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Open Thread 121.25

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914 Responses to Open Thread 121.25

  1. Yesterday I read a post by Gwern on Embryo selection for intelligence. One conclusion was that although it might be worth doing, the effects were small, perhaps a few points of IQ.

    Cloning provides a much larger effect, easily tens of points. One problem is that most people would prefer to rear their own biological child, children seem to be better reared by a couple than by a single parent, and a clone is related to only one member of the couple.

    It occurred to me that there is a solution to this problem, if we are thinking in sf terms about very different cultures. Have the children brought up a brother/sister pair, alternately cloning each. Each child then has a 100% relationship with one “parent” and a 50% relationship with the other, so even better, in terms of the desire to rear “your own” children, than our system.

    One problem with this solution is that the couples who rear children are normally sexual partners as well as co-parents, and that is probably desirable for pair bonding. So for this system to work, either you have to separate those roles, with the co-parents having other sexual partners, or have you have to overcome the barriers against sibling incest.

    Since we are imagining a culture very different from outs, there is no reason why we can’t assume away legal and cultural barriers—and since the siblings are not producing children via intercourse, the inbreeding problem disappears. But there remains a psychological barrier. The evidence, as I understand it, suggests that a couple brought up together will not be sexually attracted to each other.

    Suppose that is the case, and that there isn’t a way of eliminating that pattern. We can then imagine a society where the co-parents are siblings reared apart, and sexual partners. Since we are assuming human cloning, we get that result by having my clone marry the clone of a sister other than my co-parent. Genetically speaking they are full siblings, since they are clones of full siblings, but they grew up in different households.

    This requires families of more than two children, but there is no reason why the society can’t be one in which some couples reproduce in our current pattern and have large families, some couples reproduce via sibling co-parenting of their clones, some people produce a clone and rear it themselves, and some people don’t have children at all.

    Not an sf story I feel like writing, but perhaps someone else will.

    • Jaskologist says:

      David Brin’s Glory Season envisions a society somewhat along this line. The female founders attempted to engineer men more or less out of society, with only partial success. Matings during one half of the year result in female clones who join their mother’s house. The other half produce “vars” with males joining their fathers and the females striking out on their own to form their own houses.

      • Evan Þ says:

        If I remember the backstory correctly (it’s a good book, but it’s been a while since I read it), the founders were quite explicitly not trying to engineer men out of society; they were trying to form a female-dominated society – and that’s what they got.

  2. A question. 23andMe correctly identified Patri as my son. How do they know he isn’t my brother?

    Father and son have 50% relationship. So do full siblings. Father and son have the same Y chromosome. So do brothers. Am I missing something?

    In our case, the age difference is enough to make a sibling relationship very unlikely. But an age difference of twenty would be consistent with either parent/child or siblings. So how do they tell?

    • The Nybbler says:

      They go into it here. It appears they expect the matching sequences between father and son to be longer than those between brothers.

      Another test might be matching segments on the X chromosome — full brothers should have more than fathers and sons.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Siblings only share 50% of genes on average, right? It’s possible for two siblings to have no genes in common or all of them in common (identical twins, for instance, but it could theoretically happen with independently born children as well). Children should always have exactly half of a parent’s genes (give or take a small amount of cross-over). So looking for an exact half match would probably work.

      But honestly, just looking at ages probable gets you the right answer 95% of the time.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Children should always have exactly half of a parent’s genes (give or take a small amount of cross-over).

        You’re also neglecting genes that both parents will have in common, so a child will probably share somewhat more than half each parent’s genes.

    • Eric Rall says:

      I suspect it makes use of you having two copies of each gene (apart from the X/Y chromosomes). 23andMe distinguishes between full-identical (you have the same two copies of the gene as the other person), half-identical (one copy matches, the other doesn’t), and non-identical.

      A parent and child will be pretty close to 100% half-identical, with no non-identical genes and no full-identical genes unless the two parents have genes in common with one another. Siblings, on the other hand, get a random 50% from each parent, so they’ll have (on average) 25% non-identical, 50% half-identical, and 25% full-identical.

      All this assumes that the likelihood of non-relatives having coincidentally-identical genes is negligible, but I’m assuming 23andMe is strategic about picking which sequences it considers for the purposes of finding relatives so it only picks the small minority of sequences for which this is true (i.e. they’re only considering sequences which tend to have a lot of variation, not the vast majority of sequences sequences which almost all humans share or where there’s a small number of common variations).

  3. Ketil says:

    What are the most important topics missing from public education, i.e., what should the average high school graduate know that isn’t currently taught?

    I am often dismayed that people don’t seem to understand basic economy, I’m no expert, but apparently most people don’t know how supply and demand curves affects price and production, or the relationship between risk and profits. Or see the lengthy discussion here on Scott Sumner’s TV purchasing problem. I think public discourse on economic issues would be a lot more interesting and useful if people at least understood the basics of capitalism before criticizing it.

    Other things?

    • I think that’s the wrong question. There are many more things worth knowing than it is practical for high school to teach, and what is worth knowing will be different for different people.

      That’s part of the reason I favor unschooling, helping kids learn things that interest them rather than having a list of what they are supposed to learn each year. Some kids would find economics worth learning, some probability theory, some statistics, some Roman history, some … .

      • Ketil says:

        So… no fixed curriculum or required knowledge at all? I can see many arguments against, but is there any evidence how it works out in practice? Especially with regards to socioeconomic status?

        • baconbits9 says:

          There is no fixed curriculum in the sense that you don’t say “today we will spend one hour practicing reading and you will get a grade based on your progress”, but there is one in the sense of necessary skills to pursue a subject (reading) and necessary contact with numerous adjacent subjects while investigating. As an example my 5 year old loves trains and as such he has already been exposed to a good chunk of US history, basic economic lessons, basic physics lessons (why steam power was replaced for both), basic civics, etc, etc, etc. There is no way to immerse yourself in a subject without touching on innumerable others for school aged children.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Sounds cool. It might be worth bringing in world history of trains.

          • baconbits9 says:

            It is interesting, and there are practically no limits to the expanse the interest can be taken into as long as it persists. He had no interest in other countries as a an idea early on, oh but when he heard about bullet trains and Japan he suddenly wanted to know more.

            One very large side benefit is that the adult guiding the education is often exposed to way more new information than they would within a structured system. Instead of “this is what I know, now I tell you” you are along for the ride but at a much deeper level sometimes.

          • An example from our case. My wife remembered reading and enjoying How to Lie With Statistics, a popular book designed largely to teach you how not to be fooled by bad statistical arguments. So we got it for our kids, who read and enjoyed it.

            It turned out that the same author and illustrator had written a much less well known book, How to Take a Chance, an elementary text on probability theory. Our son was into D&D and similar games, and interested in finding out how you could figure out the probability of various dice results, so we got him the book, he read it, and we may have had the only eight year old (I’m guessing the age) in town who could calculate the probability of getting less than five by rolling two six sided dice.

            Along similar lines I remember, at a substantially older age, playing Avalon Hill war games against myself, and calculating the expected return in damage done of alternative ways of structuring an attack. It was for fun, not for math class.

            I can’t tell how unschooling would work for people in general, but I’m reasonably happy with the education my children ended up with. For more general information one could look at books on Sudbury Valley School, which is a school run on unschooling lines. They claim successful results for a wide range of kids–but the books are written by Sudbury people, so presumably biased in favor of their approach.

      • 10240 says:

        Unfortunately there are things you are going to have problems if you don’t know, even if you are not interested in them.

        • There are more things you might have problems with not knowing than can be covered in K-12.

          Pretty nearly the only things that are going to be important for almost everyone are reading and arithmetic–and now that everyone has a cell phone with a calculator, you can manage pretty well with minimal arithmetic. General skills along the lines of logical thinking can be learned in a whole lot of different contexts, including games, and are more likely to be learned by people learning them in order to do something they want than by people learning them because they have been told they have to.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Personal finance. Teach kids how to do their taxes, or at least how to recognize scammy and non-scammy tax preparers. Once that’s done, try to impress into them that credit cards are not lines of credit, and should be used as an alternative to cash and paid off as quickly as possible.

      • The Nybbler says:

        When I was in school, we actually did have a unit on such things, part of the home ec class (one of the few units that was, literally, home economics). Definitely had stuff about revolving credit, nothing about scammy tax preparers though.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I have no idea how many dollars it costs either the government or the people who get snared, but it seems like something that really screws over people who can’t afford to get screwed that way (well-off people do get caught by tax scams, but it’s a better class of tax scam, and one suspects that a lot of them know what they’re getting into and just hope they’ll get away with it). Something that, in my opinion, is really easy to avoid.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I don’t know about most important, but I believe that how to fall safely should be taught, though possibly earlier than high school.

    • The Nybbler says:

      The problem isn’t so much what is not taught, but what is taught that ain’t so. Apparently the moral superiority of communism is still taught (as it was when I was in school. Being a cynical person even then, I never bought it, but my sister did until a trip to Soviet Moscow). And all sorts of culture-war stuff; NJ just put in a requirement for LGBT history, for instance.

      Most of the stuff that should be taught that isn’t is at least nominally on the curriculum, like basic arithmetic.

    • Plumber says:

      @Ketil

      “What are the most important topics missing from public education, i.e., what should the average high school graduate know that isn’t currently taught?…”

      “…see the lengthy discussion here on Scott Sumner’s TV purchasing problem. I think public discourse on economic issues would be a lot more interesting and useful if people at least understood the basics of capitalism before criticizing it…”

      I fully admit that the TV price discussion sub thread has largely been over my head and I’ve been critical of aspects of capitalism in this thread (chiefly over housing prices), but I never attended the last year of high school (I would’ve been the class of ’86) as I tested out early because in 1984 I heard a call for volunteers for the U.C. Berkeley radio station KALX, went in volunteered was told “If you’re a community member rather than a Cal student you need to be signed up for the ‘radio production class’ at Lancet community college, so I hopped on BART and enrolled in the class. When I went to re-enroll I was told that “It was a mistake that you got to take that class, you have to be 18 or get permission from your high school”, my high school told me that if I wanted to take classes at Laney I had to take something called “The California High School Proficiency Exam”, which I did (it was a long test, but pretty easy), was told that made me officially done with high school, so I took a Cultural Anthropology class and a European History class at Laney (which were great!, better than anything at high school) and then I turned 18 and had to get a job to pay rent, ending my academic classes), so maybe the lessons you  suggest were in the senior year, and I just missed them.

      The next closest I got to academics were some “plumbers math” classes as part of my apprenticeship with U.A. Local 393, and moving in with the girl who later became my wife, she was a college graduate who was attending law school (which she dropped out of after meeting me), and she had kept some textbooks (John Rawls “Theory of Justice”, “Social Darwinism in American Thought”, and “Collected Works of Karl Marx”) which I read from, I can’t claim that I understood them well (the subthread on Marx’s “theory of value” is also largely over my head), but I’d say that I got some ideas from them (especially the Rawls).

      Anyway, as to what I think should be in the curriculum for those who are about to turn 18: 

      1) How to read and interpret the “California Voter’s Information Guide” that registered voters with a mail address get before each election. 

      2) How to apply for and what apprenticeships there are in your area (I was already almost 30 years old when I learned that the San Jose plumbers union only required passing some tests rather than an interview where you had to say who you knew, like the others).

      3) How to apply for and what qualifications are needed for government jobs, and how to get those qualifications. 

      4) How to pay rent while getting those qualifications for government jobs (this is really the hard one, but I’d hope that it could be taught in the 12 years of compulsory education (if you don’t test out).

      5) Some equivalent of the Michael Sandel Harvard “Justice” class that was broadcast on PBS years ago, to prime one to be a citizen and voter.

      So civics, and how to be able to pay rent, unfortunately I don’t think most teachers know either, they likely had parental support to get into and go to college (like my wife), and then they became teachers, if they know of other way I don’t remember being told.

      • dndnrsn says:

        In light of my “how to avoid tax scammers” suggestion – maybe something on how to tell if the house or car you’re buying is a lemon? You’d probably know more about the former than most people – is it possible for someone given a bit of information to tell whether the house they’re buying Has Problems? (This is inspired by the fact that my parents bought a house that, while being cleared by a home inspector, nevertheless has had many, many problems over the years – they’ve concluded that home inspectors can’t really be relied upon to give you the real goods).

        Honestly, I think “how to find an expert who actually is an expert and won’t screw you” is an important thing for people to learn…

        One thing you do learn if you spend enough time in school is how to deal with bureaucracy. Not like they teach it, but one thing my time in university taught me how to do was what I ended up doing at my desk job: not smash the phone when I got redirected several times, back to the original person I called.

      • but I’d say that I got some ideas from them (especially the Rawls).

        I have never figured out why people take Rawls seriously. His initial position argument was offered by Harsanyi before Rawls, and Harsanyi, unlike Rawls, drew the logical conclusion from it, which is utilitarianism (average utility version). Rawls assumed infinite risk aversion with no justification I could ever find—all hand waving.

    • People are not going to understand economics based on a high school class. And if you taught more than that they would get lost. The point of high school should be to introduce students to a wide variety of subjects they might be interested in and to establish a solid base for difficult subjects that they can build up from. They should spend more time focusing on basic algebra instead of reaching higher math classes. They should spend more time writing and less time talking about Shakespeare. And they should be allowed to sample a wider variety of classes.

      • A smart fifteen year old should have no serious problem learning economics if it is what he wants to learn. Reading a book—I would, of course, recommend my Hidden Order—is probably a better way of doing so than taking a class.

        When I was writing the price theory text that Hidden Order is a rewrite of, I told people that my ideal reader knew no economics and had an infinite IQ. She showed up in my honors first year class at UCLA a while later, and ended up being one of the two students the book was dedicated to–the other being an ex-illegal immigrant who would come to my office for long conversations.

    • 10240 says:

      Economics.
      Law: we are expected to obey it after all, aren’t we? I’ve already run into minor problems because I assumed things about the law that were false.
      Health: What are symptoms you should go to the doctor with? What are symptoms you should call an ambulance immediately? What are symptoms you can safely wait to go away without visiting a doctor?

      • dndnrsn says:

        Speaking of medicine – try to drill into people the difference between a viral and a bacterial infection, and that antibiotics can’t do anything for the former.

    • arlie says:

      Interesting question.

      It seems pretty clear that a lot of people manage to get out without knowing things that are taught, which doesn’t leave room to add more unless you are willing to do some kind of tracking – e.g. leave the illiterates and innumerates out of classes requiring their missing skills. And I think “tracking” is still taboo in most places.

      In the US, the usual elephants in the room are biology, history, and geography. The problem with the former is caused by a wish to avoid offending religious parents. I don’t know why US schools combine the other two, and more, into “social studies”, and manage to teach little more than a couple of founding myths of their country, often in ways that don’t match actual facts.

      But assuming a population of bright, motivated kids, and a goal to have common basics known to all, before specialization (pace unschooling).

      – what is the scientific method. implications of ‘falisfiability’.
      – critical thinking. How to find large holes in published research, never mind popularizations. (I had that in college, applied strictly to my major, and promptly generalized it.) (Or “how not to be taken in by salesmen and other shills”, for less academically inclined students – same skills, except for how you phrase them.)
      – micro-economics 101. Any macro-economics class would need to be a survey, suggesting that none of the current theories are reliable.
      – enough astronomy to appreciate a planetarium, and have words like “comet”, “planet”, “exoplanet”, mean something to them
      – enough biology to understand evolution (and not just evolution)
      – genetics 101 (knows what a ‘dominant’ gene is; understands limitations of 23andMe and its competitors)
      – enough history to be able to put major periods in order, and not via memorizing a list. I.e. knows that the roman empire came before the middle ages. Don’t much care if they can e.g. list US presidents in order. (But that might not be a bad idea too, for kids in the US)
      – broad-strokes history of all continents – not just Fertile crescent then Greece then Europe then America.
      – enough geography to be able to place countries on the right continents, and have some idea of their climate, language, etc.
      – enough about religion to be able to list the top 5 or 6 biggies, give a basic idea of what and where, and recognize that there are lots of people not belonging to any of these
      – enough chemistry to appreciate a periodic table
      – enough physics not to fall for perpetual motion machines, and similar
      – enough understanding of computer programming to produce simple programs themselves
      – enough understanding of computers for discussions of privacy and security to make sense
      – at least one non-native language
      – enough traditional grammar to be able to find verb, noun, etc. in a sentence.

      I could go on – and on – and on.

      • – enough history to be able to put major periods in order, and not via memorizing a list. I.e. knows that the roman empire came before the middle ages.

        Why do they need that information? It’s interesting–but the libraries and the Internet are full of interesting things.

        The same question applies to many of the other things on the list. Why is it important to an American to know what continent Capetown is on? To know the periodic table?

        I think the sensible approach is to make reasonably sure that everyone learns to read and then to focus on what, out of the multitude of things worth knowing, that particular person wants to know.

        • 10240 says:

          History can help us avoid some of its mistakes. This would be irrelevant for most people if we weren’t living in a democracy, but we do. What’s worse, a democracy has rational voter ignorance, where voters being well-informed about certain topics is in the interest of society as a whole, but not of the voters themselves.

          Basic chemistry and physics help in realizing that certain things such as homeopathy are implausible, as e.g. the effects of a material on other things are entirely determined by its chemical composition and a few other physical properties.

        • @10240:

          It takes a lot more than a good high school history class to use history to figure out how to vote. The same facts are subject to a wide variety of interpretations, and the facts themselves may be distorted.

          Consider a simple question: What is the lesson of Munich?

          The usual answer is that one should have an interventionist foreign policy, to stop the equivalent of Hitler before he is too strong.

          But England and France had an interventionist foreign policy. That’s why Hitler needed their permission before seizing the Sudetenland. In choosing a policy, you aren’t entitled to assume those executing it will make the right decisions, especially when pointing at an example where they didn’t.

          And, as Churchill makes clear in the first volume of his book on WWII, a few years earlier the interventionist foreign policy of France and the U.K. had given Hitler his first significant ally.

          Further still, the history kids are taught will in practice by biased by the political views of those running it. I still remember the dishonesty of the history text I had, in an elite private school, which I could spot only because I had access to an expert on the subject and the relevant sources of data.

          Better for the small minority really interested to study things for themselves, preferably arguing with other interested people.

          • arlie says:

            And yes – the country’s myths will be prominent, however factually incorrect. That’s going to be true however one learns. It’s still probably going to be less wrong than e.g. much of the internet.

            But it sounds like you are arguing for a world where the majority is pig-ignorant, wallowing in their troughs. I fear that’s what we get regardless, because people will believe whatever they want to, however scanty the evidence, and someone will find a way to make money selling reinforcement of those beliefs. But I want to at least try to oppose it.

          • But it sounds like you are arguing for a world where the majority is pig-ignorant, wallowing in their troughs.

            On the contrary. I’m arguing for a world were different people are well informed about different things and, hopefully, are not too confident of their views on subjects about which they are not well informed.

            Consider our friend Plumber. He has expert knowledge of a fairly limited range of things. He has opinions, many of them wrong, about lots of other things–and sufficient sense not to be very confident about them. I wish more people were like that.

            That’s not what you get with the present system, where the schools pretend to teach a fairly specific collection of things, most students don’t learn them at any useful level, but many still imagine that they did.

        • arlie says:

          Two things:
          – one is that if you have no grounding at all in an area, and can’t distinguish a good primer from fantasy/rubbish/crackpottery, you’ll most likely never get beyond ‘crackpot’ or ‘crank’ yourself.
          – the other is that I think it’s bad for a society for its members not to have a grounding of common knowledge, that they all share, and that goes beyond “what ads were on TV last week” and “what’s the latest blockbuster movie”.

        • Ketil says:

          Why is it important to an American to know what continent Capetown is on?

          Perhaps so that she avoids appearing ignorant? Like using the D-day as an example of the long and good relationship between USA and Germany? There is something to be said for a common base of knowledge.

          I agree the need to know facts is diminishing, and the knowledge of how to navigate the sea of available information is increasing. That people apparent will happily read the most biased sources as gospel, and only those, is a lot more worrying than being able to place cities on maps.

          • Why is it important to an American to know what continent Capetown is on?

            Perhaps so that she avoids appearing ignorant?

            That looks like an equally good argument for memorizing pi to twelve digits, or all of the Rubaiyat.

            Learning things in order that you can show that you have learned them, when the information is of no other use to you, sounds rather like playing golf in order to stay fit. For golf.

      • 10240 says:

        It seems pretty clear that a lot of people manage to get out without knowing things that are taught, which doesn’t leave room to add more

        There is a lot you could drop.

        In your list, a lot are already taught, aren’t they?
        Also, I don’t think there is a significant benefit in English-speaking people learning a second language.

    • fion says:

      Sex education leaves much to be desired in my opinion.

      I was never taught about periods, how long they last, how common pain is, how much fluid there is, whether it’s ok to have sex during a period, moon-cups vs tampons, how periods interact with birth control… I learned a lot from my first girlfriend.

      I was taught very little about what sorts of sex people have, positions, oral etc. I learned most of this from… my fourth girlfriend I think. Before that I thought there were just two positions: you on top, me on top. And I learned nothing of the vast and beautiful art form commonly referred to, somewhat dismissively I feel, as foreplay. I never even knew where the clitoris was until a girlfriend showed me!

      I was taught nothing at all about homosexual sex. Nothing about how to have anal safely, or what fraction of gay (or straight) couples engage in it. Nothing about how lesbians have sex (to this day, most of what I know about this comes from watching pornography made for men, which is… unlikely to be reliable).

      I was taught nothing of transgender people. Nothing of gender dysphoria, nothing of the social process of transitioning, nothing of the biological process of transitioning, the effect of hormones etc. I didn’t learn this until my twenties, when my best friend came out as transgender and explained it all to me.

      I was taught almost nothing about rape and consent.

      I was taught nothing of polyamory.

      Perhaps most importantly, I was never taught what a cruel lie love in fiction is. Nobody ever told me that relationships were hard, that they involved compromise, communication, friendship and arguments. Nobody ever told me that after a year the rush of endorphins from a new relationship slows down. Nobody ever told me that that rush of endorphins existed, or was distinct from the mysterious beast “love”. (My first relationship was ruined largely because I thought I’d ‘fallen out of love’ a year in. If I’d understood that this often happens and it’s just biology, then maybe I’d have actually put some effort into making the relationship work.) Nobody ever told me that unrequited love is an unfortunate thing that you just need to get over and move on from as opposed to some beautiful pure thing that you just need to keep trying at. (I spent two years when I was a teenager thinking I was madly in love with one of my friends. I didn’t get over it until I finally told her and she told me it wasn’t at all mutual. Even then it took months before I could think of her without being sad.) Nobody ever told me that there are no soul mates, there is no “one person for you”, there’s just a bunch of people with whom you might be able to build something nice, and you need to find somebody who wants to build that with you and put in the work to make it happen.

    • Randy M says:

      A lot of the things people are saying here was definitely covered in my high school.
      Economics, with supply and demand, opportunity costs, and so on.
      Home economics, how to balance a check book, although this was an elective most people only took alongside drivers ed in summer school. I believe we covered how to fill out an application here.
      Health class, in 6th grade
      Sex education, as a day in 5th grade, and longer sections in health, biology & AP bio. I got way more sex education than I had chance or inclination to use in HS.
      Scientific method, genetics, evolution, geography, check.
      Work study was an option, though I didn’t take advantage of it, I assume there was some guidance about filling out the paperwork.

      I’ll admit we never touched much on oral sex, homosexuality, or polyamory, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve ‘fixed’ this, especially here in California.

      I think this thread should be called ‘things I’ve forgotten about High School’.

      • What sort of a high school did you go to?

        • Randy M says:

          Glendora High School, a public school system in a middle class California suburb. Class of 98.
          I didn’t much care for most of the experience, but it didn’t have glaring holes that could be easily filled, except maybe formal Logic.
          For example, the social studies curriculum was 1 year of geography, 1 year world history, 1 year US history, 1 semester Government, and 1 semester Econ. With AP options for the latter two years.

  4. Atlas says:

    What are the greatest tragedies, in any medium of art, that you’re familiar with?

    To kick things off, I find the story of Quentyn Martell in A Dance With Dragons especially poignant.

    (This is indeed related to my Romeo and Juliet post from a previous OT, if you were wondering. I’m reading King Lear currently, which I’m finding immensely satisfying and moving.)

    • WashedOut says:

      I would nominate the story of Scott’s final Antarctic expedition, as described (so beautifully) in Cherry-Garrard’s The Worst Journey in the World.

      You really have to read the book to understand both the immense, sustained suffering in the name of science; and the fortitude of character and spirit that made it possible.

    • Tarpitz says:

      Hamlet, Lear, Othello, The End of the Affair, The Heart of the Matter, Jude the Obscure, A Handful of Dust, Cold War.

      • brad says:

        Out of the three, I’d say Hamlet is less tragic than the other two. Certainly what happened to him was bad, but being betrayed by your own children and destroying your perfect life out of unjustified jealousy are just at another level IMO.

    • SamChevre says:

      It’s hard for me to pick among the Hardy novels, but The Mayor of Casterbridge

    • theredsheep says:

      Grave of the Fireflies. Beautiful, powerful, and utterly agonizing to watch.

      For Lear adaptations, I liked the Russian version from the seventies, and Kurosawa’s Ran. I haven’t seen a good Western version, for whatever reason.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        Grave of the Fireflies. Beautiful, powerful, and utterly agonizing to watch.

        You know, people keep saying this. But I tried to watch it, and it was just… boring.

        Sure, the events that the movie is about were certainly tragic. But the movie itself isn’t any kind of particularly moving portrayal of those events. And as for “utterly agonizing to watch”—I just don’t know where that sort of sentiment comes from, to be honest. (We know how it all ends, for one thing. They die, yes. Here are some people who died. That is tragic. Lots of people die… I don’t know, I just don’t see any of this powerful, agonizing beauty, or whatever, that other people keep going on about, in this movie.)

        • theredsheep says:

          The tragedy of GOTF is onfvpnyyl gur vairefr bs gur cnenoyr bs gur Tbbq Fnznevgna. Vg’f abg gung crbcyr qba’g pner nobhg gurz, ohg gung gurl qba’g pner dhvgr rabhtu; fybjyl ohg varivgnoyl, rirelguvat gung zvtug unir fnirq gurz ngebcuvrf be fyvcf njnl. Uzz, gung’f n funzr, ohg jung ner lbh tbvat gb qb? Gur zvyvgnel bssvpre phgf uvz fynpx orpnhfr uvf qnq’f va gur anil; gur qbpgbe pna gryy jung’f jebat jvgu uvf fvfgre; nsgre fur qvrf, gur zna jub tvirf uvz gur jbbq gb ohea ure obql vafgehpgf uvz ba gur cebcre evgrf sbe n puvyq. Abar bs gurz tvir fhssvpvrag fuvgf gb svk gur fvghngvba. Gbb znal ceboyrzf, gbb zhpu gb jbeel nobhg–fb gurl fyvc guebhtu gur penpxf va fbpvrgl, tb sreny, naq qvr. Gur gentrql vf gur zbeny snvyher bs gurve jubyr fbpvrgl gb cebgrpg vgf zbfg ihyarenoyr nsgre gurve cneragf qvr sbe vgf zvfgnxrf.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        For Lear adaptations, I liked the Russian version from the seventies

        Entirely seconded! That was a truly great one.

      • dorrk says:

        An acquaintance of mine who loves anime and is a serious Japanophile (not just pop culture; he’s lived there and seems to know a lot about Japanese history going back millenia) has said that what Westerners don’t understand about Grave of the Fireflies is that it’s essentially about a teen boy’s guilt over sexual desire for his prepubescent sister. I can’t say I got any of that out it, without having heard that theory before watching it, but it’s a theory that seems to have some traction if you dig into the source material.

        • theredsheep says:

          Well, that’s really bizarre and I cannot recall anything even vaguely suggestive of that in the movie. But I guess this is one of those times where you shrug and say, hey, it’s Japan? Maybe blame Freud? Japanese people who read Freud?

          I do remember reading on Wiki that it was originally a double feature with My Neighbor Totoro, with about the results you’d expect. One wonders about the psychology that went into thinking that it would be a good idea to pair those two movies.

          Also, the fruity candy that they eat in the movie ran promotional packages with the kids on it, which is kind of like if the company that made Anne Frank’s notebook ran a “Love, Anne” line.

    • gbdub says:

      AMC’s recent miniseries adaptation of The Terror. Also Julius Caesar .

      I’m curious why you selected Quentyn Martell. It’s not a bad story per se, and had it been released as a spin-off novella would have been a nice little treat. But in the context of a series that has already gone on too long (and even within that the whole Mereen side-story was way too long) , spending a couple hundred pages on a diversion that ultimately goes nowhere and impacts none of the main characters significantly was toss-it-at-the-wall frustrating for me.

    • cassander says:

      Tolkien in general, Londo Mollari’s arc in Babylon 5.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        Londo Mollari’s arc in Babylon 5

        Seconded!

        (JMS (the series creator) has said that B5 is, to a large degree, the story of Londo Mollari. His character arc spans the entire five seasons of the series, from the very first episode to the very last. And it is, indeed, profoundly tragic—all the more so because of the contradictions in his character, and of his own awareness of it.)

        • cassander says:

          I don’t think that JMS intended to write it that way. And it’s probably better than he didn’t. But that’s definitely how it came out, aided immensely by truly remarkable performances by Katsulas and Jurasik.

      • John Schilling says:

        Indeed. The toast between Molari and G’Kar in “The Coming of Shadows” is, in context, perhaps the most perfectly tragic scene in the history of dramatic television. And then the consequences play out faithfully over the next three and a half years.

    • J Mann says:

      I would say A Song of Ice and Fire as a whole – it’s so detailed and so tragic, than on reread, it’s like watching a village of people run over by an iceberg. It’s slow and obvious, but it grinds them into paste.

      I don’t know if they belong on a greatest of all time list, but I found the movies Fargo and One False Move to be very affecting.

  5. Well... says:

    I would like to create a T-shirt to sell at Devin Townsend concerts. It would say, in big letters, “BUILD THE WALL” and then in smaller letters, underneath that, “of sound”.

    I’m not going to do this. But I hope somebody steals the idea and does it.

  6. BBA says:

    This is interesting. Writer Mandy Stadtmiller called out filmmaker Judd Apatow for his history of offensive comedy. But in a piece for Penthouse (possibly NSFW just to link Penthouse, even though the article itself is SFW) she explained she was really calling him out for hypocrisy. Today Apatow is one of the leading figures in what Stadtmiller calls the “Woke Stasi” that shuns everyone who steps out of line with the progressive orthodoxy, while just a few years ago he was just as offensive as the people he’s calling out today. The things that really set Stadtmiller off are his intense denunciation of Louis CK and his suggestion that Eddie Murphy apologize for past jokes, when Apatow himself has never apologized.

    Now Stadtmiller is arguing for ending the “Woke Stasi” and letting people enjoy offensive comedy if it’s what they want. I’m inclined to agree with her, but I don’t think articles like this are going to do it. I was expecting this to lead to either mass condemnations of Apatow and his expulsion from polite society, or a tearful apology from Apatow and a denunciation of all his past sins in order to stay in the game. Instead, so far the article has been spreading through right-wing and “IDW” circles that never liked Apatow much to begin with, while Apatow himself has simply ignored it. Stadtmiller herself is a lefty with a lot of feminist cred (xoJane, Amy Schumer, John Oliver, etc.) but I guess she’s not a big enough star to break through the ideological bubble.

    • John Schilling says:

      I was expecting this to lead to either mass condemnations of Apatow and his expulsion from polite society,

      Why were you expecting any of A: Apatow, B: Apatow’s fans and/or colleagues, or C: the “Woke Stasi”, to care about this article? Who is Stadtmiller, that people won’t just ignore her when she tells them things they don’t want to hear?

      • BBA says:

        I figured the tweets would go viral, and almost nobody would bother clicking through to the article. You don’t need to be anyone to go viral – the Covington Catholic video was posted by some kind of hoax/bot account but ended up ruling the news for like a week anyway. But I guess there’s not quite as much demand for “[random celebrity X] is problematic!!!” call-outs as I thought.

        • albatross11 says:

          Hopefully, eventually everyone will learn to do the same to every viral outrage-fest. Wow, there are a bunch of randos on the internet mad at someone I know–day ending in “y”.

    • dorrk says:

      I’m both IDW-sympathetic and a great admirer of a lot of Apatow’s movies. She has a point that his social media presence is insufferable, but it thankfully does not seem to impede on his work. Like many comedians, he probably just wants to be taken seriously and has found that making strident comments which are 99% uncontroversial within his in-group gratifies that desire.

      I wouldn’t want to see Apatow “get cancelled,” because I like his movies, and I can tune out the social nonsense by not following him on Twitter.

    • melolontha says:

      I watched the first few minutes of the video (after reading the article) and… I don’t really get it? Maybe there’s worse stuff to come (the Howard Stern thing described in the Tweet thread sounded pretty nasty) but so far it’s basically just clips of him talking about dicks. Almost makes me wonder if there’s an ideological turing test failure going on here — a misunderstanding of what pro-PC progressives are actually complaining about.

      My biases: progressive, but frequently annoyed and disgusted by the hypocrisy/bullshit/nastiness celebrated by my own ‘tribe’. Have heard of Apatow, of course, but not very familiar with his work or his politics; I don’t think I had any pre-existing animus or affection toward him.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I don’t see the Woke Stasi going away, but perhaps polite society will be reduced in scope to a few mostly-unemployed journalists.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Is Apatow just as offensive? I’m no great Apatow fan, but everything I’ve seen of his has been juvenile but not particularly hurtful. Perhaps I am misremembering. Can’t it be possible that he’s Woke and thinks dicks, butts, and/or farts are hilarious?

      • dorrk says:

        Apatow tends to write about (and inhabit) a particular type of masculinity that would be considered toxic, even if it doesn’t express itself in criminal acts: men who are obsessed with sex, obsessed with their dicks, who think of women primarily as difficult sexual obstacles, and who delight in sexually humiliating one another. The thing is, he captures with affection (and (self-)criticism!) a very authentic flavor of male bonding. I consider him practically a humanist filmmaker, just one that happens to make “bro comedies.”

        I can see this scene as being considered problematic to the “Woke Stasi” (I like that term!): In 40-Year-Old Virgin, two men play Mortal Kombat against each other while riffing on “Do you know how I know you’re gay?” jokes at each other’s expense. It’s crude and full of superficial homophobia and played for laughs. The mere existence of men who think it’s fun to talk this way to each other seems to have become deeply offensive over the last decade, and I think it goes without saying that this is also very likely exactly what Apatow would do while playing games with his comedian friends. However, I find a broader perspective in Apatow’s work than just this surface. I think he’s examining very real male behavior without the purpose of condemning it (outrageous, right?) but in digging deeper into it. And revelling in the creative depths to which men will go to insult each other because it reflects how much they love each other. I think that by the end of each Apatow movie, these same men are inching toward a more enlightened state of being, but maybe too little for some.

        But, again, we seem to be in a place right now in which any sign of not excoriating this type of man is part of “rape culture.”

        The author’s problem, though, seems to be more with the dissonance between Apatow’s “noble” Twitter pronouncements and his decade-old appearances on talk shows. By Apatow’s own standards today, he would denounce himself then (and has probably denounced others for their decade-old statements), but he doesn’t. And she claims that he deflects such attacks, but she doesn’t show her work on that (unless it’s in the video compilation, which I didn’t watch).

        • dndnrsn says:

          My memory of that movie are – I saw it with my mother, who is not incredibly Woke but does have a shelf of 70s feminist books, and a friend of hers, who can get a bit offended of some of the stuff that falls under “rape culture” – I don’t know that dumb gay jokes are “rape culture” – are they? Apatow’s stuff is at least good-hearted. I think there’s stuff much more heavy on the ground to get offended about – compare to South Park, which is kinda mean and nasty, and which has a general attitude of “caring about things is for losers.”

          • dorrk says:

            While gay jokes-as-insults are not directly rape culture-ish, they are often a facet of the same type of phallocentric “sexually panicked man” who also objectifies women and has limited, crude means by which to express it. The whole of these toxic parts is the “rape culture” aspect, or at least how I interpret the broadening of that point-of-view.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I wouldn’t call the “you know how I know your gay” jokes rape culture, but the whole “pounce on drunk bitches” bit at the bar probably fits the bill.

            It is interesting, though. There don’t seem to be many comedies anymore. There used to be a 40 Year Old Virgin, Anchorman, Talladega Nights type movie every year. Not so much anymore.

            That said, I largely agree with dorrk. They’re definitely not Woke, but Apatow’s movies were deeply relatable.

  7. Zorgon says:

    I know we have a bunch of academic computer science folks here, so this seems like a good place to ask.

    I’m currently doing a Masters-level Software Engineering course which involves presenting recently-published papers on various topics to a seminar group. We have around 12 minutes to present. I have been randomly assigned a paper, on a relatively dry topic; I read the paper and then… found I disagree with several pieces of reasoning in it.

    I wasn’t anticipating this. I’m in the sciences, dammit – I’m not trained to have opinions in a formal context! What the hell do I do? I’m already stretched for time fitting 14 pages of dryness into 12 minutes in a professional and approachable way; do I cut content from the paper to make room for methodological and theoretical disagreement, or do I throw intellectual honesty to the winds and focus on getting a high grade?

    Help me Slate Star Deirdre commenters, you’re my only hope!

    • Eltargrim says:

      Can you discuss it with the prof? Personally, I’d go the first route and present a critical assessment. I suspect that you would be favourably marked for engaging with the material. My experience is in chemistry, but I bet it’s similar.

