Open Thread 117.5

This is the twice-weekly hidden open thread. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server.

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309 Responses to Open Thread 117.5

  1. theredsheep says:

    So, I self-published a sci-fi book last year. The general verdict was that it was an interesting world, good characters, etc., but too dense and complicated to get into easily. I’m trying to avoid that this time around; I’ve put up an excerpt on a throwaway wordpress site.

    WP claims it’ll take about eleven minutes. I’d have posted less, but this is the smallest complete segment of the story. If you can’t sustain interest for the whole thing, well, that’s valuable feedback too. It’s not like everybody has a lot of free time at this time of year, but if you happen to, does this A. make sense and B. seem interesting?

    (let me know if you want me to critique something in turn)

    • TDB says:

      The exposition at the beginning is not necessary. I would prefer that you give me enough clues to figure it out and trust me to do so. I think the stuff in the actual POV text gives enough clues that I would get most of it. Presumably, the rest of the story would help me fill in necessary details, and no need to 8nclude details that are not necessary.

      • theredsheep says:

        Yeah, I just stuck it in to err on the side of extreme caution. Thanks!

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        The exposition at the beginning is not necessary.

        I strongly disagree. I hate it reading a complicated universe and it takes me half the book to figure out the main concepts in the universe. HE only took a couple of paragraphs to explain what might otherwise not be clear for a few chapters. I agree that novels should always try to show the universe instead of telling about it, but not when just a little explanation goes a long way.

    • Philipp says:

      I’m not sure I quite agree with TDB. The second paragraph of the exposition was interesting, the first less so. Maybe there is (as TDB suggests) a way of working the key facts in later–or, in fact, they could (very much shortened) go in a book-blurb. I would imagine that the Ki/Kur entanglement is a key part of the story’s “hook,” which properly belongs there. Also, is there perhaps a way of putting a more vivid description in the first line, rather than the rather bathetic detail about the towel?

      The writing’s not too dense; though the horror elements aren’t my own cup of tea, I am curious what happens to Ram and his cohorts later on.

      (As a fellow self-publisher, I have sympathy. Best of luck in the endeavor!)

      • theredsheep says:

        Well, the horror element’s rather intermittent, or at least I plan it to be. Since somebody went ahead and followed the foul papers blog, I figured I might as well slap the next two bits (subchapters? snippets?) up there as well.

        • Philipp says:

          Hmm. I think my main question from the next two scenes is where it’s going–I don’t get much of a sense of the story’s problematic. If you were to write a blurb or hook, what might it say? (Of course, this might be too soon for that).

          I also wonder, on a conceptual level, about the murrush. If this dragon-dog, or whatever we would call it, can eat their unseelie enemies, then why not use it and its cohorts for their defense and stop losing so many lives?

          EDIT: You posted the rest of Part I in between my reading chunks 2 and 3 and writing this. From these five chunks I don’t get much of a sense of movement. There’s only a vague hint at what will happen next–Ram is, I guess, going to Dul Karagi, of which we’ve had a distant impression. The blurb-hook would help with that; so would tightening up these scenes. Trimming them by a large percentage (1/3? 1/2, even?) is probably possible without losing key plot-points, and will help establish more of a direction for the story. As it stands, it feels like a YA fantasy novel–young man with family problems, trouble in ‘love’, etc.–but lacks the requisite energy.

          I say this, of course, as someone whose work is often described as having a ‘slow start’, who just cut another 6% of what he thought was already a highly-polished novel, etc….

          I am always happy to see religion–as opposed to magic or gods-as-characters–in fantasy; if you are planning to develop that element further, I have an occasionally updated blog series that might interest you.

          • theredsheep says:

            The murrush (they’re more ankylosauroid) are extremely durable, but ridiculously slow. They can’t catch a live resh to stop it. And there aren’t that many of them.

            I know I need to do considerable axe-work here. I think I need to establish certain things for relevant background:

            1. Ram’s family dynamics; the final argument with Father strikes me as necessary to give a feel for where he’s coming from.
            2. The basic way the society works (high percentage of population is enslaved, economically marginal, dependent on pyres, handmaidens can channel the fire).
            3. The outsider status of Ram’s family, and why they have it–Belemel is an ex-vagabond with no tact and Erimana’s selection as a handmaiden was deeply offensive in addition to promoting Belemel far above his status and making him still more insufferable.
            4. I’d like to show what the white sun is like before chapter’s end.

            I don’t know if I need Nusun in there; I like the murrush as part of the world. It might make more sense to leave Nusun out of the hearth, since he raises odd questions because of lore I haven’t mentioned yet–I think perhaps I’ll move him to the pyre and make Urapu an all-human community.

            I think I can shorten part 2 by putting in a handmaiden and Kambuz instead of Nusun. Three can mostly stay as-is, since it’s mostly family encounters. Readers don’t need to know about the details of Ram’s bloody chores, including how seeps work (that’s a remnant of a much earlier version of the world). Much of four can be excised; I like seeing Ram’s 14yo awkwardness, chasing after a girl like a hunter after skittish game, but it’s probably not worth the inflation. I don’t know about the details of the shrines; is that poignant, or just infodump? Both? The wall-walk aspects of five are not interesting, so perhaps I’ll somehow excuse Ram. I only need a chance for Mother to procure the loan that buys Ram wiggle-room to “go out and seek his fortune.” Is that about right?

            Religion is indeed going to be enormously important; the cult of Haranduluz, as you might have noticed, is utterly essential for humans’ survival. Thanks for the link.

          • theredsheep says:

            As for blurb or hook, a rough draft might go: “When Ram’s father is crippled in a monster attack, he is forced to leave everything he has ever known behind to ensure his family’s freedom, if not its survival. But the new life he finds places him in new dangers, and will test how far he is willing to go to protect his loved ones.” I don’t like blurbs, since they seem to require purple prose. Thank you for the feedback!

    • Plumber says:


      It was good.

      I’d like a little less pre-amble, and a little more exposition in-story, but all-in-all I thought it worked well.

    • imoimo says:

      I’m going to be straightforward: the writing did not grab me. The pre-amble felt dry like an encyclopedia entry and the characters felt generic. It seems like you’re focused on describing the rules of this world you invented, but that doesn’t on its own make a good story. It needs to feel alive and meaningful.

      I’d agree with TDB on skipping the preamble and trying to hook the reader straight into the action. But I’d also slow way down on exposition. Just getting the reader to care about the main character should be your first goal.

      (For what it’s worth, I struggle to even get words down on a page, so I’m way impressed you’re already self-published! Best of luck.)

      • theredsheep says:

        Hey, straightforward is good. Thank you. What would help you sympathize more with him? More about his thoughts or feelings, etc.? Or is it just that the exposition gets in the way?

        For the record, we do find out a lot more about his personal situation later in the chapter; I only wanted to start with an action bit. The reality of his situation–that he’s got a dad who can’t work in a society with very low economic margins–isn’t likely to hit home while he’s worried about being killed. Or so it seems to me.

        • imoimo says:

          I’ll elaborate by means of example. You may have come across Scott’s link in a recent-ish link post to this reddit-based scifi story:

          What that story does right is that even when it’s just describing things, I can hear the voice of the narrator. In the first several parts the narrator has this detached academic tone that sounds like a government agent writing a report, but it’s distinct enough to make me wonder “who is this narrator? Why are they telling this story?” That and the very gradual world-building got me hooked.

          That subtle characterization is hard though. I think a better example is a little further into the story, the narrator in “Magical space pussy”. There the narrator is half the fun. If you open with a narrator as entertaining and boldly defined as that, it will keep people around to learn more.

          In short: to me, good characterization is at least 50% of what makes a good story. Once you win people with that, you’ve earned permission to world-build.

          (I know that didn’t directly answer your questions, but I’m not sure I can answer about exactly how you should execute it. The best I can do is hand wave at what I think is missing.)

          • theredsheep says:

            See, that just strikes me as incomprehensible and disjointed; I can sort of see what it’s talking about if I concentrate and put effort into putting it all together, but it doesn’t flow naturally as a story to me. To each his own, I guess.

          • imoimo says:

            @theredsheep Hm alright fair enough.

    • sharper13 says:

      Like you, I’ve published a couple of books. My first was at best “ok”. The second was better, but more of a novella.

      The more I know about writing, the more I realize I’m going to need to re-plot and rewrite them completely in order to be happy with selling them as part of a series. I’ve written a few hundred thousand critiqued-by-a-selling-professional-writer-and-writing-teacher words since then and have spent the last few years doing my best to learn how to write better. In the process, I read about 40 books on writing, countless blog posts and analyzed about 150 novels and movies. You don’t have to do all that, but I’m finally pretty happy with at least knowing what’s good in terms of what I want to do, just working on putting things into practice and getting better at it. I’m currently planning to complete four books in 2019.

      With that as background, my suggestions are to read and apply as needed (In order of how much I got out of them):
      Techniques of the Selling Writer – Swain
      Scene & Structure – Bickham (Goes well with expanding on Swain above)
      Writing to the Point – Budrys
      Writing the Thriller – Skillman (For you, perhaps substitute “How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy” by Card)
      Million Dollar Outlines – Farland
      Characters & Viewpoint – Card
      Creating Characters – How to Build Story People – Swain
      Self-Editing for Fiction Writers – Browne/King
      Write Characters your readers won’t forget – Litore
      Description – Wood

      And also to watch Brandon Sanderson’s writing classes on Youtube, especially good for Fantasy and SF Writing.

      Oh, and you can’t really lose by listening to the “Writing Excuses” podcast, especially 2009-2016. Very helpful to reinforce things from a new perspective as well as learning from multiple professional writers at once.

      Hope that’s helpful to you.

  2. TDB says:

    That sounds pretty shitty. I hear you saying you made some mistakes and others have reacted to that without much kindness. What do you hope for the future? Just forget about it, live as if it didn’t happen? Torment yourself? Learn from it, grow? Seek revenge? Seek understanding and forgiveness? Something else?

    • Aging Loser says:

      TDB, you hear him saying that he “made some mistakes,” etc, and his response to you suggests that he hears himself saying something along those lines — which is odd, because I hear him saying that an evil system destroys non-elite men by allowing women to do whatever they feel like doing at all times without the slightest penalty ever.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Those don’t seem mutually exclusive.
        Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the mother of his child got to do whatever they feel like doing at all times without the slightest legal fees or any other consequence. That doesn’t make him a complete innocent. For starters we can point to the fact that he either shouldn’t have been fornicating with a deceptive, possibly mentally unstable woman, or if she wasn’t that bad he should have married her when the pregnancy was revealed.

        I’m sad for you, OP. Merry Christmas and God bless.

        • vV_Vv says:

          Honestly it reads like one of these stories that circulate on the manosphere about a single mother who gets knocked up by a bad boy and then marries Beta Bucks to provide for Chad Jr. while she keeps a stormy sexual relationship with Chad for some time which eventually ends badly.

          Except that it’s a deconstruction written from Chad’s POV, who, contrary to “red pill theory” is not happy of having his child being provided for another man. I guess that in the modern Western civilizations relationships and family life sucks even when you’re Chad Thundercock.

        • Aapje says:


          Chad’s life is only desirable to a male archetype. I think that only a small minority of men fit this archetype well.

          Note that Red Pill Theory seems rather cynical/pessimistic. It’s often not so much “yay, let’s be Chad,” but “there is no opportunity for my humanity to be respected and trying to be Chad allows me to get closest to it.”

  3. theredsheep says:

    Yeah, that sucks. Unlike our host, I am not a shrink, but it sounds like there are more serious underlying issues there–of the BPD type–and the current situation with the husband may not be stable over the long term. It’s probably in your best interests to take the high road as much as humanly possible; be polite, mind boundaries, and be the most constructive force in your kid’s life that you can possibly be. That child might need a reliable parental figure sooner than you think.

    • theredsheep says:

      Hmm. Yeah, that sucks. It sounds like there’s no legal bar per se to your seeing him, but it depends largely on Mama’s goodwill and that’s unlikely to get you very far. Well, good luck, sir.

      If it helps, it sounds like the household has been stable enough to get the boy through the critical developmental period needed to form trust (from what I understand of these things). Even if you can’t see your kid, you can be happy for him.

    • JulieK says:

      Does he know your name? Maybe when he is a little older he will seek you out on facebook or whatever.

    • vV_Vv says:

      Unlike our host, I am not a shrink, but it sounds like there are more serious underlying issues there–of the BPD type

      Not a shrink either, but I don’t think you need BPD to explain this behavior: women seek to be impregnated with the genes of physically attractive and dominant males, and have the children provided for stable and productive males. The ideal man can fill both roles, but women are happy to allocate the roles to different men if needed.

      I can’t tell if the OP is attractive from the small picture, but he must be attractive enough that she wanted to have his child even without his consent and sleep with him even after they broke up. His behavior is also consistent with him being “hot blooded”, dominant. But he was also relatively poor, so she got his genes in her child and then found a stable, “nice guy” provider to raise the kid.

      and the current situation with the husband may not be stable over the long term

      They’ll most likely divorce, she cheated on him even while they were engaged, but he’s the legal father now so he will have to pay child support. Nice.

      • theredsheep says:

        I don’t believe in any of that–like many people, I think it’s the abuse of EvoPsy ideas to rationalize misogyny–and after reading all this, I wonder how much of the Red Pill community is just basically rational but upset people drawing invalid conclusions from liaisons with borderliners.

        (I’d put that more politely, but I can’t figure out how, sorry)

        • vV_Vv says:

          I don’t believe in any of that–like many people, I think it’s the abuse of EvoPsy ideas to rationalize misogyny–

          Do you have any argument against what I’ve wrote, or is your rejection purely driven by emotion?

        • theredsheep says:

          Society hasn’t collapsed from half its members, or a significant fraction thereof, acting in a grossly antisocial faction. Behavior like that described above isn’t terribly adaptive in the first place; as you said, the most likely scenario is that this woman will wind up divorced, and child support will not compensate for the loss of a caregiver and the dire long-term effects on the child(ren). The overwhelming majority of women I’ve met don’t act that way, and the cheating women I do know of don’t follow the pattern described terribly well. The whole theory appears to be expounded entirely by angry men on the internet sharing a biased reading of their personal experiences. It could, as I’ve said, be more readily explained by some subset of the population overgeneralizing from encounters from dysfunctional women. Etc.

          Also, oxytocin exists. The behavior described would have led to big trouble in most premodern societies, since male jealousy is a thing and it’s hard to keep secrets in a small group. I could probably go on but one of my two kids is awake and eyeing the stockings. The other will probably follow shortly. I am quite certain both of them are mine, and my wife does not want a “dominant” man.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          I wonder how much of the Red Pill community is just basically rational but upset people drawing invalid conclusions from liaisons with borderliners.

          I’d say it’s this plus frustration that previously-successful relationship dynamics don’t work nearly as well in the modern day; see these exchanges in a previous blogthread:

  4. TDB says:

    Is there a clear line between instrumental and epistemic rationality?

    We could reframe the search for a pure truth as a search for a way to succeed in predicting the results of relevant experiments. We could reframe instrumental rationality as seeking true knowledge about how to win. Does this work?

    Is true knowledge of how to win as good as the ability to win? If winning requires me to learn some skill, can we just include that skill in the knowledge of winning?

    What is the win condition of the game we are playing? (Or metagame?) How do I get what I want? What do I really want? How can I improve my choices regarding where to spend my effort and attention? How do I learn to improve that skill?

    Is pure knowledge truth or skill? Truth is an accurate description of reality. Skill is an ability to accomplish things reliably. When I answer a question, I can deduce the answer, or recall it from memory, or run a simulation, use a heuristic, make a wild guess. These are all skills. We can call answering a skill.

    Can we view accomplishing as knowledge? I can ride a bicycle without being able to articulate what I am doing in a way that is reliably reproducible. This is tacit knowledge, according to Michael Polanyi. He thought it was a more fundamental sort of knowledge. If I seek tacit knowledge, do I seek epistemic or instrumental rationality? If I use tacit knowledge, am I using epistemic or instrumental rationality? Or is it some third category?

    I think instrumental and epistemic rationality are the same thing, looked at from a different perspective, or approached with a different purpose. To know is to win a particular sort of game, an instance of winning. Knowing is a subset of winning.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Truth is an accurate description of reality.

      I think the implications of this claim are fairly major. If this if the case, then of course the line you’ve drawn seems blurry; you’re shoulders-deep in Popperism, and truth exists to you only in the world. If you want to understand your epistemology, inquire as to the ontological properties of reason.

      Question: is the statement, “the area of a circle is pi times the square of its radius” true?

      My own answer is that rationality is only instrumenal, and can only answer questions within an epistemic and ontological framework. Will precedes reason. I expect this stance to be unpopular.

      • TDB says:

        If you can save me from Popperism, give a hint.

        Truth exists to me only in reality. Is that different from what you mean by the world?

        “Inquire about the ontological properties of reason”
        Could you be a bit more specific?

        Is the area of a circle equal to pi times the radius squared? Sure, in spaces with Euclidean or nearly Euclidean properties, and using conventional definitions of the terms. In other words, yes, if we make some assumptions, most of which seem to match our experience pretty well.

        Maybe I *am* channeling Popper. What’s true is, “assuming the axioms of Logic and of Euclidean geometry and conventional definitions implies that the area of a circle is pi times the square of the radius.”

        When you say rationality is only instrumental, are you agreeing with me (epistemic rationality is a subset of instrumental) or saying epistemic rationality doesn’t exist, or some third option?

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          In other words, yes, if we make some assumptions, most of which seem to match our experience pretty well.

          I feel that this requires some additional explanation; to quote:

          “Math is just a system of logic based on axioms.” Fine and all, but stop prolonging the issue. Axioms are things you accept, the Greek means “something worth [allowing],” what makes them worth that? Did you accept those axioms a priori or were they empirically derived? To make it more interesting: why should one be able to change one (technically a postulate, same point, deal with it later) and still wind up with physical results, i.e. why does non-Euclidean math work? This collapses into the more obvious and general question… which is “How is mathematics so uniquely effective?”

          This is probably obvious, but I’ll lay it out anyway: that math works because it’s “supremely logical” implies that logic has some unique claim to the natural sciences. This is an assumption, not an explanation.

          That’s from Sam[]zdat, and I think it’s important. Math works in the real world. If I give you 582312 apples and you give me back 82312 of them, I know how many apples you’ll have left of the bunch I gave you, despite the fact that I’ve never observed 582312 apples in real life and probably never will. So is the statement, “if I give you 582312 apples and you give me back 82312 of those apples, you’ll have 500000 of the apples I gave you originally” true? Is the statement “582312 – 82312 = 500000” equivalently true?

          I think it is.

          I think that we agree that epistemic rationality doesn’t exist, but for me it’s because there’s no rational way to answer the question of why there’s this (true and real) mapping between numbers and apples. I get the feeling that you think it doesn’t exist because there isn’t a “true” mapping between numbers and apples – that one of the statements above is true in a way the other isn’t. But between us, I feel I have the advantage in being able to accept the correspondence between phenomena and our models.

          • TDB says:

            I’m not sure whether you’re still criticizing my remark that truth is an accurate description of reality or now agreeing with it.

            I think your statement about apples and your statement about numbers both describe a phenomenon in reality, but whether they are equivalent or not, I’m not sure, since I am not sure what you mean by equivalent. We can apply the abstract version to the concrete situation (with some more assumptions, e.g. that none of the apples get spoiled or lost).

            If we agreed that epistemic rationality did not exist, would we care about the two statements being equivalently true or not?

            But I’m not sure we agree. I think I already said I see epistemic rationality as a subclass of instrumental, and not an empty one.

            I’d say there is a mapping between numbers and apples because one is an abstraction of the other. But maybe that is just the teacher’s password and not a real explanation. And note that we have to exert at least a bit of effort to assure that the mapping exists and stays true, since apples are temporary. If you give me 100 apples, how many will I have 5 years from now?

            I’m not sure how you came up with your interpretation of my idea. I guess I communicated badly. There can be a correspondence between phenomena and models so long as the phenomena are stable enough for us to apply the models and we are applying them within the scope of our previous experience. When we apply them outside that scope, we are performing an experiment. Maybe I am channeling Hume now? No, he would say we are always performing experiments, we have no way to know that a model that worked fine yesterday won’t break today, even though circumstances seem identical otherwise.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Generic answer would be that of course they’re different, they’re optimized for different goals. Like theoretical and experimental physics. Or, in a more obvious way, between science and engineering.

