Open Thread 119.5

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

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

1,081 Responses to Open Thread 119.5

  1. Achim says:

    I’ll again post the summary-of-Flynn-effect-developments link:

    http://conversableeconomist.blogspot.com/2019/01/the-flynn-effect-rising-iq-scores-over.html

    I think some people here may be interested in reading that.

    • Plumber says:

      If the U.S.A. has also experienced those loses it would be easy for ne to think of a social-economic correlation; but since the U S.A. is an outlier I’m stumped

      • Dack says:

        Since they are looking at national averages, the first thing I would investigate would be immigration/emigration patterns.

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          The variations hold within families, which rule out compositional effects very thoroughly. I suspect declining quality of food – that is, more frozen dinners and the like is the most likely culprit, though there is also the ever present possibility that we are poisoning ourselves again, in great big leaded gasoline 2.0 event.

      • cuke says:

        Reduction in physical exercise in the US? Has there been?

      • RobJ says:

        There was some discussion here recently about the nootropic effects of nicotine. Does the decline correlate to reduction in smoking at all?

    • EchoChaos says:

      I think the first thing I’d check is if there is anything that has been a new substantial change to our diet. For example, if the amount of grains relative to meat had changed dramatically from historical norms (in either direction).

      Or if we’re eating a new calorie source a lot (lots of people love to blame Big Soy).

      This widespread and cross familial has to be something environmental, I would think.

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      Wouldn’t this be the absolute expected situation? Genetic components of intelligence can’t possibly grow that fast, and environmental factors would top out fairly quickly (better food is only going to get so much better, etc.). I would expect a few solid generations of eating healthy (by historic standards) and being free from obvious deleterious effects would lead to the effect topping out.

      Is there any reason to expect the Flynn effect to work permanently?

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        I think the issue isn’t “topping out”, it’s that in these countries it has begun to revert to the mean.

  2. johan_larson says:

    A tony company in Silicon Valley has a problem. It’s a couple of decades old now, and many of its more experienced employees have grown very wealthy as the company’s share-price has soared. These people have easily enough money that they could just quit tomorrow, which is a problem because it makes them impossible to discipline. They also have so much critical knowledge of company systems that it’s impractical to just replace them with more pliable new staff.

    The company has therefore asked for our help. They would like to encourage their senior employees to pursue activities that stretch the budgets of even millionaires and deca-millionaires, in order to keep these fellows mindful of their next paychecks. What activities would be suitable?

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      What is a tony company?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        One that sells men named Tony.
        You’d think that would be unconstitutional slavery, but maybe they just have great lobbyists?

        • Don_Flamingo says:

          Huh, I read toy company and thought ‘Meh, not in the mood for a challenge, that’s going to be that weird’ and stopped reading.

      • johan_larson says:

        One that’s wealthy, influential, or highly respected. Probably all three. Think Microsoft in 1995 or so. (link)

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          Huh, that’s a new one. It sounds British to me for some reason, maybe just the unfamiliarity.

          Thanks for the link!

          • Incurian says:

            It’s one of the bullshit words that was invented for the GRE.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            Not to toot my own horn, but I picked up the vast majority of those “SAT words” just from reading a lot as a kid. Maxed out the verbal portion of both the SAT and GRE with minimal studying (math was a completely different story…).

            Tony as an adjective was completely unfamiliar, to the point that I was reasonably sure it was a typo.

          • nkurz says:

            I’m familiar with the word, but still thought it was a typo because I wouldn’t typically apply it to company. I also thought it was British, but the OED calls it “Colloquial, originally US”:

            1. Having a high or fashionable tone; high-toned, stylish; ‘swell’.

            1877 R. J. Burdette Rise & Fall of Mustache 177 He’s a toney old cyclopedia on the patter.
            1880 Harper’s Mag. Jan. 209/2 He just put on heaps of style..you know—regular tony.
            1886 Pall Mall Gaz. 24 Sept. 5/1 Nevern-square, with its comfortable and, as the Americans have it, ‘tony’ residences.
            1895 S. R. Hole Little Tour Amer. 270 Well you see, it is so toney.
            1901 H. Lawson in Blackwood’s Edinb. Mag. Apr. 478/1 The furniture looked as if it had belonged to a tony homestead at one time.
            1920 D. H. Lawrence Lost Girl xii. 299 The really toney women of the place came to take tea.
            1922 J. Joyce Ulysses ii. viii. [Lestrygonians] 153 Theodore’s cousin in Dublin Castle. One tony relative in every family.
            1959 D. Barton Loving Cup i. iii. 60 Have you got your dinner-jacket with you, old man?.. I’m afraid we’re very toney these days. We seem to get tonier.
            1966 ‘J. Hackston’ Father clears Out 84 Father, dignified and collected,..entered the calm, cool tony atmosphere of the Commercial Hotel.
            1982 A. H. Garnet Maze (1983) iii. 14 He was charming..what Cyrus’s mother used to call a ‘toney fella’.

        • brad says:

          It wasn’t new to me, but I couldn’t think of an etymology. Apparently it came from high-toned. Interesting that the connotations evolved separately.

        • Plumber says:

          @johan_larson,

          I understood “tony” as meaning close to “ritzy”, “upscale”, “swanky” and the new term “posh, but I’ve watched many films from the ’40’s.

      • Deiseach says:

        What is a tony company?

        I assumed “high-toned” as in posh and swanky and appealing to the high-end, based on slang from hard-boiled detective fiction? Stylish and luxurious and in the best possible taste is their selling-point, whether or not they actually are or are only appealing to vanity and conspicuous consumption.

        As to the company, their most immediate need is to translate that institutional knowledge either to “written down in a manual” or passed on by training a new generation, and enough of them so that in future no single employee can be so indispensable as to be able to go “eff you if I don’t get what I want, I’m walking and this place will collapse without me”. Maybe appeal to their vanity and self-importance by flattering them they will be mentors with a picked coterie of high-quality protegés, and depending or not if the whole “diversity inclusivity SJ” angle works, that these protegés will be “women’n’minorities” and the old hands can be flattered up to the eyeballs with all manner of awards and praise for “increasing diversity in tech” and the rest of it.

        If they already have the fuck-off money, keeping them mindful of their next paycheques is not really going to work as a stick, so the carrot of “only you can do this Really Big Project (and here’s your very own team of minions to assist and be ordered around) (and we’re hoping you won’t realise we hope the minions will pick up enough of what you know so that if you decide to walk out in the morning we can keep going)” may be the way to go.

        Hmm – Silicon Valley? Big fancy difficult expensive project? How about inventing the invisible runs on pixie-dust all-tech no humans customs border that means no hard border between the UK and the rest of the EU, most especially between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, that the British government was promising would make Brexit a breeze?

    • brad says:

      That’s easy. Status goods.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Extreme skydiving. Mountain climbing on Everest. Yacht racing is always a favorite.

      No need to worry about mere millionaires in SV, though, they’re struggling to make house payments.

    • Dack says:

      Early retirement.

      If you are interested in the long term survival of the company, then replacing them is only a problem if they leave en masse. Ideally, you would get them to retire one at a time, after imparting as much critical knowledge to their replacement as possible.

    • That’s the wrong solution.

      Google faced the problem some time back–the best of their early employees had gotten rich. The solution was to make the environment one that people would enjoy enough to stay working there even if the salary was not very important to them. That included lots of high quality free food, the option of spending a certain amount of their time on their own projects, and a variety of other things. Probably not true any more, the firm having expanded a lot, although I gather the food is still good.

      • salvorhardin says:

        Some more things along these lines that I think are important to retaining those of my acquaintance at companies like this:

        — Pick-your-brain access during the workday to an incredibly wide variety of very smart people who know a lot about almost anything under the sun, not just techie things. If you want to learn from professional-level translators of poetry, or opera singers, or sommeliers (to pick a few non-hypothetical examples of which I have firsthand knowledge) you can find them among your coworkers. This is one of the best ways in which it’s “like college with a paycheck” as the cliche goes. Top-achieving large-tech-company folks tend to be the sort of perpetually curious polymaths for whom this is a particularly awesome benefit.

        — Institutional support in time of need, at a level that can be tough even for most rich people to find. During the chaos of Travel Ban Attempt 1.0, tech companies were known to turn their world-class platoons of immigration lawyers to the task of getting affected employees back into the US. Similarly for employees caught up in civil unrest or natural disasters. Being an employee of one of these companies can feel in many ways like having an extra passport from a small rich country with a top-notch diplomatic corps, and now that Peter Thiel got bad press for doing it, it is much harder to go the New Zealand route to this.

        — The chance to work on problems where not only do you have agency in choosing the problem, but you can use the company’s scale as an unsurpassed and hard-to-surpass impact multiplication lever. As much as Mike Judge and others like to parody it, and as much as they’re often right to do so, it really is true that many eminent techies are motivated strongly by the desire to make the world a better place. And it is just easier to do so, and a fortiori easier to feel you’re doing so, when you can launch things that immediately affect the lives of many millions of people, even though large-company bureaucracy makes those things harder to launch than they would be at a startup.

        All of these things are *way* more important to retaining long-timers than any amount of money these companies could spend on traditional compensation.

        • Nicholas Weininger says:

          As a Googler and a David Friedman fan, that last point is particularly important to me. I recall an aside in either _Machinery of Freedom_ or _Hidden Order_ (not sure which) to the effect that capitalism’s popularity suffers from most people’s inability to multiply by large numbers. The example given was something like: under capitalism, you can make big money by formulating a slightly tastier minty flavoring for toothpaste; capitalism’s critics would say that this is a waste of effort; but if you multiply the number of people who brush their teeth by a reasonable estimate of the increment of utility they get from the slightly tastier flavoring, you find that it’s not a waste at all.

          I have spent a good deal of my time at Google laboring, often for long periods, to make changes that e.g. shave 10 milliseconds off the average time to perform some very commonly performed user action. When talking about how awesome I think it is to work at Google, I often argue: multiply that 10 milliseconds by the number of users who perform that action every day and reflect on how much time you’ve saved humanity in aggregate! I realize now that this is a compelling argument to me in significant part because of the toothpaste flavoring analogy. So, David: thank you for motivating me to do more good for the world in this incremental way!

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        One of my friends programs for Google, and he says the time to work on his own projects was never available.

        Anyone else have more information one way or the other?

        • It was available at one time (my older son has worked for Google on and off). I think it is normally not available now.

        • johan_larson says:

          During my time at Google, I found 20% Time (as it’s called) to be for real. I heard about some people getting pushback from their managers about it, but I never did. That said, it was unpopular; less than 5% of Googlers participated. I got the impressions that whatever you did during 20% Time basically didn’t count at performance review time; you were assessed on your assigned work only. So if you were looking to advance, 20% Time was just a waste.

          • Were there people whose 20% time ended up producing something very valuable, making it a plus rather than a minus for their careers?

          • johan_larson says:

            Not that I noticed among the people around me.

            I seem to remember some major system was started on 20% time. Orkut, perhaps.

    • Erusian says:

      I explain to them that they don’t have to outrun the bear, they just have to outrun the alternatives. If working at TonyCorp will get them more money than an alternative option, give them more prestige, and make them even wealthier, they will do it anyway. And firing them will still be something they fear, since it forces them into one of those inferior alternatives.

      Most people do not stop working because they get rich. They either demand their work gets more pleasant or move on to bigger challenges for even more money. If your company has grown enough to justify all those millionaires, neither is really a problem. Catered sushi lunches and big interesting problems with multi-million dollar payouts will keep them interested. And will make you more than you have to pay.

    • Chalid says:

      Charity is a standard answer.

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      Non-monetary incentives or replace them.
      You got to make working there more appealing than fucking of and sitting on a beach. This is not so insurmountable a challenge as it seems, since mostly these people will be very interested in their area of specialty, so good food, nice office, reasonable hours and generally high morale will probably do it, even if you are never going to get another crunch sprint out of them.

      If you cannot deliver on this, find replacements who are hungry.

    • Theodoric says:

      Space tourism, maybe (tickets in the six figures per person)?
      Private jets (expensive, and “fly without being groped” shouldn’t be a hard sell).
      Encourage them to endow charitable foundations.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      In the Bay Area, finding things for “millionaires” to spend money on is not very hard. It’s called a house.

      Like, it’s probably around $5 million before you start getting large numbers of people saying, “Well, I just don’t want more house than this.” (Outside of the dedicated small-house enthusiasts). My friends just bought a $3 million house in Outer Sunset and, you know, it’s a nice enough 3 bedroom, but it’s not like you look at it and say, “Wow, there’s nothing that could make this house nicer. You could add more bedrooms, but who needs them?”

      Now, if you’re trying to eat the wealth of someone who has $20 to $30 million, that’s somewhat harder, though it doesn’t seem that impossible. I think that the standard answer is just, like, “rich person culture,” where you start paying much more for goods that have only marginal improvements over very much more modestly priced alternatives, and that typically happens kind of organically. You know, that’s where that $5 million house doesn’t seem like it’s good enough anymore and you pay tons more for the perfect view or whatever it is you value. Where you start going on vacations that are not really that different from what you could do on a $5,000 budget, but spend $50,000 on them instead.

      If your net worth is $30m, and you’ve sunk $5m into a house and are trying to live relatively conservatively on what cash the rest of the stuff can throw off at 3%, that’s $750k per year, taxed down 20% to $600k per year. You can eat that up pretty easily in the Bay Area with tuition for a couple of kids, a couple of expensive vacations a year, and then just generally living very well.

      • Like, it’s probably around $5 million before you start getting large numbers of people saying, “Well, I just don’t want more house than this.”

        That might be true in San Francisco. In Los Gatos, at about two million dollars you can get as much house, in quite luxurious style, as anyone who doesn’t have a lot of kids would have much use for. That’s still very expensive, of course, but not quite as bad as your figure suggests.

        It’s fun to use Zillow to compare housing prices in different areas–and leaves residents of the Bay Area feeling very jealous of people who live in New Hampshire.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          I just checked on redfin, and I she with you, $2m seems to go much farther in Los Gatos, which kind of surprised me: I thought that Los Gatos was pretty expensive. I guess it’s fairly far from most non-Netflix jobs.

          The peninsula is mostly as expensive as SF or more.

          • Judging by Zillow, San Jose, where we live, is probably a bit more than Los Gatos (where my son and daughter-in law were house hunting–why I’m familiar with prices there), but not hugely more.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            Lots of parts of San Jose have bad school districts or kind of run down neighborhoods, though. And the nice parts of San Jose are quite expensive (albeit, yes, not as pricey as SF or the peninsula).

          • The main area my son and his wife were looking at was the unincorporated part of Los Gatos, up in the hills. As best I can judge, the schools there are very good.

            I don’t know much about San Jose schools, but where we live is certainly not a run down neighborhood and, as best I can tell, a relatively small house costs about a million dollars. My guess is that you could do quite well for two million.

    • baconbits9 says:

      A better solution would be to set up an in house status competition rather than try to get them to make financially irresponsible decisions.

      • The Nybbler says:

        There’s always an internal status competition. The trick is to keep the losers from leaving, because someone’s still gotta do the work.

      • Lambert says:

        Isn’t an in house status competition what Microsoft blames for a decade of underperformance?
        In that it turns the game amongst employees from being positive-sum to zero-sum.
        Collaboration quickly gives way to backstabbing when there’s 3 people in the plane but only 2 parachutes.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      Stock options for 2x+ what they are worth now, that vest sometime in the future.

      It’s one thing to think “I don’t need more money”. Psychologically it’s something else entirely to throw away gobs more money.

    • cuke says:

      Their own vanity foundations to fund R&D into solutions to disease, education, climate change, etc. Isn’t that what their brethren at the top already do?

      Then they get competitive bragging rights to how much they’ve been able to put into their foundations in any given year.

  3. Plumber says:

    Thanks very much to:

    @Le Maistre Chat,

    @DavidFriedman,

    @EchoChaos,

    @Hoopyfreud,

    @johan_larson,

    @Incurian,

    @theredsheep,

    @Nick,

    @Atlas,

    @March, 

    and

    @Don_Flamingo 

    for your kind suggestions for page and screen in the last thread

    A few of your suggestions I’m familiar with (and have indeed liked!), but by far most I didn’t know about. 

    Much appreciated! 

  4. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Sooo, the other day someone mentioned spoilers for Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated to me, and now I’m checking it out. I have almost no previous knowledge of the franchise (I didn’t have Cartoon Network until like 1999, by which time I was too old for the old shows they ran incessantly before raising the capital for original shows), but this is surprisingly intelligent. It starts with the Scooby Gang as high school students in Crystal Cove, California, “The Hauntedest Place on Earth”, doing their old formulaic gig of revealing that the monsters are actually men and women scaring the locals to cover up money-making schemes. This time, though, there’s a story arc with a previous generation of “Mystery Incorporated”, where the gang’s Fred and the sapient parrot turn out to be arc villains. But why did they go bad? Because
    ZV vf oebhtug gbtrgure ol n fcvevghny Ragvgl gb or vgf hajvggvat cnjaf. Gur Ragvgl’f snibevgr gnpgvp vf gb znavchyngr gur arhebaf zrqvngvat gur fva bs terrq, juvpu pnhfrq gur cneebg Cebsrffbe Crevpyrf gb orgenl uvf uhznaf, oernxvat hc gur Tnat naq znxvat gur Serq zngher vagb n plavpny cnja. Nccneragyl gur Ragvgl jvyy or qrsrngrq orpnhfr n qbt’f frafr bs terrq bayl nccyvrf gb sbbq, znxvat Fpbbol gur vapbeehcgvoyl cher Fnzjvfr gb uvf Fnheba.
    So how does the Scooby Gang react to discovering real supernatural entities? They all apply to Miskatonic University when they graduate high school.

    • CatCube says:

      I really enjoyed it, but it was definitely a weird series. By marketing it was for kids, but they had a shot-for-shot remake of the Red Room including the gibberish language from Twin Peaks, using the original actor. Like, who the fuck is the intended audience for this?

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        Holy shit it’s real

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97AKy7mViBg

        I don’t know how I feel.

        • CatCube says:

          It actually gets weirder; I hesitated to talk about that scene, because the way the show is structured the weirdness creeps up on you, so that’s sort of spoilers. The plots of the earlier episodes are similar in structure to the old Scooby-Doo series, and it gradually introduces the real strangeness bit-by-bit. Once they introduce H.P. Hatecraft in the middle of the first season–played by Jeffery Combs, who was the titular character in Re-Animator–it starts to take off.

          By the end of the series, gurl’er qrnyvat jvgu n shyy-ba Ybirpensgvna zbafgre naq juvyr jbexvat gb svtug vg bar bs gur punenpgref trg’f rkrphgrq jvgu n znpuvar tha. Vg’f pneevrq bhg ol Anmv ebobgf npgvat ba gur beqref bs n gnyxvat cneebg, orpnhfr guvf *vf* fgvyy Fpbbol Qbb, ohg lrnu, gung unccrarq.

      • wunderkin says:

        I assume that it’s intended for the creators, who got hired to make a kids show, got bored with it, and decided to cram in as much interesting stuff as they could get away with for their own amusement.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I’ve just finished the first H.P. Hatecraft episode, and I can only say the answer is “adult nerds.” Nothing in the episode is age-inappropriate, but it’s all about a Lovecraft expy and guest stars Harlan Ellison voicing himself and Ernesto Guevara singing a rock song about equal rights for Old Ones. If this show needed to appeal to kids to stay funded, I’m not seeing how!
        There’s even a college-aged expy of Robert E. Howard and Hatecraft saying he pretended his monsters were real “to break into the lucrative world of plush toys.”

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          … also, while nothing in that episode is age-inappropriate, there’s a running gag that’s sexually-charged and requires knowledge of meme culture: Fred loves traps. He even has a subscription to Traps Illustrated, which he hides under couch cushions and insists “I only read it for the articles!”
          So yeah, target audience = ???

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Fucking what

          • Nick says:

            Come on, folks, Parental Bonus is a well known trope! This is far from the first show to have jokes only adults would get; if you don’t believe me, watch some of your childhood favorites again.

          • acymetric says:

            @Hoopyfreud

            Fucking what

            I assume (maybe you already realized this) that the joke is supposed to be a play on words with the “traps” they encounter during their mysteries. Like a rug stretched over a pit, or a trip-wire, or something.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            No, I mean, I get it, but also what

          • Nick says:

            If this is proving anything, it’s that there must be a market out there after all for smart, funny Scooby Doo programming. Netflix, you know what you have to do.

      • LadyJane says:

        I find it strange that they were able to get the original actor for a Scooby-Doo parody, but not for the new season of Twin Peaks.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Wait, Scooby Doo was set in Crystal Cove? I used to live a couple of miles from that place and go on hikes there.

      EDIT: Read the articles you referred to, feel lied to in the same way you do.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Wait, Scooby Doo was set in Crystal Cove? I used to live a couple of miles from that place and go on walks there.

        Yep! They took a real town and explained its name as meaning the cove where Spaniards buried the crystal sarcophagus of an alien god, which is kind of nuts.

        EDIT: Now I’m reading the Scooby-Doo Wiki. I feel kind of lied to. I was told Scooby was a skeptical show

        Like I said, I don’t know enough to say when this changed. Apparently there was a Thirteen Ghosts of Scooby-Doo in the early ’80s with real ghosts and Vincent Price playing himself as a warlock.

      • Nick says:

        I was told Scooby was a skeptical show

        Scott, Tim Minchin lied to you! Pay close attention to the original Scooby Doo, Where Are You!: there is a gag every episode involving an unrelated supernatural phenomenon, which Scooby and Shaggy either don’t notice, or confuse for the villain of the week. The real story of Scooby Doo is a gang of flat earth atheists stumbling from one haunted mansion to another, snooping around just long enough to find a mundane counterfeiter or treacherous relative after a fortune.

        If we ignore certain crimes against humanity, then it’s not until they’re adults that they face the occult forces eating away at the outskirts of their world.

        • The Nybbler says:

          there is a gag every episode involving an unrelated supernatural phenomenon, which Scooby and Shaggy either don’t notice, or confuse for the villain of the week.

          I don’t recall that. As I recall, most episodes would end with every apparently-supernatural detail being explained, but sometimes there’d be an extra bit where after the villains were caught the supernatural phenomenon would recur, freaking the gang out until Scooby took off the mask, laughing. Or Shaggy would ask about one bit which would remain unexplained.

          • Nick says:

            Let me give you an example: this scene from a collection of clips by Warner Bros. A disembodied hand taps Velma on the shoulder. She, Shaggy, and Scooby notice it and run. The monster comes round the corner, wondering where his prey went. The hand is evidently not part of the wax phantom’s haunting—it actually interrupts his task of scaring the bejeezus out of them—and a disembodied, fully articulated hand that can appear out of nowhere sounds pretty supernatural.

            I was reaching by saying it’s in every episode, but the gags generally happen when it’s Shaggy and Scooby and alone, and generally in the middle of the episode.

    • Nick says:

      I have a deep and abiding fondness for the Scooby Doo franchise (our RPG group is fortunate I haven’t soapboxed about the greatest animated trilogy of all time yet), but I didn’t have cable when this show was airing, so I’ve largely missed it. Where are you watching it at?

      • CatCube says:

        It was on Netflix when I watched it, but it’s been a few years. I’m debating rewatching it if its still there.

        • Nick says:

          I checked just now and Netflix doesn’t have it, right now at any rate. It’s “currently unavailable” on Amazon Prime Video too, but I guess I can do the 7-day Boomerang trial and binge it? Hm.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Nick: Yeah, free trials to binge a single paywalled show is the way to go. The downside of that is this has 52 episodes, way more than, say, Youtube Red’s Cobra Kai.

  5. nkurz says:

    I’d be interested to see answers to a rhetorical question that ‘brad’ posed late in the last OT. It was a back-and-forth with ‘sandoratthezoo’:

    sandoratthezoo: The Democrats’ sacred value is to not allow the Great Symbol of Trump’s Immigration Policy to become the southern border. The existing barriers are not that great symbol. The thing that Trump wants to build is that symbol.

    brad: I don’t see why this is so hard to understand. If Obama had proposed spending $10B to put up a giant statue of himself on the national mall is anyone seriously going to claim that the Republicans would have been happy to trade that for some other minor policy victory?

    One answer would be that Obama’s “statue” was Obamacare, which eventually passed in a modified form after great opposition from the Republican party. But I don’t know how parallel the situation is: was the Affordable Care Act primarily opposed because because of symbolism (an opposition President getting their way) or because of genuine opposition to the contents (fear of a first step toward nationalized health care).

    I think at least some of it was the contents of the law. If we assume instead a literal statue — something the opposing party is offended by exclusively because of the symbolism and the perception of waste — this would actually seem like an excellent opportunity for compromise. In this case, yes, I would expect to see a trading of favors. Obviously one would always prefer a “major policy victory” over a “minor” one, but if one could extract a major concession, the trade would seem worth it.

    By contrast, if we assume a policy that’s viewed as outright harmful, one would be less likely to compromise. Is it fair to look at the degree of opposition to a border wall, and the seeming lack of willingness to compromise, and conclude that the Democrats believe that the wall is actively harmful to the nation, beyond just not wanting to allow Trump to have a political win?

    • brad says:

      I think at least some of it was the contents of the law. If we assume instead a literal statue — something the opposing party is offended by exclusively because of the symbolism and the perception of waste — this would actually seem like an excellent opportunity for compromise. In this case, yes, I would expect to see a trading of favors. Obviously one would always prefer a “major policy victory” over a “minor” one, but if one could extract a major concession, the trade would seem worth it.

      You really think Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan would have shepherded a bill through Congress to build this:

      https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/25/horse-turkmenistan-president-statute-berdymukhamedov#img-1

      on the Mall for a three year moratorium on new Endangered Species Act declarations?

      • nkurz says:

        Wow, that is quite some statue! I searched but couldn’t find a price for it, but I did find some earlier planning costs of $70 million that I think were for the same design. Given the rate at which Turkmenistan churns out dramatic statues of its strongmen (this replaces a rotating golden statue of his predecessor), they may have some efficiency of scale that the US doesn’t have (yet).

        But this does give a sense of scale for what a $10B statue would look like: approximately 100x of the gaudy colossus you linked. Alternatively, it gives a sense of what $5B toward a wall represents.

        So no, the Republican’s wouldn’t shepherd it through for a temporary moratorium on the Endangered Species Act. But the real question is whether they’d trade it for $10B toward a wall. My guess is that they might make the trade if they thought there was no other way that it was going to be built, but wouldn’t consider it if they thought they had a chance without making such a major concession.

        Do you think there is nothing that they’d trade for allowing such a statue? And in turn, is there really nothing that the Democrats would trade for a gaudy wall in honor of Trump?

        • brad says:

          I definitely think there are things that the Democrats would trade (and vice versa). In terms of immigration the DREAM Act would almost certainly do it. But the notion that it’s only $5B which is nothing in the context of the overall budget and so they should be willing to trade it for any minor little thing, is I think naive. Symbolism matters–to Republicans and Democrats.

    • dick says:

      Did you forget the part where Obama’s opening bid was to abandon the plan his constituents liked in favor of the plan written by his opponent? To argue that GOP opposition was based on the bill’s content is to suggest that they would’ve argued just as strenuously against Romneycare. That seems unlikely.

      • Erusian says:

        This is untrue. Politifact rates it half true only because of the phrase ‘proposed’ or ‘written’, since it was similar to an idea Republicans had. If it was claimed the Republicans had actually proposed a bill or attempted to pass anything like it, it would be downgraded to a lie.

        This is yet another example of pretending to compromise and then acting angry when the other side doesn’t accept the ‘compromise’ they never asked for or agreed to.

        • dick says:

          I can’t tell if you’re claiming that Romneycare is totally different from Obamacare, or that the public mandate wasn’t really the Republicans’ plan even though Romney ran on it.

          • Erusian says:

            I’m saying that you’re repeating a quasi-lie that is popular in Democratic propaganda. I have cited a source that shows it to be so, from an organization that strives for neutrality and whose only purpose in life is to fact check political claims.

          • wunderkin says:

            Romneycare was written by the massachusetts state legislature, not any republicans, and was passed over a number of romney’s line item vetos.

            And there was no “plan democrats liked” that was abandoned. The ACA was written, from the beginning, to keep the entire democratic caucus on board, and received considerably more criticism from the RIGHT of that caucus than the left. the idea that the ACA was a sop to the republicans simply isn’t accurate.

          • dick says:

            So, Romney was actually against Romneycare, and Obama modeling his proposal on it was an appeal to the left rather than the right?
            Sounds like I’ve hopped timelines again…

          • wunderkin says:

            @dick

            You seem to have. Romneycare was written mostly by this guy. Romney wanted something more modest, but his vetoes to that effect were overridden. that it was called romneycare doesn’t change the facts that it was a plan written by the left, with left wing goals, that appealed far more to the left than the center or right, as evidenced by the fact that when it was coming down to the 11th hour, it was Ben Nelson and Joe lieberman getting their arms twisted and bread buttered, not bernie sanders.

          • gbdub says:

            For that matter, Obamacare ought to more reasonably called “Pelosicare”, no? Obama had general positions but I thought most of the detail wrangling happened among the Democrat caucus in Congress.

          • wunderkin says:

            @gdub

            Reid-care would be more accurate. the most important wrangling was done in the senate, and he led the effort.

          • gbdub says:

            I’m ashamed to admit that I kind of knew that, but the name “Harry Reid” was escaping me and I was too lazy to Google so I went with Nancy.

          • MrApophenia says:

            There wasn’t an actual bill proposed, but the original genesis of Romney/Obamacare was as a Republican policy counter to the (failed) Clinton administration healthcare reform. (Note: that is rated mostly true by the Politifact article linked above.)

            The Obama White House explicitly adopted the Republican plan in a (failed, dumb) bid to get some Republicans onboard.

            On the other hand, it turned out to be accidentally kind of brilliant, because it was the reason the GOP was left absolutely flat footed when they actually had the chance to pass their own – they had just spent almost a decade railing against their only actual idea on the topic, and had nothing left to actually propose other than “Everyone just loses coverage, it’ll be cool, trust us.”

          • sharper13 says:

            @MrApophenia,
            Not quite. That’s been claimed, but the actual person involved gave a different account in 2012.

            The reason the GOP didn’t come up with a single alternative at the time is that they also have factions and disagreements and have to satisfy people. Remember, at best until this month, they only had a couple of vote margin in the Senate for anything, including a couple of “moderate” Senators.

            The problem wasn’t that they didn’t have an alternative, the problem was that they had at least three (and more if you count non-major proposals with any actual chance of passing). They extended from the “Let’s just tweak the ACA, get rid of the worst parts, let HHS get rid of most of the bad regulatory parts and call it repealed” compromise (within the GOP) version McCain famously killed literally at the last minute, to complete repeal combined with competing proposals to free up the State insurance markets via various methods of allowing State-crossing competition.

            Obviously, they didn’t manage to get any of that to pass when it counted, i.e. when the Senate could vote on it without a 60-vote super-majority during reconciliation (which also limited them to the tweak version, reducing some of the internal GOP arguments, because of the limitations of the reconciliation process precluding doing too much more). That experience probably also contributes to some of the attitudes towards the wall funding, as without an actual ACA repeal, they (including Trump) need to accomplish more to be seen by their constituents as effective rather than useless or as breaking promises.

    • Erusian says:

      On a related note, I think a big and underappreciated driver of polarization is the end of pork barrel spending and the various regulations against bundling that way. It used to be, if you needed to convince a couple of Democrats or Republicans to defect, you could pass the “Federal Omnibus Healthcare Bill that also Builds Very Nice Public Infrastructure Projects in Five Key Swing Vote Districts Bill”. Now the healthcare bill needs to stand on its own. So the Border Wall bill becomes about the Border Wall and can’t be, “Bill to Build a Border Wall and also other Infrastructure Projects in Key Districts (hint hint).”

      This is good in one sense. It means representatives are always voting on the actual policy. But it does effectively raise the bar for getting anything passed. It lowers the cost of opposition. The Democrats aren’t really giving anything up by opposing the wall, whereas bundling it with something they want would make it more painful. Maybe they would decide to oppose it anyway, but it would be because it was actually that bad, not because they have an incentive to oppose anything the other party proposes (which both sides do).

      • hash872 says:

        Pretty much this. As a centrist/anti-populist type, this is my big concern around ‘campaign finance reform’ and ‘getting money out of politics’ which I hear a lot from the left. I’m concerned that removing some of the pork & thinly disguised payoff system will lead to less corrupt but much more ideological politicians, on both sides. I feel like we’ve seen this with the disappearance of earmarks/pork barrel, as you explain. With the money aspect gone, the shrill ideology & purity wars aspect of American politics has increased quite a bit.

        I’m also basically a capitalist, and while there are a lot of externalities inherent in the ‘money in politics’ system- large corporations and wealthy people have a basic & centrist interest in a functioning, healthy society & country. This is extremely not true of ideologues. Maybe Big Bad Chemical Company’s Congressional lobbying leads to some weakened pollution laws, but I don’t think BBCC is going to, like, fund a militia or antifa or some radical armed group that basically calls for bombings or violence against their political opponents. I think full-on fanatics on both the left and the right are sort of inching their way there. More corruption and less ideologues in power please

        • Erusian says:

          I’m not even sure it’s corruption really. I see it more as a sidepayment. I mean, obviously no one is advocating we let Congresspeople get outright bribed. But let’s say there’s a policy involving water rights along the coasts. The interior districts don’t care about that, right? So they default to their ideological positions. But if a bunch of representatives get together and ask for a series of projects in exchange for their support, then it becomes a negotiation. Do the Coastal Representatives think what the Interior Representatives want is a fair trade? If they do, then the bill gets passed and both interior and coastal districts get something. That seems like a good thing to me.

          Also, to be frank, it makes contests less absolute. Let’s say the Democrats can’t stop the wall for some reason. If sidepayments are allowed, the Republicans have an incentive to give them something in exchange for not opposing it too strenuously. The Republicans still get more and so ‘win’ but the Democrats get something too.

        • JPNunez says:

          Eh, this ignores that in the USA the companies just somehow convince the police to shoot at the workers so they have no need to build an armed militia; the people pay the militia with taxes anyway.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          My impression was that the “money in politics bad” was less about pork barrel spending and more about money being used to get there, but that might just be due to the already-implemented decline in pork. Any of the old-timers here able to enlighten me as to what the talking points were like a decade or two ago?

          I for one am very much in favor of “money -> political power bad” but sympathetic to “political power -> money for constituents is fine”. The ability to negotiate and compromise are good things but the zeitgeist seems to want to shun anyone who dares try it

        • ana53294 says:

          I for one am very much in favor of “money -> political power bad” but sympathetic to “political power -> money for constituents is fine”. The ability to negotiate and compromise are good things but the zeitgeist seems to want to shun anyone who dares try it

          I agree. Isn’t the reason we have local representatives (instead of national all in one bowl representation) that regional preferences can be accounted for?

          In Spain, local preferences are only accounted for the Basques and Catalans, who have their own parties that negotiate with the national parties of all colors. And it has made us richer. Other provinces don’t have that, because Spanish national parties enforce the party rule when voting in Congress. I think that more stronger regional parties would actually be good for Spain, because then regional preferences for spending and adjustments to laws would be accounted for.

    • Deiseach says:

      Between a wall and a policy, a wall is a lot easier to dismantle when the opposition get into power and want to do away with it. Compare how easy it would be to pull down sections of the existing border fence with trying to get the Affordable Care Act repealed/changed. One of these things could happen in the morning, the other is a gigantic morass that nobody seems to want to touch despite all the pontificating about it.

      So I do have to think the symbolism is what is important here, else the Democrats could give in on building the physical fence/wall and plan to quietly dismantle it when it’s their turn to be back in power, rather than agree to some policy that would be written into law about reducing immigration or deporting illegal immigrants living in the US already.

      • acymetric says:

        It is not easy to get rid of any culturally symbolic structure ( which the wall would be). Consider all the drama surrounding various confederate monuments lately.

        I’m also going to register my official complaint that the person complaining about Americans talking about Irish politics is talking now talking about American politics, which I would be inclined to do regardless of how our views aligned.

        • Plumber says:

          I thought it was a Canadian on YouTube talking about Irish politics (but I didn’t watch more than ten seconds).

          Was he an American?

          • acymetric says:

            I’m meant to generalize to “people talking about countries they don’t live in” but did a bad job and accidentally specified American there, I think you are correct.

            To be clear, I’m confident in saying that video was profoundly stupid without even watching it (I just navigated to it to see what is going on). I certainly don’t want to be seen as siding with that particular person.

        • Deiseach says:

          I accept the rebuke, and I will gladly listen to anyone discussing Irish people overstaying visas or trying to immigrate over quota. We’ve recently haddiscussions about this, trying to take up the unused Australian quota for visas.

          I don’t think Irish people illegal in the US should get special treatment, not even for the “been living here ten to twenty years” type. They’ve had plenty of time to try to get on the citizenship or legal status ladder, and if they haven’t tried, then they’ve assumed they’re not eligible and are gambling on not being caught. Well, when you gamble, sometimes you lose, and I don’t see why they should evade penalties.

      • broblawsky says:

        Critically, the ACA is actually useful. Dismantling it without stripping hundreds of thousands of affordable care would’ve been impossible.

        • EchoChaos says:

          So would be a wall.

          It is likely that a wall will achieve a higher percentage of its stated goal than would the ACA, which had an effect on American life expectancy that rounds to zero.