    • Björn says:

      12 minutes on a paper is really really not much. It will be hard anyhow to tell your listeners what the paper is about and at least some methology. Also,I only did computer science as a minor, my major was mathematics, but from what I saw, computer science has a weird conference culture, where people often give rather shallow talks about what they did where they mostly show some result pictures. The papers sometimes are the same way, “Look, we managed to to this”, and then shallow or convoluted reasoning why it works. (Not every paper is this way, but it’s not that uncommon)

      That said, if you really would want to critize the paper, you would have to implement all the stuff they did and check wether your reasoning is true. If I where you, I would just summarize the paper (“They did this, and they say they did it because of that…”). When you have a minute left at the end, you can talk a little bit abot what you think about the topic, but keep it really simple. Everyone will have to hear many short talks about paper, and no one wants to here complicated reasoning there why some paper is maybe not correct.

    • johan_larson says:

      It’s perfectly reasonable to criticize results or conclusions in an academic paper, particularly in a field as fuzzy as software engineering. Scientists and advanced practitioners disagree all the time. But you need to be clear about what you are disagreeing with and why you disagree. Do the experiments not really support the conclusions? Are the authors abstracting away important issues? Are the sample sets small or contrived? All these are reasonable bases for disagreement and there are certainly others, but you need one, and it needs to be a good one.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Is the object of this exercise to teach the things in the paper to the other students, or is it mostly an exercise in doing such presentations? If it’s the latter (which seems more likely for such a short presentation), I’d just present the paper, making it clear that any opinions in the paper are those of the author.

    • ing says:

      Absolutely talk about your disagreements.
      Also, [in my experience, which is mostly from a corporate environment] you’re not required to have your talk cover the whole paper evenly. Go into depth about the central idea or the topic you find most interesting. Talk about the problem, talk about how they solve it, talk about how you’d solve it. Have a slide at the end with one bullet point for each part of the paper you didn’t cover in detail.

      Academic papers are written in a difficult-to-read style, some say deliberately so. I recommend summarizing and rephrasing super-aggressively in order to give a more engaging talk.

      • Ketil says:

        Academic papers are written in a difficult-to-read style, some say deliberately so.

        Only the bad papers 🙂

        The structure of your talk should follow a standard scientific setup, even if the paper doesn’t: 1) introduction explaining why the problem is important (but not giving a complete history rundown of everything remotely relevant), then 2) materials and methods (i.e., what did the authors do?), then 3) the results (show a graph or two from the paper), and finally 4) discussion and conclusions.

        I would definitely include any criticisms you may have, but possibly being a bit careful if your professor is one of the authors, or otherwise has skin in the game. Perhaps phrase criticism as questions if you feel cautious?

    • John Schilling says:

      Not comp sci, but plenty of time in STEM academia:

      First, a point where it doesn’t matter whether you agree with the original paper or not: If you’re being asked to “fitting 14 pages of dryness into 12 minutes of seminar”, then yes, you cut content from the paper, and part of what you are supposed to learn from this exercise is how to decide what to cut to make room for the rest. If you agreed with everything in the paper, it would still be appropriate to ignore half of it to better explain the other half. If the paper is one-third important conclusion and two-thirds methodological detail, you’re supposed to give just a few highlights of the methodology. Same with including or ignoring secondary conclusions, etc.

      On to the topic at hand:

      You definitely need to be able to disagree with published work in the field, and at an MS-candidate level, that also should be a part of your education. But a twelve-minute seminar talk may not be the right place for it. If nothing else, there is zero point in expressing dissent to a position your audience doesn’t care about and doesn’t understand, and if it takes you the full twelve minutes to explain the core concepts of the original paper even after you’ve chucked the irrelevant methodology or whatever, you’re probably out of luck.

      If you can e.g. spend eight minutes explaining the core concept and four minutes for your rebuttal, adequately covering both, then cutting everything else to do that may be the right move.

      If not, then you probably just spend your twelve minutes on the core concept, presented as an unproven theory or alternate approach to a problem,, without endorsing its truth-value beyond “worthy of discussion”. Then maybe turn your disagreement into a term paper or the like.

      And in any event, talk to your professor as to which approach he thinks would be most appropriate for the circumstance.

      • albatross11 says:

        I suspect you could also present the result of the paper (as much as fits), and at the end have a slide about your own questions or doubts about the paper’s results or claims.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      throw intellectual honesty to the winds and focus on getting a high grade

      People massively overestimate the degree to which professors reward identifying and parroting the party line. Some do and it’s important to identify them, but most are bored and prefer students who push back over sycophants. And if they’re recently published papers, the professor probably didn’t choose them as an endorsement. On the other hand, he might not have any idea what’s in the paper and wants to know that, rather than hearing a rebuttal.

    • SamChevre says:

      Is the exercise to comment on the paper, or to present it? In my non-academic experience, the timing and frequency seems like it might be designed to teach you to summarize and present material, and to give the rest of the students a quick overview of developments in the field.

      For example, on my team at work, part of our twice-a-week 15 minute meeting is a 2-3 minute presentation on one section of our professional standards. We just rotate among team members; the goal is to keep up our familiarity, and to give everyone a little low-stakes practice presenting.

    • drunkfish says:

      That’s an incredibly normal response to an academic paper. I’m working on a PhD in a hard science right now, and have probably presented a couple dozen papers in seminars like you’re describing. I’d say around half of them, I end up spending at least some time on things in the paper I either disagree with or think are lacking. To be fair though, 12 minutes is tough and in your shoes I’d probably just mention my issues at the end, rather then spend the presentation on them. I’m used to having 30-60 minutes to present, and a lot of what I’m doing is trying to get my audience to participate so that I don’t have to talk the whole time, so bringing up issues with a paper is particularly useful.

  8. Gossage Vardebedian says:

    I know there are a lot of IT people here. I’m hoping I can get some clarity on a problem we’re having. My wife is an independent consultant, and has wanted to make improvements to her IT infrastructure for some time, but has had a hard time finding competent enough people to do the work.

    She has an online assessment, in which people answer 20 questions, their responses are analyzed via an algorithm, and a customized report is generated and emailed to the participant. If you’ve taken online assessments such as the Myers-Briggs or DiSC, you’re familiar with such instruments. Occasionally the emails don’t get to where they need to go, which needs to be investigated but is actually not the main thing she wants to fix. The main issue is that she wants to change the scoring algorithm and expand the reports, which consists of some editing, but mainly would include graphing of the assessment result, which seems challenging for some programmers. She would also like to create a team-level report, which would involve programming to analyze, graph, and report multiple people’s assessment results. The assessment data is also sent to a database, which she wants to make changes to, such as creating secure sub-sites for clients to manage their own assessment administration. There are also a couple small bugs – of course – and there are some minor editing-type changes.

    I don’t mean to minimize the amount of work that would likely be involved – and I honestly have no idea how much it would cost or how much time it would take – but I’ve had this picture in my mind for years of legions of hyper-competent people everywhere who could crack this off in no time, and it seems now like that was wildly inaccurate. So, is this an extremely difficult job, or has she just had very poor luck finding competent people? And is anyone recommended to do this? We are in the Chicago area, and she’d prefer someone nearby, though I am comfortable with anyone anywhere as long as they are good and high-accountability. Thank you all.

    • Erusian says:

      The average engineer might be able to think through this but it isn’t their main type of experience. This is closer to what research and academic coders do, data science types mixed with some standard IT work. Data visualization, as in graphing, is its own subspecialty. Also, factor in it is always hard to find good IT people. There do exist people who can bang this out but they’re a relatively small and well-paid subspecialty. They’re also often employed in more diverse organizations than standard tech. I know the Boston Globe has a large team.

      I’d need to see a full spec to give an estimate or recommend anyone. The underlying infrastructure can have a huge effect. But at a glance you’re probably looking at five figures. You can, as always, go cheaper by going abroad.

      • Nornagest says:

        I’m not a front-end Web guy, but I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a graphing package out there that could be used for this pretty easily, as long as they’re not trying to do anything super-complicated with it.

        • Erusian says:

          With respect, this is very much this effect. There are a lot of great libraries but unless the charts are dead simple, basically static, and the data is already available to be consumed it will get complex.

          • rlms says:

            unless the charts are dead simple, basically static, and the data is already available to be consumed it will get complex

            What makes you think those assumptions aren’t met?

          • Erusian says:

            What makes you think those assumptions aren’t met?

            In general, it’s better practice to presume common difficulties will exist than not. At least in my experience.

    • rlms says:

      Is there anything particularly complicated about the graphs? Are they the kind of thing you could make in Excel if you put your mind to it and had the data in a spreadsheet? If so, sounds like it should be well within the remit of a competent undergrad who’s used MATLAB or similar and done some web development before.

      • Gossage Vardebedian says:

        I don’t think the graphing is complex. There’s a simple formula that can be used, and one guy we know pulled something off the internet and slapped it into Excel and that accurately plots points. So yeah, not that hard.

        Again, there’s much more to the job than graphing. It’s just that that alone stymied a few people.

        I would love to get a rec or two. Is it likely complicated enough so a company would need $$ just to look enough to give a clear estimate of their ability to do the job and the time and cost? We certainly expect it would be five figures.

        • Erusian says:

          I would love to get a rec or two. Is it likely complicated enough so a company would need $$ just to look enough to give a clear estimate of their ability to do the job and the time and cost? We certainly expect it would be five figures.

          Most engineering firms I know either charge a relatively nominal fee for the initial consultation or do it free of charge. They might charge for drawing up a full plan though.

    • eigenmoon says:

      These days the programmers who understand diddly about statistics present themselves as data scientists, and seem to be much better off that way.

      Check out seaborn library and its example gallery. Will it cover your graphing needs?

    • Radu Floricica says:

      When it comes to programming, complexity is very much non-linear. The metaphor I like most is an architect trying to explain to a client why a skylight is a good idea… but not in the basement. Because clients are demanding stuff like that all the time.

      > The assessment data is also sent to a database, which she wants to make changes to, such as creating secure sub-sites for clients to manage their own assessment administration.

      Up to here I was with you – it was a simple enough job. From here on, you’re talking about a redesign, not just pinpoint changes. The structure is different, requirements are different… Much of the code will need to be touched. (I’m assuming “client” is an organization, not the guy taking the test).

      What complicates things further is that anybody touching that much code will need to be familiar with the particular framework (computer language) the software is already written in. Which, given current fragmentation, already cuts your pool to about 10%.

      The project itself is not that difficult – I’d put it somewhere at under a week of work for a competent programmer, if done from scratch. But if you take into consideration how much a programmer makes a week, add tax, add an extra because temp work is more expensive – and you end up with a non-trivial amount. Exactly how much depends a lot on location.

      Proper solution (though of course not guaranteed one) is a freelancing site like upwork.

    • brad says:

      There is a company Glint. Companies hire them to give surveys to their employees and then summarize the results. Microsoft, via LinkedIn, just bought them for $500,000,000. It doesn’t seem that difficult to me, something that companies could just do themselves, but apparently not.

    • savebandit says:

      This is right in my wheelhouse. I’m a software engineer in Chicago who has done exactly this kind of visualization of statistical measures.

      No offense, but that job does not sound very fun. I can give several reasons why:

      Every company has basically awoken to the fact that they need a stable of software engineers in IT instead of just networking/sysadmin types, so everyone (in Chicago, but I expect everywhere else too) is hiring. Including people with much larger war chests than small consultancies.

      There are several discrete competencies in her job request, that almost never overlap (and the people who do have all these skills together would be incredibly prized or are in business for themselves).

      1. Create a website on-demand with a GUI for interfacing with the DB. (Requires web design, probably also some devops as there’s an admin site involved to set up a site with a CNAME per customer.)
      2. Secure each website. (Requires web security knowledge as well as DB security knowledge, also DB design if the current database layout is not set up in a way to make security easy.)
      3. Style scientific findings using web technologies for use in an email. (Requires knowledge of server-side graphing libraries or pure CSS rendering or Excel file generation.)
      4. Understand the statistics library enough to make code changes or be able to take academic code and make it run reliably. (Oddly enough trying to get the algorithm running is probably the same amount of work as trying to understand the nuances of the algorithm itself, doubly so if your wife specializes in something like psychology and the algorithm exists in something proprietary like IBM’s SPSS.)

      There’s also what you can infer about the job from the statement “Occasionally the emails don’t get to where they need to go”. Mail servers are their own special level of devops hell, and services like Mailgun require lots of tweaking to be maintainable in the long term. As someone who’s been on the hook for converting academic code to something workable, I can say that about 50% of the algorithms I’ve converted had some serious flaw that invalidated the researcher’s conclusion. I don’t want to get too specific, but I do want to prove that’s not an exaggeration. One algorithm threw away about 1 in 4 responses from respondents who completed the measure after 6:30 at night, due to the combination an incorrect use of SQL and the fact that the researcher introduced a try/catch block to avoid an exception that she didn’t understand. These types of mistakes are super common, and my prior for that goes way up for someone whose specialty isn’t software and already has weird heisenbugs in other parts of their system.

      I know it’s not what you want to hear, but this is a job for multiple people and will likely be in the high 6 figure range to complete. Especially now, as big companies are realizing that they need strong in-house IT teams. Everything you described is certainly not something that can be cracked off in no time.

      • Gossage Vardebedian says:

        Thanks. You may be right, and I appreciate the response. The only truly new things, though, would be the team report and the client sub-sites. The rest is adding to or changing the existing framework – not that I mean to minimize that. I can kind of visualize how the client sub-site thing might be a big project. The rest seems like writing some more code here and there, and again, I don’t mean to sound like I’m pooh-poohing that. The graphing, for instance, is a matter of drawing a colored background and putting the data point – the score – in the appropriate place, and including said graph within the report. For a team, it would be several data points on one graph. The particular score also determines the appropriate blocks of text to be inserted into the report, which I believe is sent as a pdf attached to an email. AFAIK, the online assessment data dump into the database works well right now – but again, changes need to be made.

        I assume you are of the opinion we should use a full-service shop like RealNets, and anything or anyone short of that would likely not be able to do everything?

        • savebandit says:

          Yeah, you’ll want to go to a consultancy.

          I think you’re overestimating the difficulty of the graphing portion and underestimating the difficulty of securing and generating the client sites. If you’ve found that people are focusing in on the difficulty of visualizing the data, that’s actually a bit weird – not sure what’s going wrong for you there. HTML emails with SVG support should be pretty usable if that’s the extent of the graphing portion.

          As a side note, how could “writing some more code here and there” not sound like you’re pooh-poohing the difficulty of the task? You could describe deep learning, the internet, Excel, high-frequency trading, and a variety of other achievements that way. I can only assume you’re pooh-poohing the difficulty. There’s no other way to take that. I would avoid saying that around whoever you hire, to be honest.

  9. greenwoodjw says:

    Aurora IL shooting predictions: (Based on the profiles I laid out in the previous OT.)

    Currently all we know is that it is a valve manufacturing facility. That almost certainly means it’s not terrorism, so it’s likely a single shooter, targeting a specific community because of perceived grievance, was almost certainly disliked and/or ignored, probably because of disconcerting behavior, who was recently fired.

    I am interested in seeing how accurate my assessment is.

    • John Schilling says:

      There has traditionally been a three-day rule about politicizing such tragedies here, and there’s no way “I was right in my preconceptions of the villain’s motives” doesn’t turn political. Let’s save this one for the next CW-allowed OT, please.

      • greenwoodjw says:

        Not politicizing anything. Just putting the predictions in a public space where I won’t be immediately lynched for making predictions about a tragedy. There’s no larger motive than testing my theory.

      • broblawsky says:

        Sadly, by that point there’s a good chance some other mass shooting will have knocked this one out of people’s attention.

        • greenwoodjw says:

          More importantly I can’t retroactively make predictions

          • You can make a prediction and post a hash of it.

          • Joseph Greenwood says:

            +1 for David Friedman’s comment.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            I don’t even know what that actually means, to be honest.

          • A hash function takes some string of numbers, such as a chunk of text (with each letter represented by a number in some scheme such as ASCII), and calculates from it a much shorter string of numbers. You can’t reconstruct the original string from the hash, but if you are given something that claims to be the original string you can apply the hash function and see whether what you get is the same as the published hash. If it is, that is strong evidence that the person who produced the hash produced it from that string.

            It isn’t proof, since many different strings will give the same hash, but there is no easy way, starting with the hash, to construct a string that will give it.

            So it is a way of showing that you have information without releasing it.

          • albatross11 says:

            Two nitpicks:

            a. You need to use a hash function that’s still secure. SHA2 and SHA3 are probably the two most well-analyzed ones; BLAKE2 is a choice if you’re allergic to US government standards. (SHA2 was designed by NSA; SHA3 (like AES) came out of a competition run by the US government; the winners were a team of academic and private-sector cryptographers, and nearly all the analysis was done by other academic cryptographers (usually the other contestants). Specifically, you really need to avoid MD5 (broken many years ago but still used in a lot of places) and SHA1 (broken a few years ago but still widespread). For committing to a secret, you want collision resistance.

            b. All good cryptographic hashes are one-way, but that may not hide the secret you’re committing to. Suppose you hash your prediction of my birthday–since there are only about 365*100 or so possibilities for my birthday, anyone can just try hashing all 36,500 of them and see which one gives the same thing as your hash. If you’re committing to something that someone would have any chance of guessing (something low-entropy), you can avoid this problem by generating a 128-bit random number, and just hashing

            random number || secret you’re committing to

            Since nobody can try all 2^{128} possible values for the random number, nobody can test a guess of your secret. But when you want to open your commitment, you can just reveal the random number along with the secret and everyone can verify it.

          • Aapje says:

            For the purpose of not getting a discussion here. ROT13 may be quite sufficient.

  10. Well... says:

    Guns are sometimes called “equalizers.” To what extent do y’all think guns really are an egalitarian force, generally keeping things more equal among people than they’d otherwise be?

    For example, if some group of people representing various western countries, perhaps with a disproportionately large representation of Scandinavians (so, a relatively egalitarian bunch) went off and started their own isolated society where there were no guns, do you think such a society would tend to eventually become very dominated by men (or at least by its biggest, strongest members)?

    • EchoChaos says:

      @Well…

      Despite my very pro-gun stance, I would say little to none. Egalitarianism is probably orthogonal to it.

      For example, Yemen has lots and lots of guns, and I wouldn’t call it egalitarian at all. Switzerland was the last country in Europe to legalize women voting and has a long history of lots of guns.

      • John Schilling says:

        Switzerland was the last country in Europe to legalize women voting and has a long history of lots of guns.

        But not of guns for women, and I don’t think that’s coincidental. The rule was, one man, one gun, one vote.

      • Well... says:

        For example, Yemen has lots and lots of guns, and I wouldn’t call it egalitarian at all. Switzerland was the last country in Europe to legalize women voting and has a long history of lots of guns.

        OK, but I asked about modern western countries. If a representative sample of them, with Scandinavia somewhat overrepresented (so “all else equal” only it’s even a bit more egalitarian than you’re probably used to), went off and started their own isolated gun-free society, do you expect there’d be less equality after a while?

    • greenwoodjw says:

      “Equalizer” here mostly means on a personal, not societal, basis. A gang of 30 armed men is stronger than a gang of 10, but a 5’2″ 100lbs armed, receptionist woman is *as* dangerous as the 6’4″ armed, strength-training, male mugger, making it too dangerous for mugging to be a successful enterprise. Without guns, the mugger is extremely safe if the encounter is isolated

      • AG says:

        Doesn’t this extrapolate to a societal basis? In the past, a proper military was heavily in favor of who had the money for armor and weapons of a higher quality metal, and the winners on the local level of that extrapolated down through the ages to become the nobility.
        Guns made revolution much easier.

        • greenwoodjw says:

          No, because guns don’t equalize numbers of people on a side or tactical strength or strategic planning.

          • chrisminor0008 says:

            It makes the strength of a partizan force proportional to their membership. Maybe that’s not an inherent good, but it is closer to democracy.

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      I think the framing of the question mischaracterizes the idea. It’s not that guns lead to or promote “egalitarianism” at all. It’s that they are force equalizers. If you are in a situation not involving force, then they are not going to have any effect, and their effect is limited to the equalization of the force involved (and not the ideology behind the force).

      There would be no reason to think that more or less guns would independently affect the ideology of a population, except ideologies directly related to gun ownership.

      • Well... says:

        Guns are a technology. I don’t think you can say that a society’s ideology evolves independent of its technology. A society with technology X will evolve different ideologies than if that same society had technology Y.

        Isn’t that a fairly non-controversial point?

    • Erusian says:

      Guns are sometimes called “equalizers.” To what extent do y’all think guns really are an egalitarian force, generally keeping things more equal among people than they’d otherwise be?

      For example, if some group of people representing various western countries, perhaps with a disproportionately large representation of Scandinavians (so, a relatively egalitarian bunch) went off and started their own isolated society where there were no guns, do you think such a society would tend to eventually become very dominated by men (or at least by its biggest, strongest members)?

      Allowing people access to maximum private force, whether guns or otherwise, is an equalizer since any system of government provision of violence (or anything) will be used in unequal ways. This is true even in Scandinavia which sees disproportionate crime rates and gun access among various territories and minorities.

      The most extreme examples are the Soviet Union where people out of favor with the party would see the police telling criminals, if they really must be criminals, rob those people because we’ll never investigate it. Indeed, there’s been a lot of good work about how the Soviet state purposefully cultivated dependency through this method by, for example, extremely restrictive self-defense laws. But one could equally point out all sorts of lesser issues in Sweden.

      Guns are also equalizers in that they don’t rely on physical strength and are much more quick to train to proficiency than a sword. I expect the police force in a place without guns, tasers, pepper spray etc will mostly be big men and a few outlier women.

    • The Nybbler says:

      That was a Colt marketing slogan, and in terms of self-defense against crime it’s reasonably close to true.

      Scandinavians without guns would end up with guys called things like “Bloodaxe” in charge, judging from history. So, maybe?

    • rlms says:

      There doesn’t seem to be much of a pattern on the list of countries by guns per capita. But that’s not a particularly useful dataset, really you would want to control for rurality, or look at guns owned primarily for self-defence. If you did that, I expect you would find a distribution with the US by itself in one group (as a country where owning guns primarily for self-defence is seen as a normal thing), and all other developed countries in another group (where to my knowledge it isn’t). I expect the US’s attitude to inversely correlate with egalitarianism, for reasons given by thrive/survive politics theory.

  11. greenwoodjw says:

    Hello!

    I’m planning on starting an activist organization to push for a school voucher system specifically in Baltimore City. I know quite a bit about the topic, but very little about the organizational/promotional side. Anyone have any advice on that front?

    @David Friedman – Have you done any work on the subject, or know of any work on the subject someone generally familiar with the topic wouldn’t be aware of? Has anyone else here?

    • I have no expertise on the organizational side. I expect you can get information relevant to vouchers from Edchoice. That’s the organization that my parents started.

    • SamChevre says:

      I can recommend talking to two specific people, who are very experienced at the organization and promotion side of things. Email at this username, google, will reach me.

      • greenwoodjw says:

        Thank you both, I will reach out, Sam, and I’ll look into that program David.

        Also David, I learned about half of what I know regarding voucher-based education from your dad, so I very much appreciate being pointed in that direction.

  12. A few thoughts on US immigration policy.

    Beto O’Rourke recently made a comment saying that he would tear down the existing border barriers. To those who don’t want more spending on the wall, do you agree with him or do you think he is going too far?

    I see people saying that the wall is a waste of money that will have no effect on illegal immigration rates but who also say that we should use “modern” tech instead. How is a sensor by itself any more effective at preventing people from crossing the border than a physical barrier? You still need people to catch them and the border patrol doesn’t have enough people to do that.

    It’s been shown that illegal immigration rates have dropped since the mid 2000’s but little has been said about why. The standard argument is that the recession caused the initial drop and Mexico’s improving economy kept it from rising. But Mexico’s drug war started near the same time as the drop. Shouldn’t that have caused a massive increase in immigrants? Another explanation is that the US signed the Secure Fence Act in 2006 that added 700 miles of barriers to the border. Wouldn’t that make far more sense? If you look at different parts of the US border, you see that adding border barriers causes a corresponding decrease in apprehensions. Why is this never discussed? Why do people insist that the wall would have no effect in light of what the data shows?

    • dndnrsn says:

      OK, so, I am the opposite of an expert in this – but isn’t the drug war in Mexico localized in some parts of the country? If this is the case, Mexicans in parts of Mexico that are dangerous might well find it easier, in various ways, to move to a safer part of Mexico.

    • I believe one reason for doubting the effectiveness of the wall is that most illegal immigrants are people who come in legally on a visa. The US has between sixty and seventy million foreign visitors a year, and there isn’t any easy way of making sure that all of them leave when their visa expires.

      A reason for doubting its effectiveness against drug smugglers is that most drugs come in concealed through legal ports of entry.

      • EchoChaos says:

        I believe one reason for doubting the effectiveness of the wall is that most illegal immigrants are people who come in legally on a visa.

        Slightly more than half are illegal entries, the remainder are visa overstays.

        The US has between sixty and seventy million foreign visitors a year, and there isn’t any easy way of making sure that all of them leave when their visa expires.

        The more important bit is that we have vetted all of those, so they are substantially lower risk as illegals than illegal entries, which we cannot vet at all, obviously. The United States tries to not allow criminals and other risky types in with a visa.

        • greenwoodjw says:

          +1 to Echo, and I want to add that “We can’t enforce the law 100% so we shouldn’t enforce it at all/in this way/against this method” is only used in the immigration context and makes no sense.

          • EchoChaos says:

            As an additional aside, the bait and switch between “illegal immigrants” and “immigrants” when talking about criminality infuriates me.

            Legal immigrants SHOULD be wildly lower crime than the native populace. I don’t want to let any criminals in and we already vet aggressively to make sure we don’t. If legal immigrants aren’t lower than the native populace in criminality by at least an order of magnitude, our vetting needs serious work.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            To add to the fury over the whole “[illegal] immigrants commit less crime than the native population” schtick, it’s also a very conveniently deceptive univariate analysis that ignores things like race. That statistic gets thrown in the face of the white suburbanite complaining about illegal alien crime as if to claim “these MS-13 illegals are statistically less criminal than you are, whitey!” But “illegals: slightly less criminal than your current racial underclass” isn’t as good of a slogan.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            @ EchoChaos – + all the 1s. That drives me nuts too.

          • INH5 says:

            How many illegal immigrants end up living in middle-upper class white suburbs? Anecdotally, it seems to be pretty common for Hispanic immigrants to end up in historically black neighborhoods. When they do end up in white neighborhoods, I’d expect them to live in places where they can afford the rent, which would presumably mean mostly lower class white neighborhoods.

            How do the crime rates look when you control for socioeconomic status, urbanization, and so on? The only person that I know of who has tried to do something like this is Ron Unz, who analyzed the crime rates of major cities and found that “percent white” and “percent Hispanic” had very similar correlation coefficients. “Percent Hispanic” isn’t a perfect proxy for illegal immigrants, but if illegals did have much higher crime rates you would expect to see some impact.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I’m not saying illegals move into white neighborhoods. I’m saying when someone like me, a white suburbanite, lists among the reasons I don’t want illegal immigration “crime” I am told the illegals are less criminal than the “native population.” This is meant to imply that they are less criminal than people like me are, but this ignores very obvious confounders.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Conrad

            Wait so is your argument that the immigration proponents’ argument should be that illegal immigrants commit less crime than the citizens of their race? Or is your argument that immigrants should be compared against white suburbanites, who are the standard by which desirability should be judged?

            Because the first one argues against your point and the second is… Kinda unsavory. Hello from the racial underclass, by the way.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I thought you were Mexican? The “current racial underclass” is black, which heavily skews crime statistics for “native born.” Adding a demographic that’s still high in crime but not as high as the current more-likely-to-be-criminal demographic doesn’t help with crime.

            If my street has 5 people on it, 4 of whom commit 0 rapes per year but one of whom commits 10 rapes per year and I (not the rapist) object when a new person who only commits 1 rape per year wants to move in, “but he’s less rapey than average!” isn’t helpful.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Conrad

            So… what are the crime statistics we should be comparing? Some fraction of immigrants (illegal or not) are going to commit crimes; how much is too much? We could do “America minus the blacks,” but that has similar unsavory implications, and I’m pretty sure illegals still beat that number. Checking now.

            E: by the numbers, it looks like illegal immigrants as a whole do better than all native populations except asians, and Hispanic illegal immigrants do better than everyone except asians and whites (native hispanics, blacks, and “other”). Source: https://www.cato.org/publications/immigration-research-policy-brief/their-numbers-demographics-countries-origin

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I don’t actually care about crime rates. I care about raw numbers of crimes. That the new guy who wants to move into Rape Town is less rapey than the rapiest guy is immaterial: it’s still more rape. And worse, it’s rape by someone who has absolutely no business being here and who the residents voted to deny entry to.

            ETA: Saw your edit. I’m not sure what incarceration rates are supposed to prove for people who are supposed to be deported anyway.

            Again, missing the point: when we pass a law that says “Juan and Carlos can’t come in” and the government ties itself in knots to avoid enforcing that decision, and then Juan kills somebody, telling the grieving family “but look how nice Carlos is!” is ineffective. This is a betrayal of the citizens, by the government, which has its circles of duty all mixed up: the government cares more about foreigners than about the citizens. If the US government will not put the interests of US citizens over those of foreigners, who exactly looks out the interests of citizens?

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Conrad

            If you don’t want any illegal immigrants that’s fine, but it’s a bit frustrating to argue a point you make only to for you to say you don’t actually care about it.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            @INH5 – Is this Correlation coefficient related to the crime rate of the region or of the group?

            If it’s the region then it’s likely because, insofar as Hispanics displace blacks, they lower the crime rate.

            I know that, controlling for SES, blacks have a higher crime rate then whites. I don’t know if the same is true of Hispanics.

            The other possibility is that first generation has a lower crime rate, and then this is followed up by a 1 time regression to the mean.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            The rates probably matter, because you have to compare the rates to perceived benefits. If you import 100,000 brilliant scientists, SOMEONE is going to commit a crime, but if it’s only one crime, who cares?

            I agree with Conrad that comparing immigrants to the median American is not useful, because the median American is more criminal than we would like America to be. To take one obvious example from the constant gun control debates, even if you banned guns, Americans are still going to kill people more often than most other Western nations. So, bringing in a “median American” to me sounds like bringing in a person much more likely to commit violent crime than your typical Westerner. And the US can be picky about its immigrants, so we should be.

            What rate SHOULD we accept? I don’t know, different question.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            If you don’t want any illegal immigrants that’s fine, but it’s a bit frustrating to argue a point you make only to for you to say you don’t actually care about it.

            My entire point was that I didn’t care about statistics. I say I don’t care about the statistics, you bring statistics, and then I state again that I do not care about statistics. I’m sorry you are frustrated. I am also frustrated.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Conrad

            Makes sense, I guess, but the post calling out the univariate analysis was the one I was responding to. I don’t like the “arguments as soldiers” position, and I’d rather spend time talking about what people actually care about.

          • John Schilling says:

            If illegal immigrants commit crimes at a rate lower than the native population, then the overall crime rate will be reduced, the ratio of crimes to potential victims will be reduced, and the probability that any particular native citizen will be victimized will be reduced. The dominant effect of illegal immigration will in this case be to provide additional victims that will absorb crimes that would otherwise be committed both by and against native citizens. This is not only mathematically sound, it is common sense insofar as native criminals have a finite taste for crime and illegal immigrants are easier targets.

            Meanwhile, the illegal immigrants are coming from places with much higher crime rates, so their victimization will also be reduced.

            So why wouldn’t we be interested in an analysis that, if the numbers are right shows illegal immigration would reduce the probability that anyone he cares about will ever be the victim of crime, and simultaneously benefit the immigrants and the hard-working criminals of America, harming only foreign criminals who are being deprived of some of their victims? This seems like win-win-win to me.

          • broblawsky says:

            @Conrad

            If I understand your point correctly, you don’t care at all what the qualities of illegal immigrants are. They could all be super-ethical (except for immigration laws) geniuses and you’d still want them blocked from entering the country and removed when present – in both cases, by any means necessary. Is that fair, or am I misunderstanding your POV?

          • Adding a demographic that’s still high in crime but not as high as the current more-likely-to-be-criminal demographic doesn’t help with crime.

            That isn’t what the statistic implies. The claim (I have no idea if it is true, never having investigated its basis) is that the immigrants are less likely to be criminal than the average of the current population.

            Suppose, for simplicity, that a tenth of the population are black and that they commit all of the crimes. Then the claim implies that immigrants are less than a tenth as criminal as blacks, not just less criminal.

          • I don’t actually care about crime rates. I care about raw numbers of crimes.

            That makes no sense.

            Suppose we let in ten million immigrants, and one of them commits one crime. You now have ten million more potential victims, so unless no crimes are committed against them, the number of crimes committed against the non-immigrants has gone down, not up.

            If immigrants are as likely to be victims as non-immigrants, than the effect on the crime rate is the relevant statistic. Your position only makes sense if you are assuming that immigrants (illegal or legal–it doesn’t matter for the logic of the argument) are never crime victims.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @David

            It does make sense on the raw numbers, though. With 300 million Americans and ~12 million illegals, a random crime victim is more likely to be an American. I disagree with Conrad on a normative level, but his point stands up to minimal scrutiny. Also, see my above post for a crime breakdown.

          • Nornagest says:

            It does make sense on the raw numbers, though. With 300 million Americans and ~12 million illegals, a random crime victim is more likely to be an American.

            Let’s say there’s 10 people living on a particular street, all of whom belong to the Church of St. Dismas which dictates that they mug two people on the same street a year, no more and no less, chosen at random (and just to make the math simpler, we’ll accept duplicates and pretend you can mug yourself). Twenty muggings a year, randomly distributed over a population of 10: each of these people should expect to be mugged on average twice a year.

            Now let’s say another person moves onto the same street. He belongs to the Second Reformed Church of St. Dismas (Reorganized), which requires one mugging a year. You now have 21 muggings a year and a population of 11. The extra mugging is very likely to go to one of the original tenants, but everyone’s expected yearly muggings goes down to 1.91.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Worrying about mundane crime is thinking too small. Immigration is a crime against the environment.

            American residents have much bigger carbon footprint per capita than most other countries. The more people we move from greener countries to America, the worse we make global warming. The fewer people America lets in, the better off the whole planet is.

          • John Schilling says:

            Worrying about mundane crime is thinking too small. Immigration is a crime against the environment.

            You don’t believe that, you don’t expect anyone else here to believe that, no one else here will believe that, and the only people who will think you’ve pwnd the libs with that bit of low-grade smug are people who already agree with you and don’t care for civility. I don’t think it quite rises to the level of a report, but please meditate on whether it was even one of kind, necessary, or true.

          • Clutzy says:

            If illegal immigrants commit crimes at a rate lower than the native population, then the overall crime rate will be reduced, the ratio of crimes to potential victims will be reduced, and the probability that any particular native citizen will be victimized will be reduced. The dominant effect of illegal immigration will in this case be to provide additional victims that will absorb crimes that would otherwise be committed both by and against native citizens. This is not only mathematically sound, it is common sense insofar as native criminals have a finite taste for crime and illegal immigrants are easier targets.

            I think this is only a 50% way of thinking of it. Most people intuitively understand that most crime is intra-racial and intra-community. If that wasn’t true modern day Chicago would make a 1930s Bama Klan rally look tame. So, in reality, crime is more about resources (and avoiding enclaves where you become a minority in an area and are now governed by people living in high crime areas).

            And I personally don’t think crime is a large immigration issue.

          • habu71 says:

            @ John Schilling

            If illegal immigrants commit crimes at a rate lower than the native population, then the overall crime rate will be reduced, the ratio of crimes to potential victims will be reduced, and the probability that any particular native citizen will be victimized will be reduced.

            Two points of contention. Short term (~within one generation), this is of course accurate. Long term, however, what matters is the average crime rate of the children of immigrant group x. And these rates are by no means the same. In fact, given differences in acculturation, citizenship status, and selection forces, these numbers can be significantly different, as is currently seen in the US.
            Second, while this doesn’t specifically go against anything you said, I very much disagree with the framing of argument you commented on. The question should never, ever be “Do group of people x have a higher or lower crime rate than the native population?”. Rather, the relevant question should always be “Do group of people y have a higher or lower crime rate than the best, possible, alternative group of people. ?” In a world where there is a near infinite supply of people desiring to move to the US and wide national agreement that some non-zero amount of people should be allowed to move here, suggesting that the meaningful baseline for criminality – or, for that matter, any other trait – is the current US population is a cheap rhetorical trick.

          • John Schilling says:

            In a world where there is a near infinite supply of people desiring to move to the US and wide national agreement that some non-zero amount of people should be allowed to move here,

            Pretty sure you’re wrong about the last part. Roughly half the body politic wants the number of foreigners who immigrate to the United States to be close enough to zero as makes no difference. If they aren’t closing the doors on the demographically irrelevant handful of Western Europeans and Rich Asians who want to move here, neither are they expecting to substitute ten million such for the ten million poor Hispanic, etc, immigrants that they are trying to keep out.

          • INH5 says:

            @habu71: That sounds like an argument for replacing illegal immigrants with legal immigrants by increasing immigration quotas, expanding guest worker programs, and so on. A large majority of Qatar’s population consists of mostly low-skilled migrant workers, and it’s one of the safest countries in the world, so I agree that there’s still room for improvement when it comes to US immigrant crime rates.

            But somehow I doubt that many of the people in favor of a wall across the US-Mexico border would be in favor of such a policy. With one extremely notable possible exception, in the unlikely event that he doesn’t change his mind and disavow his previous statements when people start to notice.

          • Jaskologist says:

            @John Schilling

            I will try to reign in the snark in the future.

          • Clutzy says:

            INH5

            hat sounds like an argument for replacing illegal immigrants with legal immigrants by increasing immigration quotas, expanding guest worker programs, and so on. A large majority of Qatar’s population consists of mostly low-skilled migrant workers, and it’s one of the safest countries in the world, so I agree that there’s still room for improvement when it comes to US immigrant crime rates.