      Instrumental rationality is not only allowed but encouraged to take shortcuts. If it ca “duct tape” through a problem that’s a very legitimate solution, even if it’s not the proper Bayesian solution. Mental shortcuts, avoiding to think of certain topics, if-then precommitment, managing mental load, using cognitive biases creatively, doing stuff that works even if you have no idea why – this all has the flavor of sin in epistemic rationality.

      An example from Taleb I personally love. Say there is someone tossing a coin and he gets heads a bunch of times. In instrumental rationality you change the frame of reference _much_ sooner and start questioning the morals of the person doing the tossing. Epistemic might take you to the same result, but it’ll do a hellof a lot more math before it gets there.

      • TDB says:

        “Optimized for different goals” already assumes an instrumental framework, doesn’t it? Or are the goals just metaphorical in epistemology?

        Is saying that instrumental has fewer/different sins than epistemic mean they are intrinsically different, or that epistemic has a goal and constraints that apply automatically, while the constraints and goals of instrumental rationality can vary from case to case? This would again make epistemic a subset of instrumental.

  5. littskad says:

    Can anyone explain the background of the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, and what some reasonably possible outcomes and consequences are?

  6. hilitai says:

    As a newcomer here, can someone explain to me (or point me towards an explanation of) the purpose of the “hidden open threads”?

    • Aging Loser says:

      So that the site isn’t associated with the anti-Progressive verbal flailings of people whose depression becomes choleric after the sun goes down.

      • toastengineer says:

        Heyyyyy… I’m way happier in the dark!

      • Deiseach says:

        I will have you know that I like these short, dark, cold days of the year and it has nothing to do with the surging red energy of choler cutting like a stripe of magma through my black bile!

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Aging Loser is a curmudgeonly old bird with a chip on his shoulder (if he objects to this characterization on the grounds of accuracy he should let me know, but I think it’s accurate), and his explanation should not be confused with our host’s, and should be accepted as our host’s motivation only with careful consideration. I don’t agree, if you can’t tell.

      The purpose, as far as I’m aware, is to avoid cluttering the blog with open threads. This is a community, to some extent, but it is more a blog than a forum. Hidden OTs preserve the community while minimizing off-topic dead horse beating in blogposts and ensuring that the majority of content visible on the site is Scott’s. This explanation not explicitly endorsed by Scott, but it’s the impression I’ve gotten. Evaluate this one critically too.

    • Brad says:

      Originally it was just because the full OTs got too long. The extra ones were hidden from the post list because the whole list of most recent posts on a blog shouldn’t be open threads.

      The current culture war rules (none in visible) are fairly new.

    • JulieK says:

      The purpose is to allow the community of commenters to discuss anything they feel like – their personal life, abstract mathematics, anything between. Feel free to ask for career advice or recommendations of something good to read, share interesting links, etc.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I personally prefer the open threads to Scott’s posts. Yes he has some very good essays, but it is much more interesting to see what everyone in the community is thinking, not just Scott. And I can bring up my own ideas also, without waiting for Scott to bring up a topic.

      As far as three of the four being hidden, I presume it’s so Scott doesn’t get blamed for some of the very non-politically correct comments of his readers. That’s why it is now only the non-hidden thread that Scott asks us to not talk about hot button political issues, which he used to refer to as culture wars issues. It’s not like these hidden threads are hidden MUCH, but presumably the casual reader that comes to this blog on a link, and is not interested in reading further, will not see them.

      In practice, I’m not sure if Scott is getting too much out of this. It seems to me that his posts, and the comments in response, are as dangerous to the blog if they quoted in the wider world as anything in the hidden threads. But that is why they exist I think.

  7. proyas says:

    I’m thinking of taking a road trip to North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia this winter, and I’d like help from any of you who know those areas. In particular, I might visit Winston-Salem, Columbia, and Augusta. What things can I do? Any offbeat destinations? Are any of those places known for any local thing that I could experience as a tourist?


    • Brad says:

      Unfortunately you are going too far west in NC to have the world’s best barbecue, but I guess Lexington style is worth eating too.

    • SamChevre says:

      Winston-Salem: one interesting historic thing is to learn a little bit about the Moravians. Go to Old Salem’s living history museum and/or Bethabara Park.

      Augusta Georgia is the golf cart capital of the US: both major golf cart manufacturers are headquartered there. I worked there one summer in college as an intern, and have good memories, but mostly not touristy. I do recommend visiting the Powderworks–nice combination of industrial and military history.

      If you play golf (I don’t), you can’t get onto Augusta National, but golf is HUGE and I’m told there are a lot of good courses.

    • Evan Þ says:

      I grew up in North Carolina, so I can tell you about a lot of good things around Durham or Asheville… but unfortunately, we never spent much time in Winston-Salem aside from annual homeschool conventions. @SamChevre’s idea of the living history museum could be great, though.

      (If you do get over to Durham, Duke Forest and Duke Garden are great to walk around; Stagville Plantation and Bennett Place are good historical sites. Nana’s Restaurant is delicious, and I’ve also heard good things about Foursquare. And, if you’re into trains like younger me, there’re the NC Railroad Museums at Bonsil and Spencer.)

    • ajakaja says:

      I’m from Winston-Salem. It’s… okay. I don’t really know what tourists do there. Old Salem is neat; Reynolda gardens might be neat but I bet it’s not in the winter. Camino is the best cafe downtown, and also Krankies’, and there are a bunch of fun bars (depending on what you like) on Trade St and 4th St.

      Pilot Mountain, 30 minutes north of town, is good hiking. Hanging Rock is also but I haven’t been.

      Sometimes there are good shows at NCSA (school of the arts). Less often, some at Wake Forest.

      I hear people who like golf or Nascar enjoy the area, but I couldn’t speak to that. Personally I think the thing to do is explore the west side of the state — Asheville and the Blue Ridge Parkway and miles and miles of mountain and forest. That’s my type of vacation.

  8. Hoopyfreud says:

    Regarding a thread I dropped out of last OT (blame it on travel):

    Economics must, at some point, deal with the problem of evil. The fact that (at some point) it becomes much more economically efficient, in terms of satisfied preferences, to buy a person and violate some principles of human dignity than to pursue marginal improvements in quality of goods.

    Take as fact for a moment the idea that for some people, ownership of another person is an economic good. Not in a capitalistic way – people don’t want to “own” people to put them to work – but as a product to consume. To receive love and affection and service and sex. To hold power over them. A small minority, yes, but a dangerous one.

    Thence, people who scream at waiters. People who buy children off junkies. People who engage in human trafficking. People who demand that Salma Hayek do a sex scene on tranquilizers in order to avoid having her (successful) movie cancelled. People who touch little boys and urge their congregation to shun their families when they tell. People who text suicidal boyfriends to dare them to kill themselves. Evil people with evil preferences. There is no mechanism in place to prevent them from gaining money, power, and influence. Others have made stronger statements – that these people are good at gaining those things – but I can’t really defend that idea. I don’t think it’s particularly important in any case. My belief is merely that these values do not provide a significant economic disadvantage.

    I also think it’s important that it’s empirically very likely that the desperate will set a rather low price on their dignity and rights, and those of their children. I find it hard to accept that the true value of a child is a 20 lb sack of rice, but insofar as you believe the market mechanism sets prices rationally… you have to explain how to avoid a situation in which that dynamic can arise, or you have to admit a point of weakness. You might not sell yourself for $10 million, but would you really choose to starve instead? Maybe. I think I would. Death scares me a lot less than something like this. But honestly I don’t know.

    What this ties into for me is comparative advantage. Suffering and subservience are the things that human beings have an unmitigable comparative advantage in providing. But most people don’t like providing those things – the only way to motivate them to do so is by either providing enormous incentives (which rather eliminates the point) or making them desperate. It’s possible, with enough money, to do the latter.

    Income inequality has a direct relationship to the ease with which you can buy a life. If you devote your resources to it, you can make it completely economically rational for everyone but yourself – and as for you, well, it depends on how much utility you get out of it, doesn’t it? But insofar as quality gains are marginal and diminishing (and I really truly believe they are, at least where products are concerned), this seems like a very scary terminal point, only avoidable insofar as there is a critical mass of people willing to run the blockades and boycott businesses. I don’t have enough faith in consumers for that, quite honestly. And I have a rather more expansive view of the things which diminish human dignity than I think most people do.

    I should be clear – I don’t think we’re really near this. This is an imagined failure state for capitalism and nothing more. That said, I don’t see a mechanism in place that I believe makes this outcome impossible in the very long term – at the point where the marginal person is worth more on the market as an object for consumption than as a laboring agent.

    This post brought to you by Hoopy’s continued attempts to understand the emotional resonance of the concept of “late capitalism”

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      “The pride of man makes him love to domineer, and nothing mortifies him so much as to be obliged to condescend to persuade his inferiors.” — Adam Smith

      I don’t recall exactly where Smith discussed market conditions making a person worth more as an object than as a subject of labor, but he rather famously stated that slave labor is economically inefficient followed by, paraphrased “… but it would take more than proving this to make owners free their slaves, as they also get sex.”

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        I suspect that an absolute floor exists where a person’s marginal labor is less than their marginal consumption. I have no idea what a necessary and sufficient condition would look like under a rational economic regime (given that this sort of desire exists and people aren’t dollar-maximizers), but I worry that eroding communal support structures will push the bar lower (as they make money more valuable relative to goodwill). Unless you’re sympathetic enough to get GoFundMe’d, anyway.

        My desire to see this dynamic modeled is matched only by a conviction that it can’t be modeled accurately.

      • Deiseach says:

        but it would take more than proving this to make owners free their slaves, as they also get sex

        Not just sex; as Hoopyfreud says, people who like exercising power, so they scream at waiters. Everyone who has ever worked retail or customer-facing jobs has stories about customers power-tripping because they know you have to smile and take it, and they dangle the threat of getting you fired over your head if you don’t jump when they snap their fingers, and you and they both know that if they complain to the boss/manager (or with the advent of the Internet and review sites, leave a bad review on the business) that they’ll get you into trouble so you have to dance like a performing monkey for them.

        They’re using the economic power of their custom, and the threat of the business losing custom by them badmouthing it to others, to gratify their impulse to be a little tin god. They absolutely would own a slave if they could get away with it, to have somebody to abuse that could not strike back.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          +1 – waiter-screaming is, in some ways, more central than whoring to this argument.

        • Aging Loser says:

          Store-clerks and office-clerks are never contemptuous A-holes? Never have the “we’re the cool team putting up with weirdo loser customers” mentality?

          Strange, though — I don’t think I’ve ever observed anyone screaming at a waiter ever, in my entire fairly long life — not that I can afford to go to places where there are waiters very often. When was the last time … in 2016, I believe, when I had a Gurlfriend. Gurlfriends dig restaurants because they like pretending to be aristocrats. They demonstrate imaginary power by being ultra-nice to waiters, though, not by yelling at them.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      You’re jumping very fast from “buying love and affection and sex” to encouraging people to commit suicide. Methinks there is some bias in the way you think about this topic. I know there is in mine, but in the opposite direction. Let’s see if we can make some progress together. I’m submitting that most of the things you’re describing are either not what they seem, or not as bad as they look at first glance. Wait, don’t throw anything yet. A couple of examples:

      Buying a child for a sack of rice – even if that actually happens, that’s definitely not the whole transaction. It also involves: the child is now with somebody that can afford to feed him (think adoption or apprenticeship); he sack of rice might actually equal survival for the other members of the family; there may be threat or future favor involved. So it’s not like there is a stock market where you can go online, give 5 sacks or rice and get 5 children. Also, I’ll note that it’s a pretty extreme example, and this kind of things tend to happen (or always happens) in places without capitalism. If anything, there is an inverse relationship between this kind of thing and the presence of open markets.

      Second thing is your assertion about income inequality. The worst of your examples aren’t really about income inequality at all, but about having (or not having) an income floor. You don’t need to own a town to spend a sack of rice on a person – you just need an extra sack of rice. But the seller most definitely needs to be starving for the transaction to happen. It’s true that current capitalism seems to be going in a direction where we’re having large accumulations of wealth, but I don’t really see it making poor people that much poorer, in absolute terms. Again, capitalist/open market countries tend to have much richer poor people than non-capitalist countries.

      Third thing is… well, sex. I’m guessing we have different morals about that – so I’m going to just say it, I don’t think selling sex and affection is immoral or demeaning. But my opinions aren’t relevant, so look at what actually happens. You can make an argument that low-end prostitution has an element of economic coercion, but how do you explain high end prostitution, or sugardating? It’s pretty much the perfect example for what you’re describing, but happens more in richer countries, and by and large involves pretty well off people on both sides. Definitely nobody starving.

      So I’ll try and give a different spin on this. Even in late capitalism, there will always be people willing to sell something. Not out of need, but out of want – a shiny toy, or a status upgrade. This has nothing to do with the capitalism being late, or with capitalism at all – but with people being people. Nothing short of a dystopia can prevent it.

      • theredsheep says:

        As for the high-end prostitution, well, I’m a practicing Christian and therefore biased, but what happens to a forty-eight-year-old call girl? Unlike other professions, her peak earning years are quite sharply limited; she’s going to have a much harder time finding clients once her twenties are behind her. She might be able to skate until thirty-five, but aside from her looks, there’s a fair amount of stamina involved, or so I’d imagine. Her work keeps her up late at night, and unlike, say, a nurse, she absolutely cannot let any of the strain show.

        Even in a very tolerant society, she’s not likely to be attracting a husband. Just straightforward dating would be really problematic, and interfere with her work. Kids are absolutely out of the question; that takes at least two of those peak earning years, it does weird things to your biology, and who’s going to care for them while mommy’s working? Once the dust settles, she might have some friends, but she won’t have a family, outside of siblings and cousins who will have lives of their own. Assuming she saved up enough to support herself while the getting was good, she’s got a long and lonesome retirement ahead of her.

        Now, it’s entirely possible to say that that’s her choice to make–and it is, yes–but I think the problem of evil comparison is somewhat apt. Christians have to say, “well, God has to allow free will for humans to be human,” while economists have to say, “well, we have to allow people to make suboptimal choices for the market to work efficiently,” or something. And I don’t have a better, politically feasible alternative, but I think it’s fair to take a leery glance at all those times market freedom leads people to make a choice with a good short-term payoff but less pleasant consequences down the line.

        • Protagoras says:

          Does the same apply to actors, models, athletes? I suppose your argument about not being able to find spouses applies less to them, but I found that the weakest part of your argument anyway; when it comes to peak earning years, models and athletes age out of them even faster than prostitutes. Actors maybe have this problem a little less, but while there is certainly demand for older actors, there is much more demand for younger actors. And a mediocre actor (the vast majority) makes a lot less money than a mediocre prostitute.

          • theredsheep says:

            Well, historically, the boundary between “actress” and “prostitute” was quite thin and porous (cf. COUCH, CASTING). I think it’s a fool’s errand to pursue such jobs, yes; they’re just higher-status in our society. The distinction would be that they wouldn’t exclude pairing opportunities by making a career out of the counterfeit of intimacy. However, Mr. Friedman’s note below, about hookers marrying clients, seems a good point.

        • INH5 says:

          Many sex worker bloggers report being able to find romantic relationships. Attracting men is kind of their whole job, so…

          Also, I don’t buy the point about kids at all. The single Mom sex worker is a cliche for a reason. Their hours are usually flexible enough that it isn’t hard to find a friend to watch their kid(s) while Mommy is working.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        Let me be clear – I don’t object to transactional sex work in principle. Pimpless prostitution is a Good Thing, and prices are often high enough, as far as I know, that said sex workers can pick and choose their clients and accumulate capital.

        Transactional sex work under economic desperation is more troubling to me. I have a hard time defining the boundaries, but let’s say that I have a difficult time accepting situations in which someone sells sex for survival without the ability to accumulate capital. Really, when someone works under those conditions at all – a large portion of human trafficking in the modern day is done for forced labor.

        My point about income inequality isn’t that it drives other people’s incomes down inevitably, but that it can be leveraged to do so. If income inequality is low, it’s difficult for someone on the fringes to push an objectionable policy change, because votes correlate pretty well to dollars. When it’s high, it’s much less difficult. Income inequality increases the ability of malicious actors to break or change laws and distort local socal and economic conditions by changing the incentive structure; the best way to gain wealth is to satisfy the preferences of the wealthiest person rather than those that are most common. By strategically applying economic pressure, you can produce some pretty perverse outcomes – like paying parents not to educate their children in order to decrease their economic value/mobility and get cheaper labor down the line. This currently mostly doesn’t happen, as far as I know – but again, I see no reason why it wouldn’t.

        Finally, this whole thing is about desires that are categorically evil. I’m not saying that everyone who wants love and affection and sex is evil. I’m saying that there are people who want to own someone’s love and affection and sex, just like there are people who want to own someone’s life. To be able to take control of it and therefore to be able to destroy it. And I think those desires are evil, and that preventing their fulfilment is a moral imperative.

        • 10240 says:

          like paying parents not to educate their children in order to decrease their economic value/mobility and get cheaper labor down the line.

          That doesn’t sound like a good strategy: their labor would be cheaper but also less valuable. It would also create a large number of people whose interests are opposed to those of the rich, who have an interest in increased redistribution. It could be useful for the purpose of creating people who are vulnerable to abuse by the rich, but I don’t think that this is a terminal value for the majority of the rich.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Yes, the fact that it’s economically inefficient but preference-satisfying is rather the point.

      • Deiseach says:

        You can make an argument that low-end prostitution has an element of economic coercion, but how do you explain high end prostitution, or sugardating? It’s pretty much the perfect example for what you’re describing, but happens more in richer countries, and by and large involves pretty well off people on both sides. Definitely nobody starving.

        I find sugar daddies or mommies and sugar babies rather repugnant, but that’s down to personal taste. It does seem like it’s better-off young people deciding to trade ‘money for escort services’ (they don’t seem to be “I need to pay my rent”, it’s more “I need to pay off my student loans faster”).

        On the other hand, consider Stormy Daniels. She’s reduced to the same shift as all the sex-workers before her (yes, adult film actress counts as one of these)- printing her memoirs and/or threatening former patrons that they will feature prominently in same unless they pay up, as that’s the last income stream left to them after they’re too old/out of fashion for selling sexual favours even as the mistress of a rich man. She went to Avenatti with the story about Trump for maximum impact: get publicity to help make selling her story to the papers and TV news media a more valuable property and maybe squeeze more cash out of Trump. How that is working out for her is difficult to say but what she is not doing is having a revived career as a porn star, because her time for that is over: youth’s a stuff will not endure, and I get the impression porn has a high turnover of its ‘stars’ anyway. She’s moved into directing instead of being the actress in porn movies, which is the same move as from whore to madam in the traditional sex industry once you’re too old (and she’ll be just forty in 2019) for the tastes of the patrons.

      • Aging Loser says:

        People never would’ve sold themselves into slavery if selling yourself into slavery meant selling yourself into getting whipped every day and all that. It must have been kind of like getting a job that you can’t quit and expect to do okay enough at that you won’t have face huge day-to-day problems. And the “selling yourself” part suggests that you have some spending money too, as a result, kind of like people who have jobs.

        • EchoChaos says:

          Biblically (and in a lot of other places) it is also temporary.

          Biblical slavery is very similar to indentured servitude as it existed in the American colonies. It was a way to learn a trade and/or from a successful person while getting out from under debt.

          Lifelong chattel slavery is actually fairly rare historically. Lifetime genetic chattel slavery even moreso.

          • Even in a very tolerant society, she’s not likely to be attracting a husband.

            For what it’s worth, H.L. Mencken in one of his autobiographical volumes, describing Baltimore c. 1900, comments that a lot of the prostitutes ended up married, and on average with higher status husbands than they would otherwise have gotten.

            He’s not talking about high end prostitutes, but I wouldn’t be astonished if some of them also end up married to clients.

          • theredsheep says:

            If it comes to that, I know of historical examples–Justinian and Theodora, Antonina and Belisarius. I was thinking specifically of meeting a man to date while working. Ex-prostitutes settling down with a client might be another matter–but it’s also worth noting that both my Byzantium and your Baltimore would have been much more marriage-oriented societies than today.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @theredsheep: “prostitute” is rather underselling Theodora. She was an actress, which at the time apparently meant she couldn’t be baptized. The subject of plays was Greek mythology, and Procopius claimed in The Secret History that not only were actresses whores, but that the pubescent Theodora had personally performed the myth of Leda and goose-Zeus via specially-trained geese eating out of her… y’know.
            Of course this is the same court historian who accused his employer of being a demon who walked the palace at night without his head, which floated separately.