          • dick says:

            Link? I’m surprised it’s even been long enough to study the matter properly. Also it seems like it’d be make more sense to judge it by its direct stated goal (reduce the number of uninsured Americans) rather than a secondary and much harder to measure metric.

          • EchoChaos says:

            https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/hus/contents2017.htm?search=Life_expectancy,

            Life expectancy is neither hard to measure or secondary, right?

            Healthcare is to improve health, so if we’re not doing that we’re straight wasting money.

            It seems to me that “how many Americans are uninsured” is the secondary metric and “are Americans healthier and living longer?” is the primary when we’re talking healthcare.

            If making 100% of the population uninsured increased our life expectancy a year, I would do that in a heartbeat, and I hope you would too.

          • dick says:

            I was asking for the link to your source. Yes, life expectancy (or at least, the effect of some intervention on it) is hard to measure, you need to control for subtle confounds and you have to do lengthy studies. For example, one major effect of the ACA was insuring a lot of people aged 18-26; I don’t know how anyone could confidently say that their life expectancy has or hasn’t changed as a result yet.

            I thought it was pretty unambiguously clear that a) being uninsured is bad for longevity, and b) Obamacare decreased the number of uninsured people dramatically. This is why I was surprised at your suggestion that it didn’t affect life expectancy much, and asked for the source.

          • EchoChaos says:

            I did link it. It’s the CDC’s report on life expectancy. If you know a better source than an actual government report on life expectancy at birth I would be interested.

            Linked again, the figure for all Americans, but there are others broken down by race, etc.

            https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/2017/fig20.pdf

            I realize these are different priors, but I don’t find point a to be persuasive at all, and it didn’t surprise me at all that Obamacare didn’t move life expectancy.

          • Guy in TN says:

            If making 100% of the population uninsured increased our life expectancy a year, I would do that in a heartbeat, and I hope you would too.

            Do you think this study really shows that having access to the medical system doesn’t improve health outcomes? I’m trying to understand the causation here, the implications seem to be that all the claims of modern medicine’s life-saving ability are fundamentally incorrect.

            It’s going to take a lot more rigor, for me to accept such a paradigm-shattering conclusion. (And if we did accept it, I hope you would join me in pushing for the FDA to shut down access to all known medicine and healthcare.)

          • EchoChaos says:

            No, I don’t think that. I am making an absurd hypothetical to discuss what the end-goal is.

            If the end-goal of ObamaCare is “have fewer uninsured people” I am pointing out that is a bad end goal.

            The actual end goal should be “life expectancy for Americans is rising”, because that’s what we actually care about, not the intermediary of insurance.

            Being uninsured is absolutely not the same as “having no access to the American medical system”. I have a good friend who had a major and serious life-threatening disease with no insurance at 29 (this was in ~2007). He had full access to the American medical system and it saved his life. Never once did his lack of insurance prevent that.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think the actual evidence on availability of health insurance affecting life expectancy suggests that there’s not a lot of noticable effect.

            This MR article discusses and links to a multi-year Rand Corp. study that showed little or no health benefit for people with access to free healthcare.

            More recently, there was a study involving giving more people Medicaid in Oregon, discussed here and here. Those include links to the original studies.

            The way I understand these results (far, far from my areas of expertise) is that it seems really hard to find a measurable health benefit from giving people better insurance. It seems like there *should* be one, but it doesn’t seem to show up in the best two studies we have. Presumably part of the reason is that you’ll go to the doctor if you’re really sick or badly injured, and probably get treated, even if you can’t afford it–you’ll just get some crazy bill you can’t pay. So even if you have no insurance, you’re not going to ignore crushing chest pains or hope that compound fracture takes care of itself. On the other hand, insurance lets you go to the doctor for minor stuff more readily, but most of the time, that probably doesn’t help much–the doctor tells you to lose weight for the 50th time and then prescribes you an unnecessary antibiotic for your cold.

          • Skivverus says:

            (Apologies in advance for piling on)
            The ACA is, from my probably-blurry economic standpoint, misdiagnosing the problem: healthcare is expensive, doctors are overworked, and limited insurance serves as gatekeepers to who can see the overworked doctors (at the price of lots of money and paperwork).
            The solution should probably involve training and/or retaining more doctors, rather than adding more paperwork to the gatekeeping.

            To use a similar-ish metaphor: doctors are gyms, insurance is a gym membership. The ACA required people to sign up for gym memberships.

            (Personal experience so far: signed up for one, tried using it and doctor was a gynecologist; signed up for another to avoid the tax penalty, tried using it and doctor didn’t exist; signed up for a third and the next available appointment’s not for another three months)

          • dick says:

            @EchoChaos

            I did link it. It’s the CDC’s report on life expectancy.

            You can’t just look at two data points and assume the thing you’re interested in is responsible for the change between them.

            @albatross11

            I think the actual evidence on availability of health insurance affecting life expectancy suggests that there’s not a lot of noticable effect.

            It seems like you’re reading an awful lot in to that one study. I would expect that the result of paying for Alice-but-not-Bob’s healthcare for 5 years is that Alice would be richer than Bob, not healthier.

            Stuff like this seems a lot more relevant, and while there are some caveats (e.g. it’s not clear that going uninsured for a while in your youth has much if any effect), the overall conclusion is the one you’d naively expect:

            In 2002, an Institute of Medicine review concluded that lack of insurance increases mortality, but several relevant studies have appeared since that time. This article summarizes current evidence concerning the relationship of insurance and mortality. The evidence strengthens confidence in the Institute of Medicine’s conclusion that health insurance saves lives: The odds of dying among the insured relative to the uninsured is 0.71 to 0.97.

          • EchoChaos says:

            When you pass a bill that you say will improve Americans’ health and Americans’ health doesn’t improve at all it is fair to question the effectiveness of the bill.

            Especially when said bill costs over a trillion dollars.

            Let’s not pretend that if Trump’s wall is built and there was an increase in illegal immigration in the next decade that liberals would accept “You can’t just look at two data points and assume the thing you’re interested in is responsible for the change between them.”

          • gbdub says:

            Seems like there would be a ton of confounders in any study comparing the insured to the uninsured. I mean, just for one, the insured are mostly in households with a solid, steady income stream, the uninsured mostly aren’t.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Outside of a few areas that don’t appear to have any low hanging fruit left healthcare has a tiny impact on life expectancy in developed nations. The gap between the US and Europe is largely (entirely?) explained by the difference in violent deaths, as from murder and car accidents. That leaves perhaps one avenue where greater coverage could lead to higher life expectancy, but otherwise its a dubious measure or goal to have.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @albatross11

            Presumably part of the reason is that you’ll go to the doctor if you’re really sick or badly injured, and probably get treated, even if you can’t afford it–you’ll just get some crazy bill you can’t pay. So even if you have no insurance, you’re not going to ignore crushing chest pains or hope that compound fracture takes care of itself.

            I still feel like you’re just breezing past the idea of preventive care here. The logical conclusion would be that modern medicine is only helpful if you are suffering from something so dire that its worth bankrupting yourself to fix- and anything less is useless/counterproductive.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            modern medicine is only helpful if you are suffering from something so dire that its worth bankrupting yourself to fix- and anything less is useless/counterproductive.

            Insofar as “modern medicine” speaks to the standards, environment, technology, education, accountability, CYA behavior, and all associated overhead of healthcare providers in the US today, this is, as far as I can tell, true. Also, I hate it.

          • Nicholas Weininger says:

            @EchoChaos

            I agree with you that Obamacare, like health insurance expansions generally, probably has negligible effect on life expectancy.

            I think, though, that you’re employing a fallacy of false dichotomy between “increasing life expectancy” and “increasing insuredness for its own sake.” Insuredness has a lot of other follow-on consequences that have stronger evidentiary support than life expectancy effects: notably, on financial security and psychological well-being (see e.g. the Oregon Medicaid study for an example of how these two can have clear effects on them achieved without any clear effects on health outcomes). I think some of the more honest defenders of Obamacare would concede that it doesn’t affect broad health measures like life expectancy but argue that these other effects are worth it on their own (which I don’t personally agree with but which isn’t a crazy or illogical argument).

          • dick says:

            When you pass a bill that you say will improve Americans’ health and Americans’ health doesn’t improve at all it is fair to question the effectiveness of the bill.

            No one is saying you shouldn’t question it, just that you’re questioning it wrong. I’m going to bow out now.

          • albatross11 says:

            Guy in TN:

            This isn’t my field, but my impression is that it’s pretty hard to see the effect of added preventative care in the available data. That raises the question of whether that’s because a lot of the added preventative care is not all that useful (giving healthy 20-year-olds an annual check-up) or is swamped by other harmful unnecessary medical care (antibiotics every time you get a cold).

            Probably we already get a big chunk of the available benefits from preventative medicine by requiring childhood vaccines and eye/ear screenings, and by making sure that everyone over 65 has Medicare so they can get the preventative stuff that makes a lot of sense as you get older[1]. (You ought to be getting occasional colonoscopies, mamograms, PSA tests, etc., earlier than 65, but I bet the benefit usually gets bigger as you get up into your 60s. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong.)

            [1] Health improvements in old age also have less of a visible impact on life expectancy, since completely curing something that was about to kill you at 75 probably doesn’t extend your life by more than another 10-15 years.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Insuredness has a lot of other follow-on consequences that have stronger evidentiary support than life expectancy effects: notably, on financial security and psychological well-being (see e.g. the Oregon Medicaid study for an example of how these two can have clear effects on them achieved without any clear effects on health outcomes)

            This is not clear from the Oregon study, it is only clear if you make the claim that mental health has nothing to do with social statues/comparing oneself to your peers. It also didn’t measure the costs of the program, and only covered roughly 1/10 people who were on the wait list. A full program would be between 3 and 20 times more expensive which would have large potential repercussions on its own for mental health.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @albatross11

            So we’re faced with two possibilities here:

            1. Going to the doctor is actually bad or useless, if you are either older than a child and less than 65, for anything less than a procedure or medication so direly needed that it is worth bankrupting yourself over. (This still indicates that much of what we know about the science of modern medicine is wrong.)

            2. There is something wrong with these studies. Giving 18-65 year olds access to doctors and medication for non-extreme emergencies is good for their long-term health, its just difficult to find in the data for some reason.

            From my experience from reading SSC, with Scott documenting how counter-intuitive results are often the ones most likely filter into mainstream discourse, only to be discredited years later, guides me into thinking option 2 is most likely correct.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            You can refuse to believe the evidence because your gut says otherwise, fine, but expect people to remember the next time you want to refute their gut feelings with outside evidence.

            The conservatives’ efforts to make health care more market-oriented is ultimately frustrated by the fact that people tend to be poor consumers of medical care. They have, again, gut feelings of what is important, but these gut feelings do not translate into actual results.

            Most screening tests are useless. Most annual check-ups are useless. Try to tell people this and they’ll put their hands over their ears and say “come back when the evidence agrees with me.”

          • albatross11 says:

            Guy in TN:

            I think the actual result would be something more like:

            “The extra health care consumed by a person between 18-65 when they’re given insurance does not increase life expectancy.”

            I don’t think this contradicts anything we know about medical science–it just implies that the *additional* health care being consumed wasn’t helpful on net.

            It’s easy to see how this can be true. A healthy person in a doctor’s office has a nonnegligible chance of catching something from another patient, another nonnegligible chance of getting a false-positive on some screening test requiring harmful medical intervention (biopsy, imaging), and a very nonnegligible chance that any treatment they receive will make them worse due to side effects, the doctor / nurse / pharmacist screwing up, or the patient screwing up.

            Sum up the expected impact of all those negatives for a marginal visit to the doctor (one you’d make with insurance but not without it), and then sum up the expected positive impact. There’s nothing in the laws of nature or the science of medicine requiring that sum to be positive, and plenty of plausible reasons to suspect it could be negative (based on reported statistics on medical errors).

          • baconbits9 says:

            This is a general reply, not directed at specific claims, but as relevant observations and speculation.

            The best preventative care isn’t done at doctor’s visits, its actually pretty poor preventative care done there. Take getting your teeth cleaned at the dentists office, getting it done twice a year is probably better than not getting it done, but 99% of the value of preventative dental care is in daily brushing, flossing and diet. Making it a national policy of semi annual dental visits for everyone probably won’t have a huge impact on dental health, it might have some categorical impacts where there are more fillings and fewer root canals (but it also might not), but the baseline assumption should be minimal impact seeing as how the 363 days a year you don’t go the the dentist are more impact-full than the 2 days you do.

            If the semi annual dental visits increase the quality of daily oral hygiene then you might get substantial improvements, but my guess is that there is a tide of push back that you naturally get. When you outsource something the general trend is to think less about it, that is after all one of the major benefits of outsourcing. Convincing people that its a big deal to visit the dentist is likely to diminish other oral health tasks in their minds. Convincing them that overall oral health is a big deal is likely to diminish the importance of something else in their minds.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            The prevention myth persists because it means we can reduce costs in a pain-free way. There are journals dedicated entirely to the economics of medical care, and they have studied lots “common sense” prevention techniques, and some actually work, but lots do not.

            And the ones that do work are almost always already being done. (Vaccinations and pap smears are great but you can’t keep on doing them over and over to get even better outcomes.)

          • Randy M says:

            1. Going to the doctor is actually bad or useless

            I believe at least a weak form of this. Doctors are where the sick people are, are quite expensive in time, money, and mental effort, and are indeed useless for many ailments people might hope they can fix.

          • Guy in TN says:

            “The extra health care consumed by a person between 18-65 when they’re given insurance does not increase life expectancy.”

            I don’t think this contradicts anything we know about medical science–it just implies that the *additional* health care being consumed wasn’t helpful on net.

            But for poor people, “additional healthcare” is synonymous with “any healthcare”, since without health insurance they would not be able to afford doctors and medicine (again, the caveat of putting aside life-threatening emergencies worth going bankrupt over). The additional margin of healthcare a wealthy person would consume when given insurance is tiny, but the additional margins for the poor are massive.

            I suppose one could make the argument that the net-benefits of giving poor people any healthcare at all is outweighed by the negatives of people with higher incomes over-utilizing it when they have insurance. But again, while this does not exactly disparage the entire medical system, it does paint its usefulness in a very dim light.

            Sum up the expected impact of all those negatives for a marginal visit to the doctor (one you’d make with insurance but not without it), and then sum up the expected positive impact. There’s nothing in the laws of nature or the science of medicine requiring that sum to be positive, and plenty of plausible reasons to suspect it could be negative

            If you are serious in accepting this conclusion, the logical next step would be to drop your health insurance. Since the data shows that it incentivizes negative health outcomes, it would likely be a net-harm to your health.

            Part of my skepticism of these claims, is that they seem to be only administered when someone is advocating for enrolling people in government-run health insurance programs. When people advocate for enrolling in private health insurance, the conclusions seem to be forgotten. (I’m not targeting you here Albatross11 as you havn’t made these claims, rather I’m making a general observation)

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Guy in TN

            I would advocate against someone paying for a health plan that gave them a substantial number of additional doctors visits instead of a plan that only covered extreme costs because those extra doctors visits have no effect on life expectancy. And paying extra for nothing is economic stupidity on a personal level.

            That is the exact plan that I have for my family. It’s the highest deductible plan with the lowest out of pocket max that I could find. It penalizes lots of little visits to the doctor and saves my finances if, heaven forbid, something catastrophic happened.

          • Randy M says:

            If you are serious in accepting this conclusion, the logical next step would be to drop your health insurance.

            Depends on your risk aversion and the cost to you of having health insurance, and your confidence in your own ability to not seek placebos from men in white coats.

            But recall that part of the purpose of ACA was to get people who were making a rational decision not to be insured to join the pool and help subsidize it for everyone else. Hence the fines taxes.

          • Guy in TN says:

            But recall that part of the purpose of ACA was to get people who were making a rational decision not to be insured to join the pool and help subsidize it for everyone else.

            Outside of a few weird counties where the companies are gaming the system, its still cheaper to pay the uninsurance tax than it is to pay premiums on the exchange market.

            So for those of you who believe health insurance has net-negative health outcomes, and are making a rational decision to avoid it, the ACA still makes it easier for you to go uninsured than insured.

          • albatross11 says:

            Guy In TN:

            Poor people without insurance still consume healthcare, they just don’t consume as much. A doctor’s visit isn’t *that* expensive. You go to the doctor if you’re really sick. But you don’t go for minor stuff.

            My interpretation of this, again as a non-expert who may be missing a lot, is that at the margin, I should be less inclined toward going to the doctor/taking my kids to the doctor. I should be looking for reasons why this particular optional trip to the doctor is likely to have a positive health benefit. For stuff that’s marginal, it probably won’t.

            This isn’t something I just apply to government programs, nor is it some kind of motivated attack on Obamacare[1]. It’s the best data I know on the question of whether giving people free healthcare improves their health.

            [1] FWIW, Obamacare seems like a mess to me, because it was necessary to keep all the insurance companies happy. I’d prefer giving everyone catastrophic health insurance (paying out at Medicare rates), and funding it out of general revenues.

          • Randy M says:

            the ACA still makes it easier for you to go uninsured than insured.

            Well yes, of course, but not easier than before; that’s the point of incentives, to change behavior on the margins.

            Anyway, it’s nice to have insurance of some kind unless you are comfortable with financial risk and so long as you know better than to go to the doctor for sniffles, it will be a positive thing in your life.
            That doesn’t mean that the benefits of the ACA will show in any of the metrics it was intended to impact.

          • Guy in TN says:

            There’s an interesting implication here I just thought of:

            So the claim is that the problem with health insurance, is that it greatly reduces the price of accessing healthcare, to the point that it causes negative health outcomes due to over-utilitzation.

            Okay, lets run with it. If this is true, then anything that reduces the price of healthcare ought to be met with the same skepticism. Improving technology that allows for cheaper treatments might be a bad thing. Generic drugs, definitely. Eliminating expensive licensing requirements. Even the goal of having itemized up-front pricing, to prevent “surprise” bills.

            All these plans are intended to lower the price of healthcare. And if they are successful enough to reduce it to having-insurance-like levels for the non-insured, that would be a bad thing.

            Is this correct?

          • dick says:

            FWIW, Obamacare seems like a mess to me, because it was necessary to keep all the insurance companies happy. I’d prefer giving everyone catastrophic health insurance (paying out at Medicare rates), and funding it out of general revenues.

            Agreed, I think this is more or less what Germany does, right? The government pays the premiums for what amounts to HDHP insurance on everyone’s behalf out of tax revenue, individuals select one of the private insurers (who compete on price and service, but have to meet minimum coverage levels similar to the ones for HDHPs here), and can pay extra for better insurance that covers more. (I’m asking, not telling – this isn’t a subject I know much about and I could be oversimplifying this, or confusing Germany with another country)

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            So you’re saying that our health care system should be run like lobsters.

          • Randy M says:

            So the claim is that the problem with health insurance, is that it greatly reduces the price of accessing healthcare, to the point that it causes negative health outcomes due to over-utilitzation.

            Whether that’s a problem (let alone the problem) or not depends on many things, but it is offered for a plausible explanation of why the passage of ACA, with it’s mandates and exchanges and subsidies, did not meaningfully impact life expectancy measurements. (Beware the man of one study, etc.)

            The revealed preferences of many people is to use medical services more. Whether that increased usage merited the changes of the ACA depends on what you wanted to accomplish.

            But I would say that one problem with the US medical system which that bill exacerbated is that it it tries to use an insurance model as a managed care model. It makes a great deal of sense for everyone to have coverage for some measure of medical treatment for conditions/diseases which are largely beyond their control* and for which treatment is, for various reasons explicable and not, extremely expensive. I would be open to some form of universal catastrophic coverage.
            On the other hand, people use the medical system more that is necessary for health or other public interest reasons, partially due to ignorance or fear or impatience, and removing all hindrance to this kind of treatment will be costly without much pay-off, and also possibly create perverse incentives in terms of risky behavior, diet, etc. (I say possibly because of course the treatments do not remove the pain of, say, a motorcycle crash or obesity, but they may have an effect on the margins).

            *Acknowledged that this is a very contentious category with fuzzy boundaries.

          • baconbits9 says:

            So the claim is that the problem with health insurance, is that it greatly reduces the price of accessing healthcare, to the point that it causes negative health outcomes due to over-utilitzation.

            Okay, lets run with it. If this is true, then anything that reduces the price of healthcare ought to be met with the same skepticism. …..

            Is this correct?

            No. The claim is that mandated and subsidized insurance divorces costs from outcomes which prevents good decision making.

          • Skivverus says:

            All these plans are intended to lower the price of healthcare. And if they are successful enough to reduce it to having-insurance-like levels for the non-insured, that would be a bad thing.

            Is this correct?

            I’m guessing you’re responding to me; if so, the answer is no, it’s not correct.

            Increasing the supply of health care via technological advance is a good thing; via paying for training more doctors, very probably also good (overpayment is possible, but that comes with evidence like ‘doctors get a reputation for being slackers’).
            Mandatory health insurance does not increase the supply of health care, as measured by doctor-attention-hours: it redistributes who gets access to the existing pool of doctor-attention-hours.

          • albatross11 says:

            Guy in TN:

            I’d guess that lowering the price of healthcare across the board would not actually increase lifespan or make people notably healthier in a measurable way. That’s not saying that doing so would be bad–it’s just saying it wouldn’t make people live longer or healthier, but it would cost less so we’d have more wealth for other stuff.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @baconbits9

            No. The claim is that mandated and subsidized insurance divorces costs from outcomes which prevents good decision making.

            I don’t understand the logic here. It seems like divorcing costs from outcomes is the only way to make clear-headed medical decisions. Because in one scenario, your only consideration is what is best for your health, while in the other you have to make a trade off between health and monetary cost.

            How does introducing an additional burden make the initial decision any easier?

            For example, let’s say I’m trying to start walking for exercise. In order to maximize my health outcomes, I need to decide whether I walk two, three, or four miles a day. Walking at the park is currently free.

            Would introducing a cost to walking in the form of a tax or usage fee, in order to “tie together cost and outcomes” as you say, be beneficial for my health? Would it help me arrive at the optimal health decision?

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Guy in TN

            On some level there are always opportunity costs to consider (which is why few people walk 4 miles a day – though I guess I should point out that I do). I think a more salient criticism is that that health is largely a welfare rate limiter – very few people will trade an untreated torn ACL for a lamborghini, despite the fact that the lambo is “worth more,” economically speaking. The problem isn’t that divorcing healthcare from costs leads to bad decision making (possibly true), but that allowing providers to set the cost of healthcare means some people have no way to avoid dying of ketoacidosis. The argument that manufacturers should be setting the price at a level that maximizes revenue rather than at a level that maximizes access doesn’t seem to hold much water here for me.

            E: better link.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Skivverus
            I wasn’t responding to you particularly, but EchoChaos, Albatross11, Edward Scizorhands, Randy M, and other who were arguing that having health insurance actually produces net-negative outcomes.

            But I’ll chime in anyway.

            Mandatory health insurance does not increase the supply of health care, as measured by doctor-attention-hours: it redistributes who gets access to the existing pool of doctor-attention-hours.

            Mandatory health insurance actually does increase supply. This is because it increases demand, which raises the price of the good. The price of the good is one of the primary factors in determining the level of supply.

          • Clutzy says:

            @GuyinTN

            I think there are some problems with your model of healthcare.

            First is this.

            Mandatory health insurance actually does increase supply. This is because it increases demand, which raises the price of the good. The price of the good is one of the primary factors in determining the level of supply.

            Supply is actually gated by entrance into the qualifications of MDs, RNs, PA,s etc. We’ve had a critical shortage for decades and these professions have been making bank for decades. We aren’t getting more people in because states and the feds have extremely strict licensing reqs.

            My second point is that I don’t think you understand how healthcare works for people without insurance, or at least have a low level of insurance (which I have always had because I prefer a catastrophic plan). So I will walk you through.

            The vast majority of ailments a person has are trivial. Typically, you ignore them in a high-deductible situation. This is actually a benefit for you and the system, because almost all things are viruses and the system can’t help you. For instance, I went on a vacation 2 summers ago, I came back and somehow a sinus infection + the flight resulted in me losing all taste for several days (alongside other normal symptoms). I treated this with showers for 3-4 days (and by the way, this loss of taste was extreme, like I could drink hotsauce and feel nothing until it burned my ass on the way out). That failed so I finally caved and went to a Walgreens nurse who told me the correct OTC thing to buy for $150. I was fixed in a few days, but I actually feel cheated out of that $150 because I could have just gotten the OTC thing for free if I had known, and google/webmd failed me on the lack of taste thing. They all said it was a scary symptom.

            So, as we see, the typical non-bankrupting interaction one has with the medical system is useless for the 18-65 group, and even if it is useful (say I had a bacterial infection that needed antibiotics), is extremely affordable. Thus, its fairly obvious that the subsidy of such care is not efficient.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Clutzy

            We aren’t getting more people in because states and the feds have extremely strict licensing reqs.

            The number of physicians in the U.S. (both as a total and as a percentage of the population) has been growing steadily since the 1970s. (here, here) Obviously licensing requirements might prevent this from growing as fast as otherwise, but the theory that “supply isn’t growing” doesn’t hold.

            even if it is useful (say I had a bacterial infection that needed antibiotics), is extremely affordable.

            “Affordable” varies based on both individual wealth and price of treatment. You gave an example of a treatment that cost $150 dollars, and luckily you could afford it. That’s great. But you can’t extrapolate your anecdote into a society-wide rule. I do not buy the idea that all health-consequential treatments an 18-65 might find useful will necessarily fall within the range of affordability.

            If you were poor enough, even $150 might have been too much money. And if the treatment was expensive enough (possible tumor? Better do a MRI for a few thousand), then an important preventive treatment might be missed.

            My second point is that I don’t think you understand how healthcare works for people without insurance, or at least have a low level of insurance (which I have always had because I prefer a catastrophic plan). So I will walk you through.

            As someone who makes ~$20,000 (too poor for health insurance and too rich for Medicaid) trust me, there’s no need to “walk me though” what healthcare is like for people without insurance.

          • albatross11 says:

            Guy in TN:

            So, how would you account for the two studies I linked to? They don’t show any significant improvement in health outcomes for the people given better insurance. (I don’t think there’s any evidence people were made worse off, but also none that they were made better off.)

            Maybe there’s some reason they’re both flawed, but that’s two high-quality randomized control trials of the idea that giving people insurance improves their health, which don’t show the expected result. It’s an unintuitive result, and maybe there’s some other thing that explains it besides my guess that at the margin, healthcare usage doesn’t make people healthier, but those results do seem to want an explanation.

          • baconbits9 says:

            How does introducing an additional burden make the initial decision any easier?

            I’m not introducing an additional burden, the burden exists. Medical care costs money, and you are just hiding the costs. Its econ 101 that when you hide costs in this way you get over consumption of the good, ie consumption in excess of the value it is producing. It is easier to make A decision, but it is harder to make a good decision.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Edward Scizorhands . . . who were arguing that having health insurance actually produces net-negative outcomes.

            So you ARE saying we should have health care based on lobsters!!!

            I didn’t say what Guy wishes I said, or thinks I said, or imagines I said, or hallucinated I said. I didn’t say shit about insurance.

            I’m skeptical that more healthcare produces better results, especially when the people advocating for dumping more health care onto the system, when presented with the research about what care does and does not work, refuse to look at it and want to wait for research that confirms their priors to come out.

            I even pointed out parts of the health care system with known-positive results, like vaccinations or pap smears. But how many more of those can you do?

            And once you slice off other things that are known to be good — and I mean actually known to be good, not some guy’s hunch of what they figure must be good based on hunches no better than old wives’ tales — that leaves the rest of the field looking even worse. So, yes, get people vision care for poor eyesight. And people with chronic conditions definitely need to keep seeing their doctor. And diabetics need more reminding to take care of themselves.

            If someone wanted more nuclear power, but when presented with any evidence about prior nuclear disasters refused to consider it at all because obviously nuclear power is good and better, and refused to take prior failures into account, would you have any faith in their arguments?

            I mean, here is just one more example to pile on: the guy who discovered PSA, which is used to screen for prostate cancer, keeps on shouting that it’s a useless or even harmful test. https://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/10/opinion/10Ablin.html There is lots of evidence that the tests are harmful and should only be done in very specific circumstances: https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/21/new-data-on-harms-of-prostate-cancer-testing/ But people hate hearing this and they keep on ignoring it.

          • Skivverus says:

            The number of physicians in the U.S. (both as a total and as a percentage of the population) has been growing steadily since the 1970s. (here, here) Obviously licensing requirements might prevent this from growing as fast as otherwise, but the theory that “supply isn’t growing” doesn’t hold.

            Er. Your first link shows doctors per capita pretty close to flat (and below other countries), with the data ending in 2011; your second link doesn’t have data after 2009, which makes it a touch useless for determining the effects of the ACA one way or another.

          • albatross11 says:

            Bonus points: Relate single-payer healthcare to forced monogamy.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @albatross11

            So, how would you account for the two studies I linked to? They don’t show any significant improvement in health outcomes for the people given better insurance.

            When you get extremely counter-intuitive results that implicate large swaths of currently-existing science as incorrect, skepticism is warranted. Regarding the 1974-1982 study, this was when healthcare was a lot cheaper (so making it free is less of an advantage), and 40-years behind in medical and technological advancement (so the positive effects of healthcare would have been diminished).

            Regarding the Oregon study, I havn’t read it myself but this commentator suggests that indicators such as blood pressure and cholesterol were actually improved, just the sample size was too small for the effects to show as statistically significant.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @baconbits9

            Its econ 101 that when you hide costs in this way you get over consumption of the good, ie consumption in excess of the value it is producing. It is easier to make A decision, but it is harder to make a good decision.

            Ah, I see the issue here. In your view, the “good decision” is the one that maximizes economic value, in my view its the one that maximizes positive health outcomes.

            We’re talking past eachother; I don’t care about economic value at all.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Edward Scizorhands

            I didn’t say what Guy wishes I said, or thinks I said, or imagines I said, or hallucinated I said. I didn’t say shit about insurance.

            I’m skeptical that more healthcare produces better results,[…]

            I’m confused. Is your argument that “more healthcare might be bad, but expansion of health insurance might be good”?

            I don’t know how else to read your strident objections to my interpretation. I assumed that the people, such as yourself, who are arguing that more healthcare might be net-negative are also against expanding health insurance, since it increases the amount of healthcare by providing it to people who coldn’t afford it before.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I am trying to correct a common misconception. If you keep on thinking that more health care means better health because of your gut feelings, that is the misconception to be addressed. If you want to apply your misconception to insurance or economics or tax rates or whatever, it’s arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. I can’t analyze how applying an incorrect principle to a problem will work because the principle is incorrect.

            An insurance product that denied people procedures that failed a QALY test could both 1) give better results and 2) save money. But people hate this. Because they know in their gut that more health care is better health, always, and anyone saying something different is pulling some kind of con, and if the studies agreeing with them, just ignore those studies.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            An insurance product that denied people procedures that failed a QALY test could both 1) give better results and 2) save money

            Or kill them.

            Insurance isn’t good at applying those tests, and it can’t be good at applying those tests because insurers make these decisions via policy changes, not by actually applying the test on an individual basis. As long as you use price as a proxy for a QALY test there will be people who overconsume healthcare and people who can’t afford to be alive.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Yes, some people will miss the cut-off for their care being “worth it.” Yet another reason that providing health insurance is a different beast from providing health care.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Ah, I see the issue here. In your view, the “good decision” is the one that maximizes economic value, in my view its the one that maximizes positive health outcomes.

            No, this isn’t the distinction. Decisions are based on values, and you cannot make a good decision without them.

            A common complaint from doctors who serve poor neighborhoods is that a person will come in and get diagnosed with a virus and the prescription is basically fluids and rest, but they wont leave without a prescription for antibiotics (and if they do leave it will frequently be to go somewhere else and try again). Why would you go to an expert and not listen to their opinion?

            A common complaint from a different class of doctors is that while they know that rehabilitation has better outcomes than surgeries they also know that 90% of their patients will show up for the surgery and 90% won’t complete the rehabilitation. Why don’t they listen to their doctor?

            Well doc its just that I know I won’t go through with the rehab. Really? The prospect of being able to walk without pain for the rest of your life isn’t enough incentive?

            People inherently value things that they get for free LESS than things they pay for. Price relates to scarcity, the less of something there is, the harder it is to get it, the higher the price, and the higher the value. The reverse is also true, the easier it is to get something the less you value it.*

            Don’t take those antibiotics for a virus, they actually hurt you by killing off your gut flora and do nothing for the illness!!!

            Oh well, if I get sick from the I’ll go back to the doctor.

            Don’t have knee surgery, the replacement ACL will degrade!

            Oh well, 10 years from now I’ll get it done again.

            There is no distinction between “economic value” and “better medical outcomes” here. Economic values were discovered, they were people’s actions based on their values that were translated into a framework, they weren’t invented in parallel.

            This is Mises’ economic calculation problem, and Hayek’s Nobel prize. Prices contain information that goes both ways. The seller is telling the buyer that “this is the price I will give this to you for”, and the buyer is telling the seller that “this is the price I will pay for it”. This represents their VALUES. In Econ 101 they tell you that if I have an apple and I prefer an orange and you the opposite then we can trade and both be better off. The “economic gain” here isn’t growth, its a satisfaction of values. When you divorce prices and costs you divorce values from goods and services, and you cannot generate better outcomes without values.

            *The reverse is also true. Doctors see more and more marginal cases and it wears on them. If 99 cases out of a hundred are borderline then they expect every case to be borderline, the constant complaints of fatigue and irritability that are associated with stress (ie life) drown out the 1 guy with the early stages of a serious blood disorder.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Edward Scizorhands
            I’m in agreement that the graph with the x axis “amount of healthcare” and the y axis “health outcomes” is a bell curve. So of course, more healthcare is not always better: There’s an optimal amount of healthcare that maximizes health.

            The situation in the U.S. is that a certain segment of the population (those just too wealthy for Medicaid) is receiving close to zero healthcare at all, outside of what they can buy at an over-the-counter pharmacy. And without Medicaid, the number would be even higher. We’re not talking about just things like regular checkups and screenings, but rather basic healthcare needs such as “I have a weird lump”, “There’s blood in my cough” or “I have tapeworms” that are non-emergency, and therefore not worth bankrupting yourself over.

            If these studies are true, then providing even that kind of healthcare to people who couldn’t afford it otherwise is net-negative. Pretty unlikely.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            It’s not a matter of cutoffs, though. This dynamic exists on a continuum, and there’s no good way to set an equilibrium even if you price discriminate aggressively because there are no good tools for price discrimination. Money might be the best tool we have for forcing people to acknowledge the tradeoffs they’re making, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good one when it comes to goods like healthcare. The failure mode for you being marginally priced away from a Lamborghini is that you don’t buy one. The failure mode for you being marginally priced away from healthcare is that you die. Or that you live an unhappy, disease-ridden life.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            You can put a price on life. Scott has an excellent article about it but LiveJournal has put it behind a registration wall: squid314.livejournal.com/260949.html Health care systems run by adults know and acknowledge this.

          • Jaskologist says:

            The failure mode for not using price signals is shortages as resources get misallocated. This is also a “people die” scenario.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @baconbits9

            There is no distinction between “economic value” and “better medical outcomes” here. Economic values were discovered, they were people’s actions based on their values that were translated into a framework, they weren’t invented in parallel[…]

            The seller is telling the buyer that “this is the price I will give this to you for”, and the buyer is telling the seller that “this is the price I will pay for it”. This represents their VALUES.

            So much confusion in he English language, with the conflation of the word “values” to mean both “economic value” and “moral goals”. Surely the standard economist’s position isn’t really that a person’s actions (their “revealed preferences”) is a window into their internal desired outcomes. That’s just laughably absurd to me.

            “Ah, I see you are in prison. You are revealing to me your preference that you like to be incarcerated, very interesting”

            “Ah, I see you are dying of hunger, but have no money to buy food. So sad to see a suicide.”

            Bonkers. You absolutely cannot conflate these concepts, for this and other obvious reasons. Moral values and “economic value” share nothing but the same unfortunate etymology. You cannot infer my moral objectives via prices, and if Mises and Hayek really claimed you could, that just shows the level of intellectual bankruptcy economics has reached.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Jaskologist

            The failure mode for not using price signals is shortages as resources get misallocated. This is also a “people die” scenario.

            There’s only misalloction in the sense of not maximizing economic value; using non-market means does not “misallocate” in the sense of providing worse health outcomes. This is because dollars≠health units.

            From an empirical standpoint, this has been validated by not observing negative health outcomes in countries that have abandoned market allocation of healthcare.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            As I said in another thread, given that I can’t afford large medical bills at the moment, my plan of action if I find myself in a position to incur them is to kill myself, as it’s better than paying to tell a doctor I can’t afford treatment and then dying painfully. The fact that I consider this a rational choice and fixate on suicide might be psychologically unhealthy, but clearly it’s not a major issue, since I would choose to pay to be evaluated if it were. Obviously.

            While you can definitely put a price on human life, I’m not convinced that an optimal system lets someone die if they don’t have $700 on hand.

          • Randy M says:

            While you can definitely put a price on human life, I’m not convinced that an optimal system lets someone die if they don’t have $700 on hand.