            This seems silly. Increasing legal immigration from France isn’t going to help prevent illegal immigration from El Salvador.

          • INH5 says:

            This seems silly. Increasing legal immigration from France isn’t going to help prevent illegal immigration from El Salvador.

            Legal immigration from anywhere that meets the economic demand for illegal immigrant workers from places like El Salvador would help prevent illegal immigration from El Salvador. Even for actual refugees, because with the numbers of illegal economic migrants reduced Border Patrol and ICE won’t be stretched as thinly as they are now.

          • John Schilling says:

            Legal immigration from anywhere that meets the economic demand for illegal immigrant workers from places like El Salvador would help prevent illegal immigration from El Salvador

            Legal immigration from places like France doesn’t meet the economic demand for illegal immigrant workers from places like El Salvador, because approximately no one in France is willing to e.g. mop floors for $4/hour and the few who are don’t need to leave France to do that.

          • brad says:

            But refugees from Xinjiang, Syria, or Somalia might well. And there’s a plausible argument that we should prefer orderly refugee immigration from the this year’s global humanitarian hot spots to disorderly economic migration from Latin American.

          • John Schilling says:

            But refugees from Xinjiang, Syria, or Somalia might well.

            And virtually all of the people who want to substantially restrict (illegal) immigration from Latin America, also want to block refugees from the world’s various war zones and tyrannies.

            Put simply, they don’t want any more tired, poor huddled masses, nor the wretched refuse of anyone’s teeming shore, because they think such immigrants will cause significant net harm to the people who already live here. There are several possible reasons for that, some charitable, some not so much, and under the present circumstances difficult to distinguish. But offering to substitute one color of huddled masses for another, either as a sincere offer or a hypocrisy gotcha, is irrelevant to the discussion because they don’t want any huddled masses at all.

          • dorrk says:

            With:

            Roughly half the body politic wants the number of foreigners who immigrate to the United States to be close enough to zero as makes no difference.

            And:

            Put simply, they don’t want any more tired, poor huddled masses, nor the wretched refuse of anyone’s teeming shore, because they think such immigrants will cause significant net harm to the people who already live here. There are several possible reasons for that, some charitable, some not so much, and under the present circumstances difficult to distinguish. But offering to substitute one color of huddled masses for another, either as a sincere offer or a hypocrisy gotcha, is irrelevant to the discussion because they don’t want any huddled masses at all.

            @Johnschilling is creating a strawman more dishonest and pernicious than the claim that all Democrats want completely open borders.

            While it’s true that immigration restrictionists want illegal immigration “to be close enough to zero,” most are perfectly fine with immigrants filtering through the legal process, which makes some small effort to acculturate them to American ideas and norms. It allows us to maintain the flow of immigration to what our lawmakers feel is a manageable standard for successfully integrating new citizens into our country.

            I don’t want new illegal immigrants from any country or class; I don’t particularly care where the legal ones come from, as long as they do it properly.

            I guess I’m more concerned with how illegal immigration degrades the law and creates a kind of permanent outlaw underclass, which isn’t healthy for its inhabitants or society at large.

          • habu71 says:

            @John Schilling
            I mostly agree with that analysis, and that’s why I specified the amount as simply non-zero. My claim was merely that most people in the country would be fine with, say, bringing in a number of German rocket scientists who happen to be the best in the world.
            Is that a trivial amount? Compared to our current rate of inflow, yes, but importantly it also indicates a place of agreement from which future compromises can be built. The framework of comparing immigrants to the mean American seems to often be used to shut down such a debate by suggesting that, since group of people X meet said standard, the only possible reason prefer group of people Y is racism. If we instead used a framework that more easily allowed a discussion of the question who should be let in, obtaining agreement on the following question of how many is much, much easier.

          • nkurz says:

            I’ll just second what ‘dorrk’ said: I’d like to see illegal immigration be enforced down to zero, but I don’t see legal immigration as a problem. I think we should choose laws that best meet our national needs, and then enforce them.

            @John Schilling:
            What convinces you that “virtually all” people who want to reduce illegal immigration from Latin America are also against accepting legal refugees from elsewhere? I’m sure there are some people who believe this (does anyone here want to own this position?) but I’m doubtful it’s even a majority.

    • INH5 says:

      Like dndnrsn said, drug violence in Mexico is highly localized, and Mexico is big enough that it’s a lot easier to flee to another part of Mexico than try to illegally cross an international border. We do have a Central American refugee problem because Central American countries don’t have nearly as much room to run.

      More generally, here’s why I find the current state of the immigration debate absurd:

      Illegal immigration hasn’t just been reduced, it’s been net-negative for more than a decade. Furthermore, a majority of new illegal immigrants come by overstaying their visas nowadays.

      Let’s do the math: there are about 300-400k new illegal immigrants per year, and ~38% of those come over the Mexican border. This means that even if a magical force field appeared on the US-Mexico border halting all unauthorized crossings and zero would-be border crossers became visa overstayers and zero of those people were seasonal workers that would have gone back to Mexico within a year anyway, the result would only be an annual reduction of the illegal immigrant population by less than 150k. Against an existing illegal population of ~11 million people, that’s not quite nothing, but is pretty close, and hardly seems worth the price tag.

      I see the border wall debate as akin to a debate in 1999 over whether the US should spend billions of dollars deploying troops to the Western part of Germany in order to defend against Russian tanks. It doesn’t matter whether the proposed solution would be effective, because the problem that it’s trying to solve isn’t there anymore.

      If the debate had any basis in reality, we would be talking about what we should do about the illegal immigrants that are already here.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        If the debate had any basis in reality, we would be talking about what we should do about the illegal immigrants that are already here.

        Before we can bail the water out of the boat we have to stop the leak. If you deport the people already here without a wall and a controlled border they just waltz right back in.

        • CatCube says:

          We rarely try to get every leak in a boat, because it’s not cost-effective to do so. You get it to a point that your bilge pumps can handle it.

          • gbdub says:

            Sure, but the fact that any one leak isn’t the only one isn’t a reason to not repair it.

            “A wall is a poor way to reduce illegal immigration, because most illegal immigrants don’t enter via the southern border. We should address the other causes first because we can do so more cost effectively” – that’s a perfectly fine argument.

            “The wall won’t work because there are more illegal immigrants coming in through other means. Therefore if you want a wall you’re a racist. And you probably are if you want to do anything about the other sources too.” – that seems to be much closer to the arguments in the public discourse right now.

          • CatCube says:

            @gbdub

            FWIW, I’ve said before that my opposition to The Wall* is because I think it’s a really cost-ineffective way to handle illegal immigration compared to enforcement and deportation. However, I don’t think there’s anything morally wrong with it; I thought that it was stupid of the Democrats to hold it up for the shutdown, because while it’s a waste of money, the $5bb is paltry in the scope of US Government waste. Of course, I think it’s also stupid of the President to insist on waste.

            * I capitalize it to differentiate the current barrier under discussion, driven by centralized requirements out of Washington for a 30′ monstrosity, from local planning for border control that may include walls. I have zero issues with erecting barriers (even 30′ monstrosities) requested by local CBP agents because they’ve identified an area where a bunch of people are crossing and a barrier will support local patrols in helping to, say, push people into crossing in a desert rather than an area where they are more likely to succeed into making it across. That is, barriers need to be part of a local system, not “Wall is All!” (Because it won’t be–look at what it took to truly seal the Inner German Border.)

          • gbdub says:

            @CatCube – Sorry, I didn’t mean to single you out or imply you were advancing the second argument.

            I do see a lot of people advancing the “not cost effective” argument who are broadly against any additional spending to reduce illegal immigration (or even apparently against much enforcement against illegal immigration at all). Given that, the “not cost effective” argument comes off as best case disingenuous, worst case concern trolling.

      • I would be a lot more sympathetic to this argument if Democrats weren’t so violently against deportation. Republicans aren’t against dealing with the illegal immigrants already here. It’s that border security is low hanging fruit. We could spend a small percent of our budget and dramatically reduce the number of people crossing the border. 100k illegal immigrants a year is a lot. After that, I think more conservatives would find some kind of amnesty deal more acceptable. The fact that progressives made such a fuss over the $5 billion Trump requested while proposing trillions for the Green New Deal makes it hard to take their opposition seriously.

        Imagine that we had a wave of terrorism where attacks increased dramatically Then we had some policies that cut that rate slightly but still was higher than before. It’s like you’re denying both that those policies had an effect while also claiming that it’s no longer a problem because it’s not as bad as it used to be. It sounds ludicrous to a conservative.

        • albatross11 says:

          Deportation is also hard. Particularly when you have (as we do) people who’ve lived here peaceably for decades, bought a house, joined a church, had some kids, etc., you can’t do it on a large scale without tearing up families and communities. Not letting new immigrants come in is far more humane, and also far less likely to trigger some huge backlash from voters who hate seeing normal members of the community dragged off and deported.

          Deporting people who come to the unfavorable attention of the police (as perps, not as victims) is workable and probably makes the country better off. But mass deportation of 12 million people would be brutal and horrible and would IMO trigger a huge backlash.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        Border protection [whether it’s in the form of a wall, a fence, border patrol agents, a force field, or a mine field] ceases to be cost effective when the cost of the added protection exceeds the expected gain from

        Think tanks that support a wall, and presumably the Trump administration, will cite their own research indicating that border crossers taken as a whole are a net fiscal drain on the United States. [At all levels of government combined]

        https://cis.org/Report/Cost-Border-Wall-vs-Cost-Illegal-Immigration

        But if it is correct then 100K per year multiplied by their estimated fiscal drain of 74K per person [NPV] that’s $7.4B per year saved . A true fiscal drain that is lower then that would still result in a $25B wall paying for itself over a few years.

        I’m not going to underwrite this research as being correct, but I want to highlight the fact that how many crossers there are or might be prevented isn’t sufficient information to tell you if a border wall is worth it, you need to know how much on average a single person is worth keeping out.

        The mere existence of large numbers of people that have already settled in doesn’t really address this problem one way or another.

        • INH5 says:

          The question isn’t just “is this policy cost-effective in a vacuum?” it’s “is this policy cost-effective compared to alternative courses of action?”

          If the figures in this link are accurate, then just directly deporting 100,000 more illegals each year would cost about $1 billion a year. Presumably one would expect indirect methods of encouraging “self-deportation” such as stricter enforcement of laws against employing undocumented workers to be even more cost-effective.

          The way I see it, going all-in on securing the border only makes sense if the people illegally crossing the border right now are much more of a concern than both people overstaying their visas and the people who illegaly crossed the border in the past. And I don’t see much reason to believe that that’s the case.

    • Deiseach says:

      I think he’s grandstanding due to putting himself out there as a candidate. As a cis het white male he needs something to stand out amongst the First Female Ever and Genuine Minority Not Just A Nickname candidates going for the gig. If he gets within an ass’s roar of being one of the picked few in the field going forward for serious consideration as the Democratic Party nominee, I imagine that like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with “no nukes!” it will be a case of “when I said that thing I didn’t mean it and besides I never said it, it was a draft that was leaked”.

      Granted, he opened his cake hole on live TV and emitted words, but that should not be an insurmountable problem to overcome later; probably something along the lines of “I said I’d take down El Paso’s border wall, I never said nothing about any other part of any other border walls”. Does anybody really think he genuinely means “Should I be elected next president of this great nation, I’ll send in the diggers to rip out the fences the last president of our party erected”?

      My cynicism about politicians on the campaign trail and any noises that emanate from their orifices being meaningful or binding as regards potential policies remains inviolate. Hey Beto, any chance you’d buy us a pint?

      • Plumber says:

        @Deisearch

        “….any chance you’d buy us a pint?”

        My vote is far too precious to be swayed by the offer of an IPA!

        A good dark ale on the other hand….

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          As a friend of mine once said when we were traveling, “Help! We’re from the West coast and can’t tell our map from an ass or triple-hopped IPA from a refreshing beer!”

          • J Mann says:

            The key with an IPA is balancing all that bitterness, usually with citrus, or stopping just before it gets bitter. Like a gin martini, it’s tricky but rewards effort.

        • Since the suggestion was made by Deiseach, it’s presumably an imperial pint.

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      My prior is to assume that if someone opposes a border wall completion it has more to do with their dislike of the idea of excluding people from entering the united states than it has to do with a cost benefit analysis. It’s an uncharitable position to take but you have to ask with a federal government that has budget deficits in the trillions, and has for some time, is it more likely that people are fighting so bitterly over the cost-benefit of $25B Or that this is seen as a civil rights violation and needs to be argued against and opposed [even in bad faith] from all angles.

      There are some exceptions;

      1. Libertarians who oppose border controls but want the only immigration filter to be the absence of a welfare state.
      2. People who oppose a border wall but *do* support something like an entry-exit system or some way of controlling Visas.

      #1 is a position I have seen several people take, it was a position I had at one point. #2 is something I have rarely seen but i imagine it exists. I’ve seen people argue that a border wall should not be built on the grounds that visa overstays are the majority of the source of illegal immigration, but they don’t follow through on any desire to see that issue resolved.

      • LesHapablap says:

        Trump intentionally made the wall a political symbol for himself. If the wall gets built, Trump wins a lot of political points. If it isn’t built, he loses some. That’s about as far as you need to look for motivations on either side.

        • RalMirrorAd says:

          I would not go as far as to say that opponents of the wall are insincere partisans who see everything in terms of reducing the political success of a government official with an ‘R’ on their name.

          I think the whole reason Trump is disliked in a uniquely intense fashion, one much greater than any other republican, is because he made immigration the centerpiece of his campaign.

          • I don’t think that’s it.

            I think it is more that Trump shows no respect for the conventional norms of how politicians are supposed to behave.

          • LesHapablap says:

            I didn’t say they were insecure partisans. They understand that the wall is an important symbol and that if Trump succeeds in building the wall it will help his reelection chances.

            That the wall appears to be a dubious solution to a non-problem, cynically used by Trump to whip up his base to win an election with the side effect of increasing the divisiveness and hostility in the country, only makes people that don’t like Trump dislike him more and want to give him his wall even less.

      • arlie says:

        I oppose it because it looks to me like “security theater”. I.e. I think it’s as likely to prevent problems as requiring airline passengers to empty their water bottles (and pay for more water inside security) and/or take off their shoes (unless they pre-pay for reduced screening). I.e. I don’t expect it to be cost effective. (But it might be profitable for someone – perhaps corrupt border security agents who will be able to increase their prices for looking the other way. :-))

        I also oppose it because I don’t really care how many immigrants arrive in the US, or whether or not they are legally admitted, within any range of halfway plausible numbers. I want the ones that create trouble deported or incarcerated, but I kind of feel the same about native-born troublemakers, for some values of trouble.

        So anything I do care about is a better use of that money, including e.g. repealing the part of the recent “tax reform” that raised my personal taxes.

        I’m sure that if you were to give me a list of things the federal govenment spends money on, or someone wants them to spend money on, I’d find many more in that category. But it’s easier to successfully oppose a change than to successfully force a change. And this one’s been all over the news, so I’m aware of it.

        But if you were to offer me a deal – repeal of tax “reform” and/or all measure to gut “Obamacare,” in exchange for Trump getting his symbolic wall, I’d probably jump for it, assuming I had some reason to believe that measures just repealed wouldn’t immediately be reimposed.

  13. EchoChaos says:

    In “yes, we really are for open borders” news, Beto O’Rourke, famous Senate election loser and hopeful 2020 Presidential election loser, has declared that he would destroy existing barriers between the US and Mexico.

    • baconbits9 says:

      If accurate then that is his candidacy done.

      • J Mann says:

        He characterizes it as people want to go to El Paso to apply for asylum, but the current fencing situation requires them to make a dangerous hike across the desert.

        It’s definitely true that while you can absolutely apply for asylum without crossing the border (and if you’re from Central America, you can also apply for asylum in Mexico), there are sometimes (often, always?) long delays in asylum applications. Presumably, a common-sense solution would be to increase funding for the officers who hear asylum applications, and possibly to fund some resources to maintain people while they wait for their result.

        • baconbits9 says:

          My comment is mostly about how he is basically responding to how the Republicans are framing the discussion and doing so in ways that can easily be excerpted for soundbites.

    • Eugene Dawn says:

      Where does he mention open borders?

      • EchoChaos says:

        Where he wants to open a border that is currently closed by a wall?

        If I say you’re in favor of opening the door to your house and your retort is that you just want to remove the front wall, we’re just playing semantic games at this point.

        • Eugene Dawn says:

          Open borders typically means unrestricted traffic across the border, not that there literally is no physical barrier. Canada and the US have very few physical barriers separating them, but the border is still patrolled, there are sensors, and there is a real effort to prevent border crossings–just not using the specific mechanism of a wall. The US and Canada don’t have open borders, and wouldn’t even if the few physical barriers were taken down.
          If O’Rourke only wants the wall down, perhaps because it’s ineffective, or its costs are too high in some way, that doesn’t mean he wants to do away with immigration patrols, sensors, or other methods of border enforcement, and hence this has nothing to do with open borders.

          The correct analogy is something like, if you say I’m in favour of everyone having unrestricted access to my house, and I point out that I only want my front fence taken down, but I still have an alarm system and an attack dog, then we’re absolutely not just playing semantic games: we may have a serious disagreement about what the most effective way to restrict access is, or what the trade-offs are to use one particular method of enforcing those restrictions.

          • EchoChaos says:

            The US and Canada don’t have open borders, and wouldn’t even if the few physical barriers were taken down.

            The US and Canada have the closest thing to open borders that has ever been implemented in world history. If you say you want the US/Canada border, you are arguing for essentially open borders.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The US and Canada have the closest thing to open borders that has ever been implemented in world history.

            Except

            1) Actually open borders, as in the Schengen area or between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

            and

            2) The US-Canada border prior to 2001.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            It is certainly more open than many other borders, but it is still patrolled for crossings, and Canadians do not have unrestricted access to America or vice-versa. Using the term “open borders” to refer to the use of a lighter enforcement touch is very much not the typical usage of open borders, and I think it borders on dishonesty to accuse people of supporting open borders if your usage of the term is vastly different from the standard usage.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I thought open borders included freedom of movement and residence? I’m a Canadian, and it’s pretty easy for me to cross the US border. But I can’t cross the border and just start living there easily.

          • Eltargrim says:

            Speaking as a Canadian who is jumping through hoops to work in the US in the coming year, the US-Canada border is far from open. I require a visa to work, and while it’s easier for me to obtain than for many others, it’s still a visa and still requires appropriate approvals.

        • Dan L says:

          Ok. But if I say I want to open the door and you claim I want to remove the whole wall, are we still playing semantic games? Or are you just lying?

          • EchoChaos says:

            But if I say I want to open the door and you claim I want to remove the whole wall, are we still playing semantic games?

            That certainly depends on the specifics of the request to open the door.

          • Dan L says:

            How could it possibly depend on the specifics, if “I want to open the door” is more than sufficient to draw the claim? If the nuances matter, shouldn’t you have waited until I elaborated?

          • EchoChaos says:

            Because righties are tired of the exact same motte and bailey being pulled.

            “We’re not for open borders, just against anything that closes the border. Like a fence voted in by a bipartisan majority or immigration enforcement or increased numbers of judges and beds to process asylum claims quickly”

            One of the problems is that you may not be for “true open borders”, but whatever Democrats are for is a border so open that it certainly meets my definition.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            How are Democrats opposed to “a fence voted in by a bipartisan majority”?

          • Dan L says:

            “We’re not for open borders, just against anything that closes the border.”

            Yes, that would be the lying part.

            Democrats have spent decades willing to sign off on enhanced border security, they’re just rarely willing to do so without getting other policy concessions in return. The fact that you might need to negotiate to get what you want seems to be coming as a surprise.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Eugene Dawn

            We are talking right now about Beto O’Rourke wanting to remove that fence.

            Last I checked, he’s a Democrat.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Democrats have spent decades willing to sign off on enhanced border security, they’re just rarely willing to do so without getting other policy concessions in return.

            Right, that’s a thing you’re against, but willing to give as a compromise.

            If they were for border security, then they wouldn’t need to request Republicans give something up to get it. Because getting border security would be a win for them.

          • Plumber says:

            @EchoChaos

            “….If they were for border security, then they wouldn’t need to request Republicans give something up to get it. Because getting border security would be a win for them…”

            Other than Trump what Republicans?

            More were deported during Obama’s presidency than Bush’s, and Trump had a Republican controlled Congress for two years that could’ve funded a border wall extension (somehow it keeps getting forgotten that there already are border walls).

            We have had over the past few years since Trump started campaigning a mighty rush of voters who care about immigration to side with one or the other Party based on this issue, but I’m doubtful of most Republican office holders commitment, as for the Democrats some newly elected ones seem sincere but most of the rest didn’t raise much of a fuss over Obama’s deportations (just as the Republicans didn’t fuss over Bush’s lack of same).

          • Democrats have spent decades willing to sign off on enhanced border security, they’re just rarely willing to do so without getting other policy concessions in return.

            If true, that implies that they regard enhanced border security as a bad thing, something they are willing to sign off on only in exchange for getting something else they consider good.

            Which support the position you are criticizing.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Plumber

            Every Republican pretends to be in favor of it during the election season.

            Look up McCain’s “Finish the Danged Fence” ad, for example.

            I agree with you that they aren’t sincere for the most part. That’s one of the reasons Trump won. He seemed like he was someone who was actually sincere.

          • Dan L says:

            @ EchoChaos, DavidFriedman

            If they were for border security, then they wouldn’t need to request Republicans give something up to get it. Because getting border security would be a win for them.

            If true, that implies that they regard enhanced border security as a bad thing, something they are willing to sign off on only in exchange for getting something else they consider good.

            Oorrrrrr…. it means they think they can leverage the fact that Republicans want it more to get additional things. This barely rises to the level of ‘politics’, it’s just basic negotiation strategy.

            I’d be genuinely disappointed if you couldn’t think of half a dozen comparable situations, if you tried.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            If you are only talking about Beto, then it’s unclear why you attribute his position to all Democrats:

            whatever Democrats are for is a border so open that it certainly meets my definition.

            I think this would be a lot clearer if you could specify who exactly you think is for open borders, and on what basis.

            As we’ve discussed, even Beto is only for open borders by your incredibly idiosyncratic definition of it, and rather by definition it’s hard to argue that the Democrats are opposed to bipartisan fencing, so they clearly don’t mind closing the border even by your definition.

          • brad says:

            One of the problems is that you may not be for “true open borders”, but whatever Democrats are for is a border so open that it certainly meets my definition.

            This is the root of the problem. Your definition is not standard. Knowingly using a personal definition without flagging that you are doing so demonstrates poor communication skills. Doing so because you want to use that conflation as a political weapon is bad faith.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I’m with Brad here. “Open borders” indicates freedom of movement, freedom of residence, freedom of work. A border that is easily circumvented isn’t an open border.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @brad @dndnrsn

            freedom of movement

            Democrats are, in the cities they control, against preventing movement across the border, by fences (what we’re discussing)

            freedom of residence

            Democrats are against checking citizenship status to live and rent in the cities they control.

            freedom of work

            Democrats are, in the cities they control, against requiring residency or citizenship to work.

            They are for YOUR definition of open borders.

            They just obfuscate it by saying “we’re not for open borders” and keeping those laws in place (because they know they’d lose if they run on them), while simultaneously being for practical open borders.

          • brad says:

            You are uncharitably imputing beliefs to people that they don’t themselves espouse.

            You are a deliberately using a non-standard definition without adequate disclosure as an ideological weapon.

            Even if your observations were reasonable as to a particular person, which they largely aren’t, you are tarring more than a hundred million people with your brush.

            You are arguing in bad faith and degrading the level of discourse here. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

          • dndnrsn says:

            No, they aren’t proposing open borders. Proposing open borders would, in fact, consist of proposing open borders. The current situation in the US is not practical open borders – because it relies on the majority of illegal immigrants keeping their heads down, working menial jobs, as an easily abusable class of people who could hypothetically get turfed out very easily.

            Prior to the legalization of marijuana in Canada, it was basically understood that unless you were dealing significant amounts or committing other crimes at the same time, the cops would leave you alone as long as you didn’t make a nuisance of yourself and weren’t someone they might hassle anyway. It would be incorrect to say that this meant marijuana, or the consumption thereof was legalized, even though one could smoke a joint in many public parks (not the ones with kids in them, mind you) without trouble.

            The Democrats might want open borders, if they could get them. But they can’t. Trying to undermine the system (whether or not undermining it is a good thing – people who propose sanctuary city, etc policies often have humanitarian, or even utilitarian, motivations, and they may be right) isn’t the same as proposing it be done away with.

            The current system is terrible because it has this sort of netherworld of easily-abusable workers, people who can’t call the cops if someone is committing a crime, etc. Let’s not pretend that there aren’t people on both sides of the aisle who like cheap and easily abusable farm workers, construction day labourers, lawn care, nannies, whatever. It’s not just the villainous Democrats; there’s got to be a reason that proposals that are fairly common-sense if what one wants is to reduce illegal immigration don’t go through even when the Republicans have both houses.

            It would be open borders if a Canadian computer engineer could move to the US and live and work there without jumping through any hoops. It isn’t open borders because it is convenient for a lot of people to have Mexicans and others to do dirty work at the lowest cost possible.

          • John Schilling says:

            A border that is easily circumvented isn’t an open border.

            But a law that is never enforced isn’t really a law. If the US border is trivially circumvented, and US employment laws are never enforced, and police and bureaucrats are explicitly instructed to turn a blind eye to people they find residing here illegally, then the border is in fact open even if there are still archaic laws on the books dictating otherwise.

            There have always been a minority of Democrats who favored all three of those policies – and they’ve been joined by a fair number of Republicans on at least #2. There is now a reasonable concern that Trump-induced polarization will result in de facto open borders becoming de facto Democratic policy on the grounds that, while most of them don’t want open borders, they even less want to be seen as standing anywhere near the legacy of Donald J. Trump.

            And we could have wound up in that place even without Trump, but he’s certainly accelerated the process.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @John Schilling

            People can live and work in the US, but they gotta stay under the radar unless they’re particularly sympathetic. If I were to sneak across the northern border and get a job as a generic office drone (sadly, not a computer engineer) it would likely not go well for me.

            I think the general tendency towards undermining enforcement is bad, not because enforcement is necessarily good, but because it creates a two-tier immigration system: if you want to have a nice job and be able to call the cops, you gotta fulfill criteria and jump through hoops. You can also just sneak across, but that will limit you to crap jobs and not being able to call the cops.

      • J Mann says:

        The article is referring to this interview, starting at about 4:15.

        The interviewer passes along a question from Dan Crenshaw, asking Beto if Beto would remove the wall between El Paso and Mexico if he could.

        Beto said “Yes. . . Absolutely. I’d take the wall down.” According to Beto, the existing wall across the US-Mexico border “has pushed migrants and asylum seekers and refugees to the most inhospitable, the most hostile stretches of the US-Mexico border,” and that migrants and asylum seekers have died “as we have walled off their opportunity to legally petition for asylum to cross in urban centers, like El Paso, to be with family, to work jobs, to do what any human being should have a right to be able to do.”

        Beto’s argument is that it’s the least inhumane option, but once you argue that any human being has the right to cross the border to be with family and work jobs, I don’t see how you say that’s not supporting open borders.

        • Eugene Dawn says:

          As you note, he prefaces this with “to legally petition for asylum”–it depends on if you think “to be with family, to work jobs” is conditional on “to legally petition for asylum”, or if it’s an independent clause. If he’s arguing that they have right to cross the border to legally petition for asylum, but that they might be rejected, then it’s not open borders.

          I read him the first way, since if he’s genuinely arguing for open borders it’s not clear what it would even mean to apply for asylum, but I guess it’s not impossible to read it the second way. Has he clarified?

          • You can legally petition for asylum without crossing the border.

            Most “asylum seekers” only seek asylum because they know it’s the best way for them to get released. There is not enough detention beds so they get released while pinkie promising to come to their court date and then not showing up. And Democrats were resisting adding new detention centers in the latest funding deal.

            At this rate, the Democrat position in ten years will be that we have to remove all border barriers, remove all personnel guarding the border and never deport anyone for any reason, but they don’t support open borders.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            But the asylum system is a sham.

            Asylum is a really nice thing we, out of the kindness of our hearts, offer to people who are persecuted by their governments because of their race, religion, sometimes politics, etc. There is nowhere in the western hemisphere except Cuba for which this applies.

            These are therefore not asylum seekers, but economic migrants. They have no intention of applying for asylum when they cross the border illegally. They cross the border illegally intending to disappear into the populace. Should they be apprehended, they falsely claim asylum, hoping for “catch and release” so they can disappear into the populace.

            Beto is not trying to help asylum seekers. He’s trying to facilitate illegal economic migrants.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            Wrong Species has it right – any talk of “asylum seekers” is about getting them into the country, not about getting an actual grant of asylum.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            You can legally petition for asylum without crossing the border.

            Can you? US Citizenship and Immigration says you have two ways to petition for asylum: “To obtain asylum through the affirmative asylum process you must be physically present in the United States” or “A defensive application for asylum occurs when you request asylum as a defense against removal from the U.S. For asylum processing to be defensive, you must be in removal proceedings in immigration court with the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR)” which sounds like you have to be in the US as well.

            This is from 2015, but a more recent document suggests the same: “Individuals can apply for asylum affirmatively if they are physically present in the U.S” or “at ports of entry.” Otherwise, “Individuals can seek asylum as a defense against removal after they are apprehended by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents in the U.S. or at one of the ports of entry”

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Eugene Dawn

            Working jobs is illegal for asylum seekers, so he is either woefully uninformed or those are separate clauses.

            I’m not sure which option makes him look worse.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Working jobs is illegal for asylum seekers, so he is either woefully uninformed or those are separate clauses.

            I don’t think this is true; USCIS says you can apply for employment authorization 150 days after applying for asylum, you just can’t do it immediately when you apply. Also, if asylum is approved, you can obviously work.

            I think the most natural reading is “they should be able to legally petition for asylum, so that if accepted, they can be with family, work jobs, etc.”

          • J Mann says:

            Eugene – he clearly says that both “migrants” and “asylum seekers” and “refugees” should be able to come into El Paso unimpeded “to petition for asylum, to be with family, and to work jobs.”

            If Beto wants to clarify that he has a plan to allow in asylum seekers but not to allow in migrants, then he can, but he has literally stated a case for literal open borders.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            DNC deputy chair Keith Ellison appeared at an event wearing a t-shirt that read “I don’t believe in borders.”

            Is it fair to say he desires open borders?

            I guess not because after all if you don’t believe in borders, how can you believe in open borders?

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            If Beto wants to clarify that he has a plan to allow in asylum seekers but not to allow in migrants, then he can, but he has literally stated a case for literal open borders.

            I read it to mean that the migrants were the asylum seekers: the migrants too should have the chance to “petition for asylum”. As long as the asylum petition is a precondition for all the rest, it’s not a case for open borders.

          • Aapje says:

            @Eugene Dawn

            “At ports of entry” seems similar to me as ‘at the door.’ Then you are still outside.

          • J Mann says:

            @Eugene – that’s a very generous reading and IMHO not the natural one, but you may be right, and I’m sure Beto will have time to clarify.

            It does seem to me that if safety for asylum seekers is the primary concern, one logical compromise would be to increase funding for processing and housing outside the border. With Trump eager to deal, there’s an opportunity to do a lot of good.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Eugene Dawn

            I don’t think this is true; USCIS says you can apply for employment authorization 150 days after applying for asylum, you just can’t do it immediately when you apply. Also, if asylum is approved, you can obviously work.

            I said “asylum seekers”, which is what the restriction is. There is a waiver for people whose asylum request is still pending after 150 days, but those people are certainly not regularly crossing the border and hence wouldn’t be covered by his quote.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            I think someone waiting for their asylum petition to be processed is still an “asylum seeker” though perhaps that’s not how the term is used.

            I don’t see what regularly crossing the border has to do with it: someone comes to the US, crossing the border once, anticipating the opportunity to work, which he can do once he’s legally petitioned for asylum, albeit after some time and some authorization.

        • Eugene Dawn says:

          If Beto is arguing that the wall has pushed people to the “most hostile stretches of the US-Mexico border”, that doesn’t sound like a port of entry. I think he’s claiming that walls kill asylum seekers who otherwise could just show up at “urban centers like El Paso”; this of course may not be accurate, but I don’t think he’s saying that he would change the asylum system.

    • Deiseach says:

      Dear EchoChaos, you are not thinking like a politician. He’s not for open borders, he’s for “people not dying in deserts” and how very dare anyone derive anything else from what he said!

      I think maybe all the “Great White Hope what nearly bet Ted in Texas” has gone to his head a bit, from what I’m reading online the Mayor of El Paso isn’t thrilled about the notion of ‘no more barriers’ and I don’t know who he’s trying to appeal to with this. Give him this, it was an honest answer if he really means it, but I’m so jaded about politics I wonder if this is going to be his “What’s Aleppo?” moment.

      • Dan L says:

        I wanted to say it a few days ago, but supposed I needed to wait for the CW-free thread. Was going to make a top level, but this looks like a good place to do it.

        I’m not playing in any prediction markets in the next few months for Reasons, so in the interest of creating accountability for my beliefs I’ll instead publicly claim that shorting Beto @ 15% (per predictit) to win the 2020 primary has my pick for highest EV of the cycle.

    • dorrk says:

      If objections to physical barriers are that they are both ineffectual and too expensive, then it makes no sense to spend additional money tearing down a barrier that is not preventing anything. The financially prudent choice would be to leave all barriers in place. Unless this entire argument is about symbolism, which of course it is.

    • 10240 says:

      I think the mindset of some on the left is that if the US had open borders in the sense of completely legal unrestricted immigration, then hundreds of millions of the poorest people would probably pour in within years, which would be unsustainable for the American economy and society. However, currently that’s not happening, and they think the US is too strict on illegal immigration, and the US could easily sustain more immigration. So right now they support any measure that increases immigration (legal or illegal) and oppose any measure that would decrease it. But they don’t want open borders, or at least conditionally don’t want open borders in the sense that they would perhaps be open to trying unrestricted legal immigration, but they would want to reinstate some restrictions if the rate of immigration becomes excessive.

      My stance is that if you want a given rate of immigration (at most), then you should want to decide who you want to let in based on whatever criteria (such as who will benefit the economy the most, or who needs asylum the most), and strictly enforce immigration controls against the rest (at least as long as they are not too costly). However, it’s clear that many people don’t think that way. Many on the left are more outraged about strict, visible enforcement than by the existence of legal restrictions on immigration, and many on the right would be more outraged if the government explicitly allowed significantly more immigration than by failure to enforce immigration laws, so if a politician wants increased (but not open borders level) immigration, often the most politically feasible route is to make illegal immigration easier.

      Insisting that someone who says A must think B, despite their insistence to the contrary is not conducive to constructive debate, as long as it’s plausible that they actually don’t think B, even if there are good reasons to take issue with someone who doesn’t think B but says A.

  14. Deiseach says:

    Alerted to this courtesy of r/ireland. Thanks for being offended on our behalf, Newsweek, but I’m afraid that my outrage is somewhat muted by the fact that yeah, we do drink too much. Well, that’s the native Irish, I can’t speak for Irish-Americans who are the ones I presume the FBI would be hiring.

    In one particularly shocking exchange, Sessions reportedly told McCabe the FBI was a better organization when “you all only hired Irishmen.” Drawing on archaic and offensive stereotypes, he clarified, “They were drunks but they could be trusted. Not like all those new people with nose rings and tattoos—who knows what they’re doing?”

    I’m not sure if the “particularly shocking” part is supposed to particularly shock us drunken Paddies or the tattooed nose-ring wearers 🙂

    • dick says:

      The shocking part is a high government official relying on racial stereotypes, not the specific stereotype being unusually bad as racial stereotypes go. Also McCabe is alleging him to be stupid and bad at his job, which is probably somewhat more important.

      • Irish are a nation and a culture, not a race. Different national cultures are different.

        • Plumber says:

          @DavidFriedman,

          I’ve seen many books referring to “the Irish race” (as well as the French, Greek, and Roman “race”).

        • Aapje says:

          Irish are a nation and a culture, not a race. Different national cultures are different.

          In my country, the judiciary has decided that discrimination by nationality can be seen as racial discrimination, when the discrimination is implicitly by ethnicity or race.

          However, presumably this criticism would be allowed since he is criticizing culture.

          • 10240 says:

            If by nationality we mean citizenship, that’s pretty crazy (as is the fact that many countries’ anti-discrimination laws explicitly apply to discrimination by citizenship too), given that every government itself also practices discrimination by citizenship: at the very least distinguishing between its own citizens and others, but usually also between different citizenships in matters such as obtaining a visa.

        • 10240 says:

          They are also an ethnicity, and in the context of wrongness or otherwise of stereotypes, what can be said about race can usually also be said about ethnicity.

      • Deiseach says:

        I would be more in agreement about the “relying on racial stereotypes” bit were it not that our own comedians rely heavily on them for comedy routines (warning: swearing).

        So I can’t get too outraged about a Yank politician saying we’re a nation of piss-heads when we’re doing the same ourselves.

        • dick says:

          Good to know, but I think the issue is not whether you should be offended, it’s whether Jeff Sessions should’ve be the US Attorney General (prior to being fired).

          • I don’t know if he should have been the Attorney General, but the fact that he makes jokes about Irish drinking a lot while at the same time praising their loyalty isn’t a reason he shouldn’t be.

    • J Mann says:

      I honestly don’t know why McCabe isn’t up on charges for lying to federal officers.

      • Walter says:

        Just as a general observation, everyone is guilty all the time forever. (Hat tip X felonies a day for some great examples). So if you find yourself wondering why X is not in jail, the answer is almost always that no one has bothered to arrest them and charge them.