          • theredsheep says:

            Yes, but actresses in Byzantium had a longstanding tradition of obscene performances, and the line between actress and prostitute was really pretty thin; if you’re an attractive low-status woman who’s comfortable putting on an act for strangers, in a premodern society, you have both the attributes and the incentives in place for either career, and your manager probably has enough leverage to persuade you if the latter is wanting. Even today, aspiring actresses frequently have to do things that aren’t in the contract; it’s entirely plausible that Theodora would have had a reputation, if not the actual job itself.

            If you don’t like the Theodora example–and no, I don’t think anybody takes Procopius’s accusations without multiple grains of salt–at least one other empress (Romanos II’s Theophano, I think?) was supposedly a rural innkeeper’s daughter, which really did unambiguously mean “hooker” most of the time. Now, Theophano was horrible, and I don’t know the provenance of the claim, so possibly that was a slander, IDK.

            It may be significant that, in such societies, women often lived in at least partial segregation, so a vivacious call girl would have been many men’s best opportunity to get to know an interesting woman. Emperors got bride shows–assuming those weren’t a myth–but that’s not much of a job interview.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:


            Yes, but actresses in Byzantium had a longstanding tradition of obscene performances, and the line between actress and prostitute was really pretty thin;

            Oh, yeah, I’m not disputing that the line has always been really thin. I just thought there was a bit of discretion to the fornication, rather than a longstanding tradition of sex on stage.
            Like you say, the more women lived in segregation, the more that a woman with a disreputable outgoing job could be a man’s best chance to meet an interesting woman.

          • theredsheep says:

            Well, as for the performances, I think it’s important not to overestimate the dignity of the past. Aristophanes was among the greatest ancient playwrights, and when I read him he reminded me of Shakespeare with all the non-lewd jokes removed (along with much of the subtlety). When you think that remarks like “Wow, what great tits you’ve got” from Lysistrata were uttered by a man with a big fake leather phallus strapped to his waist, while feeling the chest of another, similarly attired man … and theater was one of the elements of Byzantine society that the Church tried to repress, with mixed success.

        • Lifelong chattel slavery is actually fairly rare historically.

          I’m pretty sure that it was common in classical antiquity in both the Roman Empire and the Greek city states. It existed in the Islamic world, although it’s true that freeing a (Muslim) slave was seen as a good deed–part of the required penance for killing someone, with the alternative of a two month fast if you didn’t have a Muslim slave to free.

          • theredsheep says:

            Classical-world slavery, from what I read, was highly variable. If you were working the silver mines at Athens, that was pretty well a slow death sentence. One of the Italian latifundia estates was better, but still quite nasty. But if you were an urban slave, things might be pretty good. At one point Rome was so successful in war that the slave market was hopelessly flooded, and a lot of slaves were just tacky status symbols; you had a slave follow you around to undo your sandals, hold your cloak, etc. and show that you were hot stuff.

            Then you had really weird stuff like the vicarius, a slave of a slave, who did all the slave’s work. There was nothing to stop that pattern from repeating, so that you had the slave of a slave of a slave … slaves could earn their freedom by putting savings aside, and most masters encouraged this, since they got better work that way. Tyrannizing an underclass is a lot of work, and doing it badly encourages sabotage and insurrection. Which is why only dysfunctional societies like the Spartans kept such a class, for reasons of personal pride I guess.

            The big downside would be that, technically, there was nothing to prevent the master from making sexual use of you at any time he pleased. But this was also true of indentured servants in Virginia, per Albion’s Seed.

          • EchoChaos says:

            My understanding (and I am not a scholar of it) is that there was some degree of enslaving conquered tribes, but even there it was what we would call indentured servitude with an enormous debt.

            I understood both Roman and Greek law that there had to be a definite ability to buy oneself free and a specific fee. Although as theredsheep points out, sometimes those could be implausible in survivability and cost.

            If I am wrong on that, I’m happy to be corrected.

    • cassander says:

      Does biology need to deal with the morality of eugenics? Chemistry that of chemical weapons? No, of course not. How and should are separate questions. They can and should be addressed separately.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Yeah, sort of this. I also am not sure what you mean by economists “dealing” with the problem of evil, especially since this would require economists to be forward-thinking in some of their analysis. What’s the correct price on a pound of beef in a world where we have all moved on to vegetarian norms?

        These ethical issues are more an issue for…well…ethics.

        How do you imagine a normative economics will function, and what will it give you?

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        I used to think that one could avoid involvement in the antisocial consequences of science simply by not working on any project that might be turned to evil or destructive ends. I have learned that things are not all that simple, and that almost any scientific finding can be perverted or twisted under appropriate societal pressures. In my view, the only recourse for a scientist concerned about the social consequences of his work is to remain involved with it to the end. His responsibility to society does not cease with publication of a definitive scientific paper. Rather, if his discovery is translated into some impact on the world outside the laboratory, he will, in most instances, want to follow through to see that it is used for constructive rather than anti-human purposes…. Science is now too potent in transforming our world to permit random fallout of the social consequences of scientific discoveries. Some scrutiny and regulation are required, and I believe that scientists must play an important role in any bodies devised to carry out such tasks.

        Pulled off Arthur Galston’s Wikipedia page. I don’t know about you, but I very much try to avoid creating the next Agent Orange equivalent in my field. I’m not saying that scientific advances should only be made if and when they’re determined to be Completely Safe. I’m saying that scientists (and economists) must, to the best of their ability, be able and willing to describe the risks associated with the technologies they create or endorse. It’s not morally bankrupt to miss something. It is morally bankrupt not to look. And (insofar as behavioral economics is a field of marginal importance) I don’t see most economists articulating the conditions under which their models break down. That worries me.

        • Lillian says:

          Agent Orange was in fact safe. The thing that gave people horrible health problems was dioxin, particularly tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin. This is not a component of Agent Orange or indeed any of Rainbow Herbicides, but rather a contaminant introduced by a rushed production process. The scientists who made Agent Orange have nothing to apologize for. The blame lies entirely on the manufacturers for cutting corners in the production process, and the US military for neglecting quality control.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            TIL. I was under the impression that Agent Orange itself was mutagenic and carcinogenic in concentrations that made it an effective defoliant.

            In any case, the ecological impact of AO seems itself sufficient justification for the quote on Galston’s part (perhaps not justification for not using it, but sufficient justification for advocacy of moderation in its use). More blame falls on the scientists and chemical engineers responsible for AO’s synthesis process and the presence of trace dioxins in the final product. But I do believe they share the blame – not only the US military.

      • hilitai says:

        I don’t want to put words into the OP’s mouth here, but I think the difference is that chemists and biologists are rarely given the authoritative soapbox to advocate for sweeping public policy programmes in the way that economists frequently are. It seems to me that such programmes are frequently argued on purely “economic” metrics, with no acknowledgement of broader public impacts (and no, I can’t give any examples at the moment).

        • cassander says:

          Most chemists aren’t. but then neither are most economists. But we do have chemists who make pronouncements on environmental safety, biologists on cancer causing materials, doctors on healthcare policy, and so forth. I don’t think the problem is unique to economics.

    • Aging Loser says:

      “ownership of another person … to receive love and affection and service and sex” — what’s bad about this, provided you give the same as well and have said “Won’t you be mine?” and have heard “Yes, with all my heart?” Marriage should kind of be a mutual ownership, except that husband’s ownership of wife is literal and obvious while wife’s ownership of husband is subtle and implicit and nevertheless just as undeniable, as men in bars have always freely admitted to each other. (The mutual ownership isn’t self-contradictory because the ownership-relations obtain at different levels.)

    • arlie says:

      You might not sell yourself for $10 million, but would you really choose to starve instead?

      One of the reasons that people make this choice is that over evolutionary history, an awful lot of people have found themselves in this position. Conquered by the neighbouring tribe, and they decide to keep you as a slave? If your personality leads you to despairing or vengeful violence, you won’t be leaving offspring. But if you adapt to slavery – and especially if you are female – you may well have surviving children. Maybe even children who become part of the conquering tribe. So we (apparantly) get “Stockholm syndrome” where the victims even become loyal to their captors, not just accepting enslavement as a means of survival.

      It’s only a short step from conquered-and-coping to starving-and-sell-yourself. Or your children. I don’t see any mystery there.

    • LesHapablap says:

      Are capitalist societies more susceptible to bad actors than societies with other economic systems? Do they create more bad actors? I don’t think either is obvious.

      Also, economists of all stripes spend loads of time talking about market failures.

      The OP reminds me of the prompts for this Current Affairs: some puzzles for libertarians

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        Are capitalist societies more susceptible to bad actors than societies with other economic systems? Do they create more bad actors.

        I think the answer is, “absolutely not,” at least as far as it applies to things that have already been tried. I’m not a Marxist. I think capitalism is a force for good, generally speaking. Not to get too dialectical, but I also think that the model it runs on must break down somewhere, and that the responsible thing to do is to try to do some thinking about where that is.

    • TDB says:

      I’m not sure I understand what you are trying to say. “If you devote your resources to it, you can make [buying a life?] completely economically rational for everyone but yourself – and as for you, well, it depends on how much utility you get out of it, doesn’t it?” By “economically rational” do you mean preferable to all other available options? Or what?

      If we listen to Taleb, wage slavery is much better for the employer than old-fashioned chattel slavery. Why buy when renting is so cheap in comparison?

      • cassander says:

        renting allows more efficient re-allocation of resources. Even if we accept that, in some narrow sense, renting is better for employers, the overall increase in efficiency allows makes everyone better off, even if they’re getting a smaller share, the pie is much bigger.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        If we listen to Taleb, wage slavery is much better for the employer than old-fashioned chattel slavery. Why buy when renting is so cheap in comparison?

        This applies when you’re paying people to provide you with goods and the efficiency of their work is important to you. I’m proposing a condition under which efficiency gains fundamentally cannot be made – where the good being purchased is service, not labor.

        • TDB says:

          That’s a bit vague. Labor is a service, to pick a nit.

          Perhaps you mean, owning gives the owner access to services that are unavailable to mere employers? Like what, whipping and humiliation? Loyalty? My imagination must be weak today, I’m not coming up with anything I could buy that I couldn’t rent/hire. True, mercenary soldiers are not very loyal, but are slave soldiers more loyal?

          • Nornagest says:

            Define “loyal”. The Janissaries — one of the more famous examples of a corps of slave soldiers — were highly effective fighters and didn’t usually fall into foreign loyalties, but they did end up backing a lot of palace coups. (Although the Ottoman political system was very heavy on coups for unrelated reasons, and they were the only real standing army in the region at the time, so a coup that didn’t have their backing wouldn’t get very far.)

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            My imagination must be weak today, I’m not coming up with anything I could buy that I couldn’t rent/hire.

            License to murder someone, as an extreme example. And can you really not think of other things that people would never agree to provide for money if the alternative were not death?

            The distinction I’m trying to draw between service (not services) and labor is that labor efficiency can increase; the good derived from labor is not pegged to the amount of labor done. Service is a good whose efficiency cannot increase. If welfare (the state, not the program) is dictated mostly by the availability of labor goods, there’s no reason to expect service goods to continue to be available given an increase in wealth, except insofar as people have different preferences for service goods (you look after my children so I read you stories, for example). This can be modeled as an efficiency increase, but the magnitude of that increase is ultimately limited by the intrinsic value of certain kinds of labor to different people. I think that efficiency here has a cap that’s both low and absolute (though we’re not there yet, because coordination problems are hard).

            Consider a restaurant. The good is food. The labor is cooking. The service is waiting tables. Now, the demand for high-quality goods at low prices is strong enough to push the service aspect out of the picture a lot of the time, which is why you get [fast food]. But no high-end restaurant will ever not have human waiters. They’re being sold as part of the experience. If you disagree, I encourage you to listen to waiters talking about their job. Waiting tables is little enough an affront to human dignity that there will always be people willing to wait tables in exchange for lots of money. Probably. I could absolutely believe that there’s a level of material welfare beyond which you could not entice someone to be a waiter in exchange for more money.

            But that doesn’t really matter, because we’re talking about services that’s definitely true for, like getting ripped apart by lions. If baseline wealth rises to a high enough level, nobody is going to sell that service (maybe the terminally ill, actually? But who knows). So the only way to obtain them is to use wealth to locally depress baseline wealth.

          • TDB says:

            Somehow I am not able to reply to Hoopyfreud.
            I’m not familiar with buying or renting murder licenses, how does it demonstrate your point? Do murder licenses expire? Are they renting or buying?
            If the alternative is death, am I coercing the buyer? Or is the buyer already in a bad place? I am confused by your answer, maybe I lack context. The service vs. services distinction also is lost on me. Maybe you could give some more examples of service and services and explain why each is one not the other? Is this your own terminology, where does it come from?

          • idontknow131647093 says:


            Just as an aside, I find waitstaff to be very similar to teachers in that their self-perception of oppression greatly exceeds the actual difficulty of the job.

            Its a self selection thing as far as I can tell. I have waited, and refereed, and substitute taught. These things are all incredibly easy from a stress standpoint, and from a physical standpoint. Also, these are professions that get more compensation than you would expect given the quality of the people in the positions. Most teachers are among the least intelligent college grads, waitress is a fairly high paying job for people with below average intelligence, and ref is a job most people do for free (many people would pay to be on the field), we simply pay a person so they can be objective. Thus, these people feel overwhelmed, because they kinda are, but that is just because they are stupid and millions of people could do their jobs better, but are not doing that job because they had much better options.

      • idontknow131647093 says:

        But, like, why are we listening to Taleb. He is the kind of person who intentionally misunderstands bell curves and all sorts of statistical distributions.

        • baconbits9 says:

          He does? when and where?

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            Right here


            And every time anyone notes anything similar.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Would you mind explaining his misuse?

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            1. He finds various anecdotes and presents them as evidence, like here in post #4 of his storm:

            If many millionaires have IQs around100, & 58 y.o. back office clercs at Goldman Sachs or elsewhere an IQ of 155 (true example), clearly the measurement is less informative than claimed.

            Yes, obviously. There are much more people who have ~100 IQs than with ~140 so this is not a rebuttal, just statistical idiocy.

            Number 26 is equally as illiterate:

            I mute/block all pple comparing IQ to a physical measure s.a. height of basketball players. IQ as presented is NOT a measure. Reminiscent of risk charlatans insisting on selling “value at risk” & RiskMetrics saying “it’s the best measure”. Metrics need to have properties.

            Here is him obsessing over “tails not mattering”. Tails are basically what define many of our most important social problems, like crime and addiction.


            The guy is just confused because he is simultaneously obsessed with the tails of events, while not being interested at all in the tails of humanity (e.g. basketball player example).

          • baconbits9 says:

            1. He finds various anecdotes and presents them as evidence, like here in post #4 of his storm:

            This is very ungenerous to Taleb, as he uses anecdotes as examples, not as stand alone evidence. Now this is partially on him as he is generally a poor writer and intentionally provokes strong reactions.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Opps, hit reply, not quote. To continue

            Yes, obviously. There are much more people who have ~100 IQs than with ~140 so this is not a rebuttal, just statistical idiocy.

            No, that depends. It could be statistical idiocy, or it could be a correct interpretation. There are far more people between 5′ and 6′ tall, and yet the greatest basketball players of all time are 6′ (and rally 6’3+) and up and virtually all NBA caliber basketball players (something like 4 examples below) are 5’10+ so in basketball height dominates athletic ability*.

            The question for if his answer is stupidity or insight then depends on the context, the claimed strength of IQ as a predictor, the distribution of the curve etc. Taleb’s claims in that thread boil down to posts #11 and #17, that IQ’s predictive power is based heavily on its strength at one side of the curve and is far weaker on the other. Its generalization to the mid and upper parts is therefore of lesser value than its proponents claim.

            Now he might be incorrect on this, I don’t know, but your example doesn’t clearly demonstrate a misunderstanding of statistics by Taleb.

            *unless of course height and athletic ability are positively correlated.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            His problem, as far as I can see it here, is he is just very uncharitable towards IQ.

            Using the height example, it is also clear that having a height over 6’6” or so does not grant all that much greater chance to be a NBA superstar, and the existence of Steph Curry doesn’t mean being 6’2” is the ideal NBA height. Just like with IQ, there are NBA height “retards” who can never make it because they are 5’5”.

            This is true in any endeavor, predictions are inherently tough to do when you are predicting based on a generalized input, which IQ is. He is, essentially, saying, “one should not ever try to measure generalized inputs.”

            I mean, even his start is bad:

            What people don’t get about “race” ≠ or “heritability” of traits: even it these were true & not fabrications, they wd be dominated by IDIOSYNCRATIC differences. If pple from Mars had an “IQ” lower than earth by 5%, w/variance you wouldn’t see it in ANY 2-paired individuals.

            Well, perhaps, but it would mean that we would see massive differences in how many commit murder, and many other intriguing social phenomena. Indeed, its just a weird comment, because most people don’t notice 5% differences in individuals anyways.

          • albatross11 says:

            The gold standard for whether some measure is meaningful is if it helps you make correct predictions. IQ score is really helpful for making correct predictions about success in school and at work, and somewhat helpful for making predictions about whether you’ll end up in prison, have a child without being married, go on public assistance, etc. So it’s meaningful in the sense that it helps you make correct predictions and act more effectively. It may be that IQ scores are no more inherently about anything real than scores on the Coma scale or credit scores or GPAs, but to the extent that those made-up scores actually help you make better predictions than you can make without them, they’re pretty useful. Further, that usefulness makes it plausible that there are some interesting physical phenomena behind the scores, even though it may not end up that way.

          • Nornagest says:

            Using the height example, it is also clear that having a height over 6’6” or so does not grant all that much greater chance to be a NBA superstar

            I’m not sure this is true. There’s a pretty wide spread of heights in the NBA, but people well over 6′ 6″ are rare. I’d be astonished if being, say, 7 foot didn’t give you a much better chance of getting into the NBA compared to mere six-and-a-half-footers, bearing in mind that you’d probably also be well over an order of magnitude rarer.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Using the height example, it is also clear that having a height over 6’6” or so does not grant all that much greater chance to be a NBA superstar

            Actually it does. Your chances of being an NBA superstar at under 5’9″ are zero. There are 9 players listed at 5’9 and shorter who played 1,000+ mins in the NBA (roughly 40% of one season of a starters mins) and they have a combined 3 all-star appearances between them. If you are a male under 5’10 you have under a 1 in 100,000,000 chance of making an all star game in the NBA (conservatively), and zero players listed under that level have made the Hall of Fame (or are going to of active players).

            6’5 is roughly 99.5th percentile in height, and virtually every top 10 list is entirely 6’5 and higher. The current shortest name on those lists is Stockton who tends to hover around #20 at 6’1, or Dwyane Wade who is around #15 at 6’4. There is a good chance Curry ends up in the top 20, but Stockton will end up knocked out by the current crop of 6’5+ guys. Steve Nash and Chris Paul maybe have top 30 all time cases. Your looking at 1/6 of the top 30 all time players at the most under 6’5. So your odds of being an all time great at 6’5 or taller in the NBA is about 1,200 times higher at 6’5 or more than under 6’5, and about 600 times higher from from 6’5+ compared to 5’11 to 6’4.

            For 7 footers its something like 15-20% of all 7 footers born in the US make an NBA roster at some point in their lives, vs 0% (estimated) of the total population.

            Well, perhaps, but it would mean that we would see massive differences in how many commit murder, and many other intriguing social phenomena.

            Taleb addresses this (crudely) in stating that you can find other metrics that correlate just as well or better for these individual phenomena, with IQ serving as (if I understand his point) basically a blunt composite of these tools at best.

            His problem, as far as I can see it here, is he is just very uncharitable towards IQ.

            I will agree with that, he is very confrontational/aggressive/provoking either through intent or temperament but that is a very different criticism than “he doesn’t get basic statistics”.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            6’5 is roughly 99.5th percentile in height, and virtually every top 10 list is entirely 6’5 and higher. The current shortest name on those lists is Stockton who tends to hover around #20 at 6’1, or Dwyane Wade who is around #15 at 6’4. There is a good chance Curry ends up in the top 20, but Stockton will end up knocked out by the current crop of 6’5+ guys. Steve Nash and Chris Paul maybe have top 30 all time cases. Your looking at 1/6 of the top 30 all time players at the most under 6’5. So your odds of being an all time great at 6’5 or taller in the NBA is about 1,200 times higher at 6’5 or more than under 6’5, and about 600 times higher from from 6’5+ compared to 5’11 to 6’4.

