OT121: Openumbra Thread

This is the bi-weekly visible open thread (there are also hidden open threads twice a week you can reach through the Open Thread tab on the top of the page). Post about anything you want, but please try to avoid hot-button political and social topics. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server – and also check out the SSC Podcast. Also:

1. Thanks to everyone who attended the Irvine meetup last weekend. If you’re interested in a more regular meetup group there, please email rayhsu16[at]gmail[dot]com to get your name added to the mailing list.

2. And thanks to everyone who sent me names to put on the Psychiat-List. Just a reminder that I’m still looking for your recommendations for psychiatrists and therapists anywhere that SSC readers might live.

3. On the preferred comment order poll, people were about evenly split between newest-first vs. oldest-first, but there was a clearer preference for “oldest-first on content posts, newest-first on open threads” if we can manage it. Niohiki posted some code that should be able to do this, but I haven’t been able to get it to work; niohiki, if you’re reading this send me an email at scott[at]slatestarcodex[dot]com and we’ll talk it over. In the meantime, eigenmoon has posted a user-side solution.

4. The infamous “Culture War Thread” and other discussions of hot-button controversial potentially-triggering issues have been banned from the SSC subreddit. Some of the culture war thread moderators have created a new unofficial subreddit for those kinds of discussions, r/TheMotte. If you’re interested in talking about those kinds of issues beyond the level that happens here, please check it out. I see the top thread there already has 500 comments, making me less concerned that it’s going to die off immediately. I know people have a lot of questions about this and I’ll probably talk about it in more depth later.

5. Comment of the week: Random Critical Analysis has defended their theory of US health care costs against a criticism I made in my last Links post.

6. This is my first Valentine’s Day after breaking up with my primary partner and I’m feeling kind of down. If anyone knows someone you think would be a good match for me, feel free to try to set me up. I’m kind of poly, kind of asexual, want children, and live in the East Bay. My email is scott[at]slatestarcodex[dot]com.

7. Commenter ‘a reader’ has helped run the Open Threads here and keep them on time (today’s thread being late was entirely my fault, not theirs). In exchange, I’ve added an ad for their Retro Vintage Store on Zazzle; please check it out.

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902 Responses to OT121: Openumbra Thread

  1. in a land far away says:


    So replying to number 6. Not really helping but just a suggestion; it is a cliche but go out to meetups of other related circles? Good luck!

  2. nkurz says:

    Gerd Gigerenzer has a new paper about what he calls the “bias bias”, which he defines as “The tendency to see systematic biases in behavior even when there is only unsystematic error or no verifiable error at all.” He thinks people writing scientific papers are often too quick to assume irrationality instead of considering alternative explanations.

    One of his central examples is that when flipping a fair coin, many people believe a mixed series of heads and tails is more likely to occur than a sequence of all heads or all tails. Researchers have a tendency to use this as evidence that these people are irrational (because in a sequence of N flips each pattern of length N is equally likely to occur), but Gigerenzer makes a good case that in many common cases (when the sequence of flips performed is longer than the pattern being sought) the mixed series is indeed more likely to occur.

    Specifically, assume I flip a fair coin 4 times. Is is more likely that we will observe the sequence HHH (3 heads) or HHT (2 heads followed by a tails)? The answer is that HHT is more common, occurring in 4/16 of the cases, while HHH will appear only 3/16 of the time. Since patterns being sought are often extracted from longer sequences, this means it may in fact be rational to assume that a mixed pattern is in fact more common.

    The paper explains this math in great detail, and I can follow and accept the conclusion, but I feel still feel like I haven’t properly internalized the reasoning. I re-encounter the problem every few years, and while I’ve learned to be wary, I don’t feel like I can confidently answer even slight variations without building a full table of possibilities. For example, I don’t know offhand if HHT is more or less likely than HTH. I can work it out, but I (probably appropriately) lack confidence in my intuition.

    How would I go about better training my intuition for such problems?

    • Joseph Greenwood says:

      Is the focus of this question on how to improve your probabilistic intuition, or avoid “bias bias”?

      • nkurz says:

        I’m mostly looking for intuitive explanations for the particular example of which patterns occur most frequently. For example, I’m hoping there is a different way of viewing these questions that lets me see immediately whether THHHT should occur more or less frequently than THTHT in a series of N>5 flips, ideally with a sense of of the magnitude of difference for different N. Alternatively, as shown in another example in the paper, I’d like to feel more comfortable extending the general concept to a statistical analysis of “hot hands” in sports. My bias bias bias already agrees with the conclusions of Gigarenzer’s paper, so I’m comfortable with keeping it as is.

        • Joseph Greenwood says:

          I’d think in general the best way to get that sort of intuition would be to run numerical simulations and draw pictures of the results.

          The probabilities given were empirically determined by running 100,000 trials per input sequence. They represent the odds that the given sequence [(0,0,0) for the first line] shows up as a subsequence of a sequence of 10 uniformly distributeded random coin flips.

          ((0, 0, 0), 0.46359)
          ((0, 0, 1), 0.71907)
          ((0, 1, 0), 0.61017)
          ((0, 1, 1), 0.71861)
          ((1, 0, 0), 0.72216)
          ((1, 0, 1), 0.6098)
          ((1, 1, 0), 0.71959)
          ((1, 1, 1), 0.46531)

          These differences look pretty stark. It’s almost twice as likely that you will flip two heads and then a tails as it is that you will flip three heads in a row.

          • Joseph Greenwood says:

            This is my (python) code if anyone wants to fiddle around with the parameters and get more thorough results:

            import random
            import itertools

            #Returns True if Target is a subsequence of Test, and False otherwise
            def CheckSubSeq(Target,Test):
            for i in xrange(0,len(Test) – len(Target)):
            Match = False
            for j in xrange(0,len(Target)):
            if Target[j] != Test[i + j]:
            elif j + 1 == len(Target):
            return True
            return False

            #This function takes Target and checks if it occurs as a subsequence
            #of a sequence of length L with elements chosen uniformly at random from the set {0,…,M}
            #It repeats this test N times and returns the proportion of sucessful trials
            def FreqSequence(Target,L,M = 1,N = 10**5):
            Matches = 0
            for n in xrange(0,N):
            Test = [random.randint(0, M) for m in xrange(0,L)]
            if CheckSubSeq(Target,Test):
            Matches += 1
            return float(Matches)/N

            for Target in itertools.product([0,1],repeat = 3):
            print (Target,FreqSequence(Target, 100))

            EDIT: Apparently the comment section here doesn’t believe in tabs. White space is important in Python, so this code won’t run unless you put tabs back in where the belong (after every semicolon, basically). Sorry about that.

    • fion says:

      Hmm… that coin flipping thing is really interesting. I’ve never thought about it like that.

      Perhaps one way to develop an intuition is to answer the question for some known cases and then see what they have in common. So work out whether HHT or HTH is more likely, work out whether THHHT or HTHTH is more likely and maybe some other examples, and see if the answers have common features. I’m tempted to do this myself actually…

      • Joseph Greenwood says:

        Your intuition could start with symmetries. HHT, TTH, HTT, and THH should all be equally likely because you can get them from each other by flipping which side of your coin is heads and which is tails, and by reading backwards along your sequence instead of forwards.

    • 10240 says:

      I haven’t thought about how to calculate these probabilities in general, but here is an explanation of this example:

      Take all the 16 possible length-4 sequences. They all contain two (not necessarily different) length-3 subsequences, for a total of 32 subsequences. Each of the 8 possible length-3 sequences appear with the same probability as either the first or the second subsequence of a random length-4 sequence, so each will appear 4 times among the 32 subsequences. (Indeed, if we calculate the expected value of the number occurrences of a given of length-3 sequence in a sequence of 4 coin flips, it’s 1/4 for every length-3 sequence.) If the 4 cases of a particular length-3 sequence as a subsequence of a length-4 sequence all occur in different length-4 sequences, then the length-3 sequence will appear in 4 of the possible 16 length-4 sequences. But it’s possible for a length-3 sequence to appear as both length-3 subsequences of a length-4 sequence, and then the total number of length-4 sequences in which it appears at least once is lower. The only such cases are HHH and TTT, in HHHH and TTTT respectively.

      This suggests that in general, a sequence has a smaller probability of appearing at least once if it is equal to a shifted version of itself along the overlap, like

      • The Nybbler says:

        The actual computation appears quite complex. The possibility that a length K sequence does not appear in a length N sequence can be calculated by calculating the product of the probabilities that the sequence does not appear at position i given that it did not appear at positions i-1…i-K+1, for i running from 0 to N-K.

        However, I don’t know how to systematize the calculation of those conditional probabilities.

      • 10240 says:

        It appears that even the code tag swallows leading spaces. I meant this:

      • nkurz says:

        > a sequence has a smaller probability of appearing at least once if it is equal to a shifted version of itself along the overlap

        This is about the same as the formulation I’ve been working on. Assume N is the total number of flips, and K is the length of the substring we are looking for. If we consider the full expansion of all 2^N possible strings, each possible substring occurs the same number of times at each of the N-K possible starting positions, and thus each possible substring occurs the same number of times in the entire expansion.

        Since the total number of expressions of each substring within the entire expansion is constant, this means that the more times a substring can occur within a single string, the fewer times it must appear in some complementary set of strings. It’s a “conservation of substrings” argument, where if they are of greater concentration in some strings, they must have lower concentration in others.

        For this argument to work, though, and it seems like there must be some unstated assumptions. For instance, we need to assume not only reduced occurrences elsewhere, but an absolute increase in the number of strings with zero occurrences. While I think this has to be true, I don’t feel like I have any proof of why this has to be the case. Thus my hope that there is some better way of viewing things.

        • The Nybbler says:

          This is what I was getting at with my probability formulation. The probability that a string of length N has 0 occurrences of a string of length K is the product of the probabilities that the length-K string does not appear at each position, given that it did not appear at any of the previous K-1 positions.

          The conditional probabilities (there are K-1 different ones, not counting the degenerate one) are clearly higher if overlap is possible. Consider the simplest nontrivial case — N=3, K = 2, and consider the middle position. For HH and TT (which allow overlap), P(sequence does not appears at middle position | does not appear at start) = 5/6. For TH and HT (which do not), it’s 4/6 = 2/3. So for HH or TT, P(does not appear in sequence of length 3) = 6/8 * 5/6 = 5/8, and for TH or HT it’s 6/8 * 4/6 = 1/2. These numbers verify by inspection.

          Thus more overlap = more probability of the sequence not appearing in a longer sequence. I don’t know if there’s a way to show this with the 2^K universe pigeonhole principle idea.

    • ben says:

      the other weird thing is if you observe HHHH then you see the sequence HHH twice. so you have 3/16 of seeing HHH from 4 flips but one of those 3/16 you see it twice in the same four flips.

    • Pattern says:

      Apparently there is prior work (with coins) here:

      if HHT is more or less likely than HTH.

      Let’s call them sequence A and sequence B.
      Someone starts flipping a coin, and neither sequence is started until H is reached:
      Progress in one direction seems equally likely as in the other here
      But there’s only a 1/2 probability of success, so they each have the same score (1/2^x).
      HHT (terminus)
      HTH (terminus)
      Now, if we continue HTT, neither A nor B have an advantage.
      But, with HHH A has an advantage over B: it hasn’t been broken. B had to start all over, but A is still going.
      A is at 1/2 + 1/4, and B is at 1/2. You might say A has “captured” HH. A’s win from HH is being 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 +… + 1/2^n, where n is the number of flips after HH is reached. On the other hand “1/2” isn’t precise because we weren’t watching the other equally likely stream of possibility, and just because one has occurred in a stream doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep following it because the other might still show up, so Penney’s game isn’t perfect (but it gives you an idea).

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        I was all ready to jump on Wikipedia for their sloppy spelling and misuse of apostrophes, and it turns out to be nothing more than a humdrum case of nominative determinism.

      • nkurz says:

        Thanks, the link to Penney’s Game is very interesting. For those who didn’t read it, it’s a different but related problem: Player One chooses a length 3 binary pattern; in response, Player Two chooses their own length 3 pattern. A coin is then flipped until either one of the patterns appears. Whichever pattern appears first wins. Astonishingly, regardless of the pattern Player One chooses, Player Two can be expected to win every time, and by a large margin. It’s an example of a

        • Lambert says:

          I’m guessing P2’s strategy is to choose the first two of P1’s sequence as their last two.
          So they both need the same subsequence of two flips to win.
          For each player, there’s a 1/2 chance that the common subsequence has the correct flip before or afterwards for them to win. But in the 1/4 of cases where both have the correct flip (i.e. the four flips contain both subsequences), P2 wins before P1 gets a chance.

          And the chance of P1 winning in the first 3 flips (before P2 gets a chance) is only 1/8.

          • nkurz says:

            Yes, if Player One chooses “1 2 3” the suggested best strategy for Player Two is “not-2 1 2”. As a worked example, if Player One says “HTH”, Player Two does best saying “HHT”.

            But how about a 3 player version? Can Player Three always beat Players One and Two? Only sometimes depending on Player One’s choice? Or never?

    • littskad says:

      This is a traditional topic in stochastic processes, Markov chains, and renewal theory. William Feller discusses related topics to this in his classic An Introduction to Probability Theory and its Applications, volume 1, section XIII. One example he gives shows that the mean recurrence time for 6 heads in a row is 126; whereas the mean recurrence time for the pattern HHTTHH (or TTHHTT) is only 70.

      Martin Gardner discusses your specific example of which will more likely occur first between HTH and HHT in one of his Mathematical Games essays from Scientific American in the collection Time Travel and Other Mathematical Bewilderments.

      David Williams shows a general martingale framework for this sort of question in his Probability with Martingales.

      Some other references include Sheldon Ross’s Stochastic Processes and Karlin and Taylor’s A First Course in Stochastic Processes.

  3. theredsheep says:

    So, I just finished Worm yesterday. My combined thanks and malediction to Scott for introducing me to this thing that ate two and a half weeks of my life! A couple of questions:

    1. What’s that Alicorntopia thing about? I can’t figure it out.

    2. V’z pbashfrq nobhg jung znqr Fpvba gvpx. Ur unf na bqq zragny fgngr, jurer ur’f cflpubybtvpnyyl pbzcyrk rabhtu gb vasyvpg rynobengr gbegherf ba uhznavgl, lrg fvzcyr rabhtu gb hadhrfgvbavatyl borl n enaqbz Oevgvfu qehax sbe lrnef. Hagvy ur zrrgf Wnpx, jub crefhnqrf uvz gb fjvgpu uvf crefbany zbenyvgl bire sebz “nhgvfgvp Fhcrezna” gb “bzavpvqr.” Unf abobql nggrzcgrq gb gnyx uvz bire orsber, be vf vg whfg na nfcrpg bs Wnpx’f cnenuhzna-jnecvat cbjref? Jung vf ur gelvat gb nppbzcyvfu ol xvyyvat gur uryy bhg bs rirelguvat, nalubj? Vg pna’g or gb fgeratgura gur funeqf, ab ureb pna fheivir zber guna gra frpbaqf ntnvafg uvz, naq zbfg abg gung ybat.

    3. (very mild spoilers for the first three snippets of Ward) Qbrf Jneq trg orggre? V jnf ubcvat, onfrq ba gur gvgyr, gung vg jbhyq or nobhg, r.t., Obarfnj gelvat gb erohvyq ure uhznavgl naq qvt urefrys bhg bs ure rabezbhf ubyr. Be fbzrguvat ryfr nybat gur fnzr yvarf. Nabgure vagrerfgvat haqreqbt. Vafgrnq jr’ir tbg cbfg-ureb Tybel Tvey npgvat nf fbzr xvaq bs CE pbc, naq vg’f abg tenoovat zr.

    • Nick says:

      1. Alicorn, a rationalist from the days of yore, wrote some ratfic. The big one was Luminosity, a Twilight fanfic. I haven’t read it, but here’s the tvtropes page. It looks like she’s writing a story called Elcenia now.

      3. Ward is divisive. Randy mentioned the other day that he got stuck a few arcs in, and I’ve been stalled at arc 7 for months now. The writing has improved, but I find myself less invested in the characters and less interested in where the story goes, and I can’t really explain it.

      • Randy M says:

        It wasn’t the characters for me, though, since I liked that superhero family in Worm (oh, spoiler for the first chapter of Ward, I guess).

        Regarding Scion, I think he was supposed to be different–notably non-human psychologically, I mean. Obviously he wasn’t stupid, he was brilliant tactically and understood how to unmake Myrmidian with a single line, but without his other half he had no direction or long term planning.

        Other people had definitely tried to talk to him before the ones you mention; reread the early chapter from Danny’s perspective that includes a documentary about him to review where that was mentioned.

      • Nornagest says:

        I’m stalled around arc 7 in Ward too. I’ve talked about some other issues with it before, but one I haven’t mentioned is that I never really got a a feel for the city, so I don’t have a good idea of what the stakes are, and fights that should have me invested instead feel like banging two action figures together. And there’s a lot of fighting now.

        Evocative settings have never really been a strength of Wildbow’s, though — he’s better at individual scenes than at tying them together into something cohesive. That’s not such a big deal in conventional superhero stories (Worm) or even in urban fantasy (Pact), but it’s a pretty serious weakness now.

    • Elementaldex says:

      Per #2 I believe Jack’s power was related to broadcasting information to/between other shards which gave him a unique line of communication to Scion and thus ability to be heard when he spoke.

      Per #3 I don’t like Ward and read it up until about a month ago because I so enjoyed Worm and Twig. I will take another stab at it either when it is done or when I next have a week to burn (most likely never on that one).

      Worm was phenomenal, glad you got to experience it.

    • Alejandro says:

      I don’t find Ward nearly as addictive as Worm, but I am following it and enjoying it. It is more character-focused with less relentless escalation.

      One thing that increases my enjoyment of it is listening to the We’ve Got Ward podcast, which each week discusses in depth the couple of chapters released that week; it makes me appreciate a lot more all the cool things that Wildbow’s writing does that you can easily miss in a quick read. It is a follow-up to We’ve Got Worm, in which the same two podcasters (one a previous fan, one a newbie) discussed the story arc by arc as the second one was reading it. I would strongly recommend listening to the backlog if you are itching for more Worm and do not feel like reading Ward at the moment; the insights they provide into the story are phenomenal. (One of them hangs around here sometimes–shoutout to Matt if you read this!)

      • Randy M says:

        I listened to most of the podcasts shortly after reading it [WORM] as well.

      • Nick says:

        I’ve listened to a bit of their Worm stuff and a lot of their Ward stuff (only up through what I’ve read, of course). And yeah, they do a great job highlighting things the writing is doing that I don’t notice in a single read.

  4. Levantine says:

    This morning I’ve been looking for government policies, aimed at rise of fertility rates, that have evidently succeeded. I found none, anywhere in the world. If I’ve missed any, I’ll be grateful if you mention them here.

    I was prompted by a TV show suggestion from an economist that such a campaign should work. It made me suspicious.

    • Syx78 says:

      Not entirely sure the dynamics but France seems to have solved this to an extent (at least more than other countries).


      Supposedly if during the reign of LouisXIV France had kept a birthrate similar to that in England/Germany France would now have a population of ~350 million/roughly the same as the US(this also gives a sense of how powerful France used to be). The population “decline” was especially bad in the years 1800-1940. I haven’t heard a great answer explaining it/why it happened, but compare it to a place like Germany which had ton of emigration and still surged in population, it’s clear it did.

      As a result, France experienced a relative population decline to its European neighbors and this resulted in major consquences(See: World Wars).

      Things seem to have reversed with the post-war boom, which France experienced in a big way. Wiki cites a bunch of French government policies that pushed the boom even further in the 1940s (tho the boom took place elsewhere at the same time France’s was more dramatic).

      France to this maintains one of the highest birthrates in Europe. And as a reverse of fortune it’s quite a bit higher than Germany’s (1.96 vs. 1.50). The estimate is that France will once again surpass Germany’s population around 2060.

      Also note that the extent of the problem hit France hard in ~1870 and it wasn’t fully solved until ~1950. So that’s about 80 years before reforms were really able to implemented. This could mean it could still be quite awhile before other countries figure out their own solutions.

    • johan_larson says:

      This article in Slate mentions some successes in Canada and Estonia.

      A great deal of study has been made of natalist measures and the analysis suggests that, at best, policy can have a small, positive effect on fertility rates. For every success story (Canada and Estonia experienced some modest fertility growth by offering baby bonuses and a “mother’s salary”), there are many failures. One econometric analysis of the literature suggests that for every 25 percent increase in natalist spending, society gets a 0.6 percent fertility increase in the short term, and only a 4 percent increase in the long run.

      We discussed this issue in an earlier OT, and came up with some *cough* creative solutions.

    • EchoChaos says:

      What about Israel? A solidly first-world country that should be well past the demographic transition, but their birthrate is still over 3 per woman.

      • John Schilling says:

        Basing your nation, culture, and society on a religion that explicitly preaches “be fruitful and multiply” is clearly effective, but difficult to generalize across modern liberal democratic civilization. Or, for that matter, socialist authoritarian civilization.

        • Randy M says:

          Hmm, is there that much difference? There’s a lot of Jewish atheists, and not a few Western Christians who also preach be fruitful and multiply.
          The difference is that they still see themselves as one family, Jewish vs Gentile, whereas the people in the US ad Europe don’t really see much unity within the nation. I mean, the secular Israeli academic (or whatever) sees it to Israel’s advantage if Orthodox move there and increase the population, don’t they? Whereas I don’t think the Blue tribe types look too fondly at families of 4+. Which isn’t to say they are uniformly nasty to breeders or anything, just that they think that aspect is detrimental to minorities or the environment or women etc.

          • Nick says:

            There does seem to remain a widespread idea that having more kids will doom the planet or be the ruin of women. There was a funny dustup a few months ago when Macron of France said, “Present me the woman who decided, being perfectly educated, to have seven, eight or nine children”. A Catholic academic and mother of eight didn’t wait around for a man to present her and spearheaded a response campaign.

          • Randy M says:

            Was Macron lamenting the disgenic effects of higher education, or praising the fact that the educated women knew better than to fill the earth their their off-spring?

          • Nick says:

            Very much the latter. Though he backtracks a few minutes later, quoted in the article:

            “I’m fine with a lady having seven, eight children if this is her choice, after education,” he said. “This is not the case today. That’s why for me, education is the main answer — first, to avoid the worst; second, to maximize opportunities in African countries and in the rest of the world; third, to properly monitor demography.”

          • Randy M says:

            Ah. That’s a lot of dissembling, and I bet the people who attacked him for daring to have an opinion about what a woman should do weren’t able to penetrate down to the (arguably justifiable) racist concerns underneath.

          • John Schilling says:

            Hmm, is there that much difference? There’s a lot of Jewish atheists…

            Right, but they are Jewish atheists. It isn’t necessary for everyone to actually believe the theology to maintain high birth rates, but that the nation, the culture, and the society be solidly founded on the religion. In Israel, that has been done to the extent that even the atheists call themselves Jews and e.g. accept that public transportation is and ought to be shut down on the Sabbath. And I’m pretty sure that also applies to cultural factors like, e.g., whether a woman who decides to stay home and raise her four children is presumed to be a foolish loser who has written off the “good life”.

            In the United States and Western Europe, very few atheists call themselves Christians, the lapsed Christians who aren’t quite ready to call themselves atheists also aren’t willing to have the trains and shops closed on Sunday, and stay-at-home mothers with many children get rather less acclaim outside of explicit Red Tribe strongholds.

          • Randy M says:

            I see. The Israelis based their culture around Judaism, even including the ones that didn’t believe in it. Or perhaps, they didn’t believe in it factually, but believed in it as you believe in your favorite sports star; they root for it and think well of it and identify with it. Similar to the west (Christendom) and Christianity minus, say, 100-300 (US vs Europe) years of self critique and deconstruction.

            FWIW, I’ve only heard of one self-described Christian Atheist; while a lot of atheists seem to be reacting against Christianity specifically, they don’t have the affection for it the term would imply.

          • 10240 says:

            In Israel, that has been done to the extent that even the atheists call themselves Jews and e.g. accept that public transportation is and ought to be shut down on the Sabbath.

            I’m not sure how many secular Israelis support that. From what I gather, it largely owes to the presence of ultra-orthodox parties in almost every government coalition, who only care about a few such issues and little else.

            I’m not sure if atheists call themselves Jews in the sense of a religion rather than ethnicity. There is debate among Jews about whether Jew is only a religion or also an ethnicity, some insist on the former but the practical usage of the word points to the latter.

        • EchoChaos says:

          America is more Christian than Israel is Jewish, and both have that explicit preaching.

          Edit to add: And America is more Catholic (which explicitly bans birth control) than Israel is Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox combined (both allow birth control, but only after at least two kids).

          Religion can clearly not explain it.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I suspect it’s got a lot to do with Israel’s geopolitical situation. Being surrounded by countries which want to wipe you off the map must be a good way of hammering home the need to produce more warm bodies for your army.

          • Joseph Greenwood says:

            And on a more personal level, cognizance of mortality encourages people to make little copies of themselves [citation needed].

          • EchoChaos says:

            @The original Mr. X

            That doesn’t seem to hold together for me either. Taiwan’s birthrate and South Korea’s birthrate are very low despite also being next to belligerent countries.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Taiwan’s birthrate and South Korea’s birthrate are very low despite also being next to belligerent countries

            True. But I don’t think it would be too gross a mischaracterisation to say that China and North Korea’s official position is more like “Your territory is rightfully part of our country; your citizens are rightfully the citizens of our reunited country, were it not for your recalcitrant separatist government”; whereas with Israel it’s more like “You are the enemies of God and the Prophet and are unlawfully colonising land that belongs to the Ummah”

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            *within* countries there is almost always a positive relationship between social conservatism and fertility. Whether that is caused by, or is the cause of, the apparently relationship between religious

            There’s also the distinction between contraceptive use; which would mostly affect things like out of wedlock births, and the conscious decision to marry younger and/or have more children.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Winter Shaker

            That seems a pretty gross mischaracterization of Islam to me. Jewish communities have thrived historically under Islamic rule, and there is no reason to think, despite the rhetoric of one far away country that ISN’T an imminent invasion threat, that a post-conquest Israel owned by say Egypt would be any worse off than Jews were under the Mamluks.

            Iran’s rhetoric is pretty over the top, but actually belied by their treatment of Iranian Jews. Certainly an invasion would cause a loss of soldier’s lives and be a massive disruption, but afterwards life in post-conquest Israel would likely be better than life in post-conquest South Korea.

          • Keller Scholl says:

            American Catholics use birth control at rates indistinguishable from protestants. US Jewish Orthodox families have a birthrate of 4.1. Nominal doctrinal differences don’t matter: actual implementation does, and that can easily have religious causes.

          • albatross11 says:

            One thing I’ve noticed is that in my parish, most families are only a little bigger than the average, but there are a noticeable number of families that are really big–like five or six or seven kids.

            I suspect this is visible in our parish because I know the families who are most involved, and those families are exactly the ones likely to take Church doctrines seriously enough to have five kids. (Also probably many people used birth control when they were unmarried, but now that they’re married they feel like they should welcome children into the world.)

      • Jaskologist says:

        It’s religion. More religious societies have more babies. Government policies are a poor and generally ineffective substitute.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Do you mean religious societies or religious people? Because secular Israelis are pretty fertile by first world standards. If you do mean religious societies, do you have any other examples of religious societies affecting the fertility of non-religious members.

        • EchoChaos says:

          Even secular Israeli Jews far outbreed religious American Christians.

          • Joseph Greenwood says:

            Do the religious Christians you are referring to regularly attend church? Do they make other sacrifices for their religion?

          • EchoChaos says:

            I don’t have statistics for that or know how you would get that.

          • Nick says:

            Do the religious Christians you are referring to regularly attend church?

            I don’t have statistics for that or know how you would get that.

            Pew Religious Landscape Study is a good place to start. Here’s the data for religious service attendance.

          • Joseph Greenwood says:

            I was guessing that if we measure “religious devotion” by proxies like “church attendance” and “charitable contributions” and “time spent volunteering” (as opposed to be self-identification), Israeli citizens would rank substantially higher per capita than Americans in their religious adherence.

            …However, a cursory search of the internet seems to indicate I was mistaken.

            First, the part where I think I am correct! Wikipedia was throwing around numbers like 22% or 37% of Americans attend church weekly. Of those, according to this random article on the internet (, between 10% and 25% are full tithe payers, meaning they donate at least 10% of their income to the church they attend. If we take these numbers at face-value and proxy for “serious and sincere religious adherents” with “weekly church-goers who pay a full tithe”, this translates to between 2% and 10% of the American public being serious enough about Christianity to make meaningful sacrifices for it. (Not included are the people who are serious enough about other religions to make serious sacrifices for them). These numbers seem broadly correct to me. A significant proportion–maybe half–of Americans self-identify as Christian and spiritually minded, but an order of magnitude fewer are willing to give up much for it.

            Unfortunately for me, Israel doesn’t seem to fare any better on a per capita basis. This random site ( gives Israelis about a 27% synagogue attendance, which is right in the middle of the church attendance for Americans.

            This surprised me, and suggests I should be more careful in trusting my intuition. By extension, probably you should downgrade your confidence in what I say somewhat. We should look elsewhere for our explanation of Israeli fertility rates

          • Nick says:

            Take a look at party affiliation by religious attendance. My impression has long been that it’s because religious blacks and Hispanics are not the ones driving policy for Democrats.

            ETA: …looks like you deleted your other comment. Never mind then.

          • Jaskologist says:

            This is not inconsistent with my hypothesis. I didn’t religion is the only factor, and I wouldn’t expect different religions to necessarily do the same thing (Shakers had really bad fertility). And again, the society’s norms (which are still a matter of religion) are probably going to matter more than individual belief.

          • Joseph Greenwood says:

            Nick: sorry for cutting the comment out. (For the rest of the readership, I registered surprise that the same proportion of Democrats and Republicans are Christian). When I looked one chart further down I saw that conservativism is still more strongly correlated with Christianity than (American) liberalism, and that seemed sufficient explanation that it wasn’t worth bothering people here.

      • EchoChaos says:

        To summarize my comments above, as a very religious American with substantially more than replacement number of children, there is a big difference in the CULTURE, not the religion between Israel and other countries.

        Israeli media, both on the right and on the left, praises having big families, writes concerned articles about if Israelis are having enough kids and promotes family as exciting and good for young people.

        As someone who grew up in a big family around big families and goes to a church that promotes big families, even there the external culture matters a lot. American culture (and I assume Western European as well) heavily emphasizes the sacrifices parents have to make, how big a deal kids are and the damage they do to the planet.

        While religious Americans have more kids than secular Americans and religious Israelis have more kids than secular Israelis, the baseline cultural assumption is very different, and to promote them you need an entire change in culture, especially in the media.

      • 10240 says:

        Somewhere I’ve read that the Holocaust has an effect on their mindset. There is an idea (and associated social pressure) around in Israel that someone who doesn’t have a few Jewish kids is basically siding with the Nazis. (Not exact phrasing and I don’t know how correct it is.)

        Not a method we want to replicate.

        • EchoChaos says:

          That’s interesting. Neither Armenia nor Ukraine, despite both suffering genocides in the last century, have a high birthrate.

          Are Israelis substantially more focused on the Holocaust than Armenians/Ukrainians?

          • 10240 says:

            I’m not sure but I think so. Both Ukraine and Armenia were under communist rule for many decades, who avoided focus on grievances of ethnic groups against others. (Especially when they were responsible, but not only: they also downplayed collaboration with the Nazis in the Holocaust in Poland, wanting to present a unified anti-fascist struggle.) The Holodomor was also less devastating as a percentage of the total population than the Holocaust, I don’t know that in the case of the Armenian genocide.

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      I would look to Israel for examples if any exist. Using France or any developed country as an example is problematic since countries with heavy levels of immigration can raise their average fertility that way, but for both natives and immigrants fertility may be declining.

      My guess is enduring increases to fertility are dependent on there existing both an economic and social infrastructure that supports it. Advertisements and subsidies won’t work if the economy itself is geared towards school/work/paying for school-rent consuming the majority of one’s time, energy, and money.

      • MartMart says:

        I think Israel has the highest rates of immigration seen in the modern world. The country doubled its population several times over with immigration.

        • RalMirrorAd says:

          Then I suppose in either case we’d need to see what the before-after fertility rates are. I assumed [ashamedly, without data] that the immigrant pulls were both selective and came from from Russia-EU-US where fertility would be at or below replacement.

          My anecdotal knowledge was that Jews have a below replacement fertility rate in the countries they’re migrating to Israel from.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        I’m inclined to think it would be easier for any country to just have a very high tax upper-marginal tax rates for single people and then have the tax rates ratchet down to more reasonable levels based on the number of children they have [up to 3 or 4]. You’d have to figure out what reduction is necessary to balance-out the costs of childrearing.

        Because [and unfortunately this gets into CW territory somewhat –] Fertility decisions are driven so much by the lifestyle choices of men and women. Insofar as it’s driven as much by careerism ( or rather the economic attractiveness of childlessness for earning and preserving after-tax-after-expense income)

        It’s a much harsher approach though [potentially, depends on the tax differential]. It’s basically saying that aspirations of middle class lifestyles and child-rearing must henceforth go hand-in-hand.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          So a bachelor tax? Isn’t that one of the signs of a doomed society, like ancient Rome?

          • Lambert says:

            It doesn’t seem fundamentally different from child benefits.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Not at all knowledgeable about Rome, but was their tax a contributing factor to their doom, or merely a symptom? In any case, Wikipedia says it was brought in in 9 AD when I thought that they were still in the ascendant…?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I’m asking. I’ve heard it referred to that way (as a symptom from failing families because doomed state) but I don’t know enough about ancient Rome.

          • Protagoras says:

            @Winter Shaker, The beginning of the end for the Republic was when they started establishing provinces in their territories outside Italy, instead of extending the systems that had worked so well on the peninsula, and that happened at the end of the first Punic war. But it took a long time for the rot to do its work. Rome was still strong enough to win major wars of expansion for a few centuries more, even as the fall of the Gracchi and the civil wars further weakened its institutions, and Augustus was able to use the last remnant of Republican strength to conquer more physical land than anyone who had come before, even as he ensured that strength could never be renewed. But the Empire was always a holding action; it never had the vibrancy of the Republic. And obviously 9 AD is Empire.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ Protagoras:

            It’s true that the Empire didn’t conquer as much land as the Republic, but I suspect that had at least as much to do with size/communications problems than any inherent vitality of the Republic vs. the Empire. And even if we consider the Empire nothing but a holding action, it still managed to hold for 506 years (30 BC-AD 476), or more than twice as long as the entire history of the United States, so writing it off as doomed from the start seems a little bit pessimistic.

  5. Uribe says:

    Against Political Opinions

    The older I get, the less I want to have a political opinion about anything. Unlike when I was younger, I no longer believe my own opinion will affect policy. If my opinion can’t affect policy, what is the point of having one?

    One reason might be for my own thoughts, my identity as a member of a democracy. I do have an identity as a member of a democracy, but increasingly my identity as a member of a democracy is that I just want this country to remain a democracy. I have my biases about which party is less worse than the other, but I suspect those biases may just be biases.

    One reason might be that might political opinions help me get along with friends and coworkers. In the case of friends, I don’t give a fuck what their politics are. I judge my friends by their sense of humor not their politics. In the case of coworkers; my coworkers tend to have the opposite political biases I do, so I hide mine for expediency. Perhaps I’m being a coward in hiding my political biases from my coworkers, but this gets back at the theme: what is the point in caring about a political opinion? in the case of standing up to my coworkers to express a differing political opinion, it seems that i would have nothing to gain and everything to lose.

    One reason might be that having a political opinion would make me a better citizen, as perhaps having a political opinion is the essence of being a member of a democracy. All around me these days I hear people express their political opinions dramatically, stupidly, pedantically, redundantly, reflexively, long-windedly, piously, rebelliously… I don’t know. These people don’t strike me as better citizens than I am just because I don’t want to have a political opinion.

    My political opinion doesn’t matter to the world outside of me. Is there a good reason I should have one? Is there some ethical failing in not choosing a side?

    • No ethical failing, but it’s hard not to have an opinion about high visibility things going on around you. It is of no importance to me whether or not there is snow on the hills east of San Jose, but given that I can see them when looking in that direction, I’m likely to have an opinion on the subject.

      You can choose not to spend the time and effort to have a well based opinion about some issues—immigration, say, or global warming. But it’s likely that you will still have an opinion, just not one that you should be very confident of.

      • brad says:

        You can choose not to spend the time and effort to have a well based opinion about some issues—immigration, say, or global warming. But it’s likely that you will still have an opinion, just not one that you should be very confident of.

        Sure, I still have an opinion buried in there somewhere. But I think it’s a rationalist virtue to not communicate low confidence opinions. “I don’t know” is a fantastic phrase that should be used more often.

        • Aapje says:

          If you have many people making strong claims based on evidence which is very weak, is it then helpful to excuse yourself from that conversation, leaving only such extreme opinions?

          Or is it better to inject your own opinions, but then with appropriate indications of uncertainty and doubt?

          I’m not sure.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Why not just interject with your doubts and skepticism; I do this pretty regularly: say something like, “I admit I don’t know much about this, but that doesn’t sound right to me. Where did you get that idea from?”

            It obviously isn’t appropriate at all times, and doesn’t always go over well, but I find it works most of the time. I think there’s even supposed to be some finding that asking people to defend a view without explicitly arguing against it yourself is one of the better ways to get them to admit doubt.

          • EchoChaos says:


            Especially if you have a reputation for being a person who carefully considers things and knows what he is talking about, saying “I don’t know but that doesn’t sound right” is very powerful.

          • albatross11 says:

            This was my take on the Kavenaugh hearings–basically everyone else in my office was convinced he was guilty, and I kept saying “I don’t see how you can have a lot of confidence in the claim he’s guilty or that he’s innocent.”

          • baconbits9 says:

            This was my take on the Kavenaugh hearings–basically everyone else in my office was convinced he was guilty, and I kept saying “I don’t see how you can have a lot of confidence in the claim he’s guilty or that he’s innocent.”

            The conversation my wife and I had was getting heated and she asked “why do you think hes innocent?” when my position was “how the hell could I/anyone know if he was innocent or guilty”.

          • albatross11 says:

            My speculation is that people often interpret strong emotions for certainty. When there’s a huge tribal battle, that’s a great place for peoples’ feelings to be strong enough that they feel very certain of something they don’t actually know much about. (Compare the set of people who were *sure* about whether Zimmerman got away with murder, or whether that cop had shot Michael Brown in cold blood or self defense.).

            I think this is related to the way that sometimes, really horrible alleged crimes kind-of override the jurors’ brains and emotions, with the result of getting them to convict people for some alleged horrible crime despite not very compelling or plausible evidence of it. (Think of the people sent to prison on those bizarre ritual satanic sexual abuse cases, with evidence about as convincing as you’d get from an unusually intense UFO abduction story.)

            Outrage cascades seem like they engage this same bug in our brains. The moral issues are so *important*, the outrage so *intense*, the sides so clearly drawn between the good guy and the bad guys, that little questions like whether or not this person actually did the thing he’s accused of can easily get swamped right out of the calculation.

          • Aapje says:


            You can have high certainty about something being uncertain, though.

          • albatross11 says:

            Sure. And you can have stronger or weaker beliefs based on your own knowledge, the number and seriousness of the people providing the information, etc. But I think people in general are pretty bad at thinking this way for abstract stuff far from their expertise. And all of us are susceptible to getting fooled. One example that sticks in my mind is Dan Kahneman making a comment in his wonderful book _Thinking Fast and Slow_ about how priming research is extremely well understood and established, so even though some of it seems unintuitive you pretty much have to accept it as true. Kahneman is an extremely smart man whose Nobel-winning life’s work research is rather closely related to the priming research, but he made an extremely strong statement here that must have reflected his beliefs at the time. If he can be fooled about research in an adjacent field to his own at this level, it’s hard for me to believe I can’t be fooled about all kinds of stuff that looks rock-solid from my interested-amateur perspective.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I don’t harass people to have political opinions or vote anymore. If they want to stay neutral and uninformed, more power to them.

      That said, I think the whole political system is better off with more informed, reasonale citizens. You mention the people who:

      express their political opinions dramatically, stupidly, pedantically, redundantly, reflexively, long-windedly, piously, rebelliously…

      Just don’t be one of those people. If you don’t express your opinions, the active citizenry just consists of more people like the above. Though, obviously, don’t mention anything at work, as most people are the opposite of tolerant. If you have views ideologically different than your co-workers, expressing those views can make you a target. And you don’t want to jeopardize your livelihood.

      • ChrisA says:

        I don’t think not having strong opinions means you cannot partake in politics. For instance you could evaluate the positions of parties based on their relative humbleness about solutions, and conservativeness about taking actions until the consequences are clear and the issues fully understood. This is close to the classic conservative approach in fact. Another axis in politics (vs the traditional left vs right) is between radicals and conservatives – meaning not patriotic flag waving conservatives but people who oppose radical solutions to problems.

    • Randy M says:

      The older I get, the less I want to have a political opinion about anything.

      I feel similar, although it more that about many topics I have greatly reduced certainty about ‘my sides’ ideas, with some exceptions. Maybe that’s due to age, or maybe due to being here over the last half decade or however long it’s been, maybe it’s due to not wanting to be a part or participate in the rancor that accompanies politics, or maybe it’s because I don’t see much opportunity to really advance those causes, especially without contributing to the rancor.
      Examples include health care policy, tax policy, climate change, welfare, foreign policy.

      • Nick says:

        Maybe that’s due to age, or maybe due to being here over the last half decade or however long it’s been, maybe it’s due to not wanting to be a part or participate in the rancor that accompanies politics, or maybe it’s because I don’t see much opportunity to really advance those causes, especially without contributing to the rancor.

        I don’t think this has to be the explanation. When I was younger—and I’m 23, so we’re not talking about a very long time—I was reading about distributism and classical liberalism. Today’s kids are reading about socialism and ethnonationalism. That seems to me one metric in which it’s gotten worse—even the fringes are, like, fringier.

        Am I being unfair? Like, I remember all the 13 year old communists on the Internet then, but did that sort of silliness have the media attention that we’ve given to the alt-right or inceldom or tumblr-style social justice? (If you can’t tell, dndnrsn’s observation earlier about libertarian-to-fash and anarchist-to-tankie pipelines struck a chord with me.)

        • Randy M says:

          Sorry, I don’t mean I disagree with what they kids claiming to represent me are saying; I mean I a just don’t feel strongly about many things that I used to be fairly certain of.

          But the wider variety of opinions available so easily may be another explanation for some of my own diminished political certainty (or maybe not; views on gender and sexuality have proliferated, but I’m still quite certain that’s just more varieties of deluded.)

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          On some reflection, I remember less coverage and about the same prevalence. Media is a parasite, etc, etc.

          Fuck, Black Separatism was a relatively serious political position a few decades ago. Now that was crazy.

    • MartMart says:

      Political opinion frequently overlap or are derived from moral values. While I’d like to agree with the whole “my opinions don’t shape policy so why have them” I have a hard time ignoring that a friend became an ardent supporter of the cannibal party.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        I think there’s an implication that 40-50% of the nation are not Cannibal supporters buried into “I do not have political opinions.” Supporting Medicare-for-all isn’t Cannibal Murderism, neither is eliminating Medicare and just issuing vouchers for X amount.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Consider the result of irrationality being correlated with

      1) Having really bad political opinions and

      2) Expressing them quite loudly.

      This results in pretty much everyone being constantly fed bad political messages, and not good ones. Which is going to ultimately influence politics. If fools rush in where angels fear to tread (crap, now I’m doing it), the fools will take the territory.

      Further, I can say from experience that for some of us, remaining silent in an environment where terrible political opinions (including those that cast oneself as a villain) are expressed and contrary ones are suppressed is extremely stressful. I can’t in good conscience recommend speaking up in such a situation, but the best alternative is getting out… and what do you do when you run out of places to go?

      (Most of this has been concerned with expressing opinions, not having them. But I don’t think not having opinions is really a choice in many cases. Political opinions imply policies, and those policies are going to affect something important to you in many cases.)

      • albatross11 says:

        One thing that I find useful in that situation is that, when I feel secure enough to do so (usually), I go ahead and express disagreement with some idea that seems wrong to me, in as non-tribal a way as possible. No, I don’t care that whatshisname had blackface on in his yearbook–the whole issue seems kinda silly to me. Yes, I think you ought to have to prove someone committed a crime before punishing them even when it’s a really upsetting crime and there’s evidence that criminals get away with a lot of it. No, I don’t think the Russians had a huge effect on the outcome of the 2016 elections–the scale of their efforts/resources just wasn’t that big compared to all the other people trying to change the outcome of the elections. And so on.

      • albatross11 says:

        The Nybbler:

        For a lot of subjects, I think there’s a kind of Dunning-Kruger effect going on that is enhanced by tribalism.

        Let’s say we want to discuss the right kind of policy for the US to have in Syria. I have my opinions on that, as you do, as many people do. But if I think about it a bit, I have to admit that I don’t know enough to be entitled to a strong opinion. I mean, I don’t speak or read Arabic, or know much more about the history or culture of Syria than I can get from a quick read of the Wikipedia article. I don’t really know much about Islamic terror groups beyond reading a few articles and a book or two. I don’t know anything really about counterinsurgency warfare. I’m no foreign policy expert and don’t have a clear idea how our relations with {Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, Lebanon, Turkey} are affected by our actions. And so on.

        I mean, if you asked me a question about my area of expertise, I would have ideas and opinions that maybe other experts wouldn’t agree with, but we’d all have really strong reasons to believe what we believed. That’s not much like what happens in my head when I think abotu Syria policy. And this is true across the board–you can’t be an expert in enough things to be entitled to a strong, confident opinion about most issues. But strong, confident opinions are more convincing to low-information people looking for someone to follow….

    • 10240 says:

      Besides what others have said, reasons to follow politics include deciding what country to move to or invest in. Also, making predictions: you want to get out before something like Nazism or communism breaks out, and take your investments out of an asset or a country if popular sentiment foreshadows government measures that will reduce its value.

      I do have an identity as a member of a democracy, but increasingly my identity as a member of a democracy is that I just want this country to remain a democracy.

      By your argument, why do you have the opinion that you want your country to remain a democracy, if you can’t influence whether it remains a democracy either?

      Btw if the people who make the decisions through voting have little incentive to have political opinions, much less informed ones, that doesn’t speak well about democracy.

      • albatross11 says:

        I think there’s a lot of virtue in being clear on predictions that are easier or harder to make with confidence. If I plan to redesign American K-12 education from the ground up based on some educational theory, I should have the awareness that confident predictions about how this will work out are very hard to make, because the system I’m proposing to scrap and replace is huge and complex and multifaceted.

        But in campaigning for a major redesign (NCLB, common core, universal pre-K), the people whose voices are heard are mostly the ones who show the most confidence and the least doubt. We know the right thing to do, everyone knows this will work, it’s just a matter of political will, and defeating the evil wreckers who want to keep our kids poor and ignorant.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      An idea from Nassim Taleb seems relevant. For better results and better health, check your investments as rarely as possible. Once a year for long term is better than once a month, and better than once a week, and once a day or more will just give you ulcers and noise.

      He’s extending the advice to news as well: read the Economist once a week. Anything important enough will be there, or you’ll hear about it anyways, even if you want it or not.

      I’d guess it also applies to political opinion. Have ones that are likely to pass the test of time. Democracy is good. Libertarianism should be more present in public policy. SJW is usually bad. And maybe level below: Trump is… Hilary is… Peterson is…

      Anything more, and you’re using politics as a hobby. What Trump did or said this week is pure noise. What feminist was annoyed with Peterson, what book Hilary published… none of this is really relevant for more than a few days – but if you’re enjoying this kind of thing… sure.

      • albatross11 says:

        One thing I did a few years ago, as a news junkie, was occasionally substitute reading a report from Pew or BJS or someone that accumulated and summarized polling or statistical data about the world. These tend to be information-rich and high-quality and inform you about the world far more than the news headlines today. (A lot of the picture of the world you get from polling data looks massively different from what you get from the news.).

      • Mark Paskowitz says:

        “Politics as a hobby”. I like that. It’s not quite as critical as calling it “tribalism”, and yet it gets at a lot of what bothers me about the state of political discussion today.

  6. Plumber says:

    I just read the the Mars Rover after unexpected years of service has been buried by a sandstorm and is no more, which explains this comic I saw earlier today.

    Rest in peace noble robot.

  7. Le Maistre Chat says:

    The noble title “marquis” comes from march-graf, graf being the Germanic equivalent of “count.” They were distinguished from other grafen by the emergency powers their liege gave them to deal with the fact that their county was a “march”, at an edge of the realm.
    Therefore, a marquis is an edgelord.

  8. Deiseach says:

    Holy Mother of God, this is how crazy Brexit has got, Bertie Ahern is back doing ‘representing the views of Ireland in an international political context’. For those of you thankfully unfamiliar with Irish politics, Bertie is a former Taoiseach – something analagous to Prime Minister – of Ireland who was a member of what was our most successful party, Fianna Fáil, but which the electorate turned against savagely in 2008 in the aftermath of the demise of the Celtic Tiger, the perceived mishandling of bailing out the banks, and allegations of massive and long-standing corruption, leading to Ahern having to resign as Taoiseach and party leader, and to a massively devastating result in the 2011 general election – down to 20 seats from 77 in the 2007 election. He’s a bit like what Bill Clinton would have been, had he been born in Dublin and never married Hillary but still gone into politics.

    Granted, it’s because he was one of the architects of the Good Friday Agreement (including the successful push to change Articles 2 and 3 of our constitution to accomodate it) but most people, even Fianna Fáil voting like myself, would have expected to see this, if it ever happened, as him being hauled in for prosecution (something he successfully dodged up to his retirement and after – see Mahon Tribunal, Moriarty Tribunal), not representing the Irish side to a House of Commons committee.

    Britain, this is the extremity your Brexit campaign has reduced us to! Bertie’s back doing the statesman bit!

    • baconbits9 says:

      of Ireland who was a member of what was our most successful party, Fianna Fáil

      Reverse normative determinism?

      • Deiseach says:

        Spelled like the English “fail”, pronounced “fall” (because of the long “á”) and meaning in total “The Soldiers of Destiny” (or “Warriors of Fál”, where “Fál” is another name for Ireland, Inis Fáil, the Isle of Destiny).

        Party names for our two major parties came about in the aftermath of our Civil War, which came after our War of Independence, which came after the Easter Rising, which was heavily influenced by the general aura of the Celtic Twilight, hence the romantic mythological names 🙂

        • dndnrsn says:

          I’ve heard (non-native Celtic speakers, or non-Celtic speakers) call it “Feen Foil” – is that utterly incorrect?

          • Deiseach says:

            “Feen Foil” – is that utterly incorrect?

            Somewhat, here’s a good pronunciation here

          • A1987dM says:

            It does sound kind of like that in southern accents. See, where “C”, “M” and “U” after the loudspeaker icon stand for western, southern and northern Ireland accents respectively.

            (I’m linking a different word because that dictionary doesn’t include “fáil” among the translations of “destiny”, but presumably they’re pronounced identically by everybody.)

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          “Fál” is another name for Ireland, Inis Fáil, the Isle of Destiny).

          … huh, the Tuatha de Danann named Ireland “the Isle of Destiny” because they brought the Stone of Destiny to Tara.
          “Isle where we keep our stone” would have sounded much less romantic.

          • Deiseach says:

            The naming of Ireland has several variants, and yeah the Tuatha de Danann back-named the country from the Lia Fáil.

            It also gets named after three goddesses in other stories.

        • sourcreamus says:

          Is there a way to tell how an Irish word is pronounced by looking at it? It seems like the worst language in the world for that.

          • A1987dM says:

            Yes there is, with relatively few exceptions. There are some ambiguities in the other direction (i.e. you can’t reliably tell how a word is spelled by listening to it). If you know how it works the system is not as bad as the English or the French one (except in terms of average number of graphemes per phoneme), though worse than e.g. German or Spanish.

    • Nick says:

      Heh, I actually saw Ahern’s name just yesterday reading about malapropisms:

      Welsh Conservative leader Andrew Davies encouraged the Conservative party conference to make breakfast (Brexit) a success. Bertie Ahern, former Taoiseach of Ireland, warned his country against “upsetting the apple tart” (apple cart) of his country’s economic success.[22][23]

    • Murphy says:

      Did you hear about the “rejoin the UK” petition?

      The members of the reddit ireland sub were signing it just because they wanted to see what kind of dumpster fire it would be if the UK parliament were forced to actually debate it.

      I think things reach a certain point and people just start fanning the flames out of morbid fascination.

      • Deiseach says:

        I did, and I think my reaction was much the same (as indeed Bertie’s was) to most people’s here; yeah we tried that already in 1800 and it didn’t really work out 🙂

        I see the even more mischievious suggesting that we invite Scotland to have a referendum on uniting with Ireland! Or have on the same day the simultaneous second Scottish referendum on independence plus the Northern Ireland referendum on a united Ireland, just to see how badly the British parliament would cope.

        At this stage it’s “we said no, we meant no, don’t you understand no?” and waiting for the next episode of the soap opera. And of course, the British are at it again.

      • Secretly French says:

        I’d sooner see NI given independence from the UK. Scotland too, in fact. That could have happened, if only the two referendums were held in the other order.

        • ChrisA says:

          I don’t think most the the Northern Irish would agree with you.

          It is interesting that the blame for all the shenanigans on Brexit is being laid at the British. The idea that the EU has to punish the UK for leaving is about the most childish thing I have ever seen in international relations. So the UK wants to do their own thing and not be in your club – why is this so wrong that it needs to affect the lives of millions? The EU should simply offer to continue the current customs union between them and the UK under the existing agreements, then there would be no issue of Ireland having most of their trade facing a barrier. After-all the EU have free trade agreements between the EU and many other countries already, so this doesn’t actually break any precedents. This is purely in the gift of the EU, I doubt you will find many people in the UK arguing against this, the whole issue can be resolved tomorrow if the EU wanted.

          • Lambert says:

            The EU would gladly do a ‘Soft Brexit’ like that.
            Something like Finnland or Switzerland, where the UK is in the Customs Union, but not the EU. (snarkily described as ‘the status quo, but without any representation’)
            It’s the Tories (or rather, a faction within the Tories) who are adamant to leave the Single Market.

          • ChrisA says:

            The only opposition to the idea that the UK stays in the EU customs union that I have seen has been that the current deal on the table prevents the UK from signing it’s own trade deals unilaterally with other countries. If it were just a free trade deal with the EU with no strings attached, I imagine that there would be very little dispute even among the most strident anti-EU set.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The UK in the customs union means they can’t make their own trade deals and are still subject to banana-curvature regulations. This seems strictly worse than either hard Brexit or Remain.

  9. Syx78 says:

    How important is it that moderators in a forum share the views of the forum they’re moderating?

    For instance, recently the Libertarian subreddit was taken over by an open Anarcho-communist. Now, this person supposedly has been vetted by a fair number of libertarians, and he has other (more libertarian) mods working under him, but isn’t this sort of a conflict of interest? He’s also being actively cheered on by the ChapoTrapHouse subreddit where he posts.

    Likewise, on the ssc subreddit one of the mods has a particular hobby-horse topic (strong supporter of Ray Blanchard’s theory of trans people, which most trans people oppose and view as highly uninformed and transphobic). If the forum is trying to be non-hostile to transpeople, is it really the best idea to have a mod with that background?

    I’m conflicted on both of these. Obviously if I was a communist or a blanchardian I’d be strongly in favor of both. But as a libertarian and a trans person I worry quite a bit about both of those forums. That said both of these mods SEEM to be on the up and up and not pushing their agenda, but I still feel like it’s likely to “trickle-down” if only very gradually. Extremist libertarian threads more likely to get banned, anarcho-communist threads slighly less likely to. Over time that shifts the overton window in the direction of the mods, and that can add up.

    Still I may be missing something here, any other thoughts?

    • 10240 says:

      I’d only consider it inappropriate if the mod’s views directly contradict the theme of the forum. I don’t know if /r/Libertarian is mainly (or officially) an American-style right-libertarian subreddit, or it has generally featured both right- and left-libertarianism (up to anarcho-communism). The an-com mod would be weird in the former case, fine in the latter.

      I don’t think that one or the other transgender theory is considered an inherent theme of the forum. At the same time, Scott has a shtick of not dismissing views on the basis that they get labeled [group]-phobic or [trait]-ist.

      In any case, it’s desirable to ensure that the community can take back a subreddit if the main mod goes rogue. I don’t know how that works on Reddit.

      • Walter says:

        I’m pretty sure you just move to another subreddit if the owner goes rogue.

      • ilikekittycat says:

        It had always been both sides allowed before u/rightc0ast and the other right-libertarians realized their power was de facto unchecked in the last year and started excluding people they didn’t like arbitrarily.

      • Syx78 says:

        I’ll just say the right-libertarians think it was always right-libertarian and the left-libertarians are claiming that they were always there. To me the latter looks like more entryism but it’s hard to be sure.

        By the same token, if a fascist mod took over (which righcoast was pretty close to), I’d be equally/ even more opposed even though fascist posts frequently occurred on the forum.

        As far as:

        Scott has a shtick of not dismissing views on the basis that they get labeled [group]-phobic or [trait]-ist

        Yes, I’d agree Scott himself doesn’t do this. Yet at the same time I do think promoting a mod with a certain idea will shift a place from being “All semi-reasonable views” to “All semi-reasonable views that are on average slightly more transphobic” and go from there.

        And (any opinion) on trans people is not is not an inherent view of the forum. However, the forum does discuss it fairly frequently and claims to be a place of no/very limited bias. I’d say having a mod with a strong bias (all the other mods seem ambivalent but I could be mistaken) prevents that. By the same token, an appropriate way to balance it out and allow all views may be getting a mod with the opposite view/agenda in there.

      • ilikekittycat says:

        @Syx78 – it’s not difficult to look at post history of left-libertarian posters on reddit and determine, factually, that they had been contributing before u/rightc0ast was in charge, before r/ChapoTrapHouse was established, and so on.

        They were never the hardcore base on the board, their memes weren’t heavily upvoted and didn’t reach r/all, but the fact that they were there and contributing in their own small way without being excluded is there for anyone to look up. Right-libertarian was always the (super-)majority view, not the exclusive mandatory view, and you cannot dispute that. Hell, during the Bush/Obama administration, you didn’t even have to be a philosophically dedicated right- or left-libertarian to post there! The board was more than willing to take Bill Maher “one issue weed voter” people who identified with the label.

        No matter how the culture war looks like today, and how much people paint it as always having been one way or the other, the fact remains that any number of Ron Paul 2004/8 guys are now Bernie Sanders 2016/20 guys, without having switched their views. There aren’t a lot of places to go in American politics if anti-police/anti-war/anti-imperialism are your primary motivators

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      If a moderator is personally opposed to the topic of the forum, like the Chapo entryist mods on r/libertarian or the Sneerclub entryist mods on r/SSC, then you have a serious problem. That’s putting the fox in charge of the henhouse: they’re not going to moderate in the best interest of the subreddit for obvious reasons. Anyone who was on our subreddit before the exile could see how toxic it was that brigading and trolling by sneerclub was encouraged by the mods while pointing out that a troll came directly from sneerclub merited a modhat warning or even a ban.

      That’s completely different than a mod having a hobbyhorse orthogonal to the topic of the subreddit. I don’t care if a mod on SSC is Blanchardian or Zoroastrian or vegetarian as long as they’re one of us and not an entryist. Scott buys into, and argues for, the establishment line on transgender but that’s not the intellectual core of SSC: he’s always permitted disagreement by commenters.

      • benjdenny says:

        he’s always permitted disagreement by commenters.

        Is this true, anymore? I’d imagine any person not toeing the line pretty close on transgenderism would be considered “controversial” by the standards of the sub now.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          The only trans-specific rule I remember is his ban on “misgendering” other commenters. Otherwise he’s mostly stuck to the general rule of “any two of true, necessary and kind” on the subject, even during the self-described reign of terror.

          I have to say that this is by far the best space I know of to discuss trans politics online. The rule about “misgendering” is absurd but it’s not as Orwellian as in most places: he doesn’t seem to care about “deadnaming,” and use of preferred pronouns isn’t required so you can at least refer to someone by their username. That these are points in his favor says a lot about the current state of freedom of conscience online, but it’s still hard to argue people are freer here than elsewhere.

          • benjdenny says:

            I’m not sure that true, necessary and kind could have any kind of logical relevance here – Scott clearly has views on what’s true (pretty party-line trans stuff) and what’s kind and necessary can’t be anything against that – if transexualism is born-in biological stuff (or not, but unavoidable and to be encouraged/treated with surgery/hormones) then saying anything besides that is automatically some kind of unnecessary hate-based bigotry.

            The truth-containing-pudding on this would be if somebody posted something enough off the party line that it was noticable. If it’s deemed controversial and squashed, or allowed to be discussed, we’d know right away.

          • One can make a true statement as an argument for a false conclusion. And a statement that you believe is true, perhaps for good but mistaken reasons, doesn’t become “unnecessary hate-based bigotry” just because it is false.

          • Syx78 says:

            The thing is, like with the non-libertarian moderating a libertarian space, the mods can influence the direction of things.

            So a place that claims to be about truth seeking that has a very pro(or pro-one specific form of being pro) or very anti trans(or one specific form of anti) bias by the mods, at least in my opinion, loses its credibility as a place that cares about truth-seeking, at least on that issue.

            The anarcho-capitalism subreddit was a great space to discuss anarcho-capitalist issues for quite awhile. The Ancap exodus from it happened several years after it started declining.

            @benjdenny as far as Scott’s opinions on trans people, I’m inclined to agree with you based on his writings. However, having a heavy Blanchardian as an active mod also makes me thinks maybe I’ve misread Scott on these issues.

            @DavidFriedman I’m not in anyway stating these are hateful opinions(well I would but it’s not relevant). I never made the claim that the Anarcho-Communist who took over the libertarian sub was a hateful person, simply misguided(in my view) and not someone who should run a libertarian subreddit. Similarly a person with a very specific and active anti-trans agenda (i.e. a very large portion of their postings) is maybe not the best person to mod a subreddit that wants to be neutral, or a place to discuss differing views, on trans issues.

      • 10240 says:

        I’m unfamiliar with reddit drama. How do entryists gain moderatorship? Can it be reversed?

        • crh says:

          Reddit subs are dictatorships. Whoever creates the sub automatically becomes the first moderator and essentially can’t be removed. They can then add whoever they like as moderators and control the permissions they have. If those moderators are given full permissions, then they can add other moderators and control their permissions, and so on. As a moderator you can remove other moderators who were added after you, as long as you have permissions; you can never remove anyone who was added before you.

          So, yes, it can be reversed, but only by convincing someone higher up in the chain.

          Also, in principle the reddit admins — actual paid employees of the site — can add or remove anyone they want, but aside from transferring leadership of subs whose mods have become inactive or deleted their accounts, they rarely use this power.

        • ilikekittycat says:

          1. Fashy-adjacent/hardcore “helicopter rides” anarchocapitalist mods took over r/libertarian de facto because the founder/top mod went inactive and they were the next highest ranking in the chain with the understanding they would be providing balance and making sure right-libertarianism didn’t get short shrift

          2. They packed the modlist with more of their “kind” of libertarians and said the ONLY kind of libertarianism was American style 1970s-and-on Ron Paul type stuff, and started banning libertarian socialists and anyone who was left-libertarian and objected to what they were doing

          3. The founder/top mod came back and gave the position to a left-libertarian in order to make sure the old balance was restored, and right and left libertarians could post. Most of the highly upvoted r/libertarian content that goes to r/all is still right-libertarian

          All this talk of entryism/manipulation is flat out lies, it was totally the will of the founder/controller of the sub, and the left-libertarians that now have power had been posting there for a long while (and if the left-libertarians take over, and ban Ron Paul style libertarianism, I’m sure there will be a new regime then too)

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          ilikekittycat answered your question inadvertently.

          The way people take control of subs is to make up rumors that the current moderation team is full of witches and spread them as widely as possible. Sock-puppetting and false-flags mean that even a 100% well-behaved sub can be blamed for harassment or characterized as extremists.

          If they can put enough pressure on the founder of the sub to add new witch-hunter mods, they have their foot in the door and can keep pushing from inside the mod team. Likewise, if the founder is inactive they can ask the Reddit admins to give them the sub outright. And if neither of those work, they can keep raising a stink until Reddit gets sick of being called a haven for witches and bans the sub outright.

        • ilikekittycat says:

          @Nabil ad Dajjal – There was nothing inadvertent or untrue in my post. Do you deny previously accepted left-libertarians were ejected under u/rightc0ast without committing offenses or violating pre-existing rules?

          I cannot see anyway you can present the actions of that poster and aligned moderators in good faith in accordance with the wishes of the founder who gave them power. The physicalremoval/helicopter rides guys were absolutely the unmoved movers in tearing up years of status quo. That faction were absolutely “witches”

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            We’re probably already way over the line when it comes to “no culture war in the visible open threads” so I’m going to avoid re-litigating libertarian Reddit drama.

            But this has played out exactly the same way that it always plays out. The Chapo crowd are claiming that they were always there and that they weren’t being banned for communist shitposting. The media has been backing them up and they managed to strongarm the sub’s founder, but that might doesn’t make them right.

            Just like with atheism, science fiction, game reviews, etc the real libertarians will quietly move on now that their former home has been captured.

    • Murphy says:

      If the person doesn’t seem to be abusing their position then removing them because of peripheral views has a danger of turning into ideological purge or ideological purity drive.

      Is the mod for a pokemon sub pro-life? better purge him because there might be users who are pro choice or who’ve had abortions who could be put off.

      Is the mod for a socialism sub catholic? better purge her because standard catholic dogma includes many things that various groups find hostile or exclusionary. Even if she doesn’t seem to talk about Catholicism or those dogmas they could still be subtly affecting her decision-making!

      • Syx78 says:

        I agree on periphereals. Here it’s more like “their overriding ideology/ focus”. The ssc mod spends most of their time writing on Blanchardianism and in SSC it’s also a good deal of their posting efforts(tho likely not banning efforts/I doubt that).

        On the libertarianism sub, Anarcho-Communism is in no way a periphereal view. I’ve noticed some people claiming Ancomms are libertarian. Ignoring if this is true, it does seem like these same people are opposed to a fascist mod taking over the forum so the same principle applies there. Being a fascist seems directly contrary to libertarianism and not tangential.

    • Deiseach says:

      It’s tricky. Having a mod or mods who don’t share the exact same views in every detail can save a place from turning into an echo-chamber, and it does mean that disparate viewpoints have a fair chance to be presented for argument.

      On the other hand, if you have one particular powerful or sole mod who has the run of the place and is pushing their own agenda, it can ruin things by driving away people until the place turns into an echo-chamber. I wouldn’t be opposed on principle to having someone who didn’t necessarily share the values be a mod, e.g. it might be odd to have an atheist modding a Catholic sub-reddit, but so long as they were fair-minded and only intervened in things like “Hey, you can’t threaten to excommunicate Impius over their views on maniples!”, commenters reply “Actually they can, if you go by the rubrics”, “Okay, carry on then”, then that would be tolerable.

      If it gets to the stage where the mod is banning or purging people based on whether they agree or disagree with the mod’s hobbyhorse, then it’s gone too far.

    • ing says:

      I think you have to consider the alternatives here.

      Is this a choice between “moderator whose personal views don’t match the subreddit’s outlook” and “equally good moderator whose personal views do match the subreddit’s outlook”?

      Or is it a choice between “moderator whose personal views don’t match the subreddit’s outlook” and “no moderator”?

      If it’s the former choice, why did the people in charge not pick a better moderator?

      If your problem is that you don’t agree with the direction the people in charge are taking the subreddit, doesn’t that just mean you need to find a different subreddit?

      • ing says:

        More generally: why are you having this conversation with us, and not with the people who are choosing who gets to be moderator? Did you already have this conversation with them? If so, what did they say?

        • Syx78 says:

          Part of it, especially on the libertarianism one, is that I’m friends with people on the other side of this dispute (some Ancaps who were teaming up with a fascist mod). So I’m a bit biased and could use an outsider view. Also the ssc subreddit seems somewhat relevant here.

          In all cases plenty of moderators are available.

          >If your problem is that you don’t agree with the direction the people in charge are taking the subreddit, doesn’t that just mean you need to find a different subreddit?

          Ultimately, yes. And I have. But it’s like with the Anarcho-Capitalism subreddit. People google “Anarcho-Capitalism” and “Subreddit” and then wind up there, where they’re going to be exposed to Fascist views, not Ancap views and that’s an issue. The name/ brand itself is big/valuable.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      False dilemma. Your implied separation here of anarcho-communist and libertarian is intellectually dishonest. “Libertarian” was being used for that sort of thing long before the other thing. There is nothing about being one or the other that prevents you from having productive discussions with the other variant, or representing both of your views against people who want to hit every nail with the hammer of the state. There is also nothing contradictory about being a Chapo Trap House fan, as tons of left-libertarians love Chapo, have been interviewed on Chapo, and so on.

      • Syx78 says:

        The forum is about American Libertarian Party style Libertarianism.

        But let’s flip it then. Say the Mod is an open fascist and when you went to his twitter page it looked exactly what you would think an extreme alt-righters twitter page would look like. Would he make an appropriate mod for a libertarian subreddit?

        • ilikekittycat says:

          1. “American Libertarian Party style Libertarianism” is still a huge broad tent that has included everything from San Francisco hippies to militia guys, has people on both sides of issues as broad as abortion, and so on. I would bet the views of the people who have voted Libertarian/identify Libertarian as a group are further from being a Kantian veneration of the party line for its own sake than either Republicans or Democrats. Which sort of libertarianism will be represented shifts hugely each presidential cycle, just based on what the candidate thinks is best. It’s always been a diverse group of characters, and would just have totally shriveled on the vine like the Constitution party if it had always been in favor of hardcore Randian purity testing

          2. If they’re just Hitlerite/Strasserite “all things society, church, industry, and state unified in one corporate body” then no, that’s not appropriate. If they’re like, one notch more fascist than Hans Herman Hoppe types, and willing to not extend the rules to be any more exclusionary or biased in favor of their “branch” of libertarianism (including being cavalier about joking about violence against heretics from the other branches,) sure. A lot of the fuss on r/libertarian was about how previously transparent mod logs and accountability measures had been hidden, and if those remained status quo transparent, there’s not a lot of secret libertarian-contradicting Nazi stuff to get away with

          • Syx78 says:

            Hmm so you do agree then that if there’s a mod who has a position a bit controversial within the forum then it’s pretty important that what that mod’s doing be transparent, and if there is a clear bias going on that mod should be removed? Fair enough.

            Though on the Anarcho-Capitalism sub-reddit the types you’re talking about (Extreme Hoppeans) did take over, claimed they were instituting a free-speech policy, and slowly but surely the sub devolved into a fascist haven.

            I also think there’s something to be said for “Mod-Balance”. Maybe I don’t trust either rightcoast or codefuser but if they both were mods at least their biases would sort of cancel eachother out.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Related: what in the world is up with the libertarian-to-fash and anarchist-to-tankie pipelines? They don’t really make sense to me, unless people become libertarians (left or right) for reasons other than the ones they give (which is entirely possible).

      Fascism has hardly been a respecter of property rights or the NAP. Meanwhile, vanguard-y state communists have historically not been good news for anarchists. Yet it is not rare to find yellow-and-black folks defending authoritarian and totalitarian right wing regimes (ofc, not all fascist, technically, but I apply a scholarly-high bar to what I consider fascism) nor is it rare to find red-and-black folks defending the equivalents on the left. I find it really hard to think that someone really values human freedom if they’re defending throwing dissidents out of choppers on the one hand, setting quotas that must be exceeded of wreckers to be imprisoned and/or shot on the other, and in both hands, defending ethnic cleansing.

      Is there a good, not-terribly-biased look at these things, of why people who evidently don’t value human freedom state themselves to be adherents to an ideology that at least in theory puts human freedom at #1?

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Irving Kristol famously said that “[a] neoconservative is a liberal who’s been mugged by reality.”

        A lot of people on the alternative right were classical liberals / libertarians until they looked at how those principles play out in the real world. One good example of this is the principle of freedom of movement versus the reality of Californication. Free movement within the US should encourage liberty, as people choose to move from states with heavy-handed governments to better governed states which leave them alone. But that’s only half true: migrants from California might want to leave their home state’s dysfunctions behind, but their voting pattern means their new home will soon become just as dysfunctional.

        There’s a fundamental tension between the freedom of individuals and small communities to go their own way, and the centralizing nature of democracy. Our founders recognized this and tried to erect safeguards to protect people against mob rule. If you think that they succeeded, you’re a libertarian; if you think that they failed, you’re probably on the alt right now.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I’m not talking about people who say “I used to be X, and now I’m Y” – I’m talking about people who maintain that they are still anarcho-capitalists while celebrating state terror against dissidents, or maintain that they are still anarcho-communists while… also celebrating state terror against dissidents. Plus, would the same thing explain the people with red-and-black avatars defending gulags or whatever? What did they see that led them to adopt Holocaust-denier-esque stances on how Stalin didn’t actually kill 10-20 million people or whatever? I also wouldn’t say the alt-right is against mob rule: they’re just upset that they’re not the mob.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            My point was that those libertarians you’re seeing are in mid-transition.

            I can’t speak to non-AnCapp anarchists, because I can’t see any meaningful distinction between them and other revolutionary leftists. They agree with communists about what the desirable end-state will look like and they advocate almost all of the same methods to get there. I’m aware of ideological disputes over things like the necessity of a vanguard party but they’re pretty obscure doctrinal differences. It’s not surprising that people would flit from one to the other.

            I also wouldn’t say the alt-right is against mob rule: they’re just upset that they’re not the mob.

            Snappy but not very accurate.

            Unless your definition of alt right is so broad that it encompasses a third of the the country, you’re not going to find a lot of that sentiment. More are skeptical about, if not outright hostile to, democracy given that it has at the very least utterly failed to stop our civilization’s decline and most likely contributed to it.

          • Syx78 says:

            Part of why (some) An-Comms endorsed tankieism back in the day is simply because the lead tankie (i.e. Stalin) was directly paying them.

            Same can be said for some libertarians. For instance Adam Kokesh going on Russia today, there’s definitely an influence there.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I wouldn’t call the vanguard party a minor doctrinal difference – arguably, the evils done by communism are the doing of the vanguard party. It’s not hard to see how the vanguard might just never get around to deciding that things are ready to go to the next stage. The pro-vanguard party argument is that without the vanguard party the revolution never happens, but if the revolution means people getting sentenced to hard time for being repeatedly tardy for work and then several decades later the places becomes a capitalist kleptocracy anyway, maybe it’s best if it doesn’t.

            Communists without the vanguard party seem like pie-in-the-sky dreamers: so, the society where I can have what I need to live a decent life, providing only the things I am able and willing to provide (will GM in exchange for room and board!) – sounds pretty sweet. I’ve never heard a convincing explanation of how to get there without putting a bunch of kulaks in the ground (and, as noted, putting kulaks in the ground doesn’t seem to lead to utopia either).

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Nabil ad Dajjal

            OK, how would you define “alt right”? It varies widely depending on who’s using the term. In mainstream use, it’s gotten read back in time, so that people who had a given set of opinions before a single rare Pepe had been discovered now hold “alt-right opinions.”

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:


            There have been anarchist revolutionaries and armies before. Read up on what happened to the Russian Mennonites if you doubt that they were any less brutal or power-mad than the Bolshevik party.

            Anarchism is a revolutionary ideology and falls into precisely the same excesses whenever it’s attempted.

            Edited to add: I like the classic trichotomy. Monarchists, religious traditionalists, and ethnonationalists. The latter plausibly want to be the mob but even then tend to be skeptical of democracy.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Oh, I know that every side in the Russian civil war was ugly. However, the ones who ended up with the ability to have eight-digit death counts? The commies. Honestly, one of the reasons commies tend to be able to coopt and generally run circles around anarchists is that in conflict situations, hierarchies and organization are actually good things.

          • nkurz says:

            @Nabil ad Dajjal
            > Read up on what happened to the Russian Mennonites if you doubt that they were any less brutal or power-mad than the Bolshevik party.

            I’ve never heard of the Russian Mennonites being described as brutal or power-mad:

            I’m guessing you probably meant the Russian Mensheviks?

            Or is there another side to the Russian Mennonites that Wikipedia neglects to mention?

          • SamChevre says:

            I think he’s talking about what happened TO the Russian Mennonites, not what they did.

            A good name to start with is Nestor Makhno, and a good place to start for a fairly personal story is Scott Marten’s family story here.

          • nkurz says:

            > I think he’s talking about what happened TO the Russian Mennonites, not what they did.

            Thank you, that seems like a better explanation. Reading it again, I agree that’s probably what was meant.

            Separately, I hadn’t been aware that that the Manitoba Mennonites emigrated from Russia. I lived for a while in the non-Mennonite German Russian town in South Dakota, and I hadn’t made the connection that the Canadian Mennonites to the north may have been leaving Russia at the same time for the same reasons:

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Our founders recognized this and tried to erect safeguards to protect people against mob rule. If you think that they succeeded, you’re a libertarian; if you think that they failed, you’re probably on the alt right now.

          Have lots of opinions on this, but we’re way over the CW line.

      • John Schilling says:

        If you’re massively outnumbered, you are less picky about your allies than you might otherwise be. This is particularly true when those allies are themselves weak and outnumbered, and so unlikely to be an immediate threat. Tankie-communists may aspire to create a society that would be a nightmarish hellscape to anarcho-communists, but at least in the contemporary west, they are in no position to actually achieve that. They can help score a few points against the crony capitalists, who are a more immediate threat to anarcho-communists and are at the same time unpopular enough that a coalition of unlikely and individually weak allies might be able to effectively counter them.

        Same deal on the other side, with e.g. social justice and/or democratic socialism as the immediate enemy and little prospect for the fascists recreating Mussolini’s Italy. And for that matter, we recently had the discussion noting that “LGB” might in theory find themselves existentially threatened by “T” but in practice they have more immediate problems and an alliance of convenience makes sense.

        Also, if you’re an anarcho-anything(*), you’re accused of being a communist often enough that the word loses all power and meaning, similarly libertarians and “fascist” or “Nazi”. So other people attached to words like “communist” and “fascist” aren’t anathema, and if they keep getting called the same names that we get called, maybe they’re on our side.

        * Except maybe -capitalist

        • dndnrsn says:

          So, the bit where they actually seem to like the idea of helicopter rides/gulags is just a front, because you don’t come out and say “we think these guys suck, but they are on our side and their suck will never be able to harm us”?

          • Syx78 says:

            In my experience anyone who actually says it is in fact in favor of it. It’s more like “Why do the other libertarians/ancomms allow the fascists/tankies to hang around in the first place?”

          • Walter says:


            Usually the problem there is that you are helpless to kick them out.

            Like, say I am a Fun Loving Anarchist, and despise my Rich Eating Anarchist fellow travelers. Well, how do I stop them from ‘hanging around’?

            This problem has a lot of different manifestations and parts.

            First off, not being an official party or anything, if I ban them I have no guarantee that I haven’t just actually exiled myself. How are everyone else gonna know that I am the one true Alt Right Pope and these others are just imitators?

            Beyond that, my movement may not be big enough without them. Like, all of us together are the Black Block. If I purity purge half the guys, and then we do so again, we end up ‘roving gangs’, which the cops engage with, uh, differently than they do protesters.

            Beyond Beyond that, getting together to smash the state and ending up smashing the other people in the room is a mad established failure mode. Most folks on the fringes try pretty hard to keep everyone aimed in the same direction.

            There are probably more issues, but it boils down being defined by your enemies. Like, the existence of those fellows is fixed and immutable, and anyone who writes about your movement is going to seek them out (they give the best quote) and say you tolerate them even if you do kick them out.

        • Jiro says:

          The problem is that it’s hard for other people to tell the difference between someone who allies with extremists out of convenience, and someone who shares the extremists’ ultimate goals.

      • Syx78 says:

        Less familiar with Anarchist to Tankie.

        Ancap/Libertarian to Alt-right/Hard-Fash has multiple reasons:

        1.) A lot of the leadership of a certain sub-branch of libertarianism, I’d term it the “Deontological” wing is led by a group called “The Mises Institute”. The Mises Institute regularly hosts guys who a non-partial observer would judge as VERY fascist friendly, and they’ve been doing this since the 80s at least. So the friendship has been there, and some influential in this wing like Lew Rockwell were pretty pro-Trump and fairly pro-Fasc from a “The SJWs are worse” perspective.

        So some of it is being willing to ally with anyone to go after the SJWs. For instance Tom Woods, a fairly respectable and solid Ancap but with a very anti-SJW bent, recently hosted a TERF and let her go on and spew nonesense about trans people uninterrupted for his whole show(a show supposedly focused on libertarian issues). “Enemy of my enemy”. This leads to little criticism of fascists, which leads some to pro-fascism.

        I think @John Schilling outlined the reasoning well for why this sub-group of libertarians felt it was a good idea to ally with fascists. It was someone they could possibly recruit from.

        Some libertarians have also noted that there’s far more potential for growth among “normies/moderates” with probably far less risk of defection in the future and that fascists should be actively discouraged from becoming libertarians. However, that view as far as I can tell is only recently becoming a thing/ is a response to recent events.

        2.) Some other “libertarians” like Stefan Molyneaux seem to have gone through a hormonal shift (he had kids, got cancer). He also seems to have an intense “Man-Crush” on Trump which seems to have shut down some of his reasoning skills. Other people think Molyneaux was never really a libertarian, and further that he’s not really a fascist. These people would say that Molyneaux is more of a cult-leader and he joins political movements to gain followers for his cult. There’s several other libertarians like this, a pretty prominent one being Adam Kokesh (who uses his position of power in the libertarian movement to do things like abuse his girlfriend).

        3.) Some “libertarians” were really fascists allied to libertarianism because it was their best political avenue and abandoned ship the second they got the chance. They were previously sheltered by 1. But there’s been some breakage between 1 and 3 recently. Hans Herman Hoppe, one of the most “fascist friendly” libertarians disinvited Richard Spencer from his conference recently. Spencer had been invited to most previous conferences for the past decade.

        4.) The pipeline seems largely limited to the deontological wing and I personally haven’t observed much defection from the utilitarian wing.

        Tangential to all this: Some ancaps defected to fascism and took over moderatorship of the anarcho-capitalism subreddit. They’ve since pushed a pro-fascist moderator policy while defending it as “Free Speech”. Most sincere Ancaps have defected to another subreddit, goldandblack.

        • dndnrsn says:

          This all makes sense. I knew about the HHH type stuff. I suppose the history makes a bit more sense taken in the light of the Cold War, when commies had states behind them.

        • albatross11 says:

          Without getting too far into the subreddit weeds, is the definition of fascist you’re using one that, say, most SSCers would at least broadly agree with? (Like, substantial state control of the economy, suppression of dissent, government control of media and education, centralization of power in the person of the guy at the top?)

          There are all kinds of issues which are orthogonal to libertarian or fascist ideology or proposed policies–you might be a white supremacist or a believer in polyamory as the best way to live or a member of some weird UFO cult and still be either one. But it’s really hard to see how you get those two ideologies (libertarianism and fascism) to coexist.

          • Syx78 says:

            Richard Spencer types, Ethno-state advocates, etc. I’d say they fit your description.

            One of the bigger ones the Mises Institute hosts is Paul Gottfried who’s mostly known as a scholar and defender of Carl Schmidt. Schmidt escaped the Nuremberg trials by claiming to be “Merely an intellectual” and was before that a leading intellectual within the Nazi party.


            Now if Nazis are bad or not is another topic. But for the argument here I think it’s enough to say that they’re a seperate ideology from Anarcho-Capitalists.

            And yea, one of the big reasons they did coexist is that in the 1990s Murray Rothbard, a highly influential libertarian and in no way a fascist, decided that it would be a good idea to recruit from fascists/ have an alliance of convenience with them. He also did an earlier similar alliance with Ancomms.

        • Eric Rall says:

          Related to #1, there was a deliberate effort for some time by some prominent libertarians to go out of their way to appeal to the right-wing populist lunatic fringe. I think the idea was to build a core group of intense supporters who could serve as the “0% respectable” vanguard of a respectability cascade. It’s very probably inspired by the role the John Birch Society and similar groups played in winning the 1964 Republican nomination for Barry Goldwater.

          Murray Rothbard was probably the most active in pushing this strategy. Ron Paul also had a significant hand it in (if you remember the “Racist Ron Paul Newsletters” scandal from the 2008 election cycle, this it what was behind it), as did Lew Rockwell (chairman and founder of the Mises Institute).

          The common ground that was supposed to make this project viable was that both libertarians and right-wing populists were deeply skeptical of the federal government, anti-Leftist in general, and anti-Communist in particular.

          It worked to an extent: the campaign got Rothbard and Paul an intense base of motivated donors and volunteers that they (Paul especially) were able to leverage for national political prominence. The downside, though, is that association with lunatic fringe brings down the respectability of the movement as a whole. And using a group that includes fascist-adjacent opinions as your core base tends to pull your organization’s ideology in a more fascist-adjacent direction.

          I’m using the term “lunatic fringe” advisedly here, not as mere vulgar abuse. I was active in libertarian politics from 2008-2016, and while I knew many good, smart, reasonable people in the movement, I also knew quite a few people who wouldn’t shut up about Chemtrails, Agenda 21, and how 9/11 was an inside job.

          • baconbits9 says:

            It is not my impression that the Ron Paul campaign lost respectability, or that the newsletters had a significant effect on it. I think primarily it was strategic mistakes that prevented any real prominence (which then might have brought these issues to the fore).

          • Syx78 says:

            @baconbits I don’t think the campaign suffered all that much from the newsletters.

            However, the libertarian movement certainly had a schism (starting around 2014) over them/ over the strategy/ whether allying/joining the fascists is a good idea. The causes of the schism and the causes of the newsletters are similar.

          • albatross11 says:


            When did Ron Paul align with fascists? My memory is that:

            a. He wrote (or allowed to be written in his name) some racist comments in a newsletter many decades earlier. When this was brought up as a reason he should shrivel up and die, he kind of ignored it with a “yeah, someone else wrote that, I should have paid more attention.”

            b. He supported immigration restrictions–something that I think splits libertarians, but that isn’t remotely fascism.

          • Syx78 says:

            Ron Paul himself didn’t. It’s more like he was affiliated with a group (the Mises Institute) that also has affiliations with fascists and further that some of these people wrote the Newsletters. The affiliations of the Mises Institute with fascists would be the ones I mentioned earlier such as hosting Paul Gottfried and Hans Herman Hoppe hosting Richard Spencer (and many others such as Jared Taylor).

            That said the letters themselves seem to have been written by some combination of Lew Rockwell and Jeffrey Tucker. Tucker now is one of the most prominent “Anti-Fascist” libertarians and his perspective explaining all of this is pretty good. Here he is on Dave Rubin:


            It’s a long video but essentially Jeffrey says “Murray started allying with those guys because he was sort of eccentric and viewed it as a new adventure. It’s clear now that that was a mistake and looking back I regret doing this. When your heros blink you don’t have to blink with them”

          • SamChevre says:


            I don’t think the Mises Institute has ever been affiliated with fascists, unless you are expanding “fascist” to include Hoppe, Rockwell, and similar thinkers who (in my definition) libertarian, but not egalitarian.

          • Here he is on Dave Rubin:


            It’s a long video but essentially Jeffrey says “Murray started allying with those guys because he was sort of eccentric and viewed it as a new adventure. It’s clear now that that was a mistake and looking back I regret doing this. When your heros blink you don’t have to blink with them”

            It’s about an hour long and I didn’t listen to all of it, but I listened to a good deal and tried to check every five minutes or so along it. I didn’t find anything close to what you describe. Can you say at what time that passage occurs? Alternatively, is it possible that you are confusing it with a different youtube?

          • Syx78 says:


            Yea, I got a few interviews gobbled together as one/ conflated them. The main thing the Rubin interview goes into is Gottfried/Schmidt which is kind of the most blatant proof the Mises Institute has been hanging out with authoritarian types.

            A lot of this is more short clips from several videos.


            At 4:00 he says, in reference to a paper (against) immigration that seems to have been published in the early 90s, and which he published with Rothbard, “Wow to have changed your mind on such a fundamental issue like that” (showing looking back on it he’s surprised how far they strayed/clear in context).

            This video:


            5:25: “The people who weren’t ever with us are going full alt-right.”

            The Murray discussion starts at about 26:00/ there Tucker describes what he thinks Murray was thinking (being in the room with him at the time). Murray’s first instinct was “We can never work with these people.” But at 27:10 says he thinks Murray ultimately did it because he viewed it “as an adventure”.

            Further Tucker says Murray told him in private after Tucker told him something like “These guys might at least have some libertarianish ideas” and Murray responded (at first): “No not at all.”

            28:13: “Murray wrote some things he really shouldn’t have written in those years”

            At one point the interviewer calls out Lew Rockwell and Jeffrey goes along with it (30:19). Lew Rockwell chairs the Mises Institute.

            32:20: “I learned the principles I have from Rothbard and Hoppe and when your heroes blink you don’t have to blink with them.”

            Now maybe Jeffrey is involved in some sort of smear campaign against the Mises Institute but overall I think his perspective as someone who was in the center of all this is pretty valuable.

          • @Syx78:

            Thanks. Interesting.

            My views on Murray. The Mises Institute people don’t seem to be very friendly to me, but I don’t really know them.

            And for any outsiders to this, “Murray” is Murray Rothbard, not Charles Murray.

          • Syx78 says:

            Happy to help/clarify David!

            And yea I hear you, there’s a lot I think is wrong with with Murray’s overall ideology and political strategy and I think you do a good job of explaining it.

            If the state is evil, maybe you’re justified in doing evil(or at least questionable) things to combat them. If it’s a mistake you need to persuade people to do the right thing and convince them of the true (or more true) path.

        • albatross11 says:

          Note: being a white nationalist isn’t the same as being a fascist, and I think it could be consistent with being a libertarian, assuming your racism didn’t affect proposed laws, just your preferred associations. Being an advocate for a white ethnostate also isn’t the same as being a fascist, though it sure doesn’t seem consistent with being a libertarian. (Though I guess you could propose libertarian laws for your white ethnostate, and maybe some kind of racial test for who was allowed to immigrate to it.)

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            I am pretty certain I have seen the argument that libertarianism requires a white ethnostate, since other peoples are not capable of living according to libertarianism.
            I am not a libertarian personally, and am not the libertarian police, deciding who can or can’t claim ownership of the term, but I think at least some of the people I’ve seen make claims like this considered themselves to be libertarian.

          • albatross11 says:

            That’s sure not a *common* libertarian view, but I’m not shocked that some people believe it.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            To be clear, I assume these people are not remotely mainstream libertarians, and I doubt they’re too numerous, I just was pointing out that there are people who consider themselves libertarian who don’t think libertarianism is inconsistent with advocacy for ethnostates.

      • Björn says:

        Both libertarians and anarchists attract people who believe in world conspiracies and who believe they should be allowed to do anything, but are angry they aren’t. Both facists and tankies are about taking power so they can do whatever they want, the libertarians and anarchists only need to drop the idea that anyone should be allowed to do anything.

        Furthermore, if you dream of doing extremely radical reforms, you need a government that can do that. And only totalitarian governments can do that.

      • Nornagest says:

        Honestly, I don’t think there’s all that much space between anarcho-communist and tankie in the first place. Yes, in theory ancom is all about maximizing individual freedom. But the ancom analysis of individual freedom is fundamentally a communist one: it’s rooted in an analysis of class issues and sees class oppression as the limiting force on it. All the ancoms I know — and there are a few — oppose government insofar as they see it as contributing to class oppression (law enforcement, especially), but their near-term objections to it are instrumental, not terminal; they have no serious objections to centralizing power if they see doing so as a strike against capital, or if it involves wealth transfers. There’s an idea that we’ll all end up living in a stateless society with no laws and no owners eventually, but that comes after they’ve smashed the system with any tools available, which may very well include state power.

        This should sound familiar: it’s very similar to the idea of a vanguard party in Marxist-Leninist theory. They don’t call it that, but the idea is there. And from there, all you need to get to “Stalin did nothing wrong” is to take that idea seriously, and to harbor a little skepticism about the conventional narrative. Okay, a lot of skepticism, and maybe some willful blindness. But you gotta remember that these people train themselves to see corporate propaganda behind every rock and blade of grass already, and that anything associated with socialism comes with a pretty big halo for them.

        I don’t know as many people who’ve gone in the ancap-to-fascist direction, so I can’t comment on that.

      • SamChevre says:

        I might be an example of the libertarian-to-fascist pipeline: the amusing-to-me thing is that my positions changed very little, but the definitions changed a lot.

        I’ve always–since reading the first serious political book I read, thirty years ago–been focused on freedom of association/”leave me alone” libertarianism, while being fairly law-and-order in general. Few laws, designed to ensure that people leave each other alone, but actually enforced. That used to be a central concern of the libertarian grouping; over time, libertarian positions have come to be more focused on individualism, rather than freedom. At this point, arguing that people ought to be able to associate with whom they please, to pursue any goal that seems good to them by any means that other groups are allowed to use for their goals, is frequently identified as “fascist” (even though it’s fairly opposite to actual fascist positions.)

        See my comment here and the follow-up discussion for much more.

        ETA: I’ve become somewhat more hostile to some private policies designed to pursue equality, as I’ve come to believe that they are basically corporations functioning as extensions of the government rather than reflective of the corporation’s own freedom of association. If some businesses preferentially hire group X and some preferentially hire group Y, I’m fine; if they all prefer group X because the government has made it clear that they will be punished if they don’t that doesn’t seem like a freedom of association question.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          At this point, arguing that people ought to be able to associate with whom they please, to pursue any goal that seems good to them by any means that other groups are allowed to use for their goals, is frequently identified as “fascist” (even though it’s fairly opposite to actual fascist positions.)

          I’m in favor of tabooing “fascist” in current politics precisely because the number of people who hold the demonstrable positions of the Fascist movement are below Lizardman’s Constant. Note that I mean Mussolini, Austrofascism, and lesser examples rather than the Nazis, who consistently called themselves NatSocs and put Austrofascists in concentration camps. It’s much easier to find an edgelord who says Hitler did nothing wrong than somehow to holds to a proper position of the Fascist tent like Right-Hegelianism. You might accuse some artists of being Futurists, but such would be solidly Blue tribe.

        • albatross11 says:

          IMO, one problem libertarianism has in general is dealing with non-governmental coercion by large groups of people linked by ideology. An example of this is widespread racism in the US in the past; another example is social movements that work on contagious shaming/shunning (if you refuse to shun someone we shun, then we also shun you). I see this as an incompleteness problem–libertarianism is a good way to think about government vs individual relations, but probably doesn’t capture a lot of other X vs individual relations that also matter, so you need something additional for that. (Quite possibly just a belief that this kind of coordinated meanness should be kept to a minimum.)

          • An example of this is widespread racism in the US in the past

            How serious a problem was that when not supported by government action?

            I remember, for instance, that around 1900 there were firms in the South that recruited black workers from places that were particularly bad for them to work at jobs in parts of the South that were not. They were eventually shut down by state action.

          • albatross11 says:


            My understanding is that there was a huge amount of private discrimination in the North, where it wasn’t mandated by law. This appeared in restrictive covenants for subdivisions, formal or informal rules about who would be hired, admissions into private schools, etc.

            I don’t know that antidiscrimination law was the right way to address that–it has substantial costs in terms of personal freedom and bureaucratic oversight of private businesses. But I don’t think it’s crazy to look at that situation, where there is large-scale coordinated meanness against some group, and want to do something about it.

          • The question I was asking was not whether there was discrimination but how much damage it did, absent government support. Restrictive covenants meant that blacks couldn’t buy houses in particular places, but there were other places to buy houses. Similarly for jobs. Blacks would be better off without the discrimination, but I’m not sure how much better off.

            There was discrimination against Jews as well, which meant bright Jewish kids went to Columbia instead of Harvard. Maybe some didn’t get to go to college who would have without discrimination–but there were other things they could and did do.

        • 10240 says:

          As you say much of the corporate policies you oppose are in a large part incentivized by the government, and the one-sided preferential treatment is also enforced by the government, so I’d say your opposition to those policies fall within libertarianism, as does a general support for freedom of association.

      • 10240 says:

        Addition to the previous answers: Most of the time, there seem to be not that many people who genuinely care about freedom, and many liberals/libertarians just have wanted the opposite of what the government was doing at the time, so they demand freedom until the government sides with them.

        Back when the government was primarily propping up various powerful groups, those who cared about the poor were called liberals and opposed government intervention. When the government started supporting the poor at the expense of the rich, they supported the government, and in some countries they even kept the name “liberal” (hence modern American liberalism that’s less liberal on economy than the conservatives). When the government propped up whites at the expense of minorities, they opposed it, then when the government started intervening in favor of minorities, freedom wasn’t that important anymore. Now that the government is pushing anti-discrimination laws and PC etc., the far-right that oppose that can have on some issues a common cause with libertarians.

        Also note that non-democratic thought is not necessarily alien to libertarianism: many libertarians primarily care about individual freedom, and that naturally comes in conflict with democracy in situations where the majority wants to curtail individual rights.

      • Walter says:

        I think libertarian to fascist goes something like…

        So, let’s say you are a Comrade Horse type of guy. Hard worker, do everything by the rules. You’d like the gov to not piss on you, but beyond that you have no use for it.

        Gov takes your money, uses it for stuff you approve of (defends you from enemies, makes roads, whatever).

        You roll your eyes, carry on.

        Gov takes your money, gives it to your cousin who doesn’t work (he made up a disability or whatever).

        You roll your eyes, carry on.

        Gov takes your money, gives it to your other cousin who doesn’t work (she’s got kids, can’t let the kids starve)

        You are so angry about this, you have had enough! Time to vote for small gov party.

        They win!

        Gov takes your money, spends it on bombing sandy countries.

        You get political, to the extent that you have time to, educate yourself about how this could possibly be happening. Make plans, push for Real Small Gov candidates!

        They win!

        Gov takes your money, spends it to settle with activists because they noticed criminals are sad that the police beat them.

        You are BEYOND fed up now, time for…

        A: Nothing. Keep on paying these clowns to glad hand one another. Answer this question again in a year.
        B: Give up. Go your cousins route and become a drag on the people like you used to be.
        C: Rage! Overturn everything! Pick a strongman (1) or dead strongman’s ideology (2) to follow.

        Fascists choose C1, anarchists C2.

        • albatross11 says:

          C(1) and C(2) seem like an unduly restricted set of options, and if you hold liberty as a high value, it’s hard to imagine that leading you to want to support a strongman. Why would that make sense? The strongman’s just going to be in an even better position to impose dumb laws on you, extract taxes and fees, etc., and toss dissenters into jail in the bargain.

          • Syx78 says:

            One of the reasons people might (emotionally) want to do that is simply revenge. People have been stealing from you for so long it’s time to steal back.

            I think doing that though makes you just as bad as them.

            Impatience is definitely a thing tho. Even the fastest libertarian transition is going to take decades to accomplish, and even the best libertarian regime (say if the LP got a 2/3 majority next election) will have a few statist tragedies happen (such as say someone being mistreated or shot by
            a drone). Some people would rather see their enemies beat up today than wait forever for a better future.

            I’m more optimistic on waiting tho. Even though Tianamen Square happened(note: it was way less bad than things like the Great Leap Forward), Deng Xiaoping’s quasi-libertarian reforms were ultimately a very good thing for China. It did take decades to see the results though.

      • BBA says:

        Flippant answer: With the rise of social media and context collapse, people are more directly exposed to their outgroups. This exposure naturally changes attitudes from “live and let live” to “kill the infidels!”

        More serious answer: Lots of people claim ideologies without thinking them all the way through, if at all. They like to sing along, but they know not what it means. If you’re into the whole hard left punk rock aesthetic but don’t care too much about the details, anarchism and communism look like pretty much the same thing.

  10. Plumber says:

    After being gone for many months I notice that the

    Notify me of follow-up comments by email


    Notify me of new posts by emai

    options are back tonight!

  11. toastengineer says:

    Any EA types got an opinion on Habitat for Humanity? The idea of donating labor instead of money is interesting.

    • Biater says:

      You mean volunteering?

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        This might be my favorite “rationalists rediscover X” to date.

        Not mean-spirited, toast – it’s easy to get twisted around a particular phraseology and end up somewhere that’s not as unfamiliar as it looks. And yeah, I think volunteering can be a lot more rewarding than donating. It’s arguably less efficient on an object level, but I think it’s better for the soul, so to speak, in a lot of cases.

        • toastengineer says:

          I probably should have phrased it as “voluneering seems a lot more practical in my situation because I have no spare money and some free time, but I was wondering just how much good they actually do, and how that works anyway since their site is remarkably light on specifics.” But sure, laugh it up, fuzzball.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Not mean-spirited, toast – it’s easy to get twisted around a particular phraseology and end up somewhere that’s not as unfamiliar as it looks.

          I for one encourage rationalists to come up with overly-elaborate phraseology for familiar concepts. For instance, “blushing” should be tabooed in favor of “pastily lit up to a lustrous cherry red radiance.”

          • albertborrow says:

            I think there’s a difference between elaborate phraseology that serves a utilitarian purpose and elaborate phraseology that serves an aesthetic purpose. Both end up being silly, but at the very least reinventing the wheel shows an understanding of what a wheel is and why you would want it.

        • meh says:

          I think volunteering can be a lot more rewarding than donating. It’s arguably less efficient

          It sounds like you are saying it is neither effective nor altruistic.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Depends on your definition of both. Something something something eat only rice, live on the street, and spend all the money you ever make on malaria bets something something.

          • ajakaja says:

            It is effective at a different thing.

          • Watchman says:

            Rationally, it is only effective if it produces better value than working and then spending that money on the same cause. So a coder concerned with building a new homeless shelter is likely to be more effective working and contributing his earnings to hire skilled workers than to offer his time. But a lawyer might be able to offer practical help with planning issues and so volunteering services would be good.

            Of course a lot of other things need to be factored in as well…

          • Argos says:


            effective: successful in producing a desired or intended result.

            No, it is effective if the house actually helps the homeless people, for example by not collapsing over their head. However, it would not be *efficient*

          • albatross11 says:

            It may be easier to keep up your motivation if you volunteer rather than donate money, and it almost certainly has a better effect on you as a person to volunteer in person. OTOH, if you’re concerned with maximizing QALYs and nothing else, maxing out your work income and donating it all for DDT-impregnated bed nets probably beats any kind of volunteering most of us can do. (Maybe not true if you’re, say, a fully trained doctor or PA willing to go work with Syrian refugees in a Turkish resettlement camp for a year, but probably true for most of what a good programmer can do.)

            Modern life and institutions and markets tend to be good at efficient outcomes, but not so good at providing personal growth or satisfaction or connection. One side effect of volunteering somewhere is that you build a community–you create ties that aren’t about who’s getting paid. IMO, that matters a great deal for human flourishing even if it doesn’t immediately show up in QALY calculations.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            malaria bets

            Just because we should never let funny typos go to waist…

            Working a super predictor futures market buy into this whole thing would be pretty darn EA meets rationalist.

          • toastengineer says:

            So a coder concerned with building a new homeless shelter is likely to be more effective working and contributing his earnings to hire skilled workers than to offer his time.

            That’s great in theory, but most people don’t actually have the option to work more hours to get more pay.

          • EchoChaos says:


            Everyone has the option to earn more by working more hours. It just tends to be less direct at a certain point because it is bonuses/promotions/skill gain rather than hourly pay.

          • SaiNushi says:


            If you’re already working as much as you physically can, then you can’t work any more hours.

          • EchoChaos says:


            In which case you’re unlikely to be worrying about using your free time to build a house for charity.

    • aristides says:

      I’m a Sorta aspiring EA, and if you look at EA writing, they primarily encourage donating labor over money. However, most involve choosing a career in a high impact field over casual volunteer simply because convincing one person to make a career change is more effective than convincing 100 people to volunteer occasionally.

      As far as habitat for humanity, I don’t think many EA, have looked to much into it, since for most EA it would be an inefficient use of their time. However, if you’re main skill is construction, and you have surplus time, but no money, I could theoretically imagine it being an efficient use of the spare time. Before you sign up, I suggest reading this post about EA volunteering. It gives general advice that can be used for any volunteer opportunity in your area, as well as mentions several effective volunteer opportunities they identified in the comment section.

    • Plumber says:


      I’m not an “EA type” or much of a “Rationalist”, but I’ve done volunteer labor in the past (especially when I was young and poor) and unless you can earn lots of money right now I’d say that the labor of most able bodied people of average or better wisdom and intelligence is worth more than what money they may spare but if you’re too exhausted by what you do for paid labor your cash donations are probably more valuable.

      In general labor from the young, and cash from the old are most helpful.

      • albatross11 says:

        One aside is that Plumber is worth many times more to a Habitat for Humanity project than I would be.

        • Plumber says:


          You learn by doing.

          Barring injuries (and it really is a race between skill improvement and body degradation), you get better with practice
          Previously my union local only allowed members to donate their pipe-work labor to their churches, but they made an exception for Habitat For Humanity and more importantly unemployed apprentices were allowed to count that labor towards the 9,000 hours required for Journeyman status.

          I should add that HFH as an organization is well practiced in making an effective use of unskilled labor, their style of building is different and relies more on having available hands, less than a typical construction site.

          Someone upthread mentioned that a typical construction worker is paid about $15 an hour, which is true, but a contractor will charge much more than that.

    • Erusian says:

      Not an EA, but my thought is basically this: The average hourly pay of a construction worker is about $15 per hour. Let’s say that the relevant organizations spend $5 on admin costs. That means if you earn more than $20 per hour (presuming the donation is tax deductible), working an extra shift and donating the money is a more efficient use of time than volunteering. The construction worker is more experienced and will get more, higher quality work done. Also, as you earn more money you can hire more construction workers.

      However, if you earn less than $20 per hour or have a limited ability to alienate your labor for that rate, then using your spare time will be better than nothing. If, and only if, you commit to doing it regularly and becoming more than a tourist. At least something of an expert in construction etc.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      My wife worked for Habitat for Humanity East Bay/Silicon Valley for 10 years. Here’s a data dump:

      In the United States, Habitat for Humanity effectively works on a franchise system. There are local “affiliates” of the international organization, which each have an exclusive area where they work. The local affiliates are independently operated and vary extremely widely in what exactly they do and how they do it.

      So the immediate answer for you if you’re talking about volunteering domestically is, “It depends on where you are.”

      My wife worked on relatively large projects in the Bay Area. Volunteers here did almost all of the less skilled parts of house-building, but Habitat still brought in real contractors to do things like wiring and plumbing, and of course a great deal of the major cost of the developments was land cost. Because Bay Area. As a result, my impression is that volunteering was about 70-30 “a method to generate leads for donations” vs “a vital part of actually building the housing.” The fewer genuine construction skills you have, the more things are weighted towards donation-lead-generation.

      Habitat (at least in the Bay Area) tends to serve people who are not at the very lowest levels of income, because those people can’t qualify to own a house even with a great deal of charitable assistance. Habitat homeowners end up with a mortgage and so forth, albeit a smaller one than they would if they tried to buy at market rate. So in terms of EA-style efficiency, you might reasonably question whether it’s most efficient to help people who are not the most downtrodden in the world. On the other hand, I think there’s a reasonable argument that your charity is less likely to be “wasted” for people who, like, have jobs and so forth and are just trying to get out of a poverty trap versus maybe people who are so far from being able to provide for themselves that your charity will not make a permanent change in their lives. My experience from going to dedications of the sites is that a typical Habitat homeowner is an immigrant with a family working a steady but (relatively) low-wage job.

      Other affiliates use more volunteer labor than my wife’s did. That tends to lower their throughput and make them less able to take on ambitious projects, but does perhaps imply a higher value to volunteering with them per se.

      My knowledge of the international organization is much more limited, but my impression is that they are very heavily biased towards the “volunteering as lead generation for donations” side of things. To the point where you can’t actually go on their volunteer missions without raising a fairly substantial amount of money.


      • Beck says:

        Thanks for posting that. I worked for Habitat for a bit and was going to write up something similar but worse. The affiliate I worked for (Mobile, AL) split their time between renovations (clean-up, wheelchair ramp, painting…) and bigger projects. I imagine that varies a lot by location.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          Thanks! By the way, one way that you might increase the value of you volunteering if you do go to Habitat (or I imagine other charitable volunteer organizations) is to try really hard to make the experience a positive one for your fellow volunteers, thus encouraging them to come back and volunteer again and/or donate.

    • sentientbeings says:

      Not an EA per se, but Habitat for Humanity is my go-to example for how people misuse their resources in effecting charity. Part of the reason it’s relevant is that the people I’m trying to explain it to usually have high intelligence/intellectual skills and income potential, which isn’t the case for all crowds.

      That said, I like Habitat for Humanity. I work with them from time to time. I do it because I enjoy it, not because I think it’s effective charity from me.

  12. johan_larson says:

    Can anyone identify this item or geographic feature? It looks like hot tub in the middle of the Utah wilderness.,-113.5393178,107m/data=!3m1!1e3

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Looks like a hot spring to me. Look up Grand Prismatic Spring.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Agree that it’s a hot spring or possibly even a geyser (the circular pattern around it suggests eruptions), but how did you find it?

      • johan_larson says:

        I went looking for a big patch of nothing, and remembered the US south-west is full of that stuff. But sometimes the nothing has something in it.

        There’s some other weird stuff nearby.

        A scraped rectangle:,-113.1969602,1753m/data=!3m1!1e3

        A square green pool:,-113.9237937,5034m/data=!3m1!1e3

        A network of roads going nowhere in particular:,-113.2427394,5682m/data=!3m1!1e3

        More of the round features. These ones are green.,-113.5228955,221m/data=!3m1!1e3

        • toastengineer says:

          [Not sure why this posted as a reply to this comment, please delete]

        • LtWigglesworth says:

          The green pool is a evaporation pond for salt mining, probablypotash

          No idea what the scraped rectangle is, however there is what looks like anaircraft graveyard, a truck in a revetment , and a disused airbase nearby. So maybe an old training range? Maybe the round features are craters from bombing training.

          • Nornagest says:

            I think those are T-37 Tweet jet trainers, or mockups of them, in the aircraft graveyard. Lots of tanks, too, which I can’t place definitively but might be Pattons — I think I can make out the big cupola on some of them.

            Some Tweets in the abandoned airbase, too, along with a number of aircraft that I can’t place — there’s a twin-engine fighter that looks kinda like a MiG-29 (not an F-15, it doesn’t have the blunt intakes). Also a delta-winged aircraft that doesn’t match anything American but might be a MiG-21. A lot of the aircraft there are pretty beat up, and there are divots in the hardpan that might be craters; I think it was probably built to be used as a target.

          • LtWigglesworth says:


            Yeah those do look MiG-21s and 29s, or at least mock-ups of them.
            The tanks look like M-48s/M-60s. The turret shape doesn’t look like an M1, nor anything Russian.

            And if it is Dugway, as @Catcube suggests, which has been used as a NBC test ground then the scraped rectangle might be from cleaning up contaminated topsoil.

          • Nornagest says:

            The scraped rectangle’s interesting. It looks an awful lot like it got hit several times with cluster bombs, using those white containers as targets; at least two different types, judging from crater size and patterning. And then there’s a single, much larger, crater in the NW. I wonder if the black surface isn’t there to increase the contrast.

        • CatCube says:

          That area looks to either be on Dugway Proving Ground, or between it and the Utah Training and Test Range.

          The network of roads looks like part of Dugway, the scraped rectangle is definitely inside UTTR. Those are probably roads to service targets.

          I don’t know what that is near Wendover, but that particular base is no longer active so it’s not related to any military facilities in the area. Fun fact: they have a museum there on the old Wendover Airfield where they trained to drop the atomic bombs. It was an interesting hour or two if you happen to be in the area.

          Edit: @LtWigglesworth is correct; the large green pools near Wendover are potash production.

          Edit 2: A little NW of the center of your “network of roads” looks like an old Wullenweber antenna, but it’s not listed as any of the sites for the couple systems I know of, the AN/FRD-10 or the AN/FLR-9, but admittedly the only reason I know about Wullenweber antennas was from hours of fascinated clicking on Wikipedia, so that ID is mostly a shot in the dark.

        • The Nybbler says:

          It’s possible the first one is a bomb crater that filled with water. Though I don’t know why there would be only one. Maybe a _really_ bad miss? It does show up on the topo map as a small dot, but with no label. One of the most boring topo maps you’ll see, with a boring name: West of Wildcat Mountain SW.

          The second set of round ones probably are bomb craters.

          • Nornagest says:

            Bomb crater is my guess, yeah. There’s a couple smaller ones nearby; one about 200 meters SSE and one a kilometer or so ENE. It looks like Dugway was to test biological and chemical weapons, so I expect there wasn’t so much conventional ordnance dropped there.

    • Well... says:

      Bacterial colony. Or possibly lichen.

  13. Le Maistre Chat says:

    So I’m currently reading The Mathematics of Magic by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt (two mid-20th century scientists Portal Fantasy into The Faerie Queen), and suddenly this bit jumps out at me:
    “‘Traveling through Faerie is just one damned encounter after another.’ His two narrow escapes in one day had left Shea feeling like a damp washcloth.
    Chalmers mused: ‘It is logical that it should be so. The Faerie Queen indicates that this is a world wherein an endless and largely planless concatenation of encounters are a part of the normal pattern of events…”

    Hmm, sounds familiar somehow…

    • Plumber says:

      @Le Maistre Chat ,

      Why is that surprising?

      Dungeons & Dragons,
      Book 1: 
      Men & Magic

      These rules are strictly fantasy. Those wargamers who lack imagination, those who don’t care for Burroughs’ Martian adventures where John Carter is groping through black pits, who feel no thrill upon reading Howard’s Conan saga, who do not enjoy the de Camp & Pratt fantasies or Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser pitting their swords against evil sorceries will not be likely to find Dungeons & Dragons to their taste. But those whose imaginations know no bounds will find that these rules are the answer to their prayers. With this last bit of advice we invite you to read on and enjoy a “world” where the fantastic is fact and magic really works! 
      E. Gary Gygax 
      Tactical Studies Rules Editor 
      1 November 1973 
      Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

      (BTW, thank you for your post, the Marx and the Shakespeare are over my head, but some old D&D stuff was imprinted on my mind from before I was even a teenager and I appreciate getting to use those dust covered brain cells!)

  14. anonymousskimmer says:


    With the tax refund situation I’ve been reading the old refrain “those who get a refund have made an interest free loan to the federal government”.

    I’m reading that the typical tax payer uses their refund to pay a near-future expense or purchase. Now you generally aren’t supposed to invest money meant for a near-future expense. And the typical tax filer doesn’t have easy access to safe, short-term, interest bearing objects, at least not with the amounts of money in a typical refund when spread throughout the year. So the typical tax filer has a choice between an interest free loan to the government, or to their bank (okay, some have access to credit unions as well, which *may* pay <1% interest on the amounts the tax filer would deposit). At least the interest free loan to the government marginally decreases the share of the national debt belonging to that tax filer. So it seems to me it's more fiscally prudent to overwithhold than not, at least for tax filers who are going to use their refund for a near-future expense.


    How much does overwithholding decrease the US National Debt per year? A couple of years ago the IRS paid ~$400b in refunds; T bonds yield about 4% per year currently and T bills about 2.4%, so discounting throughout the year about $4b – $8b per year?

    I've seen varying numbers, and for those whose refunds are more than they pay thanks to various tax credits the issue is obviously complexified, but as a general matter this is probably accurate enough.

    I suppose it would make more sense for many tax filers to save the money in a bank until they can purchase a short-term T bill. I can't find an easy way to buy T bills at my bank online (though maybe it would be easier in person), but the Treasury website makes it look pretty easy:

    Still, that's a bit of work for an average of $24 (2.4% APR, divided by 6 months average T-bill hold time, times $2k average refund).

    I used up my sociality for a while a few OTs back, so I likely won't respond, but I'll bookmark this link for future reading of any replies.

    • Cliff says:

      the typical tax filer doesn’t have easy access to safe, short-term, interest bearing objects

      What? Many bank accounts pay 2-3% these days. I would say the “typical” tax filer has ready access to online banks like Fidelity, ING Direct, etc. CDs are offering 3-4%. When you put your money in a bank it’s readily accessible if you need it, plus it is being invested by the bank into productive assets that strengthen the economy. If you leave it with the US govt it’s completely inaccessible, you can’t get it until after you file your return, and its wasted by the US govt on unproductive government activities

      • MrApophenia says:

        Which bank accounts? I would love to switch. I just checked and my bank (PNC) offers the following:

        Savings Accounts pay .01%.

        Money Market offers a sliding scale based on how much you put in, with the max value returning interest of .17% if you have more than $100K in the account. Below $10K it’s .03%.

        CDs have a huge amount of possible returns depending how long you put it in for and how much, but you don’t crack 1% interest until you put in either more than $25K for 84 months, or more than $1K for 120 months. No option breaks 2%.

        • Protagoras says:

          My online account at CIT bank pays 1.55%. I think they were recommended by Mint, and checking Mint’s current rankings, they top the current rates at 2.45%. Which is not what I’m getting because it’s their initial teaser rate; CIT is apparently notorious for using high teaser rates that eventually drop, but the rates they drop to still seem to generally be higher than what your random local bank will give you. Mint lists several other banks over 2%, though, possibly also with teaser shenanigans. Still, the biggest factor seems to be that online banks pay higher rates than traditional banks.

        • Chalid says:

          I get > 2%, non-teaser, from Marcus (run by Goldman Sachs, if that matters to you). But it (and other high-interest accounts) is really just a bank account; no checks, no debit card, no ATMs, no branch offices with tellers, etc. I keep a smaller amount of money in a traditional bank for those services.

        • arabaga says:

          You can look at top rates here:

          Just make sure you are looking at “All Products” (not just “Featured”), and sort by APY (otherwise sponsored products will appear at the top).

          For my ZIP code I see a bank with a 2.5% rate, but I don’t know if that’s a teaser rate. Right now Synchrony and Marcus (by Goldman Sachs) both have 2.25% rates, and Sallie Mae, Ally, and Barclays have 2.2% rates.

          I can personally vouch for Ally and Sallie Mae consistently being near the top rate for the past ~5 years – I don’t think any other institution has been consistently higher.

        • Theodoric says:

          Capital One 360, which I have used since they were ING Direct, has checking accounts with interest from .2-1% (balance dependent), savings accounts with 1% for all balances, and CDs from 2.7-3.1% depending on how long they are for. You can also use their physical branches in case you need certified checks or something like that (yes, online banks can overnight them, but, for example, when I closed on my home I did not know how much they would have to be for, and who they would be made out to, until the day of the closing).

        • zoozoc says:

          I have used ALLY BANK for several years now and have been happy with them. I get 2.2% on their savings account and this is NOT a teaser rate. The checking account is 0.1%.

          The only downside to an online bank is that (at least with ALLY) there is no way to deposit cash. Otherwise it is fine. I believe there is a limit to how many ATM fees they will reimburse, but I have never reached that limit.

    • zoozoc says:

      As Cliff says, there are online banks that give at least a couple percent interest rate for savings account. I myself use Ally bank. But most people do not have online banks or make use of CDs. But then again, a lot of people apparently have little to no savings and live paycheck to paycheck.

    • J Mann says:

      Let’s say you have a $1,500 refund, so you’ve made a $1,500 tax-free “loan” to the government.

      1) As a first pass, if you had put that in a savings account with 1% interest, you would have earned about $7.50 in interest over the year. So effectively, you’re giving the government $7.50, just like if you didn’t check a box for a deduction you were entitled to.

      2) On the other hand, one safe place many people can park money is paying down debts (at least if you can draw more credit if you need it.) Let’s suppose you’re paying 18% interest on a credit card balance, and you use the refund to pay that down at the end of the year. If you had paid that against your credit card during the year instead of after your refund, you would have saved yourself about $185 in interest.

      3) Finally, if you needed that money during the year for an emergency, you didn’t have it. Again, maybe you borrowed and paid interest, or had bounced check fees as a result.

    • SkyBlu says:

      I always overwithold on my yearly income tax, and that’s because the amount of money that I’m loaning to the federal government is pretty small in comparison to the potential penalty if I don’t get my taxes right. The best investment I can get is about 1.5%, so I can maybe get $15 of interest off my return (probably less since I don’t get it just in a fat chunk at the beginning of the year), versus a big fine if I do mess up somewhere along the process. It’s not about the opportunity cost of not having capital, its about minimizing the risk of penalties.

      • Cliff says:

        The fine is tiny (getting slightly larger with interest rates). I routinely pay no taxes until filing and have a high income and pay a quite small penalty each year. I do this because I invest in real estate (and some stocks) and receive high returns.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      There are a lot of people with different brains who spend any money they have the instant it is in their pockets. The smarter among them know this and are fine with the government holding their money for a while so they can “save up” for a large purchase they need to save up for.

      This will frustrate people with different brains than them, who have no problem holding money in a savings account and not spending it, and wonder why people cannot be them.

      • Plumber says:

        @Edward Scizorhands

        “There are a lot of people with different brains who spend any money they have the instant it is in their pockets. The smarter among them know this and are fine with the government holding their money for a while so they can “save up” for a large purchase they need to save up for…”

        My old local had deductions for “vacation fund” which was basically a buck an hour out of your pay that would go to a credit union savings account that you could withdrawal a month later, instead of that money just being on your regular paycheck or some other benefit.

        This was voted and approved by the membership directly (and believe me it’s much easier to campaign to around 2,500 members of a union local than to a city or state so this wasn’t a problem of representatives), so the guys wanted their money held back from them to force some saving.

      • etheric42 says:

        That’s a sound argument, and in a vacuum I have no problem with it. The problem I do have is that the opposite argument seems to hold just as much water (and seems to be argued just as much).

        The opposite argument: “When people receive a windfall of money, they are more likely to just burn through it frivolously (a big TV, a down payment on a car they can’t afford, etc.) and then they won’t have it when they need it. Small, regular injections of cash throughout the year are better for increasing someone’s quality of life, because even if they waste it this month, they’ll have again next month.”

        They both seem pretty valid. There has been some anthropological research on things like the numbers game serving as an effective replacement for banking / tax returns historically in poor urban environments. But there is also a lot of research on lottery winners blowing all their money right away.

        I’d be curious to see some rigorous research into which side is right. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if the answer is “it depends” on things like access to banking, credit, how large the lump sum is absolutely and as a percentage of yearly income, etc.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          I think there is an issue with expected versus unexpected windfall. If I know I am getting $2000 in March, I can decide that is the time to buy a car.

          Also, something I didn’t say before, but some people have leeches in their life that will suck up any spare dollars. Being able to tell those leeches “I don’t have any money” is the path of least resistance compared to getting better at lying or shutting down the leeches. (The latter two are preferable strategies, but not everyone can do them.)

    • TheContinentalOp says:

      I had a very long discussion with my boss about this. She’s upset that her refund was smaller than expected. Each year she uses her refund to pay her township and school property taxes and uses the rest to pay down Xmas gift debt. This year she claims she won’t have any money to put toward the debt.

      We got sidetracked into a discussion about why her property taxes weren’t escrowed. After she refinanced to a short term and higher payments, she was no longer required to escrow and she claimed that she couldn’t make the new higher payments if she had to pay taxes into escrow as well. She said her plan only worked by overwithholding and using the refund to pay her property taxes.

      She made it clear, that this wasn’t some scheme to prevent herself from spending money now that she needed for taxes later.

      I tried to point out the flaws in her argument, but she’s the boss and I was getting her angry so I stopped.

      • zoozoc says:

        I am so confused. Your boss made a (seemingly) smart decision to refinance to a shorter term mortgage to save money long term on interest. But yet she uses (presumably) credit card debt to finance XMAS gifts.

        • Nornagest says:

          A surprising number of smart people are incapable of holding onto money in quantity. Sometimes it’s a personal issue, sometimes it’s because of relatives or SOs or friends sucking it down a rabbit hole as it becomes available. If that’s what’s going on here, she effectively may have no choice but to finance Christmas gifts with debt, yet still have room in the pre-rabbithole budget for things like refinancing a mortgage.

    • meh says:

      You scoff at 1% interest at a bank, yet get excited about marginally decreasing the share of the national debt belonging to you?

    • gbdub says:

      In addition to what others have said, to me the biggest issue is just that it sucks writing a big check to the government in April, and that’s despite the fact that I keep a sizable liquid savings so there’s no real hardship involved in doing that.

      So I try to schedule withholdings so I’m at 0 refund, but I’d rather err on the side of a small refund.

      I agree that yeah, you shouldn’t plan for a big refund. But on the other hand, unexpected windfalls are much easier to deal with than unexpected bills.

  15. sandoratthezoo says:

    @Scott, I made a medium-length post last night about roleplaying games (Apocalypse World in particular), and I think I included too many links and it got eaten by the spam filter. Could you fish it out?

  16. RalMirrorAd says:

    This ask was motivated by the discussions on the GND;

    1. Has anyone done a deep dive on the economics of nuclear power vs renewables? I.E Do carbon costs and also Energy per dollar costs for renewables include costs of storage and manufacturer of the turbines/panels? Do costs of nuclear plants include wage storage
    2. Does anyone know anything about Thorium as an alternative to Uranium? It struck me as a case of too good to be true.

    Note that I want to keep this a reasonable distance from CW so I’m not interested in psychoanalysis of people who reflexively oppose this or that form of energy production.

    • Murphy says:

      wage storage

      I’m not familiar with this term.


      Anything you watch or read when they talk about Thorium, do the Protactinium test: Ctrl+F “Protactinium”.

      Thorium suffers from the “never been used” issue. because it’s never been used advocates can paint it as perfect.

      Re: nuclear costs: In the US it’s built into the cost per watt.
      For nuclear, the cost of long term disposal of waste depends on what standard you demand.

      If you assume that people of the future will all be like the cast of idiocracy, have no sense at all and will take the first chance to dig into the waste dump and eat whatever’s inside, ignoring all warnings in all languages and formats…. then you can demand measures that cost basically infinity money.

      If you’re willing to say “seal it in glass, wrap it in steel and stuff it in under a dry mountain somewhere well above the water table” … and don’t let local politicians accept all the money and employment to build the facility before suddenly objecting as soon as it’s due to be used…. then the cost is fairly reasonable.

      It can be a bit frustrating to talk about because people will make objections that don’t even make sense when talking about it. I think the worst I ever saw was in a discussion about NASA possibly using an RTG to power a moon base some people started complaining about the risk of terrorists getting hold of the nuclear material afterwards and damage to the environment….. on the moon.

      • Protagoras says:

        I’m sure the extent of this is exaggerated by nuclear critics, but it is a fact that radiation causes changes that can weaken containment vessels over time (neutron embrittlement and related phenomena), which considerably complicates the job of figuring out adequate containment. Wrapping it in glass and steel isn’t guaranteed to be sufficient for the long term.

        • Murphy says:

          That’s the short version. while melting it into a chunk of glass and sealing it inside steel is, I believe, part of the process, there’s enough nuclear engineers and physicists involved in the designs that I’d tend to defer to their calculations that likely include the effects of neutron embrittlement.

        • John Schilling says:

          Neutron embrittlement is a thing that comes from, you guessed it, neutron radiation. And neutron radiation basically only happens when there are actual fission reactions going on, i.e. in an operational nuclear reactor (or weapon in mid-explosion). There are a few isotopes that undergo spontaneous fission with neutron production at a low rate; those are the ones sensible people would strip out of their radioactive waste before burying it because they are actually valuable, but if you’ve got a religious aversion to nuclear fuel reprocessing, the magnitude of the effect will be nonetheless quite small.

          Same goes for “related effects”. If your nuclear reactors aren’t crumbling to dust in routine use, your waste canisters won’t even notice the effect.

        • Eltargrim says:

          Having done a bit of research into vitrification of nuclear waste, I’d just like to point out that a) the primarily storage concern is glass chemical durability (ie water resistance), not radiation damage; and b) you *really* need to reprocess the fuel before you vitrify it, spontaneous fission or no. You’re not getting uranium or plutonium to incorporate into the glass, full stop.

          As John Schilling points out, residual neutron radiation in spent fuel is not a major concern.

      • gbdub says:

        Thorium suffers from the “never been used” issue. because it’s never been used advocates can paint it as perfect.

        Isn’t that also mostly true for large scale renewables+storage though? I don’t have a great grasp of the numbers / research here, but I’m suspicious about any comparison between as-built nuclear tech from decades ago vs. extrapolations from small scale testbeds of solar+battery or whatever.

        Nuclear power is deep into the over-regulated cost-disease ridden part of its lifecycle. Moloch demands that solar get there eventually. Are large scale solar or wind projects actually delivering the expected performance and cost figures? I’ve certainly heard of certain high profile solar installations being expensive and less efficient than planned.

        • kieranpjobrien says:

          Nuclear is definitely into cost disease to some extent. I can’t say how much (I’m an energy analyst with a psychiatrist enthusiasm for climate policy and nuclear power).

          I have to disagree on solar though. Whilst I’m sure some projects are overpromising and underdelivering, this is due to the relative immaturity of solar compared to other technologies. The market is still maturing with the cost curve declining drastically. So it will take a while for the market to be truly mature to a scale that you can judge projects fairly against their conventional power equivalents.

          • LtWigglesworth says:

            A large problem with the current state of nuclear, is that almost every reactor project in the west is a one-off, requiring extensive regulatory overhead and certification. The costs of these are never shared across a unified fleet of reactors,and neither are the development costs.

            Couple this with some truly atrocious project management, and the fact that a lot of the financing burden is on private enterprise vs. govt (so the cost of capital is significantly higher), and you’re left with the dire straits that nuclear power find’s itself in.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        Very sorry wage storage = waste storage — PIG fingers typo on my part.

    • John Schilling says:

      I’m not sure what you mean by “wage storage”, but it sounds like levelized cost of energy is the metric you are looking for. LCOE is often criticized for not adequately capturing externalities, like pollution from coal-fired plants and Evil Rays of Evil from nuclear plants, but then just about everything in every market economy everywhere is often criticized for not adequately capturing externalities. A rational assessment would probably acknowledge that LCOE is somewhat undercounted for fossil fuel power generation but about right for everything else.

      Another problem is that LCOE doesn’t distinguish between a kilowatt-hour that is available whenever you want it and one that can only be used on a clear sunny day.

      LCOE for ultility-scale solar photovoltaic energy looks to average $80/MWh at present, expected to come down to $50/MWh by ~2025, but with substantial variation depending on the scale and location of the installation. Wind and hydroelectric power can be cheaper, down to $20-30/MWh, but only in unusually favorable locations.

      Nuclear power is currently about $90-100/MWh in the US and UK, but $40-50/MWh in France and South Korea and $20-40/MWh in China and pre-Fukushima Japan, suggesting that the regulatory regime makes a significant difference.

      W/re Thorium, an advanced thorium breeder cycle works even better than uranium breeders at guaranteeing that known reserves of fissile materials could provide for most of the world’s energy needs for centuries to come. But it isn’t urgently needed today. You’ll sometimes hear people say that thorium breeders are better than uranium breeders because they can’t be used to proliferate nuclear weapons; this is false, and the advanced thorium breeder cycles that are proposed in this context almost certainly pose a higher proliferation risk than old-style uranium breeders. This should be manageable, but since we don’t urgently need to take that step today, I’d recommend putting it off for the next generation.

      • Nornagest says:

        the advanced thorium breeder cycles that are proposed in this context almost certainly pose a higher proliferation risk than old-style uranium breeders

        Why’s that? I get that U-233 can be used in weapons, but I’d think that puts thorium only on par with the U-238 to plutonium cycle.

        • John Schilling says:

          I’d rather not explain the details, because so far nobody else has and it’s possible some bad actor somewhere might miss it. But, A: U-233 is easier to use in weapons than Pu-239 and even more so than reactor-grade plutonium, and B: conventional fuel-reprocessing cycles are extremely messy, dangerous, and capital-intensive, whereas the thorium advocates propose something much safer and simpler. At that point, it’s probably just some plumbing modifications to turn your reactor fuel factory into a bomb material factory.

      • Robert L says:

        “Wage storage” is very probably meant to be “waste storage”.

        • Murphy says:

          I wasn’t sure because it sorta kinda made sense if you assume you need to set up some kind of foundation or fund to take care of a big waste site long into the future that’s enough to cover wages of staff.

    • rlms says:

      There was an interesting discussion on this in an EA Facebook group a couple of months ago.

  17. MartMart says:

    In my mind, there is something in common between mass shootings and what is normally accepted as terrorism. There is the whole thing where the perpetrator is willing and even wants to end their own life in the process, and also the complete lack of empathy for the victims (to the point of not really caring about who they are). This makes it very different from the more conventional crime of killing someone in order to take their stuff. To me, this seemed to be somehow linked to population density, and the difficult people had operating in very large communities. I thought that this drove, in large part, the divide on gun control. One theory I came across was that the crime were about glory or glamour, that it was a way for the perpetrator to feel like they could do something of value (in a sense) with their life.
    I recently came across a description of the universe 25 rat experiment, in which rats were placed in a utopia where food was plentiful, but their society collapsed and they ended up dying off long before they used up the available space. I’m having some trouble finding more information on this and the related experiments (there were many apparently). Here is what I found so far:
    That it wasn’t population density, but rather number of social interactions (that makes sense)
    That there is some criticism about the utopias being poorly constructed (did anyone try it correcting for this?)
    That other experiments in which rats were somehow given a purpose (?????) did not result in societal collapse.

    The first part seems to relate to the emphasis that people put on urban anonymity. The second can undo the entire idea. The third seems to relate to the whole glory/glamour idea.
    I doubt I’m the first to have thought of this, and with all the references here to the rat park, I thought it was a good place to ask for more information.

    • DeWitt says:

      The response to experiments like these, always and ever, is that the social sciences have a terrible replication crisis. Mountains of assumptions shouldn’t be made on molehills of knowledge, and this is one such area where it’s really very easy to make shaky claims on dubious information.

      • MartMart says:

        My understanding is that there were over a dozen rat utopias in which well fed rats proceeded to kill each other for no reason, cease to mate, and generally wiped themselves out. At least that part seemed to have been replicated.

        • Watchman says:

          A minor quibble here: how do we know these were utopias to the rats? Humans would have trouble agreeing on their utopia, so why assume rats (a species with individuality and intelligence) would not have the same problems. What was built here was a situation in which all the rats’s recognised needs were met. It appears from the outcome that some unrecognised needs were missed though…

    • Aftagley says:

      While there’s definetly a difference between mass killings, and normal murder, I don’t think your theory holds water for two reasons:

      1. Not all mass-killings and terrorism related events occure in high population density areas. A quick glance of wikipedia’s list of mass shootings show that only around half occured in urban environs, even if you count the suburbs, there’s still a distinct quarter or so that occured in rural areas.

      2. Mass killers are always male, mostly young. In your rat theory, they all collapsed. Why would only males age 15-30 be uniquely attuned to population density?

      • MartMart says:

        1. There is a suggestion that what matters is the number and frequency of social interactions rather than population density. Those go up with population density, but modern communication increases them significantly as well.
        2. As far as I understand some of the male rats became very aggressive. Female rats collapsed in different ways (failing to care for their young, including eating them). Everyone quit mating (I was going to say that doesn’t seem to show, but I remember reading that younger people seem to do that less than previous generations).

        • vV_Vv says:

          2. As far as I understand some of the male rats became very aggressive. Female rats collapsed in different ways (failing to care for their young, including eating them). Everyone quit mating (I was going to say that doesn’t seem to show, but I remember reading that younger people seem to do that less than previous generations).

          Japan is very densely populated and it has low rates of violence, but many people seem uninterested in mating to the point that it is severely affecting the long-term viability of the population.

      • Watchman says:

        Young makes in many mammalian species are setting out to establish territories, so a lack of space might impact on that sort of evolutionary aspect of our make up?

      • sentientbeings says:

        2. Mass killers are always male, mostly young. In your rat theory, they all collapsed. Why would only males age 15-30 be uniquely attuned to population density?

        I think I’m not understanding this statement correctly. Are you talking about human mass killers? They are not always male.

    • albatross11 says:

      I was reading a paper by Robert Trivers the other day (about self-deception), written in 2010. He mentioned some intriguing social psych results, and then commented that a senior researcher in the field had told him that results in the field were so uncertain that nobody sensible would trust a result that hadn’t been replicated a few times. It’s interesting that this was on the radar among the in-the-know even then. (And I’m sure there was a ton of lore among researchers–you tell your grad students not to bother trying to build on Dr X’s research, because you’re pretty sure it’s nonsense, nobody can ever get effect Y to work out in a lab without months of tweaking conditions, etc.)

    • vV_Vv says:

      That there is some criticism about the utopias being poorly constructed (did anyone try it correcting for this?)

      An utopia being poorly constructed ending up with its inhabitants being miserable and killing each other? Where have I heard it before?

      If humans can’t design utopias for their fellow humans, it’s unlikely they can design utopias for other species.

      • AG says:

        I mean, there are plenty of pet owners with happy pets, so by that logic, the issue with the “utopia” was not nearly enough direct intervention from on high.

        • vV_Vv says:

          – Pets are the results of thousands years of artificial selection
          – Pets owner typically keep only a few pets each.

          • albatross11 says:

            Lots of utopias work well at a small size, but fail to scale. (Families usually work on a “to each according to his needs, from each according to his abilities” basis, but that doesn’t seem to work out so well for large societies.)

          • EchoChaos says:

            A family is a dictatorship run by a benevolent king, so it scales just fine.

          • bullseye says:

            A family is a dictatorship run by a benevolent king, so it scales just fine.

            An actual king is much less likely to be benevolent than a father, because most of a king’s subjects are strangers to him.

          • Joseph Greenwood says:

            Also because they aren’t his family. Blood and marriage are powerful forces.

          • AnonYemous2 says:

            A family is a dictatorship run by a benevolent king, so it scales just fine.

            king and queen mind you

          • AG says:


            What I’m getting out of this is that utopias need more atomization. A custom Admin controlling every 2-6 person utopia!

            And also artificial selection of humans, hopefully avoiding a Reavers backfire along the way.

            @everyone else
            Y’all realize there are plenty of horrific failure modes in families, right? Some, even, are the same failure modes that have brought down dynasties with a whole lotta blood and marriage. (Also, yes to banning cousin marriage as a strike against radical Islam)

          • banning cousin marriage as a strike against radical Islam

            Why against radical Islam? Cousin marriage seems to be customary in Arabic societies. Is it part of non-Arab Islamic societies? Does it have any particular relation to radicalism?

          • AG says:


            I believe there have been previous threads about how non-incestuous Muslim immigrant families are much more likely to become moderate or integrate liberal values. It even makes sense in the homeland, as a sort of selection effect, where the advocates of cousin marriage likely are or support strong patriarchs, whereas families who don’t support cousin marriage have already absorbed some level of globalist anti-incest values.
            There may also be correlations between opposing cousin marriage to higher levels of trust and openness (that is, to strangers).

          • @AG:

            The last time I taught my legal issues seminar, most of the class was made up of Saudi LLM students–primary sources in my classroom. They included one woman, with whom I had some interesting discussions of Saudi institutions. By her account, if her brother wanted to get married his mother, and possibly sister, would look over the handful of potential brides–women of the appropriate age from his kinship group. They would do it because there was no social contact between unmarried men and women. The relevant group wasn’t limited to first cousins, but it was close enough so that there would be only a small number of potential candidates.

            The woman I talked with was clearly not a radical, and her mother was a professor, I think of law. So my guess is that the restriction to marrying kin is a normal part of the culture, at least in Saudi Arabia, not something associated with radicalism.

            I am reasonably confident that there is no requirement in Islamic law for cousin marriage or even kinship marriage–it seems to be simply part of Arabic culture. It’s legal, for instance, for a Muslim man to marry a Christian or Jewish woman, although not the other way around.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            One positive effect of banning cousin marriage is reducing clannishness by forcing people to look beyond their own kin group for a mate.

          • johan_larson says:

            One Indian I spoke to explained the preference for marrying a member of the extended family as a matter of preserving dowry. If dowry is required, either legally or by custom, marrying a kinsman keeps the money in the family rather than handing if off to strangers.

    • rlms says:

      There is the whole thing where the perpetrator is willing and even wants to end their own life in the process, and also the complete lack of empathy for the victims (to the point of not really caring about who they are).

      That only seems like an accurate description of terrorism because the most salient examples of terrorism in the past two decades is Islamist (and especially if you look even more specifically at ISIS-affiliated attacks in Europe in the past few years). It’s not really true of terrorism in general.

      • bullseye says:

        That’s true. Italian terrorists in the 1970s didn’t want anyone to know who they were. The neo-fascists killed at random, hoping that the attacks would be blamed on anarchists and lead to a police state. It didn’t work; the real killers were soon identified. Then the communists targeted specific people they considered enemies, secure in the knowledge that their attacks would be blamed on the fascists.

    • Hyzenthlay says:

      I’d say on a psychological level, mass shootings and terrorism are pretty similar, which is why the whole semantic debate about what does or doesn’t count as “terrorism” strikes me as pretty pointless. I guess the implication is that terrorism tends to be more organized and unified as opposed to individuals acting on their own, but this distinction isn’t very well-defined or applied very consistently.

      • Watchman says:

        I disagree. Terrorism is an act designed to use terror to force people to adopt a different position (historically this has a worst success rate than communist government, but it never puts people off). A mass shooting by someone with no clear agenda is distinctly different. Obviously some cases are less clear: is an involuntary celibate person part of a movement or just an individual loser who has common grievances with others. But since terrorist and mass shooter are mostly separate categories, the fact there are terrorist mass shooters shouldn’t be a reason to disregard the wider categories.

      • albatross11 says:

        Mass shootings are very similar to terrorism in the way that they exploit the pathologies of news media and human attention heuristics to get maximal effect, and I think there’s some overlap in motivations (you want attention or to make a big splash). And there are some attacks that are somewhere on a spectrum between mass shootings motivated by being a violent crazy person and motivated by ideological/political/social concerns. The nut that shot up Santa Barbara because he couldn’t get laid was in some sense an ideological terrorist, but mostly just a violent crazy person. The nut that shot up that theater in Colorado because he thought he was the Joker was just crazy. The nut that shot up that gay nightclub in Florida was probably a mix of crazy/running amok/getting even with life and ideological. OTOH, the evil bastard that shot up that summer camp in Norway was sane (but evil) and motivated by ideology.

    • greenwoodjw says:

      While on the surface they look similar, and on a personal basis have the same outcomes, there’s a lot going on that’s very different.

      For most of the mass shooters/rampage killers, at least, it’s about hurting people. Generally these people have been ostracized from larger society (Mostly, but not always, because they are terrible people) and are looking to get back at the society at large. That’s why they always collapse when confronted by another armed person – it breaks their fantasy of being an avenging angel or a wrathful god and exposes them as just a nobody.

      Terrorists don’t collapse when confronted because they’re fighting for a cause, not a fantasy. They expect other people to pick up from where they left off and/or they’re acting on behalf of an existing organization. Sometimes they seek out confrontations with police to amplify their activity. The goal there is to apply pressure on to government agencies via repeated crises.

      Both things often result in mass-casualty events, but there’s a lot else going on that makes the two categories very different.

      • albatross11 says:

        Mass-shooters of the going-postal variety don’t always fold up when confronted by armed men. As one example, the nut who shot the synagogue in PA recently shot a couple of the cops who first showed up to stop his rampage.

        I think there is a substantial element of social contagion/copycatting in mass shootings. In a better world, they’d be executed if not already dead, and buried in an unmarked grave, and nobody would ever mention their names again.

        • greenwoodjw says:

          Should’ve been “almost always collapse”. Got clipped in a revision.

          Generally, if the shooter selects a specific target for an ideological reason, it’s closer to terrorism than rampage.

      • John Schilling says:

        Terrorists don’t collapse when confronted because they’re fighting for a cause, not a fantasy. They expect other people to pick up from where they left off and/or they’re acting on behalf of an existing organization.

        I think terrorists mostly don’t collapse when confronted because they’re fighting as part of a team, and the other people they expect to pick up where they left off are right there with them. “Lone Wolf” terrorists, mostly don’t even bother to carry out terrorist attacks in anywhere near the numbers you’d expect, and don’t seem to be any more persistent than apolitical spree killers when they do. It’s fairly uncontroversial that people generally fight harder, longer, and more effectively when they are part of a team; humans are social creatures and that’s particularly important in human violence.

        More generally, I think terrorists killers(*) and spree killers are drawn from the same population, that almost every spree killer would have joined any vaguely-aligned terrorist group that had bothered trying to recruit them, and that most terrorist killers are at least partway down the path to becoming spree killers on their own account (though most of them would wimp out if left to their own devices). Terrorism is, at that level, mostly about providing a social support group for disaffected young men inclined to violence, and about amplifying and channeling that violence in what someone sees as a useful direction.

        At the higher level, yes, there’s a political cause. And political leaders who as often as not try to constrain the violence once they’ve recruited the killers, because it makes better PR to take hostages rather than pile corpses or to send a warning before the bomb goes off. But whenever you see terrorist leaders doing that, you’ll often find splinter groups that ramp up the killing on the flimsiest of political justifications.

        * As opposed to terrorist masterminds, organizers, bombmakers, and propagandists

        • greenwoodjw says:

          The Pulse shooter is a lone-wolf ISIS-affiliated terrorist that immediately springs to mind as a counter-example of not collapsing while alone.

          Generally, my own casual study suggests the profile of a generic rampage killer is as follows:

          1) They don’t have strong social contacts, and the contacts they do have are adversarial or contemptuous.
          2) They attack either a community that they were officially a part of (like a school), or something with a large number of potential victims.
          3) They go in without the intention of coming out. Generally they kill until they either commit suicide or encounter armed resistance. (Note that there is a rare subtype that hits multiple locations, generally some from of family annihilation *and a rampage)
          4) They collapse immediately on encountering armed resistance. In nearly all cases, when encountering armed resistance, the rampage killer commits suicide, or less commonly, surrenders. (In all accounts I’ve encountered, they only surrender to police.)
          5) Often but not always they have an irrational stockpile of guns. Police will find rifles and shotguns in the home of a shooter that only used a pistol, for example.
          6) There is never a second shooter.

          As opposed to terrorism, which, for lone wolves generally follows a different profile:

          1) Generally they have some communal, non-hostile contacts or community connections, but the connections are in an extremist or pro-terror community.
          2) They attack either high-visibility targets or communities that will draw media attention that are outside their own. Body count only matters as a way to draw attention and cause panic and fear.
          3) There is a mix of suicide attacks and attempts to secure a way out. The suicide attacks tend to be very brazen and can initially look like rampages (ignoring suicide bombers for the discussion).
          4) There’s a very strong possibility that they will shoot it out when confronted, especially since they’ve already committed to die for the cause or fight their way to an escape.
          5) There is sometimes a second party.

          • Nornagest says:

            There was a second shooter in Columbine, which otherwise fits the rampage model better. Can’t think of any other examples off the top of my head, though — San Bernadino had two shooters (one female), but it fits the terrorist model better.

            The Beltway snipers are an interesting case. Two perpetrators, one weapon, attacks more or less random but widely dispersed, substantial effort put into remaining undetected. Motives are unclear from the Wikipedia page.

          • albatross11 says:

            How much of an affiliation did the pulse shooter have with ISIS? Is it that he read some ISIS stuff online and it gave him a cause to claim when he went postal, or is it that he wouldn’t have ever considered shooting up that nightclub if not for becoming a follower/fanboy of ISIS?

          • greenwoodjw says:

            @Nornagest – Columbine was an exceptional case in a number of different ways – they also used bombs, effectively took hostages, and generally broke the pattern in a number of different ways

            The snipers were terrorism, and serial, not rampage, killers

            @albatross11 I can’t recall how much the Pulse shooter was directly motivated by ISIS but through live reporting, even before I knew about the ISIS connection I recognized the terrorist model.

          • John Schilling says:

            The Pulse shooter is a lone-wolf ISIS-affiliated terrorist that immediately springs to mind as a counter-example of not collapsing while alone

            Mateen promptly retreated every time he was engaged by law enforcement or security personnel; the only reason that incident lasted more than a few minutes is that the police were extremely reluctant to pursue him and so ceded him, first the entire interior of the nightclub, and second the rest room in which he had holed up with his last batch of hostage/victims.

            The same is I think generally true of apolitical spree killers, in cases where they are engaged but not pursued by police/security, e.g. Columbine.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            @John Schilling

            You can’t use Columbine an an example of anything – both it and Jonesboro do not fight the patterns of other rampage killings or terrorism, possibly because their location on the timeline of rampage killings.

            Agreed that police response to Pulse was disastrous, my point is that rampage killers commit suicide or surrender when confronted and terrorists resist, not that they go out in a hail of gunfire at the first opportunity.

  18. MartMart says:

    I’ve hit upon a mechanism for UBI that is so simple, it makes me think that I’m missing some important point.
    First: I don’t think that UBI is necessary at this point. I’m not sure it would be beneficial. I don’t think it is something we as a society can afford in the present. I don’t know if it will be necessary in the future or beneficial in the future. But it might well be. I think proposals need to concentrate on being viable more than being generous. If a system is established that pays very little, but is cemented in place, it can be scaled up later if it becomes necessary. Bonus points if it scales up all by itself.
    Scott mentioned in an earlier post that if robots are going to take all the jobs (paraphrasing loosely from memory) the government can just buy a bunch of shares of robot co. and hand a few out to everyone. This has some downsides, in that it would be hugely distortionary. What’s needed is some kind of index fund.
    So the proposal is that every company that wishes to trade its shares on the US market has to give a small percentage of shares over to the US gov’t (as a guess 0.5%-5%, something that wont be a huge impediment to operate). If that company issues more shares, it must hand some more so that the percentage is maintained. Not sure how buybacks will be handled, but hopefully someone can figure that out. The shares become non-voting, put in a giant fund that becomes representative of the entire economy, and the dividends are divided evenly between everyone.

    • Walter says:

      I feel like I’m missing something.

      The proposed ‘economy index fund’ generates dividends which are mailed to every citizen, right? What’s the difference between that and the gov just printing the money and mailing it to everyone?

      • MartMart says:

        In my proposal the money is generated by the profits of the companies that makes up the US economy (the traded ones anyway). In a way, each company that makes stuff hands off some of the stuff off. Companies that don’t make any profit don’t pay anything. The fund can’t possibly pay out more than it generates. It cannot result in additional debt. It given each person a stake in the national economy (for whatever good that will do).

        • pqjk2 says:

          A guaranteed percentage of corporate profits. What would we call this? Perhaps… a corporate income tax

          • MartMart says:

            Sure. Only easier to administrate and harder to game (for both sides)

          • pqjk2 says:

            Honestly I’m not sure which would be easier to administrate and game, I think you could make a case either way. But my bigger point is that this isn’t a silver bullet that suddenly solves UBI funding. What you are suggesting is essentially a ~5% increase in the corporate tax rate (which only applies to publicly traded companies).

          • John Schilling says:

            Sure. Only easier to administrate and harder to game (for both sides)

            I can game it quite easily. All I have to do is not trade shares in my hypothetical corporation in the US market. That still leaves me the entire non-US investment market in which to raise capital, plus the subset of the US market that is willing to invest in overseas markets, plus the US bond market, plus commercial loans.

            All you have done, is made US publicly-traded corporations significantly less competitive at the margin. I don’t think that works out as a net win for the American people.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            @John Schilling

            Not an invalid argument, but it’s one that applies just as well to almost any form of tax, except sales.

          • Eponymous says:

            A reasonable interpretation is that the US government takes a (small) ownership stake in all publicly traded companies, and all citizens receive a monthly check from this. This is not a tax on corporate profits.

            Of course, the funds used to purchase the stocks must be raised via some sort of taxation.

          • John Schilling says:

            but it’s one that applies just as well to almost any form of tax, except sales.

            The United States Government can and does collect income taxes on all income earned in the United States, even by corporations registered overseas. You have to give up the opportunity to profit from the US market altogether, to not pay income tax in the US.

            A “listed on a US stock exchange” tax, which is what your scheme amounts to, still lets e.g. Toyota sell cars at a profit in the US, and it still lets them raise money from US banks and institutional investors. It merely denies them the prestige of the mighty New York Stock Exchange, and the capital of small retail investors who aren’t confident in their ability to deal with the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Also, by turning an NYSE listing into the Mark of the Uber-Chump, it’s going to destroy that prestige.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            Fair point. Not sure what I was thinking – I guess for a second I assumed corporations could just move income as they wish and declare profit somewhere else (I’m not ironic, I live in a country where that’s probably possible and I sometimes forget that in other places things half-work).

          • MartMart says:

            We could add some conditions: hand over a small stake if you wish to sell in the US. Or some kind of meta level restriction on the entities that are allowed to purchase stock in companies that don’t play along. The idea is that any company that wishes to operate on the US market, needs to hand over some small stake whose profits will fund UBI.
            It doesn’t need to be completely fool proof, just more difficult to game than it’s worth.
            This cuts down on politicians offering a tax cut to any company that wishes to build giant statues of them, or lobbyists offering to build said statues in exchange for a cut.
            It’s cheaper to comply with for the company, since they pay out the same as any shareholder instead of trying to figure out what exactly counts as income.
            It is also self correcting. Today’s percentage is low, so it doesn’t generate much. If tomorrow Robot co replaces every worker in the country, its profits will soar and the same low percentage should compensate the newly unemployed.

          • pqjk2 says:

            A reasonable interpretation is that the US government takes a (small) ownership stake in all publicly traded companies, and all citizens receive a monthly check from this. This is not a tax on corporate profits.

            This is exactly a tax on corporate profits. Equity ownership is a claim on a company’s future profits. Designating that a percentage of equity is owned by the government is nearly identical to an income tax. The only differences would be shifts in timing of cash (income tax is received by the government in the year that the income is earned; equity pay would depend on dividends and/or buyouts)

            If tomorrow Robot co replaces every worker in the country, its profits will soar and the same low percentage should compensate the newly unemployed.

            What is this also true of?

            Oh right…. an income tax

          • MartMart says:

            A corporate income tax has a million provisions (many put there for good reasons). This requires a lot of work on the part of the companies to comply with them, and a lot of effort on the part of the government to ensure that they are complying. Many more people are employed arguing about what complying really means.
            Here the companies have a fair amount of flexibility of how to comply, but they must treat the government the same way they treat all their other shareholders. The government puts up with whatever the shareholders are willing to put up with, and the shareholders assure that the company is in compliance.

          • pqjk2 says:

            A corporate income tax has a million provisions (many put there for good reasons). This requires a lot of work on the part of the companies to comply with them, and a lot of effort on the part of the government to ensure that they are complying. Many more people are employed arguing about what complying really means.

            If your plan is to add this equity ownership tax to the existing corporate income tax, then the existing income tax compliance work still needs to be done.

            If your plan is to replace the corporate income tax entirely, than your plan will require about 25% equity ownership just to break even on only the publicly traded, US-listed companies.

            I’ve hit upon a mechanism for UBI that is so simple, it makes me think that I’m missing some important point.

            I’m not saying your idea is wrong or useless. I’m just saying that allocating ownership of corporate profit to the government is not a new new mechanism. It already exists in the world that you currently live in.

          • Eponymous says:


            This is exactly a tax on corporate profits. Equity ownership is a claim on a company’s future profits. Designating that a percentage of equity is owned by the government is nearly identical to an income tax.

            Nope, it’s quite different.

            Suppose the government buys a 50% equity stake in a company. Then they take 50% of all future profits, but they also hold 50% of all shares. Thus the value of remaining shares is unchanged: they earn 50% of future profits, just as they would have previously.

            By contrast, if the government levies a 50% tax on corporate profits, the value of shares will drop by 50% — the shares held by private investors are still earning half of future profits, but there are twice as many of them as in the previous case.

            It’s also not a corporate profit tax in the most economically important sense: it doesn’t create a wedge between marginal product of capital (to investors) and marginal cost of capital. So it won’t screw up allocation of capital. (Of course, the money to buy the shares has to come from somewhere, and that will require distortionary taxation).

            This is basically a passively traded sovereign index fund held by the US government. Of course, there’s no reason to tie that to a UBI, though it might be a good idea on its own terms given low interest rates on treasuries.

          • pqjk2 says:

            Suppose the government buys a 50% equity stake in a company. Then they take 50% of all future profits, but they also hold 50% of all shares. Thus the value of remaining shares is unchanged: they earn 50% of future profits, just as they would have previously.

            The problem with your example is that the government doesn’t “buy” 50% of outstanding shares on the open market. For the government to be granted 50% ownership of the company, the company would create new shares and hand them to the government, diluting the existing shareholders. The remaining shares are now worth 50% of what they were worth beforehand.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        Dividends are a function of the health of the enterprise, and taxing to generate savings that can be used to pay benefits later on is more financially sustainable [though less politically] then the reverse.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      Matt Bruenig proposes something similar.

      Whatever the eventual outcome, it seems like some variation on the Alaskan/Norwegian model is the way to go

    • J Mann says:

      Companies don’t have to issue dividends, and many don’t.

      • MartMart says:

        If they don’t how, do they pay their share holders?
        I understand that some choose to re invest their profits in growth, but investors will not accept that for only so long. Surely they expect to get something out of their investment sooner or later.

        • Eponymous says:

          Stock buybacks.

          • MartMart says:

            Without any kind of mechanism in place to handle buy backs, those become rather unattractive, as they will be just a way to hand over increasing control of the company to the gov’t.

          • Eponymous says:

            Then the government sells some of the shares to maintain its ownership stake at a fixed %.

        • J Mann says:

          The company is more valuable, so shareholders who want money can sell their shares. (My understanding is that a substantial fraction of US companies don’t pay dividends, so since it actually exists, we have to deal with it.).

          Basically each year, a company can do one of a number of things.

          If it thinks it has more profitable opportunities than it has assets, it can:

          a) Create and sell new shares,

          b) Borrow money by issuing bonds or obtaining other financing,

          If it thinks it has more assets than profitable opportunities, it can:

          a) Issue dividends

          b) Buy back shares

          c) Pay off debt

          d) Hold less profitable assets (like cash) to be ready for future investment opportunities.

          IMHO, most stock investors don’t think too much about dividends, except insofar as they signal something about the company. Instead, they worry most about what the shares + any dividends will be worth next year, which seems to be based mostly on what people think the company will be worth.

          • Cliff says:

            Stock buybacks are only valuable because investors anticipate that eventually they will be paid dividends, and the buyouts entitle them to a larger share of those dividends.

          • Steven J says:


            “Stock buybacks are only valuable because investors anticipate that eventually they will be paid dividends, and the buyouts entitle them to a larger share of those dividends.”

            This is very wrong. Imagine a company that is constitutionally prohibited from ever paying dividends, but is allowed to buyback its stock. Consider a quarter in which the company spends $1 billion on stock buybacks. Under your theory, the stock would be worthless (no expectation of ever being paid dividends). Yet buying the stock for ~$0 per share would be clearly profitable, so you could sell it back to the company for a share of the $1 billion. If no future buybacks are expected, then the price per share will obviously be $1 billion divided by the number of shares outstanding. (Everyone sells, since there’s no other way to make money from the stock.) With the big exception of tax considerations, this is roughly equivalent to a $1 billion one-time dividend. If future buybacks are possible, then the price per share will depend on the estimates of the magnitude of those buybacks.

          • J Mann says:

            @Cliff, if a company never pays dividends during its lifetime, it still may have value because owning a share entitles the owner to a share in its assets, and in the worst case, the shareholders can vote to liquidate or sell the company.

            Assume Acme never issues a dividend, but we can see the future and know that on that on 1/1/2020 it will go private and have a forced buyback of shares at $250/share. Presumably, a share is worth the NPV of $250 on that date, right?

          • Eponymous says:


            When a company buys its own stock, it is giving money directly to (some) of its shareholders — namely the ones it buys stock from!

            So buybacks can also be valuable to (other) investors because they anticipate eventually selling their stock to the company (as a buyback).

    • Erusian says:

      This would effectively be a tax on stock investment. Basically, for every dollar someone invests in a public company they have to give the government 5 cents. This is distributed among all investors instead of just the new one because of dilution but that just means the disincentives will be widely held.

      That is bad. It would encourage people not to invest in the stock market, which would decrease the capital available to corporations, which would hurt the economy overall. Plus it would accelerate the rate of at which failing corporations fail. They will have a harder time selling stock or taking investment to keep afloat during, for example, a recession because the taxes will make investing less attractive. And on the reverse, it will slow growth by making it harder to get capital.

      The widely held economic principle is you want to encourage people to invest their money. This will increase investment and thus economic growth. This would do the opposite: encourage people to buy land or gold.

      I’m happy to talk about how UBI is a bad idea and how the people who advocate for it due to automation are repeating the fallacies of the Luddites. But if you insist on having it, it will ultimately be a massive tax and redistribute scheme. There’s no way around that. You are taking consumptive power from someone and giving it to someone else. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but the questions become: from whom and what effects does it have?

      • MartMart says:

        I think there are 3 and a half possibilities. One is that fear of automation is the new Luddite fallacy. The other is that automation is really going to replace most jobs, and concentrate power in the hands of a very few, who, after a few generation will likely turn to some sort of robot powered sadism. A more likely outcome is that increasing rates of automation will create a huge disruption to our economy, and a large number of people will be permanently hurt by their inability to adjust to a quickly changing world. It’s also possibly that while there can theoretically be a nice equilibrium on the other side of this disruption, we will never reach it due to the disruption itself being too big of a barrier. I don’t know, maybe angry mobs of unemployed and desperate people will elect populist government that will start lots of wars or something.
        It seems worthwhile to work on a safety valve for some of those outcomes (which UBI is) while keeping it cheap enough to be affordable now (thus not being a meaningful income).
        Yes, any form of UBI is ultimately a tax and a redistributive scheme. There is no way around that. Since the idea is to guard against the possible harms of automation, it should, in some form, take the proceeds of automation, and distribute them to people who are harmed by it. You could, in theory, make it much cheaper by making it targeted, but the more targeted it becomes the more vulnerable it is to being gamed.

        • Randy M says:

          Well explained, but I have to say, “Robot Powered Sadism” would make a great band name.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          So how do you propose to wind a UBI down if automation doesn’t replace a meaningful number of jobs? How do you propose to prevent it from growing more expensive than the disruption it’s supposed to prevent?

          That is, your safeguard needs a safeguard. Like if only net taxpayers were allowed to vote, or if increasing the UBI required a constitutional amendment, or something along those lines. Otherwise it’ll keep spiraling out of control as people vote themselves more free money at the expense of the shrinking fraction of chumps paying in.

        • Erusian says:

          I think there are 3 and a half possibilities.

          I think there are two possibilities:
          1.) Automation continues to disrupt markets but has basically the same effect it has had since the 19th century: eliminating old kinds of skilled labor, creating new ones, and driving up wages at the cost of driving down the wages of skilled workers in specific industries. For example, weavers lost their wages but everyone got richer because clothes became much cheaper and a new skilled profession of mechanics came into being.
          2.) The singularity after which we will live under our ever self-improving robot overlords. Presumably our thoughts on economics will be cute to them, so it’s a bit futile to guess.

          One is that fear of automation is the new Luddite fallacy.

          No, it’s the old Luddite fallacy. It’s the same fallacy and it’s wrong for the same reasons and will have the same results.

          The other is that automation is really going to replace most jobs, and concentrate power in the hands of a very few, who, after a few generation will likely turn to some sort of robot powered sadism.

          Why would it replace jobs? When has automation ever decreased aggregate demand for labor? Not in specific industries, in society as a whole. You are positing that automation will manifest a new, entirely unseen behavior. This is possible but needs a lot of argument.

          Also, why would they turn to robo-sadism? Do you think wealth is inherently morally corrupting? Why? Are we more morally corrupt than our ancestors because we’re wealthier?

          A more likely outcome is that increasing rates of automation will create a huge disruption to our economy, and a large number of people will be permanently hurt by their inability to adjust to a quickly changing world.

          Yes, this is likely. It also happened with virtually every instance of automation going back centuries. There’s been rather extensive studies showing the people are hurt in this way take a long time to recover, or don’t, but that their children largely manage to recover despite the loss.

          It’s also possibly that while there can theoretically be a nice equilibrium on the other side of this disruption, we will never reach it due to the disruption itself being too big of a barrier. I don’t know, maybe angry mobs of unemployed and desperate people will elect populist government that will start lots of wars or something.

          Possibly. Historically Luddite riots tend to end with government crackdowns. Even where the other classes are sympathetic, the Luddite mobs have a tendency to spill over into other ugliness. Frame breakers didn’t just break frames. They murdered factory workers and factory owners.

          It seems worthwhile to work on a safety valve for some of those outcomes (which UBI is) while keeping it cheap enough to be affordable now (thus not being a meaningful income).

          UBI isn’t a safety valve. Luddite disruptions aren’t due to not being able to find work. It’s due to automation decreasing skilled worker earnings. UBI would only solve the problem if the issue was they literally could not find work. That has never historically been the case. What happens is that skilled workers find their skills are worthless so they become unskilled workers (with less pay) and they riot to try and keep their economic status.

          You laid out four cases. The first is that this is the Luddite fallacy. You do not need a safety valve against a faulty premise.

          The second is the descent into robo-sadism. I’ve laid out why I don’t think that’s right, but let’s imagine a world of robo-sadists. Do you think they’ll consent to pay a UBI? Do you think they couldn’t use their wealth and influence to tempt people into following them? Or make victims? Or are we going to become fully Communist to prevent this theoretical robo-sadist class (whose existence is a big concession, since I don’t believe they’d exist).

          The third is that automation will hurt skilled workers. While UBI might temporarily help people who lose their jobs and skills, unemployment insurance and job retraining programs seem to do this much better and much more cheaply.

          The fourth is that the skilled workers will riot to keep their skills relevant. Since they’d be getting UBI either way, it’s likely they’d riot to keep that income even if they otherwise had a source of income from UBI. There’s no mathematical way that the increase in their UBI (which has to be distributed to everyone) will be larger than the concentrated benefit of maintaining their skilled wages.

          So how does UBI solve any of these problems?

          Yes, any form of UBI is ultimately a tax and a redistributive scheme. There is no way around that. Since the idea is to guard against the possible harms of automation, it should, in some form, take the proceeds of automation, and distribute them to people who are harmed by it. You could, in theory, make it much cheaper by making it targeted, but the more targeted it becomes the more vulnerable it is to being gamed.

          If the idea is to guard against the harms of automation, you need to first make the case automation will cause harm, second to lay out what specific harms it will cause, thirdly explain how UBI will solve those harms, and fourthly explain why it does so better than other policies. You really haven’t done any of those things. I haven’t seen a convincing case either.

          Also, even if targeting makes it easier to game, it will still almost certainly be cheaper in net.

          I’m sympathetic to the idea that when people lose their jobs due to industry disruption, due to automation or anything else, we should try and give them some temporary support and smooth their way into a new line of work. I think it is good for them personally and society. But this is a call for unemployment insurance, perhaps some welfare benefits, and easily accessible jobs training programs. Not UBI, which wouldn’t solve the issue. In fact, it would make it worse: free money disincentivizes retraining.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          > angry mobs of unemployed and desperate people will elect populist government that will start lots of wars or something

          It’s the first time I think of UBI in those terms. Thank you.

          As far as the gap accelerating, the past couple of hundred years showed that the pie getting bigger more than compensated that poorer people had a smaller share of the pie. People on benefits now live much better than working men 100 years ago, probably even 50. I understand the basic fear that things will move so fast as to make a qualitative change, but as of now I haven’t heard very good arguments to that.

          And the main reason I’m afraid of UBI is the vote – just like the quote from your comment. Give people free money and give them the possibility to vote for more free money. I’m guessing the equilibrium will be closer to “survival” than to “optimum”.

        • One point that seems to be ignored in a lot of the talk about unemployment due to robots is that the existence of robots doesn’t prevent people from producing the old-fashioned way. To first approximation, you could have two parallel economies, one using automated production where everything is very cheap and one using existing technologies, paying about the same real wages as at present–probably higher, since you could use the old technologies for things where automation had the smallest advantage and trade with the other economy for things where it had the largest advantage.

          The reason that is only a first approximation is that labor is not the only input in the current economy. If automation makes capital much more productive in the future, the old technology economy will have to pay a higher price for its capital inputs than before. The same applies to whatever forms of skilled labor are still needed in the new economy but are important inputs to the old.

          But it still looks to me as though the most likely outcome is a world where people without much capital or whatever special skills are still valued end up a little better off than before, while people with capital and/or such skills end up a lot better off than before. An increase in inequality but not (by fixed standards) poverty.

          • Erusian says:

            As I’ve said elsewhere, human labor only becomes irrelevant if the cost of setting up an automated process is itself automated so that transaction costs are less than dealing with a human in all cases. In other words, a world where an automated process that creates a program to write a play, perform it, etc is cheaper than collaborating with humans. For all tasks recursively.

            That is the singularity. That is post-scarcity. That is a world where a person can desire virtually anything and it will be produced more cheaply than a human could produce it. It’s a world where generating a play of equal skill to the greatest playwright, generating robotic actors, generating a theater, generating robotic audience interaction, everything are all easier than sending invitations to your friends (and equally, if not more, pleasant). It’s a world where, if you can’t get a choice seat, you can simply build another theater on a whim and have it done more quickly than it would be to negotiate with the owner of the other theater.

            I’m legitimately not sure that’s thermodynamically possible. But with virtually anything less human labor is still viable.

          • John Schilling says:

            To first approximation, you could have two parallel economies, one using automated production where everything is very cheap and one using existing technologies, paying about the same real wages as at present–probably higher, since you could use the old technologies for things where automation had the smallest advantage and trade with the other economy for things where it had the largest advantage.

            I don’t think this works in the case where automation can efficiently replace human labor in some but not all necessary areas of production.

            If we simplistically assume that robots can perform all “low-skill” labor but no “high-skill” labor, and that all production requires some mix of the two, then I think the low-skill laborers are out of luck when the market-clearing price for robots drops below absolute minimum(*) wage. At that point, any proposed enterprises involving a mix of high-skill and low-skill human labor can be countered by a proposal that is identical except for A: using robots rather than low-skill humans and B: passing on some of the savings to the high-skill humans in the form of higher salary or profit-sharing. All of the high-skill humans join the enterprises with the robots, and there are no profitable enterprises employing low-skill humans.

            In practice, the line won’t be drawn neatly between “high-skill” and “low-skill”, but there may still be a class of humans rendered economically unviable by cheap automation.

            * Note that “minimum wage” in this context means the highest of: the wage below which the law will throw you in jail if you try to employ workers, the wage below which your workers will literally starve, the wage below which your workers will sink into existential despair and OD on fentanyl, or the wage below which your workers will raise the black flag of anarchy and kill you.

          • albatross11 says:

            If the workers raise the black flag and try to kill us, one of two things happens:

            a. The robots are good at fighting too, so soon the outraged starving proles problem resolves itself.

            b. The robots aren’t good for fighting, so the robot owners have to hire Pinkertons to defend them from the outraged mobs. Which is at least some employment.

          • Eponymous says:


            To first approximation, you could have two parallel economies, one using automated production where everything is very cheap and one using existing technologies, paying about the same real wages as at present

            Not if all the capital is used in the automated economy, since that’s where there’s a higher return.

            Depends on the details of the model of course. Mostly assumptions about the production function, and how exactly you model automation.

          • Eponymous says:


            If the robots can’t fight off the workers, then there’s a sector that isn’t fully automated yet: security guards.

            Of course, in this case the owners would just hire a bunch of security guards.

    • rlms says:

      The more important problem that no-one has raised is that you simply haven’t done the maths to check your guess of 0.5%-5%. There are approximately 100 * 10^6 = 10^8 people in the US. If we want to give all of them a basic income of $10,000 = $10^4/year, that’ll cost $10^12/year. If that’s being paid from a fund with 10% return, you need $10^13 in that fund. Unfortunately, the entire amount of money in US stock markets is also about $10^13, so companies will need to hand over 100% of their shares (actually, doing the calculations with slightly more precise numbers I get 270%). Another way of looking at this is that both typical growth in the stock market each year and total yearly federal spending are single-digit trillions.

      • baconbits9 says:

        These numbers can’t be right, I just read a Paul Krugman article about how Democrats aren’t “real” socialists and how they just want a safety net plus a few things and they don’t need to go nationalizing everything to get that to happen.

        • Watchman says:

          Paul Krugman the political commentator seems not to do the sums that Paul Krugman the Noble Laureate would do in a paper. For much the same reason as the rest of us don’t I guess: when you know its right you don’t check it.

          • Chalid says:

            Paul Krugman isn’t in favor of a UBI so I don’t know why you are all calling him out on this. Nor is the Democratic party more broadly.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Krugman recently defended the “socialism” of the D party by claiming that all they want is “Democratic socialism”, and a reigning in of the markets while ignoring that numerous Democratic candidates have been floating UBI, as well as large scale nationalizations (ie single payer) that literally are socialism. He just drops those from the conversation.

          • Chalid says:

            What Democrat is supporting UBI? Google just turns up some guy named Andrew Yang who is no one’s idea of an major candidate.

            large scale nationalizations (ie single payer)

            you use the plural here, what are some other ones?

          • Plumber says:

            Krugman’s columns do sometimes switch in whether he wears his Democrat hat or his Economist hat higher, but FWIW in Krugman’s latest column he does go at length on some Democratic Party candidates proposals requiring new taxes to pay for them, so not a “free lunch”, and he ends the column with “…..I’m not arguing against an ambitious agenda. But heterodox monetary theory won’t let you avoid the reality that this agenda will have to be tax-and-spend, not just spend”, which seems a fair appraisal to me.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Bernie Sanders has spoken favorably about UBI, and the Green New Deal is functionally going to be nationalization of the energy sector. Over the last decade there was the partial nationalization of the mortgage market and the US Treasury market and a short term nationalization of parts of the US auto industry.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ Plumber

            Imagine if your wife tells you she wants to take a nice vacation together, she lays out a good case noting how hard you both work and how long it has been since you took one together, you concede that she has many good points. The next day she brings up how the bathroom hasn’t been up updated in nearly 50 years and really could use some work, again you concede that she has many good points. The third day she says we need to upgrade one of our old cars, and once again she has many good points.

            Then on day 4 you ask her which of those three projects she wants to go forward on and she asks why one would effect the other. Going on vacation won’t make the bathroom or the car any better, and redoing the bathroom would add stress making a vacation more valuable and necessary. You conceded that she had good points about all the ideas after all, those points aren’t invalid suddenly for sure!

            This is what Krugman does, in one article he claims that the Democrats aren’t real socialists because they don’t really want to nationalize the economy, the next week he writes a piece mostly praising a ‘progressive’ shift in policy and then discusses (without serious criticism) how to nationalize one of the largest segments of the population.

            He wants you to consider the two arguments independently, he made (arguably) good points in both of them and their inherent contradictions are buried. He makes them sound distinct by switching hats, and switching rhetorical tactics.

          • Plumber says:


            It could be argued that Krugman (and some Democratic Party candidates) are only arguing for nationalizing some parts of the economy not all, but I think I get what you mean.

            FWIW, I rhink it would be good if many of the proposals were designed to make it easier for California (or even individual counties) to municipalize/provincialize some sectors of the economy (if I remember right the “Canadian health care system” is actually Province by Province) and let New Hampshire and Texas (or wherever) opt in or out as they decide, but that’s my social-democrat leanings giving way to my (small D) democratic-localist-municipalist-provincialist leanings.

            I think a lot of national rancor could be avoided with more Federalism and less national-centralism, but my wish for very strong County, medium State, and a weak Federal government doesn’t seem to be on the table.

            Still it would be really neat if say New Hampshire was 19th century Britain laissez faire and say next door Vermont was somewhere between Cuba and Sweden, though I guess California and Nevada side-by-side is sorta like that, but not to that extreme.

            “Laboratories of democracy” are still pretty neat though, judging by how different California, Massachusetts, Texas, and Utah are fron each other (I may post more on that in the next fractional open thread).

          • dndnrsn says:


            Yeah, each province has its own public health insurance setup. Private insurance deals with stuff public doesn’t cover – prescription drugs, glasses, dental, physio, what have you – although for at least some of those things there are needs-tested public alternatives (that usually aren’t that great).

          • Chalid says:

            I strongly believe you aren’t supporting your original assertions, but having been reminded that this is supposed to be a CW-free thread I will drop it.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ Chalid

            Fair enough, if I notice you bring it up in a CW thread I’ll try to reply.

      • MartMart says:

        I don’t want to give people a basic income of $10k. At this point it is clearly unaffordable.
        What I want is to establish a safety mechanism against the sort of disruption that could upend out economy.
        Think about it this way. Suppose in some distant future exist an asimov style paradise. Robots can do virtually any conceivable job. Robot factories endlessly make more robots and just about any material goods people might wish. Robots outnumber people 1,000 to 1 and exist to serve our every whim. All AI alignment problems have been solved. people live in leisure, pursuing whatever hobbies and interests make them happy. Some people decide this is too good of a thing to deprive people of, build a time machine, and send plans for these all capable benign robots to our time. Then what? A few people become very rich, and the rest are left to be useless. Unless some rich person decides to make it a mission to make a bunch of robots for the betterment of humanity at a loss, we’re stuck.
        So the idea here is to have a robust mechanism that well entrenched in society and economy and accepted by all. It doesn’t need to provide any sort of meaningful income at this point, because as you said, it can’t.

        • baconbits9 says:

          5% of 10k is $500 a year, which is not a safety mechanism, its either largely worthless or a foot in the door towards what amounts to full scale nationalization of private markets.

          Robots outnumber people 1,000 to 1 and exist to serve our every whim. All AI alignment problems have been solved. people live in leisure, pursuing whatever hobbies and interests make them happy. Some people decide this is too good of a thing to deprive people of, build a time machine, and send plans for these all capable benign robots to our time. Then what?

          Absurd and impossible hypotheticals aren’t useful for determining policy.

        • John Schilling says:

          So the idea here is to have a robust mechanism that well entrenched in society and economy and accepted by all. It doesn’t need to provide any sort of meaningful income at this point, because as you said, it can’t.

          Why would it be “accepted by all” if it doesn’t do anything meaningful?

          It’s one thing to propose a controversial wealth-redistribution scheme because it is (debatably) necessary to prevent poor people from starving to death or old people from having to move in with their adult children. Lots of people don’t like seeing poor people starve to death, and even more people like to keep their parents at a comfortable distance, these policies can actually be enacted and ultimately become generally accepted.

          But you’re explicitly proposing to do something that won’t make a meaningful difference in anyone’s life, that won’t stop poor people from starving, simply as a symbolic placeholder for your future plans. But look at the present symbolism. You propose to:

          A – take money away from the minority of citizens who are net taxpayers and give it to everyone else, even though they don’t need it, and

          B – camouflage this or make it “fair” and “universal” by also taking money away from net taxpayers and giving it right back to them, minus a handling fee for the bureaucracy of course, and

          C – maintain all the other social safety-net programs that actually keep poor people from starving, etc.

          What part of this do you think has any chance of being “generally accepted”, and why? If your answer involves the general public being foresightful enough to envision technological mass unemployment in the future and enthusiastically supporting setting up a bureaucratic money-laundering and wealth-distributing machine to run at idle as a contingency, then I seriously question your mental model of the median voter. Because when do they ever do anything like that?

  19. James says:

    Quantitative verse question:

    In Eliot’s The Use of Poetry and The Use of Criticism, I came across an off-hand reference to Thomas Campion’s experiments with classical quantitative verse in English, in particular Rose-Cheeked Laura.

    Can anyone who knows how to scan quantitative verse take a stab at scanning this, and take a guess at its intended metre?

    I think the first stanza is very, very beautiful:

    Rose-cheek’d Laura, come,
    Sing thou smoothly with thy beauty’s
    Silent music, either other
    Sweetly gracing.

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      Long-lashed Laura, come,
      Moo thou smoothly with thy beauty’s
      Silent music, either other
      Sweetly grazing.

      … sorry.

    • Nick says:

      Here’s a guess at a scan. I’m rusty, and wasn’t ever good at it to begin with, but it’s a start.

      ETA: So it looks like:
      Spondee dactyl (?!)
      Spondee trochee trochee trochee
      Spondee trochee trochee trochee
      Trochee trochee.

      Based on what Jens quotes below my scan isn’t too far off. I marked some of the end feet “x” or long by mistake, and if they’re short then it seems to fit. But there are still some oddities, like Ever perfect, ever in them in stanza four—is ever seriously taken to be long-short? And Only beauty in stanza three is probably actually a trochee trochee.

      • James says:

        Ah, great, thanks! I’ll have a look.

        I’m not surprised it’s a little irregular, but getting the overall pattern is enough for me.

      • Watchman says:

        Ever in UK pronunciation would be long-short I think. Most US accents I can replicate seem to drawl the second syllable (mind you, due to a misspent youth watching films with my dad, I still find John Wayne to be my US accent fallback so be warned…), but the British tend to clip it, with more northerly dialects effectively having it as a schwa. Campion was a Londoner, and likely had a shortened second syllable for different reasons: a gross simplification is that the London accent tended to reduce consonants a lot. So on this context long-short looks likely.

        • Nick says:

          I buy that the second syllable is short, I just don’t buy that the first one is too. Sure, it’s where English places its stress accent, but if we look at the IPA on wiktionary, shouldn’t it then be /ˈɛ:və/ instead of /ˈɛvə/?

    • Jens says:

      He actually explains the foot and verse himself in his (at the time) controversial essay “Observations in the Art of English Poesie” about 3/4 of the way through

      “The second kinde consists of Dimeter, whose first foote may either be a Sponde or a Trochy. The two verses following are both of them Trochaical, and consist of foure feete, the first of either of them being a Spondee or Trochy, the other three only Trochyes. The fourth and last verse is made of two Trochyes. The number is voluble, and fit to expresse any amorous conceit.”

      • James says:

        Great find! Thanks.

        I note with dry amusement that Eliot says “everyone has read” Observations in the Art of English Poesie; I’d never heard of it.

    • crilk says:

      This isn’t really quantitative verse, is it? The accents are in the same places in each stanza, the lengths of the syllables are secondary.

      It’s also worth mentioning that his meter doesn’t follow the classical principle of brevis in longo.

      • James says:

        I mean, never having read quantitative verse, and not knowing any languages to which it’s native, I have no idea! I was just going by the fact that Campion claimed it was, and that it didn’t seem to scan like any normal English metre I know.

  20. hnau says:

    A hypothetical:

    Suppose you’ve gotten into a heated disagreement with someone called Anon666 in the SSC comments section. Anon666 claims that Bulbasaur is the best starter Pokemon. You evaluate this claim, assign it 10% credibility, and publicly state your skepticism. Anon666 seems offended that you could even think of disagreeing.

    The following morning, an email appears in your inbox claiming to be from Anon666. It begs you, in the strongest terms, to recant and publicly recognize Bulbasaur’s preeminence. There are two attachments. The first attachment is a text file laying out, in detail, a cogent argument for why Bulbasaur is indeed objectively the best. It’s so convincing that, other things being equal, it would raise your degree of belief in Anon666’s claim to 90%.

    The second attachment is a video file. It shows your beloved limited-edition Charmander plushie, which you value at 1,000 utils, tied to a chair in a dim room. A masked figure waves a newspaper with today’s date in front of the camera. Cut to black.

    1. How does this email change your public position on Anon666’s claim?
    2. How does this email change your private belief in Anon666’s claim?

    • Bugmaster says:

      I think the answer depends on how many utils my integrity is worth to me.

      • hnau says:

        Yeah, it was a little unfair of me to say “1,000 utils” with no context or numbers for comparison. On the other hand, once one puts a number on integrity… let’s just say I’m tempted to quote a Winston Churchill joke.

        • Bugmaster says:

          The whole point of Utilitarianism is that you put a number on everything. Would I sacrifice my integrity for $5 ? Probably not. For $5M ? I don’t know, it would depend on what I could do with the money. Would I sacrifice it to save an innocent person’s life ? Yes, probably. This means that there exist things that are less valuable to me than my integrity, but also things that are more valuable. I am highly skeptical of the claim that we could actually place numerical values on all such things, but the idea of at least ranking them sounds pretty obvious.

    • fion says:

      I think my private belief is 90% confidence that Bulbasaur is the best and my public belief is 100% confidence that Bulbasaur is the best.

    • A1987dM says:

      You evaluate this claim, assign it 10% credibility

      That’s ridiculous, both Misty’s and Brock’s pokémon have weaknesses against grass and by the time you get to Lt. Serge you’ll probably have a Dugdrio anyway.


      • Clutzy says:

        You realize Bulbasaur is good against Surge as well because he resists electric. Right?

        The weakness of Bulby is lategame because you only get 4 moves and he really needs more. Razor leaf doesn’t benefit from growth, while solar beam does, and you need sleep powder to set up reliable solar beams, which would be 3 moves just for solar beam, but without growth he’s not ever a hard hitter, and without swords dance learning body slam is also kinda weak. Also poison typing sucks because psychic. He is still probably the best grass in G1 though, so that’s nice.

        Squirtle is also weak lategame because all the other water types existing.

        Charmander has an argument late because he can either slash, or Swords Dance + Body slam with Earthquake + Fireblast/Flamethrower. Also he can be a trapper with fire spin. And he is only situationally outclassed by moltres, even though he generally is.

        • eyeballfrog says:

          The early game is more important than the late game, though, because you’re still getting off the ground, and Bulbasaur breezes through the first few gyms and caves. Its first challenge is Pokemon Tower, but you really should have caught an Abra or Drowzee by that point anyways. Said psychic type will carry you though Erika and Koga, at which point you can go get Zapdos. Between those three and whatever water type you’re using for Surf, you’re set to go. Meanwhile, Charmander’s rough spot in the game is right at the beginning, and you’re stuck raising a Butterfree for Confusion to take down Brock and a Bellsprout/Oddish for Misty.

          Even if Bulbasaur falls off damage-wise at the end due to poor STABs (though it still has SleepSeed), its early game utility is much more valuable because you have fewer options then. If you’re a Fire Emblem player, it’s the same reason why Marcus, Seth, and Titania are the best characters in their games.

    • Vermora says:

      The fact that Anon666 is capable and willing to kidnap by beloved charmander raises the probability that they are capable and willing to construct a very persuasive argument for something that is not true. I am not a perfect bayesian updater – there exist arguments that would make me assign 90% confidence to something that is not true – and Anon666’s actions make it more plausible to me that they have done this.

      My private belief is 80% confidence.

      As for my public belief, I assign a small number of utils (say 10) to promoting true beliefs as he is asking me to do, and an overwhelmingly large number of utils to not rewarding those who would harm me, or giving into coersion. The fact that they’re correct does matter though, and changes my response from an outright declaration of war. I email back stating my private belief and reiterate their argument in different words (so they can be sure I’ve understood and am not just saying what they want to hear), and also state that a public statement is out of the question until charmander is returned safely.

      • hnau says:

        Yeah, I was thinking along the same lines. My instinct was even more radical, though– I was wanting to update to somewhat less than 50% confidence, and wondering whether less than 10% could ever be justified. That probably reflects me being less sure of my estimations and more likely to believe that a bad actor could fool me.

        As to public belief, again I agree with the basic logic but I’m tempted to be even more radical. Admitting to 80% belief or leaving a public retraction on the table feels to me like rewarding bad behavior and inviting more of it. Even assuming that my 10% and 90% estimations are accurate, so hostage-taking can’t cause me to accept a false belief, Anon666 is still demanding my attention to that particular claim and I’m not inclined to give that to them.

    • Joseph Greenwood says:

      The number of Anon is six hundred and threescore and six.

      Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.

      This is not a coincidence because nothing is coincidence.

      And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority… And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?

      From this we learn that your limited edition Charmander plushie gives Anon666 so much power over you that you are willing to relent and publicly acknowledge the greatness of Bulbasaur. On the other hand, you downgrade your confidence in Bulbasaur’s preeminence to zero because it is being proselytized to you by the Beast who speaks blasphemies before God and against his Tabernacle, and you want no part with the agents of the Father of Lies.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      What is the conversion rate between utils and Stanley nickels?

      I’d say “don’t negotiate with terrorists,” but I’m not sure if 1k utils means I value this at a bowl of Lucky Charms or my first born child.

    • Walter says:

      1000 is a lot of utils, I better obey this wise counselor, and thank them for saving me from a life of error.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      This is an incredibly bizarre hypothetical, even by the normal standards of thought experiments.

      1. Changing my public stance in response to blackmail would constitute negotiating with poké-terrorists. While I would want to give Seel Team 6, or whoever’s in charge of rescuing kidnapped plushies, a chance to recover my Charmander, bending to terrorist demands opens the door to even more blackmail in the future.

      2. If the argument is convincing, then I need to consider it privately. Obviously I can’t trust the word of a poké-napper but if the empirical claims are verifiable and the reasoning is sound then there’s no need for trust.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Assuming I read the first attachment before being aware of the contents of the second, my private belief in the claim remains near 90%; the fact that Anon666 is a crazy hostage-taking SOB probably doesn’t change his argument much. Heck, it might not even be his argument.

      My public position changes to Bulbasaur being the best. But not until after I’ve hunted down the sender of the email, erased his SSC account, recovered my Charmander plushie if possible, and dumped several of his valuable Pokemons into a boiling pot of something inimical to Pokemons.

    • Jaskologist says:

      He may not be the best, but Bulbosaur is clearly better than Charmander, or he wouldn’t have been able to capture him.

    • I’ve never wanted a hypothetical to be this real before.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      For low quantities of utils, I enjoy my testosterone and lash out. It feels good, it’s socially positive to punish offenders and helps create a reputation of somebody who’s dangerous to cross. But mostly out of simple pleasure – I like conflict.

      For high quantities of utils, first step is to… what was that expression? remove the deontological protection from Anon666. And then carefully address the situation in a rational way. This mostly involves comparing the subjective value of Charmander to the societal harm of going along with blackmail, added to the danger of continuous blackmail. Ponderate things in my direction (rather heavily, since I’m a bit of an egoist). Act accordingly, and make a note to hurt Anon666 if I can ever do it costlessly.

      Either way, private belief remains 90% pro Bulbasaur – I’ve already taken into account that an argument created to convince is biased, and if it still got me to 90%… it’s a pretty solid argument.

    • b_jonas says:

      2. My private belief would change to Bulbasaur being the better starter. That Anon666 is a criminal who has kidnapped my plushie doesn’t seem to have much to do with that issue, so it doesn’t invalidate his arguments. That is when I can think straight again of course; if someone kidnapped my plushie, then I’d be too busy and probably too much in a shock, and processing his arguments for Bulbasaur would be the last thing on my mind.

      1. My public position would be that Bulbasaur is better. Claiming that is cheap, I would still be able to recant it later, saying that I only praised Bulbasaur under a threat. That I had a limited edition Charmander plushie in first place is enough proof that I really prefer Charmander.

    • bullseye says:

      I would assume both attachments are viruses and not open them. Then, based on my belief that Anon666 has sent me viruses, I would reduce my trust in whatever of Anon666’s arguments I have actually read, sent they were sent by a deranged virus-sender.

    • hnau says:

      I’m surprised so many people say they’d update all the way to 90%, even privately. To me, Anon666’s desire to refute me and willingness to resort to an… alternative form of persuasion… constitute strong evidence that I shouldn’t take the “90% persuasive” argument at face value.

    • Lord Nelson says:

      Bulbasaur is obviously the best starter, no question about that.

      However, I find it hard to seriously consider such a hypothetical when the details are so glaringly wrong. Out of the 60+ official Charmander plush released, not a single one has been limited edition. Now, had you cited the 1:1 scale eeveelution plush, or the Pokemon Time Chikorita, perhaps your scenario would be more believable…

      • Jiro says:

        There are some subjects that shouldn’t be used in analogies because people will joke about them so much that the discussion gets polluted.

        It’s like asking someone to explain “fnord”. An awful lot of people will “explain” it by reusing the joke, without saying anything that would actually let an uninitiated person understand the reference.

        • bean says:

          There are some subjects that shouldn’t be used in analogies because people will joke about them so much that the discussion gets polluted.

          The only cases where this isn’t true is cases where the subject is actually what is being discussed, and there is no analogy.

          Also, this is proof that there is no subject, however weird, obscure or seemingly juvenile, where one should expect SSC to be lacking an expert.

          (And just to be clear, I would not be surprised to find that Anon666 is a cover for Lord Nelson.)

  21. sandoratthezoo says:

    Non-D&D RPG thread: Apocalypse World/Powered by the Apocalypse

    So let’s say that your group’s big hurdle to moving past just D&D is a reluctance to digest dozens of pages of rules for a new system, to invest in an involved character creation process, to learn the extensive lore of a new world, to commit to five or ten or 20 sessions of a new campaign. The good news is that there are a lot of modern games that cater to a lower-investment style of gaming. One of the most popular lineages of that strain of games was started by a game by Vincent Baker called Apocalypse World.

    AW is a game for playing in a Mad-Max-ish post apocalypse setting full of desperate assholes wearing fetish gear in a land without laws. Character creation involves picking a playbook (archetypes/classes like Brainer, Gunlugger, and Battlebabe), checking a few boxes, and going. No spending points, no rolling for stats, no long skill list or whatever. The game system is “roll 2d6 + a modifier from -1 to +2, look for 2-6 (failure), 7-9 (partial or equivocal success), or 10+ (full success).” There’s a menu of “moves” that you can do, which are designed to cover the kind of things you’ll want to do as a post-apocalyptic asshole in fetish gear on an abstract enough level that you can quickly figure out which move to roll, roll it, figure out the resolution, and move on quickly. The game intentionally shies away from complicated subsystems/subgames.

    You can get much of the meat of AW for free here:, and the rest can be bought at relatively low cost.

    Here’s where I admit that I don’t actually like Apocalypse World very much. I think it has a bunch of kind of goofy elements (a particular sticking point is the “sex moves” which strike some people as brilliant and some people as juvenile. I’m in the juvenile camp), and I’m also at best lukewarm on post-apocalyptic settings to start with.

    If the concept of low-initial investment gaming sounds good, but the particulars of AW less good, Baker encouraged other people to create other games using loosely the same ruleset as AW. These are collectively known as “Powered by the Apocalypse,” or PbtA. There are a lot of these, and many of them are just, you know, clumsy/bad. Here are some of the better received PbtA games:

    Monsterhearts is kind of Buffy-style setting, but with lots of emphasis on the romantic/sexual parts of Buffy. If you’re the person who finds the sex moves a sticking point in AW, avoid Monsterhearts. But this is perhaps the most popular PbtA game. Find it here:

    Monster of the Week is PbtA Buffy without a focus on romance/sex. Find it here:

    Dungeon World is basically if you want to play a classic game of D&D with PbtA mechanics. Find it here:

    Masks is angsty teenage superheroes PbtA. I reluctantly include this game because a lot of people seem to like it, but I don’t. Find it here:

    There are many, many more. You can google “best pbta games.” Most PbtA games have all or part of the rules available for free.

    • Nornagest says:

      Apocalypse World

      Just read the PDF. I’m pretty fond of post-apocalypse themes, but this seems kind of… oddly situated? It’s not Mad Max enough to be a good Mad Max game, but it’s too Mad Max to be its own thing, or to be modeling another post-apocalyptic setting. You couldn’t use it to play Fallout, for example; it’d be too hard to build in the Fifties dieselpunk retrofuture elements without ripping out and replacing half the system.

      Interesting ruleset, though. I’d probably have to actually play a game to get a feel for how it flows.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Tangent to AW, there’s Blades in the Dark, which does the things I like about OSR games without doing the things I don’t like about OSR games. Position/Effect is an absolutely brilliant mechanism for adjudicating “rulings” style play while making sure the DM and characters are on the same page regarding risk and reward, and shifting from moves-as-narrative-events to moves-as-character-actions (and refusing the shackle the DM to moves) is a lot more satisfying to me.

      Not incidentally, I have a Planescape hack of BitD simmering on my back burner.

      • Skeptical Wolf says:

        I’ll second the Blades in the Dark recommendation. I occasionally recommend this book to new GMs just for the description of clocks as a scene-tracking mechanic.

        I am very interested in the idea of Planes in the Dark. If you would post some more detail about that if/when you get far enough into the project, I would greatly appreciate it.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          I know that Blades in the Dark is a borderline case, but I wouldn’t personally call it a PbtA game. It’s much further from the system core than the other games on this list. That’s not a knock against it! But it didn’t seem like it belonged in this post.

          When I played it, I found the retroactive planning thing difficult and annoying. It somehow felt even worse than prospective planning — and I usually hate prospective planning. The game otherwise seemed solid.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Yes, it’s definitely more “inspired by the Apocalypse” than powered by it per se. Didn’t mean to threadjack, but I very rarely have a chance to shill it around these parts.

          • etheric42 says:

            It’s definitely a child of it. Maybe a grandchild. Not like other PbtA games, but part of a new generation that takes the strengths of PbtA and other indie RPGs and makes a new core system to use them with. The acknowledgements page is like a hit list of some of the absolutely great games of Apocalypse World’s generation and I think it legitimately manages to pull threads together from all of them.

            The retroactive planning thing is a bit weird from a traditional RPG standpoint, but it’s rooted in improv and is a good muscle to strengthen that works wonders in other games once you know what to do with it. The freedom for players and GM alike to simply declare things to be true (at a price) really puts the story in everyone’s hands and takes you unexpected and delightful places.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            My problem with the retroactive planning thing was that, first, while I totally recognize how impossible it is to plan a complicated Ocean’s 11-style heist beforehand in a non-scripted format, saying, “Ah, I thought of this all before” was equally unsatisfying, and second and more importantly, it was super unclear to me what we were and were not actually supposed to be planning. Like, we ended up doing a heist that was just kind of a smash-and-grab because… nobody was on the same page about what we were doing.

            I think the ideal of it is that you have a mostly-prospectively-planned heist, and then you can deal with some-but-not-all of the failures of your plan by retroactively planning them. But that was not at all how it played out for my group.

    • Skeptical Wolf says:

      I’ve played and run several PbtA games (and read many more). Please allow me to supplement your recommendation list:

      Monster of the Week is the system that actually got me into this family of games. It does an excellent job of modelling the action horror genre (their term for Buffy, Supernatural, etc) but also covers large parts of modern urban fantasy (several archetypes are quite recognizable from Dresden Files, for example). Of all the PbtA games I’ve seen, this is the one that does the best job of explaining what the game is about and how the system works. My only quibble with your recommendation is that you didn’t recommend it highly enough.

      Fellowship is a highly polished PbtA game of quest fantasy. It wears its Lord of the Rings influence on its sleeve (and in its title). This one is notable for the elegance of its mechanics and for involving the players in setting building as an explicit part of the game.

      Legacy: Life Among the Ruins is a post-apocalyptic generational genre. It’s more thematically flexible than Apocalypse World and designed to tell stories that follow a setting through hundreds of years of change and challenge. Pick it up if you want to tell the story of humanity across several centuries, or you just want a post-apocalyptic game that’s not quite gonzo enough to include “Barf for Apocalyptica” as a GM principle. The second edition (published by Modiphius) is very well put together and expands on the first edition in many interesting ways. It also gets bonus points for including the best example of play I’ve ever seen in an RPG book.

      Uncharted Worlds is a PbtA sci-fi game that falls somewhere between Star Trek and Firefly in its theme and atmosphere (though closer to Firefly, I think). Its system is more intuitive for people coming from non-Forge RPGs, which makes it a good on-ramp for an established group that wants to branch out into this family of games. The biggest challenge is that it doesn’t include much setting information, so the GM will be either homebrewing a lot of stuff or using an existing setting from somewhere else. Running Uncharted Worlds with some of the setting tools from Stars Without Number is a project I think would work well, but I haven’t gotten a chance to try it yet.

      I honestly can’t recommend MonsterHearts. I know it’s well regarded, but it’s assumptions about human nature are very negative. I found this off-putting on it’s own, but it combined with some of the other aspects of the game to create a barrier to engagement that I just couldn’t get over.

      Dungeon World is fun for short-term play, but really benefits from third party supplements. I personally consider Johnstone Metzger’s Class Warfare to be the other half of the rulebook. The Chaos Worlds books from Magpie Games (Cold Ruins of LastLife, Green Law of Varkith, and Last Days of Anglekite) are all interesting campaigns-in-a-book that add a lot of interesting stuff to the game.

      Epyllion: A Dragon Epic may as well be called My Little Dragon: Friendship is Magic. Whether that description makes you inclined to play it or avoid it, you’re probably right. It does exactly what it sets out to do.

      The interesting thing about Masks is that it primarily models the emotional state and self-image of the characters. Whether you can accomplish some feat or not has far more to do with how you see yourself than it does with your powers. Here again, the system sets out to do a specific thing and does that thing well. Whether you like the system will mostly be determined by how you feel about that core idea.

      Thank you, sandoratthezoo, for starting this off with a high effort post. I greatly enjoy reading the RPG threads here, but don’t play many OSR games or any 5th edition D&D, so I rarely feel I have much to add to them.

      • etheric42 says:

        Tried Night Witches? I haven’t yet, but I’ve been trying to find people who have played other PbtA games who have.

        • Skeptical Wolf says:

          I have read Night Witches, but not played it yet. The source material is very interesting and the fixed-length campaign is innovative. But I’m a bit concerned that in making advancement a double-edged sword (there are a finite number of advancements you can take before being forcibly retired), the designers have removed one of the main ways that PbtA games incentivize particular behavior. This leaves the game supporting two styles – the teamwork-focused, highly strategic style encouraged by the rules (if you want your characters to live to see the end of their campaign) and the self-destructive lets-all-crash-and-burn-together style encouraged by the flavor text and designers’ notes. I suspect that the game can accommodate either one, but that a mixed group will have a bad experience. This would make it even more important than usual to get every member of the group on the same page in terms of play style and expectations, which is frequently easier said than done.

    • etheric42 says:

      My favorite thing about (good) PbtA games is that they are (when done well) basically constructed such that a particular genre is reproduced by the players incredibly easily because those are just simply the only levers the players have to interact with the world.

      What do I mean by that? In Monsterhearts all your moves revolve around being negative angsty teenagers. It’s like in D&D you know you can affect the world by lighting things on fire with Fireball, or you can sneak around by using Hide in Shadows, in Monsterhearts you have skills that are designed to tear people down emotionally, or put up brick walls between you and others. So you do so. And when you level up enough, what happens? You become able to see the good in others. To listen kindly. Bolster confidence. It creates a narrative arc by the structure of its rules, and playing it again later with different characters becomes a variation on the theme.

      Or in Sagas of the Icelanders the husband’s moves are about keeping the farm going and being unable to quite engage at the same interpersonal/emotional level as the wife or the witch or anyone else. And this leads you to your fitting doom unless you find some way to escape the confines society/the genre has you in.

      It can be a little stifling for people who are used to the kind of roleplaying where you go all night and barely roll a die. But I always say to those people if that’s the kind of game you enjoy, why stress about rules at all? PbtA games, when they work, are really about inhabiting a role in a kind of story that you might not have made yourself.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        Whereas I tend to feel like the best PbtA games take a very light touch with trying to force a narrative through their moves. That’s why I’m not a big fan of Masks, for example.

        I’ll only-slightly-unfairly characterize this style of design as, “I want my game to be about daddy issues. So I’ll have a stat called Daddy Issues, which you roll and when you succeed you’ll get a currency called Daddy Issues.” For me, this style of design produces no emotional resonance. Sure, yes, the character ends up with, whatever, a currency or a stat or a mechanic that is designed to simulate The Thing The Game Designer Wants You To Care About, but I don’t actually end up caring about that kind of thing, because it doesn’t feel organic, it feels artificial.

        Like, in Masks, I don’t feel like I’m living in the shadow of my mentor because I rolled a move that’s about being in the shadow of my mentor and then got a mental status modifier for it. I feel like I’m living in the shadow of my mentor when, organically, people attribute my successes to my mentor or assume I’m out on his orders or whatever.

        I think that PbtA games can be very successful in evoking that kind of narrative, but the most common failure mode I see in them is to be too heavy-handed.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I bought and read AW on the recommendation of Justin Alexander, for the GM advice. I find it really interesting how improvisation and not railroading are baked into the system – it’s interesting that there’s this split between people who like PbtA games and people who like “old school” games, but both tend to be extremely against the GM showing up with a preconceived plot, with railroading, etc.

      It also seems to be a cool answer to a problem I think my group would have with full-on storygames: a good 1/3-1/2 of my players would likely never voluntarily have something bad happen to their character when they had narrative control. They’re just not wired that way. (One guy is so into keeping track of what his character kills that when another player said he didn’t do that, the first guy started tracking the second guy’s kills – he’s a competitive, gotta-win player). AW or whatever, instead of handing you narrative control and expecting that you’ll play out something bad happening to your character if it’s more interesting, has on a 7-9 something bad and interesting which, as I recall (could be wrong) the player chooses. I’ve started using the idea of “no, you choose what bad thing happens to your dude!” in other games – if you roll a critical fumble, do you shoot your buddy, who is sitting next to you and hogging the chips, or do you break your bowstring?

      Agreed on the sex stuff. It’s not just that it’s goofy, it’s that it would make everyone uncomfortable, except for the guy who has been guilty of magical realming in the past. I don’t want there to be a mechanical incentive to have sex with each other or whatever. For various reasons, there is nobody in my gaming group I want to be involved in anything within shouting distance of sex with. I don’t know why it was made so central to the game (well, he wrote the game for his wife, didn’t he? They’re consenting adults)

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        The answer to your last question, I think, is that ERP is ASTONISHINGLY popular for how awkward and unpleasant it has the potential to be, at least to the degree that this can be determined by browsing /tg/.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I could see it being an optional thing – “I wrote this game for my wife, and we have sexytimes, and here is Appendix F: Fucking, Literally” – but I’m baffled by the choice of “no, it’s not just a gonzo apocalypse game, it’s a gonzo apocalypse game with fucking.”

          (I’m not sure of the purpose of doing ERP with people you aren’t fucking at that point in time, and if you are having sex with them, surely the dice and papers and pencils and so on are going to make a mess)

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            As discussed below re: dating, it seems that some people find ERP fun in and of itself. I’m just as mystified by this as I am by the dating thing, but that seems to be the explanation.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I’m mystified too. There’s things where, I don’t like it, but I can see why people do. This is not one of those things.

      • Randy M says:

        My gaming buddy has mentioned on a few occasions how cool it is in Apocalypse World that you can have abilities powered by porn, for instance. I manage not to roll my eyes too hard.

      • Nornagest says:

        “Magical realming”? Can you expand on that? There’s plenty of hits on Google, but they’re all on /tg/, which I don’t want in my DNS cache because work.

        • dndnrsn says:

          It’s a reference to introducing sexual stuff into a game, generally in an unwelcome fashion, and particularly when it has to do with one’s own kink/fetish/whatever. It comes from a comic in which a GM works his piss fetish into the game, featuring a wizard with a forest made of pee-trees. The wizard exclaims, “Dare you enter my magical realm?”

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            It comes from a comic in which a GM works his piss fetish into the game, featuring a wizard with a forest made of pee-trees. The wizard exclaims, “Dare you enter my magical realm?”

            i.e. the central example is an ugly male GM incorporating kinky content (note his ugly beard and red nose). What % as bad a female GM incorporating her kinks into the game for a player group of standard demographics or a hot male one for an all-female+gay guy group is undetermined.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            That’s an annoyingly CW take, but I think it’s reasonable to say that all your examples are magical realms, regardless of the degree of badness. Hell, I’d say the entire Monster Girl Quest setting (for example) is a magical realm of extraordinary magnitude independent of who actually runs it.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            Sure, being more attractive and charming can turn things from “bad” to “neutral” or maybe even to “good” – a sad fact of life is that better-looking, more-charming people get treated better in social situations.

            Personally, though (and to take this away from CW) I find it extremely jarring when anyone suddenly introduces sexual themes into a situation that didn’t have them and, reasonably, wouldn’t have them. I’d be more comfortable with the median gaming group deciding “well, we’re playing Monsterhearts” than a really attractive person suddenly jamming what I know to be their kink into the game.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I like the PbtA games I’ve played, Dungeon World and Monsterhearts, and highly recommend them. Minimal prep time combined with competently-made rules and a structure which encourages seat-of-the-pants improvisation make them perfect for beer and pretzels games.

      They don’t offer much room for characters to grow and face new kinds of challenges, so a long-running game would be an uphill fight. But that’s not what they were built for to begin with, so it’s hard to begrudge them that.

      The sex moves make sense in the context of Monsterhearts, because that kind of cringey character-development-through-sex is pretty central to supernatural melodramas. In Dungeon World, they’re thankfully absent entirely. I don’t know how I would feel about it in a Mad Max-esque game, since I’m a traditionalist who believes that relationships in a post-apocalyptic wasteland should be between one Master and one Blaster as God intended.

    • J Mann says:

      Completely opposite to the PbtA games, I’m watching We’re Alive: Frontier, a streamed game of Outbreak:Undead 2d ed, which is apparently a incredibly complex collaborative story telling zombie apocalypse RPG.

      Based on that, I can say that if you get a bunch of actors to play, make sure one of the authors of the game is your GM, and then have Project Alpha buy you space and special effects, it can be pretty good.

      • Randy M says:

        Professional voice actors streaming is giving people unrealistic expectations of RPG.

        • J Mann says:

          Optimistically, it gives people a target to shoot for. The rest of us may be Bottom’s players, but we can still sharpen our game. 🙂

          • Randy M says:

            I’m just riffing on the observation that porn gives young people unrealistic images of sex.

          • J Mann says:

            @Randy M

            – Whoops – I’ve heard that argument made seriously a number of times, so I didn’t catch it, but now Ha!

            – Maybe I should go the other way and port my optimistic case back to porn.

            – Thinking about this more seriously than it deserves, there would be a problem if the streaming actors pretended to enjoy the game or otherwise to experience things they didn’t really. (“But the GM on Critical Role always loves it when his players rules lawyer! And all the other players love it when one guy min-maxes and attention whores!”)

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            The rest of us may be Bottom’s players, but we can still sharpen our game.

            We are but rude mechanicals. Bite my shiny metal ass!

          • Randy M says:

            Optimistically, it gives people a target to shoot for.

            This is the kind of advice where some people should hear it–“Hey, don’t settle for what you have, you could be great, like this!” and some people should hear the opposite–“That’s an unrealistic ideal made for performance by video trickery, unsustainable levels of preparation, and high concentrations of skill. Appreciate the enjoyment you have already!”

          • J Mann says:

            @Le Maistre Chat – bravo!

        • dndnrsn says:

          Agree entirely with this. It’s to actual gaming what porn is to sex, or pro wrestling is to an actual fight. Sometimes the real thing is boring or ugly or just kinda weak. That happens. An RPG that’s being performed for the cameras is going to be very different from the games most people play, and I don’t know that trying to imitate one of those podcasts or what have you is any better an idea than trying to clothesline someone in a real fight.

          • Randy M says:

            Personally I haven’t been able to sit through a whole episode of streaming D&D. Since they have an audience, they don’t need to take advice from me, but I wish that it was edited more, cutting out some pauses, cross-talk, etc. And it’s surely much, much more streamlined than the typical gaming group.

            But from the snippets of CR I saw, Mercer’s delivery was quite intimidating as an amateur (ie, not a professional performer) DM.

            I assume everyone else here has seen “Gamers: Dorkness Rising”, but if not, do check it out. It’s not an actual play, but a movie about people and the game they play that is very well done (for an indie).

          • J Mann says:

            It’s to actual gaming what porn is to sex, or pro wrestling is to an actual fight.

            I see your point, but I’m going to respectfully disagree. IMHO, it’s to actual gaming what touring broadway shows are to kids performing theater in their basement, or what MMA is to an actual fight. Some different constraints, and you shouldn’t expect to duplicate it, but you can learn a lot.

            It’s like saying the Lord of the Rings movies give people an unrealistic expectation for an RPG. Sure, but if we only had reasonable expectations, we’d just go to work. 😉

            I’ll start a thread on what I think my group learned from streaming games sometime when I catch an early open thread – hope to see everyone there!

          • dndnrsn says:

            @J Mann

            A Broadway show is only quantifiably different from the most amateurish production. Something done entirely for the people playing it is different in kind from something done at least in part for an audience.

            What I focus on as a GM is on presenting situations, adapting to what the PCs do, and avoiding fudging and railroading. I focus on that more than on descriptions (which I do need to get better at!) or voices (where I am inconsistent) – I think the former are more important to it as a game (I as a player at least find being railroaded to be intolerable, and I notice it fairly easily; as a GM, since I forced myself to stop fudging, my enjoyment of gaming has increased dramatically). But these good things are things that the audience might not care about as much as they care about descriptions and voices and such.

            Or, MMA fighters who start playing to the audience too much, that’s a bad strategic move. Doesn’t matter if they’re booing; a W is better than an L and if that means holding the other guy against the cage for 14 of 15 minutes while lightly tapping him, you gotta do what you gotta do.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          My 2¢: D&D streaming is like Fiffty Shades of Grey:

          I tried to watch it and hated it, but I’m very glad that it exists because it’s made a lot of women eager to try an activity I enjoy.

          My girlfriend and about half of the women in my D&D group now started by watching D&D streams. Back in college I couldn’t get women to play for love or money: my ex dropped out of the first game I ran within two sessions, and she was never replaced in the group. Now I’m in a game with more women than men and running one that’s exactly 50/50.

  22. Wander says:

    I’d like to teach myself Mandarin. Any recommendations or resources on where to start? I’m aware it’s very hard to learn and will likely be very different to my experiences learning German.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I tried and failed to learn Mandarin with my ex, who was a native speaker, and am currently trying again with the help of my American-born girlfriend and Duolingo. I can’t tell you the best way to learn, because I haven’t learned it yet, but I can give some pointers.

      Chinese is in some ways the opposite of German. The grammar is insultingly simple: translated literally, it sounds like Hulk-speak. But the word roots are completely unfamiliar to an English speaker and there’s no way to sound the words out from characters*. There’s basically no context to hold onto, so you either need to embrace rote memorization or figure out something that I missed.

      The thing that’s been most helpful to me is Pinyin. Every Chinese word has an official phonetic transliteration in the Latin alphabet with vowels modified by marks to show one of the four tones. When I remember a Chinese word I almost always picture the pinyin in my mind first, then sound it out based on that; when I hear a new word, I try to “write” it as pinyin in my mind and then recheck the spelling later.

      *This isn’t technically true: many characters are themselves made up of multiple smaller characters, which can give a hint as to how they’re pronounced or what they mean. But it’s nothing like German or even English in terms of being able to sound out unfamiliar words.

      • Wander says:

        I suppose that considering grammar matters a lot less, Duolingo is actually probably better than normal for Mandarin. It was my major frustration with using it in the past, that it was basically just flash cards and didn’t actually teach you any formal rules to the language, which made it feel not great.

        • Jaskologist says:

          I disliked Duolingo because to me it didn’t have nearly enough flash cards. I stuck with it a long time, but still found myself with very little vocabulary. I find myself preferring ChineseSkill solely for the flashcard feature. There’s a lot of rote memorization that just needs to happen before I feel like I can make useful progress on grammar.

          But my goal is less “fluency” than “be able to listen in on Mandarin speakers and know what they’re talking about.”

      • SkyBlu says:

        As someone who went to Chinese school for over a decade can tell you, memorization of a lot of characters is pretty much the only way forward; not only do you have lots of characters to memorize, but there are also many 4-character idioms that have meanings you usually can’t infer from the characters themselves. It does depend what you want to do with the language though; for being fluent and enjoying literature and etc. in that language you need a vast vocabulary, about 3-5x the vocabulary you need to just be able to have everyday conversations and not starve.

    • LesHapablap says:

      I used the Pimsleur audiobooks for 6 months a few years ago, which are available on via subscription likely much cheaper than buying them directly. I still receive compliments all the time on my pronunciation for the phrases I still remember.

      Pimsleur is criticized for not focusing on developing a large vocabulary, but I would at least suggest starting with it for a few months so that you get the general pronunciation down and a feel for the language before trying to read anything and build vocabulary.

      The lessons are 30 minutes, and DO NOT skip a day as you’ll end up going backwards pretty quickly. I recommend doing the 30 minute lesson in the evening with minimal distraction, and then reviewing the last 15 minutes of that lesson the next morning during your commute.

      • rubberduck says:

        Seconding Pimsleur, I haven’t learned Mandarin but used it to get started learning German and found it very helpful for gaining conversation skills as long as you’re willing to learn vocabulary from an alternate source.

    • One Name May Hide Another says:

      On my phone, so apologies if the following is a bit disjointed. You might already know most of it, but perhaps one or two of the things I mention will be helpful.

      To start with, I would recommend using the Fluent Forever pronunciation trainer to learn how to make and recognize all of the sounds you will need to speak Mandarin.

      Then, start using spaced repetition software, such as Anki or Supermemo. You can use the Fluent Forever vocab list, or any other frequency list to determine which vocab items you will want to learn. Use spaced repetition for vocab and sentences.

      If you can easily afford it, use Skitter (on top of Anki) to learn the characters.

      Look into the Foreign Service Institute course for Mandarin. It’s available online for free. It’s a bit dated but receives excellent reviews for building conversational fluency.

      Look at There are some great threads there with resources, advice, etc. One of the things I found on there is the Chinese Text Analyser, which is a really fun tool for keeping track of your progress and finding appropriate reading material.

      Create a free account on Little Fox Chinese. Yeah, it’s for kids, but it’s fantastic. Cartoons with transcripts, vocab lists, etc at 5 different levels. You can feed those transcripts into the Chinese Text Analyser, too, to find the highest frequency vocab you should learn before watching an episode. At Level 5, once you get there, they have a very entertaining cartoon adaptation of the classic Chinese novel “Journey to the West”.

      Look into arranging regular practice sessions with native speakers. There are plenty of sites that specialize in matching people with remote conversation partners or tutors, some quite affordable. Chinese-forums will have more detailed advice on how to find a good match.

      Good luck!

      • Wander says:

        Does Fluent Forever have Mandarin? I thought it was still in development.

        • One Name May Hide Another says:

          The app is still in development, I think. But before there was the app, the author developed a series of materials that one could purchase from his website, including really cool vocab lists, Anki pronunciation trainers and pronunciation videos. The videos are available for free on YouTube.

      • Argos says:

        Signal boosting this comment, all of those recommendations are good.

    • Totient Function says:

      For context, I live in China and have done so for about three and a half years spread out over five (with a two year detour to Malaysia) and I am currently working towards a master’s degree here in mathematics. I started learning the language when I first moved here and have continued to do so formally rather intermittently I’m the interim – currently I’m not really putting much work into studying the language formally, though I feel a bit guilty about it, and any recent improvement is mainly just a byproduct of attending classes in Chinese and communicating with my Chinese friends and classmates exclusively in Chinese.

      A few thoughts off the top of my head, I’ll try and say something a bit more comprehensive later.

      (1) Apps
      The best Chinese-Englisj dictionary that everyone uses is called Pleco, and it is a lifesaver. It includes pinyin, characters, contained and containing words, a recording, and usually a pretty huge list of example sentences for every listing. It also has various input methods – in particular you can search by inputting characters via whatever Chinese keyboard you use, but also by drawing the character, which is useful when you come across a character that you’ve never seen before and don’t have a good guess from its structure what it should sound like for pinyin input. If you don’t have this one get it.

      Another good one is Youdao (有道) which is mainly intended for Chinese users to look up English words and phrases, but is good for technical words and phrases, song titles, slang, and other things that Pleco may not have. I use it mostly to look up math terms like diffeomorphism that haven’t found their way into Pleco. The best way to use it if you’re new to Chinese is to look up a phrase in Youdao and then copy and paste the translation into Pleco so you can see the pinyin and the meanings of individual characters.
      I’ve never been able to stick with flash cards or other language apps but a few friends have recommended Skitter to me. Predictably I downloaded it and never once opened it, but it might be worth checking out.

      (2) General
      Tones: learn them, try to get them right, but don’t stress out about them too much. One thing you will find out as you continue is that Chinese is much more context dependent than English (say). In particular if you try to express something with a single word your tones had better be perfect (and even then success is reasonably unlikely), but if you speak at a decent pace and use full sentences it is usually a lot less important that your tones be just right.

      Measure Words: similarly to tones, learn them and try to get them right but don’t worry about defaulting to 个 when all else fails. Note however that measure words are your friends! Since Chinese has a ridiculous number of homophones and homophones modulo intonation, correct measure words can help you get your meaning across: a measure word + noun pair narrows down the possible meanings of a particular sound considerably than just the noun on its own.

      Writing (if you want to learn it, not everyone does, but you should, it’s wonderful): learn the stroke order as early as possible. I don’t necessarily mean the list of rules which I’m not sure I even know. Rather get a list of characters with the stroke order indicated somehow (Pleco has it) and write them out until it becomes second nature. Pretty quickly you will grasp how to correctly write new characters that you haven’t ever written before and the whole process will make learning new characters much easier. Similarly I really recommend learning a bit about the radicals and character structure. This is something I never really did properly and I quite regret it.

      Most generally just stick with it and don’t get overwhelmed – it seems like a mountain of memorization and arbitrariness when you start but eventually you do get an intuition for it as with any other language. One hurdle that I found particularly hard to overcome with reading is not to shut down when faced with a character I don’t recognize – since often there is no way to produce a sound in your head and move on, the temptation is strong to look up every single new character. Don’t do this! Force yourself to move through the sentence and try to get an overall sense of its meaning. If you want to know more about that particular character or really can’t piece together the sentence without it, come back to it later. This does get easier eventually because it.becomes more and more feasible to make an educated guess about what an unfamiliar character “should” sound like based on its structure, but only after you have a pretty sizable vocabulary built up.

      Good luck! It’s a beautiful, charming, bewildering, and challenging language.

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      For learning the characters the system by Heisig seems to work really well. (I didn’t really follow through on it, but whenever I remember some more complicated character it is usually because of Heisig’s memory crutches.)

      I think immersion is really important. Probably a lot better to do 3 hours daily for four month than to do half an hour daily for two years.

      • Enkidum says:

        Probably a lot better to do 3 hours daily for four month than to do half an hour daily for two years.

        Technically true, I guess, but most people don’t have that kind of drive. Vastly better to do half an hour daily for four months than to do 3.5 hours weekly for four months.

    • SamChevre says:

      I have a friend who learned Mandarin as an adult, living in the US, and is reasonably fluent. (As in, he learned Mandarin before meeting his wife, who is a native speaker and also fluent in English, and they usually speak Mandarin rather than English to each other.)

      His opinion is that learning what it sounds like until you can easily hear the tones, and just memorizing the characters, was crucial. For him, he went to a Chinese baptist church (he’s a devout Christian, so this wasn’t unusual other than language) and just listened and memorized phrases as best he could for basic politeness. He said that after a year, he could reliably hear the tones and distinguish the words, then he started working on characters.

      • Totient Function says:

        Is the idea that this is more effective long term than more efficient approaches? I agree that subconscious acclimatization to the very foreign sound world is important and it certainly sounds like it worked out for him but a year seems an awful long time to get to picking out the base sounds before dealing with characters. I would think that after a year it is reasonable to expect to flail your way through conversations on economics or history say (i.e. something more than just hello, where are you from, and how old are you etc.) and to take a stab at some short stories.

        Oh also re: reading, I find that literature of the early twentieth century is especially suited to the early stages. There was a movement in Chinese literature at the time called the 白话文运动 that I would analogize to the transition from Latin to local languages in early modern Europe. Basically earlier literature is in a learned version of the language that is more or less impenetrable without training, while later fiction is too modern and experimental to be accessible to the beginner. It’s also really interesting! I especially like 巴金,鲁迅,老舍, 萧红 … from this period. My favorite Chinese novelist is 莫言 but his novels are too difficult and avant-garde for me to read except in translation, though it’s been a few years since I tried…

        • rlms says:

          I would think that after a year it is reasonable to expect to flail your way through conversations on economics or history

          That sounds very optimistic to me. I’d expect a native only-English speaker to get to around that level in a çommon European language after a year of pretty heavy study (say a year of undergraduate study with half the focus on that language). But Mandarin is supposed to be a lot harder than e.g. French and most people don’t study that intensely (although I suppose if you had a partner who was a native speaker you might do).

          • Totient Function says:

            Fair! My sense of what a normal pace is may be unduly influenced by my own learning experience, which was intensely immersive in a large city with basically no foreigners. I will say though that the difficulty is unevenly distributed – given the relative simplicity of the grammar I think it is possibly easier to get to the point of holding decent conversations in Chinese than in European languages. For example, when you learn a new verb you know just about everything you need to know about it, no mucking about with moods and conjugation etc. and can start using it pretty much straightaway. The outsize difficulty of the language lives mostly in its writing system.

          • Cliff says:

            Mandarin is considered a relatively easy language to speak, very difficult to read/write

        • SamChevre says:

          @Totient Function
          Not more effective, but more achieveable if you are working full-time, and live in the US. Certainly, a full-immersion environment and active study would be much faster, but they are available to many fewer people.

          Note that his wife is a native speaker, but he learned Mandarin before he started dating her.

    • I learned to read moderately well by using the Pleco app on my own. But I never succeeded in understanding spoken Mandarin apart from very simple words spoken very slowly.

    • Argos says:

      Make sure that you have a sufficiently enjoyable study routine. By far the majority of self learners quit, especially with a language as hard as Mandarin; when you quit, most of what you learned will be forgotten, which makes the hours spent on it a waste if you did not enjoy them. On the other hand, having an enjoyable way of studying makes it much less likely that you quit.

      Thus I recommend having a small number of daily flashcards, because flashcards are really boring. Instead, get to a level where you can understand simple Mandarin quickly, and then learn more by consuming media in your target language.
      Tools to help for that: ChinesePod has a very large catalog of episodes, for all language levels. They include transcripts and grammar explanation.
      Subs2Srs is a great tool that allows you to input audio clips of your favourite show to anki. The subs are then used as the “back” of the flashcard.
      I also used to love parallel texts, where the Chinese and English are side by side. If you don’t understand something, you can understand the meaning by glancing at the translation, it all feels very seamless.

      Some misconceptions in the comments: Chinese grammar is very much not simple, although it may seem so in the beginning, but once you have reached intermediate status you quickly realize that it’s not true. The problem with Chinese grammar is that it’s very contextual, and not explicitly rule based as for example German. Thus it’s very common that a learner will construct an incorrect sentence, and the teacher can only offer as explanation “We just don’t say it like that”. More explanation here:

      • Totient Function says:

        This is true but I think it really only comes into play at a fairly advanced stage. The grammar required say in the first year or so to survive a decent conversation and make your ideas coherent really does feel simple and easy to learn relative to that required in a European language at the same level, to me at least.

    • marja says:

      Long-time lurker, first-time commenter here. I just accidentally lost the longer version I was writing so I will answer shortly: For me visual aspect of Chinese (the characters) were very important from the beginning because that actually made the words distinct and tangible for me to memorize. Without seeing the characters written down the word would just go in from one ear and out from the orher: no hooks in the brain to hang it to, it was just all too alien and everything sounded like the same. Seeing the characters gave the words a personality, often showed something of the logic of the word (like the craracter for peace 安 containing a woman under a roof) and distinguished the word from it’s homophones and similar-sounding characters. I got some extra delight from how it was possible to think about the characters as small personalized creatures, like pokemons: Cath them all! Very motivating.

      The materials that were important for me in learning Chinese:

      -HelloChinese: app for learning mandarin. I haven’t got experience with other apps so I cannot compare, but for me this one was a lifesaver and I felt like it was really smartly built and motivating. I have heard that Duolingo is quite similar.

      -China: Empire Of Living Symbols (by Cecilia Lindqvist): At first I thought it was only an interesting book about the history of Chinese characters, but later I noticed that actually those ancient characters are all over the written language as the meaning-signifying radicals of the more complex characters. I got a surprisingly good basis for the radicals from reading this book, without even knowing that was what I was learning about. I feel like this book made the characters a lot more approachable for me.

      - has quite nicely written articles about Chinese grammar.

      Writing Chinese on cellphone with the pinyin input method is quite good practice for menorizing the characters all by itself, since you need to recognize the right one after typing the pinyin. If you can find some Chinese people to chat with, that is a nice way to practice without it feeling like work. I learn quite a lot good expressions by chatting with Chinese friends and checking the new things with Pleco. It is also really practical how in wechat (the Chinese whatsapp) you can instantly check with the translate option whether what you wrote is right or not.

      I myself started to memorize how to write the craracters by hand only recently after I had got to the hsk 4 level. It felt like I saved a lots of effort that way since at this point I already have the pieces in my brain and now it’s only the matter of connecting them: now if instead of memorizing a random combination of strokes what I memorize now is more like ”write a field on top of the heart”.

      For me the crucial thing about learning to actually speak Chinese was that I needed a a lot of practice and dutifully repeating after an (in my case HelloChinese) audio before my tongue got enough used to the Chinese sounds for people to actually be able to understand my pronounciation. I think many people get stuck with the speaking and become discouraged from speaking after too many experiences of Chinese people just looking confused and answering with tīng bù dǒng to their perfectly constructed but incomprehensibly pronounced communication attempts.

      Seems like this ended up being longer than I thought.

  23. Well... says:

    You are a covetous alien race that finally reaches Earth after your long (very long) voyage. Earth is the perfect habitat for you but first you need to get rid of the pesky humans, and fast because your spaceship can’t sustain you much longer. (You’ve done your research and determined that your race is specifically allergic to humans; just having them around will make you unable to inhabit Earth. So the humans definitely need to go.) What do you do?

    Assume you have a lot of very advanced technology, so you could for example engineer microbots that target and destroy human DNA and then attach these to synthetic airborne viruses or something, but remember: you can’t just quickly kill off all the humans and be done, because you also have to make sure the nuclear power plants don’t all explode with nobody to maintain or safely power them down, etc.

    • Nuclear power(and nuclear weapons) would be the only real problem, the aliens would have no reason to care if the oil tankers leaked or the damns burst. In that case they’d simply say to humanity to surrender its weapons or face genocide.(And then commit the genocide anyway.) And humanity would surrender.

      • Well... says:

        Why wouldn’t they care about tankers leaking? Dams bursting I understand more; presumably the aliens don’t care about a little extra water washing into places it wasn’t before. But a lot of leaking tankers is a pretty significant environmental problem, isn’t it? And what about oil rigs? Sewage treatment plants? Chemical factories of one kind or another?

        Let’s say the aliens can’t clearly communicate with humans, at least not in so fine a way as to be able to say “surrender”. Maybe the best they can do is say “we are alive and intelligent”–beyond that, they’re just too…well…alien, to have enough in common to communicate with us. How do they neutralize the nuclear/other stuff they don’t want messing up “their” planet after the humans are gone?

    • Eric Rall says:

      I’d start out by making sure my computer systems have up-to-date malware protection and are not compatible with MacOS, that being a common point of failure in this kind of scenario.

      Apart from that, I’d be tempted to just release the microkillbots and take my chances with nuclear meltdowns: I’d expect the worst-case scenario for an “everyone drops dead suddenly” unattended reactor to be pretty manageable in the grand scheme of things. Only a Chernobyl-level event would significantly inconvenience me, and there aren’t any nuclear reactors left that are a fraction as poorly designed as Chernobyl. I’d expect a suddenly-abandoned nuclear reactor to automatically shut itself down safely in most cases, or at worst to resemble Fukushima if the failsafes don’t work as intended.

    • you can’t just quickly kill off all the humans and be done, because you also have to make sure the nuclear power plants don’t all explode with nobody to maintain or safely power them down, etc.

      Couldn’t you quarantine all of the humans who run power plants in the plants temporarily until you can send your alien replacement crew, and then in the meantime, bomb all major human cities to rubble? You could possibly also include chemical weapons that disappate.

      Then build your new alien settlements where humans cities stood, perhaps recycling some rubble, perhaps not, depending on how much sterilization is required. The aliens probably don’t want to live in the human buildings anyway, any more than American colonists wanted to live in teepees. If anything human made is a contaminant then they’ll need to clear it completely away anyway.

      As for the humans who escape the cities and try to set up elsewhere; you’d gradually be able to pin them down and send out ground teams of soldiers to destroy them after you’ve dealt with all cities and military emplacements. Just make sure they wear hazmat suits so they don’t catch the human germ.

      If we have to not kill humans too quickly then, yeah, some kind of engineered biohazard is appropriate, but conventional war will do just fine so long as you save the humans running stuff like plants or piloting oil tankers for last.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Slow-acting, ultimately fatal, flu-like pandemic. The humans shut everything down for us, as they become unable to maintain it. Once they’ve done it we can release the fast-acting killbot if we’re in a hurry.

      Or, there’s the BEMs bearing gifts scenario; we get them to switch all their processes to safe, cheap, alien techniques. Then we shut them off and kill the humans.

      Seems to me if we’re so advanced, we ought to be able to engineer the allergens out of the humans, though. Then we don’t have to kill them. Just restrict them to the crappy parts of the planet (from our perspective)

    • bullseye says:

      Figure out how to shut the nuke plants down ourselves, then release the plague. Release it in the nuke plants first, in order to make sure they’re abandoned at exactly the time we expect.

    • J says:

      That’s a good enough excuse to post one of my favorite short sci-fi stories, “The Road Not Taken” by Harry Turtledove. The opening line really sets the scene:

      “Captain Togram was using the chamberpot when the Indomitable broke out of hyperdrive”

    • Protagoras says:

      I’m finding it hard to figure out what level the tech should be at; it’s hard to imagine that I can do these fancy microbots and airborne viruses but can’t protect myself from humans. The time limit is also awfully vague. But if there’s some reason it’s vitally important to remove all the humans with absolutely minimal disruption to anything else, it seems the obvious move is to replace them with hypoallergenic substitutes, via some kind of body snatcher type invasion.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Was talking to my friends how efficient an AI therapist would actually be (and ultimately how incredibly dangerous, if malicious). It’s one of those areas where evidence-based methods would be able to improve incredibly fast, if data is shared.

      Just launch this one product, wait a while to take off, then convince humans that nuclear power is dangerous. Start off another red herring or two just to distract them. Timeline is about 1 year, but it’s low cost and safe.

      Plan B, wear the skin of decision makers (or brainwash them) and make sure all dangerous stuff have passive fail-safes and/or remote control. Timeline, 1-2 months.

      Plan C: sabotage all powerplants, or at least have all the alarms go off in very alarming ways. Wait for humans to turn them off. Kill them. Timeline: 1 week, maximum. Some risk.

      • Well... says:

        You’re an alien species from some other star system. Your ability to understand human communication and participate in it is less likely than a human’s ability to understand and participate in the communications of starfish.

      • Deiseach says:

        Just launch this one product, wait a while to take off, then convince humans that nuclear power is dangerous. Start off another red herring or two just to distract them. Timeline is about 1 year, but it’s low cost and safe.

        You are making me look at the Green New Deal in a whole new light now 🙂

    • Furslid says:

      If I have the technology to allow mind uploading, develop it for humans. DO NOT announce my presence. Release a 100% fatal disease with a long dormant period to get complete penetration of the human population. Then when people start dying announce my presence and offer uploading to robot bodies that we’re not allergic to. Some humans will take this option, and they will have an interest in not letting very bad things happen. Once all biological humans are dead, land the ship.

      Of course, if you had this technology you could just use it on yourself and save the time. Of course the premise is crazy. If you had the technology for interstellar travel, you would have the technology to repair your ship and could trade some tech with humans for any resources needed.

    • Murphy says:

      well. humans are pretty susceptible to various pathogens.

      well, there’s only 450 nuclear plants in the world. If I’ve got high end tech and resources then penetrating the computer systems of all of them should be fairly straightforward.

      Establish which can be put into safe shutdown, scrammed etc remotely. At any plants that can’t be safely shut down by wire engineer minor disasters that will require temporary shutdown.

      Then drop some really nasty pathogen on some major population centers outside of major nuclear powers (so they don’t decide it’s a first strike) and travel hubs, something with long incubation time, easily spread and extremely deadly to wipe out most of the population.

    • DragonMilk says:

      Three part plan:

      1. Economics
      If you had the tech to get to Earth, you have something to sell for the food you needed. Provide techs that are trivial and pose no threat to you if in human hands but useful to them – like slightly faster engines, propulsion technologies, tracking. Hire human marketers that promote advances like air traffic control or next generation telecom networks. A few months in, you unleash the linchpin: super realistic VR that the masses gravitate spending their time on. Have equity stakes in the new rising stars of the economy.

      2. Trade and Physical War Initiation and Profiteering
      Months later, send a separate team to sell your trivial weapons to both governments and insurgency groups. Don’t fight the humans, just fuel their ambitions and let them fight themselves to divert your attention on your overall goal: disunity. The goal is to fracture alliances and foment tensions – Japan/Korea, Russia/Germany, China/US, Italy/North Africa, etc. Annoy the military by having uprisings worldwide, with media blaming it on all the new fancy tech: Has VR caused restless young men to fight for what’s real?

      3. The Hidden Agenda
      You’ve unleashed a retrovirus that causes the target species to reproduce far under the replacement rate. Essentially, the ultimate contraception. Those babies who come to term are severely immuno-compromised to three bio-engineered airborne diseases that present as pneumonia, fever, and dysentery, respectively. After all, poor reproduce the most but they are most susceptible to such diseases, and are now in war-torn areas. As humanity is absorbed in an alternate reality on the one hand, and actual crises on the other, the population evaporates over time while you profit and feed.

    • Dack says:

      Xenocide is completely unnecessary. Have you ever seen the movie Avatar?

    • toastengineer says:

      Make ’em an offer they can’t refuse; the technology to colonize the stars, cure all physical and mental sicknesses and live forever, sexbots, etc etc. on the condition they leave within the necessary timeframe. And if they refuse, tell them the alternatives are plans B-… listed above.

  24. Share your weird disappointments. My weird disappointment: when I found out tsunamis weren’t waves.

    I thought tsunamis were really cool when I was a kid, and I used to have half-scary, half-awesome nightmares about them. I thought the idea of a big rolling wall of water was really cool and awesome. I liked terrible movies like Deep Impact just because they depicted megatsunamis. At that time there was no video footage of them, and maybe one blurry photo.

    My weird (and fairly unethical) disappointment happened during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami when I discovered that tsunamis were mostly just big surges of water, like a flood that doesn’t stop. I was more sad for all the people who died horribly, but at least 1% of me was disappointed in the tsunami itself, and this would repeat with the Japanese tsunami in 2011.

    • Lillian says:

      Ironically the fact that the original English term for it was “tidal wave” should have clued everyone in about the notion that a earthquake caused sea flood does indeed look like a tide that just keeps coming in without end. Instead people’s refusal to accept this mental image resulted in a widespread rejection of the term “tidal wave” in favour of the more exotic sounding Japanese term “tsunami”, which turns out isn’t really any better since it just means “harbour wave”. There’s an xkcd strip about it.

    • That’s a great comic. There really is an xkcd for everything.

    • Tenacious D says:

      I understand what you’re saying, but I can’t resist pointing out that physically tsunamis (and tides) are long period waves (see here for a spectrum of ocean wave types). Breaking is affected by how a wave interacts with the bottom and by its height to length ratio.

      • Yeah, I know they’re still actually waves in the definitional sense to be clear. An enormous amount of water is being transmitted in waves with very long wavelengths. They just aren’t huge breaking waves that swamp coastal areas as the books depicted them to be when I was a kid.

        What’s weird is that it still gets talked about in terms of “wave height” so when they say “the waves in some places in Japan were up to 50 foot high” it conjures up an image of these huge 50 foot breakers that just kept crashing into the city they were hitting, when from seeing the footage it’s clear they mean something more like “the water kept rising to a depth of 50 foot”. (EDIT: Even that might not be right. They might be talking about the elevation the water reached through run-up.)

        When you view the footage it seems like the water pulls back (this is the trough of the very long wave) and then comes back in (more like rises back up) as a series of layers of water that might have a 10 foot or so wave at the front and then these crash into the town and turn into a surge that just keeps rising and rising and rising…

        • Tenacious D says:

          I hope never to experience a tsunami in person and the footage from actual disasters is hard to watch. But it would be fascinating if a tsunami could be recorded (from multiple angles and with a bunch of instruments logging depths at various positions) hitting an uninhabited island sometime.

          The unity in diversity of wave behaviour at different scales is something I find really interesting.

          • Lambert says:

            I wonder whether it’s possible to make a small-scale analogue.
            I think all you need would be the correct reynolds (viscous forces vs inertia) and froude (weight vs inertia) numbers.

          • CatCube says:

            Not only can you make small analogues, they do for tsunami design purposes. If you ever get a chance to see them do a test in a model tsunami basin, take it.

          • Lambert says:

            Since we’re talking about wavepools, the following video is pretty neat.
            I’m fairly sure someone who paid more attention than I did to Fourier analysis lectures could say something interesting about the spike tests and wave packets.

          • Tenacious D says:

            @ CatCube: I’d definitely like to tour a wave basin or other scale hydraulic model sometime. The ACE has several as well, right?

            @ Lambert: I think you’re missing a link.

          • drunkfish says:

            @Lambert I think it gets a bit more complicated. You’d also need to worry about capillary vs inertial forces (which rules out very small models), and length scale vs container depth (which helps small models, since tsunamis, pretty uniquely among ocean traveling waves, see the bottom). You’d probably also need to worry about the slope of your shore being right, though that probably wouldn’t be too hard.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I work in a factory with some well-known, cherished intellectual property. The actual production is quite mundane. Not that I didn’t know that going in, but damn the magic is dead.

      • Well... says:

        Yeah, I definitely can’t enjoy movies or listen to music the way I did before I got to really understand the production process behind those things. Although, I don’t feel particularly disappointed by that either.

    • j1000000 says:

      Welp, today I realized that I had, since Deep Impact came out when I was a kid, assumed that “tidal waves” were a separate category from tsunamis and did indeed exist (if not in the blockbuster Deep Impact way). So there’s my weird and very embarassing disappointment!

    • Atlas says:

      When I was a kid, I loved reading books and watching movies/TV shows about military history. I was disappointed to learn that there hadn’t been a whole lot of big conventional wars after WW2, because I wanted to see the great powers play with their new toys weapons in a dramatic fashion.

    • Odovacer says:

      Metaphysics. Sounded like this awesome branch of knowledge. When I found out that it literally meant something like, “after physics”, I was let down.

  25. benjdenny says:

    A thought: Aren’t most people “kind of poly”? It seems like to the extent someone’s sex drive is high enough to desire multiple partners in the first place, this is more like quantifying how little you value attempts to stop you from being poly.

    Edit: I’m trying to figure out how it’s not like saying “I’m sexually average to the extent that I want to have sex with multiple attractive people, and I currently don’t have anyone around who cares, but I also want to make clear that I don’t want to scare off high-value monogamous people, and I’d definitely abandon the poly for a person like that”. I don’t know single men who this doesn’t apply to, really.

    That being said I admittedly know nothing about the expanded theories of polyamory, so I could very definitely be missing something.

    • Ozy Frantz says:

      Whether you’re poly depends not only on your opinion about dating multiple people but also your opinion about your partners dating multiple people. I have been reliably informed that most people feel very upset about the second thing, regardless of their opinion of dating multiple people themselves.

      (And I think “dating” is a better term than “having sex,” not least because the next three words in that sentence are “kind of asexual.”)

      • benjdenny says:

        This makes more sense than what I said – thing withdrawn.

      • vV_Vv says:

        (And I think “dating” is a better term than “having sex,” not least because the next three words in that sentence are “kind of asexual.”)

        What’s the point of dating multiple people if you are “kind of asexual”? I can understand why an asexual person might want to date one person: companionship, having children, etc., but why would they date more than one if they aren’t interested in sexual novelty? It sounds like more work without more fun.

        • SkyBlu says:

          You can be romantically interest in other people; romantic novelty is just as valid as sexual novelty; and even ignoring both of those, I personally find that different partners complement me in different ways; One partner might be cuddly and sweet and another one might be adventurous and exciting; Being poly means you never really have to choose (sorta).

          • cassander says:

            What distinguishes sexless romance from friendship? I’m asking sincerely.

          • toastengineer says:

            Kissing, I assume.

          • blacktrance says:

            A romantic relationship feels qualitatively different from friendship, even ignoring the sexual aspect. For example, you feel a vicarious interest in your romantic partner’s well-being in a way that you wouldn’t for a friend.

          • Hoopyfreud says:


            Eeeeeeeh… That example in particular doesn’t fit too well IMO. I think it’s more down to kinds of intimacy than kinds of concern. I’m thinking about the “so close they’re basically family” sort of friend here.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            Kissing, cuddling, hand-holding, all that non-sexual physical intimacy. Also a more intense degree of emotional intimacy.

            For some people, there’s a phase of a romantic relationship where you form a bond of mutual trust by divulging really personal stuff of the sort you’d normally only say to a therapist. There’s an element of risk and thrill-seeking in this, because it’s always kind of scary to divulge intensely personal stuff, but it can be rewarding when the person reciprocates with acceptance or with their own secrets.

            In my experience this dynamic generally isn’t present in regular non-romantic friendships, at least not to the same degree. It kind of functions as the emotional equivalent of sexual novelty.

          • @ blacktrance:

            I feel a vicarious interest in my friends’ wellbeing.

          • cassander says:

            I’d dispute the notion that kissing, cuddling, and hand-holding are non-sexual. They don’t have to be, but they certainly can be.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Apparently, somehow, some people enjoy dating. I unironically don’t get this at all.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            It’s like there’s a secret arms race on the West coast to be weirder than all other WEIRD people.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Probably (not Scott, not trying to speak for him) because dating is about the emotional connection, and many people like having a broader emotional network, and if you are “kind of asexual” being poly might allow you to be with a person who has more of a sex drive than you by allowing them freedom to pursue other partners.

      • How do you define “dating” if it doesn’t involve either having sex or courtship intended to lead to sex?

        If sex is out of the picture, ordinary monogamy is consistent with having close friends other than one’s partner.

    • I interpret “kind of poly” as meaning somewhat interested in maintaining multiple stable sexual relationships, probably with partners who are doing the same. I don’t think most people fit that description.

      Polyamory isn’t the same thing as promiscuity. It’s more like polygamy, but without the usual assumption of either one man and multiple women (polygyny) or one woman and multiple men (polyandry).

      • benjdenny says:

        This makes more sense. Thank you.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I interpret “kind of poly” as meaning somewhat interested in maintaining multiple stable sexual relationships, probably with partners who are doing the same.

        Is there a significant correlation between belief in polyamory and autism spectrum diagnosis? Because because being polygamous with people who are all themselves polygamous is the least neurotypical thing I can think of off the top of my head, and I’m an Aspie.

        • Nornagest says:

          Something like half of the poly people I know are somewhere on the spectrum, but most of them I know through SSC and friends, and probably half the people here are somewhere on the spectrum.

          Of those I’ve met elsewhere, though, most are still pretty nerdy.

        • vV_Vv says:

          Is there a significant correlation between belief in polyamory and autism spectrum diagnosis?


          Hookup culture, friends with benefits, and similar effectively polygamous lifestyles are quite widespread in the modern Western civilization. Polyamory is the nerd/aspie version of it.

          • I would define hookup culture as promiscuous, not polygamous. Polygamy, like monogamy, implies reasonably stable, long-term relations, at least in intent.

          • vV_Vv says:

            Polygamy, like monogamy, implies reasonably stable, long-term relations, at least in intent.

            Maybe polygamy in the traditional sense of one person (usually a man) being married to multiple people (usually women) does have this implication of stability, but then polyamory is much closer to promiscuity than traditional polygamy.

            If I understand correctly, polyamorists tend to have one stable “primary” partner in a marriage-type relationship, and then multiple “secondaries”: hookups/friends with benefits.

          • If I understand correctly, polyamorists tend to have one stable “primary” partner in a marriage-type relationship, and then multiple “secondaries”: hookups/friends with benefits.

            That sounds to me more like an open marriage than polyamory.

            But someone with more expertise in the subject is welcome to correct me.

          • Nornagest says:

            One primary partner/some number of secondary partners is probably the most common way of doing it, yeah. In practice this is pretty much just an open marriage/relationship; in theory there’s a difference, but ask five poly people what that difference is and you’ll get six answers.

            Stable threesomes and occasionally foursomes are probably the next most common arrangement after that. There’s also “relationship anarchy”, which boils down to refusing to put a label on anything you’re doing but often cashes out to one of the above in terms of behavior.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        What’s the difference between “kind of poly” and just poly? Does that mean you are okay with your partners dating, but you want to at least know the other partners, or is this a group of people all with overlapping relationships (which seems kind of hard to maintain)? Or an open relationship where each member acknowledges the other as “primary” and sees other people a limited amount, with each primary having veto power over the other’s partner choices?

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Degree of commitment and degree of exclusivity seem very tightly coupled, such that the more intimate connections you have the looser they are – or at least, the more unstable. Not because people are terrible, but because the demands of other people on one’s time can’t always pull in the same direction. I don’t seek maximally stable relationships – the most stable relationship is no relationship, after all – but the instability inherent in maintaining a romantic relationship is worth dealing with for me only up to a point. Adding more romantic relationships would be much more miserable for me than being alone.

      The easiest way for me to think about it is that I’d never want to leave someone alone to go sleep in someone else’s bed. And I’d never want that done to me either. From either direction, it’d break my heart. Maybe I have abandonment issues, but knowing that I’m wanted and making people feel wanted is extremely important to me, and I can’t imagine a non-monogamous relationship in which I’d be able to meet those needs.

      Also, I’m not exactly naturally gifted at relationships, and 1 person definitely tickles the limit of my caring capacity.

      • salvorhardin says:

        Fwiw, overnights (and a fortiori longer getaways) with non primary partners are harder for many poly people than other shorter term trysts, for just the reason you describe. Compersion helps. So does talking it out a *lot*. Being poly does not mean finding poly easy.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          I don’t doubt that talking it out helps, but I don’t see any way around the feelings themselves, and those feelings aren’t worth dealing with for me. I just count myself lucky that I don’t find myself wanting a relationship while already in one; my need for intimacy is met and I have a downright aversion to NRE and dating. Having those needs conflict would be waaaay too hard for me to deal with, and I feel for anyone who has to deal with the devil that way. I hope that what they (you?) get out of it makes it worth it.

        • J Mann says:

          Godspeed to people who enjoy being poly, and it’s great that people are so diverse, but I find it striking that the rationalist community includes both people who want to eat mealsquares and wear the same outfit every day to reduce mental load, but also people who want to develop a largely nascent emotion like compersion and spend all that time talking about their relationships in an effort to make them work.

          (No offense seriously meant – if it’s rewarding and not overly harmful to others, I’m all for it, and I suppose the community also includes mealsquare eaters and gourmands.)

          • March says:

            Sounds like excellent min/maxing to me.

          • Nornagest says:

            I don’t know… there’s probably someone out there that likes the idea, but giving up non-tasteless food in exchange for more relationship drama doesn’t sound like the greatest tradeoff to me.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Sounds like excellent min/maxing to me.

            Sounds like reverse min-maxing.
            “OK, you have to wear a uniform every waking hour and eat the same flavorless protein bar for every meal, but in return you get to be polygamous with as many other polygamous people as you have the looks and social skills to successfully compete for the time of! No, I don’t have a foolproof way to keep you clean of STDs in that lifestyle; why do you ask?”

      • Randy M says:

        Degree of commitment and degree of exclusivity seem very tightly coupled, such that the more intimate connections you have the looser they are – or at least, the more unstable.

        It’s simple economics–if you have one person, you have more to lose than if you have two people if something goes wrong in any one relationship. If you are losing less by giving up one of your two relationships (assuming you assign being alone negative utility) it’ll be easier to break it off.
        Some might see that as an upside.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          As the rest of my post points out, I’d rather be single than in two relationships. Just like I’d rather be unemployed than working 20 hours per day. It’s not because of opportunity costs or simple diminishing returns – it’s that the experience itself would be miserable. And this doesn’t even address the fact that for me the best parts of a relationship require lots of commitment; the negatives of a relationship easily outweigh the positives unless those good things come into play.

          This seems like a good example of where it’s a good idea for me to run away screaming from the economic perspective.

          • Randy M says:

            This seems like a good example of where it’s a good idea for me to run away screaming from the economic perspective.

            I feel like I failed to communicate that I agree with your perspective on the stability of it, even granting that one found the situation itself desirable.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            I think I see what you were getting at now; I disagree. I think that dependability and constancy are actually really important for being able to relate to people in certain ways. Sure, having a single partner makes loss aversion stronger, but I think that willingness to work through hard times in a relationship is driven both by loss aversion and, completely distinctly, by commitment.

            Loss aversion is why you’re careful about driving your uncle’s red Barchetta; commitment is why you risk your life to get it back to his farm.

          • Randy M says:

            I think that dependability and constancy are actually really important for being able to relate to people in certain ways.

            Alright, but that sounds different from the mechanism you described in the initial post, which was

            the demands of other people on one’s time can’t always pull in the same direction.

            That doesn’t sound like a fundamental preference for stability at work, but a contingent fact of how relationships grow.
            I was attempting to propose an additional mechanism for the correlation between monogamy and stability, not necessarily to discount yours.
            At the end of the day, I think I share your preferences and maybe should have just simply stated it clearly, but you know how hot it makes people around here when you talk nerdy to them.

          • albatross11 says:

            I was just listening to the most recent Econtalk interview with NNT, and he made more-or-less this point. When you see irrational behavior is (say) the experimental econ literature, the natural way to think of it is as a misfiring heuristic–like an optical illusion, but for mathematical/logical/probability calculations.

            But NNT pointed out that a lot of times, it’s rational if you consider a bigger picture–it’s rational as part of a strategy that overall pays off. Things like loss aversion or the sunk costs fallacy may be irrational in isolation, but they make for a better overall strategy than trying to make individually rational decisions in isolation in each case. (Sometimes the strategy may be societal or group-oriented, too.)

            I was impressed–I’m inclined to think of NNT as a bit of a blowhard who’s better at yelling insults at people than delivering insight, but this was a nice bit of insight.

          • Hoopyfreud says:


            Yeah, I definitely over-emphasized stability in my first post. Mostly this is because I experience what I’ve been describing as “depth” in a relationship, and it seemed kind of shitty to say that my monogamous relationships are deeper and more valid than other people’s… even though, by my idiosyncratic definition of depth that seems necessarily true.

            And yeah, I agree on the idea that loss aversion contributes to stability qua stability. Sorry for pushing back so forcefully; I might be overly sensitive to arguments along the lines of relationships being valuable for their benefits rather than for their own sake. That’s the line I was (implicitly and kind of unnecessarily) arguing against.

          • Randy M says:

            I think you are going to need (for a definition of need that extends no farther than fulfilling a strangers passing curiosity) to explain the distinction between a relationships benefits and its value or fundamental nature.
            “I know I can rely on you to offer me encouragement when going through emotionally difficult times” –is that a benefit that you don’t want to confuse with the value, or the fundamental part?
            Similarly, “I enjoy spending time with you” or “I have someone to help in planning our shared goals” or “We can offer financial assistance to each other”, etc.
            Romantic/marital relationships are complex groupings of mutual benefits and obligations, which persist because they offer things of value. Not solely monetary things, obviously, but economics doesn’t only apply to goods with dollar values.

          • Hoopyfreud says:



            The happiness I obtain from all the things I get in a relationship – the sum of the obligations, services, and commitments – is greater than the happiness I’d obtain from them outside of that context. The experience is qualitatively better in ways that I’m pretty sure aren’t tied to the existence of unexamined obligations, services, and commitments.

            To put it another way, if I were convinced my girlfriend were a P-zombie, I wouldn’t consider it worthwhile to be in a relationship with her.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Part of the meaning is that he’s willing to state it openly. Also, it’s a testament to “openness to experience” – he’s ok with multiple types of relationships from light, let’s hang out and chat, up to marriage and kids – and they don’t have to be a progression with the same person. Some may only want to hang, and that’s ok.

      I’m still new at this “kind of poli” myself, but it’s pretty clear that it’s definitely not the same as monogamous, nor being a cad/promiscuous.

    • Ketil says:

      Aren’t most people “kind of poly”?

      I don’t think so. Just anecdata from from talking to people, but it appears that some people are naturally monogamous, they want one other person in their life, and have little interest in others – at least sexually – as soon as that particular need is satisfied.

      But of course, this is complex, and we can differentiate between different levels of libido and of promiscuity, as well as other psychological issues that affect desire for and behavior in relationships.

    • aristides says:

      I think Ozy said it best, but I’ll add my experience since you said you do not know single men who felt different. Personally when I was single, even though I found women attractive, I rarely felt the desire to actually have sex with them. I think this might be something like demisexual, but I’m not sure. Monogamy fits well for me since I only desire sex when I’m in love with a person, and I’m way to introverted to fall in love with multiple people at the same time. I don’t know if that is unusual or typical.

    • Deiseach says:

      Ozy said it best; being poly isn’t about “would I date as many attractive people as I possibly could?” because many people would think that a dream scenario, it’s “would I be okay with those attractive people dating others, and most importantly with my current/possible future significant other dating as many attractive people as they possibly could?” which many people would not be happy or comfortable with.

      I think there’s a lot more people in the first category than in the second, which is why I personally think true poly people are a minority and all the media thinkpieces and lifestyle articles are never going to mainstream it.

      Then again, between the poly people on here and we aces on here, I think SSC averages out at “monogamous” 😀

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Ozy said it best; being poly isn’t about “would I date as many attractive people as I possibly could?” because many people would think that a dream scenario, it’s “would I be okay with those attractive people dating others, and most importantly with my current/possible future significant other dating as many attractive people as they possibly could?” which many people would not be happy or comfortable with.

        I think there’s a lot more people in the first category than in the second,

        “My sexual preference is pretty obscure. You probably haven’t heard of it.”

  26. bean says:

    Biweekly Naval Gazing links post:

    I’ve begun to look at the guided bombs introduced by the Germans during WWII, starting with an analysis of the weapons themselves.’

    The second-smallest of the US uniformed services is the Public Health Commissioned Corps, who provide much of the backbone of the US government’s public health efforts.

    The fourth and last of the completed Iowa-class battleships was the Wisconsin, the last battleship ever to fire her big guns.

    I’ve returned to my roots, looking at the fundamentals of rangekeeping, how fire control equipment kept track of the range to the target when they couldn’t measure it directly.

    The reposts of the old commercial aviation series have wrapped up, with a look at the crashes of Air France 447 and Asiana 214.

    It’s time for another update from the South Atlantic, as the British Task Force waits the last week for the Amphibious Group to arrive off the Falklands.

    And as always, there’s the Naval Gazing open thread.

  27. beleester says:

    To @bean or whoever administers his blog: The captcha at Naval Gazing isn’t loading for me, so I can’t comment. Using Chrome 71.0.3578.98 on Windows. No error messages show up in the console.

    (The blog doesn’t have any contact page I could find, so I’m just posting here and hoping you see it)

    • bean says:

      I’ll ping Said Achmiz about that. It happens to me occasionally, and doesn’t always get fixed when you refresh, but it will usually show up at some point.

    • Said Achmiz says:


      I’ve updated the captcha software. I can no longer replicate the problem (I did see it before, sporadically), so I’m hoping that means it’s fixed. Could you try commenting again, please?

      • bonewah says:

        I am still unable to see captcha.

        • Said Achmiz says:

          Darn! Alright. Could you let me know what browser, browser version, and OS you’re using, and what browser extensions you have installed?

          (Same request to anyone else who’s experiencing this problem!)

          • beleester says:

            I have a lot of extensions installed, but I tried running Chrome in incognito (which turns off extensions) and still experienced this problem.

            I also tried opening it in Firefox (57.0.2) and Edge (42.17134.1.0) and got the same issue. No extensions installed for either.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            Alright, I’ve disabled the captcha while I troubleshoot this issue. Everyone who hasn’t been able to comment because of this, should now be able to comment again.

            Please let me know at [my first name] [at] [my full name] [dot] [net] if you have any further issues (I do check these threads, but not reliably).

          • Lambert says:

            Version 70.0.3538.110 (Developer Build) Fedora Project (64-bit)

            Some kind of Fedora

            Lots of extensions

          • Aapje says:


            Ad blocker?

  28. Lillian says:

    There’s a bit of conventional wisdom that i have always held and yet have recently started to consider that it might be false: That being regularly subject to a particularly strong stimulus makes people become used to it and unable to appreciate weaker versions of that stimulus. Now there is some extent to which that is true, in that if you cause actual damage to your sensory receptors, such as by listening to extremely loud music or staring at the sun, then you they become less able to detect lower intensity input. However my experience suggests that short of physical damage, i personally do not seem to develop intensity tolerance for sensory inputs.

    The primary example that has been in my mind is food. The baseline expectation i have with respect to food is that if i regularly consume strongly flavoured food i should over time lose the ability to appreciate lightly flavoured food. However my eating habits are pretty much that if i want a particular taste, i seek it out in its purest form and directly consume it. The most notable example is my habit of eating dry kool-aid mix with a spoon, but this basically extends to everything. If i want sugar, i eat raw sugar. If i want fat, i bite a butter stick. If i want salt, i pour some in my hand and eat it directly rather than breaking out the saltines. Nutella and peanut butter jars regularly become entire meals all on their own. Bacon? Regularly fry some up, use a slice of bread to soak up the grease, put the bacon on that bread, and then call it dinner.

    The naive expectation here would be that after a long time of doing all this, i would be unable to enjoy something like plain white bread. Except that i eat plain white bread literally all the time. In fact, i’m willing to pay as much as double to get quality bread rather than the cheap stuff that’s loaded with sugar, precisely because the flavour is more subtle and delicate. After all if i wanted sugar bread, i’d just pour sugar on the bread. So contrary to expectations, it seems to me like regular exposure to strong stimuli doesn’t diminish my ability to enjoy weak stimuli, quite the opposite, it reinforces weak stimuli as their own unique pleasures.

    Another interesting example happens with respect to volume level for music or video. The basic expectation i would have is that the general tendency is upwards. If you at one point set the volume slightly too high and don’t notice, then eventually that becomes the new baseline, such that setting the volume back to the previous standard seems too quiet. What i find actually happens when i set the volume too high is that i don’t notice at first, but after a while it starts causing me physical pain, at which point i realize that it’s too loud, turn it down, and feel an immediate sense of relief. Again there doesn’t seem to be any getting used to the higher intensity.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      I think you’re just reading the conventional wisdom wrong. I’m exactly as you are: my most dreamed of cheat food in diets was plain bread.

      The way this works for me is like that: I talk to people on the phone, and occasionally they ask if there’s a dog nearby. After half a second of pause, I say yes, it’s the dog next door that barks often. I’ve lived here for over 10 years, and for the first few years it bothered me – now it’s just background noise, even if loud, with the window open. Cars in the morning can still wake me up though.

      Question: do you hear your freezer every time it starts? It should do it around once per hour, for 5-10 minutes.

      Having your hearing adapt to a certain volume level would be a clear failure mode – evolution definitely selected against it. You want to filter out regular stimulus stat’s proven to be irrelevant, so you can better focus on the new, potentially dangerous sounds: like the gas hissing from the stove.

    • AG says:

      Plain white bread comes with its own unique texture. So you are seeking out the purity of the experience of it.

      Spice sensitivity is definitely a thing. (That is, you build up a tolerance. Given that a core component of spiciness is literally inducing pain, this makes sense.)

      Also, sugar is relatively low on sweetness, compared to other things.

  29. After some recent entertaining SSC comment threads on Marx, I’ve realized that it might be especially informative to the thoughtful readers of SSC if I were to do a series explaining some of Marx’s economic thought. I think the best way to do this will be a running commentary of Marx’s “Theories of Surplus Value” (TOSV), also known as “Capital, Volume 4.” This is where Marx actually engages with the ideas of his contemporaries such as Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus, etc. and I think that Marx’s ideas will start to make more sense to SSC readers in that context rather than beginning with Capital, Vol. I.

    If there is sufficient interest in this opening post, I may decide to provide commentary on each section of TOSV for each open thread, although Boffy’s Blog is already in the middle of a thorough section-by-section analysis of TOSV, so I might use his posts as a common jumping-off point rather than re-invent the wheel.

    These posts are not likely to be politically-charged; rather, they are going to be quite technical and “in the weeds.” For that reason, I do not I do not think that these posts on TOSV will carry any “culture war” implications, but if people disagree, then I suppose I can confine these posts to each odd-numbered open thread. Please let me know.

    Before I begin, I must explain the object of study in this first post.

    If we are going to begin an “inquiry into the wealth of nations,” as Adam Smith did, are we saying that we want to know why England is happy (has utility)?…or why England has the social power to command many commodities (things produced for sale rather than direct use by the producer) on the world market? Marx was interested in the latter question.

    Marx’s work is entitled, “Theories of Surplus Value,” not “Theories of Surplus Utility.” The classical economists such as Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and Karl Marx did not build a “Labor Theory of Utility,” but rather a “Labor Theory of Value.” What’s the difference?

    Marx was not particularly interested in ideas about how happiness or subjective perceptions of utility are increased in the world. As far as Marx is concerned, that sort of thing might as well be the concern of Buddhist monks! When the classical economists spoke of “value,” they meant something very different from utility (what they called “value-in-use” or “use-value”).

    For the classical economists, “value” was usually a shorthand for “exchange-value” unless otherwise noted to refer to “use-value.”. In other words, by “value” the classical economists were referring to a magnitude of social power, the power to command or obtain various commodities.

    For the classical economists, the (exchange-)“value” of a commodity was related to its “price,” but was not synonymous with the commodity’s price in one particular time and place. In modern parlance, we might distinguish between:
    1. A commodity’s “spot-price” (the price of a commodity in a particular transaction at a particular time and place between particular participants); a commodity might have many different spot prices at the same instant, although because of arbitrage the classical economists expected these spot-prices to converge on…
    2. The commodity’s “market price” (the sort of average price of a commodity among all transactions in all places at a particular instant).
    3. The commodity’s “long-run equilibrium price” (a sort of average of the market prices of a commodity over some period of time).

    The classical concept of (exchange-)“value” was roughly synonymous with what we would nowadays call the “long-run equilibrium price.” They understood that market prices and especially spot prices were affected by all sorts of incidental factors (weather events, the skill of the negotiators, etc.), and they understood that it would be a more demanding task to explain and predict the future course of these prices.

    They instead set themselves the more modest task of trying to be able to explain and predict commodities’ exchange-values (more or less thought to be the center-of-gravity of their market prices), much like how we might like to master our ability to predict the trajectory of an apple thrown upwards on the moon under the influence of gravity alone without perturbations from the Earth’s wind (which might accelerate or decelerate the apple’s upward or downward trajectory) before we add that additional complication in. Clearly Isaac Newton would have a more difficult time getting anywhere if he had not found ways to control for (i.e. temporarily abstract away from) the influence of air currents and air resistance on falling objects.

    This is why you will frequently see classical economists talk about buying a commodity “above its value” or “below its value,” which may strike modern economists as nonsensical. For many modern economists, price is value, full-stop.

    Marx used the term “value” in an even more specific sense to refer to the socially-necessary labor time needed to produce a commodity. In this sense, Marx’s labor theory of “value” is trivially, tautologically true according to how Marx defines “value” as socially-necessary labor time to produce the commodity.

    The more interesting question is then: do the “values” of commodities (as Marx used the term) have any systematic relationship with their “exchange-values” (as both Marx and the classical economists used the term)?

    After all, the exchange-values of commodities are what we really care about if some of us are, say, hedge fund managers or commodity traders at the Chicago Board of Trade. It would be useful to know if the current market price of some commodity is unsustainably above or below its exchange-value, no? At the very least, it would be nice to be able to get a sense of the broad outlines of a commodity’s upcoming price movements, even if one could not predict each daily turbulent fluctuation, no? This is why I think that being one of the few or only traders on the stock market who can apply Marx’s theory of (exchange-)value currently offers the best prospects for beating the “Efficient Markets Hypothesis” and obtaining above-average returns.

    Here we are looking for at least a systematic relationship between labor-value and exchange-value, not necessarily a perfect relationship. If the exchange-values of commodities align with their labor-values, except insofar as some “other factors” cause the exchange-values to diverge by predictable magnitudes from those labor-values, then we must acknowledge that the labor-values of commodities at least partially determine their exchange-values, with those “other factors” sharing in the partial determination.

    Marx devotes “Capital, Vol. 1” to explaining the role of labor-values in determining commodities’ exchange-values, which leaves readers with the mistaken impression that Marx is arguing that the labor-values of commodities completely determine their exchange-values. But in Capital, Vol. 3 Marx introduces additional complicating factors that share in the determination of commodities’ exchange-values. According to my best understanding, Marx’s full theory predicts that the exchange-values of commodities are determined fully by:

    1. their labor-values (centrally), plus…

    2. a multiplicative adjustment term that accounts for the fact that commodities with a higher than average “organic composition of capital” (capital-intensity) will have exchange-values that are proportionally higher than they would be based solely on the labor-values of those commodities, and vice-versa, plus…

    3. a multiplicative adjustment term that accounts for the fact that commodities with a longer than average “turnover period” (such as fine wines) will have exchange-values that are proportionally higher than they would be based solely on the labor-values of those commodities, and vice-versa, plus…

    4. a multiplicative adjustment term that accounts for the fact that the exchange-values of all non-money commodities will, all-together, have exchange-values that are proportionally higher than they would be based solely on the labor-values of those commodities, to the extent that the exchange-value of the money-commodity (currently gold) happens to be proportionally lower than its labor-value, and vice-versa. (If the dollar-price of gold happens to be, say, half of what it would need to be for the gold-mining industry as a whole to obtain an average rate of profit, then that is a sign that the dollar-prices of all non-money commodities are collectively twice what they can sustainably be, and vice-versa if the dollar-price of gold is, say, twice of what would be needed to give the gold-mining industry as a whole an average rate of profit).

    Unlike the previous adjustment terms, which are permanent, this last adjustment term is unstable and switches signs periodically over multi-decade timescales for various complicated reasons having to do with the competition between industrial-capitalists and money-capitalists. So, if one’s definition of “exchange-value” takes into account this very very long-run equilibrium tendency, then strictly speaking this adjustment term would not factor into the “exchange-values” of commodities, and this factor would instead be just one more factor among others that caused market prices to “temporarily” deviate from exchange-values. But practically speaking, a 30-40 year cycle is longer than most people’s definitions of “temporary,” so it makes sense, analytically speaking, to partition off this factor from other factors that send the market prices of commodities away from equilibrium.

    I should finally note that the British Marxist economists Paul Cockshott has argued that a simpler version of the labor theory of (exchange-)value is more empirically accurate—specifically, that the more capital intensive industries consistently earn lower rates of profit, which implies that different capital intensities do not cause the exchange-values of commodites to diverge from their labor-values. This is not what either David Ricardo or Karl Marx expected. Both of them took for granted the tendency for the rate of profit to equalize, and thus for the exchange-values of capital-intensive commodities to rise and remain sustainably above their labor-values.

    Part of me wants this simpler Cockshott version to be true. It would be a hell of a lot easier to work with! But part of me is skeptical and thinks that he and others must be mis-reading or mis-compiling the empirical data. Why would investors continue to invest in industries that consistently make less than the average rate of profit? Why would they not exit those industries, thereby driving the supply of those capital-intensive commodities down and their exchange-values up until their production once again yielded roughly the average rate of profit? (Perhaps it is, as Paul Cockshott implies, an information problem. Perhaps investors are simply not good at finding out, or even estimating, the average rate of profit, and so they stick to what they know best, even if they are systematically leaving money on the table by continuing to invest in more capital-intensive industries that are continually less profitable than average. I don’t know).

    That’s it for now! In the next thread, I have just a few more introductory remarks on how Marx and the classical economists distinguished between the exchange-values of commodities and their utilities. After that, in the third post we will finally be ready to jump into Chapter 1 of TOSV where Marx applauds the ideas of the Scottish economist Sir James Steuart…

    • Freddie deBoer says:

      I think you should pursue this. My only suggestion would be to emphasize that Marx’s economic and political theory stem directly from his position as a scientific materialist in an era where scientific materialism was not even necessarily a universal stance in the sciences, let alone in philosophy.

    • 2. a multiplicative adjustment term that accounts for the fact that commodities with a higher than average “organic composition of capital” (capital-intensity) will have exchange-values that are proportionally higher than they would be based solely on the labor-values of those commodities, and vice-versa, plus…

      This looks an awful lot as though it is not a labor theory of exchange value but a cost of input theory of exchange value, where inputs include the use of capital as well as labor. That’s an obvious implication of equilibrium on the capital market.

      Incidentally, it’s a bit misleading to describe Ricardo as having a labor theory of value, although lots of people do. He is deliberately using a simplified model in which all goods are produced with the same labor/capital ratio. In that model a labor theory of value and a capital theory of value are identical. Early in the Principles he estimates by how much differing labor capital ratios will cause relative exchange values to differ from the ratio of labor cost, concludes that the deviation will be no more than about 7%, which is the basis for Stigler’s “Ricardo and the 93% labor theory of value.”

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        which is the basis for Stigler’s “Ricardo and the 93% labor theory of value.”

        That’s one of seven novels in the “David Ricardo” series, right?

        • baconbits9 says:

          It was originally only going to be 7 but Stigler fell on hard times and cranked out a few more for profit. Most people consider the original 7 much better than “Ricardo vs Keynes Death Match” or the ill fated 3 part series where Ricardo and Hayek get together to solve mysteries.

          • Ventrue Capital says:

            I liked the television series they made out of the books.

            Especially the episode where Ricardo dances with Maurice Chevalier.

            And the episode where Ricardo and his wife visit (pre-Castro) Cuba.

    • Bugmaster says:

      Can you explain in more detail what you mean by “labor-value” ? I think I have a good idea, based on our previous conversations; but in this post you sort of use the term without explanation, which IMO is a bit confusing. You say that “Marx defines “value” as socially-necessary labor time to produce the commodity”; if this is the “labor-value”, then it would still be helpful to describe what you mean by “socially necessary”.

      • Eric Rall says:

        My recollection is that Marx specified “socially necessary” in order to head off the obvious counterexamples of a labor-theory-of-value without some kind of caveat. For example, Heinlein’s “mud pies” counterexample from Starship Troopers, where labor spent producing something utterly useless fails to magically imbue that thing with value:

        All the work one cares to add will not turn a mud pie into an apple tart; it remains a mud pie, value zero. By corollary, unskillful work can easily subtract value; an untalented cook can turn wholesome dough and fresh green apples, valuable already, into an inedible mess, value zero. Conversely, a great chef can fashion of those same materials a confection of greater value than a commonplace apple tart, with no more effort than an ordinary cook uses to prepare an ordinary sweet.

        Marx would counter this by arguing that labor only counts towards value to the extent that the labor is directed efficiently towards a useful end: something like (socially necessary labor) equals (total labor) minus (wasted labor).

        Someone who’s read Marx more recently and more closely than I have might chime in to correct me, but it sounds an awful lot like Marx was trying to sneak value-in-use back into his definition of value, since I’m not sure how you define socially-necessary labor vs wasted labor without factoring in utility.

        • Bugmaster says:

          This makes sense (in a Marxist context), but I’d like to see some further discussion on the topic. My feeling (which could be wrong, obviously) is that Marx is playing pretty loose with his definitions of “value”, considering that “value” is the foundation for his entire system.

          For example, it’s fine to say “(socially necessary labor) equals (total labor) minus (wasted labor)”; but how do you determine which is which ? The great chef might have spent years of effort and tons of wasted ingredients on perfecting his uber-apple-tart recipe; was that labor “necessary” ? What about his other 50 recipe ideas, which never went anywhere ?

          • Hoopdawg says:

            Disclaimer – I’m not a Marxist per se and haven’t read “Capital”. (I’m very much looking forward to reading the primer!)

            This one is pretty straightforward though. Socially necessary labor time is the time it takes an average skilled worker to produce a commodity. This is easily empirically measured and takes care not only of wasteful work, but also of differences in workers’ productivity.

            Great chef’s recipes are not commodities, laws pertaining to commodities don’t apply to them. But they don’t need to, great artisans and their unique works (and all research in general) are historically provided for by a patronage system, and as such removed from simple economic consideration. There’s no reason this should change. (Of course the chef would first need to prove his talent and ability to the community by doing socially necessary labor of baking standardized cakes).

          • Bugmaster says:


            But they don’t need to, great artisans and their unique works (and all research in general) are historically provided for by a patronage system

            That’s a fair point, but, in our current economic system, this is not entirely the case. Companies (as well as governments) do invest into R&D, with the expectation of future monetary return on that investment; of course, traditional patronage does exist, as well. In fact, there are entire companies built around providing patronage services. The bottom line is, research is very much tied into our current economy.

          • Socially necessary labor time is the time it takes an average skilled worker to produce a commodity.

            Does whether it is socially necessary depend on how much consumers value the commodity? If there are so many widgets out there that an hour spent producing one more could be spent producing other things that consumers value much more, is the hour producing a commodity socially necessary? Is it still socially necessary if a widget is worth one cent, but not socially necessary if the price drops to zero?

          • Bugmaster says:

            I believe the standard Marxist answer to your questions would be that, given sufficient data collection and analysis, the workers would be instructed to produce the exact (*) number of widgets that the consumers would want to consume. This number of widgets would be “socially necessary”; anything above that would be superfluous. If yesterday the number of widgets demanded by consumers was N, and today it is N – m, then a certain number of widget makers — enough to make m widgets — would be instructed to switch to other tasks.

            EDIT: Just to clarify, I am trying to steelman Marxism here, even though I think that it’s kinda silly.

            (*) Plus or minus some noise, of course.

          • Viliam says:

            I believe the standard Marxist answer to your questions would be that, given sufficient data collection and analysis, the workers would be instructed to produce the exact number of widgets that the consumers would want to consume.

            I have heard the argument that today socialism could finally be done properly because now we have the computers that could calculate the correct numbers (as opposed to the past, when the numbers were mere approximations or even arbitrary decisions).

            See also: “project Cybersyn“.

            (Note: I am quoting these arguments here, not approving of them. My humble opinion is that building a Friendly superhuman AI is a bit more complicated than this.)

          • John Schilling says:

            Among other problems, computers are notorious for producing garbage outputs because someone fed them garbage inputs. And agents making economic decisions – no, really what we’re talking about are bare economic assertions – are notorious for lying through their teeth about what they need, what they can deliver, whether they met last month’s quota, how much slack they have, and pretty much everything else that matters. Having a system that makes them put their money where their mouth is, is far more important than being able to do lots of computations.

          • Does whether it is socially necessary depend on how much consumers value the commodity?

            Not for exchange-value. If more consumers suddenly value a commodity more and are willing to pay more for it, the market price of the commodity will go up in the short run. Marx does not dispute this aspect of supply and demand. However, this will cause the production of that commodity for a typical producer to yield above-average profits, coaxing more investment into that line of business (Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand”), and increasing the supply until the price is back down to a level where the production of that commodity yields an average rate of profit for the typical producer. So, in the long run, no, it does not affect the exchange-value one bit how much consumers want the commodity, or even how much some of them would be willing to pay for it. The only thing that consumer demand affects is the quantity that the market will eventually supply. If consumer demand goes down, the quantity supplied will be soon to follow (and in the meantime, until that adjustment is complete, some of the ongoing labor in producing that commodity will be socially unnecessary). Vice-versa if consumer demand goes up. In this way, the market prices of commodities are affected by consumer demand, but the exchange-values (or “natural prices” in Smith’s lingo) of commodities have absolutely nothing to do with consumer demand. This is not even Marx, this is just basic Adam Smith stuff.

          • but the exchange-values (or “natural prices” in Smith’s lingo) of commodities have absolutely nothing to do with consumer demand. This is not even Marx, this is just basic Adam Smith stuff.

            Except that producing an increasing volume of the commodity may raise the cost of doing so–the obvious example being agriculture. That point was central to Ricardo’s analysis, and although he was after Smith he was before Marx.

            Exchange value depends, in equilibrium, on cost of production, as you said. But that is the cost of both labor and capital, so it doesn’t give you a labor theory of exchange value. So it sounds as though Marx’s labor theory of value is simply a definition–value is defined as labor cost of production, but exchange value is not proportional to value–deviates from it in just the way implied by a cost of production theory that includes capital as well as labor.

          • Hoopdawg says:

            cost of production (…) is the cost of both labor and capital

            Isn’t capital ultimately just a product of labor?

          • Except that producing an increasing volume of the commodity may raise the cost of doing so–the obvious example being agriculture.

            Yes, I was abstracting away from this complicating factor, which Marx deals with here. These changes in the overall average productivity of labor as new lands are brought into cultivation by an increase in consumer demand will, indeed, tend to increase the socially-necessary labor time, on average, to produce that agricultural commodity at the new quantity of output. This is despite the fact that the “individual” labor-value of the commodities coming from the existing fertile lands will remain the same. The difference between these lower individual values and the higher social value of the agricultural commodity will show up as “differential rent” that accrues to the owners of the existing, more fertile lands. This is distinct, by the way, from “absolute rent” or “ground rent.”

          • Isn’t capital ultimately just a product of labor?

            Capital goods are produced by labor and capital, like consumption goods. Capital is “produced” by the owner of goods being willing to accept a delay in getting consumption from them.

            I have two ways of getting food. One is by gathering it in the forest, in which case the consumption goods produced by my labor are immediately available. The other is by planting fruit trees. The labor is done now, the (larger amount of) consumption not until years later. The difference in the amount of food I get per hour of work is the output of the capital input–my willingness to delay my consumption.

            In the context of the classical economists, the main form of capital was circulating capital–the farmer had to pay the farm workers now in exchange for a harvest he got months later. But fixed capital, machinery and such, was becoming increasingly important.

        • Brett says:

          but it sounds an awful lot like Marx was trying to sneak value-in-use back into his definition of value, since I’m not sure how you define socially-necessary labor vs wasted labor without factoring in utility.

          Agreed. As soon as you start incorporating utility aspects of particular kinds of labor, then you’re back in the weeds again trying to define what constitutes as “useful labor”, how to define it, etc. At which point you can have stuff like the CEO saying, “Of course I get a lot more pay than you – my work is much more useful and hard to replace than yours”.

      • “Socially-necessary” has two aspects of meaning for Marx:

        1. Of average productivity. If a lazy or incompetent shoemaker uses twice as many person-hours to produce a certain type of shoe than is average for shoe-makers at that time (empirically discoverable), then Marx would say that the “individual” value of those shoes are 2x the other shoes, but the social value of those shoes would be the same. The social value being the same means that half of the lazy shoe-maker’s concrete labor did not count as socially-necessary abstract labor. This economic law is not enforced consciously, but through competition on the market. When the lazy shoemaker goes to the market, if he attempts to sell his shoes at price that corresponds to their individual values, his shoes will be overpriced by a factor of 2. Instead, he will have to settle for selling the shoes at a price corresponding to their social value. It will seem to the shoemaker as if half of his concrete labor had been wasted in that it gave him no greater revenue than that of the other shoemakers who labored half as long.

        2. If there are enough willing buyers of the commodity to clear the market when the price of the commodity corresponds to its labor-value. By “price corresponding to its labor-value,” I mean, assume an ounce of gold and a shoe of a certain type both take, on average, 1 hour to produce at that time. Then a price for the shoe that corresponded to its labor-value would be 1 gold oz. (If we are using dollars or some other fiat currency, we must take the additional step of factoring in the exchange-rate between dollars and gold to see how many gold ounces a dollar represents).

        If, at a price of 1 gold oz. for the shoes, the market clears, then all of the (average productivity) labor that was put into those shoes was socially-necessary. If the sellers find that they must drop the price of the shoes to 0.5 gold oz. to get the market to clear, then that is a sign that, even for the shoemakers of average productivity, half of their individual concrete labor did not count as abstract socially-necessary labor (of course, this case our problems are compounded for our lazy shoemaker. In this case, each hour of his concrete shoemaking labor will have only counted for 1/4th an hour of abstract socially-necessary labor). If the sellers find that they can raise the price of the shoes to 2 gold oz. and still have the market clear, then that is a sign that their concrete labor is doubly socially-necessary (so in this case our lazy shoemaker’s concrete shoemaking labor will have been completely socially-necessary despite being half as efficient as average).

        • Uribe says:

          If the sellers find that they must drop the price of the shoes to 0.5 gold oz. to get the market to clear, then that is a sign that, even for the shoemakers of average productivity, half of their individual concrete labor did not count as abstract socially-necessary labor

          I don’t understand. It sounds like shoes are *supposed* to be worth 1 gold oz. Why? What is wrong with them being worth less?

          Why wouldn’t you just say that the price that corresponded to the labor value of shoes was .5 gold oz instead of saying that half of their individual concrete labor did not count as socially-necessary labor?

          Or are you suggesting the long-term equilibrium price of shoes has already been established as: a pair of shoes = 1 gold oz. and therefore the drop in the market is to be regarded as temporary?

          • I don’t understand. It sounds like shoes are *supposed* to be worth 1 gold oz. Why? What is wrong with them being worth less?

            Why wouldn’t you just say that the price that corresponded to the labor value of shoes was .5 gold oz instead of saying that half of their individual concrete labor did not count as socially-necessary labor?

            There is nothing “morally” wrong with shoes selling for 0.5 gold oz. in the above example, but a price of 0.5 gold oz. for a pair of shoes would not be a “reproduction price.” It is not a sustainable price because the 0.5 gold oz. that the shoemaker receives would not be enough to allow the typical shoemaker to command the inputs necessary to make the next round of shoes, plus retain an average rate of profit. If shoes are selling for 0.5 gold oz., whereas they take the same amount of labor to produce as 1 gold oz., then just ask yourself: if you were an independent proprietor (Adam Smith’s starting assumption) and could spend an hour making a shoe for 0.5 gold oz., or spend an hour mining 1 oz. of gold, which would you do? You would exit the shoe business and go into gold-mining, or some other line of business in which you could obtain 1 gold oz. of exchange-value for an hour’s work.

        • Viliam says:

          This sounds to me like “you can’t make a profitable business by selling stuff below your production costs” plus…

          If the sellers find that they can raise the price of the shoes to 2 gold oz. and still have the market clear, then that is a sign that their concrete labor is doubly socially-necessary

          …an attempt to sneak in the market price under the name of “social necessity”.

          • Well, yes, Marx acknowledges that there are market prices affected by supply & demand. I don’t see what would be so astonishing about this.

            But that 2 gold oz. price for the shoes is not a sustainable one. It is not the shoe’s exchange-value. Why? Think ahead a little bit.

            Those shoemakers will now be making extraordinary profits that are well above the average rate of profit. That is the symptom that one’s one hour of concrete labor counts for more than one hour of socially-necessary labor.

            Investment will flow into those sectors where the quantity of existing labor being performed is less than is socially-necessary (i.e. where each unit of labor performed is super-socially-necessary). This will continue until there is roughly double the labor being performed in that sector, at which point, if consumer demand has not changed in the meantime, each hour of concrete labor will now count as one hour of socially-necessary, which will take the appearance of the typical producers in that line of business making an average rate of profit.

            If consumer demand has, in the meantime, fallen by half to back where it was before, then now half of the new amount of labor in that line of business will be socially-unnecessary, investment will exit that sector, and the amount of labor performed in that sector will attempt to re-adjust, without anyone’s conscious understanding of what is going on. It is a turbulent process that never ends.

        • Bugmaster says:

          Hmm, you know, shoes are kind of a tricky example.

          Firstly, how many kinds of shoes are there in our current economy ? How would we enumerate them all, and how do we do so quickly enough, before some old kind of shoe goes out of fashion, and a new one pops up ?

          Secondly, what is the Marxist standpoint on variety, branding, and fashion ? In a Marxist economy, would we have as many different kinds of shoes, or would we only have the (much smaller) number of shoes that is strictly necessary for covering our feet under a variety of environmental conditions ? The same question goes for any product or service — shoes, cheese, cars, houses, plumbers…

          • I don’t see why we can’t assign a universal product code to every style of every size of every commodity.

            I don’t see why we can’t have many brands (i.e. styles) of shoes in a socialist economy if that is what workers want to produce. If it would be more efficient to set up two product lines to make two styles of size-10 sneakers rather than set up 4 product lines to make 4 styles of size-10 sneakers, then those with the technical expertise can calculate how much more labor time will be required to set up and run the extra product lines and how much longer everyone in society will have to work to adjust for that.

          • Bugmaster says:

            I’m having trouble visualizing how your (or Marx’s ?) economic system would work. Under capitalism, if I run a shoe factory and I want to produce an all-new carbon fiber uber-shoe, I can just buy the necessary equipment and do it. Maybe I’ll succeed, or maybe I’ll fail, but either way the decision is solely up to me. If I don’t have the money, then of course I’d need to convince a financier; but his decision to fund me or not is solely up to him. Meanwhile, the consumers will decide if they want my shoes or not on an individual basis.

            How does this work under socialism ? Do I need to submit my shoe designs to the Central Economic Planning Bureau (Clothing Branch, Footwear Division), and await their calculation on which production line layout is going to be economically optimal ? How will they decide whether the people will want my proposed shoes strongly enough to warrant 4 production lines ? Are they going to just continuously spam polls for every proposed product ? What if the people in my village really want wooden shoes, and the people the next village over prefer leather shoes ? What kind of lag time between shoe proposal and shoe production license are you aiming for ?

            My mind boggles at the sheer amount of work such centralization would require, especially given that shoes are just a tiny slice of our economy. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a local brewery, but they sometimes introduce a couple new flavors of beer every month, if not every week.

            One possible solution is to say, “sorry, we are doing away with all those decadent options; you can choose between The People’s Shoe or The People’s Sandal, pick one”. Another option is to wait for the Singularity, when the machine-gods will effortlessly cater to every man’s desire. Neither option sounds very palatable to me.

          • Civilis says:

            The ways to increase value in a closed economy are to produce something or to facilitate an exchange such that both parties find the end result of the exchange to be better than before the exchange.

            I don’t see why we can’t assign a universal product code to every style of every size of every commodity.

            Shoes aren’t commodities. What you can’t do is calculate the different value of every possible variety of shoe to every one that needs a pair of shoes, and you need to do this to determine what shoes to produce if you won’t let the market decide or else you’re wasting labor.

            Actual commodities are like the “perfect sphere on a frictionless plane in a vacuum” of economics; useful because they can be abstracted. Gallons of gasoline are interchangeable (or, at least, one can define them at the level at which they are interchangeable); shoes are not.

            The lack of a way to value the shoe to the end-user plays havoc with the idea of quantifying “socially necessary labor”. We have established that if the average worker can produce 10 pair shoes a day, a worker that only produces 5 pair of shoes a day is wasting half his labor. But how about a worker that only produces 10 pair of shoes of size 2 (when the average person wears a 10); how much of his labor is wasted? 10 pairs of an ugly purple color almost nobody wants? 10 pairs that fall apart in a year?

            And it gets worse the further up the supply chain you get. How do you value a shoemaking machine that only produces size 2 shoes? How do you value the maintenance for the factory that produces ugly purple shoe dye? Is the labor that goes into making the machines that produce the shoelaces that fall apart quickly socially necessary?

          • How does this work under socialism ? Do I need to submit my shoe designs to the Central Economic Planning Bureau (Clothing Branch, Footwear Division), and await their calculation on which production line layout is going to be economically optimal ?

            You already have to do this under capitalism. Except, under capitalism the “Central Economic Planning Bureau” is called JPMorganChase, or whatever investment bank you are using. They will want to know what your costs are going to be, what the expected market for your product is, etc. And if you supply your own estimates, they would be wise to double-check them with an outside source to make sure that you are not just blowing smoke up their butts with overly-rosy estimates. Or, if you are using your own money, it would be due diligence to do the same research yourself. I don’t see how it is so different if the loan officer at JPMorganChase is replaced by an investment officer at the Central Economic Planning Bureau.

            Edit: Of course, there is one small difference: the loan officer at JPMorganChase is only responsible to the shareholders of JPMorganChase, and is ordered to evaluate investment decisions on that basis, whereas the investment officer at the Central Economic Planning Bureau is charged with his/her boss possibly losing re-election if voters don’t like the investment decisions of the existing Planning Commission and its administrative personnel working under them, which might mean the investment officers below him/her will get dismissed if decisions are not made according to the preferences of voters in general.

            This is why, by the way, it is essential for socialism to have democracy and an independent press to expose these things (not a privately-owned press where a few people make the editorial decisions! but also neither strictly owned by the government currently in power either. Instead, owned and controlled by an independently-elected public institution that gives equal access to production equipment, time on various radio bands and TV stations, etc.). Without the threat of being removed from office in some sort of election, the Central Economic Planning Bureau can do whatever it thinks will be good for itself.

            Are they going to just continuously spam polls for every proposed product ?

            Why not? I think the people have the right to know that, because the Central Economic Planning Bureau decided to set up production lines for 4 nearly-identical types of cocoa-puff cereal rather than 1, the necessary work per week for every worker in the economy is going up from 30.000 hours to 30.001 hours. (By itself, that might not be such a big deal. But when the Central Economic Planning Bureau starts doing the same thing for every other type of cereal, and then every type of shoe, every type of car, every type of jacket, etc., workers might find that they are having to work 40 hours per week to collectively produce the same output, albeit with more varied product styles for each type of good, vs. only the 30 hours per week if they had a more limited array of options. It would then be up to them to vote out the bastards in the Central Economic Planning Bureau who thought this was a good idea. Or maybe people would prefer to work 40 hours per week, but have access to 4 different kinds of cocoa puffs, 4 different kids of mid-size sedans, etc. rather than 1, and they would vote to keep those people in charge…but me, personally, as far as durable goods go, give me the “bland, cheap, identical” Soviet goods any day, as long as they are all of the same good quality…if it means I have to work significantly fewer hours to produce the same output. What’s more precious, a few status-markers, or my free time? (Although, personally, when it comes to food and beverage, I do personally like having different flavors of beer to pick from, so personally I would vote for having 20 different beer product lines even if meant we would all have to work an extra minute each week to account for the collective labor cost of building and tweaking the new means of production for each of those product lines. It depends).

            Meanwhile, the consumers will decide if they want my shoes or not on an individual basis.

            Yes, and if the state shops find that they are having to sell shoes below their labor-values in order to clear out each week’s shipment of inventory, then that is a sign that somebody at the Central Economic Planning Bureau done messed up and didn’t realize that people did not want so many of that type of shoe.

          • Civilis says:

            Why not? I think the people have the right to know that, because the Central Economic Planning Bureau decided to set up production lines for 4 nearly-identical types of cocoa-puff cereal rather than 1, the necessary work per week for every worker in the economy is going up from 30.000 hours to 30.001 hours. (By itself, that might not be such a big deal. But when the Central Economic Planning Bureau starts doing the same thing for every other type of cereal, and then every type of shoe, every type of car, every type of jacket, etc., workers might find that they are having to work 40 hours per week to collectively produce the same output, albeit with more varied product styles for each type of good, vs. only the 30 hours per week if they had a more limited array of options.

            It must be really awful to be a minority in this situation. “We could have [kosher / halal / vegan / gluten-free / organic / non-GMO / “bland, cheap, identical”] food, but everyone would have to work another hour a week. Who’s up for it?” It also runs into the problems of democracy, where, sure, the central planners really like purple shoes that fall apart for some reason, but they’re members of the right political party / social class / religion / race, and it’s a small sacrifice to keep those people from making the wrong decisions.

            On the other hand, perhaps there could be a system where people that wanted [kosher / halal / vegan / gluten-free / organic / non-GMO / “bland, cheap, identical”] food could work more to get it produced, or even sacrifice consumption of something else that requires work-hours to shift over the work-hours to the food they really want. We would need some sort of system to quantify work-hours, perhaps with a mechanism to reward more socially-valued work. And the system would be self regulating, so not requiring a Central Economic Planner for a small-scale shift in production.

            Yes, and if the state shops find that they are having to sell shoes below their labor-values in order to clear out each week’s shipment of inventory, then that is a sign that somebody at the Central Economic Planning Bureau done messed up and didn’t realize that people did not want so many of that type of shoe.

            I wonder if comrade citizencokane isn’t a counter-revolutionary agent provocateur, given he’s the one that seems to have introduced shoes as an example given the… fascinating stories about shoe production in centrally planned economies.

          • Jiro says:

            You already have to do this under capitalism. Except, under capitalism the “Central Economic Planning Bureau” is called JPMorganChase, or whatever investment bank you are using.

            Under capitalism, you could try selling just a couple of copies of your new shoe. If they sell well, you can gradually increase your investment. By the time you need to go to a bank so you can sell 1000 shoes, you’ve already demonstrated that you can sell 900 shoes. How does this work under Marxism?

          • J Mann says:

            You already have to do this under capitalism. Except, under capitalism the “Central Economic Planning Bureau” is called JPMorganChase

            I would say the key difference is that JPMorganChase is operating under competition. If it lends money to more losing projects and/or fewer winning projects than its competitors, it will have less money to invest (and eventually zero) and its competitors will have more.

    • SamChevre says:

      I will read these with interest.

      Note that from a mainstream economics perspective, the marginal revolution hasn’t happened yet when Marx is writing. Like many of his contemporaries, he was trying to develop a theory of exchange-value that made sense. All the theories (including, in my opinion, Marx’s theories) failed to explain the world-as-observed well until the marginal theories were developed.

      This is why very few Marxists in the 20th century use Marx’s theories of value; his analysis of class was much more influential because it remained explanatory.

      • True, Marx was either too old, too burnt-out, or too stuck in his ways to take notice of the marginalist school that was emerging towards the end of his life, although I don’t think it would have fundamentally changed the core of his theory.

        Anwar Shaikh has pushed forward the frontiers in this area somewhat. His latest book, “Capitalism: Competition, Conflict, Crises” fuses together what is good in marginalism with Marx’s labor theory of value, especially with regards to microeconomics, which is an understudied part of the economy among Marxist economists.

    • Brett says:

      specifically, that the more capital intensive industries consistently earn lower rates of profit, which implies that different capital intensities do not cause the exchange-values of commodites to diverge from their labor-values.

      If we think of the rate of profit as the return on capital invested, then to have capital-intensive industries you by definition have to have an abundance of capital (or more specifically, the ability to utilize large amounts of capital-intensive inputs in production). An abundance of capital vs labor should mean returns on capital are lower. The reverse would be in labor-intensive industries, which have higher rates of profit because labor is relatively abundant versus capital, which is relatively scarce in those industries.

      But then that doesn’t explain why investors invest heavily in automation and the like that are capital-intensive. Maybe it’s a collective-action problem – if all capitalists coordinated to keep capital relatively scarce compared to labor, they could continue to collect high returns on capital investment. But individual capitalists can get higher returns in the short run with greater-labor saving technology and so forth, and so instead they break.

      . . . Of course, that could all be garbage, and maybe it’s just that capital-intensive industries tend to operate in extremely competitive markets or commodity production. That would fit with automation not doing well with production that requires constant changes and adjustments (see why textiles are not considerably more automated).

      • Of course, that could all be garbage

        There is a capital market. If capital intensive industries gave a lower return on capital than labor intensive industries, people would invest their capital in the latter, not the former, driving the return on capital down in the latter and up in the former until it was equal. No collective action problem–individual investors want to get as large a return on their capital as they can, and doing that individually makes expected returns on capital equal across the board.

        Ricardo avoided the problem by using a model in which all production used the same ratio of capital to labor. Marx had a labor theory of value, which is inconsistent with equilibrium on the capital market, saw it was, so put the return on capital back in, in the form of a deviation of exchange value from labor input value.

        At least, that’s the best sense I can make of what he was doing.