SELF-RECOMMENDING!

Open Thread 113.5

This is the twice-weekly hidden open thread. Due to the recent schedule change, this thread is not culture-war-free, but please remember the three day moratorium on politicizing tragedies. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

965 Responses to Open Thread 113.5

  1. Brad says:

    Something I’m a little puzzled about re: google

    Why are they seemingly so susceptible to employee pressure? My model of them is basically Ma Bell—they have a monopoly which prints money. Most of the employees aren’t doing anything necessary to keep the money printing machine going but instead are doing Bell Labs stuff or are just basically gilding the lily on second, third, or higher order projects that are neither moonshots nor the money printing machine. However, except perhaps for the most involved parts of the money printing machine the people doing the lower value or non-value stuff could be brought in and do a perfectly fine job. Finally the pay is right near the top, if not necessarily the absolute best.

    This seems like a situation ripe for the executives to tell almost any employee to get stuffed when they walk out or demand that the company drop lucrative contracts. Like Amazon has done, for example.

    What am I missing?

    • The Nybbler says:

      I suspect the employee protests are just tools used in executive-level power struggles. When I was there, usually “pitchforking” (as employee protests were called) didn’t affect the company’s actions. The only exception is possibly the Blogger porn decision, where a very large segment of the employees were against it.

    • johan_larson says:

      The thinking probably goes along these lines:

      We’re on top. We stay on top because we have the best people. The best people have all sorts of options for working elsewhere, and might leave for any number of reasons. One such reason is that we’re the bad guys. If a critical mass of people becomes convinced we’re the bad guys, they’ll leave, their departure will be noticed, and the trickle of departure will become a flood. We could replace the losses, of course, but probably not with the same grade of people. And then we won’t be on top any more. So we need to do virtually anything to keep from being seen as the bad guys.

    • Simulated Knave says:

      They are invested in being right. Their model of being right, for whatever reason, involves employee approval (which makes sense – if you turn your employees into a cult, you will either be deeply cynical and exploitative or actually believe your own cult precepts). Therefore, if their employees are unhappy, they may be doing something wrong. They do not want to do something wrong, therefore if their employees are unhappy they need to fix it.

      It’s actually rather wonderful, in that a large corporation is willing to consider it might be wrong. It should really be encouraged.

      Basically, they’re constantly doing that Mitchell and Webb “are we the baddies” sketch in their own heads.

      Amazon, being much more a one-man show designed around profit, does not work that way.

      That said, johan’s reasoning ALSO makes sense. At a guess, it’s somewhere between the two. I suspect it’s more my thing than his, mostly because they seem to lean toward actually trying to put all the stuff they talk about into practice and seem genuinely surprised when people question whether things they do are good. I’m pretty sure Google believes its own hype.

      • Brad says:

        I guess this has to do with the dual share classes. It’s worked out for investors in both this case and with facebook, so it’s hard to say it’s invariably a bad idea, but it does seem a little strange to sell a majority of the shares and still retain complete control.

        • johan_larson says:

          Yes, I’ve always thought that allowing multiple share classes with different privileges is a bit strange. I’d propose legislating a single share class per company, but I expect similar sorts of shenanigans could be recreated through holding companies and whatnot, since 51% block ownership translates to total control.

  2. johan_larson says:

    Over the years, I have arrived at a simple test that matches my intuition for whether someone is living the life of an adult. I’d be interested in hearing from anyone for whom this test does not match their intuition or cases where our intuitions match but the test seems to be wrong.

    The test is:

    You are living an adult life if you do at least two of these three things:
    – pay your own way
    – live apart from your parents
    – raise your own children

    • Chalid says:

      Married homemaker with no kids?

      • John Schilling says:

        We can economically model “housewife” as someone who “pays their own way” by working as a full-time domestic servant and companion.

        There are reasons why we normally don’t do this, or at least not make it explicit, but if we otherwise like larson’s test this shouldn’t be a dealbreaker.

    • rlms says:

      Princess Anne is definitely an adult but (pedantically) does none of those things (at least at times when both her and her parents are living in Buckingham Palace).

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      “Adultness” might be a better concept; the degree to which a person becomes responsible for themselves and ultimately for other people (either as a parent and/or leadership role). There are markers of adult-ness such as living away from your parents or parenting, but some of them are potentially misleading.

      Parenthood is something every able-adult should strive for, more so then career fulfillment, but I wouldn’t call someone who doesn’t have children for one reason or another not an adult, [less of an adult certainly]. Perhaps because while the adjective use certainly makes you more of an adult when you raise children then when you don’t, I tend to think of an ‘adult’ as someone that can represent themselves legally, rather than just a way to describe someone that I think has a lot of moral agency, even though the two go hand in hand.

      An example of misleading would be that for about 1 year I was living with my parents even though I earned more than enough to rent. I paid them about half the cost of a months rent each month and the remainder went towards saving for a down payment on the house.

    • Brad says:

      I went on a few dates with a women for a little bit that had two of those three (the first two) but emotionally she was still a child under the total influence of her parents. The communication was (apparently) non-stop and there were no boundaries. Her parents concerns were her concerns and vice versa.

      It’s a bit tongue in check, but I’d say you’re truly an adult when you first start trying to eat healthy–not because you want to lose or gain weight, but because you don’t want to die young. There’s something about paying good money to buy kale because you are worried about your cholesterol that’s just the epitome of adulthood.

      • quanta413 says:

        Ah yes, adulthood is the fear of your own mortality coupled with vain attempts to put it off an extra year or two.

        That’s a funny way of putting it, but I see what you’re saying.

        But is it even more adult if you reach the next stage and make peace with your inevitable death and get a medical directive, a will, etc. made?

        • gbdub says:

          “But is it even more adult if you reach the next stage and make peace with your inevitable death and get a medical directive, a will, etc. made?”

          That’s the transition from “adult” to “old fart”.

          • quanta413 says:

            Old farts are the greatest of adults.

            But you really ought to get that will made by the time you’re in your 30s. You never know if a tragic accident will occur.

          • Brad says:

            If I died tomorrow it would be intestate. With no spouse and no children, my parents would inherit the entire estate. I’m okay with that.

            If were to write a will I’d probably leave my siblings something instead of it all going to my parents, but it’s not something I feel super strongly about.

            The biggest downside would be a somewhat more involved probate process, but I’m okay with that too.

            A living will / health care proxy, on the other hand, I do have and do consider pretty important.

        • Brad says:

          But is it even more adult if you reach the next stage and make peace with your inevitable death and get a medical directive, a will, etc. made?

          Ask me again in ten years.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Fits the US pretty well, but wouldn’t apply to societies with multi-generational households; you’d lose “live apart from your parents” and “raise your own children” would become murky.

      (Someone taking care of their infirm parents at home should also count, but that’s more of a quibble, since that usually occurs after a period of living apart)

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I’d say that adulting is a spectrum, and trying to put yourself at the far end of the spectrum for bragging rights isn’t a virtue (“When I became a man, I put away childish things, including the desire to be extremely grown up.”) There is perhaps more honor in holding down a job or being a housewife while living with your parents and having a baby of your own than living sterile on your own and holding down a job able to pay all the associated bills. Both check different adulting boxes, and someone in the former situation shouldn’t want their parents to die so they can check off the responsibilities of head of the household!

    • Jaskologist says:

      A boy becomes a man when he either raises children or otherwise finds something he is willing to give his life for. I’m not sure what the equivalent is for women.

      • mdet says:

        Why would “raises children or otherwise finds something she is willing to give her life for” not apply to women?

    • arlie says:

      There are a large group of young adults in tech, who are rolling in money (comparatively speaking), easily pass the “pay their own way” and “live apart from parents” tests (because of that) but whose major non-work preoccupation is enjoying themselves. Lots of gamers, party animals, etc. The same behaviour also occurs at lower income levels, but it’s easier with more money, and with work that’s most likely in some city where they did not grow up.

      I don’t feel like this life stage is the same as the kind of adulthood that (sterotypically) has a baby and a mortgage. But I can’t really put my finger on the difference, except that it isn’t about having children per se, or about forming a committed long term relationship – though both of those tend to correlate with moving to this second stage. (Plenty of lifelong bachelors – of both sexes – seem to me to be in the second kind of adulthood.)

    • Randy M says:

      You are an adult to the degree you can be relied upon to make sound decisions–including such decisions as “I’m not trained for this” or “I don’t know enough to say” for those pedants who would wonder why someone would suddenly be a child again when placed in an operating room or a courtroom or what have you. The more decisions you are responsible for in your own life, the more you can be known to be adult.

    • Plumber says:

      When you have (in no particular order) done at least five of:

      Seen a birth.

      Seen a death.

      Changed a diaper.

      Been a pallbearer.

      Have married.

      Given birth.

      Raised a child.

      Wielded arms to defend your community.

      Plowed your own field.

      Milked a cow.

      Trained a Page.

      Trained an Apprentice.

      Trained a Lady-in-waiting.

      Taken a Squire.

      Paid the dues to your Guild giving you status aa a freeman of thr city and voted on who shall be Mayor (I suppose just having the right to vote counts now).

      Bought a round for the whole house.

      Done the laundry.

      Cooked a meal for other people

      Mowed your own lawn.

      Turned that racket off!

      • johan_larson says:

        Goodness. At 48 I have only done two of those things (had the right to vote, done the laundry). I suppose I could claim the one about the racket, since my tastes are distinctly pre-rap.

        • Mr. Doolittle says:

          If you’re less literal on the “trained an apprentice (fully trained an entry level employee for a more complicated job?)” and “paid the dues to your guild (paid off your student loans?)” I’ve got about 14 of the above.

          Getting married and having kids checks off (directly and indirectly) quite a few marks on this particular list. I take that to mean the list is fairly decent list, as those are often strong markers of “adult” behavior and milestones. It may be weighted too heavily and imprecisely, but not bad for what it is.

          • Plumber says:

            @Mr. Doolittle 

            “If you’re less literal on the “trained an apprentice (fully trained an entry level employee for a more complicated job?)…”

            Sure that counts!

            I’ve worked with many apprentices after I became a Journeyman plumber, but none for their full five years as they’re usually rotated to different contractors (apprenticeship isn’t usually like it was).

            “…and “paid the dues to your guild (paid off your student loans?)…”

            Since the oldest Universities in Europe started as scholars guilds (and the Roman word for guild was collegium) I think that should count as well. 

            “…I’ve got about 14 of the above….”

            That’s two more than me! 

            “…Getting married and having kids checks off (directly and indirectly) quite a few marks on this particular list. I take that to mean the list is fairly decent list, as those are often strong markers of “adult” behavior and milestones. It may be weighted too heavily and imprecisely, but not bad for what it is”

            Thanks! 

            It was off the top of my head, but I wanted to show continuity with what have long been the markers of adulthood (though the “Turn that racket off” qualification is probably mostly this last century).

          • albatross11 says:

            Maybe winning your spurs as a knight? (With the modern equivalent of getting your PhD/MD/CPA/PE?)

          • Plumber says:

            @albatross11

            “Maybe winning your spurs as a knight? (With the modern equivalent of getting your PhD/MD/CPA/PE?)”

            I think those are more the equivalent of being a Master in the Guild (“Freeman of the city”), but it’s the same principle, just a different social class.

            For the nobility, the granting of arms, for artisans, merchants and scholars, being a Master, for yeoman, plowing your own field.

        • RDNinja says:

          Really? I had 5 of those before graduating high school. If you’re curious, they were Laundry, Cooking, Mowing, Voting, and Pallbearer.

          • Nornagest says:

            I took “your own lawn” there to exclude your parents’ lawn — so, implying that you (or your spouse) own your own property and are responsible for its upkeep. Laundry’s an odd one, though, and voting’s kind of a gimme.

            Page/lady-in-waiting/squire are all odd, too. If I were writing the list I might cut them all and replace them with “taught students”. Which might make “apprentice” redundant, too.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Not Mowing, because you didn’t have your own lawn; it was your parents’.

            (I’ve mowed, but never my own lawn)

          • Plumber says:

            @RDNinja

            “Really? I had 5 of those before graduating high school. If you’re curious, they were Laundry, Cooking, Mowing, Voting, and Pallbearer”

            Well that’s earlier than me, the first time I was a pallbearer was at 32, and I wasn’t a homeowner until I was 43.

        • Plumber says:

          @johan_larson

          Goodness. At 48 I have only done two of those things (had the right to vote, done the laundry). I suppose I could claim the one about the racket, since my tastes are distinctly pre-rap

          As I’m guessing that “Given birth” and “Taken a Squire” are probably off the table for you, the quickest two to make the full five may be to host a barbeque for some friends, or make scrambled eggs for an overnight guest (“Cook a meal for other people”), and to buy drinks for those at the local bar/pub/saloon/tavern near opening or closing time (“Bought a round for the whole house”).

          But don’t worry about it, it’s just a list I made up at the spur of the moment, and as has been pointed out up-thread, royalty is exempt (you do decree quests!).

      • I count eight of those.

      • albatross11 says:

        Being an adult is about being responsible for yourself and living a productive life. So for most people, marrying and having kids and supporting yourself[1] all qualify as markers for adulthood.

        [1] A stay-at-home parent is supporting themselves if they and their partner have planned them to stay home with the kids.

      • mdet says:

        Do I have to have done laundry at any point, or does the laundry have to BE done presently, cause uhhh…

        • Evan Þ says:

          The laundry’s hardly ever “done” for me; there’s almost always some fraction of a load I leave for next time.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Laundry is the never-ending story for adults.
            Also Mrs. ADBG does not do laundry. Or the dishes. Or cook. On the other hand, she lets me hand out full-sized candy bars at Halloween, so that’s a plus.

      • arlie says:

        This is fun.

        I think I’d changed a diaper in my early teens – babysitting. (My younger siblings weren’t that much younger than me.) Laundry probably even earlier. Cooked a meal for my family too.

        Mowed the lawn of a house I owned some time in my 30s; never had to mow the lawn of a rental, but I think that should count if your name is on the lease. And I think hiring someone else to mow the lawn should count too.

        Does “turn that racket off” count if the racket isn’t music, and you asked/told the people whose racket it was to turn it off?

        Helped train any number of junior programmers/engineers, but never formally. That’s got to be good for *one* of page/squire/apprentice.

        And I don’t know if I count for guild dues. In modern terms, maybe only count citizens who have actually voted, or exercised some other similar responsibility.

        With all that, I’m only at 8.

        Maybe 9 if you count planting edibles in a garden, and ultimately harvesting and cooking/eating some of them, as a semi-modern equivalent to plowing one’s own field. (Yes, as it happens I did own the land.)

      • SamChevre says:

        I think I’d done 5 of these by the time I was 10; I’m certain I’d seen non-human births and deaths, and I’d attended open-casket funerals–but never actually seen a person die.

        (Definitely had 4: Changed a diaper, milked a cow, cooked a meal for other people, done the laundry for the family).

        I’ve added 6 since: married, raised a child (oldest is 11, so not done yet), trained an apprentice, paid my guild dues (Society of Actuaries), seen a birth, mowed my own lawn.

      • Machine Interface says:

        If you consider the entire extense of humanity’s history, I bet the vast majority of humans who have ever lived have done less than 5 of these.

      • fion says:

        I think I’m on four at 24. Laundry, cooking for others, mowing own lawn, voting.

        I might be able to claim that I’ve trained an apprentice, but it’s a bit of a stretch. I can also do “wielded arms to defend my community” but it’s a … uh, very big stretch. 😛

      • bean says:

        Four, maybe five. I’ll count mowing the lawn of the house I’m renting, although turning the racket off is a bit difficult because I’ve never turned it on in the first place. I’ve done a fair bit of training of people at work, so I’ll claim a round five.

        Also, I marvel that we actually have someone here who has trained a squire. But it’s David Friedman, who is slightly different.

      • Brad says:

        I know this for fun and there’s always SCA, but a few of these are pretty contradictory. If you had a squire then you weren’t going to be doing your own laundry or plowing your own field.

        I think I’ve got 4.

        • Evan Þ says:

          That’s intentional: give you some things you can check off no matter which station of medieval life you’re in.

          I’ve also got four, unless you count when I’ve turned off the music so my roommates/neighbors/etc won’t be bothered, in which case it’s five. (Cooking, laundry, taxes / voting, pallbearer. I’ve also helped train some junior programmers, but I’m not counting that.)

      • Nornagest says:

        I’ve got five; six if you’re loose with the training stuff. And I’ve never milked a cow, but I have milked a goat.

      • Nick says:

        Hah, two. Three if you want to count having the right to vote, but that’s mostly an age thing in America.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Credentialism really is getting out of hand…

      (SSC inside joke, if it’s not apparent).

    • LewisT says:

      I can think of several people for whom this test doesn’t seem to apply.

      For starters, I know several young, single, childless farmers who still live with their parents, and who probably will continue to live with their parents until they either marry or their parents move to a nursing home/die. They work on and will someday inherit the family farm, so they see no point in moving out. I would still consider them adults.

      I’ve also known a few elderly people, now mostly deceased, who lived their whole lives in similar situations. One lady who comes to mind lived away from home during college and during her service as a nurse in WWII, but otherwise, she lived with her parents until their deaths in the 1970s. In another family, two bachelor brothers stayed at home and ran the family business until their retirement, then moved to a nursing home together. In yet another family, two spinster sisters lived in much the same way (though I believe they simply lived off the income from renting their family farm). There’s also the case of the young man who lived with his mother and ran the family’s motel business, but that may not be the best counterexample to your post (even if it is timely due to the holiday).

      EDIT: Your list probably works better for urban folks, rather than rural and small town inhabitants. I’d be inclined to agree with your list if you added “– give back to your community”—e.g. regularly volunteer at a food bank, coach Little League, run for office, etc.

  3. skef says:

    I know some of the regulars here are accountants or accounting-adjacent. I’m hoping one of them help out with a factual dispute David Friedman and I are having on the last thread about the corporate tax system, starting roughly here. (In terms of my own expertise I’m out on a limb here, so this could very well be an opportunity to school me, leading to my humiliation as someone who has publicly learned.)

    I think I can state the terms of the disagreement fairly. If not David can chime in.

    The basic question is whether the current corporate tax system either does distinguish, or can be easily adapted to distinguish, between

    1) What might be called “regular” expenses,

    2) Reinvestment, and

    3) What might be called “simple profit”, considered as whatever is left over from revenue after all spending — the money “left over”.

    David may not like my putting things this way. He has been characterizing category 1 as expenses and 2 and 3 as different uses of “profit”. I have no objection to that way of looking at things, but since 3 seems relatively straightforward from an accounting perspective, I take it that David’s two categories could easily be extended to my three categories.

    The main example David has offered is the purchase of a factory. My understanding is that such purchases fall under the capital expenditure rules, which are not treated as normal expenses in the initial year, but have an associated and rather mechanical schedule of “depreciation”, which spreads the tax advantage out over a number of years. So it might help to narrow the initial part of the discussion to the following terms:

    1) Is there any other means besides the capital expenditure rule by which the current corporate system does divide, or can be easily adapted to divide, revenues into the three categories above? By easily adapted I mean roughly “using the same line-item accounting categories”.

    2) Does the capital expenditure system constitute a mechanism for taxing “reinvestment” as opposed to regular expenses? By this I mean, does most or all of what, at a conceptual level, one would take to count as “reinvestment” fall under the capital expenditure rule?

    To back up a level, according to my admittedly primitive understanding of contemporary accounting, I think it would be difficult to distinguish between actual reinvestment and normal expenses. Apple, for example, “reinvests” by designing new products, which are then manufactured by third parties. Most of the money it pays those designers is therefore conceptually a form of reinvestment, but some may not be — they might spend some time fixing problems with existing products, and tax law (in my understanding) does not require assigning hours worked into one category or the other. So the disagreement is over the extent to which one can use the information gathered in the process of paying corporate taxes (and responding to audits) to differentiate between reinvestment spending and other spending.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Looking over the specific agreement, the short answer is yes, we can differentiate between expenses, and the long answer is no, we can’t really differentiate between expenses.

      Correct me if I am wrong, but here is where I am seeing the specific disagreement?
      David Friedman wants tax ALL corporate income at the personal level, not just redistributed dividends. Skef’s objection is regarding money used for reinvestment: isn’t this money really hard to differentiate from a standard expense? Say your factory retains some money to buy capital expenses, isn’t that really an expense and not true profit? Presumably true profit is money held as cash or money handed to the shareholders.

      Let me know if I am misunderstanding, I am having a hard time modelling the objection exactly.

      So, we can categorize expenses with extremely fine detail if we need to, it’s just a matter of how much effort you want to put into it. I CAN look at every single expense at the plant and drill down to “this guy was paid for 5 hours to stand at this line on this date for this exact period time, and took this much break.” If we need to do this for tax purposes, we CAN do it.

      And we do it already. As DF notes, companies are already required to break down these costs because the IRS requires them to. And it’s not just capital, but we have specific sub-sections of capital because certain capital is treated differently. For instance, a lot of Americans hate that companies have private planes, so depreciation on private planes is no longer treated as tax deductible (IIRC). So companies need to track that depreciation separately.

      The corporate tax system DOES effectively treat “reinvestment” different, because tax filings are on an annual basis, and reinvestment projects are depreciated over periods of time. So if you took some of your extra cash and bought a capital item this year, it will be depreciated over the course of several years. You can’t just assign it all to one year.

      So, short answer yes.

      Long answer no.

      Accounting rules are supposed to follow certain concepts, but the map is not the terrain. In addition, it requires a lot of internal controls and auditing to ensure the rules are being followed. The IRS probably does a decent job, but there’s no way in hell they are doing a perfect job. However, the incentive is to shift more of your capital into expensed items, and that incentive exists today, so presumably the IRS can do a decent job of managing it.

      So WRT to your last statement:

      So the disagreement is over the extent to which one can use the information gathered in the process of paying corporate taxes (and responding to audits) to differentiate between reinvestment spending and other spending.

      Probably a lot. But, while I deal with capital accounting, I am not in the IRS and I am not in audit. They will have a better idea of their limitations.

      • I don’t think depreciation is relevant to the question.
        A company buys a capital item and, over ten years, wears it out producing the goods it sells. That’s a cost of production, and depreciation is an attempt to reflect that cost in accounting. But it’s a cost of the goods produced on that machinery, not a cost of the goods that produced the revenue the machinery was bought with.

        A company has revenue this year of eleven million dollars, costs of ten million, profit of one million. It spends that million buying machinery. It owes tax on a million dollars of profit, not a million dollars minus what it spent on machinery.

        In future years, that machinery produces goods which produce revenue. The depreciation on the machinery counts as a cost of producing those goods, not as a cost to be subtracted from the revenue that produced the profit that was used to buy the machinery.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Technically, I believe it’s a cost whether or not it sits idle. The machinery depreciates in value regardless of whether it is used.

          Depreciation simply reflects the fact that buying something of value is, essentially, value neutral. Otherwise (in a simple system) you could easily dodge all tax by repeatedly buying a thing one year, and selling it for the same price the next year.

          Depreciation schedules simple make all of this very easy to account for, rather than horrendously complex. You don’t have to go to the market each year and determine what all of your machines are worth.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            That is not really how it works. Assume you are a company with $1000 in profit in 2000, under an expense system yes you could buy $1000 of gold to get profit to $0 and avoid corporate tax, but you couldn’t sell that $1000 of gold the next year to get to zero unless you lost $1000.

            Rather, the depreciation vs. expense system is best looked at as a series of political decisions. Things like wages, interest payments, legal fees, and other very politically powerful interests can be expensed (which is the preference of any company) and things that have failed to wield enough political power (or in the case of a lot of capital investments directly contradicts the politically powerful wage earners) they get the tax-disadvantaged status of depreciation.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Looking at it through some sort of lense of power isn’t exactly wrong, but if you come to the conclusion that large manufacturers aren’t politically powerful (both those making and using the machines that are capital expenses) is crazy land territory.

            Selling the gold wouldn’t get you to zero, but the question is how much profit you would record. If you calculate the profit as the net, you have been allowed to double count the cost (and dodged $1000 in tax). That’s obviously simple and stupid, but the accounting games companies can play aren’t nearly so simple nor so stupid.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Hard to dodge depreciation when you’re talking about reinvestment in capital assets. From an accounting standpoint, that’s where most of the question would be. If depreciation doesn’t exist as a concept, then a company can buy a machine, expense it, and the company is not profitable from an accounting standpoint (even if they are conceptually profitable).

      • skef says:

        Thank you for this!

        The specific area I have been focusing on is the production of new intellectual property. You pay salaries to people who make a new device. Perhaps that device is patented, perhaps it isn’t. That is a kind of reinvestment that results in new property. Of course accounting methods could be introduced that would try to assign rough values to new intellectual property produced within a company as it is produced. My sense is that this aspect of reinvestment (which for a company like Apple is the vast majority of its reinvestment) is not currently accounted for with any kind of accuracy. Either it’s not accounted for or its accounted for unrealistically (with token values assigned akin to selling an object for a dollar so that there is “a sale”).

        If I’m wrong about that, then I’m happy to be corrected and get a more accurate picture of current practices.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          The specific area I have been focusing on is the production of new intellectual property. You pay salaries to people who make a new device.

          Accounting rules do not allow you to capitalize salaries for developing intellectual property (that is, treat the salaries as an asset instead of an expense). The reason for this is that it would simply be too subjective, at least in most cases. It is theoretically correct to consider salaries that created IP as assets and not expenses, but that’s not how we do it. This is the rule for both book accounting (what gets published in annual reports) and tax accounting (what goes on the tax return).

          I wouldn’t use the term reinvestment for spending to create intangible property, but I suppose it makes some sense.

          • skef says:

            Accounting rules do not allow you to capitalize salaries for developing intellectual property (that is, treat the salaries as an asset instead of an expense). The reason for this is that it would simply be too subjective, at least in most cases.

            This is my central point in a nutshell.

            I wouldn’t use the term reinvestment for spending to create intangible property, but I suppose it makes some sense.

            This is of course a complicated issue.

            But suppose, for example, a corporate tax proposal starts with a notion of what is fair or equitable. And suppose that part of that proposal is that it is most fair or equitable to tax “profit” but not tax “expenses”, and that “reinvestment” should be considered a use of “profit” rather than “expenses”. In working through things this way, you tie the meanings of the quoted words to what is fair and/or equitable.

            If in a later stage of working out the tax system it becomes clear that it is only straightforward to tax some kinds of “profit” because certain kinds of “reinvestment” are difficult to value, and for some companies almost all of their “reinvestment” is of the difficult kind, now the link from the notion of fairness of equity to the proposal is at least questionable, and perhaps broken. That is, a large enough practical compromise can call the whole proposal into question. Some such compromise may be inevitable, but different compromises will be differently fair and/or equitable, and you might even have to scrap your initial philosophy if it is too impractical to approximate.

            I took David to be starting with a theoretical notion of what should or would be taxed: “With my system, if the company reinvests the money the stockholder is taxed on it as ordinary income.” In an accounting-based system, that can only be true to the extent that reinvestment can be made a matter of accounting.

            Suppose that some companies have mostly “measurable” reinvestment, and other companies have mostly “subjective” reinvestment. If reinvestment becomes a major feature of your tax system, and you just tax the measurable and punt on the subjective, you are now taxing the two kinds of companies very differently. This creates what would conventionally be called a “market distortion”. It privileges non-easily-measurable forms of reinvestment from a tax perspective. “The market” will tend to identify such distortions and change in response.

            This is another way of putting what I have been trying to point out in the ongoing argument.

          • @Skef:

            Was I mistaken in thinking that your point was about my proposal, rather than about a difficulty in measuring profit that applies equally to my version and current law? I agree that the measurement of profit is sometimes hard.

          • skef says:

            David: It depends on the significance you place on the term “reinvestment”. You used that term first in relation to taxing reinvestment “as normal income”. I asked whether you viewed reinvestment as distinct from normal expenses (which are not taxed when profit is the target) and you said it was.

            My contributions to the two threads are attempting to point out the difficulty of taxing reinvestment as differentiated from standard expenses.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      The basic question is whether the current corporate tax system either does distinguish, or can be easily adapted to distinguish, between

      1) What might be called “regular” expenses,

      2) Reinvestment, and

      3) What might be called “simple profit”, considered as whatever is left over from revenue after all spending — the money “left over”.

      I am a US corporate tax accountant, so I do understand our current tax system pretty well. Relating them to your terms is a bit more difficult though. I did skim over your discussion with DF, and I had difficulty understanding what either one of you were saying. But since you boil it down to the quote above, I will try to answer.

      The biggest problem with your discussion is the definition of “reinvestment.” This is not a standard accounting term with a standard definition. The accounting income statement consists of revenue and expenses, the difference between them being the profit. I’m not sure how you define reinvestment, but I don’t think it is considered part of profit no matter how you define it. I imagine it wouldn’t be difficult for the accounting system to take it into account if it was defined.

      So I guess my answer is that accounting does not distinguish between “regular expenses” and “reinvestment,” but I think it could if that was the new way to do accounting.

      To me, reinvestment is probably just the profits less dividends, because this is the amount of increase in wealth by the company that it retains. One could calculate tax on just this reinvested income by allowing dividends to be deductible, but that isn’t how accounting is currently done.

      I really don’t know if I answered your question.

      Edit: I want to respond a bit to your point number 3 also. Profit is the difference between revenue and expense. But expense isn’t the same thing as spending. And in fact differentiating the two is 90% of what accounting is. When you buy capital equipment, it is spending but not expense. You depreciate it over some number of years, and that is the expense. When you set up a reserve for some known future event, such as for bad debts or a coming divestiture, etc., that is an expense without being spending (in the current period, that is). Although reserve accounting is one of the ways that book accounting is quite different from tax accounting. One is rarely allowed to set up any kind of reserve under tax accounting, even though such reserves are required in book accounting. I hope I haven’t confused things more than clarify them.

  4. Randy M says:

    Does anyone know what the Catholic church says to those members who will not have access to the rites of the Church (mass, confession) for a long time, possible the rest of their lives? Like explorers in the age of sail, for instance?

    • Michael Handy says:

      The Church has travelling priests for remote areas, so this rarely comes up outside of places the Church is unwelcome. They have been QUITE keen on taking priests along on exploratory missions, so most Catholics in the age of sail either had a priest on board or received communion and blessings at the last frontier.

      Confession can only be performed by a Priest in Communion with the Church (although I believe that Orthodox Priests have been declared proper in some circumstances.) However, consecrated (by a priest) communion wafers can be stored and administered by a non priest trained in the task. Baptism can also be performed. There was usually at least one Catholic on a ship, even in England, who was trained in this.

      In extremis, the Last Rites and any other needed sacrament can be performed by a valid priest not in Communion (preferably “High Church”, ie. Orthodox, Lutheran, Miaphysite, or Anglo-Catholic). Catholics are often encouraged to go to these services if no other meeting exists.

      • Randy M says:

        Thanks; the context is a science fiction story where one member of an interplanetary colonization crew is Catholic and I figured a lay Catholic would ask such.

    • Nick says:

      This is mentioned briefly in canon law, canon 1248 §2:

      If participation in the eucharistic celebration becomes impossible because of the absence of a sacred minister or for another grave cause, it is strongly recommended that the faithful take part in a liturgy of the word if such a liturgy is celebrated in a parish church or other sacred place according to the prescripts of the diocesan bishop or that they devote themselves to prayer for a suitable time alone, as a family, or, as the occasion permits, in groups of families.

      You don’t have to search as far and wide as Michael Handy implies to find cases of this. My understanding is that in America in the nineteenth century, if you lived in a rural enough place, a priest might stop by only a few times a year.

      In the case of an interplanetary colonization crew, the Catholics may not be under the jurisdiction of any particular bishop (except the pope, of course). The old code had that the jurisdiction is the diocese of the territory from which you left, which for the moon at least is Orlando. Alas, as the 1917 code is no longer in effect, I don’t know what jurisdiction new expeditions fall under. Anyway, I’d be pretty surprised if there were any canonical problems with going, but it’s worth asking over at christianity.SE.

  5. hyperboloid says:

    So Trump has announced that he is going to issue an executive order ending birthright citizenship, that is to say that the president of the United States is claiming the authority to line item veto the constitution.

    It is difficult to overstate how much of a threat to democracy this is. Either the fourteenth amendment means what it plainly says, or there is no standard besides the whim of those in power to decide who is a citizen. If the children of illegal immigrants are not citizens then their grandchildren are not citizens, and their great grandchildren, and their great great grandchildren.

    If somebody asked me to prove I’m a citizen I could do it quite easily, I have a birth certificate and a social security card. Proving my parents are citizens is harder; my mother is a naturalized immigrant from Chile, so I assume their are federal records somewhere; my father was born in Texas, and I guess it’s possible to dig up a Dallas county birth certificate from the 40s. But my grandparents, my great grandparents? Off the top of my head I have no idea. I suppose I should check ancestry.com.

    But the point is that Donald Trump first made his name politics by rejection the citizenship of the last president who was actually elected by a majority of the American people. I suspect that if this is allowed to stand a lot of Republican officials will be real selective about what evidence they’re willing to accept when voting time comes around, at least in the cases of certain sorts of people. Could any American here truthfully tell me they know they could prove to Donald Trump’s satisfaction that their parents were not secretly born in Kenya?

    You can see why this has been a right wing wet dream for years, it lets you get around that troubling business of gaining the consent of the governed.

    • albatross11 says:

      He can call spirits from the vasty deep, too.

      • hyperboloid says:

        Why, so can I, or so can any man. But will they come when he does call for them?

        Here the answer is a definite maybe. Since ownership of Lindsey Graham passed to Trump when McCain died, he has already said he will introduce legislation to effect our president’s unconstitutional nonsense. If John Roberts and company strike this down I think there is a good chance Trump will push to pack the court.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) added that voters shouldn’t “take the bait.”

          “He’ll say anything before the election. Don’t take the bait. Focus on ending the hate. Hug a kid. Be nice to someone you don’t know or agree with. And vote. Please vote,” Klobuchar added.

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          If the Senate refuses to pack the court I think there is a good chance Trump will attack them with ninjas.

          • Nornagest says:

            Are you a bad enough dude to rescue the Senate?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: The Republican/Ninja faction will then remind the Senate/Bad Dudes faction that Dudes have toxic masculinity and white privilege.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      I think you are being rather… hyperbolic. Setting aside that it’s the usual “I’m totally gonna do this, guys” Trump bluster, the GOP is calling it out as bonkers and there’s no way it’d get past the courts. Even with Kavanaugh. Everyone who isn’t a blustering moron knows your first paragraph is enough to bury it.

      You can see why this has been a right wing wet dream for years, it lets you get around that troubling business of gaining the consent of the governed.

      Do you want pithy one-liner responses? This is how you get pithy one-liner responses. It’s flagrantly not modeling your opponents in good faith.

      • Brad says:

        I agree this isn’t going to happen, but there’s was a time not very long ago when the heuristic of paying attention to what the President of the United States was saying because it was likely to be important was a good one. So I can’t blame people that are stuck in that mindset.

    • Nornagest says:

      60% chance this sinks without a ripple or turns out to be much more boring than it sounds (although the 14th is pretty explicit, so there’s not as much leeway for that as there was in e.g. the “Muslim ban” case), 39% it’s serious but goes nowhere, 1% it gets enough traction to set up a constitutional crisis.

      When even the Washington “Democracy Dies in Darkness” Post is saying it’s got no chance, it’s got no chance.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      the fourteenth amendment means what it plainly says

      If the meaning is so plain, why did it take 30 years to be applied to children of permanent residents?

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Huh?

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          He is referring to United States v. Wong Kim Ark 1898 which states that children borne to legal permanent residents (noncitizens) on US soil are citizens.

          American Indians were not granted birthright citizenship until an Act in 1924.

          The question of nonlegal residents remains unanswered.

          • John Schilling says:

            The reason, BTW, is that Native Americans are generally understood to be the people the “…subject to its jurisdiction” clause of the 14th Amendment was meant for. On account of the legal fiction that Indian tribes had a separate sovereignty geographically coextant with that of the US Federal Government but not “subject to its jurisdiction” so long as they stayed within the bounds of their various treaties. In 1898, we were still pretending that was true. By 1924, that pretense was fairly thin and Congress felt it was appropriate to codify the fact.

            The question of nonlegal residents remains “unanswered”, for definitions of “answer” that require federal court rulings, mostly because everybody assumed the answer was sufficiently obvious that they didn’t need to ask.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Yeah, but when the fourteenth amendment was passed, there weren’t any “legal permanent residents” were there? Chinese exclusion act doesn’t occur until 1882.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            IIRC there were immigration restrictions but they only applied at ports of entry. I suppose of one had smallpox and smuggled yourself into the US you might have been considered illegally on US soil.

            Also it is my understanding that the majority of Asians were not granted US citizenship until after Wong Kim Ark so they would mostly have comprised what we currently think of as, “lawful permanent residents”.

          • Brad says:

            The current “subject to its jurisdiction” exception is children born to parents* in diplomatic status. They are not citizens from birth by operation of the Constitution or law, though Congress has given them the option of getting permanent residence from birth if they ask for it.

            I’ve heard of cases where people spent they whole life thinking they were US citizens, had even gotten a passport, only to be told at some point in their 20s that they weren’t.

            *_A_ parent? I’m not sure.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            To spell out more fully my meaning, @Douglas Knight’s question seems spurious.

            United States v. Wong Kim Ark is only a case at all because of the Chinese Exclusion act. He was denied re-entry to the US as a result of the act. In order to bring a case to affirm the birth right of citizenship of children born in the US to non-citizens , there has to be both cause and a party willing to argue the case all the way to the Supreme Court. Thus it is completely unsurprising that SCOTUS doesn’t rule on the issue immediately.

          • John Schilling says:

            Because there was no distinction between legal and illegal immigrants in 1868, an originalist will have a hard time limiting 14th-amendment citizenship on the basis of whether or not someone has an entry visa. That would functionally mean that the Amendment that says you can’t deny citizenship to [X], can be circumvented by inventing a wholly new and arbitrary document, denying that to [X], and using that as the basis to deny citizenship. Since the original intent was clearly not to require a simple accounting dodge before revoking citizenship, that can’t be it.

            And a textualist is going to have a hard time with simultaneously declaring illegal immigrants “not subject to the jurisdiction” of the Federal government, and it being OK for the Federal government to detain and deport them.

            And anyone concerned with the legitimacy of the Supreme Court, is not going to be terribly fond of POTUS reaching into an area so solidly within the Court’s traditional domain and saying “…but I can just do this by executive order”.

            So how many votes does that leave Trump?

          • Evan Þ says:

            I was talking about this with a friend last night, and he pointed out: Suppose a pregnant woman illegally enters the US and has a baby on US soil. The mother’s committed a crime, and you can sorta kinda make a case she isn’t “subject to [US] jurisdiction.” But the baby hasn’t. No crime can work corruption of blood, so the mother’s crime is totally irrelevant for determining the baby’s citizenship.