            I am entirely certain that this is not what would happen. Please vigorously pursue the matter should it become personally relevant.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            $700 is well under the threshold for letting someone die. Rough estimates of the price of a QALY in the first world is $20,000 to $60,000, depending on the system.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Randy, Edward

            For the second time in this thread,

            https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/09/01/641615877/insulins-high-cost-leads-to-lethal-rationing

            This is an inevitable outcome of pricing healthcare on the market because people cannot capitalize on QALYs. You can’t avoid outcomes like this; you can only hope it doesn’t happen to very many people. Being one of the people [something like this] could easily happen to is extremely unpleasant.

            E: to be clear, I could afford a $700 bill. I couldn’t afford a $5,000 bill.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            not observing negative health outcomes in countries that have abandoned market allocation of healthcare

            Which countries are you talking about?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I didn’t say it was the system we had now. I would prefer a sane, rational system, like most other countries have, where medical procedures need to pass an implicit or explicit test for effectiveness per dollar. Unless he needs $700 for insulin every 4 days, those systems would have him covered. Because they didn’t blow their money on useless stuff, they have the money for the insulin.

          • baconbits9 says:

            So much confusion in he English language, with the conflation of the word “values” to mean both “economic value” and “moral goals”

            No, that is not what is happening here. Economic value is a subset of individual values, and moral goals are a subset of individual values. I am not conflating the two, I am describing how they are similar in this circumstance.

            Surely the standard economist’s position isn’t really that a person’s actions (their “revealed preferences”) is a window into their internal desired outcomes.

            I didn’t make a single claim that relies on revealed preference, I made the well documented claim that people react differently toward goods that they get for free and ones that they pay for.

            Beyond that your childish characterization of revealed preference demonstrates that you don’t understand the concept even a little. The revealed preference of a person in jail is not that they “like jail”, it would be that they thought the costs*likelihood of going to jail were worth the action the crime that they committed. They would only have a revealed preference for jail if they showed up and offered to pay the warden for the opportunity to live in prison.

            Moral values and “economic value” share nothing but the same unfortunate etymology.

            Economics is fundamentally about the choices and actions that people make, the only way that economic value and moral value share nothing is if you are claiming that the things you do are not at all influenced by your morals.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Edward

            That makes sense, and I should note that I’m mostly pushing back against the pro-pricing-mechanism side that uses the argument you’ve outlined. That said, I’m somewhat also making an argument against any particular value-estimating algorithm. I think the time-dependent drawback of the pricing mechansim is exacerbated here, but I don’t think other mechanisms are necessarily better. Which, yes, leaves me in a rather bad position, but I’m not taking a constructive side in this debate.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @baconbits9

            Economic value is a subset of individual values, and moral goals are a subset of individual values. I am not conflating the two, I am describing how they are similar in this circumstance.

            Alright. To rephrase my earlier post in a way that more suits you, my subset of individual values does not contain the normative goal of “maximize economic value”, but it does contain the normative goal of “maximize health outcomes”. Hence, talking about economic value is non-persuasive for me.

            Its true that they are similar, both being normative claims of how humans ought to behave, but not much beyond that. (Normative goals that we probably both disagree with, such as “miscegenation is bad” are also similar in the same way)

          • Controls Freak says:

            @Clutzy

            I finally caved and went to a Walgreens nurse who told me the correct OTC thing to buy for $150

            Can you share what this thing was? I’m curious, for unrelated reasons.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @baconbits9

            When you divorce prices and costs you divorce values from goods and services, and you cannot generate better outcomes without values.

            All human action, of course, is based on the underlying moral values people operate under. Taking away prices doesn’t change this, I’m pretty sure its not physically possible to divorce human action from human values.

            For example, walking in the park is free. My decision to walk in the park or not is still a reflection of my moral values, i.e. “what I’m trying to maximize”. Despite walking in the park being free, I can still use it to readily generate outcomes that reflect my moral values without using prices (in fact its even easier to do so).

          • In your view, the “good decision” is the one that maximizes economic value, in my view its the one that maximizes positive health outcomes.

            I don’t care about economic value at all.

            So if you have a choice between other things you value and better health outcomes you should always choose the latter, however small the ratio of health benefits to other things is? I find it hard to believe that you think that.

            Consider the simplest case–diet. There is presumably an optimal diet from the standpoint of health. If it consists of things none of which you like, should you still eat it instead of the slightly less optimal diet that you like? That is the logic of your position.

            Similarly for lots of other things. Driving places in a car involves some risk of accident and negative health outcomes. Does it follow that you should never drive anywhere other than to the doctor? Certainly not to an SSC meetup.

            My suspicion from what you wrote is that you think of economic value as entirely divorced from anything that matters. If so, are you indifferent between the lowest income life at which you get an acceptable set of health outcomes and the same health outcomes with a much higher income? Happy to live in a (sanitary) barracks, eat (nutritionally adequate) tasteless and boring food, never travel to other places, … ?

            I don’t believe it.

            Would it help if I told you that economic value, as economists use the term, is an (imperfect) proxy for total utility? Do you not care about that either–give it zero weight as against health outcomes?

          • Clutzy says:

            I can’t recall actually, but I think it was Mucinex DM

          • Guy in TN says:

            @DavidFriedman

            So if you have a choice between other things you value and better health outcomes you should always choose the latter, however small the ratio of health benefits to other things is? I find it hard to believe that you think that.
            […]
            My suspicion from what you wrote is that you think of economic value as entirely divorced from anything that matters.

            Economic value matters to me, in as much as it can be used to improve health outcomes. So yes, in some cases I might choosing to improve economic value, if it was the most effective means of achieving a health outcome. But the means of achieving a goal isn’t the goal itself- I would also gladly destroy economic value, in situations where it improved health outcomes.

            Would it help if I told you that economic value, as economists use the term, is an (imperfect) proxy for total utility? Do you not care about that either–give it zero weight as against health outcomes?

            I’m a utilitarian. I see health outcomes as fantastic proxy for human well-being, its difficult to imagine something else more closely allied to the concept of utility. Of course, I’m aware some economists believe that money is a better proxy for utility than human health. It seems to be the underlying belief that motivates much of what think is highly mistaken reasoning by libertarians around these parts.

            Typically, by the time we get to this point in the conversation, my interlocutors have lost steam, or new open threads have appeared. I should just come out of the starting gates with “dollars ≠ utils” the next time I start to smell the whiff of Coase Theorem in the air, to fast-forward the conversation.

          • I’m a utilitarian. I see health outcomes as fantastic proxy for human well-being, its difficult to imagine something else more closely allied to the concept of utility.

            You think that someone who lives a long and healthy life during all of which he is entirely miserable has high utility? That’s what you seem to be saying.

            Of course, I’m aware some economists believe that money is a better proxy for utility than human health.

            Value isn’t money–no economist suggests that the way to maximize value is to have a hyperinflation. You are rejecting ideas you don’t understand.

            At the individual level, willingness to pay is a pretty good proxy for utility. If I am willing to pay five dollars for an ice cream cone but not willing to pay five dollars to go to a movie, that’s pretty good evidence that I believe I get more utility from the former than the latter. If I am willing to pay no more than five dollars for the cone and no more than four for the movie but willing to pay ten dollars for a book I want, that’s pretty good evidence that I believe the sum of the utility of the movie and the cone is less than that of the book.

            Do you have a problem with that?

            There are two reasons willingness to pay, which is what economic value represents, is only an imperfect proxy for utility. The first is that the individual may be mistaken–he may choose A over B even though he would actually enjoy B more than A. The second is that we need to sum value across individuals, and the fact that John is willing to pay five dollars for a cone and Joan only four for a movie doesn’t imply that John gets more utility from the cone than Joan from the movie, because a dollar may represent more utility for Joan than for John.

            These are problems that economists have been aware of and discussed for well over a century now.

            I note that you did not answer the question of mine that you quoted, so I will repeat it:

            So if you have a choice between other things you value and better health outcomes you should always choose the latter, however small the ratio of health benefits to other things is? I find it hard to believe that you think that.

            That is the implication of the position you are taking, and I do not believe it is your actual view. Am I mistaken? Do you believe that individuals should sacrifice all other values in order to get the best possible health outcome, however little the gain in health is that they get for the sacrifice?

            Is that how you live your life?

          • Guy in TN says:

            There are two reasons willingness to pay, which is what economic value represents, is only an imperfect proxy for utility. The first is that the individual may be mistaken–he may choose A over B even though he would actually enjoy B more than A. The second is that we need to sum value across individuals, and the fact that John is willing to pay five dollars for a cone and Joan only four for a movie doesn’t imply that John gets more utility from the cone than Joan from the movie, because a dollar may represent more utility for Joan than for John.

            These are problems that economists have been aware of and discussed for well over a century now.

            Well yes, these are exactly my main two objections to using economic value as a standard-unit proxy for utility. To summarize:
            1. At the individual level, a person could be making decisions in an unsound state of mind.
            2. The utility of a dollar, like the utility of any resource, varies from person to person.

            I’m looking forward to your response from here, since we seem to be getting to the heart of the matter.

            I note that you did not answer the question of mine that you quoted, so I will repeat it:

            So if you have a choice between other things you value and better health outcomes you should always choose the latter, however small the ratio of health benefits to other things is? I find it hard to believe that you think that.

            Do you believe that individuals should sacrifice all other values in order to get the best possible health outcome, however little the gain in health is that they get for the sacrifice?

            If you want to call me out for being slippery here, you have every right, and I apologize for being ambiguous.

            But yes, physical health its not everything. The original conversation was regarding the question of how healthcare impacts life expectancy. And while I think physical health is pretty close to as good of a measurable proxy for utility as we are going to see, human well-being (which includes mental satisfaction) is really the true terminal goal here. Human well-being, which includes both physical and mental aspects, is the essence of utility.

            So to answer your question, or at least clarify the situation: I will always advocate for maximizing human well-being, which isn’t necessarily synonymous with human health, but they are highly correlated. If I make the choice of increasing economic value, it is only because of how it relates to increasing human well-being in the particular circumstances. (In other cases, destroying economic value could conceivably be the option that increases human well-being)

          • Clutzy says:

            But yes, physical health its not everything. The original conversation was regarding the question of how healthcare impacts life expectancy. And while I think physical health is pretty close to as good of a measurable proxy for utility as we are going to see, human well-being (which includes mental satisfaction) is really the true terminal goal here. Human well-being, which includes both physical and mental aspects, is the essence of utility.

            So to answer your question, or at least clarify the situation: I will always advocate for maximizing human well-being, which isn’t necessarily synonymous with human health, but they are highly correlated. If I make the choice of increasing economic value, it is only because of how it relates to increasing human well-being in the particular circumstances. (In other cases, destroying economic value could conceivably be the option that increases human well-being)

            This seems to me to be getting a little too close to the parody of a “Broccoli mandate” people would joke about during the early PPACA days. And I don’t think that is all that fruitful.

            I think the more fruitful thing is to discuss how much of health outcomes are largely out of control of the “Healthcare system”, in particular obesity, drinking, smoking, etc. And a country (like the US) that is bad on all those measures will not get much benefits in life expectancy by getting fat chainsmokers in front of doctors, particularly when they don’t pay for the doctor and thus don’t have the emotional investment.

            And I think that also helps explain the counter-intuitive studies. Without patient investment, doctors are mostly useless, and without you feeling that pain in the pocketbook, you don’t have any incentive to change behavior. And maybe its good for most people to skip a few meals and each just rice for a month to recoup the cost of a doctors visit, because doing that is a greater benefit than the doctors visit itself.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Guy in TN

            The situation in the U.S. is that a certain segment of the population (those just too wealthy for Medicaid) is receiving close to zero healthcare at all, outside of what they can buy at an over-the-counter pharmacy.

            Do you have evidence of that? This link, which uses survey data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, notes that the uninsured per capita medical spending in 2001 was $923 while full-year privately insured spending was $2,484. This data point shows the uninsured spending less on medical care than the insured, but does not indicate the uninsured receiving close to zero health care. The survey data also show that 11% of the insured use emergency medical services in a given year and that this is the same rate for the uninsured, an indication of similar health care usage rates for emergency situations.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I think the more fruitful thing is to discuss how much of health outcomes are largely out of control of the “Healthcare system”, in particular obesity, drinking, smoking, etc. And a country (like the US) that is bad on all those measures will not get much benefits in life expectancy by getting fat chainsmokers in front of doctors, particularly when they don’t pay for the doctor and thus don’t have the emotional investment.

            First, the US is much better on smoking rates than most other first-world countries. We are bad on obesity, but other countries seem determined to catch up as fast as they can there.

            Second, is there evidence that making people pay for the doctor makes them more likely to take care of themselves?

            I think there’s a lot that market forces could do to improve US health care spending efficiency, but you can’t just ladle “free market” on top of the system without understanding it. It’s the same error as people on the other side you think you can just inject parts of what-we-imagine-are-European-policies into the health care system and expect better results.

          • albatross11 says:

            I’m extremely skeptical that having to pay your own health costs leads to noticeably better health. Being in poor health is its own disincentive, and a little extra monetary loss probably doesn’t add much.

            OTOH, having medical care subsidized is virtually certain to increase your consumption of it. So it’s really important to work out whether that increased consumption of healthcare is going to actually improve things for you–otherwise, we’re just arranging to spend a bunch of wealth doing something unproductive. We’ve already got tons of that going on (TSA, expensive teacher certifications), and we don’t need any more.

          • So to answer your question, or at least clarify the situation: I will always advocate for maximizing human well-being, which isn’t necessarily synonymous with human health, but they are highly correlated.

            What you wrote and I objected to was:

            … the “good decision” is the one that maximizes economic value, in my view its the one that maximizes positive health outcomes.

            We’re talking past each other; I don’t care about economic value at all.

            That is a very different claim from “economic value is not a perfect proxy for what I care about, hence there are situations in which I would prefer an outcome where economic value is lower to one where it is higher.”

            After all, there are also situations where you would prefer an outcome where health outcomes are worse to one where they are better.

            Economic value is a measure of the degree to which people get what they want, with interpersonal comparison done as if the marginal utility of income was the same for everyone. I assume you believe that, as a rule, it is a good thing for people to get the outcomes they want.

            Start at the individual level, to avoid the interpersonal comparison problem. Consider two mechanisms for making decisions about an individual’s health care:

            A: The objective is to maximize health outcomes. If health outcomes can be improved at little at the cost of someone working twelve hours a day at a boring job instead eight hours a day at a job he enjoys, that is the preferred outcome, and similarly if they can be improved a little at the cost of his eating boring food instead of what he likes to eat.

            B: The objective is to maximize value, defined by individual willingness to pay. Health outcomes are valuable. But if an improved health outcome that the individual would be willing to pay a thousand dollars to get requires him to give up something else that he would be willing to pay two thousand dollars to get, he does without the improved outcome. In my (obviously loaded) examples above, he takes the job he enjoys and eats the food he enjoys.

            At the individual level, do you prefer rule A or rule B? If you prefer rule B, then it makes no sense to say that you do not care about economic value at all. Indeed, if you prefer rule B only in the sort of loaded cases I have offered, it makes no sense to say that, since that means (roughly) that you want to maximize (health outcomes + K*economic value) where K is not very large.

            So much for the individual case. Economic value is more problematic for the multiperson case, a point recognized by Marshall who (I think) invented the idea, although not the label. We could discuss whether it is a pretty good proxy or a pretty bad proxy another time.

            Instead, consider that you face the same problem of interpersonal comparison with your preferred criterion. Does an extra year of life expectancy for a happy person get the same weight in your calculations as an extra year for a miserable person? For a twenty-year old (dying at 21 instead of 20) as for a ninety-year old? How do you trade off different health outcomes–life expectancy vs quality of life measures? It’s only by ignoring those problems that you can treat your criterion as if was really unambiguous.

          • Guy in TN says:

            I assume you believe that, as a rule, it is a good thing for people to get the outcomes they want.

            This runs afoul of Objection 1, the unsound state of mind. So I would not say that I strictly want people to get the outcomes they want. But we can set aside this aside for now, since I would agree that in most cases it is good (assuming we aren’t dealing with children, the mentally handicapped, drug addicts, ect.)

            At the individual level, do you prefer rule A or rule B?
            […]
            B. The objective is to maximize value, defined by individual willingness to pay.

            I prefer rule B, but it could be improved. “Ability pay” is a fine way to order the set of possibilities a person has, in the subset of actions called “purchasing things they can afford on the market”. But “purchasing things they can afford on the market” does not contain all the actions the in a person’s possibility space. It does not count for non-consensual transfers, for example.

            Since the objective is to maximize utility, if a non-consensual transfer improved their utility more than a market action, that would be the best choice IMO.

            It’s only by ignoring those problems that you can treat your criterion as if was really unambiguous.

            I never claimed comparing interpersonal utility was unambiguous! Its a messy affair, but I think humans have the mental tools to do it. It must have been a necessary part of out evolution- how else would a mother know the needs of her child, for instance? The child expresses no economic value on the marketplace.

            So in regards to Objection 2, the difference is that only one of us is trying to use a standard measure of interpersonal utility comparison as the backbone for their assumptions. When I argue that transferring wealth from the rich to the poor increases net-utility, there’s no function I can plug a number into for this. This “utility calculation”, such that it even exists, is based on intuition, communication with other humans, and personal experience. And if that sounds ridiculous, well, I think it beats making an analysis that relies on an unproven assumption (that the dollar represents standard utility) that tends to grind against all of our utility-comparing evolutionary instincts.

            We could take a poll of people in countries all over the world, and ask them “is a dollar worth more to a starving man who wants to buy a loaf of bread, or to a billionaire”, and I am sure the outcome would be unambiguous. And yes, this interpersonal utility comparison can’t be quantified; if we asked them “well how much more is it worth?”, we’d probably get blank stares and confusion. But to insist on finding and using standard unit of quantification, despite good evidence that this standard unit is deeply flawed, is just looking where the light is.

          • So I would not say that I strictly want people to get the outcomes they want.

            Which is why I said “as a rule.”

            Since the objective is to maximize utility, if a non-consensual transfer improved their utility more than a market action, that would be the best choice IMO.

            Yes. Of course. What does that have to do with the question of whether, at the individual level, the right rule is to maximize value defined by individual willingness to pay?

            You have something that you very much want—you would be willing to pay a hundred dollars for it. As it happens, it is for sale for a thousand dollars, which is more than its value to you. Fortunately (from your standpoint) you have the alternative of stealing it. Doing that will require you to spend a day casing the joint, breaking in at night, etc. The same amount of legal effort could earn you fifty dollars. So rule B implies that you steal it. We’re applying rule B to maximizing value for one individual at this point.

            I wrote:

            It’s only by ignoring those problems that you can treat your criterion as if was really unambiguous.

            You replied:

            I never claimed comparing interpersonal utility was unambiguous!

            I was talking about the criterion you had asserted and I had attacked, which was not maximizing utility but maximizing health outcomes. The problems I offered had to do with health outcomes not utility.

            As I thought would be clear by my examples, maximizing economic value at the individual level is a good, although not perfect, proxy for maximizing utility. It is a better proxy than maximizing health outcomes because it includes the value of health outcomes along with value of everything else the individual values, whereas maximizing health outcomes ignores all the other things the individual gets utility from.

            I wasn’t arguing against utilitarianism. I agree with you that interpersonal comparisons are possible, although we don’t have a very good way of making them. I will be happy to discuss why I think maximizing economic value may be the closest to maximizing utility that we can construct institutions to achieve, an issue that goes back to Marshall, who was a utilitarian, but that wasn’t the point I was arguing.

            What you wrote, again, was:

            … the “good decision” is the one that maximizes economic value, in my view its the one that maximizes positive health outcomes.
            We’re talking past each other; I don’t care about economic value at all.

            Do you now agree that that is false? If you want to maximize utility you do care about economic value. Caring about it doesn’t mean that you favor whatever increases it, any more than caring about health outcomes means that you favor whatever increases them.

          • Guy in TN says:

            So rule B implies that you steal it. We’re applying rule B to maximizing value for one individual at this point.

            My misunderstanding. I thought by “willing to pay”, you meant strictly “willing (and able) to purchase on the market”, not including non-consensual transfers. So yes, definitely going with rule B for the individual level now.

            I will be happy to discuss why I think maximizing economic value may be the closest to maximizing utility that we can construct institutions to achieve, an issue that goes back to Marshall, who was a utilitarian, but that wasn’t the point I was arguing.

            This is the core of our disagreement, I think. In this whole previous conversation, people been claiming to calculate net-value by using dollars as standard proxy unit. This is what I object to.

            Do you now agree that that is false? If you want to maximize utility you do care about economic value.

            You’ve convinced me that I was perhaps being flippant in disregarding the concept as a whole. But still, the question of the best economic institutions necessarily operates at the society-wide level. There’s really no way to talk about “maximizing economic value” in a political way that doesn’t involve interpersonal utility comparisons. And the standard use throughout not just this thread, but most discussions anywhere, is to use the phrase “economic value” as shorthand for “aggregated economic value, with dollars as the standard unit”.

            But yes, if you mean “economic value” strictly in the individual sense, as you describe in rule B, I would agree it is good.

          • Thank you–it is a rare pleasure to argue with someone willing to admit when he was wrong.

            There’s really no way to talk about “maximizing economic value” in a political way that doesn’t involve interpersonal utility comparisons.

            That’s a slight exaggeration. In some cases, one is comparing alternatives which don’t redistribute. Suppose, for instance, that we are considering a law requiring everyone to buy health insurance providing certain benefits, but not providing any sort of subsidy, price control, or the like. The immediate effect is to force someone to spend money on health insurance even if there are other things he would rather spend it on.

            Even then there are some complications, since one could argue that if he is uninsured and gets sick someone else will end up paying for it–but consider the case in a society sufficiently heartless so they won’t. Also, the law increases the demand for medical services, raises their price, and redistributes some from patients to doctors. So assume a world where the supply of doctors is perfectly elastic.

            At least in that artificial but not logically inconsistent context, one can prefer the solution with higher economic value without worrying about interpersonal comparisons.

            I agree that in most contexts, arguing for maximizing economic value from a utilitarian position gets you into interpersonal comparisons. But, as I pointed out a little earlier, that problem arises with your earlier policy of arguing for maximizing health outcomes, since there too you have to decide how to compare health outcomes across people. Indeed, you have a second problem that economic value doesn’t–deciding what the tradeoff is for different health outcomes for a single person.

            This OT is winding down, so perhaps at some point we should explore in another one what to me is the interesting question, which has nothing in particular to do with health. In designing social institutions, is there, from a utilitarian standpoint, a better maximand to aim at than economic value (aka economic efficiency)?

            You might be interested in the discussions in Chapter 15 of my webbed Price Theory and Chapter 2 of my webbed Law’s Order. But there are additional arguments relevant to the general proposal for income redistribution to increase utility.

          • Guy in TN says:

            I’ll look into these chapters and get back to you at some other time.

            Thanks again for the level-headed discussion- it’s always a pleasure.

        • gbdub says:

          The ACA seems to have succeeded in moving a lot of people from the category of “uninsured” to “insured” in a way that is mostly not financially ruinous.

          Whether it has actually delivered “affordable care” to anyone who didn’t already have it (other than the small group with chronic, previously uninsurable conditions) is much more dubious.

          The “affordable” plans still cost hundreds of dollars a month per person and have huge deductibles for anything other than “preventative care” (the value of which is often overstated – outwardly healthy 20 and 30 somethings getting routine physicals is basically wasteful make-work). The premiums are subsidized for the low-income, but then they are basically back where they started, paying out of pocket for most care to meet the deductible.

          In any case the ACA does not seem to have done anything to “bend the cost curve”. Health care is just as expensive (and getting pricier) as ever, we’ve just lightly shuffled how paying for it gets distributed.

          • The ACA seems to have succeeded in moving a lot of people from the category of “uninsured” to “insured” in a way that is mostly not financially ruinous.

            Didn’t that largely consist of young adults for whom insurance was a bad deal to start with, a worse deal after the ACA, by limiting how much more insurance companies could charge for older customers, forced the young to subsidize the old?

    • John Schilling says:

      But I don’t know how parallel the situation is: was the Affordable Care Act primarily opposed because because of symbolism (an opposition President getting their way) or because of genuine opposition to the contents (fear of a first step toward nationalized health care).

      Both, obviously. The ACA has real and substantial consequences beyond being a symbol of Obama’s victory, and people can support or oppose it on that basis. Before anyone had ever heard of Barack Obama, Republicans were talking about a range of vaguely ACA-like things and saying either “this will do bad things and we should oppose it” or “this will be less bad than what the Democrats will otherwise shove down our throats, so we should try to preempt them with it”. Then it turned into ‘Obamacare’, making it both personal and political at the same time.

      If a thing has no substantive effect other than to symbolize the victory of one faction over another, then of course the other faction will vehemently oppose spending tax money on it, and that will be the end of it unless the winning faction has the power to basically write budgets to their own demand. Which is by design a rare and difficult thing in the United States.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      Was that a back-and-forth? I took brad to be agreeing with me and expanding on my point.

      I will say that I don’t completely love the analogy because a statue of Barack Obama would to some extent symbolize only the man Obama, while a border wall would, I think, much more pointedly symbolize not just Donald Trump, but also his immigration policy specifically, including the non-wall and non-border-security parts of his immigration policy.

      • brad says:

        Fair, but whatever it’s flaws I still think it is a much better analogy than the ACA. Love it or hate it I don’t think anyone thinks the ACA was of predominantly symbolic consequence. Death panels is a significantly different objection to expensive middle finger to the world.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          Agreed.

        • wunderkin says:

          in terms of actually making people healthier, yes, I think the ACA was predominantly symbolic. It spent an enormous amount of money, there is little to no solid evidence that it made people healthier on average, but, hey, it did royally piss off those benighted red staters.

          • John Schilling says:

            Making people healthier on average isn’t the only possible benefit of a health-care law. Reducing cost and uncertainty are tangible, substantial benefits that could plausibly be achieved by something like the ACA.

            And when determining whether a thing is “symbolic”, what matters is not what it actually accomplished but what was plausibly intended by the people behind it. Operation Barbarossa wasn’t a symbolic gesture of Germany’s contempt for Russia; it was a serious material effort to actually conquer Russia that just happens to have failed. I have no reason to doubt that many backers of the ACA seriously intended to materially reform the US health care system.

          • EchoChaos says:

            But by that metric, the wall is a serious attempt to make sure that all visitors to the United States are people that we have vetted to ensure they will be a benefit, if only short-term.

          • wunderkin says:

            @John Schilling says:

            Reducing cost and uncertainty are tangible, substantial benefits that could plausibly be achieved by something like the ACA.

            Sure but the evidence it did either is considerably weaker than the evidence that a wall makes crossing a border more difficult

            . I have no reason to doubt that many backers of the ACA seriously intended to materially reform the US health care system

            just as the backers of a wall seriously intend it to materially improve the border crossing situation.

          • brad says:

            It’s kind of unusual for a brand new poster to begin his posting career here with so many aggressively partisan posts, no?

          • EchoChaos says:

            Do you mean me or wunderkin?

            I’ve been posting semi-regularly for a while, on both non-partisan and partisan topics.

          • brad says:

            Yeah, I recognize your nym EchoChaos.

      • cuke says:

        Did anyone here listen to the NYT Daily’s interview last week with Will Hurd, Republican Congressman from the big border congressional district in Texas? I’d be interested to hear what people thought. I’m a Democrat and I was impressed.

        My impression listening to him is that despite the insane level of posturing going on right now, that a large portion of Democrats and Republicans agree about the components of a plan to address border security. These include more staffing, technology, legal system resources, a plan to address the real crisis in the northern triangle, and in some areas, strengthening or adding physical barriers. Most of the folks who are deep in the weeds on these issues seem to agree that “wall” is the least part of a solution, but that in some areas “wall” has been and will be helpful, as long as it comes with these other components.

        Will Hurd sounded pragmatic, non-ideological, and entirely reasonable. I don’t usually feel that way when I listen to politicians talk about anything. The impression I had is that the grownups on this issue, the ones who have done serious work on it for decades, have solutions and agree about many of the solutions, and the solutions sound both reasonable and feasible.

        There are bigger questions and deep disagreements about immigration policy in general in this country, but “border security” seems to be an issue that in the actual details, a lot of policymakers agree on.

        I don’t care whether the ACA was seen as an “Obama vanity project” to his opponents and I don’t care about whether “wall” is seen as a “Trump vanity project” by his opponents. I’m interested in whether policies are solving real problems.

        From where I sit, protection for people with pre-existing conditions was a real solution to a real problem. I work in healthcare and I see the effects of that. I don’t work in immigration or national security, but I’m willing to believe the people who do work in those areas when they say “the courts can’t handle this volume” or “most of the heroin is coming through deep ports and more Coast Guard staffing would address that.”

        I’m very interested in all of us being able to have better conversations, so I do get particularly frustrated when the national conversation advanced by our leaders is essentially “wall is good like wheel” and “wall is about Trump’s small penis.” I mean, my god, really, is that the best we can do?

        • Don_Flamingo says:

          Yes. A national conversation by definition can’t be all that sophisticated. It’s gotta be lowest common denominator stuff. I don’t think there are good examples of a national conversation ever being sophisticated. I’d be interested in an example really. Though it’s a fuzzy term.

          Do you maybe mean a conversation, where only the wise, skilled, virtuous, generous, kind and insightful speak and in good faith and with an open mind?

          • cuke says:

            Yes precisely, and let’s silence everyone else. No no, let everyone speak. Just let’s maybe defer a little more to the ones who know what they’re talking about because they’ve been working for a long time on whatever the stuff is. More listening, less random opining.

            On a related note, this conversation about the Symbolism of the Wall has led me to the proposal that we form a parallel U.S. Government of Symbolism, with a parallel presidency and legislature charged only with hashing out issues pertaining to symbols. And let us require that they make all decisions by consensus rather than majority rule. Then meanwhile, back over at the regular U.S. federal government, anytime an issue comes up that is mainly about symbols, it gets referred over to that parallel structure for endless discussion so that what’s left behind for the regular government to work on is solutions to real life problems. I know, I know, terms and definitions and whatnot, but it’s a beginning.

          • Don_Flamingo says:

            We’ve never had good government, only less of it. I don’t believe in the possibility of good government, the concept seems to lack empirical support. So I doubt that your dual system would work. We’d get one symbolic government and another that turns quickly into what we have now.

    • JPNunez says:

      A part of the problem is that you’d be making a deal with Trump, whose record is just taking your money and riding into the sunset with it, and never upholding his part.

      Given the stories of how he has stifled contractors and refused to pay, why would the democrats risk a deal with him, particularly if Trump tweets at least once a week insulting them.

      At least the music store owner has the excuse that Trump never tweeted insulting him to say he didn’t realize Trump was going to just refuse to pay him.

    • Chalid says:

      Is it fair to look at the degree of opposition to a border wall, and the seeming lack of willingness to compromise, and conclude that the Democrats believe that the wall is actively harmful to the nation, beyond just not wanting to allow Trump to have a political win?

      Since no one is answering this explicitly, yes, I believe the wall is actively harmful to the nation. Immigration is one of the most important things that makes America great, and higher immigration would solve a great many of our problems. A wall tells the world that immigrants are not welcome.

      This is not to say that I wouldn’t trade it for something, but it would have to be something fairly significant.

      • EchoChaos says:

        This question is honest, not malicious, but do you not think that America was great before the great waves of immigration in the mid-late 1800s or between 1920 and 1960?

        Most people point to those periods as the most American periods and definitional to our country. The Era of Good Feelings, the Roaring Twenties, the Second World War, heck even the Depression we came together as Americans to fix our problems.

        • Guy in TN says:

          I don’t think pointing to the early to mid-20 century as a “great time”, notable for the Great Depression, apocalyptic World Wars, and roving bands of domestic racial terrorists, is going to be convincing for anyone on the left.

          The “golden years” reputation is just from nostalgia from those who lived it, and the difficulty in separating 50’s-60’s television re-runs from real life for those who didn’t.

          • EchoChaos says:

            I didn’t say it was a great time. I said America was great during it.

            Those are two entirely different statements.

            In World War II America was great during a difficult time.

            In the Great Depression America was great during a difficult time.

            To me, obviously the fact we allowed virtually no immigration during those two decades did not reduce our greatness.

            If you think that America can’t be great without allowing large numbers of immigrants you need to say that we weren’t great then.

          • wunderkin says:

            What was great about america during the great depression? We elected our only president for life who spent several years making things worse, undermined longstanding democratic norms, and lied us into a war. He did these things with excellent personal style, admittedly, and I even agree with some of those decision, but I fail to see anything great about our conduct.

          • Guy in TN says:

            When talking about domestic affairs, the things that happen within a country are not inseparable from the country they are happening in. The Great Depression, for instance. Is your position that: “America was great, it was just the ideas, policies, and behavior of Americans that led to the Great Depression- those were bad”.

            I think the Great Depression is evidence that America was not, in fact, great at the time. Particularly because economic historians tell me the problem originated within in the United States.

          • EchoChaos says:

            I am actively stunned. We are speaking such different languages I don’t really know what to think.

            I disagree with FDR in virtually all his economic policies and think they were foolish. But they were the foolishness of genuinely wanting to help fellow Americans, a greatness of spirit in a country with a foolish decision in how to implement that.

            Do you think that America’s greatness is solely defined by Presidents or policy?

            Because to me America’s greatness is her people, and they were as great in the 30s as ever, and their greatness showed, no matter how foolish the way.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Because to me America’s greatness is her people, and they were as great in the 30s as ever

            In order for the word “great” to have meaning, you have to have examples of “not-great”. To say “Americans were great in the 30s, but then again they are always great” dilutes the word into meaninglessness.

            I can point to times in U.S. history where (in my opinion) the attitudes/behavior of American were worse than in other times in U.S. history. And these low points are what I’m calling “not great”.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Sure. Germany in the 1930s wasn’t great. The Soviet Union wasn’t great. Maoist China wasn’t great.

            America has been great from 1776 to present. We’ve done some shitty stuff during that time period, but if you believe America is ever great, then whether we’re accepting immigrants at any particular period is not to me an important component of that greatness.

            The Soviet Union legally had purely open borders under Lenin (Stalin cracked down on them). Doesn’t make the Soviet Union under Lenin great.

      • gbdub says:

        Are you a true “open borders” advocate, or are you okay with preventing illegal crossings as long as it’s not done with physical barriers? It’s that second distinction I find hard to justify.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          Physical barrier opposition can be rationally justified in three ways:
          1) They act as barriers to animals, too.
          2) Implementing them requires the forceful taking of private property which has other uses.
          3) Implementing them over the entire border requires either impeding on Native American sovereign land, or walling up those reservations entirely. Either way you’re either seriously screwing with their sovereignty and right to move within their lands, or turning them into the neck of a funnel.

          • gbdub says:

            Those are practical concerns, not moral ones. Or at least, the moral issues implicated are related to side effects of wall-building, rather than the mere fact of including physical barriers in your immigration control scheme.

      • cuke says:

        I do not think $5.6 billion of “wall” — whatever that ends up actually meaning in the end — is harmful to the country. I think it won’t amount to a hill of beans, symbolically or pragmatically.

        I do think it’s harmful that a president be allowed to hold the government — including its employees and its citizens — hostage in order to circumvent the constitutional powers of Congress when he cannot get what he wants. And I think it’s harmful when legislators do not behave as an independent branch of government, bringing bills to the floor for a vote, so the president can veto and make a case for his veto or not, when all indications are that there are votes for a bill to pass.

        The harm currently being done, to my mind, is to our system of governance, and it’s not clear to me how easily this harm is later repaired. Up against that harm, $5.6 billion of literal, symbolic, metaphorical wall is utterly insignificant and will be quickly forgotten. With or without a few more hundred miles of border wall, we will still be a country that is deeply confused, ambivalent, and conflicted over immigration policy, and we will continue to be a destination for desperate families fleeing violence and for huge amounts of drugs. Those will still be our problems to figure out either way.

        • EchoChaos says:

          In what way is Trump circumventing the Constitutional powers of Congress?

          He’s making a request that they put into their budget. If he were spending money without it being properly appropriated, THAT would be an enormous violation, but all he is doing is requesting that a specific appropriation be in the bill and threatening a veto if it isn’t. A veto that could absolutely NOT be overridden. Pelosi got a vote of 239-192, so even if 100% of Senators voted for it, there isn’t a margin to override a veto.

          https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/03/politics/house-votes-shutdown-wall-spending-bills/index.html

          Incidentally, the last President DID spend without appropriations, and the Court smacked him down for that.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_House_of_Representatives_v._Azar

        • Don_Flamingo says:

          The current system is a mess. Destabilizing is probably help change it for the better. Or it possibly might, whereas business as usual guarantees more rot to accumulate, which might mean it will eventually die, taking more people with it when a real crisis comes along. A petulant president exposing weak points is better than a global pandemic killing millions and people later saying “Huh, those people sure didn’t do themselves any favors.”. I think for many people that was the promise of Trump. A severe blow to the dysfunctional status quo, messy as that is. A controlled, but more or less harmless forest fire.
          What does severe damage to your system of governance really matter compared to the harm it does, when it’s unharmed? Does it matter, whether you beat a dead horse or one that’s more interested in kicking you in the face and eating all your food, than it is in bringing you places? The current system is fat, old and downright malicious and that makes it fragile and an existential risk in it’s own right.
          Don’t know if Trump is good or bad in the end compared to whatever Clinton would have done. Because I just have no good way of gauging existential risks
          But when planes can’t fly, because the TSA isn’t showing up, I think good, maybe people will see that they’re just in the way.

