourse. A lot of blue-collar work is just more brutal to mistakes. Someone screwing up can destroy an entire semi-conductor fab run.

        Now I wonder: Are surgeons drug-tested? It’s a high-status job but doesn’t have slack for correcting mistakes later.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Based on the stories I’ve heard of drug-addict doctors who definitely weren’t tested, I expect surgeons aren’t either. I know my grandfather (a former surgeon who retired in the 90’s) never mentioned anything about it.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I see your point, but a CEO can make mistakes which eventually destroy the company even if no one dies.

    • Jiro says:

      Even making reasonable assumptions such as “the lie detector detects intent and knowledge”, I still think this won’t work, because people aren’t 100% confident.

      If you’re thinking “I hope this will be ruled as self-defense and not a crime” but you’re not certain, does the lie detector detect a lie when you say you haven’t committed a crime?

      If the lie detector detects such things as lies only when you’re very confident it’s a crime, it will become useless for this purpose because it will fail to detect a lot of crimes. If it detects such things as lies when you think it’s only slightly likely that you have committed a crime, it will become useless for this purpose because it detects a lot of non-crimes.

      Using it on a politician has a similar problem. You can detect such direct lies as “I don’t want to raise taxes” when the politician wants to raise taxes, but what’s it going to detect if the politician says “this new policy will decrease crime” and he thinks it only has a 60% chance of decreasing crime? What if he thinks it has an 80% chance of reducing crime, but he mainly supports the policy for some other unsaid reason that may be bad for you? What if he doesn’t know if it will decrease crime, but his advisor says it does; does the lie detector now show a lie depending on how confident he is in the proclamations of his advisor?

      • Lillian says:

        There’s also the issue that politicians may make promises that they genuinely intend to keep, and then decide that for the good of the country they’d best not when the rubber hits the road. Like when George H.W. Bush said, “Read my lips: no new taxes.” He was probably being completely truthful and had zero intention of imposing new taxes. Then he looked at the country’s fiscal situation and changed his mind, and people were upset, but he never lied intentionally.

        An interesting question is what this would do to people’s trust in politicians. Would the public trust politicians more if they have tangible evidence that they are well intentioned even when they break their promises? Or would they trust politicians less because there’s no guarantee they’ll keep even their truthful promises? Personally, i trust Bush Sr more for raising taxes, because i want politicians who both make good faith efforts to keep their promises, and are willing to break them for the good of the country. However i’m not necessarily typical in that respect.

        Also, this is only tangentially related but it sprang to mind so i’m sharing it. Sometimes when playing videogames with dialogue options you’ll get a choice like: 1) Agree to retrieve McGuffin, 2) Agree to retrieve McGuffin [Lie], 3) Refuse to retrieve McGuffin. And i haaaate it, because most of the time at that point i don’t know whether i’m lying yet! Maybe i’ll betray the guy, maybe i won’t, i have to see how the situation plays out first, and i hate that the game is trying to force me to precommit to one course or the other.

  15. AlesZiegler says:

    Does anyone have good theories why Abbasid Empire collapsed? It seems to be at least equally important and mysterious event as breakdown of Western Roman Empire, yet totally underexplored.

    • Statismagician says:

      Umm… Mongols, no? Or is that too simple?

      • AlesZiegler says:

        When Mongols came, empire was already fragmented shadow of its former self.

        • Statismagician says:

          Gotcha – perhaps illustrating your point, I don’t know very much at all about this area of history.

        • Deiseach says:

          My very vague impression is Abbasid Empire = Persians and, well, Persians y’know? *shrugs* Mainly that Persian or predominantly Persian empires get big, get highly civilised, and then collapse due to a combination of in-fighting and making one too many external enemies because they are such an attractive target being rich and soft and did we mention rich?

          Take the above with an entire mine of salt.

          • Lillian says:

            Though the Abbasids began their rebellion against the Umayyads in Persia, the Abbasid Caliphate was not particularly Persianized, and Persia was not under their control for most of their reign, being lost only a century after they took over. Indeed, one of the reasons the Abbasids lost control of Persia was that the hereditary governors of the various parts of Persia did become increasingly Persianized, and thus resentful of the Abbasids’ foreign authority.

            Persian culture is one of the strongest forces in human history, in that despite the fact that the Persians kept being invaded and conquered by foreigners over and over again, these invaders would invariably wind up going native and becoming Persians themselves. It happened with the Parthians, the Arabs, the Turks, the Mongols, and then Turks again.

            As for why they collapsed, well the their entire revolution was premised in part in opposing the iron grip that the Umayyads and the Arab aristocracy had on power. They promised more autonomy to their supporters, and when they took over they delivered. Unfortunately for them, this undermined the secular authority of the Caliph, planting the seeds of their own eventual fracture into many squabbling polities.

    • Nootropic cormorant says:

      Maybe we should wonder how it lasted as long as it did. Nomadic societies easily conquer more advanced civilizations but they usually don’t uphold their power for too long.

      • Lillian says:

        The Abbasid Empire was not a nomadic society, and they did not last for particularly long. They took over from the Umayyads in AD 750-751 and remained more or less stable for the next century, holding the territories shown on this map. However they started breaking up in the 860s, such that by 900 they had been reduced to just Iraq and parts of Western Iran, and their hold over the latter was not particularly strong. Less than 50 years later the Shiite Buyids would straight up conquer them whole, reducing the Caliph to a mere ceremonial position. They did, however, enjoy a resurgence after the collapse of the Seljuks, which was in turn ended by the Mongols.

        • Nootropic cormorant says:

          I am aware, but the Abbasid collapse is in my understanding just the Arab aristocracy losing their grip on Iran, which lasted some 200 years, longer than what the Mongols managed in most places, probably thanks to Islamizing Persia.

          • Lillian says:

            The Abbasids didn’t just lose their grip on Iran though, they also lost North Africa, Egypt, Arabia, the Levant, Armenia, and Azerbaijan all in roughly the same period. Many of these places remained under the control of the Arab aristocracy, but an Arab aristocracy that felt no need to answer to the Khalifa. It was a pretty swift collapse from having a very large domain in 860 to being reduced to pretty much just Iraq by 900.

            As for the Mongols, they held Iran for about a century between the conquest of Kwarezemia and the collapse of the Ilkhanate. Then after a brief intermezzo they got another century out of the Timurids before they too collapsed. So both the Arabs and the Mongols managed about 200 years each.

    • Tenacious D says:

      Here are a couple of theories:
      1) Due to the geography and climate of the region, it has population centres along the Nile and in Mesopotamia with a gap (and the smaller population band along the eastern Mediterranean littoral) in between. Maintaining unity between them is a challenge.
      2) External threats (i.e. the Crusades and waves of invaders from the Eurasian steppe) shifted power to military castes. The Abbasids lasted longer as caliphs than they did as a proper empire; they were at least nominally recognized by the Seljuqs, Ayyubids, and Mamluks, but the balance of power had shifted by that time.

    • cassander says:

      The abbasid caliphate ruled over a huge, culturally diverse and poorly connected swath of land for the best part of 5 centuries, the question isn’t why it collapsed, it’s how they manage to hold together for so long in the first place? How did a few tens of thousands of barely literate hill people manage to conquer such an enormous empire and not just hold it for 5 centuries, but stamp their culture on the region to this day?

      • Lillian says:

        The Abbasid Caliphate was established in AD 750, started breaking up in the 860s, and lost the last remainder of its secular authority when the Buyids took Baghdad in AD 932. That’s not even two centuries, so how are you figuring five? They did enjoy a resurgence under al-Muqtafi in the 1150s and ruled Iraq independently until the Mongols destroyed them a century later. So that’s less than three centuries of Abbasid rule total, during half of which they only ruled Iraq.

    • Salem says:

      What do you mean by “collapsed?”

      If you mean “why did the Caliph lose temporal authority?” the basic story is well-known. The traditional system was based heavily on prestige, not linearity or military/administrative dominance. Anyone could claim to be the “real” deserving ruler, so civil wars and dynastic struggles were common, and indeed this is how the Abbasids came to power in the first place. So after a particularly brutal civil war, Al-Ma’mun and Al-Mu’tasim replaced the vassalage system with a professional, tax-funded military, aiming to solidify their control of the empire. In the short term it worked, but it meant that whoever controlled the army was in control, regardless of their prestige – so within a couple of generations, the Caliphs were sidelined by their own army commanders. But they had a good run.

      If you mean “Why did they lose so much territory?” – well, they were “collapsing” in that sense almost from the start. They inherited that territory from the Umayyads, their control over the outlying regions was always weak, even in the time of Harun Al-Rashid they were losing territory. They simply never had good administrative control of their empire. It wasn’t really collapse, it was the familiar “slowly at first, then all at once.”

  16. proyas says:

    How much better off would the U.S. economy be if it had annexed Canada long ago, and there were no U.S.-Canada deadweight losses thanks to trade barriers? I’d imagine that things would get cheaper thanks to bigger economies of scale, an enlargement of the single market, and the freer movement of labor, but by how much?

    • Matt M says:

      Well, the population of Canada is only ~10% of the population of the US. So it’d be a larger market, but not that much larger…

    • WashedOut says:

      I’d imagine the value of Canada’s natural resources would be higher than the annexation costs by orders of magnitude. See: Alaska.

      • Garrett says:

        You have to take into account the value of the natural resources minus the extraction costs. As a first-world country, Canada has environmental, safety and labor standards. Much of their extractive industries have lost to competition from other countries which don’t.

    • cassander says:

      economies of scale aren’t magic and don’t go on forever. there is always a maximum optimum firm size and given the size of the US, it’s almost always going to be way past that. any benefit from incorporating canada would have come about purely through easier movement of goods and services, not scale.

    • Erusian says:

      Canada is about 25% poorer in per capita terms than the US. Annexing Canada would thus increase the US economy by about 1.5 trillion, plus a little more in tearing down trade barriers, and slightly lower GDP per capita.

      How much is that little more? We trade about 600 billion dollars with Canada, or about 15% of our trade. We already have a free trade agreement with them but let’s presume that eliminating those last barriers adds another 20% in the value of that trade. That means our economy will increase by a total of about 1.6 trillion.

      So not much, though it would be a net gain. The main advantage in annexing Canada would be making US territory contiguous and more defensible. It would leave us with, effectively, a single border in the South. (Invasions through the Northern wastelands would be problematic to say the least.) Of course, if you’re looking for border optimization, the US should push through Mexico to Panama and then fortify then Colombian border. It’s seventy miles of swamp and jungle. That would add 42,000,000 central Americans (GDP 200 billion) and 130,000,000 Mexicans (GDP 2.5 trillion). There’s also much more room for economic growth there by removing barriers/integrating them.

      Of course, this is literally discussing imperialism, and we all remember what that was like…

    • Plumber says:

      I don’t know, but I’m way in favor of going the other way and getting California annexed by Canada.

      First off I’ve seen Canadian money and the women pictured on it is smokin’ hot, I could look at that a lot, God Save the Queen indeed!

      Second, we wouldn’t have to send money to Dixieland anymore, win baby!

      Third, while unfortunately we couldn’t keep southern Californians from coming north (unless we divide the State and they stay in the U.S.A. which I totally support!), but we could keep other Americans from moving here, yeah Canadians could more easily move here, but there not many of them, they’d probably apologize if they did, and the French speaking ones sound totally hot!

      Oh Canada!

      • Evan Þ says:

        I’m also in favor of California being annexed by Canada. Or declaring independence. Whatever way lets them do their own thing and stay out of the other states’ business. 😉

        (And then Texas can do the same thing once we don’t need it to offset the Californian vote any longer.)

  17. proyas says:

    Starting in 1944, is there any evidence that German soldiers on the Western Front started teaching themselves simple English expressions in anticipation of surrendering or being captured?

    • engleberg says:

      CS Lewis got the Military Cross for walking through the trenches in the previous war, getting surrounded by fifty Germans who looked him over and surrendered. Probably some guys in back still had rifles to hand just in case young Lewis jerked his pistol. It’s in Surprised by Joy.

      ‘Kamerad’ was a widely used WWII phrase.

  18. alcoraiden says:

    Is there a service a la Triplebyte or other “we will totally help you get a job” for coders in the Northeast? I have a programmer friend who has like…very little actual job experience (right out of college etc etc) but has a high caliber MIT education and is running headlong into “we want 3 years’ experience for a newbie.” It seems nice to have companies/organizations that can do the interfacing for you or help you along. Something that will put aside the history (or lack thereof) on a resume and look at what you can actually *do*. Anyone know of anything like this?

    (On a grumpy side note, I think colleges should do this. Like your careers department should actually help you get a job in the modern shit economy, not just abandon you like “good fucking luck kid.” I had a hell of a time settling into a career and would have liked an ally on my side.)

    • Matt M says:

      A lot of colleges do, in fact, do this. But the extent to which they are willing to hold your hand seems to vary greatly not only among colleges, but among majors within colleges.

      • Nick says:

        Yeah, my college was pretty good about this. Business students explicitly got this sort of help. A lot of other majors got it for certain things or at certain times, including a mandatory meeting with the career center everyone had to do the end of the junior year or beginning of the senior year, I can’t remember quite when. And a lot of professors were willing to help if you went to them, too.

        • Matt M says:

          Heh, when I got my MBA, the school would practically drag you, kicking and screaming, to interviews, if it had to.

          As toast says below, they compete with each other on “% of students who are employed within 6 months of graduation.” They cared more about you finding a job than they did about you keeping your grades up.

          • Nick says:

            As toast says below, they compete with each other on “% of students who are employed within 6 months of graduation.” They cared more about you finding a job than they did about you keeping your grades up.

            As strange as you make that sound, it looks to me like my and my career center’s incentives are aligned!

          • Matt M says:

            Hey, you don’t see me complaining!

    • johan_larson says:

      This person has an actual MIT degree, is looking for work as a programmer, and is getting rejected?

      This seems very strange to me, like there has to be more to the story. Is their background in something other than software, like chemistry, say? Can they actually code? Or are they applying to second-tier jobs, where employers are looking for a bit of experience, rather than true entry-level positions?

      • gbdub says:

        Common failure modes I see in top-tier school grads that get them rejected from my big company:
        1) Crappy GPA
        2) Lots of experience on small personal projects or academic projects, but no internship experience in the relevant industry
        3) Nothing that sets them apart from other grads of same top-tier school (this is particularly bad at career fairs, one place where “big fish in a small pond” is a major advantage, but the pond has to be big enough for companies to bother fishing there).
        4) Entitlement (or other personality flaws that are obvious in a short interview). I interviewed one guy who seemed pretty brilliant at software. But when asked for a positive story about a time he had to work through a design decision on a team with conflicting opinions, talked about a time he pulled an all nighter the night before a project was due and changed the team’s whole code to reflect the ideas he couldn’t convince them of. Apparently he felt this was an example of his can-do, hardworking attitude.

        Honestly assess if any of these are an issue and do what you can to mitigate.

        I struggle a bit as a recruiter because there are a lot of new grads I meet who have maybe a nontraditional resume, or maybe have some flaw (GPA for one) that stands out but a short interview easily mitigates. I can tell myself great stories about how they’d be excellent employees (and they probably would be). The problem is then I meet 5 more students who interview just as well and DON’T have the glaring resume flaws. Why take the risk if I don’t have to?

        Best advice is to seek out some of the smaller companies, less glamorous jobs. Be the big fish in the small pond. Then come back after you prove yourself there. Also, hang out with the MIT alumni clubs and glad-hand everyone. Slip in that you could use a job.

    • toastengineer says:

      Yeah, I thought they DID do that if only so they could go and strut around with their “99.9% of our graduates get jobs in their field” statistics.

      My boss asked me if I knew anyone looking for work a few months ago, you can refer the guy to me. EMail is my username here at gmail.

      Does he (or she?) have any big personal projects? My FOSS history got me an excellent job and I didn’t even get the degree in the end.

    • Chalid says:

      I don’t know if anything’s changed since I graduated, but I got a whole lot of interviews through the MIT career website in spite of having a less employable major than CS and the economy being lots worse. At the time, it was definitely targeted at undergrads, but it was open to alumni, grad students, etc. and had plenty of opportunities for non-undergrads.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Based on my wife’s experiences hiring in IT near Philadelphia there are some positions where the main question is “how soon can we get them up to speed”. Given that all new employees have to learn the particulars of their specific, in house made software along with other issues the minimum time seems to be on the order of 2 months for someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience (5+ years), and indefinitely for someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience and isn’t really well self motivated. This appears to be leading to recursive issues with the tight IT labor market. If someone quits or has to be fired during a project then the project is shorthanded until they find an adequate replacement and finding an inadequate replacement will make the issue worse by draining resources to train and deal with the issues they create. The longer you go without filling the position the more acute the need is for getting someone in who can be up to speed right away.

      In this environment I can see certain personality types as being functional non starters. Talented coder but perhaps difficult to work with is going to be one, guy who doesn’t sell himself as a self starter well is another.

    • Teeki says:

      Nope, but I have personally helped someone who was on a worse boat a few months ago (No formal CS education, and less than 1 year of experience/training)

      Career fairs are excellent at getting your foot through the door. Look ahead to see what companies are attending, figure out which ones you’d like to work for and do your research on them. It really helps to know their stack, what they do, and ask some intelligent questions. Most other students would ask them questions that are clearly on display on their panel, and they really do appreciate an a keen and astute lead. It’s not unusual for the panelists to give you their information and tell you to personally ask for them in the recruitment forms.

      Another piece of advice is to curate a linkedin. It does spam you, but it anecdotally works. I have gotten interviews at one of the big five, and my friend landed a job.

    • dick says:

      I manage and hire programmers. Couple questions:

      1) Isn’t the “Triplebyte for coders in the northeast” just Triplebyte? I haven’t used that service (on either end) but my impression is it’s primarily geared towards remote workers, i.e. not limited by geography.

      2) Is he working with traditional recruiters? If not, it could help, a lot of companies do most of their hiring that way.

      3) At what stage is he failing? “I can’t get a phone screen” is a very different problem from “None of my offers are north of six figures”.

      IMO, there are true entry-level jobs out there, the problem your friend is noticing is that jobs requiring two years (which may or may not be incorrectly described as entry-level) are an order of magnitude more common. There’s nothing sinister about this, it’s just that two years is the point where the weirdos/layabouts/etc have mostly been weeded out but you can still justify below-median salary. Your friend should still apply to those jobs, they can and do relax that requirement sometimes, but expect a lot of rejections.

    • WashedOut says:

      Tell him to go work for a cryptocurrency dev team, at least as a stop-gap until he finds a “mainstream” job. Blockchain/fintech company are tripping over themselves trying to find and retain programmers. They may not be able to pay him in anything other than tokens, but if he understands the movement afoot in this space it shouldn’t be a dealbreaker.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Do they have temps? I dunno. That’s what we got stuck doing in business if you lacked the XP. It puts you years behind your earnings curve unless you can quickly rise ranks or make a bunch of strategic job transitions.

      Strategy should be to network and intern while still in school. Experience is king.

      • dick says:

        Er, temp jobs range wildly from “we need a body to fill this chair” to “we need a special hard-to-find set of skills and will pay top dollar” but all other things being equal, temps should and IMO do make more than full-timers, even after the benefits and bonuses and whatnot.

    • Erusian says:

      Hired is the big one. You can also go through a traditional service like Talener. There’s also a few coding online programs like CodeKata that some companies look for people on. My biggest piece of advice is to apply for those three years of experience jobs. They do have three years of experience coding. At least, they do if they’ve been coding while in college, and if they didn’t that’s your problem. They can also take freelancing contracts to shore up their resume.

      Also, if you want to send over their resume, I can critique it and will pass it along to any companies I know in the Northeast (mainly Boston and NYC) who might be interested.

    • Nornagest says:

      When I was looking for a job right out of college, I gathered up all the coding I’d been doing for open source and personal projects (which thankfully were big enough that I could sell them as relevant to industry) and put it on my resume. My interviewers mentioned it during the interview that got me that job, so apparently it worked.

    • eqdw says:

      Indeed.com has a service called Indeed Prime. You fill out a linkedin-style profile, take some coding tests, and then they shop your profile around to tech companies looking for employees. You end up getting interview requests coming in over time.

      I didn’t get a large volume of opportunities out of that when I did it, but every single opportunity I got out of it was a good one

  19. j1000000 says:

    I know people get sick of all-encompassing requests for book recommendations, so I apologize for this, but I’m looking for interesting non-fiction books that are not at all about politics or current events, but instead are about niche-ish, narrow focus topics: The History of Bread, or How Sewers Work, or A Guidebook for Surviving A Massive Natural Disaster, anything at all that doesn’t mention Trump or political theories of history or anything like that.

    (I made a book rec request about a year ago and got tons of suggestions and read several that I really enjoyed, so a belated thank you to the SSC commentariat!)

    • Matt M says:

      I tend to like these types of books as well. Of the ones you enjoyed, are there a few you’d recommend?

      • j1000000 says:

        Well, to be honest, I haven’t read all that many books like this in my life. Mostly I read fiction and thesis-driven non-fiction that’s basically political (stuff like, say, The Blank Slate or The Black Swan or Bowling Alone or Coming Apart. Not uniformly conservative, which I guess all of those are.)

        But I just read “Addiction by Design” before going to Las Vegas, and for me the best part of the book was learning about casino design and slot machines themselves. (There was social theory/political stuff in there I wasn’t as interested in, but I wasn’t overwhelmed by it.) Made my experience in Vegas more interesting.

        So perhaps books about the history of everyday aspects of modern life would be the sorts of things I’d be interested in. So that for like a week after reading, say, “The History of Running Water” I could turn on my faucet and be like “WOW!!!!”

    • Urstoff says:

      In the area of Nature writing, The Forest Unseen by David George Haskell is pretty good. He just takes one square meter of ground in an old-growth forest and talks about all the things he sees there.

    • Tenacious D says:

      I read a couple of books last year that have a narrow focus and aren’t political:

      Thirst, by Steven Mithen – it describes and discusses water and wastewater infrastructure at archaeological sites around the world.

      Salt, by Mark Kurlansky – about the history of salt as a commodity (he’s written similar books about cod fish and paper, though I haven’t read them yet).

    • Well... says:

      In the realm of audiobooks, I’m most of they way through a Great Courses lecture series called “The Science of Energy” and I’ve found it illuminating, fascinating, and perspective-changing.

    • massivefocusedinaction says:

      Physics for Future Presidents is a good set of essays with a very pretentious name.

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        Seconding this one. The framework is that it’s the sort of physics a policy maker would need to understand to make sensible, informed decisions, without getting too lost in the weeds.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      Michael Lewis’s body of work I’ve always really enjoyed – Moneyball and The Big Short were both great fun and I at least felt like I learned a lot. Not sure how accurate he is, since I’ve never read a review of him, but eh.

      Let’s see, Blind Descent is a book about caving – specifically, two competing spelologists quest to find the deepest cave on Earth, either Krubera in the Caucasus Mountains or a larger complex in the Mexican highlands. I learned a LOT about caving and cave diving from this book, and was really glad I’d read it when that Thai soccer team got stuck this summer.

      Finally, Deep Survival is a book looking at who lives and who dies in mass casualty disasters. I felt sort of safer after reading it.

      None of these should be mistaken for scholarly works, they’re definitely in the popular non-fiction genre. But I think they’re worth a look nonetheless. None is too long, so you never feel like you wasted your time.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      The World in a Grain— this one is on my to-read list, but it seems to be what you’re looking for.

      Chulo— a year of close observation of coatimundis (they’re something like raccoons, but more narrowly built and communal). Coatimundis have syntax– that is, the order of the sounds they made can affect the meaning.

    • Incurian says:

      Universal Principles of Design

    • SamChevre says:

      An assortment of random suggestions: none of these are “popular non-fiction”, they are books I like but are somewhat specialized.

      Frederick Brooks, The Mythical Man-Month
      A book about managing software design projects, written when APL was still a standard language. However, it’s observations about team design, typical failure modes, and other issues. It’s the source of the (semi)famous quote “The bearing of a child takes nine months, no matter how many women are assigned.”

      Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, The Smartest Guys in the Room
      A popular-audience book about the fall of Enron, which captures the feel of working for a business that’s imploding. Very readable and fun, for values of fun that involve helplessly watching a train wreck.

      Eric Sevareid, Canoeing with the Cree
      An account of a trip by canoe from Minneapolis to the Hudson Bay in 1930.

  20. Matt M says:

    Does anyone know of any good media aggregation/tracking websites/apps?

    Like say, something like Goodreads, but not just for books. I want one app where I can track books, movies, TV, music, etc.

    Does such a thing exist?

    • fion says:

      I just use goodreads and imdb (and I don’t bother tracking music). I don’t really see any attraction in having them combined to one website. Letterboxd also exists but I think it’s basically just equivalent to imdb.

    • AG says:

      I’ve used Listal for my TV version of MyAnimeList, but Listal allows stuff for any type of media.

  21. ana53294 says:

    One of the things that surprised me when I moved out of Spain is how different family relations in regards to money are between more Southern European countries and the North European countries.

    In Spain, parents whose income is sufficient have the obligation to finance their kids’ education. Government assistance is only given to kids whose parents lack the financial ability to maintain their kids through college (and they expect significant sacrifices on the parent’s part). Working your way through college is really, really hard, and there are no student loans available to the general public. Youth unemployment is high, and salaries for uneducated people are low.

    This is why in Spain college students can and do sue their parents for alimony. Article 142 of the Civil code says the following (translation mine, so a bit rough):

    Child support is everything necessary for the substenance, housing, clothing and medical assistance.

    Child support also includes the education and instruction of the receiver while they are a minor, and even afterwards, as long as they haven’t finished their education for reasons imputable to them.

    Pregnancy and birth expenses are included in child support.

    This Code is from 1889.

    So there are people who continue their studies for much longer than anybody would continue receiving child support. You can sue your parents for child support even if they are married, but they refuse to fund your education. And there are enough stories about 30 year olds who are still in college and sue their parents for child support.