            Thoughts?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Sure, the answer to the narrow question of why the Supreme Court didn’t address it until then is that lots of earlier cases weren’t appealed that high. My premise was wrong: I should have said 20 years, not 30. Still, if you pretend that the question was dormant until Wong Kim Ark, I could equally ask: if the meaning is so plain, why was that not unanimous? But the question wasn’t dormant for the first 20 years and actually reversed.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            Evan, I think that idea has a point of limitation in that I think for it to apply you have to deprive the woman of ever having contact with the child again.

    • CatCube says:

      Well, there has been a bunch of stuff (Roe, Obergefell, forced redistricting of state senates, requirements for the death penalty) where the US constitution was generally agreed to mean one thing, then the Supreme Court found its preferred policy prescriptions in the couch cushions of their chambers and all of a sudden it meant something else. I find it rather fascinating that all of a sudden creative interpretations of the Constitution are a massive threat to democracy.

      Now, I do happen to agree with you that this is not something that the President can do by executive order. I did read an article pointing out that “jurisdiction” may have meant something else when the 14th Amendment was passed (generally, to say that somebody was under the “jurisdiction” of the US meant that they owed no loyalty to another sovereign), and there’s a case to be made that when the Reconstruction amendments were passed they didn’t intend for birthright citizenship. The article also pointed out that Congress passed laws in the 1950s that courts interpreted right away as granting birthright citizenship, so at the very least statute law very clearly grants birthright citizenship and this is more than enough to place it beyond the President’s powers. (I’m not all that convinced about the Constitutional argument re: “jurisdiction,” just that the argument is out there, and that it doesn’t matter for this EO anyway.)

    • SamChevre says:

      This is the sort of comment that makes us less smart–it elides the key questions.

      “The Constitution” is distinctly unclear on birthright citizenship; it’s been a live question since the 14th Amendment was adopted*. The Supreme Court interpreted it in Wong Kim Ark, but many Supreme Court decision from that time period have been thrown out since, and Wong Kim Ark is about non-citizen legal residents, not tourists.

      *Sidebarring for now whether “adopted by a military occupation” counts as “consent of the governed” at all.

      • mdet says:

        A version of “repealing birthright citizenship” that was narrowly used to prevent birth tourism is one thing, but I get the impression that Trump and many of his supporters would like it to apply to the children of undocumented residents as well. Where’s the line between “tourist who has overstayed some” and “resident who skipped some paperwork”?

        • The Nybbler says:

          Where’s the line between “tourist who has overstayed some” and “resident who skipped some paperwork”?

          There’s no line at all, because one can unlawfully take up residency by overstaying a tourist visa. I’m not sure why a child born to someone lawfully here on a tourist visa should be denied citizenship, but a child born to someone who unlawfully overstayed their tourist visa should be granted citizenship. Why should breaking the law grant a boon?

          Personally I wouldn’t have any problem ending birth tourism by denying citizenship to those here on tourist visas, short-term business visas, or visa waivers, except I don’t really want to start tearing down the Schelling Fence of jus solis.

          • albatross11 says:

            ISTM that eliminating birthright citizenship plus maintaining our existing setup where we have a large permanent population of illegal immigrants would be the worst possible policy. We’d end up with a permanent, ever-growing class of non-citizens still living here, working off the books, etc.

            [ETA]

            There’s a Chesterton’s Fence thing going on here. The US has been *really* successful at assimilating huge waves of immigrants from apparently-incompatible-with-us cultures over time. We should be very careful about breaking stuff that may be a part of that success, especially if it’s likely[1] that we are going to continue to have a constant large inflow of immigrants.

            [1] I think this is almost certain, and that we overwhelmingly benefit from it. At the very least, we really, truly want to keep lots of the smartest and most ambitious people from other countries coming to the US and settling down here.

          • mdet says:

            I’m not sure why a child born to someone lawfully here on a tourist visa should be denied citizenship, but a child born to someone who unlawfully overstayed their tourist visa should be granted citizenship.

            Good point. I was just thinking that I can agree that birth tourism is “cheating”, in that if you were raised in a different country by not-American parents, showing up and claiming to be a citizen two decades down the line is obviously cheating. But someone who was born and raised here by permanent residents, even unlawful permanent residents, still ought to be considered an American imo because I very much fear the consequences of “Yeah, you may be born & raised here but you’re not *really* one of us”.

            So agreed that I’d end birth tourism if not for Schelling Fence reasons.

            Edit: IF we were to change the rules, something like “Citizenship at 16 if you were born here and have resided here for over 8 years” would probably be the most limited I’d accept.

          • SamChevre says:

            you were raised in a different country by not-American parents, showing up and claiming to be a citizen two decades down the line is obviously cheating

            I had a college professor who was a US citizen for reasons even more remote/crazier than that.

            His father was one of the Poles who fought with the Allies in Italy, where he met and married an Italian girl. When the war was over, they went back to Poland. Several years later, his father’s mother-in-law happened to mention that she had been born in the US; her mother–his father’s wife’s grandmother–had gone to the US, lived there for a couple years during which she got married, and moved back to Italy when her daughter was an infant.

            But, because her mother was American-born, she was a US citizen–and so was her daughter. This eventually made it possible for the family to leave Poland and move to the US.

          • The Nybbler says:

            But, because her mother was American-born, she was a US citizen–and so was her daughter. This eventually made it possible for the family to leave Poland and move to the US.

            That provision, however, requires the citizen mother to have been resident in the US, and furthermore expired on May 24, 1934 — 8 USC 1401(h)

            a person born before noon (Eastern Standard Time) May 24, 1934, outside the limits and jurisdiction of the United States of an alien father and a mother who is a citizen of the United States who, prior to the birth of such person, had resided in the United States.

            So while the professor’s mother was a US citizen, the professor himself was not a US citizen that way. I assume, then the professor was born after the family moved to the US.

          • Brad says:

            And from 1907 to 1922 a US citizen woman that married a foreign man lost her citizenship. So there was a pretty narrow window there.

    • pontifex says:

      It is difficult to overstate how much of a threat to democracy this is. Either the fourteenth amendment means what it plainly says, or there is no standard besides the whim of those in power to decide who is a citizen. If the children of illegal immigrants are not citizens then their grandchildren are not citizens, and their great grandchildren, and their great great grandchildren.

      It’s always been up to the “whim of those in power” who gets to be a citizen. I mean, there’s a whole bureaucracy dedicated to doing background checks, giving citizenship tests, and so on, and so forth. There are rules, but there’s also some discretion for the bureaucrats. There are a lot of recent immigrants in my family, so I know this pretty well.

      Most democracies don’t have birthright citizenship, and they seem to be doing fine. In fact, according to this site, the US and Canada are the only countries in the developed world to still offer birthright citizenship.

      Apparently a bunch of countries used to have it, but then repealed it. From the same site:

      The following are among the nations repealing Birthright Citizenship in recent years:
      Australia (2007)
      New Zealand (2005)
      Ireland (2005)
      France (1993)
      India (1987)
      Malta (1989)
      UK (1983)
      Portugal (1981)

      Naturally, there has been a robust debate in the US media about why those countries changed, and what it means for us. (Haha, of course not.)

      Arguably birthright citizenship was a more reasonable policy in the when people were less mobile. In 1800 you couldn’t just take a jet to the US, have your baby, and then be back in Europe in time for tea. In a similar way, “you can own any gun you want” was a lot more reasonable back when we were all carrying flintlock muskets. It’s sort of obvious that it doesn’t make sense to extend that policy to RPG-propelled nukes, and so we didn’t.

      If somebody asked me to prove I’m a citizen I could do it quite easily, I have a birth certificate and a social security card. Proving my parents are citizens is harder; my mother is a naturalized immigrant from Chile, so I assume their are federal records somewhere; my father was born in Texas, and I guess it’s possible to dig up a Dallas county birth certificate from the 40s. But my grandparents, my great grandparents? Off the top of my head I have no idea. I suppose I should check ancestry.com.

      Trump is not proposing changing citizenship retroactively.

      (obama voice)If you like your citizenship… you can keep that citizenship.(/obama voice)

      (By the way, I think this is just a stunt to energize Trump’s base. He knows full well that the the courts will shoot it down quickly.)

      • Most democracies don’t have birthright citizenship, and they seem to be doing fine.

        I don’t think the argument people are making is that not having birthright citizenship would be a terrible thing. It’s that having the President have the power to unilaterally alter the Constitution or its interpretation would be a terrible thing.

        At a tangent … a number of European countries have a more than birthright citizenship. If your parent or grandparent was a citizen of Italy or Spain, you can claim citizenship even if you were born and live somewhere else. At least, that’s how I understand the rule, as it was described to me by people in Brazil, many of whom are covered by it.

        And, of course, Israel has an even more extreme version.

        • Randy M says:

          Both questions are being raised right now. It’s possible Trump is only raising the issue to start a conversation on the object level in a way “I want congress to …” might not.
          I don’t think that policies you raise are “more than” birthright citizenship, just different. With the US policy, anyone who can get a visa or manage to cross the border can give their children citizenship; with the lineage style you mention, the only way to get citizenship from it is to look up the family tree and hope. It’s easier to change your location than it is to change your ancestors.

        • The Nybbler says:

          If your parent or grandparent was a citizen of Italy or Spain, you can claim citizenship even if you were born and live somewhere else.

          In Italy’s case, if the Italian parent naturalized somewhere else before birth of the child, the chain is broken. So since my grandfather was naturalized in the US before my father was born, neither my father nor I can claim Italian citizenship.

        • RalMirrorAd says:

          is that not simply the distinction between “Jus Solis” [US] and “jus sanguinis” [most of the rest of the world] — In the former case anyone can become a citizen as long as their parents give birth to them on the soil of the country in question. The latter disqualifies this possibility.

          It doesn’t seem right to call jus sanguinis a more extreme version of birthright, rather than calling birthright a less exclusive grant of citizenship.

        • WarOnReasons says:

          And, of course, Israel has an even more extreme version.

          Is it really more extreme than German or Greek version?

          • Is it really more extreme than German or Greek version?

            According to your link:

            Ethnic German resettlers are ethnic Germans from the successor states of the former Soviet Union and from other Eastern European states.

            If that’s right, an American with German ancestry can’t claim German citizenship. I can claim Israeli citizenship.

        • Aapje says:

          @DavidFriedman

          At a tangent … a number of European countries have a more than birthright citizenship. If your parent or grandparent was a citizen of Italy or Spain, you can claim citizenship even if you were born and live somewhere else.

          Jus sanguinis is not more than birthright citizenship, but a different kind of determining citizenship. Basically, it just inherits from the parents. So if at least one of the parents is Dutch, the child has the Dutch nationality.

          A complication when it comes to citizenship is that different citizenship rules can apply to the same person. A person born to Dutch parents in the US, is a Dutch citizen according to The Netherlands and an American citizen according to the US.

          In theory this can result in people having no citizenship. For example, when being born in a country with jus sanguinis, but where the parents are from a country with pure birthright citizenship.

          However, that is generally not the case when the parents are American, because the US recognizes jus sanguinis for children born abroad to American parents.

          PS. Note that there are also already exceptions to the American birthright citizenship. Children of foreign diplomats and foreign invaders are excluded.

          PS2. The Netherlands actually also has a very limited form of birthright citizenship, for children born in The Netherlands, where the parents were also born in The Netherlands, but do not have Dutch citizenship.

      • Machine Interface says:

        It’s a bit simplistic for several of these countries to simply claim “they don’t have birthright citizenship anymore” without going into the details of what their laws are actually saying.

        For example, in France, the rules are:

        “A child born in France to foreign parents may acquire French citizenship:
        —at birth, if stateless.
        —at 18, if resident in France with at least 5 years’ residence since age 11.
        —between 16 and 18 upon request by the child and if resident in France with at least 5 years’ residence since age 11.
        —between 13 and 16 upon request by the child’s parents and if resident in France continuously since age 8.
        —if born in France of parents born before independence in a colony/territory in the past under French sovereignty.
        ——at birth, if born in France before January 1, 1994.
        ——at age 18, if born in France on or after January 1, 1994.”

        So while this deviates from pure birthright citizenship, on the spectrum from pure jus sanguinis to pure jus soli, it is still much closer to the latter than to the former.

        • pontifex says:

          Thanks for the additional details. I agree that there is a lot of complexity here which isn’t captured by a simple “jus soli / not jus soli” distinction.

          I would be fine with rules similar to what France has. It is sensible to give citizenship to newborns who would otherwise be stateless. In other cases, it also seems reasonable to require a few years of legal residence in a country before granting citizenship. I would even be OK with a rule like, if you manage to somehow stay in the country legally for 20 years by any means, you can optionally become a citizen if you want.

      • Protagoras says:

        I feel like I’m being deliberately trolled here, by Trump and whoever defends this. How can it not occur to anyone that one of the earliest policies adopted by the Nazis with respect to the Jews was to withdraw their German citizenship? Godwin be damned, at some point acting like a Nazi has to get you called a Nazi.

        • albatross11 says:

          Is Trump proposing taking away existing peoples’ citizenship? Or just ceasing to give citizenship in the future to babies born in the US to illegal immigrants?

        • cassander says:

          Given that the actual executive order isn’t even out yet, calling him a nazi seems decidedly premature. I’d agree that withdrawing citizenship that was granted previously is not a good idea, but I think rather unlikely that he will do that, and considerably more unlikely that the courts would let it stand if he did. How about we wait until we actually see what the plan is before declaring that he’s basically Hitler?

        • Jiro says:

          Under the “Regulations Against Jews’ Possession of Weapons”, the Nazis also didn’t let Jews have firearms. By your reasoning anyone promoting firearms restrictions also counts as a Nazi.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            No. And obviously not.

          • Jesse E says:

            If people who support gun control said say, “white men aren’t allowed to have guns,” OK, but if it’s “no guns for everybody,” that’s not Nazi like at all.

        • The Nybbler says:

          The Nazis burned books. The Moral Majority (or similar groups, anyway) burned books. That does not make them the same, not even if both are objectionable.

        • pontifex says:

          The “retroactively withdrawing citizenship” thing seems like a clear motte and bailey. Yes, retroactively withdrawing citizenship is obviously a terrible idea. But the debate around birthright citizenship is (or at least should be) more complex.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I suspect Trump is just bloviating to energize the base for the midterms. If he does write such an executive order, it will most likely be struck down 9-0 before reaching the Constitutional question, and if not will be struck down on the Constitutional question.

      Lindsey Graham’s proposal would be a bit more concerning, but I doubt it goes anywhere regardless of midterm results. And it, too, still has to pass the courts and they’ll have to come up with some sort of argument. “Nuh-uh, illegals don’t count” isn’t going to cut it.

    • John Schilling says:

      You remember back when Donald Trump was going to ban all Muslims from coming to the United States, just “shut it down” by executive order, and how this was the greatest threat to Democracy ever? How almost the first thing he did in office was to implement a “Muslim Ban” by executive order, and this was the greatest threat to Democracy ever?

      Yawn.

      That was something to be concerned about, once upon a time. But now we know the outcome. When The Donald does something the courts say is unconstitutional, there’s some temporary disruption while the courts make their ruling, but the civil service and the police do what the courts say, and Trump bitches and moans about it but lives with what the courts will let him do.

      Eliminating birthright citizenship by executive order would be so blatantly unconstitutional it’s not really worth arguing at this point. There’s no plausible argument for it, there’s no way any of Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayer, or Kagan are going to sign off on it, Roberts is almost as unlikely, and I’m pretty sure this isn’t even going to be a 5-4 split but a pretty serious smackdown. If not, it’s a Black Swan event of the sort that we can’t talk meaningfully about until we see what it looks like.

      But it will distract people from talking about mail bombs or dead Jews and maybe energize a bit more of the base for next week’s elections.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        Didn’t SCOTUS ultimately uphold the travel ban this summer?

        I generally agree though that this is likely a stunt to energize the base. Of course the only way you could end birthright citizenship would be to energize the base. It’s unlikely that SCOTUS would allow ending birthright citizenship by presidential decree, but more likely they would allow it to be done legislatively. Maybe I’m over-estimating trump but I doubt he would attempt something like this if he believed SCOTUS would likely declare birthright citizenship the only correct way to interpret the 14th.

        There’s a nonzero risk of it back-firing i.e. triggering a blue wave and subsequent impeachment.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Didn’t SCOTUS ultimately uphold the travel ban this summer?

          I believe they upheld a weaker one than originally proposed. But the travel ban was on really strong grounds; Congress explicitly delegated those powers to the President, and immigration law has long distinguished between people from different countries. Curtailing jus solis doesn’t have any such support.

        • John Schilling says:

          Didn’t SCOTUS ultimately uphold the travel ban this summer?

          As Nybbler notes, SCOTUS ultimately upheld a different travel ban, after Trump withdrew IIRC the first two proposals and submitted something that conformed to the terms and conditions of the Court’s original ruling (and toned down the public rhetoric).

      • Brad says:

        I could see Thomas going along with something like this based on some off the wall reading. I don’t have a great sense of Gorsuch or Kavanaugh yet, but my gut is no better than 7-2 against the government.

        • Mr. Doolittle says:

          I would agree, especially as an EO. 8-1 or 9-0 would be very likely in my mind.

          If Congress passed a law that specifically defined what “under the jurisdiction” meant, and it excluded people in the country illegally, then I have a much harder time seeing this be so clean.

          If the 14th is at all unclear (and it appears that most people agree that some question exists), then Congress taking the time to clear that up would generally be seen as more reasonable. At that point I would expect a 5-4 decision of some kind, with Roberts deciding.

    • cassander says:

      It is difficult to overstate how much of a threat to democracy this is. Either the fourteenth amendment means what it plainly says, or there is no standard besides the whim of those in power to decide who is a citizen. If the children of illegal immigrants are not citizens then their grandchildren are not citizens, and their great grandchildren, and their great great grandchildren.

      It’s amusing to see so many people converting to originalism over this issue. Putting aside the hypocrisy, though, was it a threat to democracy when Obama suspended article 2 section 8 ordering the government to spend money congress hadn’t appropriated? Or when he made recess appointments when congress wasn’t in recess? When he attacked libya without congressional authorization? I say no to all.

      Trump will at most issue an executive order with some legal wrangling that says something like people illegally in the US are not “subject to the jurisdiction of thereof” and thus are not entitled to automatic citizenship. This will be no different from 100 other weaselly end runs around the plain meaning of the constitution that we’ve grown used to. That’s assuming it (A) the executive order he issues is actually actionable and (B) it’s not immediately thrown out of the courts. And while I think either of those conditions is reasonably likely on its own, both together are fairly unlikely.

      You can see why this has been a right wing wet dream for years, it lets you get around that troubling business of gaining the consent of the governed.

      I think you seriously need to update your mental model of what the right dreams about.

    • skef says:

      If the current justices of the Supreme Court are at all sensitive to the law, the current understanding of the 14th amendment will remain. After all, the court can hardly determine the citizenship status of anyone not subject to their jurisdiction!

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Just to respond once to the people saying it’s bloviating and can’t be done: incorrect. He’s going to do it and it’s not unconstitutional to do it via executive order. It is the correction of previous administrations unconstitutionally granting citizenship to illegal aliens, who are not “subject to the jurisdiction thereof.”

      Who is not “subject to the jurisdiction thereof?” Well, foreign diplomats, who are loyal to their home nation. Invading armies who do not recognize or who challenge the authority of the US government. Also, illegal aliens who retain citizenship to their home countries and do not recognize the authority of the US government, as evidenced by their refusal to follow its laws.

      Trump will simply order the Social Security Administration to stop issuing SSNs to the children of non-citizens. Someone will then sue, President Hawaiian Judge will issue an injunction against Trump, we’ll kick it up to the Supreme Court, and the Court can let us know what “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” means.

      • The Nybbler says:

        and the Court can let us know what “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” means.

        And it won’t be what Trump is claiming, probably 9-0.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          There are legal scholars who disagree. Trump did not come up with this idea by himself.

          We all agree that should a foreign army invade the US, and maybe some rear guard soldiers bring along their wives, should those wives give birth on contested US soil and the invaders subsequently driven out, the child would not be entitled to US citizenship, correct?

          What’s the difference between the invading soldier and his wife, both foreign citizens who have no authorization to be occupying US soil but temporarily do until the US army can expel them, and the illegal immigrant and his wife, both foreign citizens who have no authorization to be occupying US soil but temporarily do until ICE can expel them?

          ETA: MAGAmindmeld. Trump tweets:

          So-called Birthright Citizenship, which costs our Country billions of dollars and is very unfair to our citizens, will be ended one way or the other. It is not covered by the 14th Amendment because of the words “subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” Many legal scholars agree…..

          ….Harry Reid was right in 1993, before he and the Democrats went insane and started with the Open Borders (which brings massive Crime) “stuff.” Don’t forget the nasty term Anchor Babies. I will keep our Country safe. This case will be settled by the United States Supreme Court!

          • meh says:

            Is your claim that the illegal immigrant is a soldier/combatant/military?

            If so, I don’t think you will find wide spread agreement on that.

            Otherwise, the difference is obvious.

            (I’m not saying your conclusion is necessarily false, but this analogy/argument does not hold)

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I must be very dumb, as I do not see the obvious difference in the legal status with respect to the US government between the foreign soldier and the foreign illegal alien. They have different jobs, but they’re doing the same thing: crossing the US border in defiance of the US government which expressly forbids them to do so, and both will be expelled as soon as the US government is able to expel them. Should they give birth to a child before the government can expel them, that child is a citizen of their nation of origin, and not the United States.

            Please explain to me why this is wrong.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The soldier is under “color of authority” (I think that is the proper term) of the foreign government. The laws they are subject to are the laws of war. I think that this is similar to the difference between diplomats and other entrants to the country.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Is that a meaningful distinction with regards to the child’s citizenship though? Children of illegal immigrants from Mexico are still entitled to Mexican citizenship.

            As for the parents, if in US custody for some crime they can request consular assistance from the government of Mexico. They’re still Mexican citizens, “subject to the jurisdiction” of Mexico, to whom their loyalty lies, and not the United States. The Mexican government, at least, has provided instructions on how their citizens can cross into the US illegally. The “color of authority” thing seems like a distinction without a difference.

            At the end of the day, though, it’ll be up to the Supreme Court to decide. Trump is not changing the constitution with an EO, he’s setting up a challenge for the Supreme Court to clarify what the constitution means. It’s a clarification I would very much like from the Supreme Court, rather than internet arguments.

          • meh says:

            Is that a meaningful distinction with regards to the child’s citizenship though?

            Maybe, I don’t know if it is. The point is just that military combatants are legally treated differently from civilians entering illegally. Some outcomes may overlap, but comparing one to the other doesn’t prove legality.

          • meh says:

            Is that a meaningful distinction with regards to the child’s citizenship though?

            See the links posted in a different sub thread. It is a meaningful distinction. (if 2010 bloggers are to be trusted)

          • @Conrad:

            Your argument appears to apply to illegal immigrants but not to a foreigner who has a child while here on a legal visa. Trump doesn’t seem to be making that distinction.

            Also, doesn’t your argument imply that if an illegal alien commits a crime and is caught he can be deported but he can’t be tried and punished for the crime, since he isn’t under U.S. jurisdiction? When we capture enemy soldiers we don’t normally try them for murder.

            I don’t believe that’s the present situation. And I wouldn’t think Trump, who seems particularly worried about illegal immigrant murderers and rapists, would want it to be.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Your argument appears to apply to illegal immigrants but not to a foreigner who has a child while here on a legal visa. Trump doesn’t seem to be making that distinction.

            Yes, I’m not really sure about that. It seems like a separate issue, though, and whether the EO applies to all foreigners or only illegal foreigners is up to Trump.

            If it applies to all foreigners, then I think we should have legislation providing citizenship to the children of permanent resident aliens. But that would mean congress would have to do something, and as others have commented, congress has essentially given up and shifted all their power to the executive and judicial branches. So we wind up figuring out immigration policy via battles between the president and the courts.

      • John Schilling says:

        Trump will simply order the Social Security Administration to stop issuing SSNs to the children of non-citizens.

        And the SSA will probably continue issuing SSNs to those children, so it will have to be Trump who sues his own nominal subordinates. Regardless of the exact chain of events, though, there’s lots of ways that gets side-tracked into a ruling that blocks Trump without even considering the 14th amendment. But if he does keep it on the rails and gets it before SCOTUS at that point…

        …the Court can let us know what “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” means.

        The phrase is “subject to” not “recognizes”, so all your analogies are irrelevant. If the United States claims and exercises the power to e.g. detain and deport people, then I’m pretty sure you’re not going to find five Supreme Court justices to say those people aren’t subject to the jurisdiction of the United States Goverment.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          And the SSA will probably continue issuing SSNs to those children, so it will have to be Trump who sues his own nominal subordinates.

          No, they’ll get fired for not doing their jobs, and replaced by someone who will.

          The phrase is “subject to” not “recognizes”, so all your analogies are irrelevant.

          So the child of the invading soldier does get US citizenship, then? They’re still subject to the jurisdiction of the US, even through their parents do not recognize or actively defy it.

          • Jesse E says:

            “No, they’ll get fired for not doing their jobs, and replaced by someone who will.”

            Civil servants don’t serve at the pleasure of the President. That’s the whole point of having civil servants instead of jobs being doled out by patronage.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I didn’t say they would get fired on the President’s whim. I’m saying they would get fired for not doing their jobs. That’s fired for cause.

          • meh says:

            some posts about invading armies and if they are subject to jurisdiction

            https://www.aleksandreia.com/2010/05/09/occupation-birthright-citizenship-and-the-fourteenth-amendment/

            https://gravitron5.wordpress.com/2010/06/01/alien-enemies-occupation-birthright-citizenship/

            In his 1812 opinion in The Exchange v. McFaddon, Chief Justice John Marshall acknowledged that a friendly army transiting the territory of another sovereign was exempt from that sovereign’s jurisdiction

            This idea of an invading army’s exemption from the jurisdiction of the invaded country eventually acquired explicit judicial sanction a few decades later. In Coleman v. Tennessee, decided in the wake of the Civil War, the Supreme Court made explicit what had merely been implied in The Exchange:

            If an army marching through a friendly country would thus be exempt from its civil and criminal jurisdiction, a fortiori would an army invading an enemy’s country be exempt. The fact that war is waged between two countries negatives the possibility of jurisdiction being exercised by the tribunals of the one country over persons engaged in the military service of the other for offenses committed while in such service.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Yes, so it’s entirely possible to be within the borders of the US, and yet not “subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” The 14th Amendment states:

            All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

            It would not make sense for everyone in the US to be subject to the jurisdiction thereof or else the language would just be repeating itself:

            All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and in the United States, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

            What is it that makes someone not “subject to the jurisdiction thereof?” I posit it means “does not owe loyalty to or recognize the authority thereof.” That applies to diplomats, to foreign armies, and to illegal aliens, who do not recognize the authority of the US government, owe it no allegiance, and owe allegiance to their home countries. Greencard/visa holders are a grey area because they at least recognize the authority of the government and comply with its laws.

            I’m not saying this is correct, but it is not obviously false, and it is not beyond doubt that the 14th amendment grants citizenship to the children of illegals. I honestly do not think it does, but I am not a legal expert. The Justices on the Supreme Court are, however, and I would like to hear it from them whether I’m right or wrong.

          • meh says:

            I posit it means “does not owe loyalty to or recognize the authority thereof.” That applies to diplomats, to foreign armies, and to illegal aliens,

            yes, your conclusions are clear, there is no confusion there.
            it’s your analogies and support that don’t seem to follow. the links give a legal explanation for why invading armies are not under jurisdiction. so i think we either need the equivalent explanation that
            1) illegal immigrants are not under the jurisdiction.
            or
            2) illegal immigrants are considered in invading army legally.

            if we have (1) then it is not necessary to compare them to soldiers. Only if (2) is true can we compare them to soldiers.

            Also, breaking the law doesn’t cause the country to lose jurisdiction over you. Laws would be meaningless if it did… A better argument would be that breaking laws can cause you loss of rights (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loss_of_rights_due_to_conviction_for_criminal_offense#United_States). Is there any reason the government couldn’t revoke birthright rights after a conviction of entering illegally?

        • Controls Freak says:

          John, I’m with you that this probably doesn’t go there, but

          If the United States claims and exercises the power to e.g. detain and deport people, then I’m pretty sure you’re not going to find five Supreme Court justices to say those people aren’t subject to the jurisdiction of the United States Goverment.

          in combination with this:

          Native Americans are generally understood to be the people the “…subject to its jurisdiction” clause of the 14th Amendment was meant for.

          This is running headlong into one of the two areas of Constitutional law that I freely admit I ignore (I read most SCOTUS cases when they come out, but as soon as I see “tribal sovereignty”, I’m out; it’s too complicated), but we’re going to run into problems here, I think. I know you call separate sovereignty a legal fiction that was discarded by statute (though I really don’t think that’s entirely the case, given the steady stream of Court cases on the matter; just the citizenship question was discarded), but this does have import nonetheless for the meaning of 14A. In fact, Wong Kim Ark specifically called this out as a particular category, but basically just to say, “Indians are weird, yo.” They discussed SCOTUS precedent on Indians:

          The only adjudication that has been made by this court upon the meaning of the clause, “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” in the leading provision of the Fourteenth Amendment is Elk v. Wilkins, in which it was decided that an Indian born a member of one of the Indian tribes within the United States, which still existed and was recognized as an Indian tribe by the United States, who had voluntarily separated himself from his tribe and taken up his residence among the white citizens of a State but who did not appear to have been naturalized, or taxed, or in any way recognized or treated as a citizen either by the United States or by the State, was not a citizen of the United States, as a “person born in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” within the meaning of the clause in question.

          That decision was placed upon the grounds that the meaning of those words was

          “not merely subject in some respect or degree to the jurisdiction of the United States, but completely subject to their political jurisdiction, and owing them direct and immediate allegiance;”

          that, by the Constitution, as originally established, “Indians not taxed” were excluded from the persons according to whose numbers representatives in Congress and direct taxes were apportioned among the several States, and Congress was empowered to regulate commerce not only “with foreign nations” and among the several States, but “with the Indian tribes;” that the Indian tribes, being within the territorial limits of the United States, were not, strictly speaking, foreign States, but were alien nations, distinct political communities, the members of which owed immediate allegiance to their several tribes and were not part of the people of the United States; that the alien and dependent condition of the members of one of those tribes could not be put off at their own will without the action or assent of the United States, and that they were never deemed citizens except when naturalized, collectively or individually, under explicit provisions of a treaty, or of an act of Congress; and therefore that

          “Indians born within the territorial limits of the United States, members of, and owing immediate allegiance to, one of the Indian tribes (an alien, though dependent, power), although in a geographical sense born in the United States, are no more ‘born in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof’ within the meaning of the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment than the children of subjects of any foreign government born within the domain of that government, or the children born within the United States of ambassadors or other public ministers of foreign nations.”

          And it was observed that the language used in defining citizenship in the first section of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, by the very Congress which framed the Fourteenth Amendment, was “all persons born in the United States, and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed.”

          Then, they discuss the dissent in Elk v. Wilkins, which they half seem to quote in favor of their expansive reading of jus soli and half say, “Ah, but Elk v. Wilkins was just about Indians, and they’re weird, so they don’t matter.” (Note: the dissent in question was written by Justice Harlan, who signed onto the dissent in Wong Kim Ark, too.) Ultimately, they just kind of move on and drag along an extra exception:

          The foregoing considerations and authorities irresistibly lead us to these conclusions: the Fourteenth Amendment affirms the ancient and fundamental rule of citizenship by birth within the territory, in the allegiance and under the protection of the country, including all children here born of resident aliens, with the exceptions or qualifications (as old as the rule itself) of children of foreign sovereigns or their ministers, or born on foreign public ships, or of enemies within and during a hostile occupation of part of our territory, and with the single additional exception of children of members of the Indian tribes owing direct allegiance to their several tribes. [emphasis added]

          In sum, it’s really not as simple as, “You can be detained, therefore you’re ‘subject to the jurisdiction thereof’.” In fact, it’s very messy. John Elk was born on a reservation, but the case had approximately nothing to do with physical location. I’m not sure that anyone would think that it would have come out differently if his parents had left the reservation briefly to, say, have his birth in a particular hospital. Further, in his adult life, he surely could be arrested by State authorities. It was entirely about political allegiance. And much of Wong Kim Ark discusses political allegiance, as well. AFAICT, the rule they embraced was, “Political allegiance has something to do with it, but we think that the only cases that are clear are foreign ministers (not consuls, though, in yet another strange nod to the type of criminal jurisdiction that you were referring to) and invaders… oh, and Indians are weird, yo.” Were there reasons for the court to think that the case in front of them should not be excepted? They cite The Schooner Exchange v. M’Faddon:

          The reasons for not allowing to other aliens exemption “from the jurisdiction of the country in which they are found” were stated as follows:

          When private individuals of one nation spread themselves through another as business or caprice may direct, mingling indiscriminately with the inhabitants of that other, or when merchant vessels enter for the purposes of trade, it would be obviously inconvenient and dangerous to society, and would subject the laws to continual infraction and the government to degradation, if such individuals or merchants did not owe temporary and local allegiance, and were not amenable to the jurisdiction of the country. Nor can the foreign sovereign have any motive for wishing such exemption. His subjects thus passing into foreign counties are not employed by him, nor are they engaged in national pursuits. Consequently there are powerful motives for not exempting persons of this description from the jurisdiction of the country in which they are found, and no one motive for requiring it. The implied license, therefore, under which they enter can never be construed to grant such exemption.

          In short, the judgment in the case of The Exchange declared, as incontrovertible principles, that the jurisdiction of every nation within its own territory is exclusive and absolute, and is susceptible of no limitation not imposed by the nation itself; that all exceptions to its full and absolute territorial jurisdiction must be traced up to its own consent, express or implied; that, upon its consent to cede, or to waive the exercise of, a part of its territorial jurisdiction rest the exemptions from that jurisdiction of foreign sovereigns or their armies entering its territory with its permission, and of their foreign ministers and public ships of war, and that the implied license under which private individuals of another nation enter the territory and mingle indiscriminately with its inhabitants for purposes of business or pleasure can never be construed to grant to them an exemption from the jurisdiction of the country in which they are found.

          You can start to see how there might be room here. There’s still a linkage between jurisdiction and allegiance, but it’s not entirely clear how it operates in all cases. They’re imputing a temporary allegiance to common travelers, but even this stems from “the implied license under which they enter”. It’s squishy. There are indicators that go the other way, too.

          Further, I should note that the majority opinion was clear about the fact that they were engaging in a common law approach to this question (while taking some guidance from the above-quoted statute using the language “not subject to any foreign power”). There’s a lot of squishy room here, which is why folks like Conrad are trying to make the comparison with invaders – he’s essentially saying, “We recognized two cases that were clearly problematic from the perspective of political allegiance; I think this a third.” And I’m not sure that there’s any super knockdown legal argument against that. In fact, if faced with a statute saying, “Illegal aliens are on this side of the political allegiance line,” rather than engaging purely in a common law exercise, I’m not sure how the Wong Kim Ark Court goes. (They had a statute saying that he couldn’t be naturalized, but that’s clearly different.)

          I’m not looking forward to the pithy one-liners from either side (“But they pay their taxes!”/”If they were subjected to the jurisdiction of the US, they wouldn’t have ever been on US soil!”), but I’d actually be a little interested in having a statute go to the Court… not because I like the policy or anything. No, my highest aspirations for most administrations these days is that they give us interesting cases that clear up confusing Constitutional issues… and I think there’s a decent chance the Roberts Court can still do that on some of these matters.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Wow I really like it when someone smarter than I am comes along and makes my argument for me, thanks!

            Also with regards to the whole “you’re subject to the jurisdiction if the government can arrest you” thing, I don’t think the existence of diplomatic immunity is what makes diplomats not “subject to the jurisdiction.” If a diplomat goes on a public murder rampage, the government is not obligated to sit there saying “grrrr, there’s nothing we can do about this gleeful murder spree because of diplomatic immunity!” No, we can still lay hands on him to expel him from the country. There are still laws or rules from our government the diplomat is subject to, they’re just different than the ones for non-diplomats. That is, expulsion for breaking the rules rather than prosecution.

            It’s not the “rules don’t apply to me” bit that makes the diplomat not “subject to the jurisdiction,” it’s the foreign loyalty. Same applies to illegal immigrants, and probably temporary visa holders.

    • mdet says:

      Separate from illegal immigration, one of my first questions was “how prevalent is birth tourism”? USA Today says that the Center For Immigration Studies (who advocate reduced immigration levels and an end to birthright citizenship) estimate “the total number of babies born through birth tourism at about 36,000 a year.” The article also adds, regarding undocumented immigrants:

      Citizenship was granted to about 275,000 babies born to undocumented immigrant parents in 2014, representing about 7 percent of all births in the country that year, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

      Those numbers represented a drop from the peak years of illegal immigration, topped in 2006 when about 370,000 children were born to undocumented immigrants, or 9 percent of all births, according to the Pew estimate.

      Data from Pew shows that 90 percent of undocumented immigrants who give birth in the U.S. arrived in the country more than two years before giving birth. Those numbers do not include pregnant mothers who obtain visas to travel to the U.S. shortly before giving birth.

  6. Plumber says:

    A question for SSC’ers who are more “numerate” than me which may be something for the “culture-wars”:

    In going over the exit polls of the 2016 election it’s clear that the voters for Clinton have lower incomes on average than Trump voters, it's also clear that Clinton’s votes mostly came from urban and inner suburbs, while Trump’s votes mostly came from outer suburbs and rural areas, and that the areas that voted for Clinton tend to be richer areas than areas that voted for Trump, so poorer people from richer areas tended to vote for Clinton and richer people from poorer areas tended to vote from Trump.

    The income of the median voter is higher than the median personal income (but maybe that includes people who aren’t eligible to vote?).

    Taken all together this mplies to me that on average the outer suburban and rural poor are less likely to have voted than the poor in inner suburban and urban areas, but I can’t find anything that says that.

    What do the numbers look like to you?

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I think you need to spell out the steps to your conclusion a little more clearly. I’m not following you line of reasoning. It’s no surprise that there is a rural urban split in voting patterns, nor is their any surprise that urban areas have on average higher income, but also greater concentration of voters with lower incomes.

      How that gets you to a conclusion about the relative likelihood of voting of these groups is not immediately apparent to me.

    • Brad says:

      I’m not sure this answers your question (I haven’t dug through the links) but check out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simpson%27s_paradox

    • Aapje says:

      so poorer people from richer areas tended to vote for Clinton

      Also known as black people and youngsters (including students)

      richer people from poorer areas tended to vote for Trump.

      Also known as older white people in deteriorating neighborhoods.

      I agree with HBC that your conclusion doesn’t seem to follow from the evidence you present.

    • Statismagician says:

      To me, the numbers look like a giant flashing sign saying ‘do not commit the ecological fallacy.’

      US voting statistics need to be interpreted in the context of being poorly-collected unpredictably-misreported attempts to reduce the huge omnimodal differentially-autocorrelated mess that is US electoral demographics to soundbites. The only reliable predictor of election results is the election in question, and the ones for 2016 were almost exactly what you’d expect from a straight partisan split by voting district, as I understand it. Nothing need be explained.