          • cuke says:

            When the planes are grounded, maybe people will see that who’s just in the way? What are they in the way of and how does getting them out of the way help?

            In a controlled burn, the people doing it know a lot about the ecosystem they’re in, they have data from prior burns, they have subject-specific knowledge and skills, and they have a plan. It’s a science and engineering kind of endeavour.

            Wanting to generally burn things down and hoping that it somehow leads to some better kind of a thing, that’s just rage. Rage is a normal, primitive kind of human emotion, but I don’t think it helps to mistake it for a controlled burn or for any kind of strategy for change.

          • Don_Flamingo says:

            Oh, sry that might have sounded bit angsty. i don’t care whether things burn down, but I’ve got the suspicion that if everything breaks down now, ot could be better. I’m thinking about Iceland which didn’t get a bailout during the Euro crisis and in short order all it’s banks went bankrupt. Harsh, but it recovered from it quickly. Then there’s Greece, who got bailout after bailout with worse and worsening conditions. And it malingered for decades, it’s national pride utterly humiliated with it being told what to do. I very much bet on endless horror vs horror without end. The USA reminds me of Greece. Less directly corrupt, much more callous though.

      • Don_Flamingo says:

        @Chalid
        Immigration from the South made America great? I thought that’s what made you guys so fat.

        As an European I wouldn’t feel more or less welcome as a potential immigrant. A wall really shows “You are not welcome” to Mexicans and other South Americans. Don’t think Canadians, Chinese or Africans would care either. We (Europeans) just don’t come in larger numbers, because we specifically aren’t welcome. Immigration and naturalization is a years-long arduous process, that only filters for the best and the ones with the most endurance. Or at least people with a college degree, which you apparently don’t need from Latinos. Also American college costs money and is weird.

        Not saying you must have us, it’s fine whatever, but uhm…..the world is larger than just south of the border.
        America is not welcome to anybody, but illegal Southern border crossers in a certain sense and “the world” does not harbor any delusions in that regard.Why would it?

        • albatross11 says:

          I’m skeptical the wall will have much effect on how welcome immigrants feel. After all, we have had border patrol and INS/ICE raids on employers and illegal immigration as a political topic for decades, and we still have lots of immigrants, whose kids all end up speaking perfect English and being generic Americans who also speak Spanish (and whose kids will learn a few words to speak with their grandparents).

          • Don_Flamingo says:

            @Chalid
            I didn’t mean to say, that Americans are unfairly discriminating against Europeans, in fact, I suspect they like European immigrants more than Latino immigrants.
            But the American system just really hates people emigrating and doing it illegally has very little upside for Europeans, but does so for Hondurans, Mexicans and so on. Making illegal immigration harder by wall has absolutely no bearing on people, who wouldn’t have anything to gain from illegal entry.
            So I think the argument is just a bit off or dishonest.
            Because you’d really have to make the argument, why America is loosing out by being less welcoming to illegal, low-skilled immigrants, who don’t mind breaking your laws (not that I blame them, it makes perfect sense for them to do) and why they are important for America’s greatness. What do you see in those people specifically, that you would like to see more of in America? Because that’s what the wall is about.
            Not about some vague idea of America being a welcoming place, because the hell it isn’t.
            Because the way I see it, America’s greatness did not stem from Latin immigration, but mostly from European and Asian immigration. Broad strokes of course.
            Sorry for being a bit sarcastic with the TexMex/fat American joke.
            When Americans are discussed, it quickly turns to those. Probably should not do that, when talking to Americans.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Immigration from the South made America great? I thought that’s what made you guys so fat.

          I wasn’t going to say anything originally, but… ouch 🙁

          • Don_Flamingo says:

            @Hoopyfreud
            Yeah, I talk like that in person, but tone, a playful context and timing makes stuff like that work (without me making people either cry and/or wanting to punch me). But since all that is lost in text and many people can read this… I inevitably sound like a total jerk to someone, if not everyone. I don’t know, gotta figure that out, I guess.
            Sorry, about that one 🙁
            Sometimes I realize stuff like that hours later and wish I could still delete.

    • rlms says:

      The analogy with the statue is false, because a giant Obama statue would be viewed as silly by everyone whereas the wall would cause feelings of winningness and losingness on the respective sides due to its connection to policy (even if it’s actually purely symbolic). It’s difficult to come up with an exact analogy, because there’s no group I can think of with a relation with Republicans like immigrants have with Democrats. Maybe imagine if Obama had an expensive plan to tear down statues of Confederate heroes and replace them with ones of civil rights activists or something.

      • wunderkin says:

        One could see the goal of “expanding coverage” despite repeated studies that that has little to no impact on health as something similar. See the ACA discussion a bit further up the thread.

    • gbdub says:

      Sandor’s comment on the past thread was in reply to me, but I’ll reply here since that thread is mostly dead.

      I kind of reject the premise, both of sandor’s comment and brad’s reply. I don’t deny that there is symbolism associated with the wall one way or another, both in the barrier itself (but again, there is lots of imposing looking barrier already in place that Democrats voted for) and in Trump succeeding in building it. But my objection is not to “Democrats are against Trump’s Wall”. I also don’t object to practical arguments about the utility of the wall. My objection is to Pelosi and Schumer’s argument that “walls are immoral”, and the whole general thrust of “border barriers are racist, full stop”.

      This is hyperbole, demagoguery, and scare-mongering, and these same Dems frequently call out Trump when he uses such tactics. And walls weren’t “immoral” or “racist” when the same Dems were in favor of border barriers and tougher stances on illegal immigration. So it’s also hypocrisy twice over.

      So yes, it’s about symbolism, but it’s mostly the symbolism of base politics, of keeping the other guy from scoring a win against you.

      To brad’s example – it’s perfectly reasonable for the GOP to be against Obama’s $10B colossus. But for one thing, there is at least an argument to be had over border security, and I do think substance matters somewhat. For another, if “$10B colossus” had been a key part of Obama’s campaign that he’d won election on, it would be hard to fault him for attempting to deliver on a campaign promise (still okay to fault him for a dumb idea in the first place). Same goes here… whatever happened to “elections have consequences”?

      Addendum: On the “symbolism” front, I think trying to draw a fine distinction between “a wall” and “an unusually sturdy fence patrolled by men with guns” from a moral / symbolic standpoint is silly and self-serving. Someone getting arrested at gunpoint still dripping from the Rio Grande is every bit as symbolic as the same person trying to scale a wall. You’re either in favor of preventing people from freely crossing borders or you aren’t – how you go about accomplishing that is just details.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        And walls weren’t “immoral” or “racist” when the same Dems were in favor of border barriers and tougher stances on illegal immigration. So it’s also hypocrisy twice over.

        I thought part of the argument is over the kind of border barriers, and the particular stances to immigration.

        The claim is that it’s more than just details.

        • gbdub says:

          That’s a lot of parsing to read into “walls are immoral”.

          See my addendum – from a moral standpoint, what’s the difference between preventing people from crossing with a concrete wall, or with a series of tall, closely spaced metal slats (in both cases, backed by armed agents)?

          • If the way you keep out illegal Mexican immigrants is by letting them cross the border then spotting them and deporting them, that’s almost bound to result in legal residents who look Hispanic getting hassled, occasionally deported. Similarly if the way is by pressuring employers to make sure their employees are legal.

            So a wall is less racist than the alternative way of achieving the objective it claims to achieve.

          • gbdub says:

            It’s also likely true that the people most deterred by a wall are the ill-prepared and the young/old/weak who, without a wall, might be tempted to try and cross the inhospitable desert and die.

          • Garrett says:

            > in both cases, backed by armed agents

            Authorized to do what? If they can only use force to defend themselves/other from severe bodily harm, it’s status quo where you have to put effort into capturing the crossers, care for them, and put them through a long adjudication process.

            If they can use lethal force to stop anybody crossing the border at somewhere other than an authorized and marked border crossing I think will be far more effective. But I don’t think that this is politically palatable.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Same goes here… whatever happened to “elections have consequences”?

        Well there’s been another election since Trump took office – does that not get to have consequences?

        • EchoChaos says:

          There was one in 2010 where the Democrats got absolutely murdered. Worse than 2018 was for Republicans.

          ACA is still the law, last I checked.

          • John Schilling says:

            The ACA was passed into law before the 2010 elections. If Trump had managed to build the wall in 2018, it would still be the wall. If he had managed to enact and fund wall-building legislation in 2018, it would probably still be the law – there’s a strong status quo bias in the US political process.

        • gbdub says:

          There hasn’t been a presidential election, and the president absolutely has the power to veto spending bills that don’t fund his preferred policies. Obama certainly did, which is part of why ACA still stands. Obama had the advantage of his policy already being law, so he could let the government muddle on with continuing resolutions – it’s harder to defund something through shutdown chicken than fund something new.

          I mean, Trump absolutely can be faulted for waiting until now to push his wall, but it’s hardly crazy for him to want to deliver before his campaign for 2020 starts in earnest.

      • brad says:

        @gbdub

        My objection is to Pelosi and Schumer’s argument that “walls are immoral”, and the whole general thrust of “border barriers are racist, full stop”.

        This is hyperbole, demagoguery, and scare-mongering, and these same Dems frequently call out Trump when he uses such tactics. And walls weren’t “immoral” or “racist” when the same Dems were in favor of border barriers and tougher stances on illegal immigration. So it’s also hypocrisy twice over.

        Hyperbole, yes. Hypocrisy, sure. But demagoguery and scare-mongering, I think those are bridges too far. I think that’s some hyperbole from you.

        To brad’s example – it’s perfectly reasonable for the GOP to be against Obama’s $10B colossus. But for one thing, there is at least an argument to be had over border security, and I do think substance matters somewhat.

        I don’t see why bare plausibility, and I agree it’s there, changes the calculus much. It’s perceived to be a monument to Trump’s ego and disdain for the world. If the GOP perceived something to have been a monument to Obama’s ego it would have been a similarly “sacred value” level thing to oppose it. That’s human nature, and it’s a very gray tribe type blindness to say “what’s $5B in a budget of $2T, why not trade that off for a minor policy win?” while ignoring that human nature element.

        For another, if “$10B colossus” had been a key part of Obama’s campaign that he’d won election on, it would be hard to fault him for attempting to deliver on a campaign promise (still okay to fault him for a dumb idea in the first place). Same goes here… whatever happened to “elections have consequences”?

        I don’t really see what you mean. By all means he can try to deliver on his campaign promise, but the Democrats in the House were elected too. And just because you can’t blame him for trying doesn’t mean you can’t blame him no matter what that trying involves.

        • gbdub says:

          Isn’t “my opponents are all ipso facto racist” kind of a central example of demagoguery? And what are all the comparisons between Trumpism and fascism but trying to scare people into thinking that we’re mere steps away from sending Mexicans and Muslims to gas chambers?

          I don’t disagree with anything in your last paragraph.

          • brad says:

            I guess funny isn’t the right word, but it’s a striking difference in perspective that my mind would far sooner have gone to a a racist whipping up hatred against a different race as a central example of demagoguery, than to all my opponents are racist as such an example.

          • CatCube says:

            @brad

            Some people need a reminder that their favorite politicians really, really, love whipping up outrage for stupid, false reasons too.

          • brad says:

            Yes, it’s a fair point. My observation was not intended as a criticism. I think it is interesting on a cognitive biases level.

          • gbdub says:

            I said it was a central example, not the central example.

            In my mind both racism and calling everyone a racist are subsets of the same superset, “argument from my opponents aren’t worth engaging as people”.

            In either case, it’s an emotional rather than logical appeal, hence demagoguery. It’s not weird that you’d think of “racist” first, just since some of the most famous demagogues have been racists. It’s a blindspot if you don’t recognize that calling the outgroup racist tickles the same sublogical tribal center in the brain as calling them [racial slur].

  6. Aging Loser says:

    In the past week I’ve redd (in a book called CULTS OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE by some French professor) that there were a lot of Baal-cults originating in various Syrian towns featuring a meteorite as the sacred object; moreover, these Baals, who were identified with Jupiter, were seen as omnipotent universal rulers. This is kind of interesting, don’t you think?

    • Deiseach says:

      Any chance of more details (such as name of author)? Off the top of my head:

      (1) Sacred stones in the East – yes; meteorites – yes, not very common but indeed. The Black Stone of the Kaaba is speculated to be something of this nature

      (2) “Baal” as the Lord of the City and tutelary supreme deity of that city – yes, from Mesopotamia, in the usual form Bel. “Baal” as we know it from Phoenician/Canaanite practice that gets mentioned in the Bible. Roman syncreticism and habit of looking for nearest example when encountering native gods (e.g. associating Ogma with Hercules) meant giving the ruling deity of whatever pantheon the title of Jupiter or identifying them with Jupiter (and vice versa)

      (3) In the context of Roman syncretic religion of the late period, I’m thinking mainly of the ill-fated Heliogabalus, the young Emperor from a Syrian family who was pushed into the role by his granny, and who as High Priest of the cult back home – which included the Black Stone of Emessa – introduced it to Rome and tried to replace Jupiter with Elagabal as the supreme deity. Solar deity in origin, the cult image was the aforesaid “stone not shaped by human hands”, the meteoritic Black Stone of Emessa. That’s mostly what your French professor seems to be aiming at, at least to my opinion.

      • Aging Loser says:

        The author’s name is Robert Turcan. (The book was in the next room.) He has a lot to say about your second and third points. Your first point looms overhead, of course — especially given the resemblance that these Baals already have to the deity in question. (A very different religious attitude from the one associated with Great Mother / Dying Son-Lover cults.)

        • Deiseach says:

          Thanks for that, I’m assuming this is the book in question?

          Les cultes orientaux dans le monde romain (1989), Paris, Les Belles Lettres, coll. « Histoire », 1992, 2e éd. (ISBN 2-251-38001-9)** (en) The Cults of the Roman Empire, Blackwell Publishers, coll. « Ancient World », 1996 (ISBN 978-0631200475) (trad. de la 2e éd.

          Which, if I can go by the blurb on Amazon, is about folk/everyday religion in Roman society as contrasted with the official myths. And the point is fair enough; as in Egypt, on the grassroots level people were concerned with gods like Bes rather than the great deities like Amon and the whole revolution in theogony attempted by Akhenaten.

          Rome, as an empire, was a whirlpool that sucked in all kinds of influences – “all roads lead to Rome” – and imported religions, along with practitioners of such living in Rome, competed and flourished there on all levels. Well-off Roman matrons would totally have been the stereotypical Western Buddhists and yoga classes if such had been available to them. Magic rather than religion as such was what the common people were interested in, the same way folk religion everywhere tends to degrade into superstition if not checked. And stern moralists yearning for the Golden Age purity of the Republic would launch polemics against corrupting foreign influences – see the tension between the official state adoption of the cult of Cybele and the restrictions on the priesthood, the galli, where Roman citizens could not be priests until this restriction was lifted during the reign of Claudius.

          • Philipp says:

            Turcan’s book is worthwhile. It is, however, a very typically Continental piece of scholarship. There are basically two schools of thought on religion in the Roman Empire: an Anglo-American strand, which emphasizes state, public rituals and downplays mystery cults, the role of faith in paganism, and so forth, and a French-Belgian-Dutch-Italian strand, which focuses on empirical study of things like mystery cults, often on an older theoretical basis. In their works, one still, very often, encounters a category of “oriental religions,” now entirely out of favor in the English-speaking world, along with the assumption that civic cult was moribund by (let’s say) 200 A.D.

            That’s admittedly an oversimplification, as the great figures of the first (actually, newer) strand include John North, the late Simon Price, Mary Beard (all British), and (perhaps above all) the Luxembourg-born Frenchman John Scheid. The originator of the Continental strand is the great Belgian, Franz Cumont, and the continuator the (now also deceased) Dutchman, Maarten J. Vermaseren, long-time editor of the Brill series Études préliminaires aux religions orientales dans l’Empire romain and a great expert on the cults of Mithras and Cybele/Magna Deorum Mater Idaea (as the Romans called her).

            That series is now called “Religions in the Graeco-Roman World,” which rather links us back to the Anglo-American school of thought. Of course, there are many people who belong to both camps or neither, and the staunchest champion of the old idea of coherent mystery religions which resembled one another and Christianity seems to be a Spaniard, Jaime Alvar (again published, in translation, in EPRO/RGRW).

            Turcan is that sort of scholar: very learned, but he tends to assume that the civic cults of the Roman world had stopped attracting real devotion by the High Empire, or maybe earlier (so, before the Christian apologists started attacking them). Someone like John North, conversely, thinks that civic cults matter very much–though mysteries and philosophy and all that do, too–and that the apologists tend rather to attack an overly stereotyped picture of still-living cults.

            If I could recommend any one book on religion in the Roman Empire, it would be the first half of Robin Lane Fox’s Pagans and Christians. Highly readable, very learned, and not too focused on these sorts of disputes (on which, I am sure, I have said far more than you ever wanted to know!)

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Magic rather than religion as such was what the common people were interested in, the same way folk religion everywhere tends to degrade into superstition if not checked.

            The Greek Magical Papyri of Hellenistic Egypt are so interesting in this regard. Magicians took an interest in the relationships between gods that led to rituals like “make an idol of Thoth in baboon form wearing Hermes’s helmet, then command Hermes to help you in the name of Yahweh.”

    • bullseye says:

      I think it’s interesting, yes.

      As for identifying the Baals with Jupiter, the Greeks and Romans believed that everyone worshiped more or less the same set of gods with different names. So they’d learn about foreign gods and think “oh, that’s Zeus/Jupiter” or “oh, that’s Ares/Mars”, etc. This is called “interpretatio romana” or “interpretatio graeca”. It’s part of the reason so many Roman myths are just Greek myths with the names changed. It’s also how five of the planets got their names (originally named after Babylonian gods) and how the days of the week got their names (named after planets, then translated into English with the names of Saxon gods).

      • Aging Loser says:

        I wonder why early Christian thinkers decided that the pagan gods were devils rather than misunderstood good angels. The latter option would have been more a more amiable solution.

        • Nick says:

          Lewis briefly suggests this in That Hideous Strength.

        • woah77 says:

          That seems trivially obvious to me and mostly boils down to two elements.
          1. Even if Christians called them angels, the fact that their followers called them gods would make them fallen angels and therefore devils. The whole “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” kinda makes regarding them as beings of light impossible.

          2. Nothing unites an in group like having a clear out group. The early church was either persecuted (for a couple hundred years) or cleaning house (getting rid of these other religions). Drawing a clear line between the early church and “those evil pagans” makes it easy to establish the desired tribalism.

          • Aging Loser says:

            Nick — Yes, those planet-spirits at the end. In Surprised By Joy doesn’t he say that the Greek myths are beautiful and the Norse ones sublime? And his friend J. R. R. imagines gods as angels.

            Woah77 — “no other gods before me” is compatible with the other gods being lower-ranking superpeople. Your second point seems right, though. Hmm … I wonder whether it’s a general rule that successful new mass-converting religions have to denounce the old ones as evil.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Early Christians would have been familiar with the tales pagans told about the actions of their gods, such as Zeus’ tendency to copulate with everything in sight, the constant infighting, and a strange tendency to eat each other. Those would have been enough to put them firmly in the “fallen” category.

          • Evan Þ says:

            What @Jaskologist said. Augustine goes on about this at length in the first part of his City of God; he says essentially, “Just look at the stories the pagans tell themselves – isn’t it obvious they’re talking about immoral demons whom don’t deserve any honor at all?”

        • Philipp says:

          Well, the key thing to realize is that the pagans themselves both believed in demons and worshiped them. I’ve discussed this (as a resource for modern fantasy world-building) in a blog post. Two texts are especially helpful: the pagan Apuleius, On the God of Socrates, and Augustine, City of God 8, which builds explicitly on Apuleius.

          In short, the Christians thought that the pagan gods were demons for two reasons:

          1) Because their scriptures said so. Ps. 96:5, which reads as “For all the gods of the nations are idols” in the Masoretic Hebrew text, says “For all the gods of the nations are demons” in the Greek Septuagint (where, by the way, it is Ps. 95:5, because the Septuagint combines Ps. 9 and 10 into one). New Testament citations can be multiplied (e.g. 1 Cor. 10:21, Acts 16:16-18).

          2) Because the gods acted like demons, oppressing people with fear, spirit possession, demands for money, obscene stage performances (a key point for Augustine), and so on; and, crucially, they could be neutralized by Christian exorcism. That last text is especially interesting here: in Acts 16:16, a slave-girl from Philippi is said to have a “Pythian spirit”; that is, she was a fortune-teller associated, somehow, with Apollo, one of the primary oracular gods. She follows Paul and his associates around, calling them (in the ESV, for example), “servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.”

          The “Most High God” (theos hypsistos) is a subject of considerable scholarly controversy and speculation (if you’re interested, I could name some articles). The name has obvious similarities to biblical titles for the One God of Israel (especially El Elyon), but that doesn’t mean that they are the same divinity, either socially or in fact. Possibly the object of the worship of at least some of the “god-fearers,” the Gentiles interested in Judaism, he may be the same as Zeus Hypsistos, and so is in some sense “pagan.”

          Along, perhaps, with an awareness that the girl could be mistreated by her owners after she lost her prophetic powers, that ambiguity might explain why Paul took so long to deal with the slave girl. Anyway, he does deal with her, silencing the “Pythian spirit” with a word. This is something Christians claimed all over the place that they could do, even to the point of being able to prevent successful completion of oracular enquiries by pagan emperors; it is such an incident that seems ultimately to underlie the last, ten-year-long empire-wide persecution of Christians under Diocletian, Galerius, and Maximinus Daia (303-313; see Lactantius, On the Deaths of the Persecutors 10-11).

          Now, Augustine, for one, actually allows (at least rhetorically) in City of God 8.24-25 that the angels are the good ‘gods’ of Apuleius; they do not, however, detract from the worship of the One God, nor do they have anything to do with the demonic meddling of pagan worship.

          This isn’t pure ideology, nor is it simply in-group/out-group building (“othering,” as some scholars like to call it). It is a series of empirical claims about pagan religion and the world in general: there are demons; pagans admit that they propitiate them, even though they are fickle and given to evil, some of it secret, much of it obvious (again, stage performances, which were held in honor of pagan gods, are an especially good test-case for the gods’ virtue); being evil, they cannot really (so Christians argue) have anything to do with the really good gods or Supreme God; in fact, pagan worship looks like the kind of thing a demon, not a good god, would have invented; and so the “gods of the nations” really are demons simply, not good gods who exist somehow above and beyond the demons.

          On top of all that, of course, you have the tradition (rooted in, but not quite laid out by the Jewish Scriptures) that a powerful angelic ruler rebelled against God in the distant past. On one level, the many cults of the nations are just human institutions, established, maybe, to deify dead rulers (a favorite argument of the Latin apologists, which occurs sometimes in the Greek Christians, too, this is again not just Christian polemic–many pagans entertained the same theory). On a deeper, spiritual level, however, they are a millennium-spanning conspiracy against God, intended to destroy the human race for all time. But (and this is the apologists’ key point), the battle has already been won, in three days’ span in Roman Palestine, and someday Christ will return in glory, to establish an everlasting kingdom and judge the living and the dead.

          From this perspective, Christianity is not just one “religion” competing with other “religions”; it is the only true worship, given by the liberating power of the God who has destroyed death and will cast the devil in chains and fire forever. Pagan cults, conversely, are a set of wicked schemes to entrap, corrupt, and destroy humans and their societies.

          Does that make sense? To some of us, I admit, it will seem like so much fantasy, but people really believed and still believe this, every bit as much as they believed in the power of Asclepius to heal his worshipers or they believe now that modern economics, climate science, or technological know-how will improve the well-being of the human race.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            This isn’t pure ideology, nor is it simply in-group/out-group building (“othering,” as some scholars like to call it). It is a series of empirical claims about pagan religion and the world in general: there are demons; pagans admit that they propitiate them, even though they are fickle and given to evil, some of it secret, much of it obvious (again, stage performances, which were held in honor of pagan gods, are an especially good test-case for the gods’ virtue); being evil, they cannot really (so Christians argue) have anything to do with the really good gods or Supreme God; in fact, pagan worship looks like the kind of thing a demon, not a good god, would have invented; and so the “gods of the nations” really are demons simply, not good gods who exist somehow above and beyond the demons.

            Seconding this. The apologists weren’t mean-spirited people interested in hate as a team-building exercise: they were interested in having beliefs that fit the facts.
            I’m not entirely convinced, because the pagans also told stories about how wicked men were and only taboos imposed by the Olympians restrained them (e.g. “you can’t kill Socrates while Apollo’s holy ship is at sea”, “you can’t make baby stew because Zeus will punish you”), but that just shifts the model to “these gods are neutral angels rather than demons, and humans are worse than them.”

          • Philipp says:

            One has to recognize, I think, that a person’s view of the facts is generally shaped by prior convictions. The apologists’ reading of pagan religion is sometimes embarrassingly unfair; but then, so are the scraps of pagan criticisms of Christianity. This does not mean, of course, that either side (we might, as a first-order approximation, simplify the diversity of pagan and Christian beliefs, when they came into conflict, as two “sides”) was simply making things up, only that they were human, and humans do like to make gotchas as well as substantive arguments, which both sides also offered.

            That said, yes, there is a link between the gods and morality in both Greek and Roman religion, but it is not systematic, and (as Augustine, for example, complained), the gods never tried to correct everyone’s morality. There are no priestly sermons, and there is no Law of Homer to match the Law of Moses. There isn’t even a coherent pagan religion that would tie the mythic Olympians to the gods of the various local shrines who share their names (on that point, Christians were absolutely in agreement with pagans). The lack of moral teaching in his religion also troubled Julian the Apostate, but then, there is a reason he is called “the Apostate”: he knew much better what he was up against.

          • bullseye says:

            2) Because the gods acted like demons, oppressing people with fear, spirit possession, demands for money, obscene stage performances (a key point for Augustine), and so on;

            Doesn’t the Church demand money and expect people to fear God?

          • Deiseach says:

            That last text is especially interesting here: in Acts 16:16, a slave-girl from Philippi is said to have a “Pythian spirit”; that is, she was a fortune-teller associated, somehow, with Apollo, one of the primary oracular gods.

            Slightly off-topic, but back in 2013 the then-Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church preached a sermon in Curacao in Venezula and included a digression, since it was part of the readings for the service, about St Paul and the slave girl. It got her rather a lot of heated attention from the more traditional sorts of believers:

            We live with the continuing tension between holier impulses that encourage us to see the image of God in all human beings and the reality that some of us choose not to see that glimpse of the divine, and instead use other people as means to an end. We’re seeing something similar right now in the changing attitudes and laws about same-sex relationships, as many people come to recognize that different is not the same thing as wrong. For many people, it can be difficult to see God at work in the world around us, particularly if God is doing something unexpected.

            There are some remarkable examples of that kind of blindness in the readings we heard this morning, and slavery is wrapped up in a lot of it. Paul is annoyed at the slave girl who keeps pursuing him, telling the world that he and his companions are slaves of God. She is quite right. She’s telling the same truth Paul and others claim for themselves. But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness. Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it. It gets him thrown in prison. That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so! The amazing thing is that during that long night in jail he remembers that he might find God there – so he and his cellmates spend the night praying and singing hymns.

            An earthquake opens the doors and sets them free, and now Paul and his friends most definitely discern the presence of God. The jailer doesn’t – he thinks his end is at hand. This time, Paul remembers who he is and that all his neighbors are reflections of God, and he reaches out to his frightened captor. This time Paul acts with compassion rather than annoyance, and as a result the company of Jesus’ friends expands to include a whole new household. It makes me wonder what would have happened to that slave girl if Paul had seen the spirit of God in her.

            As you might imagine, going against centuries of exegesis about the slave girl being possessed by a demonic spirit and instead speculating that God was speaking through her (and Paul was a big ol’ meanie for ‘exorcising’ her) was deemed to be a novel interpretation, to say the least!

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Deiseach: This is why Episcopalians are heretics that freak out the Third World Anglicans in communion with them, yes.

          • Philipp says:

            Bullseye:

            Fear, yes, but also love. This isn’t without pagan parallels (though fictitious and possibly ironic, Apuleius, Metamorphoses 11 is a moving and easily-found example). But, to the Christian, the gods of the nations seemed to engage in a lot of trickery: fake oracles, fortune-telling, and other such frauds. You’re right that I oversimplify in calling this oppression through “fear,” as the word can denote religious awe, as well, which ancient Christians did not denounce, but rather argued that it has only one proper object.

            Maybe some churches have demanded money for membership, but rejection of the giving of forgiveness or spiritual blessings for money is bedrock Christian teaching. As one apologist (Lactantius) said, “We don’t sell the water.”

        • Deiseach says:

          There is a claim that in Greece local deities were ‘baptised’ and retained under the name of Christian saints (not just Greece for that matter, see the interpretations about St Bridget).

          The fourth century bishop St Athanasius wrote “Against the Heathen” where he sets out the development of idolatry from a Christian perspective (quote in part below):

          4. But others, straining impiety to the utmost, have deified the motive of the invention of these things and of their own wickedness, namely, pleasure and lust, and worship them, such as their Eros, and the Aphrodite at Paphos. While some of them, as if vying with them in depravation, have ventured to erect into gods their rulers or even their sons, either out of honour for their princes, or from fear of their tyranny, such as the Cretan Zeus, of such renown among them, and the Arcadian Hermes; and among the Indians Dionysus, among the Egyptians Isis and Osiris and Horus, and in our own time Antinous, favourite of Hadrian, Emperor of the Romans, whom, although men know he was a mere man, and not a respectable man, but on the contrary, full of licentiousness, yet they worship for fear of him that enjoined it. For Hadrian having come to sojourn in the land of Egypt, when Antinous the minister of his pleasure died, ordered him to be worshipped; being indeed himself in love with the youth even after his death, but for all that offering a convincing exposure of himself, and a proof against all idolatry, that it was discovered among men for no other reason than by reason of the lust of them that imagined it. According as the wisdom of God testifies beforehand when it says, The devising of idols was the beginning of fornication Wisdom 14:12 . 5. And do not wonder, nor think what we are saying hard to believe, inasmuch as it is not long since, even if it be not still the case that the Roman Senate vote to those emperors who have ever ruled them from the beginning, either all of them, or such as they wish and decide, a place among the gods, and decree them to be worshipped. For those to whom they are hostile, they treat as enemies and call men, admitting their real nature, while those who are popular with them they order to be worshipped on account of their virtue, as though they had it in their own power to make gods, though they are themselves men, and do not profess to be other than mortal.

          • Philipp says:

            It’s all but explicit in one of the Byzantine works on St. Thecla, the fictitious virgin-companion of St. Paul the Apostle (this is, I think, the second half of the fifth-century Life and Miracles of Saint Thecla). The saint even haunts a grove, like pagan divinities do; it’s been years since I read the text, but I think it’s the old precinct of some pagan divinity driven out (as the text tells us) by the true God.

            That sure sounds to me like a continuation of older kinds of pagan piety, just with the Holy Trinity at the top of the religion. It is not, however, a baptism of the pagan gods straightforwardly; rather, of the manner and (I think) location of their cult. Thecla is not a pagan divinity; she is, however, perhaps being treated like one.

            Now, to be fair, I might mis-remember the text, though I certainly do remember having these thoughts about it when I read it.

            Athanasius’s appeal to ruler-deification is very typical of the apologists. The most detailed statements are, I think, in Lactantius, Divine Institutes 1, and in Eusebius’s massive Preparation of the Gospel. Both depend ultimately on a rather strange, lost book by the third-century B.C. writer Euhemerus of Messene, which told of the (mortal) gods’ lives and doings in a kind of Utopia called Panchaea, in the Indian Ocean. After him, the theory is often called “euhemerism” nowadays.

    • herbert herberson says:

      I have no idea if its well grounded or just the kind of blue-sky-speculation and/or crockpottery that pop science reporting loves, but there was recent reporting of at least some evidence suggesting a Tunguska-like event in the ancient Levant that could have been the basis of the Sodom and Gomorrah story. If this were the case, it doesn’t seem crazy that the area would see spiritual significance attached to meteors in other contexts as well.

      • Aging Loser says:

        That would explain why there were so many meteorites in the region. I wonder what happened to them all — other than the one currently in Mecca.

    • vV_Vv says:

      Baal literally means “the Lord” in proto-Semitic, it was a title used for both people and gods, and it was most commonly associated with the male storm god Hadad. Obviously the Romans would pattern-match any dominant male storm god with Jupiter.

      Interestingly, many traditional pagan religions had a male storm/thunder god as their primary deity. In the case of Indo-European religions, it is believed that this god archetype originates from Dyēus Phter (“Sky Father”) of the hypothetical proto-Indo-European religion. But the archetype is also found in the proto-Semitic and Egyptian religions.

      • Aging Loser says:

        I’m wondering whether the 1 Kings 19 “still small voice” passage is sort of a critical commentary on this image (especially given that Elijah had previously managed to get his god to make it rain and on a different occasion to shoot fire down out of Heaven and burn up 52 guys): “And behold, the LORD passed by, and great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake,; but the LORD was not in the earthquake; And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice” (King James translation). (Hebrew text has the four-letter name where the translation puts “the LORD”).

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Yes, it is. By Mohammed’s own testimony, the Kaaba was a pantheon building, and the Black Stone matches a pattern of West Semitic religion, at least in Late Antiquity (I’m not aware of any meteorite cults in west Syrian or Levantine cities of the Bronze Age).

  7. Well... says:

    I don’t know if it counts as a “take” on the war, but I have a book that’s just a collection of letters American soldiers sent home from Vietnam. It’s gripping and fascinating stuff on many levels. I can’t remember the name of it offhand, and a quick DDG search suggests there are several dozen similarly-themed books, though most of them seem to stick with just one soldier or another. Next time I’m over by my bookshelf and I remember to, I’ll look for the book and then reply back later with the title.

    • Well... says:

      OK, the name of the book is “Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam” (available at your favorite or least-favorite online mega-retailer). Apparently it inspired a movie.

  8. WashedOut says:

    Youtube lectures

    One of my favourite hobbies is watching university lectures on Youtube on topics that are outside my field of expertise. I amaze myself at how much enjoyment and learning I can get out of them if the teacher is good – a well-delivered lecture can teach me things I never thought I could grasp if I just read it in a textbook (or had a bad lecturer).

    These are some lecture series that I have re-watched numerous times for pleasure, and would recommend:
    Leonard Susskind – Statistical Mechanics (Stanford)
    Robert Sapolsky – Human Behavioural Biology (Stanford)
    Carl Bender – Mathematical Physics (PSI – Perimeter Institute)
    Joseph Blitzstein – Statistics 110 (Harvard)

    Even though they are mostly math/physics based, none of them “feel” like you’re being taught math. I feel like i’m being taught how to conceptualize interesting problems and approach hard problems creatively. All the above lecturers also share a very personable, laid-back style, but with an emphasis on precise speech that really hits the spot.

    Does anyone have any recommendations of their own to share? I’d be interested in Law, Psychology, Engineering and Computer Science, but really anything goes if the lecturer is good.

  9. bullseye says:

    I’ve got a question about Trump’s wall. I’ve seen a handful of arguments over and over for why it won’t work. What are the pro-wall rebuttals for these arguments?

    1) Most illegal immigrants arrive legally and then stay longer than they’re supposed to. A wall would do nothing to stop these people.

    2) As for people who do cross the border illegally, the high-traffic areas already have fences. Illegals get over the fence with ladders or under it with tunnels. The same measures would work against a wall just as well.

    3) Drugs smuggled across the border mostly come hidden inside vehicles that go through official ports of entry. A wall would not stop these drugs.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I don’t know enough about the drug trade to speak to 3, but 1 and 2 have standard answers.

      1. Visa overstays are a problem and need to be dealt with, but unlike border crossings there isn’t a “permanent” way to deal with them. Policy changes on how visas are granted or increased resources to deport people who overstay their visas can be quietly rolled back by future administrations; you can’t quietly demolish thousands of miles of steel barriers. Even a smaller, more poorly funded border security force in the future will be aided by a wall but changed visa policies can simply be ignored or changed back.

      2. The fencing you’re talking about on the US-Mexico border has already led to a large, seemingly permanent, reduction in illegal border crossings. Other countries with walls across their entire borders have seen illegal crossing drop by as much as 99%. Extending and upgrading the existing barriers along our southern border will almost certainly reduce the ease of illegal immigration, and do so in a way which is hard for future administrations to roll back.

    • WashedOut says:

      I’ll have a go, for argument’s sake.

      1) Most illegal immigrants arrive legally and then stay longer than they’re supposed to. A wall would do nothing to stop these people.

      But it might stop their friends and families who are unable to obtain legal entry, and the wall still serves as a visual representation of the idea “you have to enter this country in an approved way, or not at all.”

      Part of the incentive for legal immigrants to overstay is that life is better/easier in the US than back home. If the deal is that Mexico will pay for the wall in return for foreign aid, AND assuming that foreign aid gets to where it needs to go (I know, I know) then to the extent that foreign aid improves the life of the marginal Mexican relative to the life of the Mexican living and working in the US, their incentive to stay will be reduced.

      2) As for people who do cross the border illegally, the high-traffic areas already have fences. Illegals get over the fence with ladders or under it with tunnels. The same measures would work against a wall just as well.

      Not ‘just as well’. The wall increases the cost of crossing the border, in many cases prohibitively. Having to erect enormous ladders or wall-scaling equipment or excavating tunnels is time consuming and dangerous, which regulates the flow of illegals by filtering out those who cannot bear these costs. It’s also easier to detect these activities vs. someone just walking through no-man’s land.