        And we do need an affirmative case there. Like, for drug dealers, we don’t. There are cops on the ‘drug dealers beat’, and ultimately a given dealers number comes up, the cops arrest and the prosecutor charges. No need for a specific investigation.

        But McCabe is different. There is no one on the ‘rich old law enforcement guy’ beat. In order for him to be arrested business as usual isn’t sufficient. Some particular cop boss would need to tell his guys to go out and pick him up, and some prosecutor would need to make that case.

        I’d guess the literal answer to your question is something like “DC Police Chief X didn’t feel inspired to have someone go arrest McCabe.”

      • How did he lie and under what circumstances?

        What I find odd about what I have seen of the McCabe story is the idea of using the 25th Amendment to remove Trump. Under the terms of the amendment, the president can be removed by the VP plus a majority of the department heads, which I think means the cabinet. But the next step is that the president, if he doesn’t want to be removed, notifies the House and Senate that he is able to fulfill his duties, and he is then back in power unless each of them votes against it by a two-thirds majority.

        If two thirds of both houses want the president out, they can impeach him–no need to rely on the 25th Amendment.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          McCabe lied in ways worse than the usual perjury trap situation. He leaked sensitive information to a reporter, causing an investigation into “who the hell leaked this information” and then deliberately lied about it to cover it up, wasting everyone’s time and money. He lied about crimes and things that matter, not silly stuff like

          FBI: “Good morning.”

          Suspect: “Good morning.”

          FBI: “HAHA, it’s NOT a good morning! You’re under arrest for lying to the FBI!”

          which is the kind of stuff they got, say, George Papadopolous on.

          The other big question is why is James Clapper commenting on cable news channels instead of behind bars for lying to Congress about the NSA spying on every American. I guess after sending 29 armed agents after Roger Stone they didn’t have the manpower? It’s amazing they were able to apprehend the 66 year old man in his pajamas with no criminal record with so few stormtroopers. They were lucky to get out of his quiet residential neighborhood alive. And those brave CNN reporters who conveniently showed up an hour before the raid on a “hunch” without any information from the Mueller team. Balls of steel on those brave, brave journalists…

          • Interesting. That does look like legitimate grounds to prosecute him for lying under oath.

          • snifit says:

            It’s strange that you’re so informed about McCabe’s lies but so ignorant about Papadopoulos’. In reality, Papadopoulos lied about his contacts with Joseph Mifsud, who apparently had advance knowledge of the Russians’ hacking. His lies were material and hampered the investigation.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            snifit, I believe you are the one who is ignorant with regards to Papadopolous.

            1) Joseph Mifsud did not have advanced knowledge of the Russian hacking of the DNC emails. He was referring to the emails from Hillary’s bathroom server. That the Russians would have these emails is not something that would surprise anyone. Anyone being honest assumes that server was accessed by the Russians, the Chinese, the North Koreans, etc.

            2) His “lie” was a grammatical trap about the timing of when he started working with the Trump campaign versus when he talked to Mifsud. Papadopolous was informed at the beginning of the month by the Trump campaign he’d be advising them, but his job didn’t start until the end of the month. In the middle of the month, he talked to Mifsud. When asked if he talked to Mifsud before or after he started working for the Trump campaign, he said “before” and Mueller called this a lie. I don’t think that’s a lie. If on Friday the manager says “you’re hired, you start on Monday,” and on Saturday you buy a new suit, if later someone asks “did you buy that suit before or after you started your new job?” isn’t the correct answer “before?” You bought the suit on Saturday, and you didn’t start the new job until Monday. That you were offered the job on Friday is immaterial.

          • Dan L says:

            If on Friday the manager says “you’re hired, you start on Monday,” and on Saturday you buy a new suit, if later someone asks “did you buy that suit before or after you started your new job?” isn’t the correct answer “before?” You bought the suit on Saturday, and you didn’t start the new job until Monday. That you were offered the job on Friday is immaterial.

            Would it still be immaterial if the known subject of the investigation is the employer’s dress code? If the tailor rejected your custom, until you mentioned your upcoming employment?

            “That doesn’t change the facts of the question, his answer is technically accurate.”

            Arguable, but a) It certainly doesn’t leave you much room to complain about other people playing word games and b) There are clear-cut lies attested to in Papadopolous’ guilty plea, and it’s disingenuous to ignore them.

        • J Mann says:

          David,

          The best source is the IG Report on McCabe. To summarize:

          1) Around 10/25/16, under pressure from a WSJ story suggesting he was compromised on the Clinton Foundation investigation, McCabe authorized and instructed Lisa Page to leak information flattering to him to the WSJ, which she did. He later confirmed by text, and she confirmed that she had done it.

          2) Comey was very concerned about the leak and started an investigation. McCabe told the OIG under oath that he told Comey he authorized the leak and that Comey thought it was a good idea. Comey denied under oath being told. recalled McCabe playing dumb about who leaked, said that McCabe “definitely” did not tell him, and recalled being sufficiently upset that he would have remembered being informed.

          3) On 5/9/17, two federal investigators interviewed McCabe about the article. Their notes and both of their sworn testimony is that he specifically denied knowing who leaked the information or where the disclosure came from. McCabe claims that while he doesn’t remember what he said, and although he specifically initialed the leak article for the investigators, he’s doesn’t think the subject of whether he knew who was responsible for the leak came up. The OIG found McCabe’s description of the conversation as about something else in which this came up as an afterthought to be “demonstrably false.”

          3.1) The investigators also sent him two contemporaneous declarations to sign that included the statement that McCabe didn’t know who leaked. McCabe replied to one, but didn’t sign them or mention that he did know who leaked. McCabe says hes not sure how they got the idea that he said that, and that he must not have reviewed the declarations.

          4) On 7/28/17, the OIG interviewed McCabe under oath and recorded. They specifically asked “Was [Page] ever authorized to speak to reporters in this time period.” McCabe said “Not that I’m aware of.” When asked about texts from Page to him regarding the leak, McCabe said “I can’t tell you where she was or what she was doing.”

          5) On 8/1/17, McCabe called back and said that thinking about it, he did authorize the leak and did know where Page was at the time of her texts to him. His explanation was that he was surprised to be asked about the leak and “misspoke,” but then “thought about it over the weekend.”

          6) McCabe continued to assert, under oath, that he had informed Comey and that his authorization was “general knowledge” among FBI leadership, which all FBI officials denied. In fact, other FBI officials told the investigators this was a hot topic and a subject of an investigation, and if it were known, they would have heard about it and remembered it.

          To quote the OIG:

          As Deputy Director, McCabe well knew the significance of OIG and INSD investigations, and of the importance of being truthful when questioned under oath by agents from those Offices. Moreover, McCabe was a trained law enforcement officer with roughly 20 years of law enforcement experience. On this record, we do not credit his claim that his unequivocal denials under oath, on two occasions within 3 months of one another, were the result of being surprised by the questions.

      • greenwoodjw says:

        Because he’s on the side of the Right Side Of History and All That Is Just And True.

  15. J Mann says:

    Economics Bleg: Does anyone want to talk about measuring value change over time vs utility? Scott Sumner has me very confused, and since he knows a lot about economics and I only know a little, the most likely possibility is that I don’t understand something about utility.

    Background: back when technological change was slower, measuring economic growth was still difficult, but easier than it is now. If your parents’ generation lived in 1,000 square foot houses with one television on average, and your generation lives in 1,200 square foot houses with two televisions (and there are more of you!), then you’re consuming more stuff on average and in total. To some degree, you can measure this by adding up total consumption or production and adjusting for inflation. (Assuming you can measure inflation, of course).

    As technological change increases, some people argue we’re under-measuring economic growth because just adding up all the dollars doesn’t capture that we all get our encyclopedia content for free now (and it’s better and it is delivered to our phone from anywhere, etc), or that the TVs we have today are so much better, and so on.

    Sumner has a contrary take that I don’t get. Key quotes are here:

    As a result, the BLS says that TV prices have fallen by roughly 98% since 1959. I certainly enjoy my new 77-inch OLED set. But it seems unlikely that the utility derived from these sets is 50 times higher than TV sets from 1959, at least if “utility” is defined the way I visualize the term. So “growth” is probably being overstated, if utility is what we are interested in.

    and here:

    I used to watch the old sets, and while I’d pay 50 times more for a modern set, I don’t even get twice the utility. That’s my point.

    What does it mean to measure utility apart from what you would pay for something?

    – If I’d pay $100 for a modern TV and $2 for a 1959 TV, doesn’t that mean I expect to get as much utility from opening a box with a modern TV as I would if the box contained a 1959 TV and $98 cash?

    – It’s probably true that I don’t get 50 times the utility from a TV that I’d pay 50 times more for, in that I would expect declining marginal returns in utility, but I’d expect that decline to apply to all measures of increased well being, and in the same proportion, since I always have the option to buy a less expensive TV and substitute some other use for the money if something else would provide more utility.

    – If Sumner is just saying that economic growth provides declining marginal utility, than doesn’t that apply to measured economic growth as well as non-measured? An extra hour of leisure produces less marginal utility than the first hour on average, as does an extra room in my house, just as a nicer, more reliable TV produces less marginal utility for each increase in quality.

    As I said, I assume I’m missing something, and my thoughts on this have been refining as a I think about it, but I still don’t get what Sumner is going for.

    • baconbits9 says:

      It simply sounds like SS is sticking his definition of utility into the discussion, he doesn’t actually define utility, and gives a bad analogy, admits its bad, and then goes forward with it anyway without describing why its valuable but with a hand wave. Since he won’t give us an actual definition of utility we are kind of stuck, we can criticize the BLS because they give us the metrics they use.

      • baconbits9 says:

        BTW Summer is probably not correct in his assessment of value. If he really owns a new TV that he bought then he does value it at ~50x more than an old TV because older, working TVs exist and are dirt cheap. You can find them in thrift stores (not even 70 year old versions) for $10-20, and multiple times a year I see a TV out in the trash with a sign that says “free, works!” in my neighborhood.

        If you took away his new TV and stuck a working 70 year old version in his house he probably wouldn’t use it at all, and and viewing that he did would be on a computer/tablet/phone. An old TV has close to zero value now unless its a collectors item, which sounds about right.

        • J Mann says:

          Sumner concedes that he would pay 50 times more for a 2019 TV than a 1959 TV.* What he disputes is whether he receives 50 times the utility from the TV.

          My guess is that consumers do in fact receive less marginal utility from increased consumption and/or income, but I would expect this to be the same from all increased consumption and income, not just from increased unmeasured consumption. If you multiplied Sumner’s income or consumption by 50 times, I wouldn’t expect him to experience 50 times more utility, unless we’re defining them tautologically.

          * This is particularly clear in his case, since he has a 77″ OLED, which sells for at least $6,500. If he would prefer a 1959 TV for 2% that amount, $130, then he could easily buy a modern TV for $130 or less that is better than any 1959 TV, and hasn’t.

          • baconbits9 says:

            But he doesn’t ever define utility, he gives it the ole “i know it when I see it” treatment. He doesn’t even estimate how many hours he spends using his new TV vs how many he would spend using a 1959 TV which would be one (poor) metric to start with.

            Economists measure spending because it is a thing people actually do, and when there is a conflict between spending and saying they take spending every time and for good reason.

      • actinide meta says:

        Cardinal (VNM) utility is defined via preferences over lotteries. So I think SS is saying something like:

        Given the choice between
        (A) A 100% chance of having a 1959 TV for the next year, or
        (B) A 2% chance of having a modern TV for the next year, and a 98% chance of having no TV at all,

        He would choose A over B, so he doesn’t get 50x the utility from the modern TV.

        (He is probably also assuming away close substitutes. If watching tv on your smartphone is better than watching it on the 1959 TV then maybe the latter really has zero utility *now*. But that seems like fighting the hypothetical and could be fixed by suitable modifications to the above lotteries)

        • March says:

          He’s probably wrong about his own assessment. It SOUNDS like ‘100% chance of being able to watch TV at all vs 2% chance’, which is an easy bet, but he’d probably just watch TV on another device and use the 1959 TV as a dust collection device.

        • baconbits9 says:

          If he is using such a definition he should just say so, he doesn’t, he uses happiness as an analogy and there is no reason to read his “if happiness isn’t increasing then utility probably isn’t” as a lottery like preference for utility.

        • Uribe says:

          He’s talking about the utility he would get from watching a 2019 TV in 2019 vs. the utility he would get from a 1959 TV in 1959. I surmise this from posts he’s written in the past, comparing the pleasure or displeasure people get from things now vs. the past. For instance, he’s said that most people used to not be bothered by second hand smoke, but now they are.

          It makes sense that a 1959 TV would be a lot more exciting to watch in 1959 than in 2019.

          I’m pretty sure when Sumner uses the word “utility” he basically means “pleasure”. You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy pleasure.

        • Nornagest says:

          Not my field, but this seems wrong to me. You only get a linear relationship out of that if you’re risk insensitive, for one thing, and it’s pretty well established that people tend to be risk averse — and to make matters worse, risk aversion probably isn’t linear on risk.

          • actinide meta says:

            Risk aversion is exactly what is measured by VNM utility. If you would prefer a guaranteed $1M to a 50% chance of $5M, that means by definition that $1M gives you more than half as much utility.

            I don’t think there *is* any other sensible and widely known model in which you can talk about “twice as much utility”. Without the risk aspect, you just have a total ordering of world states that you prefer, and it makes no sense to say that you prefer one twice as much.

    • jgr314 says:

      One distinction you need to understand this discussion is the split between the theoretically optimal measurement and the actually measured/reported economic statistics. In this case, the theoretically perfect measurement might be something like (national) annual utility (per capita) while the actual measurements are nominal GDP and GDP deflator (alternatively, CPI). My understanding is that the debate you’re linking is mostly about how to cut nominal growth into real growth and inflation components.

      In the realm of the latter, specifically CPI, this explainer from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) might be useful for understanding some of the issues in measuring quality changes that, presumably, relate to a product providing higher utility: Hedonic Adjustment FAQ.

    • arlie says:

      Interesting topic.

      There are certainly cases where the only choices are (a) new thing, whatever it costs, (b) old thing saved thing from the ancient past, or (c) nothing. Sometimes (b) is unavailable. Often (a) costs more than (b) would have, back when it was available – and in some of those cases, I’d pay more for (b) than (a), given a choice.

      The TV case is one where (b) is unavailable in the US, at least if you want to deal with broadcast; my ancient TV works fine with a Wii II, and with DVDs, but broadcast standards have changed. Fortunately I have no interest in broadcast TV.

      I don’t know how to measure the utility of a hypothetical. Talk is cheap – anyone can say “I’d pay xxx for yyy if it were available“, and merely be indulging in hyperbole.

      But FWIW, I still want a Palm Pilot, and am not as satisfied with a $1000 retail iPhone (available as a job perq, at no cost to me) as I was with both of the Palm Pilots I once owned. I recognize that the iPhone can do many things the Palm Pilots could not. I even use quite a few of them. But I hate onscreen keyboards, and devices that sync with “the Cloud” rather than with other devices under my control; I also dislike “walled gardens” – my palm Pilot could be updated from any of the 3 then competitive desktop types; the iPhone really wants to talk to a Mac and/or iCloud, not a PC or a *nix system.

      So what’s the utility of a Palm Pilot to me, or better yet, a Palm Pilot style device (grafitti + built in stylus; syncs with all desktop varieties, etc.) that also has a built in cell phone, SMS messaging, web browser, and modern camera? Damned if I know, but I’m pretty sure I’m not better off just because my company phone can display high resolution icons, and has a voice activated assistant that rarely responds appropriately to any requests I make.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I used to watch the old sets, and while I’d pay 50 times more for a modern set, I don’t even get twice the utility. That’s my point.

      This is not consistent with someone who bought a 77 inch OLED TV. If you just want to watch TV, why the hell did you buy a 77 inch OLED tv?

      The analogy is someone who says they just need a car to drive around and then bought a Lambo. No. You clearly derive some utility from driving the Lambo. You did not just choose to buy a Lambo because you couldn’t find an old 1959 clunker that did an A-okay job of going from Point A to Point B.

      • The Nybbler says:

        This is not consistent with someone who bought a 77 inch OLED TV. If you just want to watch TV, why the hell did you buy a 77 inch OLED tv?

        Because the 88 inch OLED TV isn’t available yet!

        I did recently buy a 65 inch OLED (yes, the picture really is incredible). I guess by revealed preference it is worth to me 3x what an ordinary 65″ TV costs. But it’s worth infinitely more than a 1959 TV, because such a TV would have negative value to me — I’d have to pay to have it hauled away.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          I was thinking the same thing as well. It is entirely illogical to say that I would pay 50 times more for a 2019 TV than a 1959 TV, because a 1959 TV isn’t a good, it’s a bad. You’d have to pay me keep it in my house.

          The relevant comparison is probably 2019 TV in 2019 vs. 1959 TV in 1959. And I could buy the argument that you think a 2019 TV is not even twice the utility of a 1959 TV, in that respect. But I do not buy it for one moment if you shelled out premium dollars in 2019 for a 2019 television set. That’s a strong revealed preference that you think 2019 technology is vastly superior to 1959 technology, because you think 2019 premium technology is vastly superior to 2019 technology.

          Like, how can you possibly say you don’t value it twice as much? You paid MORE than twice as much for your CURRENT TV, compared to what a typical household might have. We’re not talking comparisons across time, we’re talking comparisons in the current year!

      • 10240 says:

        Someone wrote that a 77″ OLED TV costs $6,500+. Let’s say that having an old TV has a utility equivalent to $10,000 to you over the years (in the sense that if the cheapest TV was $9,999, you’d buy it, but not for anything above $10,000), and having a 77″ OLED TV as a utility of $18,000 (in the same sense), that is, $8,000 more than the cheap old TV. The utility of the 77″ OLED is less than twice that of the cheap old TV, yet you’ll be willing to buy it for $6,500, as the extra utility of the big modern TV over the old one is more than $6,500-(price of old TV).

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          My issue is that OLED price is at least a 1000% premium over a similar television set, if your actual criteria is that the 2019 technology set is not all that much better than the 1959 technology set. That’s an odd consumption decision.

        • Ketil says:

          Exactly: the added utility of a new TV over an old one exceeds the utility of the price difference.

          Other example: I would pay $20 for a steak in a restaurant over the $0.2 cost of making myself a sandwich. Both keep me from not starving (infinite utility?), so clearly the steak isn’t worth 100x the utility to me. But the taste and experience is worth the additional $19.8, so I happily pay it.

          This illustrates the answer to an apparent paradox: in a perfect market, where do profits come from? The answer is that everybody profits, except the person exactly on the price marginal point. Surviving is worth a huge number of utils, and yet I need only pay $0.2 to reap the benefits of not starving. Scott Sumner would probably pay a four or five digit number of dollars to have a TV vs not having one, yet he can get one for a tiny fraction of its worth in utility to him.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            $0.2? A twenty cent sandwich?

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz, you can get a pound of some kinds of meat for $1, and a loaf of bread for $2. Depending on what sort of toppings you like, twenty cents per sandwich is very doable.

    • John Schilling says:

      – It’s probably true that I don’t get 50 times the utility from a TV that I’d pay 50 times more for,

      You shouldn’t expect or require it to – “fifty times more” is a red herring.

      I can buy a blerg for $2, or a fnargle for $100. The blerg provides 1000 utils, the fnargle provides 1200 utils. But I can’t use both, or more than one of either. The fnargle costs 50x as much, and provides only 20% more utility.

      If my current marginal value of a util is $1, if I’ve already bought or budgeted for everything remotely blerg/fnargle-like in their abiliity to deliver many utils per dollar and the things I would otherwise buy with the money saved with a cheap blerg are all at the $1/util level, I’m going to buy the fnargle even though it costs 50x as much for 20% more utils.

      You don’t need diminishing marginal returns of money, utils, blergs, or fnargles to make that math work unless either a fnargle costs a large fraction of someone’s total income or a blerg was the marginal purchase they were considering not making at all. Neither of those is the case for most westerners w/re televisions or television-like goods.

      • J Mann says:

        That’s mostly where I come out. I do think you need to be in a situation of perceived diminishing marginal utility for the math to work, otherwise you would spend the extra $98 on something else. If you spend $98 to get 200 marginal utils, I can infer that you don’t think there’s any other use of that money at any time that will produce more utility.

    • INH5 says:

      Because I can’t resist being overly pedantic:

      In reality, you can’t actually buy a 1959 TV for $2. Not even close. Today, a functioning TV from the 1950s is a valuable antique. Go ahead and try to find one for sale online for less than $200. Heck, even vintage 1950s TVs that no longer work but still look good from the outside (and so can be used in movie sets, etc.) tend to sell for at least $150 or so.

      You can find used CRT TVs from the 90s or early 2000s for sale for just a couple bucks. But if you want to watch broadcast TV, you’ll need a $25 DTV converter box, and if you want to use it with Roku or a current generation gaming console, you’ll need a $25 HDMI to RCA adapter. Add it all up and, unless you’re willing to only use it with an old RCA output gaming console or DVD player that you already own, the total cost isn’t far from just buying a small flatscreen TV that already has an HDMI port and can process digital TV signals.

      Do real world prices shed any light on the validity of utility calculations like this?

      • 10240 says:

        More pedantry: according to a quick google, you can find HDMI to RCA adapters for a couple of euros/bucks.

      • J Mann says:

        I think that’s fair. Given that the goal is to decide how much better a 2019 TV is that a 1959 TV (and we measure better for other stuff by how much people are willing to pay for them), I think it would be fair to make the following assumptions for the thought experiment, but I wouldn’t argue much if someone thought other similar assumptions were fair.

        1) The 1959 TV works and can receive the same content as the 2019 TV. (At least cable, broadcast, and satellite – probably not stored content on USB, functioning as a computer monitor, etc).

        2) You can still find repair shops that will fix the 1959 TV for the same fraction of its price as you could have found in 1959. (So if a repair would have cost 10% of its price back then, you can still get it repaired for 10% of its price).

        3) The 1959 TV doesn’t have any more collector’s value than it had in 1959. I’m buying it to watch TV, not to display as a museum piece or sell on the secondary market.

        It’s true that you can’t actually buy a 1959 TV for $2, and that the TV won’t get all the channels without a lot more than $2 in extra parts, but if we’re trying to compare how much would I pay for the 2019 TV experience vs the 1959 TV experience, I think that’s the best way to come at it.

        (It’s also true that TV content has gotten a lot better – there are lots more shows, many of them are much better, and storage options expand the ability of when to watch, but IMHO those should be measured separately, so I built the assumptions to try to carve that out.)

  16. Aapje says:

    A topic that has gotten some attention in my country over the last few years is the ‘high schoolification’ of universities.

    Traditionally, universities had the ideal to not just teach the subject, but to produce renaissance men. Part of this was lots of freedom for students, not merely to allow them freedom to choose, but to require them to develop the capability to forge their own path.

    With the increased number of students, this ideal has been followed less, with more and more focus on getting students to graduate fairly quickly. This seems especially true in The Netherlands, where we are very big on efficiency anyway. The funding for universities now depends very much on them graduating lots of students in the allotted time.

    In the last couple of years, this resulted in many Dutch universities adopting rules that are common in high-schools, like:
    – mandatory presence during lectures*
    – mandatory homework
    – a requirement to get a certain number of credits in the first year (sometimes the mandated amount for the year)

    This kind of hand-holding does seem to work quite well to speed up students and lower (late) dropout rates, but quite a few people worry that much is lost by turning universities into schools (and that universities are dumbed down).

    Interestingly, this seems to get fairly little attention in the US. I suspect that one reason is that Dutch universities do this more than those in the US, although perhaps they are destined to copy this.

    * Which may be the final nail in the coffin of ‘double studies.’ Traditionally, some of the best students would do two studies at the same time, giving them two diplomas. This may be an artifact of not having Ivy League top tier universities. Doing two studies was made a lot more expensive some years back, causing a large drop in the number of students who did that. Mandatory presence at lectures means that the student is screwed if two lectures happen at the same time, unless he or she gets a leave of absence (which may require a note from a parent 😛 ).

    • Watchman says:

      Blame increased government oversight for the mandatory attendance. The Dutch universities are I believe effectively entirely funded by grants from government, so politicians and bureaucrats demand to see a return on investment. This is not going to be a development of extra renaissance men, unfortunately, but rather tends towards a modernistic view that there should be measurable outcomes related to the funding. Measuring attendance is likely one of those, simply because other than marks it is one of the few objective measures that exist.

      I’d point out as an ex-seminar tutor that preparation for class was surely always a requirement though. I don’t think having to work on something between classes is high-schoolification. I have regular meetings and have to work on things between them: it’s an odd job where you wouldn’t do that. Indeed, in humanities most of your time is spent working between classes.

      The mandated amount of credits in a year is presumably a result of the Bologna process, which aims to make the various European He systems compatible. One of the requirements of this has been to actually get the idea of university as a series of stages to be completed in order fully integrated into European higher education much more. Note the adoption of the US idea of credits is also in some places a relic of the Bologna processes, which the cynical could observe are homogonising European universities by making them look like North American ones…

      • Aapje says:

        I was told what chapter of the book would be discussed, but many of my fellow students seemed to not read it before the lecture (although I did and also visited each lecture, which often was a mere rehash of the book, so they seemed to cater to those who didn’t read it).

        Math problems were commonly done and discussed in a class setting, not as homework.

        The closest to homework were assignments that were given and graded, but these very supposed to be designed for the computer lab.

        The mandated amount of credits in a year is presumably a result of the Bologna process, which aims to make the various European He systems compatible.

        I think that you misunderstand. What I’m referring to is not the fact that a study year is made up of a certain number of credits, which is a system that precedes Bologna (although this changed the numbering system used), but that students are kicked out of the college if they don’t get a certain number of points in the first year (up to 100% of the official number of credits you should get to finish your studies in the official 4 or 5 year period).

        Note that in my country, the first year used to be an orientation and selection year, albeit with the responsibility placed very much on the student. This is/was capped with a diploma, called a propedeuse (Greek for preparatory education). I have one myself, although it is/was quite worthless on its own.

        The Anglicization of Dutch universities resulted in the adoption of a bachelor-master structure, where the first year diploma became rather vestigial, although ironically, now with the stricter handling of students, that first year is more of a selection year than it was before.

    • albatross11 says:

      Overall, college in the US has become extremely common–something like 2/3 of high school graduates go on (I think directly) to college. Others may go after a stint in the military, or later in life. That’s getting close to being a continuation of high school already.

    • jgr314 says:

      Just on the reference points for the US:
      (1) it is typical that US universities have all 3 of those mandates for students (lecture attendance, homework, credits/semester or year). I think this has been the case for quite a long time, especially in the public universities.
      (2) Complaints/concerns about high-schoolification of universities have been present in the US for quite some time, especially in math and writing.

      I’m personally intrigued by the idea that a lot of these types of issues can be understood as an interaction between:
      a. changes in the return to education over time (including the idea that education was low return-on-investment for much of history).
      b. signalling/red queen competition
      c. inherent institutional conservatism of most universities, partly because of various ways in which decision makers are insulated from market forces or competitive incentives.

      Finally, I wonder whether efficiency in the Dutch system is making universities into faster diploma mills (which only provide signalling and filtering benefits) or if they are better at educating the students (true increase in human capital)?

      • albatross11 says:

        If only the smartest/most motivated 10% of kids go on to university, you need a lot less of the mandatory attendance nonsense. About 80% of kids graduate high school, and about 2/3 of graduates go onto college. So we’re looking at something like the top half of the population of kids. A large fraction of those kids aren’t particularly suited for college level work, or don’t really take school seriously enough to get through college level work. So they get another year or two of high school, but with more drinking and some not-dischargable-in-bankruptcy debt to go with it. This makes absolutely no sense, but discussing the reasons why it makes no sense is mostly too offensive and upsetting to do in public, so in our compassion, we’ll keep on wasting a couple years of lots of kids’ lives and stick them with a few tens of thousands of dollars of debt rather than say out loud that a lot of them don’t belong in college.

        • Plumber says:

          @albatross11,

          From what I’ve observed, college should be reserved for those who aren’t college students as the libraries are wonderful but the students are mostly obnoxious (despite usually being good looking).

          Please send most college students overseas or into the tomato fields until they grow up and stop forcing their loud music on their neighbors, kicking over garbage cans, and yelling in the middle of the night, and please give that education to adults instead.

          • Aapje says:

            Or vocational schools …

          • Plumber says:

            @Aapje,

            I went to a vocational school as part of my apprenticeship, and about a quarter of my class were college student aged and when I had to work alongside them they made me look worse by comparison as they were faster and stronger, fortunately for me they would get arrested for bar fights and driving drunk and thus not show up for work because they were in jail, otherwise it wouldn’t be possible to compete with them and keep employed (you have to both keep your job and pass the classes to stay in the apprenticeship).

        • Compulsory attendance is an old institution–Adam Smith complained about it.

          No discipline is ever requisite to force attendance upon lectures which are really worth the attending, as is well known wherever any such lectures are given. Force and restraint may, no doubt, be in some degree requisite in order to oblige children, or very young boys, to attend to those parts of education which it is thought necessary for them to acquire during that early period of life; but after twelve or thirteen years of age, provided the master does his duty, force or restraint can scarce ever be necessary to carry on any part of education.

      • Aapje says:

        @jgr314

        Finally, I wonder whether efficiency in the Dutch system is making universities into faster diploma mills (which only provide signalling and filtering benefits) or if they are better at educating the students (true increase in human capital)?

        A common complaint is that the quality of the education is dropping.

        An issue is that the number of students dropped due to demographic reasons in the past, which resulted in budget cuts to universities. When this reversed and more students went to university again, overall budgets were not really increased. So students complain about too many student per lecturer.

        Another issue is that many Dutch universities have gone fully globalized (never go fully globalized), teaching in (poor) English and catering to foreign students who now make up half of many studies. These students don’t get their studies paid for by the government, which means that they are a good cash cow for universities, because this income is not capped by the government budget. However, this really seems like diploma mill behavior at the expense of quality education and making the education fit the needs of Dutch society.

        Then again, American universities seem to be investing a lot in remedial education, which doesn’t seem to be much of an issue in my country. Although that may be because the Dutch high schools are relatively good.

        • March says:

          Dutch high schools are also pretty heavily tracked. About half of high school graduates aren’t even eligible to enroll in a ‘hogeschool’ (university of applied science) and even less in a university (only after 1 year at a university of applied science or after the 6-year version of high school instead of the 5-year one).

          Still, the university I freelance for is increasingly investing in remedial education. Or maybe that’s one of those ‘kids these days’ complaints that spring eternal.

          I’ve never quite understood the difference between US community colleges, colleges and universities, so maybe there’s something similar going on there.

          • Garrett says:

            A decent article from US News on the subject.

            Something that surprised me (coming from Canada) about this is that the terms college and university are basically interchangeable. They are degree+ granting institutions staffed with people who think they are academics who are forced to teach students.

            Community colleges are a fair bit different. They tend to be a fair bit smaller and usually only offer the first 2 years of undergrad education. This can get you something referred to as an “associates degree”.

            In contrast to a full college/university, community colleges are focused on teaching. Research is much more rare and tends to be of the hobby/local variety. A lot of the faculty isn’t tenure-track, if such a thing actually exists at all. This usually results in a lot fewer “prestige projects” from being done, though it doesn’t always stop school administrators from trying.

            The community part also means that it’s a lot less common for people to live away from home to attend (though when getting my student ID I encountered an international student at the my local community college which is … weird). Community colleges also usually run a good number of non-credit courses. Some of these are academic (such as an EMT course), or not, such as a course on painting or pottery.

            Because of these differences, the cost for a course at a community college can be significantly lower than a comparable course at a full college or university.

          • I’ve never quite understood the difference between US community colleges, colleges and universities

            Roughly speaking, a college teaches only undergraduates, a university teaches both undergraduates and graduate students. A university may contain a college, a part of the university which is for undergraduates.

            Community colleges, as I understand it, are relatively inexpensive state run colleges whose students are usually commuting rather than living on campus. One pattern sometimes recommended to students who are bright and ambitious but poor is to do two years at a community college, get very good grades, and then transfer to something better.

          • albatross11 says:

            Don’t most community colleges only offer associate’s degrees, and then send their grads off to one of the bigger 4-year colleges for their BA or BS?

          • Plumber says:

            @albatross11

            “Don’t most community colleges only offer associate’s degrees, and then send their grads off to one of the bigger 4-year colleges for their BA or BS?”

            Historically yes, but as the expense of going to what had been the four year California “public” colleges/universities have increased there’s been a push for more of our States community colleges to offer four-year degrees.

          • BBA says:

            To add to the confusion, an institution’s name doesn’t necessarily reflect what kind of institution it is. A university can be called a “college”, an “institute”, a “school”, or in one particular case, a “union.” The City College of New York is a four-year undergraduate college, the Los Angeles City College is a two-year community college, and the Baltimore City College is a high school.

          • Protagoras says:

            And “university” just sounds more prestigious to some, so some places that don’t have multiple colleges and don’t offer anything beyond a 4 year degree still call themselves universities. On the other hand, other places with long traditions call themselves colleges because they always have even when they have considerable graduate programs (or for other reasons; I suppose Rhode Island College hasn’t changed to calling itself a university because there is another school already called the University of Rhode Island; both have graduate programs). The words aren’t used consistently enough for it to be useful to try to use them to mark off any real distinction, even if they aren’t quite interchangeable.

      • The Nybbler says:

        it is typical that US universities have all 3 of those mandates for students (lecture attendance, homework, credits/semester or year). I think this has been the case for quite a long time, especially in the public universities.

        A generation or two ago (~1990), the state University I went to had neither of the first two (for most classes I took, which were weighted towards math, CS, and the sciences) and credits per year was only a requirement to be full time (for the purposes of billing)

        • I entered college in 1961. To the best of my memory, there was no attempt take attendance, so no way of making attendance at classes compulsory.

          I am pretty sure that some classes had homework that had to be handed in and others had reading you were supposed to do. My impression is that everyone took the same number of courses, I think four, with the possible exception of a few students taking one more for one reason or another. I don’t remember different classes having different numbers of credits.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I was taking homework to mean “graded homework”; many classes had readings or (for math and physics in particular) suggested problem sets. Most courses were either 3 or 4 credits, with labs (which required write-ups; I don’t recall if labs had a letter grade or were pass/fail though) being 1 credit. There was some minimum number of credits to take in a semester to be considered full time; I think it was 9 or 10. There was a maximum suggested number of 17 per semester, which I remember because I once took 19 thanks to the vagaries of scheduling and prerequisites. Hard semester, but actually my best GPA-wise.

          • Aapje says:

            An issue is that there is not a clear separation between testing and homework.

            Something that I consider really high school-like is when the homework is not actually graded in full, but still is expected to be done. I had high school teachers who would do spot checks.

            At that point it seems that the main goal is to prevent students from putting off the work until just before the exam and thus it’s about controlling the student’s way of learning.

            A second distinction is when graded work has to be done for each class, rather than for the subject in general.

            Both were extremely rare if not non-existent when I went to university (although we still wrote on stone tablets, as it was some time ago).

            I do remember a math class where there was an intermediate exam halfway through. However, even that was quite exceptional.

          • I do remember a math class where there was an intermediate exam halfway through. However, even that was quite exceptional.

            I think of a midterm exam as quite common.

        • Nornagest says:

          When I was in college in the early 2000s, attendance was not mandatory nor tracked in any way (aside from occasional quizzes in some classes). Homework was graded for some classes but not all. I don’t remember any specific requirements for credits/semester or year, either, but I wouldn’t have been paying much attention to that.

      • gbdub says:

        Really? At the large (but pretty selective) public university I attended, lecture attendance was rarely explicitly required, except in cases where students were participating in something (e.g. a lab class or a scheduled test). In engineering, your entire grade was often out of class projects plus one or two exams – you’d struggle with these if you didn’t attend lecture but attendance qua attendance was not explicitly graded. I guess there were a couple history classes where in-class participation in discussions was expected and graded, but even there it wasn’t a problem if you missed a couple as long as it wasn’t chronic.

        We didn’t have minimum credit per semester requirements either, except that you needed to have a certain number to be a “full time student”, which triggers certain uni and federal benefits.

        On the other hand my girlfriend at a larger, less selective public university a few years later in a more humanities heavy curriculum (social work v. engineering) attendance requirements were more common (but still not universal). Her Masters program is also more explicit about scheduling, but that seems to have to do with limited class size driving limited course choice.

        • albatross11 says:

          Yeah, back in the 80s/early 90s when I was attending Middling State U, most of my first couple years’ classes were giant auditorium lectures in which the professors generally neither knew nor cared who attended. If you didn’t show up but did well on the exams, good for you, if you didn’t show up and failed your exams, good riddance. In either case, no skin off his nose.

    • The complaint I hear more in the U.S. is that college is teaching what ought to have been already learned in high school, because high school isn’t teaching it. I got that comment from someone who teaches in the local state university—my guess it wouldn’t be true of the elite schools.

      But another complaint is that college teachers are treated like high school teachers by having a set curriculum and set of readings that they have to follow, rather than deciding for themselves how best to teach their subject.

      On the more general subject, I think colleges have always had homework, whether work that had to be handed in or reading assignments, but that there have always been a lot of students who didn’t actually read the assigned readings.

      • Plumber says:

        @DavidFriedman

        “The complaint I hear more in the U.S. is that college is teaching what ought to have been already learned in high school, because high school isn’t teaching it”

        I’ll echo that complaint, I watched a broadcast on PBS of a Harvard political philosophy class and my gratitude of seeing it changed to anger when the Harvard students spoke as I saw nothing to indicate that those students were of an exalted level that they somehow deserved that education more than their follow citizens.

        At least in California where we vote on initiatives all citizens should have been taught a curriculum befitting a legislator and it should be taught before we’re old enough to vote, that means before college.