    It seems to me like kids in Spain have more expectations on their parents’ income (you cannot disown your kids in Spain). What reasons could there be for this type of view of family?

    • Urstoff says:

      Why isn’t there a student loan industry in Spain? Does Spain’s perennial high unemployment and weak economy make private student loans too risky? And thus perhaps the social norm was developed. Or perhaps the causation runs the other way. The social norm existed first, rendering demand for private student loans too small to sustain an industry. Either way, I suspect Spain’s constant economic woe has something to do with both.

      • Murphy says:

        I don’t know much about student loans in spain but I have some idea about the finance industry in spain as I have some family there.

        One thing to keep in mind is that spain is much more decentralized than you’re probably used to. Local town halls have a remarkable amount of power. Some regions or spain or even individual towns will have grant schemes while others have none.

        27% of spanish students receive some kind of grant to study at third level education in spain.

        Re: spains finance industry.

        Mortgages are much harder to get in Spain, you either need a massive deposit to the point that you barely need the mortgage… or, effectively, someone who already has a house willing to cosign.

        Spain apparently ended up getting the worst of both worlds out of the 2008 crash. Their domestic finance industry was heavily regulated and very conservative such that it would have been almost impossible for them to suffer a crash… but unfortunately their banks were heavily exposed to a bunch of american banks because their international finance was very lightly regulated by comparison leading to them making massive devastating bad bets.

      • Well... says:

        Is the implication here that the student loan industry is not as unstable/perversely aligned/generally problematic as I and many others believe it to be?

    • Argos says:

      For what it’s worth, I don’t think this is a North vs South difference. We in Germany have pretty much the same system, including the right to sue, although I only know one person who did that (she won).
      https://www.hochschulkompass.de/en/degree-programmes/fees-funding/federal-financial-aid-bafoeg.html

      • Aapje says:

        The same in The Netherlands, where the child alimony ends at 21 years of age, unless the child is still studying.

        Perhaps this is more the UK vs the rest of Europe?

      • ana53294 says:

        Well, in Scandinavian countries, they do find it surprising. But maybe that’s because they don’t discriminate student aid by parental income.

        So Germany also has a system of aid and loans that you can only get if your family has no money? I wonder what the percentage of people who receive this grant vs those who don’t is. In Spain, kids of a middle class married employed couple will not get any grant. Most of the people I know who received the scholarships are kids of single or unemployed parents. Or, they work in the kind of employment with lots of undeclared income.

        • Argos says:

          I am finding somewhat conflicting numbers, but generally the estimate seems to be that 15% to 20% of the students qualify for those grants. Half of the money is paid out as an interest free loan, which you only have to pay back once you earn enough money. If upon graudation you remain eternally unemployed, you will never have to pay it back. But I should mention that these numbers are also lowered by the fact that the grants are dependent on a sometimes unrealisitically quick advancement through the studies.

          Those who do not qualify can still get loans instead, but although practically everybody qualifies only around 5% of students receive such a loan.

    • Statismagician says:

      Weird combination of modern incentive structures and historical artifact? You yourself said the relevant law is from 1889; it’s not like Spain sat down yesterday and decided ‘yes, it’s perfectly reasonable to make parents pay for everything their 30-year-old child can plausibly call an education expense.’

      • BBA says:

        This reminds me of the filial support laws that exist in some states, which allow the poor elderly to sue their adult children for support, much like the more familiar spousal support and child support laws. The original rationale dates back to the old poor laws, under which an indigent person had to exhaust all other means of support before they could be admitted to the county poorhouse. The Social Security Act, with its universal payments to the elderly and its other reforms of state-based welfare, made all this obsolete, and for 60-odd years lawsuits for filial support were completely unheard of… until the financial crisis and the rising costs of nursing home care led some enterprising lawyers to dust off those old sections of the statute books and hit up their clients’ ungrateful spawn for cash.

        In the meantime, some states repealed their filial support laws, thinking they were completely obsolete and would never be invoked again. Others didn’t bother changing the laws, also thinking they were completely obsolete and would never be invoked again. Whether or not a state kept these laws on the books does not appear to be any active policy choice but pure happenstance, and now that’s what controls whether these lawsuits can go forward or not.

        • albatross11 says:

          So the outcome will be bad for mankind, but great for some social scientists looking for a natural experiment.

      • ana53294 says:

        I am not surprised that we have a really old law on the books that means 30 year old kids can sue their parents to fund their suboptimal education.

        I was mainly talking about the social aspect of it. In Spain, there is a very strong social expectation that parents who can afford it will fund their kids education. So, if the kid studies hard and spends a year per academic year, parents are expected to fund the kid, even if they choose to study something the parent finds undesirable (Greek Philosophy or whatever).

        Laws frequently shape society. Although it is very hard to pinpoint the reason, just ten years after gay marriage was passed, approval of gay marriage changed by more ten percent in ten years.

        But I am not sure that it is that old law that has built expectations around family money. It rather seems to me like there is a more communal property view of family money in Spain, where every family member is entitled to a share.

  22. bean says:

    Naval Gazing looks at the battlecruisers built during WWI.

    Also, there’s our regular open thread, with bonus mockery of terrible defense articles.

  23. vaaal888 says:

    Hello. Assuming that this is allowed, here is my latest post about humanity and rationality. In this post I claim that morality is the way humans solve Prisoner’s Dilemma problems.

    http://valeriobiscione.com/2018/09/23/morality-is-the-way-humans-solve-prisoners-dilemma-problems/

    A nice intuition result is the following: Why the most rational action in moral problems is to behave immoraly? Because morality has been developed precisely to prevent people to behave rationally in moral problems.

    Any comment and critique is deeply appreciated.

    • fion says:

      Why the most rational action in moral problems is to behave immoraly?

      I admit I haven’t read your post, but my reaction to the above question is “it’s not”. With the exception of the prisoners’ dilemma, I think in most moral problems the most rational and the most moral actions coincide.

      • vaaal888 says:

        Thank you for your honesty. I use the word rational in a peculiar way (as in: convenient in term of individual fitness). Do you agree with this version?

        • fion says:

          Ah, I see. That’s not how I use the word. I’d probably use the word “selfish” for that. And yes, I do believe that morality has developed to make people act less selfishly.

        • Incurian says:

          To continue harping on your use of the word rational (which I think you should take to heart when communicating with this community, because I think there tends to be broad agreement on this point), here’s a quote from HPMOR:

          Suppose, Harry had said, you were playing the game against a magically produced identical copy of yourself.

          Draco had said that if there were two Dracos, of course neither Draco would want anything bad to happen to the other one, not to mention that no Malfoy would let himself become known as a traitor.

          Harry had nodded again, and said that this was yet another solution to the Prisoner’s Dilemma – people might cooperate because they cared about each other, or because they had senses of honor, or because they wanted to preserve their reputation. Indeed, Harry had said, it was rather difficult to construct a true Prisoner’s Dilemma – in real life, people usually cared about the other person, or their honor or their reputation or a Dark Lord’s punishment or something besides the prison sentences. But suppose the copy had been of someone completely selfish –

          (Pansy Parkinson had been the example they’d used)

          – so each Pansy only cared what happened to her and not to the other Pansy.

          Given that this was all Pansy cared about… and that there was no Dark Lord… and Pansy wasn’t worried about her reputation… and Pansy either had no sense of honor or didn’t consider herself obligated to the other prisoner… then would the rational thing be for Pansy to cooperate, or defect?

          Some people, Harry said, claimed that the rational thing to do was for Pansy to defect against her copy, but Harry, plus someone named Douglas Hofstadter, thought these people were wrong. Because, Harry had said, if Pansy defected – not at random, but for what seemed to her like rational reasons – then the other Pansy would think exactly the same way. Two identical copies wouldn’t decide different things. So Pansy had to choose between a world in which both Pansies cooperated, or a world in which both Pansies defected, and she was better off if both copies cooperated. And if Harry had thought ‘rational’ people did defect in the Prisoner’s Dilemma, then he wouldn’t have done anything to spread that kind of ‘rationality’, because a country or a conspiracy full of ‘rational’ people would dissolve into chaos. You would tell your enemies about ‘rationality’.

          In other words, it’s rational to consider all the effects of your actions, not just to generalize from a hypothetical one-shot prisoners’ dilemma.

          • The argument is wrong.

            If you get to choose, before you are duplicated, whether you are the sort of person who would defect, it’s rational to choose not to be. But if you get to choose whether to defect after you are duplicated, the standard argument goes through and it is rational to defect.

            To put it differently, the mistake in the argument is confusing causation with evidence. The fact that you defect is evidence that your copy will defect. But, assuming we believe that choice is possible, your choice to defect does not affect the copy.

          • Dan L says:

            @ DavidFriedman:

            The section quoted is elaborated on somewhat further in the full text, but Yudkowski was certainly treating the rejection of causal decision theory as a feature, not a bug.

          • fion says:

            @DavidFriedman

            You remind me of two-boxers in Newcombe’s problem.

            Suppose Incurian is convinced by the argument they quote. They and their clone will co-operate and achieve good results. You are not convinced by their argument. You and your clone will defect and achieve bad results. If rationality is about winning, and if Incurian’s quoted argument leads to winning, doesn’t that make it rational?

          • strangepoop says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Wha?! David Friedman getting a standard decision theory problem wrong?

            Maybe the problematic phrase is “assuming choice is possible”, which is what exactly? Some asymmetric source of randomness?

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ Fion

            The prisoner’s dilemma is set up such that there is winning where you defect and the other party doesn’t, there is a second level where you both cooperate that is worse than the first level and a 3rd level which is the worst where you both defect or your opponent defects and you don’t.

            Rationality in this situation is basically defined as the best personal outcome that your actions can lead to, which means you supposedly always defect because either you get the best outcome or the worst, where as cooperate means you either get the 2nd best outcome or the worst.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Two identical copies wouldn’t decide different things. So Pansy had to choose between a world in which both Pansies cooperated, or a world in which both Pansies defected, and she was better off if both copies cooperated.

            This is just arguing against the hypothetical, it attempts to backdoor information that is explicitly prohibited in the PD. You do not know what the other persons behavior is, nor do you control it, this situation assumes that both Pansies know that the other will behave in the same way that they do, which is a violation.

          • Maybe the problematic phrase is “assuming choice is possible”, which is what exactly?

            It’s assuming free will. Without that, “what should you choose” becomes a meaningless question.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Modified version:

            You are in a lab, and informed you are in a blind, iterated game:

            In every iteration, your memory is erased, and you must choose to cooperate or defect. You are then compared to the previous iteration’s response; if they cooperated, and you cooperate, you get a chocolate. Hurray you! If you defect and they cooperated, you get three chocolates. If you cooperate and they defected, you get ten electric shocks. And if you both defected, you get three electric shocks.

            Your answer will then be used as the basis of the next iteration of the test.

            Do you cooperate or defect? And what is the difference between this, and the version of this in which you are instead playing against a copy of yourself?

            (That without getting into the free will nonsense again. Randomness isn’t free will, that is all I will say.)

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            It’s assuming free will. Without that, “what should you choose” becomes a meaningless question.

            Huh. While the ambiguities in “what should you choose” are important, I don’t think you can sensibly eliminate them simply by defining the phrase in an equally or even more ambiguous way. (Plus most people’s interpretation of “free will” seems to be openly counterfactual, ala Dilbert.)

      • albatross11 says:

        I think there is a large set of situations in which a “prudent predator” strategy is better for you individually. This is the guy who is scrupulously honest until the day the opportunity arises to steal a bunch of money in a way that is guaranteed not to be traced back to him, or the guy who expresses all the right beliefs about womens’ autonomy until he’s alone in a room with a lower-status woman and he’s sure he can get away with whatever he wants to do. Then the sheep mask comes off and he’s got long fangs.

        Prudence is about following rules that benefit you, appearing to be trustworthy so people will do business with you, etc. (And much moral instruction of children is about getting them to realize that a lot of those rules are worth following even when they don’t seem to be important.)

        Morality is about following those rules even when they don’t benefit you–not stealing the money from the senile old man who has nobody else watching over him and can’t defend himself, not forcing yourself on the attractive lower-status woman who you know will never dare accuse you of anything no matter what you do. Even small things like lifting the seat in a public restroom you’re never coming back to so you don’t leave a puddle on the seat, or tipping in a restaurant when you’re just passing through and don’t need to worry about iterated games.

        There are a lot of ways to get away with defecting in social games, from minor stuff (stiffing your waitress) to really awful stuff (date-raping some girl with no connections or defenders). Morality is about not defecting in those situations, even when it’s clear you can get away with it. Groups of people who mostly adhere to that kind of morality are way, way nicer to live in; groups who mostly adhere to the prudent predator strategy are generally pretty shitty places to live. So we benefit from getting everyone to learn and adopt some kinds of moral behavior, rather than only following their self interest in every case.

        Sometimes, this is justified as some version of “God is watching” or karma. Other times, it’s justified in terms of pride or self-image–to take advantage of a helpless person would lower yourself in your own eyes. Sometimes, it’s in terms of compassion and empathy–to steal the old man’s money or stiff the waitress would hurt other people, and their pain matters to you. But I think you very much want to live in a community where people find reasons to follow some notion of morality that applies even when nobody’s watching and they could gain by taking advantage of the situation.

        • fion says:

          If you happen to have a morality that values other people, then not defecting is the rational thing to do. If you happen to have a morality that values only the self, then defecting is (sometimes) the rational thing to do.

          I think any framing that pits rationality against morality is missing the point big time.

    • rlms says:

      You should read the relevant chapters of Reasons and Persons. Also, “immorally” has two “l”s.

  24. nadbor says:

    In a previous open thread we’ve had a small discussion of griefers in online games (esentially online-game bullies). The point of contention was: are griefers rare evil mutants who enjoy causing suffering or are they basically normal teenage boys responding to specific social circumstances. According to the first view, they’re a tiny, persistent and distinct group, a bit like psychopaths. According to the second view almost all of us are potential griefers like almost all of us are potential liars.

    Either way, there must be some (former) griefers reading this thread. Can we get a show of hands? Have you ever done something that could be seen as griefing? Why did you do it? Would you do it again? Do you consider yourself less empathetic than the average person? In your opinion, is there a psychological profile of a griefer that is distinct from general population?

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Have you ever done something that could be seen as griefing?

      In the late 90s I regularly played a game called Subspace, which was a very early stab at large-scale multiplayer internet gaming. You controlled a spaceship in a 2D, top down arena alongside upwards of 100 other players. Your ship started very weak, but as you flew around you would collect power-ups for improved weapons, engines, bombs, abilities, etc. You would score points by destroying other ships, and the numbers of points you’d get for a kill go up as the number of power-ups they collected went up. Basically the longer you survived, the higher your “bounty” was. Once you were killed, you would respawn with no power-ups.

      It was also generally considered poor sportsmanship to kill low-value players instead of “picking on someone your own size.” To discourage you from preying on players who just spawned, a brand new ship was worth negative points. Any time someone had just spawned and was killed, they would go to chat to complain about this “neg killer” and let everyone know to watch out for this schmuck.

      So I named my character “Neg Hunter Zodar,” whose mission was to get as low a score as possible by hunting down and killing only people who just spawned and were worth negative points. If you managed to scrape up enough power-ups to be worth positive points by the time I found you, you were free to go. To make my predation as blindingly unfair as possible, I used the Spider ship, which could get a cloaking device. Some poor schlep would spawn, with their slow-ass, no weapons, no armor, no sensors ship, and Neg Hunter Zodar pops out of nothing right behind him, blasts him to bits, cloaks and moves off.

      Why did you do it?

      It was more fun than playing the game the way the designers wanted you to play it.

      Would you do it again?

      In a heartbeat. I would say it’s harder to do these days as designers now think about the ways in which players can royally piss each other off, understand it makes people not want to play the game, and minimize mechanics by which griefing can occur. For instance, very few multiplayer shooters have team damage turned on.

      Do you consider yourself less empathetic than the average person?

      Maybe? I don’t know. I don’t think most people are very empathetic, but I could just be typical minding. Also, it’s a video game. No one’s actually getting hurt. And maybe I was even providing a service. People got really pissed off at Neg Hunter Zodar and would vow to hunt me down and exact their revenge. They didn’t have much luck with that, though, as I was good and preferred to stay cloaked and avoided fair fights like the plague.

      In your opinion, is there a psychological profile of a griefer that is distinct from general population?

      Not really. I think people just get bored and find other ways to amuse themselves.

      • gbdub says:

        What’s interesting to me is that Neg Hunter Zodar actually behaves much more like real life successful fighter pilots. Guys that go out looking for “fair fights” tend to have short careers.

        The one difference is a thing that does bug me about some online multiplayers: in real life, Gunther Rall flew the same Bf 109s as everyone else. His 250th kill didn’t earn him impregnable armor, a cloaking device, and auto-locking laser cannons. While in some online shooters (Star Wars Battlefront II is particularly bad about this), experienced players get power ups that make them nearly impossible to beat for someone with beginner equipment regardless of skill. This is annoying.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Yes, I rant about this frequently. I despise progression systems in multiplayer games (that aren’t MMORPGs). You buy the game, load it up, and you’re running around with your bolt action rifle while some dude in full body armor dual-wielding P90s blows you away. Yeah, I’m sure I lost that match because of skill. And it’s no fun on the other side, too. I want to beat people at these games because I’m better than they are, not because I’ve been playing long enough to unlock the P90s.

          Back in my day we didn’t have this crap. You bought Quake II, you installed it, logged on to the server and if you could find the weapons you could use the weapons. You didn’t have to get 500 kills with the chain gun before you could unlock the rail gun. And we liked it!

          That said, SubSpace wasn’t like that because the power-ups were not persistent. Everyone started a match with nothing, and every time you died you went back to having nothing.

          Also, yes, I dislike that part of Battlefront II, but love everything else about that game. I wish EA hadn’t flubbed the launch so badly with the lootbox fiasco because I love that game.

          • Nornagest says:

            You bought Quake II, you installed it, logged on to the server and if you could find the weapons you could use the weapons.

            And then there’s Day of Defeat, where it was all the dudes in the restricted classes with machine guns and sniper rifles who were the newbies, and it was the anonymous grunt with the Garand and a couple of grenades that you really had to look out for.

            On the RPG side of things, the Dark Souls games are still like that. Get invaded by a guy wearing his weight in armor and carrying a sword taller than he is? Might be a threat, might not be. But get invaded by a naked guy waving around a board with a nail in it? Watch out.

        • Matt M says:

          I’m sure the psychologists in the employ of the DoD are working on gamification algorithms to stimulate pilot achievement as we speak.

    • Murphy says:

      Myself I tend to be a very carebear player but I used to like following the SA goons antics in various games.

      I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Goons?

      They griefed on an industrial scale.

      their history in Eve Online is probably a good example.

      http://wiki.eve-inspiracy.com/index.php?title=Goonswarm_(Player_alliance)

      basics: in eve you start with a crappy little ship, if you die you get given one of these newbie ships for free. They’ve got crappy firepower and crappy everything. But they’re free.

      So the goons decided to all create newbie accounts at once. They created the goon swarm. Hundreds or thousands of newbie ships that just swarmed and attacked suicidally. At this point in the game the “police” ingame weren’t immortal/invulnerable. So they’d go to “safe” space and swarm and kill the cops then kill everything else. The Swarm was a permanent floating riot sweeping systems clean.

      Eventually the game devs made the newbie ship weaker, gave the automated “cops” weapons that worked on groups and made the cops invulnerable.

      The goons turned into one of the games biggest alliances controlling a huge region of the game.

      So the goons adapted to the changes in the rules and started traditions like Burn Jita, where they organized suicide runs on the main trade hub in the game.

      https://imperium.news/goons-burned-elite-find-fun-profit-burning-jita/

      Eve provide an opportunity to play as the villains. “Normally, when you play a [game], you want to be the hero, never the bad guy. You want to be praised for doing a good deed a fight off a shitty bad guy to save the day yet again. I decided to turn my back on that and open my eyes to the sea of possibilities this game seems to provide, and participate in my first Burn Jita, essentially the antithesis of everything that I had seen and have been taught in video games.”

      This thread has some gems:

      https://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3764286

      Notice a theme of thumbing their noses at the admins.

      Bullies target the powerless.

      Griefers more often love targeting the admins or the people who’ve crawled to the top of the heap.

      The stories people seem most proud of are ones where the weak and powerless players joined them.

      Some lowbie told me that he didn’t have any money, and asked to join my team instead. It was a useless gesture, as he was around level 2, but I accepted him into the bloody fold.

      or more stories of pissing off the admins with violent living sandwiches.

      You see, there’s another life-creating mad scientist chemistry recipe in Space Station 13. It’s extremely hard to discover and make, but it has the effect of imbuing any object it touches with life. This creates, for instance, a Living Crowbar that floats around and attacks people. At some point a Chef got the brilliant (terrible) idea to combine the living object recipe with fractal cooking.

      Enter The Crashwich. Every time this haunted apocalypse of culinary hubris attacked someone, the game reported its name multiple times. When it charged, when it slammed into someone, and every time it hit them, the chat buffer would once again overflow with infinite recursive fractal sandwich. The entire station was brought to its knees by crippling lag, while anyone unfortunate enough to be present for The Crashwich’s rampage would immediately crash out and have to reconnect their client, usually to find themselves dead and/or immediately crash out again because The Crashwich was still wreaking havoc.

      Some people just want to watch the world burn.

      The scientist all started to flee the unstoppable flames. The thing on the space station is fire extinguishers are prized fighting weapons, there are seldom few as the game goes on. They had no chance, I pushed the last plasma tank in and flew away.

      A scientist came flying out of Zeta, typing up a flurry of insults. Turns out they were an admin, they pushed me down and took off all my items to make me die in space.

      • Nick says:

        Notice a theme of thumbing their noses at the admins. Bullies target the powerless. Griefers more often love targeting the admins or the people who’ve crawled to the top of the heap.

        This is an interesting distinction, but in my experience most of those whom we would describe as griefers are targeting the powerless. A lot of griefing in Minecraft, for instance, is pretty indiscriminate, or just aimed at ruining the biggest, nicest thing on the map.

        ETA: And what about griefers who used to aim to take down whole servers? Folks would crash servers by flooding them with water or lava back before fluid mechanics were changed. Does that hurt the players more or the admins?

        • Matt M says:

          Agreed. I would almost say that if you’re targeting people with some level of power, it can’t reasonably be called “griefing” anymore.

          • Murphy says:

            Is “griefing” now getting redefined to join the “it only counts when targeting my group” club?

          • Nick says:

            May or may not be relevant, but you’ve got me thinking: one theme of griefing is that it’s enabled by bad game mechanics. In Conrad Honcho’s case, he could do what he did because there’s no actual downside to having a score of negative one zillion. In your EVE Online example, Murphy, the starting ships were just too strong and there weren’t any AOE attacks to prevent swarm tactics. In the case of Minecraft, it’s just a lot easier to delete 300 blocks than to put them together. (Or in the case of flooding a server, astronomically easier.)

            When the player being griefed has power to, say, lock down their creation, or ban the griefer, then things aren’t so asymmetric. So it doesn’t really have anything to do with an “it only counts when targeting my group” attitude. It seems to me that these “sticking it to The Man” or “watching the world burn” motivations are a little different from what I remember of griefers—the kind who griefed regular players or indiscriminately, and just seemed to enjoy destroying something or ruining someone’s day—but I will grant you that I ran private servers and never had to put up with any as an admin.

          • Matt M says:

            Is “griefing” now getting redefined to join the “it only counts when targeting my group” club?

            The reason it causes grief is because the victim is powerless to stop it.

            If you could stop it, how are you grieved?

          • Murphy says:

            @Matt M

            By having to spend time and effort.

            If the makers of a game literally change the game rules because of you you’ve put them in a corner.

            In terms of power differentials in-game… causing the devs to get involved is like causing so much ruckus that god himself leans down out of the clouds to create a commandment just for you.

        • Murphy says:

          Does that hurt the players more or the admins?

          Practically speaking it probably creates work for the admins, either reverting from backup or otherwise undoing what’s happened to try to get things back to normal.

      • MrApophenia says:

        Yeah, the Goons’ involvement in the old persistent browser MMO Urban Dead greatly improved that game, too.

        For those who never played it, it was a turn based zombie survival game where players were either humans or zombies. If a human character died you could continue play as a zombie, and there were methods to be resurrected, but generally speaking they were enough of a pain in the ass that if you didn’t have allies specifically trying to find you and bring you back, you were either stuck as a zombie or had to create a new character.

        Anyway, the Goons invaded the game en masse, just like Eve Online. They claimed a whole neighborhood of the city, and made it as zombie proof as the game allowed – fully barricading every building, which also made the buildings inaccessible to most players, leaving anyone unlucky enough to be on the streets to get eaten.

        Then they started killing any human player that came into their territory.

        Due to their numbers, none of the other human players had any way to deal with this. Eventually all anyone could do was stay as far away from their territory as possible.

        Except… one of the limits zombies had in that game was communication. They couldn’t use anything other than gestures or grunts. A lone zombie was basically useless, you needed hordes of them to batter down barricades faster than they could be repaired and get to the humans. So organizing a decent zombie horde was always a challenge.

        Except… now everyone knew where they were guaranteed to find lots and lots of humans to eat. So as the humans fled the Goons in terrror, more and more zombies just kept flooding in. Eventually they overwhelmed even the ridiculous barricading efforts of the Goons, broke through their defenses, and ate all of them.

        Some people in the game were super pissed about the Goons, but honestly I thought that whole thing was the most Zombie Movie the game ever got.

      • beleester says:

        Griefing in EVE is a special case because it’s pretty much stated up-front that it’s part of the experience. CCP is very hands-off when it comes to punishing griefers and scammers. People come to EVE specifically because they want to be in a universe of ruthless capitalist assholes.

        But most games aren’t like that. You can’t really justify what you’re doing as an intentional part of the game, it’s just ruining someone else’s fun for your own enjoyment.