      3) Drugs smuggled across the border mostly come hidden inside vehicles that go through official ports of entry. A wall would not stop these drugs.

      You can’t keep drugs out of a federal prison, and in prison they check your ass. So yes, the drug argument is one of the hardest to make.

    • Dack says:

      The power of trivial inconveniences.

    • John Schilling says:

      Aside from the bit where many of the wall’s supporters either don’t understand or don’t agree with the factual assertions you make regarding the wall’s impotence:

      It’s a symbol. Symbols matter, particularly in politics.

      The wall would symbol an enduring American commitment to border security, making it something almost literally carved in stone rather than a fickle matter for politicians to change their minds about every other year.

      It would symbolize, to prospective immigrants, that they are not welcome here. Well, at least so long as they aren’t receiving letters and care packages from their relatives in the US saying that once you get past the wall it’s all good, nobody really cares.

      It would signal to dissenting politicians that the American people are committed to border security, and that they’d better get with the program – because if they don’t, they’ll be “destroyed” by video clips showing Mexicans with scaling ladders crossing the wall that Trump built and they in their turn have left unpatrolled.

      Most importantly, it is a symbol of the great day when Trump Owned the Libs, proving once and for all that he should win the 2020 presidential election because he is a Winner who can Make Deals and Get Things Done, and not everyone will notice that they are expensive practically useless things.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Most importantly, it is a symbol of the great day when Trump Owned the Libs

        You keep saying this without evidence. It is not true. I am not interested in “owning the libs.” I am interested in fixing the border. There are a million bad things about everything going on there that a wall would do much to alleviate, regardless of the ownage status of the libs.

        • John Schilling says:

          There are a million bad things about everything going on there that a wall would do much to alleviate

          You keep saying this without evidence.

          And you do so in the company of people who take an unsettling amount of pleasure in Owning the Libs, most of them not even disguising their intentions in that regard. If you genuinely are the One Sane Trumpist with a rational argument for enhanced border security, it is long past time for you to start providing actual evidence for a material increase in border security for a wall as weakly patrolled as Trump’s would be under current budgetary constraints.

    • vV_Vv says:

      1) and 3) are correct. 2), while it would be theoretically possible to scale the wall or dig tunnels under it, it would be considerably more difficult than with a fence.

      Other have mentioned the permanence and the symbolic value of the wall. I’ll also had the PR value of avoiding immigrants getting in trouble while they cross, like sick children forced by their parents on extenuating hikes through the desert and then dying in Border Patrol custody. These incidents are rare compared to the number of crossings, but each of them results in the leftist media making noise about Trump murdering children, Trump separating children from their parents, and so on. The wall will put an end to these events.

    • Mustard Tiger says:

      For number 1, you’re right – but the argument is that at least we’ve laid eyes on the overstayers and deemed them safe to let into the country at some point. The wall is supposed to reduce the number of people who come in that nobody vets.

    • Drew says:

      For #1: You can vet tourists.

      You check that the person hasn’t been deported before. Then you check that they have a means of support, and a bunch of social ties that will bring them back home.

      Those people could still overstay, but I care way less about some Mexican Math PhD who overstays a tourist visa than I do about the career criminal who’s already been deported twice.

    • nkurz says:

      1) Most illegal immigrants arrive legally and then stay longer than they’re supposed to. A wall would do nothing to stop these people.

      I’d like to drill down on the claim that “most illegal immigrants arrive legally”. It’s arguably true, but the truth is complicated. I’ll use numbers from 2017 Center for Migration Studies report (which I’m reading for the first time, please correct my errors if I’ve misinterpreted): https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/233150241700500107.

      It’s true that a majority (66%) of recent new illegal immigrants entered the country legally. But it’s also true that a majority (58%) of all undocumented residents currently living in the US arrived illegally. Historically, the majority of illegal immigrants arrived by crossing the border illegally, whereas currently they arrive primarily by legal means and then remain illegally.

      Even today, from Mexico (65%), El Salvador (90%), Guatemala (75%), and Honduras (80%), the majority of new illegal residents still arrive by crossing the border illegally. From Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic it’s about 50% overstay and 50% illegal entry, and from all other countries, the vast majority (99%) enter legally and then overstay.

      What’s happened is that over the last two decades, the rate of new illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America crossing illegally into the US has dropped sharply, and is now about 1/10 of what it was. Part of this is due to stricter border control, and part is do to changing economic conditions reducing the desire to immigrate.

      So what does this imply for a wall? I think it says that a wall may be effective in further reducing the already reduced immigration from Mexico and Central America. It looks like about 200,000 people per year are crossing the border illegally. If we were to assume a $20B wall with perfect effectiveness and a 1 year life, that means we’d be spending $1,000,000 to prevent each of these entries.

      Obviously it would last longer than 1 year, and be less than 100% effective. What’s a justifiable cost? I don’t know. It seems like the bigger question is not what the immediate effect would be, but what the carry-on effects are. Does having a really big wall on our southern border make it more or less likely that the US will have a prospering economy in 20 years? In 100 years? What about for Mexico? Do we care, or are we trying to optimize just for what happens in the US?

    • Deiseach says:

      2) As for people who do cross the border illegally, the high-traffic areas already have fences. Illegals get over the fence with ladders or under it with tunnels. The same measures would work against a wall just as well.

      No rebuttal as such, but I’m interested to know that if the wall is so useless, then why all the objections? “Oh it would be a massive waste of money” – okay yes, but there’s a lot of spending in government budgets that some group says is a massive waste. So you build a big useless wall that doesn’t stop immigration – why does that get the Democrats or the “we should be compassionate and allow anyone who wants to enter to come in, since they are in need” set so hot under the collar? At the worst it’ll be some big government works project and maybe contracts for steel fabrication of the fencing can be steered to American companies instead of overseas, and there will be temporary construction jobs on the border while it’s being put up.

      I can see the objections on symbolic grounds as in “this is why we should pull down Confederate statues” but I don’t get the “the wall would be useless and also would stop the helpless and needy getting through” objections.

      • Baeraad says:

        Because it’s a bit of both (it’s not a very cost-efficient way of keeping people out, and it will nonetheless succeed in keeping a certain number of people out), and people are prone to exaggerating their arguments, especially in heated discussions?

        I would also like to note for the record that I’m against both raising walls for symbolic reasons and pulling down statues for symbolic reasons, because in both cases, the symbolic reason is sticking it to Those Filthy Insert-Noun-Here, which I consider the very worst reason to do anything.

    • Phigment says:

      I’m going to offer an alternate explanation:

      Most wall supporters are keenly aware of the limitations of a wall, but it’s the option least vulnerable to sabotage by political opponents.

      We’ve got immigration laws on the books right now; the last couple decades have been devoted to proving that the biggest challenge to enforcing them is not logistical but political. A large faction of the USA electorate and political class do not want to reduce illegal immigration, they want to ignore or encourage it.

      So, you can pass laws requiring companies to only hire citizens or people with valid work visas, but then those laws won’t get enforced. You can set up agencies to police the border and handle immigration issues, and then the other guys will manage to elect a president who will direct them to ignore any case involving a child, and then you’ll get a surge of border crossers, now with kids in tow. Try to start enforcing again later, and you get various city and state governments deciding that they’re “sanctuaries” where immigration law won’t be enforced. Or you’ll get judges in one region issuing nation-wide injunctions against every attempt you make to accomplish anything.

      Basically, the question isn’t just what method will be the most effective, but what method will be the hardest to undermine when your opponents in various levels and branches of government decide to thwart you.

      A wall is dumb, but if it ever got built, by its nature it’s a very resilient form of dumb. You can’t order a wall to let through photogenic orphans preferentially. It doesn’t (quickly) stop existing if you ignore it; getting rid of it requires actual effort and money to be devoted to the task. You don’t need San Francisco to cooperate for your wall to continue being a wall.

      Lots of things would be more effective than a wall if they were executed well, but good-faith execution is not possible in the current poliical environment. Wall is a plan that theoretically doesn’t depend as much on good-faith execution.

      • EchoChaos says:

        Solid point.

      • CatCube says:

        Without sufficient patrols, the wall isn’t any more effective than any of those. I mean, you can cut your way into a bank vault with dental floss if you have a long time with no interference from the police. Physical barriers are only useful for reinforcing your guard forces–or, the more pithy saying used by military engineers–“Obstacles without overwatch are useless.”

        • hls2003 says:

          Is there any indication that Trump doesn’t want sufficient patrols? I thought the whole fight was about additional wall funding, in addition to regular increases in existing border enforcement funding.

          Even if subsequent administrations can defund patrols, the OP point still remains – they would have to do that. To the extent there’s any political damage in “Pres. Kamala Harris defunds border patrols” headlines, they have to incur it. Moreover, subsequent-subsequent administrations could re-undo it and re-up patrols. If mostly everyone agrees border barriers are force multipliers, then the ability to fully fund patrols (when you have the political ability to do so) is still a useful thing to increase the amount of border security when you’re in control, even if your opponents can render it less useful when they are in control.

          Also, I don’t mean this flippantly, but let’s say hypothetically Trump hypnotizes his opponents and gets his YUGE 30-foot wall from sea to sea. It may be wasteful, it may be environmentally unfriendly, and it’s certainly possible to bypass it, but are its opponents literally arguing that nobody would be deterred, that alternate-wall-world would have identical illegal crossing rates to no-wall-world? That seems to just be the common fallacy of ignoring marginal effects.

  10. hash872 says:

    One of the worst/dumbest aspects of the global populist wave of the last few years, is the rise of the incredibly vague, hand-wavey phrase ‘elites’. It actually makes me slightly physically ill to hear people use this excessively broad term- please be more specific!

    I guess one could throw DC policy-makers, the East Coast media establishment, Wall Street types, and Silicon Valley types into one so broad as to be almost meaningless category called ‘elites’. But- they’re different groups of people, mostly from different backgrounds and with different objectives. It is the ultimate lazy hand waving to call them all ‘elites’ and say that you’re rebelling against them, whether on the right or the left. (And yes, horseshoe theory means that much of the populism on the left & right is indistinguishable these days). What Silicon Valley wants, policy or culturally-wise, does not have much in common with Wall Street, or a wealthy person who runs a manufacturing empire, or healthcare executives- just to compare them to other corporate executives. Much of the DC bureaucracy and ‘deep state’ feels a bit threatened by the raw power of Silicon Valley, which is what many of these Congressional hearings last year were really about (not privacy- no one actually cares). Wall Street is also eyeing Silicon Valley quite warily as well. Nor does Wall Street really have that much in common with the military-industrial complex/’deep state’ in the DC/Virginia/Maryland area. It’s just silly to lump them all together.

    The ‘elites’ concept also leads to extensive hyperventilating (mostly on the right, but also from the Glenn Greenwald left) about what some minor CNN anchor or New York magazine writer said on Twitter or something. These people really don’t have that much cultural power, and with the rise of Fox News/Sinclair/right-wing social media, I don’t think most of the East Coast media establishment has that much influence on how non-leftists think. Like, CNN & MSNBC don’t really have that much power guys. They’re not ‘elites’ and they don’t influence that much of American society. (Though maybe pretending that they do helps the right/GG left stir up their base, I dunno). I looked at Greenwald’s Twitter feed the other day and was just astonished at how a really smart, original thinker can spend so much mental & emotional energy over ‘this guy who wrote two New Yorker articles in 2014 said something kinda neoliberal on Twitter’.

    Elites in American society do exist, but the category is too broad and they are frequently at opposite angles on many issues. Less hyperventilation here would be helpful

    • ilikekittycat says:

      1. The elites have varying backgrounds but come from the same sets of institutions where they learn similar schools of thought and similar decorum, so it’s not a meaningless category. No college/normie state college/elite college background predicts any number of splits in people, even across national borders

      2. The categorization isn’t about the elites directly controlling the debate or what will be said on what issue like the USSR. The elites determine what the spectrum of public debate will be. The spectrum isn’t calicified, they disagree on many things, and it’s possible for the Overton Window to shift over time, and it’s possible for people in the elite class to lose status for being totally dedicated and vocal about something outside the spectrum (it’s true that very few individual elites have real cultural influence in a cult of personality sense.) Nevertheless, the ultimate goal of keeping out bottom-up demands about debating things outside the spectrum from “populist” types is consistently and continually served.

      DC policy-makers, the East Coast media establishment, Wall Street types, and Silicon Valley types have any number of opinions in common, especially about the limits of what you can say about American imperialism and capitalism and [fill in any number of excluded libertarian/right positions people here believe that I cannot adequately express.] What Silicon Valley wants, policy or culturally-wise, has tons in common with Wall Street, or a wealthy person who runs a manufacturing empire, or healthcare executives want, making sure the rules about power and ownership etc. etc. don’t shift so quickly as to leave them suddenly uninfluential and unable to adapt and remain elite, whatever form that next takes. Their debates that exist within the spectrum don’t change that, those are encouraged if anything to make it look like the spectrum is so vigorous and comprehensive that we really don’t need to engage with the bottom-up demands outside of it. The elites don’t really care about Trump, or even Bernie taking power, because neither of them is gonna change the whole structure of privilege and what it means to be elite so radically that most elites won’t survive as powerful – the truly important thing is preventing another Red October, preventing the pre-Roosevelt notion of America’s proper role in the world from coming back, and so on.

      Angry everyday people often make bad criticisms of elites, and oftentimes things that aren’t really indicative of the split between normies and elites go viral as “proof” of something that they’re not, because people frequently don’t understand the political criticisms they make very well, but the core criticism about how the elite consensus perpetuates and serves to promote elites is correct. It’s not about brainwashing any particular person to have the “correct” opinions, but to make sure that there is always another “reasonable, thoughtful” person organically being created to fill a position and who serves the elite consensus out of their own good faith belief in it. So long as you can point to an endless stream of Ezra Kleins and David Frums and Tom Friedmans all with a range of other opinions genuinely agreeing to what is fair game and what is beyond the pale, you never have to refer to what a Noam Chomsky thinks, or what the mass of people think, etc. etc.

      • Aging Loser says:

        Noam Chomsky isn’t anti-elite. He’s the bad cop, Klein/Frum/Friedman (sheez, did you have to list THESE four names?) the good cop. After all, Chomsky’s main shtick is hating America — that serves the Globalist Agenda very well. (The Globalist Agenda is benevolent, in my opinion — its drawback is tedium.)

        • ilikekittycat says:

          The public media image of Chomsky as the “antiwar liberal” who Just Hates America and speaks in spicy 30 second bon mots to own the Republicans definitely exists, and gets used by elites to establish a certain conception of Chomsky that explains why you’ve heard his name and assures you that you don’t have to do any further deep-diving because he’s just the professorial Michael Moore, but is totally separate from the reality of the left-libertarian anarchist who talks dryly for an hour about how we’d be better off with a stateless world of collectivist kibbutzes.

          The kind of hate Chomsky has for America (which is to say, hating any imperial state that wants to establish itself as the World Police Global Hegemon) is the same thing as opposing the Globalist Agenda, because the current globalist paradigm is America+its allies in control of all the nudges and levers of international power that serve to open markets to us, convert ownership to our novel financialized instruments and convert all cultures to something that will desire our commodities and way of life. The multipolar world where America is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all but goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy is the world that preserves national distinctions and particular cultures.

          • The kind of hate Chomsky has for America

            There are problems with basing one’s politics on hate. In Chomsky’s case, it led to him writing apologetics for the most murderous regime of the 20th century.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Yes, this is an excellent description. For the right-wing positions you say you can’t articulate, I’d fill in mass immigration and free trade. Republicans on Fox News and Democrats on MSNBC will scream at each other all they want about abortion or gays or whatever, but they’re all lock-step on mass immigration and free trade. Those are “elite” positions because they enrich the elite and are not shared by the non-elite whom they impoverish.

        • immigration and free trade. Those are “elite” positions because they enrich the elite and are not shared by the non-elite whom they impoverish.

          Why would you expect free trade to benefit the elite and harm the non-elite? Lots of the rural non-elite are in agriculture, which is a major export industry, and all of them are consumers, hence benefit by goods being available at lower prices. Some of them are in import-competing industries–as are some of the elite.

          Mexican immigrants compete with the bottom of the skill/income distribution, which may make some of the non-elite worse off. Chinese and Indian immigrants compete, at least in Silicon Valley, with people who have college degrees, sometimes post-graduate degrees, and would be included in any reasonably broad definition of the elite. Both non-elite and elite get to eat the food harvested by immigrant labor, live in buildings built in part by immigrant construction workers.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Chinese and Indian immigration does compete with the more elite people, which is probably why it is more tightly controlled. We make our higher-level immigrants jump through some crazy hoops.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Why would you expect free trade to benefit the elite and harm the non-elite?

            Experience?

            In the last 20 years of massively increased free trade and immigration, the elites have done well to great and the lower middle class has suffered enormously.

          • Randy M says:

            Lots of the rural non-elite are in agriculture,

            Is this still true? I know small family farms have to a large extent been bought up by a smaller number of large corporations, with increasing automation. I’ll look into how big the agriculture sector is as an employer.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            The common number I’ve heard is 2% of people work in agriculture. You can probably double that when you get to people that work in agri-supporting businesses, like John Deere, maybe even more if you show your work. I’m not sure if that gets to “lots” or not when you look at just blue-collar workers, but I could see it happening.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            Presumably you would need to account for how much of that 4% is in the areas you are reviewing. A quick google search says about 20% of the US population is rural. If all 4% were in rural areas, that’s about 20% of rural populations in agriculture. With a ratio that high, it’s also more reasonable to say that support industries (grocery store, entertainment, etc.) are there because of the agriculture industry.

          • sentientbeings says:

            @EchoChaos

            Experience?

            Or perhaps just your perception, which might or might not accurately reflect either your own or typical experience?

            the lower middle class has suffered enormously

            It is my experience that the majority of homeless people and panhandlers I encounter (about a dozen per weekday) have smart phones – that is, a mobile phone and internet-connected computer more powerful than the best pair of either available to the top 1% of income earners world-wide twenty years ago.

            Those folks would not have those phones but for global trade. It seems implausible to me that you could find a standard by which your statement is correct.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @sentientbeings

            I am an upper class white collar professional. Globalism has been fantastic for me. I am also on the board of elders of a blue collar lower-class white and Hispanic church. Globalism has been brutal for them.

            Here is a source, by the way.

            http://wws.princeton.edu/faculty-research/research/item/rising-morbidity-and-mortality-midlife-among-white-non-hispanic

            If rising morbidity and mortality isn’t “getting worse” then we have very different definitions.

            Also “The high death rates also coincide with self-reported declines in health, mental health and the ability to cope with daily living among middle-aged whites over this same period”

            That is getting worse by any reasonable definition.

          • sentientbeings says:

            @EchoChaos

            In your reply, you cite an article dealing with mortality figures for white, non-Hispanic men and women in the United States over a recent period and conclude that it demonstrates

            That is getting worse by any reasonable definition.

            Both of those are separate from the statement with which I took issue, which was that

            the lower middle class has suffered enormously

            due to international trade.

            White non-Hispanics in the United States, while probably representing a plurality of “lower middle class,” also represent a plurality or majority for other income groups in the US, including the high-end. Overall, they do better than average, though not as well as some demographic groups. The group doesn’t strike me as a valid representation of “lower middle class” for your point.

            Beyond that, decline in one measure of welfare does not represent a net decline in well-being. Wealthier countries tend to have higher rates of obesity for a variety of reasons; that doesn’t mean that the increased wealth and behavioral changes that facilitate higher obesity rates reflect having “suffered enormously.”

            Nor do I see any causal link between trade and increased mortality for white Americans. Do you know of one? As noted in the article, the effect was not seen in other developed countries. I also saw that the article suggested (and I’ve seen it suggested elsewhere) that the decline is largely attributable to an increase in suicides and drug-related deaths. Where is the trade link, and why does it apply only to the one group in one country?

            Beyond that, why do you attribute the recent decline to trade, but not the many decades (centuries?) of improved mortality rates to more open trade? I’m open to evidence or theory.

          • EchoChaos says:

            White Americans (and long-term Hispanic residents) are the majority of workers in heavy industry where the largest amount of NAFTA caused job losses occurred, and losing your job creates a crisis of purpose. In addition, the opioids in question mostly come hidden in legitimate shipping, which a massive increase in trade has made more difficult to stop.

            I understand that there is a lot to “well being”, but “self-reported declines in health, mental health and the ability to cope with daily living” is pretty clearly worse.

          • Plumber says:

            @sentientbeings

            “….It is my experience that the majority of homeless people and panhandlers I encounter (about a dozen per weekday) have smart phones – that is, a mobile phone and internet-connected computer more powerful than the best pair of either available to the top 1% of income earners world-wide twenty years ago….”

            And it is my experience that they’re far more
            Visibly homeless now than 20 years ago (all the tents, tarps, and sleeping bags).

            Urban camping, but with fancy phones doesn’t seem like an improvement to me.

          • sentientbeings says:

            @Plumber

            I don’t know whether visibility or actual numbers for homelessness or begging have gone up or down. My point is that there is a visible sign of a type of wealth that would be impossible for such a person to have without global trade.

            Homelessness in the United States, on the other hand, has much less to do with international trade conditions than it does local economic conditions and government policies.

            EchoChaos didn’t address why selecting one (briefly) negative-trending metric for one segment of one demographic in one country supports his case, while the same source of evidence doesn’t show it happening to other members of “lower middle class” in the country, or at other times, or to the corresponding demographic in other countries, despite the fact that they have also experienced trade liberalization.

            In fact, even his drug smuggling example doesn’t play unless his prescription is, in fact, to restrict trade generally as opposed to “free” trade. What I infer from that is that he views exchange as something like a zero-sum game and possibly that he has conferred agency to collective entities. The same fundamental advantages from trade exist whether partners are at distance of 12 inches or 12,000 miles. In fact, I can think of a reason the long-distance trades would tend to be “better” once transaction costs get low enough, which is exactly what a global trade network free of tariffs facilitates.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think the homeless people living on the street[1] are overwhelmingly people with long-term untreated mental illnesses and/or addiction problems, who are on the streets because we stopped institutionalizing them and stopped having the police ensure that public parks, libraries, etc., are functional public spaces. I don’t think this has much to do with immigration or trade policy at all.

            [1] As opposed to the short-term homeless guy crashing on a friend’s couch or something.

          • sentientbeings says:

            @albatross11

            Yeah, I think that’s correct for homelessness. Somewhat less so for panhandling generally. I mentioned government policies simply because they tend to make it next to impossible to employ people in that position even as a charity case.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            I was under the impression that most panhandlers did so professionally and ruin it for the minority that legitimately need help.

          • John Schilling says:

            My point is that there is a visible sign of a type of wealth that would be impossible for such a person to have without global trade.

            Plumber’s point is that twenty years ago, that person may well have had a factory job, a house, a car, a wife and two kids, clean clothes, indoor plumbing, dignity, respect, and at least a landline telephone and a color TV and a library card for infotainment access. Now the glories and wonder of “global trade” have taken all that away from him, and here you are telling him that he should be on the whole grateful for this, because for all the things global trade took away, it gave him a shiny new iPhone in exchange.

            Well, OK, probably a cheap used android. But that’s still way better than all that other stuff, right?

            Try it sometime. Spend a month with an iPhone and unlimited data, the clothes on your back, and say $5/day for literally everything else. Or stop telling people that, so long as they have an iPhone, you’re going to judge their lives improved no matter what else has been done to them or taken from them.

          • J Mann says:

            @JohnShilling – I’d definitely rather be a working class plumber or factory worker in 1970 than homeless today. I think I’d rather be homeless today than homeless in 1970, but maybe the existence of super-rich and hedonistic adjustment would still leave me less happy, it’s hard to say.

            I guess the question is what slice of the economy is lower middle class and destitute over the last 60 years – my rough perception is that (a) the poorest two quartiles are holding relatively steady by measured consumption and their non-measured consumption is probably improved somewhat, (b) everybody else is improving a little over their past counterparts, and (c) as you move up the curve, the improvements increase substantially.

          • brad says:

            It’s amazing to me that after all these decades of life, it turns out that the conservatives that screamed about the commies so long and so loudly were socialists all along. They just didn’t know it yet.

            No one and nothing took anything away from the guy that used to work in a factory. For a time he traded for value for value and then some time later it turned out that he didn’t have value to trade any more. He is not owed even one half penny more than a person that’s not ever worked a day in his life. All those years of voting for people that shit all over “welfare queens” and now that’s exactly what he is. Even worse really, because he thinks he deserves to cut the line. Actually even worst than that, he wants to force everyone to pretend that he doesn’t have his hand out (he does).

            He gets to vote, and we all see the unfortunate consequences, but I for one will never, ever, play his little game. Let the heavens fall, I’m not pretending he’s adding value when all he wants to do is flip the board because he’s losing. He should thought about how losers in the game were treated when he was winning.

          • Randy M says:

            it turns out that the conservatives that screamed about the commies so long and so loudly were socialists all along.

            It’s amazing how much we are lectured about outgroup homogeneity when it comes to the left, then you turn around and conflate communist and socialist.

          • John Schilling says:

            It’s not at all amazing to me that as soon as I pick at the claim, “the precariat aren’t suffering because see, they have iPhones, and no one who has an iPhone cannot claim that his life has improved!”, there emerges instead the claim that the precariat deserves to suffer, because they didn’t learn to code when they had the chance or didn’t establish an expansive welfare state when they had the chance or whatever. That we owe them nothing, and that anyone who even notes that they are a suffering must be some sort of hypocritical commie socialist.

            It doesn’t amaze me, and it doesn’t disappoint me, because it’s exactly what I expected. Opinion of humanity: properly calibrated.

          • brad says:

            have taken all that away from him,

            If you don’t mean it, don’t say it.

            No one and nothing took anything away from him.

            And yes, we owe them nothing more than we owe anyone else. A very selective empathy for a slice of the poor doesn’t make you some kind of saint.

          • albatross11 says:

            Wanting to impose protectionist barriers and limit immigration are neither one defining features of socialists or communists.

          • sentientbeings says:

            @John Schilling

            Or stop telling people that, so long as they have an iPhone, you’re going to judge their lives improved no matter what else has been done to them or taken from them.

            I didn’t.

            “the precariat aren’t suffering because see, they have iPhones, and no one who has an iPhone cannot claim that his life has improved!”, there emerges instead the claim that the precariat deserves to suffer

            Where did anyone claim that?

            The phone provides an example of an incredible piece of technology offered at a price that even people without means can meet, and the technology can only exist at that price because of the benefits of markets and international trade. There are, of course, many other examples.

            No one example necessarily offsets sudden unemployment “caused” by competition with a foreign firm, but brad’s response addresses that. Companies fail. Industries change. That’s true with or without international trade. The only way to “protect” people from the threat of structural unemployment is to impede competition generally – trade is just one piece of it. Doing so by government edict, by constructing barriers to entry or implementing protectionist policies, just means that everyone else is impoverished.

    • SamChevre says:

      I think my point of view is almost opposite of yours: I think a definition of “elites” that includes “DC policy-makers, the East Coast media establishment, Wall Street types, and Silicon Valley types” is a useful grouping for mapping the world.

      This group overwhelmingly went to the same 10 colleges (maybe 20–Ivies plus the elite liberal arts colleges plus Stanford), and overwhelmingly is insulated from the difficulties of Detroit, Appalachia, the ranching country of the West, and the farming country of the Midwest. It overwhelmingly is in the “blue family” portion of the “red family, blue family” dichotomy. (That’s the best red-blue dichotomy I have seen.) Sure, there are inter-group quarrels–but none of these people are openly, virulently opposed to two-income families, or to divorce, or to treating homosexuality as OK in public, or to large-scale immigration.

      • brad says:

        In my experience many of these people came from the Midwest (especially Ohio for some reason). Fewer, but still significant numbers of them, came from the south, including Appalachia. Can’t say I’ve met too many from ranching country or Detroit. Also, at least on Wall Street and in SV, there’s also plenty of people from Bangalore and Shanghai.

        • SamChevre says:

          Yes, definitely some of us (and I’d count myself to be in the group “elite”, if only barely) come from Appalachia: I do. But the difficulties of Appalachia aren’t mine; I grew up there, I have family and friends there, but I don’t get directly worse off if the local mill closes.

          • brad says:

            If that’s all you mean it seems like a pretty pointless criteria. People living in Appalachia don’t get directly worse off when rents go up in the Bronx or for that matter when a meat packing plant in Iowa closes.

      • acymetric says:

        Are people who went to Stanford part of the East Coast Media establishment?

        Apologies if this is too snarky, but I’m not sure I had seen that term before, and it seems weird to see Stanford grads as am implied part of it.

        • hash872 says:

          I mean, it’s a fair criticism that most of the influential/culturally important media companies are located in New York and DC. Where individuals who work there grew up or went to college I think is kinda irrelevant. Just like how movies are generally made in SoCal & tech companies in the Bay Area, etc.

          I’m a born, raised and present New Englander, and I have to say in my brief forays in life to the West Coast, I was bit taken aback at hearing ‘East Coast whatever’ used as a slur or derogatory term. I didn’t realize there was any hostility there. To be 100% honest, we certainly use ‘Southern whatever’ as a slur, and look down on the South in general. It seems like everyone in New England knows the plot of Deliverance & uses it (jokes about banjos, etc.) to mock the South

    • Plumber says:

      @hash872,

      I think the gnashing of teeth about “elites” is great (as long as there’s some actual leveling involved).

      There’s “elite” cameramen, waitresses, and welders, but usually what’s meant is an economic and a political elite, though sometimes (more darkly) a “social elite” meaning ‘people with viewpoints that are in the minority’ is meant.

      A very narrow ‘political elite’ would be the Supreme Court Justices, and a narrow ‘economic elite’ would be billionaires, more broadly anyone with above median education and income who doesn’t have to do heavy lifting qualifies.

      I’m part of the proletariat and my wife is part of the bourgeoisie, and had she staid the extra year at law school she’d probably qualify as “elite”, as it was I enjoyed reading her alumni magazines until they cut her off for not donating.

      • Aging Loser says:

        Plumber, it seems to me that if you’re proletarian then your wife is proletarian. But I see skilled tradesmen as nobility, not a section of any proletariat: the difference between skilled tradesmen, who hold themselves proudly erect and converse with dignity and evident wisdom, and “students” aiming for “business” and “communications” credentials (in other words aiming to perform roles that would have been performed by slaves in the Ancient World) not to mention their bug-like “teachers” (such as me) is profound and obvious.

        • eyeballfrog says:

          Is that nobility in the sense of the aristocracy or in the sense of noble savages?

        • anonymousskimmer says:

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

          Other than that I was of the opinion that actual wives generally inherited their husband’s status, but the reverse was not true.

        • Plumber says:

          @Aging Loser

          “Plumber, it seems to me that if you’re proletarian then your wife is proletarian. But I see skilled tradesmen as nobility, not a section of any proletariat… “

          That’s very kind, but I don’t own the tools I use to make my living, I suppose I own my skills, but most everyone who’s worked a day has some, somewhere I have a document that show’s that I completed an apprenticeship as a plumber but only my Union and some government entities recognize that whereas my wife’s college diploma that she owns is recognized more, and if she hadn’t dropped out of law school that would’ve clinched her status, but she has money (admittedly some that I gave her over the years) with which she bought property, and unlike her I don’t save money to invest (I just hand it over to her).
          She lives off her saving, investments and the wages from my labor, I just live off the part of my wages that I keep for gasoline and corned beef sandwices.

    • Hoopdawg says:

      I don’t see the problem, but that’s perhaps because I simply oppose people having any privileges or power over other people, and your description seems to boil down to precisely that. If I complained about murder, would you also protest that I’m imprecise because each murderer is a different person with different motivations?

      (Of course there’s no denying that the populist message is often used for selfish, dishonest or simply insane purposes. I just don’t see why it should affect our semantics. Especially since this happens to all political and social messages.)

      Also, I would just like to point out that if we put all the things you mentioned together, the term is still much less broad or vague than “the 1%”.

      • eyeballfrog says:

        I simply oppose people having any privileges or power over other people

        Isn’t this inevitable for any sort of collective action? If you want a lot of people to work together, you need to be able to punish defectors.

      • I don’t see the problem, but that’s perhaps because I simply oppose people having any privileges or power over other people

        I don’t think “elite” implies an individual with power in any direct sense–the ability to give orders that he can compel others to obey.

        Consider H.L.Mencken, who was described by Walter Lippman as “the most powerful personal influence on this whole generation of educated people.” He had no direct power, but a great deal of power in a different sense.

        I don’t see how you can avoid some people having power over others in that sense.

        • Mr. Doolittle says:

          There also appears to be an aspect of insulation from the problems of the…whatever we’re calling the non-elites in this paradigm. Insulation from high crime areas, insulation from poverty (especially true poverty), insulation from low-level consequences of their actions, etc.

          This is not a “can get away with anything” kind of group, as that would be a Hard power. Instead, it’s a more subtle softness to their interactions with people and environment. I believe that’s at the core of the Progressive meaning of Privilege.

    • Erusian says:

      “Elites”, as in coastal elites, is a more critical way of saying upper-middle-class to upper-class professionals. They’re roughly 5% of the population and control something like 90% of the national wealth and make incomes that are, at a minimum, twice the average national income by their mid twenties. They are a hugely disproportionate amount of the staff of places like Congress or the CEO’s office at Facebook. They have similar habits, preferences, politics, and attitudes, which they tend to form through elite schooling or by conformism within institutions themselves. They tend to concentrate in specific cities and neighborhoods within those cities. They tend to have cultural shibboleths that exclude people not like them. They are also a relatively new group, having pulled ahead within the last few decades.

      On both the left and the right there is a feeling these people are solidifying into an aristocracy or at least a gentry. There’s a feeling they are pursuing their narrow class interests. And most critically, there is a feeling that they do not have the legitimacy to do so.

      You’re right that mainstream Republicans are more critical of them than mainstream Democrats. That’s because they are mostly mainstream Democrats. But Leftists who are dissatisfied with the Democratic mainstream tend to be upset with how the Democratic party is increasingly catering to this group’s interests. Catering to them precludes anything truly revolutionary and sometimes hurts other constituencies.

      • Erusian says:

        I agree with most of what you said, except it’s not the 1% sneering at the 5%. It’s the 5% sneering at the 20% or someone from that class (ie, without the proper class markers) making it into their income bracket. To be really specific (it varies from year to year), I’d say in 2017 that group was about the top 6%.

        Basically, you say it’s only doctors and high powered lawyers (the 1%, whose households make an average of $435,000 per year). I say it’s almost anyone who graduated from an elite school and went on to a successful professional career (most of the 6%, whose households make an average of $220,000 per year).

        Put another way, I’m talking about a group with an average household income three times average. You’re saying it’s the group with seven times the average income. But the disunion really starts around 94%. At that level, incomes begin increasing more rapidly. The rate of change accelerates. There’s effectively a statistical gap there. And one that can’t be explained by the hyperwealthy, who all live in the 1%.

        • Erusian says:

          If we’re getting really specific, I’d say you do have to be born into it, as seen by the fact you were accomplished even in the beginning of life. As a teenager you need to be already going to the ‘right’ schools etc. But yes, it’s not just an income thing. There are definitely people that high up who aren’t part of that group.

          They’re generally looked down as parvenus (McMansions, as you said).

        • Plumber says:

          Any definition of “elite” that’s less than 50% of the population is validm

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        What do you think of this article in the Atlantic: The 9.9 Percent Is the New American Aristocracy?

        • Nick says:

          There’s been a lot of good discussion the past few months about the “new aristocracy.” See Ross’s stuff I linked @Plumber last thread and Helen Andrew’s old piece in The Hedgehog Review.

        • Erusian says:

          I suspect they chose 9.9% more for the roundness of the number than statistical accuracy. I doubt they would seriously object if I said, “It’s not the top 9.9%, it’s actually the 4.9-7.9%.” Also, I think aristocracy is slightly overselling it. I see them more as gentry from which aristocracy/nobility like Zuckerburg or Obama emerge. Their children tend to sink back into the gentry again.

          The other thing is that this gentry does not encompass the entire elite class. That’s a huge issue that I think is driving a lot of our politics. The Republicans are increasingly attracting members of the non-gentry elite who are becoming aware of their status as a lumpenelite.
          People who have money, influence, or power but didn’t come from the right backgrounds or gain it through the right institutions. People whose money and power come from unhip areas or ‘problematic’ industries. These people have powerbases the gentry do not understand and are often seen as more legitimate by their followers than gentry or national elites.

        • baconbits9 says:

          This piece makes the same mistakes that dozens of the anti-inequality pieces have made. It assumes that income and wealth deciles are static and that the people in it now are the same as last year and next year.

          link text

          12% of Americans will spend 1 year + in the “1%” of income, 39% will spend a year in the top 5%, and 73% will spend a year or more in the top 20%.

          This isn’t an aristocracy.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      My, rather limited, personal experience backs what other people are saying here.

      When populists talk about elites, we aren’t talking about just the Soros or Rockefeller families but also about the kind of people who can plausibly run into a Soros or a Rockefeller at a social event without getting tackled by a bodyguard. The sort of people who write the policy white papers or give the elevator pitches that eventually determine the laws and customs the rest of the country has to live by.

      For example, I’m a schmuck from a long line of schmucks going back for generations. But because of my graduate school and the hospital my lab is in, I’ve been at more than a few events with 0.1%ers in attendance. They probably wouldn’t want to talk to an underdressed PhD student, although I didn’t test it to find out, but they seemed happy to talk to the big-name doctors and professors. And we’re not talking Nobelists or anything, just people who might be well-known in their fields but are on a first name basis with myself and most of the other grad students.

      If you know someone who knows someone who knows a Soros or an Arab prince, you’re part of the elite. Even if you yourself aren’t rich or famous, you have a degree of access which is extraordinarily valuable. It’s soft power but it’s very real.

      • ana53294 says:

        I think access to power is overrated. I think knowing what to do with it, and having the confidence to approach them matters.

        Maybe because America is an immigrant’s country, and people move constantly from state to state, access becomes harder. But in the Basque country, Basque people with local surnames have extended families that are all residing in one place, so some of them end up being influential.

        Such an access doesn’t amount to much. What matters is frequent contact with that person. Going to church with them; seeing them in the pub, being in the same PTA… Establishing a relationship with power, and getting close to them. But then, let’s say you are friends with an important politician. What do you do with it?

    • AlesZiegler says:

      I agree that framing of political conflict as People vs. Elites is overused. But I also think there are certain issues where majority of voters supports some policy which majority of elites opposess. If then elite position prevails,I would say we really have example of elites blocking popular will.

      I also think that power of the elites in liberal democracies is strongly connected with anti-majoritarian elements of their constitutions. Anti-majoritarian elements build status quo bias into political process, which is good for elites.

      Brexit is happening against the will of British elites partly because those are weaker than elites in other EU countries, and British constitution is perhaps most majoritarian from all constitutions of EU members.

      Btw. I am not a fan of Brexit and thus am forced to conclude that elite power is sometimes a good thing.

      • albatross11 says:

        It’s interesting to think about qualifying the term “elites.” For example, elites in politics tend to be more-or-less immune to consequences for failures–they can almost only fail upwards. Elites in terms of business tend to have great gobs of money and very little free time for anything but managing their business. (So they often “write” op-eds or books alongside ghostwriters who do all the actual writing.)

        ISTM that there is a common shared worldview that appeals more to the people at the top of business, academia, government, finance and media than it does to most other people. Some of that is shared culture, some is similar educational background, and a lot is similar incentives.

        • AlesZiegler says:

          I would say that for something to count as “elite consensus”, you need alingment of political, business and “cultural” elites. There are other powerful elites, like legal, diplomatic and in some countries military, but they do not have to be part of prevailing elite consensus.

          I however do not think that US political elites are immune from consequences of their failures. It is pretty much definition of liberal democracy that elites are responsible for consequences of their actions. Sure, they could get away with more than normal person, but they cannot go on and terrorize serfs with impunity, like in some other political systems.

    • gbdub says:

      Is “elite” any more vague and overbroad than “capitalists”, “the rich”, “the bourgeoisie”, “the privileged”, “the patriarchy”?

      I mean, if you’re gonna be a populist it’s almost a tautology that you have to have a defined powerful minority that you are fighting against. Letting this definition be somewhat vague is inevitable, as you try to fit all your opponents into that box.

      FWIW to the extent there is a useful version of “elites” I think it maps pretty well to Scott’s original formulation of the “Blue Tribe”.

      As for cultural power, I find a useful heuristic for whose bubble you’re in is “can I make an insulting joke about the sitting president and fully expect everyone in the room to laugh”. Despite living in a state that voted for Trump, and growing up exclusively in counties that voted for Bush, Dole, and Bush, the amount of time I spend in an anti-Trump (and pro-Obama, anti-Bush before that) is surprisingly high, mostly as a result of my whole social circle being upper-middle class and college educated.

      It’s not so much that MSNBC has influence over everyone, including conservatives. It’s that it can feel like they (or people who agree with them) have influence over all the people with harder forms of power.

      • Aapje says:

        Exactly, at the core it is a culture with quite a few shared norms & values that another culture considers harmful to themselves (and vice versa, but the former culture tends to have power).

      • “Capitalist”/”bourgeoisie” isn’t vague at all. It is easy to rigorously extrapolate from the categories of classical political economy.

        A “capitalist” is someone for whom the largest (plurality) percentage of their expected lifetime earnings comes from capital (profit, dividends, interest, and capital gains). This can be further subdivided: if a plurality of their income comes from capital gains, that person is effectively a merchant capitalist. If a plurality of their income comes from dividends + interest, that person is a financial capitalist. If a plurality of their income comes from profits, that person is an industrial or “commercial” capitalist.

        If a person hoards inherited money but does not invest it as capital to obtain an income, and instead gradually draws on it for living expenses, then that person is not a capitalist, but instead a miser. Or, if a person becomes “wealthy” (as colloquially defined) through, say, wage income, but does not invest that money as capital, then that person is both a proletarian and a miser, not a capitalist.

        If a plurality of a person’s expected lifetime income comes from rents, that person is effectively a rentier, or “landlord” if those rents are on land.

        If a plurality, but not a majority of a person’s expected lifetime income comes from wages or salary, then that person is a small capitalist (“petty-bourgeois”).

        If a majority of a person’s expected lifetime income comes from wages or salary, but that person is paid handsomely in order to purchase their allegiance to working as a direct enforcer onto others of the wills of capitalists or landlords, then that person is a labor aristocrat. This could include, for example, managers, CEOs, police, and corrupt politicians who are rewarded handsomely for being the direct servants of the interests of financial capitalist shareholders (assuming that such CEOs are only paid in salaries not contingent on their companies (if they are paid mostly in company stock, then they are capitalists) and assuming that they do not then accumulate capital income to dwarf their initial salaries).

        If a majority of a person’s expected lifetime income comes from wages or salary, and that person is not an enforcer onto others of the wills of capitalists and/or landlords, then that person is a proletarian.

  11. Winja says:

    Hey, which one of you has been trolling the tinfoil hat crowd?

    A couple weeks ago I stumbled down a crazy conspiracy internet rabbit hole and found the following link:

    ellacruz.org/2018/10/29/martial-law-jenga/

    In that page, there’s an embedded PDF, purportedly containing classified information, about a nefarious plot to undermine American culture by breaking up the US and placing people with certain personality traits into leadership positions.

    The document contains a short list of people who they want to harvest genes from, and on that list is Scott Alexander, Elizier Yudkowsky, and The Last Psychiatrist.

    The website attempts to do a breakdown on the document and it’s super-duper-flooper crazy pants.

    Oddly enough, despite having claims to all sorts of esoteric knowledge about various conspiracy theories, the author is evidently completely unfamiliar with Scott, Elizier, or TLP, and couldn’t be bothered to Google their names.

    Oh, also, warning to Scott, evidently after your genes are harvested, they don’t have a problem “eliminating” you.

    • Douglas says:

      That is one of the most random things I’ve seen in a while.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Yeah, that was pretty weird.

      I checked out the site to see if the rest of it was like that, but it seems to be pretty standard right-wing conspiracy theories.

      There was one article I thought had to be a joke, saying that John Podesta was kidnapping black babies because black people had “creamier” pineal hormones and Podesta extracts babies’ pineal hormones as a pasta sauce (or something?). But it looks like enough parts of this are standard in the conspiracy theory world that I think it might be serious.

      • Winja says:

        What do you make of the document embedded in the article?

        I assumed it must have been something that got ginned up as some sort of exercise or joke or something by someone around here, and then somehow got picked up by that website and thrown into the pile with all of the other conspiracy puzzle pieces.

        You haven’t happened to notice any syringe-toting MIBs around looking to steal your essence, have you?

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      It wasn’t me, but this is amazing and I love it

      • Winja says:

        It’s just wonderfully nuts, isn’t it?

        I mean, even by the standards of conspiracy theorists, it’s Crazyville.

    • Deiseach says:

      I have to say, “the creation of a series of micro-states under control of leaders engineered for philosophical strength” was not something I was expecting to read.

      They are coming for your precious bodily fluids!

      • onyomi says:

        “the creation of a series of micro-states under control of leaders engineered for philosophical strength”

        This sounds like a great idea, though! If there isn’t really a conspiracy to do it, can we start one?

  12. Ryan Beren says:

    (Poll) “2020 US Presidential primaries, all parties combined”: https://voteupapp.com/shared/SJ1Iq_GmE

    The voting method in the U.S. is very broken. IMO the biggest way I can help change that is to share polls showing off better voting methods. This one is super-easy to use and to understand. Help me out and try it! Share it if you think it makes sense to use a better voting voting method like this.

    * Give a candidate a score that reflects your true opinion of them.
    * It’s very early so there are a ton of candidates. You’re allowed to skip any if you want.
    * Don’t take the results too seriously because this is NOT A SCIENTIFIC POLL.
    * But do take seriously that this is a surprisingly good and easy way to vote.

    I’ve included almost everyone from Wikipedia’s page on candidates and possible candidates. They’re grouped by party, then by how organized their campaign is, then alphabetically. (Note: I’ve listed Bernie Sanders as an independent since that is how he currently lists himself.)

    This is the first poll I’ve made for the 2020 cycle. Future polls will use other methods that are also widely-liked among voting-method reformers. Any feedback you want to give here will be taken into account. Thanks!

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I really have few opinions at this point. I put a few candidates at 25% and that’s it.

    • silver_swift says:

      Range voting is a terrible voting system for national elections. It gives people a incentive to misrepresent their preferences as you have no incentive to give any candidate a score other than 0% or 100%.

      If everyone is aware of this and votes strategically the voting method reduces to approval voting and if there are people that vote honestly, those votes just count for less.

      • Joseph Greenwood says:

        silver_swift: On a single-scale issue (“more military spending or less military spending”) you can destroy the incentive to vote strategically by precommitting to do what the median voter wants. This may not be what the majority of voters or the mean of voters want, and some might call that anti democratic, but I do not think it actually is.

        Can the same idea be adapted to an election with lots of people competing against each other somehow?

  13. Evan Þ says:

    The other day, I was talking with my uncle, a civil attorney in private practice, about various bail reform proposals. It was a fun conversation, but one thing neither of us really understood was why defendants so often wait so long for trial. I can understand that some cases do demand a lot of on-the-ground investigation or review of documents (that’s one reason my uncle’s civil cases take so long), but I find it hard to believe people are putting multiple days of investigation into every single arrest.

    Or, is it just backlog? But then wouldn’t the time to trial keep getting longer as more cases go into the system than it can process? I haven’t heard of that, but is it the case?

    So – what’s the holdup?

    • acymetric says:

      Cynical answer: Lawyers get paid more when everything in the judicial system takes longer.

      Less cynical answer: Defense tries for long delays in hopes that the witnesses (both police officers and bystanders) will forget details (or the entire event). DAs don’t object because they have a ton on their plate. Judges sometimes object, with mixed results.

      Short answer: Defendants don’t always invoke their right to a speedy trial (sometimes intentionally), and if they do the judge gives a lot of leeway to the prosecutors if they “need more time” for whatever reason, possibly as a response to defense lawyers using delayed trials as a tactic in other cases.

      Edit: Oops, my “short” answer was the longest one. In any case, those are my not-mutually-exclusive answers. I would be interested in input from someone who works in the legal system, my take is that of an outsider who has seen some of the inner workings.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Less cynical answer: Defense tries for long delays in hopes that the witnesses (both police officers and bystanders) will forget details (or the entire event).

        But that can’t be a very major player in the story; otherwise, the alternatives-to-bail projects (like the Bronx Freedom Fund, which our host has previously mentioned favorably) wouldn’t be anywhere near as lauded. Far too often, defendants are forced to stay in jail waiting for trial while their lives are ruined by their absence.

        I hope your “cynical answer” isn’t anywhere near the whole story, either.

        • acymetric says:

          You’re right, my responses mostly apply to people who aren’t behind bars while waiting for trial.

          Although, since I’m already being cynical…

          Incredibly cynical answer: Nobody cares (enough) about people who can’t avoid waiting in jail pending trial. Either they can afford a good lawyer but somehow can’t get out on bail, or they can’t afford a good lawyer and they hang out in jail while their public defender tries their hardest while being overwhelmed.

      • Jmm11 says:

        I was a felony prosecutor for a little more than 8 years. Haven’t practiced in 5 years, so you have a sense of how dated my perspective is.

        Some of the above is very sound observation, though I will clarify some parts.

        It is extremely rare that prosecutors want continuances. We are trained to avoid them. The less cynical answer is the first assumption of prosecution: Your case is getting weaker from the moment you receive it. That concern gets broken out into smaller subsets: if all of your witnesses are police, you are less concerned, but as soon as you have a civilian witness, the possibility of them saying something inconsistent and forgetting important details rises. A further wrinkle: a lot of the witnesses to felonies are transient or wholly uncooperative. You do not want to roll the dice in getting them served with a new trial date.

        That being said, the largest factor is the backlog versus the number of people who want to go to trial, from whatever part of the equation (defendant, prosecutor, defense counsel, judge). The problem is, even for a short trial, it backs up all the other cases by months. In the jurisdiction I worked in, the court would schedule between 8 – 10 cases for trial on a day. One went and the other 9 were continued. At best, that meant a pre-trial hearing the next week and then a trial date at least another 30 days out. So a court that starts having a lot of jury trials will start be the real stress point to the speed of case adjudication.

        I know that many of the public defenders that I worked with would agree this assessment since we would have large discussions all the time about how to speed up the criminal process while not abandoning trials. The consensus was always that the funnel was insurmountable without more personnel in the entire justice system. And the most essential would be more judges, who also happen to be, by far, the most expensive.

    • johan_larson says:

      Here in Canada the Supreme Court recently imposed time limits of 18 months for lower courts and 30 months for higher courts.

      These time limits still sounds very very lenient to me. Imagine having the prospect of a criminal conviction hanging over you for a year and a half. And if you can’t afford bail, you’ll spend that time behind bars. Six months for first trials and one year for appeals would sounds about right to me.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        How does bail work in Canada in practice? Is it actually commonplace for people to remain in custody because a figure has been set for monetary bail but they can’t afford it?

    • herbert herberson says:

      Or, is it just backlog? But then wouldn’t the time to trial keep getting longer as more cases go into the system than it can process? I haven’t heard of that, but is it the case?

      You’re imagining a bathtub with a steady flow, but it’s not steady at all. Sometimes its a torrent, sometimes only a trickle. If the average depth in the bathtub were low, sometimes it would drain entirely during the more trickly periods. If your goal is to maximize the throughput of the drain (and the system as a whole does want this, since drains that go dry routinely will be downsized and/or have more water routed to them), then you’re going to want to keep the average depth of the bathtub higher to avoid this situation. This has costs to the people who have to sit in cages to maintain that higher average depth, but they have no power or influence so it doesn’t matter.

      Even in systems large enough to make in input relatively smoother, the water in the bathtub still makes calendaring and co-ordination easier.

      Also, almost everyone involved wants to give the two sides plenty of time to come to a deal, because that’s easier/cheaper for almost everyone and, again, the costs fall on people with effectively no influence.

      “Why don’t defendants push their counsel to pursue their interests in speedier resolution” sometimes they do, at which point they discover their counsel is only one step above them on the totem pole

    • brad says:

      There are lots of factors, among them: understaffed legal aid offices, underworked judges, and officious prosecutors. If this is a subject of any interest to you I highly recommend going down to your local courthouse and just wandering into a couple of courtrooms. It’ll be eye opening.

    • johan_larson says:

      Do military courts do better? There again the defendants are typically people without any pull, but the DOD is ultimately eating the costs on every side of the process, whether prosecution or defense plus of course the work the defendant isn’t doing.

      • bean says:

        My understanding (which is based on second-hand accounts, not a careful study of the military justice system) is that the military system takes the right to a speedy trial seriously. I’m not sure how much of that is financial and how much is independent evolution or just different drivers. For instance, it’s possible that there’s more slack in the military system because so many of the people have other jobs, so trials can happen more quickly. A check of the Manual for Courts-Martial shows that they usually have 120 days, although they are allowed to delay for the list of reasons you’d expect. I think that in most cases, they don’t need to use the delays.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Doesn’t going to a court-martial in the military already imply guilt and punishment? That is, even if you’re acquitted, your career is over at the very least. And in cases which aren’t so serious, you’re “strongly encouraged” to accept non-judicial punishment?

          • bean says:

            To a first approximation, no. A Court-Martial is a military trial, and going to one is essentially the same as getting charged and tried. It sometimes happens to innocent people, and there is some stigma, but it doesn’t presuppose guilt. It might be more career-ending these days due to the zero-defect mentality the military has, but that’s a rather different issue.

            (And this wasn’t always the case. In the RN, any captain who lost his ship used to be automatically court-martialed, this being essentially the process for conducting an inquiry into the loss of the ship. Most people don’t understand this, which is occasionally annoying when someone treats this kind of court-martial as a criminal one.)

            NJP is a complicated issue, because the military has to function as both government and society, and there are lots of things that the civil government can’t punish that the military has to be able to. There’s a right to appeal to a court-martial in most cases, or to appeal the NJP, and the punishments are strictly limited. So yes, there is a strong encouragement to accept it.

          • Incurian says:

            Doesn’t going to a court-martial in the military already imply guilt and punishment?

            Nope.

            And in cases which aren’t so serious, you’re “strongly encouraged” to accept non-judicial punishment?

            Yep. This is useful when the soldier knows he did wrong and just wants to take his punishment (which is limited in NJP) and get it behind him, though NJP is sometimes used analogously to a plea bargain (i.e. to frighten you with the prospect of a court martial with much bigger potential punishments so that you just give in and take the smaller punishment) as in this Band of Brothers scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMoFlaEcKoM . I don’t think this tends to happen to officers nowadays (they get letters of reprimand which are typically career enders), but it happened to one of my sergeants in 2011. The battalion staff went absolutely bonkers he chose the court martial because they were expecting they could just punish this guy they didn’t like on a pretty flimsy pretext. It didn’t even make it to trial and as far as I know he continued with his career unimpeded.

  14. tmirkovic says:

    Not sure where the right place to post this is.
    For the 2019 SSC survey, I didn’t like a few things about the survey results page that Google generated. So I tried to make another survey results page using the dataset:
    https://datarendered.com/ssc-survey/

    The page has interactive graphs showing the results of each question on the survey. You can also filter the dataset by any field you like, by pressing the filter icon next to the graph of that survey question.

    Hopefully some of you find this useful.

    • Plumber says:

      @tmirkovic,

      That was great!

      Very readable, thanks!

    • Mitch Lindgren says:

      This is awesome, thanks. Much more readable than the Google results.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      It would be nice if the graphs weren’t in red (I’m red-screened currently prior to sleeping). It would also be nice if the pie charts had percentages (perhaps they do, in red font?).

      Other than that it looks nice.

      Scales need to be normalized. Work vs College is particularly ridiculous.

      Responses are truncated in some questions (though seen in full in the filter selection button). E.g. Communists: Ideal

      Other than that it looks nice.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      That’s beautiful. Do you have something that does that automatically, or did you have to put everything in by hand?

      Also, can you send me an email full of a bunch of keywords like SURVEY and DATA VISUALIZATION so that when I do the survey next year I can find you again and talk to you about making the official results page?

    • Chalid says:

      Are the tails truncated for numerical questions? e.g. the highest charitable donation shown is $20K and the highest income shown is $1 million, and I’d have expected the tails on both questions to be much longer.

    • sty_silver says:

      Uhm… it strikes me as odd that the IQ scores all cluster at multiples of 5. I get how that usually happens, but in this case, if you just submit the actual result from your latest test, why should 130 be over six times as likely as 131?

      My default explanation is “people who have never taken a test just estimated what their IQ would be and entered a number that sounded plausible”. Please correct me if there is an obvious other explanation that I missed. I kind of doubt people don’t remember their scores.

      • EchoChaos says:

        It could also be mental rounding from time, e.g. “I remember it was 130-something. I’ll just put 135”

        • sty_silver says:

          I really have a hard time believing that people don’t know their test results exactly

          • johan_larson says:

            Seems plenty believable to me, at least for older people. At 48 I think I know what my GRE scores were for the general test, but I could easily be off by 100 points on the combined total. I can’t remember at all what my score was for the computer science subject test.

          • Plumber says:

            Why would they?

            And where do you get tested anyway?

            How common is it?

    • Deiseach says:

      Excellent work, really makes things stand out – for instance, I note that the readership is generally happy but anxious 🙂

    • ilikekittycat says:

      Weird – only 136 answered Marxist for political affiliation, but there are over 1000 responses on the Communist particular questions about the USSR and What is to be done? Is that right?

      • Guy in TN says:

        There’s lots of non-Marxist socialists out there. Major European parties, people influenced by Sanders, ect.

        I’m one of them.

      • Protagoras says:

        The quiz asked people to answer those questions if they identify “at least somewhat” with a political movement, not merely if it was their primary political identification. So all this tells us is that at least ten times as many people identify at least somewhat with socialism as are outright Marxists, which I don’t find remotely surprising. Glancing at the survey, it looks like about twice as many people identify at least somewhat with libertarianism as chose it for their primary political orientation, while for alt-rightists and social democrats/liberals there seem to be only a few more who identify somewhat than who identify primarily (judging roughly from the graphs; I didn’t bother to look up the raw data). Of course, those who gave either social democrat or liberal as their primary identification were a majority of those in the survey, so it would have been mathematically impossible for there to be even twice as many at least somewhat identifiers as primary identifiers in that case. And to some degree the difference does line up with which orientation is more popular, although the socialists seem to be huge winners over the alt-right types in the dubious category of getting people to kind of identify with their cause but not really.

        • Plumber says:

          @Protagoras

          “…socialists seem to be huge winners over the alt-right types in the dubious category of getting people to kind of identify with their cause but not really”

          You called?

          For me it’s basically “What do those opposed to the policies I support call those policies?”, and since the mid 20th century  policies of the U.S.A. are called “socialistic”, and since the runner-up of the 2016 Democratic Party primary  elections described himself as a “socialist” despite advocating what sound to me only as a mix of the mid 20th century U.S.A. and contemporary Denmark, sure why not just jump in and accept the label since what most mean now is more often Sanders than Avakian?

          When I’ve taken various “political compass” test they’ve labeled me as everything from a “Libertarian Democrat” to a “Left of center authoritarian patriot”, but I’d describe myself (this week) as a “social democrat with populist sympathies and reactionary instincts”.

          As for the Soviet Union I take some of my co-workers who grew up there’s word for it: The guy who left as an adult in 1979 says it was “horrible”, and the younger guys who didn’t leave until after it fell described it as “not that bad”, so it seems to me that it was probably worst from 1918 to ’44 if not ’53 (civil war, invasion and Stalin) and got a bit better after Stalin’s death until under Gorbachev it wasn’t that bad, and then it fell, got worse, then a bit better but still not anyplace I’d want to move to.

          I’ve heard mixed reviews of contemporary Cuba which I’d classify as “Not someplace I’d want to move to but there’s worse places”, and then there’s North Korea which only one person I’ve spoken to who has seen and I’d classify it as “Hellscape”.

      • 10240 says:

        The detailed questions said “If a question is aimed at a certain group – eg libertarians – please answer either if you identified as a libertarian on the earlier political ID question, or if you feel like you are libertarian enough that the question applies to you. Err on the side of answering – I can always break down the data by political ID later if I want.”

      • ilikekittycat says:

        Thanks for your replies. Although it made intuitive sense to me that at least ten times as many people identify with “Socialism” as are outright Marxists since ~2008, the idea that that now holds “at least somewhat” for “Communist” is genuinely shocking to me, even for 2019.

        @GuyinTN – Please do not take my question as exclusionary or uncomradely. I wasn’t making a purity argument, I genuinely thought some part of the numerical results in the computer had gotten messed up because I couldn’t conceive of the results presented. My priors were that calling, say, a Kropotkinite a “Communist” instead of specifically an “anarchist” would make them angry, but I haven’t updated them since the Bush administration.

        • 10240 says:

          Eh, some people didn’t bother to read the questions carefully (in this case that it was for people leaning communist), and enjoy answering questions regardless of whether they apply to them. Approx. half of the people who answered the USSR question were social democratic (as opposed to about a third of the total), and almost all Marxists answered it, but right-wingers are well-represented as well. Thus those who answered the question because they consider themselves at least somewhat communist are perhaps as few as a fourth of those who answered the question.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Thus those who answered the question because they consider themselves at least somewhat communist are perhaps as few as a fourth of those who answered the question.

            I’m not clear how you are arriving at this conclusion. “Communist” wasn’t an option in the political ideology list, so people learning that way could have answered “Marxist” or “social-democratic”. (Which was confounded even more by Scott giving Scandinavian countries as an example, when many on the left view the Nordics not as social-democratic but democratic socialist due to their high levels of state ownership)

            I am one of the people who chose “social democratic” and also answered the USSR question, for these reasons. I can’t explain the right-wing answering the question though, other than as mistakes/lizardmen.

          • 10240 says:

            @Guy in TN , Given that a certain percentage of conservatives, libertarians etc. ignored the “Communist(-leaning) restriction, it’s presumable that a similar proportion of social democrats also ignored the restriction, and would have answered regardless of whether they lean communist. My 25% figure was mistaken, though: I assumed that soc-dems who ignored the restriction would be 1/3 of all answers (the same as the proportion of soc-dems as in the entire survey); but actually far-from-communist answers to the USSR question are a smaller proportion than in the entire survey, as soc-dems and Marxists make up a bigger proportion, so if we assume that the same proportion of soc-dems as other ideologies ignored the restriction, that is only around 20% of the answers to the USSR question. Them soc-dems who answered because they lean communist, together with the Marxists, are around 40%.

            many on the left view the Nordics not as social-democratic but democratic socialist due to their high levels of state ownership

            As far as I understand, originally social democrats actually wanted something pretty similar to communists in terms of end-goal, they just wanted to reach it by gradual, democratic change, rather than revolution. Then the label somehow transformed into meaning a capitalist economy with a high level of welfare and redistribution. Still, I think it should be broad enough to include the Nordics (which, nota bene, also have a significant private economy).

      • Guy in TN says:

        You’re fine. I think the 10-to-1 ratio for communist vs. Marxist is due to a natural trend, where the philosophy-as-a-whole eventually eclipses the people from whom the philosophy originated. Look at how Rothbard and Ayn Rand have virtually disappeared from the libertarian discourse (when was the last time you ran into an Objectivist?). As history moves on, the specifics of what Marx believed grow increasingly irrelevant compared to the movements he (and others as you are aware) created.

        And no one wants to be tied down to (and have to answer for) the ideological missteps and failed predictions of just a guy who lived over a century ago. Its a good strategy to name your ideology after the idea, not the person.

  15. Scott Alexander says:

    Just bought a bunch of PredictIt shares in Joe Biden, since he is leading 12 out of 13 polls, the most heavily-vetted and well-connected politician of the bunch, but only at 15% to win the nomination. Did I make a good choice or not?

    • OutsideContextProblem says:

      Surely 78 is too old to reasonably be sworn in as president? It would also mean a good chance of giving up the incumbency advantage (unless the plan is for him to die at 80, and then have his Veep serve ten years?).

      Baby boomers will have to let go of their death grip of American civilization at some point I hope. It is remarkable though that any of Biden, Clinton, Warren, Sanders or Trump would be the oldest president ever inaugurated in 2021.

      • Deiseach says:

        Surely 78 is too old to reasonably be sworn in as president?

        His health seems to be reasonable for a man of his age, and living to be 82 to the end of his term doesn’t seem unlikely. Running him as a ‘caretaker president’ for one term until the Dems get their act together and pick a decent electable candidate would be a plausible strategy; I’m going by the elections of ‘caretaker popes’ in the past e.g. John XXIII who was elected at the age of 77 and lived to be 82:

        Roncalli was summoned to the final ballot of the conclave at 4:00 pm. He was elected pope at 4:30 pm with a total of 38 votes. After the long pontificate of Pope Pius XII, the cardinals chose a man who – it was presumed because of his advanced age – would be a short-term or “stop-gap” pope. They wished to choose a candidate who would do little during the new pontificate.

        • The Pachyderminator says:

          For those who don’t want to read the wiki article, the joke is that this “stopgap” pope proceeded to convene the Second Vatican Council, which became essentially the defining event of twentieth-century Catholicism and ushered in decades of tumult.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Decades of tumult? For real? I wasn’t born until the 90s so it must have settled by then. When they got it into their damn fool heads to shake things up *mumble* years ago I got fed up enough to stop attending mass – was it similar back in the 60s? From my super-biased perspective, Vatican II was one of the best things to happen to the Church

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Dude, the oldest baby boomers will turn 73 this year (the youngest will turn 55). You’re gonna have to live with us a few more years yet. Bwa ha ha!

    • Walter says:

      I think not, dude is a white guy. I believe that the democrats will go for anything else this year.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I don’t think he has much of a shot. This would be his third attempt at running a campaign and the first two ended with zero impact (’88 he withdrew before the caucuses and ’08 he got trounced in Iowa and dropped out). The odds that he has suddenly figured it out at 76 and can run for months without sinking himself verbally are low, let alone run and beat other candidates.

      • Theodoric says:

        I dunno, considering how the dems are going full-on progressive, Biden might have a shot as the “don’t scare the normies” candidate (eg, tone down things like “abolish ICE” and “let people with penises use the women’s changing room”), and, if he did win the nomination, his opponent would be Donald Trump, and he is not nearly as toxic (rightly or wrongly) as Hillary Clinton.

        • EchoChaos says:

          He’s probably the only somewhat moderate Democrat who has a chance and certainly the only stale pale male who has a chance due to his close association with Obama.

        • baconbits9 says:

          He has had two shots and hasn’t built enough of a following to make it to the New Hampshire primary either time. His policies aren’t the issue, convincing people to vote for him has been the issue. He has a shot if the Trump blowback is of just the right sort where people are tired of the bickering and outrage, but it doesn’t look like that right now. Carter won the nomination in the Nixon aftermath, but Nixon was gone, and the D candidate didn’t have to beat the villain to displace him.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            I think his time as the Obama VP (and the heaps of praise from Obama for him) might help him break out of the mold. He had the smell of Bob Dole on him in 2008 – old, been in politics forever, nothing special. Obama still holds a very high position in the minds of many, and he essentially endorsed Biden for President. He’s likely calming to the crowd that feels the Progressive wing is taking over, while also being supportive enough of that wing to not have them try to tear him apart.

            If I had to pick one candidate from the crowd to win, it would be Biden. That said, it currently looks like the Democrats might be in the same position as the Republicans in 2016. Too many candidates splitting the “normal” votes. If that holds until the primaries, we might see a minority (votes, not race) candidate getting a plurality of very passionately supportive voters. In that case, Biden might turn into the Jeb Bush of this election and get demolished. If the race thins down, I would only expect Biden’s position to improve.

            That all said, I don’t know how to account for his age. He’s incredibly old by electoral standards, but so are several other people likely running against him as well as the current Republican president. I’m leaning towards his age being a minor detriment overall, and a bigger or smaller issue depending on who runs against him.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I don’t see him being VP as solving his issue, his issue is that when people hear him talk they have no real impulse to vote for him. He didn’t get VP by coming in 2nd in the primaries, he got VP after dropping out with 1% of the vote in Iowa because the Obama team didn’t want Hillary as VP (or whatever reason you want). He didn’t earn it by convincing lots of voters which is his major flaw. Dole did far better in the primaries in ’88, and was a top Republican in the 90s. As important was the fact that he was associated with the Republican standoff against Clinton in the mid 90s, which put him on the stage as an adversary to Clinton, Biden hasn’t been in such a conflict to prove himself. His main attributes right now seem to be name recognition and a distance from the current conflicts, the latter has to go away with campaigning and a potential race against Trump.

            One thing about age in politics is that it is far more than just “s/he’s to old for the job” it is also “why are you presidential material now if you weren’t for the last 40 years”. Biden is 75+ and the next primary he wins will be his first despite running twice previously. Dole, who is a good comp, kudos on bringing him up, had a short run in ’80, but in ’88 won 5 contests. That is a significant difference, but he still needed to build his name up just to get trounced in 96 by Clinton (well Clinton/Perot).

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            I certainly wouldn’t argue that he has a lock on the election, primary or general, but of the crowd I put him top three and maybe top single position.

            What Bob Dole never found was a way to break out of the mold that Biden found in 08. Without eight years as VP I would think Biden was insane for trying again. Instead, he can ride the coattails of a very popular Obama presidency (at least in the primaries) and the outright love Obama shows for Biden. His name recognition is probably carrying him more than anything right now, but unlike Clinton (who also rode name recognition almost all the way to the WH), he’s considered a good person and I can’t think of a group that hates him. Even on the right he seems to be mostly respected (person, not his politics obviously).

          • baconbits9 says:

            I disagree with this assessment of Hillary, she certainly used her name recognition early, but she is a shrewd, aggressive, hardworking political operator. She is very good at getting people to actually vote for her, getting more votes than Obama in 2008, Sanders in 2016 and Trump in 2016. She has some obvious and well known flaws, but she still gets people to actually vote for her and still raised huge amounts of money, which are clear skills in politics. Name recognition fades in importance as campaigns go on as other candidates get their name out there.

            Obama coming out and actively campaigning for Biden would be huge for his chances, but I don’t expect that in the primaries. Being Obama’s friend isn’t exactly a compelling reason to vote for him, its a nice reason to vote for him, and politically strong emotions dominate rationality and moderate emotions. Biden inspires moderate emotions and he gets ignored as soon as a candidate who inspires something strong appears on stage.

          • Lillian says:

            That said, it currently looks like the Democrats might be in the same position as the Republicans in 2016. Too many candidates splitting the “normal” votes. If that holds until the primaries, we might see a minority (votes, not race) candidate getting a plurality of very passionately supportive voters. In that case, Biden might turn into the Jeb Bush of this election and get demolished. If the race thins down, I would only expect Biden’s position to improve.

            Democratic primaries assign delegates proportionally rather than winner take all, so it’s difficult for a minority but passionate block to run away away with the primary because the more mainstream candidates have split the vote. If nobody has a majority of the primary votes then nobody will have a majority of the pledged delegates, unless they’ve gotten delegates from candidates who’ve dropped out. Therefore it is entirely possible for the plurality candidate to still lose if all the delegates coalesce around one of the other candidates.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            I consider that a positive. Thanks for clarification!

        • ManyCookies says:

          I dunno, considering how the dems are going full-on progressive

          …Are we? Internet politics =/= IRL politics, I haven’t seen Warren or Harris be particularly woke yet.

          • gbdub says:

            Warren was “woke” back when that meant “Occupy Wall Street” and the term wasn’t particularly mainstream. But that was centuries ago in woke-years.

            Less glibly, she was / is a leading progressive on economic issues but has largely come off as just following the leaders in terms of identity politics / social justice.

      • Deiseach says:

        The odds that he has suddenly figured it out at 76 and can run for months without sinking himself verbally are low, let alone run and beat other candidates.

        Yeah, but with the wide field of candidates popping up now all he reasonably has to do is hang back, let them beat each other into the ground, and then when the last couple are left start the serious campaign. Just look wise and elderstatesman like in the background while all the hair-pulling is going on, do some sympathetic photo-ops like visiting blind one-legged puppy sanctuary, and then in the final stretch go for it (or rather, let his campaign tell him what to do and say and how to do and say it).

        • baconbits9 says:

          This is generally not how presidential primaries work in the US, if you hang back while the others fight the winner of the others is now a big name who has withstood their attacks, has “momentum”, and is a hot story. That is the opposite of what Biden is good against.

          • Deiseach says:

            If people are tired of the whole ruckus around Trump, I think they’ll be looking for a candidate who hasn’t gotten into any fights, who seems like a calming presence. Just show up and be friendly and statesman like. Biden seems like that. I think that would give him an advantage. But it all depends what candidates actually go forward, and if any of the ones currently throwing their hats in the ring are going to stick with it once they’ve done some initial exploration of how their candidacy might be received.

          • baconbits9 says:

            My disagreements here are on two levels. One is that if you are sick of Trump you will want your candidate to be able to beat Trump. You can get Jimmy Carter after Nixon if Nixon is out of the picture, but if you have an ongoing problem with the biker bar down the street you don’t generally go to your easy going friend for help.

            The second one is that the people I note to be most complaining about Trump look more like they are thriving/obsessed with the conflict and not at all going to go Uncle Joe in this election if there is an option that will keep the conflict going. Enough of the moderates who would like to see an end to the Trump situation are moderate Republicans and Independents that their impact will be muted in the the Democratic primary.

          • John Schilling says:

            Enough of the moderates who would like to see an end to the Trump situation are moderate Republicans and Independents that their impact will be muted in the the Democratic primary.

            If there isn’t a strong Republican challenge to Trump next year, where do you imaging the moderate Republicans and Independents will be casting their primary votes?

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            It will be interesting to see the difference between states with Open verses Closed primaries, especially if Trump is running [functionally] unopposed.

          • Theodoric says:

            John Schilling:
            Depending on state law anti-Trump Republicans might be stuck with the Republican primary (eg: I think NY requires party changes a year in advance).

    • rlms says:

      I’m not sure how relevant polls are at this point. IIRC, Obama only announced he was running around this time in 2007, and Trump waited until June. Furthermore, there are various reasons that make an outsider nominee this time more likely.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Polls right now are just noise. They measure name recognition and not much else.

    • Deiseach says:

      If he makes it through to the nomination stage, sure. Right now the Democrats are reminding me of the Republicans in 2016 with everybody deciding “I’ll have a go!” I don’t think Elizabeth Warren will make it through, and I don’t know about Corey Booker (there does seem to be some whiff of past scandal still hanging on to him). There’s another three or four names I’ve heard tossed about. The Wikipedia page has a whole lot of “Who the heck is that?” people throwing their hat in the ring.

      We’re going to see them winnowed down to “possibles” over this year, and Biden has the advantage of the nostalgia over Obama and probably being seen as moderate/centrist. Once all the no-hopers have been shot down (because there is going to be a lot of in-fighting to do down rivals and get internal support, and this will mean the candidates will do all the work of dragging each other down for the Republicans), the field will narrow to a reasonable number and it may well be “the old dog for the hard road”.

      Now, unless some wild card comes along (like Trump did) to blow all the established candidates out of the water, I think you’re okay. Ocasio-Cortez is legally too young for the presidency so she can’t be the kind of wild card for the Democrats. As for First Female Ever, I think Tulsi Gabbard and Kamala Harris would be fighting each other too much for either to get a solid lead (as I said, I don’t think Elizabeth Warren has a chance – she really shot her bolt with that DNA test unprompted error) and I get the impression that there’s a certain amount of dislike about Harris due to decisions she made as Attorney General, plus again a whiff of scandal that she got her start in politics due to being the girlfriend of Mayor Willie Brown who used his influence on her behalf.

      So Biden to be last man standing when the dust settles is not a bad bet.

    • John Schilling says:

      15% seems about right to me. If it weren’t for his age, it would be much higher. He was the VP of the immensely popular (among Democratic primary voters) Barack Obama, and he didn’t conspicuously screw it up. He has an excuse for sitting out 2016, in the death of his son, so he doesn’t have the stink of loserdom on him, and the Democratic base has had time to develop a serious case of buyer’s remorse re Hillary Clinton. They’ll be looking for someone more generally likeable, and if Biden were even ten years younger he’d be the George H. W. Bush of 2020. But at 76 he may not have the energy or the mental flexibility, and he will not have the full trust of voters who are expecting a grueling ten-year commitment.

      He’s a white guy; BFD, so was Bernie Sanders, so is Beto O’Rourke, and the bit where the Democratic electorate is all mindkilled SJWs who count Oppression Points uber alles is just plain wrong.

      He’s up against Kamala Harris, and a couple of fellow geezers without his positives, and a bunch of nobodies and a few popular somebodies who haven’t yet declared and are looking flakier by the day. Looking at the Predictit numbers, I’d say Harris is a bit undervalued and O’Rourke a bit high, but otherwise everything is about where I’d expect it to be.

      • Deiseach says:

        Looking at the Predictit numbers, I’d say Harris is a bit undervalued and O’Rourke a bit high, but otherwise everything is about where I’d expect it to be.

        I agree about O’Rourke, I think a long campaign like the presidential one would expose him. His record is that he was a three-term member of the House of Representatives, which at least means a fair amount of political experience, but as for the rest of it? “I nearly beat Ted Cruz” is not good enough, and if he couldn’t win the Senate seat in Texas how are you gonna win the Presidency, Beto?

        Nearly beating Cruz is good, but not enough. “Nearly” doesn’t count. And he has not much else to run on – him being the progressive option for Texas, how does that scale up for the rest of the country?

        The reason I’m so interested in the US campaign? Because our own election was “yeah Michael D. is going to get the second term, why are the rest of them even bothering?”, the most interesting scandal we had was “did the President spend too much on dog grooming”, and whoever becomes the next President of the US is going to have an effect due to being a global power on us, like it or lump it. So it’s more entertainment than our own recent election plus we do have a stake in the outcome.

        • baconbits9 says:

          I don’t share this view of how politics works, it isn’t accomplishment based in that sense. What were the combined accomplishments of Obama and Hillary in 2008? Accomplishments count because they correlate well with what you have to do to win a campaign, not because people will vote for you because of your experience.

          • Deiseach says:

            What were the combined accomplishments of Obama and Hillary in 2008?

            To be snarky, Obama had the First African-American thing going on very strongly, also well plugged in to the Chicago political scene. I agree about Hillary! That’s why I thought along with all the baggage that she had no real chance in 2016, despite all her insistence on being the best qualified and most experienced, because when you dug down into it there wasn’t a lot of experience there.

            O’Rourke at least has three terms in the House of Representatives, but he doesn’t have “First Ever” and he doesn’t have “Occupant (as spouse) of the White House twice”. Trump was a goddamn fluke, do you think lightning can strike twice like that? I don’t get a sense of anything from him, of any particularly strong policies one way or another, of him being anything other than a garden variety Democrat (that’s fine, that’s okay, nothing wrong there, but nothing to stand out).

            Even this pro-O’Rourke article doesn’t convince me: Criminal justice reform! Legalise soft drugs! Get big money out of politics! Healthcare for all! Immigration is great!

            Can you point me to anything there that is uniquely his own brand?

          • baconbits9 says:

            I don’t think Obama got “First” until people heard him campaigning and said “holy shit, he could win”. He was also going up against a “First”, so I attribute his success to be mostly his personal characteristics, with a little sprinkling of having a die hard base he didn’t have to pander to.

            Trump was a goddamn fluke, do you think lightning can strike twice like that?

            I’m not sure what you mean. Most presidential elections are fluky in some serious way. Bill Clinton had Ross Perot dramatically shift the race, JFK was the youngest ever elected by ~3 years and was Catholic Bush #2 lost the popular vote and won a very contentious and controversial Florida.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Can you point me to anything there that is uniquely his own brand?

            BTW I’m not arguing “O’Rourke is the guy!”, I’m arguing that personality, or force of will, or difficult to explain combination of traits X, Y and Z are the major determining factors and that unless no candidate has those things then experience and accomplishments don’t matter much*. The brand is the person and how they resonate with voters, not he has position X, Y and Z. As long as you aren’t on the fringe policy wise then you can get people to overlook where they disagree with you, because there will be enough overlap with your other positions anyway.

            *outside of the fact that if you have that kind of personality and drive to become president that you will have accomplished something.

        • Uribe says:

          if he couldn’t win the Senate seat in Texas how are you gonna win the Presidency, Beto?

          Keep in mind that Cruz is much more popular in Texas than is Trump. Trump fared very poorly for a Republican in the general election in Texas in 2016 and was demolished by Cruz in the primary. I suspect Beto has a much better chance of beating Trump in Texas than he did of beating Cruz.

          And what other Democrat has a chance of winning Texas in 2020? Castro, maybe.

          • Deiseach says:

            Trump fared very poorly for a Republican in the general election in Texas in 2016 and was demolished by Cruz in the primary

            And yet. Trump is Mr President, Ted is “I beat Beto” and that is being treated less as “you won” and “he nearly won but narrowly lost”. So O’Rourke wins big in Texas – and Clinton won big in California. Having one state that loves the heck out of you is not enough.

        • hnau says:

          Nearly beating Cruz is good, but not enough. “Nearly” doesn’t count.

          I know it’s comparing apples and oranges, but don’t forget that Abraham Lincoln was also a former U.S. Representative best known for “nearly” beating an influential opponent in a Senate race.

        • Don P. says:

          and if he couldn’t win the Senate seat in Texas how are you gonna win the Presidency, Beto?

          A Democrat doesn’t have to win Texas to be elected President. Beto’s proposition is that he narrowed the 2016 R/D gap from 9% to 2%. It may well not translate nationally in 2020 but it’s an argument.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Also, it’s important to note which demographic group he appealed to in order to shrink that gap. If he did better among Hispanics than prior competitors in Texas did, that’s not terribly important nationally, but if he cut heavily into suburban and rural white voters, that’s a big selling point.

            Note: I don’t recall the answer to this for O’Rourke specifically.

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      I would say not – this far out, leading the polls is more about name recognition than anything else, and Biden has obvious advantages there. Nearer the time, as campaigning actually starts, I think that advantage will evaporate. Biden may still be leading then, but the polls now are not strong evidence for that.

    • jgr314 says:

      Do we know the rules that the Democratic party will use for allocating delegates and choosing its candidate? I’ve seen claims that the structure of the process was very important to the emergence of DJT as 2016 Republican party candidate.

    • Guy in TN says:

      Its still very early in the primary season. To give you some perspective, Donald Trump announced his candidacy in June of 2015 (meaning we could have ~5 months before we even learn that the Dem winner is running).

      My take is that, like in 2016, the media is probably over-hyping centrist candidates while under-hyping more anti-establishment ones. I see no indications that the pundits and prognosticators have learned any lessons after getting nearly everything about the previous election wrong. (So yeah, Biden was a bad bet)

      • Guy in TN says:

        Just for fun, here are the top polling candidates for the 2016 Republican Primarily in January 2015 of the previous election cycle.

        From Fox News:
        1. Mitt Romney
        2. Rand Paul
        2. (tied) Mike Huckabee
        4. Jeb Bush
        5. Ben Carson

        Note that none of these candidates would even place in the top three in the final voting results (those would be Trump, Cruz, Kasich).

    • Plumber says:

      @Scott Alexander,

      My late grandmother said voted for Obama in 2008 mostly because she didn’t like “that women” (Palin) and she loved Biden, but she was from the generation that elected Roosevelt and Truman, and they have mostly passed on.

      I’d vote for Biden (Sherrod Brown also looks good), I liked Water’s The Two Income Trap book, and her efforts to protect people from the credit industry, but while I think she’d govern okay I really doubt her ability to campaign (Trump’s “Pocahontas” quips visibly got to her), I like Kamala Harris’s tax proposal, and I’d like to see more of her, but I doubt she’d win (but I didn’t think Obama or Trump would win either so me predictions are off).

    • Another Throw says:

      It might be worth noting that according to according to the Social Security actuarial life table, and assuming I did it correctly, Biden only has a 73% chance of surviving from now until the end of a first term. His chance of surviving from now until the end of a second terms is 51%.

      As a point of reference, Donald Trump has a 94% chance of surviving the rest of this term, and 81% until the conclusion of a second term. ETA: And 64% until the 2029 inauguration, which would correspond to the end of Biden’s second term.

      Erratum:

      Since the 2nd anniversary of Trumps inauguration was yesterday, adjust by one day’s life expectancy.

      Bear in mind that, IIRC, the tables are counting birthday to birthday, and we are using it to approximate today through the following inauguration days. The actual ages of the individuals concerned will be slightly older than the reference population, and so the mortality rate would be slightly higher.

      ETA: I did a simple linear interpolation (mortality isn’t linear, but it is simple!) to account for the slight age discrepancy, and the effect wasn’t large. As I’m sure you could imagine. Adjust every number down by 1%, except Trump making it to 2029, which is 2% lower, and Trump surviving the current term, which is the same.

      I believe that at this point it is well established that heads of state have a higher life expectancy than the general population of their respective countries. I have never seen any attempts to quantify it, though, so it is hard to tell the magnitude of the impact.

      • ManyCookies says:

        The Social Security life table pulls from typical 78 year olds on Social Security, and a good chunk of those deaths would be from folks with existing long term problems. Whereas Biden is pretty healthy, would have a doctor and field center shadowing him 24/7 for short term complications, and would get the absolute best healthcare the U.S has to offer for long term.

        • Another Throw says:

          A. I suspect you are overestimating the ability to diagnose health issues at a distance. He’s not wheelchair bound or bedridden and doesn’t have any obvious physical deformities, but that is about all we can really say. Brand management is huge for politicians.

          B. Like I said, heads of state have a longer life expectancy than the general population but I’ve never actually seen any discussion about the magnitude of this effect. And how much of it is driven by selection effects. Sample size is obviously an issue, but if you have any cool insight into the question I would love to see it.

      • CatCube says:

        Using the life tables found here for 2015, I get about 81% for making it through the first term, and 59% for two terms. This is, of course, assuming I’m doing it correctly.

        I’m using the data from Table 14: Life table for non-Hispanic white males: United States, 2015, found on p36 (pdf page 35). The table assumes a cohort of 100,000 people at birth, and gives the number surviving to a particular age. 59,288 are the number surviving to age 77; assuming that the first term is 77-80, 48,269 are still alive at 81, or 48269/59288 = 0.8141. For both terms, assume 77-84, so 35,194 are still alive: 35194/59288 = 0.5936. You are starting to get into a region where fencepost errors will have a big effect.

        The life expectancy at age 77 is 9.9 years (the arithmetic mean survival), and eyeballing the median survival it looks to be about the middle of 87, or about 10 years.

        Edit: Added the last paragraph, since it seemed interesting and on topic.

        • Another Throw says:

          I used this table, which doesn’t break it out by race.

          Also, I used the inauguration day because it seems more appropriate than election day to me (and because it was yesterday), which is two years from now (Jan 20, 2021). Biden will be 78 then.

          But also… I think you have an off by one error: even when counting election days, he would be 81 on his incumbent election day (Nov 5, 2024). Again, counting by election days (Nov 4, 2028), he would be 85 on outgoing election day.

          But again, I think we really care about inauguration day, Jan 20, 2025. When he’ll be 82. (His birthday is, IIRC, Nov 20th.) The end of his second term would then be Jan 20, 2029, when he will be 86.

          I mean, I guess surviving the lame duck session isn’t as important as the other 45 or so months… but it is the principle of the matter!

          ETA: Oh! Also, I used today as the start point. It doesn’t do much good if he drops dead during the race. [Glancing at my notes] The 8% chance of doing so before being sworn in is worth considering! So I used 76-82, and then 76-86 as the intervals.

          ETA ETA: Re: Fence post error. I am open to arguments that I am off by one somewhere as well. The way I read it, though, if you want to know the chance of surviving from birth to age 19, you should do p = t(19)/t(0), where t(n) is the table lookup for that age. More generally, to find the probability for an n year old to survive until age m, you do p = t(m)/t(n).

    • baconbits9 says:

      I think Yglesis is way off on the reasons, and totally misunderstands the basis for votes. Partially this is a misremembering of history, Hillary stomped Sanders in the popular vote, 55% to 47%, she was neck and neck with Obama in 2008 actually picking up 300,000 more votes. None of the things mentioned sank her against Trump, it was her on going email scandal that did the most damage (and lets not forget she still picked up almost 3 million more votes than Trump).

      Its not that Americans like young blood to drain the swamp, its that if you are a lifelong politician why would it take you until you are 70+ to become a serious candidate? Hilary was a serious presidential candidate at 61/62, and there is a good chance she would have beaten McCain in a GE. She ended up as the 2nd fastest horse in the ’08 and ’16 elections and people who broadly predicted her victories going in are now claiming to know how and why they went badly. If you are young (and remember that “young” is 46-50 for a president), charismatic and ambitious why are you waiting to be president until you are grizzled? Of course American voters prefer the newcomer, because a half a dozen to a dozen newcomers throw their hat in the ring every election cycle, and odds are that one of them is going to have the talent to at least push the older ones who were newcomers in some previous cycle.

      • Aapje says:

        @baconbits9

        I think that the #MeToo thing is definitely real. Biden seems extremely into touching people, to an extent that makes many (women) uncomfortable.

        With one of the main accusations of Trump being that he grabs kittens, it seems like a hard sell.

        • baconbits9 says:

          I have no interest in that part of the article, “and maybe hes a serial sexual harasser” is a nasty thing to toss into the article without evidence that I think its best to ignore it.

        • John Schilling says:

          More to the point, so long as Donald Trump is in the campaign, accusations of sexual harassment against just about anyone else will be ignored, in roughly the way accusations of wimpish pacifism were going to be ignored for anyone campaigning against Jimmy Carter in 1980.

        • Aapje says:

          @John Schilling

          I think that the opposite is true. Trump’s opponent will have to be sufficiently different on this front so that the way Democrats responded to Trump and Kavanaugh doesn’t seem totally hypocritical.

        • John Schilling says:

          Trump’s opponent will have to be sufficiently different on this front…

          But they only have to be sufficiently different from Donald Trump, and Donald Trump has set the bar low enough that anyone this side of Harvey Weinstein could clear it. Donald Trump isn’t excoriated by #MeToo because he didn’t treat Christine Blasey Ford fairly, but because he brags about sexually harassing and assaulting women and can’t even be bothered to pay his mistresses properly. The accusations against Joe Biden are very, very different in kind and degree from that.

        • Aapje says:

          Except for Al Franken.

          Take this video. Look at 0:39 on, but especially at him creeping on the little girl at 1:32 on.

          That’s what he does in front of a crowd. How much did he do behind closed doors? Has to be a lot more.

          I don’t believe that all of these women like that and don’t believe that accusations won’t start coming up if he becomes a true front-runner.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned lately, it’s that you can always trust video snippets provided by political opponents.

        • albatross11 says:

          I would have thought we’d learned that lesson from the 100% reliable sting video produced by James O’Keefe w.r.t. Planned Parenthood. Or for that matter, from 60 Minutes decades ago.

        • Aapje says:

          Can you explain how you think these fragments could have been tampered with to turn something innocent into something that seems rather #metoo (to me)?

          Interviews can be manipulated by editing out part of the answers, putting answers next to wrong questions, removing relevant precursor questions, etc. James O’Keefe did at least some of these things.

          None of that is relevant for an uncut video fragment showing the entire event, unless you think that either of these women stated loudly beforehand that they wanted Biden to do this.

        • John Schilling says:

          Funny you should mention that. Because when I googled “Joe Biden Sexual Harassment”, literally the first result was a Snopes fact check of the claim “Did Joe Biden Grope Stephanie Carter During a Government Ceremony?”, with the result, “False”.

          Now if you read the fine print, they’re talking about a version of the photo where Biden is photoshopped as touching Carter’s breast. But the framed narrative is clear: It is capital-F False that Joe is a pervy groper. In Snopes’ estimation, what the real photo shoes is Not Groping, and it takes fakery by evil fakers to make it look like Evil Groping. More generally:

          A: Biden is old enough to benefit from a literal grandfather clause where any touching will if at all possible be presumed to be paternalistic or at worst patronizing rather than sexual in nature.

          B: To the left, and the #NeverTrump center, Biden is for the moment Too Big To Fail and so will be protected against this level of failure by the left and the #NeverTrump center, which is to say approximately all of the mainstream media and every thinkfluencer any Democratic primary voter would ever notice.

          C: Biden isn’t grabbing anyone by the breast or the pussy, he isn’t sleeping with anyone other than his wife, he isn’t expressing any interest in doing any such thing, he isn’t saying derogatory things about women,

          D: There are AFIK no victims, no women anywhere willing to say that they were sexually harassed by Joe Biden or found his conduct towards them to be inappropriate.

          E: He’s at a few hundred milliFrankens at worst, and he’s up against Donald J. Trump. Or against other Democratic candidates who are being evaluated on almost the sole basis of “can this person defeat Donald J. Trump?”, so same difference.

          F: Neither the DNC nor the Democratic Primary Electorate are lockstep Social Justice Warriors who would consider the slightest unwanted touch or white-male “creepiness” to be a disqualifiers.

          This is going to be a negligible factor in the 2020 Democratic Primary. Some fringe protesters will protest it, some talking heads will talk about it, the near-unanimous decision of everyone with real power on the left will be that Joe oughtn’t have done that but it isn’t a big deal, and the Democratic primary voters will go along with that.

          And then probably vote for Kamala Harris or Beto O’Rourke or whomever, but because they are younger and cooler and not because of any allegations of sexual harassment against Biden.

          Mark my words, at p>0.80

        • testing123 says:

          @John Schilling

          D: There are AFIK no victims, no women anywhere willing to say that they were sexually harassed by Joe Biden or found his conduct towards them to be inappropriate.

          I believe that there were some complaints from his secret service detail in that vein, and even some noise on the left, but I agree that they’re probably politically irrelevant as long as Biden is running against trump.

        • Aapje says:

          @John Schilling

          There were no women accusing Weinstein openly, until there were. There were no women accusing Bill Clinton, until there were. These things tend to explode when there is a breakthrough.

          The issue is that due to the ‘believe women’ framing, the Dems will have a really hard time dismissing accusations now.

        • John Schilling says:

          There were no women accusing Weinstein openly, until there were.

          And yet it was common knowledge that Weinstein was demanding sex for jobs. Everybody knew this. They just didn’t care, because Weinstein was either a powerful high-status member of the ingroup or he was part of an outgroup that had already been written off as hopelessly licentious. Until people noticed that he wasn’t really powerful any more and they could claim some status of their own by tearing him down.

          Joe Biden hasn’t been demanding sex for jobs, he hasn’t been diddling interns or exposing himself to his secretary, he hasn’t been committing sexual assault. He’s been touching people on the head and shoulders, hugging them at somewhat more than the socially approved rate, and that’s pretty much it. If you think he’s secretly been engaging in Weinsteinian or Clintonian behavior and keeping it 100% secret, then I don’t think you understand how this works.

          Hollywood can swing from “meh, who cares” to “We’re not going to let this guy get away with extorting sex from vulnerable young women”, when all it costs them is a few has-been directors and actors. If you think from this that the political left generally is going to swing from “meh, who cares” to “We’re not going to let this guy get away with hugging people at more than the socially approved rate“, when it costs them a serious chance at defeating Donald Trump, then you definitely don’t understand how this works.

        • Aapje says:

          Sure, but the current ideology on the Democrats side is that all this stuff is very wrong. The common way to resolve the cognitive dissonance is to ignore transgressive behavior when they don’t really want to go after it, rather than argue that it is not that bad. See Keith Ellison and yes, Weinstein, who was ignored until things added up too much.

          The issue is that presidential campaigns, especially in the last phase, put all the dirt front and center. Trump is especially good at dragging people into the mud pit (the central figures, but also the press and other bystanders).

    • ilikekittycat says:

      Not a good idea to bet until Sanders makes a definite decision. When and if Sanders announces, he immediately becomes the “Trump” figure in the Democratic replay of the 2016 GOP primaries and it’s his to lose; without Sanders, it’s a totally different dynamic (essentially 19v1 with Sanders or 1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1 without)

    • aristides says:

      I think it was a good choice if you do it right. I doubt that Biden will win the nomination, but at 15% those are not bad odds. Because of his poll results and his backing, I think he’ll be able to make a good showing when the race starts. Iowa and New Hampshire are good states for him, and I think he’ll be one of the last to drop out. At the very least, I would predict his shares to go up to 20%, at which point I would consider selling for a quick profit.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I don’t think he has much of a shot. The media has decided the Democratic nominee will be Kamala Harris.

    • Ven Cola says:

      I think 15% is about the chance I’d give him of getting the nominee. I think the mood of the left is moving ever leftwards both in economic and cultural terms, which works against him. In my mind the Dem nominee needs to either satisfy economic progressives or the cultural left, and Biden doesn’t really push either button. He’ll lead early, which might propel him to go the distance, but I think support will eventually coalesce around another candidate once the field starts thinning (this was also said in the Republican primary last go round though, so there’s that).

  16. Plumber says:

    So in the last “open thread” I posted:

    “I rather agree. Fine it blew up on twitter and facebook. That doesn’t mean the Times needs to write multiple articles about it”

    The New York Times

    Funny it never filtered to anything I’ve read and I try to read every column by Brooks, Edsall, Douthat, and Krugman, and usually there’s “Editors’ Picks” and “More in Opinion” showing at the bottom of the essay to lead me to what’s newsworthy that week but somehow once again the SSC commentariat is responding to something I’ve never heard of.”

    Which prompts me to ask in this thread:
    Just where is the SSC learning of all these “outrages” of the week?

    I check The New York Times opinion pages, and (a bit less) The Washington Post, I used to check The Los Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal but those have become harder for me to view, otherwise I’ll look at the front page of The San Francisco Chronicle and pick it up if something looks interesting, and there’s the news I hear on the radio that’s in-between the traffic and weather reports, and many things the first time I learn of something is from a SSC comment (note: Facebook and Twitter don’t sound appealing to me).

    So how are y’all finding these things out?

    • Guy in TN says:

      many things the first time I learn of something is from a SSC comment (note: Facebook and Twitter don’t sound appealing to me).

      So how are y’all finding these things out?

      We’re finding these things out on Facebook and Twitter. You are choosing to learn about these events second-hand here instead, after they have been filtered through the SSC talking-point bubble.

      That’s not the worst thing, but just recognize its an ideological filter, shaping not just how the content is presented/discussed, but what content is presented/discussed.

      (The social circles we follow on Facebook and Twitter are ideological filters as well, so there’s no way out)

      • woah77 says:

        I’m going to second this. To be perfectly honest, I actually enjoy having this filter around. It keeps me from expending emotionally energy on every single controversy that goes through my social sphere. If Trump or Gillette or whomever decides to offend the powers that be, it has to be a big enough deal that not only does it bother someone, but it bothers someone I share a social circle with enough to talk about it.

        • Guy in TN says:

          Yep. You’re inevitably going to have a filter bubble- it might as well be via people you trust.

          As for the supposed “ideological exposure crisis”: as someone old enough to remember the pre-social media discourse, I am absolutely sure people are being exposed to more diversity of viewpoints now than they were 15 years ago. The exposure crisis narrative mostly plays on the faulty viewpoint that the mainstream media is non-ideological, and doesn’t qualify as a bubble itself.

    • gbdub says:

      You should at least peruse the headlines at Slate and Vox which are reasonably mainstream and often pick up these sorts of “outrages of the week”. (Notably, both, Vox especially, are places where Scott has gone for examples of “media behaving badly” that are mainstream and level-headed enough to be worth, in his mind, engaging).

      Also cable news. It’s worth noting that a lot of these things on Twitter aren’t just randos tweeting (even if they start that way), they are getting picked up and spread by members of the traditional media on their own social media accounts. So even if it doesn’t make its way into the hoary confines of the NYT opinions page, your latest Twitter outrage-of-the-week is almost certainly reaching and influencing the people who write that page (e.g. Ross Douthat, columnist for NYT, has commented about this week’s outrage, the “Covington Boys”, although it hasn’t made its way into one of his columns yet).

      EDIT: I should clarify that I don’t necessarily recommend doing these things, but if you’re actually honest about understanding where folks here are coming from, those are important influencers.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      1. Click here: https://www.reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex
      2. Click the thread at the top each week that says “Culture War Roundup”

      (note: never actually do this, but there are thousands of comments each week discussing the dozens of things to be angry about that are going to pop up a few days later in open threads here. Every time I’ve been confused about the context of flavor of the week outrage in this blog’s comments I hadn’t heard about, it has an immediate predecessor conversation in Culture War Roundup threads. Its a pipeline constantly pumping toxicity over to here)

    • Plumber says:

      Well the incident that I was ignorant about, which “went viral on social media” did finally filter to what I usually read besides SSC tonight, and it turned out that it was such stupid nothing of a story I’m pretty irritated that pixels and ink our wasted on it.

      • Aapje says:

        It was on Dutch TV yesterday. Anything that goes international like that is not minor in its reach.

      • gbdub says:

        It was also on CNN over the weekend. Stupid story or not, it was pretty mainstream stuff. In fact the reaction of mainstream news outlets to this latest social media outrage is a significant part of the controversy.

        As weird as SSCers are for generally being in tune with the latest Twitter/Reddit/Whatever outrage, at some point I think you’ve got to admit your lack of exposure to these things is also a little weird.

        • Nick says:

          Yeah. Rod Dreher wrote that people were talking about it in Dublin when he gave a talk there Monday.

        • Plumber says:

          @gbdub

          “…I think you’ve got to admit your lack of exposure to these things is also a little weird”

          After I read of it here at SSC I saw mentions of the story three times in The New York Times here, here, and here, and yesterday I heard one long interview on the radio with the drummer (if SSC hadn’t primed me to listen I likely would have quickly turned to another station and forgotten about it), and I heard brief mentions of the story twice on the radio this morning, but I definitely saw the story at SSC first, and I still find it baffling that it became a news story in the first place.

          Why did three protest groups meeting each other without any violence become a news story, what explains this?

          • Randy M says:

            First, it fit into the narrative of ‘Trump empowers racists to abuse minorities’ and used as an example of that trend. Then, when that was shown to be completely bollocks, it was fit into the narratives of ‘media lies about conservatives’ and ‘twitter mobs dangerous’ and used as an example of those trends.

            While individual stories may not matter to you or I, trends might, if they really are. Of course, it’s hard verging on impossible to correctly identify trends given the ease of misrepresenting them by not reporting on other stories, or even just the inability to see enough news to get an accurate picture.

          • John Schilling says:

            Why did three protest groups meeting each other without any violence become a news story, what explains this?

            The Two Minutes Hate feels really, really good and is politically useful to cultivate. Social media strips out almost all of the context that would make people feel a bit guilty about hating an actual person. And that kid, in that instant before the camera, had a really punchable face.

            The question isn’t why this became a story, the question is why at least some of the haters are backpedalling on that story. This is a positive sign, though there’s still a long way to go.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Not attacking you personally, but it feels incredibly and frighteningly tribally hateful to say that kid had a “punchable face”.

            That’s such a dehumanizing and nasty statement. Can you imagine if a right-wing commentator said that about the Native American on the other side of that picture? Or about a black protester?

            That anyone would make this statement about any teenager bothers me a lot.

          • The Nybbler says:

            That’s such a dehumanizing and nasty statement.

            “Dehumanizing” is really overused nowadays, and this seems like an example of that. Nasty? Sure. But the term gets the visceral feeling across; it’s useful. A “punchable face” is literally a face with an expression that just makes you want to punch the person. There really isn’t any polite way to put it. Urban Dictionary’s page on “shit-eating grin” (which is one way you display a “punchable face”) probably gets the point across best.

          • EchoChaos says:

            I parsed “punchable face” as not being merely the expression, but that his face by nature was acceptable for punching.

            But even your parsing, that seems so incredibly mean and tribal in nature. His face never registered as punchable to me, so it seems that it isn’t anything inherent in the expression.

            The question stands: Would it have been acceptable for me to say that the Native American protester also in the picture had a punchable face?

          • Randy M says:

            “Punchable face” is a way to try to find something objectionable in otherwise quite restrained behavior. It is attempted to discern a thought-crime from extremely ambiguous evidence, complete with sentencing.

          • John Schilling says:

            Not attacking you personally, but it feels incredibly and frighteningly tribally hateful to say that kid had a “punchable face”.

            To clarify:

            I assert with almost complete political and emotional detachment, based on my observation of human behavior over close to half a century, that the kid’s combination of general physical appearance, demeanor, and facial expression will tend to cause human observers who are not already sympathetic to him, to experience a visceral pleasure at the thought of punching the kid’s face on the grounds that they believe nature would never allow that face to exist on someone not guilty of underlying WrongThink of a kind and degree that is or ought to be righteously punishable by facepunching.

            If I were a proponent of the theory of Intelligent Design, I would also consider it a grievous design error of H. Sapiens v1.0 that its brain usually come prewired with such broadly dysfunctional heuristics and reward loops, but it is so and there isn’t much I can do about it. Humans gonna human, and that means vastly overestimating their ability to evaluate character from appearance.

            That anyone would make this statement about any teenager bothers me a lot.

            Meh. Kid’s gonna get his face punched if he keeps doing what he’s doing, along with all the verbal and textual abuse from people who can’t be bothered to find him in meatspace. That’s wrong, but it’s likely to happen and it’s not going to be better if nobody ever explains to him why. He’s got a punchable face. He has to learn to wear a different face, or lay off the f2f political agitating, or get comfortable with having his face punched. Hopefully only virtually, but that can’t be assured.

            The question stands: Would it have been acceptable for me to say that the Native American protester also in the picture had a punchable face?

            It would not have been accurate. Among other things, you can barely see his face in the camera angles of the most commonly published photos. And from what I’ve seen elsewhere, his face is not generically punchable and he doesn’t seem prone to the demeanor and expressions that tend to amplify perceived punchability. His inner self may for all I know be mean and hateful, but he wears a face that will rarely be punched for it even as the kid wears a face that is likely to be punched even when he is sincerely innocent.

            If you were to find some other Native American with a punchable face, and say so, I’m certain there would be people who would still call you out as having acted inappropriately, but they would be wrong to do so.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            @EchoChaos:
            I read “punchable face” as meaning: the face of someone who deserves to be punched, as a method of attitude adjustment (in other words: deserving of a short, sharp shock that’ll make him rethink his choices and/or world outlook).

            Mind you, that should actually read “someone who looks like they deserve to be punched”, but before we knew more details, the story was that he had participated in something we might find more or less objectionable (what, if anything, is behaviour deserving of a punch is another story altogether).

            The thing is: as much as I disapprove, I can see why the boy’s face in one of the photo’s looks like that of someone who could use a good punch. I find this a valuable thing, in that it allows me to get some idea of other people’s emotional reactions to the story as presented.

            Are such reactions justified, given what we know? I certainly don’t think so. Would they be justified under different circumstances? Maybe. Suffice to say that peaceful coexistence of large numbers of people requires setting boundaries. Sometimes, such boundaries are best enforced by a fist to the face (“best” meaning most effective with fewest long-term downsides, in this case).

            I mention this as a caution against going too far in the other direction: to dismiss this merely as “tribally hateful” or “dehumanizing” is to lose valuable insight into what makes people tick. Without such insight, all that’s left is pushing for a confrontation (“don’t you talk like that”). Even if you win, you’ll only have made an enemy (this, incidentally, is the main problem of the progressive movement these days).

          • acymetric says:

            I feel like it is worth mentioning that “punchable face” is a reasonably common colloquial term that is roughly equivalent (but uses slightly more inflammatory language) to “that guy looks like a dick”, and while it may not be a particularly admirable way to make quick judgement on people it is fairly common and I suspect most here have done it.

            I can see how people who have not seen it in common usage due to age, social circles, or whatever might be more bothered by its use than people who are familiar with it which might be part of the issue?

          • ana53294 says:

            “Punchable face” is the male equivalent of Resting Bitch Face. There are people who wear a facial expression that is annoying.

            I saw that video after everything was cleared up, but that boy still has a deeply annoying smirk. This may not have anything to do with his character. He may outgrow it. I know people whose facial expression has changed a lot. But if it hasn’t, he will be punched (or criticized by internet commenters) for no reason.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            I believe that John McWhorter’s complaint about the psychological turn in anti-racism may have wider application. In many areas of human conflict nowadays, we seem to waste our time demanding that people purge themselves of incorrect feelings, despite the obvious fact that they have very little ability to do that– and are neglecting, by comparison, the older and more productive project of trying to get them to stick to correct actions in spite of their incorrect feelings. (Look at how “hate” has stopped being a universal human emotion which can’t be avoided but must not be allowed to become the master– and turned into a moral failing which They have and We do not.) I can’t help finding the Sandmann kid’s smirk irritating, though knowing that he’s hiding a bad set of teeth helps a little– but I like to think I can control what I do about it.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            It could just be the media waiting until he gave just the right facial expression (again, just like in Gone Girl), but I totally understand why people have a "what a little shit" and "punchable face" vibe, even though I would 1) condemn and demand punishment for anyone actually doing it 2) wonder what was wrong with someone for sticking with this opinion after getting more facts.

          • Randy M says:

            I think there is room for interpretation on that smirk–it could be haughtily dismissive, or it could be an uncomfortable wan smile held in place for lack of any better social response to the provocation.

            I hope here of all places will grant a bit of consideration to, at worst, some social awkwardness.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Even if it was haughtily dismissive, so what?

            After all, the best way to teach teenage boys manners is apparently to punch them in the face if they make an unapproved expression in a single frame of a video selected to make them look bad.

            I will suggest that his “punchable face” is far more what Randy M said. People felt angry at him because of what they were told he did and because he is a tribal enemy (a good looking white kid in a MAGA hat), but when it turned out that he didn’t actually do it, their anger didn’t leave, so their brains came up with a reason for it.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @EchoChaos

            I’m pretty sure people of several tribes agree that he’s got a punchable face.

            Some of the twitterati are (apparently seriously) claiming that his having a punchable face is an actual justification for all the hate he’s gotten. But then, other twitterati (I’ve seen them) are claiming “guilt by association” as an actual reason to fix blame, so all that proves is that Twitter sucks and should be destroyed.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            “Punchable face” is essentially designed to describe relatively wealthy, young white guys who are damn cocky and act like jerks, but don’t look like they could “walk the walk.”
            No one would describe John Cena as having a punchable face, since John Cena would Bane-Break you in about a second if you punched him.
            Regardless, “punchable” should definitely fall into the category of “things you think, but don’t say, except in locker room talk.”

          • albatross11 says:

            ana:

            Consider Matt Taibbi–good reporter, but the guy genuinely has an annoying smirk.

            The annoying smirk on the kid’s face may be something that doesn’t usually show up (there’s a whole art to catching a celebrity or politician looking unusually goofy), or might be just how he looks.

            Either way, when a bunch of allegedly responsible adults decide his annoying smirk and MAGA hat is sufficient reason to say horrible things about him in public or call for bad things to happen to him, I’m going to think a lot less of them. As Brad might say, these folks have acted like jerks in public, and I’ve revised my opinion of them as a result.

            And like I said before, spending a week reading the tweets from blue-checkmark journalists on Twitter is a really good way of correctly calibrating your sense of how moral and careful with the truth a lot of our media elites are.

          • albatross11 says:

            Both tribalism and twitter make people dumber and less decent, and there’s a multiplicative effect.

          • Nick says:

            I think there is room for interpretation on that smirk–it could be haughtily dismissive, or it could be an uncomfortable wan smile held in place for lack of any better social response to the provocation.

            My thoughts exactly. From some of the pictures I saw, it could be interpreted as a haughty smirk. That it could be does not mean it had to be, by anyone.

          • ana53294 says:

            I am not saying that him having RBF is a justification for all the hate he has received. And no, it is not because he is a white rich teenager. There are plenty of rich white teenager who are adorable.

            All this bondoogle was a huge overreaction that shouldn’t have happened.

            But it is a fact that some people can get away with stuff other people can’t get away with. Some people have charisma, others have anti-charisma. This guy has a very annoying smirk. It may not reflect who he is. But some people have body language that is offputting, and you just have to deal with it. Knowing this makes it easier to deal with consequences.

            And this partly explains why this whole thing happened. Other than the media being itching to expose MAGA hat bearers as racist assholes, and the very aggressive twitter environment, there where other factors that contributed to this, and his face was one of them. And just to make it clear: explaining something is not the same thing as justifying it.

          • nkurz says:

            I feel compelled to say that I find some of the “punchable face” explanations to be among the most offensive ideas I’ve seen expressed by regular posters to this blog. Maybe I’m misunderstanding it, but it seems directly parallel to making excuses for rape because a woman smiled at a stranger. As an awkward and occasionally bullied child I may be unduly sensitive to group behavior of this sort, but from here it looks like a really ugly opinion. I’m shocked that you would believe this, aghast that you think everyone else would agree with you, and terrified by some of the responses that this attitude might be a lot more common than I would have guessed.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @nkurz

            I strongly agree with you.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @nkurz

            Consider someone like Gilbert Gottfried or Fran Drescher, with a voice like nails-on-a-chalkboard to some people. Such people are likely to be judged negatively in situations where they objectively have done nothing wrong, just because their voice grates. A “punchable face” is a visual equivalent of this. That’s not justifying it, that’s just explaining it.

          • Aapje says:

            @nkurz

            I think that people are reading victim blaming into comments that can be interpreted as being merely descriptive.

            I don’t see anything wrong with noting that something happened to a person because of a trait they have and that there is no need to make a moral judgment in a comment. As a reader, you can provide your own moral judgment.

            For example, if you ask someone why Dreyfus was targeted, then the answer ‘he was a Jew and people were antisemitic’ is a fine answer. It doesn’t mean that the person who gives this answer approves.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            I feel like people are taking “punchable” way too literally. Would “he looks like a smug little shit” have stirred up nearly so much controvery? Because that’s basically what it means. Sometimes an idiom is just an idiom.

            Though I suppose that when elements of society start celebrating the literal face-punching of quote-unquote nazis, that faces being referred to as punchable could set off alarms.

          • Secretly French says:

            Amongst all the pushback, I would like to say that I thank John Schilling for letting me know how much of a fucking asshole he is. If someone gets off at the thought of punching beardless young schoolboys, especially those already clearly vulnerable and extremely uncomfortable, then yeah I want to know about it, all the better to know to avoid and ignore them. Bye~

          • I feel like people are taking “punchable” way too literally. Would “he looks like a smug little shit” have stirred up nearly so much controvery?

            Probably not.

            But “punchable” has the further implication that punching people who look like that is an appropriate response.

            Consider the difference between “she looks really sexy” and “she looks really fuckable.”

          • Gobbobobble says:

            But “punchable” has the further implication that punching people who look like that is an appropriate response.

            Eh, I don’t think I agree with this. Just because the id would enjoy something doesn’t make it appropriate. Or even imply that the ego supports the course of action. Any functioning adult knows this.

            But nowadays we live in a world where childhood lasts decades, nuance is forbidden, and words are violence so I guess we should stop using idioms that rely on common knowledge of standards for adult behavior ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

          • John Schilling says:

            Maybe I’m misunderstanding it, but it seems directly parallel to making excuses for rape because a woman smiled at a stranger.

            Obviously I should have used the long-form explanation rather than the colloquial “punchable face” expression. Lesson learned, and I won’t make that mistake in the future.

            But we’ve had the long-form explanation, and extensive discussion thereof, and there’s definitely still some miscommunication here. How can we make it more clear that explaining why a crime or other misbehavior occurred, does not constitute excusing that misdeed?

            If we want to see less face-punching, less twitter-mobbing, or for that matter less raping, we’re going to need to understand why these things happen. That’s going to be harder to arrange if anyone who tries to offer an explanation without an elaborate disclaimer, is at risk of being called an apologist.

          • LesHapablap says:

            It is an often sad truth in life: in large part we determine the way people treat us.

          • nkurz says:

            To clarify, my objection is to the phrase “punchable face”. It’s reasonable and desirable to explain why a someone is likely to encounter violence because of their appearance. But in my opinion, it’s unreasonable and undesirable to treat that violence as justified because someone was provoked by another’s appearance. I feel that describing someone as having a “punchable face” condones (and even encourages) unjustified violence.

            As a parallel, I think it could be helpful to explain (if true) that a women in Western dress who smiles at the conservative tribespeople is likely to be raped. But it crosses the line (for me) to therefore describe her as having a “rape-able face”, as that buys into a system that accepts rape as a justified consequence for smiling at strangers. I may be wrong in taking a phrase too literally, but I do think that choice of language matters, and can have consequences.

            It may also be that people who use the term “punchable” (for Nazi’s or for smirking high schoolers) feel that “punching” is not actually violence, but is instead equivalent to a stern rebuke. I don’t agree. After a few rounds of retaliation, or after others see that punching seems to be socially acceptable, escalation will likely occur. I don’t usually like slippery slope arguments, but I think once society comes to believe that violence against others based on their appearance is acceptable, things can turn very violent very quickly.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            To go the other way a bit, I get why people are uncomfortable with the term. I’ll map the term onto a dynamic I remember from high school:

            Bully 1: Hey, look, it’s victim X. What a punchable face has he.

            Bully 2: *having nothing else to do that day, punches victim X in the face*

            Then Bully 1 says “I didn’t do nuffin” and administrators don’t give enough of a shit to actually find out. There’s enough bored bullies around that just picking on someone often leads to a third-party committing violence, and Bully 1 knows this damn well.

    • Dan L says:

      I check The New York Times opinion pages, and (a bit less) The Washington Post, I used to check The Los Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal but those have become harder for me to view, otherwise I’ll look at the front page of The San Francisco Chronicle and pick it up if something looks interesting, and there’s the news I hear on the radio that’s in-between the traffic and weather reports, and many things the first time I learn of something is from a SSC comment (note: Facebook and Twitter don’t sound appealing to me).

      My operating theory is that, to a first approximation, everyone who uses Facebook and Twitter as primary news sources is either dangerously media illiterate or deliberately shit stirring. The theory is looking better and better as time goes on.

      That looks like a pretty good list. Are you committed to paper, or are you doing this online? I’ve mostly substituted Reuters for WSJ these days, but that’s mostly for accessibility reasons.

      • Plumber says:

        @Dan L

        “….Are you committed to paper, or are you doing this online? I’ve mostly substituted Reuters for WSJ these days, but that’s mostly for accessibility reasons”

        All of the Wall Street Journal articles I read are from the print version, but someone usually buys the copies at my usual news stand before I get to them so now so I seldom read it anymore, and I’m too set in my ways to go someplace else. The vast majority of The San Francisco Chronicle articles I read are from the print version as well, while I still pick up a printed copy of The New York Times about every other week I mostly read it on-line now.

  17. theodidactus says:

    It’s martin luther king day and this is one of them hidden open threads. What could go wrong?

    Confession time: I, like a lot of people my age, had to listen to a bunch of Martin Luther King speeches in grade school and high school. and I, like a lot of people my age, spaced out and wrote it off as a bunch of utopian noise. This was of course in my angsty teenage phase when I figured I was an ice-cold realist fully apprised of the horrors in the world and how to set about righting them.

    Post-college, when I landed a gig that included, in part, teaching kids how to speak persuasively, I went back over his speeches…and goddamn it, that guy was GOOD and RIGHT.

    I’m now a convert: I’m crazy about his rhetorical style, and I’m thoroughly convinced he was correct regarding pacifism and activism. I converted to full-on personal pacifism in college, through a different source, but I should have listened when I was younger.

    I don’t exactly blame the establishment for “teaching Martin Luther King wrong.” I’m of course equally to blame by being an angsty teenager…but I still think there’s some basic facts about MLK that could be taught differently.

    He was a problem solver. His pacifism did not come out of some benighted utopianism but a clear understanding that any other technique would lead to instant and brutal annihilation. I do not recall anyone actually teaching MLK this way growing up, but it is absolutely AT THE CORE of what he taught, and he talked about the practical utility of pacifism ALL THE TIME. This is true whether he’s talking about nonviolence generally (“the command to love one’s enemy is an absolute necessity for our survival. Love even for enemies is the key to the solution of the problems of our world…Jesus is not an impractical idealist; he is the practical realist.”) and his political struggles specifically (“In violent warfare, one must be prepared to face ruthlessly the fact that there will be casualties by the thousands. … Anyone leading a violent conflict must be willing to make a similar assessment regarding the possible casualties to a minority population confronting a well-armed, wealthy majority with a fanatical right wing that is capable of exterminating the entire black population and which would not hesitate such an attempt if the survival of white Western materialism were at stake”).

    In short, nonviolence is both a moral necessity and a really effective tool, maybe these are both the same thing.

    Thoughts?

    • J.R. says:

      I took a history course in college that spent a couple weeks on MLK. It was revelatory.

      Re:nonviolence, one thing that made it so effective was how it leveraged the ubiquity of television to show the stark brutality of segregationists to the whole country.

      • theodidactus says:

        Nonviolent tactics perhaps work better in the modern world because the whole world is watching? It’s an interesting possibility.

        Scott always characterizes various forms of nonviolence/tolerance as technologies. Perhaps mass media is a pre-requisite of this form of nonviolent protest.

        • John Schilling says:

          Nonviolent tactics perhaps work better in the modern world because the whole world is watching? It’s an interesting possibility.

          The whole world is watching, but its people do seem to differ in how much they care (and in some cases, what direction they care). It suspect that there is an increasing disadvantage to A: caring too much and B: watching too closely, with advances in information technology making “so we won’t watch too closely” a less tenable strategy.

        • edmundgennings says:

          Also a degree of mass media support and or some basic sympathy of the broader population is also a prerequisite. If the considerable majority of the population and all mass media thinks a group got what was coming to it for advocating an evil position then nonviolent protests can be attacked at a low enough level to avoid really drawing attention but at a high enough level to make them unworkable.

        • SamChevre says:

          I’d add that non-violent tactics work much better when the courts will make up law in your favor, and the US Army will back them up with combat troops.

          You’ll often hear that MLK offered a more acceptable alternative to Malcolm X. In my opinion, what he more importantly did was offered a deal: you can give me what I want, or the courts will make up or strike down any law or precedent to benefit me and harm you (from real estate easements, to libel, to freedom of association, to town boundaries, to electoral system) and the Army will enforce those decisions.

          • brad says:

            Wow, now that’s something you don’t see every day!

          • DeWitt says:

            The courts and military being kindly predisposed to his movement is a literal damn consequence of it not being a bunch of domestic terrorists or armed insurrectionists and you really ought to account for that rather than pretend one trend precedes the other.

          • Aging Loser says:

            No, DeWitt, it’s “a literal damn consequence” of all of the Nice People already dreaming the Dream; he was the playing the role assigned to him (by the Sandman) within the pageant.

          • albatross11 says:

            My not-very-informed impression is that lots of whites in 1950s America were pretty comfortable with the status quo of blacks being subject to private discrimination almost everywhere and legally-mandated discrimination in some places, but didn’t like to think about how that had to be enforced. “Yes, the Georgians treat their blacks badly, but it’s not really my problem” is harder to swallow if you’re watching footage of people getting their heads bashed in during a peaceful protest.

            If white public opinion had been hardened to the point of being willing to see blacks’ heads get busted to maintain the status quo, as I think it was in much of the South, then nonviolent tactics wouldn’t have worked.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I largely agree. I think King understood violence – why it happens, what it means, and how it affects people, including those who suffer it, those who commit it, and those who witness it. He understood that people are not naturally inclined to violence, that the “veneer of civilization” is actually the core of humanity, and the power of articulated pain.

      • theodidactus says:

        That’s a beautiful way to put it!

        I’m not sure I’d describe myself as a rationalist anymore, but I definitely went through a period where I did. Rationalists should like King more (even though he emphatically wasn’t). King always emphasized the damage that hate does to the human ability to think rationally. I think the moment I “got” King was this passage from a speech on nonviolence he gave circa 1957:

        “But there is another side which we must never overlook. Hate is just as injurious to the person who hates. Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.”

        You can see a resonance with Tolkien and Lewis.

        • woah77 says:

          As a pastor of mine once said “Holding a grudge is like drinking poison hoping the other person will die.”

      • Aapje says:

        @Hoopyfreud

        He understood that people are not naturally inclined to violence

        People are inclined to punish ‘bad’ people, including with violence if deemed necessary to correct their behavior.

        The trick to non-violent resistance is to create cognitive dissonance between behaviors/people deemed ‘bad’ by the rules and the actually perceived badness.

    • bean says:

      I’m not in favor of pacifism. It was absolutely the right choice at the time, and I’m not criticizing his methods. I toured the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta a couple years ago, and the stuff on the Civil Rights Movement was deeply impressive and moving. But the last room, where they tried to generalize the principles, fell really flat. To use the most stark example, they held up Vaclav Havel as an example of non-violent resistance. But while Vaclav Havel is pretty impressive, 1989 wasn’t the first time the Czech people tried to throw off communism via non-violent protest. And the Czech Spring of 1968 was brutally crushed by the Soviets. The conditions that allowed Havel and the other leaders of Eastern Europe to bring down the communists were created by people like Reagan and Thatcher, who were unacknowledged in the exhibits.
      Edit:
      To be a bit more clear, they completely failed to look at any example of cases where nonviolent protests just didn’t work. I’m not necessarily saying that armed resistance is always the answer either, but there are times when it’s necessary.

      • baconbits9 says:

        I don’t see this as a compelling argument, it is unlikely that any type of rebellion in 1968 would have lead to independence for the Czechs.

        • theodidactus says:

          It’s quite likely that there is a selection bias regarding nonviolent protest. It’s hard to point to examples of “nonviolent protests that don’t work” because possible contenders fall into two categories:

          1) the sort that have been brought to your attention. These will surely work someday. The arc of the moral universe is long and all that

          2) the sort that you don’t know about because they’re arcane.

          That said: I don’t think it’s a coincidence though that King remains hugely relevant while other leaders remain relatively more obscure, but as you point out this might be a situationally dependent decision. I know scads of people, for example, that know of King but not Malcolm X. In fact I just had a discussion about this today. Someone objected to me making exactly this characterization by saying “well yea, but that’s not really fair, it’s only because King took great pains to make himself palatable to the power structure so now the same power structure memorialized him” and I was kinda like “yeah! that’s the point!”

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            2) the sort that you don’t know about because they’re arcane.

            Could you unpack this?

            I agree with your first characterization, but my second would be:

            “There have been thousands (millions?) of ‘nonviolent protests’ that have resulted in the nonviolent group getting conquered, captured, or killed. We will not hear about them because they are destroyed.”

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            “There have been thousands (millions?) of ‘nonviolent protests’ that have resulted in the nonviolent group getting conquered, captured, or killed. We will not hear about them because they are destroyed.”

            This is a very good point. What was vital for MLK was media coverage of non-violent protester getting hit and the mass audience finding it icky.
            I mean, I think everyone knows the King-ist Civil Rights movement was a Christian spin on Gandhi’s non-violent resistance, and if you watch his official* Hollywood bio-pic they show the importance of journalists (in the form of Martin Sheen) to his success.

            *It was funded by the Congress Party-ruled Republic of India, and Congress is controlled by descendants of his associate Nehru also named Gandhi (no relation).

      • Ash says:

        Just a side note, I think its a pretty common opinion of historians and the like that Reagan and Thatcher had a very minor to no role in the fall of communism. Probably not the thread to have “why did the USSR fall debate”, but I think a museum would be justified in not mentioning them if that was their stance.

        • bean says:

          First, I sort of regret including them in the OP. My bigger issue is that they didn’t mention the Prague Spring or any other case of nonviolence failing to work. Or the cases where violence advanced human rights. Slavery was ended by warfare, after all.

          Second, fight me. One of the main factors leading to the fall of the Soviet Union was deliberate economic warfare on Reagan’s part. (I’m perfectly fine with delaying that discussion or moving it elsewhere, but I disagree incredibly strongly.)

          • When you say “economic warfare”, do you just mean the military buildup or are you referring to something else?

          • bean says:

            That was most of it. He basically managed to set up a new arms race in smart weapons, a sector the Soviets were ill-equipped to compete in. They spent a bunch of money trying to stay in the race, and Gorbachev set up stuff like Glanost to get more. It didn’t work, and the whole house of cards collapsed.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            Slavery was ended by warfare in the US. From what I understand,
            the British Empire managed to abolish slavery without fighting a war first. It was very expensive, the UK only paid off the loan they took to compensate slave-owners in 2015, but much less expensive than the American Civil War by any measure.

            I’m not really disagreeing with you on the meta level, sometimes violence actually is the answer, this is just not the best example of that.

          • bean says:

            Fair point that the British ended slavery without fighting a war, but it’s completely implausible to suggest that the US could have done the same, at least in the same timeframe. Slavery was deeply rooted into the culture of a big part of the US, and they wouldn’t have let legal abolition happen. On the other hand, it was only a thing on a few small islands far from Britain, so the political power the slaveholders could muster was very limited. And the same is true in terms of relative financial burden.

            It was very expensive, the UK only paid off the loan they took to compensate slave-owners in 2015

            Objection. The UK has only fairly recently finally retired a lot of debt that was really, really old. I’m not quite sure why this was, but for the entire 20th century, it apparently made financial sense to simply keep paying interest on the debt. Some of the debt retired in 2015 dated back to the South Sea Company. But the US would have had to pay proportionately much more, and that was also impractical.

            Let’s put numbers on this. The compensation for slaves appears to have been about 15 pounds at the time. That’s $2,300 today or $76 in 1860. (Note that this was about 10% of the market rate at the time.) That year’s census showed 3,953,761 slaves. A similar level of compensation would have cost $300 million. The 1860 federal budget? $63.1 million. So you’re looking at 5 years of federal spending at a ridiculously low rate of compensation. In comparison, the compensation for Britain’s abolition of slavery was about 40% of the treasury’s annual revenue. So the Civil War may have been more expensive than buying out the slaves, but it’s actually within the same order of magnitude.

          • Zeno of Citium says:

            Slavery was ended by warfare, after all.

            Not everywhere! In the US and Haiti, yes, but the the UK ended slavery in the homeland and then in its overseas (mostly Carribean) colonies without any sort of real war over it – in 1833, three decades before the Americans did. The British slave trade, which was outlawed even earlier, was pretty significant, and around a million (IIRC) British slaves were freed by the 1833 act – not as many slaves as were ensalved in the USA at the time, but a significant number.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @bean

            I will note that slavery was substantially MORE a part of Brazilian culture (and partially with the same people under the Confederado program) and it was abolished peacefully there, although not as early as 1865, but within a generation.

            The idea that it could have possibly been done peacefully in America doesn’t seem wildly implausible to my admittedly biased Southern self.

          • bean says:

            I will note that slavery was substantially MORE a part of Brazilian culture (and partially with the same people under the Confederado program) and it was abolished peacefully there, although not as early as 1865, but within a generation.

            Two points:
            1. That wasn’t entirely without problems. There had been some steps already, and slavery was rapidly becoming uneconomical, but it still brought down the monarchy.
            2. I’d quibble with “more a part of Brazilian culture”. The US at the time was something like 70% people who were not into slavery and 30% people who were really really into slavery. Yes, on average it might have been more a part of Brazilian culture, but the South had enough political power (see all of the debates over free vs slave states) to basically make it impossible to end slavery peacefully.

            The idea that it could have possibly been done peacefully in America doesn’t seem wildly implausible to my admittedly biased Southern self.

            While it’s obvious in retrospect that the economics of slavery were going to go away within a few decades, I think that the South’s leaders had invested too much of their self-image into slavery to make a peaceful transition work. During the time of the Revolution, slavery was seen largely as a necessary evil, but that changed over the next few decades. You had lots of people defending it as a fundamentally good thing, and that’s a hard position to retreat from.

          • baconbits9 says:

            While it’s obvious in retrospect that the economics of slavery were going to go away within a few decades, I think that the South’s leaders had invested too much of their self-image into slavery to make a peaceful transition work. During the time of the Revolution, slavery was seen largely as a necessary evil, but that changed over the next few decades. You had lots of people defending it as a fundamentally good thing, and that’s a hard position to retreat from.

            The economics would definitely have eventually broken slavery in the south, the newer moral arguments for slavery coincidentally started appearing with the technological advancements such as the cotton gin which increased the value of cotton in textile manufacturing. The US was producing more cotton in 1870 than it did in 1860, despite the devastation from the war.

            The only way to perpetuate slavery in a world where Eygpt et al are pushing into the cotton market would be to heavily subsidize cotton producers. Such subsidies would have to come from the North as the economy of the South outside of cotton wasn’t large or strong enough to bear a significant cotton subsidy. The North was very unlikely to support such action and tariffs wouldn’t work as the US was a massive cotton exporter.

            In the long run slavery may have continued to exist indefinitely as a legal institution but on ever decreasing scales, and how much worse this would have been than the war + reconstruction + Jim Crow is up for debate speculation, but I doubt that as well. Lincoln was willing to negotiate with the South and not demand an immediate end to slavery, but the South basically knew that the writing was on the wall if they remained. Eventually they would be forced to give up the institution and move on.

          • While it’s obvious in retrospect that the economics of slavery were going to go away within a few decades

            I don’t think that’s clear. Slavery was workable in activities suited to the gang labor model–lots of people doing the same thing at once, so pretty easy to monitor and enforce. The two big examples were agricultural–cotton and sugar.

            Consider assembly line manufacturing as a possible third.

          • DeWitt says:

            There’s also the caveat that everything isn’t economics, and that people had some highly political and cultural reasons not to want to abolish slavery.

          • ilikekittycat says:

            To add to @DavidFriedman I was taught that the Confederacy’s claims to land in AZ/NM were based on the fact that certain crops that could be grown there would be profitable if slavery could be established, even though cotton in the Deep South was coming to an end. The South wasn’t merely standing athwart history yelling stop, they were actively thinking about how their system would be perpetuated

            To add to @DeWitt, I also don’t buy the Ron Paul argument that we could have bought our way out of slavery. There was an alternate history mockumentary a few years ago about the Confederacy surviving to modern times, and although slavery had ceased to be an economic engine, it hadn’t died off in the 1%, and everyone who in our timeline could afford to have a Hispanic maid or racehorse still had a slave. I think that’s probably what would have happened without the harsh reprimand of Southern aristocracy that came from the ACW

          • bean says:

            Lincoln was willing to negotiate with the South and not demand an immediate end to slavery, but the South basically knew that the writing was on the wall if they remained. Eventually they would be forced to give up the institution and move on.

            This is pretty much my point, though. This is a group who decided that succession and war were a preferable alternative to staying in the Union, despite Lincoln saying as loudly as he could that he wasn’t going to abolish slavery, he just didn’t want it spreading any further. Slavery was way too deeply embedded in their culture to let them give it up gracefully, no matter what the economics said.

            @David Friedman

            Consider assembly line manufacturing as a possible third.

            That didn’t turn out so well for the Nazis. I’m sure that the slaves (or the abolitionists) would have quickly figured out how to make products that would pass QA and yet still fail pretty quickly. I don’t think that’s really possible to do with cotton.

          • John Schilling says:

            That didn’t turn out so well for the Nazis. I’m sure that the slaves (or the abolitionists) would have quickly figured out how to make products that would pass QA and yet still fail pretty quickly.

            Those two sentences don’t belong together, because while our culture celebrates the exceptions, the vast majority of the stuff (explicitly including weapons) that the Nazis produced by slave or slave-adjacent labor worked tolerably well. The productivity of industrial slave labor was substantially less than that of free, by ~50% IIRC where we can do an apples-to-apples comparison, but if the cost of slave labor is <<50% of free that's a net win in labor-intensive industries.

            Slavery has been a thing for basically all of recorded history because it works, and it works because most people who aren’t characters in a work of inspirational fiction will actually respond to slavery by trying to get by day to day and stay out of trouble rather than by trying to sabotage their masters’ works.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ Dewitt

            Everything isn’t economics, but massively important and internationally traded commodities are mostly dominated by economics.

            @ bean

            The Sought chose succession and maybe war, the North chose war after succession. Succession does not mean the long term survival of slavery. Points to consider

            1. Several slave states stayed with the North, they would definitely have lost the ‘right’ to own slaves eventually (and probably in the short term) with this move.

            2. The states that remained had low cotton production vs those that left.

            3. The leave faction heated up heavily with the increase in cotton prices prior to the civil war.

            The places where slavery was ingrained culturally and politically were, surprise surprise, the places where the economic benefits were greatest. The places where it was least economically beneficial walked with fairly open eyes a path directly towards abolition. The end of the economic advantages of slavery would almost certainly have eroded and eventually ended the needed political power to continue it.

            You can argue that would have been to long to wait for the end of such a heinous institution, and with good reason, and the argument that in 1860 ending slavery by 1870 required a war is a strong position, but the argument that ending slavery in the south required a war is far weaker.

          • bean says:

            @John

            Apparently, slavery ended in Brazil because immigrant labor was cheaper even for plantation work in the late 1880s. Between the efficiency hit you take and the fact that you have to do your manufacturing in the South to take advantage of slavery, I doubt it would have worked very well.

            The places where slavery was ingrained culturally and politically were, surprise surprise, the places where the economic benefits were greatest. The places where it was least economically beneficial walked with fairly open eyes a path directly towards abolition. The end of the economic advantages of slavery would almost certainly have eroded and eventually ended the needed political power to continue it.

            I’ll grant that the glorification of slavery and the economic need for it went hand-in-hand. But I’m positing that it had potentially grown close to a critical mass. The Crittenden “compromise” would have completely prohibited abolition at any point in the future. That is not exactly the work of someone treating slavery rationally, and allowing that it might stop making sense.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I didn’t argue that the South was acting rationally in that way, only that the economics of the situation had lead the cultural and political alignments. A shift in the economics away from slavery should therefore generally be expected to shift the cultural and political over time.

            The Crittenden compromise wasn’t much of a compromise, it was a promise to give the South everything it wanted and the North got…. not war. It was closer to appeasement, and was mostly rejected by the North (and was probably also unworkable with the fugitive slave issues as well). It was also proposed by Kentucky, who elected to remain without the compromise.

          • EchoChaos says:

            It’s plausible that a better negotiator than Lincoln can get Virginia to not leave the Union. Half of Virginia wanted to stay so much that they split to stay, after all. It wouldn’t take much compromise to get the rest to stay.

            Once Virginia stays North Carolina certainly doesn’t leave.

            There isn’t a need to invade a rump Confederacy led by South Carolina even if you really want to keep the Union together. They aren’t economically viable if the North embargos them, and will cave fairly quickly. Then you’re easily on the Brazil path with absolutely no large-scale violence. Maybe not by 1870, but certainly before 1900. Slave-based agriculture clearly doesn’t make economic sense past then.

            This obviously isn’t what happened, but it’s far from “completely implausible”.

      • AlesZiegler says:

        I am of the opinion that nonviolent civil disobedience works when it is backed by credible threat that if protesting faction chooses violence, Power will be in serious trouble. That was not the case in Czechoslovakia of 1968, Warsaw Pact armies were prepared and able to crush any resistence Czechoslovaks could muster.

        In 1989 situation was very different – Gorbachev clearly signalled that he is not only unwilling to use force against the protesters, but even that USSR is prepared to withdraw its troops from Czechoslovakia, if its government would ask them to. So protesters were facing only weak and demoralized domestic communists, which was an easy fight.

    • cuke says:

      My thought is I’m so glad you came on here and wrote this. My husband, son (“an ice-cold realist fully apprised of the horrors in the world and how to set about righting them”), and I stumbled into a conversation in this direction over lunch today and wound up at how do you distinguish between enlightened self-interest, “rationalism,” and morality. So I copied your comment to share with them and we’ll revisit this at dinner, I’m guessing.

      • theodidactus says:

        Here’s my philosophy: I’m a rabid individualist and I detest anything that compromises my autonomy. That meant I was pretty selfish growing up. It’s still the core of my morality though, but I took a lot of the lessons taught by my religious upbringing to heart even though I’m not very religious: C.S. Lewis, JRR Tolkien and MLK all taught that evil, especially hatred, is essentially a form of slavery, one that slowly devours your autonomy and individual identity (this literally happens in two different C.S. Lewis books). Additionally, Scott has reviewed a book on this site: https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/01/30/book-review-eichmann-in-jerusalem/
        which demonstrates vividly that Hatred ultimately makes someone REALLY BORING.

        All these were moral realizations that lead me from angsty teen to slightly more well-adjusted adult.

        • cuke says:

          Thank you for this. I share your rabid individualism and detesting anything that compromises my autonomy, as does our son. And that hatred is a form of self-enslavement. Where did you wind up for a career (broadly-speaking) and are you happy at it?

          • theodidactus says:

            I graduated in the depths of the 2008 financial collapse, and lived abroad as a teacher. Then I came back to the states and worked as a librarian for a few years. Now I’m in law school. I’ve generally been happy with my work but there is a lot about librarianship that I didn’t like, which has nothing (much) to do with librarians and more to do with the environment that surrounds them. That’s why I’m in law school.

          • Nick says:

            …That personal history explains so much of Synchronicity.

          • theodidactus says:

            Virtually everything that happened in synchronicity is autobiographical or something that actually happened to a friend, with exceptions that should be obvious. I went to a catholic college, was really into the history of science, did a lot of urban exploring, and hung out with a bunch of martial arts nuts. Almost every character is just a real person I knew with some salient traits swapped around.

            I like to joke that the guy Nathan Wild is a based on is actually more of a cartoonish exaggeration in real life. I really did know a Jiu-Jitsu nut that was also a supergenius science teacher, but in real life the same guy was ALSO a top-of-the-line knife and axe thrower. (also in real life he’s Canadian not an archetypal “ugly american”…that part of nathan was based on the americans I worked with)

          • Nick says:

            Hah! I joked when I shared the book with my friends that it sounded like you were writing about us. At least, as far as the college characters go; none of us are teaching abroad. (We attended John Carroll, no less, which was formerly Ignatius College.)

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ Nick

            John Carroll in University Heights, Ohio?

          • Nick says:

            @baconbits9 Yeah.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I lived 2 blocks over from JC from 2002-2009. Something about seeing a thing that is so familiar to me mentioned on SSC is both comforting and off putting.

          • theodidactus says:

            Almost everyone I knew thought I had based James Shannon off of them…which is odd because James is probably the only person in the whole book that I did NOT have a single direct model for. I think he’s just sorta how a lot of vaguely intellectual people I know feel, a lot of the time.

          • Nick says:

            @baconbits9 That’s neat! It’s a really nice area; I don’t own a car, so walking to Target or to friend’s or professor’s houses I got to see a bit of the neighborhood.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I’m a demoralized rabid individualist. I’ve come to believe there is only obtaining control over others, being controlled oneself, or slipping through the cracks in a system intended to control one. That is, you’re either a tyrant, a slave, or a criminal. Individualism is a fine goal, but unattainable; if you can’t control others you will be controlled yourself, or be despised by all others.

        • @The Nybbler

          The fourth option is to be a nobody. People are slaves to control systems only because it’s important to enslave them; it has an actual purpose. You need to be manipulated because the government relies on your votes, and because the capitalists rely on your labor. As technology advances, the bulk of people are going to become irrelevent, not prized slaves. The liberation of humanity from control is the liberation of humanity from relevence.

          • cuke says:

            I rather like this answer about being a nobody.

            Wanting particular goodies (whether things or forms of validation) from society in order to be happy makes one more subject to systems and therefore less autonomous.

            Some kind of perfect individualism may be unattainable, but a lot of autonomy can be had in the crevices without being a criminal.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The authoritarian/totalitarian impulse is too great for merely being a nobody to work (at least nowadays). People don’t control other people only for labor or votes or for their own convenience, they also do it just because they enjoy the power of doing so. So “being a nobody” is the same solution as slipping through the cracks and being a criminal.

          • cuke says:

            Nybbler, I guess I’m missing your central point.

            I’m not sure who you’re referring to when you say the totalitarian impulse is too great for being a nobody to work. From my perspective, not everyone enjoys controlling other people. I don’t enjoy it. When I’m anxious, I can get controlling, yes, but I don’t get pleasure out of that and work against it in my own life.

            There are lots of people I know who seem to have found comfortable non-criminal places in the crevices. Farmers, programmers, psychotherapists, massage therapists, artists, some kinds of teachers, writers of various kinds, some solo practice lawyers, and so on. These people, including me, might call ourselves “nobodies,” but we also love the people and things we love and feel considerable freedom to go about our lives in our own ways. We could argue about levels of self-delusion or whatever, but if a person feels subjectively that they have autonomy, who are we to deny that? Yes, there are moments of having to connect to official systems, but it’s also possible to limit those moments so that daily life is not hugely impinged by those systems.

            Are we talking about two different things?

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      This is true whether he’s talking about nonviolence generally (“the command to love one’s enemy is an absolute necessity for our survival. Love even for enemies is the key to the solution of the problems of our world…Jesus is not an impractical idealist; he is the practical realist.”) and his political struggles specifically (“In violent warfare, one must be prepared to face ruthlessly the fact that there will be casualties by the thousands. … Anyone leading a violent conflict must be willing to make a similar assessment regarding the possible casualties to a minority population confronting a well-armed, wealthy majority with a fanatical right wing that is capable of exterminating the entire black population and which would not hesitate such an attempt if the survival of white Western materialism were at stake”).

      Yeah, MLK was a good man (I mean, he was a Christian pastor, guys!) and a good rhetorician. As far as pacifism as practical opposition to violence by a minority, though? The jury is still out on that: Europe is running a huge experiment as we speak, even if some of the variables are different (such as the wealthy majority being disarmed rather than well-armed).

      • DeWitt says:

        I didn’t really care for the previous time you spoke of Europe in this way, and I still really don’t. What are you even on about?

        • theodidactus says:

          I’ll confess to being afraid to touch this one, but now you did so I’m all ears.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          What are you even on about?

          Muslim immigration, and the fact that nearly every terrorist attack by a Muslim in Europe is an attempt to use violence to achieve social change that their religion has programmed them to want. They do this in European countries where they constitute as little as 6% of the population, less than half the black American minority in MLK’s day.
          So the empirical question is whether a pro-violence faction within a minority of ~6-12% of the population can achieve its goals at the expense of a wealthy majority without the minority getting violently crushed, which is the empirical question in theodidactus’s MLK quote.

          • DeWitt says:

            So the empirical question is whether a pro-violence faction within a minority of ~6-12% of the population can achieve its goals at the expense of a wealthy majority without the minority getting violently crushed, which is the empirical question in theodidactus’s MLK quote.

            seems very different from

            As far as pacifism as practical opposition to violence by a minority, though? The jury is still out on that: Europe is running a huge experiment as we speak, even if some of the variables are different (such as the wealthy majority being disarmed rather than well-armed).

            and different enough indeed that you should’ve been clearer from the get go. Aside from the motives of terrorists, which seem much less clear-cut than you keep implying, governments in Europe do in fact spend a lot of money combating terrorism, they’re not very kind about the matter, they do in fact kick out and punish people who commit terrorism even abroad, and muslims in other countries do in fact get killed by various European nations.

            The argument that the entire muslim population doesn’t generally get targeted proves too much. Would you say white Americans are nonviolently resisting their black fellow citizens because the latter group is, on net, more violent?

          • brad says:

            Muslim immigration, and the fact that nearly every terrorist attack by a Muslim in Europe is an attempt to use violence to achieve social change that their religion has programmed them to want.

            I’ve reported this comment. I don’t believe it to be true, kind, or necessary.

            I hope your constant anti-Muslim bigotry isn’t welcome here.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            I’ve reported this comment. I don’t believe it to be true, kind, or necessary.

            Hmm. I hope the “true, kind, necessary” rule doesn’t mean that outlier opinions are banned. One of the things I like about SSC is that people can make arguments well outside of society’s Overton window, and get serious responses.

            When we use the TKN rule, are we basing on what Scott thinks is TKN? Maybe that is Scott’s intent, but I hope not. Because otherwise anything outside Scott’s Overton window he might well find neither true nor necessary. I think we should use TKN under the sense of the person making the comment. This would eliminate trolling but not outlier opinions. I think MLC sincerely believes that violence is an inherent part of Islam (and I think there are some others on SSC that would agree). I don’t agree, but I would like to hear an argument.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Speaking of teaching and King, I’ve always been amazed that his day is a day off. I think if you told King “on the day honoring you, little kids don’t go to school” he would be really pissed off. I think he would want his day to feature mandatory schooling.

  18. Deiseach says:

    Looks like trouble starting back up again in Northern Ireland. Whether this is Brexit related or not, who knows, but it’s strange that it’s happening right now. Car bomb went off on Saturday, more vehicles hijacked and a controlled explosion carried out on one today.

    Awaiting further developments.

  19. I have a puzzle that people here may be able to suggest solutions to.

    Why do people prefer to do their socializing in very noisy environments, where it is hard to have a conversation? It’s a pattern I have observed repeatedly, in a variety of contexts and several different countries.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      It’s easy to drop conservations you don’t like. People prefer to have the option to escalate rather than deescalate intimacy. Environments where you do things together tend toward the noisy because they tend towards centralization.