            This isn’t all that different from what I was thinking. I used 6’6” because basically all of the top players I can remember are that height or higher.

            I mean, there are always really good metrics for specific forecasting. Something like, “well if someone is born to a single mother in poor crime ridden area X his chance of being arrested for a felony is 90%”. That isn’t very interesting to me (or I’d assume anyone). I’d like to know why X is a bad neighborhood. And IQ is the thing that blows up all the other explanations (usually). Because social science studies that don’t adjust for IQ are highly non-replicable, and often lose all their power when adjusted for IQ.

            Overall I still don’t see the critique. Sometimes we sacrifice power for generality. Lets say there is a boy who clearly has a lot of energy and needs to devote some of his time to sports or he will go insane as will his parents. Being a not sociopathic parent you want to encourage him to go into sports he has a chance to be good at. What sports do you sign him up for? Soccer? Basketball? Track? Cross Country? Well it would be pretty good to know his burst speed and vertical, as well as his endurance (and those of you, his parents). None of these are all that great of predictors that he will become the next great marathoner, or the next Messi, but it helps you, and its the best information you can get cheaply and applying to a broad category of things. So if your kid jumps high maybe he’s a basketball/football kid and if he loves running far you put him in soccer/cross country.

            And that is all IQ is, really (although hopefully not for parents crushing the dreams of their children). Its for informing us, as a whole, whether certain social interventions will work, or are worth trying. And sometimes more importantly, when to ignore bad data, like the study that says drinking red wine is better for you than drinking beer, or that eating eggs is bad (or good whichever is the newest study).

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ idon’tknow131647093

            This is turning into a discussion about the merits of Taleb’s position on IQ, and I am not particularly interested in that right now. I am very interested if you have evidence of Taleb misusing or misunderstanding statistics because that would call into question his entire body of work, in which I have found several important concepts.

        • TDB says:

          He is a provocateur. Is there anyone you can recommend who never makes mistakes?

          I’m not so sure I accept his argument in favor of hiring as compared to enslaving, but it should be judged on its own merits, not the reputation of the author.

    • Plumber says:


      “….it’s important that it’s empirically very likely that the desperate will set a rather low price on their dignity and rights, and those of their children….”

      “…Income inequality has a direct relationship to the ease with which you can buy a life…”

      Looks to me like the argument for income taxes in the early 20th century, not for the revenue as tariffs supplied enough for the Federal government budget (at first, but the wars and welfare state changed that), but to limit the power that great wealth engendered.

      You also re-discovered why American liberalism came to be associated with re-distributism, the idea that one can’t be free when in want.

      Limiting the power of the rich and the desperation of the poor are still worthy goals in-my-not-very-humble-opinion.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        You also re-discovered why American liberalism came to be associated with re-distributism, the idea that one can’t be free when in want.

        I don’t want to sound arrogant (too late?). I’m well aware that similar arguments have been made. I find them intuitively appealing, but often hysterical and unconvincing. This is my best attempt to formulate the problem, with its root causes and convolutions, in a way I can internalize.

        Limiting the power of the rich and the desperation of the poor are still worthy goals in-my-not-very-humble-opinion.

        I think everyone mostly agrees with this principle, but many earnestly believe that a capitalist system will continue to do just this forever – or at least that when it ceases to do so, it’ll be a truly unforeseeable “black swan”. Although I believe it will continue to do so for a long time, I think it’s worthwhile to try to identify where and when and under what conditions it won’t, and to try to base those predictions on an analysis of latent phenomena that are not yet large-scale economic drivers. Everyone has a hot take on what those might be, and this is mine.

  9. Well... says:

    I assume there exists research on how the public would react to something like the discovery of an impending catastrophic meteor strike. Where would I find this research, or discussion of it?

    • ing says:

      Maybe websearch for [hawaii nuclear scare]? [hawaii nuclear scare reddit] has some good anecdotes.

      Judging by the anecdotes it doesn’t seem like anything especially terrible happened.

      • Evan Þ says:

        On the other hand, that was shown fake within the hour, while a catastrophic meteor would probably be found months (or longer) in advance.

    • theredsheep says:

      Well, you know how in Seveneves, society adapts in a more or less rational and orderly fashion, with everybody agreeing on fair observance of rules that will give every country an equal chance to rescue a tiny percentage of its population from annihilation, and everybody more or less goes along with it barring a few minor hitches, and it eventually goes wrong due to irrationality and selfishness on a much smaller scale? I’m pretty sure it’d be nothing at all like that.

      Any research that could be performed would be necessarily flawed by our inability to test it.

      • albatross11 says:

        That seemed like the least plausible part of the book, to me. I’d expect things to be incredibly ugly on Earth. But maybe we just didn’t see that stuff because our viewpoint characters were all up in space, where plenty of ugliness of human nature came out.

        • John Schilling says:

          At least one of the incredibly ugly minor hitches in the Earthside part of “Seveneves” involved nuclear weapons, and as you note this wasn’t the sort of story where we were going to get a detailed accounting of Earth’s downfall.

          • theredsheep says:

            Even so, 99% or so of the Earth’s population:

            1. Accepts that alternate Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s story is correct and they’re all hosed,
            2. Agrees to act in the common good, to the extremely limited extent that that’s possible, and
            3. Honors that agreement, although it will result in certain death for basically all of them.

            IRL you would see an enormous number of competing theories and explanations, lots of bad behavior on both the individual and state level–states would only continue to meaningfully exist if they appeared to be doing their best to perpetuate their citizens’ survival–weird cults, treachery, you name it. Nor would alternative survival strategies be pursued only by two sets of guys who happened to be related to the lucky few in space.

          • albatross11 says:

            One really odd bit of the story was that a whole bunch of the major characters were pretty obviously real-world characters with the serial-numbers filed off and a couple cosmetic changes made. I noticed at least Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Elon Musk, Malala Yousef, Sarah Palin[1], and Francis Crick.

            [1] Though Julia seemed like a little less of a 100% match to Palin than the rest of them.

          • albatross11 says:

            That’s close to the end for Earth. But I’d have expected things to go pear-shaped long before that, and in extremely nasty ways.

    • dodrian says:

      I enjoyed Ben Winters’ The Last Policeman trilogy dealing with this topic.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Most disasters are unforeseen; the ones that aren’t can usually be evacuated from. Finding exceptions seems hard, since the technology to predict a disaster seems well-correlated with the ability to avoid it (unless it’s an extinction event).

      Edit: a casual wiki search yielded little, but you might be able to find some interesting research on people’s response to speading pandemics in the 20th century – though in those cases the possibility of quarantine adds a different dimension of response.

      • Well... says:

        I wonder if there’s any analysis of how the Japanese reacted, at the ground level, in the direct aftermath of Hiroshima/Nagasaki. I mean, beyond the reaction directly to the bombings themselves. Did Japanese everywhere else swarm toward those cities to offer help? Or did they more or less flee for the hills? Did they go about their business and hope that was the end of it?

  10. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Here is the significance that I think this has for US foreign policy/grand strategy. The US should generally try to avoid fighting wars. It should especially try to avoid fighting wars of aggression, anti-guerilla wars, wars with other major powers “on their turf” in terms of supply lines and wars aimed at fundamentally changing the geopolitical status quo in some way.

    I think this could be clarified down to “The US should especially try to avoid fighting nuclear powers and anti-guerilla wars. The first is unconditional; the second only because we’re so incompetent at it.”

    • hilitai says:

      the distinction in terms of aggressive vs. defensive wars … is very important to the argument I’m making

      How would you categorize the various conflicts the U.S. has found itself in since W.W.II? I suspect that none of the advocates of U.S. involvement in those instances would characterize that involvement as “aggressive”. In each case, the pro-war argument has been made that we were a. responding to aggression, b. helping an ally, or c. protecting some beleaguered group.

    • Deiseach says:

      It’s always easier to be the outside force supporting and supplying matériel to the guerrillas against your enemies/the side in the conflict that are anti-your interests in another country than it is to be the outside force fighting the guerrillas in another country. The US has found that out in Afghanistan, I think.

      • theredsheep says:

        Per VD Hanson, that was also quite the popular tactic in the Peloponnesian War. And in obnoxious client states near the Roman/Persian border. And in sundry wars before, after, and since.

    • bean says:

      Firstly, I don’t think nuclear weapons actually matter all that much in international relations, as John Mueller recently argued in Foreign Affairs.

      I think John Mueller is very wrong. Nuclear weapons have fundamentally changed great power diplomacy in a way that nothing else ever has. Not so much by making it so that wars will devastate even victorious countries (WWI proved that) but my making it so obvious that not even politicians can ignore it. There’s a huge difference between that and what went before.

      • bean says:

        The nuclear-deterrence-saved-the-world theory is predicated on the notion that policymakers after 1945 were so stupid, incompetent, or reckless that, but for visions of mushroom clouds, they would have plunged the great powers back into war. But the catastrophic destruction they experienced in their recent war (one they had tried to avoid) proved more than enough to teach that lesson on its own, and there is little reason to believe that nuclear weapons were needed as reinforcement.

        See WWI, Run-up to, and WWII, causes of. If policymakers were that smart, then WWI would have given all the proof that they needed. They weren’t.

        The fact that you/he is claiming that nukes were irrelevant in Vietnam is making it hard to take you seriously on this. Vietnam was fought in an incredibly stupid way because nukes were in the picture. Nukes do have their limits, and things like the Falklands fall outside the limits of what they can prevent. Using very serious weapons to deal with a fairly silly threat to a tiny and remote corner of your country is a really good way to piss off everyone.

        As for the core question of what the Soviets would or would not have done, I really don’t know. It’s easy to find someone who claims every single possible course of action was the one they wanted to pursue. I can barely keep straight what their navy was planning, and that’s both my specialty and somewhat less complicated than grand strategy.

        Nor has anyone ever come up with a compelling or even plausible rationale for using such weapons in conflicts short of total war—because there simply aren’t many targets that can’t be attacked as effectively with conventional weapons.

        Ever? Through about the 1970s, there were loads of targets which could be attacked much more effectively with nuclear weapons than with conventional ones. (Anyone who claims otherwise has disqualified themselves to be taken seriously as a military commentator.) That’s changed in the last 40 years thanks to precision-guided weapons, which is why you see very few tactical nukes these days.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        If policymakers were that smart, then WWI would have given all the proof that they needed. They weren’t.

        Nitpick: that, or they were that smart, and WWI wasn’t sufficient proof that WWII was to be avoided. (You can be smart and still think another world war is preferable to whatever hellhole you’re in. Or rather, that you can avoid the risk while still getting lebensraum or whatever.) But I think your main point still holds.

  11. Radu Floricica says:

    I’m going to challenge the part where having an empire isn’t worth it. UK is consistently number one in the world in the link above. Comparing it with no 2 is not particularly fair, and Sweden is about half that.

    More recently, US won WW2 and got the right to print the world currency in return.

    I’m definitely not saying that going on an empire-building war is a good idea, but that’s only because US already won. Both WW2 and the cold war, so starting any fighting right now would be very much like burning your own back yard, or at most your neighbor’s whom you have business with.

    • nadbor says:

      I read ‘The English and Their History’ recently. The author argues (citing research) that the empire was a net economic drain on England. Almost certainly true for public finances, not sure about the whole economy.

      I’ve also seen claims that while trade with colonies did enrich the english, them being colonies wasn’t necessary for the trade to happen. The english did plenty of trading outside of the empire too. For example trade with America actually flourished after the American Revolution.

      I don’t think it is at all clear that the english would have done any worse economically if they kept their free-market ways and their navy but gave up the overseas territories.

      • EchoChaos says:

        They tried that, incidentally. The British India Company was instructed under no circumstances to take land, after seeing how difficult it had been for the Dutch.

        They were unsuccessful as Robert Clive had other ideas. It’s a pretty fascinating story.

      • nadbor says:

        IIRC the big driver was the exporting of textiles to India. Was it not possible though to force the place to open up to trade without actually ruling it? Like they did with China?

      • cassander says:

        I would be surprised if cloth exports to India were significant compared to domestic and european/american exports any time in the 19th century.

  12. cassander says:

    The US should generally try to avoid fighting wars. It should especially try to avoid fighting wars of aggression, anti-guerilla wars, wars with other major powers “on their turf” in terms of supply lines and wars aimed at fundamentally changing the geopolitical status quo in some way.

    Easy to say, harder to do. From the perspective of 1965, Vietnam looks a lot like Korea, from 2003, the Iraq war looks a lot like grenada. How do you tell the difference?

    >Insofar as the US supports promoting democracy internationally, this is most likely going to happen through economic development, education and mass non-violent protests, not military regime change.

    When have we ever managed to pull that off?

    • DeWitt says:

      The key to any well-functioning democracy is a strong middle class. The post-WW2 Marshall plan was instituted because western European democracies began voting in a *lot* of communists, so I’d say the US buying off European voters did work quite well.

    • cassander says:

      @Atlas says:

      For whatever reason, the South Korean government had more popular legitimacy than the South Vietnamese one. AFAIK, the major challenge to the South Korean government was enemy conventional forces who were perceived more as invaders than liberators, not internal guerrillas who had at least as much, or probably actually more, popular support than the nominal government. As I argued above, I think the former threat is something that is considerably easier for the US to defeat than the latter.

      One, when north and south vietnam split, millions fled from the north to south, almost no one went from south to north.

      Two, the north absolutely weren’t greeted as liberators in the south. To the extent that the peasants in either country had an ideology, it was survival. The north was able to organize insurrectionist forces by use of extremely ruthless tactics, not out of any love of communism. ANd those forces were wiped out in 68, never to recover.

      Why did we need to invade Grenada again?

      Again, hindsight is easy. But if you’re looking for justifications for war, “stopping communists” is always going to be a pretty good one on purely humanitarian grounds.

      One important difference is that Grenada doesn’t seem to have the kind of serious ethno-religious divisions that Iraq does. As Professor Amy Chua argued in her recent book, that’s a very important factor to consider in the success of democracy and “nation building” that US policy makers seem to have often ignored.

      How many countries are in the set “no major ethnic/religious/regional tensions?”

      Popular support for Castro and the revolution seems to have come in no small part from resentment at the authoritarian Batista government and its backing, at least at some points, by the US. The less ideological ground the US had ceded to the communists by allowing them to represent nationalism, the less popular support communists would have had.

      This sounds a bit like “if you just surrender, there’s no war!” Communism was awful. Cuba is probably the absolute best case, and it still resulted in the murder of tens of thousands, and decades of poor economic growth. Stopping communism was the point.

      The most important example would be the fall of the Warsaw Pact bloc and the USSR in 1989-1991. More broadly, consider what Samuel Huntington called the “third wave” of democratization from ~1970-1990.

      I think that had very little to do with US efforts at nation building/democracy promotion.

  13. johan_larson says:

    You are invited to describe the 2033 US annexation of Canada, a.k.a. The Big Gulp. Please include the circumstances leading up to this event, how it was carried out, and its consequences.

    • DeWitt says:

      Oh, that’s easy. I’m almost disappointed you didn’t go for 1938 so it could be a 100 year anniversary.

      After completing an eight year presidency, the elections following Donald Trump’s presidency continue the trend of heating up in sheer partisan hatred. 2024-2028 proceed in much the same manner but reverse, with some particularly left-of-wing president banning bigotry or building a wall fencing in the South and making the confederates pay for it or something weird like that, all increasing tension even further.

      In 2028, after some even more intense elections, a Republican candidate barely, but just barely, wins the race. It’s not a clean win: social media and the news are absolitely littered with videos of Alabaman voting offices shredding ballots while chuckling to themselves ‘dear me guess we lost them, how terrible.’ A decade of ever-eroding trust in the Supreme court does nothing to ease tensions, and things come to a head enough that left-wing violence becomes endemic in any urban centre.

      This radicalises the republicans even more, as well as the kind of voter who wants to live in a stable society more than a functioning democracy. The president rounds up an ungodly amount of people in show trials and the like, shipping them off to Guantanamo bay; several political figures are arrested for treason, and some particularly draconian laws are mandated. None of this affects the common man who goes about his business idly, so outrage is limited to the one tribe not very good at stockpiling guns and two or three principled legalists nobody listens to.

      A lot of people move to Canada; they make good on that age-old threat. So many do that it’s the Canadians who get tired of foreign immigration, of people they don’t like swooping in, and become perfectly good nationalist anti-immigration folk of their own, because they don’t have anything against America, no, but they sure as hell aren’t sending their best.

      Hence, the US annexation, hereby dubbed ‘joining’ of Canada to the USA is not met with very much resistance from its embittered populace: the US president is the one person all these annoying immigrants seem to hate and gosh darn it the trains run on time.


      • Evan Þ says:

        …videos of Alabaman voting offices shredding ballots…

        If this’s happening in so safe a Republican state as Alabama, things are really going weird. One thing I like about the Electoral College is how there’s no motivation to do things like this in safe states, because everyone knows who’ll win their electoral votes anyway and fraud won’t gain them any advantage. The wrinkle is in places like Illinois, where downstate is fairly safe Republican and Chicago is safe Democrat and fraud in either place just might hand the election to Kennedy or Nixon.

        …the US president is the one person all these annoying immigrants seem to hate and gosh darn it the trains run on time.

        So wait, President Octavius Burr actually likes Amtrak and got it in good working order? Astounding!

        • DeWitt says:

          If this’s happening in so safe a Republican state as Alabama, things are really going weird.

          Short answer: this already happens

          Longer answer: I picked Alabama in particular because I know someone who sent a request for anabsentee ballot well in advance, called the office sometime later, and found they ‘lost’ the request. Upon trying again, the request was then denied.

          These aren’t uncommon stories even today, without my tale where partisanship turns extreme, so it would seem corruptoon is petty enough to do these things even now.

        • Don P. says:

          If this’s happening in so safe a Republican state as Alabama, things are really going weird.

          Note that Dems managed to win a Senatorial race in Alabama just last year, admittedly with an outlier-bad Republican candidate.

      • johan_larson says:

        I’m not sure I understand this scenario.

        – US politics go from bad to worse
        – some Americans make good on their promises to leave for Canada
        – Canadian anti-immigrant sentiment rises
        – US president decides to annex Canada

        I don’t see how the fourth step follows from the first three.

        • cassander says:

          To be fair, that is more or less how we got Texas, though I’m not sure that model would work as well today.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Uh, wut? We got Texas because Texas was, on net, banging down the door for annexation to secure it against Mexico. (Houston knew even San Jacinto wasn’t going to be the last word.) And the USians leaving for Texas prior to that were mainly in search of cheap land.

    • bullseye says:

      Military entanglements in the Middle East and elsewhere escalated into an all-out war between the United States and Russia, except that both sides agreed to not use nuclear weapons. Both nations invaded one another by going north over the pole, which made Canada a major battlefield. Canada was so badly damaged that it was no longer a functioning nation, so shortly after the war the U.S. annexed it, at first “temporarily” and then permanently, granting statehood to Canada’s provinces and territories.

      Many Canadians resent this treatment by their former ally, claiming that it was really just a way to grab Canada’s natural resources. The Big Gulp, as they call it, has ironically strengthened Canada’s sense of national identity as they work to distance their popular culture from ours.

      Canadian members of Congress tend to caucus with the Democratic party, and many Republicans claim that this is the real reason for annexation. Some of them even claim that the entire war, all the way back to the accusations of collusion against Donald Trump, was a part of a master plan by the Democrats to this end.

    • Malarious says:

      From a Canadian perspective:
      The East-West schism continues, with Alberta electing separatists into government in increasing numbers. They threaten to secede and join the USA if their demands aren’t met. Any concessions from Ottawa piss off Quebec, which stokes separatist flames there. Tensions build. There is some kind of cyber terrorist attack from Quebecois separatists which turns the rest of Canada against them. A right wing Prime Minister is elected, with a platform of making Quebec “pay their fair share” and either bringing them into the Confederation proper (doing away with their special treatment) or kicking them out. Quebec puts a vote to secede to referendum and “Yes” barely passes. Begin Canexit.

      With their link to the rest of Canada severed, the Maritimes (and their eternally disappointing economy ever declining) are looking south, envious of greener pastures. No longer sharing a border with the rest of Canada, with the country in disarray, they wonder if it’s time, at last, to fulfill Joseph Howe’s dream of an independent Maritimes: Certainly, if Quebec can leave, so too can they. When it becomes obvious that a house divided against itself cannot stand, Ottawa moves to bring Quebec back into the fold — with force, if necessary, all in the name of preserving the Union Confederation. Time for Civil War: Canuck Edition.