  25. onyomi says:

    Periodically browsing job ads for positions in the UK I also share the impression expressed in the subreddit that the salary ranges seem ludicrous… like, I could be a lecturer at Oxford or just work at McDonalds in the US. And everyone knows rent, food, etc. are quite expensive in London, presumably better elsewhere but I don’t think THAT much better…

    So, this is probably a dumb question, but how do the British deal? Americans are probably spoiled (certainly are by world-historical standards), but we often already subjectively feel it’s hard to avoid racking up credit card bills, much less save for the future. Is this impression just on steroids in the UK? Does everyone just share tiny apartments with a bunch of people? Is there a sense it was always like that or has it gotten much worse in recent decades?

    • thirqual says:

      Starting university lecturer in the UK: north of £30k.

      Full time (good luck with that) employee at McDonalds in the USA: on average $9/h, so less than $21k/year.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      London is a huge outlier. Oxford is expensive, but nowhere near as bad as London. According to a relatively recent survey, the average renter in England and Wales spends 27% of gross salary on rent. The average in London is 49%!

      Oxford is (for statistics purposes) in the South East of England, which is the second most expensive, but the equivalent figure there is about 33%.

      Put another way, the median rent for a one-bedroom property was £1275 per month in London, but £675 in the South East.

      Drilling further down, the 33% figure for a £30k salary as mentioned by thirqual is £833/month. In Oxford itself, that is at the low end of the range for a one-bedroom property.

      There is definitely a sense that housing has become more expensive in recent decades- especially buying . But it has not got to the point of “everyone sharing tiny apartments with a bunch of people” Soviet kommunalka-style.

      • thirqual says:

        ” Soviet kommunalka-style” I think you mispelled “San Francisco-style” here :p

        There is also generally a (not really sufficient to cover the difference in costs) bonus for university staff working in or close to London, of up to £2800 per year if memory serves.

      • Brad says:

        The main determinant of how terrible a housing market becomes seems to be the availability of ever longer mortgages.* I don’t know if it was government intervention that allows for the 50 year and 100 year mortgages in London, but I suspect it is. If so, the governments responsible ought to be ashamed of themselves. They’ve immiserated entire generations in order to hand a pure, unearned giveaway to incumbent homeowners.

        If governments would cease their efforts to make it “easier” to buy a home, we’d be far better off. It all ends of being capitalized into prices.

        * The other factor that matters is the attractiveness of the particular market to foreign cash buyers. But even in the most attractive cities to such buyers–London, Vancouver, NYC–they are still a relatively small percentage.

        • onyomi says:

          Sounds like a classic “Bootleggers and Baptists” dynamic (the “bootleggers” here being the homeowners who profit off the appreciation and the “Baptists” those who think the government should do more to make home ownership accessible).

          • Brad says:

            I don’t know that there are any sincere baptists. Maybe 50 years ago when the dynamics perhaps weren’t as well understood, but not today.

          • onyomi says:

            Really? I think if you surveyed the American public (and maybe the British public?), even now, after the subprime crisis, you would get a pretty high percentage of “yes” responses to the question “should the government do more to increase access to home loans?”

          • Brad says:

            More than 60% of households are incumbents that stand to benefit from such boondoggles. How do you disentangle that?

          • onyomi says:

            I think you’re right that this may be a case where the categories sort of merged: people motivated to believe that it’s good for the poor and middle class for the government to promote home ownership by the fact that they stand to benefit by its doing so. I guess there are probably many other such cases (where the genuine, non-self-interested “Baptists” kind of disappear but the “bootleggers” buy into their rhetoric so heavily as to, in many cases, believe it themselves and almost be hard to distinguish from them).

          • Matt M says:

            More than 60% of households are incumbents that stand to benefit from such boondoggles. How do you disentangle that?

            While I don’t deny that there’s surely a self-motivated financial interest in play when it comes to California NIMBYism, how do we reconcile this with the fact that these are also the same types of people who generally vote for, say, higher income taxes. Or more specifically, more progressive income taxes.

            If the rich Bay Area homeowners were as motivated by economic self-interest as we claim in these debates, why don’t they manifest this in any issue other than NIMBYism?

          • Plumber says:

            “While I don’t deny that there’s surely a self-motivated financial interest in play when it comes to California NIMBYism, how do we reconcile this with the fact that these are also the same types of people who generally vote for, say, higher income taxes. Or more specifically, more progressive income taxes.

            If the rich Bay Area homeowners were as motivated by economic self-interest as we claim in these debates, why don’t they manifest this in any issue other than NIMBYism?”

            @Matt M,

            That’s easy!

            In California you can inherit low 1975 property tax rates if the property was in your family in 1979, or the rate that the property was the year when it got into the families hands (there’s a small increase each year, but it’s nowhere near what market rate valuation would be), and even if you bought high, come a good recession (say in 2009) you may apply for re-assessment at a lower rate and it’s frozen there.

            Fat city baby!

            You lobby for increased taxes
            (which fall mostly on newcomers), so with the improved policing and schools the rents you may charge increases so even with the higher income taxes you pay you still profit!

        • fion says:

          Sorry if this is a stupid question, but could you explain why making long mortgages available helps incumbent homeowners?

          • baconbits9 says:

            It makes the payments affordable, while the person selling still gets the cash value up front.

          • John Schilling says:

            Long mortgages make it easier for people who don’t already own homes, to borrow Ridiculously Large Amounts of money to buy homes. Bankers would laugh you out of the bank if you proposed to borrow RLA money and pay it back in fifteen or thirty years; they can do the math (because banker) and know you won’t be paying them back. A buyer limited to ordinary mortgages can only borrow Ordinary Large Amounts of money to buy a house.

            The more buyers are capable of paying $RLA instead of $OLA, the higher the market price of homes. Higher market price means greater borrowing power for home equity loans while one owns the house, and greater profit when you sell it.

          • fion says:

            @John Schilling

            The more buyers are capable of paying $RLA instead of $OLA, the higher the market price of homes

            I don’t quite get this. Is this true of everything? Does the market price of apples increase if people get more disposable income? Or is it only true because of the housing shortage?

          • Lambert says:

            Affluent people start buying poncey organic apples from Whole foods or wherever, so yes.

          • Chalid says:

            Empirically, when signing a mortgage, homebuyers care mostly about their down payment and monthly payment, and not so much about how long the mortgage lasts (or so I’ve been told, I’ve never looked at the data myself). So in general, buyers are willing to pay more if they have longer mortgages.

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t quite get this. Is this true of everything? Does the market price of apples increase if people get more disposable income?

            If you give people more money, without simultaneously filling the markets with more of the stuff they want to buy, then yes, the market price of everything goes up. That’s the basic driving factor of price inflation. In this particular case, we’re “only” giving them more money if they commit to using it to buy a house, so only housing prices go up.

            Well, mostly only, because there are second-order effects.

          • Or is it only true because of the housing shortage?

            It is not true for any good where quantity can be increased without increasing per unit costs. Housing is special in two ways. In the short run, building houses takes a while, so an increase in quantity demanded will result in a short term increase in price.

            In the long run, land to build on in a desirable location is a fixed resource, so an increase in quantity demanded will bid up the price of the land.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Housing in a desirable city is a positional good. I support making more supply, but prices are still going to go up.

          • fion says:

            Thanks for your explanations. That makes more sense now. 🙂

    • ChrisA says:

      I was always pretty surprised by my US colleagues when I worked in the US, they seemed absurdly well paid compared with people in my home country, but were still complaining all the time about how they didn’t have enough money. It was even more surprising when you compare the cost of groceries, cars, houses and so on in the US. On top of this, most Americans don’t even take vacations which is another saving. Part of the answer seemed to be people considered necessities what in other countries would be luxuries, like eating out on a very regular basis, buying expensive snacks and coffees, and having very large houses with associated costs (heating, cooling, landscaping, local taxes etc). But I still could not understand it really. My wife and myself had fairly modest jobs when we lived in the US and we bought our own home which seemed large for us, but we still managed to save most of our income.

    • fion says:

      Wait, are you saying incomes in the UK are low? Growing up and living here, I never knew that. In fact I earn significantly less than median income and still have more money than I know what to do with.

    • add_lhr says:

      Some quantitative info based on my experiences with on cost of living – I am a professional with experience living in both London and NYC. I am a hard-core lover of cities with no family and thus I optimize my spending for being in the heart of it all and enjoying the cultural / social / gastronomic advantages of living in the biggest cities in the world, so my spending patterns will not match everyone’s, of course. But, what I found when I ran the numbers a few years ago was (ALL FIGURES IN USD, at 1.3 to the pound):

      – A salary of GBP 80k (USD 105K) is roughly equivalent in quality-of-life terms to $125K in NYC, as measured by having the same amount left over each month to save / pay off student loans (in this case, anchoring on about $3K per mo)
      – The effective tax rates at those levels are 33% in the UK and 35% in the US (yes, the US is higher due to NYC + NYS taxes), but of course VAT is higher in the UK than in NYC so it probably comes out in the wash when you account for non-food consumption
      – Rent can be much cheaper in London depending on what you optimize for. I share a nice 2 BR flat with a friend right next to the train station in a *very* trendy and decently-located part of London and pay just over $1,050 including utilities. The same flat + utilities in a similarly trendy part of Brooklyn would probably be at least $1,800 each for 2 people, and it seems to be getting worse.
      – Transit is more expensive as there is no monthly pass in London – it’s hard to get away with paying less than $250/mo on transit unless you bike to work. I think in NYC it’s no more than $150/mo even today
      – Going out to eat and drink is *much* cheaper in London – I find it’s about 20-40% cheaper depending on what you are looking for. I can have a great dinner + dessert + drinks at a trendy but not fancy restaurant for $32 incl tax and tip – I can rarely get away with the same for less than $50 in NYC. Similarly, 2 pints in London, which is equivalent in volume to 3 NYC draft beers, is $14 at a trendy pub/bar, whereas in NYC with tax & tip it would be more like $25-28 at best (!) Cocktails are even worse (you can get a G&T at a trendy bar in London for $6 total… try that in NYC).
      – Groceries are also cheaper, in part due to the availability of very low-cost basics. There are lots of things in London supermarkets that cost 50p – or even 40p. If you live on your own and only need a bit of milk or a small amount of staples, or even prepared food, supermarkets have those pack sizes and will sell them to you for 50p to a pound. I found living in NYC that this was not the case and living alone resulted in minimum $30 grocery runs for lunch & breakfast supplies for the week – whereas it’s more like $18 in London
      – Getting away for a city break is of course also cheaper (and adds thousands in non-monetary quality of life value, which I have not attempted to capture) – I can go away with friends to a European city for 2-3 days for $325 for flights, transfers, and lodging pretty much whenever I want

      • Lambert says:

        Never thought I’d see the day when someone calls the beer in London cheap. It’s twice what the rest of the country pays.
        It’s rumored that there’s a place in Edinburgh where you can get a pint of Tennants for £1.

        • Nornagest says:

          $14 is about what you’d pay for two pints of decent beer in any of the big West Coast cities. Less in a dive, more in a trendy club, a nice restaurant, or a really expensive bar. If it’s twice that in New York, that’s on New York.

          $50 is about what you’d pay for a nice meal including drinks, though.

        • Brad says:

          I’ll concede cocktails but even at a nice bar in NYC you aren’t paying $15 a beer with tip unless it is some kind of exotic brew, which is probably high test.

          If you’re in a fancy restaurant where they prefer to steer you towards those $18 cocktails or $100 bottles of wine, maybe you’d see something like that.

          • add_lhr says:

            Hi Brad – no argument there, pints are definitely not $15 in NYC. But I was going on the logic that while a British pint is 19.2 US oz, whereas I always heard NYC draft beers are often (though I may have been misinformed, as I am now learning through googling) not even a full US pint but more like 14 oz. So 2 british pints is almost as much beer as 3 US draft beers, which could easily be $7 + $1 tip or $8 + $1 tip each.

            But if you assume that all NYC draft beers are 16 oz, then 2 british pints’ worth of beer in NYC is more like $20-22.

      • rlms says:

        Interesting! It appears that £80k and $125k are both around 95th percentile for individual pre-tax income in each country. N.B. there are monthly (and indeed yearly) passes in London though; the zone 1-3 monthly pass is $200/month at your exchange rate, and the annual one would be $173/month.

        Note that London is a lot more expensive than the rest of the UK, but equally it has higher salaries.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Very interesting; thank you!

        Out of curiosity, how big is your two-bedroom flat? For comparison, my previous two-bedroom apartment just outside Seattle (for which I was paying ~$950/month when there were two of us) was ~860 square feet; my current two-bedroom condo in the same area is ~1000 square feet.

        • add_lhr says:

          It’s not big! About 500sf, which is the same as my old 2BR flat in the East Village (which now rents for close to $2,000 per person per month, I believe). Perhaps Brooklyn flats are a bit bigger, although based on recent AirBnB experience, I doubt it – the one I stayed in last time I visited was more like 400sf!

    • rlms says:

      Outside of London, middle-class people (such as your hypothetical lecturer on £30k) generally don’t feel poor. Tiny apartments, and indeed apartments in general are rare — I would guess <1% of people outside London share an apartment with non-relatives — although I believe houses are smaller than in the US (smaller rooms, fewer bathrooms, lack of garages). Households also tend to have fewer cars, other than that I'm not sure what the differences in consumption are.

      • fion says:

        I would guess <1% of people outside London share an apartment with non-relatives

        Are you including students? I’m not sure how many students there are in the UK, but I’d guess it’s a few percent, and I’d guess that most of those share accommodation with non-relatives.

        • rlms says:

          Good point, I wasn’t. It looks like just under 3% of people in the UK are full-time students, most of whom share accommodation. But I think typical student housing is shared houses or student halls; if we class the latter as non-apartments I think the <1% figure could still be correct.

  26. Russell Davis says:

    The South Bay meetup link is broken.

  27. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    Against the minimum wage:

    Assume someone’s labor is worth $10/hour. What does it mean for someone’s labor to be “worth” $10/hour? See the first third of “The Cambist and Lord Iron”. The value of something is what the market will bear; it’s what costumers are willing to pay for the labor. If the most somebody is willing to pay to have you mow the grass is $10/hour, the value of your grass mowing labor is $10/hour. It doesn’t matter if you work really hard, it doesn’t matter if you have 2 children starving at home. That has nothing to do with what your labor is worth. Your labor is worth what people are willing to pay for it. And since trades are mutually beneficent exchanges, the maximum price they are willing to pay for it is the price where they are just barely getting any value out of the trade. That’s it.

    So, again, suppose someone’s labor is worth $10/hour. This is what the company charges the costumer. The company then takes the $10/hour, pays the employee $8/hour, and pockets the remaining $2/hour. (Why isn’t the company paying him even less? Because the employee can quit and work for another company which pays him $8/hour.) Now suppose the minimum wage is raised to $15/hour. What happens? Well, we have already established that that company can’t sell his labor for more than $10/hour. So, at best, the company would be LOSING $5/hour by employing him. So of course the company fires him, or refuses to hire him, and now he is unemployed. Lawn-mowing was his most profitable skill (otherwise he would have already been doing something else and earning more money), so he is now UNEMPLOYABLE. He’s probably not gonna starve, but he is gonna have to get by on one or more of welfare, charity, under-the-table work, or crime. HOW ON EARTH is this an improvement?

    The Marxist would note that the corporation is pocketing the $2/hour difference and calling it exploitation/stealing. So why doesn’t the guy just sell his labor to the costumer directly and pocket the full $10/hour? Coordination is hard. The company has guys specializing on advertising, maintaining a costumer list, calling other people in when the first guy gets sick, dealing with costumer complaints, etc… Which allows the guy to just show up and do his job. If he was working by himself, any hour he would be spending on advertising, organizing, etc… would be hours he would not be earning money. Plus government regulation that prevents him from selling his services directly, but that’s evil.

    And yes, this generalizes all the way down to our current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. I bite that bullet. Not only should the minimum wage not be raised to $15/hour, the minimum wage should be eliminated altogether. If I thought raising the minimum wage would ACTUALLY result in everyone earning at least $15/hr with no unemployment, I would be all for it. I’m not some evil mutant who hates workers. But it won’t. If you want everyone to make at least $15/hr, the idea you actually want is wage subsidies, not minimum wage.

    • WashedOut says:

      I think I agree with the high-level point of view you’re presenting, but a few points here and there:

      Why isn’t the company paying him even less? Because the employee can quit and work for another company which pays him $8/hour.

      This assumes that the market is liquid enough to support this action, and that the cost to the worker of changing jobs (including whatever unemployment period there is in between) is less than the value of him working for a boss that doesn’t (outwardly) plan to lower his wage.

      Now suppose the minimum wage is raised to $15/hour. What happens? Well, we have already established that that company can’t sell his labor for more than $10/hour. So, at best, the company would be LOSING $5/hour by employing him. So of course the company fires him, or refuses to hire him, and now he is unemployed.

      Or he keeps his job and his Company passes the increased costs onto their customers (home owners with lawns), who struggle to switch providers for this minimum wage service because the wage has gone up uniformly, so they bare it and the cost of living increases. Whatever job losses that follow would be proportional to the % of homeowners who start mowing their own lawns instead.

      Even though you don’t explicitly endorse it per se, why would wage subsidies be a good thing?

      The argument you’ve left out is that a minimum wage reduces the independent bargaining power of low skilled workers. The other facet to this is that laws which enforce equal-pay can paradoxically hurt the poor and minorities more, since for the same price a discriminatory employer will choose to employ someone from their in-group, absent any bargaining power of the minority worker to make an offer.

      • Glen Raphael says:

        Or he keeps his job and his Company passes the increased costs onto their customers (home owners with lawns), who struggle to switch providers for this minimum wage service because the wage has gone up uniformly, so they bare it and the cost of living increases.

        That’s just denying the premise that the work was “worth” $10/hour to customers.

        If the work really is worth only $10/hour to customers then raising the price doesn’t (in the long run) increase revenue. $10/hour is the revenue-maximizing price; if firms could earn more total revenue by raising the price to customers to $17/hour (enough to pay workers $15/hour and still cover $2 overhead) they would have already done that.

        When you raise the price above the revenue-maximizing price, revenue declines because people find substitutes. Perhaps they’ll just shut up and pay the higher price this month, but in subsequent months they’ll find ways to pay less such that overall revenue for your firm and/or the entire industry declines. The only way for this not to happen is if people stop responding to incentives. So here’s a few things that change when the price increases. In addition to some people just mowing their own lawn others will:

        – buy lawn-mowing robots to mow their lawn with no labor cost

        – let some or all of the lawn turn into high grass

        – keep the lawn but let it grow taller by mowing less often

        – switch to grass variants that grow more slowly to need less mowing

        – switch to ground cover that doesn’t require mowing (honeysuckle, iceplant)

        – replace lawns with rock gardens or orchards or pavement

        – in new homes, lawns on offer shrink or entirely fall out of fashion

        A market price of $10/hour for mowing takes all this into account – it’s the price at which if you charge less you lose money (even though you get more business) because you’re not charging enough per hour and if you charge more you lose money (even though you’re making more per hour) because you get less business.

        And yes, firms are price-takers because if they charge too much, somebody else can jump in and undercut to steal the business. But firms are also price-takers because customer demand for the product they sell isn’t infinite. You’re not just competing with other suppliers of your product, you’re also competing with substitutes…and cartelizing the industry doesn’t help with that at all.

        In the case of McDonalds – a company selling food – it’s at least possible to argue that everybody fundamentally needs to consume food so they’ll just have to suck it up if it gets uniformly more expensive. But who needs a large well-trimmed lawn?

        • Adrian says:

          That’s just denying the premise that the work was “worth” $10/hour to customers.

          Reasoning about hypotheticals is fine, but when you attempt to draw real-life conclusions from them (which jaimeastorga2000 did), then challenging the assumptions is not just allowed, but essential.

          In the case of McDonalds – a company selling food – it’s at least possible to argue that everybody fundamentally needs to consume food so they’ll just have to suck it up if it gets uniformly more expensive. But who needs a large well-trimmed lawn?

          Who needs fast-food? You could also cook your own food at home.

        • Aapje says:

          @Glen Raphael

          If the work really is worth only $10/hour to customers then raising the price doesn’t (in the long run) increase revenue. $10/hour is the revenue-maximizing price; if firms could earn more total revenue by raising the price to customers to $17/hour (enough to pay workers $15/hour and still cover $2 overhead) they would have already done that.

          This is only true if demand outstrips supply. In that case, suppliers compete mainly against substitutes.

          However, if supply outstrips demand, suppliers compete mainly against each other. In that case they could increase their revenue if they collude to increase prices. A minimum wage is a legislative and legal way to collude to increase the price of labor.

          In the case of McDonalds – a company selling food – it’s at least possible to argue that everybody fundamentally needs to consume food so they’ll just have to suck it up if it gets uniformly more expensive. But who needs a large well-trimmed lawn?

          A higher minimum wage will cause shifts in the labor market, as conditions are not the same for different kinds of labor. For some labor, the increase will benefit the workers, for other labor, it will harm them. Workers also have some flexibility, so some will change jobs as a result of the change.

          Any claim that the effect of the minimum wage is unidirectional and obvious seem vapid to me and the actual effects can most likely only be approximated with complex modelling.

    • NostalgiaForInfinity says:

      A couple of arguments in favour (largely to point out that people who support minimum wages aren’t all people who have just failed to think through simple consequences):

      Say instead that the minimum wage in your example was raised to $9. This makes it still in the interest of the the business to employ the worker, but does reduce their profits – unless they raise their prices to maintain the profit level and pass the cost on to the consumer. This is more possible if there’s lots of competition in that particular industry and consumers could pick a business where this wasn’t done (or done to a lesser extent). Similar arguments suggest that if there are few employers in an area, the reduced level of competition in the labour market allows them to pay lower wages, and a minimum wage could increase this. See here for a (partisan) summary. Obviously this is contested by other economists.

      There’s also macro-focused, slightly woolier arguments about how increasing wages for lower-paid workers can increase demand because they spend a higher proportion of their income. This seems to depend on whether rich people just sit on piles of cash, or whether you think profits do find their way back into the economy to stimulate demand just as much as wages for lower-paid workers.

      I’m not necessarily in favour of minimum wages over wage subsidies/negative income taxes/universal incomes. But there are (I think) reasonable arguments that minimum wages don’t necessarily raise unemployment.

    • Robin says:

      I’m not sure I understand this argument.

      If it is illegal to employ a lawn-mower for less than $15, some people would decide to pay them $15, while other would mow their lawn themselves or live with high grass. In this theoretical setup, it is no good arguing how many would decide either way. But no company would pay the employees $15 while still charging the customer $10.

      On the other hand, the employee’s working time is a finite resource. Human dignity would prohibit selling it for less money than needed to support himself and his family.

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        I’d think the real offense against human dignity would be throwing the employee’s working time on the scrap heap because its value fails to pass some arbitrary threshold. I’ve never understood the widespread assumption that anyone who can’t be 100% self-supporting ought to be 0% self-supporting instead.

    • beleester says:

      I’m not sure I have a comment on the minimum wage, but I hadn’t read “The Cambist and Lord Iron” and I quite liked it, so thank you for the link.

    • Guy in TN says:

      You’ve got to compare the utility lost by those who wish they could work for under the wage floor, to the utility gained by those who are glad they are being propped up by it.

      Let’s say, hypothetically, that a $15 minimum wage causes 1 out of 100 minimum wage workers to lose their job. We both agree that this one worker has lost utility. But in order to determining if this is bad policy, you have to looked at what the other workers have gained, and see if its a good trade-off.

      It gets even easier, when most of the people who have a skill level with a market rate of less than minimum wage, would qualify for disability or social security. This means their utility loss would be relative minimal.

      • baconbits9 says:

        If you are going to go the utility argument you have to include all of the customers who lose utility by paying higher prices, and the cost of long term growth by restricting the dynamic processes of the economy.

        • JPNunez says:

          Then we also got to consider the utility loss by the unemployed by having them work stressful, low compensated jobs, and the impact in their health.

          Do notice that a lot of the unemployed would not get a job at the minimum wage, even if you increased it, due to a bunch of factors, so working the minimum is not just an equation of $/hours. There are costs to working in minimum wage jobs.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Studies of unemployment in the US associate being unemployed with greater stresses and health impacts, and they find that being unemployed has similar negative effects to losing a loved one.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Do notice that a lot of the unemployed would not get a job at the minimum wage, even if you increased it, due to a bunch of factors, so working the minimum is not just an equation of $/hours. There are costs to working in minimum wage jobs.

            Why would the casual arrow be this direction? It is far more likely given that almost no jobs in the US pay the minimum wage for long stretches that people who are unemployed are so because no one wants to hire them, not because they are to good for work*

            *With exceptions for bad welfare policy leading to onerous marginal tax rates.

          • JPNunez says:

            I think those studies do not differentiate between people who lost a good paying job and cannot find something similar, and people who just cannot find a job with a minimum wage.

            Do consider that Amazon has a very high churn rate. People take those jobs and are burned out super quick.

            Not the same thing.

            @baconbits9

            If you were, say a previously-high-paid-developer, who cannot find a job for a while, things will have to get v bad before you take some survival level job at Walmart or whatever. You will try to find a job equivalent to the one you had for several reasons.

            Raising the minimum wage won’t solve that until you raise it a lot. And of course, lowering the minimum wage won’t solve it either. We are talking here about people who cannot get a job due to the minimum wage, not the general unemployed.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Raising the minimum wage won’t solve that until you raise it a lot. And of course, lowering the minimum wage won’t solve it either. We are talking here about people who cannot get a job due to the minimum wage, not the general unemployed.

            I am not quite sure what this refers to, so I will restate my position.

            If you are currently unemployed and can’t get a job at above the minimum wage then the costs of working probably aren’t the determining factor. If you aren’t worth more than the minimum wage to a company now then you won’t be worth a higher minimum wage should it be raised. Someone sitting at home refusing to work for 7.25 an hour might jump off the couch and look for a job if it were raised to 14.50, but the company who might have hired them at 7.25 is probably not interested at 14.50.