        More economics and history, and less dodgeball and fistfights please!

        And no I don’t buy the argument that only a few in the “cognitive elite” and/or those who find the means to attend college are worthy, I have a pretty good idea what my mind was capable of as a teenager.

        That education should be for all citizens, very much including me as a youth.

        • Walter says:

          I mean, maybe ‘harvard students’ are actually really doing great by being able to learn high school stuff as early as college?

          Like, I dunno if you’ve been back to high school in a while, but they have kind of got to be nightmarish where I’m at? If you have a group of students who are 4 years behind, but they are actually present and interested in learning then maybe you are in an elite institution.

          • AG says:

            Yes, this is this one of the consequentialist arguments against affirmative action. Such students are more likely to flunk out when they get into colleges that don’t treat first year as high school remedial education. The stories are that MIT is notorious for weeding out the frosh by not doing this, but also even starting their basic classes one year ahead of that, assuming that all of their incoming students have already completed the equivalent of first year studies, via AP classes or such.

          • Plumber says:

            @Walter,

            I went to High School in the 1980’s, and I remember it as pretty awful, but one of my main memories is the contrast between the mostly black “Intermediate” track I was originally assigned to that had no assigned reading and the mostly white “Advanced” track (those were the only “tracks”) that (after my mother raised a stink) I was transferred to in the middle of the semester, where I was given good books to read, but no chair, and both the teacher and the students were very clear I wasn’t welcome especially if I sat down in one of “their” seats and didn’t wait for them to a seat until well after class had started, and then I was “being disruptive” for trying to sit in a chair then as well.

            I haven’t forgotten and I haven’t forgiven, I want books and chairs for every student, and none of the mandatory “spirit rally” time wasting nonsense.

            Teachers who actually answer questions would be nice as well.

            For our 14-year-old son he is being “homeschooled” through a charter school, which means he goes to a local community college for classes and does online assignments, that should be the default instead of the Hellscape of Junior High and High School, the age segregation model of teaching doesn’t teach enough, and I deeply resent my tax money paying for a privileged few to attend selective colleges, I want a decent education for all citizens not just an elite.

            Abolish all post elementary public schools except community colleges which are open to all citizens over eleven years old, no middle schools, high schools, or selective universities, put those tax money resources towards good schools for all instead, and yes eliminate University “professional” diplomas, to be an attorney be a paralegal first (they are a few who do that instead of law school), nurse practitioners instead of physicians (they seem more comperant anyway!), no more tax paid “gatekeeper” schools, have classes for most everyone “But then the classrooms and libraries will be filled with homeless lunatics!”, well yes, and that seems like yet another good reason to bring back the involuntary mental hospital institutionalization that Governor Reagan ended.

            Books and classes for all who want them (and if most universities are doing “remedial education” now what are the other schools even for?) and get the screaming lunatics off the streets.

            Win-win!

          • albatross11 says:

            You can get a lot of learning to happen in a nice environment for high school kids, if the kids who are there mostly want to be learning things. (My older son’s magnet school seems to mostly work this way–few fights or disruptions, good classes, etc.).

            But a large fraction of the kids in high school don’t want to be there, aren’t learning anything, and are kept there as a way of warehousing them so they’re not either at home getting into trouble or on the streets getting into trouble. (This also keeps them out of the workforce a few more years, which probably helps with unemployment statistics.) I think this is especially the case at schools with mostly underclass students, whose parents mostly DGAF about education and where the kids generally have neither genes nor culture on their side w.r.t. benefiting from their education.

            Teaching people useful things and babysitting them/keeping them out of trouble are not the same thing, and sometimes end up being mutually contradictory goals.

            Separating the kids who want to learn/are reasonably bright from the other kids, teaching the first group and warehousing the second, seems like an obvious approach. And it is in practice how we get good schools–either selecting students by test scores or by family income via willingness to pay private school tuition or family income via housing prices in good school districts. But it’s probably pretty rough, long-term, on the smart-ass 15 year old kid who could be learning something, but he hasn’t been raised properly and so doesn’t value education or care to sit still in class, and so he misses out on his chance for a good, free education.

            And various well-worn race/income/etc. statistics mean that when this split is done, inside the school or between schools, the kids getting the actual education and the ones getting the warehousing are quite distinct in terms of race, income, whether they know their dad, whether any close family members are in prison, etc. This is pretty hard to swallow politically.

          • Nornagest says:

            and if most universities are doing “remedial education” now what are the other schools even for?

            Sounding good to constituents, warehousing children somewhere where they’re relatively unlikely to smoke meth or vandalize stop signs, justifying the continued employment of the large number of state employees staffing them, providing a venue for disseminating memes that the government would like to be propagated. In roughly that order.

          • Plumber says:

            @albatross11

            “You can get a lot of learning to happen in a nice environment for high school kids, if the kids who are there mostly want to be learning things…”

            You alluded to this but my objection is that those of us would like get the lessons but who are born “on the wrong side of the tracks” have a mighty headwind to get into any environment that isn’t warehousing disguised as classes, especially if you “didn’t choose your parents well” (a poor but educated, supportive, and pushy parent may achieve much for their kid that an exhausted and ignorant one likely won’t).

            More than 30 years later I’m still pretty damn bitter about this.

          • I mean, maybe ‘harvard students’ are actually really doing great by being able to learn high school stuff as early as college?

            Judging by the Harvard applicants I have interviewed (as an alum volunteer), they are at least as well educated as high school graduates were fifty or sixty years ago.

            What I think is happening is a fairly sharp divide between a minority of students who push hard to qualify for top schools, take multiple AP classes, probably go to either private schools or relatively good suburban public schools, and a majority who go to poor schools and don’t have much interest in education.

          • John Schilling says:

            You alluded to this but my objection is that those of us would like get the lessons but who are born “on the wrong side of the tracks” have a mighty headwind to get into any environment that isn’t warehousing disguised as classes

            Yep. We’ve long since disposed of all the direct methods for sorting students who need schools from delinquents who need warehouses, because That Would Be Racist. The indirect methods all depend on signals that are at least somewhat fungible with money, e.g. granite countertops, and therefore get bid up to high prices by parents demanding proper education for their kids. This kind of sort of works because “parents who demand proper education for their kids” kind of sort of correlates with with both “students who want to learn” and with “parents who have money”.

            But as you’ve noted, it doesn’t work for the students who want to learn but don’t have parents with money. We could use something better, and I wish I had ant good ideas but I don’t. What have you got? Needs to A: sort students from delinquents tolerably well, and B: not be gameable with money, and C: not leave any authority figure vulnerable to Power Word: Racism or the like.

          • Plumber says:

            @John Schilling

            "...it doesn’t work for the students who want to learn but don’t have parents with money. We could use something better, and I wish I had ant good ideas but I don’t. What have you got? Needs to A: sort students from delinquents tolerably well...

            That is a difficulty, many of the ways that I think of would just make 12 the new 18, and parents would insist on their kids “paying their share” earlier, and in some ways that may be better, maybe some could learn a trade instead of wasting time with dodgeball and spirit rallies, but that doesn’t help the kid who wants to read, and wants to be able to ask questions about what they’re reading (not that many teachers do much of that), my first thought on that is just to have community college at age 12 (my son started a couple of classes at 13, and I started at 16), and that’s actually an option today but it’s not widely known and there’s a lot of hoops and you’ll mostly be told “You have to wait till your 18” which will dissuade most, but since much of what makes it hard to learn in high school is other teenagers who delight in disruption, their presence would in many ways just make the community colleges “high schools with ashtrays”, in deed as well as quip.

            Some way to entice those who really don’t want to be there, but prevent parents from having those who want to learn quit to labor instead of getting an education, needs to be developed, maybe still have mandatory school but have it all be electives? (though I can imagine the Hell of a parent who insists on all day dodgeball, and there’s still the problem of access to teachers who bother to teach).

            "...B: not be gameable with money..." 

            As much as I’d like that, and maybe it could be mitigated, it would likely require such a radical change in society that it would make things worse for too long before it ever got better, maybe higher minimum wages, inheritance taxes, and top marginal income taxes to reduce inequality; but even the Bolsheviks gave up on completely flat incomes as impractical, so I don’t know. 

            "...C: not leave any authority figure vulnerable to Power Word: Racism or the like" 

            Well, judging by how the “Intermediate track” in my high school was mostly black and overwhelmingly those of us from “the flats”, and the “Advanced track” was mostly white and overwhelmingly hills kids, I really don’t see how the current system escapes being called racist, classist, and just plain foul already (yes, I really am bitter about it, I begged to go to Maybeck instead of West Campus, oh well one history teacher there was really into Henry George and “single tax” so that was kind of interesting, mostly a waste of years though).

            To be clear, while I was punched into unconsciousness by a group of “delinquents” at 15 or 16 shortly before I testes out (an amazingly and disappointingly easy test), at 14 my time in the “Intermediate track” was actually okay if boring, the girls in class would flatter me by asking for helo with the essays we were sometimes assigned (whicg were despite there being no texts) and the other boys mostly didn’t bother to show up after the first week so there were plenty of places to sit and read whatever I brought after I wrote the 25 words the teacher wanted us to write thar day, if I had just been given the books from the Advanced track and stayed with the Intermediate or was allowed to bring a chair with me into the Advanced class (damn that teacher and her unwelcoming students!), but that wasn’t the last time the hills kids made it clear my presence wasn’t welcome in “their” classes, I took an elective with them and I clearly remember being quizzed on the location of some damn ski shop that I was ignorant of and because I didn’t know I was told “Your not really from Berkeley” despite my being with my mother there from age five, I just lived in the flats next to Oakland not in the hills (and I did sometimes stay with my father in Oakland truth be told), so yes my sympathies are with those who want to read but are classed with “delinquents” more than with those who don’t want to be “polluted” by having to see us.
            I haven’t forgotten and I haven’t forgiven.
            Instead of us having to endure the fists of our fellow delinquents, or the sneers of our ‘betters’ why not just let us stay in the library?
            Instead of teachers who are either overwhelmed, incompetent, or cruel station guard-librarians to keep us unmolested and the place quiet, and just let us read in peace for are teenager years.
            How about that?

          • The Nybbler says:

            That is a difficulty, many of the ways that I think of would just make 12 the new 18, and parents would insist on their kids “paying their share” earlier, and in some ways that may be better, maybe some could learn a trade instead of wasting time with dodgeball and spirit rallies, but that doesn’t help the kid who wants to read, and wants to be able to ask questions about what they’re reading

            12 should be the new 18, because 18 is the old 12. You should already be able to read by 12.

          • Nowadays, one option may be for kids to do both learning and socializing online. There is no reason, for instance, that a bright twelve year old couldn’t be posting here. If he asked for suggestions of books to read to learn something, I expect he would get them, and some relevant books would be free online, others available in the local library.

            As of ten years or so ago, home schooling in California was essentially uncontrolled. You filled out a form defining your home as a school and were supposed to keep records that nobody ever asked you for. I don’t know if the situation has gotten worse since.

            The babysitting role of schools isn’t necessary for a bright kid who can read and has internet access–certainly not at high school age, probably not earlier, although it would be desirable for there to be some friendly adult in the house, or next door, in case of problems.

            So that’s one possible solution. Less practical when you were growing up, unless one had parents sufficiently interested to help with the self education. And it would be hard to find people to interact with outside of school without the internet.

            As I think I have mentioned, the first home schooling family I knew was in the sixties–but both parents were very well read and the house was full of books.

            Note Deiseach for an extreme example. She is better educated than most college graduates, pretty clearly almost all self-educated.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Plumber

            What say you about the German system? On the plus side, it seems pretty good at getting people into what they’re good at, and supporting the high-skills manual-trade type stuff that Germany does well. On the downside, it puts a lot of pressure on kids at age 10 – I’ve got a lot of education (too much, honestly) but it took me a long time to get my act together; if there had been streaming starting at 10 I probably would not have been streamed into the university-track. I don’t know how it interacts with better-off and worse-off kids.

          • Plumber says:

            @DavidFriedman
            "...home schooling..."

            I noted upthread that my son is being homeschooled, but he has the advantage of an educated stay-at-home-mother, and if compulsory state-sponsored education doesn’t even try to mitigate the educational deficit that those “who chose their parents unwisely” have, what is even the point of it?

            "..Deiseach for an extreme example. She is better educated than most college graduates, pretty clearly almost all self-educated."

            Deisearch is amazingly and impressively well read, I’d be very curious to learn about her school years and what system she’d suggest.

            @dndnrsn 
            "What say you about the  German system?...."

            The German educational system while it does explicitly place students in castes at a young age, does seem to actually try to educate most students, instead of just warehousing many as ours does, so in a spirit of “Don’t let the ideal be the enemy of better”, I judge it a better system than ours.

          • Atlas says:

            @Plumber

            I’ll echo that complaint, I watched a broadcast on PBS of a Harvard political philosophy class and my gratitude of seeing it changed to anger when the Harvard students spoke as I saw nothing to indicate that those students were of an exalted level that they somehow deserved that education more than their follow citizens.

            At least in California where we vote on initiatives all citizens should have been taught a curriculum befitting a legislator and it should be taught before we’re old enough to vote, that means before college[…]

            I went to High School in the 1980’s, and I remember it as pretty awful, but one of my main memories is the contrast between the mostly black “Intermediate” track I was originally assigned to that had no assigned reading and the mostly white “Advanced” track (those were the only “tracks”) that (after my mother raised a stink) I was transferred to in the middle of the semester, where I was given good books to read, but no chair, and both the teacher and the students were very clear I wasn’t welcome especially if I sat down in one of “their” seats and didn’t wait for them to a seat until well after class had started, and then I was “being disruptive” for trying to sit in a chair then as well.

            I haven’t forgotten and I haven’t forgiven, I want books and chairs for every student, and none of the mandatory “spirit rally” time wasting nonsense.

            Teachers who actually answer questions would be nice as well […]

            Well, judging by how the “Intermediate track” in my high school was mostly black and overwhelmingly those of us from “the flats”, and the “Advanced track” was mostly white and overwhelmingly hills kids, I really don’t see how the current system escapes being called racist, classist, and just plain foul already (yes, I really am bitter about it, I begged to go to Maybeck instead of West Campus, oh well one history teacher there was really into Henry George and “single tax” so that was kind of interesting, mostly a waste of years though).

            To be clear, while I was punched into unconsciousness by a group of “delinquents” at 15 or 16 shortly before I testes out (an amazingly and disappointingly easy test), at 14 my time in the “Intermediate track” was actually okay if boring, the girls in class would flatter me by asking for helo with the essays we were sometimes assigned

            I’m a little confused by your comments here. Your emphasis on the problem with the current American educational system seems to be on the administration, the quality of the teachers, the lack of access, in some broad sense, to education by underprivileged students.

            However, your description of your high school experiences suggests to me that the problem is that many students have little interest in availing themselves of the educational opportunities that they’re afforded. (Though I see now that albatross11 made, and you responded to, a version of this point.) There may certainly be some students—like, it would seem from your description, yourself— who would do better and be happier in school if segregated from their less intelligent and less well behaved peers.

            However, the low intelligence and poor behavior of the students who are a majority in such schools are in my view problems endogenous to their characters, whatever their sources, not an exogenous creation of the physical facilities or staff of the schools they attend. I believe that the emphasis on finding—or inventing—problems with the latter by the news media and education researchers is harmful and obfuscatory.

            I do not believe that most high school students in America would benefit from an elite education of the sort that Harvard theoretically offers. As Steve Sailer has wryly noted, it is only in modern American education that it is believed that the best instructors must teach all students equally. Nobody believes that the best athletic instructors should teach all athletes equally, or that Plato should have spent as much time teaching a random dull Athenian child as he did Aristotle.

            Three books on the subject of education that you might find interesting:

            The Case Against Education, by Bryan Caplan. Professor Caplan makes many of the same, very cogent, arguments against the current system of schooling that you do. My comment may undersold how emphatically I agree with you that modern American education is an infuriatingly pointless and wasteful bottomless pit of time and money.

            Bad Students, Not Bad Schools by Professor Robert Weissberg convincingly argues that the concept of “bad” schools is largely a fiction disguising the reality of bad students.

            The Battle for Room 314 by Ed Boland. A memoir by the author of a year teaching in NYC schools for underprivileged minority children. I find it hard to imagine that anyone can read it and walk away still believing that the main problem with “bad schools” is the teachers, the school supplies or the physical condition of the buildings.

          • At least in California where we vote on initiatives all citizens should have been taught a curriculum befitting a legislator

            Spending a sizable chunk of twelve years teaching everyone skills that most will exercise for at most half an hour or so every few years doesn’t sound like a sensible use of either educational resources or the students’ time.

            It also isn’t clear, at least to me, that teaching everyone civics through high school will result in more sensible electoral results. Consider how much disagreement there is among highly educated and intelligent people.

            Insofar as it has any effect, it will be to increase the number of people who vote the way the people running the schools want them to, having been presented with an account of the issues designed to have that effect. That sounds less democratic than our present system.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Plumber

            The major problem I see with the German system – with which I am unfamiliar; my contact is entirely second- and third-hand – is how early it starts streaming. Like I said, had I been in such a system, around 10 I would have looked a lousy student. Then again, maybe I would have been streamed into being an auto mechanic, and could work at a BMW factory instead of being an overeducated desk jockey?

            There’s also a social aspect (outside of the sense of saying some kids are better at school than others): while it might be in a child’s best interests to go to the university-prep school, or the school that preps for the high-skill trades, a kid in a given place might want to stay with their friends. Parents are going to have a hard time getting to recognize that, no, your career is more important than your buddies at 10, and now there’s email and such anyway.

            The social aspect is, of course, unpleasant. Had I, in Canada, become some kind of useful tradesman instead of an incredibly in-demand religious studies person, I would still have been looked down on socially. The middle-class parents whose kid became an auto mechanic might still get (or at least, feel) looked down on by the parents of the kid who has a BA in whatever – even if the latter wasn’t even so lucky as to land a generic office job. I don’t know if it’s like this in Germany – they seem proud enough of their cars, at least.

          • Plumber says:

            @Atlas
            "I'm a little confused by your comments here. Your emphasis on the problem with the current American educational system seems to be on the administration, the quality of the teachers, the lack of access, in some broad sense, to education by underprivileged students.

            However, your description of your high school experiences suggests to me that the problem is that many students have little interest in availing themselves of the educational opportunities that they’re afforded. (Though I see now that albatross11 made, and you responded to, a version of this point.) There may certainly be some students—like, it would seem from your description, yourself— who would do better and be happier in school if segregated from their less intelligent and less well behaved peers...."

            Perhaps, but I thought I was clear, I was initially in the  “Intermediate track” (since there wasn’t any lower track ‘Intermediate’ was an obvious euphemism) where we had no assigned reading, my fellow ‘Intermediate’ boys mostly didn’t bother to show up for class after the first week, the girls who were most of my classmates who bothered to show up didn’t bother me or were friendly, most of my time was spent reading a copy of Larry Niven’s “A Gift From Earth” that someone left by the window (what essay assignments we were given could be done quickly), it was when I was transferred into the “Advanced track” (the majority) that I encountered hostility, as the teacher and my classmates wouldn’t let me sit in a chair like the rest of the class because “The chairs are already assigned”, so miserable was the experience I vomited in class one day.

            In my experience “the less intelligent” classmates were better behaved towards me, it was the “Advanced” ones that were cruel, I would’ve been happier with the assigned reading from the “Advanced” class (which was actually interesting), and had the chair and company of the “Intermediate track”.

            I suppose it may have been the boys from the ‘Intermediate’ track that punched me into unconsciousness across the street from the high school when I was leaving it one day, but I didn’t recognize them.

            "...However, the low intelligence and poor behavior of the students who are a majority in such schools are in my view problems endogenous to their characters, whatever their sources, not an exogenous creation of the physical facilities or staff of the schools they attend. I believe that the emphasis on finding—or inventing—problems with the latter by the news media and education researchers is harmful and obfuscatory.

            I do not believe that most high school students in America would benefit from an elite education of the sort that Harvard theoretically offers. As Steve Sailer has wryly noted, it is only in modern American education that it is believed that the best instructors must teach all students equally. Nobody believes that the best athletic instructors should teach all athletes equally, or that Plato should have spent as much time teaching a random dull Athenian child as he did Aristotle..." 

            As one who was initially judged one of the “dull” (perhaps because of the zipcode I lived in) I recoil at that, I wanted the books the ‘Advanced’ students had. 

            I think what you describe this Steve Sailer as suggesting are excuses to be cheap-ass and not pay for the books to be given to “inferiors”, and are excuses for “teachers” to be cruel and/or indifferent to me in 1982.

            It’s likely that I simply wasn’t “college material” and never would’ve thrived there had I gotten to go and I’m simply an anomaly who liked to read despite lacking the aptitude for further study, but judging from my wife who went to college and my brother who went after he married a girl with a generous father, I have my doubts about that.

            What I don’t doubt is that many in the collegiate class like to congratulate themselves on how much more ‘intelligent’ they are compared to their ‘inferiors’, but what I see is they mostly seem to have been born into that class, yes I read “The Bell Curve”, but I don’t buy it, as it looks like a far too convenient excuse for the existing castes to be perpetrated without even bothering to get books into the hands of the ‘inferior’.

            @DavidFriedman
            "Spending a sizable chunk of twelve years teaching everyone skills that most will exercise for at most half an hour or so every few years doesn’t sound like a sensible use of either educational resources or the students’ time...."

            That’s a valid point, but such classes would’ve been interesting to me, and I would’ve liked them.

            @dndnrsn 
            "The major problem I see with the German system – with which I am unfamiliar; my contact is entirely second- and third-hand – is how early it starts streaming..."

            True, but at least it tries to teach something to those deemed ‘not college material’, unlike my school which decided books for some and vague suggestions to write on a simple topic for others. 

            While I suppose it was good practice for most jobs the “Intermediate track” was incredibly boring! Time in a library would’ve been much happier than either the empty ‘Intermediate’ or the cruel ‘Advanced’. 

            Fine, keep the segregation of the college bound from their inferiors who may dare to sit in a precious assigned chair, but please at least share the books, is that too much to ask?

          • John Schilling says:

            @Plumber: Teachers saying you aren’t allowed to sit in a chair like the other students, is the sort of cartoonishly evil thing that suggests you grew up in one of those vaguely-SFnal dystopias beloved of YA fiction writers, and were possibly the protagonist who was supposed lead the resistance and bring down the whole corrupt system. To which goal I am somewhat sympathetic, but as one of the privileged former-teacher’s-pet-students it would be dramatically inappropriate for me to play more than a supporting role in such a story.

            But what I’m most curious about is the targeting algorithm these people are using. I can see many reasons why a bunch of advanced-not-really-advanced students might exclude and bully you, like being the sort of person who would rather read Niven than play adolescent status games. The teacher going along with them, and to the no-chair-for-you extreme, is somewhat baffling. Barring outright bigotry, I think it is rare for a student to be all of, bright and eager to learn, despised by his “peers”, and despised by his teachers. Do you have any insight into how you managed to pull off that trifecta?

          • Time in a library would’ve been much happier than either the empty ‘Intermediate’ or the cruel ‘Advanced’.

            Much less expensive, too. And more educational.

            You have described your early and dreadful interaction with a catastrophically misrun socialist institution. So why didn’t you end up as a libertarian, in favor of having few or no things run by government?

            You seem to have instead concluded that, since some of the people who mistreated you were richer than you were, the problem is with people being rich instead of with governments running the schools. When you go to the grocery store, some of the customers are richer and higher status than you are—do you have to pay higher prices than they do for worse groceries, which would be the equivalent of your schooling experience? If you want to order something from Amazon, do they first ask to see your college diploma?

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Plumber

            I get the sense that, in North America at least, a big part of the problem is that, among the people who are responsible for coming up with theories on how to teach kids and how to teach teachers, there’s a couple assumptions:

            1. That everyone can go to university. All children have the same potential, one kid isn’t showing up smarter than another (this doesn’t require Steve Sailer type nonsense, just the observation that some people are smarter than others, just as some people are more athletic than others – nobody would ever believe that everyone can be star quarterback, but somehow the idea that everyone is equally smart has become fairly standard).

            2. That everyone should go to university. The people who do the curriculums and run the teacher’s colleges and so on and so forth tend to be highly educated – you need at least a couple degrees to become a teacher, and to advance in the hierarchy you usually need a doctorate. So, of course they think that university education is the highest goal.

            These are made worse by the credentialism race – now you need a university degree to get a job that once upon a time could have been done by a high school student.

            Have you ever read The Rise of the Meritocracy by Young? British Labour guy, wrote it in the 50s I believe. I think you’d really like it – it’s social commentary in the form of a sort of sci-fi story.

          • Plumber says:

            @John Schilling 

            "Teachers saying you aren’t allowed to sit in a chair... 

            ....any insight into how you managed to pull off that trifecta?"

            I was transferred in the middle of the semester after my mom insisted to Berkeley High School, West Campus in 1982, and the teacher was very clear that she didn’t want “one more student” (if I could remember the teachers name I’d damn her here as well!), I could sit down if a chair was available, but most times the assignee would come in after I did and make me get up, many times I’d go from chair to chair as my classmates came in so I got to alienate much of the class by sitting in “their” chair, and the teacher would remind me that my presence was “disruptive”.

            Damn her, and damn them!

            @dndnrsn
            "...Have you ever read The Rise of the Meritocracy by Young?.."

            I haven’t read it, and I thank you for the recommendation.

            @DavidFriedman
            "...why didn’t you end up as a libertarian, in favor of having few or no things run by government?..."

            If I have to guess, because public libraries were my refuge, and I vehemently support them, plus I liked the community college classes I got to take.

            I like private bookstores as well, so I’m not a Bolshevik

            It is curious, I’ve read and enjoyed Heinlein and Niven who are libertarian-ish without becoming one, and I read Tolkien without becoming Catholic, maybe reading Dashiell Hammett, and John Steinbeck are to blame for my mostly social democrat views?

            I went to public schools, my wife went to Catholic schools, our son went to public schools in Oakland and Albany until we started home-schooling supplemented by Berkeley City College classes (some hoops for that).

            Despite going against some of my other leanings I’m sold on “school vouchers”

          • John Schilling says:

            Damn her, and damn them!

            Alas, most rituals of damnation do require the name of the target.

            Does sound like a strong element of classist bigotry was involved, which Americans have traditionally been taught to ignore unless there’s also a racial or ethnic divide between the classes.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            FWIW, my sister lives in a school district that is lavishly funded, into which she pays some $11k-$12k in property taxes per year.

            However, they do not have enough desks, so kids have to take turns standing. I presume that if you decided to take a desk when it was your turn to stand, you would indeed be reprimanded.

          • nkurz says:

            @David Friendman

            You have described your early and dreadful interaction with a catastrophically misrun socialist institution. So why didn’t you end up as a libertarian, in favor of having few or no things run by government?

            I went to high school in rural Wisconsin a few years after Plumber attended in Berkeley. While my experiences weren’t quite as dismal, I still harbor some grudges. I’ve never thought to blame “government” for this, though. My wrath would instead be directed mostly at the teachers’ union, which I felt was probably beneficial to the some of the less motivated teachers, entirely detrimental to the students.

            While Plumber might have a better case that funding was the major issue for him, I’d guess it’s the attitude and behavior of the people working in the school that caused him more problems than the legislature. I don’t normally think of public school teachers as falling under the heading of government. Should I? Do you?

          • Aapje says:

            Note that streaming doesn’t necessarily prohibit switching. I myself switched to a lower level to avoid French, which I could not learn and later went up again when French was no longer required at the highest level.

            Such possibilities are very useful to late bloomers, especially common among those with a non-native background.

            There is a quite a bit concern in my country about the reduced ability to switch (schools tend to dislike students going up, since many fail and because they get dinged for poorly performing students). Ultimately it is a choice by a society how easy to make this and how much schools and others are to be incentivized to make it work.

          • Randy M says:

            In partial defense of Plumber, I was a teacher in a not enough desks for students situation.
            This was teaching chemistry in down town Long Beach, and my extra large science class room had some periods with every desk and lab bench filled, beyond the seating capacity. The explanation from the administration was that they required or were allowed the first month or two for balancing the students schedules, and some students would surely be transferring out.
            As a brand new teacher this was a very difficult situation. I’m not sure whether the counselors sucked at their job or their cynical arrangement was justified by the overcrowding and low funding, or even if the practice was maximally efficient–they weren’t wrong about kids transferring out of chemistry fast.
            It made it very difficult to connect with any particular student when you knew a quarter or so would be gone soon, but I’m not sure if I ‘connected’ with anyone there in my brief tenure. (And the poor tropical fish I was stuck with didn’t fare too well either).

        • Aapje says:

          @Plumber

          A rather large percentage of Ivy students are let in in large part because their parents are part of the elite, not because these students have a truly superior IQ.

          Ultimately, the goal of the Ivy’s is not so much to educate the best and brightest to the highest level, but to feed the elite with ‘the right kind of people.’

          It’s also why they are discriminating against Asians and in favor of blacks (and previously against Jews). The right kind of people have to come in large part from the existing elite and yet look representative enough so the elite can maintain the fiction that they are largely a meritocracy…or at least trying to be.

          • Plumber says:

            @Aapje,

            I strongly suspect that your right, but it’s the “public Ivy’s” (especially U.C. Berkeley) that have gained my ire the most because they’re State support of educational gatekeeping, rationing, and perpetuating castes.

            If the State of California is paying to support it then that teaching should be for all Californians, not just a privileged few Californians and some high fee paying other states and “international” students.

          • If the State of California is paying to support it then that teaching should be for all Californians

            I don’t think the state should be paying for it. But given that they are, surely it makes sense to provide different varieties of education for different students.

            That leaves you with the problem of sorting students to institutions. The ideal solution would be for the students to self sort. Berkeley and UCLA (say) would have hard courses and grading, aimed at bright students who were interested and willing to work, with the result that students who didn’t belong there would either fail or leave. Other schools would be easier and less demanding, aimed at different sorts of students.

            What bothers you about the present system, understandably, is that it sorts largely on income and class. What bothers me about it, from what I can see of the upper tiers of schools, is that they are largely populated by students who view the classes not as what they are there for but as the price they have to pay in exchange for four years of parties, socializing, being out of their parents’ control.

            One of the things that bothered my (home unschooled) daughter at Oberlin, as I may have mentioned, was that when a class was cancelled the other students were happy.

            Going back to your concerns … . I’ve been reading the beginning of my parents autobiography. Both of them were from immigrant families who came here with nothing. Both of them managed to go to good schools and get a good education—with little or no financial help from their families, which didn’t have the money. My father got a tuition scholarship, worked a variety of jobs to pay his expenses. I’m not sure how my mother managed. I think her brother got some sort of tuition scholarship, probably also worked. Of course, all three of them were unusually talented, which surely helped, both on the money earning end and on scholarships.

            There seem to have been a lot of people at about that time who managed to make it from poor immigrant to professor. The father of one of my high school friends fought in the Russian Civil war as a teenager, on the losing side, walked out through China, made it to America, ended up as a University of Chicago professor.

            College was much less expensive then (c. 1930), at a time when a much smaller proportion of the population went to it.

          • A rather large percentage of Ivy students are let in in large part because their parents are part of the elite, not because these students have a truly superior IQ.

            Some percentage, I’m not sure how large, are let in because one or both parents are alumni. That correlates with being part of the elite, but it isn’t the same thing. I don’t think having a parent who went to Yale gives you extra points when applying to Harvard.

            I think a larger bias towards the elite comes from the fact that the elite are in a better position to game the admissions filter. They are more likely to know what boxes needed to be checked, better able to pay for coaching their kids to do well on exams, more likely to live in places with relatively good public schools or to send their kids to high end private schools, giving the kids the opportunity to take lots of AP courses, and the like.

            It’s hard to avoid that sort of situation, even if the schools are making an honest attempt to select the best qualified applicants. They need some way of judging qualifications, and well off, well educated, parents are going to be better at gaming whatever system they use.

            At a slight tangent … . When our home unschooled kids were applying to colleges, it became clear that most schools simply didn’t know how to evaluate them. They had a standard set of filters, using things like high school grades and teachers’ recommendations, information that didn’t exist for our kids. I don’t think it was that they objected to home schooling, just didn’t know how to fit it in.

            The one exception, St. Olaf’s, was a school that was pretty clearly targeting home schooled kids. I suspect they were trying to move up on Oberlin, their direct competitor–they are the two good liberal arts colleges that have professional level music programs. As I read it, they recognized the problem–to raise their reputation they needed smart students, but smart students want to go to schools with a high reputation. The solution was to find a pool of smart students that their competitors were missing.

            Suggestion for your son, assuming he wants eventually to go to college. Have him keep a list of every book he reads. That was what the St. Olaf admissions people told us what impressed them about Becca’s application. She didn’t end up going there–but probably should have.

            Also, if you come to the March 2d meetup, or alternatively kidnap Scott down here for dinner sometime, bring your son. He can compare notes with our kids.

          • The invitation in my previous comment was aimed at Plumber, not Aapje, who the rest of my comment was directed at. The page isn’t letting me edit my comment to make that clear–the edit option is currently missing.

          • Plumber says:

            @DavidFriedman,

            Thanks

          • Atlas says:

            When our home unschooled kids were applying to colleges, it became clear that most schools simply didn’t know how to evaluate them. They had a standard set of filters, using things like high school grades and teachers’ recommendations, information that didn’t exist for our kids.

            How much did/would they have weighted scores on standardized tests?

          • How much did/would they have weighted scores on standardized tests?

            I don’t know how they weighted them. Our kids had SAT and AP scores well within the range for the schools they applied to. St. Olaf was the only school they were accepted at where they did not have some sort of an in–parents and grandparents with a connection to the school.

            But that is a pretty small sample, since once Bill was accepted by Chicago he cancelled his other applications.

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            That leaves you with the problem of sorting students to institutions. The ideal solution would be for the students to self sort. Berkeley and UCLA (say) would have hard courses and grading, aimed at bright students who were interested and willing to work, with the result that students who didn’t belong there would either fail or leave. Other schools would be easier and less demanding, aimed at different sorts of students.

            I think that the Dutch universities are/were a lot closer to this than the US. In theory you can freely enter any university with a diploma of the highest track/stream of high school. Selection only happens if there are not enough spots, which traditionally was only for medical degrees. Even then, this used to be done purely by grades, which are relatively hard to buy (although rich people can buy private tuition).

            However, the universities seem to increasingly want/need selection* and also are increasingly shifting to ‘soft selection’ based on motivation and such. This despite studies showing that this kind of selection doesn’t select students who do better on average. However, I suspect that it does select more people from better backgrounds.

            * Perhaps also because they discovered a good source of income called foreign students.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        I have a friend who recently went back to school and is struggling with concepts like slope-intercept.
        He wants to be a manager, and understands a 4 year degree will be helpful, but I honestly do not think he “gets” it. He considers his current math class to be “the kind of stuff I’ll never use.” He honestly cannot answer the question:
        If I have $50, and the cover charge is $20, and drinks cost $5, how many drinks can I buy?

        I don’t understand why he thinks he can be a manager, because no one would ever trust him with a budget. Or evaluating any other KPI. As the company accountant, I hate dealing with people like that, because they just cannot understand numbers well enough to understand why they are losing money.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          @ADBG.
          I think part of the issue here is numeracy and literacy. Lots of people are plenty smart enough to go to college and get a 4 year degree without being particularly numerate (heck we talk about innumerate journalists on SSC all the time, and I bet they are all college graduates, and mostly from elite colleges). Well your example was pretty extreme — I think most elite college kids could figure out your $50 / $20 problem, even humanities majors, at least if you gave them 10 minutes and let them work it out on paper.

          It’s a different question between those that are numerate and those that are college material. In the other direction, years ago when I supervised accounts payable I had several clerks working for me that were pretty numerate, but would find it difficult in getting a 4 year degree, because their writing and analysis skills were too low.

          Although it is true that a business manager needs to have both numerate and verbal skills. There are plenty of college grads who shouldn’t be managers just because of their inability to understand numbers. Of course that may also be true of certain Congressmen, so it goes to all levels.

          • Theodoric says:

            Well your example was pretty extreme — I think most elite college kids could figure out your $50 / $20 problem, even humanities majors, at least if you gave them 10 minutes and let them work it out on paper.

            Just as a datapoint, I was a liberal arts major, got a “C” in a course that was called “math for the liberal arts”, and in the early 2000s, I got a 550 on my math SAT, and it took me a few seconds to determine that the answer was 6 $5 drinks.
            By the way, is that all slope intercept is? You start with $X, you pay $Y, how many things costing $Z each can you buy? If so, why did no math teacher I ever had explain it that way? I am reminded of a cartoon episode (I think “Hey Arnold”) where a character does terrible in math class, but can easily calculate how much he needs for a neighborhood shakedown operation because “that’s not math, that’s business.”

          • why did no math teacher I ever had explain it that way?

            At a higher level, a non-rigorous proof of the fundamental theorem of calculus, that integration and differentiation are inverse operations (the derivative of the integral is the function) is trivial, and sufficient to show why it is true. As far as I can tell, almost nobody who has taken calculus knows it.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Perhaps my expectations are too high, but I’d expect all college graduates to be reasonably comfortable with numbers. I’d expect them to know what a differential is and some real basic probability theory. If I had a college graduate in front of me struggling with basic algebra, I’d be shocked. Hell, I’d be shocked if I had a high school graduate struggling with basic algebra.

            What I’d expect from particularly numerate people is fluency. Like, unit conversions can be a bit tricky, even if you understand the concept. Numerate people, either through practice or nature, should be able to reflexively go from one unit to another. In my practice, that means jumping from labor hours to machine hours to efficiency to asset intensity to hourly wages to hourly wages+benefits. I’d expect every college graduate not currently under cognitive strain to be able to do the same thing, I just wouldn’t expect them to do it as quickly. They might do it so slowly that they cannot feasibly do my job, and that’s fine, but they should understand the basic concept, because unit conversions aren’t actually hard in theory.