      America, having withdrawn from every military conflict in the late 2010s, has a generation coming of age raised on hyper realistic VR war sims who only have vague memories of the “World Police” era. When the first AI-doctored video of a massacre in Lachute, QC is published, it spreads like wildfire. While the Canadian government denies its authenticity, the damage is done: American youth angrily protest the genocide occurring mere hundreds of miles from their border. Quebec is a nation fighting for its sovereignty! The US president, seeking an easy boost to their approval ratings as election time nears, intervenes without Congressional approval.

      The ensuing occupation is swift. Ottawa crumbles almost immediately, and an interim government is quickly established. The Canadian Resistance, such as it is, clings on for a while longer, necessitating a significant garrison of American troops in all major cities. Congress is paralyzed by indecision (i.e., situation normal). The occupation drags on, and when Quebec petitions for Statehood, the rest of the shattered nation realizes there’s only one path forward, and rather than risk a permanent state of martial law, they too bend the knee. America, somewhat bemused, accepts.

      • arlie says:


        This Canadian could certainly imagine this happening – except for the US staying out of other conflicts for a whole generation.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Trump wins re-election by a hair in 2020, and is able to put in enough measures to essentially stop and even reverse the flow of Democratic-leaning immigration. A Democrat wins by a hair in 2024, taking Congress as well, but due to a combination of the Supreme Court and various Democratic constituencies being for some of the immigration restrictions, is unable to reverse these measures. 2028 turns the Presidency back over to the Republicans, but with a divided government this has little effect. The economy is somewhat weak and the Democrats take back over with a majority but not a supermajority in 2032.

      Meanwhile, Canada’s economy is in trouble. Perhaps due to global warming, both the maple syrup and lumber industries have suffered extreme setbacks. Their automobile industry has mostly moved to Mexico, and due to environmental regulations their energy industry is now suffering as well. They bet wrong on Brexit — they had arranged a free trade agreement with the UK to start upon the day of (a much-delayed) Brexit, but the UK blinked at the last second and remained in the EU. The EU immediately imposed harsh punitive (not called that) tariffs to punish Canada’s interference. The Canadian dollar has dropped sharply, and Canada is almost an economic satellite of the US.

      Enter the smoke-filled-free backroom. The Democratic party wants more Democratic voters (and Canada is seen as a source of Democratic voters). Canada wants their economy to improve. An agreement is hammered out to bring the Canadian provinces into the US, and brought to Congress and Parliament. With the support of the so-caed “AFY Republicans” — that’s America Fuck-Yeah, a group who see any American expansion as good — the Democrats pass this agreement and Canada dissolves itself. Included in this agreement is the addition of 4 Supreme Court justices to be initially selected from the former provinces.

      At first all is good. The environmental regulations crippling the Canadian energy industry are replaced with the slightly less crippling US versions. Trade with the European Union is done under the more favorable US conditions (the EU considers, but decides against, holding the US to the Canada tariffs). Lumber and maple syrup recover for unrelated reasons. However, an expanded Democratic party (with odd affiliations to the Canadian parties which still exist in the former provinces) does become dominant in the US government. With this comes a national VAT and national gun control, approved by the Supreme Court. Now there’s unrest in the old US red states…

  14. WarOnReasons says:

    I think your set of historic examples is quite biased. There are certainly cases of small nations withstanding aggression from much larger foes (such as Finland vs USSR). But there are also cases of large nations succumbing to aggression from much smaller foes (for example, China with a population of 180 million was conquered by 300 thousands of Manchu nomads).

    More generally, virtually every modern nation now resides on lands that were conquered by its ancestors from some other nations. You might find good reasons to argue that wars of aggression do not pay in the modern world, but throughout history that was generally untrue.

    • WarOnReasons says:

      Is there a reason why the Winter War is more relevant to the modern military than, for example, the Arab-Israeli wars? Israel’s victory in 1967 (when its army attacked the enemy on its own territory) was far cheaper in terms of casualties than the wars of 1948 and 1973 when it was attacked on its own soil.

    • cassander says:

      and in 1939, the french achieved nothing by holding back in their defenses rather than attacking the germans while most of their armies were in Poland. At a tactical level, defense is easier, almost by definition. But things are more complicated at the operational and especially the strategic level, where even a perfect defense often isn’t enough to accomplish your goals and where suprise and forcing the enemy can give large advantages to the attacker.

  15. eigenmoon says:

    That seems to be about right under the assumption that the technology of warfare and administration will stay where it was in the last centuries.

    Will it, though? Medieval knights thought so until somebody brought guns from China. China, by the way, is running two experiments on its own population: one especially evil in Xinjiang and another one with that social credit thing. Some Western powers (*cough* UK *cough*) look very attentively at how this will turn out.

    The practical impossibility of having a fake passport in these days can alone significantly shift the balance of power to the empire.

    • theredsheep says:

      I get the impression from military histories that knights were done in more by social, political, and economic changes than by technology. Some combination of the plague creating an enormous demand for labor and increasing centralization of control. Probably other stuff too. But early guns weren’t all that effective against cavalry charges–lancers remained in use through the nineteenth century–and even in the Middle Ages knights were far from invincible. They had a certain mystique, and were valuable for their combination of mobility and shock, but properly prepared infantry could rough them up pretty badly, and a trained and equipped knight was hard to replace.

      None of which really changes your central point, but pedants gotta pedant.

      • eigenmoon says:

        I made no claim that the guns ended knights by making holes in them (although that too). The guns ended knights also by being a more cost-effective method of making holes in people. This is largely due to knight lances being single-use; XIX-century lancers carry reusable short lances.

        So I agree that this is an economic change, but it’s also technological.

        • theredsheep says:

          But guns were extraordinarily slow-firing and cumbersome for centuries after their introduction to the West–IIRC crappy muzzle-loading flintlocks were a novelty in the seventeenth century, replacing the still more finicky matchlock–while even the heaviest cavalry could move quite rapidly on the battlefield (and cause considerable havoc with swords and hooves once their lances shattered in the first charge). They had very different applications, one for line-breaking, flanking and pursuit, the other for massed fire. If anything, guns would have replaced the crossbow.

          EDIT: It might help if we clarify what is meant by “knight” here. Obviously military aristocrats continued to play a role for some time after gunpowder. Likewise heavy cavalry kept being valuable, though the armor grew less heavy over time. The big change was in the shift from feudalism to professionalism; society stopped being structured around wealthy landowners channeling their rents into buying horses and metalwork so they could meet their sworn obligations to military service.

          • eigenmoon says:

            I haven’t said that a king, upon seeing guns for the first time, would simply dismiss all his cavalry. But he has to make an economic choice.

            A lance shaft is a several meters long metallic tube. Muzzles are also metallic tubes. Now you could give your knight a single-use lance or you can tell him to fight with just a sword and call him a cuirassier, and that would also save you enough metal for 3 additional muskets that you can give to 3 additional peasants.

            There might be reasons to go with the lance: matchlock muskets being extremely bad, or Polish Winged Hussars being extremely good with lances, or you’re short on peasants to give muskets to. But in general, the choice is pretty clear. If you go with muskets and your enemy goes with the lance, then even after the lance is used, you got a cuirassier and 2 musketeers and he gets only a cuirassier, so you win. Of course that’s an oversimplification and ignores all the tactics, but this looks to be what actually happened, so why not.

        • cassander says:

          It was artillery more than hand held firearms that did in knights. Artillery was extremely expensive, and defending against it even moreso. Artillery drove changes in fortress design that dramatically drove up costs and destroyed the ability of smaller players (i.e. local lords) to defy their lords inside their castles. That led to the consolidation of princely authority and the end of an independent warrior class. The aristocracy would survive, of course, but as a service aristocracy which derived its wealth from serving at court and monopolizing the offices of state, not from their ability to militarily defy the king as genuine feudal lords.

        • theredsheep says:

          Cassander: I’d say that’s a fair analysis, yes, though without leaving out the effects of plague and economic recovery.

          Eigenmoon: Where did you read that lances were metallic? They didn’t have aluminum back then, or the complex techniques needed to make sturdy hollow metal equipment. This was an era when smiths had to manually hammer individual nails. A pure iron lance would have been incredibly hard to make (heating something that long evenly to prevent warping), extremely heavy, and expensive, especially for a one-shot weapon.

          I was under the impression that medieval lances were made of wood, with metal tips. With a sufficiently long lathe and a supply of timber you could turn them out in quantity–not cheap exactly, but the limiting factor on cavalry would have been the horse, armor, and sword, plus the extensive training required for the rider.

          You can support something like five or ten people with the same amount of arable land it takes to raise and feed a horse, so cavalry are always going to be expensive. They bought horses anyway because infantry and cavalry have very different uses on the battlefield; cavalry have superior mobility and shock value, and can be used to turn the flanks of enemy formations. They also had real limitations; horses bolt and throw their riders when they spook, they can’t squeeze together, they can’t navigate rugged terrain, etc.

          Comparing them to arquebusiers is apples and oranges. And given how the military was structured, a Western king wouldn’t have made top-down decisions anyhow. He’d call up his retainers and take what he got, for the most part.

          Renaissance-era armies used a mixture of pikemen (with wooden shafts), gunpowder, and cavalry, in much the same way that medieval armies used a mixture of light and heavy foot with heavy cavalry.

          • eigenmoon says:

            I stand corrected about the metallic lances. I was sure I’ve read that the Polish Winged Hussars used them (and I was amazed by it), but now it’s clear that PWH used wooden lances.

            However I still remember that the lance cost was the major reason behind the abandonment of PWH. I’m no longer sure about it though.

            I agree with cassander.

        • theredsheep says:

          When I looked up lances just now, the Wiki article did mention that later lances were made of hollow metal; that might have been what you’re thinking of. But I’m a guy who’s read a bunch of history books for fun, not an expert. Heck, I don’t know anything about the Polish hussars beyond their wearing the big red wings and having a good reputation. Maybe metallurgy had advanced enough by then to make it practical. I just know that, when you watch blacksmith videos on YouTube, they always grumble about what a PITA it is to do long pieces because they warp if you don’t heat them perfectly (katanas get their curvature from deliberately induced differential cooling, IIRC).

          • eigenmoon says:

            I’ve downloaded the Osprey booklet on PWH. Let them sue me, it was on the first page on Google.

            Lances were wooden but hollow. No metallic lances known.

            The combined firepower of muskets and artillery is cited as the main reason of PWH’s demise. In 1622 and 1626 PWHs just refused to charge the Swedes. It is stated that Russians and Turks were lagging behind in firepower, so PWHs continued to be used against them.

        • bean says:

          This is largely due to knight lances being single-use; XIX-century lancers carry reusable short lances.

          This is not really it. Besides the role of artillery, it’s also a matter of training. Pre-gunpowder weapons are hard to learn how to use. Knights basically trained for war from childhood on, as a full-time job. Horses capable of carrying them are also expensive and can’t easily be used to pull plows. The actual cost of the lances themselves is pretty negligible compared to armor and horses. The same is true of English longbowmen, and at various times, the kings of England had serious trouble finding enough longbowmen because of how hard you had to work to get good at it. All of this soaks up a lot of economic activity.
          Gunpowder weapons, on the other hand, are really easy to learn. Grab someone off the street, hand them a musket, and they’ll be able to be useful in a matter of weeks. So you don’t need to set up your society to support knights, and the actual cost of your forces is a lot closer to equipment cost than it used to be. And even if the musketeers are worse man-for-man than the knights or longbowmen, you have a lot more of them.

        • theredsheep says:

          Since we’ve got Bean’s attention here: do you know what prevented crossbows from fulfilling a similar role? I don’t know if they loaded any slower than early guns, but they hurt like the devil and were certainly simple to use.

          Also, something that just occurred to me after reading Cassander’s note about the castles. The Byzantine Empire relied heavily on fortification, to the point where kastron, “fortress,” became the default word for “town.” Every large settlement near the frontier (and Byzantium had a lot of frontier) was fortified so the nearby villages could scurry inside when Arabs, Slavs, etc. came raiding. The Byzantines never at any point made extensive use of gunpowder, and had recurrent problems with landed magnates being defiant.

          Yet nothing like Western feudalism developed until quite late, at the tail end of the twelfth century right before the Fourth Crusade when the Empire was disintegrating under the Angeloi. Revolts did happen, especially in the period right after the adoption of the theme system, but it remained a centrally administered state; nobody seems to have ever tried to squat in a castle and dare the Basileus to give him orders while he ruled a petty chiefdom. Or, if he did, it didn’t work, or all my Byzantine history books don’t mention it. The powerful Anatolian lords dodged taxes like mad, but didn’t act like Western nobles. Why do you suppose that is?

        • bean says:

          Since we’ve got Bean’s attention here: do you know what prevented crossbows from fulfilling a similar role? I don’t know if they loaded any slower than early guns, but they hurt like the devil and were certainly simple to use.

          I’m not entirely sure. I’d guess it was a combination of cost (crossbows are probably more complex than early guns) and effectiveness (not throwing things as hard/taking too long to load), but I’m very much not an expert on this.

          The only way I can think of to tackle this in a reasonable time is to use the GURPS weapon tables, which show a typical crossbow to be slightly better than an arquebus. I’m aware that this is a method with many potential flaws and if anyone else has greater expertise/is willing to do more work, I’m not going to defend it very strongly. (Also not interested in discussion of RPG systems. But SJG usually does their homework reasonably well.)

          No clue about the Byzantines. Way outside my area of expertise.

        • Protagoras says:

          I’ve heard that “guns don’t require much training” is not actually accurate for primitive firearms, and that other factors (deadliness and armor penetration, I believe) led to their being favored over bows and crossbows despite the poor accuracy and rate of fire.

        • eigenmoon says:

          Bean: you’re right.

          Theredsheep: an interesting question. I don’t know but I see as well that in Anatolia it didn’t work for some reason. Byzantines separated from the mainland by sea did try to break. This guy was late but I guess counts too.

        • I don’t know if they [crossbows] loaded any slower than early guns

          Surely faster, unless you are thinking of the sort of heavy crossbows that required serious mechanical assistance—pulley system or crank—to cock.

          I would guess no more than ten seconds, for the sort that uses a stirrup, maybe a little longer for a goat’s foot lever, which I’ve never used.

        • LesHapablap says:

          I have read somewhere (maybe On Combat by Dave Grossman) that early guns were a gamechanger primarily because the noise scared the hell out of the opposing side.

        • cassander says:

          Relatively light crossbows had rates of fire similar to firearms, but heavier arbalests were considerably slower, requiring complex winching systems. They were also at least as vulnerable to weather, were less robust, and were harder to handle in enclosed spaces. Longbows were able to keep pace with hand guns through the 1500s, but, as bean says, good longbowmen were the product of a culture, not something any ruler could just decide to use. You could only recruit as many as your culture could produce and heavy losses (the English in the later stages of the 100 years war, the Turks at Lepanto) could wipe out a generation worth of longbowmen and do serious damage to the long term tradition.

        • Nornagest says:

          I’ve heard that “guns don’t require much training” is not actually accurate for primitive firearms, and that other factors (deadliness and armor penetration, I believe) led to their being favored over bows and crossbows despite the poor accuracy and rate of fire.

          Matchlock guns were fiddly, inaccurate, and sensitive to environmental conditions, but not much harder to use than flintlock weapons. The steps for loading and firing them are identical, except that you’d remove the match from the serpentine while loading the weapon (for safety reasons) and replace it when you were finished.

          Really early small arms lacked locks and had to be fired by manually applying a match to the touch-hole, like cannons in pirate movies, which effectively made them crew-served weapons. But guns were more important as siege weaponry at that point.

        • theredsheep says:

          Re: Byzantium, Eigenmoon, NB that all three examples you gave are from periods of extreme disruption–the early seventh century collapse from Persia and Islam for the first two, and the aftermath of Manuel I’s death and the beginning of the final collapse for the third.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:


          Matchlock guns were fiddly, inaccurate, and sensitive to environmental conditions, but not much harder to use than flintlock weapons. The steps for loading and firing them are identical, except that you’d remove the match from the serpentine while loading the weapon (for safety reasons) and replace it when you were finished.

          Really early small arms lacked locks and had to be fired by manually applying a match to the touch-hole, like cannons in pirate movies, which effectively made them crew-served weapons. But guns were more important as siege weaponry at that point.

          Yeah, this is important to remember: a handcannon was something like a toy cannon when gunpowder artillery first replaced trebuchets. It took some time for inventors to modify the design into a personal weapon to replace crossbows as the ranged weapon for men who couldn’t use a bow. And that was the matchlock.

        • Lambert says:

          So the question is: Were matchlocks the first ranged weapons to have all three of a good fire rate, ability to pierce armour and ease of use that rendered a buttload of cheap musketeers able to kill expensive knights?

  16. Rohan Crawley says:

    Can anyone point me to some good research on aging and the best predictors of longevity?

  17. A Definite Beta Guy says:

    I think you are cherry-picking examples that are leading you to some overall odd strategic thinking.

    1. Counter-balancing isn’t particularly relevant to the current US strategy. There’s no group of nations that can effectively counter-balance us, particularly as we have good relationships with many of the major nations who would theoretically try to counter-balance us (Japan, South Korea, France, the UK, Germany,etc.)
    Also, counter-balancing isn’t something that can just automatically spring into existence, and it doesn’t guarantee victory. Napoleon trounced a whole lot of Coalitions of the Willing before one finally stuck that beat him. Bismarck crafted a Germany that was in relatively good position, and it took a decade and a half of strategic mistakes before there was a major, sustainable anti-German coalition arrayed against them.

    2. Advantage Defender: this is a strategic and tactical reality, but it can be offset by good preparation and technology. Germany and Italy are only things today through wars of conquest, and the extent of US territory today is in large part achieved by an aggressive war against Mexico and numerous fights against Amerindian tribes. The US beat the snot out of Iraq, twice, and the first time around Iraq was a respected regional military power. Plus Western nations in general built massive empires on the back of superior technology. This isn’t a thing the US really needs to worry about, because the US is insanely powerful compared to practically every other nation on the planet.

    3. Logistics: supply chains are a problem, but this is something the US has gotten really good at because of our global mission. Hell, we have spent the last 2 decades maintaining a sizable foothold in Afghanistan, and for quite a few years the US was maintaining troop levels combined in Afghanistan and Iraq (on the total opposite end of the world, mind you) that exceeded the size of most nation’s militaries, and probably had enough combined combat power to blow the hell out of most nations. And that wasn’t even a US on full war-time footing.

    4. Counter-insurgency: these missions CAN be tough, but it’s trivially true that insurgencies can be defeated, or else you wouldn’t have nations today: every disaffected group would go out, form an insurgency, and collapse the central government. It’s more a question of political will (and to some extent strategy) than simple military might, especially since insurgencies are typically insurgents because they lack the military power to defeat the current government. The West effectively defeated a lot of insurgencies in the Cold War, or successfully reduced them to the level that they did not threaten the allied government. Sure, Vietnam was a notable loss, but that was a loss because Ho Chi Minh came from North Vietnam with battle tanks, not because the Viet Cong successfully unseated the Hanoi government.
    You do, of course, need local allies to do this, and hopefully allies substantially less corrupt than Karzai, and you might have to make some otherwise not-nice deals like letting Sunni militias keep their weapons, but these wars aren’t unwinnable. Actually, if anything, they are going to continue to be a major conflict that US forces will participate in, because they are so, so, so frequent. The goal should be avoiding huge numbers of US troops in pointless COIN, not having the US never participating in COIN (which would keep us out a lot of conflicts US voters would rather we participate in, like the fight against Boko Haram or Kony 2012).

    As for trying to impose democracy through military might: well, I don’t really want to pay for it, and I don’t want to send any Americans to die for it, but the US can definitely do this, depending on your definition of “democratic.” Iraq is functionally democratic with parliamentary elections, and it’s Freedom House score is non-trivially above most of its neighbors, and could possibly be a lot further along had we not withdrawn our forces.

    If your argument is that the US should go out and seek to build a worldwide empire, most people would agree unless your definition of “empire” includes the MNC and IMF and the US already being an empire. If your argument is that the US shouldn’t try to conquer the world, I think no one will disagree except maybe Orson Scott Card?