            If there was a company interested in hiring them at 14.50 then why would they be unemployed now? The people who are unemployed now because of the minimum wage can’t be made employable by forcing the minimum wage up.

        • Guy in TN says:

          There are lots of things to consider, which is to say its not as simple as jaimeastorga2000 presented.

          Particularly, this:

          the cost of long term growth by restricting the dynamic processes of the economy.

          Is a can of worms that I imagine we could have quite a debate over.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Is a can of worms that I imagine we could have quite a debate over.

            We sure could!

            Opening salvo: Small businesses are more likely to use minimum wage labor than large businesses, and small businesses are more influential for both employment growth and economic growth than large businesses.

          • Guy in TN says:

            By your categorization, you have three groups: Small business owners, large business owners, and non-business owners. How is that you are measuring which of these contribute most to economic growth?

            Wouldn’t whichever group that has the most total wealth necessarily contribute the most, since they would be doing the most buying and selling, and most involved in production? (And since a minimum wage shifts that total wealth, the respective group responsibility for economic growth would shift in response?)

            This gets even more complicated, when you consider that most economic growth happens at the intersection of a business owner and a non-business owners (an employee). You’re not just lumping the wealth they create together as “created by the business owner”, are you?

          • baconbits9 says:

            No, because we are measuring changes, not totals. We can track say employment by company by year, and if net changes in employment for all companies over size x in the first sample are zero then we can reasonably conclude that employment growth is driven by companies under size x (simplified for the example). It is possible, and indeed likely, that those companies that are now above X were responsible for growth in the past as they went from below X to above X, but are no longer driving growth.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Is employment growth a good proxy for economic growth? Especially considering that non-business owners contribute significantly to the economy?

          • baconbits9 says:

            Especially considering that non-business owners contribute significantly to the economy?

            I am not sure what you mean by this. If you mean employees contribute to the economy those are rolled up in the employment numbers, if you mean the self employed who will never hire any employees of their own then they aren’t effectively constrained by minimum wage laws (nor are they likely a large portion of the economy).

            In you mean consumers then the value of that is rolled up with production and sales numbers, which relate to the employment numbers.

            Is employment growth a good proxy for economic growth?

            Within the contexts of a mostly voluntary economy, yes. Long term employment trends are going to be related to growth and while there might be some hypothetical situations where it might be bad these are unlikely to dominate.

          • Guy in TN says:

            In you mean consumers then the value of that is rolled up with production and sales numbers, which relate to the employment numbers.

            I mean the economic benefits that occur outside of the employer-employee relationship. Even if we agree that minimum wage would be projected to decrease employment, it would change the distribution of wealth in the economy, meaning that low-income people could contribute to the economy more than they did before.
            There is reason to think that this transfer of wealth would result in a net-increase for the economy, since low-income workers contribute in many ways that aren’t captured by just looking at employment rates.

            Firstly, people with more money have more children. Each additional person contributes greatly to the economy, yet none of the economic growth associated with child-bearing is captured in the employment analysis. When someone turns 18 and enters the workforce, we record their labor just magically appearing, instead of as an expensive investment that occurred decades earlier.

            Secondly, not letting the lowest classes sink too far results in social and political stability. At below a certain wage, the lower classes will vote (or directly act) in desperation, in ways that sacrifice long-term growth for their short term interests. While business are aware of this, the first one that “gives in” in the form of paying higher wages has a competitive disadvantage with other businesses. The minimum wage solves the coordination problem.
            By reducing the frequency of revolutions and magnitude of social instability, it is a huge benefit to the economy, yet this benefit is written down as a “loss” if you are just looking at the employment numbers.

          • Even if we agree that minimum wage would be projected to decrease employment, it would change the distribution of wealth in the economy, meaning that low-income people could contribute to the economy more than they did before.

            That depends on assuming that the demand for low skill labor is inelastic–that the percent increase in the income of those employed is greater than the percent decrease in the number employed.

            And since raising the cost of low-skill labor will raise the cost of goods produced by such labor, people in general will have lower real incomes, thus be less willing to (for example) have children.

            At a slight tangent, do you happen to know what percentage of the labor force receives the minimum wage? It’s relevant to the kinds of arguments you are offering.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Firstly, people with more money have more children. Each additional person contributes greatly to the economy, yet none of the economic growth associated with child-bearing is captured in the employment analysis.

            This is a bold statement, there is not a positive correlation across nations between birth rate and income at all. Within the US there does not appear to be a positive correlation either with higher income people having fewer kids and lower economic classes having more. I guess its possible that within those lower economic classes having more kids is correlated with higher earnings, but I have never heard that claim before.

            Secondly, not letting the lowest classes sink too far results in social and political stability. At below a certain wage, the lower classes will vote (or directly act) in desperation, in ways that sacrifice long-term growth for their short term interests.

            I actually agree with this but it is a huge strike against the minimum wage if the minimum wage decreases employment. Decreasing employment makes it far more likely that a permanent underclass exists who have only political power with no economic power.

            You appear to be assuming that the increase in the minimum wage must (or at least will) lead to a stronger economic position for the lower classes, my position is the opposite. In the long run fewer economic opportunities means less economic power for the lower classes, and pushes their activities/frustrations/anger into political and social situations (and also increases those frustrations) which decreases stability.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @DavidFriedman

            That depends on assuming that the demand for low skill labor is inelastic–that the percent increase in the income of those employed is greater than the percent decrease in the number employed.

            That’s correct. And the argument to the contrary assumes that the demand is perfectly elastic. Since workers are a necessary part of most production, I would say their demand is somewhat fixed for the employer. As long as the employer wants to stay in business, he has to have some minimal level of workers.

            And since raising the cost of low-skill labor will raise the cost of goods produced by such labor, people in general will have lower real incomes, thus be less willing to (for example) have children.

            This only holds if you assume the low-income labor market is perfectly elastic. Otherwise, you’ve got to subtract the increase in cost of goods from their increase in income, to see whether it is a net-positive.

            At a slight tangent, do you happen to know what percentage of the labor force receives the minimum wage? It’s relevant to the kinds of arguments you are offering.

            Its a small percentage, I’m aware. For both of our positions, that just means that the impact of a minimum wage increase will have a small impact, in either a positive or negative direction.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @baconbits9

            You appear to be assuming that the increase in the minimum wage must (or at least will) lead to a stronger economic position for the lower classes, my position is the opposite.

            Well yes, my whole support for the minimum wage hinges on this. When the minimum wage question was brought up in previous threads, I’ve mentioned that if there was convincing evidence that the minimum wage decreased the total amount of wealth of the lower classes, I would cease to support it.

            This is a question that I’ve rarely seen addressed in an empirical way. A Seattle study from a few years ago, to its credit, tried to address it, but it had fundamental methodological flaws.

            Unless we have some empirical data, I’m just relying on my sense that the labor market is probably rather inelastic, since labor is a necessary part of most businesses (particularly in a service economy). Meaning, that if labor costs rise, businesses will be forced to look for other ways to save money, rather than a 1:1 reduction in employment in response to rising costs of employment.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I would say their demand is somewhat fixed for the employer. As long as the employer wants to stay in business, he has to have some minimal level of workers.

            Yes, a lot of businesses need 10 bodies, no matter what.

            But if they have to pay middle-class wages, they are going to hire middle-class workers, with no arrest records and some college.

            They don’t even need to be explicit about this. If the gas station wage changes from $12 to $20, they will get a better talent pool applying on its own.

            If you look at the total employment, the number of workers still looks the same, and people are even getting paid more! Success!

            If you were the guy who was able to find a job because your labor was worth $13/hour, sorry, your life was ruined to be a pawn in someone else’s pissing contest. You should have thought about that before you became a peasant. Come read this flyer about UBI and make sure to vote for it; remember, you can trust us.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            But if they have to pay middle-class wages, they are going to hire middle-class workers, with no arrest records and some college.

            Won’t the employers who really need middle-class workers wind up raising their wages to compensate?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Yes, the previous $20/hour people will have a decreased unemployment and increased wages. To the extent that they cannot capture all of it, some of it will be captured by the $19/hour people, who will capture as much as they can, then what’s left will go to the $18/hour people, etc etc.

            By the time that shifting makes it all the way down to the old $12/hour people, there is very little left, certainly not enough to make up for them going from $12/hour to nothing.

          • Quoting me:

            That depends on assuming that the demand for low skill labor is inelastic–that the percent increase in the income of those employed is greater than the percent decrease in the number employed.

            That’s correct. And the argument to the contrary assumes that the demand is perfectly elastic.

            No. If it were perfectly elastic, any increase in the minimum wage would result in all the current minimum wage workers becoming unemployed. The argument to the contrary (with regard to your particular argument) assumes that demand is elastic–that a one percent increase in the wage results in more than a one percent decrease in employment.

            Since workers are a necessary part of most production, I would say their demand is somewhat fixed for the employer. As long as the employer wants to stay in business, he has to have some minimal level of workers.

            The issue isn’t workers but unskilled/low wage workers. You can substitute skilled workers for unskilled or capital for unskilled.

            Workers at or below minimum wage make up 2.7% of all hourly paid workers, or a bit over one percent of the labor force. The problem with increasing the minimum wage isn’t that it imposes a huge cost on the rest of the economy, it’s that it imposes a large cost on the unskilled workers who are priced out of the market and tends to create a permanent welfare class by preventing unskilled workers from getting a first job and working their way up.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Yes, a lot of businesses need 10 bodies, no matter what.

            I think this number is actually pretty small. If you walk into a popular, low to middle end restaurant like Applebees they would look like everyone is needed and you would struggle to cut staff but if you look closer you will see that

            1. They have cut the number of dishwashing shifts in half at some point in the past by adding an automated diswasher.
            2. They have cut 1/4 of their wait staff and maybe a dedicated food runner by adding digital ordering kiosks for their servers to use (or perhaps they cut all the bussers and now the wait staff buses with that extra time).
            3. Their vegetables come pre cut in steam bags, lettuce pre shredded for salad’s, all their patties pre formed and ready to slap on the grill, cutting out a couple of shifts a day of food prep and outsourcing it to a factory setting where machines do most of the work.

            Same with a grocery store, mine recently put in 6 self check out stations replacing 2 lanes which probably cuts down on as many as 5 or 6 cashier shifts a day, and before that laser scanning had already cut back multiple shifts, and in the deli/bakery/prepared food sections all the comments about applebee’s apply there as well.

            A large increase in the minimum wage isn’t going to put everyone out of work on day 1, but in 5-10 years there will be bodies gone from these jobs.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Edward Scizorhands

            But if they have to pay middle-class wages, they are going to hire middle-class workers, with no arrest records and some college.

            They don’t even need to be explicit about this. If the gas station wage changes from $12 to $20, they will get a better talent pool applying on its own.

            If you look at the total employment, the number of workers still looks the same, and people are even getting paid more! Success!

            I don’t follow your logic. If we agree that the total number of people employed will remain the same, then if you are saying the lower-value workers will become unemployed, that implies that the higher-value workers must be currently unemployed. Since someone has to take their place, and we are holding the number of jobs constant. Is that right? Are high-value workers more likely to be unemployed today than low-value ones?

          • Guy in TN says:

            @DavidFriedman
            Thank you for the correction regarding elasticity.

            The problem with increasing the minimum wage isn’t that it imposes a huge cost on the rest of the economy, it’s that it imposes a large cost on the unskilled workers who are priced out of the market and tends to create a permanent welfare class by preventing unskilled workers from getting a first job and working their way up.

            I agree that this hurdle is something to consider. I’ll put this in my internal calculus as a negative aspect of the minimum wage, weighing it against the potential benefits.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            , that implies that the higher-value workers must be currently unemployed.

            Well, yes, there are people unemployed at the $20/hour level. There are some number of people in the job market whose skills are worth $20/hour in the current market, and some subset of them that are employed, and some subset that are not. If you change a $12/hour job into a $20/hour job, you simply transfer a job from one group to the other.

            Like I said, each marginal worker in the $20/hour worker pool who becomes employed slightly drags all workers making less than he does up a tiny little bit. Imagine that 1000 brand new jobs come to down and hire people at $20/hour: this will marginally increase the wages of everyone underneath them. But that benefit will not even be within an order of magnitude of the penalty if 1000 $12/hour jobs disappeared.

            Are high-value workers more likely to be unemployed today than low-value ones?

            I doubt it. But why would anyone want to transfer jobs from the group with higher unemployment to the group with lower unemployment? I guess if you were a $20/hour worker, this proposal is selfishly good for you, but why would anyone else sign on?

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            Question: is the number of unemployed, naturally-worth-$20-per-hour workers actually high enough to have all that much impact on the unemployed, naturally-worth-$12-per-hour workers anyway?

            And if it is, doesn’t it make more sense economically for the more capable workers to be employed rather than the less capable ones? Assuming someone is going to be unemployed anyway, that is.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Edward Scizorhands

            I’ve been thinking about your argument, on a long drive across Kentucky today. I came to conclusion that your logic is sound, but there’s an interesting twist to it. It proves too much. What you wrote earlier:

            If you change a $12/hour job into a $20/hour job, you simply transfer a job from one group to the other.

            Is true. But its not just true if the job changes from $12 to $20 because of mandates from the minimum wage. Its true if the job changes from $12 to $20 for any reason.

            For example, if an employer says “hmm, I’m not getting the sort of talent applying for this position that I was hoping for. Let’s raise the pay for this position from $12 to $20”, this has the same effect that you suggested takes place during minimum wage increases. That is, while previously people with high skill sets would be unsuited for the position, now people with low skill sets would be unsuited for the position.

            And we can agree this is a bad thing. This phenomenon, examined in isolation, is an outcome that gets worse with rising wages. And it happen regardless of whether they are rising via Minimum Wage Law or market forces.

            So what to make of it? Should we support lowering wages? (Perhaps to zero, or even negative?)

            I think its clear that, while this phenomenon is a strike against rising wages, there are plenty of other reasons why rising wages produces net-positive social utility, despite this. And if you agree that raising wages via market forces can produce benefits that counteract this phenomenon, then what is the rationale for why raising wages via non-market forces cannot as well?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Its true if the job changes from $12 to $20 for any reason.

            You’re absolutely right. And there has been a very strong move in the past 50 years against low-skill workers. Those low-skill workers have been squeezed hard. (Here I’m not saying anything about the morality or goodness of that, just that it’s happened.) High skilled workers have noticeably less unemployment than the unskilled.

            That’s why I think making things *even worse* for them, especially by a policy that is supposed to make things better for them, is foolish policy.

          • Guy in TN says:

            That’s why I think making things *even worse* for them, especially by a policy that is supposed to make things better for them, is foolish policy.

            The implication of your argument, is that there are no social benefits (for the lowest classes) for anyone to have wages above zero dollars. Do you agree with this?

            If you think there are benefits, then you can’t say that raising the minimum wage would strictly make things *worse* for the lower classes. (for whatever reason you think having non-zero wages is good).

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            The implication of your argument, is that there are no social benefits (for the lowest classes) for anyone to have wages above zero dollars. Do you agree with this?

            I do not agree, because that is bonkers. I have no idea how you got that “implication.” If you imagine that I might say a bunch of stuff I didn’t say, I guess.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Your argument was:

            If you change a $12/hour job into a $20/hour job, you simply transfer a job from one group to the other.

            And you agreed, in your previous post, that this argument applies to more than just increases via the minimum wage, but wage increases in general.

            So, does it not also apply for changing from $5 to $10? Why not from $1 to $5? Or 0$ to 1$?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:


            The implication of your argument, is that there are no social benefits (for the lowest classes) for anyone to have wages above zero dollars. Do you agree with this?

            If there were no people working, then the $0/hour workers would have no food, and no shelter, and no clothes, and no My Little Pony, and would be dead. So there is definitely “social benefits” to jobs existing that they cannot work.

            If were are only talking about wage pressure, there is benefit to those jobs that they cannot do existing. Like I already said earlier:

            Like I said, each marginal worker in the $20/hour worker pool who becomes employed slightly drags all workers making less than he does up a tiny little bit. Imagine that 1000 brand new jobs come to down and hire people at $20/hour: this will marginally increase the wages of everyone underneath them

            (Quoting myself already saying something is fun.)

    • Marx demonstrates, starting with his pamphlet “Value, Price, and Profit,” that, contra Ricardo’s “Iron Law of Real Wages,” that increases in (nominal) wages will, all other things being equal, leave the final prices of commodities unchanged while decreasing the rate of profit in all lines of business that are affected…thus increasing the real wage. (The “all other things being equal” part is very important! If the increase in nominal wages coincides with an increase in the monetary base of token fiat money that outpaces the rate of increase in the holdings of commodity-money (gold) in that country, then the final prices of commodities will not remain unchanged, but will instead inflate. There is a common misconception that businesses simply calculate their costs and then add a pre-determined “mark-up” to give rise to the final commodity price and the profit rate. However, if businesses could do this, then why wouldn’t they insist on as high of a mark-up as is imaginable? In reality, these attempted mark-ups must be accommodated by an increase in the monetary base; if they are not, then insufficient monetarily-effective demand will leave commodities unsold at the higher prices and force businesses, under pain of competition, to reduce their prices once again and simply eat the higher wage costs and thus lower profit rates).

      If the minimum wage is, let’s say, doubled…then that will tend to lower the average rate of profit, as well as interest rates on average over the long-term (interest rates that approach or exceed the average profit rate cannot be supported over the long-term because there is no profit of enterprise leftover and no incentive to be an industrial capitalist as opposed to a financial capitalist…and industrial capital is where surplus value is generated before it is shared out to rentiers and finance capitalists).

      However, the doubling of the minimum wage will affect the profitability of some lines of business more than others. Those lines of business that rely more on complex labor-power and capital-intensive methods (i.e. those businesses with a high “organic composition of capital” in Marx’s terminology) will see their profit rates decline less than average, and will not be making above-average rates of profit in the short-term. It will be the opposite with industries that rely disproportionately on unskilled labor.

      Over the medium-run, capital will move out of the labor-intensive sectors where a below-average rate of profit is being made and into the capital-intensive sectors. Supply of the labor-intensive goods will decrease, driving up the market prices of the labor-intensive goods beyond their former levels until the production of those labor-intensive goods by a typical producer are now making an average rate of profit once again. Accordingly, supply of the capital-intensive goods will increase, driving down the market-prices of the capital-intensive goods until those goods now make an average rate of profit for a typical producer.

      Within each industry, the higher minimum wage will disproportionately penalize the producers who are labor-intensive and comparatively reward the high-productivity producers with larger market-share and expanded incentives for their individual production as the labor-intensive producers go out of business. In this way, the higher minimum wage will spur on productivity growth, just as the high wages in England spurred on the Industrial Revolution, and how the comparatively high wages in the American North spurred on its industrialization to overtake England’s by the late 1800s.

      What will happen to overall employment, though? First, capital will be moving from labor-intensive sectors and enterprises to capital-intensive sectors and enterprises, which will decrease the amount of employment, all other things being equal. Second, the average rate of profit will decrease. If some capitalists react by putting money in bank accounts rather than spend it on their own production, then this should have no net effect because that addition of money into the banking system will tend to lower interest rates and spur on other capitalists to make use of that money to expand production. But if profit rates decline to such a low level that there is suddenly very little opportunity cost to hoarding money in the form of gold for the added security, then we would witness an absolute decline in employment due to the lowered profit rates.

      If the market were perfectly and instantly responsive, then this hoarding of gold would tend to raise the relative price of gold, which would make gold mining more profitable and providing replacement job opportunities for the unemployed in gold mining. Unfortunately, a relative lack of gold on the market will tend to increase interest rates instead of raise the relative price of gold. It is counter-intuitive, I know, but it is verified empirically time and time again.

      In any case, the minimum wage increase WILL tend to decrease the employment opportunities in the capitalist sector, all other things being equal. Here I think Marxist theory would agree with classical liberal and neoliberal economic theory.

      The question, though, is whether there is a non-capitalist sector standing at the ready to make-use of this idle labor-power, which retains its ability to work (its use-value) but which has lost its exchange-value (its ability to generate a profit for its purchaser). To make use of this idle labor-power, rather than allow it to die off, the non-capitalist sector will need some proportion of the capitalist sector’s labor in order to provide consumer goods (“Department II commodities” in Marx’s terminology) to this redundant workforce. (In practice, even if this labor-power is not employed by a non-capitalist sector to make useful things, the capitalist sector is usually willing to provide some bare minimum of sustenance to this idle-labor power in order to keep it alive, should it ever need to call upon this labor-power later during an economic boom or an imperialist war).

      Concretely, this re-assignment of some of the capitalist sector’s labor to the non-capitalist sector for the support of the labor-power used by the non-capitalist sector will take the form of taxes, which will further decrease the average rate of profit in the capitalist sector and lead to incrementally a bit more of an idle pool of labor-power for the non-capitalist sector to potentially use.

      If the non-capitalist sector produces at a loss (whether it is the production of aircraft carriers, F-35s, or anything else that is not then sold as a commodity to make a profit), then the net result is that society gets to make use of whatever use-values are produced by the non-capitalist sector at the expense of a lower average rate of profit, which will also incidentally entail a lower rate of re-investment, a lower rate of gold production, and a slower expansion of the market in the future. However, this would have to be calculated and weighed up against the increased rate of innovation that would be spurred on by the higher minimum wage. In any case, is then up to society as a whole to judge whether these use-values (aircraft carriers, etc.) are worth the resulting cost to society. In surplus-value terms, all of this production is unproductive of surplus-value.

      If the non-capitalist sector wants to, instead, produce commodities at a profit, it will have to produce the sorts of commodities for which there is market demand, which will in practice mean acting as the direct competitor of the capitalist sector and gradually crowding out the capitalist sector and replacing the unplanned production of the capitalist sector with the planned production of the non-capitalist sector. The capitalist sector will hate this and will kick and scream and complain about “unfair competition.”

      If the non-capitalist sector ceases to be governed democratically, then it becomes state-capitalism.

      If the non-capitalist sector remains democratically governed and comes to the point where it entirely crowd out the capitalist sector, then we have socialism.

      So, in this way even something as simple as a minimum wage increase can set the stage for socialism. But society must also be ready to employ the newly-redundant labor-power in a planned and constructive fashion—not on aircraft carriers, but on things that directly compete with the private sector. If society insists on not using this newly-idled labor-power, made redundant by the enforced shift from labor-intensive to capital-intensive production in the capitalist sector…then what should have been a boon (newly freed-up labor-power due to greater productivity) becomes an apparent curse…and the minimum wage law will get all of the blame.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Marx demonstrates, starting with his pamphlet “Value, Price, and Profit,” that, contra Ricardo’s “Iron Law of Real Wages,” that increases in (nominal) wages will, all other things being equal, leave the final prices of commodities unchanged while decreasing the rate of profit in all lines of business that are affected…thus increasing the real wage.

        Marx demonstrates nothing of the kind, as “the all other things equal” stipulation is not satisfied. The “logic” of the system requires continual economic growth throughout. The quote where you state that labor intensive industries will see a relative decline in profits compared to those with lower relative labor costs is correct, but the conclusions require that the rate of return on capital remains positive (there are many other downstream complaints about the conclusions which are dubious). If the raising of nominal wages drives the rate of return on capital negative (ie causes a recession) then the logic reverses and instead of a boom you get a perpetual downward spiral where the only conclusion that you can reach is that there will be no capital and no wages.

    • Nootropic cormorant says:

      But what determines the price of worker’s labor as $8/h? With so many unemployed around, why don’t some work for $7/h and lower this price?

      I would say, as a Marxist, that this is because $7/h won’t cover the worker’s living expenses. Yet there is no reason to believe that these living expenses are themselves set in stone, why don’t the unemployed workers lower their standard of living and accept lower wages?

      The answer is of course entitlement. They feel entitled to own plasma TVs and eat fast food. Their ancestors felt entitled to sleep in beds instead of cages, to eat meat instead of chalk-adultered bread and so on.

      This is where this becomes a political issue, attempts to lower the standard of living through lowering wages or discontinuing government programs is met with moral outrage even as it becomes obvious that it is necessary for economic recovery, try to force the issue may cause the workers to chop the bourgeoise with machetes or even elect Trump.

      If you think that this is unsustainable, yes, that’s the point.

      • baconbits9 says:

        But what determines the price of worker’s labor as $8/h? With so many unemployed around, why don’t some work for $7/h and lower this price?

        What do you mean by “so many unemployed around”? UE rates are low and employment rates have been rising for 8+ years.

        • Matt M says:

          And to the extent that large amounts of the remaining unemployed are minimum-wage earners, the literal answer to “Why don’t they work for cheaper?” is that it’s illegal for them to do so.

          • Nootropic cormorant says:

            That’s exactly what I’m saying, worker’s price of living is determined politically and not by laws of supply and demand.

          • JPNunez says:

            Yeaaah but the alternative is not particularly great.

            Look at american companies like Walmart or Amazon paying the minimum and expecting the government to help the workers to survive with food stamps. Why would we let Amazon to pay _less_ and then the government pay for even more help for the employees? And given they’d be able to pay less, they’d drive down the wages of more employees that previously made the minimum, thus making the government pay more.

            So now your taxes are still going to the poor, except now even more of the poor is being exploited and feeling like shit from bad working conditions. Even some are adding costs in the healthcare system by work related injuries, and, on top of all that, you are driving wages down. This happens right now WITH a minimum wage, why do you think it would improve without a minimum.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Except Wal-Mart and amazon don’t pay the minimum, except in very limited circumstances. Most of their positions have a company policy minimum of $11 and the average pay is $13-14, so something is pushing up wages and it isn’t the federal minimum wage. $11 an hour is >50% more than the federal minimum wage and is more than the state levels of 47 states.

          • Matt M says:

            Look at american companies like Walmart or Amazon paying the minimum and expecting the government to help the workers to survive with food stamps.