  7. DragonMilk says:

    Ground meat

    More specifically, lean %, and pork/veal/beef. Are these pretty inter-changeable and what differences do they have?

    I went to buy ground beef for the first time on Friday night and to my dismay, the 80% lean beef on sale at 2.79/lb was gone. The 85% was $4.99/lb and 90% was $5.99/lb. Ground pork was $3.99/lb and ground veal was $4.99/lb

    Pork is clearly different from beef when not ground up, so while I was tempted, I stuck with cow. And I thought, I might as well eat the baby form if I’m gonna pay up.

    So what in your experience is the difference between the three ground meats, and how much does that lean % actually matter?

    Thanks

    • Plumber says:

      More oil is needed with pork

      • Slicer says:

        There are people who customarily add oil in the process of cooking ground-up fatty meats?

        This is such an informative comment section, I swear.

        • SamChevre says:

          Good quality ground pork is often very lean–it takes a little oil to keep it from sticking. If it’s fatty, you don’t need oil in my experience.

        • dndnrsn says:

          A little bit of oil in the pan helps keep it from sticking the moment it hits the pan. Classier: cook some diced onions or something first, then put the meat in with that. I’d disagree that pork needs more cooking fat, though – I’ve never seen pork leaner than “lean” and beef is commonly available “extra-lean.”

          • gbdub says:

            I prefer to let it stick (it should release some once it’s ready anyway) and then deglaze the burned on bits with something yummy.

    • Slicer says:

      I haven’t bought ground meat in a long time. The quality seems to be getting worse overall. Too many gristly bits, too much connective tissue, too little actual muscle tissue.

    • SamChevre says:

      I really like ground pork, but wouldn’t interchange it with beef. It has a different texture–it’s “softer”–and a less strongly meaty flavor. (Most sausage is made from pork–think of the texture of sausage vs that of ground beef.)

      One of my “why isn’t it” questions is “why isn’t ground pork available for the same relative-to-pork price that ground beef is relative to beef?” Because homemade sausage is awesome. (I used to make sausage professionally, but it’s too much hassle to grind a home-use quantity of pork butt.)

      • gbdub says:

        To your last question, I think you inadvertently answered it – the cuts of pork that are good for grinding are in higher commercial demand for sausage and pulled pork than the equivalent beef cuts. And pork steaks lack the luxury price bump of beef steaks – pork just generally has a smaller spread between the cheapest and most expensive cuts compared to cow.

        • SamChevre says:

          ..higher commercial demand for sausage…

          That’s part of what I find baffling; I can buy sausage for half the price that I can buy ground pork. (I’m sure it’s a demand issue–if people bought a lot of ground pork it would be cheap, but they don’t so it’s priced like a specialty item because it is.)

          • dndnrsn says:

            Presumably the cheapest sausage has fillings, though, and really high fat content?

          • gbdub says:

            You might be right, that it’s treated as a specialty item. At my grocery store the only ground pork they used to have was in little half-pound packets from some hoity-toity organic farm, while ground beef was in big generic store-ground packages. Now they have store-ground pork that is priced similarly (a little cheaper) than beef. But still quite a bit more expensive than pork butt, which is presumably the same thing.

          • Nornagest says:

            Interesting. At my usual grocery store, I can get ground pork for pretty much the same price as loose sausage (and after all it basically is loose sausage, just without the spices).

          • SamChevre says:

            While I can’t find ground pork for less than $4.00 a pound except at the really dodgy meat market, while I can buy sausage for $2.50 a pound easily (Premio at CostCo, so 100% meat–no fillers–and reasonable fat content.)

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Honestly don’t think I’ve ever had ground veal. I only have veal in veal parmigana or Osso Bucco.

      Ground pork I eat only in meatloaf. You want a lot of fat, and ground pork can have a lot of fat. I use a mix between ground pork and leaner ground beef (50/50).

      Ground Beef: Depends on what you are using for it. I generally go with 80/20 because I am making burgers or meatballs, both of which benefit from higher fat content. You should use 95%+ ground beef with people you don’t like very much, or probably recipes where you drain the fat and don’t bother using it. Like, I don’t know, quick chili, manwiches, or extra protien in a pasta. I believe it comes from round, which packs a bit more flavor punch than chuck, but you need to be careful not to overcook it.

      FTR, from the prior meat thread: I tried a reverse sear again with my prime rib, and it did not crust up much at all, even with the oven at 500+. How long are you reverse-searers leaving it in at 500+? My next hunch is to just sear using the broiler.

      • SamChevre says:

        Reverse searing–maybe 10 minutes? Until it starts to smoke, basically.

        I normally cook at 170 degrees until the roast is at 125, rest with blankets over it for an hour (by then it’s at 120 or so) and the put in a 500 degree pre-heated oven until the meat is very brown.

        Using the broiler should work fine; in restaurants, they often use a propane torch.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          rest with blankets over it for an hour (by then it’s at 120 or so)

          Holy smokes!
          Then again, this actually doesn’t seem horrible. This gives me more time to use the oven for something else (and pretty much anything else is going in at 375 at least).

          • SamChevre says:

            That’s exactly what I do. Slow-roast the big roast (usually 15-20 pounds), then take it out, cover, bump oven temp and bake rolls, bump oven temp again and roast potatoes (not baked potatoes, but the pre-cooked crispy roast potatoes), then bump oven temp again, brown the meat, and serve.

      • gbdub says:

        “Oven at 500” isn’t going to sear all that well (although Sam seems to have success – I think the rest does help). Broiler, grill, or hot cast iron pan is how I usually do it. Direct heat is ideal. This does mean you’ll have to rotate it for all-over sear, which can be a pain depending on cut.

        Then again I usually use reverse sear more for thick steaks than roasts, so my experience with the roast cuts is kind of minimal. Last roast I did was a strip roast I smoked to rare, let rest, and then stuck under the broiler “until it starts to smoke, basically”

        • SamChevre says:

          That may be a key point; I’m generally cooking roast beef for 20 on a holiday, so I’m working with 15+ pounds of meat.

      • Since this thread is on cooking, does anyone have good experience with sous vide? It sounded like a neat idea so I got the gadget, but my experiments so far were not particularly good.

        • Nornagest says:

          I haven’t played with mine as much as I probably should, but I’ve had good luck with sous vide steaks. Cook sealed with the marinade of your choice for three hours at 132 until the inside’s a nice pink color, then sear it briefly on a screaming hot pan. It’ll give you the medium-rarest steak you’ve ever had.

        • dodrian says:

          I really like mine, a couple of my favorites:

          Chicken cutlets with some hot sauce, cooked for 1hr/155F. Then batter (flour -> egg -> flour -> panko for me) and pan fry for a golden-brown crust. It’s much easier and tenderer than my attempts to do something similar without sous-vide, as you can cook the chicken and the batter separately and get each one perfect independant of the other.

          Shrimp per Kenji, on a salad, reserve the shrimp juices to use in a vinaigrette dressing.

          Boston butt for 24hrs/165F, with spices for either BBQ pulled pork or carnitas. Super tender and juicy, and can be crisped up under the broiler if desired.

          And of course steaks, usually 2hr/129F.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          @David

          Strongly recommend advice on Serious Eats re: sous vide. For my money, though, it’s a bit overrated unless you’re into dinner table haute cuisine.

          That said, I think there’s a case to be made for using it for delicate meat dishes – think shrimp, thin-cut beef, or duck.

        • gbdub says:

          I use it less than I would otherwise because I have an electric smoker – just as convenient, similar results for big meat cuts, plus it adds flavor.

          I do really like sous vide steak and salmon. Sous vide French toast comes out surprisingly wall, but was finicky to make (and not that much better than the Alton Brown method).

          One thing I haven’t tried yet but seems like a good idea is using sous-vide to reheat precooked, vacuum bagged, and frozen foods. E.g. make up a bunch of grilled chicken and veggies, vac-bag individual portions, freeze, and then toss them in the sous vide as needed to reheat more gently and evenly than microwave while not drying it out like the oven might.

          • dodrian says:

            I have taken to bagging and freezing family sized portions of soups, stews, etc. It’s much more convenient to grab one and throw it in the sous-vide bath half an hour before dinner than it was to attempt to defrost them in the microwave from a tupperware container or the hour+ to bake something in a foil dish from frozen.

            That in addition to having steaks, chicken breast, fish etc pre-seasoned, frozen and ready to cook.

            Pro-tip: Don’t stick a mason jar in the water bath from frozen. I should have known better really!

          • AG says:

            Heh, I did the opposite, where I heated something in a glass jar and then was like “oh I need to wash it out before it crusts on the bottom” and uh

    • Nornagest says:

      If your recipe calls for raw meat and doesn’t involve browning it first, I’ve found the sweet spot is usually about 15% fat. Less and it gets dry, more and it’ll go swimming in melted fat. If you are browning it, or if you’re making something like burgers where the fat will just drip off, then you can go higher. But higher fat percentage often means lower-quality meat, too, so you need to be careful or source it from a butcher you trust.

      Ground beef is my default. Pork has a more neutral flavor, so it’s a good choice for meals that get most of their flavor payload from herbs or spices. Turkey has an interesting taste, and goes well with more vegetal flavors like dill; it’s good for green chili or a variation on burgers. I’ve only used ground veal for bolognese sauce, and that not very often.

  8. Plumber says:

    @DavidFriedman

    “I put up a comment correcting my figures on the effect of Prop 13 in response to a couple of points Anthony made. After putting it up I noticed that the open thread it was on had just vanished from the recent posts list, and was worried that Anthony and Plumber, who my original comment on the subject was directed to, wouldn’t see it. I don’t think it counts as CW. So here it is.

    @Anthony:

    Thanks. I didn’t realize that Prop 13 rolled back the assessments to 1976.

    You are correct that I ought to take account of inflation, which was high for a couple of years just after Prop 13. Prop 13 was passed in 1978—I’m not sure how fast it went into effect. I also should take account of population. I’ve calculated state expenditure/(CPIxPopulation) for ten years starting just before Prop13 passed.

    Year …….. Exp/CPI*Popn
    1977-78…. 8.2
    1978-79…. 10.3
    1979-80…. 10.2
    1980-81…. 10.1
    1981-82…. 9.4
    1982-83…. 8.8
    1983-84…. 8.7
    1984-85…. 9.3
    1985-86…. 9.9
    1986-87…. 10.4

    The result isn’t as clear as I thought, but I don’t think it supports Plumber’s view of the subject. The pattern of real expenditure per capita is a big increase in the Prop 13 year, gradually falling thereafter but never getting down to what it had been before the increase

    My population figures are here–I interpolated between 1970 and 1980.

    But it occurs to me that there is still a problem. My data are for the general fund, which I am reasonably sure is just state expenditure, not state plus local expenditure. So it’s possible that including local expenditure, which I haven’t been able to find a historical table of, would change the conclusion”.

    I didn’t see this post before.

    Thanks!

  9. Uribe says:

    I couldn’t care less about any CW issue, but I’d vote for any politician who wants to ban non-compete agreements. Why aren’t there any?

    • Urstoff says:

      How enforceable are they, really? And how often are they enforced? It seems like one of those boilerplate contract things that will never be enforced unless you’re a really high-profile employee.

      • Uribe says:

        I worked for a recent small employer who sued like hell whenever a salesperson went to someone else in the industry, even if it wasn’t to anyone you could call a competitor. I don’t know if the employer won any of the suits, but it sure worked as a disincentive to go work for a competitor, because getting sued really, really sucks, particularly when you are starting a new job.

        • Slicer says:

          I hope the countersuits were successful. This is a pure abuse of the whole purpose behind non-compete contracts (to prevent indirect IP and technique theft).

          • Uribe says:

            If you work in sales, it’s the contact list they don’t want you to use. But what is a salesperson supposed to do? Not contact the people they know? Or just work for the same company their whole career with no negotiating power?

        • arlie says:

          Sounds like a disincentive to work for that employer, as soon as the lititgous behaviour becomes known.

          • Uribe says:

            I suspect it will never be known, because it is so litigious that it has also sued people over bad reviews on Glass Door (It has a positive rating on Glass Door because it is stuffed with fake positive reviews.) I’ll tell people in person not to work there but I would never write it on the web. Luckily, it’s a very small company. I suspect it is mainly small companies that can get away with behaving so badly because in general nobody has heard of them. It’s the kind of place you go to work when you really need a job and you don’t realize how messed up the place is until you’ve been there a few months.

            Another reason it is hard for a company to gain a genuinely bad reputation is that every company has ex-employees who hate that company, so people tend to write off former employees who have negative things to say as “disgruntled workers”. Moreover, nobody wants to be known as a disgruntled worker. Except for close friends, I won’t tell people how bad this company was, because more than making the company look bad, it makes me look bad because it’s bad form to talk badly about an employer.

            How many companies can you think of that have really bad reputations to work for? All the ones I can think of also have very good reputations to work for; it just depends whom you ask.

          • arlie says:

            How many companies can you think of that have really bad reputations to work for?

            I have a short list of “not unless the alternative is homelessness” companies in my field. In general, the best I hear about them, from actual workers (not execs, sales types, advertisers, or HR), tends to be “there are parts that aren’t like that”.

            Usually the issues are fairly specific, while referring to a pattern of behaviour – not “XXX sucks” but e.g. “XXX is a rank-and-yank employer with a burn-em-out-and-throw-them-away culture”. (That was Amazon, for engineering employees; warehouse employees there have other well known problems.)

            The companies that make my list are also all quite large. I don’t hear about the little ones. Or when I do, it’s “that horrible place that some-particular-acquaintance was at,” where there’s really not enough data – the acquaintance could be exagerating, or worse.

      • Chalid says:

        Noncompetes are ubiquitous in finance. Even my very first job out of school had a three-month noncompete, and I was profoundly unimportant to that organization. My current job has one year which is not unusual.

        The way it’s enforced is you remain an employee of your company after giving notice throughout the non-compete period, receiving your base salary, benefits, etc. (You won’t get a bonus of course, so it’s actually a large pay cut, though the competitor hiring you away will often compensate you for it.) During this remaining time of employment, you aren’t wanted in the office and can do whatever you want except work for a competitor. It’s often called “garden leave,” meaning you go home and tend your garden.

        I’ve been told that if you weren’t being paid during the non-compete period, then the non-compete wouldn’t be enforceable. But IANAL.

    • Slicer says:

      Do that and you’ll see some really aggressive headhunting from companies trying to indirectly poach each other’s IP.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Same. Non-competes, forced adjudication, and civil asset forfeiture seem like really low-hanging fruit.

      • Uribe says:

        I work in energy so there’s not a lot of jobs for me in California. (I’d move there in a heartbeat if there were.)

  10. Slicer says:

    This question was probably asked before at some point, but I’m really curious now…

    “Red state” and “blue state” were set as conventions by media companies on electoral maps. “Let’s turn the map [red/blue]” was taken up, and now we have Red Tribe and Blue Tribe showing their colors like Bloods and Crips.

    Would anything be different if the colors were flipped? If the Democrats’ circle-D logo was red and the MAGA hats were blue?

    • Deiseach says:

      That’s something that took me a while to get used to, since over here Conservatives are Blue and Labour is Red (from the old red flag which was changed by the British Labour party in the 80s to the red rose, copying Scandinavian socialist parties and to soften the image of the Labour Party).

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Related, the colors were flipped in each election cycle (each election if I recall correctly) till after the 2000 election, again IIRC, which cemented the colors in the US zeitgeist.

      Traditionally the left is represented by red worldwide, due to associations with communism…

      • Slicer says:

        This fact had crossed my mind. It’s made things rather topsy-turvy, IMO. Red and blue have deep, instinctive psychological significance, communist groups/antifa still use red, and I’m really, really curious if anyone could even guess what would be different about the US political landscape if the colors were flipped.

      • hyperboloid says:

        The color red as a symbol of the left long predates the rise of Communism. The first use of the red flag was by the Colorados in Uruguay. When Giuseppe Garibaldi returned to Europe following that conflict his troops adopted the red shirt as their uniform.

        • Eric Rall says:

          Tangentially related to that: the character name “Michael Garibaldi” for Babylon 5’s security chief was a pun on Giuseppe Garibaldi’s Red Shirts combined with the “redshirt” nickname for disposable security guard characters from Star Trek.

      • fion says:

        Of course, speaking as somebody not from the US, the US doesn’t really have a “left”. You’ve got a “right” and a “further right”. In keeping with the rest of the world, blue=conservative and red=the other major party.

        • Aapje says:

          @fion

          That is nonsense. The Democrats have quite a few policies that are clearly considered leftist in many places. For example, their support for abortion is leftist in Ireland.

          • Not just Ireland. Support for late term abortion is leftist in most of Europe.

          • fion says:

            Abortion is not a left/right issue, though. In practice it seems to be more of a religion vs freedom issue.

          • It shouldn’t be a left/right issue, but in the U.S. at present it is. So Europe is not, in that respect, what is viewed as left wing here. I don’t know to what extent views on abortion in Europe are connected with views on other political issues.

    • Plumber says:

      “Blue” makes people think of the north in the civil war.

      “Red” makes people think of “red neck” and also a “red” was a term for “leftists” not so long ago.

      Since there’s some history of Republican politicians accusing Democrats of being “reds” or “pinks“, to avoid that may be the reason the “blue” became identified with the Democrats, but it’s only after the 1996 Presidential election that “blue” became identified with Democrats and “red” with Republicans, before that the reverse was more likely, and it would change for different years and different networks.

    • Randy M says:

      The story is that before the Bush v Gore debacle kept the election results on the news for weeks, TV stations would alternate year to year which color went with which party, but after that they stuck.
      For awhile there was some grumbling among conservatives that they thought Democrats should have gotten stuck with red.

  11. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    Business idea: Synthesize large quantities of the customer’s DNA in test tubes. Market it as a shortcut to evolutionary success.

    • helloo says:

      What are they going to do with it? Eat it? (I suppose they do contain calories are are digestible…)
      I mean, they have large quantities of the customer DNA literally as part of them.

      And any facility that will require large quantities of DNA should have the capability to duplicate them on the spot.

      • quanta413 says:

        I think the joke is that sometimes as a sort of shorthand, scientists say things like “the goal of an organism is to spread its genes”. So you get a big test tube of your DNA and spread it as best you can.

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          It’s a joke, but the butt isn’t scientific shorthand. It’s bad evopsych that muddles the goals of evolution with the goals of evolution and tries to prove to people that “evolutionary success” is what they really want even if it’s not what they, like, actually feel desire for. (I’ve seen this fallacy in redpill and white nationalist arguments but also fairly often in more benign cases).

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Other commercial DNA news, covered by America’s Finest News Source, though Crack Magazine has the publicity picture of the packaging.

  12. fion says:

    What are some examples of lesser-known songs of one-hit-wonder bands that are better than the “one hit”?

    Related: looking at the wikipedia page for “One-hit wonder”, pretty much all the examples are from before 2000, but most of them are after 1980. Was there something about the 80s and 90s that made them fertile ground for one-hit wonders? Can anybody think of more recent examples?

    • Uribe says:

      MTV made the 80s fertile for one-hit wonders. I think this had to a lot to do with the legalized payola that existed and I believe still exists in commercial radio. A record company has to pay a lot of money to radio stations to get their song considered for airplay. But this wasn’t the case for MTV. In the early days, MTV just looked for interesting videos and played them. In some cases, these songs never got played on the radio, or if they did, it was only after the song was a hit on MTV.

      Artists who had more financial backing had record companies that paid the radio stations to promote more than one song.

      Another difference is that many Top 40 artists in the 80s actually wrote their own songs. So they might have written one song that got popular. Whereas today, most hits are written by a committee of song-writers who write hit songs for many different artists. The artists are popular, not because of their song writing ability — they don’t write their own songs — but because for whatever reason people like their persona. The hit-song writers keep writing songs for these same artists. This is how the music industry also worked in the early part of the 20th century. Popular artists like Frank Sinatra didn’t write their own songs either.

      I’ll add that you also had a lot of rock bands in the 70s and 80s who considered it “selling out” to produce a hit for Top-40 radio. For instance, a popular band like Led Zeppelin never once had a hit song, as in a song that made the Billboard charts. Those bands only produced LPs, not singles. Nevertheless you had cases where some of these bands not trying to produce hits would sometimes produce one by accident. For instance, Frank Zappa’s Valley Girl. (Although, that’s probably not what one thinks of when they think of a “one hit wonder”.) These days I think everyone is trying to produce hits, so they devote a lot more resources to a few individual songs instead of to trying to make a complete album with consistent quality. (That’s a generalization someone could object to, but I think it holds as a valid generalization when comparing 80’s bands to today’s artists.)

      • Urstoff says:

        I think the artist’s contribution to the songwriting varies quite a bit. Someone like Lorde or Lady Gaga are probably heavily involved with the songwriting, whereas Katy Perry or Ariana Grande are probably much less involved. In contrast, I would be surprised if a superstar hip-hop artist wasn’t heavily involved in the songwriting, and hip-hop is about half of the hot 100 at any given time.

        What is exceedingly rare is a pop artist that writes their songs alone, but I think that was also the case in the 80’s.

        • Uribe says:

          Disagree with the last point. Many song-writers find it very hard to collaborate on a song. It’s like collaborating on a poem. Even Lennon and McCartney only collaborated on a handful of songs, despite sharing all their song credits.

          What makes collaboration more popular now is that you’ve got a lot of different hooks, beats, whatever. Song structure, particularly in rap, is not what it used to be. A traditionally structured song was harder for one person to write at a time, unless it was a situation where one person wrote the lyrics and the other the melody. But many song writers used to do both because they would compose the melody as they composed the words.

          • Urstoff says:

            I agree, there definitely is more collaboration these days, but I don’t think the solo pop songwriters in the 80’s were generally the artists.

            What’s shocking to me more is how much longer the album cycle is today compared with the 60’s and 70’s. Two albums a year was not uncommon for pop and rock acts. Now one album every three years is about the standard pace.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      The Rembrandts are known for the theme song to Friends. Their earlier stuff is better. Ex: That’s Just the Way it Is, Baby

    • Douglas Knight says:

      What do you mean by wikipedia? Do you mean this page? The VH1 list with dates is highly salient, but it probably restricts to music videos! The other lists include songs from the early 70s, although I admit not that many. But this is better, if only because it is longer. It has 5,28,29,77,54,47,5 from the 50s,60s,70s,80s,90s,00s,10s respectively. So there is no falling-off after 2000, though maybe after 2010. I think that the low numbers before 1980 are pure recency bias. Maybe there’s something real about the 80s being bigger than the 70s and the 90s, but I’m skeptical.

      Here is a histogram and a kde. The big spike in the early 80s does suggest that music videos played a role.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Wikipedia also has a list of UK one-hit wonders according to an objective criterion (suggested by Guiness, proprietor of fine statistical methods since 1908). It’s a lot shorter than the previous list. Here is a kde. It is completely different.

      • fion says:

        Yes, I meant your first link. Your graphs are nice. Much better than my eye-balling. 🙂

    • BBA says:

      “One-hit wonder” is hard to define. There are bands with long, prolific careers, well known within their own genres, who only managed a single mainstream hit. Daft Punk, for instance, has a long string of hits on the Billboard dance charts but only cracked the top 10 of the pop charts once, with “Get Lucky.” And there are regionally popular bands like a-ha, who dominated the European charts in the ’80s but were totally unknown the US after “Take On Me.”

      There are also a few cases of retroactive one-hit wonders. MC Hammer had five top 10 hits (more on the rap and R&B charts) but all of his songs besides “U Can’t Touch This” have vanished into the memory hole.

      Anyway: I like “Singing in my Sleep” by Semisonic.

      • fion says:

        Very good point. I find it interesting, though, that you use a-ha as an example. I’m from Europe and I only know “Take On Me”. Maybe it’s the MC Hammer effect again. A-ha were before my time, and it feels like “Take On Me” is the only one that’s survived.

        • BBA says:

          A-ha’s popularity varied a lot country to country, looks like. They were huge at home in Norway, but fell off dramatically just next door in Sweden. It’s still a lot more songs than anyone here in America has heard of.

          I think part of it is that “Take On Me” was such an iconic video, and then in their follow-up video for “The Sun Always Shines on TV” they undid the happy ending. The singer turns back into a cartoon, his girlfriend is stuck alone in reality, a “The End” card comes up, and then it’s just four minutes of the band playing the new song. It probably pissed off MTV fans enough that none of their later songs got anywhere here.

    • hoof_in_mouth says:

      Space Age Lovesong by Flock of Seagulls
      Read About it or Wedding Cake Island or all of Blue Sky Mining by Midnight Oil
      Back to the Eighties by Aqua

      • actualitems says:

        Oh yeah, “Space Age Love Song” is a good one.

        I would say a good way to find songs that fit your criteria–from a U.S. perspective–are British bands that find a decent amount of fame in the U.K. and Europe but only reach one hit wonder status in America.

        An example that comes to mind is The Verve of “Bittersweet Symphony” fame. They have plenty of (in my opinion) better songs, e.g. “Lucky Man.”

        • hoof_in_mouth says:

          That’s a very good thought for a matching criteria, I might actually try it. Wonder if there is a data source other than page text…

      • fion says:

        Interesting how, by the nature of the question, I often haven’t heard of the bands, but once I google them I’m very familiar with the song.

        That’s the case with Flock of Seagulls and Aqua, but even after googling, I’m not sure what Midnight Oil’s “one hit” is…?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          “Beds Are Burning” was their big US debut hit. They actually got airplay on other songs after that though, so I’m not sure they qualify. I’m actually not even sure I have heard their number 1 US hit, “Blue Sky Mine”, but Beds was ubiquitous for a while.

          • fion says:

            Just listened to both “Beds Are Burning” and “Blue Sky Mine”; never heard either of them. Perhaps I’m just showing my lack of age (and music knowledge).

    • AG says:

      Todd in the Shadows is a Youtuber with a one-hit-wonders profiling series. A common thread is that they’re non-US bands that manage a novelty US hit, but maintain consistent quality and popularity in their home country. Robyn is a UK artist who’s a critical darling. Psy has a deep Korean catalogue.

      For that matter, Carly Rae Jebsen probably applies. Run Away With Me is great, and even more recent songs of hers have also been critical darlings.

      • actualitems says:

        Carly Rae Jepsen is probably I good example. I was going to add Canada to my U.K. comment but didn’t want to complicate it.

        Robyn is Swedish not British. Not sure she fits. What’s her one hit? She had 2 modest hits in the mid-to-late ’90s on the US charts. But her songs from the ’10s, although Wikipedia tells me they didn’t chart here, are seemingly more known than her ’90s “hits” (at least to me), i.e. “Dancing on my Own” and “Call Your Girlfriend.”

        • AG says:

          Whoops, that’s what I get for talking out my ass about Robyn. Tried one of her albums once, didn’t quite hit the spot.

          Checking Wikipedia, looks like she has more than one US Billboard charting. Two Hot 100s (“Do You Know (What It Takes)” and “Show Me Love”), two more on the Hot Dance Club chart. So I guess she doesn’t strictly apply as a “one hit wonder,” though she is kind of the textbook example of “critical darling, fairly popular, but not mainstream” for pop artists. Despite those two Max Martin Hot 100s, most US millenials wouldn’t name her as a part of that late-90s/early 00s zeitgeist, along with Spears/Aguilera/Spice Girls/etc.

  13. johan_larson says:

    How big a rocket could you get away with building and launching from the continental US in secret without the authorities finding out and stopping you? (Assuming, of course, that you know how to build and launch a rocket.)

    Could you build a V-2?

    • Aapje says:

      Could you build a V-2?

      The US got many original parts and engineers that worked on the project, yet only 68% of the V-2’s they built worked. A single man with a plan is not going to succeed.

      Realistically speaking, I think a working, secret amateur rocket would be very limited in size. Doing it openly would allow for substantially bigger rockets.

    • James C says:

      Given America has a private space industry, with the right permits you could probably launch as large a rocket as you want. Otherwise, I wouldn’t set your hopes high. The chemicals used to launch rockets are often the same as those used to build simple bombs and I have no doubt those supplies are closely monitored.

    • gbdub says:

      Check out the annual BALLS launch where a couple hundred one-man operations and small teams launch big experimental projects on mostly home brewed or commercial prototype motors. Typically several attempts for 100kft or higher are made every year. It’s all legal, just requires an FAA waiver handled by the event organizers. That’s not actually that big a deal, there are a couple hundred high powered rocketry fields with standing FAA waivers across the country. The one in Black Rock NV is unusally high of course.

      Or were you thinking of a secret or illegal attempt?

    • bean says:

      Why does it have to be in secret? The obvious solution is to openly build a big amateur rocket, then secretly fit it with the warhead, or whatever it is you plan to do with it.

    • John Schilling says:

      How big a rocket could you get away with building and launching from the continental US in secret without the authorities finding out and stopping you?

      You can’t launch any large rocket in secret, because of the big fiery arrow in the sky saying “Guy just launched a rocket, right here!”. And on account of the obvious military threat posed by V-2ish rockets, we’ve got systems designed for prompt, global detection and reporting of that sort of launch via satellite observation.

      If you mean to say, how large a rocket can you build in secret and be detected only at the time of launch, then something in the V-2 range might be possible. A lean “skunk works” style development shop is towards the high end of what can be kept as a truly secret conspiracy, but not out of the question. The US aerospace industry, and in particular the amateur rocketry and private space launch segments thereof, is large enough that you don’t have to do everything in-house and won’t blow your cover by ordering basic parts and components from suppliers.

      But without extensive ground testing, you won’t get better than a 50-50 chance of success on your first flight. And you’ll need at least a few engine tests to do even that much. So either you are going to have to use a reliable engine procured from elsewhere (not entirely out of the question, but limiting), or you’re going to have to figure out how to do something as noisy conspicuous as a large rocket engine test without anyone noticing what you’re up to.

      So, obviously, a critical part of this program is going to involve a field expedition to Burning Man. Be sure to recruit accordingly.

      • johan_larson says:

        So, obviously, a critical part of this program is going to involve a field expedition to Burning Man. Be sure to recruit accordingly.

        I’m thinking there may be a shortage of steely-eyed missile-men at Burning Man. Just lots and lots of doped-up coders.

        • John Schilling says:

          To my personal knowledge, you’d be wrong about that.

        • gbdub says:

          The BALLS launch I mentioned is literally on the same lakebed as Burning Man (not at the same time obviously)

        • Michael Handy says:

          Given John Carmack was one of the leading semi-pro launchers (won some of the Lunar Lander prizes IIRC) before he jumped into Oculus Rift, and had a team made up mostly of doped up coders, I feel BM is just the place.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I suspect given enough funding, the size of the rocket is constrained by the size of the rocket you can build, not the authorities. A V-2 is small for a rocket and any given billionaire (OK, face it, it’s going to be Elon Musk, who has particular advantages) could build one for lulz (explained to the people building it as a historical re-enactment or something). The fuel isn’t too exotic (LOX is the most exotic thing).

      Getting away with it AFTER the fact is more difficult. Rocket launches are difficult to hide and I’m sure the US is well-monitored for launches by both open and classified means (and of course China and Russia are monitoring as well as the US government, though they probably wouldn’t tell if the rocket wasn’t headed their way). A search of Google doesn’t show any arrests for unlawful high-powered rocketry unless they damaged something, so unless all the high-powered rocket people are 100% legal (seems doubtful, there’s always a rebel), you can definitely get away with a large hobby rocket. My guess would be you could get away with a V-2 (in the middle of the desert) without legal punishment but they’d definitely know and you might get a visit from the MIB, but that’s pretty speculative.

  14. HeelBearCub says:

    Here is something an epistemic exercise for anyone who thought the odds of the bombings last week were more than 1% likely to be a “false flag” of some sort.

    What do you think the odds are of the following being done by a Republican? How about the act being incidental to something else?

    A Florida Republican Party office had shots fired into it overnight Sunday.

    “I’m looking at the busted window that some nice Democrat did,” said Republican Party Chairman Tony Ledbetter on Monday. “Republicans don’t have any beef about what we are doing, it’s the Democrats.”

    I’d put the odd at < 5% it was intentionally done by a Republican/conservative. Not knowing the specific neighborhood or layout, and say maybe 10% that the shots were incidental (as there are multiple shots). Perhaps 20% that shots are about some personal beef, rather than actually partisan. I probably need to put something in there for the possibility that no shots were fired at all and the broken window was caused some other way, but that seems negligible, let’s say 1%. I’m really not sure what the possibility is of the act being something like a foreign power stirring the pot or some elaborate insurance fraud. I guess that leaves me at ~64% simply partisan anger.

    Does anyone put it at more than 5% that a conservative did it, perhaps to distract from the recent (conservative) political violence?

    • Nornagest says:

      I can already tell how this thread is going to go. A bunch of the right-leaning posters you’re baiting are going to chime in saying it’s a false equivalence, you’re going to say it’s not, and we’ll go around in circles until the next OT comes out or everyone gets bored and frustrated enough to let the thread die.

      Can we just skip to the part where the thread dies?

      • idontknow131647093 says:

        No no. I think false flagism is important. People need to know its super real. Its rarely real when people can actually get hurt (not evident here), but is extremely real with things like poop swastikas, death/bomb threats, white powder mailers, etc.

        There are entire statistics (Anti Defamation League) that have been gamed as a result of false flags. And these things get 90% of the media airtime. Taking the next step is just taking the next step.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      5% seems like an interesting cutoff to me, to be honest. I’m not all that familiar with the case but it does seem like a kind of case where the perp has a low chance of being caught. The lower chance you have of being caught, the more likely. Also it seems like no one was hurt, also good.

      Setting over-unders in these cases is very tough, but 1-5% is where I’d set it. I would set the personal beef about where you did, possibly a bit lower because its unlikely people were fired this close to an election, and the random chance I think you have much too high.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Why do you think random chance is much too high? I might even have it too low.

        Think about all of the campaign/political offices, in the entire country. If any one of them has incidental shots hit it, it will be reported as potential political violence.

        • gbdub says:

          How often do you think “incidental shots” are just winging around hitting random buildings? How often do “incidental shots” strike the same window four times from a low angle (indicating they were likely fired from a car in the street directly in front of the storefront)? That seems really unlikely. Only “incidental shot” like that would be if there happened to be a gang hit right in front of the GOP headquarters – but without a victim that’s got to be less than 5%.

          I’d normally expect a false flag to try to do something visually more over the top, like offensive graffiti or trashing the interior, to make the intended (false) message more obvious. I think the likelihood of false flag by an actual member of the GOP headquarters is ~1%.

          4 shots through the same window, not otherwise trashing the place, sounds like someone in a hurry trying not to get caught. Probably not someone with access to the building. If a false flag then, it’s probably a false flag by a lone wolf Republican sympathizer. Maybe somebody who had a beef with the leadership. Call that ~5%, could be convinced to go as high as 10%.

          So there’s still ~90% left over. I’d give that an even split between “true flag” i.e. an actual honest to not-god left wing activist trying to intimidate the GOP, and random punks with a history of vandalism who saw the GOP headquarters as a high profile target of opportunity (they probably vote Democrat but aren’t what one would normally call core activists).

          • John Schilling says:

            How often do “incidental shots” strike the same window four times from a low angle (indicating they were likely fired from a car in the street directly in front of the storefront)? That seems really unlikely.

            Unless it was e.g. a drive-by shooting targeting (poorly) someone who was standing in front of that storefront. That would seem like a fairly high probability in general, almost certainly higher than false-flag terrorism, probably higher than plain ordinary terrorism, but we’d need to dig into the local crime statistics to do this right.

          • gbdub says:

            I did include “gang hit right in front of the GOP headquarters” but I still put that as same order of probability or lower as false flag. Not sure why a drive-by target would be right in front of that place in particular, unless it’s on a popular drug selling corner or something.

            Why would your priors place it that high?

          • John Schilling says:

            My priors are 99.99+% for “nobody shoots bullets into the Volusia County Republican Party Headquarters at all, ever”. We are necessarily dealing with the low-probability residue after ruling that one out by a posteriori evidence.

            Gang shootings happen frequently, and they have to happen somewhere. That means clusters of bullet holes appearing mostly at random across urban areas. Shootings of political party facilities specifically, and disconnected from any other activity or messaging, happen very very rarely.

        • quanta413 says:

          Why do you think random chance is much too high? I might even have it too low.

          I think your random chance is way too low actually. Maybe some idiot was just drunk and took some random shots. Maybe someone saw someone they didn’t like and took a few shots to scare/hurt them but didn’t really care whether they actually hit the person.

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          Because random implies someone not affiliated with the Republican party was standing in front of the place, was shot at, not hit, did not report the incident and also did not return fire.

          Among people who would not report the incident there are only a small % who would not return fire.

          • Nornagest says:

            Among people who would not report the incident there are only a small % who would not return fire.

            …as long as they were armed and had time to. The whole point of a drive-by shooting is surprise and a quick getaway, and I don’t think we can just assume that a drive-by target is always going to be packing.

            Unless the GOP headquarters in question was in a really bad neighborhood, though, I don’t think this is a likely option. Drive-by shootings aren’t randomly distributed, and this would be a hell of a coincidence even if they were.

          • John Schilling says:

            Among people who would not report the incident there are only a small % who would not return fire.

            Yeah, most gang shootings are one-sided affairs for about the reasons Nornagest describes. Most people don’t like fair fights, particularly with deadly weapons, and the sort of person who is going to become a violent criminal is not going to scrupulously obey rules aimed at stopping them from setting up unfair fights at a time and place of their own choosing.

            Agreed that it’s very unlikely that the average GOP county headquarters would wind up as the backstop of a gang shooting, but it’s also very unlikely that an average GOP county headquarters would ever be deliberately shot up by a nefarious Democrat and/or deranged loner, so it’s time to play Sherlock and eliminate the impossibility of bullet holes appearing without bullets and try to puzzle out the least-improbable of the remaining possibilities.

    • It’s just before the election, which is an argument for false flag, as in the bombing case. It didn’t hurt anyone, which is another argument.

      On the other hand, it’s a lot less dramatic, lower profile, less likely to show up on major news channels. And it’s more immediately obvious that it wasn’t intended to kill anyone, since it happened between Sunday and Monday morning when there was nobody there to kill.

      I think I would put the odds of false flag below 5%, but I’m not all that sure, mostly because I know so little about the local political situation.

    • RDNinja says:

      I’d put the chances at 5-10%, versus the 30% I judged for the mail “bombs”. There’s simply more of a history of false flags by the left, although that’s largely restricted to incidents of vandalism. Also, I estimate the chances of a false flag to be inversely proportional to the chances of actual physical harm, and I judge shots fired into an empty office more violent than seemingly-fake mail bombs. The fact that the packages seemed tailor-made for photo ops rather than actual exploding (large print, silly typos, uncancelled stamps, and not simply detonated from a distance), and right before an election, hugely swung the odds toward false flag for me.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Basically this. Also Republicans don’t want to contribute to “gun violence” crime statistics. My false flag estimation would go up slightly if it had just been a brick.

        Then again, whenever we’re talking about political violence or political violence hoaxes, remember we’re talking about deranged people. Trying to assign rational consideration to a deranged person is a losing proposition.

        For instance, in the previous OT Slicer had an interesting thought about the mail bomber, that he might be a “cargo cult” bomber. That is, he did not send “fake bombs.” He made what bombs look like on TV: some gun powder / fireworks in a pipe, with wires attached to a digital clock, and expected that to blow up when the package when opened. It’ll be interesting to see what the official findings are as to his motivations and thought process, to the extent he has one.

        • Slicer says:

          Thank you for referencing that. It took me a while to get the idea that this guy might have just been that divorced from reality.

          “Basically this. Also Republicans don’t want to contribute to “gun violence” crime statistics. My false flag estimation would go up slightly if it had just been a brick.”

          I’d also add that most Republicans simply don’t see guns in that way. Waste ammo randomly shooting at a building with nobody in it? For what purpose? If you wanna wreck the place there’s better methods. Drive-bys are a Democrat thing.

          Then again, I’ll give >85% confidence that the perpetrator was drunk or on drugs, and I’ll put the motive at ~3% for “a conservative angry that his local Republicans aren’t conservative enough”

          Personal beef with no political motive is <1%.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Waste ammo randomly shooting at a building with nobody in it? For what purpose? If you wanna wreck the place there’s better methods.

            I get that, but that’s the reason I brought up your “cargo cult bomber” theory. There are insane people, there are insane people driven further insane by the insane state of political discourse right now, and there are sane-ish people driven insane by the same. Trying to rationally figure out an unknown insane person’s “rational” motivations for shooting at an empty building or sending maximally incompetent mail bombs to people whose names he can’t even spell seems like a fool’s errand these days. Perhaps find the person first, and then figure out how the events came to pass.

          • Slicer says:

            You could very well be right.

            I’ve always thought that “guns are for targets” is right up there with “the gas pedal makes the car go forward” in the minds of most people who call themselves “conservative”. (I estimate >90% that this was done from the driver’s seat of a vehicle.) The idea is that if the perpetrator loses something that basic, he can’t do something like this at all.

            I’ll give fifty-fifty odds that the shooter is ever caught, though, and roughly halve that for every two days he’s not, with a small, lingering chance for a year or so afterwards.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            guns are for targets

            One, the fact that a Republican thinks, “Drive-bys are a Democrat thing” is evidence for a false-flag, not against it.

            Two, have you seen a “deer crossing/warning” sign in any remotely rural area?

          • Slicer says:

            “One, the fact that a Republican thinks, “Drive-bys are a Democrat thing” is evidence for a false-flag, not against it.”

            I’m really, really doubtful that anyone who would do something like this is enough of a logician to consider “well, groups associated with Democratic voting patterns do drive-bys, so I’ll do one” in advance.

            “Two, have you seen a “deer crossing/warning” sign in any remotely rural area?”

            I have no idea what this has to do with anything, but yes, multiple times. Even on the Pennsylvania interstate, IIRC. They’re all over the place.

            Or are you trying to suggest that people shot them up, making targets of them? No, the ones I saw were never shot up. Even so, it’s something that’s brightly colored and relatively small (i.e. a tempting target for someone with alcohol in his system).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            No, the ones I saw were never shot up

            Uhhhh, I guess individual experiences vary.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Having lived in rural and urban-but-with-lots-of-abutting-wilderness locations in various parts of the US, I don’t think it’s as simple as “those yokels love shooting up signs wherever they are”. For example, I saw a lot more bullet-pocked signage out in Colorado in the mountains than I see driving the back roads of Southeast Missouri.

            One of my hypotheses, not rigorously tested, is that it correlates to hunting areas. Not that people are shooting at deer/turkey/etc and hitting the signs, but that that’s the reason people are out wandering around with guns in the first place. If my hypothesis is correct, then if you live in a rural area but the good deer/duck/turkey/etc hunting area is a half hour’s drive thataway, you won’t see any shot up signs in your immediate vicinity because you don’t have bored and/or drunk guys wandering around with guns in your vicinity every year.

      • dick says:

        There’s simply more of a history of false flags by the left, although that’s largely restricted to incidents of vandalism.

        I think this is a deeply misleading worldview. People who get drunk and shoot up a strip mall for ideological reasons are not part of “the left” or “the right”. They’re isolated incidents, like coin flips, and the last three of them being from one party or the other does not tell you anything about the next one.

        More generally I think the fascination with “false flags”, i.e. speculating on whether this particular asshole will turn out to be a left-winger or a right-winger-pretending-to-be-a-left-winger, is unimportant and misleading; it can only feed your biases, it does not tell you anything about the world.

        • gbdub says:

          I tend to agree. Regardless of whether this is a “right winger” or “left winger”, the odds that their thought processes really line up well with 99.9% of the people we would normally call left or right wing is fairly small. Focusing on which side “lone wacko” violence comes from as if it is representative of the mainstream parties is just weakmanning.

          • meh says:

            Focusing on which side “lone wacko” violence comes from as if it is representative of the mainstream parties is just weakmanning.

            It is weakmanning the people, but it is not necessarily weakmanning the ideas. Many violent terrorists do not represent the mainstream of their chosen ideology, yet it is completely fair to ask to what degree the ideology is conducive to such behaviors.

          • gbdub says:

            Is it though? Like okay if there were mainstream politicians literally saying “go out and murder all of our opponents” and celebrating the attackers after it happens, fair to blame. E.g. ISIS, who deliberately provokes and celebrates “lone wolf” attackers as a tactic.

            Or if this were some sort of organized cell of radicalized partisans planning and executing the attacks with a common political agenda, maybe. Even then, how much do you realistically want blame the average Democrat for the Weathermen (a radical fringe offshoot of the already kind of radical and fringey SDS)?

            But there’s enough negative rhetoric in your average campaign that there will always be lone fringers “inspired” by that. People are weird, violent, sometimes insane. The degree to which mainstream politicians have any control over those fringe elements is usually vastly overstated for political points.

            This particular game is exhausting because everybody is a hypocrite about it. When your side gets attacked, call for civility and condemn your opponents’ “violent rhetoric”. But when you want to fire up your base, it’s “punch back twice as hard” and “we’ll be civil after we win”.

          • SamChevre says:

            I don’t think of “false flag” and “lone wacko” as closely correlated ideas.

            False flag, as I think of it, is something like the bomb threats against Jewish institutions in 2017, or the Ashley Todd hoax, or the SUNY-Albany hoax. These are statements designed to be newsworthy, but perpetrated by someone whose goal is to make the “other side” of some question look bad.

            “Lone wacko,” on the other hand, is someone like the Gabrielle Giffords shooter, and probably the 2017 Congressional basketball shooter as well.

          • meh says:

            well, ‘blame’ and ‘blame your average X’ is probably assigning more negative motive than I mean. If a benign or well-intentioned idea is causing horrible outcomes, we can talk about abandoning that idea without ‘blaming’ anyone for it. It doesn’t have to be something as direct as ‘go do horrible thing X’. For example, say something horrible has happened, and we fear copycats. It may be a bad idea to broadcast “Never do horrible thing X”, because it will cause X to increase even though we are explicitly advocating not X. so outcome is not always linked to intent.

            But there’s enough negative rhetoric in your average campaign that there will always be lone fringers “inspired” by that.

            This seems to be a argument against negative rhetoric, not for it?

          • gbdub says:

            @SamChevre – I didn’t mean to conflate “lone wacko” and “false flag”. They are clearly not the same.

            The Giffords shooter is actually a good example of what I meant by “lone wacko”. His motives don’t map well to mainstream ideologies, and he was unstable enough that, well, it’s not surprising he ended up getting violent against somebody. His RNG landed on “mass shooting targeting a Democratic congresswoman”.

            I think (YMMV) I’d include the recent mail bomber in “lone wacko”. On the one hand, he was somewhat closer to straight “yay Trump, boo Dems”. But he doesn’t seem to be a part of organized politics in any significant way, he’s not apparently part of a terror cell, and he seems, again, like the sort of unstable violent person who was going to be triggered by something eventually, and his RNG hit on “Trump”.

            @meh

            If a benign or well-intentioned idea is causing horrible outcomes, we can talk about abandoning that idea without ‘blaming’ anyone for it.

            I disagree, because I think this would turn into a superweapon against many perfectly legitimate political positions. My prior is that political violence is sort of like Rule 34: If you can think it, someone somewhere has been driven to a murderous rage by it.

            Unless you want to completely ban negative campaigning, I don’t think you can solve this with incremental steps. Do you want to ban calling your opponent a “liar” or “bad for America” just because .0001% of people or whatever have their “killing people over partisan politics is bad mmkay” filter broken?

            Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t all be in favor of toning down polarization, some of the harsher rhetoric, and support for low-level semi-violence like accosting politicians out to dinner with their families.

            But in practice an awful lot of calls for “civility” are just BS political posturing. Right now the major debate on my FB feed is whether Trump is 100% responsible for most political violence in America or just 95%, there’s a graphic going around tallying “right wing” vs. “left wing” vs. “Islamic” terrorist events (with the net result that whoever scores highest is evil and lowest is basically blameless).

            Of course that flips as soon as you feel beaten down and someone on your team calls for “getting in their face”. When that “inspires” you side to shoot up somebody on the other side, it will be back to “well we were just being figurative”. Posturing, all of i

          • meh says:

            @gbdub
            I’m perfectly willing to concede that your (or most any) FB feed is terrible, and incapable of subtlety or nuance.

            Unless you want to completely ban negative campaigning, I don’t think you can solve this with incremental steps.

            I think it quite reasonable to find certain ideas harmful, some unintentionally so, and simultaneously not want them outright banned. (I assume most free speech advocates would also agree with this sentiment).

            This doesn’t grant a super weapon, it is just discourse as normal, since about half will likely disagree about the ideas being harmful.

          • gbdub says:

            This doesn’t grant a super weapon, it is just discourse as normal, since about half will likely disagree about the ideas being harmful.

            It’s discourse as normal, but it is crappy discourse. “Republican/Democrat ideas cause violence” is a general purpose rebuttal without any real substance, and the point is just to shut down your opponents’ ideas as soon as someone on their side behaves badly. That’s why I called ita a superweapon / weakmanning

          • meh says:

            “Republican/Democrat ideas cause violence” is a general purpose rebuttal without any real substance

            If that was the entire rebuttal, as it likely is on a FB feed, than it does lack in substance (but still no super weapon), but if it is followed up with actual reasons and arguments it is perfectly valid.
            A typical case is the argument that certain religious ideas lead to violence. This argument can be made without calling for banning all religion, and without blaming the average believer.

            Perhaps the situation you are describing has nobody making good faith arguments, and the wacko’s affiliation is irrelevant. That is a possibility, but I don’t think it is automatically irrelevant.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Republican/Democrat ideas cause violence

            This seems like poor framing.

            Inciting rhetoric leads to violence. That’s true across the ideological spectrum. There are multitudes of examples. The idea that rhetoric can be divorced from action is poorly supported by history. Rhetoric may not be a good descriptor of destination, but it’s fairly good at being an arrow pointing the direction you are heading.

          • gbdub says:

            I framed it in terms of “D/R ideas” because that’s how @meh framed it – ideas that shouldn’t be discussed because they inspire some to violence.

            Obviously, you can’t entirely divorce rhetoric from action. But I am making basically two propositions:

            1) Any political ideology, no matter how anodyne, is likely to “inspire” some small number of nutty fringers to violence. These are rare enough that counting them up, or trying to police rhetoric based on them, is a bad idea.
            2) The large majority of calls for “civility” as they pertain to US partisan politics are in bad faith, and are basically attempts to tar opponents by association with the worst fringe elements.

            If you’re arguing for bipartisan rhetorical de-escalation, I’m all for that, but be consistent. If you think there’s a widespread (not one or two nutters) increase in violence traceable to a specific line of rhetoric, I’ll hear you out. But don’t to convince me that Gabby Giffords got shot because of a graphic with a crosshair on her indicating she was a Dem incumbent in a key swing race.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @gbdub:
            These things exists on a continuum.

            On one end is saying things like “We are going beat our opponent and send him packing from the capital”. The word beat and the images of “send packing” are very mildly suggestive of violence.

            On the other end is the kind of rhetoric that leads to mass slaughter. Referring to people as enemies or vermin that need to be cleansed, etc.

            There aren’t really bright lines from one end to the other. The things we regard as bright lines only shine so clearly because they specifically copy earlier rhetoric. And right now, the rhetoric coming from the top of the Republican Party on down sounds like an echo of some of those bright lines.

          • meh says:

            @gbdub @HeelBearCub
            there are some that will be inspired by any rhetoric, but concluding then that all rhetoric is then equal seems like a version of fallacy of the grey

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            And right now, the rhetoric coming from the top of the Republican Party on down sounds like an echo of some of those bright lines.

            How do you feel about the rhetoric coming from the Democratic party? Maxine Waters telling supporters to confront Republicans wherever they see them, to get in their faces and tell them they’re not welcome, here or anywhere? Hillary Clinton and “we’ll be civil when we win?” Eric Holder and “when they go low we kick them?” and “use your rage?”

            Do they bear any responsibility for the recent violent attacks on Republican lawmakers and candidates? Or was your comment, as gbdub said, just the partisan “it’s okay when we do it” rhetoric?

            Honestly I’m not as worried about the lone nut stuff which is condemned almost universally. When the Bernie supporter shot up the Republican baseball practice I appreciated Bernie condemning it. There were some “they were gonna cut his health care so maybe it was self defense tee hee” hot takes from twitter and reddit, but Democratic leadership pretty much condemned it. Trump gets no such consideration. A depraved individual, who was no fan of Trump, shoots up a synagogue, Trump condemns him and his ideology, vowing to destroy those who seek to destroy the Jews and urging the death penalty for the murderer and the media condemns Trump.

            What I am more worried about is the Democratic/left/media approval of the activist mobs they’ve been fomenting. Can you imagine if during the confirmation of President Hillary’s Supreme Court pick, hundreds of MAGA hat wearing protestors had screamed and disrupted the hearings, invaded the Senate, cornered a Democratic Senator in an elevator and screamed at him, intimidating him until he gave in to their demands and then been arrested clawing at the doors to the Supreme Court? And then if Republican senators had chuckled and handwaved all this away as the “noise of Democracy” as Dick Durbin did? Do you think the media would be hailing them, and sympathetic to their heartfelt political activism? Or do you think maybe Don Lemon would be condemning this deranged mob and the hateful, divisive rhetoric from the Republicans that egged it on?

            This is the creation of a powder keg. It is only by the grace of God that it hasn’t gone off yet.

          • gbdub says:

            Conrad’s post illustrates my point – there are plenty of things Dems say that can be construed as encouraging violence too.

            VERY BROADLY SPEAKING I would say that Trump has done more “dehumanizing of opponents” in a way that might inspire violence by making individuals prone to violence see Trump’s opponents as enemies you don’t need to feel bad attacking, unworthy of the usual protections against violence.

            Again, VERY BROADLY SPEAKING the Dems have done more direct encouragement / post-hoc approval of low level unrest and violence, as well as rhetoric that conflates speech and physical violence, all of which might inspire individuals prone to more serious violent acts by making physical violence and confrontation less taboo.

            Both sides accuse the other of incivility and both sides deny blame when “one of theirs” behaves badly.

            Which one of these is worse? Does it really matter? I’m not going “fallacy of the gray” by saying all rhetoric is the same, just that the gradations are extremely fine and that both mainstream “sides” are operating over a fairly narrow part of the spectrum, making any drawing of bright lines extremely difficult and prone to self serving distinction making. Well, at least without reopening the interminable debate over “dog whistles”.

            P.S. “Republicans are mostly responsible for the increased polarization and political violence in the USA today” is a great Scissor Statement, as is just about anything related to “dog whistles”.

          • meh says:

            fair enough. i am enough convinced that you are right for this situation, though i am still holding on to ideas being important in motivating actions, even if those were not the original intent. (i.e. communism devolving to authoritarianism)

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            For the record, I’m not saying Trump or Republicans are blameless* with regards to rhetoric, I’m just saying it’s a remarkable lack of self-awareness to not acknowledge what the Democrats have said, too. “Irredeemably deplorable” is pretty dehumanizing. So also is “nazi” for someone who is not a National Socialist, as we fought a war to exterminate nazism, as it was also irredeemably deplorable. My grandpa did not punch nazis, he shot them. Well, technically he was the chief engineer on a ship in the Pacific, so he kept the boat moving so the other sailors could shoot the allies of the Nazis. Also, soon afterwards he went to Korea to shoot commies. And now Democrats want to call him a nazi because he voted for Trump.

            * There are a couple of Trump’s statements though that are frequently trotted out to justify Democratic incivility in a way I think is unfair. Those being the “knock the crap out of ’em” and “I’ll pay your legal fees.” I’ve seen this many times in articles or parroted by talking heads, that it was aimed at “peaceful protestors.” They leave out the part immediately before that where he says “if you see someone about to throw a tomato.” He was not talking about “peaceful protestors” but people throwing things. Yes, you should punch someone you see about to throw something at someone, as you probably don’t have time to identify exactly what it is they’re throwing and they could injure someone. I would prefer no one get punched, but when you defect from the “no throwing things” rule you can’t really cry foul when others defect from the “no punching” rule.

          • Aapje says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            “Irredeemably deplorable”

            Can you show me where a prominent Democrat said exactly this? My google-fu merely turns up right-wing sources either complaining about supposedly being called this or wielding it as a banner.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            From the Hillary Clinton “Basket of Deplorables” speech:

            You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right?

            [Laughter/applause]

            The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people — now how 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.

            Emphasis mine. What do you do with someone who is deplorable, and irredeemable?

        • RDNinja says:

          That’s why I specified that most false flag events are only vandalism. There are plenty of examples of racist graffiti or harassing messages that turn out to be perpetrated by the alleged victims for attention “to start a conversation.” They were definitely rational, politically-motivated actors, even if they were dumb about it. The most violent incident I can think of is the “Vote Trump” church arson (although from what I’ve read, it’s debatable whether that was the intent, or a post hoc red herring).

          • dndnrsn says:

            Aren’t the vast majority of those things, rather than “false flags” (a false flag being something done to make some identified group look bad), primarily an attempt to get sympathy, get out of trouble for something, etc?

            A parallel: bomb threats meant to be threatening, vs bomb threats meant to get the school shut down so somebody doesn’t have to write the exam.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            That doesn’t change the fact that, when such a thing happens, the media reports it uncritically and immediately lays the blame on their political opponents. It’s page A-1 when the “racist” attack happens, but when two weeks later the “victim” confesses to doing it themselves for attention that correction is really tiny on A-19.

            The one thing I will say that’s nice about all this though is at least our society generally recognizes that whoever does violence is the loser.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Well, yeah, it doesn’t change that. It still matters that it’s not masterminds trying to undermine their sworn enemies, just dummies trying to gin up easy sympathy or get out of trouble for getting home late or whatever.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Yeah, I’m more mad at the media than I am at the dummies. I understand the dummies are dumb. I find it hard to believe the media is so dumb they don’t understand there’s a decent chance they’re dealing with faking dummies. When the media does this sort of thing, they’re either stupid or evil, and I don’t think they’re that stupid.

          • arlie says:

            @Conrad Stupid, evil, or merely trying to make a buck. To some of us, “merely” trying to make a buck frequently looks evil, but we’re generally on the left side of the spectrum, at least in the US, where “Greed is Good” is about as mainstream as it is right wing.

            Someone once said (or translated), that “the love of money is the root of all evil”. I wouldn’t go quite that far – but when you see noxious behaviour, and someone’s making money off it, you can usually stop there when looking for an explanation. No need to assume an active wish to create whatever harm they seem to be willfully creating.

          • Randy M says:

            NIV translates 1 Timothy 6:10 as “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil”, which is more reasonable; any kind of wickedness can come from greed, which isn’t exclusive to many examples of wickedness being unrelated to greed.

    • dndnrsn says:

      5% seems like a reasonable guess. Based on the highly statistically important field of rolling RPG dice, 5% (1 on a d20) seems about right for something “fairly unlikely, but still likely enough that one would not write it off as a possibility.”

      Arguments for:
      -hoaxes are more likely to involve property damage, and be done in such a way to limit or eliminate the chances of actually harming someone. The shooting happened at a time when nobody could reasonably be expected to be in there.

      Arguments against:
      -if someone was setting out to do a false flag, they would probably include some kind of piece of information intended to establish who did it.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Without knowing anything about the situation, I’d put a pretty good, maybe 20% probability, that it was a Republican. Not a false flag, but someone with a personal grievance like a fired employee. (This is the general pattern in church fires which initially are classed as hate crimes but turn out not to be — there I’d put it at 70%, but political offices seem more likely to be political targets). Since it’s Florida, I’ll give it another 15% that the shots were incidental.

      False flag, very small, less than 1%. I don’t think I know of false flag shootings. Graffitti or other vandalism (e.g. a brick through the window) would be more likely as a false flag.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      My estimation rose above 1% last time, so I suppose I should answer.

      < 5% seems right to me. Nobody using a gun who isn't crazy or an idiot is going to shoot into a building – the odds of actually causing harm are too high. And I still maintain that the stupid tend to be sincere. If the answer is crazy, I don’t think this is flashy enough. Nobody writes a manifesto and then goes and shoots out some windows.

    • quanta413 says:

      I put the odds at random bullets meant for someone or something else hit window way higher. I’d also put disgruntled employee much higher. I might assign those together 60-90% of the probability. I think the real reason if discovered will likely turn out to be boring and make for a poor narrative.

      It doesn’t seem very flashy or to be likely to hurt anyone. It would seem odd to me for an opposing partisan to just open fire at an empty building in an empty block late Sunday night. I think 2/3 is way too high for opposing partisan violence against an empty building.

      I’d say anywhere from 1-15% some conservative is a loon and shot the building for political reasons is not an unreasonable estimate. Although it’s not clear to me what the reason would be.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        Wait, are your odds that this was a democrat partisan 15-0%?

        • quanta413 says:

          0 is too low. I’ve probably put conservative loon’s high end too high. Maybe Conservative loon should be 1-5% and democratic partisan attack 5-25%. When I really think about it, I also need a much bigger grouping for things I haven’t explicitly thought of.

    • Deiseach says:

      It happened in Florida? I’d say the chances are some drunk/high guy driving around with a loaded gun on a weekend night decided to have some impromptu target practice and didn’t particularly know or care what building they were shooting at.

    • S_J says:

      With the attempted-mail-bombs last week, I was unsure of the probabilities. (I admit: I desired to see the events proven as a ‘false flag’, but I suspected that we’d find some hard-to-categorize-mentally-unstable person…as with most flashy/news-getting actions of violence in the United States.)

      With this event, I suspect it’s a person with a grudge. (At a probability above 60%.) I don’t have enough info to guess whether it’s a grudge against a local Party leader, anger related to local politics, or anger related to State/National politics.

      As comparison: in 2004, a Republican Party office in Tennessee also had damage-by-gunfire. I don’t know if the perpetrator was ever found.

      To back away from this specific example: political party offices being on the receiving ends of gunfire is rare. I can cite two examples in the past 15 years, in the United State. (There’s another example available from the Presidency of Bill Clinton, but that involves the White House and not a political-party office. Even if I can include that, I still get to only three instances in the past 30 years.)

      Generally, shots fired and hit a building is rare in most parts of the United States, either as an accident or as an intended event. When I see such things in the news, there is typically a known or suspected victim of the shooting, and the shots hitting a building are a side-effect. That might be a side-effect of news filtering for stories involving people. Or it might be a side-effect of the fact that people are targets of such actions much more often than buildings are.

      • Slicer says:

        “That might be a side-effect of news filtering for stories involving people.”

        It is. Untrained attackers (i.e. most gang members) miss many shots, and in a dense city, those shots are practically guaranteed to hit a building. Many attackers shoot up the buildings in which their targets reside (drive-by shooting).

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Generally, shots fired and hit a building is rare in most parts of the United States, either as an accident or as an intended event.

        I would guess that shots fired and hitting a building are a daily, even multiple-times-daily, event in the US (and I’m not talking shooting ranges).

        There are a lot of people, a lot of guns, and a lot of shots being fired. Most of those shots don’t hit people, and need to end up somewhere. It’s exceedingly rare on a per person basis (or per building). But, given that we only hear about a shot that hits a “newsy” building, we shouldn’t base on priors on the number of times we hear about shots hitting buildings.

        • gbdub says:

          But “a shot has to go somewhere” just doesn’t map all that well to “four shots from a low angle through the same window”. If this was some rando shooting his gun off in the air, you’d expect a different angle or more scattered hits.

          I think the only possibilities here are “aiming at the building specifically” or “aiming at something that was in front of the building”.

          • Slicer says:

            Or aiming at something on the other side of the window, which would increase the chance of it being someone familiar with guns who was aiming at something in particular. Was a particular sign the target?

    • Garrett says:

      I’m not quite willing to put percentages on it, but general thinking:
      Supporting false-flag (or similar):
      * Dramatic fashion – bullet holes on an outside window are hard to miss or cover up.
      * Done in a way to minimize the likelihood of people actually being harmed.
      * Doesn’t substantially alter the functionality of the building (eg. arson would slow down operations while finding a new location to operate out of).
      * “False-flag” narrative in the news recently – contagion theory.
      * Immediate blame of Democrats by staff.

      Opposing false-flag theory:
      * Uses guns, something most rural Republicans care about and so would stir up more talk of gun-control.

      Given the reported angle of fire, I generally discount unknown accident (eg. person shooting in their back yard and not realizing where their rounds were going). A known accident is also unlikely due to the 4 shots accounted for and because I’d expect anyone decent to at least try and file a police report with an explanation.

      Others have reasonably addressed other possibilities here.

      • gbdub says:

        Minor quibble – from the article looks like the window was completely shattered so there aren’t nice dramatic bullet holes.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I think there are “dramatic” bullet holes in the wall in the office though… but maybe they aren’t actually that dramatic.

          • gbdub says:

            Dramatic maybe but not as visible from outside the building. “Trying to scare the occupants” and “trying to make it really obvious to uninvolved observers that somebody is trying to scare the occupants” optimize to different displays.

            But of course there’s always a possibility of someone trying to achieve one of those ends and being bad at it.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      I think this is much more likely to be a false-flag than the mail bombs thing. Though still very unlikely. Putting a percentage to it is false-precision.

      For the mail bomb thing, look guys: The Secret Service is going to investigate the shit out of bombs sent to a former President and former First Lady/various other things. And I think it’s pretty good at its job? So if you’re a savvy political operator trying to manipulate the nation, it’s gonna kinda suck for your side when the Secret Service is like, “Hey, these came from the DNC” (or whatever).

      In contrast, a few shots into the window of some local Republican Party office? A local police detective will take four hours to determine whether or not someone posted on Facebook, “Just shot up Repub office lol #resistance #guncontrolnow,” and, if not, the case will probably go unsolved. And it might really enrage some locals and be moderately effective in changing some local race.

      But still, my sense is that false flags are just incredibly rare compared to how much people in our general demographic like to think about them. I’m not sure why, exactly, but even in cases where people are like explicitly ethically okay with doing whatever, it still seems like false flags are super rare.

      So I’d say “prior odds of the mail bombings being false flags: 0.01%. Prior odds of the shooting being false flag: 0.1%.” Except that the error bars on that make the precision stupid, so how about this:

      Mail bombings being false flags: My median probability says “essentially impossible,” but if I’m wrong about overall odds of false flags (maybe there are a lot that are never discovered so I think they’re rarer than they are), then I might go up to about 0.5%.

      Shooting being false flags: My median probability says “nearly impossible,” but if I’m wrong about overall rates of false flags, then I might go up to about 5%.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        The Secret Service is going to investigate the shit out of bombs sent to a former President and former First Lady/various other things.

        High risk, high reward. The shooting will get a one minute blurb on CNN but the mail bombs were wall-to-wall. And like most criminals, whoever did it thought they wouldn’t get caught.

        So if you’re a savvy political operator trying to manipulate the nation

        But the sorts of people who would either mail bombs or stage a mail bombing hoax are not politically savvy, and are probably mentally unstable and/or incredibly stupid. The vast majority of crimes are committed because criminals are stupid.

        I think this is the error of projecting reasonableness or rationality on to people who, by the very nature of their acts, have demonstrated they are lacking in reasonableness and rationality.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          I don’t think that crazy people with poor impulse control and little savvy do false flags. Sort of definitionally, a false flag is a tactical, meta decision.

    • Another Throw says:

      Compared to when I commented about the mail bombs, I would expect this to be less likely to be a false flag. Recall that I figured that it was reasonably probably that the bombs were inert hoaxes designed to be found during routine screening.

      Conversely, firing a firearm (a) blindly into a building (b) at night (c) in a (sub?)-urban environment (d) without a definitive backstop is always incredibly dangerous.

      There has a significant likelihood of inflicting grievous bodily harm. Even if you do it in the middle of the night when nobody is supposed to be there, the chances of an insomniac workaholic coming in early, a hobo rummaging through the trash behind the building, or someone walking their dog six blocks away getting hit… makes this an unusually dangerous way to do a false flag.

      All of those factors are things that the gun culture are militantly opposed to their members doing (except in extremis self defense). They really do not like killing people through stupidity. Due to the Republican/conservative/gun culture overlap, this makes it less likely to be a false flag conducted by a member of one of those groups.

      Republicans/conservatives/gun culture really, really do not want to give anyone any ammo for gun control. Gun based, political violence, false flags would be a really bad way to achieve their policy objectives.

      Nonpolitical shootings happen all the time. (Something, something, Chicago.) Much more so than nonpolitical bombings. The chances of being a nonpolitical coincidence are much higher. Moreover, the political nature of the attack is not explicit. No poop swastika graffiti or anything of that nature. (Compare with a long list of targets to make the connection explicit, and a Larry the Cable Guy sticker.)

      And standing in opposition is simply the fact that it was done at in the middle of the night when nobody was (supposed to be) in the building. And right before the election.

      But even then! While it may be right before the election, it is also right after a major bombing attack against prominent Democrats (and right near where the bomber is from). So I would say that the net timing effect is to lean more towards not being a false flag.

      Taken together, I would say the probability of being a false flag would be less than whatever you think the base rate for them is.

      In a larger sense, honestly, this situation doesn’t particularly upset me. Look, shootings happen all the time. Even political ones (e.g., Rep. Scalise). Bombings happen all the time (e.g., Vanessa Trump). Not to mention the seemingly constant street violence (e.g., Antifa and whoever it is they’re always rumbling with). But it doesn’t particularly upset me because, by historic standards, I don’t think we have an unusual amount of it. Like, I don’t think we’re at 1970’s levels yet. Much less times like the Boston Massacre, Bloody Kansas, Kristallnacht, or The Troubles.

      Don’t get me wrong, any political violence is deplorable. Despite the number of survey respondents that say they expect a civil war within five years, I don’t think the evidence bears it out. The political violence we have is mostly at a residual level, and the instances of it that make the national news are mostly selected for political expediency rather than being demonstrative of a systemic collapse towards civil war.

      The reason the MAGABomber upset me was that, for a little while anyway, it looked like there was only a mostly negligible—instead of completely negligible—chance that it was a bombing/false flag conspiracy. Which would force me to conclude we are much closer to 1970’s levels than I thought. And being further down that slope would be scary in a whole different way.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      I don’t think I said on the last thread, but my personal rough estimate on the bomb maker was ~10% of it being a hoax/joke/false flag, conditional upon the bombs being deliberately flawed/fake, dropping to <1% if the devices were actually intended to detonate.

      For this one, I'd say ~5%. The main reason for the lower estimates:
      1) Method. My hierarchy goes like this, in order of "least likely to be hoax/false flag/otherwise not as it appears" to most likely: Bombs that explode < Gunfire < Bombs that Don't Explode < Graffiti/Vandalism < Mail/E-mail/Phone threats. I don't generally put shooting at buildings into "graffiti/vandalism" because of the higher probability of casualties.

      2) Context. Happening just after Sayoc's arrest, also in Florida, makes me think that if it's not a disgruntled employee or the like that the most likely motive is someone pissed off and blaming the GOP for Sayoc.

      There are some other factors as well, but other posters have mostly touched on them.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I have yet to notice anyone make the following crucial point, something that should be fairly obvious given what happened last week:

      How likely is it that you think the perpetrator of this act will be caught? How likely was it that the bombing suspect would be caught?

      The answers to these questions should be fairly obvious, and should substantially effect your relative estimates of probabilities. Hanging your hat on the relative dangers of an explosive device not rigged to explode vs. a gun fired into an empty office is a mistake. If your answer to this is that the supposed perpetrator is clearly not thinking rationally, we can see that this applies equally well to both factors.

      The fact that we have here a single event, vs. multiple events clearly carried out by the same person, further effects our estimated probabilities that the perpetrator will be caught, and should further effect our relative estimates of the probability of various motivations.

      • gbdub says:

        That’s a good point – a mail bomb hoax with multiple targets is much harder to get away with, thus less likely to be a hoax. “Not getting caught” is a plus for a sincere bomber, but critical for a false flag (unless you’re manipulating a fall guy you can trust won’t be able to pin you, which ups the difficulty substantially).

        Complicating factors is that the shooting happened so close to the mail bombings, and in the same state as the arrest. Making both “angry Dems retaliating” and “GOPers trying to distract with some apparently Dem violence” more likely in hard to predict ways.

  15. Basil Elton says:

    What introductory reading (or maybe videos) could you recommend on prediction markets? I know the general concept and am familiar with the relevant areas in economics and math, but not much more.

  16. dndnrsn says:

    Hello, and welcome to the thirteenth installment of my Biblical scholarship efforpost. Previously, we’ve looked at Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Obadiah. This time, we’ll look at the prophets of the postexilic period: Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, and Joel. These prophets are all, one way or another, dealing with the fact that the restoration of Israel, after the Persians allowed a return following their defeat of the Babylonians, wasn’t the restoration that had been promised.

    The usual caveats: I studied this in university, but I’m not a real-deal expert or anything. I’m shooting for a 100/200 level coverage – if you want some more info, let me know and I’ll see what I can do. I’m not going to be doing a lot of summarizing, because there is a word count and Bibles are pretty easy to find.

    Some historical background: in the middle of the 6th century, Babylon’s hold on power began to weaken. Ultimately, the Persians under King Cyrus defeated the Babylonians in a series of military engagements, seizing Babylon itself in 539. Cyrus encouraged the exiles from Jerusalem to go home and rebuild the Temple; Judah became the Persian province of Yehud. However, Judah and especially Jerusalem were rather impoverished and diminished; there was no instant and glorious restoration; God’s chosen people were still subjects to a foreign empire (which, needless to say, did not worship that same God). This was, to say the least, disappointing.

    Haggai presents four narrative reports of divine communications to the prophet, as well as their context, set in 520. The exiles have returned and have dwelt in Jerusalem for some time, but the rebuilding of the Temple still has not been completed. Haggai’s prophetic career, which if the dates (probably provided by later editors) are correct lasted for only a few months, centred around promoting the rebuilding of the Temple. Evidently, he was successful: by 515, the Temple had been rebuilt (according to Ezra 6:15; the historicity of Ezra will be discussed when I reach that book), albeit in less than glorious form than Haggai predicted.

    Haggai’s focus, then, is on the importance and legitimacy of the future Second Temple. It is needed to unify the religious life of the community. Further, the choice between the immediate survival of the community and the rebuilding of the Temple is a false one: the community will prosper if the Temple is rebuilt; the fertility of the land is linked to proper worship. A rebuilt Temple will also be needed for an idealized future.

    Haggai was probably written some time after the dates described in the text (so, after 520). There doesn’t seem to be any particular reason to think it’s much later. Nor is there much of a reason to think significant elements were added by later editors.

    Zechariah exists in the same context as Haggai: Ezra associates the two as prophesying and prompting the completion of the Second Temple. It deals, predictably, with many of the same issues as Haggai. However, the two are different in form and tone. The first eight chapters are concerned largely with visions, often full of symbolism interpreted by an angel. (We will consider chapters 9 to 14 separately). Some scholars see Persian influence in the dream visions – symbolic visions are known in Persian tradition – but this can’t be proven one way or the other.
    Zechariah deals largely with the dissonance between what is and what should be: things should be much better for the community, and the Temple should be much more glorious, than they are, according to the theological views of the intended audience. Zechariah asserts that there will be an ideal future: the community will thrive, Jerusalem and the Temple will be at the centre of the world, and all peoples will recognize God, Jerusalem, and its community. There is an orientation to the future with some eschatological themes, which could be seen as transitional between the prophetic tradition and the later-to-be-developed apocalyptic thinking.

    Scholars date these chapters of Zechariah, similar to Haggai, to shortly after the period they describe. Many scholars think that chapters 9 through 14 have a separate and later origin. They are different in form and content. Zechariah 9-14 is heavily oriented towards the future, including images of ideal messianic kingship and some strong eschatological themes – even more so than Zechariah 1-8, it includes material that has a resemblance to apocalypticism. Worth noting is chapter 13, in which prophets – or, at least, false prophets – are condemned in strong terms; some scholars think that this reflects an increasing shift in authority from prophets to scribes (authoritative interpreters of the written laws). Those scholars who think 9-14 are separate from the earlier parts of Zechariah debate the origin of these chapters, with proposed dates ranging from the late Persian period to the Hellenistic period.

    The book of Malachi is set in a period where the Temple has been rebuilt and sacrificial worship is happening again. The name Malachi means “my messenger” and based on 3:1, some scholars think it is a title rather than a given name.

    Malachi follows a pronouncement and disputation format. Following an introduction in which the love of God for Israel (which appears to be identified with Judah, rather than following the division between the old kingdoms) the book addresses three general topics. The first is condemnation of improper cultic practices in Temple worship: the priests are condemned for offering flawed animals for sacrifice and thus for scorning God. The second concerns marriage: Judah is condemned for marrying foreign women (“daughters of alien gods” – their foreign religion is key) and rejecting the wives of their youth; divorce is condemned. The foreign women are “daughters of alien gods.” Scholars differ over whether this is entirely literal, symbolic, or both. Third, a coming day of judgment upon wrongdoers and reward for those who revere God (some scholars see increasing sectarianism here – the righteous and the wicked are strongly differentiated and the rewards and punishments are less corporate, more individualized, than in much previous prophecy).

    It is noteworthy that Malachi is the last prophetic book in the Hebrew Bible (in terms of arrangement, not date of composition), and near the end, it advises its audience to follow the laws issued to Moses – that is, the Torah. This may be part of the process of prophetic authority yielding to that of scribal interpretation. As of the time Malachi is set, and probably when it was written, the Torah had been fairly recently canonized. Malachi tends to be dated to the Persian period, probably the fifth century, as it shares concerns with the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, usually dated to the second half of that century.

    Joel is unlike the other books considered here. Following a brief introduction, it narrates divine judgment against Judah in the form of agricultural collapse, especially a plague of locusts (made manifest with the imagery of an army). It then shifts to a message of divine restoration and forgiveness for Judah and the faithful, and judgment on its enemies. God’s judgment is associated with the motif of the Day of the Lord – a decisive point of judgment at which God will radically change things.

    Joel’s major difference from the other prophetic books is that it has a lack of specific references. There are no references to any kings or historical events; it doesn’t have a “setting” per se. Nothing is known of the prophet himself. There are no references to Assyrians or Babylonians, but there is a reference to “Ionians” – Greek inhabitants of a region in Asian Minor. In various places Joel appears to reference other biblical texts, mainly prophetic ones. All this leads scholars to think it is probably from the first half of the fourth century, during the Persian period. Some see it as another milestone in the development of the apocalyptic genre, with themes such as the idea of decisive, final action by God for Judah and Jerusalem against their oppressors; in general, themes like this increase in importance in the later prophetic books. The interesting milestone that might exist in Joel, then, is the stripping out of historical context; we will see features like this in some apocalyptic materials.

    To sum up these four post-exilic prophetic books: Haggai and Zechariah both show a community that has not yet recovered from the disaster of destruction and exile – based on what we know, both prophetic figures were involved in that recovery. Malachi, after that period, is based in a community that has continued to recover, and shows the development of the religion with the canonization of the Torah. Joel, markedly different from the others, may show the development of apocalypticism.

    (If I’ve made any mistakes, please let me know, ideally within the next 55 minutes so I can edit)

    • S_J says:

      One detail from Jeremiah springs to mind: Jeremiah predicted that the land would be empty for 70 years.

      The land wasn’t completely empty during that time, and the decree of Cyrus (quoted in Nehemiah, I think) was less than 70 years after the deportation by Nebuchadnezzar.

      But if the Temple was destroyed/unusable from 586 BC to 515 BC, that seems a good hook to hang an interpretation of the 70-year prophecy on. (Or retroactively edit that prophecy to be ’70 years’…)

      Do scholars give any commentary on that, or is it generally left alone?

      • dndnrsn says:

        The books closest to hand say that the 70-year period that the land will be desolate while Babylon is served (then punished) note that 70 is given as the human lifespan in Psalms 90:10 and a 70-year period of punishment of Tyre in Isaiah 23:15 (“equaling the lifetime of one king”); there’s also something about a 70-year punishment of Babylon in an Assyrian inscription. Spitballing, it might be a way of indicating “a lifetime.”

        There’s more than just the desolation of the land during that time – and Babylon lasted for less than 70 years. If it was a retroactive prophecy, I’d imagine it would be more accurate.

        I’ll take a look at some other books when I get a moment; bug me if I seem to have forgotten.

      • Evan Þ says:

        I’m not sure about scholars, but Evangelical Christian commentators regularly talk about that. That’s one of their primary interpretations of the prophecy; another one is to measure from Nebuchadnezzar’s first victory over Jerusalem (from a quick glance, Wikipedia says that’s only sixty years before Cyrus’s decree, though?)

        And to nitpick, Cyrus’s decree is quoted in Ezra not Nehemiah.

    • Uribe says:

      This is my favorite find in these threads. Thank you very much for your interesting effortposts.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Thanks! I’m really having fun writing about it (it’s nice to get back into what I spent time in school on then didn’t touch much for a while), and I’m glad people are enjoying it.

    • S_J says:

      To echo what the other commenters are saying, I am really enjoying this series.

      One thing I remember from Zechariah: it is one of the few places where the name “Satan” appears. (The name means “Accuser”.) From the chronology you give, that would make this a first appearance for the title/persona.

      The existence of such a being, and the smack-down that Zechariah reports, is interesting.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I’m not doing the books in strictly chronological order (because in some the dating is unclear, some are a mixture of stuff from different times, and in general it would involve jumping between Torah, Nevi’im, and Ketuvim). The prose elements of Job, which include the prologue (where “the satan” shows up), likely date to at the earliest point in the 6th century – so, probably earlier than Zechariah. (The poetic sections of Job have more archaic language, but dating poetry based on language is tricky because it’s more likely than prose to be intentionally archaic).

        “Ha-satan” (the JPS translation* renders this as the Adversary in the main text but notes the Accuser also works – it says that in Hebrew, the definite article ha- would indicate that this isn’t a proper noun) is a sort of prosecutor figure: coming and telling God that Job only loves God because God has been good to him. A different character (or at least a differet spin) develops later in the Hebrew Bible and in the period after that has been canonized; of course there are the Christian developments too. The way this stuff evolves over time is really fascinating.

        *back when I was in school, I used the NRSV as standard because it’s expected, but now that I’m just some guy on the internet, I like to use the JPS Tanakh translation for the Hebrew Bible, and one or another of the various Gospel or New Testament translations that keeps wonky Greek and so forth. The JPS translation seems a bit more scholarly than liturgical (given that Jewish liturgy operates in Hebrew – in comparison, what Christian church reads the New Testament in Greek, other than the Greek Orthodox?) and liturgical translations usually make some sacrifices on behalf of reading aloud well in English. Meanwhile, translations that keep the Greek grammar and so forth as closely as possible really make the New Testament seem immediate – this isn’t some polished, established religion, it’s people who aren’t the most educated guys around but who need to get across how important this stuff is. Liturgical translations of the New Testament definitely sacrifice a lot to sound good read aloud, even ones that are good for scholarly work like the NRSV.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          “Ha-satan” (the JPS translation* renders this as the Adversary in the main text but notes the Accuser also works – it says that in Hebrew, the definite article ha- would indicate that this isn’t a proper noun)

          I think post-Biblical Jewish authorities say that the Accuser is a title belonging to Samael, the Angel of Death.
          You could have Lucifer Ha-Satan, Samael Ha-Satan, and Iblis Ha-Satan.

  17. proyas says:

    Which person is right, and why?

    Matt Ridley: ‘[The] fact that intelligence or personality are caused by many thousands of genes, each of minuscule effect, means that it will be impossibly difficult to create a super-intelligent designer baby.’
    http://www.rationaloptimist.com/blog/the-genes-of-human-behaviour/

    Stephen Hsu: ‘People are still confused about how many + variants above the mean in the population are required to make a “genius” (or super-genius). I managed to compress the explanation enough to fit in a tweet:

    Flip coin 10000 times. 5000 + sqrt(10000)/2 = 5050 heads is +1SD outcome. 5100 is +2SD, etc. sqrt(N) << N for N large. Binomial~Normal dist.

    You can see that even if cognitive ability is controlled by ~10k variants, flipping only ~100 of them is enough to cause a big difference in actual intelligence. Flipping a few hundred could get us to super-geniuses beyond anything in human history.'
    https://infoproc.blogspot.com/2017/05/more-shock-and-awe-james-lee-and-ssgac.html

    • The Nybbler says:

      Ridley is reporting Robert Plomin’s argument, but there doesn’t seem to be much of an argument. Suppose intelligence is controlled by many thousands of genes…. why can’t we flip them all? In some future where we can reliably make designer babies, I see no reason we’d be limited to affecting a small number of genes. There are arguments that this wouldn’t be possible (like those genes don’t do only one thing), but Ridley and Plomin don’t make any.

      Hsu’s math is fine, but the assumption that there’s a bunch of genes which all contribute equally and linearly to IQ score seems unlikely to be accurate.

      • arbitraryvalue says:

        Suppose intelligence is controlled by many thousands of genes…. why can’t we flip them all?

        Why start by flipping genetic switches when there already exist individuals with genotypes not incompatible with significantly above-average intelligence? If the goal is to create more geniuses, a good start would be to simply clone existing geniuses; engineering “genetically related to the parent except smarter” babies appears to be simply vanity (although admittedly vanity is a strong motivator). Of course at some point genetic engineering will out-do even the most exceptional naturally-created genotypes, but for now if I had to bet on who would turn out smarter, my money would be on “clone of Einstein” rather than “designer baby”.

        • albatross11 says:

          There would be pretty obvious returns to making super genius children–if not for parents, then certainly for countries.

          But it seems certain that there are limits to intelligence as we turn on more and more of those genes, either because many of them are doing similar stuff, or because having too many of them on screws something else up, or because there’s some fundamental physical limit you eventually hit.

          That said, it seems kind-of unlikely to me that we’ve ever seen a human who reached those limits. So maybe you can make people who would find Einstein or Newton to be dullards, or even people who’d find *them* to be dullards.

        • albatross11 says:

          Maybe a starting point would be to clone a genius, and then try flipping a few of those other genes on at a time, to see what happened.

          • baconbits9 says:

            How big of an experiment is this, how long until we get usable results? Even if you made 100 clones of a single genius, left 10 alone as a control and did 9 combinations of changes with 10 individuals each to get some kind of a handle on things are you waiting until they are 5, 10, 20, 30?

        • Cloning gives you lots of genii at the existing level, but none smarter than that. Wouldn’t a better strategy be assortative mating plus selection? Mate a male genius with a female genius, get them to have lots of kids, pick the smartest ones, repeat … .

          • Assortative mating raising some interesting issues.

            Marrying someone similar to you has an advantage in joint consumption–you want to live in the same sort of house in the same sort of neighborhood, consume the same goods, go to the same movies or plays or operas or football games.

            But it has disadvantages in reducing the gains from trade. Either both of you like running a household and rearing kids or neither of you does. Either both of you earn a high income, with the second making only a minor improvement to life style, or neither of you does.

            That suggests that in some environments there would be pressure towards assortative mating, in some against. We would expect the former to result in a wider distribution of abilities than the latter. We would expect that to result in, among other things, greater inequality–in abilities and, as a result, income, education, etc.

            The central idea of The Bell Curve, at least the parts I read, was that the U.S. had more meritocracy and more assortative mating than in the past, and that there might be negative consequences.

          • arbitraryvalue says:

            Cloning gives you lots of genii at the existing level

            I wouldn’t assume this. I think it is quite likely that even if every genius must have genius genes, most people with genius genes are not geniuses. The current understanding of how to reliably turn someone with extraordinary genetic potential into someone extraordinary is rather poor.

      • vV_Vv says:

        Hsu’s math is fine, but the assumption that there’s a bunch of genes which all contribute equally and linearly to IQ score seems unlikely to be accurate.

        I think the contribution of most genes may be well approximated as marginally additive, but overall as the IQ score becomes unusually high or low saturation effects are likely to show up and there might be health problems caused by the extreme phenotype.

        This is not unique to IQ. E.g. according to Hsu’s math it would take ~500 gene “flips” to obtain a 2.5 m tall man (+10 SDs), in practice such people occasionally occur due to pituitary tumors, and they have a number of health problems other than the tumor itself.

        • albatross11 says:

          Right. Similarly, if you flipped on all the genes that slightly positively correlate with IQ, you’d probably get a seriously screwed up kid (pumpkin-sized head with an inadequate blood supply, but with hundreds of less-obvious-but-equally-disastrous things) .

    • Slicer says:

      I submit that anything resulting in increased neurogenesis, particularly throughout life, is going to be the kicker here.

    • dick says:

      I think the idea of increasing intelligence by “flipping genes” just betrays a lack of respect for how little we understand intelligence. If you wanted to use genetic engineering to make a super basketball player, you’d be looking for genes that affect things like height and bone strength and fast-twitch muscle fiber, right? I’m no expert but my impression of the state of the art is that we don’t really know what the super-intelligence analogues of those are, which is obviously a precursor to trying to find genes that select for them.

      • Eponymous says:

        You don’t have to understand intelligence to find +IQ genes. Natural selection managed to do it just fine.

        • dick says:

          IQ is an imaginary thing invented by humans. Natural selection has made humans genetically better suited to basketball than chimps, but it doesn’t follow that there must therefore be such a thing as “+basketball genes”.

          • quanta413 says:

            And yet many genes affect basketball even though it’s just made up by humans. The question is really not whether by flipping enough variants you could increase IQ. You definitely can if you can get the genetic engineering working. Lack of knowledge about how the genotype to phenotype mapping works is not a huge barrier.

            The question is how much will IQ have risen by the time you’ve burned through all the common IQ boosting variants.

            If your argument is correct, the fact that IQ is a proxy invented by humans is a good reason to think that the maxima we see are not the maxima we could obtain through less natural means. Natural selection would not maximize IQ as far as you could by selective breeding or genetic engineering. I’m not aware of anyone showing that having an IQ of 160 increases reproductive success. Maybe the opposite.

            Natural selection is constrained to only optimize for IQ as much as that helps make more humans with high IQ. Genetic engineers are not.

            It’s like with dogs. Dogs have low genetic variation, but dogs have all sorts of extreme physical and mental traits that would never have shown up in wolves. It didn’t require many new mutations or knowledge of how those traits arose to make great danes or chihuahuas or pointers or sheepdogs.

            But dogs fail at many things compared to wolves.

            So if your argument is correct, we should expect it’s possible to make higher IQ* individuals without much trouble but we’d find we may accidentally trade off lots of things we wouldn’t have thought about if we push the limit.

            *Not like as quick as a computer, but maybe another few standard deviations. We have really big dogs, but they aren’t yet nearly as big as lions.

          • dick says:

            The question is really not whether by flipping enough variants you could increase IQ. You definitely can if you can get the genetic engineering working.

            Seems like you’re skipping over an awful lot of detail here. I’m sure there are genes that could increase IQ if “flipped” in concert, but I’m confused about how we find them. Are you taking some embryos, changing them to have the genes you want, and then raising them til they’re old enough to take the SAT?

          • Anon. says:

            We find them with GWAS, we already have a ton of hits.

          • quanta413 says:

            I’m sure there are genes that could increase IQ if “flipped” in concert, but I’m confused about how we find them. Are you taking some embryos, changing them to have the genes you want, and then raising them til they’re old enough to take the SAT?

            That’s pretty much what I’m imagining the hypothetical question was about. Of those steps, finding the genes is the easiest part as far as I can tell. Genome wide association studies that find SNPs associated with IQ aren’t necessarily finding only causal SNPs that affect IQ. The SNPs may just be linked to nearby genetic differences causing variation. But a large fraction of the SNPs are likely to affect IQ. As genomicists keep using larger and larger samples and refine their methods they’ll uncover more and more SNPs. They’re already improving rapidly at this sort of thing.

            The hard part is flipping so many genes in an embryo at once. This seems really challenging to me. And perhaps even more difficult getting anybody to sign off on a massive genetic engineering project in humans. If you somehow surmount those hurdles, waiting 15 or 20 years to get a roughly adult-ish measure of the individual’s IQ is easy.

            I don’t think it obvious whether doing so would be amoral or immoral as long as you’ve reeeeeaaaaaaaaaalllly got the flipping step down. I haven’t thought about it much. If you don’t have the flipping step down cold, it seems pretty obviously immoral though.

            Even if it succeeded, it’s also not clear to me how much payoff to people besides the team who worked on it and the supergenius.

          • dick says:

            Are you taking some embryos, changing them to have the genes you want, and then raising them til they’re old enough to take the SAT?

            That’s pretty much what I’m imagining the hypothetical question was about.

            Ooookay, I assumed this was about actually doing it in the real world. In the hypothetical scenario where you have a machine that can raise and feed and clothe and educated a human from embryo to adulthood and measure its intelligence in a consistent and repeatable way that magically takes zero time, sure, I guess? But that sounds significantly less realistic than, say, a chip you implant in your brain that makes you super smart.

          • quanta413 says:

            Ooookay, I assumed this was about actually doing it in the real world. In the hypothetical scenario where you have a machine that can raise and feed and clothe and educated a human from embryo to adulthood and measure its intelligence in a consistent and repeatable way that magically takes zero time, sure, I guess? But that sounds significantly less realistic than, say, a chip you implant in your brain that makes you super smart.

            What? You just have parents raise them. 20 year studies have been done lots of times. Why would you assume you need to perfectly control the environment? It only explains ~20% of the variance. Just engineer a few extra people if you’re really worried once you decide to go the distance and genetically engineer humans.

            And we have very reliable ways of quickly measuring intelligence. That’s not even slightly difficult.

            The whole question makes no sense as something that would happen in the U.S. (or Europe or…), because no one yet knows how to flip that many genes at once and it’s unlikely to be allowed. There are a lot of molecular and moral pitfalls. Not because we can’t give someone the SAT or wait a couple decades for them to reach adulthood.

            Like, all the parts you are ignoring are really hard, and the parts you are saying are hard are already accomplished or slight extrapolations of current capabilities.

          • dick says:

            What? You just have parents raise them. 20 year studies have been done lots of times. Why would you assume you need to perfectly control the environment? It only explains ~20% of the variance. Just engineer a few extra people if you’re really worried once you decide to go the distance and genetically engineer humans.

            The reason you have to control the environment is so that you can know whether the measured changes in IQ were caused by your gene-twiddling or by something else. I don’t buy the environmental effect being that small, but even if it’s 20% that means you could make two embryos, change the genes in one, raise them to adulthood, observe one to be much smarter than the other, and still have no idea if your changes were the reason.

            However, the larger problem is that you have no way to iterate without waiting twenty years between trials. Normally, science requires iteration: you form a hypothesis, test it, update, try again, and eventually a coherent model emerges. In your case, it seems like by the time you’ve isolated a group of twelve genes that you’re pretty sure produce a stable and reliable 2% increase in IQ across a wide swath of the human population, it’s 2500 AD and we’re all living inside quantum computers, using 11-dimensional poetry as currency.

            That’s why I brought up the idea of genetically engineering someone to be good at basketball earlier. It’s not reasonable to imagine genetically engineering an embryo, raising it to 18, and then putting it in a uniform to see if your changes were useful, but you could probably find narrow, objectively measurable traits that are key to basketball success, and then do much more realistic experiments. It’s at least plausible that you could measure something about a 14-day old embryo that correlates with adult height, or bone density, or muscle mass. You can’t do that with IQ because we don’t know what narrow, objective traits correlate with intelligence, due to not really understanding what intelligence is and how it works and why it’s higher in one person than another.

          • quanta413 says:

            The reason you have to control the environment is so that you can know whether the measured changes in IQ were caused by your gene-twiddling or by something else. I don’t buy the environmental effect being that small, but even if it’s 20% that means you could make two embryos, change the genes in one, raise them to adulthood, observe one to be much smarter than the other, and still have no idea if your changes were the reason.

            You can estimate with reasonable accuracy by just making more attempts all at once in parallel. Not even that many attempts. 10 people raised by varying parents would probably be enough. 100 would definitely be enough.

            The odds that you would accidentally hit an environmental change that give you someone who outstripped previous human IQs is ridiculously low. If that was a significant source of noise from the environment, we would be seeing random geniuses fairly often. But we don’t. They are instead very interesting outliers.

            Environment might push your super-IQ clones down from the human world record holder of IQ (who almost certainly got lucky in genes and environment), but it’s unlikely to make them not super smart.

            However, the larger problem is that you have no way to iterate without waiting twenty years between trials. Normally, science requires iteration: you form a hypothesis, test it, update, try again, and eventually a coherent model emerges. In your case, it seems like by the time you’ve isolated a group of twelve genes that you’re pretty sure produce a stable and reliable 2% increase in IQ across a wide swath of the human population, it’s 2500 AD and we’re all living inside quantum computers, using 11-dimensional poetry as currency.

            You’re not going to need many trials with this one if we master the genetic engineering part. Not all science requires a lot of iteration at some particular point. Enormous if there on the genetic engineering. It may take a long time to have reliable enough genetic engineering. Once you have that, it probably will work in one or two tries. So if someone figured out how to do an enormous number of targeted single base mutations tomorrow (which they won’t) we’d only have to wait a couple decades. Same deal as above too. If you’re really worried about scientific failure (as opposed to something like terrible moral failure), just engineer more people and vary more things in parallel.

            That’s why I brought up the idea of genetically engineering someone to be good at basketball earlier. It’s not reasonable to imagine genetically engineering an embryo, raising it to 18, and then putting it in a uniform to see if your changes were useful, but you could probably find narrow, objectively measurable traits that are key to basketball success, and then do much more realistic experiments. It’s at least plausible that you could measure something about a 14-day old embryo that correlates with adult height, or bone density, or muscle mass. You can’t do that with IQ because we don’t know what narrow, objective traits correlate with intelligence, due to not really understanding what intelligence is and how it works and why it’s higher in one person than another.

            I think you overestimate our understanding of basketball genetics outside of height. I doubt an embryo will tell you enough. You’d have to wait until the kids were teenagers to know. Puberty changes too many relevant physical characteristics for measuring embryos to be enough with our current understanding of human development.

            Measuring basketball skills in many ways would be harder than measuring IQ. Our society trains almost everyone in skills that exercise IQ. And we can give someone a paper test to get a good measurement of their IQ in a few hours. To measure basketball skills, we have to require our subjects undergo a decade of basketball training which notably differentiates their environment from most people. Whereas for IQ, we get the regular school environment for free. No additional environmental manipulations required.

            We also don’t have as large stacks of data on basketball skills association with human genetic variance because not many humans play basketball.

            I think genetically engineering a better basketball player would be a goal more comparable to genetically engineering a great physicist. Which sounds way tougher to me than maximizing something like IQ. More comparable would be extracting a general factor of athleticism based upon various relatively low-training athletic tests like running speed, jump height, weight lifted, endurance, etc. and maximizing that factor.

          • dick says:

            You’ve again misunderstood the point of the basketball metaphor. Yes, genetically engineering a better basketball player is dauntingly hard in the same way as genetically engineering a better (anything complex) is; that’s my position, you don’t have to convince me of it! The point of bringing it up is that, with basketball, you can pick a simple trait like height or muscle mass, select for that, and be reasonably sure the resulting children will be better at basketball despite the fact that you didn’t actually affect basketball skill directly. You can’t do that with intelligence, because we don’t understand it well enough to complete the syllogism “height : basketball ability :: ___ : intelligence”.

            As for the rest of it, it seems like we’ll have to just agree to disagree. Even after you invent your magic gene-twiddling machine, and even after you conquer the ethical and practical difficulties in carrying out an experiment of this kind in any way at all, I don’t think “one or two tries” would be enough to reliably produce babies with a specific eye color, let alone IQ.

          • quanta413 says:

            You’ve again misunderstood the point of the basketball metaphor. Yes, genetically engineering a better basketball player is dauntingly hard in the same way as genetically engineering a better (anything complex) is; that’s my position, you don’t have to convince me of it! The point of bringing it up is that, with basketball, you can pick a simple trait like height or muscle mass, select for that, and be reasonably sure the resulting children will be better at basketball despite the fact that you didn’t actually affect basketball skill directly.

            And you misunderstand why selecting for basketball skill is harder than you say. I’m not saying it’s hard because it’s “complex”. That’s a vague and useless description.

            The problem is not that basketball is or isn’t complicated. The problem is a lack of a large sample to tell you which SNPs are linked to basketball skills and the requirement for large amounts of environmental manipulations to make good basketball players. And worse, you have to wait even longer to tell if someone is masterful at basketball than to be able to tell if they have no intellectual disabilities and also are scoring 1600 on the SAT.

            IQ is easier than basketball because we have more genetic data related to it, and we train everyone in the relevant skills.

            You can’t do that with intelligence, because we don’t understand it well enough to complete the syllogism “height : basketball ability :: ___ : intelligence”.

            Your model of how this idea works is off. You don’t have to understand how a trait arises to breed for it. For a very long time, no one had the slightest clue. You just grab plants or animals that have traits in the direction you want and put ’em in a room together. Not a whole lot of mechanistic understanding required compared to designing a car. This whole strategy only works because a lot of variation in populations is in some sense independent enough.

            Similarly, if you’re going to change some DNA bases you don’t have to understand how a trait arises if you know what variants affect it in which direction. You take a bunch of variants that tend to lead to the traits you want and stick ’em together. The really hard part here just happens to be sticking ’em together. Other than that, it’s like how recombination and selection work with selective breeding except much faster.

            Genetic engineering of this form is not engineering in the sense of making something new.

            And the syllogism is easily completed. Height is to basketball ability as IQ is to intelligence. Similar heritability, similarly easy to find associated SNPs… etc. etc. No one can tell you how the hundreds of causal variants associated with human height mechanistically make a human taller, and it doesn’t matter. The fact that height is a linear measure of a dimension, and IQ is pulled from a factor analysis is not a very important detail to the question at hand.

            I don’t think “one or two tries” would be enough to reliably produce babies with a specific eye color, let alone IQ.

            Far fewer genes contribute strongly to the variance in eye color. There are single mutations known to drastically affect eye color. In some ways that makes things way easier (because you only have to flip a couple genes), but in other ways that might make things harder. A small set of genes may have a larger fraction of variance due to epistasis or dominance than a larger set of interacting genes. Eye color often shows obvious and large dominance effects if you look at geneaology. IQ does not.

            You need to stop thinking in terms of vague metaphors and start thinking more in terms of quantitative genetics.

          • dick says:

            The point of bringing it up is that, with basketball, you can pick a simple trait like height or muscle mass, select for that, and be reasonably sure the resulting children will be better at basketball despite the fact that you didn’t actually affect basketball skill directly.

            The problem is not that basketball is or isn’t complicated. The problem is a lack of a large sample to tell you which SNPs are linked to basketball skills and the requirement for large amounts of environmental manipulations to make good basketball players.

            I don’t understand how I’m failing to make this clear. No one is suggesting you can select for basketball skill and I said that in the part you quoted, shown in bold above. The only factual thing I’m asserting is that it would be easier to genetically engineer for “tall” than anything complex and hard to measure, like basketball skill or performance on IQ tests.

            Eye color often shows obvious and large dominance effects if you look at geneaology. IQ does not.

            Yeah, you’ll recall I didn’t say “Eye color is just as hard to do as IQ”. I agree, it is way, way, way easier to do than IQ or even height, and I still don’t believe you’ll be able to reliably control it after one or two tries. It’s hard to even imagine how the phrase “one or two tries” got used in a discussion about scientific breakthroughs.

    • baconbits9 says:

      It is very….. misleading to use an analogy with known independent events to compare to a situation where independence is unlikely. Diminishing returns can screw you quite quickly, if flipping one gene adds 1 IQ point, and 2 gives you 1.9, and 3 nets 2.7, and 4 gives you 3.4 and so on you actually peak at 10 or 11 genes flipped giving you 5.5 IQ points and less there on after.

      Now this is a contrived example, but it highlights the fact that it is not how many genes you flip, but how those genes interact being possibly the dominant factor after quite a short time and that we know enough to be pretty darn sure that there isn’t zero interaction like a coin flip.

      • quanta413 says:

        I don’t think this argument shows much, because it would work just as well as an argument against the ability of natural selection to maximize a trait with lots of epistasis in a population. But natural selection works pretty efficiently on additive genetic variance in a population of which there will usually be some even given epistasis.

        If humans had low variance in IQ or if IQ showed low genetic heritability, your argument might be more relevant. But having IQ in a narrow range is apparently not very important compared to something like kidney functioning (which we can see because IQ variance is high) and it’s pretty heritable. So there’s almost certainly room before we hit the limit you speak of.

        EDIT: For example, this random paper estimates the additive heritability of IQ is .44 while the non additive heritability is .27 and their abstract says this is a large downward revision of the amount of additive vs non additive heritability compared to normal. Not my field, but it’d be interesting to look through the literature more broadly at how much of the variance is additive.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Natural selection took tens of millions of years to generate human level intelligence with tens of billions to trillions of individuals to work on. Even just within humans its 200,000 years and tens of billions of individuals. That is the starting point we are working from, its not a race against evolution its an attempt to improve upon that base level which shifts things.

          If humans had low variance in IQ or if IQ showed low genetic heritability, your argument might be more relevant. But having IQ in a narrow range is apparently not very important compared to something like kidney functioning (which we can see because IQ variance is high) and it’s pretty heritable. So there’s almost certainly room before we hit the limit you speak of.

          I wasn’t claiming a level or a cap, I was using an extreme example to show how the interaction between genes can overwhelm the individual gains simply to demonstrate why you don’t model dependent events vs independent events. The fact that IQ has high variability could also be taken to show that very high IQ is not well suited to reproduction for one reason or another. It doesn’t simply have to be that returns are diminishing, you could have high IQ correlate with mental illness at rates that reduce the effective nature of the higher IQ or any number of other possibilities.

          • quanta413 says:

            Natural selection took tens of millions of years to generate human level intelligence with tens of billions to trillions of individuals to work on. Even just within humans its 200,000 years and tens of billions of individuals. That is the starting point we are working from, its not a race against evolution its an attempt to improve upon that base level which shifts things.

            Length of time would not be enough. Natural selection really does require a certain minimum size of effect to be able to operate at all. Roughly the size of the fitness effect due to a variant should exceed 1 over the effective population size which was quite small for just before humans and early humans. If effect sizes are too small no amount waiting even a lot longer will not be very helpful because genetic drift will obliterate all gains.

            I wasn’t claiming a level or a cap, I was using an extreme example to show how the interaction between genes can overwhelm the individual gains simply to demonstrate why you don’t model dependent events vs independent events. The fact that IQ has high variability could also be taken to show that very high IQ is not well suited to reproduction for one reason or another. It doesn’t simply have to be that returns are diminishing, you could have high IQ correlate with mental illness at rates that reduce the effective nature of the higher IQ or any number of other possibilities.

            Yeah, and my point is your point is largely irrelevant because additive heritability of IQ (i.e. where epistasis isn’t contributing) is on the order of 1/2.

            We’d be “engineering” by taking advantage of the standing variation you are talking about. I’ve already mentioned the possible tradeoffs and the fact that IQ doesn’t matter much for reproduction past some threshold in another post way above. That makes the plan easier not harder because our genetic engineers aren’t as constrained by tradeoffs as natural selection. If IQ had been really strongly selected for at high levels, it seems unlikely to me we’d see so much additive variance left in the population.

    • At only a slight tangent …two basic models of diversity in heritable characteristics.

      Suppose some characteristic, height or IQ, increases reproductive success up to some level. Why isn’t everyone six feet tall with a 150 IQ, if those happen to be the optimum?

      One answer is that the genes would like to do that, but can’t. The companies that make microwave ovens would like to make ones that never die in the first year but, judging by reading Amazon reviews after ours died, they can’t–ten to twenty percent of the reviews are one star, and that’s the most common reason. Building very smart people is hard, and there is a large failure rate.

      The other answer is that the net benefit of high IQ or height depends on how many people have it. In any society there are a certain number of niches for smart people, a certain number for strong backs and weak minds. If high IQ were costless you could combine it with a strong back, but if it has costs–big brains cost a lot of energy and increase the chance of death of the mother in child birth–then once all the roles that benefit greatly by high IQ are filled, it is no longer worth what it costs. Think of it as a range of neck sizes on giraffes, where having a long neck is worth its cost if all the high up leaves are still there because no other giraffe has one, but the benefit falls as the number of tall giraffes increases, giving you an equilibrium with a range of neck lengths.

      The relevance to this discussion is that if the first model explains the current IQ distribution, then raising the average will be hard—the genes are already trying as hard as they can. If the second model describes it, raising it might be easy—and might happen with no high tech intervention if the pattern of payoffs to IQ changes.

      • quanta413 says:

        Your second explanation is interesting and I’d like to put a placeholder response here to remind myself to do a little digging later.

        Translating from your clear words into jargony technical terms, a combination of frequency-dependent selection on phenotypes and antagonistic pleiotropy for genes that affect IQ prevent the spread of high IQ genes to fixation. I’ve never seen a model with both effects in it, but that’s not because there is any reason that it wouldn’t happen. I could easily have not read the relevant literature. Randomly throwing those terms or related ones into google scholar or another database might find interesting hits.

        • albatross11 says:

          The obvious bit of tradeoff is head circumference, which probably gives you a brute-force way to make kids smarter at the cost of more deaths in childbirth.

      • albatross11 says:

        But the first explanation needs to account for normal variation among humans, both individuals and families. If evolution has already gotten humans to maximum available intelligence, then how come there are ethnic groups (Eastern European Jews) and families (the Darwin/Keynes line, the Bernoullis) that seem to consistently hit the ball out of the park, IQ-wise?

        • The optimal intelligence would still be different in different environments, given tradeoffs. So for one population the genes might be aiming at IQ 140, getting from 110 to 150, another aiming at 150, getting from 115-160.

          But you are right that there is a problem with family lines that have high IQ (or height or whatever). The argument could be that, given the tradeoffs, they are not optimal in that environment–the range of outcomes (IQ and other things) produced by aiming for 160 is worse than the range produced by aiming for something lower.

          A more realistic answer, what I think is actually going on, is that both of my models are happening. The genes can’t reliably produce the six foot tall 150 IQ phenotype–and they aren’t all trying to.

    • Drew says:

      Ridley seems trivially wrong. We know how to create a super-intelligent designer baby: use donor cells from super-intelligent parents.

      But, the potential parent replies, they don’t want someone else’s kid. They want a kid with THEIR genes. Obviously, engineering will change some genes, but they want at least 50% of the originals.

      In that case, you could ‘engineer’ by just taking half the chromosomes (/genes) from the super-intelligent donors, and the other half from the parents. That gives the kid the bio-equivalent of an awesome genius parent, which should work perfectly well.

      If we’re assuming that gene editing works, why shouldn’t you be able to just copy information from the known-to-be-smart person? You don’t even need to know what the genes do.

      • Or, with a little improvement in knowledge and technology, you could let them have a superior kid who was all theirs. Figure out which of their genes carry characteristics they want their kid to have, which carry characteristics they don’t want their kid to have. Select a sperm and an egg each of which is high on the former and low on the latter, combine, implant. Let them produce, out of all the children they could have had, the one they most want, or at least close.

        Robert Heinlein suggested the idea–selecting gametes is a much more powerful technique than selecting embryos–in one of his early novels. And he showed how, in principal, it could be done, how one could know what genes were in a gamete without injuring it.

  18. maintain says:

    I missed the classifieds thread. Here is my post anyway.

    I’m a freelance programmer. I get some freelance gigs, but I’m not earning as much as I’d like. I’ve been programming for about 15 years, but on paper, I don’t seem that qualified, since the only experience I can point to is a few freelance gigs.

    I’m looking for people who are in a similar situation as me. Let’s put our heads together.

    Do you think you are skilled at marketing and sales? Do you think you could sell software development services?

    Are you good at programming, design, or IT, even though your resume isn’t that impressive?

    Let’s talk. Two heads are better than one. Three heads are better than two. n + 1 heads are better than n heads. Surely we can make some money if we work together. And if we’re all rationalists, it should be easier to avoid common business pitfalls. (Hopefully we can even avoid the common pitfall of thinking that it’s easy to avoid common pitfalls?)

    Email me: ulqebtraohvyqvat (rot13) at gmail.

  19. Uribe says:

    Plastics.

    This idea occurred to me while watching Blue Planet. Basically every bit of energy in the ocean is used by one organism or another. Now there is all this plastic in the ocean. Isn’t it inevitable that organisms in the ocean and/or air will evolve that are able to metabolize all the plastic in the ocean? Is there anything special about plastic that makes this unlikely?

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      We shall make our own aliens, like the crinoid Old Ones.

    • Basil Elton says:

      Something like this happened in the Carboniferous period. When the trees appeared, no bacteria of the time could decompose the wood fiber. They learned to do it eventually, but not before all this carbon giving the period it’s name was accumulated – and Carboniferous lasted 60 mln years. So we might be up for some really long wait here, and chances are all the plastic will be converted to paperclips long before that.

    • sty_silver says:

      I’m not sure whether or not there’s something special about plastic, but wouldn’t it take way too long for any evolution to happen to be helpful?

    • Machine Interface says:

      I recall reading that in fact, bacteria and fungi that feed on hydrocarbons have already been reported in many places, and it is theorized that they are a factor in why the measured content of plastic in the ocean seems to have stabilized for quite a while in spite of levels of human contamination having not sensibly diminished during that period.

      Examples I could find by quick googling include Acanivorax borkumensis, Ideonella sakaiensis and Aspergillus tubingensis.

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      I don’t think it works like this. “Every bit of energy” is a figure of speech here, and doesn’t translate well to what’s actually going on.

      Rocks have been around for billions of years, and nothing has ever evolved to metabolise them.

      My (lay) understanding is that you’re only likely to bother evolving to metabolise something if there are constituent components it can break down into such that the energy released is greater than the energy you need to break it down. It may be that there are ways to do that to plastics but not to rocks, but it may be that there aren’t, and even if there are it may be that you have to go through intervening states to get there that mean it’s unlikely to happen.

      • John Schilling says:

        Rocks have been around for billions of years, and nothing has ever evolved to metabolise them.

        Most rocks are made of assorted oxides, and thus pretty close to being the minimum possible energy state for their constituent elements in a terrestrial environment. “Every bit of energy”, excludes rocks other than e.g. the odd bit of native sulfur. Which, yep, there are critters that eat.

        Roughly speaking, anything that can burn when dry should be bacteria-fodder, and anything that can’t, won’t. How long it will take for evolution to figure out that plastics are edible, is still an open question.

    • vV_Vv says:

      Already happened multiple times: Nylon-eating bacteria, Ideonella sakaiensis, Pestalotiopsis microspora.

      EDIT:

      I’ve just realized that all of these have been discovered in Japan. Either they are fake (Japanese science has a bad reputation) or Japan is especially polluted with plastic.

    • The Element of Surprise says:

      Related question: Why do deserts exist? There is ample supply of sunlight, so the density of life there is not currently limited by lack of energy, and carbon and water could be harvested from the air. Are dry hot conditions in some way an outlier and existed only for such a short timespan that life has not had the time to adapt to them?

      • mdet says:

        “I thought you could use the water in the air!?!”

        “THERE IS NO WATER IN THIS AIR!!!”

      • John Schilling says:

        Why do deserts exist?

        Ooh, ooh, I live in a desert, so I can answer this question!

        I live in a desert. So do lots and lots and lots of other things, from microbes to trees to coyotes. Life has evolved to maximally fill the desert biome, constrained by the available resources. With the finite but small supply of water being the dominant constraint, leading to a finite but small mean density of biomass.

        The supply of energy for extracting water against an increasingly stiff concentration gradient is also a factor, so there’s no “gotcha” where you point to humidity > 0.00 and say that evolution is obviously not doing its job.

  20. albatross11 says:

    Glenn Greenwald had a really interesting tweet w.r.t. Bolsonaro’s win in Brazil, which I think applies very widely:

    When a ruling class fucks over enough of the population for a long enough period of time, they’re going to burn it down – out of desperation & anger – one way or the other. At some point, democracies are going to need to grapple with that or there will be Bolsonaros everywhere.

    • 10240 says:

      IMO this sort of sentiment is common, but it’s also vague and relatively useless because whether the ruling class is fucking over the population is extremely subjective (and even the term “ruling class” is loaded).

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Eh, it’s only loaded because the term “ruling class of a democracy” causes cognitive dissonance. There’s no denying its existence.

        • 10240 says:

          The “iron law of oligarchy” is some guy’s observation, not a law of nature. The term “oligarchy” is itself vague and loaded; it’s clear that politicians are a small number of people compared to the entire population, but if they need to do approximately what the people want in order to stay elected, is it an oligarchy?

          But, more importantly, when I say that a term is loaded, I don’t mean that what it describes doesn’t exist, but that it passes judgement on what it describes, and/or it contains implicit claims. (Compare: “follows one’s interests” is a neutral phrase; “selfish” means the same but it implies that this is wrong, which makes it a loaded word.) It’s clear that there are people who make decisions for the country (politicians, political advisors, high-level bureaucrats) but “ruling class” has stronger connotations that are, as you say, viewed negatively in a democracy. My impression is that the term is usually used with the implication that the ruling class is best viewed as a monolith, that differences between the mainstream parties are unimportant, and what matters is the interests of the “ruling class” as a whole, as contrasted with the interests of ordinary people. Perhaps also that the political class is sort of closed, at least in mainstream politics.

          Such claims may or may not be true, but they are clearly subjective, and predictions such as the one in the thread-starter comment hinge very much on how much of the population agrees with them.

    • Eugene Dawn says:

      I don’t want to dismiss the idea out of hand, but it really needs some definitions: who is the “ruling class”? What does it mean to vote to “burn it down”–is the implication that voters are deliberately voting for Bolsonaro in the expectation that he will destroy the country? And are we assuming that the voters who vote to burn it down are the ones who are fucked over, and not the ruling class, whoever that may be?
      Because my understanding is that support for Bolsonaro was concentrated among the middle and upper classes, and according to these polls support for Bolsonaro is basically monotonically increasing with education. That sounds to me like Bolsonaro’s support is stronger among those from whom the ruling class, whoever they may be, is drawn, than among those who are most likely to be fucked over.
      This isn’t necessarily inconsistent with Greenwald’s argument, but I think it really needs to be clarified before I’m convinced it’s an insightful point.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        my understanding is that support for Bolsonaro was concentrated among the middle and upper classes, and according to these polls support for Bolsonaro is basically monotonically increasing with education.

        That’s interesting, and makes the moniker “the Trump of the tropics” a huge misnomer.

        • Eugene Dawn says:

          I mean, I think Trump was more popular among people with higher incomes as well, though education is a pretty big difference. But don’t read too much into what I posted: with Trump partisanship, age, race, gender, geography and other factors mattered as much or more and I presume there’s similar factors that better predict Bolsonaro support than just income and education. The coalitions they mobilize might be similar along multiple axes, and differ only on education, for example.

      • j1000000 says:

        Yeah — I don’t use Twitter much anymore but went to Greenwald’s profile specifically today to see his reaction. I was surprised by the tweet albatross points out because I assumed he’d (pretty easily) frame this as the rich and powerful once again screwing over the poor, as I like you was under the impression that this was not a man popular among the impoverished.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Not speaking to the situation in Brazil, but more generally, right-wing populists appeal primarily to the lower-middle classes, don’t they? Eg, in Weimar Germany, the Nazis never had disproportionate support among the urban working class (who tended to back the SPD, with the KPD being a major vote-winner among the unemployed); their support was concentrated in the lower-middle classes.

        The Nazis are, of course, an extreme example, but anything that could broadly be called “right-wing populism” tends to appeal to people who have theirs, but feel that they might lose it, or are embittered because they feel they should be better off than they are (a significant chunk of the SS higher-ups, for example, were either junior officers or noncoms in WWI or were slightly too young to serve in WWI, got involved in Free Corps stuff, and then found themselves in a succession of not-especially-great jobs because of the bad years at the beginning and end of the 1920s – guys who would have had prospects were it not for having lost the war and some bad economic breaks).

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          Right wing populism is almost uniformly a reactionary sentiment. In this case it is in response to blatant corruption of the left wing regime and a failure to properly check it by the center-right faction.

          I can’t recall such a movement that wasn’t preceded by a left wing government that was perceived to be corrupt of incompetent (which isn’t wrong in this case) or an ascendant communist movement (the case of Weimar).

          • baconbits9 says:

            Wasn’t the Weimar republic run by an incompetent left wing government as well?

          • dndnrsn says:

            (Interesting historical note: the Nazis considered the mainstream conservatives to be “reactionaries” and set themselves against “reaction”; they considered themselves to be reactionaries)

            There was a lot more wrong in Weimar than vote increases for the KPD; the degree to which the communists can be described as “ascendant” is questionable.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            But, isn’t that that just the pendulum in action?

            Populism in general tends to be a reaction to previous failures. FDR is a reaction the failures of the laissez-faire conservatives of the 20s. Communism is a reaction to the the failings of the monarchy or ruling class…

            I’m not sure we need to really distinguish various forms of reactionary populism as being in reaction to anything specific ideologically.

          • Protagoras says:

            Wasn’t the Weimar republic run by an incompetent left wing government as well?

            Until 1930, the center-left had consistently led fragile coalitions (which included the center-right party), but after the 1930 election Hindenburg bypassed the Reichstag to appoint first the center-right Bruening and then the conservative von Papen. Also, things had generally seemed on an upward trajectory for Weimar before the great depression hit them. So that doesn’t seem like a very good description of the lead up to Hitler.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            Populism in general tends to be a reaction to previous failures. FDR is a reaction the failures of the laissez-faire conservatives of the 20s. Communism is a reaction to the the failings of the monarchy or ruling class…

            I’d generally agree with your premise, but not your examples.

            Hoover who preceded FDR was a standard progressive and FDR campaigned not against lassez-faire but rather simply against Hoover in a purely partisan race one could compare to Bush-Clinton. If you zoomed in there were differences, but only of degree such that from a long view they really weren’t that different (from a populist POV, Hoover was much more isolationist than FDR). RFC was a proto-New Deal program as was the passage of Glass-Steagal and the ERCA. Probably most disastrous among Hoover’s policies was the Revenue Act of 1932 which raised taxes across the board.

            Similarly, the Communist revolution wasn’t really in reaction to a particularly oppressive Tsarist government, it was just a weak government because it was getting its ass kicked in a world war. The Whites initially seized control, but the Reds were actually a better organized set of leaders, with foreign allies, and being anti-war was always going to be more popular given how poorly the army was faring.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            In order for a reactionary movement to succeed, the opposition has to be weak. I don’t think that’s really a point against communism.

            Regardless of Hoover’s policies, the reaction is against the laissez-faire policies of Coolidge and the Republicans in general in the lead up to the crash and the Great Depression. He was a member of the Coolidge administration, he isn’t going to wash that stink off.

        • WarOnReasons says:

          their support was concentrated in the lower-middle classes

          I have encountered this claim many times, but never seen the statistical evidence behind it. Do you happen to know any?

          The university campus elections show that the NSDAP was disproportionally more popular among students (hardly lower-middle class group back then) than among general population. Also, looking at the 1933 election results map, I see that the NSDAP won ~60% of the vote in Eastern Prussia compared to ~30% of vote in Eastern Bavaria. Was Eastern Prussia really more lower-middle class than Bavaria? Or were other factors (such as religion and local history) much more important than class?

          • dndnrsn says:

            With regard to the statistics, I’m going by the first volume of Evans’ trilogy, which I highly recommend. I’ve read the same thing elsewhere, but that’s what I’ve read most recently.

            With regard to university students, there was disproportionate support for the NSDAP among students, but university students were a smaller % of the population than they are today in developed countries.

            With regard to East Prussia versus Bavaria, religion and local history were indeed important factors. Bavaria was dominated by Catholics, and the Catholic Centre Party (not solely a Bavarian party, but pretty strong there) had a middle-class constituency; it saw relatively little defection of voters to the NSDAP (but ultimately, once the Nazis were in power, they caved; the Nazis then moved to neutralize them). East Prussia, meanwhile, had been cut off from Germany by post-WWI territorial adjustments, had lost territory elsewhere in same, and so supported revanchism.

      • albatross11 says:

        My sense of this: Brazil has gone through a pretty big economic downturn (I think driven largely by the oil market), and has had several years of massive corruption scandals. Their previous president was impeached and removed from office; her predecessor is in prison (possibly because he was planning to run for re-election and is still pretty popular). A whole bunch of high-profile politicians have been prosecuted for corruption. Crime is a huge problem in Brazil, and I think that people in many big cities have to deal with really scary levels of crime and little police protection.

        With that as a backdrop, it’s pretty easy for me to see how the public decides to vote for someone who’s pretty awful in many ways, but who at least seems not to be corrupt, and has a plan for restoring order.

        I think Trump and Brexit are less-intense versions of a similar dynamic. The Iraq war and the 2008 financial meltdown and subsequent bailouts made our own ruling class look both incompetent and corrupt. Worsening social and economic outcomes for large parts of the country helped that along. My guess is that this is part of what created an opening for someone like Trump to win the election. To be clear about what I’m claiming: I think in a world without the loss of faith in the elites[1] that came from the foreign and domestic policy clusterfucks of the 00s, we would not have seen Trump being successful–his remarkable gifts wouldn’t have been sufficient to overcome the impression that he wasn’t a serious candidate. But once the serious candidates had lost most of their credibility, in an election where the pre-ordained choice seemed to be a Clinton or a Bush, he had an opening.

        [1] This includes elites in academia, media, government, and politics. All came off badly in the Iraq War fever and worse in the financial meltdown, IMO.

        • Eugene Dawn says:

          Sure, I think the dynamic you describe is plausible, but it’s not obvious to me that it maps perfectly onto Glenn’s tweet.

          For example, you note Lula’s continuing popularity, and polling I glanced at while writing my earlier post seems to confirm that at least during the first round, when respondents were given the chance to pick Lula, he was far and away the front-runner. Even though he is one of the elites, currently sitting in prison! If Lula could have run, would Bolsonaro have won? And if not, what does this say about the thesis?

          Similarly, I think polling in the States showed that Obama would have beaten Trump handily had he been allowed to run for a third term, though obviously the same conditions would have held. In other words, Trump and Bolsonaro would both very plausibly have fared worse against elite politicians who were more directly responsible for the conditions that apparently pushed voters away from the status quo! This seems hard to reconcile with a simple reading of Glenn’s tweet.

          Now, I don’t want to push too hard here: there are obvious countervailing tendencies: incumbency matters, candidate quality (charisma etc) matters, and it’s certainly plausible that all else equal, an outsider, burn-it-all-down candidate stands to do better in such conditions than otherwise. But it seems to me they need a few things to go their way, such as drawing weaker candidates to run against; in Trump’s case his victory required the peculiar electoral system of the US (since he would have lost if it were a simple popular vote). In Trump’s case, I think his performance is pretty consistent with what fundamentals-driven models give you–in other words, he performed about as well as a generic Republican would have been expected to. Now, this still leaves us to explain how he won the primary, or why he didn’t drastically under-perform, but I’m not sure the evidence is great for a surge in enthusiasm for an outsider candidate among the general electorate.

          Finally, the implication in Glenn’s tweet is that it is the people being fucked over who revolt and vote for the outsider candidates. But as I said above, I don’t think that’s true, or at least it’s not so simple. Bolsonaro seems to have done best among richer folks and whiter folks in Brazil; I presume this group has more overlap with the “ruling class” referred to in Glenn’s tweet. In other words, Bolsonaro’s strongest constituency are those who presumably bear the most responsibility for the state of Brazil according to the formulation in the tweet. So it’s not obvious that people who resent the failure of the ruling classes and people who vote for outsider candidates overlap all that much. Now, they may not need to overlap that much to swing elections, but to the extent that my analysis above is accurate, I think it at least undercuts the general thrust of the tweet.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Maybe one more thing to say here: I think any discussion on this needs to distinguish between voting for the opposition, voting for an outsider candidate, and voting for a burn-it-down candidate.

            I think it’s pretty commonplace if the party in power does poorly, that increases the odds the opposition will win in the future. But this can’t be what Glenn is referring to because the opposition can and often will still be drawn from the ruling class.

            Next, in some instances of misrule, voters might tend to prefer candidates who aren’t associated with current elite politics at all. I think again this has some truth to it, though probably it needs a few more qualifications than the previous statement. But again, this doesn’t comport with what Glenn is talking about because outsider candidates might be ‘renewal’ candidates, not ‘burn-it-down’ candidates: Obama in 2008 is a plausible example of such a candidate, and I don’t think Glenn would classify him as a ‘burn-it-down’ candidate (though others might).

            Finally, if elite failure is spectacular enough, voters will want to vote for candidates who they understand to be explicitly awful along many axes but with the understanding that those are necessary character flaws to get the job done. This I am the most skeptical of. I think such candidates may do better by virtue of being a subset of ‘outsider’ candidates, but I’m not sure they do any better than that. As I say, outsider-Trump vs. ex-outsider-Obama seems like it would have been an easy romp to victory for Obama, which I take as evidence that there is nothing beyond ‘outsiderness’ that helps Trump.

            So why didn’t Brazil vote for a fresh-faced young reformer? One answer is that, though Glenn perceives Bolsonaro as a ‘burn it down’ candidate, his voters don’t: they just see him as a reformer. This I think is a plausible account for some of Trump’s success, but I don’t think fits well with Glenn’s explanation in his tweet–it’s not desperation and anger that lead to such a candidate doing well, it’s mis-identification of that candidate as a reformer when they’re really an arsonist.

          • albatross11 says:

            I suspect you’re right that Obama would have beaten Trump, but I’m not entirely certain–Trump beat a lot of very capable, seasoned professionals. He would have used entirely different attacks on Obama from the ones he used on Hillary, and they might have worked.

          • albatross11 says:

            I suspect very few people think of themselves as voting for a candidate so they can watch the world burn. More likely, they’re willing to go more extreme, the more the elite consensus in the country has visibly failed.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            He would have used entirely different attacks on Obama from the ones he used on Hillary, and they might have worked.

            I’m not seeing much, if any, deviation in tactics by Trump against his perceived opponents over the last 3+ years. This seems like an odd statement to me.

          • John Schilling says:

            I suspect you’re right that Obama would have beaten Trump, but I’m not entirely certain–Trump beat a lot of very capable, seasoned professionals.

            Right, but in a Trump/Obama election, he’d have been going up against one very capable, seasoned professional. That’s vastly harder. The only time Trump ever faced off against one very capable, seasoned professional politician, he barely pulled it off in spite of that politician being burdened with the “most hated person in America” title and not actually having much capability or seasoning in the election-winning subfield of politics.

            Obama was probably only the third most hated person in America at that point, and he was demonstrably very good at winning elections.

          • azhdahak says:

            in Trump’s case his victory required the peculiar electoral system of the US (since he would have lost if it were a simple popular vote)

            Nonsense. If we elected presidents by simple popular vote, candidates would campaign differently, and prospective voters would behave differently. If we’d switched to a simple popular vote at midnight on Election Day without telling one, Trump would have lost. If we’d had a simple popular vote all along, Trump would’ve run a different campaign, and we can’t predict the differences well enough to say what would’ve happened — especially since, beginning with the first presidential election decided by a simple popular vote, the entire political history of our country would’ve been different. No one has any idea what would’ve happened in a political context where Republican candidates campaigned in Massachusetts.

          • meh says:

            No one has any idea what would’ve happened

            Nonsense. We are quite capable of modeling, estimating, and predicting. We’ll never have certainty, but we have *some* idea.

          • John Schilling says:

            What’s your model for how Johnson voters would have split in a run-off?

            Because both Trump and Hillary would have lost in a simple popular vote. No nation on Earth hands out supreme executive power on the basis of some farcical mere-plurality popular vote, and for good reason. There’s always either a run-off or a counting of second-choice votes or an appeal to an entirely different set of electors

            I think we can safely model the Stein votes as going to Hillary and the McMullin votes going to Trump, but Johnson is the kingmaker in this scenario and his votes are genuinely tricky to model. And then there’s the question of differential turnout in the runoff or blank second-place spots in a ranked-preference ballot.

            If all you want to do is say that 48.18 > 46.19 therefore Hillary coulda/shoulda/woulda won, that’s almost as irrelevant as saying 247 > 188 or 191 > 165 therefore Trump properly won.

          • meh says:

            What’s your model for how Johnson voters would have split in a run-off?

            I don’t have one, but I’m certain if I proposed 2 different ones, you would think one was more accurate than the other.

            There was no election without Stein or Johnson on the ballot, yet you aren’t saying “no one has any idea” how they would have voted in a runoff.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            If we’d had a simple popular vote all along, Trump would’ve run a different campaign, and we can’t predict the differences well enough to say what would’ve happened

            This is a fair point, but it doesn’t really help Greenwald’s argument, since it’s quite plausible the difference in Trump’s campaign would have been that he didn’t appeal to the anger and desperation that Glenn claims is the reason he won.

            My point isn’t to suggest that Trump couldn’t have won the popular vote, only that “people were angry and desperate and so lashed out and voted Trump” isn’t really a perfect fit for the data, though it’s still consistent with it.

            A similar point applies to Albatross’s argument:

            He would have used entirely different attacks on Obama from the ones he used on Hillary, and they might have worked.

            Yes, but in that counterfactual, the attacks on Obama might not fit as well with Glenn’s thesis. We just don’t have enough information to know. But we can say, in the world we live in, evidence indicated that Trump was less popular than Clinton, and dramatically less popular than Obama, and while that doesn’t kill Glenn’s argument, I think it’s at odds with it.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      I think Greenwald’s priors are a bit of a problem here (as well as everyone else fearmongering about Bolsonaro). There appears to be a willful blindness to just how criminal, oppressive, and incompetent the previous regimes were.

      Almost every state in South America governs with an unearned sense of accomplishment. Wailing about “dog whistles” towards law and order from 1st World progressives need to be treated with skepticism. We are talking about a place that already was a de facto dictatorship, just one that happened to have some support from progressives, and now its a less powerful dictatorship with less western support.

      • Eugene Dawn says:

        Greenwald currently lives in Brazil, fwiw, so without defending anything else, I do think he has some sense of the previous regimes, and is partially exempt from the charge of being a 1st world progressive.

        • albatross11 says:

          He’s lived in Brazil for several years with a husband and some adopted kids and a bunch of dogs. So he may be wrong about Bolsonaro or Brazilian politics in general, but he’s definitely got skin in the game.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            Greenwald’s domicile is not really that informative as to his worldview.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Then calling him a 1st world progressive, and implying that meant his views should be treated with skepticism was not a useful part of your original comment.

  21. ing says:

    I’ve recently completed this writeup of my favorite D&D oneshot adventure:
    https://sites.google.com/view/the-orb-of-storms/home
    What do you think?

    • dndnrsn says:

      My immediate thought is that your definitions of “simulationist” and “narrativist” don’t really match the meaning of those terms found in GNS theory (although they probably match the “colloquial” meaning better – one of the problems with GNS theory seems to be that the terms don’t mean what most people guess they would mean).

      I disagree with your philosophy of GMing, for the same reason I disagree with John Wick’s GM advice (which often boils down to, use all sorts of tricks and cheating and so on to leverage the unique identification-with-character of RPGs to deliver a particular emotional experience): the average GM is, by definition, mediocre. Trying to give the players a good story, keep things fun, etc by “goosing” things, will as often (perhaps more often) than not lead to railroading. John Wick might be able to do this (he tells a lot of stories about what a superlative GM he is, at least, and his friends seem to agree) and maybe you are, but legitimizing it as a tool for general use is dangerous, for the same reason that a detective framing a criminal they know to be guilty but can’t prove it is dangerous. Maybe really good detectives only use this on people who are actually guilty, but if it becomes generally accepted GM advice, you’re going to have a lot of mediocre detectives framing a lot of innocent people. It’s a great way to turn an RPG into telling a story to the players, creating all sorts of bad incentives (if the players know they’re never going to face a combat they won’t win, and there’s a guarantee of victory because victory is fun and losing isn’t fun, they’ll get lazy and sloppy), and ultimately defeating the unique virtues of the format.

      I played in a long-running campaign with an at-best-mediocre newbie GM, and it became increasingly obvious that he was railroading us, rigging things so combats would never kill us, and ensuring that anything we did succeeded if it would advance his plot (anything that would mess with his plot was made impossible). By the end, we were phoning it in; it was obvious nothing we (the players) did mattered. Our PCs were the heroes, sure, but guaranteed victory isn’t really victory.

      Thoughts about the adventure:

      1. Brief intro explaining the backstory. Good. Long intros are bad, but just dropping the GM in is also bad, because it means they have to read the whole thing to figure out what’s going on.
      2. Good that it’s explicitly not read-aloud text. Read-aloud text is bad.
      3. Q&A is good.
      4. First encounter could maybe be better structured as information to the GM, to then be dealt out to the players; the way it’s formatted, a GM could accidentally surprise themselves.
      5. Why don’t people think werewolves are real? There’s elves and magic and stuff; “nobody believes in that fantastical creature” always seems a bit odd in fantastical worlds. Wouldn’t a ban on silver raise eyebrows? Why would anyone make silver weapons, if not for fear of werewolves?
      6. What happens if the PCs talk to the crazy guy and go off on a series of red herring wild goose chases?
      7. Related to my above disagreement on GMing philosophy: if you alter reality to keep the PCs from getting killed when they go off half-cocked and do something stupid, that’s guaranteeing that in the medium or long-term the players will reliably go off half-cocked, because a bad plan has no disadvantages compared to a good plan. Foolish PCs should die if that’s how things go down, because if you provide no punishment for being foolish, you’re guaranteed to have foolish PCs.
      8. “but anyone with religious skill feels the place as hollow.” Why? Religion skill is usually “you know about religious stuff” – I did religious studies in school, and I probably have proficiency in Knowledge (Religion) or whatever because of that, but I wouldn’t be able to walk into a church where there’s a secret temple of Baal in the basement and identify that something’s off. If it’s some specific cleric or paladin thing where they can feel bad mojo, sure, but you don’t want the PCs getting the idea that an academic skill is a Wrongness Detector.
      9. Why give the bad guys a good plan, unless the PCs take too long, in which case they have a bad plan? Give them a bad plan from the beginning, and add something to make it harder if the PCs take too long.
      10. The writing style is good at delivering information; I never found myself wondering “what is going on; who is that; when did that come in to the picture.” If you put this in .pdf format, I’d recommend double columns: much easier to read than single columns, for whatever reason.

      • ing2 says:

        Thanks for the feedback! Your criticism is insightful.

        I’ll admit that I haven’t actually read “GNS Theory”, so it’s probably bad for me to be borrowing their vocabulary without understanding it. Is there better terminology I could be using here?

        I do think you’re right that I’m optimizing for short-term fun at the expense of long-term campaign viability. I will think on this.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          FWIW, I think this is perfectly reasonable for a one-shot, and I always talk to the players before running one to say, “look, I like doing improv GMing, but one-shots are fairly on-a-rail in terms of their expectations; if you don’t do what you’re expected to, we won’t reach a resolution tonight. Or ever.”

        • dndnrsn says:

          If I were trying to put words on it, I’d differentiate between a “let the dice fall where they may, the world is a real world” attitude and a “guided experience” attitude.

          If this is meant to be a one-shot, or an introductory adventure, I’d just make it clear to the players that the purpose is to get them accustomed to the system, and so on. Maybe even present it as a series of vignettes. The best “rigged” adventure I’ve ran was one where the action was mostly in flashbacks, where I’d tell the PCs what was going to happen, in broad terms – but that was specialized.

          In anything longer than that, I’d just stay away from the “the GM’s job is to make sure everyone has fun by rigging things” – in my experience, lacking a superlative GM (which most GMs are not; I am not a superlative GM), rigging things to make sure everyone has fun leads down a bad road.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            In anything longer than that, I’d just stay away from the “the GM’s job is to make sure everyone has fun by rigging things” – in my experience, lacking a superlative GM (which most GMs are not; I am not a superlative GM), rigging things to make sure everyone has fun leads down a bad road.

            In my late face-to-face 3.5 campaign, I was stuck doing this because one player, J, would ragequit over his character failing. I was unable to reach the point of saying “OK bye” due to not being able to recruit stable new players.
            This being 3.5, where the rules start to fall apart in the players’s disfavor if the sacred principle of Wealth By Level isn’t maintained (as a better player put it to me, “If you don’t drop enough treasure, any Challenge Rating is higher than you think it is because we don’t have the loot the CR system expects you to handle that monster with”), the economics of the world kept changing. First there were historically plausible treasure drops, but that was at least almost two orders of magnitude too low for WBL, so instead of enemies fighting encumbered with heavy sacks of gold, I started giving them the magic items within that budget that would be most useful to them… which led to J threatening to ragequit again if I didn’t edit the universe mid-combat so that only PC casters could craft Monk’s Belts. @_@

          • John Schilling says:

            You definitely have to either keep WBL or ignore CR in 3.5e/Pathfinder. But since there are already sound reasons to treat the CR system as loose guidelines at best, WBL can go take a flying leap as soon as you’ve got a better idea.

            Keeping your players lean and hungry is, IMO, almost always a better idea.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @John

            This dramatically exacerbates caster/martial disparity. BAB and most class features scale roughly equally to WBL number progression; WBL barely scales casters (comparatively) because spell progression outstrips its impact so badly.

            Also, throwing enemies at the party with (at least one of) antimagic, things that target fort or reflex saves, teleportation+grappling, or other “fuck you wizard” shenanigans doesn’t help. The fact that you’re trying to fight one player more than the others is transparent and frustrating, IME.

      • Deiseach says:

        I did religious studies in school, and I probably have proficiency in Knowledge (Religion) or whatever because of that, but I wouldn’t be able to walk into a church where there’s a secret temple of Baal in the basement and identify that something’s off.

        Ooooh, unless it was something like “Yeah, the iconography here is not right, somehow” or “They’re celebrating a what ritual? That’s nothing I’ve ever heard of!” or observing what on the face of it is a conventional ceremony but the rubrics are completely wrong, but agreed, that’s not the same thing as “hmm, my sense of the sacred is tingling, this place feels hollow”.

        • ing2 says:

          A principle of the Dresden Files books is that all humans can sense the presence of evil magic. Most people don’t recognize it as evil magic, but everyone can kind of get the feeling that something is wrong. I think the quote is: “the heebie jeebies are an evolved survival mechanism.”

          I’ve sort of integrated this into my worldview; I guess I’ve got sort of an implicit house rule that, if something sufficiently evil is happening sufficiently close to you, you’ll notice.

          I agree that this is not an official 5e rule, and I should revise my oneshot to be clearer there.

        • Jiro says:

          I think some of this is an artifact of the fact that you can’t have skills at too fine-grained a level in a game, because the more fine-grained you make the skills, the less efficient it is to buy them. You’d have to give people hundreds of points for skills and then let them buy “Christian religion”, “Western religions”, “Eastern religions”, “ancient religions”, “temples in ancient religions”, “carvings in temples in ancient religions” etc. separately. It’s too unwieldy to do that, so instead you have one “religion” skill which covers everything religious, even if nobody could actually know everything in the category.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        7. This is something I’ve been seeing playing D&D 5E: it’s almost baked into the rules that you can’t die for doing stupid things unless your party ignores your dying body for 3+ turns and you roll 1-9 on a 20-sider thrice.
        Right now I’m playing an Arkadian Moon Druid 5/Bear Totem Barbarian 3 in my best friend’s mythic Greek campaign, and I keep asking for deadlier encounters because my PC can tank for about 200 damage regardless of type before even taking advantage of the self-Cure while in animal form rule, while keeping squishier teammates alive by passing out Goodberries (a Level 1 spell) ahead of time.
        With only that modicum of planning, I’ve yet to see anything we can’t handle with me jumping into the biggest danger’s face with a cry of “he wanax Jenkins!

        • dndnrsn says:

          It seems to me like the intention in 3rd is to make it like CRPGs where party members generally don’t die unless the entire party goes down – either you manage to win the fight, and you’ve got a bunch of wounded PCs, or your last PC goes down, game over.

          It seems like this would create the problem of only having PCs die when there’s a TPK, though.

        • Nick says:

          In the Pathfinder Western I’m in, we nearly had a TPK last session. Our tank was down, our rogue couldn’t fight, I was grappled and almost out of health, and our bard was almost out of health and considering fleeing. If things had gone even a little worse, we’d all have died, with the possible exception of the bard. It was frustrating for story reasons, but gratifying in its own way to learn that our GM would throw serious encounters our way.

          also +1 for “he wanax Jenkins!” 😀

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            It’s a very gratifying feeling, isn’t it?

            also +1 for “he wanax Jenkins!”

            Thanks. If I ever get to play in a medieval French campaign, it’ll be “Leroy [Charles/Louis]!”

        • Gazeboist says:

          To be fair, you’re playing one of the most durable builds available. The 5e Druid class is also pretty broken. Not quite to the degree of the 3.x Druid, but it’s more obvious because they got the balance right in other places.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            To be fair, you’re playing one of the most durable builds available. The 5e Druid class is also pretty broken.

            True. 90 extra hit points starting at Level 2 that you get back after a short rest are so hilariously broken that multiclassing into Barbarian for half damage from every type but psychic is almost a trap option. By the time the 180+72(human form) HP build activates at Level 5, you’re only 2 levels below where a straight Druid gets the ability to summon 8 Pixies, which is even more broken.
            For an even more broken strategy, get another player to make an Assassin Rogue (broken Damage Per Round option) and ask him to ride you to the enemy you’re tanking, then dismount out of range after attacking.

          • Jiro says:

            I have played a druid and haven’t found it broken at all.

            The key is that pretty much everything you can change into has a terrible armor class. The 90 extra hit points go away much faster than actually having 90 extra hit points would. Using them also requires that you commit to not casting any spells until you’re done, and many powerful creatures are huge in size and won’t fit in a dungeon corridor.

            You can try to make up for the armor class by using spells such as Barkskin, but they have concentration requirements and you’ll be getting into physical combat, so they won’t last.

    • Vorkon says:

      I just wanted to say that I definitely appreciated the bit about the conspiracy theorist thinking that the best way to kill werewolves was to gather everyone in the town square and vote on who was most likely to be a werewolf.

  22. SamChevre says:

    Let’s talk about corporate taxes.

    I’m looking for the top-level comments to note both goals and a proposed structure. And then we can critique the proposals, and see whether it is different goals, different ideas of the results, or what that makes them different.

    • SamChevre says:

      My goals: taxes that are indifferent to organizational form, are easy to administer and pay, and do not provide incentives that encourage large organizations.

      My proposal: tax business income when earned and NOT distributed, at the maximum individual tax rate. Count business income on a GAAP basis for businesses with GAAP books. Count income for multi-nationals as the proportion of total enterprise income that US sales are of enterprise sales. And allow business tax losses to be sold if the business closes, and they can be demonstrated to represent real cash losses. Tax capital gains at $0–but since all retained income has already been taxed, capital gains are likely to be low on average.

      • SamChevre says:

        Clearly, one thing that I intended, and thought was implicitly clear, was not.

        In this system, dividends count as income to the owner, and are taxed as income, but are not taxed as income at the corporate level. Only income not distributed as dividends is taxed at the corporate level.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Zero corporate level taxes.

      Done and done.

      • SamChevre says:

        Can you expand? Is all income attributed to individuals when earned? Or is income not taxed until distributed?

        • baconbits9 says:

          I’m personally for no taxes at any level.

          If we are going to tax then consumption and use taxes are far better than income taxes, and if we are going to have income taxes then individual taxes are for better than group level taxes.

      • idontknow131647093 says:

        This. A corporate tax is just an income tax mixed with a capital gains tax that dis-incentivizes re-investment at the corporate level.

        If you think investment is too high and investors make too much money, you raise the capital gains tax, if you think CEOs make too much you increase the marginal rates on high incomes. The corporate tax is just dishonest laundering.

        • SamChevre says:

          I partly agree with your beginning, but disagree with the ending.

          I want to “discourage” re-investment at the corporate level. (“Discourage” relative to present, not overall.) My problem with “no corporate tax” is that is makes re-investment out of corporate funds hugely tax-advantaged relative to investing out of personal funds, and I dislike the resulting tendency of fewer and larger businesses. I also think the principal-agent problems inherent int he corporate form grow with business size.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            How can you want to discourage re-investment at the corporate level relative to modern times when it is at historic lows? The only major people heavily investing are Amazon and startups. The rest are doing buybacks of stock.

            Look, I’m no fan of capital gains taxes either, I think investment is ridiculously low right now and we need more savings so that people can make big investments and have the thought that those will pay off. But its silly for a corporation to pay a profits tax before distributing that to its investors so they can pay a capital gains tax. That’s just double taxation.

          • Eric Rall says:

            One idea I’ve had along those lines (discouraging retained earnings without double-taxation) would be to equalize tax treatment of equity with debt.

            When a corporation issues bonds and pays interest on them, the interest is a deductible expense for the corporation (i.e. they pay no taxes on the portion of operating profits that they use to pay out bond interest), but the bondholder pays taxes on their interest payments as ordinary income.

            For stock, the parallel tax treatment would be for dividends to be fully deductible as expenses, but taxable as ordinary income to the shareholder.

            Under this scheme, retained earnings would still be taxed ~1.5 times (once as corporate income, and again at a reduced capital gains rate as the value of the retained earnings is reflected in stock valuations), but earnings paid out to investors as dividends would only be taxed once as individual income.

        • Brad says:

          This plan effectively eliminates the existing taxation of non-US domiciled owners of US companies as well as taxation of foreign owners and employees of foreign companies that do business in the United States.

        • arlie says:

          CEOs seem to make most of their income via equity awards. That’s one reason they’ll do anything to goose the stock higher, with particular emphasis on stock buybacks.

          So to reduce CEO income, you either change the terms on which they receive stock awards (please!) or you take measures to reduce stock price gains, affecting all stock holders.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            I mean they can take them in different ways. One is stock options which is easy enough to tax. You tax as income the initial price and capital gains on the gains.

            The other is bonuses based on stock price, which you just tax as income.

            There is nothing complex other than people being ignorant of the code.

          • Brad says:

            One thing that certainly needs to change is the economically ignorant notion that an option issued at FMV has no value.

    • ing says:

      My goals: we should start by taxing in proportion to negative externalities generated. I optimistically believe that total negative externalities generated are less than the total revenue our nation needs.

      Tax pollution. Tax waste that goes to landfills. Tax the use of raw materials.
      I suspect that it’s a lame cliche at this point to endorse “georgist land taxes”, but I’d enjoy having a conversation about why these are a bad idea, so let’s do that too.
      Aggressively tax any product that is bad for people (alcohol, tobacco).
      Tax for workplace accidents. (And that’s in addition to workplace safety laws, not a replacement.)

      I think Bay Area companies get taxed on traffic generated.

      I’d like to tax for bad memetics (gangsta rap, for example or Grand Theft Auto) but I think it would be too tricky to implement in practice.

      • Nornagest says:

        I’d like to tax for bad memetics (gangsta rap, for example or Grand Theft Auto) but I think it would be too tricky to implement in practice.

        Gangsta rap and Grand Theft Auto are protest music and satire, respectively, and those are the kinds of things you probably don’t want to tax. A lot of people enjoy them both on the object level, though, for the same reason that there’s no such thing as an anti-war movie: people go into media looking for emotional highs, and carnage, however unglamorous, is pretty good at delivering them. (GTA was designed with this in mind from the get-go; gangsta rap wasn’t, but it found the market for it on, like, day two.)

        • cryptoshill says:

          Gangsta rap hasn’t been protest music for at least a decade, probably more than that.

          • dick says:

            “Fuck the Police” was 1988 IIRC, and Gangsta Rap hasn’t really been a thing in the original form since the late 90s. Separate from that, having a tax on “bad memetics” sounds absurdly unimplementable but I’m open to hearing more I guess. Who decides which memes are the bad ones?

          • ing2 says:

            I concede that it’s absurdly unimplementable. : )

      • Tax the use of raw materials.

        Why?

        The user already bears the future opportunity cost, since once you use the raw material you can’t use it again. No externality there.

        • ing2 says:

          Um, like fresh water, for example. Maybe there’s a situation where anyone can go run a pipe into the river and use the water to irrigate their crops. But if too many people do it, then everyone runs out of river. The government should set a tax on the use of fresh water to make sure that it doesn’t get depleted.

          (I don’t actually know what the controls are on who can get fresh water from a river, except apparently California needs more of them.)

          Other resources which are cheap to extract but can become depleted include fish, oil, lumber, metals, and possibly soil quality. Some of these are less renewable than others and would probably need to be taxed differently.

          • Nornagest says:

            You’re reinventing the wheel. In most of the US there are two ways to get water when you’re off a city grid. You can buy fresh water from irrigation projects, in which case you’re paying at the pump, so to speak, or you can pump it out from a well if you have the groundwater rights. Irrigation water is a lot cheaper than city water, but it’s non-potable, and the details of how much you can buy are managed by a fiendishly complicated scheme of water rights. Wells are free except for setup costs and electrical power (which can be substantial), but you can’t usually pull up as much water with them, it’s often very hard water (which complicates using it for farming), and you’re paying property taxes on the land your groundwater rights came with. A lot of rurals have both an irrigation hookup and a small well, and use the well for cooking, drinking, and showers and their irrigation for gardens, fields, and livestock.

            There’s an argument to be made that irrigation water in parts of the West is too cheap or poorly allocated, and there’s a separate argument that the groundwater rights structure doesn’t do a good job of capturing the externalities involved, but it’s not like every farmer in California is digging a pirate canal to the Sacramento River and getting it for free.

          • CatCube says:

            There is an extensive body of water rights law in the American West. This is an extremely intricate body of law, but it rests on “prior appropriation,” where the first person to draw water from a particular watercourse gains the right to draw that quantity or to sell those rights to somebody else, and holds this right against users who begin to draw water from the watercourse later.

          • benwave says:

            Surely in these cases a cap and trade for extraction rights would work better? You ensure in that case that there’s never an unsustainable amount of the resource being extracted (legally, anyway) and the amount which Is extracted finds its true value in the market.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            ing2 is still lumping together the extraction of resources from a commons (which produces an externality) with the extraction of resources from one’s own property. I often see the idea of externalities get abused this way.

          • ing says:

            @Nornagest, re: fiendishly complicated scheme of water rights;
            @CatCube, re: “prior appropriation”:
            I hadn’t known this and I think it’s really interesting, but I also think it’s a terrible system which sounds a lot like rent-seeking, and we should try to replace as much of it as we can with taxation.

            @benwave, good point! If we try to control supply-and-demand by setting a tax rate, sometimes we’ll overestimate or underestimate and get bad results. But I think part of my goal was to raise money through taxation, and another part of my goal was to avoid clowny situations where individuals “owned” the “rights” to big chunks of natural resources, and cap-and-trade doesn’t really solve those problems.

            Maybe some sort of an auction, where every year the government auctions off the rights to certain amounts of fresh water? (or to catch certain amounts of fish, or to pump certain amounts of oil?)

          • ing says:

            @Paul, I actually take issue with the phrase “one’s own property” as applied to natural resources, or even to land ownership. I don’t think governments should be allowed to permanently sell these things to individuals, though they might rent out the rights to use them.

            I understand we can’t get to that situation from the situation we’re currently in. But this is a hypothetical exercise where we describe a good tax structure for an ideal nation, and in my ideal nation there is nobody who can describe a river as “their own property”.

          • Other resources which are cheap to extract but can become depleted include fish, oil, lumber, metals, and possibly soil quality.

            You are missing the distinction between resources that are private property and common pool resources. Water for wells is a common pool resource. Metal ore, lumber, and soil quality are not. In each of those cases, it is in the interest of the owner to include in his calculation of cost the fact that he is using up a valuable resource that belongs to him.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            @ing: Whether or not you like the present system doesn’t really matter for purposes of determining what’s an externality. What matters is that under the present system, costs resulting from depletion of a privately owned resource are borne by the owner and so are not externalities.

          • Nornagest says:

            I hadn’t known this and I think it’s really interesting, but I also think it’s a terrible system which sounds a lot like rent-seeking, and we should try to replace as much of it as we can with taxation.

            It’s not a great system, but taxing it isn’t a good system either. The basic constraints here are that we’ve got a lot of stupendously productive agricultural land in California, from which we want to get turnips, and a limited and highly variable supply of water going into it from a whole bunch of different places. From a policy perspective, the game is to convert as much of that water into turnips as possible without jeopardizing water supply to cities, flood control, the riparian habitats we’ve decided we need to preserve, and a half-dozen other things.

            Now, if we pick a fixed tax rate for those water sources that looks like it’ll give us about the right ratios on average, it works in average years — but in the first dry year the Central Valley farmers will suck everything dry, because the water they’re drawing is undervalued at the rate we’ve set, and in the first wet year all the farmers will quite reasonably moan for eight months about how they can’t afford to water their fields but look, there’s all that water that no one bought, just flowing into the ocean doing nothing. Making the tax rate variable fixes this, but only as long as the legislature (or whoever sets the rate) correctly estimates the demand for water. I expect they’ll make their first serious mistake about two hours after the law goes into effect.

            Taxes are not magic. Reform of systems like this is not simple. Aside from the above, there are a whole bunch of jurisdictional disputes we need to grapple with, among many other problems.

          • 10240 says:

            The “variable rates” version should really be a bidding system where the highest bidders get the resource at the cutoff rate.

          • ing2 says:

            @David, @Paul:
            I wrote: “I don’t think governments should be allowed to permanently sell [natural resources] to individuals, though they might rent out the rights to use them.”

            You both replied, telling me that things like metal ore were privately owned resources.

            Did you not read my message?

          • Guy in TN says:

            @DavidFriedman

            In each of those cases, it is in the interest of the owner to include in his calculation of cost the fact that he is using up a valuable resource that belongs to him.

            Yes, but it is not in his interest to calculate the negative effects harvesting these resources has on people who are not the resource’s owner.

            If you cut a tree, that’s a tree that I cannot cut down in the future, regardless of who owns the tree. My utility-position is made worse off by you cutting the tree, even if you are the person who owns the tree. This is because “externalities” are not defined by the legal fiat of ownership, but by whether someone is put in a worse position than they were before.

            If you think that’s crazy, consider this: if it wasn’t true, we could “solve” the problem of externalities by putting all resources under single state ownership.

            If you understand why that doesn’t work, then it should be clear why saying “the resources are his own property, so depleting them doesn’t cause externalities” also doesn’t hold.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            If you cut a tree, that’s a tree that I cannot cut down in the future, regardless of who owns the tree. My utility-position is made worse off by you cutting the tree, even if you are the person who owns the tree.

            “Worse off” implies a change, which is exactly what there isn’t in this situation as far as you’re concerned. All I’ve done is change it from a tree you can’t cut down because it doesn’t belong to you, to a tree you can’t cut down because it isn’t standing. The only person who’s lost the option is me; the idea of externality was invented precisely to distinguish costs like this one, which are borne by the decision-maker, from those which are borne by others.

          • Guy in TN says:

            All I’ve done is change it from a tree you can’t cut down because it doesn’t belong to you, to a tree you can’t cut down because it isn’t standing.

            The legal ownership of the tree can be changed. Where before, access to the tree was in my possibility-space, now it is not. This is why my position is made worse-off by the tree removal, regardless of who currently owns the tree.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Paul Zrimsek
            An example:

            Let’s say I’m a carpenter who relies on lumber imported from China. The Chinese timber company decides to no longer cut trees, and instead turns the forest into a nature preserve. This causes my supply of wood to be cut off, which leads to me going out of business.

            By your logic: Since the Chinese timber company owns the forest, their decision to stop selling timber did not cause an externality. The tree doesn’t belong to me either way, so I can’t say I’m in a worse position now that they have switched to being a nature preserve.

            Is this right? It looks like a textbook case of an externality IMO.

          • If you cut a tree, that’s a tree that I cannot cut down in the future, regardless of who owns the tree.

            If I eat some of the ice cream in my freezer, that’s ice cream you cannot eat in the future. That isn’t an externality.

          • 10240 says:

            The Chinese timber company creates a positive externality when it sells timber, and no externality when it doesn’t. (When in sells timber, the timber company itself creates a positive externality, but the system of the timber company and you creates no externality. For tax/subsidy purposes, such a situation counts as zero externality.)

          • Guy in TN says:

            @David Friedman
            Why not? You’ve made my position worse off. Imposing a cost on me that I didn’t incur.

            Where before, access to that ice cream was in the possibility-space, now it is not.

            That you’ve made me worse off using the normal channels of legal ownership is irrelevant. If it was relevant, we would have to say that in a society with single state ownership, the state bulldozing a the home a person lives in, and causing them to be homeless, causes no externalities on the former home-dweller. Since its not that person’s house anyway, legally speaking.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            It would broaden the idea of externality to the point of uselessness to extend it to the loss of privately held things which could be transferred to others in the future: there are few things of which that could not be said. The most you can accomplish is to confuse people who are used to seeing “externality” used according to its usual definition.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @10240

            Whether you frame it as a “cost” or a “loss of benefits”, the decision by the Chinese company makes the carpenters position worse off, and is not incorporated into their decision-making.

            I admit to being technically incorrect in this example, by describing it as negative externality, instead of as a loss of a positive externality.

          • 10240 says:

            Any company that relies on the supply of some resource should prepare for the possibility that the price of the resource increases; it has no right to assume that it won’t. There is a variety of ways it can prepare: estimate how much increase can be expected at worst given the market conditions, make long-term supply contracts at a fixed price, buy commodity futures, make plans how it can substitute the resource if possible, make plans how to make money from other activities if its present business model is rendered unprofitable etc.

          • meh says:

            These seem to be supply/demand questions not externalities. Though I suppose if interstate commerce can be defined to mean anything so can externalities.

            Anywho if you are a carpenter, and limited lumber supply causes prices to go up, you will pass this on to your consumers, with a net zero effect to you. If prices go up though, new suppliers will arise.

            I’m sure you can argue around any toy example to turn it into a theoretical externality, but I don’t think there is much there.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Paul Zrimsek

            It would broaden the idea of externality to the point of uselessness to extend it to the loss of privately held things which could be transferred to others in the future: there are few things of which that could not be said. The most you can accomplish is to confuse people who are used to seeing “externality” used according to its usual definition.

            It is the usual definition, I’m just not applying it in the way you typically see it.

            Let’s back up. The reason we are talking about externalities, is that someone proposed taxing the use of natural resources. The counter argument was that using natural resources doesn’t effect anyone else, because they are private property.

            If my argument is true, that using private property does effect other people, that doesn’t mean that the concept of externalities is useless. On the contrary, my argument for taxation of natural resources relies on the concept of externalities.

            I would say that if you understand that all human actions cause externalities, your analysis hasn’t become confused, but clarified.

          • CatCube says:

            I’m not clear on the concept of “taxing” the use of natural resources, as opposed to “selling” them. The attempted distinction seems totally incoherent.

            What, exactly, is this supposed to look like? Right now, if I own a piece of property with timber on it, I can sell the timber. Are you implying that purchasing a piece of property with trees standing on it means that you literally cannot do anything with it? Almost any use of real property, other than simply sitting outside the property boundary and staring at it, would require harvesting at least some of the trees. Hell, even hunting would seem to be verboten, since that’s removing a “natural resource.” That’s a rather fascinating concept of “ownership.”

          • sentientbeings says:

            @Guy in TN

            It is the usual definition, I’m just not applying it in the way you typically see it.

            It seems to me that you are not using the usual definition at all. How might someone convince you of that? People have already said most of what I would have.

            If there is an example that comes close to your usage, I think it would be positional goods, since you could have clearly-defined and non-violated property boundaries but still impose an externality on others. Your usage is much broader than that, because you are asserting an externality even when there is no information pathway linking events.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            I have to say guyintn that I agree with other people that you are not using “externality” in its traditional sense, and even if you are hewing to a specific dictionary definition, your application indeed makes the word useless.

            For the word externality to be useful, in either the lumber or ice cream the loss in value to 3rd parties must be different than the loss to the property owner. Thus, the loss of the ability to harvest the tree is the same for the property owner and other 3rd parties, so it is not an externality. However if harvesting the tree causes someone else’s property to flood then that is an externality. Similarly, if David eating his ice cream means he and you both cannot eat it in the future, its not an externality because the cost is the same to both. But if him eating it causes him to have a ferocious poop that ends up causing your house to back up with sewage, that is an externality.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @CatCube

            Are you implying that purchasing a piece of property with trees standing on it means that you literally cannot do anything with it?

            Not at all. I am countering the argument that there should be zero regulation, based of the incorrect belief that usage of a resource affects no one but the owner. The logical conclusion of “all actions cause externalities” isn’t that no one should do anything, but rather arguments for regulating resource use can’t be waved away with “this doesn’t affect you”.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @sentientbeings

            Your usage is much broader than that, because you are asserting an externality even when there is no information pathway linking events.

            Could you explain this a little more? It seems to me there is clear pathway from to someone cutting a tree, to me gaining access to that tree at some point in the future and finding it cut. Many other externalities (such as pollution) have a lag time from when the action takes place, to when it affects third parties.

            @idontknow131647093

            For the word externality to be useful, in either the lumber or ice cream the loss in value to 3rd parties must be different than the loss to the property owner.

            I don’t understand this at all. Are you saying that an imposed cost on third party is not an externality, as long as the original actor incurs the same cost to himself?

            However if harvesting the tree causes someone else’s property to flood then that is an externality.

            With the implication being, that if it caused his own property to flood, in addition to other people’s property, it would no longer be an negative externality?

            I’m not an economist. But if this is true, my mind will be blown, and I’ll need to come up with a new word for “action that incurs a loss on a third party”.

            [edit: I’m pretty sure the loss isn’t the same in your examples, because:
            Person A: (-) ice cream is no longer available
            while person B: (-)ice cream is no longer available (+) got to eat ice cream

            So the net losses/gains are not the same for each party]

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            I don’t understand this at all. Are you saying that an imposed cost on third party is not an externality, as long as the original actor incurs the same cost to himself?

            More or less, yes. That is the purpose of inventing the idea of externalities.

            With the implication being, that if it caused his own property to flood, in addition to other people’s property, it would no longer be an negative externality?

            No, with the implication being that the flooding of his own property was a cost of harvesting the tree, and the flooding of other people’s properties is the externality.

            I’m not an economist. But if this is true, my mind will be blown, and I’ll need to come up with a new word for “action that incurs a loss on a third party”.

            You should just use externality because it is the correct word.

            [edit: I’m pretty sure the loss isn’t the same in your examples, because:
            Person A: (-) ice cream is no longer available
            while person B: (-)ice cream is no longer available (+) got to eat ice cream.
            So the net losses/gains are not the same for each party]

            Indeed, but we are not talking about net when we discuss externalities, what we are talking about is things that should be calculated as the “total cost” of doing something. The cost of any person A, B or C eating the ice cream is that no one, not A, B, C, D, etc can eat the ice cream. Under your formulation basically all consumptions of resources would have infinite externalities. For all normal purposes, the eating of the ice cream has no externalities because it doesn’t have a cost that is not also internalized by the ice cream owner (which is the newfound lack of ice cream).

            The purpose of the concept is basically to say, “well yes this activity would give property owner A a gigantic benefit, but it will have small negative effects on B, C, & D that he doesn’t care about.” Then you the next step is forcing the property holder to internalize the externalities he has caused, which ensures that only things that are actually efficient are done.

            The classic case is pollution. I have my tire fired electricity plant that makes me $1000/day, but it pollutes the surrounding town. The pollution is the externality, the fact that a tire I burn today cannot be burned tomorrow by me is an internalized cost.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @idontknow131647093
            Let’s do the tedious definitional debate first: Your first and third statements are in direct contradiction. In your third statement you agreed that an externality is “a loss incurred by a third party”. In your first statement, you said that a loss incurred by a third party is not an “externality”, under certain conditions.

            Anyway.

            For all normal purposes, the eating of the ice cream has no externalities because it doesn’t have a cost that is not also internalized by the ice cream owner (which is the newfound lack of ice cream).

            You eating the ice cream incurs a cost on me, by removing eating the ice cream from my possibility space. Just like the in the example of the Chinese logging company, they remove access to their timber from the possibility space. The carpenter’s position is made worse-off than he was before.

            What part of this logic do you object to? I feel like I’ve spelled this out many-times over in this thread.

            well yes this activity would give property owner A a gigantic benefit, but it will have small negative effects on B, C, & D that he doesn’t care about

            Yes. Exactly. The Chinese logging company doesn’t care about the losses incurred on the carpenter. The ice cream-eater doesn’t care about the losses incurred on non-ice cream-eaters who got access to the ice cream removed from their possibility space. My examples fit this perfectly.

            That my argument shows externalities are everywhere is a feature, not a bug.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            You eating the ice cream incurs a cost on me, by removing eating the ice cream from my possibility space.

            It is not an externality because it imposes the same cost on me, which I internalize.

          • Guy in TN says:

            So is there a better word then for “action that imposes a cost on a third party”?

          • Guy in TN says:

            Indeed, but we are not talking about net when we discuss externalities, what we are talking about is things that should be calculated as the “total cost” of doing something.

            How does calculating the net gains/losses differ from calculating the “total cost”, in this scenario?

          • Guy in TN says:

            The classic case is pollution. I have my tire fired electricity plant that makes me $1000/day, but it pollutes the surrounding town. The pollution is the externality,

            Wait, doesn’t the pollution impose the same cost on everyone, including the polluter? How can you call it an externality, then?

            (by your definition, of course)

          • IrishDude says:

            @Guy in TN

            I am countering the argument that there should be zero regulation, based of the incorrect belief that usage of a resource affects no one but the owner.

            You seem to have an expansive view of regulation. Putting aside externalities for the moment and addressing direct interactions, let’s suppose Joe really likes Mary and asks her out but she rejects him. This makes Joe sad, perhaps even really sad to the point he becomes a recluse for a year.

            Would you say that Mary has imposed costs on Joe? If so, would you note that since Mary has imposed costs on Joe with her rejection, that her choice to reject Joe should be regulated by the state? Does it matter how much suffering Joe goes through because of the rejection, and should the state be allowed to intervene against Mary’s decision to reject Joe at some level of suffering for Joe?

          • liate says:

            I think that this argument is as much about different ideas of what rights are included in property rights as it is about externalities. Yes, eating ice cream, or cutting down a tree, that you own means that other people can’t have a chance of having that ice cream or tree, but getting them would generally require purchasing it from you; even death doesn’t necessarily mean anyone else has a chance, you could set up an entity in your will to prevent other people from using it. No-one else having a chance to get it is fundamentally a part of owning it; the fact that there generally is a chance of you eventually getting it is just because people tend not to be that possessive and/or eventually die.

            The problem with putting that property right in with externalities is that makes less clear why externalities are bad; if doing basically anything with something effects the object in such a way that could be thought of as an externality, then the actually-problematic externalities seem less a problem, because “effecting other people” is no longer an obvious-seeming bad thing.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            Wait, doesn’t the pollution impose the same cost on everyone, including the polluter? How can you call it an externality, then?

            No, because it imposes the cost of polluting on himself (an internal cost) but then also imposes separate costs on each other person polluted. Just like the flood scenario. If you flood your own property that is an internal cost, if you flood dozens of properties, all the properties you flood that aren’t your own are externalities.

            If you are really concerned about having a word for the inability for everyone in the world not being able to cut down a tree, just call it a “cost”. A cost of cutting down a tree is that it is now cut down.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @IrishDude

            Would you say that Mary has imposed costs on Joe? If so, would you note that since Mary has imposed costs on Joe with her rejection, that her choice to reject Joe should be regulated by the state?

            Mary does impose a cost on Joe (in the form of deteriorated mental health), but I don’t think romantic relationships should be regulated by the state. There are good reasons not to try to control this aspect of human behavior, but “it doesn’t hurt anyone” is not one of them. After all, the act of regulation imposes costs as well, which have to be considered (for example, the suffering imposed on Mary by making her stay).

          • Guy in TN says:

            @idontknow131647093

            No, because it imposes the cost of polluting on himself (an internal cost) but then also imposes separate costs on each other person polluted.

            So, just like in my tree and ice cream scenarios. Where cutting the tree imposes a cost not just on one person who would have liked the tree for themselves, but on everyone who would have wanted the tree.

            So why are my examples not externalities, again?

          • sentientbeings says:

            @Guy in TN

            I wrote a long reply to your reply, but after checking back a while later I no longer see it posted, and I don’t feel like re-writing it at the moment. I might later.

          • Thegnskald says:

            “Externality” is economics jargon; the concept of “cost” as used there is likewise jargon. Arguing based on common definitions is only going to confuse people.

            The shortest possible version, however, is that, given that the property on which the tree is private, and given that it transfers, the value of the tree is priced into the value of the property. The cost falls on the owner who cuts it down by reducing the value of the land by the cost of the tree, basically.

            In practice things don’t work out quite exactly so neatly. But the version of “externality” Guy is grasping towards here isn’t a helpful one, which should have stopped this conversation before it began. Literally, the idea being reached for -is- cost. That is the word we use to describe that concept.

            An externality is a specific kind of cost in which the cost is imposed on a third party. Not a cost which a third party can potentially purchase. Insurance payouts aren’t externalities, for instance, because the cost has been sold in that case, not imposed.

            We might have a conversation if the tree were part of the commons, but that is a substantively different conversation, and gets into much thornier issues. (For example, property ownership in general might be treated as an externality, as the cost of ownership is mostly imposed on limitations of the rights/actions of others.)

            ETA:

            Which is to say, I guess, that Guy in TN is trying to argue for the externalities of private property from within the framework of private property, which doesn’t work.

            The proper externality being gestured at is the one that happened before private property, when everybody was forbidden from cutting the tree down in the first place.

            What is neglected in this treatment, however, is all the positive externalities that private property gave rise to. It may seem, in the moment, injust that I may not pluck an apple from a tree and eat it – and indeed, that inability is an externality imposed upon me. However, the existence of the apple orchard itself is predicated on the existence of private property.

            A lot of arguments against private property improperly ignore the positive externalities. To a first order approximation, the cost imposed by private property is the inability to live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle; counting the cost of not being able to use things that wouldn’t have existed isn’t property accounting.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @liate

            if doing basically anything with something effects the object in such a way that could be thought of as an externality, then the actually-problematic externalities seem less a problem, because “effecting other people” is no longer an obvious-seeming bad thing.

            The word “negative externality” was not intended to serve as a moral or political call-to-action, but a dry description of a cost imposed on a third party. There is no cut-off in magnitude for where you don’t call it an “externality” anymore.

            “The cost imposed by this action are very small” is a different argument from “The cost imposed by this action are zero”, because in the first argument we have to analyze trade-offs (i.e., what if the costs, though small, are still less than the benefits?), while in the second argument such considerations are unnecessary.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Thegnskald

            Literally, the idea being reached for -is- cost. That is the word we use to describe that concept.

            The concept I am reaching for is “cost imposed on a third party”. Not just the free floating concept of “cost”, but specifically the kind that is imposed on other people.

            Maybe I should just taboo the term “negative externality” and replace it with “cost imposed on a third party”, since it seems to be causing so much trouble.

            given that the property on which the tree is private, and given that it transfers, the value of the tree is priced into the value of the property. The cost falls on the owner who cuts it down by reducing the value of the land by the cost of the tree, basically.

            This reads as a non sequitur to me. Can you explain how the second sentence follows from the first? How does the price of land in China negate costs imposed on the carpenter, in my timber example?

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            The concept I am reaching for is “cost imposed on a third party”. Not just the free floating concept of “cost”, but specifically the kind that is imposed on other people.

            The problem is you are not discussing costs imposed on third parties. You are discussing costs imposed on every party, including the property holder. The ice cream is eaten for everyone, the tree is cut down for everyone, etc. That is just a universal cost. An externality is specific because it is a cost different from the cost to the property owner.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Guy –

            First, ALL costs are infinite in reach. Name a cost, and I can tell you how it extends to a third party. So the stipulation you are trying to raise is imaginary.

            You have already conceded the China example, so it feels a bit disingenuous to raise it again, but in view of the challenge above:

            China Tree Farm cuts down a tree. Carpenter Today gets lower prices on lumber; Carpenter Tomorrow pays higher prices. Reverse if they don’t cut down the tree.

            Your definition is unlimited; the only “limit” is how imaginative you can get in extrapolation. And since we are only counting negative externalities, and the chain of events is infinite, every choice has infinite cost.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Thegnskald

            What is neglected in this treatment, however, is all the positive externalities that private property gave rise to. It may seem, in the moment, injust that I may not pluck an apple from a tree and eat it – and indeed, that inability is an externality imposed upon me. However, the existence of the apple orchard itself is predicated on the existence of private property.

            I agree that the creation of legal property caused externalities, some positive and some negative. My position is that they are mostly positive on net, and I support legal property, despite the negative externalities it creates.

            However, not every instance of legal property, at all times, is net-positive. Costs and benefits must be analyzed, and trade-offs considered. The utility of property is more complex than the simple treatment David Friedman proposed that started off this debate.

            A lot of arguments against private property improperly ignore the positive externalities.

            I feel the same way about taxation and the state. Yes, they impose costs, but the we’ve got to factor in the vast utility-gains via positive-externalities they create. Just like in arguments against private property, arguments against taxation can’t be so simple as “but they impose costs”.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @idontknow131647093
            You say that my examples don’t qualify because:

            The problem is you are not discussing costs imposed on third parties. You are discussing costs imposed on every party, including the property holder.

            And earlier, in response to me asking you to clarify whether pollution that also effects the polluter would qualify as an externality, you agreed, and said:

            it imposes the cost of polluting on himself (an internal cost) but then also imposes separate costs on each other person polluted…

            Your statements are in direct contradiction. Am I misunderstanding you?

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Thegnskald

            First, ALL costs are infinite in reach. Name a cost, and I can tell you how it extends to a third party. So the stipulation you are trying to raise is imaginary.

            I mean, I’m glad you understand that all actions impose costs on third parties, but I don’t think this understanding is widely shared. Certainly not to the point where we can just shorthand “costs including imposed costs on third parties” to just “costs”. Remember, the OP that started this conversation was David Friedman saying:

            The user already bears the future opportunity cost

            Which would be incoherent under this shorthand.

            You have already conceded the China example, so it feels a bit disingenuous to raise it again. but in view of the challenge above:

            China Tree Farm cuts down a tree. Carpenter Today gets lower prices on lumber; Carpenter Tomorrow pays higher prices. Reverse if they don’t cut down the tree.

            I didn’t concede the example, I said it didn’t matter if you framed it as a “cost” or a “reduction in benefit”. This is because they have the same effect in terms of the carpenter’s utility.

            I don’t understand your explanation for how the price of land in China, means that the timber company is not imposing a cost (or, benefit-reduction) on the carpenter. [edit: we can change from the China example, to cutting a tree on your own property, to make things less complicated, if you’d like]

          • Thegnskald says:

            Guy –

            I disagree with either one of your axioms, or the way you have interpreted that axiom. Closing a soup kitchen you have run for twenty years isn’t equivalent to taking soup out of the mouths of the homeless who were previously fed.

            If I give a homeless man a bowl of soup, that is a good act. If I give him another bowl of soup the following day, that is also a good act.

            It doesn’t cease to be a good act over the course of twenty years; neither does it become an evil act cease.

            It is important to distinguish these sorts of things when we are analyzing situations, because the implications seriously matter. I think of a church in, IIRC, New York City, which shut down a soup kitchen after many years – and the response wasn’t “They did a great thing for many years”, but a snarling accusation of taking something away people were depending on. Given that this accusation wasn’t leveled at any of the many organizations, religious or otherwise, who never opened a kitchen in the first place… well, it doesn’t exactly create good social incentives going forward. “If you do a good thing for long enough, you no longer receive social credit for doing it, and instead begin accruing social debt against the day you stop” isn’t conducive to doing good.

            Likewise, with this example.

            But setting aside the “Drop in benefits” argument, and focusing on the core issue, if you consider only the costs, you lose sight of what is going on.

            Let’s take the simplest possible example: Cake.

            Do you eat it or save it for tomorrow?

            We can, for moral purposes, treat you-tomorrow as a separate moral entity from you-today. So, you-today eating the cake imposes a special-case externality on you-tomorrow, for the problem construction in which we treat future-you as a distinct entity. How do you justify this?

            There isn’t a single answer. One possible answer, however, is that we cannot actually consider externalities on future entities meaningful, since their existence is dependent on that externality. That is, the consciousness that exists tomorrow isn’t the same in the universe in which you eat the cake, as in the universe where you don’t. Since these are distinct entities, we cannot meaningfully owe one of these entities for something it could never have attained in the first place.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Guy in TN

            but I don’t think romantic relationships should be regulated by the state.

            Why not? I agree, but my response is that Mary has the right to choose which romantic relationships she wants to involve or not involve herself in, without regard to the costs imposed on others. I think utility matters too, but only secondarily, and to the extent it matters, I think individuals are in the best position to determine their own utility and should be able to make their own judgments on these choices without 3rd party imposition, given the limited information 3rd parties have on the utility function for each individual.

            Is your justification primarily based on utility calculations? If so, how do you make these calculations on Mary’s behalf? If not, what non-utility justification do you use for not wanting the state to regulate Mary’s romantic decisions?

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Thegnskald

            Its a little hair-splitty, but I agree that “doing nothing”, or the cessation of an activity, cannot be called a negative externality, but only the reduction in a positive externality.

            I call this hair-splitty, because even in the Chinese timber example, while the company ceasing to sell timber is the elimination of a positive externality, their decision to turn it into a nature preserve is the creation of a negative externality, because it is an action that reduces the carpenter’s utility (as opposed to merely the cessation of an action).

            One possible answer, however, is that we cannot actually consider externalities on future entities meaningful, since their existence is dependent on that externality.

            Struggling to understand what this means. Are you saying we can’t consider negative externalities that have a lag-time, from when the action takes place to when it effects people? Wouldn’t this ruin the classic pollution example- e.g., I dump toxic stuff in the drinking supply, the next day a baby is born and grows up drinks the polluted water, “well, future entities are owed nothing”?

          • Guy in TN says:

            @IrishDude

            Is your justification primarily based on utility calculations? If so, how do you make these calculations on Mary’s behalf?

            Yes, my perspective is all based on maximizing utility- I am a utilitarian. In this case, regulating romantic behavior would probably cause more utility-loss than utility-gain for a multitude of reasons, so I am against it.

            There are other areas in interpersonal relationships though, where regulating behavior would probably cause more utility gain, such as in cases of physical abuse.

            We compare utility all the time- humans are quite good at it, and it comes naturally. No one says “ah, but how can you say the utility he gains from beating his wife, is less than the utility she loses from being beaten?” Interpersonal utility is difficult to quantify, yes, but we can intuit in broad stokes, based on our shared humanity.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Guy in TN

            In this case, regulating romantic behavior would probably cause more utility-loss than utility-gain for a multitude of reasons, so I am against it.

            I’d be interested in seeing you expand on this. Can you discuss these multitude of reasons, and why they apply to decisions on romantic relationships but not other decisions people make?

            Also, how do you think 3rd party observers can determine other people’s utility function?

            Interpersonal utility is difficult to quantify, yes, but we can intuit in broad stokes, based on our shared humanity.

            I’ve been married close to a decade, and couldn’t tell you how much my wife values an apple versus an orange at any given moment, other than the revealed preference of watching what decision my wife makes, which varies by the day.

          • 10240 says:

            Its a little hair-splitty, but I agree that “doing nothing”, or the cessation of an activity, cannot be called a negative externality, but only the reduction in a positive externality.

            I agree. But then if you make some ice cream, put it in the freezer, then eat it next June, you haven’t made anyone worse off than if you didn’t make ice cream in the first place, so the former shouldn’t be considered “imposing a cost on others” any more than the latter. If you buy ice cream from a vendor, that’s a bit more complicated, but even then, the set of the vendor and you doesn’t make anyone any worse than if the vendor doesn’t make that ice cream, and you don’t eat ice cream.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @IrishDude

            I’d be interested in seeing you expand on this. Can you discuss these multitude of reasons, and why they apply to decisions on romantic relationships but not other decisions people make?

            Sure, I’ll outline some reasons:
            1. The harm of a bad relationship most often mental, not physical, so its more difficult to observe than other harmful human behaviors. This is a difference from regulating for example, physical assault.
            2. The individual utility of a relationship is more complex and fine-tuned for each individual than the utility of, for example, lack of food or shelter. So laws regulating it are going to have drastically different utility-impacts for different people, making it difficult to try to determine what the most utility-gaining laws would be.
            3. A person who enters a bad relationship bears the vast majority of the costs on themselves, so there isn’t much incentive to try to regulate it for the larger social good, because the utility-decreasing society-wide side-effects of regulating it likely out-weight the gains. This differs from human behaviors where the social utility gained from regulating the behavior might be greater than the utility-loss (drunk driving, hard drug use, ect.)

            If the problems with the relationship doesn’t match these criteria well, then I would say they do need to be regulated, but these are more rare. For example, physically abusive relationships (for 1), pedophilia (for 2), or incest (for 3).

            Also, how do you think 3rd party observers can determine other people’s utility function?

            At the most basic level, human emotion likely evolved to convey utility. I think all humans intuitively understand that crying=utility loss, smiling=utility increase. These two emotions, happy and sad, are so closely linked to utility that we colloquially use them as synonyms with “utility-gain” and “utility-loss”, and no one bats an eye. And later, speech fills the same role, in conveying desires.

            Determining whether an action increases or decreases a person’s utility, including comparing utility between people, isn’t difficult to do in broad stokes. We evolved to have to mental tools to do just that.

            You can’t rely solely on revealed preferences to determine utility, because you can’t be sure that was a person is “revealing” is actually their preference. For example: A prisoner “reveals” that he is in prison. He says he wants to leave. He’s crying and begging for you to let him out. But “revealed preferences” tells us that actions speak louder than words, so since the prisoner remains in prison, that must be his “preference”. This seems inadequate.

            That all of humanity is constrained in their life choices, by forces both natural and man-made, should give pause to any theory that relies on decisions being freely chosen in its underlying framework.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @10240
            All resources have a mix of both value added by labor, and value added by capital. And as you suggest, it makes less sense to regulate usage of resources that are largely labor-derived (as opposed to natural-resource derived), since the net social benefits of encouraging people to bring those resources into usefulness, are probably greater than the net social harms of the people consuming their relatively small natural-resource based components. (Apologies for the mouthful of a sentence.)

            For example, regulating writing computer programs is more likely to have net-negative utility (via discouraging people from bringing these useful programs into existence), than regulating who gets to use a town’s fresh water supply (which largely exists on its own).

            Still, no resource can fully escape its nature-derived components: even computer programs rely on silicon.

          • 10240 says:

            You are right here. I’m personally I don’t really see private ownership of natural resources (especially through the homesteading principle) as justified. Also, taxing natural resources has the nice property that it can be non-distortionary as long as it doesn’t exceed the profits that can be derived from the resource, unlike most other taxes. Ideally I would support a system where land is owned by government/society and rented out to the highest bidder. (Except perhaps in towns as long as they take up a small percentage of all land. Owning a house but not the land under it could lead to weird situations, and ownership of buildings is a good idea as most of their value comes from human labor. *)

            That said, a program of land confiscation, or imposing excessive tax on land that greatly reduces its value, would erode confidence in property rights a lot, as people wouldn’t trust that other forms of property won’t be affected (unless it becomes common knowledge that everyone has suddenly become a Georgist). It would also be unfair as it would make people who have invested in land worse off than those who have invested in other assets. It would be even more questionable if the land or natural resource was at some point bought from government for market value (i.e. the present value of all expected future profits), rather than homesteaded.

            At the same time, land and other natural resources are a small percentage of all capital in today’s economy, so such policies would do more harm than good in the system we have. If we colonized a new continent (or planet), we could try another system.

            * The high value of land in cities with good economic opportunities, especially where building is restricted, is an even more complex situation as it comes from neither labor (directly) nor nature.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Guy in TN

            The individual utility of a relationship is more complex and fine-tuned for each individual than the utility of, for example, lack of food or shelter. So laws regulating it are going to have drastically different utility-impacts for different people, making it difficult to try to determine what the most utility-gaining laws would be.

            I think you underestimate how complex non-relationship resource allocation decisions are. As Hayek notes in ‘The Use of Knowledge in Society‘:
            “What is the problem we wish to solve when we try to construct a rational economic order? On certain familiar assumptions the answer is simple enough.
            If we possess all the relevant information,
            if we can start out from a given system of preferences, and
            if we command complete knowledge of available means, the problem which remains is purely one of logic. That is, the answer to the question of what is the best use of the available means is implicit in our assumptions. The conditions which the solution of this optimum problem must satisfy have been fully worked out and can be stated best in mathematical form: put at their briefest, they are that the marginal rates of substitution between any two commodities or factors must be the same in all their different uses.

            This, however, is emphatically not the economic problem which society faces. And the economic calculus which we have developed to solve this logical problem, though an important step toward the solution of the economic problem of society, does not yet provide an answer to it. The reason for this is that the “data” from which the economic calculus starts are never for the whole society “given” to a single mind which could work out the implications and can never be so given.

            The peculiar character of the problem of a rational economic order is determined precisely by the fact that the knowledge of the circumstances of which we must make use never exists in concentrated or integrated form but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess. The economic problem of society is thus not merely a problem of how to allocate “given” resources—if “given” is taken to mean given to a single mind which deliberately solves the problem set by these “data.” It is rather a problem of how to secure the best use of resources known to any of the members of society, for ends whose relative importance only these individuals know. Or, to put it briefly, it is a problem of the utilization of knowledge which is not given to anyone in its totality. “

            Knowledge of resource availability and preferences is highly local and always changing and attempts to centrally plan economic decisions can’t take that local knowledge properly into account.

            Determining whether an action increases or decreases a person’s utility, including comparing utility between people, isn’t difficult to do in broad stokes. We evolved to have to mental tools to do just that.

            I think it’s very difficult in broad strokes (depending on how you define broad strokes). Imagine designating someone else to make all decisions for you, even someone that knows you very well and loves you. They would decide where you live, what education you pursue, what job to take, what entertainment to watch and food to consume, when to go to bed and when to wake up, what consumer goods to buy and when, how much to save and invest or spend, what friends to make, etc. Even assuming they had your best interest at heart, how well do you think your utility would be compared to you making your own decisions?

          • Guy in TN says:

            Knowledge of resource availability and preferences is highly local and always changing and attempts to centrally plan economic decisions can’t take that local knowledge properly into account.

            Its true that knowledge of the preferences and situation of other people is imperfect. But there’s no need to design a system that pretends like we know nothing, when we know more than nothing. Its a false dilemma to have to choose between a “rational economic order” where all actions are planned by a central information-clearing organization, and a totally decentralized system.

            (Further, I don’t think a completely decentralized system is even theoretically possible. Given scarce resources, humans are inevitably going to have to come in contact with each other to try to figure out who gets to use what. We can use coin-flips, or we can try to use our rationality, including the messy bits where we try to maximize utility.)

            I think it’s very difficult in broad strokes. Imagine designating someone else to make all decisions for you,

            When I said its easy to do in “broad strokes”, I meant rather the opposite of “its possible to determine how all decisions effect another person’s utility”. Instead, I meant its possible to infer utility changes for very basic situations. You can infer a person with a bleeding wound is probably having a utility-loss. Or that someone who laughing and smiling because they are eating a delicious food, is having a utility-gain.

            More subtle or high-variance questions such as “how will watching this movie effect this person’s utility” are the sort we definitely can’t infer well.

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          And earlier, in response to me asking you to clarify whether pollution that also effects the polluter would qualify as an externality, you agreed, and said:

          Your statements are in direct contradiction. Am I misunderstanding you?

          Yes because you don’t understand that there are 2 costs we are discussing.

          Cost 1: Polluter polluting himself (internal cost) > This is the same cost you are talking about when you are saying no one else can cut down the tree or eat the ice cream.
          Cost 2: Polluter polluting everyone else (externality)

          • Guy in TN says:

            Cost 1: Polluter polluting himself (internal cost) > This is the same cost you are talking about when you are saying no one else can cut down the tree or eat the ice cream.
            Cost 2: Polluter polluting everyone else (externality)

            Yes, but there are two costs in the tree-cutting example as well.

            Cost 1: The cost to the property owner in future use of the tree (internal cost)

            Cost 2: The loss to non-property owners in future use of the tree (externality)

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            In your example cost 1 and 2 are the same. You are just phrasing them differently to create an artificial difference.

          • Guy in TN says:

            The difference between Person A and Person B is not artificial.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            Yes it is because the cost is not to person A or person B in your example, it is a cost to the world. The entire world cannot harvest the tree anymore.

            If the fact is that person A, who owns the tree does not value the tree as highly as person B person B can purchase the tree, thereby eliminating the potential loss. In the case that person B cannot purchase the tree because of various reasons those things that get in the way are called transaction costs.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Yes it is because the cost is not to person A or person B in your example, it is a cost to the world. The entire world cannot harvest the tree anymore.

            Yes, its a cost on the entire world. Exactly what I’ve been saying. Hence, its an externality.

            If the fact is that person A, who owns the tree does not value the tree as highly as person B person B can purchase the tree, thereby eliminating the potential loss.

            Changing owners doesn’t eliminate the externality, it just shifts who it falls on. If A sells to B, then A experiences an externality when the tree is cut.

          • Guy in TN says:

            That we can create a contest where the highest bidder gets to avoid the externality (a market), doesn’t mean that everyone who isn’t the highest bidder suffers no loss.

            I doubt you would agree to that, if applied to the pollution example.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            No he doesn’t because he has realized its value in it by selling it.

            Look at it this way: If an activity is efficient (which I will stipulate is theoretical, but such is all kinds of economic discussions), the benefits to the property holder exceed the costs to the owner himself + all summed externalities.

            So, I am owner A who owns land with tree 1 and I am the man who will get the greatest benefit possible out of the tree because I am a master craftsman and I create 10 amazing chairs from this tree. I can sell these chairs for $100,000. Lets say the next best use of the tree was only $50,000. I have created $50,000 for the world. However, lets also say chopping down the tree caused $100 of runoff damage to 10 people. We are down to $49k.

            Under your system no use could be efficient. That is because even though I am generating $50k more than any other user of the tree, there are 100 people who could generate $50k from the tree, so magically this is a -$4.9 million transaction (even ignoring the other billions of people).

            One of these calculations is an externality. The other is a nullity.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Under your system no use could be efficient. That is because even though I am generating $50k more than any other user of the tree, there are 100 people who could generate $50k from the tree, so magically this is a -$4.9 million transaction

            The utility of potentially gaining access to the tree isn’t the same as the utility of actually accessing the tree. The price of lottery tickets is less than the lottery payout. Very often, I would guess the utility of “potential access”, even multiplied by every other person in the world, is less than the utility gained from the owner harvesting it.

            That one person wins a utility gain, doesn’t mean he isn’t imposing a utility-loss on everyone else, still.

            the benefits to the property holder exceed the costs to the owner himself + all summed externalities.

            So you are saying yes, it is an externality, but the benefits to the property owner must be greater than the losses to the people he is imposing the externality on, otherwise the people would just buy the right to cut the tree themselves.

            In other words, Coase theorem. Which is utterly inapplicable to this discussion, due to the fact that dollars≠utility.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            Actually, the Coase Theorem is very applicable to externalities.

            One of the big revelations of Coase is that if transaction costs are 0, those being subject to the externality will prevent it from happening if it is inefficient.

            One of the revelations of Arthur Pigou is that because transaction costs never are zero, sometimes a Pigouvian tax is the best way to deal with externalities.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Its applicable if we are strictly talking about economic value. But if we are talking about utility (and I thought we were- see my first post in this thread), it is useless. Because dollars are not interchangeable with utility.

            And I mean, if you really agree with Coase theorem, you also can’t say that taxing the natural resources is inefficient. Because if it was, then the people harmed by the tax would just buy the right to tax from the state.

            That no one buys this right, is evidence that no one values it as much as the state does. So the state retaining the right to tax is the most efficient outcome.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            Oh I disagree 100%. People are always bidding to control the state. The problem is you cant control the state only for your own benefit without losing control.

            I think this discussion has reached its natural endpoint because you simply don’t accept my definitions which I think are standard and necessary for making sense of the world.

          • Guy in TN says:

            I knew “utils=dollars” was at the bottom of this. It always is.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Does your definition of “externality” relate only to changes in economic value, and not to changes in utility? That may be where we’ve started talking past eachother.

          • CatCube says:

            @Guy in TN

            “Externality” is an economic term–it was invented to refer to situations where an actor got some sort of economic benefit to himself by imposing a cost on others. As referred to above, an electricity plant that pollutes. The internalized costs of the plant are all of the stuff the plant owner had to pay for to turn the turbines. The person selling coal to the plant loses the opportunity cost of using the coal himself or selling it to somebody else, but in recompense he gets the money from the plant owner. The external costs are the stuff that the plant owner needs to do to turn the turbines that imposes an economic cost somebody else–here, the air pollution ruins other peoples’ property, interferes with their breathing, etc.

            I don’t know that there’s a coherent way to use the term in the way that you’re doing. If you’re concerned about something that doesn’t have an economic value, then why use the economic term?

            I had a longer post that yesterday that I ended up not posting because it was duplicative of points that others made, but I’ll ask the central question here (using the tree example):

            You’re saying that there’s an externality on you (and everybody else) from somebody cutting down a tree; that is, they’ve deprived you of some money in some way by somebody cutting down a tree they own. What flow of money are you expecting to make you not deprived? If the answer is “I’m not talking about money,” then “externality” isn’t the right word.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Catcube
            I will make note to be more precise with my language next time. I wish there was a word for “action that imposes a utility-reduction on a third party”.

          • @Guy in TN:

            I suggest “utility externality.”

            I haven’t been following most of this thread, because it looked as though explaining why I thought your arguments were wrong would involve explaining a bunch of basic price theory, and pointing you at my webbed text didn’t seem either courteous or useful.

            But the claim that a pecuniary externality, which is properly ignored in economic efficiency arguments, might be a net externality (positive or negative) in utility terms seems to me entirely noncontroversial.

            I become a doctor. That pushes the price of a doctor’s visit down by a cent. That is a negative externality for all the other doctors, exactly balanced by a positive externality for their patients–the standard pecuniary externality.

            But it might be the case that the doctors have a lower marginal utility of income than the patients, in which case it is a positive externality measured in utiles rather than dollars.

            If you are curious about why economists do their analysis in dollars rather than utiles, the discussion in the chapter on efficiency in my Price Theory might be helpful. The most relevant part starts with the subtitle “PARETIAN AND MARSHALLIAN EFFICIENCY.”

          • Guy in TN says:

            Thanks for the input, David. I remember us having a discussion that mirrored much of this back in the spring.

            I need to be careful not to be so sloppy, in mixing economic and ethical terminology.

      • helloo says:

        I’m not sure if we should be controlling for ALL externality –
        One edge example of negative externality is pecuniary externality, or market changes from an action.

        It’s not all straightforwards though-
        Do you consider advertisement to be a negative externality towards other brands of a product due to the substitution effect?
        What about the food price increase when a lot of corn went to produce ethanol?

        • 10240 says:

          IMO no. Here is an (I think) exact way to define it:
          If a (legal or natural) person A takes some action(s), and that leaves no one (except possibly A) worse off than no action, then there is no negative externality.
          If a set of people A, B, C… take some action(s) that are voluntary on the part of all of them, and no one (except possibly some people in the set) are worse off than if no action was taken, there is still no negative externality.

          It could be assumed that Burger King creates a negative externality on McDonald’s when it takes away some of the latter’s customers. But take the set of persons which consists of Burger King and its customers. Burger King’s customers voluntarily choose to eat at Burger King, and that doesn’t make McDonald’s any worse off than if they choose to eat at neither restaurant chain, something they would have every right to do. We are supposed to compare the situation where they eat at Burger King with the situation where no action is taken (i.e. they eat at neither chain), not with one where they take a different, voluntary action (e.g. they eat at McDonald’s). It’s irrelevant if Burger King’s advertising makes people choose it over McDonald’s as long as it’s a voluntary choice on their part.

          Food and ethanol is the same story with sellers and buyers flipped: the set of corn producers, people who produce ethanol from corn, and ethanol buyers creates no negative externality, as they don’t make anyone worse off than if they didn’t produce corn for any purpose.

        • helloo says:

          Sorry, I didn’t mean to make it a definition matchup-

          Pecuniary externality is very much defined as an externality but even then, definitions often note it’s not a “real” or technological externality. https://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/pecuniary+externality

          The question is that should we even count it as something to be considered especially for the question of taxation.
          I thought it was obvious that most people would not think so, thus the technical definition of an externality not that important.

          So the question then becomes at what point of causation should we discuss cost or benefit.

          • 10240 says:

            I agree that pecuniary externalities shouldn’t be taxed (I didn’t know the term), while “real” externalities should. I accept it if pecuniary externalities are usually defined as externalities, I was just trying to come up with a more narrow definition of “real” externality that are the only ones that should be taxed, and argue why pecuniary externalities shouldn’t be considered a wrong against the person they affect.

            Another precise way to define pecuniary externality (that is not “real”, or at least it’s fair game so not taxable) is that it’s mediated by one’s influencing the voluntary decisions of others. (E.g. I have the right to freely decide if I eat at McDonald’s or not, and nobody should be taxed for influencing my decision in a non-coercive way.)

            While I agree that most people wouldn’t want to tax pecuniary externalities in a systematic way, many people take issue with cases of pecuniary externalities time to time (e.g. protectionism), and use them as a justification for regulation, while I disagree with such justification.

            A more general issue with defining externalities is what it means that “A hurts B”. I would define it as “A does something that makes B worse off than if A didn’t exist (or at least didn’t interact with B even indirectly). I guess most people would agree with this definition when stated explicitly. Yet, in practice, many people also use it to mean “A makes B worse off than before”. (E.g. when a company lays off workers, people often say that it “hurts” workers, even though it doesn’t make them worse off than if it didn’t exist, just worse off than they are used to.) This issue interacts with the issue of pecuniary externalities, e.g. corn ethanol producers do make food buyers worse off than if they never existed, but the set of corn ethanol producers and corn producers don’t, they just food buyers worse off than if corn ethanol was not produced.

    • Plumber says:

      Raise corporate taxes a lot, give tax deductions for wages paid to American citizens up to the median wage (so no extra deductions for wages paid over the median wage), thus a tax incentive to have four employees are $50,000 per year rather than one at $200,000.

      Hopefully to increase employment and to bring back the great compression.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        Are corporate taxes not already levied on *net* income rather than gross? How would the deduction work? For a company like, say, Walmart, the sum total of their salaries capped at 50K annually would likely exceed that company’s net income by a significant amount.

        It seems like a simpler solution would be to just have a more graduated individual income tax rate and evaluate inequality on a post-tax post-transfer basis.

        • SamChevre says:

          The tax deduction could be equal to some small fraction of salaries. I’ve thought of a similar system, with credit for the owner’s proportion of Social Security tax–for the same reason, to incent more lower-paid workers.

      • Brad says:

        About 6 million people looked for work in the last four weeks but are not working. That’s in a country of 325 million people. Just how low do you think that number should be?

        • John Schilling says:

          I see what you did there. So do too many other people for you to get away with it any more. How many people are not working, and did not look for work in the last four month because after looking for work the month before that and the month before that and the month before that and the month before that and the month before that and the month before that, they finally got the message that our society doesn’t want them to be working no matter how much they want to work?

          None of the official unemployment figures, actually measure what we mean when we colloquially say “unemployment”. Sometimes the right thing to do is suck it up and use the imperfect measure because it’s the best you’ve got, but in this case the disconnect is large enough that I’m not sure this works any more. We can use our intuitive sense for how bad a problem unemployment is, and we can see about trying to actually measure unemployment in the future, but we are severely handicapped in discussing the subject quantitatively at present because the people we trusted to gather data for us in the pas got lazy and botched the job.

          • meh says:

            participation rate?

          • The Nybbler says:

            How many people are not working, and did not look for work in the last four month because after looking for work the month before that and the month before that and the month before that and the month before that and the month before that and the month before that, they finally got the message that our society doesn’t want them to be working no matter how much they want to work?

            383,000. Or 1.6 million if you count all “marginally attached” members of the workforce and not just “discouraged workers”, which seems to fit your description.

          • Brad says:

            Oh come off it. To be counted in U3 you need to have undertaken one active job search activity in the past four weeks. An active job search activity can be done in well under an hour and from a cell phone or computer. To be counted in U6 you only need to have undertaken such activity in the past year. Less than one hour per year.

            “Society doesn’t want them to be working”, give me a break. They want to be working in the same sense that I want to win the lottery (N.B. I don’t buy tickets.)

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I think at the macroeconomic level, the biggest gripe with unemployment numbers is low wage inflation. But my Twitter said that just crossed 3% last quarter or something, so that strongly indicates a strong economy.

            It seems like it is a strong economy because we are having more difficulty hiring people at all positions. I can tell you it is a LOT better than 2009.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Real wage growth is continuing to be anemic. I don’t know that we are seeing any real signs of a hot job market.

          • Aapje says:

            @Brad

            Being rejected a lot is psychologically painful if not damaging. You can see people looking for acceptance in many ways, in society, because acceptance is an important need for most people. You might want to develop a bit more empathy for people who get looked down upon by society for not having work and then get turned down again and again. Studies suggest that being unemployed is literally sickening.

            Looking for jobs is also different from playing the lottery. When playing the lottery, paying for the tickets is part of playing the lottery and something that you have to keep doing. That is not the case for looking for work. Once you get hired, you don’t have to keep applying with very high risk of rejection to keep your job. So it makes a lot more sense to argue that someone is very willing to work, but can’t bring himself to look for work anymore, than to argue that someone is very willing to play the lottery, but can’t bring himself to buy a ticket.

            Imagine that I present someone with the opportunity to save their partner from death, but only in return for killing their children. If they turn me down, is the logical conclusion that they didn’t care about the life of their partner or should be entertain the possibility that the sacrifice we ask may be very high?

            PS. Note that this sacrifice is also much higher for some than for others and it’s easy to underestimate this for others, when you yourself are highly desirable as an employee.

            @HeelBearCub

            Perhaps a large number of jobs are marginal in how valuable they are to the employers, so people do get employed, but if the supply of workers is restricted, employers rather leave the position unfilled than to raise the salary.

          • John Schilling says:

            Oh come off it. To be counted in U3 you need to have undertaken one active job search activity in the past four weeks. An active job search activity can be done in well under an hour and from a cell phone or computer.

            Why would any reasonable person ever do that?

            If an unemployed person believes that the probability of success in one hour of job-hunting is sufficient to justify devoting that hour, they are going to spend many hours hunting for a job. The same logic that says to spend one hour on a job search, applies to the next hour and the hour after that and then an hour sometime tomorrow and so on, until they find a job or until they are spending enough time on it that the marginal value of a unit of time has shifted substantially.

            If an unemployed person believes that the probability of success in one hour of job-hunting is not sufficient to justify devoting that hour, then they are going to spend zero hours looking for a job. None whatsoever. And rationally so. There is no point at which it is rational to spend “under an hour” doing a cold job search and then giving up.

            Yes, they can move from one statistical category to another with an hour’s work, but what’s in it for them? Once their eligibility for short-term unemployment insurance has expired, there is no benefit to meeting the formal requirement for U3. And if they have decided on long-term disability as their optimal strategy, then getting caught looking for (or worse, finding) a job, is actively harmful to them.

            We’ve been talking elsewhere about how political polling is becoming increasingly unreliable as people refuse to answer their phones and talk to pollsters for five minutes. And here you are, expecting us to trust statistics on the basis that it only takes an hour’s effort for each unemployed person to arrange to be sorted into the most virtuous but otherwise unrewarding statistical bin?

          • Plumber says:

            @HeelBearCub @

            Real wage growth is continuing to be anemic….”

            Thanks for the link.

          • Dan L says:

            @ John Schilling:

            We’ve been talking elsewhere about how political polling is becoming increasingly unreliable as people refuse to answer their phones and talk to pollsters for five minutes. And here you are, expecting us to trust statistics on the basis that it only takes an hour’s effort for each unemployed person to arrange to be sorted into the most virtuous but otherwise unrewarding statistical bin?

            Point of order: there is a long and fraught inferential chain between “response rates are at all-time lows” and “polling is especially unreliable”. I’ll echo others here – Disaffected Workers seems to be exactly the category you’re speaking of, it’s been tracked for half a century, and I don’t see any good reason to believe it’s an order of magnitude larger than reported.

          • John Schilling says:

            A: It’s going to be somewhere between “discouraged workers” and “marginally attached”, because believing you’re never going to find a decent job is a big factor in deciding to become your senile mother’s live-in caretaker. Or just start making babies yourself. And given the current incentives, we ought to be including some unknown number of “long-term disabled” as well.

            B: I don’t think this number is likely to be literally an order of magnitude off, but the errors could still be substantial – particularly since we’re not sure where in the range of 506,000 to 1.5 million the BLS even thinks the number should be.

            C: It doesn’t matter how well we track discouraged workers or marginally attached workers if we bury those numbers in the fine print and only talk about the nominal “actively seeking work” unemployment rate as evidence that there is no problem. Which is what Brad did to start this digression.

            Whenever someone uses just the “actively seeking work” number as evidence that unemployment is a small problem and/or is getting better, then there needs to be pushback. Every time, because it’s wrong every time. This time, I decided to take that on. Next time, maybe I’ll see what sort of nuance and clarity you provide.

          • Brad says:

            there needs to be pushback

            Does completely unconvincing pushback count?

            U3 is a perfectly fine statistic to count people that actually want to work but aren’t. Your “society doesn’t want them to be working” is stridently nonsensical.

          • John Schilling says:

            Your “society doesn’t want them to be working” is stridently nonsensical.

            You think it is nonsense that there are a significant number of Americans who sincerely believe that society doesn’t want them to be working, or something along those lines?

            It makes no difference whether their belief is true, and I have made no regard in that respect. If they exist, then they won’t show up in U3 whether their belief is true or not. And we can disagree as to how many of them there are, but I’m pretty sure they exist and I’m pretty sure that’s not nonsense.

            Now go estimate their numbers, and show your work.

          • Brad says:

            Surely if the rate of mental illness is increasing in the US that’s an issue. It’s just one that has nothing at all to do with the conversation at hand.

          • Dan L says:

            @ John Schilling:

            The conjunction of my availability and interest is thin enough that I wouldn’t count on me being a regular source of pushback. But if I was going to sketch out a hierarchy of statistical virtue, then a key difference between valuable criticism and noise would be the extent to which an argument engages with existing data. That’s relevant here, because as far as this goes –

            If they exist, then they won’t show up in U3 whether their belief is true or not. And we can disagree as to how many of them there are, but I’m pretty sure they exist and I’m pretty sure that’s not nonsense.

            Now go estimate their numbers, and show your work.

            – there’ve already been several suggestions in this thread. Discouraged workers, marginally attached, and total labor force participation rates are all real metrics. The uncertainty of their use in this thread appears to be definitional, a result of not knowing what group you’re gesturing at, rather than error in the data itself. (And as far as methodological errors go, the first few paragraphs of this come to mind.)

            I can see the trend line of one of those three being an effective argument for the case you’re making. But making that argument requires indulging in a little mistake theory.

        • Plumber says:

          @Brad

          “…Just how low do you think that number should be?”

          I’d like the unemployment rate low enough that the upward pressure on wages was enough that men’s median hourly adjusted for inflation wages again reach their 1973 peak, if women’s could reach that peak as well that would be a nice bonus, and I’d like the labor share of GNP to again reach the 1970 peak.

          • Brad says:

            Didn’t we already discuss wages vs compensation? Why are you back to banging on about wages?

          • Plumber says:

            @Brad

            Didn’t we already discuss wages vs compensation? Why are you back to banging on about wages?

            How does more money going to “compensation” (the medical-industrial complex) negate the fact that men’s hourly wages adjusted for inflation are lower and more importantly the share of GNP going to labor is lower?

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            Plumber,

            Although it’s nice when an economy is doing well enough for wages to rise, we have to be aware of when the economic conditions start pushing certain fields outside of a profitable return and they cut back or even shut down.

            If total compensation has not declined (and it seems that you already agree with Brad on that), then higher wages means an increasing share of a companies profits becoming an expense – going to the employee. That GNP in the hands of labor is lower does not mean that a companies revenue spent on that employee is lower, so at the individual firm level, that’s irrelevant.

            So if an increasing amount of revenue (otherwise profits) going to the employee means that the margin gets too small, or especially if it becomes negative, then the company will hire fewer people and begin to slow down the economy. The right balance is quite tricky, but it cannot be true that higher wages are always the better result. Some industries are better insulated than others, of course.

          • Brad says:

            Because it amounts to double counting medical inflation. That’s already built in to the inflation number. The fact of medical inflation doesn’t change one bit of it is paid by employers on employee’s behalf or paid by employees out of their cash wages.

            Also, I have no idea why you think specifically men’s wages are the critical issue. I probably don’t want to know.

          • 10240 says:

            Also, I have no idea why you think specifically men’s wages are the critical issue. I probably don’t want to know.

            I would guess because more women work full-time now, and they work in various high-income professions they rarely did before, which implies that we should expect their wages to have increased even if employees’ situation vis-a-vis capitalists (or even absolutely) has generally deteriorated. Whereas men’s work hours and job choices didn’t undergo quite as much change, so their salaries should more accurately reflect any changes in employees’ fortunes.

          • Plumber says:

            @Brad,

            I draw the comparison with men’s wages from the early 1970’s to have an ‘apples-to-apples” comparison, but you missed

            more importantly the share of GNP going to labor is lower

            and it’s instructive to see where income is going instead, as well as the well documented explosion in CEO pay and “stock options”, there’s: Financial “services”, which have grown both in their share of the total economy, and in their share of the total profits in the U.S.A.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Framework: the ideal role of a corporate tax is to eliminate tax-free “pseudo-income” for the owner(s). Money not used for individuals’ personal benefit should be untaxed. I’m generally skeptical of income tax, but I’ll assume that we’re working from the assumption that income taxes won’t be eliminated and that the tax burden on the rich should be commensurate with their increase in wealth. I also want to avoid disincentivizing co-ops and other businesses with locally-distributed ownership models, because I like them a lot.

      Proposal: 0% tax on revenues for corporations, and a tax on capital gains for corporations (including land, equipment (lmao like this appreciates), and investments) exactly equal to the personal rate per owner (basically, make the owners pay for it, weighted by ownership %). Other Pigouvian taxes also equal to the personal rate per owner (if we actually implement them). Money spent (not saved, or, in the case of charities, donated) that is not used to pay salary or benefits or purchase capital is taxed as income to the owners.

      The last stipulation is the one I think has perverse incentives baked into it, but I’m not enough of a finance nerd to see them, and I’m almost at work. Someone please tell me what’s wrong with this.

      • SamChevre says:

        I think there’s a problem with the last stipulation: what you don’t want is the corporation serving as a giant tax-deferral mechanism, and this seems like you could just save cash in the corporation, and it would be untaxed until paid out to the owners.

        This would make the company like an unlimited Roth IRA for its owners.

        • baconbits9 says:

          And what is the problem here?

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          This is where capital gains kicks in; the owners are still taxed on the corp’s investment income. If they just store cash in the corp, running expenses and inflation will whittle away at it until it’s withdrawn, at which point it’s a tax-deferred bank account that they have withdrawal limits on; I’m OK with this.

          Re: your other point on durable goods and land – I’m fine with a depeciation schedule for goods (which also rewards companies that take good care of their equipment). I don’t like the idea of holding land as an investment, and I think land value assessments and property tax increases should be more frequent, uncapped, and more open/less prone to corruption, but that’s another topic.

          Also, re: expense – this hopefully won’t be more expensive than declaring investment income already is.

      • SamChevre says:

        My critique of the proposal: taxing the increase in value of durable goods and land will be very tricky to administer. How much is a 10-year-old milling machine worth?

        It seems like compliance would be very expensive. Would your goals be equally-well-met by just having a depreciation schedule for the durable goods, and letting the local property tax handle land and buildings?

    • mrjeremyfade says:

      It will be interesting to see if there are any really good ideas. Corporate taxes are problematic in many ways. I see some problems that crop up over and over.

      Different treatment of the same transactions across legal jurisdictions.
      Incentives created to redefine income or whatever is being taxed.
      Resources devoted to tax minimization.
      There are edges between corporations and non corporations that can be controlled by the same people.
      I’m less sure about this, but my feeling is that some of the very smartest people in investment banking and law work on tax and generally out think the people who write the rules and enforce them. I’m not sure this game is that valuable socially.

      As a general principle, lower rates and a broader base will be less distorting.

      So if I play your game, I might very tentatively suggest a goal of raising tax revenue with minimal distortion. And it will be a very low rate revenue tax. Revenue broadly defined, GAAP like, cash basis perhaps for smaller firms.

      But I don’t know, I think it could radically discourage corporate spending. Maybe the transition cost would not be worth the increased efficiency.

    • massivefocusedinaction says:

      0% corporate income tax, it’s far to easy to shift income internationally for a corporate income tax to work effectively.

      Replace it with a tax on land, intellectual property, and financial markets.

      Land tax should be designed to be as Georgian as possible (my ideal is owner publicly lists the value which is the tax basis and represents a legal offer to sell).

      Intellectual property is an annual tax that rises exponentially, with the exponents and coefficients selected to produce a very low cost for 10-20 years, rapidly rising costs to make up the balance of 30 years and then ultra high increases after that (the idea would be to make a valuable property like Star Wars or Pokémon uneconomic to retain copyright by 40 years). That way cheap stuff is in the public domain in 20 years, and everything is in the public domain in 40 or less, and the good stuff pays most of the cost.

      Financial markets get an annual levy based on market value (similar to but bigger than the SEC’s filing fees), and maybe a tiny transaction tax (goal would be for this to be on par with current exchange fees).

      All three are intended to tax what appear to be the main US competitive advantages (ultra high income consumer markets, intellectual property, and financial markets) without regard to the corporate parent’s location.

      • ana53294 says:

        Would you also tax trademarks exponentially?

        The thing with IP is, it is very easy to shift property of IP abroad.

        • vV_Vv says:

          The thing with IP is, it is very easy to shift property of IP abroad.

          Then it’s not protected at home anymore.

        • massivefocusedinaction says:

          I’m not sure about trademarks, they’d need more protection than the 40 year goal of copyrighted works, but I’m not sure they deserve permanent protection (if they remain in use).

          The goal of my suggested change is to tie access to American markets to accepting American legal treatment, so a foreign company could keep their IP under whatever restricted regime they wish, but as soon as they sell in the US, they follow US laws as though the work was created in the US. Their foreign copyrights aren’t very meaningful if US citizens can freely use the content sold in the US.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        IP strikes me as tricky since with certain obvious exceptions like maybe star wars a legal argument can always be made that a product is being incrementally changed and therefore isn’t the same product and so shouldn’t have the patent renewed [and so is never taxed] This becomes an issue if the product is different enough from the original to escape taxation forever but similar enough that consumers don’t benefit from products falling into the public domain because would-be producers fear copyright lawfare.

        Not an expert on this kind of law so I could be worrying over nothing.

        • vV_Vv says:

          I suppose the copyright for each individual item (character, location, named thing) starts when its first mentioned.

        • massivefocusedinaction says:

          I’m no IP lawyer, but I believe the incremental changes become a new product that receives its own protection, but don’t protect the earlier works. For example, the character, Sherlock Holmes, became freely usable when A Study in Scarlet’s copyright protection ended, not when The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes left copyright many years later.

          I have no issue with others using public domain concepts and getting a new copyright that protects their work, but doesn’t impact other derivative uses of the original.

          In the Star Wars example, if Episode IV left protection, Han, Leia, Luke, and Darth Vader and concepts like the Force would be freely usable and the whole film could be distributed and shown freely, but Empire and later films would remain protected until their future terms ended.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I think we should get rid of corporate taxes altogether, because it is too distortionary and complicated.

      All business income should be passed through to the shareholders. We already do this for partnerships (and S corporations). IT is true that this will result in a whole lot of pass-throughs for some corporations which have millions of shareholders. But this is still simpler than having a separate tax for corporations and individuals. I think only individuals should pay tax, not artificial entities. How do you decide what is the corporate rate? Having a corporate tax just complicates understanding who is paying the tax.

      • SamChevre says:

        I agree. My proposal is an attempt to implement this is an easy-to-administer way. I wonder if you think my proposal actually would achieve this goal, though.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          @Sam.
          Your latest comment above is to tax corporations on their profits that they do not distribute as dividends. This essentially means that dividends are deductible to the corporation. This does make sense, since interest expense is already deductible, and it is less distortionary to make debt capital and equity capital tax neutral. And I think that we have far too much debt in the US, which IMO was one of the major causes of the Great Recession, so making equity capital tax neutral to debt capital is a good idea.

          But my preference is to do away with corporate taxes altogether, since it is impossible to determine which persons are really paying the tax. Your method does not do that.

      • Brad says:

        Again, this just gives up on a lot of foreign revenue (foreign owners of domestic companies and foreign companies that do business in the US). It would be one thing if people would acknowledge this and say they are okay with it, but people seem to want to implicitly claim that it is mostly just a simplification, when it’s a big change to the tax base.

        • SamChevre says:

          I’m OK with it under my plan, but it’s much more limited under my plan than the alternatives–under my plan, only the dividends are untaxed, and foreign companies that do business in the US pay tax on a proportion of earnings proportionate to US sales unless paid out as dividends.

          • Brad says:

            I think your tax plan is pretty decent, though while I like forcing companies to report the same things to shareholders they do to the government, I do worry about handing off tax law to a private organization.

            But why not withhold taxes at some rate from dividends going to entities that can’t show they file US tax returns?

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          Again, this just gives up on a lot of foreign revenue (foreign owners of domestic companies and foreign companies that do business in the US).

          Again? This is the first time I’ve heard this objection. I hadn’t really thought of this issue, but I don’t think it is particularly difficult to resolve. One could require corporations to pay the taxes on behalf of foreign shareholders that are not expected to file returns. This could be set up as an add-on to our already existing system of foreign withholding. The only new part is requiring corps to pay out of their own funds instead of part of the payment to the foreigners. I would like to get rid of corporate taxes because I don’t think artificial entities should pay tax; but I don’t consider that an issue when the corps are paying on behalf of individuals.

          By the way, Brad, elsewhere you mention withholding tax on dividends to foreigners. You do realize we already do exactly that? Are you interpreting Sam as saying we should stop? I think he is saying that corps shouldn’t pay tax on the amount they distribute BECAUSE the recipient of the dividends also pays taxes. This is totally consistent with our current foreign withholding regime.

          • Brad says:

            Again? This is the first time I’ve heard this objection.

            Sorry, I made a comment to the same effect in the last thread and it seemed to get ignored. It wasn’t to you though, so I shouldn’t have said that here.

            One could require corporations to pay the taxes on behalf of foreign shareholders that are not expected to file returns. This could be set up as an add-on to our already existing system of foreign withholding. The only new part is requiring corps to pay out of their own funds instead of part of the payment to the foreigners. I would like to get rid of corporate taxes because I don’t think artificial entities should pay tax; but I don’t consider that an issue when the corps are paying on behalf of individuals.

            At the maximum individual rate?

            I think that could work. I don’t have any especial attachment to corporate taxation qua corporate taxation, but I’m also not sure that this system is especially simpler. In order to calculate the attributed passthrough wouldn’t essentially the same exercise as corporations go through today need to happen?

            Also, how do you envision taxing non-domiciled corporations? Would every company with US owners need to calculate passthroughs for their US shareholders? Would foreign corporations owe any tax for themselves or their foreign shareholders if they had profit in the US.

            Are you interpreting Sam as saying we should stop?

            Yes, that’s how I read him. Could be wrong.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            At the maximum individual rate?

            I don’t think it needs to be that. Currently most withholding is at 15%; I think that would mostly work. Yes, that is well below the highest rate, but I think the assumption is that even those at the highest rate would have lots of deductions, so it might well equalize. In any case, part of my ideas for simplification of our tax system is to have only one rate of tax, so most wage earners don’t have to file a return at all. SO under that method, which rate would not be an issue.

            I’m also not sure that this system is especially simpler.

            I think it’d be simpler to have just one kind of income tax, not two. Also, I think it is more fair to bill everyone at the same percent. It is impossible to even know what individuals are paying for with the corporate tax, because of widely disparate tax incidence methodologies.

            Also, how do you envision taxing non-domiciled corporations?

            We currently tax foreign corps that do business in the US. This would be no change from that.

        • 10240 says:

          I don’t think much of that tax is actually incident on foreigners.

          Capital is easy to move between countries, so the rate of return (after corporate tax but before dividend or capital gains tax) for a given risk must be the same everywhere at equilibrium (otherwise capital would move to places with higher returns until the rates of return equalize). Similarly, the (wholesale) market price of a good that can be easily transported between countries is similar everywhere.

          Now consider a small economy. It’s policies don’t significantly change the rates of return on the international capital markets, nor the worldwide market prices of goods. Thus, if you impose a corporate tax, that doesn’t significantly decrease return on capital in that country (after corporate tax but before dividend/capital gains tax), since it must be equal to the international rate both before and after the tax is imposed (after things come to an equilibrium, with some capital leaving the country). Likewise, if a (foreign or local-owned) company sells its products to foreign customers, it can’t pass the new tax on to them, as they won’t pay more than the market price. Thus the company will almost entirely pass the corporate tax on to its employees, and possibly to its customers if it sells its products in the country. A small country can’t impose a tax on foreigners and use that to significantly increase government revenues at the expense of foreigners (except if it holds a significant percentage of the world production of some good); the tax will almost entirely be incident on its residents, and it can be replaced with an income or sales tax. It can tax domestic capitalists though (whether they invest in the country or abroad) through dividend and capital gains taxes, as many people won’t move to the country with the lowest taxes.

          The US is a big economy, so taxing foreign companies may actually direct some foreign money into its budget, but much less than you might think. Foreign companies operating in the US are a small fraction of the world economy. Taxing them slightly reduces worldwide return on capital, and it may slightly increase the international market price of some goods they produce. The amount of money that actually flows from foreign companies in the US to the US government is at most as much as the decrease in returns of these companies, and the increase in their income from foreign sales. I think only a small fraction of the tax is actually incident on foreign companies in the US or their foreign customers, the rest is incident on Americans. Other effects from decreased returns and increased prices of some goods include transferring some money from capitalists to workers worldwide, as well as from consumers of certain goods to producers, but generally not from foreigners to Americans.

          DavidFriedman can probably link some books that discuss it in more detail, and correct me if I’m wrong.

  23. philarete says:

    I’d like to gather some recommendations for popular math books. I enjoyed both of John Derbyshire’s books, “Unknown Quantity” and “Prime Obsession”, so something else along those lines would be great. I like getting the history along with the mathematics.

    As to the difficulty level, my mathematics skill is probably college sophomore level. I can handle vector calculus and some really basic linear algebra.

    • skef says:

      Mathematicians seem to dislike “Everything and More”, but I found it to be an enjoyable read.

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      The book that first got me hooked on maths was “Mathematics: The New Golden Age” by Keith Devlin, which gives a fun overview of lots of areas.

      https://bmos.ukmt.org.uk/home/bmo.shtml has a collection of fun recreational maths problems which don’t require much background knowledge.

      Ian Stewart has written lots of pop-maths, much of it good.

    • Gossage Vardebedian says:

      I too have enjoyed “Prime Obsession” several times, and “Unknown Quantity” was also good, though not of the same quality, I thought.

      There are well-known books on i, e and pi that are good, though not terribly challenging.

      “Fractals, Chaos, Power Laws” by Manfred Schroeder is very interesting.

      I really liked “Gamma” by Julian Havil. Pretty mathy compared to the others.

      “Four Colors Suffice” by Robin Wilson is a decent book on the four-color problem, which is noteworthy for having been proved by exhaustive computation.

      “The Millenium Problems” by Keith Devlin covers seven remaining Hilbert Problems (as of a few years ago).

      Simon Singh wrote an excellent, “30,00-foot view” book on Fermat’s Last Theorem after it was solved, and then a good book on codes.

    • Eugene Dawn says:

      I liked Euler’s Gem a lot. I don’t recall how much history there was, so you may be disappointed on that account, but it’s a great book that shows how underneath a simple but beautiful piece of mathematics there lurks something much deeper with ties to many different areas of mathematics.

    • rubberduck says:

      I enjoyed “Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea” by Charles Seife. It’s about the history of the number zero. It’s got quite a bit of philosophy and history though so if you’re looking for straight math then this isn’t it.

    • littskad says:

      Paul Nahin has written a lot of really interesting books along these lines. “Digital Dice”, “Will You Be Alive Ten Years From Now?”, and “Duelling Idiots” have a lot of nice probability problems. “Chases and Escapes” and “When Least is Best” have nice analysis problems. “In Praise of Simple Physics” and “Mrs Perkin’s Electric Quilt” are about mathematical physics.

      T. W. Korner’s “The Pleasures of Counting” is a really good book about the use of math in gaining insights in real historical problems.

      Raymond Smullyan’s many popular books are fun looks at mathematical logic.

      Martin Gardner’s many books collecting his Mathematical Games columns from Scientific American are all good reads.

      Ian Stewart has a bunch of similar books of his columns, which were a bit more mathematically sophisticated.

      Courant and Robbin’s “What is Mathematics?” has a lot of fun problems and mathematical ideas in it.

      W. W. Sawyer’s “Prelude to Mathematics” is a wonderful book that gives an idea of how modern mathematicians think.

    • I liked “Mathematics: A Very Short Introduction” written by Timothy Gowers. It does a very good job of giving a taste of what modern mathematics is like. However, it’s more difficult than most popular books. I think it’s not so bad, and based on what you say about your mathematical experience I think you’ll do fine, but I have a lot of mathematical experience so you should take this with a grain of salt.

      I also second the recommendation for Martin Gardner and Raymond Smullyan.

  24. bean says:

    Naval Gazing is now a year old!

    Also, I’ve just published my take on the proposed “Space Force”. The short version is that it sets up organizational incentives which are likely to lead to neglect of the parts of space that are valuable in favor of stuff that looks cool but isn’t necessary.

    Also, I plan to finally end posting regular links here. It’s been a year. I will still post occasional links, when I think I have something particularly interesting, but maybe just in the whole-number OTs.

    • Deiseach says:

      The short version is that it sets up organizational incentives which are likely to lead to neglect of the parts of space that are valuable in favor of stuff that looks cool but isn’t necessary.

      Any chance that by concentrating first on the stuff that looks cool, this will then capture public interest once again and help justify the boring uncool but valuable stuff?

      • bean says:

        Probably not, because those aren’t really complimentary. The boring uncool bits are things like communications and recon satellites, while I refer to the cool stuff as Orbital Laser Battlestations. If public enthusiasm for OLBs results in the Space Force getting more money, Space Force leadership doesn’t have much incentive to pour it into better communications for the terrestrial forces. They do have every reason to build more OLBs.

        • woah77 says:

          Which is what I would have really wanted anyways. I mean, with enough OLBs do you even need those communications for the terrestrial forces?

          • albatross11 says:

            Only if you need your military to be able to do something besides destroy targets from orbit.

          • woah77 says:

            But I mean with truly enough OLBs, there shouldn’t be any targets, right?

          • bean says:

            I can’t totally disagree with you on this. Really good orbital lasers are incredibly powerful, and change the ground combat game a lot, at least in hot war terms. And when I think the technology is ready for useful OLBs I’ll be an enthusiastic supporter of the Space Force. But we’re not even close to there yet, and we’ll get better value from other ways of applying military force for the foreseeable future.

          • woah77 says:

            That’s entirely fair, Bean. Until we have the Terawatt lasers required to shoot through atmosphere and do significant damage to terrestrial targets, the OLBs aren’t especially helpful. But that’s why we need to throw lots of money at that problem, isn’t it?

          • bean says:

            That’s entirely fair, Bean. Until we have the Terawatt lasers required to shoot through atmosphere and do significant damage to terrestrial targets, the OLBs aren’t especially helpful. But that’s why we need to throw lots of money at that problem, isn’t it?

            I’m not even opposed to throwing reasonable amounts of money at the problem. What I’m afraid of is that we’ll throw a bunch of money at high-power orbital lasers (terawatts, though? What are you planning?) and neglect our comsats. And then lose a war with China because we can’t talk to our carriers and the orbital lasers aren’t ready.

          • woah77 says:

            Ah, well… with enough OLB they might be able to double as communication satellites, thereby giving us two purposes for three times the cost.

          • albatross11 says:

            Would this use IPoD? (IP over Demographics)

          • woah77 says:

            I wish I could answer that, but if I were capable of doing so I’d be certainly required to covertly remove anyone who observed the answer.

          • Deiseach says:

            Only if you need your military to be able to do something besides destroy targets from orbit.

            Why ever would I want anything else?

          • bean says:

            @woah77

            You could theoretically dual-role the OLB as a comsat, although it’s going to be in the wrong orbit to be really good at that. If you have a phased-array laser, it would be a really good optical comsat, but it would have to chose between doing that and being a weapon, which tends to make people nervous.

            @Deiseach

            Maybe you’re trying to stop someone smuggling weapons, but don’t want to just sink all ships. You need boots on the deck to inspect. The orbital laser is great for making the ship want to stop, but not particularly useful for checking that the crates marked “agricultural equipment” aren’t full of guns.

          • James C says:

            I’m struggling to think of a single current US military commitment where a strategic laser would be better than terrestrial forces. Seriously, the US already has the power to blow up anything they dislike with about six hours notice, and look how effective that has proved. Strategic space weapons would be fantastic against another army i