    • cassander says:

      On the contrary, I think that, as Zbigniew Brzezinski presciently argued in The Grand Chessboard in 1997, the most serious threat that US faces in its current policy of dominance in Eurasia is the possibility of an emergence of a Russia-China-Iran counter-hegemonic coalition. (This would probably not be my own preferred policy, but it forms the boundaries in which current media, political and academic debate occurs.) Indeed, to some extent you could argue that this, excluding China, is what transpired in Syria: An uprising by forces against a government that was hostile to the US and its regional allies/proxies led to massive Iranian and Russian involvement out of fear that it would dramatically alter the regional balance of power. However, the conflict is certainly very complex and I’m not wedded to this description of it.

      Putting Iran in there makes me take this argument less seriously, and I don’t think it’s a strong argument to begin with. A Russian/chinese alliance is always going to struggle because they have so few goals in common. Russian interests are largely in europe, china’s largely in the pacific. Vague anti-americanism is not enough to bring those countries together, they need specific objections that they both want and are trying to get or a willingness to forego minor gains to help the other. The former goals don’t exist and for the latter doesn’t seem to be materializing. So far, for example, Russia has demonstrated a total unwillingness to forego selling weapons to china’s rivals in asia.

      To be clear, my criticism wasn’t that the US couldn’t build democracy, it was that the US can’t build legitimate and effective states, without which “democracy” is meaningless . Iraq is not a functional state, as the 2014 ISIS invasion demonstrated, it is a sham that is in practice multiple different entities highly dependent on foreign powers.

      I would disagree on this point for iraq. Iraq was absolutely a legitimate, effective state in 2010. Fragile, because it was so new, but the original goals of the invasion were achieved, if only after far more expenditure that was originally envisioned. Where we screwed up was not doing the very little that was necessary to keep it that way.

  18. eigenmoon says:

    To all who dig Slavic folk: the Laboratorium Pieśni’s new album is unexpectedly good.

    The common problem of Slavic folk groups is that the source material is basically the same tune over and over since it’s meant to be sung while working. If you just use the songs as a soundtrack to Witcher 3, that’s perfectly fine, but otherwise it tends to make the songs boring. So far only the great DakhaBrakha managed to fix this: when it gets boring, they try something else. Percival of the Witcher fame largely ignores this and simply makes the songs shorter.

    LP has suffered from the same problem: their Youtube page greets you with a song that’s the same tune over and over. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised to find that they’ve grown over this and now employ the same winning formula: if it gets boring, do something differently. My favorite song from the new album, “Jana Turčin”, is a 6-part composition in 8 and half minutes.

    They don’t do a lot of instruments, which is kind of a problem because I can only take in so much dissonant (in a good sense) chanting at a time. But they do produce a sound that is difficult to find anywhere else.

  19. idontknow131647093 says:

    Defense has remained consistently more cost-effective than offense.

    This seems mostly true, and I think anyone would cede the reasons why.

    Wars often turn out to be more costly and less successful than their proponents predict they will be.

    Also true, but I wonder if this is simply selection bias. A proponent intrinsically thinks the war has positive value, otherwise he wouldn’t be a proponent. And plus those exaggerating the value the most will spring to the front of the pro-war movement. Just as hardliners often lead many movements.

    Wars aimed at profoundly changing the balance of power often fail because the conflict draws in other parties who tend to favor the status quo antebellum.

    Too nebulous for me. US war of independence is an obvious counter-example. Spain had little aid in its wars as it lost empire, etc.

    Wars against foreign insurgents/guerillas—what Martin van Creveld calls “low intensity conflicts” in the Transformation of War— have a not great track record of succeeding, despite the many advantages that counter-insurgent forces would seem to have.

    This brings us closer to modern day with the like of Vietnam +. I don’t actually think this is a necessary outcome. It is a common outcome because you are often fighting such activities on a place you value so you continually refuse to raze everything to the ground. Often winning a war requires barbaric enforcement.

    The “positive” benefits of victory in war, particularly from the perspective of ordinary citizens, are often hard to identify.

    Agree. This is simple though. Normal people, in the instances where they are acting as Homo Economics care about GDP/capita. If something is easy to conquer, its not going to have much value to add on the homefront.

    To expand on empire being a source of weakness: It’s often easier to undermine an empire through Lawrence of Arabia style shenanigans than it is to defend one.

    I think this is similar to your above status quo example, but actually stronger. The latent capital and social capital in a society is very hard to push around. If you sent a bunch of New Yorkers to Istanbul in the hopes of making it into a great place for Jews to live in safety I don’t think it will work too well for you. Also it won’t work too well in the other direction with only a million Turks in NYC. I do think there is a bias in favor of barbarism that cuts against colonialism. That is because I think Scott’s idea of “universal culture” is quite wrong, and so called UC is one of the most fragile forms of culture that is easily shattered by dedicated attackers.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I do think there is a bias in favor of barbarism that cuts against colonialism. That is because I think Scott’s idea of “universal culture” is quite wrong, and so called UC is one of the most fragile forms of culture that is easily shattered by dedicated attackers.

      Seconded. In fact, since “universal culture” grew over a process of more than two centuries of beating up Christianity, it requires explanation that Islam is the only religion we notice making endemic attacks on UC. Why not every major religion except the one UC is experienced at crushing?

      • Nornagest says:

        Well, you sort of answered your own question there. The lines of thought that led to Enlightenment deism and eventually to modern secular culture grew up in a monotheistic context, and that’s what they’re tuned for. They aren’t really equipped to deal with Buddhism or Hinduism or animism; the sophisticated arguments don’t apply. They do have some unsophisticated ones that could be deployed, but they boil down to condemning anything that smells superstitious, which is kinda weak in the first place and vulnerable to accusations of colonialism besides.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      I also disagree with the conservative criticism that we “just need to take the gloves off” in fighting counter-insurgencies to win. I do think you can “win” a counter-insurgency through sheer brutality in terms of a deliberate policy of mass extermination and expulsion that just eliminates the entire civilian population (Roll Safe meme: “Can’t be any insurgents in the area if there aren’t any people in the area.”)

      I tend to disagree with you here (not only because I don’t think its a conservative sentiment), because I also think you can win by making their alternative seem bad enough. That worked for millennia. There will be people who resist (and there indeed are those people in modern democracies). So that is no critique.

      • cassander says:

        I believe the term of art is “If you get them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.”

      • albatross11 says:

        Clearly, there’s a level of brutality where you win the counterinsurgency by leaving an unpopulated, uninhabitable wasteland. But it’s worth remembering that the USSR was plenty brutal in Afghanistan, and still didn’t do so well there. Similarly, Saddam’s Iraq and Turkey under a variety of rulers haven’t managed to completely suppress Kurdish independence movements/insurgencies, and neither has exactly been squeamish about human-rights violations. So it’s not like brutality is some kind of magic spell to make the insurgency go away.

    • John Schilling says:

      I do think you can “win” a counter-insurgency through sheer brutality in terms of a deliberate policy of mass extermination and expulsion that just eliminates the entire civilian population

      It isn’t necessary to eliminate the entire civilian population. Only in stupid fiction is the civilian population fanatically devoted to the cause of freedom or whatnot, no matter the cause or the odds. In reality, the number of people willing to actually die for a lost cause is negligible and easily dealt with by normal policing.

      It is sufficient to ensure that the insurgents cannot win significant victories, cannot enact meaningful vengeance, and cannot accumulate and concentrate force to change this. Once the recruiting pitch of La Resistance is reduced to “Come join us, and let’s see how long we can hide in the mountains before we die accomplishing nothing!”, the insurgency is done for.

      This is achievable with reasonable force levels and rules of engagement, and does not require genocide. It does require giving up on the plan where you build schools and hospitals and whatnot to “win the hearts and minds” of the civilian population, because each of those schools and hospitals is a soft target that the insurgents can strike to at least enact tangible vengeance against what you yourself have advertised as a symbol of your hated cause.

      • albatross11 says:


        I’m sure you understand this a lot better than I do, but we seem to have a really bad track record for actually winning these counterinsurgencies. And I recall a lot of very confident-sounding people patiently explaining how to remake Afghanistan and Iraq into decent places in the run-up to those invasions, and later as they tried to explain how many more Friedman units it would take before things would start looking better. Their specific proposals were, as I recall, a bit different than yours, but they were delivered with similar matter-of-fact certainty. So why is your proposal more likely to be right than the previous ones?

      • Nornagest says:

        John probably knows more about this than I do, but my reading suggests the US Army is unusually bad at counterinsurgency relative to some of its peers, for a variety of cultural and institutional reasons. The Brits did a fairly good job in Malaya, for example.

      • John Schilling says:

        @albatross: See my third paragraph. In Afghanistan and Iraq, US and Coalition forces embarked on an immediate program of nation-building, a.k.a. providing highly visible soft targets for insurgents to attack throughout the country. That trick basically never works, unless you’ve already won the war by other means, because attacking soft targets openly associated with a foreign invader is way more fun than being a peasant farmer or the like so the insurgents will basically never run out of recruits.

        The US did this in part because they didn’t believe there was going to be a counterinsurgency campaign, made zero or negative preparation for counterinsurgency, because we were supposed to be greeted as liberators. And in part because of the political need for a Coalition even if most of the contributions were token, because potential contributors were more willing to sign up for nation-building than morale-destruction. And in part because the US has always done it that way in spite of the dismal track record.

        Regardless, any strategy that involves sending your people out to build (and then inadequately guard) schools and hospitals in a war zone, is going to be critically handicapped. Not because of insufficient brutality, but because of excessive vulnerability.

        @Nornagest: Malaya was an ideal case for counterinsurgency warfare in that the insurgency was supported entirely by a clearly-recognizable ethnic minority, specifically Malayan Chinese. And also because even in the 1950s the British Army was willing to use de facto concentration camps as a tool. Concentration camps are a very effective tool of counterinsurgency warfare.

        Particularly if you can just fill them with an easily-recognized ethnic minority and be sure you’ve got your enemy’s base of support properly concentrated. But with or without concentration camps, being able to clearly recognize your enemy even in civilian clothes is a huge step up in counterinsurgency warfare. And the “winning hearts and minds” thing gets a boost when everyone sees you going after those you-know-whos that everybody else already hates and fears and wants to be rid of.

  20. Deiseach says:

    The common problem of Slavic folk groups is that the source material is basically the same tune over and over since it’s meant to be sung while working.

    That’s the general problem with most folk music. You just grit your teeth, man up, get into a Zen state, and sit there for four minutes and let the expressiveness of the singer take you away.

    And be glad that in these effete decadent modern times, it is only four minutes, not the minimum thirty verses of our forefathers’ heroic times 😀

    If you really need instrumentation, here’s a jolly tune about one woman murdering another (who moreover is pregnant at the time) so she can marry the husband.

  21. Deiseach says:

    To those who celebrate it, Happy Christmas Eve, to those who don’t, Happy Three Days Past The Solstice or whatever else you do or don’t observe, and may we all get through to the end of this year in one piece and fairly stable mentally, physically and otherwise!

    It’s been a great time with you all, even those I’ve fought with, and let’s do it all again next year!

  22. johan_larson says:

    Guess what? Renovating a house is hard work.

    We lived out our fantasy to flip a house. We will never do it again.

    • Well... says:

      Sounds like the husband had his ideas of what house-flipping was like from years of experience working with his hands. Sounds like the wife got her ideas of what house-flipping would be like from watching TV. From the “surprises” mentioned, I also get the suspicion they didn’t have the house very thoroughly inspected before they bought it for flipping. The outcome isn’t a shocker, but journalists don’t get clicks on their stories for non-shockers.

      • johan_larson says:

        I wonder what they made per hour working. Buying old-ish houses, renovating them and reselling them promptly sounds like a fine way to make a living if you have the skills for it.

        • dodrian says:

          I know a couple who renovate houses. He works in the family plumbing business, so is plenty used to that kind of work.

          The catch: they buy the house and live in it. The renovation happens over twoish years, then they sell the house for quite a bit more than they bought it, and it’s a good investment for them because their money isn’t tied up in something that they’re not using. Worst case scenario is they still have a house.

          • Well... says:

            That’s how I’d always heard of people doing it: they live in the house while they’re working on it.

            In high school the parents of a friend of mine tried house-flipping without moving into the house they were renovating. (It gave me a part-time job one summer as I helped them demo, do yardwork, paint, etc.) I don’t believe either of them still flips houses, and they’re divorced now. Just sayin.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      As my carpenter father would say: “No shit, Sherlock.”
      Even relatively tiny and minor items take up a crap-ton of time, and, yeah, a lot of the work is monotonous and boring. And the rest of the work is “WHY THE FUCK WON’T THIS GODDAM THING FIT IN THE HOLE”

      You can save some money, but you blow all your free time and run the risk of injury. Also, do not show up to demo day wearing shorts and a baseball cap, and for the love of GOD do NOT just swing your damn sledgehammer into a wall.

      Next year’s projects are fully insulating the attic and I am not sure what else yet. I’ve already decided I am going to outsource the freakin’ attic job.

      • Well... says:

        Yeah, I’m wavering on a similar attic job myself this coming year. On the one hand, it seems pretty straightforward to do myself. On the other hand, it seems like it will get old real fast, plus I’m not wild about handling/inhaling all that fiberglass. Maybe I’ll do the easy parts and outsource the rest…

        I’m pretty handy and I enjoy woodworking, but I’m glad I am able to do that stuff just to save money and have a sense of satisfaction and connection to my house, rather than because it’s my only source of income.

      • baconbits9 says:

        I think the main problem is always renovating/flipping “a” house. The only reason you would plant to renovate one home* is if you wildly underestimate how hard it will be and how much you have to learn about it. Obviously your first attempt is going to be the hardest, where you estimates are the worst, where you make the most mistakes and you have the least patience for the work.

        *barring extensive experience in the industry professionally

        • johan_larson says:

          I think this is one step up from a get-rich-quick scheme. I remember reading about some people trying to make money, even quite a bit of money, by flipping real estate. The plan was typically to buy low from distressed sellers and then take your time to selling it, to get a better price. But you wouldn’t do anything to the house itself, except provide liquidity. I’m guessing that’s a hard thing to make work.

          Reno-flipping is one step up from that. Now you are actually investing some time and money in improving the house you bought. But some of it is pretty like cleaning, paining, and landscaping that virtually anyone can do. And if you’re a bit of a handy-man, maybe you can take down walls, and replace counter tops. An actually renovated house should sell for more. This seems like a much more reasonable idea than just a pure liquidity flip, and it doesn’t require pro-level skills.

          But really, the right people to do this are construction workers. People who have worked in the industry for a few years will have the skills to properly reno a house. And for them it would be a full-time job, buying/renovating/selling houses serially.

        • Brad says:

          I think this is one step up from a get-rich-quick scheme. I remember reading about some people trying to make money, even quite a bit of money, by flipping real estate. The plan was typically to buy low from distressed sellers and then take your time to selling it, to get a better price. But you wouldn’t do anything to the house itself, except provide liquidity. I’m guessing that’s a hard thing to make work.

          Given the very high transaction costs—it’d be quite hard to go under 3% even in a FSBO situation—and with substantial carrying costs, my guess is that this ends up being more a directional bet on real estate prices more than anything else.

          There’s definitely an element of that in traditional house flipping too.

    • Plumber says:

      No matter how many times I don’t agree my wife, who also went to law school like the author of the essay you linked, has been wistful about renovating and flipping houses.

      The idea is abhorrent to me, as even more extended manual labor doesn’t hold much appeal.

  23. proyas says:

    Imagine you are in the Matrix universe and are in charge of Zion’s defenses. What, if anything, would you do differently from what the humans did in the movies?

    You know the machines will principally attack you using their “Squid” machines, but you’re less sure they will use the giant drills to gain access to Zion.

    • Protagoras says:

      Um, surrender? Zion is a pit. The Matrix is much more pleasant.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        This but unironically. Imagine that Zion somehow manages to make the defense work and kill every attacking robot. The machines run the entire planet, they won’t just give up when the first invasion fails. Without knowing that Neo is about to go all Deus Ex Machina, the best outcome Zion can hope for is that they manage to kill off several waves of squidbots before the machines get sick of it and nuke their problem away.

    • dodrian says:

      The humans had a good strategy – the hovercraft were intended to mount a preliminary perimeter defense to disable the drilling machines and redirect the invasion to their emplacement defenses which stood a better chance, but Agent Smith infiltrated a ship and triggered its EMP to scuttle the whole force.

      The only improvement I could see would be to use the ships as mine-layers, EMPs if they had the resources. That way they couldn’t all be taken out at once.

      They were ultimately doomed from the start, being too limited in resources and too vastly outnumbered

    • proyas says:

      I think Zion should have used more practical combat vehicles than the exoskeletons. Something like a shrunk-down Yugoslavian BOV 3 mobile self propelled anti aircraft vehicle would have been better. It would need a driver and a gunner in a ball turret with 360 degree traverse and the ability to fire straight up. One or two other guys might have been inside to fire plasma rifles out of ports in the hull to zap any Squid that might have latched on.

      Also, these vehicles would have driven into the armored garages for ammo reloads.

      I think Zion should have hardened its equipment against EMP and then used EMP explosives inside the Dock.

    • John Schilling says:

      Evacuate Zion and disperse the human population in small groups to all the nooks and crannies of the Machine civilization as best you can. Your question is akin to asking an Apache war chief how to best defend the one big city in which all the Apache live, from the firepower of the United States Army. The Apache lasted until 1924 because they didn’t live in anything resembling a city; the natives who had cities were the ones who were killed or subjugated first and there is no plausible way to avoid that outcome.

      Well, except for having a prophesied mystical superhero save you, but that still leaves you with buying time for them to arrive and do their work, and dispersal still works best for that.

  24. Deiseach says:

    If Santa is late tonight, it could be because he stopped to ask directions in Kerry 🙂

    • Plumber says:


      That was wonderful!

      (And I’m now really enjoying the other skits made by the group “India again! What is if with this guy?”) thank you!

      • Deiseach says:

        Happy Christmas, Plumber, and glad you enjoyed that! I don’t know if you saw the Brexit Divorce sketch but it is how things look from this side 🙂

        (And Happy Christmas to everyone else, I’m only having a quick look online while everything is cooking away nicely and doesn’t need any intervention yet).

  25. theredsheep says:

    Medieval Divorce Court Story Time!

    In the ninth century, King Lothair of Lorraine had a problem: his wife Theutberga was apparently sterile. His two uncles were eyeing his land; if he didn’t produce an heir, they’d carve up his country between them. As it happened, he’d already had several children with his mistress Waldrada. He wanted to marry her and declare those bastards his heirs. His grandfather Charlemagne had openly kept multiple concubines, and married his favorite after the fact to legitimize his chosen heirs, but the Church had been asserting its rights a lot more in recent decades; Lothair was Married with a capital M, and he needed a valid cause for divorce.

    He figured he needed a sure thing to placate the hierarchs, and in the end he went a little bit overboard: he alleged that, before they were married, Theutberga had had anal sex with her brother Hubert (who was a bishop), conceived a child by sorcery, and then aborted it. So you’ve got incest, sodomy, sorcery, AND abortion, all wrapped up in one accusation. He expected a slam dunk, but for some reason the local clergy were hesitant to believe him. Theutberga submitted to trial by ordeal, and her champion emerged from boiling water unscathed, possibly because God thought surviving a boiling was less implausible than the satanic incest sodomy baby alternative.

    Irritated, Lothair decided to imprison his wife to make her confess. When that didn’t work, he threatened her with torture, and she gave in and admitted that the devil-baby abortion story was all true. This seemed definitive, but the local council were just hesitant enough to appeal to the most learned cleric available, a bishop named Hincmar. Hincmar thought it over and produced a book-length treatise in Latin on why the divorce was impermissible. Along with several procedural violations by the court, Hincmar included a detailed description of Where Babies Come From, and noted that only one conception without semen in the vulva was known in Christian history, “and that was by Grace.” So no, Lothair couldn’t get a divorce.

    For a while, Lothair went on living with Waldrada anyway, but his kids were still bastards. So he appealed to the Pope, and even contrived to have Theutberga do likewise (since she feared for her life if she stayed with her husband). The Pope indignantly told him that, even if Theutberga were to die, he still could not marry Waldrada, since they’d been living in sin. The proceedings dragged on for eight years in all, until both women were in monasteries and Lothair was dead. At no point was Lothair divorced, and his uncles wound up dividing his kingdom between them as expected.

    I got this from my wife’s old “Marriage and the Family in the Middle Ages” book, which also says that at one point husbands accused of impotence were put in a room with a bunch of women who did their best to disprove it. I’d have simply linked to Wiki for the Theutberga story, but for some reason their entry doesn’t even mention the fun part. Merry Christmas!