            This is a false narrative. These companies, and ALL companies, set their wages based on the market demand.

          • albatross11 says:

            Also, it’s worth noting that there are poverty programs intended to be used by the working poor. I think those programs exist because we previously had (and still have) programs that cut off your aid when you got a job, and those create an incentive to avoid getting a job and stay on aid forever.

            So, the program is working as it’s supposed to–some folks working crappy jobs at Wal-Mart aren’t making enough to survive on, and public assistance of some kind is helping them out. It’s hard to see this as Wal-Mart doing something wrong.

          • gbdub says:

            Re: Walmart, the idea that any of their employees on public assistance means they are nefariously freeriding on the government seems flawed for a couple reasons:
            1) If Walmart were NOT employing those people, they wouldn’t be at higher paying jobs somewhere else… they’d be unemployed, and fully dependent on the government for support.
            2) Where did we get the idea that “minimum wage” is or should be enough to fully support a family of 4 or whatever? Should it be against the law to sell your labor for less than what it would take to support yourself and a couple kids at some reasonable level of comfort at 40 hours a week? That’s the built in assumption of the idea that “minimum wage” and “living wage” should be synonyms.
            3) I think the argument can be turned around – an artificially high minimum wage functions as a tax on employers of low-skilled labor, since they are effectively being forced to pay more than fair market rate so that the government doesn’t have to shell out as much in benefits. This feels regressive – if anything, employers of low-skilled labor should be encouraged to hire as many workers as they can afford, to reduce the strain on the dole.

          • beleester says:

            In defense of the “minimum wage should be a living wage” folks, I see a lot of arguments along the lines of “There are plenty of jobs, but people think they’re too good to flip burgers for a living.” To which “You can’t actually make a living by flipping burgers” is a reasonable response.

        • baconbits9 says:

          If you got a job at the minimum wage flipping burgers and showed up every day and did the job reasonably well how long do you think you would stay at the minimum wage? How many dollars an hour is an actual ‘living wage’ (recalling that there are quite a few subsidies that you can qualify for at the same time) then?

          • Matt says:

            If you got a job at the minimum wage flipping burgers and showed up every day and did the job reasonably well how long do you think you would stay at the minimum wage?

            From what I’ve heard, working like this will get you earning more than the minimum wage. But only because most of your coworkers don’t do this, which will make you stand out. If the answer to this question is to work harder than most, then that answer, mathematically, will not work for most minimum wage earners.

          • Matt M says:

            But my understanding is that it does work for most minimum wage earners. The vast majority of people who make the minimum wage go on to make a higher wage at some point in the future of their life, yes?

          • Randy M says:

            Presumably, if everyone worked that hard, the company would be more profitable, due to either productivity or needing fewer employees. Then either their wages would increase or prices decrease, which if generalized across the economy should mean improvements in purchasing power for all employees.
            More work should equal higher standards of living.
            I expect in reality various inefficiencies would make the correlation somewhat more tenuous.

            But it should be true in a free market that you aren’t only competing with your coworkers, but also cooperating to an extent.

            Interesting, is working hard defecting in a prisoners dilemma?

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Interesting, is working hard defecting in a prisoners dilemma?

            Unions have a reputation (at least partly deserved) for treating it as such.

          • Matt M says:

            Presumably, if everyone worked that hard, the company would be more profitable, due to either productivity or needing fewer employees.

            No, what’s going on here is that minimum wage jobs are mostly entry-level jobs.

            People who work hard in them are either promoted to a different job in the company, or leave and get a new job at a different company. The especially productive fry cooks don’t just hang around until suddenly fry-cooking is super productive. They leave, and are replaced with a new crop of unskilled people who then either work harder and leave themselves, or don’t work hard and stick around at the average level of fry-cook productivity.

          • Randy M says:

            Matt M–yes, but “work hard” means “work harder than everyone else.” If everyone worked harder, some would still be promoted, so you would need to work hard to qualify, but not every hard worker would be. (Hence why it could be viewed as a prisoners dilemma–once one person works hard, everyone needs to).
            But if that hard work is actually improving service, it should still pay off, to an extent.

          • Matt says:

            It also depends on who captures the gains from the increased productivity. If a single man with a backhoe can dig faster than 30 men with shovels, you still can’t pay the backhoe driver 30X the amount each shoveler would make, because someone has to buy and maintain the backhoe.

            This is one reason to be suspicious of claims that worker wages aren’t in lockstep with worker productivity. Or, rather, that they should be.

          • but “work hard” means “work harder than everyone else.”

            Why do you believe that?

            Most jobs pay more than the minimum wage. The standard economic explanation is that market wage, like the market price of any input, tends to be equal to marginal productivity. In most jobs, every competent employee has a marginal productivity above the minimum wage and incompetent employees are fired when recognized to be incompetent.

            So if all the minimum wage workers work hard, thus having a marginal productivity well above the minimum wage, why don’t you expect all of them to end up being paid more than the minimum wage?

          • Randy M says:

            Why do you believe that?

            Because the context was promotions. And because Matt explicitly defined it that way.
            My prior post was arguing that if everyone did work harder, there is a reasonable expectation that they should benefit to an extent, albeit perhaps not one proportional to the increased effort.

            But to engage with your argument, I don’t have too much experience with minimum wage work. Is it the case in actual burger flipping jobs that merit increases are common and track with performance? Or is pay based more strictly on position and seniority?

            And if the real value of the labor to the employer was something less that minimum wage, the employee improving their productivity, while appreciated, might not see a corresponding increase in pay even theoretically.

          • Matt M says:

            Is it the case in actual burger flipping jobs that merit increases are common and track with performance? Or is pay based more strictly on position and seniority?

            My understanding is that the two are pretty highly correlated.

            The bane of existence of the minimum wage employer is employee misbehavior and employee turnover. Someone who hangs around for a year without quitting, and without doing anything that would cause you to fire them (showing up late, being rude to customers, failing a drug test, etc.) is, de facto, a “more productive” employee than average, because the average employee either quits or gets fired after 2 months.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The comparison here isn’t just between you and the other minimum wage employees it you and the guys that weren’t hired and maybe even you and the guys that will expect to be hired. You don’t have to work harder than all the other min wage guys to get a pay bump or a promotion, you just have to work harder than the guy that the boss would replace you with if you left.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Even if your company won’t give you a pay raise for some reason there are low skill companies who have internal minimum wages higher than the federal minimum wage. Wal-Mart has a company minimum $11 an hour for most positions, and they are nearly constantly hiring. If you show up with one or two years full time work on your resume you will stand an excellent chance at getting one of those jobs.

            So even if you stipulate that the minimum wage isn’t a living wage you still haven’t given a good reason for raising it as you would expect few people to actually have to live on the minimum wage. The evidence is that most people who start out on the minimum wage move up or get knocked out of the workforce, being replaced by other entry level people aging into the role.

          • Randy M says:

            You don’t have to work harder than all the other min wage guys to get a pay bump or a promotion

            I’m modeling promotions as “choose one employee at current level to put into the open slot on the next level up” and work harder as “demonstrate more competence and commitment in tangible ways”
            Unless we are specifying bias in the promotion process, I think you do need to be among the hardest working of your cohort to be selected for promotion, as well as the hypothetical baseline the boss thinks he can get from hiring outside for the position.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I’m not 100% committed to this model, but you can have everyone succeed by dropping people into the pool, and you keep on pulling the good workers out, and even if you somehow pull out all the workers there are always more coming around.

            I wanted to make an analogy to school, except we tend to move everyone onto the next grade anyway.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ Edward S

            One of the major complaints about Pikettey’s work was that he treated the individual quintiles as static as if no one ever moved in or out of them which makes inequality look worse in countries with higher mobility between classes. I think a similar mistake is frequently made with the minimum wage discussion, the workers are discussed as if they stick at that level of pay rather than being constantly replaced by less experienced workers.

    • MrApophenia says:

      And since trades are mutually beneficent exchanges, the maximum price they are willing to pay for it is the price where they are just barely getting any value out of the trade. That’s it.

      This is one of those ‘spherical cow’ economic principles with no bearing on actual trade as practiced on Earth.

      At one point, I worked as a paralegal at a large law firm. I was required to track my hours for purpose of billing the client, and I was privy to how much the client was being billed for my work per hour. It was more than an order of magnitude greater than what I was getting paid.

      This isn’t even slightly exceptional. Large companies pay their entry level and unskilled labor – and for that matter, sometimes even their skilled labor – far, far less than the value they extract from that labor.

      The relationship between most workers and most companies is not a level bargaining environment. The companies have many systemic advanctages which allow them to get employees to work for only a tiny portion of the money the company will make off them.

      So raising the minimum wage doesn’t lead to any of the rest of your hypothetical scenario. Instead, it makes a company go from ‘ludicrously, obscenely profitable’ to ‘very slightly less ludicrously, obscenely profitable.’

      (There are, of course, lots of not terribly profitable companies – but typically not the ones employing huge numbers of minimum wage workers, which is what these laws are of course aimed at.)

      Presumably there is some level of minimum wage where it really would exceed the value being derived from the workers. But nobody is even gesturing in the direction of a minimum wage that high.

      • cryptoshill says:

        I don’t think calling it a “spherical cow” argument is fair, at least with the argumentation in your rebuke. Your anecdata effectively demonstrates that even though the maximum price of labor is the maximum you can pay for it and still be getting something of value out of it – there is no guarantee you will achieve the maximum price for your labor. The availability of competent paralegals in your industry can be a factor, as well as how much your Law Firm(TM) can charge other businesses and clients that are not in the Business of Lawyering for those services specifically. Because at the Law Firm, there are *lots* of perfectly capable law clerks – but at the Client Firm, there are not. So they get to overcharge *a lot*, especially since there are a lot of services that are legally mandated to be performed by notary publics, paralegals, lawyers, etc that don’t really have to be (government enforced licensure monopoly.). However, you were still more than happy to take the wage offered – because it was likely near the highest wage you were offered in that position.

        • MrApophenia says:

          Right – which means that raising the minimum wage, at least in that situation, would not have any of the flow-through effects discussed above. Instead, the law firm just makes a somewhat smaller profit margin.

          The same argument also holds for companies like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s. The gap between what they pay their employees and the profit they make from same is so wide that a raise in minimum wage doesn’t need to translate into price increases or less employment or anything like that – let alone in making people unemployable because the price of their work has been raised above its value. It just takes a cut out of the billions of dollars of profit being made by paying employees far, far less than the value they generate for the company.

          • Matt M says:

            The same argument also holds for companies like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s. The gap between what they pay their employees and the profit they make from same is so wide

            Uh, no.

            Retail typically has margins of like 0-5%.

            Law Firm (TM) is significantly higher.

            If you think Wal-Mart is making so much profit per person they employ, why are they in such a hurry to replace all of their employees with automated check-out machines?

          • baconbits9 says:

            Which employees are creating such excess value?

          • MrApophenia says:

            Back in May, Walmart announced a $20 billion stock buyback. People crunched the numbers on that and found that if that money was instead spent on employee salaries, Walmart could afford to pay its staff $16+ an hour.

            There were actually efforts to get the shareholders to vote that the money instead be spent on raising employee wages; to no one’s surprise, the shareholders instead voted to keep the money for themselves.

            None of this is surprising – maximizing shareholder value is officially the thing they are supposed to be doing. But one of the main ways to maximize shareholder value is to get your employees to generate more wealth than you pay them for.

            If you think Wal-Mart is making so much profit per person they employ, why are they in such a hurry to replace all of their employees with automated check-out machines?

            Because they could make even more? I mean, if I’m a shareholder, why stop at $20 billion when I could make that $30 billion?

            EDIT – Also, did some Googling around and found a calculation of the top 19 companies that generate the most profit per employee, based on their reported profits and number of employees.

            https://www.expertmarket.co.uk/focus/most-profitable-employees

            Walmart isn’t on the list, but it certainly does illustrate how nuts it is to say that companies only pay their employees the minimum they can pay them and still make a profit. Apple, for instance, makes a tidy profit of $393,853 per person employed.

            It is safe to say that forcing apple to pay its employees more would not automatically lead to any of the follow-on actions detailed by the OP. You could double the pay of Apple employees and the company could continue to otherwise run in every respect exactly the same way it does now, with absolutely no other changes, and it would still remain hugely profitable.

          • Matt M says:

            I’m not familiar with the details of Wal-Mart’s specific situation, but a lot of the recent wave of buybacks was triggered by the recent reduction in the corporate income tax.

            In general though, if your premise is that Wal-Mart is making just as much profit off its employees as prestigious Law Firm(TM)s are, you’re just insane.

            Wal-Mart’s front-line employees are necessary evils. They’d eliminate all of them if they could.

          • baconbits9 says:

            1. Stock buybacks are one time events, even if taken at face value paying it out to employees would raise their wages to $16 an hour for a limited time (probably a year, but you didn’t link the numbers), the implication that Wal-Mart could afford to pay its workers more with a one off event is weak.

            But one of the main ways to maximize shareholder value is to get your employees to generate more wealth than you pay them for.

            Well duh, why would you put a ton of effort into raising the funding, planning, going through permitting processes, building the store, organizing logistics and hiring people if you weren’t going to make a profit.

            More importantly though you have just assumed that the profits are excess value that the worker creates and there is little evidence for this. Workers on their own without massive capital investments make virtually nothing. Farming without technology created in the last century won’t earn you $10 an hour. There is a stronger case to be made that the employees are ripping of Wal-Mart than the other way around.

          • John Schilling says:

            But one of the main ways to maximize shareholder value is to get your employees to generate more wealth than you pay them for.

            Which Wal-Mart employees basically can’t do except to the nominal standard, any more than a highly motivated assembly-line worker can generate more than the usual wealth for their employer. There are some business models where a highly motivated worker will generate more profit than a disgruntled slacker skating by on the enough-to-not-get-fired minimum, but they don’t all work that way. Wal-Mart’s model is optimized towards using lowest-common-denominator commodity labor to minimize costs, not using skilled and motivated labor to maximize revenue. Paying (most of) their people more than the minimum needed to keep them doing the job, will not result in more profit for Wal-Mart.

          • MrApophenia says:

            It is possible (likely) that I am explaining myself very badly.

            I am not saying the profit margin on a line cook or a Walmart greeter are as much as an Apple factory worker or a paralegal, nor am I saying Walmart would make more profit if they put a larger share of profits into employee wages.

            I am merely saying that the claim from the original post that employee wages are always set at the absolute possible amount they can be at and still allow the employer to make money, due to the Invisible Hand of the Market or whatever, is untrue on its face.

            Most employees, especially those making minimum wage, have a very large gap between what they are being paid and what profit their employer makes from their labor. Therefore, the arguments that say raising minimum wage will push their wage to a level where it no longer makes sense to employ them do not follow.

            It is much better from Walmart’s point of view to be able to pay its employees $8/hr than $15/hr; however, if we passed that law tomorrow Walmart would not go out of business or have massive layoffs. They would complain a lot, begin lobbying Congress to reverse it, and go right on employing the minimum number of people they can get away with (as they do now) and making a huge profit nonetheless – albeit less than they were making before.

          • cryptoshill says:

            @MrApophenia –

            I think you strongly overestimate how much value a retail Wal-Mart employee generates for the company, per hour. Most of the value is generated by their truck drivers and the people who manage to locate the cheapest supply possible of goods to fill their stores.

            It’s pretty obvious to me that a Wal Mart, requiring *lots* of unskilled labor – would probably have wages approaching the maximum a business could possibly pay for labor (just labor, no special skills, training, or danger incentives, literally breathing and putting items on shelves) and remain profitable.

            Suggesting that “wages don’t fall, businesses just get less profitable” assumes that businesses won’t substitute labor, using less instead of more – making quality of life substantially worse for the remaining employees, replacing labor with labor-saving equipment, or in the extreme case – just not building business at all. You are also in your own “spherical cow” assumption – are assuming that no businesses will just shutter if the minimum wage rises.

    • dick says:

      The value of something is what the market will bear; it’s what costumers are willing to pay for the labor. If the most somebody is willing to pay to have you mow the grass is $10/hour, the value of your grass mowing labor is $10/hour.

      Where is supply in all of this? This example seems contrived and unrealistic even by “Econ 101 story problem” standards. Among other problems, if $10/hr is the going rate for something, that implies that (presuming this is not a town of identical clones) there are people who would happily pay $11 or $12 who are getting a bargain, not that $10 is the maximum anyone in the town would pay.

      I think it makes sense to consider a minimum wage as achieving the effect of constraining the supply of labor without actually constraining it directly (which requires ham-handed interventions like taxi medallions), so it’s not going to make much sense in a weird hypothetical fixed-demand scenario.

    • Dan Hornsby says:

      To tie it to real-world numbers:

      A quick google tells me that average payroll overheads tend to be around 25% of revenue, and profit tends to be around 10%.

      So say you’re selling £4 magazines. If each employee sells 10 an a hour, and their wage costs are £10 per hour, then you’re about on track. You’re making £40 per hour, and paying £10 of it in payroll. Since profit margins are around 10%, you’re spending £26 on other overheads, and making £4 in profit.

      Say the minimum wage is raised by 20%, to £12 per hour. Now your payroll overhead is 30% rather than 25%, and you’re only making 5% profit rather than 10%. You have two options: find a way to let each employee sell more magazines per hour, to reduce the relative labour costs on a per-magazine basis, or find a way to reduce other overheads, to make the per-magazine costs cheaper. I.e, raise productivity, or raise efficiency.

      Say the minimum wage is doubled, to £20 per hour. Now you’re looking at a cost of £46 per £40-worth of magazines sold – you’re losing £6 for each hour that employee spends selling magazines, because the money you make from those magazines isn’t enough to pay the overheads of making and selling them. So you have two options: raise prices, or reduce production overheads. If the market won’t support magazines that cost more than £4 each, then you can’t raise prices. If you have no way to streamline the production process or make it cheaper in any appreciable way, then you’re stuck. You’ll go out of business.

      But here’s the question: do we really want industries around that are either so inefficient or so exploitation-dependent that they literally cannot make a profit while paying their employees enough of a wage to independently support themselves?

      Surely as a basic standard we should hold that if someone spends 40 hours a week working for you, you should be obligated to ensure that they can support themselves? If you want someone to spend their full-time day-to-day life doing your work, then surely in return they should at minimum expect enough compensation that they don’t have to find other income on the side, or accept government welfare?

      It’s the Henry Ford scenario – since the labour force that makes the products is the same consumer base that buys the products, to maximise profit a company should pay its employees well enough to ensure full market participation. It’s in every company’s best interest to raise the average wage high enough that everyone can afford to buy what they’re selling.

      We’re hitting a few stumbling blocks with that in the current system though – namely welfare benefits and credit.

      Benefits allow a company to pay less than the amount their employees need to enable market participation, because the government will step in to ‘top up’ the remainder. And since welfare benefits are nominally tax-funded, this is basically allowing a company to use its tax bill to pay its wage bill (doubly so when you consider payroll tax as well).

      Credit doubles down on this, allowing employees to spend an order of magnitude more than they would otherwise be able to, because on a 3%-minimum-payment credit card you only need to spend £300 a month to get access to £10,000 in value.

      So we’re in a weird scenario where a whole load of industries that shouldn’t be able to operate profitably, because their product or business model relies on be able to pay less than market-participation rates, that nonetheless are making a profit, because between government subsidies and cheap credit, they don’t have to pay well. As long as the money an individual receives in welfare is enough to secure enough credit to participate in the economy at at least as basic level, then companies can get away with paying as little as they’re legally required to.

      This certainly could be a workable economic system (though I’m not convinced it would be a sustainable one, given credit bubbles), because it effectively replaces a company’s wage bill with its tax bill. A company pays hefty corporation taxes, then the government uses those taxes to enable its population to secure enough credit to buy the products and services offered by the company. Precarious and unstable, maybe, but workable at least in the near-term. Followed by an inevitable horrendous crash.

      The real problem is that these things are all so intertwined into the economy that fixing any of it would immediately incite a massive financial crash and screw it all up for everyone. Remove wage subsidies to force companies to foot the bill themselves (by raising the minimum wage) and suddenly an appreciable percentage of business go under, leading to mass employment and everyone worse off. Make credit more expensive to reduce the artificial inflation of buying power (mandating higher minimum payment rates, or higher interest rates on borrowing, etc) would cause millions of people reliant on credit to default on their bills, and (again) leading to mass unemployment and everyone worse off.

      • albatross11 says:

        I don’t think it’s impossible to support yourself on a 40-hour-a-week minimum wage job, if we accept a sufficiently low standard of living as acceptable. That means really lousy housing (rooming houses, say) and enough food to survive and not much else.

        The problem is that we would like to have a higher standard of living as the floor, both for humanitarian reasons and for NIMBY/drive away the poor reasons.

        • baconbits9 says:

          I don’t think the humanitarian reasons hold, the overwhelming majority of working households earn more than minimum wage, very few have a single, full time minimum wage earner (and if they do have have dependents they qualify for a fair amount of assistance).

          • baconbits9 says:

            The groups who win from minimum wage increases tend to be union workers who have their wages tied to a multiple of the minimum and universities. The minimum wage typically causes unemployment for teenagers, people just out looking for their first job, high school dropouts etc. The minimum wage prevents lower paying companies from having what amount to low paid internships or apprenticeships, it used to be fairly common to get a low level job as a teenager and slowly work your way up. You might essentially get capped in your early 20s, getting only cost of living increases after a point, but you would have gone from little education to 5-10 years worth of working experience with a few job changes. The minimum wage breaks that and puts pressure on second and third rung positions, which eventually pushes up forcing more and more people to go into higher education to attempt to jump rungs.

        • Dan Hornsby says:

          40 billable hours at £7.50 per hour (the UK ‘living wage’) gives you an income of £300 per week, or £15,600 per year, which equates to a monthly post-tax take-home of £1,166.

          I live in the Midlands of England, in a not-amazingly-prosperous area (lots of ex-miners). Average rent is somewhere around £400 per month, which makes average bills somewhere around £700, closer to 800 including food. That leaves about £350 left for everything else – if you need a car to commute, that eats up between £150 and £200 of that (not including the initial purchase), which then leaves £100-£150 per month as “disposable” income. Add in credit payments, and you can just about afford to live independently on a single minimum-wage income, as long as you don’t buy anything that’s not essential and nothing ever breaks or goes wrong, and you don’t have any children or dependants.

          Adding in to this, you could probably qualify for a few hundred a month in benefits, from tax credits to housing benefit, child benefit too, and they’ll allow you to live slightly more comfortably, but almost definitely not enough to get any meaningful savings together.

          I think my main point is that “is not homeless and starving” is a very low bar, and at least when speaking of prosperous western economies, we should be aiming to set the bar higher than that.

          • liate says:

            …why are you using average rent and bills? Wouldn’t it make more sense to go for the cheaper end of both, due to this obviously being with people without much money?

      • But here’s the question: do we really want industries around that are either so inefficient or so exploitation-dependent that they literally cannot make a profit while paying their employees enough of a wage to independently support themselves?

        Most of the population of the world through most of history supported itself on an income less than 1/20th the current U.S. average, which is a small fraction of a minimum wage income. What you mean is “to support themselves at a standard that seems appropriate to someone who has grown up in one of the richest societies in history.”

        You don’t say what you mean by profit. My guess is that it is accounting profit, which does not include the cost of capital. If the effect of raising the minimum wage is that a particular type of firm, one employing a lot of low skill/low wage labor, produces a return on capital below what investors can get elsewhere, such firms disappear, to be replaced by competitors producing similar goods and services in other ways.

        Going back to your question. Yes, we want industries around that can employ low skill labor because the alternative is that unskilled people coming onto the job market never get employed and never acquire the abilities that would earn them a higher wage.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Surely as a basic standard we should hold that if someone spends 40 hours a week working for you, you should be obligated to ensure that they can support themselves? If you want someone to spend their full-time day-to-day life doing your work, then surely in return they should at minimum expect enough compensation that they don’t have to find other income on the side, or accept government welfare?

        No, why? My wife works and makes a 6 figure salary. What if we have kids and I want to be a stay-at-home Dad, but I have enough time to work a couple shifts at WalMart for $4 an hour. Why should I be banned from working because someone else feels I cannot support myself at $160/week? My Wife is supporting us, I just want to work 20 hours a week so we can afford a vacation in the summer or buy a new washer and dryer. Both Walmart and I are made better off by this arranagement. It’s not exploitation.

        People who are unable to make a living in the market economy should be provided for, but these are alms-cases, it’s not the fault of the economy.

        • Dan Hornsby says:

          By that logic then there should be no minimum wage, since we’re setting it according to what someone who doesn’t need the income might want from it.

          I’m mainly holding that a person’s time has inherent value, and the minimum price to buy a person’s full-time working week of labour should be enough to enable that person to support themselves independently, simply from the standpoint of basic moral fairness.

          This is something that governments have to regulate via minimum wages, much like worker rights, the full-time work-week, etc, because it’s a Moloch-esque race to the bottom otherwise – competing companies can’t afford to give employees any more than the absolute minimum the market forces them to, because then they’ll be out-competed by companies that don’t. So we need blanket regulations to force all companies to comply and punish defectors across the board.

          If you choose not to work full-time, that’s fine. If you don’t need that minimum price because you’re being supported by someone else, that’s fine. Nobody is forcing you to do anything, or banning you from doing anything. “There shouldn’t be a minimum wage because otherwise people who don’t need the money wouldn’t be able to do busy-work for a pittance to fill their rainy-day fund” is an argument I have difficulty wrapping my head around.

          • Randy M says:

            I’m mainly holding that a person’s time has inherent value

            Indeed it does–to them. Economically, not so much.

            I would prefer a world where low skilled but diligent workers could support a family in a small clean apartment on one income at 40.0 hours a week.

            I’m not sure how to get there without sacrificing other important things, though.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            By that logic then there should be no minimum wage, since we’re setting it according to what someone who doesn’t need the income might want from it.