            Totally agreed on the analysis and verbal skills component WRT college as well. Numeracy is not sufficient to earn a 4 year degree. I’d also expect 4 year students to express themselves reasonably well and to be able to analyze a problem and come up with certain solutions on their own. They won’t communicate in “business” format, and they obviously can’t fix my production lines without actual experience, but I need them to be able to string some sentences together that communicate clear ideas, and I need them to be able to come up with some basic ideas of how the line might fail, given SOME information on how the line runs. I can build from there.

            If so, why did no math teacher I ever had explain it that way?

            They might have. But they also use examples like “imagine someone buys 97 apples…”

          • brad says:

            I go out to dinner with people I know are otherwise intelligent that pull out their phone to calculate a tip. In the days of 15% I could at least sort-of get that. But now that we are at 20 ish percent–come on–move the decimal point one spot to the left, round up to the nearest dollar, double. I know ten year olds that could do that.

            Granted I’m sure the people I’m thinking of could do it if I bet them $100, but the fact that it isn’t so trivial as to be automatic is baffling to me.

          • I’d expect all college graduates to be reasonably comfortable with numbers. I’d expect them to know what a differential is and some real basic probability theory.

            The woman I am now married to was a geology graduate student teaching a lab at VPI in the late seventies. One question she put to the students was the volume of a rectangular ore body, given length, width, and depth. Many of them couldn’t do it.

          • littskad says:

            @DavidFriedman

            At a higher level, a non-rigorous proof of the fundamental theorem of calculus, that integration and differentiation are inverse operations (the derivative of the integral is the function) is trivial, and sufficient to show why it is true. As far as I can tell, almost nobody who has taken calculus knows it.

            I’ve taught Calc 1 numerous times while a graduate student, post doc, and now faculty, at large state research universities, and every time I do, I always give basic intuitive explanations why differentiation and integration are opposites. A few students really appreciate it, but most don’t care. They have long since decided that they don’t want or need to understand the math; they merely want to know how to “get the answer”, because that, apparently, is what math is all about. I will continue to disagree with this and give explanations, and try my best to get them to think about things, but it’s really hard to make many of them care. I mean, I get it! Thinking really is hard work!

            Anyway, just because most students who have taken calculus don’t understand at an intuitive level why differentiation and integration are opposites doesn’t mean they haven’t been exposed to it. I suspect that most of them have.

          • albatross11 says:

            My parents have/had graduate degrees in nontechical subjects, had successful careers, and I think I passed them in math by about sixth grade. Both managed to grind their way through the required algebra class in college and promptly forget the whole thing. I think this is common.

            My guess is that thinking quantitively is partly a habit that some people never acquire, and partly talent that many people lack. And more abstract mathematical thinking, thinking in terms of probability, statistics, logic, etc., is IMO deeply unnatural–most people take a long time to learn it and many never do learn it well.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Depending on what we mean by “forgot,” I totally expect most people to forget most of what they learned, even within their domains, because information is difficult to retain and most of it is not used on a frequent basis. However, I expect some basic concepts to be retained. For instance, accounting, finance, management, and economics are required classes in basically every single business undergrad. So I expect the vast majority of undergrad business majors to know what a net present value is, what a debit and a credit are, and what supply and demand are.

            Unfortunately, I did have a shockingly high number of peers who did not remember the difference between gross income and net income, didn’t understand at even a basic level what the arguments were against rent control, and couldn’t calculate a NPV if their lives depended on it. They actually have had successful careers, and some I have crossed professionally, but I’ll be honest: their work has been shoddy IMO and I wouldn’t recommend any of them if my reputation was on the line.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            However, I expect some basic concepts to be retained. For instance, accounting, finance, management, and economics are required classes in basically every single business undergrad. So I expect the vast majority of undergrad business majors to know what a net present value is, what a debit and a credit are, and what supply and demand are.

            Well, yeah, there’s a reason these business grads didn’t major in math heavy areas such as accounting or finance. They aren’t interested. This will inhibit their advancement in the business world (in most areas, maybe not HR or marketing). But I do think your “demands” are too heavy. There simply are never going to be a high percentage of people with strong quantitative skills, absent genetic engineering. Our society will always need talented people in non-quantitative fields also. I would like highly educated people to know basic arithmetic, and be able to solve the simple $20 / $50 problem you indicated above, but we aren’t going to get most folks to understand NPV or standard deviation or even algebra well enough to actually do problems in them.

            Edit: maybe most folks do have the ability to understand these concepts on a shallow level, and maybe that is all you are asking.

        • Deiseach says:

          He honestly cannot answer the question:
          If I have $50, and the cover charge is $20, and drinks cost $5, how many drinks can I buy?

          How on earth does he function in his normal everyday life? Is it simply maths he has a problem with? People can be averagely intelligent, manage to have an ordinary life, but have problems with literacy or numeracy. If I take what you’re saying at face value, a remedial or adult literacy/numeracy class would be a lot more use to him.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            He is essentially in a remedial math class in his college level coursework. From what I understand, he is currently getting an “A” in this class, though.

            My suspicion is that he has NOT always done well in life. He racked up massive credit card debt when he was younger. So he now he has a set of rules like “don’t spend too much money” and “don’t use credit cards.”

            I suspect that he just never paid attention to school when he was younger.

    • Dack says:

      It seems both have transitioned from “traditional ideals” to “diploma factory”.

      The difference is, the US doesn’t care if you fail.

  17. dndnrsn says:

    Something I’ve noticed in a few cases of important people (not necessarily famous people, but important in their field, at least) is that people who go down for sexual misconduct (a bit of a weak phrase, but I don’t know of another that ranges everything from harassment to rape) were often being nasty to people in other, non-sexual ways. Often, these were well-known, and the sexual misconduct wasn’t (it happened in private, while non-sexual nastiness happened in public). For example (I don’t want to be heavy on examples; Weinstein is, I think, a central enough example to not sidetrack the discussion) is that after allegations of sexual assault and harassment came out against Weinstein, stories also started coming out from men whom he had assaulted (in the non-sexual, punch-you-in-the-face way). Various employees came out describing abusive-boss type behaviour. One line in this WaPo article interests me:

    In retrospect, he said, the abusive tactics that Weinstein used with women were in line with those he used with directors and male employees: the domination, the cycle of eruptions followed by contrition, the swagger, accompanied by shows of neediness.

    Some disorganized thoughts:

    1. In the case of Weinstein, he evidently worked to hide his sexual misconduct (which, by the allegations, ranged from asshole behaviour to out-and-out rape) but evidently did not work to hide his being abusive (including punching people without provocation, generally illegal) in other ways. It can’t have been a secret that he was horrible to work with, or that he punched people; there seems to be a certain amount of tolerance given (especially to people who are seen as geniuses, experts in their field, whatever) for abusive, violent, etc behaviour both of this sort, and sexually (insofar as, supposedly, it was an “open secret” – none of these people who knew this open secret did anything, or said anything!).

    2. Open, public allegations of sexual misconduct seem to give everyone license to say that the person was horrible in other ways, and to actually recognize how bad it was. I don’t have time to look right now, but I’d guess that there’s stories prior to the harassment and rape allegations of Weinsten being terrible to work with, but couched in “oh, those creative types!”

    Or, to put it another way, someone who is known to be an awful asshole, extending perhaps even into criminal behaviour, and is still powerful/popular/whatever – it’s the sexual assault allegations or whatever that take them down. Weinstein could probably have gone the rest of his life trying to punch guys who had upset him in some way, if the story hadn’t finally broke on his history of awful-stretching-to-criminal behaviour against women. When the rape allegations or whatever come out, suddenly people can admit that they don’t like being punched in the face or yelled at – abusive behaviour that people have interpreted as fired-up-creative-type or whatever, gets understood as abusive behaviour, once the person is known/seen/thought to be sexually abusive. This is the case whether the latter allegations are real, or false, or real-but-kinda-flimsy: Jerk Boss might be accused of a solitary ass-grab, but he’s a jerk, and a lot of people have knives they want to put in him, and when he’s not just Jerk Boss but Gropey Jerk Boss… All of a sudden his screaming at people isn’t “just how it is in this business” but is recognized as, at a minimum, inappropriate (which it is).

    3. Conversely, I would guess that sexual allegations against people who are known to be sweethearts, or at least not actively unpleasant, are far more likely to fade away, whether or not those allegations are for real. The cases of sexual allegations utterly fizzling I can think of, were all sexual allegations against people who are nice, or who at least can put a nice face on. A false or flimsy allegation against someone who everyone likes will get ignored, meanwhile, someone who is well-liked can get away with rape far more easily than someone who everyone dislikes.

    4. There seems to be a fear that allegations are just instant-win, destroy-this-person buttons. And that doesn’t seem to be the case. Allegations against people where there’s non-sexual reasons for people to turn on them are far more likely to succeed, allegations against people where everyone thinks they’re a nice person aren’t. This isn’t just “I like this person so they must be OK” – it’s not hard to see how a pattern of being abusive, manipulative, whatever in one part of life could be linked to another. (Of course, there are people who can and do compartmentalize their awfulness.) This is more than just “allegations of whatever sort against popular people do worse than allegations against unpopular people”, which is obviously true – someone can be an asshole, but still popular, until suddenly it becomes OK to point out that they’re an asshole.

    5. Of course, this is all anecdata, and I’m working with like a dozen examples tops. It would be interesting to look and see how often you have someone take a fall because of non-sexual awful behaviour allegations alone, sexual allegations alone, or both together. I’d suspect the third sees a fall happen far more commonly, but I might be wrong.

    Addendum: I don’t want to talk about the specific cases which made me think of this (I can bring up the few I’m thinking of, which aren’t Weinstein, if people really wish, but I don’t want to argue over whether Person X did ABC) and I don’t want to talk about whether allegations are real or false.

    • albatross11 says:

      I think some of this is that widely-publicized sexual misconduct allegations work as a kind of Schelling point, telling everyone who has a beef with the alleged harasser/groper/rapist that now is the time to come forward and unload on the SOB. If there are hundreds of people still seething with anger over the way you’ve mistreated them in some nonsexual incident, that’s a lot of people who would like to coordinate meanness if they could. Suddenly, it’s clear when and where and how to attack this really unpleasant person who’s left a trail of angry people in his wake.

      I think something similar happened to Jim Watson–his racial comments might have disappeared into the “old guy says racist thing, apologizes, let’s move on” bin, but he’d left a wide trail of offended, upset, ego-bruised people in his wake for decades, so when there was an opportunity to coordinate some meanness against him, there were a *lot* of people who were eager to join in.

      • Randy M says:

        So the trick is to keep your nastiness confined to scenarios that don’t tie into the current popular media causes?

      • I think sometimes it’s the person dying which triggers the attack.

        I’m thinking specifically of the Cyril Burt case. He was a top person in British educational psychology and prominent statistician who seems, from what I have read, to have offended a lot of people in the field–not by punching them but by being arrogant and pushy. After his death accusations of fraud suddenly appeared. It isn’t at all clear whether they were true, but they were sufficient to get accepted for a while, by both the relevant professional association and Burt’s official biographer. Eventually two different people published books defending Burt, arguing that he had been framed, and at this point I think it is very much an open question whether he was guilty of anything more than carelessly forgetting to replace an old graphic with a new one when updating an article to include more data.

        As I read the case, the reason the charges were so easily accepted was that Burt had offended a lot of people and was no longer around to defend himself and counter attack his attackers. There was probably also a political element, since Burt was one of the first people to use identical twin studies to estimate IQ heritability.

        • albatross11 says:

          That seems plausible. Are there parallel cases you can think of?

          • The most nearly parallel case I can think of is the Mead-Freeman controversy, which I think goes the other way. After Mead’s death, Freeman offered evidence that her most famous work was entirely wrong. But Mead, as I interpret it, was reasonably popular with other anthropologists, and a very high profile figure with non-anthropologists, so fellow anthropologists were very reluctant to support the attacks.

            Meanwhile, lots of non-anthropologists were happy to believe Freeman, either because it made such a dramatic story (the most famous book in anthropology wildly wrong) or for ideological reasons, since Mead had pushed for changes in sexual norms that a lot of people disapproved of.

          • dndnrsn says:

            There’s another reason non-anthropologists would support the anti-Mead narrative (which I think to be broadly correct): it’s very easy to see the field of anthropology, or at least, certain chunks of it in the middle-20th century, as being completely bonkers with regard to having adopted this quasi-New Soviet Man blank-slate interpretation of humanity with a side order of noble savage mythology.

        • gwern says:

          Another reason was that, apparently, all his papers were destroyed immediately after his death. As Jensen tells it, this was done not because Burt had ordered it or left a directive in his will, but at the behest of one of Burt’s enemies.

      • CatCube says:

        I’ve had a hypothesis that it’s easier to seem smart if you’re also affable, because people are less likely to remember when you do something stupid. If you’re a raging asshole, every time you’re wrong it’s like a sweet, juicy orange to the coworkers you’ve been inflicted on, and they’ll recall every instance 15 years later.

        This doesn’t mean that you can’t succeed while being an asshole, of course–God knows there’s plenty of evidence–just that it works against you.

        • It might go the other way. If you are affable you are inclined to agree with other people. If you aren’t, you frequently contradict them and get into arguments. If you in fact are smart, you win a lot of those arguments–and one obvious explanation is that you aren’t really right, just clever enough to win when you are wrong.

          Wasn’t that part of what Socrates was charged with?

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Counterpoint: the BBC lost the most popular show in the world when Jeremy Clarkson punched a guy.

      • Watchman says:

        But the BBC is not suffering from a raft of accusations about stars and producers sexually assaulting people. There’s probably two reasons for this: the historical accusations the BBC suffered earlier this decade caused a culture determined to stop this happening again; and the fact that our libel laws make the risk of making an accusation much higher. It may be that culturally the UK is less forgiving to successful bullies as well. Whatever the case, Clarkson clearly crossed a line by hitting someone just doing their job.

      • Plumber says:

        @Conrad Honcho,

        Top Gear was a lot of fun and my son loved watching it!

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I watched every episode. I love that show. The new one on Amazon is good…but it’s just not exactly Top Gear.

      • Fitzroy says:

        But this was just the last in a long laundry list of very public complaints against Top Gear and the hosts, some more valid than others.

        Clarkson, seen as an unapologetically unreconstructed man, had long been a bête noire of the liberal intelligentsia; this was just the first time they got it to stick.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          There is no history of Clarkson being abusive towards people/staff. Top Gear “controversies” were almost always “prissy pearl clutchers can’t take a joke.”

      • Garrett says:

        IIRC, this was due to some of the producers not properly feeding the crew who were working in unpleasant conditions.

    • Aapje says:

      @dndnrsn

      Conversely, I would guess that sexual allegations against people who are known to be sweethearts, or at least not actively unpleasant, are far more likely to fade away, whether or not those allegations are for real.

      How does this explain that the allegations against Woody Allen did not fade away? Esquire magazine actually wrote an article saying that you shouldn’t believe his ‘nice guy’ persona:

      Woody Allen’s comic trademark was, for over half a century, a form of sensitive, sincere, emotional-yet-unthreatening masculinity that seemed perfectly viable as a framework for empathetic young men who may feel sidelined by the trappings of our power-male-centric culture.

      Louis CK also doesn’t seem to have been abusive, with the people he worked with still saying that he was a nice person.

      There seems to be a fear that allegations are just instant-win, destroy-this-person buttons. And that doesn’t seem to be the case. Allegations against people where there’s non-sexual reasons for people to turn on them are far more likely to succeed, allegations against people where everyone thinks they’re a nice person aren’t.

      You can’t just extend this observation to the accused who are not famous though.

      I would argue that most people respect status a lot, so an accusation by a non-famous person against a famous person is going to be an uphill battle by default. However, if the accusation is by one non-famous person against another non-famous person or a famous person against a non-famous person, assumptions of guilt may be a lot different.

      • EchoChaos says:

        Add Bill Cosby to this.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Bill Cosby alienated people who would otherwise have been in his corner by doing the whole “old black guy scolding young black guys” thing. The Burress bit that, at least in the versions of it I’ve seen, suddenly put attention on Cosby, started off as a riff on how Bill Cosby should shut up with the “pull up your pants” type stuff, because he’s a hypocrite.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Is Woody Allen’s comic trademark the same as how he behaves in real life? I don’t know.

        You can provide counterexamples – what I was saying is that, in every case I can think of where allegations existed (whether or not they had legs) and then faded away with little to no damage to the person, it’s someone who’s widely thought of as a nice guy.

        Assholes are less likely to get exonerated.

        • Aapje says:

          Is Woody Allen’s comic trademark the same as how he behaves in real life?

          That’s very much his reputation, AFAIK.

          His movie persona is always the same, a neurotic intellectual NY secular jew who is attracted to young women and has a bit of an obsession with sex. That seems like a decent description of him in real life.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Also – Woody Allen was accused of child molestation. Besides a brief period in the 60s-70s where rich and famous guys were able to get away with sleeping with underage girls, that’s a sex crime that in the modern day has always been viewed with contempt. Coupled with the fact that he married his quasi-stepdaughter, it’s not surprising he’s caught flak, at minimum for being a weirdo.

          • Aapje says:

            It’s an allegation that came up during an extremely contentious divorce.

            Allen’s current wife Soon-Yi was actually adopted by Mia Farrow and her then-husband Previn. When Farrow married Allen, they lived in separate apartments and supposedly Allen never had a parenting or live-in relationship with Soon-Yi.

            I understand that the first assumption is different and that this is very incestuous, but it seems to not be the case.

            Perhaps Allen is very much a victim from being an early adopter of ‘combined families.’ I think that if something similar happened today, the media and public would have an easier time to not view this in terms of the nuclear family.

            In general, it seems that once the media chooses a narrative, it is almost impossible for them to change their minds.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I’m aware of the context – the combination of the allegation of what a lot of people think is the ultimate crime, and the confirmed weirdness of marrying his (quasi?) stepdaughter, have led a lot of people to think that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. If he’d been accused of sexual misconduct that wasn’t kiddy-diddling one time, and had merely married a woman much younger than him, he’d probably be OK.

      • albatross11 says:

        I suspect there is a lot of randomness in which accusations have legs and which don’t, and that a big part of that has to do with whether it’s a slow news day or whether the relevant Twitter outrage-sphere is already busy hounding some other person off the net for some real or imagined crimes, and so your story doesn’t go viral. #MeToo also established the norm that media companies should be reporting on sexual misconduct allegations as big news, and since media companies are herd animals, they’ve all converged to that new idea, with a specific narrative that’s expected and that all stories will be hammered into if at all possible.

        • dndnrsn says:

          One of the cases I’m thinking of was front-page news (in Canada, so, like, that translates to maybe 3rd or 5th page news in the US). Then it fell apart; even the paper that’s been hammering the “believe victims” stuff the hardest made it pretty clear it was nonsense. But I doubt that it would have been picked apart, was the guy in question not someone famously nice, professional, and kind of bland.

      • J Mann says:

        “Far more likely” to fade away doesn’t mean “certain.” Woody Allen kept working and seems not to be overly ostracized. Dylan Farrow and Ronan Farrow are high profile critics, but that he has survived at all professionally could be argued to be supportive evidence.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Doesn’t he have ongoing problems with this? Nothing like a full-on boycott, but there’s people who won’t work with him, and it’s kind of dogged him. He survives because nobody’s ever actually been able to pin anything on him, and because he is incredibly good at what he does.

          • AG says:

            Plus, his current wife has had years to come out against him, but by most accounts seems to be doing fine. That’s hard to argue against.

            Something similar is Johnny Depp. He’s had one high profile incident, and a lot of people publicly revile him, but that hasn’t stopped him from continuing to get high-paying work, and there haven’t been new accusers coming forward.

            And compare to Mariah Carey as a case of the “incredibly good at what she does” exception.

    • Jaskologist says:

      It’s the Waiter Rule in action. People who are rude to waiters are not people you want to have around, because they’re nasty in all aspects of life (if they think they can get away with it).

      People who are rotten in one aspect are probably rotten all around. It’s unlikely that a guy who assaulted a woman has assaulted just that one woman. And if he thinks it’s ok to abuse a person in that way, he’s probably not upstanding in the way he conducts the rest of his life.

      Reasoning backwards from that, the guy who has a sexual misconduct accusation lodged against him who is otherwise a nasty piece of work is much more likely to be actually guilty than the one who kind to those around him, so more likely to be taken down.

      • albatross11 says:

        I think “he’s an asshole” is not actually all that good a way to decide whether he’s also committed some other offense.

        • dndnrsn says:

          If you’re in a situation where you have nothing else to go on, and by default lacking other information should default to 50/50 (nb: this is not a court of law approach!) “the accused is an abusive jerk to everyone in his professional life, and also in his personal life outside of dating and so forth, so maybe he’s an abusive jerk there too” should shift the needle a bit.

      • Aapje says:

        On the other hand, those who act dominant to waiters might be good at getting what they want, which may make for a societally successful boss or partner.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          That seems risky, though it might depend on what sort of dominance.

          What if they treat you the way they treat the waiter?

          • Aapje says:

            Either be dominant (or manipulative) yourself, I guess, or accept that the short end of the stick may still be longer than the length of the stick in an equal relationship.

        • bullseye says:

          If you want something reasonable from a waiter you can get it without being a prick. If you think you have to be a prick in that situation you are bad with people and should not be in management.

    • J Mann says:

      If the world is full of enemies who are afraid of you instead of friends who respect you, it’s going to be a lot harder to defend something that essentially depends on your character.

      – Kavanaugh was definitely helped when a lot of women said they knew him in high school and his character wasn’t what was accused. Whether or not that was true, if he’d been unlikeable (say, as Ted Cruz is alleged to have been coming up), they would have been much less likely to have come forward.

      – Conversely, he was hurt when some people came forward to say they knew him to be a drunken violent a-hole. Kavenaugh claimed at least one of those guys was a roommate he ended up sideways with.

    • Quite recently, there have been multiple news stories about a moderately prominent female senator behaving abusively to her staff. No sexual element reported. At least in that case, the nastiness got reported despite the lack of any claims of sexual misconduct.

      • Plumber says:

        @DavidFriedman;

        That she’s also a presidential candidate probably also plays a role in the stories coming out.

        • Deiseach says:

          Plumber, that was my impression as well. Maybe she really is an abusive boss, but the breathless revelations news stories turning up just as she was rumoured to be putting herself forward into a crowded field of sharp-elbowed runners seemed a bit convenient timing-wise.

          Likewise all the stuff I suddenly started seeing passed around online about Tulsi Gabbard from the kind of social media accounts that had previously been treating her as a liberal darling. Kamala Harris is also getting a bit of stick over her decisions while Californian Attorney General, and I think Elizabeth Warren has made a few missteps of her own which means that, although I haven’t seen any kind of similar backlash against her, it probably isn’t needed as she’s shooting herself in the foot of her own accord. I don’t know if Krysten Sinema is considering running or is just a name being put forward by some over-enthused fans, but I was very much amused to see the sharp change from the “slay queen!” treatment of her as “queer femme sworn in on law book rather than Bible, bet Mike Pence is furious about being forced to do that” then switching suddenly to “Sinema is a horrible conservative who has voted to support Trumpian policies way too often” by one and the same social media blogs. Again, I’m wondering about internal party fighting and backstabbing being behind all these zig-zagging opinions.

          As to the guys, it remains to be seen how that is going to pan out, I haven’t seen much yet about the men running or considering running, I’m waiting for the whispering campaigns to start there.

  18. brad says:

    The NIMBYs got themselves a big skull in Queens. Of all the places for a NIMBY to live.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Wasn’t it anti-gentrification type stuff? Is anti-gentrification NIMBY? I thought NIMBY was mostly for stuff that would lower/that people think would lower property values: factories that belch smoke, homeless shelters, what have you.

      • Tarpitz says:

        I think anti-gentrification at least can be NIMBY, but is that what this is about (assuming we’re talking about Amazon)?

        Isn’t this more a question of whether local government subsidizing companies to move there is a good idea?

        • brad says:

          Not really. The state senator that effectively killed the deal represents the area of Queens where the office would have been. He has no special interest in corporate subsidies.

          His district should get no investment from the city or state for a hundred years since we have now spent tens of billions on their preferences.

        • Isn’t this more a question of whether local government subsidizing companies to move there is a good idea?

          My casual impression from the news stories is that the people who didn’t want Amazon would still have been against it if it wasn’t getting any special breaks.

          “Subsidizing” is a bit ambiguous. In at least some cases, the “subsidy” consists of the state and/or local government agreeing not to charge the company taxes, or charge at a reduced rate, for some length of time. That looks more like bilateral monopoly bargaining than a subsidy. If the company doesn’t come it doesn’t pay any taxes, so the government is better off even with the deal than if there was no deal.

          Putting it differently, some of this looks like governments finding themselves in a competitive market and acting accordingly.

      • brad says:

        Anti-gentrification fits the NIMBY mold in my opinion. And NIMBY has long since become unmoored from pure economic rationality. Upzoning, for example, increases property values.

        • Plumber says:

          @brad,

          Not wanting property “values” (prices) to further increase seems an entirely rational wish for the majority of people.

          • gbdub says:

            But driving away major sources of jobs and tax revenue isn’t, unless the city already has full employment and excellent finances, which does not seem to be the case in Queens.

            From what I gather a lot of the expected job growth for Amazon HQ was support staff and low to mid level office drones, not stereotypical “tech bros”.

          • Plumber says:

            @gbdub,

            I don’t know the situation in Queens, but where I’ve grown up the “new jobs” mostly go to people who grew up elsewhere and those born here get displaced by the rising housing prices that those with the new jobs bid up, so unless your sure that your kid will be one of the lucky new job getters or you own so much property that you’ll be sure you can house your kids and their kids adequately not wanting that, and working to prevent rhat situation makes sense to me.

            I understand not wanting to become Detroit but becoming San Francisco isn’t something I think most would wish either.

          • gbdub says:

            You live in a desirable area. Other people want to live there too, because it is desirable. Why should you be protected from paying the costs of living in a desirable area (increased demand driving up costs) just because your parents already lived there? If a new house gets built, why should you get it even though somebody from the Midwest or wherever is willing to pay more for it?

            Now granted we’re talking about “explicitly subsidizing development”. I can see why it would be frustrating for growth to be subsidized when you can’t even house the people already there. (Then again, shouldn’t a plumber like a healthy construction industry? Then again again, part of the reason growth needs to be subsidized is because it’s been artificially discouraged by past policies)

            Part of the problem I have with NIMBYism is that an awful lot of it seems to resolve to “I got mine, screw the rest of you”. Pulling up the ladder behind you.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Conversely, why should I have to pay extra to keep what I already own just because someone else wants it?

          • Conversely, why should I have to pay extra to keep what I already own just because someone else wants it?

            If you already own it, you don’t have to pay extra.

            Bidding up housing prices is a cost for people who are moving in and for local people who rent, but not for local people who own.

            Of course, it’s a cost for local people who own if property taxes go up as a result of increased housing prices–but that’s limited in the California case by prop 13.

          • brad says:

            @Plumber

            Not wanting property “values” (prices) to further increase seems an entirely rational wish for the majority of people.

            I am a renter, so I’m in that group that doesn’t want costs to increase, but we aren’t the majority. The home-ownership rate is over 64%. I think pushing it that high was bad public policy, but that’s neither here nor there in terms of where we are.

            @Gobbobobble

            Conversely, why should I have to pay extra to keep what I already own just because someone else wants it?

            It seems like your total taxes paid shouldn’t have to go up just because property values went up.

            I’m aware that the general dynamic is for the millage rate to stay the same and total tax collection to skyrocket, but I don’t see why that needs to be the case.

          • pontifex says:

            I have relatives who work in construction in the Bay Area. Construction workers don’t live in homeless tent cities. They live in less expensive parts of town and split the cost of housing with lots of people to make it affordable.

            The homeless are mostly mentally ill or drug addicted, and a lot of them are out-of-towners. It really sucks for the families nearby, but apparently nothing can be done, because politics.

          • It seems like your total taxes paid shouldn’t have to go up just because property values went up.

            In California, they don’t. That’s because of Proposition 13, which limited increases in assessed value to 2% a year.

            I believe Plumber in an earlier discussion was against Prop 13.

          • Plumber says:

            @DavidFriedman
            "...I believe Plumber in an earlier discussion was against Prop 13"

            In a previous thread I noted (and griped) that soon after prop 13 went into effect the towels and toilet paper disappeared from my school, never to return, and that new books for my schools became much fewer (as the teachers warned us and told us to tell our parents), you pointed out some statistics that showed that State revenues didn’t really drop, and other commenters suggested that what I experienced was likely an example of “Washington Monument Syndrome“, my feelings towards prop 13 have changed from “against” to “mixed”, but as I’m now a homeowner as well as the parent of a school aged child I have self-interested reasons to rationalize.

          • brad says:

            @DavidFriedman
            I was aware of prop 13, think it’s a bad law, but that’s not exactly what I was saying. Prop 13 limits the increase in taxes for a particular homeowner, but what I’m saying is I don’t see why the total tax collections for the entire community needs to increase. At least not in some cases.

            Suppose bedroom community #34 has 5000 stand alone houses, and in 2010 the median sales price is $400,000. Then for whatever reason it starts to become popular with specialist doctors and by 2018 the median sales price has gone to $750,000. Let’s say there’s a prop 13 like rule in effect. So the people that have been living there since before the increase are still paying the same taxes they always have (plus inflation hopefully) but all the new people are paying significantly higher taxes than those that they bought their houses from. But there’s still only the same number of people around–at least roughly. No need for new streets, lamps, parks, extra police, etc, etc, etc. So where is the extra money going?

            If you are going to have a property tax the rate should be determined by working backwards from the budget, not the other way around.

          • The Nybbler says:

            If you are going to have a property tax the rate should be determined by working backwards from the budget, not the other way around.

            This is how it’s done in NJ.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Isn’t the central example of NIMBY “I don’t want that ugly thing near me”? Anti-gentrification stuff tends to be more “I like it here and don’t want to get priced out of the neighbourhood.”

          • Plumber says:

            @dndnrsn,

            Yes, but for many it’s also “I don’t want to have to live in a car or tent”.

          • baconbits9 says:

            No its “don’t want to live in a house/apartment somewhere else”.

          • Plumber says:

            @baconbits9,

            By “somewhere else” you mean some foreign land one has never seen?

            Enough of us have “Okie” ancestors to know what happens to those who come from elsewhere with nothing but a truck full of people and a couple of gallons of gas, you sleep in ditches until a major war starts and munitions factories start hiring.

            It’s impossible to not notice that where there’s the most construction cranes and billboards advertising “Tech” jobs there’s also the most tents on the sidewalks.

            No thanks!

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ Plumber

            What is so special about the land? You yourself say that everyone else you knew growing up has been forced out of the area due to high prices and you lived in low quality areas while you saved, specifically lower than where you lived growing up. It does not appear that the area is your “home” when you are living apart from friends and family nor living a comfortable life. This sounds a hell of a lot more foreign to me than “hey, I know most of the street names around here”.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ Plumber

            Do you think the way to prevent people from wandering across the country in search of work is to prevent one of the largest companies in one of the best paying industries from employing 25,000 people in your neighborhood?

          • Plumber says:

            @baconbits9

            ‘…sounds a hell of a lot more foreign to me than “hey, I know most of the street names around here”‘

            You have a good point, just contrariness, lack of hindsight, and stubborness I suppose, but from the sound of it the people of Queens learned from the example of here and said “NO!”, in some ways I’m reminded of the Trumpist movement (not the man himself) which seems to beg that more weight be given to the welfare of current residents rather than newcomers and international finance.

            When “growth” is actively harmful to most everyone you’ve known why encourage it?

            “Do you think the way to prevent people from wandering across the country in search of work is to prevent one of the largest companies in one of the best paying industries from employing 25,000 people in your neighborhood?”

            Unfortunately no, the companies don’t need to move into your exact neighborhood for the newcomers they hire to bid up housing forcing existing residents into exile, them putting up shop anywhere within a hundred miles and/or a four commute has the same effect.

            I suppose land reform and local hire ordinances could mitigate the displacement, but I’m open to better ideas to prevent “progress”.

          • baconbits9 says:

            When “growth” is actively harmful to most everyone you’ve known why encourage it?

            Largely because maintaining the status quo is an illusion, places that tried ended up as rust belt cities where the residents just took on a different type of harm, probably greater, and with far fewer benefits for anyone else.

          • gbdub says:

            What evidence do you have that the people living in cars and tents are employed people who used to have houses but have been priced out? My impression is most of those sorts of people either moved out of state or just live with terrible commutes.

            The street people I see in CA are mostly mentally ill and/or drug addicts who would be homeless wherever they lived, but stay in CA because the weather is nice and the policies and cops are more homeless-friendly. I don’t think the tent cities and the tech bros are as connected as you seem to be assuming.

          • Plumber says:

            @gbdub

            “What evidence do you have that the people living in cars and tents are employed people who used to have houses but have been priced out? evidence do you have that the people living in cars and tents are employed people who used to have houses but have been priced out?”

            Because enough of them told me that when we worked on the same jobsites, though yes the horrible commutes in order to still have a stationary roof was a fare more common complaint, and I’m opposed to that as well, and yes I’ve personally had both the horrible commutes and lived for a year in a truck, and my father was literally homeless for a time as is the only guy besides me in town that I still see from the class of ’86.

          • It’s impossible to not notice that where there’s the most construction cranes and billboards advertising “Tech” jobs there’s also the most tents on the sidewalks.

            Judging by casual observation in San Jose, there are also lots of notices advertising non tech jobs–store clerks or the equivalent.

            I don’t think the homeless situation in the Bay Area is due to a shortage of jobs, given that it seems to be worse here than in most parts of the country while the employment situation seems to be better than in most parts of the country. It’s due to some combination of high housing costs, good weather, and relatively lenient treatment by the authorities.

            On the subject of living in cars … . I have conjectured that part of what is going on is men whose families live a few hours from the Bay Area where housing is much less expensive, with the men driving in to where the work is, sleeping in their cars during the week, then back out for the weekend.

            But that’s pure conjecture–does anyone know if it is what is really happening? I should check tomorrow to see if the street is less parked up than usual.

          • Plumber says:

            @DavidFriedman

            “….I have conjectured that part of what is going on is men whose families live a few hours from the Bay Area where housing is much less expensive, with the men driving in to where the work is, sleeping in their cars during the week, then back out for the weekend…”

            Your guess is correct, I’ve knew lots of guys who did that when I worked in San Jose, the leave home at midnight, then sleep in your car before start time thing was very common as was only seeing your wife and kids on weekends (I’ve done both).

            At least ten to fifteen years ago at 4 to 5AM near most major construction sites you’d find lots of guys sleeping in their cars.

            My boss in San Francisco today still does this, but he sleeps in his office before start time.

          • Garrett says:

            FWIW, I live in Southwestern PA which is a low cost-of-living location. When volunteering at the ambulance station we’ve been called out more than once for someone sleeping at a construction site in advance of their shift. So it isn’t just a high cost of housing which is responsible.

          • gbdub says:

            A guy spending weeknights at his jobsite because the commute home to his family is unpleasantly long is a fundamentally different thing from “homeless in a tent city”. I’d wager there are plenty of tech bros sleeping in their offices occasionally too. And anyway you say that was common 10-15 years ago but earlier you were talking about a recent influx.

            And maybe I’m missing something blazingly obvious, but doesn’t “guys sleeping at jobsites” kind of require there to be jobsites? As in, if you stunt growth, there will be no construction sites to sleep at, and the construction workers will be unemployed. So I think you’re in a Catch-22. If no one (people or companies) wants to move in, no jobs for construction workers. Lots of people want to move in, plenty of jobs but construction workers’ permanent homes get pushed farther out into the burbs.

            I think I agree with David – I don’t see this as purely caused by high housing costs but as a combination of housing costs, lenient treatment, and good weather. Plus of course the end of institutionalization, but that goes back a long time now. I still submit that an awful lot of the homeless population in CA are people that are going to be marginal anywhere they live. CA is a bad place to live on a middling income, but apparently a relatively attractive place to live for free.

          • brad says:

            Isn’t the central example of NIMBY “I don’t want that ugly thing near me”? Anti-gentrification stuff tends to be more “I like it here and don’t want to get priced out of the neighbourhood.”

            I’d say that’s the classic example, as you say in the first post: prisons, factories, homeless shelters. But I don’t think the classic example is any longer the central example. I’d say the central example now is an apartment building in a neighborhood of single family homes.

            In both the anti-higher density and anti-nicer housing cases there is significant homeowner involvement despite the being able to afford arrow pointing in the other direction. It’s a matter of small-c conservatism rather than economic maximization. Which is why I think they can reasonably be joined together.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I guess my feeling for NIMBY is, why don’t they want it? It’s definitely NIMBY if whatever it is will make the neighbourhood “worse” – gentrification, on the other hand, makes the neighbourhood “better” – but in a way that only benefits those with money.

            To me, at least, “that apartment will increase traffic and noise” is NIMBY, “that condo building will be full of rich people and the shops I can afford will be replaced by artisanal biscuit-makers” isn’t. The two can be combined, of course.

          • John Schilling says:

            It makes perfect sense if there is a segment of the population that views “rich people and SRPL” as basically another form of toxic waste. I haven’t spent enough time with the low-income NIMBYs to know how accurate that is, but it plausibly models their behavior.

          • brad says:

            I guess I would draw the line not at “better” or “worse”, because it’s entirely possible to not like artisanal coffee shops, but instead on “against all change” vs “against change that hurts property values”.

            Modern NIMBY and anti-gentrification on both on the left side of that vs. Old school NIMBY was on the right side.

          • dndnrsn says:

            That’s a good way to split it.

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        I agree with Allahpundit’s take: most of the opposition to Amazon was territorialism, not NIMBYism. The latter is about keeping away nuisances, broadly defined; the former about keeping away the outgroup. Anti-gentrification is a variable mixture of the two.

    • Erusian says:

      Honestly, the most interesting part of this is that the Freedom Caucus and AOC agree on something. Like, literally anything. I expect that Mark Meadows and AOC cross the street when they see each other.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Yeah a lot of my friends and coworkers were celebrating and I can’t for the life of me figure out why. I don’t mean that in the “I vehemently disagree” sense, but I literally don’t understand their reasoning. Asking for explanation gets read as disagreement, because confusion implies that it’s not obviously correct, so I’m just quietly mystified.

      New York City is big enough that we don’t need Amazon, sure, but why turn away opportunities? Especially since the city has been trying so hard to become a bigger tech hub this seems like a huge waste.

      • brad says:

        I get the same sense on this one, at least from a lot of people, that I do when talking to someone that doesn’t understand graduated taxes. People seem to think there’s now $3B to spend on other things, which is sheer and utter nonsense. Losing this was hugely negative in terms of tax collections, if nothing else.

      • Plumber says:

        @Nabil ad Dajjal,

        I admittedly haven’t followed the east coast Amazon deals closely (because they’re in the realm of “There-be-Dragons”), but from my born in the San Francisco bay area perspective not wanting to further subsidize “Tech” and the dislocation and unaffordable housing it brings is quite understandable.

        Why would you want that evil?

        It only makes sense if you already own property and want to cash out and move to some foreign land and don’t care if your kids may never afford to live where you had.

        The new restaurants that gentrification brings are nice, but the shuttered hardware stores and the massive increase in people living in motor vehicles and tents isn’t (nor is all of one’s peers from childhood, and siblings having to move away from where you grew up).

        Opposing subsidies for “Tech” seems entirely rational to me.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          My father grew up in a “vibrant” neighborhood, Washington Heights, during white flight. I’ve lived in Brooklyn Heights on the border between the gentrified and ungentrified areas (which at that time was Myrtle Ave, AKA “Murder Ave”). And I’ve also lived in an ungentrified neighborhood in the South Bronx.

          Gentrification cannot come fast enough as far as I’m concerned. Those places never reached the level of dysfunction of parts of the Bay Area during my lifetime, thanks to an aggressive NYPD, but they’ve only recently started to become habitable for decent people again.

          As for tech specifically, about half of my friends work in technology one way or another. I disagree with their politics and their DINK lifestyles but they’re good people. The city could use more people like them.

        • Garrett says:

          The flip side is that NYC has a significant diverse base of businesses already. Adding a few tech jobs isn’t going to have a major impact on the city as a whole.

          Handing out favors specific tax breaks strikes me as poor policy, however.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Handing out favors specific tax breaks strikes me as poor policy, however.

            Making the general tax policy inhospitable and then handing out special favors in the form of specific tax breaks is poor policy but good for the power of the politicians.

            Amazon just surprised everyone when they just cancelled the deal when the politicians decided to alter it.

          • Handing out special tax breaks to companies that are considering where to locate looks like rational price discrimination. Companies that are located in your area and would find it very difficult to move are at your mercy. Companies that are not there yet are not.

          • suntzuanime says:

            “The strong do what they can while the weak suffer what they must” might be rational, from the standpoint of the rapacious strong, but that’s not really what we mean when we call something good policy. The handing out of special tax favors is unjust, in the “actual justice” sense, and by coincidence the social “””justice””” folks have lined up against it too.

          • pontifex says:

            Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

          • “The strong do what they can while the weak suffer what they must”

            Do you improve things by making both the strong and the weak suffer?

            It’s unfortunate that existing businesses in a city are in a weak bargaining position, because they don’t have an easy way of moving to another city that offers them a better deal. It would be nice if we could find a way of improving their situation, forcing the city government to only charge them for actual costs they impose instead of the largest amount at which they won’t be driven out of the city.

            But that isn’t a reason why those businesses that are in a good bargaining position shouldn’t be able to take advantage of it to keep the city government from exploiting them.

    • gbdub says:

      I honestly don’t know how to feel about this one. On the one hand, the spectacle of Amazon going from town to town demanding sweetheart deals and politicians racing to give them was gross. While the deal would almost definitely have been very net positive for Queens, and I generally think cities ought to do what they can to make policies that encourage business growth and investment, those should be general policies not special deals for certain companies. The latter is simply not fair to the companies that already invested in the city (and will be shouldering an unfair share of the tax burden because of the new deal).

      On the other hand, the way this deal blew up bugs me too. The people of Queens apparently we very much in favor of it (70-80% approval I think). A lot of the opposition was pure NIMBYism, and the arm of opposition led by AOC seems to be of the extremely shallow “Boo! Big Corporations are evil!” type. And there’s a strong whiff that what really killed the deal was local pols circling after the deal was cut posturing for the customary graft they require to get anything built in NYC.

      So basically I was opposed in principle to the deal, but recognize it was probably positive from a purely consequential standpoint, and am therefore extremely annoyed by a lot of the opponents’ positions. And I hate that the general level of political greed and corruption and principled but wrongheaded anti-growth/anti-business policies in major cities make sweetheart deals the only way to get companies to commit to major investment in the first place.

      • And there’s a strong whiff that what really killed the deal was local pols circling after the deal was cut posturing for the customary graft they require to get anything built in NYC.

        To put it differently, there is a fundamental problem with a situation where a company is paying large sunk costs to locate somewhere. Before it moves it is in a competitive market, so can bargain with different local governments for the best terms. After it has moved, its local government is in a monopoly position, so can reneg on the bargain in a variety of ways, such as requiring bribes or special concessions for permission to do anything that requires government permission.

        My suspicion is that Amazon concluded the latter was likely to happen in NY, and pulled out for that reason.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          My suspicion is that Amazon concluded the latter was likely to happen in NY, and pulled out for that reason.

          This might be my inner cynical Chicagoan talking, but this was my interpretation. It was never a question of whether the Amazon project would get built: it would, eventually, at some size. It is just a question of how many politicians you’d have to grease to build it, and how many ways the city would try to screw you over after you already built it and were now captured. It’s also why I think Amazon would be stupid to locate here.

          But what do I know? I assign low probability to this explanation.

          • brad says:

            It’s not a horrible conjecture but do note that Chicago corruption and modern NYC corruption are different. There aren’t bags of cash to an alderman. Instead a company has to build a community center or something.

            I think Chicago’s method is probably more efficient but I still believe NYC’s is less bad overall.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        @gbdub +1. Just how I feel.

    • BBA says:

      It looks like part of a more general movement against these tax incentives, which in my view is a good thing. And the whole “HQ2” process has been a ridiculous circus from the beginning. I’m a bit miffed Amazon didn’t just pay for their office building – they sure as hell can afford it, they don’t need the subsidies – but there will be other companies. The city is doing just fine.

      Meanwhile, this is one of the first signs of a new order in Albany. For decades there was a Democratic majority in the State Assembly, a Republican majority in the State Senate, and a centrist governor of either party playing them off each other. (More recently, a slim majority of the Senate was nominally Democratic but enough of them caucused with Republicans to maintain GOP control.) But now there’s a solid Democratic majority in both houses and if nothing else this shows that the Cuomo machine doesn’t control them all.

      • It looks like part of a more general movement against these tax incentives, which in my view is a good thing.

        Imagine, however implausibly, that the relevant political actors are trying to act in the interest of their citizens. A large company is thinking of building a factory or headquarters, possibly in their city. The politicians calculate that doing so will increase city tax collection by a hundred million dollars and city costs by fifty million dollars.

        The company makes it clear that it will only move in if it gets a twenty-five million dollar tax reduction—because it can get a similar deal from an alternative location.

        Two questions:
        Are the politicians wrong to agree to those terms?

        Does the existence of such a pattern of behavior on the whole make the world a better or worse place?

        I would argue that it makes it better, because it puts the politicians in a position similar to that of a firm in a competitive industry, competing price down to cost. This is a particular example of the Thibault model, the idea that local governments are constrained to do a good job by competition with each other for taxpayers.

        The argument doesn’t go through without my initial assumption. You could imagine corrupt politicians offering a seventy-five million dollar tax break, in the expectation that the company would repay them by hiring them or their friends and relations at above market wages or by making generous contributions to their reelection campaigns.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          Are the politicians wrong to agree to those terms?

          Absolutely wrong! These deals look good on a politician’s resume, but they are not good for the community. It is much better for the community for the government to encourage lots of small businesses by making the area a good place for business. And that is a lot less risky too, because one large plant shutting down can have a terrible economic effect on a town.

          There is some good research showing that cities that pay for sports stadiums almost always come out losers economically, although I don’t have cites handy right now. I’m not sure if there is similar research on cities paying for non-sports companies, but I don’t see why it would be any different. There is a huge principle / agent problem here — this is not equivalent to a free market transaction. It is beneficial for politicians to rachet up the price they’ll pay for the sexy new company, even if it hurts the places they supposedly represent.

          • There is some good research showing that cities that pay for sports stadiums almost always come out losers economically, although I don’t have cites handy right now. I’m not sure if there is similar research on cities paying for non-sports companies, but I don’t see why it would be any different.

            Incentives for a business generally mean lower taxes for a while. Cities that pay for sports stadiums, as I understand it, are actually paying part of the cost.

            You would like the environment to be friendly to all businesses, large and small. But if the choice is between having a business move to your city and only making a net of 25 million (because you are offering a special tax deal to get it to come) and not having the company move, making a net of zero, I don’t see why the former harms the smaller businesses in the city.

            Do you object to price discrimination in general? Suppose there is a house that the owner would be willing to sell for $400,000 and the purchaser would be willing to pay $500,000 for. If the seller is clever and a good bargainer, he gets $480,000 for it. There’s another, identical, house which the (same) owner is also willing to sell for $400,000, but this time the buyer is only willing to pay $450,000, so the seller lets him have it for $440,000.

            Two buyers, two identical houses, different prices. Does that strike you as wrong? If not, why is it wrong if the business that is in a better bargaining position because it hasn’t yet moved takes advantage of that to get a better deal?

            In all of these cases, both parties are better off making the deal than not making it.

          • 10240 says:

            @DavidFriedman A strong norm (and perhaps a nationwide constitutional rule) against handing handing out special tax breaks would improve the government’s bargaining position when a company is demanding such a tax break.

          • @10240:

            The norm you are proposing amounts to a cartel agreement, converting a competitive market into a monopoly. Why is that a good thing?

          • eigenmoon says:

            @DavidFriedman:

            EU has such a rule, as Apple and Ireland found out the hard way. This seems to be a good thing because it removes a huge incentive to bribe politicians. There’s still competition between the EU states.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            @DF
            I’m not sure how your thoughts relate to my points.

            No I am not against price discrimination. When two parties are negotiating a price and the buyer is willing to pay more than the amount the seller is willing take, then one or both will improve their position. I am agnostic as to who gets these benefits.

            If a city will receive a net benefit from a company coming to their city, then it makes sense for the city to provide incentives, assuming this won’t cause longer term problems of other businesses demanding the same benefits (problems which are likely). But the more likely scenario is that the city has minimal benefits to a big company coming there, but the politician will derive great benefits in having this on their resume, so they give the company much greater incentives than it is beneficial for the city to give.

            I don’t understand what is the difference between lowering the tax of a specified business below what other similarly situated businesses pay, and just giving the company money. In government finance, they use the concept of tax expenditures to describe benefiting certain taxpayers, as a substitute for direct subsidies. On a substantive basis, tax expenditures are identical to subsidies.

          • but the politician will derive great benefits in having this on their resume, so they give the company much greater incentives than it is beneficial for the city to give.

            I started my comment with:

            Imagine, however implausibly, that the relevant political actors are trying to act in the interest of their citizens.

            I don’t understand what is the difference between lowering the tax of a specified business below what other similarly situated businesses pay, and just giving the company money.

            If they lower the tax, but it is still above costs imposed on the city by coming, then the city still gains by the company moving there. If they give the company money, that may not be the case.

            “Tax expenditure” makes sense in the context where the company is already there to be taxed, so cutting its taxes means the city collects less money. It doesn’t make sense in the context where, if the taxes on the company are not cut, the company won’t come, since in that case the result of cutting the taxes on the company is that the city collects more money.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The issue is somewhat broader since the area where the new business is setting up shop could have a different use and the new company is going to consume resources provided by the local government. If the taxes of the alternate use – costs of the alternate use is > taxes of the new business – tax breaks – costs then its a bad deal for the city, but there is also a handout aspect where the taxes levied on the new business – tax breaks – costs goes negative and the city is essentially providing their services at below cost for the new business.

          • and the new company is going to consume resources provided by the local government.

            Yes. That is why I wrote my earlier comments to include the cost the business imposed on the city governments.

          • 10240 says:

            @DavidFriedman Cartels decrease utility when they jack up prices as they create a deadweight loss when someone would be willing to buy their goods at the market price on a competitive market but not at the higher price of the cartel. Taxes do create a deadweight loss in a similar way, but taxes on smaller companies which don’t tend to move to the state with the lowest taxes create deadweight loss just like taxes on the largest companies that do move to the state which offers them the lowest taxes (at least if we are calculating total utility loss/deadweight loss on a national/global level).

            So if we want to reduce deadweight loss, it’s the average tax burden we should care about, not specifically the tax burden on the largest companies that choose a state based on the taxes they have to pay. It’s unclear to me if a norm against special tax breaks would increase or decrease the average tax burden: it could increase it if big companies don’t get tax breaks but everything else stays the same; or it could decrease it because, if a state wants to compete on taxes for the biggest companies, it would also have to decrease taxes on other, less mobile companies.

            If they lower the tax, but it is still above costs imposed on the city by coming, then the city still gains by the company moving there.

            We have to include the opportunity cost as Amazon will employ tens of thousands of people, most of whom would find employment with some other company if Amazon didn’t come to the city, which would pay the normal tax rates.

          • So if we want to reduce deadweight loss, it’s the average tax burden we should care about, not specifically the tax burden on the largest companies that choose a state based on the taxes they have to pay.

            I don’t know if it’s limited to the largest companies, or if those are just the ones that get attention. In principle, the main distinction is between companies already located in the city and effectively tied down and companies either considering moving in or able to easily move out.

            I would prefer that taxes be low on everyone. But tax competition for mobile taxpayers provides at least some incentive for governments to give value for taxes, to only collect them if the money can be used to produce services at least worth their cost. They can still engage in exploitative taxation of their captive taxpayers—but I don’t see a good way of preventing that. The cartel agreement, if it holds together, just means they can engage in exploitative taxation of mobile companies as well.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I think the main problem with treating these tax breaks as rational price discrimination is the transaction costs involved. If you make the tax environment inhospitable in general and then bargain individually with each company, both you and the company pay the costs of bargaining. These may be small to the governments and small to companies like Amazon, but they’re huge for many smaller companies. And in many cases the government just won’t consider it worth its while to bargain with smaller companies.

          So for the benefit of squeezing a few extra bucks out of the Amazons of the world, you lose entirely (with no opportunity to bargain) many smaller firms.

      • brad says:

        > It looks like part of a more general movement against these tax incentives,

        I disagree and I don’t think those tax breaks much less the more egregious 421-a or J-51 are going anywhere anytime soon, more’s the pity. AOC and the people on twitter were a sideshow. This deal was killed by Michael Gianaris. He doesn’t care one iota about the wisdom of tax incentives generally.

  19. ManyCookies says:

    Trump to declare a national emergency over the border wall (and sign the spending bill).

    Well then, this’ll be interesting to see play out.

    Apparently the national emergency option was pretty damn unpopular (32:65) during the shutdown, but I wonder if this’ll impact his popularity again or if the actual “this is hurting people” effects of the shutdown were the factor there more than ideology.

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      I can’t see this helping him much. The bill gave a wholly insufficient amount to finish the wall [5$ was less than what’s required already] and, so I’ve been told, ties his hands in other ways.

      If congress can compel the president to stay in Afghanistan and Syria even though a fair majority lean in favor of the president on this issue, they can probably compel the president to resume things like catch and release, or simply render a border wall irrelevant. I’m inclined to think that they will if they haven’t already.

    • Assume that Trump is playing three dimensional chess. In that case, Trump would be declaring the national emergency with the knowledge that it would be held up by constitutional issues. He gets to say to his base that he tried while moving on to other issues while it languishes in courts.

      I don’t actually believe this but it might happen unintentionally.

      • As far as I can tell, this is not much more unreasonable than what Trump already did with tariffs. Tariffs are supposed to be set by congress, but there is a special provision allowing the president to set them for purposes of national defense. What Trump actually did had nothing to do with national defense but there doesn’t seem to be a mechanism for determining whether it is, beyond the statement by the President. Now he wants to do the same thing for a different purpose.

        If Congress seriously objects they should repeal the relevant laws. But they can’t do that unless a few Republican senators agree to go along–more than a few, since Trump can veto the repeal.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      If this bill is signed I don’t think declaring a national emergency will matter, as the bill makes it basically impossible to build a wall by only authorizing construction in extremely blue areas while giving local authorities veto power. It’s like saying “yes you can build an abortion clinic but only in Holy Rollin’ Jesus Town but naturally we defer to the city council to forbid the construction if they feel like it.” There’s also language that forbids ICE from deporting anyone who is a potential sponsor of a UAC. So…basically open borders.

      (inb4 “we’re totally not for open borders we just want to make it literally impossible to do anything to stop anyone from crossing the border but how dare you say we’re for open borders”)

    • broblawsky says:

      The Trump administration will probably win any legal challenges related to the constitutionality of the emergency declaration. I doubt this will lead to much additional construction, because every square mile of barriers will produce a new lawsuit, but it will definitely further erode the separation of powers between the branches of government.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Depends on whether the judge is Hawaiian or not.

        • broblawsky says:

          Generosity is a core element of this comment section; I like to think that even Texan judges will put a high bar on eminent domain land-grabs.

          • What is the constitutional ground for preventing the government from seizing land by eminent domain? Kelo established that the government wanting to give the land to a private firm in the belief that they will end up getting more taxes that way is a sufficient basis, and wanting the land to build a border wall on looks a lot more like a governmental use than that.

            Presumably the owner could object to the price being paid—but that objection can be dealt with by money.

          • Plumber says:

            @broblawsky,

            I don’t know about Texas but in California it’s been common for the homes of long-term residents to be seized in order for the land to be used for car dealerships who will pay more in local taxes.

            San Leandro, California has done a lot of this.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Plumber: So that’s how Daniel LaRusso was able to afford a car lot. That guy’s such a dick!

          • broblawsky says:

            @DavidFriedman

            I think the government will ultimately win most of those too, but it’s going to take a long, long time to settle. It can easily take more than a year for the initial trial to start.

    • dick says:

      Surely the issue is the constitutionality, not the popularity? Is this not flouting one of the core principles of the American constitution, that the House controls the purse strings?

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I don’t think so. Congress has granted the President broad powers during national emergencies. The past few presidents have declared around 10 emergencies each, and very few for anything as serious as 200,000 people illegally entering the country, many for the purposes of committing other crimes. I don’t think there’s any meta-level principle at stake here…it’s just Trump wants a wall and the Uniparty doesn’t.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          I’ve been hearing for a long time about how there are 30 ongoing emergencies, but this recent stuff caused me to look it up and almost all of the emergency powers invoked are economic, ie, sanctions. I think that the comparison to taking positive action is unwarranted and I think that the complaint that these don’t expire is unreasonable. The current system, instituted 1973-77 really did clear out an old system of more substantial government by emergency decree.

        • dick says:

          If “we’ve been trying to pass this law for a year but we still don’t have the votes” is a legitimate use of emergency powers, we might as well give the president a crown and be done with it.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            No, the 200,000 people invading the country every year is the emergency. That the treasonous politicians refuse to do anything about it should be an emergency, but apparently is not.

          • CatCube says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            Congress has the power of the budget. It is, by far, their biggest check on the power of the Executive. There is very, very little that is worth subverting that. An ineffective plan for a wall definitely isn’t. The only reason it’s even on the table is the Politician’s Syllogism “1) Illegal immigration is a problem that needs to be solved*. 2) The Wall is something. 3) Therefore, we need a wall.”

            I, personally, plan on climbing the fucking walls when the Democrats try this shit for their stupid little hobbyhorses. That the R’s are legitimizing this nonsense has got me so angry I can barely see straight.

            * A point that I agree with, BTW.

          • albatross11 says:

            Illegal immigrants have been coming into the US in huge numbers for decades. That’s not an emergency, it’s a chronic problem that has been handled badly and continues to be handled badly.

            If Trump can override Congress’ budgeting powers by declaring an emergency, expect president Ocasio-Cortez to do the same thing w.r.t. the emergency of gun violence, or economic inequality, or whatever else.

          • albatross11 says:

            CatCube:

            We’re in this fun salami-slicing game where every president gets to claim more powers, and the other party ineffectively complains while his party supports him. Over time, we make the president increasingly powerful. Somehow Congress seems to become increasingly incapable of doing anything at the same time.

            I don’t know where this is leading, exactly, but it doesn’t seem likely to be anywhere good.

          • Randy M says:

            I, personally, plan on climbing the fucking walls when the Democrats try this shit for their stupid little hobbyhorses.

            Is that a figure of speech, or are you referring to the walls in question?

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            @dick

            One of my hopes with Trump, since before he was even sworn in, was that he would be so unpalatable to the rest of the governing class that they reign in executive power significantly.

            I fully endorse him demonstrating how ridiculous executive power has become. They just don’t hand out crowns for PR reasons.

            Obama did the same thing with DACA, where he tried to get Congress to pass it for a while, even claiming it was not within his powers to do it, and then just doing it anyway.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I, personally, plan on climbing the fucking walls when the Democrats try this shit for their stupid little hobbyhorses.

            If it’s for something the President is actually authorized to do, then so be it. But I don’t think declaring an emergency would give President AOC the power to snatch up guns or anything.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @albatross:

            I don’t know where this is leading, exactly, but it doesn’t seem likely to be anywhere good.

            But we still have separation of powers, since the judiciary can trump anything the President does.

          • broblawsky says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            Per Trump’s favorite president: “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it.”

        • Jaskologist says:

          The Uniparty does, nevertheless, hold Congress, which should mean something.

          I doubt it’s unconstitutional; Congress has ceded plenty of authority over the years. It’s shady as hell, abusive of “emergency powers” and sure to come back and bite us the way “pen and a phone” did them.

          OTOH, it’s unlikely the Republicans refraining from this escalation would stop the next Democratic president from doing so anyway. And I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody could point to a list of some 50 times the past few presidents abused their emergency powers in similar ways.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            Jaskologist’s last paragraph is the real issue. The most immediate example I can think of is Republicans under Bush refusing to nuke the filibuster to pass SCOTUS appointments and then Reid immediately nuking it for lower-court appointments as soon as it was useful.

            As a result, I can’t care. I have confidence that the actions of this president will serve as no restraint on the next Democrat. Why co-operate when the other side always defects?

          • albatross11 says:

            Perhaps the problem I’m having lies in the fact that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are my side. Indeed, the leadership of the Democrats and Republicans are, as best I can tell, not too likely to be the side of even their most dedicated partisans.

            From where I sit, it doesn’t look like “the other side always defects,” it looks like “both sides constantly defect whenever they can get away with it in ways that somehow keep increasing the scary concentration of power in a few hands, while somehow not getting the benefits you’d expect from that in making the trains run on time or getting effective government.”

          • greenwoodjw says:

            @Albatross – The natural course is for government to grow and liberty to yield, true. I’m not a reliable Republican in any sense, either. But still, on judges specifically, the story is one of consistent Democratic escalation, from Bork to the filibuster.

  20. JulieK says:

    The academics who posed as gender studies scholars and submitted fake “research papers” to journals are being criticized for carrying out research on human subjects (the journal editors) without the approval of an Institutional Review Board.
    What do you think?

    • WashedOut says:

      Clearly an attempt at face-saving, but bizarre in that the horse has already bolted and whatever reputation damage to their journal cannot be undone by this action (if anything it just draws more attention back to the saga).

      I don’t buy the argument that the journal editors themselves were the unwitting ‘subjects’ in an experiment. After the fact it would certainly feel that way for the editors, but the point of the hoax papers was, AIUI, to highlight poor study methodology and poor standards of critical review in the field of gender studies.

      • LadyJane says:

        I don’t think it’s an attempt at face-saving, so much as an attempt to punish the perpetrators of this hoax and discourage others from performing similarly unethical experiments in the future.

        the point of the hoax papers was, AIUI, to highlight poor study methodology and poor standards of critical review in the field of gender studies.

        Which is nonetheless an experiment: they had a hypothesis (“social scientists are idiot frauds who’ll publish anything, especially those stupid liberal snowflakes in pointless made-up leftist fields like gender studies who focus on trivial and irrelevant things like the existence of women and queer people”) and they tested it, without getting the consent of the people they were experimenting on. Now they’re facing the consequences. Them’s the breaks – play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

        • WarOnReasons says:

          A very popular experiment in sociology and gender studies involves sending fake identical resumes to different employers and checking which candidates (male or female, white or black etc.) get the best response. The result of such experiments are frequently quoted in the media as evidence of continued gender and racial discrimination. Since such studies are obviously obtained “without getting the consent of the people they were experimenting on” should those who conducted them also start “facing the consequences”?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Those studies always do go through IRB.
            Pretty much every psychology study goes through IRB (though usually in a bulk manner). Those studies however are specifically flagged as asking permission from the IRB not to inform the subjects that they are in a study.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            This is a transparent “How can we hurt the people who embarrassed us?” and arguing over IRB ethics is missing the point. The actual answers would not be relevant, because the goal is not “enforcing IRB-related ethics” but “revenge”.

    • LadyJane says:

      Sounds fair to me. They ran an unauthorized experiment – testing to see if deliberately erroneous research papers could get published – without the consent of the participants. I’d say that warrants some form of disciplinary action.

      • Reasoner says:

        Do the operators of a website running an A/B test deserve disciplinary action? (Most major websites run A/B tests, BTW.) How about a Youtuber running a social experiment on their unwitting friend?

        Weird that academia has become the part of society where running experiments is most discouraged, eh?

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          This. So if you want to do a social experiment, you should do it anywhere but the academy, to avoid punishment?
          This attack is an even better argument for shutting down the social sciences than the hoax was.

          • LadyJane says:

            If you do a social experiment that causes social or psychological harm to people, you can expect to face some kind of negative consequences for it, regardless of whether it’s conducted in academia or not. Outside of an institutional structure, those consequences will usually be limited to “people think you’re a jerk, won’t trust you again, and maybe won’t even associate with you anymore,” but there are consequences nonetheless.

          • gbdub says:

            Let’s say a local news station decides to try out local auto mechanics by taking the same car to them and seeing what they quote for maintenance and repairs.

            Most of the mechanics find the same issues and quote within the same range. One mechanic quotes nearly twice as much, including a bunch of unnecessary work. And he quotes even higher when a woman drives in a similar car the next day.

            The news team reports their results.

            Have they done anything unethical? Do they deserve “consequences” for these actions? Does the exposed auto mechanic deserve sympathy?

          • Watchman says:

            But you are assuming an intent to cause harm here. The social (I’d prefer professional) harm may have been caused, but as it was caused by the publication of fake articles, surely that harm lies in the failure of the editors to properly review the articles in question? The harm was self-inflicted unfortunately.

            And as for psychological harm, you may want to think that one through, as you’re basically saying academics cannot be shown to be wrong and make mistakes based on their own biases. I have one significant (as in the standard reading list on the subject) paper published, and what you’re saying is that if someone comes along and attacks the key theme of the paper on the basis that my focus on individual action is blinding me to something important, I can dismiss this as an attempt to cause me psychological harm. I’ve probably let my actual bias blind me to the significance of something, but I can insist this is ignored because of the psychological harm the challenge to my academic judgement entails.

            Research ethics should never try and protect people’s feelings, or even their social standing. That would just allow the hardening of orthodoxies as people become reluctant to challenge them.

          • 10240 says:

            Outside of an institutional structure, those consequences will usually be limited to “people think you’re a jerk, won’t trust you again, and maybe won’t even associate with you anymore,” but there are consequences nonetheless.

            @LadyJane That’s right, and about the level of consequences there there should be; generally there shouldn’t be institutional consequences (unless in some cases if the actions hurt the institution you are part of). However, when I decide whether I think someone is a jerk, I decide on the basis of whether I think he actually caused significant, unjustified* psychological harm, not on the basis of whether he had IRB approval. In this case, I don’t think they were jerks.

            * Exposing someone who does his job poorly for doing his job poorly may cause “psychological harm”, but it’s justified.

          • Ketil says:

            Wasn’t there a similar reaction to the OKCupid (or other dating statistics) analysis? That it was okay for OCCupid to collect statistics, analyze it, or sell it, but unethical to use it to extract and publish new knowledge.

            In general, the standards seem much higher for science (see also animal welfare rules in science vs agriculture and fisheries), you get the impression that production of knowledge is the basest and least worthy of all human endeavors.

        • LadyJane says:

          An A/B test doesn’t cause significant social harm or psychological distress to the people being experimented on, unlike the stunt with the fake research papers. If a YouTuber runs a social experiment on their friend that results in significant distress or damage to that person’s reputation, then that YouTuber can reasonably expect to face consequences too – their friend will get very upset with them, possibly to the point of cutting off contact with them.

          • gbdub says:

            The “subjects” were asked to do their job, in exactly the way they are normally asked to do their job, through the normal channels. The “data” produced was exactly the data that usually gets produced as a byproduct of this process.

            It only exposed them to psychological and social harm because they did their job extremely poorly. My sympathy is basically nil. Morally, this strikes me as no different from the TSA stress testing its agents by attempting to smuggle things through checkpoints. If stress testing peer review processes in this way is not customary, it probably should be.

            I grant that it’s a little unethical to submit a fake paper to a journal. But it’s much more unethical to present yourself as a journal of serious, peer-reviewed science if you are in fact a bullshit paper mill that will rubber stamp anything with the right keywords. If the researchers deserve any censure, the peer reviewers and editors of the targeted journals deserve much more.

          • albatross11 says:

            I’ll admit the IRB investigation here looks like reprisal against a whistleblower, to me. They made some academic fields look bad, and some people in those fields found a way to punish one of the authors for that.

          • Randy M says:

            It’s like saying restaurant critics or secret shoppers are wrong, because when they uncover poor performance anonymously it makes the business owner feel bad.

            They only look/feel bad, because they are bad.

        • sorrento says:

          Any paper that you publish is supposed to be an experiment. You want to see what people’s reactions to it are and test your hypotheses. So really if an insincere paper requires an IRB, a sincere one should too (and who are we going to put in charge of determining if something is sincere?)

      • Winter Shaker says:

        Would you say the same of the people that run experiments like submitting identical job applications to companies except with male or female names, or stereotypically black or white sounding names, to see if there is sexual or racial bias at the pre-interview stage of the hiring process?

        (I don’t know if those experiments were ever actually ‘unauthorised’ in the sense of not having been cleared by an IRB, but they are clearly the same sort of thing in that they pose no medical risk, merely a possibility of embarrassment to the humans under study, and in that they would be impossible to run if the subjects knew about the experiment in advance)

        As others have pointed out, it is technically correct that this was an unauthorised experiment on human subjects, but so far removed from the typical case that it really needs to be adjudicated on its own merits.

        As far as I can tell, what the Sokal Squared people did was a) take up some of the journal editors’ time and effort, and b) give the journal editors the opportunity to embarrass themselves. I will agree that a) was a genuine harm, and if you want to argue that the hoaxers should have to compensate the editors financially at their usual salary for the actual time spent on the hoax submissions, then fair enough, but I don’t really see a case for any disciplinary action beyond that.

      • John Schilling says:

        Define “experiment”.

        Because a police investigation seems to be in essence an experiment. The detective starts with a hypothesis like “Alice murdered Bob”, then gathers data like fingerprints and attempts to confirm the hypothesis. Sometimes the detective even carries out explicit hoaxes, like pretending to be a fellow criminal offering to help the suspect carry out further crimes. The end result is often quite damaging to the subject; even if they don’t wind up in jail, their reputation is ruined and their self-esteem as a criminal mastermind is shattered. And it’s not just police who do this; there are private investigators out there investigating crimes and destroying reputations, etc.

        Clearly, no one may be allowed to investigate suspected criminals – even from a distance – unless the suspects offer informed consent.

        Or, if we investigate suspected criminals because the rules are different for an “investigation” than for an “experiment”, then it would seem to me that someone attempting to empirically determine whether a group of people are engaged in persistent academic misconduct would be closer to the central example of a police or private investigation than it is to a science experiment, and thus permitted under the “investigating suspected misbehavior is OK” principle.

        So, define “experiment”.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          +1

        • JulieK says:

          I had a similar reaction. There seems to be an underlying rule that if an academic does it, it’s an experiment.
          Coincidentally, in a column in the latest issue of my favorite magazine, the columnist decides to investigate whether his city’s reputation for being unfriendly is accurate:

          In order to settle the question in my mind, I tried an experiment. For one full day I would say hello to every stranger on the street, and then tabulate the reactions.

      • Well... says:

        I disagree it was an experiment, because there was no control group. They didn’t also send bogus research papers to math and science journals, for instance. In fact, this was something at least one or two people criticized them on.

        • albatross11 says:

          Well:

          Experiments don’t require a control group. If you try to get results published, the reviewers may reject your work because you didn’t have one, but it’s not like an experiment is somehow logically required to have one.

          • Well... says:

            That’s not what I mean. I mean I don’t think these guys were conducting an experiment, because I think they would have had a control group if they were.

          • albatross11 says:

            As I recall, the sociology journals all rejected their manuscripts–I think this surprised them.

            As I’ve said before, it’s not really proof of much that you can get crap papers published in crap journals–that’s true all over the place. I don’t know how prestigious their target journals were in the relevant fields, so I can’t really judge whether this was “Yes, you got published in the shitty nth tier venue that didn’t have enough submissions to fill out the issue, BFD” or “Wow, you got published in a venue that the real researchers have a hard time getting published in!”

            My not-very-informed impression is that a lot of the “victim studies” type fields they were hoaxing are indeed so far up their own asses they make abstract art look like electrical engineering, but I’m not sure I can use these hoax papers to update my understanding on any of this (except maybe adding a little respect to sociology for not being so easy to hoax).

    • DeWitt says:

      It’s trivially true, in the sense that they did ‘use’ people as unwilling subjects. It’s the Noncentral Fallacy at its very finest.

      • LadyJane says:

        That’s fair, but in all honesty, the real issue here is that they acted in bad faith, and in a way that damaged people’s reputations. Trying to ruin someone’s career with some ridiculous “gotcha” is both unprofessional and unethical, and should be punished as such. It’s bad enough that the political sphere works that way, I’d rather the academic sphere didn’t follow suit.

        • sorrento says:

          Why is it ridiculous? If a journal publishes something, they should be willing to explain why they thought it was worth publishing. Their whole function is supposed to be curation. It’s the 21st century, and we have plenty of other ways that people can publish their thoughts without curation– arxiv, blogs, etc.

        • Tatterdemalion says:

          Do you apply the same standard to investigative journalism more widely?

          The Sokal Squared hoax didn’t create any problems, it just exposed ones that were already there; if people’s careers are ruined over this it will be because of their own failings, not just the people who exposed them.

          • Civilis says:

            One of the hardest parts of managing “quality”, both to learn myself and to pass on to other people when auditing them, is that auditing isn’t there to find “fault” or place “blame”; it’s to identify where the process isn’t being followed and to suggest improvements. Finding things that are done wrong is normal; if you find something done wrong, you fix it, and improve the process so that it doesn’t reoccur. If anything, fault lies in not fixing things that are identified as wrong.

            If there’s permanent damage to the journals that published the hoax articles, it’s not because the auditors identified a fault with the process (Sokal and co), it’s because the problems with the system that led to the hoax articles being published weren’t addressed and instead the time and effort that could have been spent fixing the process instead went into attacking the people that found the problem.

          • gbdub says:

            Sure, that’s the idea behind an internal audit. But that requires an organization willing to audit itself honestly and act on the findings. That clearly isn’t happening at these journals, else the experiment would have turned out differently.

            That the immediate reaction of the academy is to demand the heads of the “auditors” suggest that this rot extends beyond the individual journals involved.

            EDIT: rereading your second paragraph more closely makes me realize we probably already agree. Good point.

          • The Nybbler says:

            to pass on to other people when auditing them, is that auditing isn’t there to find “fault” or place “blame”

            If it turns out that 90% of accidents can be traced to times when Homer Simpson is on duty, he’s getting a pink slip and he knows it.

        • woah77 says:

          I can’t see how they ruined anyone’s career. They may have revealed the rot at the center of the social sciences, but no individual is going to suffer from this. If all of society loses faith in social sciences as a result of this, that’s a major issue for a lot of people. But it’s counter to the rationalist mindset to say “we should punish the people who revealed this field of lies”. The saying goes “That which can be destroyed by the truth, should be” I think it is?

        • Walter says:

          Maaan, I’m so past that argument. Like, the idea that a Weinstein or whoever does terrible stuff, and then someone makes that public, and it was the reporter who ‘damaged people’s reputations’.

          He(they) damaged his(their) own reputation. No one is lying about his(their) actions, and if the consequences are bad that isn’t on the folks who made it known.

    • Walter says:

      Magnificent. You just can’t parody these people. “It is Good Science for me to accept gibberish and bruit it about as legit, but it is Bad Science for that fact to be reported.”

    • Eugene Dawn says:

      Jesse Singal wrote an article on this that even quotes Scott on IRBs.

      His take roughly comes down to: it’s probably not out-of-the-ordinary for a study like this to require an IRB approval (people downthread have mentioned resume studies, but it seems that those studies generally do require IRB approval), and it’s also not out-of-the-ordinary for data fabrication to be taken seriously especially since they allowed the fabricated data to be published.
      On the other hand, he seems to agree that the IRB process is probably too risk-averse.

      So: it’s crazy that they needed an IRB review, but not crazier than normal. And criticism for going around the normal strictures isn’t unwarranted, but if the punishments look to be more severe for this case than for other similar cases, there’s cause for concern (most of the people quoted in Singal’s article expect fairly minor consequences).

    • The Nybbler says:

      As I’ve noted before, in some other fields, not just submitting fake papers but writing software for the purpose of automating fake papers is perfectly acceptable. The consequences to the submitters of the fake papers are zero; the journal or conference accepting them gets jeered at and hopefully changes its standards (or just dries up and blow away).

      That the principals of the grievance studies fields feel they should be protected from such stunts and play politics to punish those who engage in them demonstrates even more than the submissions themselves that the fields are rotten to the core.

      • baconbits9 says:

        The claim being made is not that these disciplines should be exempt, but that the study didn’t go through the proper channels and that is what the punishment is for. Of the three people who perpetrated the study only one was affiliated with a university to the extent that would require an IRB review, and he is therefore the only one subject to this discipline.

        They technically seem within their rights to pursue this angle, but it is also very telling that action is actually being taken against him. Sort of like spending an awful lot of time following Prince Hamlet around and accusing him of eavesdropping.

    • Nornagest says:

      I think we should allow unethical experimentation on human subjects as long as those human subjects are on institutional review boards.

      It’s only fair.

    • 10240 says:

      My opinion is that human experimentation shouldn’t be considered inherently unethical just because it’s human experimentation. Injecting people with a substance of unknown safety, or giving it to them to ingest, or infecting them with a pathogen is wrong and probably criminal in general. When you do e.g. a drug experiment, you seek an exception from this general illegality and immorality, by getting their informed consent, making sure that the risk is relatively low etc. But if what you do wouldn’t be wrong in the first place, it doesn’t become wrong just because it’s a human experiment, even if you don’t abide by a bunch of rules. This includes most psychological experiments.

      There have been some unethical human experiments involving dangerous substances, pathogens etc. (and various forms of wanton cruelty under the Nazis), and that created a perception that human experimentation is inherently suspect, but IMO that rule of thumb only makes sense if your action would be suspect in the first place. I don’t think that research organizations should impose any rules beyond what criminal law already imposes.

  21. Did anyone make any falsififiable predictions about the 2017 tax cuts?

    • ilikekittycat says:

      Too many instances to cite individually, but any number of people here made predictions based on the premise “The individual mandate is the Jenga block holding up the whole tower of Obamacare, and now that it’s not being enforced the status quo cannot hold, whats gonna happen is ______…” that are now falsified

      • What does Obamacare have to do with the 2017 tax cuts?

        • ilikekittycat says:

          The Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, upheld by a vote of 5 to 4 the individual mandate to buy health insurance as a constitutional exercise of Congress’s taxing power. That status as a tax was later instrumental when it was repealed in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

          • What did people say was going to happen? Did they give concrete predictions or was it something generally vague?

          • Most people in the legal academy thought support for the constitutionality of the mandate was a slam dunk case, and people like Randy Barnett must be crazy to think it was an open question.

            They turned out to be mistaken.

        • Plumber says:

          @Wrong Species,

          The tax fee for not having health insurance was eliminated which ended the mandate part.

  22. ing says:

    So, this is not a culture-war-free thread.

    Here’s my question: What happened with the subreddit? Why did they ban the culture war thread?

    (I don’t use reddit much; I don’t think I ever participated in the culture war thread. I’m just curious.)

    • It’s pretty much that the subreddit tilted right and Scott didn’t want to be associated with it.

    • ManyCookies says:

      From Scott:

      I can’t tell you my consistent policy because I don’t have a consistent policy. My vague inconsistent opinion is that I want to continue discussing CWy things, but it’s very hard, it has to be done with a weirdness-point-style budget, and right now just having this thread associated with SSC is consuming my entire budget and then some. I’m hopeful that the thread can continue and thrive somewhere far away from me.

      Basically the CW thread’s headspace started from Open Thread-ish, then took a hard reactionary/anti-SJW turn over the past ~20 months. Discussion got more CWy and quality started dropping, lefties started hemorrhaging, this attracted more folks who liked that environment, discussion quality dropped further, more lefties left (there’s like two remaining regulars now), and so forth.

      It… truly doesn’t reflect on the blog in a flattering or representative way. If my first contact with SSC was the subreddit I’d have stayed far away.

      • Reasoner says:

        I don’t think you are being entirely fair. See this analysis:

        https://www.reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex/comments/afshhe/culture_war_roundup_for_the_week_of_january_14/ee5uvzf/

        CW thread commenters lean right relative to SSC readership, but 46% call themselves broadly left, and another 28% call themselves libertarian. The average commenter gives feminism 2.5 stars out of 5, and Donald Trump 2.06 stars out of 5.

        Personally, I think quality has gone up and down over time and is currently up. I think maybe there was an attempt by the mods to achieve a greater balance of perspectives which was partially successful.

        • DeWitt says:

          What grade would the median rightist give feminism? What grade does he give Donald Trump? What grade does the SSC sort of rightist frequenting SSC – libertarian, the ethnonationalist, the monarchist et al – give these matters? I’m not sure that the bits not about leftism are too useful a data point.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            I expect a far-right person [ethnat, trad, monarchist] to give trump low marks, but not lower than feminism. A libertarian perhaps.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @RalMirrorAd

            I’m far-right by any metric and I consider Trump the best President of my lifetime.

            The most recent President who has been as good or better is Calvin Coolidge.

            Plenty of people let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

            I give feminism 0 stars out of 5 and I’d give negative if I could. I think it’s been bad for men AND women.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            @echochaos – I’m thinking in absolute and not relative terms.

            Just as an example, a lot of what someone like Ann Coulter does is criticize trump [not getting the wall done faster, hiring family members, etc.] . If asked ‘are you happy with him’ they would probably say no. That doesn’t mean he would rank lower then his predecessors. If you’re rating someone against ‘Feminism’ it’s not a Trump v. Obama thing.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @RalMirrorAd

            That’s really what I mean. I’d rate Trump 5 out of 5.

            He’s by far the best possible President that could have emerged from the political situation in 2016.

            He’s made mistakes, some serious, and he has some places he is well to the left of me, but rating him as less than 5 out of 5 would be to rate against some theoretical perfection that would never get elected.

          • tocny says:

            @DeWitt, @RalMirrorAd: What do you have against monarchists? I don’t believe that monarchism is in particular a far-right position. I am not far right from any perspective, but I am a staunch monarchist. I am, however, part of a monarchy and am not American, so maybe I am missing out on some nuance here.

          • nkurz says:

            @tocny
            That’s interesting. As a somewhat Centrist American, I do associate monarchism with the far right, and I think most other Americans do too. Possibly this is because whenever I think of someone overthrowing a monarchy, I picture it being most vulnerable to a revolt from the left? But perhaps this is wrong. I’d be interested to hear more about your perspective.

          • 10240 says:

            @tocny I presume absolute monarchy or similar was meant, not contemporary UK-style monarchy.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Probably relevant: after 1945, there was a decent chunk of the older generation of Germans (especially in the west, where one was allowed to say such things) who thought that it all went downhill after the Kaiser left. This wasn’t a far-right position, it was a conservative position. I think a decent argument can be made that, for a multi-ethnic, multi-national society, a monarchy is potentially a better organizing principle than ethno-nationalism – which will inevitably tear a multi-ethnic, multi-national society apart.

          • Protagoras says:

            @dndnrsn, My mother knew a song, “Wir wollen unseren alten Kaiser Wilhem wiederhaben.” I believe it originated during the reign of Wilhelm II, and originally referred to wishing they could have Wilhelm I back, but it seems to have become popular again in the Nazi and immediately post-Nazi era, wishing for really any old Wilhelm over the way things were going by then.

      • I don’t pay that much attention to those threads but people on the left always associate more conservative conversation with “lower quality” like it’s a direct inverse relationship. So I never know how seriously to take these claims.

        • ManyCookies says:

          Oh I think the conversation here is high quality despite being more righty than where I normally go. But at the very least, the CW thread’s quality is significantly lower than here.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        how does it compare to the wordpress commentariat? I’d thought the reddit was more the SSC left and the wordpress was the SSC right [ish]

      • Lillian says:

        Basically the CW thread’s headspace started from Open Thread-ish, then took a hard reactionary/anti-SJW turn over the past ~20 months. Discussion got more CWy and quality started dropping, lefties started hemorrhaging, this attracted more folks who liked that environment, discussion quality dropped further, more lefties left (there’s like two remaining regulars now), and so forth.

        It… truly doesn’t reflect on the blog in a flattering or representative way. If my first contact with SSC was the subreddit I’d have stayed far away.

        This assessment is weird to me because i would classify the subreddit’s Culture War Roundups as only slightly more right wing that the Open Threads over here, with roughly equivalent quality. The main difference is really tone, in that people feel more comfortable being openly hostile to leftist positions, whereas here they’re more polite about it. However in terms of actual policy i find that right wing posters over there and right wing posters over here seem to support substantially the same things.

        The only real difference difference in terms of actual content and opinion is the subject of Eich-Bee-Dee, which here seems to be a slightly taboo to discuss and whereas over there it frequently comes up. However thanks in great part to the user TrannyPornO those discussions are often of the highest quality, with loads and loads of hard evidence supporting the position. It is however this subject in particular which i suspect is doing most of the work in consuming Scott’s weirdness point budget, though i expect the overall tone isn’t helping things either.

      • ing says:

        Thanks — this quote is what I was looking for!

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      From what I understand, it started when Sneerclub doxxed Scott. The Reddit admins made them take it down but that was the point when “I’m sick of being insulted over things written on the subreddit” turned into “the subreddit’s existence is a threat to my livelihood.” The fact that he handed the new sub off to the mods who also post on Sneerclub, instead of zontargs as originally planned, is surely a coincidence and we shouldn’t read anything into it.

      The same kind of thing is why there was a Culture War Roundup thread in the first place. The entire subreddit used to be a containment sub, but then they reposted a link to Scott’s self-described “paranoid rant” and it went viral. So the containment sub needed a containment thread.

      That said, nobody is required to martyr themselves and obviously that goes for Scott too. Aside from one or two people like David Friedman we’re all pseudonymous here so it’s hard to throw stones.

      • ManyCookies says:

        (Copy pasting my reddit response). I’m skeptical. Sneerclub, to their minuscule credit, has been strongly anti-doxx for as long as I’ve been around. Comments hinting at it go to like -30 and get removed; heck I’ve asked someone to edit out vague hints of Scott’s name before and they happily compiled (and I was upvoted).

        The admins clarified not to use Scott’s name, but the Sneer Club comments it were entirely supportive of the admins (“…I think the admins are fully justified” “Is there any reason to use it besides harassment…”), and even the mod’s salt is more a dig at admin priorities than an actual policy disagreement. It was less “Sneerclub was told to stop doxxing Scott” and more “Sneerclub was told to consistently remove comments using Scott’s real name, one mod grumbled about admin intervention but everyone agreed it was totally reasonable anyway.” The mod was correct about it being irrregular (I’ve never seen it) and condemned.

        Also I thought Scott started considering this months ago, that post doesn’t really up. Unless there was another incident before this?

        The fact that he handed the new sub off to the mods who also post on Sneerclub, instead of zontargs as originally planned

        There were several months between that promise and the split, during which zontargs and the mod team’s relationship got increasingly strained and his own subreddit… diverged from the CW thread’s standards. No need for conspiracy on that point!

        Also which mods post on sneerclub? The only one I know of was Obsidian (who got banned for stupid reasons).

        • heck I’ve asked someone to edit out vague hints of Scott’s name before and they happily compiled

          AI seems to have gotten farther than I realized.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I’m skeptical. Sneerclub, to their minuscule credit, has been strongly anti-doxx for as long as I’ve been around.

          Nope, Sneerclub has left Scott’s name up for long periods several times.

      • Deiseach says:

        I’m extremely interested to observe how the new place will work out. Presently, they’re not simply porting over the CW thread, they’ve copied a few of the old threads as well – the Wellness Wednesday and Friday Fun threads, as well as encouraging non-CW threads.

        I’m not at all sure how I feel about that; I do think that if the impetus for the move was “take the CW thread and set up a special distinct sub-reddit for it” then that should be the one they concentrate on, and adding/copying threads off the original sub-reddit will only cause confusion and perhaps even encourage the death of the original SSC sub-reddit (if both sub-reddits have similar content but the CW thread draws in more readers/interest, then everyone eventually moving to the one with the CW thread seems more likely to me).

        However, if the original SSC sub-reddit survives and indeed flourishes without the distraction of the CW, then that is all to the good. Again, I’ll be interested to see if Sneerclub keep commenting about the original SSC sub-reddit or shift their focus to the new TheMotte.

        I’m a bit biased in that they brought over the ban list from the original sub-reddit with the reasoning there being something along the lines that the kinds of people who would get themselves banned on the new place would have already been banned on the original sub-reddit so this was saving time and effort. Well, I’m on the ban list so thanks for telling me I’m one of the undesirables you don’t want hanging around 🙂

        As well, I don’t exactly trust some of the mods, the whole sticking point of “we deliberately don’t have any hard and fast rules because that would only give leverage to people who would game the rules, so moderation is done on a case-by-case and personal decision level” is intensely frustrating, because you’re never sure if ‘mod A bans for this, mod B warns for this, mod C doesn’t care about it’ applies and you get contradictory decisions, which leads to the impression that certain posters are Teachers’ Pets who can get away with what would get another poster banned (that’s not the case if you look into it, but there is certainly a strong impression of it).

        I’m waiting and seeing.

  23. BBA says:

    The California High-Speed Rail project has been cut back to the Central Valley portion, effectively killing it, because what’s the point of a train connecting Bakersfield to Merced?

    I saw a couple of comments on this, along the lines of how sad it is that America can’t dream big anymore and how sad it is that upgrades to 1820s technology are considered “dreaming big.” So now I’m wondering – why did Japan and France build high-speed rail to begin with? They had airports and domestic flights, why not just focus on those and leave rail as a decaying relic, like we did in America?

    • Clutzy says:

      Rail vs. flight is typically a simple question of the distance covered. If it is short enough so that you make up for slower boarding times then rail works. France is slightly smaller than Texas, and has over double the population of Texas (indeed about double the pop of California). Rail can actually move the extra people without much extra cost, while air is not so good at scaling over short distances.

      And the reason we “don’t dream big” anymore is mostly regulation and cost creep create as a a result of. Cali HSR should have, in a sane world, cost ~$10 billion and should have been done already.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        I have heard the turnover point is roughly when the train journey takes 4 hours. In France, this will get you from Paris to basically any other major city (I think Nice is the only exception). In Japan, from Tokyo to anywhere else on Honshu.

        In the US, it will get you from New York to Boston or Washington.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      US rail isn’t a decaying relic. It is possibly the best freight rail system in the world- admittedly, at the expense of passenger services being slow and infrequent. Rail has a significantly higher modal share of freight in the US than in Europe.

      Part of this is because over longer distances, rail has more of an advantage over road for freight- and freight moves further in the US than it does in Europe.

    • JulieK says:

      https://www.nationalreview.com/2014/03/new-emperors-kevin-d-williamson/

      There are worse models for understanding cities than as consumer goods.
      In fact, the consumer-good analysis is an excellent starting point for a discussion of the merits and shortcomings of different cities, and it is here that reading Monocle, or traveling overseas outside of the usual tourist destinations, can be really very instructive. A free-market advocate such as myself might have an interesting discussion with Monocle Man about the first-order question of whether it is sensible or desirable to entrust political institutions with the design and operation of mass-transit systems, but, given the near-universality of that situation, we might also have an interesting discussion of the second-order question of why it is that American cities and regional institutions do such a poor job of it relative to their European and Asian counterparts. It isn’t a matter of money: There are cities and regions that spend far less on mass transit than do New York or Washington, with better results, just as there are countries that spend far less on government schools than do most U.S. cities, also with better results. Part of the answer to that question is history and geography — it is with regret that I inform my Monocle-minded friends in Houston that a region with Harris County’s practically Martian population density is never going to support the services of a London-style metro — but part of it is institutional failure with its roots in cultural defects. The conditions and expense of the Long Island Railroad would be a national scandal in most Western European countries, but we accept them the way we accept Medicaid fraud and three-hour waits at the driver’s-license office.

    • Machine Interface says:

      Note that European countries find it increasingly harder to maintain and expand their high-speed rail network.

      The last expansion of the French high speed rail network, a 340km section between Tours and Bordeaux, took 10 years of preliminary studies, negotiations and preparations, and another 5 years for the actual building. The project was first considered in 2001 (not even counting earlier forms of the project dating back to 1992!) and finally completed in 2017, required agreements between 50+ public and private, local and european actors and subcontractors, ended up costing 9 billion euros in order to gain 50 minutes of time between Tours and Bordeaux and unclog the traffic on the already existing regular line in favor of freight trains.

      The line will be operated as a concession by a consertium consisting of the French state and three private companies until 2061.

      At least 8 other extensions have been in consideration for some since the early 1990s:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:France_TGV.png

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Any theories about why it’s difficult to maintain and expand high speed lines even though it was possible to build them?

        • Machine Interface says:

          From what I understand, the main factor is that European states no longer have the budget to make these projects on their own, so the financing is done as public/private partnerships, along with EU help, which of course requires that all these actors agree exactly on every detail of the project, so writing the contracts for these kinds of endeavours is a juridic nightmare.

          On top of this, environmental regulation have become much more stringent and eminent domain often sees a lot more popular contestation than it used to, so even determining where a line should pass is quite a difficult problem.

          Finally, the upkeep cost of high-speed rail lines is extremely high, and it only keeps growing as the network is expanded and is aging — so I suspect that while high speed rail is still profitable, the profit margins are really thin and there isn’t really any build up effect — having more lines doesn’t brings much more money in.

    • John Schilling says:

      Japan and France built high-speed rail because high-speed rail is probably the most efficient practical means of large-scale passenger transport when you have a cluster of major cities a few hundred miles apart. There are maybe three places in the United States where this would apply (California, Texas, and the Northeast Corridor), and Megan McArdle explains why the United States will never have high-speed rail in those places. TL,DR, we’ve got too many distinct authorities with the power to say “No, not until you’ve groveled some more, and here’s our list of expensive demands”. In France, Japan, etc, the relevant power is much more centralized.

      Also, AlphaGamma is right: only the sort of people who believe that food comes from grocery stores would say that rail is a “decaying relic” in America, and to let those people make decisions about transportation infrastructure is the path to disaster. America’s rail system does what we need it to, and does it well. Shiny bullet trains are a luxury we don’t need.

      • johan_larson says:

        Vancouver-Seattle-Portland should be possible, too. Vancouver-Seattle is 230 km; Seattle-Portland is 280 km. There’s an international border, but that should be manageable. Just handle passport control in Vancouver, as would be done for an airline flight.

        Strangely, there is no major city between Portland and San Francisco, which are 1000 km apart.

        • John Schilling says:

          Strangely, there is no major city between Portland and San Francisco, which are 1000 km apart.

          Nothing strange about that; the Coast Range blocks either rail or river access to the coast between Astoria/Portland and the Bay Area (and calling the Columbia river navigable is a stretch). The little bits of farmland in the coastal strip, and whatever shiny rocks or furs grizzled frontiersmen might bring down from the hills, won’t support more than a small port town here and there, and we weren’t mighty enough to blast tunnels and passes through mountains on a whim until we had already decided where all our cities were going to be.

    • Nornagest says:

      The California High-Speed Rail project didn’t die because we can’t dream big anymore, it died because this proposal, specifically, was fucking idiotic from day one. Cost disease is a big problem, but it was a known problem even in 2008, and the initiative’s backers should have come out with a plan for tackling it. Without one it was never going to be anything other than an embarrassing boondoggle.

  24. Part 2 of my series on Theories of Surplus Value:

    As I discussed last time, the classical economists distinguished between the utility of commodities, which were subjective and differed from person to person, and their exchange-values, which were measures of their social power and which were thought to be objectively measurable.

    Certainly, having social power is useful and carries its own utility. But if we focus on the utility of this social power, we are stuck discussing something that is subjective, something that is different for each individual. We would no longer be dealing with publicly-available evidence or phenomena. The aspects of this social power that the classical economists were concerned with were its objective aspects—the extent to which this social power could be objectively quantified and compared between persons and nations and commodities.

    For example, we might all disagree about the utility of the commodities possessed by Donald Trump. Are gold-plated hotels with a big “TRUMP” sign on them really that much more enjoyable to stay in than the same hotels without the gold-plating and big “TRUMP” sign? Perhaps I would personally derive more enjoyment from the commodities in my possession instead. That’s up for debate. What is not up for debate is that Donald Trump can command many more commodities, and much more labor-power on the world market than I can. He probably owns hundreds of millions of dollars, even if we deduct the debt (social power) that others have over him, plus his commodities that might be exchanged for money…whereas I have a few thousand dollars in my checking account.

    Likewise, if the market price of a brand of bread is $1 per loaf, and I decide to pay $100 for that loaf of bread (perhaps because I really like bread!), I might have increased my utility, but I have definitely decreased my social power. I now own a commodity exchangeable for one dollar’s worth of other commodities, whereas before I could command one hundred dollar’s worth of commodities. I have, as the classical economists would say, “paid for the bread above its value.” I still might have “profited” in a utility sense, but I have taken an objective loss in terms of social power, in terms of value.

    If I instead buy the bread “at its value” of $1, then I will really increase my utility, given that I like bread so much! I will reap a very large utility “profit” indeed (although one that will be impossible for me to quantify in the same metric as that used to measure my social power). Yet, this will have happened despite the fact that I have simply exchanged one value for an equivalent value. Before, I had $1. Now, I have a loaf of bread that I might re-sell for $1 to get back to where I was before. There is “profit,” but there is no profit. (Perhaps you see why Marx needed to invent new, more precise terminology to distinguish between various conflated concepts! You will notice in the following writings that many economists before Marx used non-specific terms like “wealth.” Such insufficiently specific terms were the source of many misunderstandings and false conflations. Such terms, as they were used, typically did not distinguish between whether one was considering this “wealth” in terms of its useful aspects (utility, or “use-value” as the classical economists called that aspect), or in terms of its magnitude of social power (its “value”))?

    If we started out knowing nothing about how the social powers of commodities and their owners were determined, then we might well suppose that it might have something to do with how useful those commodities were. I wouldn’t fault modern mainstream economists if we were still at this early stage of investigation. I would forgive them for their naïve suppositions. However, it would be unwarranted to simply assume, as they do, that the social powers of commodities are determined by their perceived utilities, as tempting as it might be from the familiar standpoint of someone shopping in a supermarket. There, it seems that the social powers that various commodities there have over me are very much related to their perceived usefulness for me. This misleading perception is what Marx called “Commodity Fetishism,” in that it led people to (falsely, in Marx’s view) identify the social powers of commodities as residing in their intrinsic nature or usefulness rather than in the social circumstances of their production and distribution.

    So far we are only describing a personal fact about those commodities (“they are more useful to me than anything else I might buy with the same amount of money”), not an objective social fact. That said, even if we could get a thousand people who agreed with me in their estimations of how much power those commodities seemed to have over their behavior due to their perceived usefulness, we would be falling into the trap of looking one-sidedly at consumer “demand” and not the conditions of supply.

    Modern mainstream economists are very excited to bring up “supply and demand” on every occasion. The classical economists, including Marx, were not unfamiliar with the phenomenon. They just thought it was rather trivial. That is because they did not take supply as fixed, as consumers implicitly do when assessing their own desires for the useful aspects of commodities as the active variable. The classical economists recognized that supply responded to profitability, which responded to market price, which responded to demand.

    For example, to use the simplest, most abstracted toy example possible, let’s say an exceptional demand for bread should send the price of a loaf of bread up to $100 (and assume all other things remain the same, including the cost of the inputs to bread-making). The resulting increase on the profit to be made on each loaf of bread will encourage many more people to flood into the bread industry, driving the supply up and the price back down until bread-making for bread-makers of typical skill and efficiency are no longer making the above-average profits that would be needed to induce more to flood into that industry. In the end, the classical economists like Adam Smith argued that, regardless of society’s perceptions of the usefulness of various commodities, the market prices of those commodities tended towards their “natural prices,” which were defined by their typical costs (including rent) plus an average rate of profit…and which might change if new methods of production were discovered and changed the typical costs or if the average rate of profit changed.

    To be fair, these “natural prices” will only apply to commodities that must be produced and reproduced. Things that are “naturally endowed” or are one-of-a-kind may have their market prices deviate indefinitely from their “natural prices” (costs+avg. profit) because the market prices of those non-reproducible things are not serving any social function of regulating the reproduction of those things. The changes in demand for those things do not have to contend with inadvertently triggering changes in supply of those things. Supply is, in these rare cases, actually given…just like it appears superficially to consumers in supermarkets for all commodities.

    You can see, then, why the classical economists thought that the “natural prices” were where all of the exciting action was, rather than supply & demand. These “natural prices” formed the “center of gravity” of the vast majority of commodities market prices, around which the market price merely turbulently fluctuated due to temporary fluctuations in demand and supply.

    While a sustained and severe drop in demand might send the market price of a commodity below its “natural price” for a long time, it is only a matter of time before the market price bounces back. For example, consider typewriters. There is not much demand for them. What demand there is (perhaps from hipsters using them in coffee shops) can probably be satisfied, most of the time, with existing used typewriters; no reproduction of the commodity is needed. In this case, the “natural price” of the typewriter (cost+avg.profit) will have no bearing on its market price.

    But let’s say that you want a new typewriter. You don’t want an old, used typewriter. No, for some reason you want a new typewriter…perhaps one with a “Hello Kitty!” icon on it. So kawaii! So far you are the only person in the world “demanding” such a typewriter. You might think the price of the typewriter would have to be low (certainly lower than the price of a smartphone!), with the typewriter being such a “useless” thing compared to computers, smartphones, etc., all of which can do what your typewriter can do, and more. (Heck, I’m sure there are even “Hello Kitty!” smartphones!) But that judgement about the usefulness of the typewriter is, “like, that’s just your opinion, maaaan” and has no bearing on the eventual price of this typewriter. In fact, the price of the typewriter will have to be high enough to allow a producer of that typewriter to command the needed inputs on the market to build that typewriter (plus an average rate of profit to make it worth his while). The price that you will have to pay for that typewriter for it to exist (i.e. produced) will be its “natural price,” or what Marxist economist Howard Nicholas calls the “reproduction price” of the commodity. The typewriter, being a bulkier object requiring more raw materials than a smartphone, would probably require more input costs and thus a higher “natural price” to have it built, despite being of lower utility than the smartphone according to most people.***

    My point with these examples is to say: for the time being, put out of your mind any and all assumption that the “value” (social power) of commodities has anything to do with their usefulness…or that “surplus-value” has anything to do with creating new additional utility. For the moment, remain agnostic on this. Marx will lead us on a journey through classical political economy to investigate this question.

    Next thread, we look at the ideas of Sir James Steuart in Chapter 1 on the differences between “positive” and “relative” profit…

    ***(By the way, we should carefully distinguish between the Medieval idea of the “just price,” which was a normative argument about what various commodities should cost based on tradition, with Adam Smith’s concept of the “natural price,” which was descriptive and predictive.)

    • LadyJane says:

      Modern mainstream economists are very excited to bring up “supply and demand” on every occasion. The classical economists, including Marx, were not unfamiliar with the phenomenon. They just thought it was rather trivial. That is because they did not take supply as fixed, as consumers implicitly do when assessing their own desires for the useful aspects of commodities as the active variable. The classical economists recognized that supply responded to profitability, which responded to market price, which responded to demand.

      I’m not an economist, but this seems like a strawman. I don’t know anyone with even a passing knowledge of economics who believe that supply is “fixed.” Nor do I get the impression that consumers believe that; if anything, it seems like a consumer with no knowledge of economics is more likely to err in the opposite direction.

      • Perhaps it is a strawman, but how else am I supposed to make sense of the widespread perception that I see among neoclassical economists / marginalists that an increase in demand for a product will increase its exchange-value? As I see it, it makes no sense to say that unless you implicitly assume that supply will remain unchanged by the increase in demand. I have a very difficult time understanding or steelmanning the marginalist viewpoint, as I understand it.

        I don’t dispute that an increase in demand will increase the market price of a commodity over the short-term, but this will increase the profitability of producing the commodity, increase the supply, and bring the market price back down to its (unchanged) exchange-value.

        • albatross11 says:

          So maybe I’m missing something, but basic economics (what you learn in an intro economics class in a US university) assumes that when the price goes up, the quantity supplied to the market also goes up. The eventual price is the result of reaching a balance between:

          a. Higher price -> more product made available

          b. Higher price -> less product purchased

          This is just a supply curve and a demand curve. You may also care about the elasticity of supply and demand–basically, how sensitive the quantity supplied or demanded is to the price. The demand for insulin is very inelastic–even if the price doubles, the people who need it will try very hard to buy the same amount. [ETA: Apparently this is a current real-world example, thanks to some ethics-free pharmaceutical companies gaming the drug safety regulations to extract a lot of money from diabetics.]

          • So maybe I’m missing something, but basic economics (what you learn in an intro economics class in a US university)…

            Marx would certainly have some scathing words to say about this so-called “basic economics” taught in universities today…

            …assumes that when the price goes up…

            Whoa whoa whoa, why are we assuming that the market-price just goes up? This reeks to me of the common neoclassical device of assuming a “natural endowment” of some good, which completely short-circuits the classical economic argument that exchange-values serve the function of incentivizing society to reproduce the (very much non-naturally endowed) commodities that we see on the world market in real life.

            I mean, sure, if commodities didn’t have to be produced, but were instead naturally endowed, then yeah, their exchange-values might correspond to how subjectively useful each party of the transaction thought those things were.

            Marx was a fan of using assumptions and abstractions when they were warranted, but he thought that many of the abstractions employed by the “vulgar economists” of his day amounted to “violent abstractions” that abstracted away from something that was actually vitally important! For Marx, consumer demand could be abstracted out of consideration because it ultimately had no bearing on the commodity’s exchange-value, whereas socially-necessary labor-time could not. For neoclassical economists, it is precisely the opposite.

            Back to your particular thought experiment, I don’t see why the market-price of a commodity would start to rise unless either supply had already fallen from its previous point, or demand had already risen from its previous point, or a combination of the two.

            …the quantity supplied to the market also goes up.

            Yes, I don’t see how we are on any sort of different page here…unless you imagine that, as this quantity supplied continues to increase due to the profit incentive, the market-price will be unaffected. No, the market-price will start to go back down to the “natural price” that corresponds with the commodity’s exchange-value…unless demand continues to go up, in which case supply will increase all the more quickly due to the profit incentive, providing an even stronger force for driving the market-price back down to the “natural price.”

            The eventual price is the result of reaching a balance between:

            a. Higher price -> more product made available

            b. Higher price -> less product purchased

            These are missing a 3rd key step:

            a. Higher price (due to some previous change in supply or demand) -> more product made available –> price goes back down to “natural price”

            b. Higher price (due to some previous change in supply or demand) –> less product purchased –> price goes back down to “natural price”

            The demand for insulin is very inelastic–even if the price doubles, the people who need it will try very hard to buy the same amount.

            Would not a doubling of the market-price of insulin also cause the supply of insulin also increase substantially, especially over a several-year timespan as new insulin manufacturers enter the market and existing ones expand their production capacities? And won’t this increase in production capacity in the insulin market continue until the market-price of insulin is driven down to a point where the insulin industry as a whole is no longer making exceptional profits?

            Of course, there needs to be a competitive market for this “Invisible Hand” to restore the market-price of a commodity to its “natural price.” If there are substantial legal barriers to new competitors entering this market to take advantage of the super-profits, the restoration of this equilibrium at the “natural price” will be delayed (although Anwar Shaikh argues convincingly in his recent book “Capitalism” that no industry has historically remained a monopoly forever. Competitors eventually find ways to muscle into an industry that is making super-profits, even if they have to change a bunch of laws in order to do so).

        • baconbits9 says:

          I don’t dispute that an increase in demand will increase the market price of a commodity over the short-term, but this will increase the profitability of producing the commodity, increase the supply, and bring the market price back down to its (unchanged) exchange-value.

          Say coal costs $100 a ton and is being used to heat homes, then someone invents the coal fired steam train* and demand for coal rises, and pushes up the price to $110 a ton. This spurs interest in developing new coal mines/mining old ones deeper. Where will this effect be strongest? In areas where $100 was not profitable** but $110 is as any area where the $100 price was expected to be profitable would have been investigated at that price. So the long run price change from the increase in demand will be a price higher than $100, meaning a long term price increase.

          *not meant to represent actual history.

          **enough

          • Say coal costs $100 a ton and is being used to heat homes, then someone invents the coal fired steam train* and demand for coal rises, and pushes up the price to $110 a ton. This spurs interest in developing new coal mines/mining old ones deeper. Where will this effect be strongest? In areas where $100 was not profitable** but $110 is as any area where the $100 price was expected to be profitable would have been investigated at that price. So the long run price change from the increase in demand will be a price higher than $100, meaning a long term price increase.

            If the market-price of coal goes up to $110/ton due to a persistent increase in demand for coal, then investors will attempt to increase coal production. However, if this can only be accomplished primarily from mining deposits that were not profitable at the earlier price of $110/ton, then the socially-necessary labor-time needed to produce coal will go up as these lower-grade coal deposits are brought into production. This will increase the exchange-value (not just the market-price!) of the coal so long as the quantity demanded remains elevated such that the lower-grade mines need to be used to produced the desired amount of coal.

            However, the “individual value” of the coal from the good mines will remain $100/ton, even as the social value of this coal increases to whatever the new exchange-value of coal is (it won’t necessarily be $110/ton. If the new, lower-grade mines require only 5% more labor-time to get the same amounts of coal out of them, then the new social value, the new exchange-value, of coal will be $105, and the market-price which at first spiked up to $110 will settle back to $105 eventually).

            The difference between the “individual value” of the coal from the good mines and the “social value” of that coal will appear in the form of an extra differential rent that will accrue to the owners of the good mines but not to the owners of the most marginal mines brought into production by the increase in demand.

          • baconbits9 says:

            So your complaint is that non marxists don’t use Marx’s definitions?

          • If it were just a case of using different definitions, then Marxist economists and neoclassical economists would be able to yield the same descriptive predictions about the economy, after some translation between terms was done. But the differences go much deeper.

          • baconbits9 says:

            If it were just a case of using different definitions, then Marxist economists and neoclassical economists would be able to yield the same descriptive predictions about the economy, after some translation between terms was done. But the differences go much deeper.

            This assumes a whole bunch of things, any of which are fatal to the argument if incorrect. Definitions are not reality, there is no hard line between capital and labor where everything on one side is capital and everything on the other side is labor, and where we choose to draw that line causes some inaccuracy. There are better and worse definitions- what I personally do is labor and what everyone else does is just capitalist exploitation would be a terrible definition and would lead to useless conclusions that would not converge to either Marx’s or classical conclusions. You are starting (here) with the presumption that Marx’s definitions and classical definitions are on par.

        • actinide meta says:

          You are talking about the difference between the “short run supply curve” and the “long run supply curve”. See e.g. here for a random textbook explanation. You are missing that the long run supply curve, though likely flatter than the short run curve, isn’t necessarily flat. If world demand for grain skyrockets, in the long run production will expand to meet it, but the expansion will involve using less fertile land for example, so the price will still go up. And if you want *enough* wheat you will have to grow it in space or something. (But as the link I provided explains, it’s also possible for the long run supply curve to be flat or even slope downward over the relevant scale)

          It’s true that in the long run the price of a commodity is equal to its cost of production (“zero economic profit”). It’s not true that this price doesn’t depend on the demand for the commodity. Generally very low demand leads to a high long run price (lack of economies of scale in production) and very high demand also to a high long run price (as the best resources are used up), with lower prices in between.

          • If world demand for grain skyrockets, in the long run production will expand to meet it, but the expansion will involve using less fertile land for example, so the price will still go up. And if you want *enough* wheat you will have to grow it in space or something.

            Yes, I had been abstracting away from that factor. I can only introduce one complication at a time! As I explained above, Marx factored in the absolute magnitude of demand as a factor that could push up the socially-necessary labor-time to produce commodities as more marginal sources of inputs were brought into production, in which case the owners of all of the non-marginal lands would receive a differential rent. It does not change the core of Marx’s analysis, however.

        • Perhaps it is a strawman, but how else am I supposed to make sense of the widespread perception that I see among neoclassical economists / marginalists that an increase in demand for a product will increase its exchange-value? As I see it, it makes no sense to say that unless you implicitly assume that supply will remain unchanged by the increase in demand. I have a very difficult time understanding or steelmanning the marginalist viewpoint, as I understand it.

          In the standard neoclassical model, supply and demand are functions (quantity a function of price), not numbers. If the demand curve shifts out, meaning that at any given price consumers will want to buy a larger quantity than before, price rises until it is the price at which producers want to produce the same quantity consumers want to buy.

          If the supply curve is perfectly elastic, the price doesn’t change. If it slopes up, it does.

          In the short term the supply curve is never perfectly elastic, since it takes time to build more factories, hire and train more workers, etc. In the long term it is often not perfectly elastic because some inputs are not perfectly elastic. If the product is wheat, producing more means using land not as well suited to the purpose as the land currently being used, which is why that was the land not being used to grow wheat (as per Ricardo, who was before Marx). If it’s gasoline, producing more means drilling in places expected to be more expensive than the places you are currently drilling. Etc.

          On the other hand, if t