    • Nick says:

      Hah. Gies and Gies dryly comment, “Why the king felt the need for such a multiplication of mutually contradictory slanders is a mystery.” The book is interesting—I happen to be staying with friends for Christmas who have it on their bookshelves, so I’ve read parts of it before—but I do wonder about the precision of the material. I read through the section you summarized (from chapter 4, The Carolingian Age) and they seem very inconsistent about distinguishing dissolution and annulment, regularly calling both of them divorce.

      • theredsheep says:

        I read a broadly similar account in “The Birth of the West,” by some defrocked priest (got it from the library for a bio of Theophano; author has extreme discipline problems but has interesting factoids if you can stand the lack of narrative coherence).

        EDIT: I think his name was Paul Collins, but I’m full of cookies, turkey, and guacamole, and can’t be bothered to go get the library books bag from across the house.

        • Nick says:

          A defrocked priest with discipline problems? Ah, but you repeat yourself. 😀

          • theredsheep says:

            Well, per the flap bio, he wrote something indelicate in a book about the Papacy and refused to take it out, so he got booted. Details not specified. His discipline issues are more along the lines of not being able to pick a story and tell it; he starts by talking about the early medieval environment, goes on to Italy during the pornocracy, branches out to a survey of essentially every region in Western Europe including Ireland for some reason, discusses household economy and the Church, then finishes by focusing on the three Saxon Ottos. Dude really needed an editor with an axe.

      • Deiseach says:

        Gies and Gies dryly comment, “Why the king felt the need for such a multiplication of mutually contradictory slanders is a mystery.”

        Why did Henry VIII feel the need to accuse Anne Boleyn of incest and witchcraft on top of adultery? (By the time he got around to chopping off poor little Katherine Howard’s head, he stuck to just adultery).

        Probably the same reason: when you’re trying to ditch your wife for political reasons (plus have a replacement hottie that you’re already banging lined up) and everyone knows this, you really need to go overboard on “No, no, I’m not doing this for the reasons everyone knows I’m doing this, this is a really bad situation that I am sure is contrary to the will of God which I, as a pious monarch, must obey!”

        Granted, in Henry’s case Anne was the replacement hottie he’d already been banging, but since he’d dumped his first wife for not being able to give him a son and used the “this is contrary to the will of God who has punished me for contracting an incestuous marriage with my sister-in-law by denying me male offspring” excuse, pulling the “yeah, the marriage I turned the entire kingdom upside-down to get is also, um, against the will of God” stunt would have made him look (even more) ridiculous both at home and abroad, so he had to be extra-vengeful about Anne and claim it was all her fault for making him turn the kingdom upside-down, close the monasteries, execute everyone who disagreed with him about the marriage (and if he’d used the “contrary to the will of God” excuse he would have had to admit that those who disagreed about the marriage were right after all which his pride and vanity could never abide) and she had done it all by literally bewitching him, poor innocent little monarch, with her evil black magic ways.

        I do not like Anne Boleyn (I’m Kate of Aragon all the way) but man, Henry was no prize at all.

        • Protagoras says:

          Henry also seems to have had political/religious/personal reasons in addition to his romantic reasons for turning the kingdom upside down. He seems to have thought he was a greater authority on religious questions than the pope, and so attempted to implement catholicism with king as pope (with minor concessions to the rising protestants to get their support for this move, as the catholics predictably were unenthusiastic about this change, so he needed new friends). Had he seen eye to eye with the Vatican on other questions, they might have found excuses to give him his way on the romantic issues.

  26. bean says:

    A particularly extreme, but I think still illustrative, example of this would be the Winter War, in which Finland, despite its much, much smaller population and industrial capacity, was able to inflict highly disproportionate casualties and fluster Soviet forces for several months.

    That was because they had a powerful ally who had been doing his best to undercut morale, rob the Red Army of leadership, and generally make them ineffective. I speak, of course, of Joseph Stalin.

    It should especially try to avoid fighting wars of aggression, anti-guerilla wars, wars with other major powers “on their turf” in terms of supply lines and wars aimed at fundamentally changing the geopolitical status quo in some way.

    “Wars of aggression” aren’t neatly defined. Hitler thought he was defending the German race from Judeo-Bolshevisim. The Japanese thought they were defending their mandate against imperialist aggression from America. The US thought we were defending ourselves a madmen who was trying to develop WMDs when we invaded Iraq. (We were. He was just doing a really bad job.)
    As for the later two categories, what was the 1980s if not a war aimed at fundamentally changing the geopolitical status quo? There wasn’t a lot of shooting, but it worked out as well as we had any right to expect.

    • bean says:

      Hah. But given that the USSR had easily something like an order of magnitude more population and industrial capacity than Finland in 1939, it shouldn’t require any great feat of martial leadership to win, and win basically overnight.

      While I don’t disagree with your point that defense is easier than offense (this is trivially known to any student of military history), it’s easily possible for morale, leadership, and command and control to make an order of magnitude difference in effectiveness per man.

      Finnish forces actually did launch offensive operations against the USSR in WW2, which were much less proportionately effective than their Winter War operations.

      Finland didn’t do as well during the Continuation War because the Soviets had gotten a lot more effective. They had to. Otherwise they would have lost to the Germans.

      Well, I would in fact consider all three of those wars to be disastrous criminal wars of aggression with no legal or moral justification when viewed from the perspective of a disinterested judge.

      You’re missing my point. There isn’t a disinterested judge we can turn to to say “is this a war of aggression?” ahead of time. Anyone who wants to have a war will spin it/see it as defensive. A rule about “no wars of aggression” will last seconds against someone with even a halfway competent propaganda team. So what does it really gain us?

      And just to be absolutely clear, I 100% agree with you on the actual morality/legality of the German and Japanese efforts in WWII.

      I’m not quite sure on Iraq. Saddam’s NBC scientists had decided that lying to him was easier than actually building the weapons. If he knew he didn’t have them, why was he playing games with the weapons inspectors?

      The significance of the events of 1989-1991 is hugely important to my argument. The fall of the USSR was one of the greatest and most unambiguous triumphs of US foreign policy. However, it happened through popular, non-violent protests and internal change, not through a US war or coup. This shows the success of a genuine commitment to democracy, occupation of the moral high ground, a commitment to warfare only in self-defense and reliance on democratization through internal change.

      Yes. Because democratic protests always work. The Soviets fell in 1989 because the West had made a deliberate attack on their economic system. They didn’t have the money or the willpower to send troops in like they had 20 years earlier.

      • Extranjero says:

        > The Soviets fell in 1989 because the West had made a deliberate attack on their economic system.

        As a resident of the USSR of the time when these events happened, I don’t believe this to be true. It might have played a certain role, the Soviet economy was indeed slow at the time but not particularly bad. Yet no one believed that it could collapse. The reason for the fall was that Gorbachev (a black swan event) implemented “glastnost” (the right to speak freely almost about anything) which coupled with general incompetence and internal conflicts of the Soviet leadership, led to inability to contain nationalistic tendencies.

        The economy got really bad after the breakup which showed that the Soviet economy despite its inefficiencies were more stable than many in the west believed. It took about 15 or 20 years for the Baltic countries to attain the same level that was before the breakup.

      • albatross11 says:

        One datapoint here: In his book _Superpredictors_, Tetlock claims that US intelligence agencies were pretty convinced of Saddam’s WMDs, and that this was exactly the kind of screw-up that motivated them to try to work out better ways to make correct predictions. And certainly Colin Powell laid his reputation on the line (and paid for it) in his UN speech–it’s hard to imagine that he made that speech without thinking that what he was saying was true, or at least wouldn’t be shown to be completely wrong. Similarly, a lot of prominent Democrats (Hillary Clinton, John Kerry) went along–it seems like they were in a position to hear from people in the intelligence services that the WMD claims were nonsense, if it was widely known that they were. Now, maybe they just didn’t care–Iraq was certainly no threat to the US, after all, and willingness to bomb or invade helpless third-world countries for dumb reasons isn’t anything rare in DC. But it seems more likely that they believed it.

        So my guess is that lots of people did think Saddam was working on WMDs. Probably few thought this was a threat to us, but once there was a political push to go invade Iraq, there was a pretty easy justification available in the WMD claims.

  27. johan_larson says:

    Nominations are now open for Best Christmas Song. Under the new No Bullshit rule, only songs about the birth of Jesus are eligible. So “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” is eligible, and “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” is not.

    • smocc says:

      “Angels We Have Heard on High”

      Points in favor:
      – Get to sing “gloria in excelsis deo” along with the angels in heaven
      – Fun meta-game of trying to sing as long as possible without taking a breath
      – Good melody and lyrics

      • johan_larson says:

        I’ll go with “O Holy Night”.

        Points in favor:
        – a soaring melody
        – the words “fall on your knees”, which rarely feature in holiday music

        • Silverlock says:

          “O Holy Night” is the one for me. Gorgeous melody and there is room to play around a bit, but it does require a fairly large range.

          Also, “What Child is This?” There is a reason “Greensleeves” is still around after all these years.

      • dodrian says:

        Angels from the Realms of Glory, but using the tune and glorias of Angels We Have Heard on High.

        Specifically, this version, sung by YouTube musicians.

    • Nicholas Weininger says:

      Lo How a Rose.

      Points in favor:
      — original arrangement by an eminent composer from several hundred years ago, so it sounds musically interesting without being at all hard to sing
      — lots of other newer arrangements allow a ton of rhythmic and harmonic variations for those so inclined (Hugo Distler did an amazing, trippy one in the 1930s IIRC)
      — avoids treacliness, has the same sort of somber beauty as Silent Night (hm, maybe we should just only sing carols originally written in German)

      Points against:
      — to a first approximation nobody but choir dorks actually knows the song

      • spkaca says:

        I sang Lo How a Rose recently. Very lovely, though I’d say O Holy Night is my favourite for showing-off purposes. Of the Father’s Heart Begotten is worth a mention for being written when the Western Roman Empire was still a going concern, and still regularly sung.

    • SamChevre says:

      I’ll go for anachronistic if I get only one choice: In the Bleak Midwinter

      Points in favor:
      – captures the awe of the season better than anything else in my opinion.
      -very singable, particularly with the plain Holst tune
      -“A breastful of milk and a mangerful of hay” is a great line.

    • dodrian says:

      Silent Night, but specifically this arrangement by David Crowder. It’s a song that everyone knows, it’s easy to sing, and the changes toward the end better capture the Christmas spirit than the original.

    • theredsheep says:


      • theredsheep says:

        (which is an awesome Medieval Latin carol; I posted that after getting home from services last night and didn’t have time to explain b/c I had to stuff kids’ stockings)

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      Coventry! Beautiful harmonies, actual pathos, and interesting historical significance.

    • rubberduck says:

      “O Come O Come Emmanuel”. Tune has been around since the middle ages and feels appropriately majestic and timeless. Though it might lose points since it’s not strictly Christmas-y and never explicitly mentions Jesus, Bethlehem, the manger, etc.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Eh, “Emmanuel” is just another name for Jesus, as we hear in the Christmas story.
        (This ended up confusing me when I was little, when I Mondegreened “The Little Drummer Boy” as singing “I have no gift to bring for Rumpapumpum” — little me couldn’t tell if that was another, more obscure name for Jesus.)

      • SamChevre says:

        See, I’m picky about seasons. I love O Come O Come Emmanuel–but I think that’s an Advent hymn, and wouldn’t sing it during Christmas: I wouldn’t sing “Joy to the World” before Christmas, either.

        • Nick says:

          Yeah, you really have to distinguish Advent and Christmas songs—Advent songs anticipate the coming of the Lord, which is different subject matter! The songbooks in church do distinguish the two, but I don’t know how consistently.

          I for one like “Joy to the World,” “Silent Night,” and “Carol of the Bells,” in no particular order.

          • theredsheep says:

            I seem to recall reading somewhere that Joy to the World was originally supposed to be about the Second Coming. But it might have been an old Cracked article or something like that, and I can’t find anything in the lyrics to support it.

          • Nick says:

            Hmm. I think the line most suggestive of that interpretation is “He rules the world with truth and grace.”

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Carol of the Bells. Strictly speaking, it’s not Russian, which would normally be instant qualification. But it’s close enough. Plus, with the right rendition, it’s the only carol I can think of that makes you want to go on a chase.

      (I admit, O Holy Night gives it a good race. These are my favorite two.)

    • Tenacious D says:

      For one that hasn’t been mentioned yet, I’ll nominate the Huron Carol. Heather Dale has a beautiful trilingual version.

    • Jaskologist says:

      “I heard the bells on Christmas Day,” but only the new Casting Crowns rendition. The poem wrestles with the issue “where’s all this peace on Earth I was promised?”

      The original author wrote it in the midst of the American Civil War. He had recently watched his wife burn to death in front of him (candle-accident, not war related). His son had been severely wounded in battle far away and he did not know if he would survive.

      The peaceful warm fuzzies we associate with Christmas are a preview of what is to come; we aren’t there yet. The actual event was an invasion of a hostile, occupied world, and it will have casualties, Christ first among them.

      And in despair I bowed my head;
      “There is no peace on earth,” I said;
      “For hate is strong,
      And mocks the song
      Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

      Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
      “God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
      The Wrong shall fail,
      The Right prevail,
      With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

  28. BBA says:

    Over the weekend, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin asked a bunch of bank CEOs about the liquidity of credit markets. Sunday night, he tweeted that credit markets are nice and liquid, and there’s no reason to be worried. Since nobody had been worried about it, the fact that he made such an announcement got people worried.

    Anyone have thoughts on this? And are there any other specific things we should not be panicking about?

    • John Schilling says:

      This is roughly equivalent to having your teenage son, upon your return from a trip, swearing that there was not a wild party of drunken debauchery at your house while you were gone, and presenting six of his friends to testify that nope, no wild party here.

      Insofar as this is the Trump administration, Hanlon’s Razor definitely applies. The target audience may have been a single individual – in order for Mnuchin to not be the (counting furiously) tenth cabinet official sacked in the first two years of the administration, he has to be seen by The Donald to have been Doing Something about the recent bad news from Wall Street. Which is pretty much out of his jurisdiction, but this tweet (and consider the implication of it being a tweet) shows him as having Done Something.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Is it out of his jurisdiction? The Treasury backstops the FDIC, and it seems like a perfectly reasonable time (market turmoil + government shutdown) to make sure there isn’t an issue you are going to have to address. Dispensing this information to the public is perfectly reasonable as well, especially if there actually (in his opinion) is nothing to worry about.

        • John Schilling says:

          The solvency of the FDIC hasn’t been an issue anyone has had to address since, well, about the time the FDIC was formed. There are a great many things that people are worried about now, just as there were in 2008, 2000, 1991, 1981, etc, but “the money in my personal bank account will go away and I won’t be able to get it back” really hasn’t been more than a fringe position in any of those. And really, if we reach the point where the ability of the FDIC to pay out is at issue, the economy is toast even if the FDIC does pay out, because the evaporation of large corporate bank accounts will mean that nobody has jobs or paychecks any more. Really, the economy is toast even before it gets that far; “we can cover our current accounts but we can’t afford to issue more loans” is sufficient to crash the system if it’s more than a handful of banks saying it.

          Treasury doesn’t have much in the way of tools to prevent things from reaching that level; it’s Congress and the Federal Reserve you’re looking for here (and maybe not even them).

        • BBA says:

          It’s not clear to me how a stock market crash would cause a banking crisis, not since the post-1929 reforms anyway. The causality was the other way around in 2008 – Lehman failed and then everyone panicked, sold all their stock, ran on WaMu, etc.

          If someone at the upper echelons of government thinks the Fed’s rate hikes and recent stock market declines put us at risk of another 2008, either they’re wrong and they’re as dumb as I thought, or they’re right and I’m even dumber than I thought.

          • baconbits9 says:

            It’s not clear to me how a stock market crash would cause a banking crisis, not since the post-1929 reforms anyway. The causality was the other way around in 2008 – Lehman failed and then everyone panicked, sold all their stock, ran on WaMu, etc.

            It doesn’t have to go that way, a market decline could be caused by a lack of liquidity, which is why you (if you were responsible for a 500 billion dollar line of credit to the FDIC) should probably check in about credit conditions when there is a significant stock market decline.

            The causality was the other way around in 2008 – Lehman failed and then everyone panicked, sold all their stock, ran on WaMu, etc.

            The market peaked in 2007, and the S&P 500 was down about 20% from that peak prior to Lehman going bankrupt, so there were warning sings prior.

        • baconbits9 says:

          The solvency of the FDIC hasn’t been an issue anyone has had to address since, well, about the time the FDIC was formed.

          This isn’t true, the FDIC drew on its line of credit with the Treasury in 1990, and in 2009 the line of credit was expanded (but not drawn on). The Treasury clearly has a responsibility to keep tabs on market conditions, and if you aren’t keeping tabs early in a potential situation then you will exacerbate the issue when it is an issue. Being able to say “hey look we contacted the banks in Dec 2018 when things were slightly dicey and gave an honest answer, and then again in year X, when there was that sovereign debt blow up in county Y, so its part of our habit to know what is going on”.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I wouldn’t say that no one had been worried about it. There has been worry about liquidity of the corporate bond markets, for instance. This tweet certainly doesn’t help, though.

  29. Plumber says:

    A few threads ago I posted

    “…….As to what the social conservative legislative agenda that was deeds not words would actually be (since on that front I judge Hollywood for more important than D.C) I have questions of, but I’ll save them for another thread….”

    …well this is another thread. 

    One interesting to me study and interpretation of the 2016 election had the voters divded like so:

    “…we can break the electorate into four types, based on their position in the four quadrants 

    Liberal (44.6 percent of those who voted in 2016): ‘liberal on both economic and identity issues’

    Populist (28.9 percent): ‘liberal on economic issues, conservative on identity issues’

    Conservative (22.7 percent): ‘conservative on both economic and identity issues

    Libertarian (3.8 percent): ‘conservative on economics, liberal on identity issues…. “

    “…We should understand that voters are not ideologically coherent, but instead have different mixes of left and right views across different issues…”

    “…In both parties, the donor class is both more conservative on economic issues and more liberal on social issues, as compared to the rest of the party…”

    “….although the parties are divided on economic issues, there is more overlap. Particularly in the Republican Party, there are a wide range of views on economic issues, now that the party has expanded to include more and more populists who were formerly Democrats….”

    Many times have I read that while having both “social-conservative” and “economic-liberal” views at the same time is a minority position (still more than a quarter of all voters though), but the majority of Americans are “conservative on social issues” and the majority are “liberal on economic issues” (sources with a right agenda stress one aspect of the polling, and sources with a left agenda the other aspect).

    In some ways our divided Federal government reflects majority will, the House, where budgets originate so economic, is majority Democratic Party, and the Senate, which confirms Supreme Court Judges so social, is majority Republican, but except for a few “hot button issues” that are mostly court decisions, most conservative cultural/social issue gripes that I notice aren’t legislative at all, they’re the stuff that Hollywood, private universities, and internet providers do.

    My own main reactionary cultural/social longing (the damage was done too long ago for me to call my desires “conservative”) is for parents with children who get divorced being pariahs again, and I simply don’t imagine any laws that would effect that.

    About the only thing that D.C. could do that might be culturally/socially conservative/reactionary that I can think of is vouchers for religious education, otherwise I’m drawing a blank.

    What is a social conservative non-courts governmental wishlist?

    • My own main reactionary cultural/social longing (the damage was done too long ago for me to call my desires “conservative”) is for parents with children who get divorced being pariahs again, and I simply don’t imagine any laws that would effect that.

      Literature might be able to, though, if the people creating movies and TV shows and novels held that view and incorporated it in their work.

      Which raises an interesting question. Are there examples of a culture’s views being substantially changed in that way, with a view initially held by a small minority eventually being spread to the majority via works of art? Ayn Rand tried to do it, but failed. Dickens? Shaw? How much of the change that Plumber wants to reverse was due to cultural influence, how much to changes such as reduced infant mortality, the shift of household production out of the home, better birth control, … .

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        Literature might be able to, though, if the people creating movies and TV shows and novels held that view and incorporated it in their work.

        The trouble with this, I think, is that while you can shame causes in media, shame is generally enacted socially against people who have attained a particular state rather than people who have committed particular actions, and shaming single parenthood is… not a great idea, given the existence of people whose single parenthood is the result of rape, abuse, death, or other such unfortunate events (re: abuse – do you really think people would not have kids with someone abusive because shaming is going to provide the appropriate disincentive, as opposed to the actual abuse?). Shaming such people is sufficiently widely recognized as Bad that it’s prohibitively difficult for this norm to emerge, and absent creepy mass surveillance, I don’t see a way for shame to be appropriately enacted against people who act in certain ways (whimsical divorcers) rather than people who attain particular end states (single parents).