            That was the thesis at the top of this comment chain, so you aren’t shocking anybody by suggesting that their argument leads to that.

          • baconbits9 says:

            This is something that governments have to regulate via minimum wages, much like worker rights, the full-time work-week, etc, because it’s a Moloch-esque race to the bottom otherwise – competing companies can’t afford to give employees any more than the absolute minimum the market forces them to, because then they’ll be out-competed by companies that don’t

            This argument is historically false, Henry Ford famously only became successful as an automaker after raising wages, not cutting them. The US had no federal minimum wage law until 1938 and yet wages rose from the end of the civil to the eve of the great depression.

          • Matt M says:

            By that logic then there should be no minimum wage

            Hey, now you’re getting it!

          • I’m mainly holding that a person’s time has inherent value, and the minimum price to buy a person’s full-time working week of labour should be enough to enable that person to support themselves independently, simply from the standpoint of basic moral fairness.

            Is there some reason why this argument only holds within the boundary of one country? If not, if you believe what you are writing, shouldn’t you be in favor of taxing everyone in the U.S., rich and poor, for the benefit of people in places such as Africa and India who are much poorer than the American poor?

            And, since you can’t actually do that, shouldn’t you feel morally obliged to donate all money beyond what you need to support yourself to people much poorer than you are?

            To put my point more brutally, you are insisting that it is the fault of people who are making poor people better off by giving them jobs, albeit at low pay, that those people are not as much better off as you would like them to be, when you are not yourself doing even that much for those people.

            Retracted if you in fact do contribute a large fraction of your income to helping poor people.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Economically and building from scratch, no, I don’t think there should be a minimum wage.
            Given normal political constraints and my innate desire to be cautious, I’d say hold the minimum wage steady (which is a reduction in real terms).

            Either way, if we desire a minimum wage, the bar should not be “living wage based on 40 hours/week.” There’s a lot of work we would like to do, that wouldn’t be able to get done. Not all jobs need to be those kinds of jobs.

            There’s also the next problem: not only do some people tend to think the only allowable jobs should be “living wage” jobs, these same people also think everyone should be guaranteed one of these jobs. Uhhh…

          • Aapje says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy

            The most cautious approach is to increase it with inflation.

            Note that slow and semi-steady reductions don’t necessarily result in steady outcomes, but can cause sudden extreme outcomes, just like the slow movement of tectonic plates can result in nasty earthquakes.

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        There are many words that could be used to describe a business that’s able to produce a saleable good or service using the dregs of the labor market, but I don’t think “inefficient” is one of them.

        • albatross11 says:

          Wal-Mart, in particular, is famous for spending as little as possible on everything, so that they can underprice just about everyone.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        It’s the Henry Ford scenario – since the labour force that makes the products is the same consumer base that buys the products, to maximise profit a company should pay its employees well enough to ensure full market participation.

        This is crazy. You can’t have an infinite money-making machine by paying your employees to buy your product.

        The “$5 a day” had half of it paid as a retention bonus because Ford had trouble keeping workers. If anything, he was previously underpaying his workers. Working on an assembly line was incredibly boring work, and Henry Ford had essentially invented the industry the previous year, so the old wage model was wrong and it took him time to figure it out.

        And that bonus required a lot of fairly onerous demands on the worker, like proving he was living a good proper “American” life: not drinking or gambling, and speaking English at home. Also, men couldn’t get it if they had a wife who worked outside the home. If you are trying to boost consumption, you don’t penalize women who work.

        I get that you’ve long held that this infinite money-making machine exists, but it isn’t true.

      • baconbits9 says:

        It’s the Henry Ford scenario – since the labour force that makes the products is the same consumer base that buys the products, to maximise profit a company should pay its employees well enough to ensure full market participation. It’s in every company’s best interest to raise the average wage high enough that everyone can afford to buy what they’re selling.

        This is a persistent myth. As an exercise guess how many employees Ford had for a given year and guess how many cars he actually sold that year.

      • LesHapablap says:

        Walmart has a net profit margin of 3%
        https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/071615/what-profit-margin-usual-company-retail-sector.asp

        Why Retail Margins are Low
        The Internet has made it easier than ever to compare prices and shop from around the world. Low-cost foreign competition has also made it tough on retailers. However, one of the major reasons retail margins are so relatively low is most retail spending is purely discretionary. Consumers can afford to be frugal and picky when it comes to discretionary items; they make decisions quickly, and can often change their minds and return purchases without consequence. This means there is a relatively high price elasticity of demand for retail goods, which makes it difficult to raise prices.

      • dodrian says:

        Benefits allow a company to pay less than the amount their employees need to enable market participation, because the government will step in to ‘top up’ the remainder. And since welfare benefits are nominally tax-funded, this is basically allowing a company to use its tax bill to pay its wage bill (doubly so when you consider payroll tax as well).

        With a higher minimum wage and the company priced out of the market, now the government has to pay for the entirety of its former employees’ welfare costs, rather than just a portion.

        If as a society we demand that everyone have a certain standard of living, is it better to pay £20/hr/person in benefits to achieve that, or subsidise some jobs that otherwise wouldn’t exist and only pay £5/hr/person?

  28. Levantine says:

    When I was age 7, 8, 9, ‘male chauvinism’ was almost omnipresent among my peers – and the number of factual references to male chauvinism among children that I’ve come across in the next three decades, is zero.

    In childhood, that it was almost omnipresent led me to assume that it is strongly based on biology.

    The decades of observation that it’s virtually unreferenced makes me wonder whether that is right and what is the actual truth.

    Now, to the details: What can I say specifically about this ‘male chauvinism’ among children?

    It looked, acted and quacked like one.
    I observed it as a heterosexual boy, and
    At the same time, I found it completely alien, completely at odds with my common sense, which led me to ask myself countless questions.

    What is its nature? Why am I different? What is its spread? etc. etc.

    It happened in a society where females were: school teachers, mothers, distinguished professionals, a female was the head of government. Try as I might, I saw no way that this perspective on females is or can be transmitted from the adults to the children to such an extent that it dominates almost every boy.
    Therefore – I reasoned – it is by all chance biologically based, and age-specific.

    I would liken its moral status to the medical status of flat feet: perfectly commonplace and normal in children while pathological in adults.

    I could also suggest that it may be specific to modern, settled societies and virtually absent among many hunter-gatherer societies.

    But why do I fail to recall a single discussion of it.
    Memory failure? My memory is apparently normal.
    Lack of reading, lack of looking it up? Right now, googling about sexism or male chauvinism in childhood leads me to zero results.
    Maybe it’s present in some backward environments, absent in the more enlightened ones, and the enlightened observers just fail to notice it among the unenlightened kids? Maybe …& does not look likely.
    Maybe it’s a victim of political calculations related to sexual interests, and simply no one finds it in their interest to speak about its existence and wide spread?
    And after I post this, a bunch of feminist witches will draw a pentagram around my name and make me condemn me to self-combustion or lifelong celibacy?
    Maybe, … Even without the witch part, this whole thing strikes me as strange

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      You are just describing a nonentity.

    • Nootropic cormorant says:

      Maybe it’s just some tribalism?
      I don’t think 7 years old is too young to pick up societal memes though.

    • Aapje says:

      I’ve seen a study that claimed that babies are already being treated differently, where parents are more likely to respond to a crying girl than boy. So if boys are refused empathy at such an early age already, it’s perfectly possible that most are taught survival strategies that are based on self-reliance and dominance very early on.

    • Thegnskald says:

      What the heck are you calling “male chauvinism” here?

      The fact that little boys think boys should be in charge?

      Did you not hang around enough little girls to observe that they think girls should be in charge?

  29. CatCube says:

    Structural Engineering Post Series

    Continued from here:
    https://slatestarcodex.com/2018/08/29/open-thread-109-25/#comment-663922

    @Hoopyfreund covered some mechanics here:
    https://slatestarcodex.com/2018/09/16/open-thread-110-5/#comment-669181

    Statics (continuted)

    I apologize for the long time between these posts. I got into some longer hours at work, and let this project fall by the wayside a little bit. I’d like to thank Hoopyfreund for putting it back front and center for me.

    I’m going to continue on from my last post on statics. Since there were no questions or discussion, I’m going to assume there was either little interest in that particular topic, or that I made it so opaque that it was useless to people who didn’t already know the material. Consequently, I’ll fly through this one, just for the sake of completeness. My intent here is to expand a little bit on the concept of load path, to explain how we determine what the path for each load is.

    In the last post, I covered how the principles of static equilibrium describe how loads are distributed to supports of a beam. I’ll talk a little bit about how loads are distributed to structural elements by an engineer.

    Most loads on a structure are distributed; that is, they are some force per unit area. Floor loads are one example, where a standard floor loading for an office in the US is 50 pounds per square foot. The traditional concept used is tributary area. For example, if you have a floor consisting of a slab supported by beams, the assumption is that if you draw a line midway between the beams, each beam gets the share on each side of the line.

    This assumes that the floor system is one-way. If you have an area of floor bounded by beams, if the aspect ratio of that area is over about 2:1, you can neglect the contribution of the beams on the short side, and assume the floor load is distributed to the beams on the long side. This also means that the floor can be designed by considering only the short direction–you just have to take a unit width of the floor and design it as a beam spanning the short direction.

    If the area is more square, conversely, the system will be a two-way slab, and you’ll have to distribute using a more complex pattern. The traditional way is to draw a 45° line from each corner until they meet, and then draw a line connecting the meeting points. If you’ve got a square area, the 45° lines will meet at the center point, and you’ll have a triangle of tributary area for each beam. If the area is rectangular, you’ll have triangles for the short side, and two trapezoids for the long side.

    One-way slabs are common in steel buildings, and two-way in concrete.

    Once you have the load on each beam, you can figure out what the load each beam imposes on the member supporting it (girders or columns), and then what that member imposes on its supporting members, until you’ve gotten all the way down to the foundation.

    Tributary area is used for lateral loads as well. For example, wind acts on the side of a building. The wind pressure on the outside wall is usually distributed up and down to the floors above and below. Each floor slab, then, acts as a diaphragm, which transfers the load collectors or drag struts–usually the floor beams discussed a few paragraphs ago–and the drag struts carry it to the Main Wind Force Resisting System, wich are usually one of two things: Frames, which are collections of beams, columns, and ties designed to resist lateral load. The other option commonly used are shear walls, which are walls that are solid over most of their extent–if you have a softcover book at hand, it’s easy to bend the book out of plane, but difficult to deform the book into a parallelogram. That’s how shear walls resist lateral load.

    Once it’s in the MWFRS, of course, each element there transfers load as above until you’re in the foundation. Snow loads, rain, earth pressure, etc. are all similar. Seismic is a little weirder, because it’s a dynamic process, but the most common methods will ultimately boil down to distributing loads according to a set of rules and ensuring a load path. Sometimes wind can be odd, too, because you can get periodic excitation, but that’s more a concern for large or otherwise oddball structures.

    Next, I’m going to move on to more discussion of building codes. I’ll have more to say on the structural sections, but I want to cover some basics on the codes as a whole.

    • bean says:

      Since there were no questions or discussion, I’m going to assume there was either little interest in that particular topic, or that I made it so opaque that it was useless to people who didn’t already know the material.

      I don’t think this is a good assumption. One of the things I had to learn when doing Naval Gazing was that how much people like something is only loosely coupled to how many comments I get. It could mean that there’s no interest, or that you’ve done a good job of explaining it, and nobody has any questions or comments to make. That’s pretty much where I was last time (and this time, except for that note).

      • Eltargrim says:

        Adding to this: I didn’t pay attention to the first post (on statics), as I’m already quite familiar with the subject. I’m eagerly awaiting the post on building codes.

      • Aapje says:

        This is one of the times where upvotes would be useful.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Back the ancient days of apas (amateur press associations— what people did before the internet), there was RAEBNC– Read and Enjoyed, But No Comment. They were frustrating if you wanted comments, but obviously better than no feedback.

      • CatCube says:

        Yeah, fair enough. I read every posting on Navalgazing, but rarely comment.

      • Doesntliketocomment says:

        Speaking of which, the captcha is down at naval gazing, I haven’t been able to post for about a week. Looking at the comment volume I don’t think I’m alone. I came here to find you because I don’t know how else to reach you and let you know.

    • Deiseach says:

      Well, I’m not commenting because I don’t know enough about the topic under discussion, but I am finding it interesting and educational. Me too dumb for the maths, but that’s not your fault 🙂

      • CatCube says:

        Well, the one thing I was trying to do was make this accessible without math. That is, to give people who aren’t good at math at least a qualitative understanding of “if you have a beam that’s not moving, it must have exactly as much force acting upwards on it as you have acting downwards on it, and engineers can calculate what those forces are and where they act.”

        The downside to this forum is that you don’t have pictures, which makes qualitative understanding harder.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          I wonder if starting with a of a toy problem to zoom in on aspects of might have made it *feel* less mathy than jumping right into Statics&Dynamics? Using the basic tools illustratively rather than foundationally (pun not intended though I wish it was).

          I dunno. I am neither an educator nor particularly versed in communications. But it’s a potential avenue to explore.

    • ryan8518 says:

      I’m quite enjoying this series, though it reminds of my time growing up in London, the language should be the same but something just feels off (I’m an aerospace structures person). Every time I’ve had to crack open a civil code, particularly the dynamic load/material property sections I’m struck by how differently things are handled. I’m particularly looking forward to the building codes section, and hoping for both some of the technical aspects but also the authorizing/enforcement side of the house.

      • CatCube says:

        Unfortunately, the authorizing/enforcement side is the one I’m weakest on, since I work for the federal government; we don’t do permits the way a regular developer would, and the local building officials don’t have the authority to either demand review of my projects, nor to inspect the completed facilities, though federal law does obligate us to comply with the local building code as adopted in the project’s jurisdiction. (We have outside reviews of our projects, but the workflow is different.)

  30. The Pachyderminator says:

    I’m curious about how many non-academic people here have a personal subscription to one or more academic journals for pleasure.

    I’m not a historian and my only connection to the field is that I studied it in undergrad, but I’m a member of the American Historical Association simply because I enjoy reading the American Historical Review. It might be possible for me to scrounge up PDFs through local libraries or something, but I love having hard copies. I’ve considered adding other journals too, but neither my income nor my living space are big enough for me to start my own academic library.

    It seems likely that for STEM journals, this would be less useful due to (1) the availability of resources like arXiv.org, (2) higher cost, and (3) for hard copies, the sheer shelf space they would take up. (I’ve seen science journals on library shelves that are as much as a dozen hefty volumes per year, so I can only assume the print versions aren’t too widely distributed.) However, there are certainly people here who are interested in history, psychology, political science, etc.…

  31. WashedOut says:

    It recently happened to me that something I understood to be true for a long time got completely falsified in light of pretty trivial evidence, which I came across by accident. For no obvious cultural or political reason, I went through my formative years hearing a lot about Yitzhak Rabin mainly from people casually citing examples of questionable characters turning out good in the end.

    Over time I developed a mental model of his death, wherein he was assassinated (true) by a member of Hamas (false), punctuating one of the many bouts of violent conflict between Israel and Palestine. Turns out he was actually killed by Yigal Amir, a conservative jew from Israel, who vehemently opposed the Oslo Accords which Rabin signed as part of a diplomatic effort between Israel and the PLO.

    Has this happened to anyone else? It’s a mixed feeling of excitement for having ones beliefs updated and embarrassment for not looking into things more, but I really like it.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      I will say in your defense that the fake reality you constructed for yourself did you no harm on a larger scale (unless your were quizzed on this question and lost a job). Sometimes small misconceptions could be helpful to your interpretation of the world. Say you see an apple drop (which is by random chance), then you see some rats run and decide its time to leave the area based on the combination. Then an earthquake happens. You have become right based on luck. Same happened to you in this situation, you demonized (correctly) Hamas based on a misunderstanding.

      • Aapje says:

        I disagree that this is a harmless mistake, because while Hamas is bad, the Israeli extreme right are very bad too (including using terror against Palestinians). Furthermore, the narrative that the Palestinians are preventing peace is common, but not very fair.

        Believing that Rabin was killed by Hamas can very easily help create or maintain an alief or belief in a one-sided narrative.

        • Salem says:

          But what’s the harm? Unless WashedOut is in a very small set of actors, his views of the Palestinian conflict don’t matter. Would there be peace in the Middle East now, if only WashedOut had correctly attributed blame for Yitzhak Rabin’s murder? Come on now.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            Hmmm. It has always seemed to me that the common but unfair belief (internationally) that Israel is preventing peace has significantly contributed to Palestinian intransigence and therefore had the effect of preventing peace, or at least making it far less likely.

            Presumably, if you have differing beliefs, e.g., about what peace terms would be reasonable (?) that argument works much the same either way.

          • Aapje says:

            @Harry Maurice Johnston

            One of the claims that Israel is and was least willing to accept is the return of refugees (and their descendants) to their homes.

            To me it seems like a human right to be able to return to your home if you flee from violence with the intent to return when the violence is over.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            @aapje

            Except that is ahistorical. The occupied areas of dubious government are not filled with people who fled Israeli persecution they are full of people who either already lived there, or moved their to be part of the coalition of countries that tried to eliminate the Israeli state during the various wars at the time.

            Gaza was part of Egypt, Egypt lost it in the Six Day War and has rejected offers to reclaim parts of it because that was politically advantageous at the time. The West Bank was part of Jordan and they lost it during the Six Day War. Parts of it would, ideally, be returned to Jordan, but the original pre-1967 borders are not sensible so some of it would have to become permanently part of Israel proper.

            It really makes no sense historically to harp on these things, no one talks about returning Puck, Gdansk, Konisberg and the rest of Prussia to Germany. Nor do they talk about border problems caused by France having Metz and Strasbourg.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            @Aapje, I don’t think any absolute right to continue to live in a particular place is commonly recognized. Just as a random example, when the Clyde Dam was built (not far from where I grew up) a number of people had to be relocated, and I don’t recall the UN getting involved.

            I think the Palestinian situation is more about what this article calls the right of conquest. That made me much more sympathetic to the European position, because I can understand wanting to avoid a dangerous precedent.

            But that leaves us with no way forwards, because Israel can’t both recognize the right of return and continue to exist, and it isn’t like the Israelis have anywhere else to go either. From a pragmatic point of view it seems to me like the Palestinians have far more to gain from peace than the Israelis do, and insisting on the right of return seems unhelpful.

          • Aapje says:

            @idontknow131647093

            You are ignoring a lot of history there. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled during the 1947–48 Civil War and ‘Plan Dalet.’ The latter plan, executed by Haganah, the paramilitary organization that turned into the IDF, had the removal of Palestinians from certain areas as an explicit goal:

            Mounting operations against enemy population centers located inside or near our defensive system in order to prevent them from being used as bases by an active armed force. These operations can be divided into the following categories:
            – Destruction of villages (setting fire to, blowing up, and planting mines in the debris), especially those population centers which are difficult to control continuously.
            – Mounting search and control operations according to the following guidelines: encirclement of the village and conducting a search inside it. In the event of resistance, the armed force must be destroyed and the population must be expelled outside the borders of the state.

            Note how this is written to allow destruction of villages that are in inconvenient locations. There was no plan to house these people elsewhere within the Jewish state, with the predictable outcome that these people would be forced out. Of course, aside from Palestinians being expelled, many chose not to hang out near the fighting and fled, as people tend to do for most conflicts. The Palestinians had an extra good reason to do so, as during this time two other Zionist paramilitary organizations, Irgun and Lehi, massacred Palestinian civilians at Deir Yassin.

            The refugees were actually a major reason why the Arab countries went on the offensive:

            According to Yoav Gelber, the Arab countries were “drawn into the war by the collapse of the Palestinian Arabs and the Arab Liberation Army [and] the Arab governments’ primary goal was preventing the Palestinian Arabs’ total ruin and the flooding of their own countries by more refugees. According to their own perception, had the invasion not taken place, there was no Arab force in Palestine capable of checking the Haganah’s offensive”.

            There is a narrative where none of this happened and Israel was just minding its business when the nasty Arabs attacked. Reality is a lot more complex, with the UN partition plan being implemented really poorly and with little support from the involved parties, resulting in many on both sides seeing violence as the only way to get justice done (with Jewish violence against Palestinians, the British and other Jews and Palestinian violence against Jews, the British and other Palestinians).

            I never heard this particular narrative of yours where the refugees never even lived within the area that became Israel. That’s really a very, very extremist claim that goes against so much evidence that it is on par with Holocaust denial for its, eh, creative interpretation of the facts.

            Anyway, my opinion and that of the UN at the time was that after the violence died down, people should be able to return.

            As for the logistics, most refugees seem to be willing to return to Gaza or the West Bank with compensation for their lost property/land, which seems reasonable.

          • Aapje says:

            @Harry Maurice Johnston

            The insistence that Israel must be a white Jewish nationalist state merely requires a two state solution, which in itself is relatively simple to achieve within the original division as decided upon by the UN.

            It is a lot more difficult to implement if Israel insists on being Greater Israel. In fact, even without the refugees returning, Israel already has a big issue with their Greater Israel plans, which doesn’t leave a viable state for the Gaza and West Bank Palestinians.

            Any peace plan that leaves a viable state for the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank surely also results in a place to go for the refugees.

            PS. I assume that the displaced people for the Clyde Dam got compensation and relocation to a decent place in their own country, not a camp in a foreign country that doesn’t treat them too well.

          • quanta413 says:

            it isn’t like the Israelis have anywhere else to go either

            Arguably Israelis had better choices than Palestinians. The United States is pretty great. A lot of Jews did move to the U.S. in the early 1900s.

            The U.S. could still absorb a huge number of Israelis. On the order of a million easily. With Israel’s level of wealth and human capital, even absorbing all of Israel would be like absorbing a rich chunk of Europe. A lot of Israelis already have English proficiency to boot. Ties between Israel and the U.S. are strong too.

            Palestinians on the other hand are screwed. GDP per capita isn’t even a tenth of Israel’s. Absorbing all of Palestine’s people would cause immense stress on any country that tried.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            @Aapje,

            As I understand it, the Palestinian demand is that all the refugees (and their descendants) be allowed to return to their original homes. Merely allowing them to return to a newly created State of Palestine is not considered acceptable. Nor can I find any suggestion that the Israeli proposals routinely (or ever) include any clauses denying the putative new State of Palestine the right to accept as many of the refugees as it sees fit.

            If you agree with me thus far, perhaps you are suggesting that the dispute is around whether the proposed borders are large enough to allow a viable state that can absorb the refugees? That’s plausible, I suppose, except that (a) I’ve never seen it presented that way, and (b) it seems to me that if you can fit nearly 2 million people into the Gaza strip, it should be possible to fit a bit over 8 million people into the West Bank, which is about fifteen times as large. Are there factors I’m not considering?

            (Regarding compensation, Israel, and in particular the Israeli left, appear to be willing to negotiate on that point. The Palestinian position appears to be that compensation should be provided for those who choose not to exercise the right of return, but is not an acceptable alternative to it.)

            To provide a frame of reference, these are the articles I read in fact-checking myself before writing this response:

            Palestinian right of return

            Two-state solution

            The Two-State Solution: What It Is and Why It Hasn’t Happened

            Happy to check out anything else you might suggest, so long as it isn’t too long. Material of about the same length as the above would be ideal.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            @quanta413,

            Arguably Israelis had better choices than Palestinians. The United States is pretty great. A lot of Jews did move to the U.S. in the early 1900s.

            Sure, and personally I tentatively lean towards the idea that Palestine was a bad choice, though I don’t know enough of the history to form a sensible opinion. I was talking strictly about the situation now, not historical counterfactuals. (Am I using that word correctly?)

            The U.S. could still absorb a huge number of Israelis.

            … I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the US wouldn’t agree to accept all nine million Israelis, even if the Israelis would agree to move. And it would be even less likely to allow them to form a separate nation within US territory.

            Absorbing all of Palestine’s people would cause immense stress on any country that tried.

            Can you expand on this? I’ve always been mildly puzzled as to why forcing them to stay in refugee camps makes the surrounding nation any better off. At the very least, couldn’t proper cities be built for them? Even if you’re not going to let them leave?

          • John Schilling says:

            Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled during the 1947–48 Civil War

            That’s two different things being lumped together. Is there a breakdown on how many fled vs. how many were expelled? Also relevant, what were they fleeing and what happened to the ones who didn’t flee?

          • quanta413 says:

            … I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the US wouldn’t agree to accept all nine million Israelis, even if the Israelis would agree to move. And it would be even less likely to allow them to form a separate nation within US territory.

            Sure it has no interest; the idea’s not even on the horizon and probably won’t ever be. But both American parties are pretty pro-Israel. American Evangelicals think Jews are god’s chosen people. I think it would be easier to sell 9 million Israelis immigrating (well, all the Jewish Israelis immigrating would be not too hard of a sell I think) than it would be to sell 2 million more Mexicans immigrating. And there are a hell of a lot more than 2 million Mexicans already here despite the law. I think the logistics is a bigger deal than the politics.

            But if Israelis immigrated here over the course of a decade or two, I doubt it would be a problem. My guess is they’d generate less opposition than Chinese immigrants. And you see relatively few complaints about Chinese immigration.

            The only groups that would be much easier to integrate economically and culturally are British or British descended.

            Obviously they can’t form their own nation though. That’s wholly untenable. Why should they get to form an ethnostate in the new world? There are no other ethnostates in the new world. They’d have to integrate more or less like all the Jews who immigrated to the U.S. before integrated (more or less).

            So I don’t think we could mass import Israel’s population in a year. But if there were Israelis immigrating to the U.S. at a clip of about a million a year I think it would be doable. Of course, Israelis don’t want to leave so it’s all moot. And obviously if they were leaving, at some point their population would be too small to sustain a military to hold their border.

            Can you expand on this? I’ve always been mildly puzzled as to why forcing them to stay in refugee camps makes the surrounding nation any better off. At the very least, couldn’t proper cities be built for them? Even if you’re not going to let them leave?

            My best guess is…

            Why would Israel want a functional and likely hostile state on its borders? Functional cities need to be able to engage in trade. They might challenge you or serve as a base for resistance. It’s far easier to push around a disorganized and weakened group. Even if you could get 95% of Palestinians to sign on to a two-state solution, 5% would still be really angry about what happened to them.

            I don’t think you can just build cities for people. People have to have the ability to run the city or trade for what they need to run the city. What total set of skills does a group of people who’ve lived in a weak quasistate that’s periodically invaded by a far superior force have? Much less when they can easily be blockaded and cutoff from external trade?

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            @John Schilling, I don’t see that it makes any difference.

            @quanta413, I was thinking of the refugee camps in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon; were you talking about the ones in Gaza and the West Bank?

          • quanta413 says:

            @Harry Maurice Johnston

            Yes, I was thinking of the West Bank and Gaza which I suppose are mostly not camps but are desperately poor. Not camps in another nation’s territory. I agree there is no benefit to Jordan of having a refugee camp. On the other hand, Jordan’s GDP per capita is only about double or triple the West Bank’s when I quickly searched for an estimate. Jordan may lack the capacity to create a new city.

            Syria isn’t even able to hold together. Lebanon has had a lot of troubles too. It’s hardly surprising a functioning city doesn’t spring up in either place. Brazil has favelas around some cities even though it’s not war torn.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            Well, it didn’t have to happen quickly; the camps have been there 50+ years. And it isn’t like Jordan would have had to fund the development themselves, the same organizations that help rebuild Gaza each time Hamas and Israel start fighting again could surely have assisted.

            I suspect that at least part of the reason is that if the refugees are resettled or even just treated well, it limits their usefulness as leverage against Israel. I’m just not sure to what extent this is true, and to what extent there are real practical or political problems. Or even to what extent this has already been done and just isn’t mentioned much.

          • albatross11 says:

            I expect we would accept most or all Israelis in a genuine pinch (Israel has collapsed and they’re fleeing for their lives). Everyone remembers what happened the last time lots of Jews were running for their lives and got turned back from lots of places, and I imagine that Israeli refugees would have massive amounts of sympathy from most Americans.

            OTOH, there is no chance we’d carve off a bit of territory and turn it into New Israel.

          • Matt M says:

            I don’t think there’s much of a scenario where we’d accept several million Isreali immigrants.

            Mainly because the American right (and a decent chunk of the warmongering left) would rather nuke the entire region than concede military defeat to some sort of Muslim coalition driving the Isrealis off the land.

            And “Muslims are the rightful owners, all the Jews have to leave” isn’t within light years of the overton window for most people, so….

          • Aapje says:

            @Harry Maurice Johnston

            Of course the Palestinians publicly demand that the refugees should return, because that’s how negotiations work. You demand anything that you can make a semi-decent argument for, especially if it is important to your people. That doesn’t mean that you expect to get it. But you don’t publicly demand the minimum compromise that you’ll accept.

            Information from the actual negotiations suggests that the PA was willing to accept a token group of Palestinians that would return to Israel (so small that the demographic effect would be minimal) and that the rest would slowly be moved into Palestinian territory.

            This again is what I mean by false narratives, there is this narrative of Palestinians blowing up any peace deal unless they get all refugees back to Israel and there is this:

            In an email Ziyad Clot, a legal adviser to Palestinian negotiators on the refugee file, writes, “President [Mahmoud] Abbas offered an extremely low proposal for the number of returnees to Israel a few weeks only after the start of the process.”

            That is not the behavior by someone who desperately wants the refugees to return to their homes.

            Note that this is nothing new since Arafat already gave up the right to return in thinly veiled language:

            We understand Israel’s demographic concerns and understand that the right of return of Palestinian refugees, a right guaranteed under international law and United Nations Resolution 194, must be implemented in a way that takes into account such concerns. However, just as we Palestinians must be realistic with respect to Israel’s demographic desires, Israelis too must be realistic in understanding that there can be no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if the legitimate rights of these innocent civilians continue to be ignored.

            By arguing that “Israel’s demographic concerns” must be taken into account, he gives up the solution where the refugees return to Israel as citizens with full rights who get to vote in Israeli elections.

            So if they cannot be citizens of Israel, they must then become citizens of the Palestinian state, right? But then that means that they can’t return to land that is part of Israel, rather than the Palestinian state. So…here is how I would undiplomat that statement:

            We accept that it’s not realistic to have the refugees return to Israel, but we won’t accept a deal that won’t help the refugees.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            @Aapje, the article you link to puts Abbas’s ability to sell any such deal to his own people in serious question. There’s also this which puts Abbas’s willingness to accept a symbolic right of return into question. But in any case, if the right of return isn’t blocking a peace agreement, this entire subthread is moot, since your assertion that it was is how it started.

            Pulling back from that particular issue, then, my overall impression remains. I’m not attempting to convince you or anyone, but the Palestinians just don’t seem to me to be acting in their own best interests. I suspect some sort of coordination problem.

            (In fact I’ve sometimes speculated that the original problem was that because of the British Mandate, etc., the Palestinians had no central authority that could negotiate terms of surrender with the newly formed State of Israel in the same way that Japan, say, was able to negotiate terms of surrender with the US. Probably a very naive suggestion.)

            The more interesting question to me right now isn’t any of that, but the question @Salem brought up shortly before we got derailed: would the situation would be markedly different if international opinion was one-sided, either one way or the other? Would the Palestinians in fact be more willing to make additional concessions if the UN tended to take Israel’s side rather than theirs? Would Israel in fact be more conciliatory if the international community was united against them?

          • Aapje says:

            @Harry Maurice Johnston

            Israel seems unwilling to accept any state that can be a threat, which is any state that is viable. Furthermore, the current government consists in large part of Greater Israel fans, which means putting colonists ‘out there,’ which then exposes them, which then results in very oppressive measures against Palestinians to keep the colonists safe.

            I don’t see how putting pressure on the Palestinians is going to result in peace in this environment, unless this pressure convinces them to commit mass suicide (convincing them to leave isn’t going to do anything, since no one will accept them).

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            @Aapje,

            Israel seems unwilling to accept any state that can be a threat, which is any state that is viable.

            OK. I don’t agree, but I can understand and respect this argument. I would only add that Israel’s paranoia in this respect is also entirely understandable under the circumstances.

            (The ideal solution IMO would be to relocate the Palestinians en masse, perhaps to the southern end of Israel where it forms a triangle between Egypt and Jordan. That way, the border would be a short, straight line, easily defensible, and no more of a threat than Israel’s existing borders with Lebanon or Syria. Even better, you could relocate them to elsewhere in the Middle East. Unfortunately any such relocation would be way outside the Overton window, for reasons I don’t really get. But then, I’d also want to split Northern Ireland in half and move everybody to whichever half they feel they belong in. I suspect these opinions qualify as kooky.)

            Furthermore, the current government

            Well, yeah. Those guys are aholes. Not much more so IMO than many other right-wing, religiously influenced governments, except that their circumstances exaggerate the impact. From my perspective, this only underscores why the Palestinians should have made peace decades ago.

            which means putting colonists ‘out there,’ which then exposes them, which then results in very oppressive measures

            Another valid point. I’ve always been ambivalent on the subject of non-contiguous settlements, this may push me towards opposing them.

            On the other hand, this is an example of the sort of thing I mean when I say that the Palestinians and their supporters aren’t acting in their best interests: why don’t I ever see them objecting to the settlements on those sort of grounds? It seems like it’s always “but international law” or “stop stealing our land” or my personal favourite, “like two people negotiating about the disposition of a pizza while one of them is eating it” which just baffles me. (So accept a deal already, before the pizza is all gone!)

            On the gripping hand, I guess I’m not the kind of person they’re talking to. OK, I’ll try to update on that as well.

            convincing them to leave isn’t going to do anything, since no one will accept them

            … I’m not convinced of that. Or, rather, I am, but only in the sense of “I have acknowledged that the international community would never allow such an arrangement”. If not for that, I don’t see any compelling reason why a deal couldn’t be made. There’s plenty of precedent for one government buying territory from another, after all.

            PS: out of curiosity, and only if you don’t mind saying, are you old enough to remember PLO terrorist attacks against the international community? I suspect that influences people’s positions, I’m sure it influences mine. If I were even older, and remembered Zionist terrorist attacks against Britain, that might have influenced my opinion too.

          • Aapje says:

            @Harry Maurice Johnston

            A major reason why relocation to other middle eastern countries is not acceptable to them is because those countries have strong tribal politics (which is a major component of Israeli politics as well, BTW), so giving those people full rights would shift the political power of balance in a way that can cause a civil war.

            If they would take in the Palestinians they also just get hated more by their populace, for working together with Israel to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians.

            Furthermore, the idea that an ethnic group should live with others of the same ethnicity and/or a religious group should live with others that share their religion is ethnic and/or religious nationalism, which is a kind of nationalism that many people reject (although Western globalists tend to restrict this disapproval to white nationalism and Christian nationalism).

            As for for your claim that the Palestinians don’t argue against the settlements because they threaten (or have already made impossible) a viable Palestinian state, they do argue that.

            In fact, Arafat already argued it in 2004.

            Didn’t do them much good…

            out of curiosity, and only if you don’t mind saying, are you old enough to remember PLO terrorist attacks against the international community? I suspect that influences people’s positions, I’m sure it influences mine.

            Probably, since I’m not sure what you are referring to. Are you talking about Munich and the plane hijackings? I wouldn’t call these attacks against the international community, but rather attacks against Israel and Israelis outside of Israel, causing harm to other nations (note that Israel has also assassinated people abroad).

            There are also more modern (groups of) events that are missing from your list, like the many incidental and structural abuses as documented by Breaking the Silence and Bt’Selem. Furthermore, we now know about the fairly large scale settler terrorism, like the common ‘price tag’ response to the IDF dismantling an illegal settlement being an attack on Palestinians. Or how the Palestinians are not protected sufficiently by the IDF or the Israeli courts, despite not being allowed to defend themselves. An example of how Palestinians are discriminated against, is the Israeli settler who was let go for ‘lack of evidence’ while being caught fleeing from a burning Palestinian orchard while holding a jerrycan filled with flammable liquid, and with the smell of the liquid on his hands.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            @Aapje, I think you’ve misunderstood what I meant by relocation. I’m not talking about them becoming citizens of an existing nation, I’m talking about buying land from an existing nation to form a new one.

            they also just get hated more by their populace, for working together with Israel to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians

            … quite possibly, but only because of the baffling-to-me state of the Overton window, as already discussed.

            I’m not sure what your point about ethnic/religious nationalism is. I don’t think there are very many people who object to a Palestinian state on these grounds. Why would it make any difference where said state is to be located?

            As for for your claim that the Palestinians don’t argue against the settlements because they threaten (or have already made impossible) a viable Palestinian state

            Not what I said. Your argument was quite different: “which means putting colonists ‘out there,’ which then exposes them, which then results in very oppressive measures”. Your argument is a good one; their argument is not.

            Are you talking about Munich and the plane hijackings? I wouldn’t call these attacks against the international community

            Call it what you like; people with no stake in the conflict were held hostage and/or killed. TWA Flight 847 looks like a central example of the sort of thing that would have influenced my perspective: so far as I can see, the flight had no connection to Israel whatsoever.

            I will concede that it looks like a significantly higher proportion of the international targets than I’d realized did have some Israeli connection, e.g., TWA Flight 841 departed from Tel Aviv, which probably wouldn’t have registered with me at the time. That said, I still doubt that many of the people on board deserved to die.

            So did these attacks not seem as monstrous to you at the time as they did to me? Curious; but I suppose there are any number of reasons why that might be the case, e.g., if you were older than I was you might have been better able to put them in context.

          • Aapje says:

            @Harry Maurice Johnston

            I’m talking about buying land from an existing nation to form a new one.

            The current land is decent agricultural land. Good farm land is rare in the region. Any offer is going to be sand dunes or rock, not farmland or land on top of a large oil reserve, which would not be a viable Palestinian state. What is the point in going from a place that would have decent prospects without oppression or from a refugee camp that has no real economy and is fully dependent on aid, to a ‘state’ that has no real economy and is fully dependent on aid? In other words, a refugee camp in all but name.

            Furthermore, there is the religious angle. Jerusalem is a Muslim holy place, not just a Jewish one.

            I’m not sure what your point about ethnic/religious nationalism is.

            My point is that your proposals are based on the assumption that other nations/peoples have an obligation based on religion and/or ethnicity. If one rejects the idea that there is a special link/obligation between people based on religion and/or ethnicity, then your demands look discriminatory. Imagine having starvation in Ethiopia and then someone saying that black Americans have an obligation to give aid, but not white Americans.

            Of course, this entire thing started by a third party deciding that others had an obligation to host a bunch of people, while those people didn’t agree. We have many decades of evidence that this can create conflicts that don’t just fix themselves over time.

            So did these attacks not seem as monstrous to you at the time as they did to me?

            I was more interested in pacifiers than politics back then. Ultimately I don’t see how it matters. The PLO abandoned those tactics and now cooperates with Israel against terrorism. If we are going to allow people to hold grudges and retaliate because of them forever, then peace becomes impossible.

            The abuses I’m talking about are happening right now, so they can be changed. You can’t undo the past.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            @Aapje,

            My point is that your proposals are based on the assumption that other nations/peoples have an obligation based on religion and/or ethnicity.

            I’m not sure where you got that idea. It isn’t one of my assumptions.

            … I was, however, assuming that the Palestinian state would be better off if their putative new neighbours were ethnically and religiously compatible. Given the overall state of the Middle East that might have been overly optimistic! Still, I’d imagine they’d rather not be any further away from their original homeland than absolutely necessary. [And to reiterate, in case anybody just came in, this is strictly a hypothetical anyway, because Overton window.]

            Your assertion that there is no good land that could be made available anywhere in the Middle East is plausible and will be taken under consideration, though I would suggest that with modern technology this isn’t necessarily as much of a problem as it would have been in the past. Also in this hypothetical scenario the Palestinian territories, at least, would have to be either purchased or leased from the owners and/or the new Palestinian state, so there’d be another potential source of income there. That’s on top of compensation for refugees from Israel proper.

            I was more interested in pacifiers than politics back then. Ultimately I don’t see how it matters.

            Well, it suggests that international opinion might shift in favour of the Palestinians as the older generations depart, which is vaguely promising given the thesis that one of the barriers to peace is that the international community is divided, with different interest groups backing both sides. It is also possible, though perhaps not likely, that the Palestinian leadership anticipates this demographic change and is deliberately stalling in the expectation of a better deal later.

            The abuses I’m talking about are happening right now, so they can be changed.

            Oh, I’m sure Israel could do better than it does now, see above re aholes. But in the absence of a peace deal there’s a limit to how liberal they can realistically be.

            (It also doesn’t help that the “abuses” that get the most publicity are the ones where Israel can most plausibly claim to have just been defending themselves, which I guess is a Toxoplasma thing. NB: I’m not blaming the Palestinians for this.)

          • Aapje says:

            @Harry Maurice Johnston

            I suggest reading this Q&A with a poller which is very much worth reading. Some key quotes:

            What has changed is the partisan divide on this issue, which we have begun seeing over the past few years. This has resulted in more Democrats wanting the U.S. to take neither side and more Republicans wanting the U.S. to lean toward Israel.

            However, among Democrats, it’s obvious that Democratic politicians, particularly in Congress, are not in harmony with their Democratic base on many of the questions related to Israel-Palestine. At some point, one would expect that this gap cannot be sustained.

            So what I expect is for the taboo on strongly criticizing Israel to end in the future, among Democrats.

            Moreover, just 43% of all Republicans (and 38% of non-Evangelical Republicans) said they want the U.S. to veto a UN resolution endorsing the creation of a Palestinian state, while just 15% of Democrats and 13% of independents felt the same.

            Two things are very clear to me- one is that public opinion does not present a barrier for bold U.S. actions such as recognizing the state of Palestine at the United Nations. The public is far more open to this option than politicians and it’s obvious that the barrier is principally emanating from passionate minorities, campaign contributions, and lobbying.

            So there is already minority support to allow the Palestinians to try and force a state into existence. The increasing partisan nature of the issue erodes the current broad agreement in the US, meaning that a Democrat win might result in pro-Palestine policies/decisions in the future.

            I’ve always believed that on the settlement issue there is widespread opposition and frustration within the American public and even among political elites within the U.S. This was born out last year when we discovered that 39% overall were open to punitive measures against Israeli settlement activity which is comparable to this year (37% overall). But the fact that half of the Democrats want the U.S. to impose some punitive measures could ultimately become a factor in the debate though I suspect not in this election cycle.”

            This latest poll also shows that a large majority of Americans of all political stripes believes that if it cannot be both, then Israel should be a democratic state rather than a Jewish state, with 82% of Democrats, 74% of independents, and 62% of Republicans endorsing such a view.

            So, ultimately, there is way less support for a Jewish state than for a state where Jews are safe.

            For various reasons, it seems likely to me that (strong) support for Israel is way lower in Europe and much more linked to the extreme right.

            I think that Israel is really lucky that Palestinian culture is so resistant to non-violence, because the Palestinians really shoot themselves in the foot often with resistance that isn’t good enough to really hurt Israel, but too aggressive for them to get as much sympathy as they could get.

            But in the absence of a peace deal there’s a limit to how liberal they can realistically be.

            I disagree and believe that the opposite is true: the lack of good will on the part of Israel has blocked moves towards peace time and again. For example, Hamas was extremely effective at reducing the attacks on Israel during the 2008 Israel–Hamas ceasefire, reducing the attacks by 98%. The agreement was to increase the supplies to Gaza by 30% in 3 days and open the border fully in 10 days. This was never adhered to. Instead, Israel started making excuses why they couldn’t adhere to their promises and making additional demands that were not part of the agreement, like the release of Gilad Shalit.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            Israel started making excuses why they couldn’t adhere to their promises and making additional demands that were not part of the agreement, like the release of Gilad Shalit.

            Israel seems to have been up-front about the fact that the entire deal was conditional on Gilad’s release. Arguably it was unethical to agree to the cease-fire without formalizing that condition, but personally I wouldn’t care to second-guess such a decision.

            References: Wikipedia, Haaretz.

          • Aapje says:

            @Harry Maurice Johnston

            It seems clear from the reporting that Israel didn’t expect the release to be part of the cease fire, but instead, to be linked to it. In other words, they expected to have to make further concessions to secure his release (like releasing Palestinian prisoners).

            In the words of Olmert:

            I believe that as part of the understandings that enabled this calm, we will be able to advance his release.

            To me, this seems to be a demand for progress, not a hard demand that the cease fire results in Gilad’s release very quickly.

            Even if we take it as a given that release is part of the truce, then I still reject that Israel could refuse to make good on their short term commitments until this happened.

            The agreement with Hamas was that 30% more supplies would go through the crossings after 3 days and no more restrictions after 10 days. Those are time-based commitments that are very aggressive, but that Israel agreed to. I don’t think that it is reasonable to expect an exchange deal within 3 days or 10 days, especially since Israel seemed to negotiate pretty hard. The Gilad deal eventually took 6 years (and for almost 7 times as many prisoners as what Israel initially offered) and the current attempt at another deal has already been ongoing for 4 years.

            So I think that Hamas reasonably expected that real progress on negotiations for Gilad’s release would not be expected before the crossings would mostly be opened. Basic strategy when the other side stalls on making good on their commitments, is to stall on your commitments too, to prevent the stalling from paying off. So I don’t think it was reasonable to expect Hamas to put haste behind an exchange when Israel was stalling on their commitments.

            Ultimately, Israel could always have closed off the crossings again, so it’s not like Israel would have weakened their negotiation position for the Gilad deal appreciatively. IMO a good faith effort on their part would have been to go a long way towards fulfilling their promises. Perhaps not 98 or 100%, but 75% or so. Then they could reasonably complain if there was no progress on Gilad in a few months of mostly open borders, while the other cease fire conditions were reasonably well adhered to by both sides. As it is, I think that Israel defected first.

            Hamas fulfilled their short term commitment to stop the rocket attacks almost perfectly, although a little bit later than demanded by the treaty (days, rather than immediately), which seems reasonable.

            Israel then fulfilled their short term commitments to a far smaller extent and with no indication of really trying to improve. This is defection.

            Hamas then defected relatively modestly in return when it comes to Gilad. It seems to me that this might have been resolved by careful, evenhanded diplomacy where both sides get convinced to make good on their commitments.

            Then Israel defected like crazy by bombing the shit out of Gaza. At that point the cease fire is obviously unsalvageable.

    • Plumber says:

      “It recently happened to me that something I understood to be true for a long time got completely falsified in light of pretty trivial evidence…

      ….Has this happened to anyone else? It’s a mixed feeling of excitement for having ones beliefs updated and embarrassment for not looking into things more….”


      @WashedOut,

      In a couple of previous threads @David Friedman has linked to compelling evidence that “facts” that have informed my extremely anti-libertarian views are wrong, but despite this my conclusions about “how-things-ought-to-be” (basically they way things were between Roosevelt and Carter) are pretty much the same.

      Probably means I’m stubborn, have had too many head blows, and need to learn how to change my mind, but there it is.

      • Probably means I’m stubborn, have had too many head blows, and need to learn how to change my mind, but there it is.

        My father, who may be the wisest man I’ve known, told me that the purpose of an argument is not to convince someone but to give him the ideas with which he may later convince himself.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          That’s very sensible– I think one of the things that makes people crazy is expecting to convince other people quickly.

        • baconbits9 says:

          My personal opinion is that at its best debate or argument should be used to convince yourself of the correct opinion. I switched over to libertarian/ancap thinking because I found myself arguing against someone where I couldn’t counter their arguments and was looking searching for data or tricks to strengthen my side.

  32. RavenclawPrefect says:

    In reading strange takes on weird issues across large swathes of the internet, I’ve seen a lot of contrasting opinions on things, but one topic about which I can recall exactly zero people dissenting despite hearing hundreds of different people’s opinions is the moral status of Elsevier and the like. I can’t even recall a single instance in which someone’s recounted a minor redeeming quality of anything they do. By all accounts this seems to be a fairly accurate assessment and I don’t know of anything to contradict the thesis that Elsevier is basically uniformly awful, but it seems worth inquiring about: anyone have a steelman of this sort of thing? I would assume that out of the thousands of people involved in some capacity with their endeavors, someone has at least tried to justify it.

    The closest thing I’ve found was this comment (the only such in that thread, if I didn’t miss something), which only holds if one conditions on the idea that knowledge-seeking institutions are dangerous and thus worth inhibiting.

    • peterispaikens says:

      The way I see it, there’s a particular need that Elsevier (and company) serves – there are a bunch of important organizations e.g. funding agencies, various regulatory bodies and gov’t agencies who all (a) want a way to evaluate whether something is “good research”; (b) don’t want to have the capacity to do that evaluation themselves; and (c) don’t trust the universities or the researchers they’re reviewing or other organizations controlled by the researchers they’re reviewing to do that evaluation.

      They want an outsourced way to get a number “the product of this research group is 7.3 good” in a way that’s somewhat correlated with reality, somewhat comparable across all the various disciplines, and shifts any possible blame for misevaluation to some other authority. There’s some consensus that doing it *well* might be nearly impossible, but anyway such a metric is needed and they’ll use whatever fits the needs best even if all alternatives are poor. Elsevier is providing such a service (SCOPUS), and so is the rest of the industry (e.g. Web of Science). The existing journal and review structure/process, as well as all the motivation and incentives to follow that process is deeply tied into the need to provide this service. The various incentives to avoid Elsevier (e.g. self-publishing, Arxiv, new open-access journals, etc) don’t show a credible way to fill this niche and provide this service, so in that regard Elsevier is fulfilling a real need. You could argue that perhaps in an ideal world this service wouldn’t be needed, but in our world it is considered an absolute necessity by the people holding all the cards for research funding.

    • Cheese says:

      I don’t necessarily disagree with the general internet takes about the moral aspect of having a large proportion of humanity’s expert knowledge locked away in walled gardens. I find it is a topic that irks me though because people ascribe moral motives to publishers like Elsevier. I mean it is obvious why they as a company act the way they do.

      I think peterispaikens answer is a good one. They hopefully function as both an access point and a quality rating system. It is a bad system, but in that way perhaps better than open access. My preference would be a system that involved paid peer review.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      I’m going to attack Elsevier-owned journals yet again, but I’m going to give a general-purpose argument that should rebut any defense of such journals. If you ever do find a defense of such journals, consider this attack and see if it applies.

      Of course printers used to be important. But some journals are owned by Elsevier and other journals are merely printed by Elsevier. Comparison shows that ownership by Elsevier has provided no benefits.

    • Plumber says:

      @RavenclawPrefect,

      Until your post I’d never heard of “Elsevier’ so it’s pretty normal that I wouldn’t write anything defending them, or attacking for that matter.

  33. Daniel Frank says:

    I’m heading to sao paulo and rio de janeiro for 8 days in November.

    1) Does anyone on here live in either of those two cities and want to meet up?
    2) Does anyone on here have any recommendations for either of those two cities (aside from the usual)?

    Thanks!

    • Winter Shaker says:

      Didn’t spend a whole load of time in Rio de Janeiro when I was there (and obviously I now regret not going to the National Museum while it was not on fire), but one charming little bit of the city that I visited was the Parque das Ruinas, where they have preserved the ruins of a turn-of-the-20th-century mansion as a little cultural centre, on a hill overlooking central Rio with a great view of the city – if you’re comfortable with heights – and if not, Rio is probably not the place for you 🙂

    • Tenacious D says:

      I’ve only been to SP.
      These probably count as the usual recommendations, but the Pinacoteca and Iberapuera Park are both really nice.
      SP has a lot of people of Italian descent so you can get good pizza etc. there.
      I didn’t have time to do this, but I would have liked to take a day trip from SP to Santos: the route through the coastal mountain range looks quite dramatic, and Santos has some neat heritage as the premier coffee-exporting port in the world.
      Have fun!

    • IsmiratSeven says:

      Telminha’s aunt could use some Tamoxifen, while you’re there.

  34. Telminha says:

    I have a question (a desperate one): My aunt came to the US looking for a second opinion about her cancer treatment. She was in AZ for three months and now she’s at my house and will spend 10 days here, then she’ll travel back to Brazil. Somehow she lost her last nine tamoxifen (20 mg) pills during her trip here. She is now very, very worried about missing 9 doses. She’s been taking it for one and a half years. How serious is it to miss 9 doses? What do people usually do when they forget or lose vital medication during a trip?

    • Cheese says:

      Obligatory not a doctor and have no specific training in oncology other than a background in molecular biology.

      It is most likely inconsequential, or of such minor consequence that in the long run it is not an issue. Tamoxifen is, for laypurposes, a drug which stops oestrogen from exerting growth-promoting effects on breast cancer cells and exerts it’s own anti-proliferative effect. It does this by, in effect, inducing the production of certain gene products and suppressing the production of others. This kind of thing is a more long term effect biologically and it is not really a case of missed doses will let the cancer cells out of their cage so to speak. Yeah, ideally you keep taking it because you want to exert the effect constantly. But we’re talking about a therapy that many will be on for the order of decades, 9 days in the scheme of things is not a huge amount.

      As for what to do when you lose medication – i’m not familiar with the US/Brazil health systems in this regard. I would go to a pharmacy with her original script for advice, i’m not sure if you’ll have much luck there – you could also ring a local hospital with an oncology centre for advice. I imagine you’ll run into bureaucratic walls, but it can’t hurt to try. Perhaps someone from the US might be better able to answer that.

  35. Taymon A. Beal says:

    Somebody told me that Scott was interested in meetup attendance numbers; we had 12 in Boston yesterday. I’m not sure where else to put this, so I’m putting it here.

  36. Nick says:

    Did anyone see this article from The Hedgehog Review? “What Is It Like to Be a Man?” by Phil Christman, subtitled “Sometimes we men feel like a bad joke.”

    It’s well written and thought-provoking, but it really rubs me the wrong way. I can’t seem to get my thoughts in order about it, though, so I’d like to see what you folks think of it.

    • Evan Þ says:

      As close as I can tell, it rubs me the wrong way in that it reduces masculinity to the Duty to Protect. That’s part of it, and perhaps the part that’s seeped most into the cultural zeitgeist, but not all. At risk of conflating manhood with husband-hood, and moving from cultural to religious, the Bible calls us to be servant leaders – which includes protection, but goes well beyond it, outside the realm of “lurid, bad-movie scenarios” to the everyday.

      • Randy M says:

        At risk of conflating manhood with husband-hood, and moving from cultural to religious, the Bible calls us to be servant leaders

        Source?
        A quick search did not turn up “servant” in any marriage context.

        • Deiseach says:

          A quick search did not turn up “servant” in any marriage context.

          So far as I understand it, and I’m not up on current non-denominational Protestant hermeneutics, it’s not necessarily within the context of marriage, it’s the idea that “The last shall be first and the first shall be last” from the Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard, and the washing of the feet at the Last Supper where Jesus says ” “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”

          So the idea is that within Christianity, leaders should be at the service of those they lead (as in the papal title “servant of the servants of God”), and that this carries over into marriage where the husband is head of the household (as Christ is the Bridegroom and Head of the Church) and husbands should be to their wives as Christ is to the Church (see St Paul: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”).

          • Randy M says:

            Yeah, I was asking for context because there is sometimes a tendency to place very heave emphasis on the modifier there, to the extent that it almost becomes a negation.
            Worth keeping in mind that not only did Christ suffer and die (and that can’t be minimized) for the church, he also chose, instructs, and disciplines the church.
            I think the fairest understanding of Christian leadership is that the responsibility is emphasized and the privileges diminished, and that a good leader needs to understand the perspective of, and have the humility of, even the lowliest member of the organization.

          • Evan Þ says:

            +1: Deiseach got it exactly right. The term isn’t in the Bible, but the concept is.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Looking at it from the outside, I think he’s generalizing his own neurotic take on masculinity to men in general.

      It’s entirely plausible that he’s not the only one with his point of view, and that there are many more men with milder versions of the same problem.

      However, there are other men who have different bad takes on masculinity, and yet others who have a version of masculinity which works in favor of their lives rather than against them.

      • quanta413 says:

        You said what I was feeling but couldn’t enunciate. Neurotic is the perfect adjective in this case.

        And Christ the length of it! So many words for so little substance. I’m bad, but I hope I’m not that bad.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Here’s a tool which I think can analyse a lot: Karen Horney (an early psychoanalyst) if I understand her correctly, said that if people are mistreated as children (neglected, abused, or pushed to mature faster than they can) are apt to conclude that just being a human isn’t good enough, so they adopt impossible standards, such as always being right, always being altruistic, or always winning. It’s possible that one person will have multiple incompatible impossible standards.

          I should take another crack at reading her– she gets into the effects of finding out that one isn’t living up those strongly held standards, and I don’t know whether she describes treatment.

          Anyway, the fellow who wrote the article has a clear case of impossible standards.

          • Aapje says:

            It seems to me that there are a wide range of coping mechanisms and behavioral adaptations, not just high standards. It also seems to me that such a need doesn’t (only) have to reflect mistreatment, but can result from a specific personality or mental aberration. For example, a naturally highly anxious person may need certain coping mechanism.

            Arguable even most ‘normal’ humans have limited capability of dealing with reality and apply coping mechanisms.

            Her being a psychoanalyst raises some strong red flags as that field has a history of coming up with fancy theories and then searching for cherry picked evidence or pseudo-evidence.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            The pattern I’m talking about isn’t high standards, it’s impossible standards.

          • BBA says:

            Now you have me wondering. Do my impossible standards for myself spring from my background as a burnt-out child prodigy? Food for thought.

        • Nornagest says:

          Neurotic is the perfect adjective in this case.

          Not just neurotic, but neurotic and trying to shoehorn itself into a worldview that’s totally incompatible with that kind of neuroticism. It’s like Woody Allen playing a Clint Eastwood character.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Epistemic status: Never seen a Woody Allen movie.

            “I know what you are thinking… well, no actually that is presumptuous of me, as people we often don’t even know what we are thinking ourselves how could I know what you are thinking. Sometimes I lie in bed wondering, was it 5 shots or 6? Sure its the most powerful handgun in the world, but what does that even mean? Does that make me powerful or is this just replacing masturbation for me? And would shooting you make my day honestly. How sick do you have to be to think of killing someone as making your day?”

      • beleester says:

        Agreed. There’s not a lot that I outright disagree with – it’s true that I sometimes stupidly avoid making my life easier because I think “I’m a man, I’ve got this!” (or a related thought like “Do I really need that?”). It’s true that some of my urges to exercise or work hard come from trying to measure up to my (unreachable) ideal of how a “real adult” would live their life. It’s depressing, on some level, to know that you aren’t Batman.

        But he seems to feel those urges a lot more strongly than I do, which is why I can make quips about not being Batman, while he writes a long column about how he feels like a failure for not being as manly as he could possibly be.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I agree with this. He kept writing “we” and I kept thinking “I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about.”

    • Nootropic cormorant says:

      One thing that strikes me as ironic is how chivalrous his feminism is.
      My stereotype of male feminists was that they either suffer from subclinically low self interest or are cynical predators, but his case seems like an extension of exactly the same misplaced masculine values that the article describes.

      In his overeager acceptance of the role of a bumbling sitcom dad, he takes the pleasure of being overly generous while avoiding the scrutiny such an act usually brings and satisfying his value of not making a big deal of his virtue.
      I’m not sure if the article is only meant to satisfy this need or if we’re supposed to understand this behaviour as fellow stoic men and adopt it.

      If you wish to be ungenerous, the article engages in virtue signaling and humble-bragging on multiple levels.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        Some men decide to let us know that they aren’t jokes. They turn sullen and grumpy, like people out of a Frank Miller comic. Or they turn defensive, a trait I cannot really blame in anyone, in a society so bitterly competitive—I particularly cannot fault it in men of color, poor men, and immigrants, whose masculinity subjects them simultaneously to actual serious threat from white men and to the feminist scrutiny that they, along with the rest of us, warrant.

        This, I think, is the section that really gets under my skin. “Men are a joke. If you don’t accept that, you’re bitter and defensive. That’s society’s fault. That also means that if you’re not a cis white male I get to call you bitter and defensive if you think men aren’t a joke, but of course it’s not your fault like it is mine. But also you deserve for women to not trust you.”

        I’ll freely admit that part of me feels attacked here, but I also think the author is caught in a axiomatic box which only allows him to identify masculinity with bitter self-recrimination, and that his attempt to “examine” masculinity, while not invalid, is severely constrained by it. Why does he want to be the last one off the boat? Surely not because for him self-sacrifice is a component of love; he can’t bring himself to admit that his experience of love is defined by his willingness to sacrifice himself. Instead, because his wife doesn’t like that part of him, he projects it onto masculinity and offers it for flagellation. He’s unwilling to consider the possibility that even though it’s “masculine,” “pointless,” and possibly even cruel to his wife, it has essential validity.

        I think his view of masculinity, self-hating as it is, almost seems to approach a dysphoric longing for a masculinity he despairs of ever attaining. He believes so much in this institution of masculinity, and is so distressed by the possibility of lacking membership, that his attempts to introspect immediately externalize. He doesn’t ask why he doesn’t take an aspirin, he asks why men don’t take asprin. I don’t (and it’s true, I don’t, unless I’m trying to sleep and can’t) because I think that it’s better to remain conscious of [pain/tiredness/emotions] that are indicative of underlying problems than to chemically suppress them; I’m happier for not taking it. Is that reinforced by cultural perceptions of masculinity? Probably. I’ve been told I’m an idiot for this, though I haven’t been called a chauvinist, but there’s still a logic to it that I find convincing. It has internal support. I don’t sense that in anything he says or describes himself doing, and while I can sympathize with him for feeling that way, I think it makes it impossible for him to see men generally as anything but, as he says, bad jokes.

        • Nick says:

          You! You put my thoughts in order! Thank you. Particularly your middle paragraph.

          The part you quote is pretty bad, but it’s not the nadir. I think the metaphorical bottom of the article is at the literal bottom, in footnote 15:

          As I wrote this essay, I fretted that an argument that seems to reject masculinity as an ideal would insult trans men: Here I am, thoughtlessly tossing aside what they spend blood and treasure to realize. But it turns out that the notion of “men trapped within women’s bodies” has come under fire from within that community as well. See, for example, Andrea Long Chu, “On Liking Women,” n+1, Winter 2018, https://nplusonemag.com/issue-30/essays/on-liking-women.

          • Randy M says:

            How far off are we from “I realize an article rejecting humanity may come as an insult to androids, ems, and others who strive to be accepted as human; but one must really consider that it is the notion of human supremacy that wrongs them, rather than a movement that seeks to move past the privilege granted to meat-bags.”

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      I will say that I just attempted to read it, but after a certain amount of it found it unreadable. I will say that I can assert with 95% certainty that I consider myself more manly than the man he holds himself out to be in the portions I read, and while many of his Headers would otherwise be quite manly, the ones I read made him appear to be not manly at all, more of an excuse making loser.

      If someone has a later portion they consider compelling please direct me to it, but really this guy seems to me to be a self-flagellating loser who’s greatest achievement is being linked to by a commentor on SSC.

    • Deiseach says:

      It does rub the wrong way because it equates being a man with being stupid. Why didn’t I buy pillows? Oh, that was the chosen discomfort of masculinity! And then umpteen instances of “doing painful crap I don’t enjoy because er, um, some reason”.

      Which elicits the natural reaction from readers of “well if it’s painful crap you don’t enjoy, why not stop doing it?” And the answer seems to be “eh, I have no idea why except that toxic masculinity or feminism or summat”. It’s as though sitting down and thinking for five minutes about what he’s doing, what he wants, and if A matches with B is some alien concept that never occurred to him as he grunts and sweats his way through life.

      • Nootropic cormorant says:

        I wouldn’t think I’d have to explain this to the wise old woman of the tribe, but this really is what men are like. Or at least many are, and they attribute this to manliness, that is, they will men not acting like this as unmanly.

        We can stop doing painful crap (in fact our revealed preference is to not do it), but we can’t stop desiring to do painful crap.

        I do not know whether men were always like this, whether they inevitably get like this under such unprecedented lack of hardship, or if this is just a social construct we’ve created recently.

        • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

          I can’t be sure of this, because I’m neuroatypical, but I think (this particular variant, at least) is specific to the US. So I’m guessing social construct.

        • Deiseach says:

          I’m used to men grunting and sweating their way through life, but I’m not used to them whining about having to do it and they don’t know why they’re doing it and why does society force them into the role of doing it while they’re doing it.

          Mate (addressing the writer of the article here), if you don’t want to be like that, then don’t be like that. If you’re rejecting the traditional role of men because it’s antithetical to feminism or trans men or whatever, then acknowledge “I cannot be lord and master because I don’t accept the principles underlying that, that men as the stronger sex have a duty to use that strength on behalf of the weaker, like women” and then go find some other way of being a husband. Don’t ask me to simultaneously agree with you that your college distance running was absurd pointless masochism and admire you for it at the same time.

          I remember this anecdote from Denis Leary’s “No Cure for Cancer” show, and it really does describe a kind of rural Irish stoicism (that applied to women as well in a different way) so the guy complaining about how hard it is to be a man because a man has to be hard gets no sympathy from me, mainly because yeah, that was the expectation everyone had, what makes you special?

          Leary remembers his father, an Irish immigrant, as a devoted parent, if somewhat emotionally reserved. In “No Cure for Cancer,” he recalled how during his brother’s 10th birthday party, his father calmly walked in from the living room, where he had been cutting paneling with a circular saw, his thumb nearly severed.

          “And I’m thinking, ‘Wow, Dad’s thumb is hanging off. He’s probably gonna start crying any second now.’ And this is what my father says: ‘We got any tape around here? I need to tape this baby up.’ He wouldn’t let my mother drive him to the hospital. That was too much a threat to his masculinity–to be seen in a car driven by a woman. So he taped up his thumb with black electrical tape and drove himself to the hospital. I looked at my brother and said, ‘Hey pal, forget about crying. We’re never going to be able to cry about anything, ever. Our authority figure is a man who could cut his head off with a chain saw, and he’d staple-gun it back on.’ “

          • Randy M says:

            Oh, yes indeed, taking an aspirin is way more manly than whining about cultural expectations that you never take an aspirin.
            Knowing when to not care about cultural expectations is a part of masculinity.

          • Nootropic cormorant says:

            “A man can do what he wants, but not want what he wants.”

            He doesn’t complain about society forcing him to do anything, he’s annoyed with himself holding a value system that to him appears to be irrational and harmful to its advertised purpose.

            “Find some other way of being a husband” sounds like something that scores you a Fields medal in gender studies.

            He considers pointless masochism to be admirable, so he asks (in an act of pointless masochism) for this admiration to be accepted in some form despite being antithetical to the feminist project.

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          So, the way this manifests for me is, I like doing stupid painful crap. The crap I choose generally isn’t that painful, and I feel proud of it afterwards, so I’m almost always glad I did it. That’s why I keep doing it, and I’ve always assumed I’d stop if that ceased to be the case.

          My girlfriend likes to walk up mountains. I’ve done it with her, and there’s plenty of pain involved. So not strictly a male pathology.

          • Nootropic cormorant says:

            I think he’s exaggerating for rhetorical purposes, he probably enjoys it too.

            Of course some women also enjoy struggling, but I wouldn’t judge a woman who didn’t the same as I would a man.

      • Randy M says:

        A healthy masculinity does, at times, eschew comfort in order to train and accustom one to function well in a harsher environment and to master one’s own body. Living without a pillow is akin to fasting.

        • Nick says:

          Yeah. I think this is pretty common, and it’s part of the reason the article actually sucked me in at the beginning. Speaking personally, denying myself things has always been pretty easy, or maybe I should say “uncomplicated.” (Holding myself to positive obligations has always been a lot harder; look at me failing women over here!) I haven’t done anything as stupid as carrying a desk home myself, but I’ve done lesser things in the same spirit.

          • Deiseach says:

            Living without a pillow is pretty typical ‘young guy out on his own for the first time where his mother has been the one in the home doing stuff like buying furnishings’. The reason it never occurred to him to buy his own goddamn pillows is because up till then that had been “Mom’s job”. That it took him getting a girlfriend to finally clue him into the fact that pillows are not provided by the Bedding Fairy in the night but you have to purchase them your own self is, again, the kind of anecdote that gets told and indeed used in comedy routines, to the point where women get annoyed by it as coming under “emotional labour” – yeah, we have to replace your mother and teach you how to function as an adult, otherwise you’d continue living like a dog.

            So you’d expect the point of this little story to be “thinking about it now, why didn’t I buy my own pillows? Why did I expect that to be a woman’s job, even on a subconscious level?” and then something about how parents should teach their sons as well as their daughters things like how to do their own washing and cook and the rest of it, but he goes off into a self-indulgent spiral of how hard it is to be a man when all you have is traditional roles that no longer fit the modern world oh look at me I’m so tortured and deep.

            Oh brother.

          • Nick says:

            I think you’re missing the point here, Deiseach. He could have told a story like that about womenfolk doing all the pillow-buying, and I’ve seen stories like that told. But he wasn’t making the point that he didn’t think about things like that, he was making the point that even when did occur to him he took the harder option, because that’s what the voice of masculinity in his head told him to do.

          • Randy M says:

            Has anyone made a comic that basically shows a bell curve (or normal distribution, if being reminded of the eponymous book is triggering) with a speech bubble pointing at a speck just a hair past the long tail on one side or the other saying “Wow, this social system we’re under sure is oppressive, isn’t it?”

            I’m not trying to say any particular more is perfect or even on net beneficial, but someone with an extreme view might not be representative. I don’t think someone with a view of masculinity so particular that he sleeps on wadded up laundry says much about the Patriarchy either way.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            “When the means are autonomous, they are deadly”– Charles Williams

            In this case, male stoicism and willingness to take on difficult tasks are *means* to protecting people and making life better, but that author has last all connection to sensible goals.

            Or you could look at it as Goodhart’s Law. Prove you’re doing useful work by how much you’re suffering.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Nancy’s knocking it out of the park on this one. That was a great insight.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Conrad, I’m glad you liked it.

            One more point– a lot of commenters seem to think the author at that link is just a fool. I see him as driven by very bad emotional imperatives.

            He’s in the hell of knowing that what he’s doing makes no sense, but having no idea of how to do better.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Stoicism isn’t something that you get to choose when to apply, it is something that takes practice and effort.

            Which means the things you want out of male stoicism come at the cost of years of practice that, divorced from purpose, become hard to distinguish from a kind of self harm.

    • cryptoshill says:

      I just read it and it bothers me because in every economic analysis that has ever been done, women have worked less than men. The studies he is citing conveniently includes homework such as cooking and cleaning – and ignores the fact that men do quite a lot of that too.

      It seems like a really weird mistake for someone who can write that well to make, so I feel like there’s a lot of personal bias here.

      • Nootropic cormorant says:

        My reading is that he doesn’t believe it himself, he’s just being charitable because he deeply believes men should be doing more and taking less credit anyways.

    • baconbits9 says:

      It rubs me the wrong way, and a major part of it (for my tastes) is the complete disconnect between his descriptions and the actions he describes.

      For a while I gardened, and when my wife and I first moved to Ann Arbor, I’d spend hours working in the yard, always finding the costliest, least productive, most epic way of doing everything. I tried to remove a tree stump with my hands, a saw, and a shovel. I cleaned the gutters with a ladder so short that I pulled a shoulder muscle reaching overhead to dig out the muck. I’d purchased that ladder, too, at a nearby Salvation Army, and had walked home carrying it on my head like a canoe. I mowed the lawn with a series of Nixon-era push reel mowers I’d rolled home from the same place. I enjoyed none of these activities.

      Are any of these examples epic in any way? Are any of the the most costly way (unless you only mean effort cost, which just goes right into inefficient)? He sounds like a guy who literally doesn’t have any idea to do anything.

      Then I realize, days later, that the reason the statement is still bugging me is that I am literally never not sore from the gym, because I am so concerned with looking a certain way.

      9/10 experts would tell you if you are literally never not sore from the gym you are working out way to much and way to hard. He doesn’t know how to remove a tree stump, or that there are plenty of ‘masculine’ ways to dig one out, and far more ‘epic’ ones as well.

      His writing comes across (to me) as oblivious, and someone who is telling it like it is while clearly having no idea about anything is grating.

      • Rowan says:

        Maybe he means “epic” in a more classic sense, as in a work that’s really long? It certainly sounds epic in that sense.

      • Deiseach says:

        Yeah, his descriptions of the garden and yard work sound more like “never learned from my father how to do it the right way” more than any epic “Sing, muse, of the muscle strained-man, gym-haunting, garden-vexed”.

        Epic whinging, I have to admit. You don’t have to enjoy doing necessary work, either you can’t afford to hire someone to clean your guttering and so you do it yourself, or you pay a man with a van to do these kind of jobs because you don’t want to climb ladders and dig out muck. Some men enjoy doing these jobs, that doesn’t mean all men do. Same with women and housework (I have not knowingly ironed anything in years, thank God for modern fabrics and crease-free settings on the washing machine and tumble dryer, yet there are other women love ironing and find it relaxing and soothing).

        • The Nybbler says:

          Yeah, even if a Real Man removes his own stump, he rents a stump grinder or a stump puller to do it. Doing really hard things by hand was for before humanity invented power tools.

          I used to clean gutters by going up on the roof and doing it from the top. It’s easier that way because you don’t have to move the ladder constantly, just walk along the roof. Not for those fearful of heights however. Doing it with a short ladder is just masochism, not masculinity.

          • Matt M says:

            I’m loathe to defend this guy, but for a lot of “hard labor” situations, like cleaning gutters, where there is no easy way to do the job, someone who doesn’t really know any better might not stop to consider “hmm, this seems too hard, perhaps there’s an easier way…”

          • baconbits9 says:

            The issue isn’t that he doesn’t’ know how to do stuff as there are many things that I don’t know how to do, its that he is so oblivious to the fact that he doesn’t know how to do things well that he presents this obvious flaw as a strength and then goes on to lecture his audience. Who would listen to someone with so little awareness, both self awareness and a complete lack of understanding that many people do know how to do these things.

          • Garrett says:

            Epic and manly stump removal involves dynamite. Lots of dynamite. And possibly beer.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            The issue isn’t that he doesn’t’ know how to do stuff as there are many things that I don’t know how to do, its that he is so oblivious to the fact that he doesn’t know how to do things well that he presents this obvious flaw as a strength and then goes on to lecture his audience. Who would listen to someone with so little awareness, both self awareness and a complete lack of understanding that many people do know how to do these things.

            All of this. All of it. My god.
            The author seems to confuse masochism with masculinity. Being a man is not intentionally hurting yourself to show how tough you are. That’s what stupid teenage boys trying to impress girls do.

            There were a couple of at least useful notes in the beginning of the essay. “What’s it like to be comfortable in your own body and not worry at all how you look, which you obviously do because you are a cisheteronormative white man in a patriarchy” is an utterly alien sentence to me. It does not match any of the young men I know.

          • Deiseach says:

            where there is no easy way to do the job, someone who doesn’t really know any better might not stop to consider “hmm, this seems too hard, perhaps there’s an easier way

            And that’s true, but they don’t generally then write whiny pieces about how they completely made a mess of doing manual labour and that is all the fault of the model of socially constructed masculinity they have been indoctrinated with (and not because “well heck, I had no idea what I was doing but at least I tried”).

          • Thegnskald says:

            Deiseach –

            Your criticism, from a certain perspective, seems to come down to “Quit whining about it, that isn’t masculine”. Which is fair, in that it isn’t masculine to complain, but misses the point.

            If men can’t complain about the expectations society places upon them, who do we get to advocate for changes to our social expectations? Women are allowed to complain, so things get to improve for them – our gender role doesn’t even allow us to say “Hey, this fucking sucks”.

            Which seems to be the persistent response here. Yes, he fails at masculinity. But treating that as a valid criticism renders it impossible for men to self-advocate.

          • Randy M says:

            Yes, he fails at masculinity. But treating that as a valid criticism renders it impossible for men to self-advocate.

            Context matters. The target in the spectrum of advocacy vs agency is not identical for masculine vs feminine, but neither is it an absolute in either case. So, at the margins, this might mean that some men incorrectly think masculinity requires that they suck it up when, say, the family courts take their kids, because they think being a man means never complaining about anything since they are told not to complain about scrapped knees. And some women might have thought (in times long past when we didn’t have 24/7 grrl power) that being feminine meant calling daddy up to squash the daddy-long legs in the bathroom.

            That doesn’t mean that Mr. Ladders-are-for-Ladies shouldn’t be ever hear “Man up and solve your problem, bud”.

            It’s like that old post about how not everyone needs the same advice.

          • Nick says:

            Randy, yeah, that is actually one of my favorite posts from Scott.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Is “Quit complaining” useful advice in this case, however, or is it just shutting up someone who is saying that the social standards they have absorbed are making them miserable?

            “Just be miserable in silence” seems to be advice men already get throughout their entire lives. A major element of different advice for different people is that the advice has to be balancing against an excess of inclination – that is, we should be providing advice that brings people into a healthy balance. Given that men already get lots of “Shut up about your suffering” advice, the prior on it being useful for any given man should be really, really low.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      I have to say, I found it neither well written nor thought-provoking. His personal observations of manhood all conflict with mine, his supporting evidence is all stuff I already knew, and the information density is horrible.

    • Thegnskald says:

      I am amused both by the author’s inability to concentrate on conveying the concepts he is attempting to describe, and also by the deep irony of many of the responses here by people who apparently complet