        I, for one, am grateful that people stopped shaming me or my father for me having a dead mother, so I’m not very sympathetic to the idea of reinstituting this sort of dynamic.

      • onyomi says:

        Ayn Rand tried to do it, but failed

        Really? I mean, her effect wasn’t as profound as she would have liked, of course, but I feel like US culture today is marginally more pro-creator/entrepreneur, anti-government, pro-atheism, pro-IP, suspicious of self-sacrifice than would have been a hypothetical Ayn Rand-less US culture.

        Of course, one can’t know for sure, but given the number of books sold, movies made, influences attributed, it seems a pretty safe supposition.

        • Baeraad says:

          I find that a little hard to believe, to be honest. The US spent something like 40 years shaping its national identity around being the world’s defender from the evil commies. I doubt very much that it needed any help becoming increasingly the antithesis of communism. If anything, I would think that she got disproportionately popular in the US precisely because the US was in the market for someone to say all the things it already prided itself on believing.

          The one area where I’m not sure is atheism, and even there I think her influence is limited to telling a relatively small group of specialised nerds that you didn’t need to praise Jesus to be a practical thinker looking out for number one… and that realisation makes so much sense that I’m not sure they wouldn’t have thought of it on their own, seeing as Jesus wasn’t much for practical thinking and was if anything actively against looking out for number one.

    • SamChevre says:

      What is a social conservative non-courts governmental wishlist?

      For me, it’s “stop”. Repeal the Civil Rights Act and its successors and bastard children, and let freedom of association be the legal rule again. Repeal all 73 zillion subsidies to states if they follow national rules, and let states set their own laws and pay for them themselves. Get rid of the ability to use the federal system to end-run state laws forbidding asset forfeiture (the “Holder Memo”–I rarely cheered for the Obama administration, but that was awesome.) Systematically review all the consent decrees and eliminate every one where the original personal plaintiffs are no longer relevant.

    • SamChevre says:

      I find Marxist analytical categories helpful, with reversed polarities.

      I want a petite bourgeousie nation. I want as many people as possible to own enough capital–human and real and chattel–that they are self-supporting but not able to force others to support them.

      I want real unions of workers–trade unions–that have real power. I’d repeal Taft-Hartley’s prohibition on secondary strikes, and also the allowance of government workers unionizing. I’d forbid any government agency (I’m looking at you, EEOC) from influencing a union’s hiring practices and rules.

      I’d throw out any rules that allow the parent filing for a divorce to demand anything of the other parent.

      I’d throw out all the rules that have allowed national media to lie with impunity about local affairs: getting rid of NY Times vs Sullivan would be a good start.

      • 10240 says:

        I’d throw out any rules that allow the parent filing for a divorce to demand anything of the other parent.

        In theory I’d be sympathetic to a rule that whichever parent decides to ditch the other gets the worse end of the stick with regards to custody, child support etc. But, when a marriage is headed for divorce, it would create a perverse incentive to annoy each other as much as possible, until the other spouse gives in and files for divorce. It would be really hard to prove in court who started that, and it would lead to really bad bickering in court if such behavior was allowed to override the rule that the one who files for divorce is worse off.

        It would even incentivize physically abusing a spouse (if such abuse doesn’t override the rule), and it would incentivize false accusations of such abuse (if it does).

        • SamChevre says:

          I should have limited this to no-fault divorce. Definitely agree that in cases of abuse, it would be an incredibly counter-productive rule.

      • Nick says:

        There is a chapter in James Scott’s Two Cheers for Anarchism like this, viz., two cheers for the petty bourgeoisie. He says at the end of the chapter that to his knowledge no one has advanced this position, and I about wanted to pull my hair out, because he was simply making a case for distributism.

        • theredsheep says:

          Is there a modern case for distributism being made that isn’t dependent on Chesterton et al? I have sympathies for the general outlines, but I really can’t abide Chesterton’s writing style, and at this point some of the policy points I’ve heard (e.g. acres and cows) seem anachronistic.

          Also I’m not Catholic, if that matters.

          • Nick says:

            Most of the work I see from, say, Thomas Storck is based directly on Catholic Social Teaching, so as far as principles go the Chesterbelloc can by bypassed. But then he goes “therefore minimum wage!” and ehhh, is that economically sound?

            (Sorry I’m being a little vague, but I am typing on a tablet and dear Lord I am not a fan.)

    • theredsheep says:

      I’m not exactly social conservative as such, but I lean that way, and my feeling is that a lot of social malaise has economic or otherwise “non-cultural” roots. For example, supposedly part of the reason people aren’t marrying anymore is that good jobs are getting rarer; the culture isn’t helping, but it’s not like a lot of women are just itching to bounce through an endless series of live-in boyfriends. They just can’t find a lot of good men worth marrying. The hollowing-out of the middle class is only going to exacerbate the problem further. So I’ve got something like distributist sympathies.

      • Aapje says:

        They just can’t find a lot of good men worth marrying.

        Which is a logical consequence of women still greatly desiring men who earn more and/or have a higher education, even as female incomes and education have increased.

        It doesn’t take advanced analysis to realize that the combination of these changes with the old preferences will reduce the percentage of men considered acceptable to women.

        But as we are living in a grrl power/you go girl society, these obsolete preferences don’t get serious push back, as gender-related issues are usually considered to be men’s fault. So we have seen no obvious change in these preferences in the last decades.

        So I’ve got something like distributist sympathies.

        That’s not going to solve anything. Either mate preferences need to change or we need less gender equality.

        • arlie says:

          Hmm – a very fast glance at the article says that the preponderance of marriages being male-earns-more-than-female is being taken as evidence that this is the preference of women.

          Let me advance some alternate theories –
          1) a large proportion of men feel threatened, even “emotionally castrated”, by women who earn more than them, are smarter than them, have better educations than them, etc. They avoid marryiing or even dating such women.
          2) some members of both genders are lazy bastards (TM). Marrying such a person is not a good bet. Not working, not getting an education, etc. is strongly correlated with being a lazy bastard – particularly if you are male. (Because of different socialization by gender.)
          3) households require more than just breadwinning to function well. Males are less likely than females to have learned competence at those other tasks. (Cue my sister describing her husband as acting as if ‘minding the children’ means ‘be present but ignore them’.) So it’s *hard* to find a potential house husband (etc.) and even women who’d prefer to be primary breadwinners settle for doing those tasks themselves. (In a two income situation, this would be on top of full time paid employment – at which she’d be less successful than her husband for lack of overtime etc.)
          4) statistical averages – if male incomes average higher than females for whatever reason (and they do), and if this applies across the range (i.e. the averages aren’t just being skewed by a few insanely-paid males), then random pairing would produce more pairs with male income greater than female – though not, I think, to the extent given in that article

          My personal experience from an earlier generation suggests (1), (3), and (2) were predominant, in that order. But I think expectations – and childhood socialization – are changing over time.

          The trouble is, this takes generations. It’s probably betetr now than in my youth, but still needs improvement.

          • theredsheep says:

            I’m inclined to concur; that information could be given multiple interpretations.

          • Aapje says:


            1: No, women are 1000 times more sensitive to salary differences than men. You’d find a higher, but negative sensitivity in men than in women if this theory was correct.

            2: This is not actually an alternative theory. This explanation is fully consistent with mine, but adds (unsupported) speculation about why women have these preferences.

            3: Just like 2, this is again not an alternative theory, but just speculation why women have these preferences. As for men caring/cleaning badly, it is fairly well established that men tend to have different standards and that women tend to fairly often consider those wrong/insufficient, but that doesn’t mean that they are wrong/insufficient.

            4: As you recognize yourself, the outcome went beyond statistical expectations. Also, we have quite a few studies where we find these preferences in other ways.

            My personal experience from an earlier generation suggests (1), (3), and (2) were predominant, in that order.

            When it comes to gender, a decent number of perceptions seem to be wrong and/or highly flavored by politics. Your explanations are more in line with traditional explanations which people have been trying to counter in ways that fit those explanations, but which don’t actually seem to work (very well), suggesting that they are wrong.

            But I think expectations – and childhood socialization – are changing over time.

            As the article stated, studies tend to find stagnation for the last 3 decades or so. So is this change actually happening or is this just wishful thinking?

          • INH5 says:

            As the article stated, studies tend to find stagnation for the last 3 decades or so. So is this change actually happening or is this just wishful thinking?

            According to this article, in 2015 the wife had a higher income in 24.8% of American married couples, compared to 15.3% in 1990. So if this can be trusted, things are in fact slowly changing.

          • Aapje says:

            Of course ‘things’ are changing, but that doesn’t mean that preferences are significantly changing.

            Some reduction in the gap ought to happen due to greater workplace participation and more education on the part of women, even if the preferences stayed the same. Especially if we assume that people choose a partner based on a collection of traits, where they are willing to compromise a bit. For example, a man who earns less but looks hot (until the looks fade and Madonna she trades him in for a younger model 😛 ).

            Studies have looked at partner preferences in isolation and I haven’t seen evidence of a significant change in greater acceptance by women of men who earn less than them permanently.

          • idontknow131647093 says:


            Females overestimating their value is a consistent subtheme I’ve seen in the literature. It is usually framed in the opposite way as, “Men are not marriage material”. And to be frank, I generally agree, but I also think the women complaining about it are also not marriage material, and certainly aren’t parent material.

        • INH5 says:

          Which is a logical consequence of women still greatly desiring men who earn more and/or have a higher education, even as female incomes and education have increased.

          Except for the fact that highly educated women are now more likely to get married than their less educated peers.

          • Aapje says:

            That’s because real wages have declined for less educated men, the welfare state has increased, the ratio of less educated women to less educated men has decreased, etc. The change I pointed out earlier makes men less satisfactory overall, but there are other changes that specifically make lesser educated men less desirable.

            What you say doesn’t contradict my argument at all.

            Imagine a new fixed sales tax on cars of $1000. This makes all cars less desirable compared to the alternatives, but will presumably cause a larger drop in sales for cheap cars than for expensive cars.

          • INH5 says:

            the ratio of less educated women to less educated men has decreased

            All else being equal, that should improve the marital prospects for less educated women. That’s what scarcity does.

            The change I pointed out earlier makes men less satisfactory overall, but there are other changes that specifically make lesser educated men less desirable.

            If women are so hypergamous, what’s stopping less educated women from marrying more educated men?

          • Aapje says:

            All else being equal, that should improve the marital prospects for less educated women. That’s what scarcity does.

            Not when they want better educated/earning men.

            Your fallacy is that you treat less educated and poor earning men as the logical partners for less educated and poor earning women, but that logic fails if the women involved tend to see equally poorly educated and poorly earning men as being (way) beneath them.

            An increase in (relatively) low SES (socioeconomic status) men at the expense of fewer medium SES men & a reduction in low SES women doesn’t create a surplus of choice for low SES women, if most of those women will only accept at least medium SES men for the long term.

            If women are so hypergamous, what’s stopping less educated women from marrying more educated men?

            Because men also have preferences, which are partially different from women, but not non-existent. Because the preferences differ, better educated/higher income men are more likely than women to end up with lower SES women who are pretty.

            Those male preferences are only compatible with the female preferences if there is a substantial surplus of high SES men. The smaller the SES gap between men and women, the fewer women who are acceptable to a man, are interested in him.

            Imagine that in the 70’s we had a couple where the man had a general desirability of 7 and so did the woman. To get this equal desirability, presumably the education/income of the man matters more and looks for the woman. They also had specific more personal desires and features which made them like each other and end up together for the long haul.

            Note that this general desirability is partially relative and for men, that it partially depends on their education level and/or income relative to that of the average woman.

            Now imagine that we time travel this man and woman to modern times and shift their education and income along with what changed for the average man and woman. Now both have a better education and income, but the woman more so than the man.

            So the general desirability of the man presumably went down, because this is in large part relative. The same man is now no longer a 7, but a 5 or 6. Furthermore, that same woman may now consider herself an 8*.

            So where these people ended up together in the past, their modern equivalents are more likely not to …or the woman will be more likely to feel discontent in the relationship, feeling hard done by.

            * My impression is that a decent number of women think that they relatively high SES makes them good catches, due to a culture which tells women this, while this in actuality doesn’t make them as attractive as they think.

          • INH5 says:

            @Aapje: I’m not sure if I’m getting my point across, so here’s an illustration.

            Suppose that we have a population of 5 men and 5 women. The women are hypergamous and want to marry a man who is wealthier/more educated than they are. I’ll assign each of them a number from 1 to 10 as a measure of how wealthy and educated they are:

            Woman A – 1, woman B – 3, woman C – 5, woman D – 7, woman E – 9.

            Man A – 2, man B – 4, man C – 6, man D – 8, man E – 10.

            Clearly woman A ends up with man A, B with B, and so on.

            Then in the next generation the status of women improves while the status of men stagnates, with the women remaining as hypergamous as ever.

            Woman A – 3, woman B – 5, woman C – 7, woman D – 9, woman E – 11.

            Man A – 2, man B – 4, man C – 6, man D – 8, man E – 10.

            Woman A ends up with man B, B with C, C with D, and D with E. Woman E and man A are left out in the cold.

            Almost by definition, a marriage squeeze caused by female hypergamy + women climbing the ladder faster than men will squeeze women at the top of the ladder hardest, while having far less of an impact on lower status women who have “nowhere to go but up.” And while the expected pattern does appear in China, in America we see exactly the opposite, with the least educated women taking the biggest hits to their chances of getting married.

            You can, of course, hypothesize other factors that might be at play, but I don’t see any way to reconcile the data with your theory being the primary driver of the decline in marriage.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            INH5, your speculation is flawed because the women at the top are not surpassing men. Also I think its flawed because it doesn’t recognize the disconnect between male evaluation of the women and female evaluation of themselves. Lets take your original situation.

            Woman A – 1, woman B – 3, woman C – 5, woman D – 7, woman E – 9.

            Man A – 2, man B – 4, man C – 6, man D – 8, man E – 10.

            Lets assume this is true.

            Now to situation 2:

            Woman A – 3, woman B – 5, woman C – 7, woman D – 9, woman E – 11.

            Man A – 2, man B – 4, man C – 6, man D – 8, man E – 10.

            Let me make a modification that makes it more like real life:

            Female Personal evaluation A – 3, woman B – 5, woman C – 7, woman D – 9, woman E – 11.

            Male Evaluation of them A – 2, woman B – 4, woman C – 6 , woman D – 8, woman E – 10 .

            As you can see, what has happened is that the situation has made all of the women unhappy because they can’t “marry up”. However, women C, D, & E are actually in luck, because the 50% or so of the male population on the top side of the bell curve knows they can work very hard to make themselves a 7, or even a 21 and thus be able to sate these above average woman’s hypergamy.

            The problem then lies for Women A & B, who should be pairing with men A & B, but those men are really going to struggle to improve their scores. Man A is never going to make up the gap between 2 and 4, and by the way, why would he care to? So he can score an entitled and not very attractive Woman A? So at the bottom there is a mismatch.

          • Aapje says:


            Woman A – 1, woman B – 3, woman C – 5, woman D – 7, woman E – 9.

            Man A – 2, man B – 4, man C – 6, man D – 8, man E – 10.

            No, my claim is that the gender gaps used to be so big that there was more choice for woman B, C, etc:

            Woman A – 1, woman B – 2, woman C – 3, woman D – 4, woman E – 7.

            Man A – 4, man B – 5, man C – 6, man D – 7, man E – 10.

            In this scenario, woman C can still marry up with a man in group A. So this makes for much more choice for her compared to a scenario where only men in group C, D and E earn as much or more than her & she still want to marry at the same level or up.

            Clearly woman A ends up with man A, B with B, and so on.

            That doesn’t follow, because men don’t judge women how women judge men. If woman D is rather pretty, she is more likely to end up with man E than that man D ends up with woman E, even if man D is similarly above average in looks as woman D. This is the essence of hypergamy and men’s greater interest in looks: women are far more insistent than men about wanting a partner with higher SES, while men are more insistent on having a pretty partner.

            Given that people typically don’t merely choose partners on one feature, to get a good chance of marriage, people need lots of options. My argument is that the reduced gap in education and income reduces options.

            In the olden days, men tended to earn more than women, so it was more likely that they would find a man with a higher SES who was also desirable in other ways and who desired her back. My argument is that nowadays, for women there are on average fewer men with a higher or equal SES to choose from. Then given that women still seem to desire men with higher SES, women tend to see fewer men as acceptable.

            Then the logical consequence is that these changes cause increased discontent among women about dating and women being more likely to reluctantly end up with a man that they feel is less than they deserve or to prefer cats over men. Men are also increasingly discontent because many more women turn them down on average. So their dating experience is a horror show of approaching women and getting turned down again and again and again. Since they can depend less on a higher SES to attract women, they have to work harder on becoming attractive in other ways, while also working on their career, which is a substantial burden on them. Even if they are accepted by a woman, it is more likely that the woman will be discontent with his SES and will give him a hard time. So men are then more likely to prefer their XBox and porn over this horror.

            You can, of course, hypothesize other factors that might be at play, but I don’t see any way to reconcile the data with your theory being the primary driver of the decline in marriage.

            I never argued that female hypergamy is or is not the primary driver of the decline in marriage. Earlier I specifically said that “there are other changes that specifically make lesser educated men less desirable.”

            I’m merely arguing that it is one significant factor.

          • INH5 says:

            @idontknow131647093: If the problem was female hypergamy, then women overestimating their “value” should only make it worse. The other stuff that you wrote seems to be stretching my model well past its breaking point. The model was deliberately simplified for the purpose of illustrating a particular point.

            @Aapje: You continue to dance around my central point: if your theory was true, the marriage prospects of high-status women would be affected worse than those of low-status women, but we instead see exactly the opposite pattern. (In America, anyway. As I wrote before, in China we do indeed see the pattern we would expect from your theory, but the Chinese marriage market is not the subject under discussion.)

            Let’s take your model, though to make my point I’ll tweak it slightly so that woman E starts at 5. In the first generation women A, B, and C have 5 potential mates, D has 4, and E has 3. If in the second generation the women get 2 points of status each, then A still has 5 choices, but B has 4, C has 3, D has 2, and E has just 1. Clearly this has left E in a much worse position than A.

          • Aapje says:

            That doesn’t necessarily follow because the prospects of lower-tier men and women are worse, so they are more likely to have prospects that are not much better than being single.

            Imagine adding a new progressive tax where the poorest pay $100 and the richest pay $10,000. This is still going to cause more poor people to become homeless than rich people, because the poor have much more precarious finances in the first place, so a smaller tax on them hits them more than a big tax on a very rich person.

            What you are doing is the equivalent of noticing that the tax hits the poorest hardest and then concluding that the tax must be regressive.

            Also, the alternatives to relationships for low-tier men and women have become better.

  30. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Claims that empire can be profitable. I don’t know whether this is true, but it doesn’t seem implausible.

    • TDB says:

      It seems plausible that it might be profitable. Does it seem plausible that someone could make it a positive sum game, or even zero sum?

      If I had to play such a game, would I be wiser to try to win or to try to change the game?

      • Nornagest says:

        It seems plausible that it might have been profitable, but $45 trillion dollars’ worth of profitable doesn’t pass the giggle test to me.

  31. Andrew Hunter says:

    Yeaaaaaargh, people who can’t distinguish curb-cuts from actual exclusive goods drive me crazy.

    Also, I have two weighted blankets, totalling close to 50 pounds, and I love it. I might need to add another, I still tend to knock them off while sleeping. Can’t recommend highly enough.

    • Brad says:

      I wonder if the author is confusing stupidity uh lack of critical thinking for some kind of ideological issue? After all long before the word woke was bastardized there were anti-gouging laws.

  32. johan_larson says:

    Hard core fans ruin everything:

  33. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to do this, since this could be remotely construed as advertising – please delete my comment if I’m not – but I’m conducting a survey on sexual harassment. Would appreciate if as many people as possible could take it:

    The survey is completely anonymous and the data will be used for research purposes.

  34. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Suppose you wanted to get people to not want to sing about wanting Jews dead. Or perhaps even to not want to sing about wanting anyone dead.

    You are limited to human abilities, but you can have all the money you want for the project.

  35. johan_larson says:

    NOVA made an excellent documentary about the construction of the Alaska Pipeline. Available on YouTube: