Open Thread 121.25

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907 Responses to Open Thread 121.25

  1. Hoopyfreud says:

    Happy Valentine’s Day, all, and remember – a holiday is an excuse to have a good time. Do something you enjoy, whether it’s for celebration or to forestall bad feelings. Make someone feel genuinely valued, even if it’s you.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      If you have an Amazon wife, take her hunting her St. Valentine’s Day, even if it’s more than a millennium before Christ!

      • Nornagest says:

        No sillier than Father Christmas showing up, under that name, as a fat, jolly human dude, in a world where (a) there is no Christ as such and never will be, (b) the local equivalent hasn’t died and been resurrected yet, and (c) everyone else, including the Christ figure, is a talking animal.

        He’s even got the fur coat, which makes me wonder what — or, rather, who — it’s made from.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          “Father Christmas, you murderous ape! That was an upstanding citizen, with a wife and cubs who mourn him!”

          • Randy M says:

            Nah, chill fam, it was the pagan polar bear from those Golden Compass books.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Hmm, that makes good sense under the assumption that the coat was a single who and not multiple. Father Christmas is large, being a fat man of decent height, and white fur is consistent with the coat being dyed red or any other color.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          In Narnia, there are both talking animals (sentient, and to be killed only in self-defense of self or others) and non-talking (legitimately killed for food or presumably fur).

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Tangential Father Christmas silliness: there’s a French Christmas film called J’ai rencontré le Père Noël (official English translation I Believe in Santa Claus, but a literal translation could be “I Combat Encountered Father Christmas”), about a little boy who only wants his parents for Christmas, because they were taken hostage by an African warlord. The teacher at his Catholic school turns out to be a fairy who works as Father Christmas’s factory foreman. She and FC ask him exactly where in Africa his parents disappeared, to which he can only answer “I don’t know. Just Africa!” They do their best by teleporting to somewhere in Africa, checking one hut in the first village they see, and expressing befuddled despair.
          I can only recommend the Rifftrax version.

      • toastengineer says:

        Jeez, they really do sell everything these days.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I enjoy Valentine’s Day. My Wife gives me a different bottle of whiskey every year. Friday night is going to be fun.
      We also found out that the insurance company finally approved our Assisted Reproduction stuff, so that was welcome news too!

  2. albatross11 says:

    i recently listened to an Econtalk podcast episode about the placebo effect. There were a couple claims about the placebo effect made by the guest (a psychiatrist named Gary Greenberg) which seemed interesting to me:

    a. He said that the size of the placebo effect as measured in clinical studies seemed to be increasing over time.

    b. He speculated that some of the placebo effect was probably due to the human interaction with the doctors, and pointed out that patients in clinical trials tended to have very attentive medical service so maybe the increased power of the placebo effect reflects more human contact or more impressively medical-sciencey-looking doctors and equipment interacting with them.

    c. The placebo effect seems to be of different size in different people, and there’s some reason to think there’s a genetic component to it. (But it wasn’t 100% clear to me this wasn’t just the researchers wandering down the garden of forking paths.)

    Two confounders came to mind here, both based on the fact that people have to volunteer for clinical studies, and often have to seek them out. Think about the kind of person who seeks out a clinical study for some disease, especially a serious one. What are they like?

    a. They probably like medicine, medical science, and science, and they probably broadly feel pretty good about entrusting their health to medical science. The kind of person who can’t stand to be in a hospital and dreads any interaction with the medical system is not going to volunteer very often.

    b. They’re probably drawn from an unusual subset of patients in terms of intelligence, education, and inclination to go out and try something risky to try to save themselves. That is, the kind of people who seek out clinical studies are mostly going to be unusually smart, educated go-getters.

    Both of those seem like they could account for a rise in observed placebo effect in clinical studies–you get people who are comforted by having folks in white coats with impressive-looking machinery around (so probably whatever drives the placebo effect is stronger for them), and also people who are unusually motivated and smart, and who probably get better outcomes anywhere that following medical instructions carefully even when they’re complicated and confusing helps.

    Anyway, I know nothing about this topic, and it’s quite possible I’m saying obvious or obviously-wrong things. But the podcast was very interesting and this seems like the best place to hear from people who know a lot more than I do about it….

    • bean says:

      Even if you’re right about the sort of people who take part in clinical research, why would that account for the placebo effect going up? Wouldn’t these same people have been the ones in clinical trials 30 years ago, when the placebo effect was much smaller?

      That said, I can concoct a just-so story for why the placebo effect has been going up because of selection effects. It’s quite possible that in the dark ages of bioethics, people tended to sign up for clinical trials because their doctor asked them to or something like that, and the population in the trials was more representative of the general population. These days, you aren’t allowed to do a trial without promising the IRB that you will beseech potential participants from the bowels of Christ not to take part, which means that you get a study population much more strongly selected for high placebo effect.

      At the same time, the above could be nonsense. This is not my area of expertise.

  3. dorrk says:

    I’ve had a topic on my mind lately that is somewhat related to the discussion in the “cascading respectability” post, as in it’s so tainted by nutty extremists that reasonable concerns are sloppily lumped in with the undesirables: vaccinations.

    I live in Oregon, where recent measles outbreaks have resulted in yet another flurry of demands to eliminate vaccine exemptions for kids. As I understand it, Oregon is pretty loose with its non-medical “philosophical” exemptions and in some schools from a quarter to third of kids might be unvaccinated. Somewhere around 50 kids have gotten the measles, recently, probably carried over from a similar outbreak in neighboring Washington. For many — going by the tenor of local news stories — this amounts to a dire public health crisis for which only a zero tolerance response is appropriate.

    I completely understand the public good argument for vaccinations. I also do not subscribe to any of those autism-related conspiracy theories popular among the more visible anti-vaxxers. I don’t really want anything to do with anti-vaxxers, both due to their lack of respectability and because I think they’re largely crazy. However…

    I have a son who is 12 and hasn’t had any vaccinations since he was a baby. He had a bad reaction to two different vaccinations, with a high fever plus trouble swallowing for two days after both of these instances. We’re pretty sure that he’s allergic to aluminum, as my wife is also allergic to a few metals. Our two daughters had no such issues and we have no qualms with having them vaccinated.

    So, this is what medical exemptions are for, right? What’s the problem? The problem is that anti-vaxxers have made the exemptions issue so toxic, that the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) is extremely stingy with granting medical exemptions and — most of this info is coming from my wife, who has gotten involved with a seemingly sane “medical freedom” group (but I remain skeptical) — even have been known, I am told, to shut down the practices of doctors who issue “too many” medical exemptions. Supposedly Oregon actually has an extremely low rate of medical exemptions (1/10th the national average) and a high rate of non-medical exemptions, and the plans to crack down on the latter do not include relaxing on the former. Anyway, I am told that the OHA is practically unaccountable and operates in this area according to their own administrative rules rather any clear law, so damned is anyone who tries to appeal for broader medical exemptions which are practically impossible to squeeze out of doctors anyway. Our kids go to a doctor who my wife picked primarily because he is a champion for anti-vaxxers and even he won’t risk issuing medical exemptions.

    If a law is passed eliminating the “non-medical” exemption that we use for actual medical reasons, our son won’t be allowed to go to high school without risking 10-20 more possible allergic reactions. Our options will be home-schooling or moving to a different state,

    It seems to me that the most reasonable solution would be to toughen up on philosophical exemptions without punishing legit medical cases. I realize that the possibility of abuse in that system is what motivates regulation hawks, but that sucks for us.

    Another reasonable solution, to me, is that it should be possible for concerned parties to pay a little extra for vaccines without known allergens. This happens to be the kind of naive common-sense suggestion that gets laughed out of the room by people who follow vaccine issues. I don’t quite understand why, but assume there is some kind of cluster@#$% w/r/t the pharma industry. Is something like that even navigable? Probably not.

    So what I’m looking for are: potential end-runs around a system dominated by binary positions that leave cases like ours out of consideration; stories of hope that the propaganda coming from the anti-vaxxers is overblown; stories of hope that the hardline pro-vaxxer position is actually sane and cares about exemptions; any insight on this issue that isn’t from a crazy person; or confirmation that we’re hosed.

    • albatross11 says:

      So, this is the advantage of freedom, right? You can know your situation and make decisions that make sense.

      The downside is that stupid people can also use their freedom to make stupid decisions that hurt themselves and their kids.

      The way it looks to me:

      a. I am skeptical that the added risk of not getting your kid vaccinated is high enough to justify intervention by the state on grounds of neglect or improperly caring for your kids.

      b. I am also skeptical that the herd immunity effect of getting your kids vaccinated is large enough (in terms of its effect on the safety of others in your community) to justify forcing you to get your kids vaccinated.

      Now, let me be clear: I think not getting your kids vaccinated (assuming you don’t have a good medical reason to avoid it) is idiotic–you’re making it a lot more likely that they’ll get preventable diseases and very slightly more likely that they’ll suffer some horrible consequences. From personal experience, measles and chickenpox suck. My kids get all their shots. But I’m not convinced that people not getting their kids vaccinated are doing something sufficiently bad in terms of danger to their kids and the community that it justifies using the power of the state to force them to get vaccinated. And I think that having services paid for by tax dollars which you can get only if you comply with some set of arbitrary rules is an awful lot like having a law forcing you to do something. (Unless you refund the school taxes of parents whose kids aren’t allowed to go to public schools because their parents won’t get them their shots.).

      • rlms says:

        From personal experience, measles and chickenpox suck.

        Interesting! Vaccines against chickenpox are not customarily given in the UK.

        • albatross11 says:

          They are in the US, but weren’t available when I was a kid. (Though I recently got my shingles vaccine, which is just a chickenpox vaccine with a higher dose.)

      • Clutzy says:

        I had chickenpox as a kid and remember it being pretty mild. I preferred it to an ear infection for sure.

        • dick says:

          Apparently it’s much, much worse if you get it as an adult after never having gotten it (or a vaccine) as a kid. When I was young, before the vaccine, parents would routinely hold slumber parties with chicken-pox’d kids to make sure their kids got it.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I’ve also heard (from our pediatrician) that the common strains in the US are now worse than strains in areas that don’t vaccinate for it, like the UK.

      • JulieK says:

        The downside is that stupid people can also use their freedom to make stupid decisions that hurt themselves and their kids.

        Not only that, but they can hurt total strangers if their kids pass on a disease to someone who genuinely can’t be vaccinated.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        You seem to state that you are not absolutely opposed to forced vaccination. Surely you endorse the past practice of mandatory smallpox vaccine? And polio in the 50s. How about polio today? Can you quantify what a disease would have to be like, in terms of danger and infectiousness, to justify forcing people to vaccinate their kids?

        I predict that if you make rules without looking up measles, your rules will justify forcing its vaccine on people.

    • broblawsky says:

      Adjuvants (some, but not all of which are aluminum-based) are generally necessary for the vaccine to work well. Vaccines without adjuvants usually either require much larger quantities of antigen (making them more expensive) or don’t produce a reliable immune response.

      The pro-adjuvant response is, I think, due to the lack of trust on the part of pro-vaccine groups that removing adjuvants would be seen as an acceptable compromise by anti-vaccine groups. Instead, they generally believe that it would be seen as a capitulation and an acknowledgement that adjuvants are dangerous (they aren’t).

      My advice to you, if you can’t navigate Oregon’s laws regarding vaccination, would be to talk to your doctor about either finding a vaccination schedule that minimizes adjuvant exposure (AFAIK, many common vaccinations use no adjuvant, such as chickenpox, live zoster, measles, mumps & rubella (MMR), seasonal influenza, single antigen polio (IPOL) and yellow fever) or to get some kind of antihistamine or corticosteroid medication.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Instead, they generally believe that it would be seen as a capitulation and an acknowledgement that adjuvants are dangerous (they aren’t).

        How do we know that it’s safe to inject into babies’s bodies metals such as aluminum or mercury?

    • 10240 says:

      [Speculation:] Isn’t a pro-anti-vaxxer doctor possibly worse in terms of getting a medical exception? Perhaps he has already used up his allowance of medical exceptions for anti-vaxxers, while a doctor who doesn’t condone anti-vaxxers can afford to hand out one to people with a legitimate reason.

      • dorrk says:

        [Speculation:] Isn’t a pro-anti-vaxxer doctor possibly worse in terms of getting a medical exception? Perhaps he has already used up his allowance of medical exceptions for anti-vaxxers, while a doctor who doesn’t condone anti-vaxxers can afford to hand out one to people with a legitimate reason.

        Possibly, but it should also be expected (by a rational and not reactionary health authority) that he would also likely attract a higher percentage of vaccine-concerned patients after writing a popular book on the subject.

        If his exemptions are ignored rather than vetted based on a knee-jerk reaction to his views, then there probably is no hope of fair adjudication from the health authority on this subject. Now, if he had exemptions fairly vetted and judged as fraudulent, that’s would be understandable cause for reprimanding him, but that’s not what has been explained to me. Instead, as I’m told, all pediatricians are wary of submitting any but the most extreme exemptions for fear of being run out of business by a reactionary health authority, which is why Oregon has such low rate of medical exemptions.

    • Statismagician says:

      This may be a silly question, but have you actually gotten a proper allergy test for your son, by somebody with no particular association with anti-vaccination groups? If not, do so -Then there will be authoritative medical documentation you can point to which any reasonable doctor should accept. A large part of the reason nonmedical exemptions get so much hate from the entire medical community is that they threaten the safety of people with legitimate medical concerns by undermining herd immunity; we know perfectly well there are people who can’t safely recieve certain vaccines.

      Your current doctor is almost certainly not an effective advocate for this purpose, as others have noted. Find a different practice, explain the situation, and probably you can have the whole thing worked out fairly painlessly.

  4. Hoopyfreud says:

    Thesis: the hard problem of consciousness, for those who reject its existence, may be thought of as the equivalent of the hard problem of causality.

    Cartesian dualism is fairly far out of fashion, but the observation that drives it – that an “I” seems to exist – remains, and has not been invalidated. Questions regarding the mind’s ability to perceive, interpret, cogitate, and so on have answers, or things that look like they might be answers, but the hard problem doesn’t. Maybe it can’t. It’s not uncommon to see a Dennet argument here – that it doesn’t matter, because we can solve a bunch of puzzles about how the mind acts, and that’s enough to say that we know what it is. The hard problem, it goes, is fake. It appears to exist only because of the limitations of language and perception.

    The flip side says that that’s not enough at all. There must be a reason we experience – some property of matter, some substance, something in the weft of reality, invisible to our instruments, which gives rise to consciousness. No matter what, we will never know how it feels to be a bat. Guesses as to the fundamental nature of consciousness are various, from panpsychism to property dualism to Cartesian thinking – but they agree on the idea that that which looks out at the world can be meaningfully said to exist.

    In defense of this position, consider causality.

    For a criticism of causality, see Hume. There is no reason to suppose that because B follows A in all observed cases, A causes B. For reasons why a rejection of causality is difficult to swallow, look around you. If you’re still not convinced, read this and what follows it. We can know that A -> B, but we don’t know what makes the -> true. Nevertheless, we make casual claims, and I believe in the ->. The idea that now is all that exists, or that all we see and do is the result of demons shuffling scenery with no rhyme or reason, is unsustainable to me.

    Similarly, I believe that I am conscious. I don’t know how, or why, or for how long, or whether that has any impact on the world. I don’t know where it comes from or where it goes when I die or if ants have it or whether it affects my actions. But sensation and experience are pretty good arguments, in my eyes, that there’s an “I” in here, whether or not we’ll ever be able to prove it.

    And to the people who agree with the argument, but reject both causality and consciousness – y’all are some spooky motherfuckers.

    • Dan L says:

      Nevertheless, we make casual claims, and I believe in the ->.

      I’m going to go out on a limb and assert that the vast majority of unique causal claims made by humans are false. I accept causality, but situationally and after much persuading.

      No matter what, we will never know how it feels to be a bat.

      Step One: rigorously define “bat”

      Sometimes nouns really do only refer to a nebulous set of features. They can still be useful, though.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        That certainly is a limb to go out on. Are you talking about the links being causally false (there is no ->) or mechanically false (the models we have for describing the interactions between gross events are wrong)? That is, do you think that billiard ball collisions are noncausal or just badly described? (This is, of course, a toy example – if you think a billiard ball collision is causal, feel free to apply the formula to something else)

        There is a bat who flew into my living room a few months ago. Assuming he’s alive, let’s say I’m talking about him. And just for fun, let’s grant that the “I” that I perceive has an analogue for the bat, and that by “be” I mean to have the phenomenological experience of that bat.

        • Dan L says:

          Are you talking about the links being causally false (there is no ->) or mechanically false (the models we have for describing the interactions between gross events are wrong)? That is, do you think that billiard ball collisions are noncausal or just badly described? (This is, of course, a toy example – if you think a billiard ball collision is causal, feel free to apply the formula to something else)

          Either or both, depending on the specifics. “Vaccines cause autism” is a simple failure. “Christian faith grants resistance to snake venom” likewise, though the causal claim being made is a little more disguised. “Phlogiston causes things to burn” is nebulous on the causal link, because the underlying model is so broken.

          Causal claims are powerful tools for understanding the world, but it’s easy to forget that the ones we use have been put through a harrowing selection process that’s discarded mountains more than it’s kept. (A similar argument can be made to those shocked by mathematics’ use in the empirical world – we’ve been through a few different axiom sets by now.)

          Note that this is distinct from the more general claim “Causal claims are sometimes valid”, (imo isomorphic to “there are natural laws”) which I agree is a necessary foundational assumption. I’m willing to make it from first principles, but it grants no support to any given causal claim.

          There is a bat who flew into my living room a few months ago. Assuming he’s alive, let’s say I’m talking about him. And just for fun, let’s grant that the “I” that I perceive has an analogue for the bat, and that by “be” I mean to have the phenomenological experience of that bat.

          The assumption that the bat has phenomenological experience of a theoretically comparable sort seems to eliminate any value from the thought experiment. I’m not sure I see the point with said givens.

          From elsewhere in the thread:

          The hard problem is about perspective. Signals enter the brain, signals leave the brain, sure. Nothing mysterious there. But why is there awareness? Why do things feel the way they do?

          Some people say that nothing actually feels any particular way, qualia are fake, and their own sense of perspective is an illusion. This puzzles me very much. I’m half-convinced that the people who put forward this notion are literal P-zombies who perceive inputs but don’t have a sense of experience.

          I’m one of the ones that reject qualia. I started typing up a long thing, but it struck me that the tl;dr just comes down to “Phenomenology is hitting Worship on the first box psychology produces”. It’s an extremely useful model, but reifying it causes problems that can be dissolved by admitting it’s just a model.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Ok, neat! This is more-or-less exactly the position I had in mind when I wrote this.

            The existence or nonexistence of qualia is, from my perspective, more-or-less parallel to the question of whether there are natural laws. There isn’t a way to dig into the universe and pull them from the firmament (or from your brain), because they’re fundamentally nonphysical concepts. In the case of causality, why are you willing to grant its existence from first principles? I know why I do, but it’s for the same reason I grant the existence of qualia, so – why do you?

          • Dan L says:

            I treat the proposition “there are no natural laws” as identical to “causal claims are never valid” as mentioned, and that both of these can be distilled down to “no knowledge is possible”. This proposition is… not quite self-refuting, but it is certainly repugnant. Ironically capable of bridging the is-ought gap, it manages to be incompatible with both all possible epistemologies and all possible moralities.

            It’s a logical leap, but it seems to be, literally, the smallest possible and the most justified possible. With that decided, I don’t sweat any further justification.

            By contrast, “All minds are p-zombies” has some nasty implications for certain philosophies, but it’s not quite universally cataclysmic. Qualia is useful, but not necessary.

    • 10240 says:

      I don’t see the problem regarding causation. If we are talking about the lowest level, we can’t prove that the physical laws we usually teach are true. What we usually do is try to find the simplest model, a set of laws, that seems to match all observations, and which we can use to make predictions. At that level, there is really no difference between saying “whenever particle A and particle B collide, they turn into particle C and particle D” and saying that “a collision between particle A and particle B causes them to turn into particle C and particle D”.

      If we are looking at higher-level causation (e.g. drug A cures disease B), systems are often too complex for it to be possible to prove causation, even if we assume that the usual set of low-level physical laws are true, but we can say that there is a high probability that it’s indeed drug A that causes disease B to go away, assuming the usual set of physical laws.

      None of this changes even if demons are shuffling the scenery, or if our world is simulated by someone in a computer. If, whenever particle A and particle B collide, a demon replaces them with particles C and D, then the collision of particle A and particle B still causes them to change into C and D (indirectly, through causing the demon to replace them).

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        If, whenever particle A and particle B collide, a demon replaces them with particles C and D, then the collision of particle A and particle B still causes them to change into C and D (indirectly, through causing the demon to replace them).

        I agree! But the word “whenever” is doing a lot of work here. That “whenever” makes this an inductive statement, not a deductive one, and whatever the mechanism behind the causation, the fact that as far as we can tell, never in the history of the universe has a demon failed to replace the particles is weird. The claim that a demon won’t fail to replace the particles until the end of time is even weirder.

        The problem, basically, is, “why are there physical laws?” Sure, anthropic principle, whatever, but that doesn’t answer the question of why (and whether) physical laws are ontologically valid. I’m not talking about our models of the laws, but the laws themselves.

        • 10240 says:

          Again, we can’t prove that particles A and B actually always turn into C and D when they collide, nor we will ever be able to answer why some basic physical laws hold. (Even if it turned out that we are living in a simulation and our physical laws were decided by some experimenter in an outer universe, we won’t be able to explain why the physical laws of the outer universe hold.) All we can do is to produce models that seem to be correct so far, and use them until contrary evidence emerges. The ‘whenever’ sentence and the ’causes’ sentence are equivalent when they appear as a physical law in our model of reality.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Yes, yes, exactly!

            And then the question of relevance is, “well are there ontologically real physical laws?” I don’t see this as an easily dissolvable question, unless you’re the sort of positivist who thinks that any statement not phrased in terms of objects and measurements is incoherent. But that went out of fashion a while back.

            The answer that seems obvious to me is, “we can’t conclusively prove that there are, but the world acts like they do, and on the balance, that seems like a good enough reason to suppose that there are – or at least to not dismiss the possibilty.”

          • 10240 says:

            @Hoopyfreud I don’t think it’s possible to define ‘causation’ or ‘physical law’ in a precise way that makes these questions meaningful.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @10240

            What makes a question meaningful, by your reckoning?

          • 10240 says:

            @Hoopyfreud It would be required that we have a clear enough understanding of the meaning of the terms in it that we can reason about them. It’s not necessary that we have a precise definition that a machine would understand, but we need a clear enough understanding to be able to reason about it in the context of the question, and assign truth-values to the statement of the question and similar statements.

            Arguably, for a question to be meaningful, it’s also necessary that the statement of the question (or at least some similar statement) could be either true or false, and something would be different if it was true than if it was false.

            Sometimes a word (such as ’cause’ in this case) has a clear enough meaning for most everyday discussions and perhaps even most scientific discussions, but not a clear enough definition for some philosophical discussions, or discussions of situations very different from what we are used to. That can render the philosophical question either meaningless, or at least impossible to settle without specifying a more precise definition.

            Other examples of this problem include words such as life and death which have a clear meaning in today’s world, but it’s unclear how their meaning should be adapted to a world where mind uploading and copying is possible. They could have multiple possible meanings which coincide in today’s world, but would differ in a world with mind-uploading. In the case of the word ’cause’, its meaning is clear when we assume a set of physical laws as true and we are talking about causation at a higher level (as in my example with a drug curing a disease, the sort of thing we usually talk about), and it feels like it has some meaning even at the lowest level of physical laws, but I don’t find its intuitive meaning clear enough to be able to say that the question of whether there is real causation involved in the physics of our world is a question with an objective truth-value.

    • 10240 says:

      Does anyone reject the existence of consciousness? When I say I don’t think there is a hard problem regarding consciousness, I don’t say that there is no consciousness, but that what we call consciousness is just an ability to perceive things, to think, and to also remember and think about our own thoughts. (Perhaps having senses and ability to think are enough for some form of consciousness, but the ability to think about our own thoughts is needed to have a concept of consciousness, and ask philosophical questions about it.)

      • Jaskologist says:

        Found the p-zombie.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        The hard problem is about perspective. Signals enter the brain, signals leave the brain, sure. Nothing mysterious there. But why is there awareness? Why do things feel the way they do?

        Some people say that nothing actually feels any particular way, qualia are fake, and their own sense of perspective is an illusion. This puzzles me very much. I’m half-convinced that the people who put forward this notion are literal P-zombies who perceive inputs but don’t have a sense of experience.

        • bzium says:

          Whenever hard problem of consciousness is discussed on an internet forum, chances are that somebody is going to try and dehumanize opponents of that stance by insinuating that they are p-zombies lacking in the ineffable human experience of consciousness. Sometimes it’s presented as a joke, and sometimes in a more serious tone like you seem to be doing right here.

          This is rather off-putting. Is it so hard to imagine that people have the same sort of experiences as you, but disagree about what kind of conclusions can be drawn from it?

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            When it comes to people who literally deny having a sense of subjective experience, yes. I’m not saying this of people who generally disagree with me, but of people who explicitly claim not to have the same sorts of experiences as I do. A reductive answer to the hard problem makes some sense to me; the claim that it’s incoherent doesn’t.

            That said, I didn’t write my previous post well, and I apologize.

          • 10240 says:

            @Hoopyfreud I don’t find the question of the “hard problem” incoherent. However, those of us who find the reductive answer plausible and likely may say that it’s not a hard problem. Those who find the reductive answer implausible or at least counter-intuitive are more likely to say it’s a hard problem.

        • 10240 says:

          In-between signals entering the brain and other signals leaving, processing obviously occurs. Awareness is knowledge and memories of various inputs, plus reasoning about them. Experience is the activation of a certain neuron, and the activation of some other neurons associated with it, such as those representing memories of earlier times the main neuron representing a particular experience was activated. When we think about a particular experience, we think about our earlier thoughts at times when those neurons were activated. I think any system which has inputs, is capable of sufficiently complex reasoning about its inputs and also meta-level reasoning about its thoughts would have a subjective experience similar to ours, and it would similarly wonder why it has a subjective experience.

          If you think “there is no way my subjective experience is just some neurons being activated”, then my claim is equivalent to claiming that experience is, in some way, an illusion. I don’t feel like it’s implausible that my subjective experience is just some neurons being activated, so I don’t think I’m claiming that experience is an illusion, I claim that experience exists, and it is the activation of some neurons.

          I don’t think this difference is the result of an actual difference between my experience and the experience of those who think that subjective experience can’t be just the activation of some neurons, as I can imagine that some people with the same experience as mine would also come to that conclusion. It’s well within the typical variation of opinion about philosophical questions.

          You could say that when you, say, see the color red, it doesn’t feel like the activation of some neuron. But that’s because thinking about the activation of some neuron is one meta-level higher: thinking about the color red is the activation of a neuron corresponding to the color red, while thinking about the activation of a neuron is the activation of some other neurons in your brain corresponding to the concepts of a neuron and its activation.

    • Protagoras says:

      Though they were more inclined to link it to the issue of free will rather than consciousness, Roderick Chisholm, and much earlier Thomas Reid, had similar thoughts about the relationship between issues of causation and issues of the mind. But 10240 has the right answer; Hume doesn’t say there’s no causation, and those of us who reject the hard problem don’t say there’s no consciousness. Rather, the situation is that you insist that what we call causation is missing something, and that what we call consciousness is missing something. And insofar as nobody on your side has ever managed to explain in a way I can make sense of what is supposed to be missing, I find this hard to take seriously (in both the causation and consciousness cases).

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        Kant certainly thought Hume was laying the groundwork for an outright denial of causality, even if he didn’t bite his own bullet.

        Consider a world identical to ours in every way, except it’s noncausal. There are just metaphysically isolated events (or whatever unit of being you consider to be ontologically valid) that correspond to mathematical laws for no reason whatsoever. We can’t distinguish between this world and ours, of course… but I have a strong belief that this world isn’t ours. The consistency is just way too freaky. This obviously isn’t a rational belief, and sure, the anthropic principle demands it to a certain extent… and yet. I just can’t bring myself to disbelieve it

        • Protagoras says:

          I think the idea that we can imagine a coincidence world is an illusion, and so asking whether our world is or could be like that is not actually informative; we don’t really know what it is to be like that. The fact that whatever it is we are imagining badly seems strange is a product of the thought experiment, not a sign of anything about the real world. And, in keeping with the parallel, I also think we can’t imagine p-zombies; we just imagine we can imagine them (I think Dennett is mostly right on this topic).

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Why do you think we can’t imagine a coincidence world? I can see the argument for p-zombies, I think, but it seems like causality is extrinsic in a way consciousness isn’t. The strangeness for me doesn’t arise out of a mismatch with my experience, but out of the correspondences between our mathematical models and the observed world. A noncausal world wouldn’t be experientially different in any way, so the problem of “how do you even perceive that” is avoided completely.

          • Protagoras says:

            Well, look at the way you did it; you asked me to imagine metaphysically isolated events. I don’t know how to do that. I know lots of ways of isolating things, but this “metaphysical” way seems to be an analogy or a metaphor, and I don’t know how to cash it out. You invited me to substitute whatever other ontological primitives I prefer, but the problem is that there aren’t any I prefer. I find all such metaphysics misleading and unhelpful.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Protagoras

            Do you imagine events to be metaphysically connected by causal chains by default, or is it more a problem of metaphysical relations (or a lack thereof) between events being problematic to imagine?

            Maybe it’d be helpful if you told me how you imagine ontological primitives being related to each other (if at all) in the first place, and whether you think there’s more than one such primitive in the world.

          • Protagoras says:

            There really isn’t a short answer to your question, and I find the prospect of progress especially unpromising when after I said I didn’t have any preferred ontological primitives, you responded by asking what my preferred ontological primitives were. Why do you think I must have them? Is it that difficult to believe I am sincere when I say I think all such things are misleading metaphors?

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            I apologise for my enormous stupidity and won’t waste any more of your time, then.

        • 10240 says:

          A tangent on noncausal worlds: Imagine that you simulate a world with some set of physical laws in an powerful computer (with discrete time). You record every frame (i.e. state of the world at every time point). Then, later, you replay the frames, in the sense of e.g. loading them into a RAM area one after the other. This second time it’s non-causal in some sense, but it still relies on the fact that once it was simulated in a causal way. (It would be extremely improbable to create a world that obeys a neat set of physical laws by randomly constructing each frame, without generating it with causality for a first time.)

          • Protagoras says:

            I like the simulation analogy. Both simulations are, of course, running on hardware with various features doing all sorts of things that we ignore because they are not part of the simulations but which are necessary for the simulations to exist, and the details of the operation of the hardware are deeply involved in how the simulations are different. Then the question is, more or less, is the world simulation 1 without the hardware or simulation 2 without the hardware? And that question is nonsense because a simulation without hardware is nonsense, and anyway the difference is largely a matter of the very hardware the thought experiment is actively ignoring.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Please delete this worthless idiot disaster of a post

      • moonfirestorm says:

        I found this discussion interesting, and am happy it has remained.

        Even if the conclusion is that the original question wasn’t a useful one, the discussion about why this is so brings up interesting concepts: maybe not to people who are already familiar to the field, but to me at least.

        It’s also nice that despite having some different priors, everyone remained civil and it seems like you updated some of your positions based on the discussion, which is kind of neat.

        More of this, please.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Oh hey I was just checking to see if I got banned for this.

          Anyway, I’ve decided to stop posting here. You’re the first person who’s ever (as far as I can remember) told me they found one of my posts valuable or interesting, and I’m just incredibly tired of my only interactions with other people being arguments or silence. I’d have liked to actually talk some things in this post through – I have arguments that I think are good in support of my original point – but I’m worn out. I came here looking for friends and feel like I didn’t find any. Maybe I’m just too stupid to be worth being friends with. Either way, staying around just makes me feel lonelier.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            If you don’t love the commenting community, don’t stay, but you shouldn’t feel like you’re stupid or your posts aren’t interesting: a major reason I don’t join in discussions like the one above is because I don’t feel I have anything to add; being responding with silence doesn’t mean they’re not interested, it may just mean they need to be drawn out more.

            I think you actually got a pretty good and interesting thread going above.

          • Plumber says:

            @Hoopyfreud

            “….I’ve decided to stop posting here…”

            I’m saddened to learn this.

          • 10240 says:

            Don’t take it personally, it’s standard internet interaction. I usually either disagree with a comment (or at least part of it) and I debate it, or I agree with it and I don’t feel the need to comment because, well, the right argument has already been said.

          • 10240 says:

            In this system you mostly get confirmation when someone writes a counter-argument against your argument, and someone else posts a counter-counter-argument to defend your side.

            (Can’t edit my last comment for some reason. Edit: Now I can edit both this one and the last one.)

          • J Mann says:

            @Hoopy – sorry to hear you’re feeling so down. I do enjoy your posts, FWIW, but I agree that if you’re looking for social reinforcement, this is probably not a good site for that. (Although the FTFs might be nice – I haven’t been to one).

          • moonfirestorm says:

            I agree with the other responses that this is not a good place for social reinforcement.

            I don’t post often here: typically it’s only niche things that I consider myself somewhat of an expert on. Someone needs help on a Magic card mana cost? I can do that! But pretty much everything else, I recognize that the community is on average smarter than I am and I suspect I wouldn’t be able to hold my own in most of these discussions. That’s sort of what I love about it: it’s great reading arguments that are from smarter people, it’s hard to find that elsewhere sometimes!

            I suspect I disagree with you on a lot of the things you post about: if I recall correctly, you tend to comment on political stuff, with views that are different than mine. But I value having those comments there, because they’re usually smarter forms of argument than what I hear out in the world, and even if I disagree with a particular view I want to hear the most well-thought-out version of it.

            I hope you at least stick around. If you only feel comfortable lurking like I do, that’s fine, but you’re contributing good discussion, and that’s really the best part of this site.

  5. johan_larson says:

    You are invited to tell us the story of the Second Baltic War, fought between Sweden and Finland principally in 2031. Please include the lead-up to the war, its actual conduct, and its aftermath. You might want to address the Jakobstad/Pietarsaari distinction, and why it is so carefully observed in some quarters.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      Märket is a border war just waiting to happen.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        “The Finnish side of the island is part of the Municipality of Hammarland and is the westernmost land point of Finland.”

        Please tell me they hire rappers from the United States as border guards to tell approaching foreigners “Stop. Hammarland.”

    • Dack says:

      AKA, The Great Snowball Fight.

    • Deiseach says:

      The lead-up to the war started with the Danish Chocolate Milk Incident, as Sweden plotted to attain for itself the crown wrenched from Denmark by Finland, and the Finns naturally reacted to hold on to their hard-won gains.

    • nkurz says:

      I don’t remember the details, but in the version I heard, it all started with a disputed call in favor of the Finns that decided the finals of the Yukigassen snowball battle in Vardø, Norway in March of 2030. As you’d expect, it was front page news in all the Swedish and Finnish papers for a couple weeks, and was then forgotten by all but the most aggrieved Swedes. But when the same two teams met again in the finals the next year, and the same Norwegian referee made essentially the same game deciding bad call against the Swedes, no one was surprised when small arms replaced snowballs in an immediate impromptu rematch. From there the situation snowballed out of control in much the way you’d expect (other than the otherwise inexplicably enthusiastic participation by the Japanese).

      https://thornews.com/2014/03/06/northern-norways-roughest-winter-festival-yukigassen-snowball-battle-26-30-march/

  6. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    The motte of CICO (Calories In, Calories Out) is “of course thermodynamics works; it is physically impossible for you not to lose weight if you use up more calories than you take in!” The bailey is “losing weight is as easy as eating more and exercising less; if you are not losing weight, it’s because you are undisciplined and lack willpower!” Three problems: 1) CI != what you eat. Different people absorb different quantities of calories from the same food, and if your brain thinks you are starving it is likely directing your body to absorb more marginal nutrients. 2) CO != exercise. Most of the calories your body spends are used up in involuntary processes such as maintaining body heat and running the brain. The quantity of calories burned during exercise is so small as to be negligible. 3) People do lose weight on starvation and semi-starvation diets. But at that point, accusing fat people of lacking discipline because we are not willing to spend the rest of our lives suffering of starvation-neurosis seems extreme bordering on the sadistic (and yes, it is for the rest of your life; the second you ease up on your diet you go back to your normal weight).

    • Nornagest says:

      Most of the calories your body spends are used up in involuntary processes such as maintaining body heat and running the brain.

      This is true, assuming you don’t chop trees for a living or something.

      The quantity of calories burned during exercise is so small as to be negligible.

      But this isn’t. Sure, that ten-minute aerobics video is probably wasting your time. But if you run five miles — which is very doable for most people after some training, and takes about 40 minutes at a moderate pace — then you’re probably burning about 500 calories doing it, or around a quarter of your daily intake. An hour of a fast-paced sport like basketball will likely come to something similar. If you take up something like that and don’t change your diet, you will absolutely lose weight. Of course, most people do end up changing their diets, often unconsciously, which is why the first thing any competent trainer will tell you is to keep track of everything you eat.

      • acymetric says:

        If you take up something like that and don’t change your diet, you will absolutely lose weight.

        This depends on how much extra you were eating before. I guess a lot of talk about this assumes you are at some stable weight, in which case this would be true. But if you are gaining weight, even relatively slowly, increased exercise might not be enough to reverse it, maybe even combined with small diet changes.

        That is why there is such an emphasis on good diet WRT weight loss…not eating calories is much easier than burning them. Ideally, you do both.

        One simple benefit of CICO and monitoring calorie intake is that people start to realize how bad some of the food they’ve been eating really is for them. Of course everybody “knows” that fast food combo for lunch is “bad” for you, but unless you’re paying attention to calories you may never realize how bad (i.e. more calories in one meal than you should have in an entire day).

        • Nornagest says:

          500 calories a day over equilibrium is a lot. You’d be gaining about a pound a week on that kind of diet.

    • John Schilling says:

      CI != what you eat. Different people absorb different quantities of calories from the same food,

      What is the range of variation in caloric uptake, what is the cause of this variation, and what happens to the rest of the calories?

      The statement you make is true, but it is almost invariably made with a complete lack of quantitative detail and even the vague qualitative description usually reads as “something something gut bacteria mumble harrumph SO CICO IS COMPLETELY FALSE AND YOU’RE WRONG!”

      This one really needs some math attached to it. And if we can’t do the math because nobody has ever gathered the data, then the medical and nutrition science communities got some ‘splainin to do.

      • Deiseach says:

        The whole thing with the gut microbiome does seem to indicate that weight gain/loss is a bit more complicated than the crude “expend more calories than you consume” model. Yes, it’s true that if you reduce what you eat and move more, this will burn up calories and force your body into burning stores, but the trouble is that it goes for burning protein (i.e. muscle) first, which is the whole point of the exercise regime – not so much to burn energy as to maintain muscle and force the body to turn to burning the fat stores.

        And then if people do absorb different amounts from the same foods, that helps explain why one person is “I can eat what I like and not gain” and another person is “If I even look at that food I’ll put on the pounds”.

        • bean says:

          Isn’t there really good evidence that people who are naturally thin are basically burning the weight off by fidgeting? To an extent that dwarfs any reasonable changes in nutrient uptake, in fact.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I think the big thing is that people’s bodies decide how to allocate calories. So much goes to heat (about 85%, I think), so much for easy movement (that is, not requiring a lot of willpower), so much for the immune system, so much for the brain, possibly some other things I haven’t thought of.

      Also, I think think some people feel hunger more vividly than others.

      The big problem with CICO is that it ignores quality of life.

      • acymetric says:

        I don’t think CICO is intended to take quality of life into account…I don’t see that as an omission. It is saying “find a diet where you take in less calories than you are using”, without suggesting where to get or not get those calories. If you are unable to find any diet where you can eat less calories than you use that doesn’t make you miserable…that is unfortunate but I’m not sure what could be done about it.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I believe the point of CICO is to ignore quality of life, because not being fat is assumed to be more important than anything else. I’ve seen accounts from people who need psych meds which make them fat but also keep them from being suicidal being told that they need to give up the meds.

          And accounts by people who are dangerously underweight (some from illness, some from eating disorders) being complimented on their health and willpower.

    • The Nybbler says:

      1) CI != what you eat.

      CI <= what I eat.

      2) CO != exercise. Most of the calories your body spends are used up in involuntary processes such as maintaining body heat and running the brain. The quantity of calories burned during exercise is so small as to be negligible.

      You need to exercise hard, but if you do, it is significant.

      3) People do lose weight on starvation and semi-starvation diets. But at that point, accusing fat people of lacking discipline because we are not willing to spend the rest of our lives suffering of starvation-neurosis seems extreme bordering on the sadistic (and yes, it is for the rest of your life; the second you ease up on your diet you go back to your normal weight).

      Starvation isn’t necessary. Eating less — significantly and consistently less — is. No need to live life at semi-starvation neurosis (which was discovered at under 1600 calories per day).

    • onyomi says:

      Personally, I think the biggest factor unattended to (though Scott has mentioned it in e.g. treatment of “set point”) in discussion of weight loss is appetite. Overweight people generally are eating more calories than they burn, and though they may have slower than average metabolisms, I’d bet that, outside cases of e.g. extreme hypothyroidism, they are not burning so few calories a day as to make weight loss super difficult if they took in fewer calories.

      What is difficult, however, is that, let’s say the amount of calories you should be eating to be the weight you want is 2,500/day but your “natural” appetite is such that you don’t feel satisfied until you eat 3,500/day. This means that some constant level of willpower is necessary to eat only what you need, willpower that wouldn’t be necessary of someone whose appetite could be satisfied at 2,500.

      So like, when you hear of people gaining tons of weight in a really short time span due to being on tricyclic antidepressants it’s not because they didn’t actually start eating more, but they started eating more because suddenly their appetites started demanding more calories to be satisfied (due to whatever mechanism caused by the med), not just because they had a sudden collapse of willpower.

      On the one hand, it’s reasonable to expect people exert some degree of willpower for the sake of health, aesthetics, etc., even on an ongoing basis, so if an overweight person says “as soon as I stop my diet and exercise regimen I just go back to my old weight!” I’m tempted to say “you and me both, buddy–I just never stop my diet and exercise regimen, at least not long enough to get really overweight.”

      On the other hand, this is vulnerable to typical-minding because maybe the amount of willpower necessary for obese person to eat significantly less than his body demands to feel satisfied is way more than it is for me, sort of like some people are born with whatever switch certain meds switch on in some people already in the on position. If someone suddenly gains a ton of weight after starting a new med, of course, a (good) doctor says “let’s try a different med” (assuming it’s possible), not just “why don’t you exert some frickin willpower, fatty??” nor “have you tried the paleo diet?” Because even though the person on the med is technically choosing to put more food in his or her mouth than before, we know it’s because the change to appetite caused by the med is making it very hard to do otherwise.

      Anecdotally, I’ve had some success in lowering my appetite “set point” (the level of weight my body seems to gravitate to without exerting a ton of effort or feeling hungry all the time) with water-only fasting.

      • semioldguy says:

        What is difficult, however, is that, let’s say the amount of calories you should be eating to be the weight you want is 2,500/day but your “natural” appetite is such that you don’t feel satisfied until you eat 3,500/day. This means that some constant level of willpower is necessary to eat only what you need, willpower that wouldn’t be necessary of someone whose appetite could be satisfied at 2,500.

        I find that different foods will leave me with different levels of being satisfied, and a lot of this has to do with how much the food weighs. I’ve never been a calorie counter, but I know I can eat nearly an entire box of cereal in one sitting. A pound of broccoli and a pound of frosted flakes will both fill me up about equally, but one has much more calories than the other. I had started to notice myself becoming bigger and started replacing processed, high-density-caloric foods with more natural foods, which tend to have a smaller calorie to weight ratio.

        My body will usually let me know throughout the day when it needs more, but changing my eating habits helped me to trick my appetite and kept me from constantly exceeding my needs.

      • OrangeInflation says:

        This. Under BMI 21 I have a voracious appetite and feel unable to control myself around food. I assume there’s some mediation of hunger/satiety hormones and bodyfat going on here, and thus while CICO will work to reduce my weight below BMI 21, my quality of life decreases precipitously.

        It stands to reason that for some reason (hyper palatable foods? long term obesity? plastics? something in the water?) some people experience a similar phenomenon at much higher weights.

    • Clutzy says:

      I find, in my experience, and with that of my SO, the question of focusing on calories is somewhat important, but not the key. And to that end I do feel like your post is a bit of whining and not understanding why you are not burning enough calories and/or eating too much.

      Its all about habits and how you structure your day. My brother, for instance, would routinely have to be reminded to eat. Why? Because he was always engrossed in his Legos and other building activities, or inventing his own board games, or other related things.

      Here are easy ways to fix your eating and exercise: 1) Pack meals during work. 2) Have daily post-work workouts. 3) Reduce screen time or make a rule against eating/drinking calories while in front of screens. 4) Stop eating out/ordering take out.

      These simple steps will distract you from any pitfalls. If you get someone to turn off the TV and read a book instead, their idle caloric intake will drops significantly.

      People who are overweight THINK they are hungry all the time when they are dieting. They are not. They are bored.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        “People who are overweight THINK they are hungry all the time when they are dieting. They are not. They are bored.”

        T think you’re typical-minding– how can you be an expert on so many people?

        This being said, I do know one person who lost weight when he got interested in making chain mail.

        • Clutzy says:

          I’m not an expert on all people. I by no means say that my statements apply to 100% of people. However, for both short term weight loss (e.g. a sports season) and long term the most effective means has always been establishing schedules. And those schedules reduce the number of times a person has a chance to think about food, and preferably they don’t even have access to food.

          From my personal (and observational) experience, the average person will eat or desire to eat if they are sitting and not mentally engaged. I don’t know how much the “willpower” studies are valid, but it is certainly a strategy to reduce your choices. If you pack a 400 kcal lunch, you will rarely go to McDonalds and get a 1200 kcal lunch. If you get home and then start lifting you are deterred from a 500 kcal snack because you will feel nauseous. Even better if you leave the house to do that (I know this is difficult if you have children).

          What I have found, as a person who is not a nutritionist or otherwise certified person, is that the way people lose weight is by having a non-weight related goal or passion, and that thing supplanting the person’s food eating time or increasing that person’s time doing exercise (which also happens to typically reduce food eating time).

          This is further evidenced by the high obesity rate among the impoverished. Modern poverty does not typically result in lack of food and an 80 hour workweek. It demonstrates itself in a lack of full time work; a lack of full time work is a road to obesity. You are at home, doing nothing, feet away from your food.

          • In support of your point …

            I can go on one meal a day without any significant discomfort, sometimes do, could probably fast 36+ hours without much. But eating is something to do, something I enjoy, and that creates the main temptation that keeps me from losing as much weight as I would like to.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            “People who are overweight THINK they are hungry all the time when they are dieting. They are not. They are bored.”

            This looks like a statement about all people.

            David Friedman, you’ve also mentioned that your wife needs to eat more frequently than you do. It’s reasonable that there’s a lot of individual variation.

            More generally, if “try to spend more time occupied with something, especially something that precludes eating” were framed as a worthwhile experiment for people who want to lose weight, I wouldn’t argue with it.

            Anything that starts with “if you’re fat, you aren’t really hungry. I’ll tell you whether you’re hungry or not.” is actually a way of encouraging eating disorders.

          • A1987dM says:

            This looks like a statement about all people.

            Not quite. “Ducks lay eggs” doesn’t mean that all ducks lay eggs (e.g., notably, male ones don’t). http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=3545

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Clutzey does seem to be defending the idea that it’s universally true, or at least he insists he’s right when people say it isn’t true for them or that it’s plausibly not true for everyone.

            I do wish English had a more sophisticated set of plurals.

            One more plausible variation– I think some people take energy out of their fat more easily than others.

      • OrangeInflation says:

        I think it’s fair to say that this works to a point. But surely if a person is significantly underweight, they’ll be hungry no matter how well their day is structured (I know this from experience). And then…isn’t it possible that some people’s bodies perceive that same hunger at a much higher weight, especially after a long period of food restriction?

      • Walter says:

        “People who are overweight THINK they are hungry all the time when they are dieting. They are not. They are bored.”

        +1. My diets use to fail for precisely this reason.

      • Deiseach says:

        Well, thanks for telling us that, Clutzy! I had no idea losing weight was as simple as “stop eating all the time!”

        How about breakfast? Conventional dietary wisdom has been “always eat breakfast” to help with weight loss, but I find that I don’t feel like eating in the morning, when I do eat it makes my stomach uncomfortably full and bloated, plus it switches on my appetite – when I don’t eat, I don’t want something at break time and can often skip lunch, if I do eat breakfast suddenly I’m hungry at break time, hungry at lunch time, hungry again in the afternoon, hungry at tea time so I end up eating more than the conventional wisdom (“breakfast will fill you up so you eat less during the day”) indicates.

        Oh, but now they’re casting doubt on the whole “always eat breakfast” thing after all. So not so simple!

        Ad for the “stop eating out/ordering take out”, from childhood up to relatively recently none of this applied because my family and later I never had the money or opportunity to buy take-out junk food, yet I was still fat eating only homecooked healthy foods. Ditto for the “If you get someone to turn off the TV and read a book instead, their idle caloric intake will drops significantly” – I’ve been a bookworm as long as I’ve been alive, but not being American I never had the “constant snacking while watching TV” habit or opportunity. Still fat!

        “Lack of full-time work”? Jobs where I was standing on my feet all day for eight hour or longer shifts, but yeah, still fat! Never mind that since I can’t drive, I was walking/cycling to and from work.

        Yes, I do eat too much of the wrong stuff. But for fuck’s sake, I do not need to be told “bring a packed lunch with you”. I’ve tried more diets for longer than you’ve probably been alive, and I can tell you the “packed lunch” trick does not work.

        What does work? The periods of starvation that Nybbler thinks you can avoid – the recommendation for women is maximum 2,000 calories a day, it’s only by going under the 1,600 limit he quotes that I do lose weight.

        But being a lazy, stupid, bored fat person I can’t stick to that, go off the diet, and the weight comes back on and then some. Yo-yo dieting is not good for the health.

        I’m not denying that “eat less, exercise more” is good advice. But what I, and most fat people, are tired of hearing is exactly that glib attitude of “you’re not really hungry, you’re only bored, and naturally you are doing nothing but sitting around all day watching TV and snacking on junk food”.

        • For what it is worth, not eating breakfast is part of my standard strategy for keeping my weight down. The extreme version is eat only dinner (or only lunch if I have some social reason to have lunch), and don’t stuff myself at dinner. The moderate version is granola with lots of fruit (or sometimes a modest amount of leftovers from a previous dinner) for lunch, and don’t stuff myself at dinner.

          My experience, like yours, is that eating breakfast makes me more likely to feel hungry later in the day, not less.

          As Nancy suggests, individuals vary quite a lot in these things, so I wouldn’t assume my method would work for everyone. Certainly not eating anything until dinner would work very badly for my wife.

          One thing that sometimes helps is the observation that Kimchi has the highest ratio of taste to calories of any known food, so if I really feel like nibbling I can have some kimchi. Eating enough kimchi to get fat would be difficult–and painful.

        • Clutzy says:

          Not to be offensive, but the things I am hearing in this thread that are against my point sound very similar to things you would hear from someone who complains about the tobacco companies when they can’t stop smoking.

          Its an extreme amount of externalization over one of the things that people have the most control over towards improving their life, and if things that are simple sound complex and impossible that is not an issue with my suggestions. Going for an hourlong walk is not a chore, its a pleasure. If you have kids bring them, not only does it help you it helps them. If even home cooked meals are causing you to overeat, make things that taste worse. Make a shopping list that is boring and don’t buy things not on it.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Everyone’s motives can be attacked, the question is how good the evidence and logic are.

            For example, I see you as someone who’d rather tell people what do do, despise people who don’t do what you say, and not bother to learn about the range of variation among people.

            I strongly recommend What Universal Human Experiences Are You Missing Without Realizing It?, and at least dig into the comments even if you don’t read all of them.

          • Deiseach says:

            Going for an hourlong walk is not a chore, its a pleasure.

            Yes it is and no it’s not. Not everyone gets happy buzzy endorphin highs from exercising to the point of exhausation, some of us just get muscle cramps and sore joints the next day, and hot, sweaty and tired after the exercise without feeling “well that sure did me good!”

            Maybe if it’s “an hourlong ramble at a moderate pace where you can stop now and again to look at things in nature”, then okay, but “walking for exercise” is not “ramble at a slow pace stopping when you like”.

        • Clutzy says:

          Double Post

        • CatCube says:

          @Clutzy

          Going for an hourlong walk is not a chore, its a pleasure.

          This is very much dependent on the person. To use a different example, some people consider IPAs the pinnacle of beer. To me they taste absolutely vile, and for every single IPA I’ve ever had the taste is enough to make me vomit if I try to choke down a full glass. I want to emphasize that this is not hyperbole; I’m literally wretching by about two-thirds of the way through a 12-oz pour. Who’s right, me or the people who love IPAs? Neither; we’re simply having very different reactions to the same stimulus.

          Screaming “This is pleasurable, dammit!” at people who aren’t enjoying themselves will not, unfortunately, make it actually pleasurable to them.

          • Clutzy says:

            That is not a fair comparison. The fair comparison is whether alcohol gives you an altered state of mind. Its biochemistry. Even if you don’t like walking as much as I do, your body does.

            Plus, the point is not pleasure when one is losing weight and maintaining, it is the avoidance of pain (hunger). People go to work every day and don’t enjoy it. They do it because they have alarm clocks and the like. Weight loss is no different.

            The overeater is a difficult case to crack because they have a mental block which says, “I need to eat food to live.” This is only half truth. A human needs to eat to live eventually. An obese person need not eat for many months. For an obese person, eating is the same as a drunk drinking 20 beers.

          • arlie says:

            Even if you don’t like walking as much as I do, your body does.

            My body is currently full of bruises, after a fall. Some other person’s body has a partly torn ligament/tendon/etc., and unless they rest the limb a lot, it’s going to tear all the way.

            If I walk any distance right now, I’m going to be really sore. If my hypothetical example does, they are going to be injured more.

            These seem like obvious possibilities requiring only a monent’s thought.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I hope this doesn’t sound too much like advice, I’m just curious.

          What did you eat for breakfast? “Hungry soon after” matches breakfasts with a lot of simple carbs, but not a high fat/protein breakfast.

          On the other hand, if food early in the day leaves you feeling crappy, it may well be that high fat/protein wouldn’t be worth it for you.

    • dndnrsn says:

      CICO works, but ignores the psychological factors. All effective diets either make you happy eating fewer calories, or trick you into thinking you’re eating more than you are (eg, on a high-protein, high-fat, low-carb diet, people seem to automatically eat fewer calories).

    • Orpheus says:

      I often find the popular discourse on fat loss and such here and in similar forums strange in that it ignores a few key points that seem obvious to me:

      1. The question “what kind of calories are you eating” is much more important than “how many calories are you eating”. 3000 calories of chicken and rice is very different than 3000 calories of coke and ice cream. If you want to lose fat, start by eliminating the crap out of your diet. And I am sure you don’t need me to tell you what is crap and what isn’t.

      2. You don’t actually want to “lose weight”. You want to be leaner, i.e. reduce your body fat %. For most people, I think achieving this is much easier by building more muscle, not just burning fat. So instead of wasting time doing cardio, do some heavy resistance training.

      • 10240 says:

        1. may be true, but why is it obvious? The opposite sounds obvious (whether it’s true or not).

        • Orpheus says:

          It isn’t obvious that only eating crap vs. only eating healthy food will lead to different results?

          • brad says:

            Folksy common wisdom might right but it also might be wrong. In any event pointing out that eating “crap” is “obviously” going to lead to different results vis-a-vis weight or fat loss (holding calories constant) is not the type of argument that’s calculated to persuade anyone here.

          • Orpheus says:

            @brad
            I don’t feel the need to persuade anyone of anything. I am just stating what I know from personal experience and common sense as something the people here who are struggling with fitness might want to consider. Would you really feel better if I found some crappy pubmed study to support what I’m saying?

          • brad says:

            Yes. Nor matter how crappy the reference was at least posting it would be trying to honor the norms of this space instead of implicitly trying to shift them to those prevalent in (dreadful) self help spaces.

          • Orpheus says:

            @brad
            In this entire thread exactly two people referenced any sort of study. So these “norms” you speak of seem to be purely imaginary.

          • John Schilling says:

            It is obvious that eating “crap” vs. “healthy food”, will lead to different results, because that’s inherent in your definition of “crap”.

            It is very much not obvious that the “different results” will take the form of obesity rather than emaciated starvation or obscure deficiency diseases or whatnot. It is also very much not obvious that the key distinguishing factor between “healthy food” and “crap” is the kind of calories as opposed to e.g. presence of micronutrients or amino-acid balance within the protein calories or whatnot.

            These things might be true, but if you’ve stumbled onto any truth here it is almost certainly by coincidence rather than “crap food makes you fat” being an Obvious Truth.

          • Orpheus says:

            @John Schilling
            All I am saying that if you are trying to lose fat you should substitute the crap in your for healthier options. Is this really some sort of controversial statement requiring 2 pages of citations?
            I don’t care why it works, just that it does.

          • John Schilling says:

            It requires a useful definition of “crap”, and it is completely non-obvious that “what kind of calories” is either relevant to that distinction or, if it is relevant, what kind of calories people should be eating. If you have any useful knowledge in that area, you are completely failing to impart it on the rest of us in favor of regurgitating worthless tautologies like “don’t eat crap”.

          • Orpheus says:

            It requires a useful definition of “crap”

            Are you serious? You really can’t tell that, say, a coke or french fries are bad for you? Do you really need me to give you a list of what is crap and what is not crap? Search your heart. I think you know.

            worthless tautologies like “don’t eat crap”.

            Is it worthless thou? Can every one of the people in this thread trying to lose wight honestly say that they didn’t eat something today that they knew they probably shouldn’t have? Because if not, than I don’t think this is something worthless.

          • nkurz says:

            @Orpheus
            > So these “norms” you speak of seem to be purely imaginary.

            I disagree — there is definitely a norm of giving sources when they exist. You don’t see it mentioned everywhere because it’s a norm so common here that it doesn’t have to be brought up in every thread. One of the great things about this site is that people try distinguish “obvious” things from those that have actually been studied.

            > Is this really some sort of controversial statement requiring 2 pages of citations?

            No one is asking for two pages of citations. A single solid citation backing your position would do just fine. You do realize that you are casting aside the entire CICO argument with on the basis that you feel it is “obviously” false? There is nothing wrong with mentioning that you feel this way, but you shouldn’t expect anyone else to give much weight to your opinion unless you offer a better argument for why you believe it.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            brad,
            I strongly disagree. People citing studies that they haven’t heard of before is worse than saying nothing. I follow links all the time and I often regret it. But it’s even worse when I don’t figure out that the poster hasn’t read the link. Leaving aside questions of evidence and just restricting to questions of definitions, it is better that someone refuse to clarify his definition than to falsely insist that it is easily googled and provide the first google hit that doesn’t actually match his meaning, which happens here all the time.

          • brad says:

            @Douglas Knight
            Fair enough, you make a good point. But it’s kind of like asking whether it’s worth to drown or be burned to death, why do we have to pick either?

          • 10240 says:

            @Orpheus You seem to have a somewhat moralistic folk medicine thinking where “crap” and “healthy” are abstract qualities of food. Now while the colloquial designation of some foods as “crap” does actually have a medical basis, it may be unhealthy for a variety of reasons, such as being fattening, increasing diabetes risk, carcinogenic, lacking vitamins etc. A food that is unhealthy in some of these aspects is not necessarily unhealthy in other respects. Furthermore, if a food is considered fattening, that may be only because of a high calorie density, so if you eat a same amount, it contains more energy. (If so, the question of “what is more fattening, 1000 kcal in fries or 1000 kcal in vegetables?” is like “what’s heavier, a kg of iron or a kg of feathers?”.)

            A food is unhealthy or healthy in a particular way because of particular physical properties (such as fat content, sugar content, vitamin content etc.) rather than a general property of being “crap” or “healthy”.

            It appears to me that, besides a conflating of various real unhealthy aspects (such as being fattening or diabetes risk) into a single quality of “crap”, there is a cultural layer too. If some foods is associated with things like “modern life”, capitalism or, in some parts of the world, “America”, then people who dislike those things like to think that those foods are generally unhealthy. E.g. fast food is considered by many to be inherently unhealthy, even though fast food is a business strategy, rather than a significant property of the food.

          • albatross11 says:

            One obvious instance of this is that people advocating for a low-fat diet would consider a bunless hamburger or five slices of ham to be crap one shouldn’t eat, whereas people advocating for a low-carb diet would consider bread and rice to be crap one shouldn’t eat.

          • Orpheus says:

            @nkurz
            John Schilling seems to think that what I’m saying is a complete platitude. Do you regularly support platitudes with studies?

            you are casting aside the entire CICO argument with on the basis that you feel it is “obviously” false

            I’m not casting anything aside. jaimeastorga2000 in his original post and others throughout this thread say that they can’t make CICO work, due to hunger and other issues. I am just suggesting an alternative.

            @10240
            Again, I am not interested in what makes particular foods healthy or unhealthy, just that particular foods are, in fact, unhealthy. I ask for about the fifth time this thread: Is saying that coke or french fries are bad for you a controversial statement?

            what is more fattening, 1000 kcal in fries or 1000 kcal in vegetables?

            I don’t know anyone who got fat eating thousands of calories of vegetables, but I sure do know people who got fat eating thousands of calories of french fries.

            E.g. fast food is considered by many to be inherently unhealthy, even though fast food is a business strategy, rather than a significant property of the food.

            And yet, “if it came out of an american fast food chain its bad for you” is a useful heuristic to follow.

            @albatross11
            If (brown) rice or (extra lean) ham are the most unhealthy things you eat, you are probably doing fine.

          • Is saying that coke or french fries are bad for you a controversial statement?

            I know of no evidence that diet coke, which is the kind I drink, is bad for me. There is supposedly some evidence that it is bad for obese women but I’m suspicious even of that, for reasons that may be obvious here if not elsewhere.

          • 10240 says:

            Again, I am not interested in what makes particular foods healthy or unhealthy, just that particular foods are, in fact, unhealthy. I ask for about the fifth time this thread: Is saying that coke or french fries are bad for you a controversial statement?

            What is controversial is that coke and french fries are more fattening than the same amount of calories in other food.
            Note that the same amount of calories in lower calorie-density food will satiate you for longer, so you are likely to eat less during the rest of the day. However, we are talking about whether the amount of calorie intake over the long run is the only thing that matters or not, so 1000 kcal in fries or 1000 kcal in vegetables should be compared when the rest of your diet is assumed to be the same. Eating french fries does make it harder to keep a low-calorie diet than eating lower calorie-density food, but that’s different from saying that fries are worse even when the overall energy-intake is fixed.

            It’s also not obvious if french fries are bad for me if I’m not overweight.

      • The Nybbler says:

        The question “what kind of calories are you eating” is much more important than “how many calories are you eating”.

        This is exactly what CICO disputes.

        You don’t actually want to “lose weight”. You want to be leaner, i.e. reduce your body fat %.

        If you’re merely slightly overweight, perhaps; certainly when I was doing serious exercise and was “overweight” (BMI 25-26), that was fine. If you’re obese you’re going to need to lose weight, unless you think winning strongman competitions is in your future.

        • Orpheus says:

          This is exactly what CICO disputes.

          And how’s that working out? From the comments in this thread I am guessing not that well.

          If you’re obese you’re going to need to lose weight, unless you think winning strongman competitions is in your future.

          Fine, however I would point out that building muscle is still beneficial even if you are obese, as it increases your resting metabolism which makes you burn more calories. Being both extremely muscular and extremely fat (i.e. having that strongman physic) is very hard, and unlikely to happen to you unless you specifically try to achieve it.

          Edit: Also if you are obese you are probably not going to be able to run 5 miles a a day (like someone suggested above) without seriously hurting your legs.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Honestly, I find CICO to be more useful than “change what calories you are eating,” because that #1 changes all the time. Fat-free yogurt and lots of fruit juice, that must be healthy, right? Along with 6-11 servings of white bread in a day?

            Just eat less and exercise more. Will you feel like crap? Yeah. And you will probably fail 90% of the time, but if you win big 10% of the time, and lose very little 90% of the time, you can slowly make your way to bigger gains. That’s always been my strategy, though I’ll be honest and say it’s been failing over the last 6 months because I stress-eat a lot, and being the only competent accountant on a team is pretty stressful. Eventually I’ll just go back to feeling like crap for a while to get where I want to be, probably after all the guys I go out to lunch with leave and I get used to just eating very little at my desk.

            I think I’ve seen one person succeed at dramatic weight loss by changing their diet, and she immediately went back to obesity after she left her diet. The only other people I’ve seen succeed at dramatic weight loss achieved through entirely unhealthy means like, say, cancer.

          • Orpheus says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy

            Just eat less and exercise more.

            I think I’ve seen one person succeed at dramatic weight loss by changing their diet

            Isn’t eating less a change in your diet?

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Isn’t eating less a change in your diet?

            Well, sort of, but I don’t eat salads and quinoa. I eat like a typical young man, with some small amount of fruit and a few more vegetables, and more beans and fiber cereal. It’s a relatively minor change, with the biggest change being “don’t eat as much.”

            Other people I see trying diets are doing all sorts of crazy stuff. I’m only going to eat raw, I’m only going to eat meat, I’m never eating bread again, I will only drink Sriracha under the Blue Corn Moon when Saturn is aligned with Venus and Pelor’s blessing shines about the Nine Hells. I had 4 slices of French toast with maple syrup for breakfast and will probably have a fruit smoothie for lunch, and then I’m probably going to have a six-pack when I go to my parent’s tonight for dinner.

          • Orpheus says:

            I definitely agree with you on the crazy diets, but you don’t have to go that far. Say if you eat pop tarts for breakfast every morning, wouldn’t you benefit from substituting that for, say, oatmeal and some boiled eggs? or have some brown rice instead of fries at lunch? or have a peanut butter and banana sandwich instead of a lion bar? etc. You don’t even have to do it all at once. If you gradually and consistently improve your diet, I guarantee lasting results.

          • The Nybbler says:

            And how’s that working out? From the comments in this thread I am guessing not that well.

            The problem with CICO is usually reducing CI. People who are overweight generally will find that unpleasant, and often will come up with all sorts of ways to fool themselves into not doing so. If you do it, however, it works.

          • Orpheus says:

            @The Nybbler

            If you do it, however, it works.

            Okay, that’s fine and all, but you see there are people in this thread who can’t seem to do it, and I am not convinced that you have to. Again, if you substitute all the crap in your diet for real, nutritious food, I am convinced you can lose fat and not have to starve yourself.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Orpheus

            And I’m convinced you can’t. There’s no reason you can’t overeat without eating crap, and in fact I used to. Once you’ve reduced crap to 0 and you’re still gaining or not losing, you’re going to need to cut something that’s not crap.

          • Orpheus says:

            @The Nybbler
            Would you grant me at least that it is harder to overeat on healthy food? You mentioned you were BMI 25-26 when you were overweight. I think most people trying and failing to lose fat are way above that.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Would you grant me at least that it is harder to overeat on healthy food?

            Define “healthy” food. It’s easy to overeat on steak and potatoes, or chicken and rice. This is true even if you have vegetables too, and even more true if your vegetables are salads with high-calorie dressing.

            It’s much harder to overeat on just low carbohydrate foods. It’s trivially easy to overeat if you eat high-sugar high-fat foods in addition to meals with protein and carbohydrates, and I think this is the usual American failure mode. I suspect it is considerably harder to overeat _just_ eating snack-type food.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Is this about fat loss, or about general health?

        One could lose fat on a diet of nothing but Coke and ice cream. However, one would feel like crap due to constant yo-yo’ing blood sugar or whatever (one time, after I’d dieted for a competition, I went on a weeklong binge of all the foods I wanted, and I felt like crap all the time) and would probably not be getting enough protein.

        The reasons that if you want to lose weight, however many calories of veggies, meat, almonds, etc are better than however many calories of Pepsi and Doritos aren’t that the former will not behave as a deficit in a deficit (although probably harder to stick to, for psychological reasons, in my case at least) but that you will feel like crap and not get enough protein, which will make it harder to get in the gym.

        • Orpheus says:

          Is this about fat loss, or about general health?

          Both. It’s about *sustainable fat loss*, which I’d say goes hand in hand with general health. Fine, you can lose fat on coke and ice cream, but are you only going to eat that for the rest of your (presumably short) life? How long until you bounce back?

          • dndnrsn says:

            I’d certainly agree that a Coke-and-ice cream diet isn’t a great one for any purpose. However, it’s not because of some nature of the calories themselves: I lose weight when I just banish starchy carbs and let myself eat almonds if I want a snack, not because almonds are magic, but because 100 or 200 calories of almonds are satisfying, whereas I know that I am going to eat the whole bag of Doritos.

      • Deiseach says:

        The question “what kind of calories are you eating” is much more important than “how many calories are you eating”.

        I would tend to agree with you, but that unfortunately directly contradicts the “calories in calories out” model where the simplicity of weight loss is “fewer calories in, more calories out” and calories are calories, it doesn’t matter if you’re getting them from turnips or ice-cream. You’re setting yourself up to be accused of inventing magic calories that behave differently 🙂

        I do think that it makes a difference if you are eating a lot of processed and sweetened foods; yes of course eating a whole loaf of bread and butter will pile on the pounds, but it will also affect your body differently if the bread is modern commerically processed white or home made wholemeal bread, for things like vitamins and fibre and roughage. That kind of secondary effect is what the CICO model misses or ignores.

        • The question “what kind of calories are you eating” is much more important than “how many calories are you eating”.
          Important for what? This is mostly a discussion of how to lose weight, and it isn’t obvious that the statement is true in that context–indeed, it’s one of the things CICO denies. What kind of calories you are eating is important for general nutrition, which isn’t what we are discussing.

          It might also be important for how easily you can stick to a diet, but it isn’t obvious that “crap foods” is the relevant category.

          • Orpheus says:

            What kind of calories you are eating is important for general nutrition, which isn’t what we are discussing.

            Nay.
            You can’t divorce weight loss from general nutrition. Any “diet” you get on needs to be sustainable FOR EVER, otherwise you will break and all the wight you lost will come right back.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Uuu, a weight loss thread!

      I’ve completed the BayesianBodybuilding PT training course last year, and it pretty much changed anything I though I knew about the subject. First of all any illusion that there is any simple truth (yes, CICO is correct, BUT…. with a depth of about 2-3 relevant buts). Also, I’m now pretty sure sustainable weight loss is possible – I’ve been counseling a few friends since early January, and the results are… pretty dramatic. So if you want a shortcut, look for a BB certified trainer and get some online PT.

      > 1) CI != what you eat. Different people absorb different quantities of calories from the same food

      Perfectly true. For one thing, there is the thermic effect of food, which takes 10-30% of your calories right from the start. This depends on what you eat (for example it’s higher for a mixed meal – carbs, fat and protein), and also on your body type (perversely lower in obese individuals)

      Also, we have a different stomach – not for dessert, but for protein. You can still be hungry after a large meal if you haven’t had your fill of protein.

      > 2) CO != exercise.

      Also true. Exercise consumes relatively few calories. Also the “increased metabolism” effect for a few hours after exercise is even lower. We’re talking 200 cals total difference after a long bout of stationary bike. Only makes a practical difference for bodybuilders right before a contest, i.e. losing weight while well under 10% body fat.

      > 3) People do lose weight on starvation and semi-starvation diets. But at that point, accusing fat people of lacking discipline because we are not willing to spend the rest of our lives suffering of starvation-neurosis seems extreme bordering on the sadistic

      True – expecting to live on a low calorie diet of pizza is… well, cruel is actually not a bad word.

      So, what’s the catch? Well, it’s pretty simple: change what you eat, not how much. The key insight is that the main factor in making a diet stick is not feeling hungry. And there are plenty of low caloric density foods that can fill you up. Oranges. Apples. Vegetables. Soups. Salads. You can look them up, but point is – pizza is is a treat. Sweets are a treat. If you live your life on treats, yes, you’re going to be fat. Regular day to day food has to include plenty of greens.

      Added bonus – 10 years extra for your brain.

      • acymetric says:

        > 2) CO != exercise.

        Also true. Exercise consumes relatively few calories. Also the “increased metabolism” effect for a few hours after exercise is even lower. We’re talking 200 cals total difference after a long bout of stationary bike. Only makes a practical difference for bodybuilders right before a contest, i.e. losing weight while well under 10% body fat.

        I realize this thread is pretty much dead, and I made a similar comment earlier suggesting that diet is much more important than exercise (because it is), but you’re being way too overly dismissive of exercise here.

        Let’s say you do your stationary bike every other day. That’s good for at least a pound/month beyond what you might lose from dieting alone from the boosted metabolism, ignoring the calories burned during the biking session itself (probably good for anywhere from 2-4 pounds/month depending on workout length/intensity). Plus other health benefits to regular exercise not related to weight loss directly.

        Diet is more important than exercise for weight loss, but “Only makes a practical difference for bodybuilders right before a contest” takes it way too far.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Mmm. Depends on exercise, I think. To do aerobic with the specific intention of altering the CICO balance is, I think, not a good idea in the general population. I’m holding on to that. Way too much effort for too little result. Btw, I’m not saying exercise will increase your appetite as you’ll occasionally read, because it’s the other way around. It’s just that it doesn’t have good return on investment.

          Strength training on the other hand leads to more muscle, and that’s worth it. This has compounding effects – more you work out, better energy balance, better termic effect of food, better everything. And on the plus side, you’re actually using about the same calories working out and doing aerobic.

    • ana53294 says:

      There is this TV show “Freaky eaters”. It’s a show about people with really bizarre food habits (some only eat cheese and pizza; or only drink coke and eat little food).

      Some of the people on the show look quite lean and attractive, despite their horrible processed diets. Their health may not be good, but their weight is. That’s because they don’t consume an excess of calories.

  7. Tenacious D says:

    Suppose you were going to be sent back in time, to restart life in a 20th century dictatorship. Which one do you pick?

    Assume you’ll be born in a family close to the median income for that country, without strong ties to either the regime or the opposition. Time-wise, you’ll be born at the midpoint of the dictatorship.

    • Nornagest says:

      Hmm. I think I’d be looking for a relatively high GDP (so no third-world countries), I wouldn’t want a regime that’s known for random purges or major genocides, and I wouldn’t want to be walking into war or economic chaos, so I’d probably want a dictator that died or stepped down peacefully without a major crisis.

      I think that narrows it down to Spain under Franco in 1955.

    • Plumber says:

      Without thinking about it much, Portugal under António de Oliveira Salazar seems relatively peaceful, I’ve head from those who emigrated from there that the last days of the Soviet Union under Gorbachev weren’t that bad, but before and after then were, I think Greece, South Korea, and Taiwan were all technically dictatorships before they became liberal republics so they might be good.

      • Tenacious D says:

        South Korea has a lot of advantages. The dictatorship lasted from 1961 to 1963 (the Kennedy admin pressured for a return to civilian rule; General Park managed to stay president until his assassination in 1979, however). If you were born in 1962, you’d be in the generation that got to ride the tiger (you’d be in your 20s in the 1980s and in your 40s in the 2000s).

        • sfoil says:

          In what universe was Park Chung-Hee not a dictator? I think South Korea intermittently pretends he wasn’t for various reasons, but no one actually believes it.

          • The Nybbler says:

            If he is considered a dictator longer, it improves the situation by the rules of the original post — instead of being born in 1962 you’re born in 1974, and thus spend less time under his rule.

          • Tenacious D says:

            I was only counting the period when he was Chairman of the Supreme Council, since there were contested elections after 1963–although it certainly remained authoritarian after that. But considering he ran unopposed in his last two elections, I won’t argue with anyone who wants to count the full time he was in power.

      • 10240 says:

        An issue with Portugal is the colonial wars, right when you are military age. Also, if we consider the colonies part of Portugal (as they were considered by Portugal), that brings the median income way down and, as you are probably an African living in Mozambique or Angola, shit really hits the fan when Portugal gets out. Spain is a better pick as it had no colonial wars, and you’d probably live in European Spain even if we count the colonies.

    • Plumber says:

      Pol Pot?

      That dictatorship may have been short, but that’s a far too brutal one to risk!

    • The Nybbler says:

      The Soviet Union is right out. I get to miss Stalin, but that’s still long years of suck.

      Nazi Germany will suck, but not for long. Uh, I do get to be in the Western section, and not be born Jewish, right?

      Fascist Italy sucks for longer, but on the other hand I don’t have to worry about Soviet occupation after.

      South Korea is a possibility; I spend 14 years or so growing up in the dictatorship, but wow did that country improve afterwards.

      I think Nazi Germany is the winner given the caveats, otherwise South Korea.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Being born at the mid-point of Nazi Germany is interesting, you get your formative years under military rule, war and a high chance of losing your father. Then you get close to a coin flip to either spend the next 50 years under a different dictatorship or you get to be in one of the fastest growing western countries in the world.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      I’m assuming I retain my memories after being reborn; otherwise you are asking me where and when to send my new twin brother.

      Chile under Pinochet (midpoint 1981) seems like my best bet; late twentieth century so there is a lot of modern tech, country experienced high economic growth and remains prosperous to this day, my politics are unlikely to earn me a free helicopter ride, and I already speak Spanish. Spain under Franco (midpoint 1957) would be my second choice; again, I already speak Spanish and there is nothing too bad going on except for being born in the 1950s, which means the tech level is gonna suck compared to what I’m used to.

    • Atlas says:

      Was Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew a dictatorship?

      It wouldn’t be the best choice (South Korea and post-WW2 Iberia, as other commenters have mentioned, would be rationally better), especially given the parameters you outline, but I imagine that it could be kind of cool/fun to live in Batista’s Cuba. (I may be overly influenced here by The Godfather: Part II‘s beautiful idyllic portrait of pre-revolutionary Cuba.)

      • bean says:

        Was Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew a dictatorship?

        Singapore is hard to figure out, but I’m going to come down on the side of “no”. The PAP seems to have genuinely earned its status as a one-party state by being very, very competent. LKY had a big part to play in that, but there was never anything like a conventional dictatorship.

    • BBA says:

      Define dictatorship. Do illiberal democracies count? Mexico under the long rule of the PRI has been called “the perfect dictatorship” despite the existence of opposition parties and individual presidents being limited to a single six-year term.

      So if it’s cheating to choose Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew, I’ll go with the military junta in Uruguay, since it didn’t last very long and Uruguay has been prosperous and well-run since its fall.

      • Tenacious D says:

        I left it vague deliberately. It’s interesting to see which leaders people consider dictators. Obviously there are clear cases–Franco has gotten a number of votes–but it also seems there’s almost a consensus that LKY is an edge-case.

        • ilikekittycat says:

          By extremely pedantic & deontological notions of “dictatorship” I claim Iceland under the iron fist of Brigadier Lammie

    • SamChevre says:

      Spain or Portugal, mid-1950’s. Quite safe, prosperous, Catholic–all sounds good to me.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I think Singapore is often considered a dictatorship — that sounds like the best one. Taiwan would be good too. A dictatorship isn’t necessarily a bad place to live, as long as you aren’t political. Of course the problem is the point of the dictatorship is that one person or a small group is making the decisions, so you have to hope they make good ones. As long as one can retrospectively go back to one of the best dictatorships, it wouldn’t be so bad.

    • EchoChaos says:

      I think the Western part of Germany is the obvious choice for any time in the 20th century. Civilian survival was quite high, you’ll be a baby, and hence not at serious risk and then you will then grow up in a rich, peaceful and safe country. Despite Cold War fears, German troops would never fight.

      If I want to be born in the same year I was actually born, Chile is the only reasonable choice. No war and very mild repression for people who aren’t strongly in opposition. It’s the richest country in South America with substantial opportunities.

    • Clutzy says:

      Based on my late 80s birth, how is East Germany not a decent choice? I get to be part of the dominant European economy and its growth during my lifespan.

    • dndnrsn says:

      USSR at its midpoint would be, what, some point in the 50s? Still kinda grim.

      Nazi Germany’s midpoint is 1939, so you get to grow up during the war, which is a bad call: depending on where you are, you might really suffer in the war, and your family may really take a beating. Mussolini’s Italy has the same problems.

      The Eastern European right-wing authoritarian dictatorships are all a bad call because of involvement in WWII.

      If Singapore counts, then Singapore. If it’s guaranteed you’re not someone who’s going to have the regime on their back, maybe Spain or Portugal at the midpoint. For a left-wing dictatorship, the Cuban communists have the prestigious “least bad communist dictatorship” prize.

    • LewisT says:

      Reiterating what others have already said, Spain, Portugal, and possibly Chile all sound pretty good to me. Maybe West Germany during the 1930s, but that seems a bit more risky (what if I end up born in Dresden?).

      Better yet, I choose Vatican City in 1991, the middle of John Paul II’s pontificate dictatorship.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Dresden is in East Germany, and cities in the West got rubbled too.

        • LewisT says:

          Yes, sorry, I wasn’t very clear. I figured most people knew of Dresden’s fate, which is why I picked that city out. I meant it as a kind of shorthand for pointing out that living anywhere in Germany during WWII was pretty risky.

      • Isn’t it clear that being born in Chile in 1981 is better than either Spain or Portugal at the midpoint of their dictatorship, which is considerably earlier? Since you aren’t linked to the opposition you and your family are very unlikely to be murdered by the government, and the country will be back to a democracy well before you make it to high school.

    • LadyJane says:

      Argentina under Peron seems like the best bet. He was popular enough that even after his opponents launched a coup to remove him from power and re-institute democratic rule, the people voted him back into office anyway. He rejected both communism and far-right authoritarianism in favor of something resembling a not-so-democratic version of social democracy. And he was by far the most socially liberal 20th century dictator; he was actually ahead of his time when it came to women’s rights and gay rights, which is a major part of why Argentina remains the most culturally progressive and LGBTQ-friendly Latin American country to this day.

      Sure, he had his political opponents removed from government and academic positions, but is that so much worse than McCarthyism was here in the U.S.? He didn’t have them sent to forced labor camps or re-education centers, he didn’t have them disappeared or tortured or summarily executed, he just had them fired. Even the revolution that overthrew him was relatively bloodless, resulting in only 400 deaths in a country of 20 million people. All things considered, I’d rather live under Peron’s dictatorship than under a lot of less developed 20th century democracies; I’d certainly prefer it to living in democratic Bangladesh or Sri Lanka today.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      Greece in 1970-1- midpoint of Colonels’ Dictatorship 1967-74. The dictatorship was short enough that I would probably not have any memories of it as an adult, daily life wasn’t that bad if you weren’t a dissident (yes it was a relatively poor Balkan country, but not one with widespread starvation, high crime, etc). The only war is the one over Cyprus, which would happen when I was a small child and did not really affect civilians in Greece.

      Also means I’m growing up as Greece starts to feel the economic benefits of entering the EU, and can hopefully have either emigrated or established myself in a stable industry before the economic crisis.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Does Japan count as a dictatorship, and if so from what period?

    • Deiseach says:

      Franco’s Spain? Mid-point would bring me to the mid-50s, and the Spanish economy grew and improved between then and the 70s with some small degree of relative liberalisation. He wasn’t a great guy but as dictators go, he could have been a lot worse. And I think the Spain of that time would have been somewhat similar enough to the rural Ireland of my own childhood that it wouldn’t feel too out of place.

    • Rowan says:

      After a quick scroll through Wikipedia’s list of longest-ruling non-royal leaders, I see the current president of Belarus has held that office since ’94, and is described by some as a dictator. That’s just the right kind of “very dubiously qualifies as a 20th century dictator” for my purposes.

      So, born at the midpoint of a 1994-present regime; that sees me born in 2006 or later, and about 13 in the present day. Not sure what the Belorussian economy looks like today, but it’d have to be pretty bad to mitigate the advantage of being that far in the future relative to actual 20th-century picks like Franco or Pinochet.

    • Dack says:

      If you have to be subjugated, might as well be subjugated in paradise. I pick Haiti or Cuba.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      By most accounts, my own Romania under Ceausescu wasn’t that bad, as dictatorships go, and if you’re willing to play the system there’s even room for advancement. Apart from the last 5 years or so when for some reason things were pretty bad.

      But Tito played his cards, better, I think. Next door’s Yugoslavia had chewing gum and jeans as well.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        That’s interesting. Here in the US I’ve only heard nightmare accounts of Romania under Ceausescu. And certainly there were plenty of Romanians who thought so, considering how quickly he was disposed of once he lost power. But I have become much more skeptical of the media since the ’90’s, when all these stories came out.

        As I recall, there were stories of a terrible secret police organization (like the East German Stasi?). Would this only hurt you if you were political? There were stories of all the kids in orphanages getting HIV because of contaminated needles. I think that story was treated as apocryphal — that those without power were treated as throwaways? And lastly, I think they said industrial pollution was truly satanic, although that was said about all of Eastern Europe.

        TO what extent was this stuff true?

        • Radu Floricica says:

          All true. Including pollution – the only “black man” jokes we had back then were from Copsa Mica (a very industrial small town). But compared to Pol Pot or Stalin… eastern europe was actually decent.

          Last 5, maybe 10 years on the other hand were pretty harsh economically. I was just a kid back then, so I mostly remember glimpses – like asking my mother what was the point of having a meat store, if it was always empty? We had rations – literally pieces of cardboard which you’d punch when you bought a bread, or even half a bread, because the lady at the shop actually had a knife to portion it. Though in this case the reason, I suspect, was mostly to prevent perverse incentives. Bread was subsidized and cheap enough that peasants would be tempted to buy it by the sackful and feed it to animals. Was pretty bad as well – one of the most successful products after the Revolution was white, fluffy bread. God, how I loved it.

          The early communism also had it’s own Gulag – forced relocation and forced labor, from which people often returned just to die.

          So it was shit economically at the end (mostly because well, it was planned), violent in the beginning, but if you’re living in the middle, it was just worse than Western Europe. My dad swears it was even occasionally better, but I’m very doubtful, since in 89 it was pretty clearly 20-30 years behind.

  8. ausmax says:

    My son was recently watching the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special, and the blue-ray that we have of it also includes an animated history of the “first” (i.e. the one in Massachusetts) Thanksgiving. Since Thanksgiving has become somewhat controversial, I know that some of the facts included in this video are in dispute. I’d like to give my son an accurate description of what did and did not happen with the first Thanksgiving, but despair of finding sources that aren’t biased in either pro or anti settler directions. I figure since the quest for unbiased information is one of the missions statements of this place, I thought I’d see if anyone would like to take a stab at an accurate telling of this history.

    I found this video online for reference, if you’re looking for context: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/xx4gj3

  9. Nicholas Weininger says:

    Today in Tell Me Why My Harebrained Idea Won’t Work:

    We want to reduce carbon emissions from air travel. This is hard in part because long-range electric propulsion isn’t (AIUI) feasible because you have to carry too much weight in batteries for the power to last very long.

    But. Surely a disproportionate fraction of the energy required for flying must be for takeoff, no? And jettisonable extra engines to provide a takeoff power assist already exist: JATO bottles. So why not make electric ones? That is, electric motors and props with enough attached battery supply to get through takeoff only, strapped to the wings at takeoff and thereafter jettisoned and parachuted back to earth for recharge and reuse.

    Why wouldn’t this work?

    • drunkfish says:

      This answer to a similar question seems to indicate that takeoff is only about 10% of the total power needed for the flight, so I don’t think your main assumption is true. You’d still need all the power for the rest of the flight.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Surely a disproportionate fraction of the energy required for flying must be for takeoff, no?

      This is true for rockets, not planes. The energy required to keep a plane aloft for some period of time is equal (at a minimum) to the weight multiplied by the distance it would descend by gliding during that period.

      A plane can’t make it across New York City without power (iirc), and they weigh a lot. Now, if you could fire people across the country in ballistic missiles…

      • ryan8518 says:

        @Hoopyfreud, while the effect is much more dramatic for rockets, it’s pretty significant for aircraft as well. Here’s a Boeing article discussing that medium range flights generally see 8-15% of their fuel usage during takeoff/landing, and this doesn’t account for the other benefits you would get from this sort of scheme by reducing your max power engine requirements and being able to cut back on mass (and thus lifetime fuel costs). That said, we’re adding a fairly complicated system that has a lot of moving parts that could go wrong, so no ones figure out a safe way to do it that’s worth the 15-20% fuel savings you might get.

        Now when you start talking about all electric aircraft, this sort of scheme starts to be more economical, because one of the big hurdles is getting enough power out of an electrical system to handle takeoff w/o draining the batteries (and carrying all that extra weight). I know we discussed these sorts of concepts back ~5 years ago in some of my aircraft design classes, but at the time they were mostly aimed at drones.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          This is, of course, very true! I wanted to point out that the rockets that use boosters get a lot more out of them than planes would or could. The efficiency gains here are marginal, not revolutionary.

    • LesHapablap says:

      A lot of fuel is burned from take-off to a climb to altitude. I made a similar post an a thread a year ago about using glider-tow type cables to launch aircraft for takeoff.

      May be possible for both electric and winch-launch, but wouldn’t be nearly as safe as the current system, and would likely cost a lot more. And if it were as safe and cost-effective, certifying the systems would still be impossible.

    • dodrian says:

      What happens if a plane is attempting a landing but needs to go-around for safety?

    • John Schilling says:

      There are proposals for hybrid aircraft that use turboelectric fans or propellers with battery augmentation for takeoff. Parachuting the depleted batteries and high-power motors back to earth would produce small gains in energy efficiency at the expense of other inefficiencies like “flaming half-ton lithium-ion battery pack plummets into residential neighborhood under tangled parachute canopy” and “exposed high-power electrical connection meets Florida weather; corrosion leads to inability to deliver sufficient power for safe takeoff, as discovered just after takeoff”.

      Also, electricity is overrated. It’s not a primary energy source and it’s rarely the desired end product, the necessary conversion steps cost you efficiency, and if you need lots of energy all in the same place at the same time, moving hot gas through a tube gets you much higher power densities than anything we can do with electrons in metal. Takeoff thrust in an airplane is a small part of your energy budget, but it’s all about power density.

      • albatross11 says:

        To be fair, “flaming half-ton lithium-ion battery pack plummets into residential neighborhood under tangled parachute canopy” does sound pretty entertaining to watch (from a distance)….

      • habu71 says:

        But… all the upper management at my aerospace company say that hybrid aircraft are the future! They couldn’t possibly all be wrong!

        • cassander says:

          Mine too. We’re organizing an entire conference on urban air mobility this year as if it is something that’s going to happen in the next few years. I don’t understand this obsession.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            If I wanted to dominate the future of aviation, I would be looking into which fuels have the lowest system cost if the starting point is “Synthesis from abundant electricity” and the end point is “Things that fly”. There are several obviously workable options, but the key is which one is cheapest. I am pretty sure its not “Synthetic av-gas”, because while that is entirely possible, its also far more expensive than ammonia or demethyl-ether synthesis.

  10. Atlas says:

    Why did the United States support so many dictators/authoritarian regimes in East Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America during the Cold War? If communism is a deeply flawed philosophy of government—which I personally think it unquestionably is—why couldn’t the US be confident that non-communists could obtain power by winning free elections? If communists engage in armed rebellion/terrorism against a standing government, why can’t the principles guiding criminal justice expressed in e.g. the US Constitution be applied in combating it? Was there ever a coherent logic behind the US’s repeated violation of its stated principles during the Cold War, or was it just a series of ad hoc short-term improvisations?

    (This may have been subconsciously inspired by Tenacious D’s post below, though I was thinking about these issues earlier today after finishing Max Hastings’ excellent history of the Korean War; thanks to sfoil for recommending it in an OT a month or two ago.)

    • SamChevre says:

      The key tension is between “Democracy” and democracy–between a law-based, rules-based, rights-based system and a majority-voting-based system. If the likely outcome of “majority wins” is expelling the minority and stealing their stuff, a dictator insisting “no killing the blanks” may be the freedom-maximizing alternative even though it is undemocratic.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      It’s kind of easy after the Cold War is over to make catcalls as to what the US should have done. We may think that communism will ultimately destroy itself, but what if we are wrong? Perhaps letting all those countries be manipulated into communism would ultimately result in communism dominating the world, and finally forcing the US to lose its own freedom. Besides, even if communism does finally eat its own tail and destroy itself (which I think is pretty likely), the intermediate stages could be very bloody.

      It is possible that if the US instead stood up for its principles consistently and favor democracy in every case, even if it led to communism, that the USSR would have collapsed sooner (but I think it is unlikely). I do think the US made some bad mistakes in favoring some pretty bad characters. But I also think that the goal of preventing a world dominated by communism was far and away a more important end to achieve than the problem of some countries having less democratic regimes for some years. We now live in a very much freer and more prosperous world than if the USSR had instead won the Cold War.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      For Latin America, three reasons.

      One, a lot of the popular movements there had land and capital reform as a fairly high-priority goal (and you have to remember, the inequality in Latin America was ENORMOUS and largely an artifact of colonialism, somewhat botched revolutions, and the machinations of banana republic oligarchies; I don’t think even most of the libertarians here would argue that the Latin American markets or governments were anything near free or uncorrupted at this time).

      Two, the US didn’t care at all about democracy or civilian lives outside of its borders under Kissinger. He fostered brutal dictatorships, reasoning that the combination of a citizenry terrified of the government and a government dependent on US aid to continue disappearing and its civilians would be minimally dangerous to US interests. If you want to see sociopathy in government, Kissinger is a good candidate for a case study.

      Three, Cuba scared the shit out of everyone, and the thought that the tiny island economy could be bolstered by the productivity of a large South American country was terrifying.

    • Erusian says:

      If communism is a deeply flawed philosophy of government—which I personally think it unquestionably is—why couldn’t the US be confident that non-communists could obtain power by winning free elections?

      Which elections? The free and fair elections Stalin ran in Eastern Europe? Or the ones under Cuba for their new Communist constitution? The United States was more supportive of genuine democracy than the Soviet Union because it was more confident it could win. It’s true it didn’t support elections or democracy in all cases. But it did it much more than the Soviets.

      Indeed, the US tolerated socialist states so long as they were democratic and anti-Soviet. But the Soviet Union could not tolerate even socialist democracies: that led to the tanks rolling in. The Soviet Union also attempted to overthrow socialist states that didn’t ally with them.

      The US’s actions can be much better understood as sphere of influence power politics than pure ideology. Where the US applied its pure ideology, it usually did support democracy. And it’s worth noting US supported dictatorships often do transition to democracies sooner or later. This was very much not the case in the Soviet sphere of influence or just in general.

      If communists engage in armed rebellion/terrorism against a standing government, why can’t the principles guiding criminal justice expressed in e.g. the US Constitution be applied in combating it? Was there ever a coherent logic behind the US’s repeated violation of its stated principles during the Cold War, or was it just a series of ad hoc short-term improvisations?

      The US’s guiding principle was basically: step one, destroy any governments that allies with our enemies. Step two, pressure any dictatorships to democracy if it doesn’t threaten step one.

      This was, by the way, the US’s principle long before Communism was on the scene. Fascist governments in Latin America got similar treatment.

      • Atlas says:

        Which elections? The free and fair elections Stalin ran in Eastern Europe? Or the ones under Cuba for their new Communist constitution? The United States was more supportive of genuine democracy than the Soviet Union because it was more confident it could win. It’s true it didn’t support elections or democracy in all cases. But it did it much more than the Soviets.

        Two clear cases in which the United States supported/played an instrumental role in the overthrow of reasonably democratically elected leaders would be the overthrow of Prime Minister Mosaddegh of Iran and President Arbenz of Guatemala. I don’t know enough about the details of the case to judge, but perhaps the overthrow of Prime Minister Lumumba of the DRC also counts.

        In South Korea and South Vietnam, US client states that were under direct US military occupation for a period of time, the US consciously chose to institute/accept dictatorships rather than allow free elections. The reasoning for this in both cases seems to have been the fear that communists would do well in any free elections.

        I agree that the United States had a clearly considerably better record in Europe of supporting national sovereignty and free elections than the USSR did— in my view, a very important reason for the US’s ultimate victory in the Cold War. (Leaving aside some initial US skulduggery in Italy and France in the 1940s.) I am not yet convinced that the US had a significantly better record of supporting democratic—or at least popular—governments in the Third World than the Soviet Union did.

        Note that I wasn’t suggesting that the US had a worse record than the USSR. My question was, given the premises that the US supports democracy and that communism is an unpopular, tyrannical system of government, which you accept, why did the US support so many dictatorships throughout the Cold War? The contention that the USSR was worse than the US I think makes this a more, not less, interesting question.

        Indeed, the US tolerated socialist states so long as they were democratic and anti-Soviet. But the Soviet Union could not tolerate even socialist democracies: that led to the tanks rolling in. The Soviet Union also attempted to overthrow socialist states that didn’t ally with them.

        I’m not sure that your first sentence is a wholly accurate summation of US thinking/policy in the Cold War. (Though perhaps your definition of “anti-Soviet” means “actively opposed to the USSR” as opposed to “not following the USSR’s bidding.”) Arbenz and Mosaddegh, for instance, were not aligned with the USSR. Castro, Lumumba and Ho Chi Minh seem to have initially been willing to reach at least some sort of accommodation with the US, but turned to the USSR in the face of US hostility and the need for a superpower patron.

        I agree that the USSR did not institute democracy in the countries it controlled and faced serious opposition from within the communist world. (Though I think there were cases in the Third World wherein non-democratic communist governments had notably more popular support than competing non-democratic non-communist ones.) This is why I find the US’s frequent reliance on dictatorial regimes puzzling: Why didn’t the US make more of an effort in the non-European world to turn the Cold War into a contest of US supported democracy/sovereignty versus Soviet backed totalitarianism/imperialism?

        The US’s actions can be much better understood as sphere of influence power politics than pure ideology. Where the US applied its pure ideology, it usually did support democracy. And it’s worth noting US supported dictatorships often do transition to democracies sooner or later. This was very much not the case in the Soviet sphere of influence or just in general.

        I agree, but the first sentence seems to substantively accord much more with what radical, fringe critics of American foreign policy argue than with what American politicians, and to some extent mainstream scholars, state in public speeches. (Though they would obviously use different rhetoric in making this point.)

        • Erusian says:

          I agree the US supported dictatorships. We appear to agree that the US was more supportive of democracies than the USSR, just not that it was always supportive in all cases. I suspect we also disagree on who exactly holds responsibility for dictatorial regimes and have different ideas of how frequently the US set up dictatorships.

          A pretty clear example: the US never directly set up a dictatorship. As in, the US never invaded a country, had complete say over its government, and set up a dictatorship. They always set up republics, though often a dictator overthrew them quickly. The USSR did the opposite, even ignoring treaty obligations to do so. For example, you bring up South Korea. Park’s coup perhaps had US acquiescence or support from some agencies. But it wasn’t a US idea and the US constantly pressured him to hold elections, eventually leading to a democratic transition. Likewise, when the US was able to choose any government it pleased after World War 2 it made Korea a republic.

          So I think we’d need to clarify what you meant by ‘rely on dictatorships’.

          You bring up a list of socialists the US supposedly opposed just for being socialists. Let’s go down the list, skipping Arbenz and Mosaddegh who I’m less familiar with:
          Castro: The US not only made no hostile moves directly after Castro’s revolution, they also failed to support Batista to the utmost. Castro nationalized several industries without much US protest. Kennedy even defended Castro, pointing out that Cuba had legitimate grievances against the US. The US officially broke with Castro over the seizure of oil processing facilities. But the real reason was that Castro wanted to use those facilities to process Soviet oil and create a Cuba that was economically independent from the US and integrated into the Soviet economic sphere. There was also suspicion, eventually correct, that he was harboring Soviet troops.

          Lumumba: The US supported Lumumba until he turned to the Soviet Union to help him win a civil war. He declared a state of emergency, accepted Soviet relief, and began to integrate his economy with the Soviet bloc. Despite this and repeated requests from Belgium, the US refused to take part in several actions. In fact, they revealed a Belgian attempt to assassinate Lumumba after the split. UN soldiers, with UN support, initially protected Lumumba from arrest and tried to encourage a reconciliation before ultimately siding with Mobutu after his faction proved to be stridently anti-Soviet and basically pro-US.

          Ho Chi Minh: The US actually saved Ho Chi Minh’s life. They airdropped in a doctor to treat him when they felt he was someone they could cultivate as anti-Soviet. They even made gestures to promising Vietnam independence that were so alarming that the French threatened to defect to the Soviet Union. Minh ultimately proved to be too willing to cozy up to the Chinese and too independent. He also directly attacked the south despite it being a US allied regime. Despite this, the US didn’t get involved in Vietnam for some time after the split.

          Also, none of them were democratically elected. The closest you get is Lumumba, who was appointed by other democratically elected officials.

          I agree, but the first sentence seems to substantively accord much more with what radical, fringe critics of American foreign policy argue than with what American politicians, and to some extent mainstream scholars, state in public speeches. (Though they would obviously use different rhetoric in making this point.)

          Having read the books of several Secretaries of State and a few senators involved in foreign affairs, I’m not sure where you get the idea that American politicians are pure ingenues blithely acting according to perfect American principles. Obama’s comments about the Saudis reeked of realpolitick for example. Likewise, even Bush (whose believes were highly moralistic) spoke of how Iraq was supposed to shift the balance of power in the Middle East.

          So I’m not sure it’s so radical an idea. Anything Kissinger, Bush, Obama, Albright, Kerry, and Clinton state openly isn’t too fringe.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          Re: Mosaddegh

          Appointed by the Shah on the recommendation of Parliament is not quite the same thing as “democratically elected”, so your “reasonably” is doing a bit of work there. Also worth noting that he promptly used the argument of “foreign influences” on elections to suspend any further elections in, and by mid-1953 he had dissolved parliament and instituted rule by decree. He did this with a “referendum” that involved a non-secret ballot which required all the people who wanted to vote against it to publically go to a separate location to cast their vote from the “yes” votes, in an environment that had already been marked by organized political violence by his supporters. This sort of thing makes it a stretch to paint the run-up to the Iranian Coup as “Liberal Democratic reformers vs. Authoritarian monarchists”.

    • cassander says:

      Why did the United States support so many dictators/authoritarian regimes in East Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America during the Cold War?

      How many is “so many”? what was a reasonable number?

      If communism is a deeply flawed philosophy of government—which I personally think it unquestionably is—why couldn’t the US be confident that non-communists could obtain power by winning free elections?

      Because the elections weren’t free. The soviets would intervene on their side to make sure the elections came out their way.

      If communists engage in armed rebellion/terrorism against a standing government, why can’t the principles guiding criminal justice expressed in e.g. the US Constitution be applied in combating it?

      Because those principles are based on the premise of a polity where there isn’t a substantial portion of the political world getting KGB funding to overthrow the state.

      • Atlas says:

        How many is “so many”? what was a reasonable number?

        Conservative answer: I think that the US could have won the Cold War, and indeed perhaps have won it faster, by supporting, say, only 1/4th of the authoritarian regimes that it did.

        Somewhat flippant answer: Zero. Why should the US sully its hands by supporting governments that don’t govern with the consent of governed? I think that the principles stated in the Atlantic Charter—the principles which at least theoretically were guidelines for the kind of post-war world order the US wanted to see—are pretty good ones. When US presidents condemned the Soviet Union for its aggression, imperialism and authoritarianism in Europe, I think they made pretty good arguments.

        You might say something to the effect of “the communists might take over in the absence of US support for a dictatorship.” Firstly, I reiterate my original question: If communism is an unpopular and evil form of government, why couldn’t the US find more democratically elected non-communist governments in the Third World to support?

        Secondly, so what? If the communists have more popular support, fine, let them take over —and then let them look the bad guys while we support the democratic opposition. The lesson I take from the Cold War is that who has the proverbial hearts and minds is more important in the long term than who has the flag flying over the capitol. US and Soviet forces both occupied around half of Europe in 1945; the US created sovereign, prosperous and democratic governments, the USSR created dependent, impoverished and authoritarian ones. The US could maintain its half of the board indefinitely, the USSR could not.

        If the US is associated with imperialism and authoritarianism, it lets the communists obfuscate their own failings by pointing to American crimes/failings. For instance, Castro and his supporters could always point to Batista and the Bay of Pigs in justifying his tyranny. This isn’t simply a debating society point; I think that, as Scott argued in “Guided by the Beauty of our Weapons,” there’s a very important practical difference between asymmetric and symmetric methods of political competition.

        Because the elections weren’t free. The soviets would intervene on their side to make sure the elections came out their way.

        See my reply to Erusian above; I don’t think that was always true.

        Because those principles are based on the premise of a polity where there isn’t a substantial portion of the political world getting KGB funding to overthrow the state.

        Were they? I think that the Founding Fathers, and Enlightenment thinkers more broadly, were certainly aware that criminals, rebels and terrorists might receive material aid. They nonetheless believed, however, that the state should maintain a presumption of innocence, guarantee the accused the right to a fair trial, refrain from the use of torture, etc.

        If those rights can be abrogated abroad, why do we bother having them at home? If arbitrary detention, torture and summary execution are just and efficacious methods of criminal justice for, say, Suharto and the shah, why can’t they be directly used by the US government against criminals, dissidents and terrorists?

        • John Schilling says:

          If communism is an unpopular and evil form of government, why couldn’t the US find more democratically elected non-communist governments in the Third World to support?

          But communism isn’t an unpopular and evil form of government. It’s a popular and evil form of government. Though post-1991, you probably want to use a different name.

        • cassander says:

          Somewhat flippant answer: Zero. Why should the US sully its hands by supporting governments that don’t govern with the consent of governed?

          Because some non-consensual governments are much, much worse than others. When you have a choice between supporting diem and pol pot, you choose diem every time.

          You might say something to the effect of “the communists might take over in the absence of US support for a dictatorship.” Firstly, I reiterate my original question: If communism is an unpopular and evil form of government, why couldn’t the US find more democratically elected non-communist governments in the Third World to support?

          What John Schilling said. Communists came to power by rolling into town with some guns and saying “follow us and we’ll help you kill your landlords and set up glorious socialist state!” That was a very popular pitch among peasants, even though it always ended badly for them.

          Secondly, so what? If the communists have more popular support, fine, let them take over —and then let them look the bad guys while we support the democratic opposition.

          This would have condemned tens of millions to death. It would have made communism look even more successful, which would have meant even more spreading and even more death

          The US could maintain its half of the board indefinitely, the USSR could not.

          Not if it was willing to cede ground everywhere it couldn’t.

          >If those rights can be abrogated abroad, why do we bother having them at home? If arbitrary detention, torture and summary execution are just and efficacious methods of criminal justice for, say, Suharto and the shah, why can’t they be directly used by the US government against criminals, dissidents and terrorists?

          Because the US has a culture that upholds those norms, and the communists in the US mostly stuck to them. that was not the case in indonesia, or most of the non-western world.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      If communism is a deeply flawed philosophy of government—which I personally think it unquestionably is—why couldn’t the US be confident that non-communists could obtain power by winning free elections?

      Mistake theory. 50.01% of the adult population might make a deeply flawed choice.

      • Clutzy says:

        This is particularly important. Socialism/Communism are very appealing when you hear about them. And socialist/communist governments have a history of never allowing a second election if they win the first (Maduro is the norm, not an exception). Is it responsible to allow a couple instances of elections by uneducated people who are not culturally ready for democracy result in a 50 year enslavement of a continent?

        I mean, when compared to Pinochet, that seems incredibly savage.

        • Atlas says:

          This is particularly important. Socialism/Communism are very appealing when you hear about them. And socialist/communist governments have a history of never allowing a second election if they win the first (Maduro is the norm, not an exception). Is it responsible to allow a couple instances of elections by uneducated people who are not culturally ready for democracy result in a 50 year enslavement of a continent?

          I mean, when compared to Pinochet, that seems incredibly savage.

          I find it ironic that your argument is quite similar to the arguments that communists make to justify the lack of democracy in communist countries: Because the US has supported/instituted so many brutal dictatorships when communists win at the polls, it is necessary for the USSR to support authoritarian governments that can destroy bourgeois subversion without any tedious concern for “freedom of the press” and “free elections.” If only Allende had, like Castro, dispensed with such niceties, he would never have been overthrown. You might not like the recent actions in Czechoslovakia, comrade, but can you not agree that they are infinitely preferable to the savage campaign of terrorism that the US-backed dictatorship in Indonesia has carried out just a few years ago?

          I do not accept the logic that actual communist authoritarian governments must be supported and exonerated of their crimes because they were necessary to prevent a hypothetical worse capitalist dictatorship from coming to power. This is a deeply Orwellian argument that is often unfalsifiable and can be used to justify any level of state brutality.

          Likewise, I do not accept the converse logic that capitalist dictatorships must be supported in committing crimes to prevent hypothetical communist dictatorships from coming to power. If the majority of the people of a foreign nation wish to elect a communist government, they entitled to their folly. If, having elected said government, they wish to elect a different one, but cannot do so, I am happy to aid them.

          I believe that such a strategy would be more effective at combating communism in the medium and long term evenly from a strictly pragmatic viewpoint, because the communist governments that have had the most staying power are those in countries like Cuba, Vietnam and China that have been closely associated with nationalism and anti-colonialism. My impression (though I admit that I haven’t been following this situation closely) is that the US’ ability to organize regional and international opposition to the reprehensible Maduro government has been hampered by memory of other US attempts at regime change and interference in Latin American countries.

          • Clutzy says:

            Just as an aside, I have little faith in democracy in any country, including the USA. Our government was at its best when it was also the least democratic and most constrained by the drunk on freedom radicals of the constitutional convention.

            That some of the brighter communists also recognized that democracy doesn’t always give them the results they want all the time reinforces my point. The real question, of course, is what kind of populace should we have greater faith in their political choices. Ill leave you to decided based on the best evidence.

      • Atlas says:

        I agree that conflict vs. mistake is the essential paradigm here. However, I think that supporting democracy is the choice of the mistake theorist, whereas supporting autocracy is the choice of the conflict theorist.

    • You are assuming that democracy was an option, rather than a different dictator. A pretty common pattern in Africa was one man, one vote, once.

      • Atlas says:

        I’m reminded of a similar joke in America: the Book along the lines of: “3000 BC: An Egyptian pharaoh invents the principle of ‘one man, one vote.’ Unfortunately, he was the one man.”

        Firstly, I don’t think that was always the case, as I’ve elucidated in other replies (e.g. to Erusian.)

        Secondly, why, in those cases, was the choice necessarily between dictators?

        Thirdly, I think that the US should usually stay neutral—or support the democratic opposition, if there is any—if faced with a choice of dictators. There are of course hypothetical conditions you could contrive under which I would agree that supporting one dictator would be preferable, but in most actual historical cases I have read about I don’t think that US support for dictators was necessary/wise.

    • Protagoras says:

      I generally have a harsher view of the interventions than some of the others here, but I think a key point, as some have said, is that supporting democracy was often not an option. Unless you’re just going to move in and take over completely (which also doesn’t sound much like democracy), you have to work with the factions on the ground. If none of those factions are interested in democracy (or if the pro-democracy factions are completely outgunned), any outsider seeking to influence the country has to pick an undemocratic faction to side with. That being said, being supported by foreigners almost always makes a government less popular with its own people, and makes it more likely that when it falls the next government will be very hostile to those foreigners, so I think there are a number of cases where the U.S. would have been better off supporting nobody.

      • Atlas says:

        That being said, being supported by foreigners almost always makes a government less popular with its own people, and makes it more likely that when it falls the next government will be very hostile to those foreigners, so I think there are a number of cases where the U.S. would have been better off supporting nobody.

        I certainly agree; I think there are many cases in which “supporting nobody” is “supporting democracy,” and is a perfectly viable option for the US that policy makers with short-term concerns unwisely disregarded.

    • 10240 says:

      Most of the time, the dictatorship was already in place, regardless of US support. If the US doesn’t support it, that wouldn’t have meant that the dictatorship collapses and democratic elections are held. The dictator would’ve tried to stay in power, while perhaps communist guerrillas would have tried to infiltrate and overthrow it. Or perhaps, in some cases, the dictator himself would have allied with the Soviets. To make the country democratic, the US would have had to invade it and hold democratic elections, and the US didn’t have the capacity to do that too many times.

      The few cases when America supported a coup that turned a previously democratic country into a dictatorship were sometimes in cases when people did vote communist-adjacent.

    • LadyJane says:

      Three major reasons:

      First, because the Soviet Union was doing the same thing. It’s not like Stalin or Brezhnev were going to allow developing nations to freely choose capitalism; they were going to force communism on those countries and turn them into client states, either through outright military force (as was the case in Eastern Europe and Central Asia) or through espionage and political subversion and alliances with local rebel groups (as seen in Southeast Asia and Latin America). Back in 1947, George Kennan outlined the strategy of containment to be a middle ground between appeasement and direct confrontation; this was crucial because policymakers believed that appeasement would lead to a Soviet takeover (just as appeasement in the 30s resulted in the Nazis nearly conquering Europe), but direct confrontation was out of the question (even before the threat of nuclear war and mutually assured destruction came into the equation, policymakers believed that a war with the Soviet Union would be far too costly and destructive for the U.S. to afford, especially with both U.S. military resources and American morale drained from the Second World War).

      Second, because the U.S. had a long standing history of intervening in Latin America in order to prevent interference from external forces. This stance goes all the way back to the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, which was originally meant to prevent the European colonial powers from trying to regain their foothold in the Americas, particularly in the less stable Latin American countries. The U.S. basically applied the same mindset to Soviet incursions into the region, aiming to keep Latin America within its sphere of influence at all costs. (This doesn’t explain the interventions in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, but the first and third explanations suffice for those; that said, it’s worth noting that the majority of U.S. foreign interventions during the Cold War were in Latin American countries.)

      Third, and most cynically, because the U.S. and its allies stood to lose a great deal of money if various client states nationalized their major industries and/or stopped selling their key exports to the West. This was true of both the U.S. as a whole, and of specific corporate interests within the U.S. that had deep connections to the American political-military-intelligence complex. For instance: Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother, CIA Director Allen Dulles, both had ties to the United Fruit Company. This company’s profits were greatly threatened by the Communist Party regime in Guatemala, and so it benefited enormously from the U.S. backed coup against the Guatemalan government, which was largely orchestrated by the Dulles brothers. (The obvious corruption involved doesn’t negate the first two reasons; in all likelihood, Allen Dulles genuinely thought he was doing what was necessary to preserve democracy in the long term, and that just so happened to align with doing what would be best for his business contacts. Similarly, I find it likely that Dick Cheney genuinely believed in the neoconservative dream of spreading democracy to the Middle East, even if he was also helping his friends at Halliburton make a profit. Most people like to think of themselves as the heroes of their own story, after all.)

    • eigenmoon says:

      A related question: why does US support Saudi Arabia and Turkey right now?

      • John Schilling says:

        Right now, the United States has a President who has never met an authoritarian strongman he didn’t like.

        If you average over the past few decades, Turkey has been for all that time a reasonably faithful member of America’s strongest and most important formal alliance, and Saudi Arabia has been holding an economically and geopolitically critical piece of territory against contending powers that were worse in almost every way than the House of Saud.

        • albatross11 says:

          Well, he doesn’t like Maduro, so that’s at least *one*.

          • John Schilling says:

            He’s never met Maduro. He’s met Erdogan and, famously, Salman.

            See also Kim Jong Un, whom Trump basically threatened to nuke into oblivion with his entire country until they actually met, when Trump “fell in love”. I’m sure if we could get Trump and Maduro in the same room for some quality orb time, they’d bond over shared hardships like constantly being beset by relentless enemies from without and disloyal incompetent subordinates from within, and come away best of friends.

      • ilikekittycat says:

        Iran (+ the Iraq and Syria that will emerge if Iran becomes the dominant power) will dominate the region without the Turkey/Saudi/Gulf Emirates/Israel bloc all checking it at the same time. The Soviets Russians then get to add the Middle East to their score and Team NATO loses the Cold War New American Century.

      • cassander says:

        Turkey is still more a less a democracy, it’s a just a democracy that’s been making some very bad choices.

        As for the Saudis, they’re enemies with people that we’re enemies with and anyone who replaced them would be worse. That’s enough to keep us friends.

      • Dack says:

        Likely the same reason as those shady cold war allies. We presume that if they don’t ally with us, then they will likely ally with the enemy.

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      1. I do not believe the constitution gives the US government any specific authority to act in case of a coup
      2. Any potential coupsters could make the same argument the US has/would make, that the elections were not legitimate. Mind you this is a ‘communism’ specific problem
      3. Communist parties can win elections promising the same things that has made communism alluring and then proceed to utterly entrench themselves in the government.

      That said, everything a communist party COULD do to a democracy to make it impossible for them to lose no matter how badly they govern can theoretically be done by a far right party or a neoliberal party or any party for that matter. And could be done on the grounds of preventing other extremist parties who have far worse ideas. [I think neo-liberalism is inching in that direction or if it isn’t in fact it’s certainly making a lot of rhetoric in that direction]

      4.I think a normal person might agree with the premise that a ‘Nazi Party’ should not be allowed to run in any democratic country on the grounds that it would lead to another world war. [I don’t actually think a george lincoln rockwell would be more belligerent then LBJ but that’s another issue] A similar logic is at play here.

      5. the folks who were anti-communist foreign-policy leaders during the cold war were not as confident in the ‘inevitable failure’ of communism as we are today with hindsight. It certainly didn’t appear that a country as powerful as the USSR was doomed to failure any time soon at least during the first few decades of the USSR.

      If you view communism as a thing which generates repression and deprivation of most normal people [if at all] but is stable enough to allow the state to accumulate more and more military weapons, any country in the world that becomes communist is [seemingly] more likely to align diplomatically with that power enhances the power of that rival.

      If you’re thinking about it in a world-war scenario every country that aligns with your geopolitical rival is at best a lost trade partner, but also a loss of potential strategic resources and another front that could be opened against you in war time.

      _________________________________________________________________

      That said I tend not to look favorably at regime change. It sets a bad precedent and future leaders can always say that true communism was never allowed to flourish because of the capitalist conspiracy or something [and have something of a valid argument]. On the other hand If i were the leader of a capitalist country and a nearby communist country was being supplied with tanks and missiles from the USSR as a gift I would be very nervous/annoyed.

      • albatross11 says:

        I fully admit I’m no expert here, but the interventions we’ve done in the last couple decades don’t seem like they’ve worked out too well. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen are not a commercial for our skill at intervening to make things better. (OTOH, maybe Syria is the control group, and their outcome hasn’t been so great either. Who decided to hire George R R Martin to write this story, anyway?).

        The visible failures of the past, and our apparent inability to ever pull out of Afghanistan, seem like pretty strong reasons to be skeptical of future interventionist proposals.

        • Watchman says:

          Afghanistan is vastly better than it was before. It’s now a case of to what extent the national government (which is actually elected, if hardly the model of democracy) has swat in any given area rather than which warlord/foreign power rules that area.

          And despite everything Iraq has a democracy that keeps functioning. With a Shia political movement dominant at the moment who are (despite past support) trying to break Iran’s influence without being dependent on the US. They’re in coalition with the communists and various other nationalist but generally non-sectarian groups, having broken with the ethnic Shia block, which is an encouraging development.

          Yemen is a problem, but you could argue it was the post-Communism unification that is the issue here – the conflict is still on north-south lines.

          Anyone up-to-date on Libya? I’m guessing the lack of recent headlines reflects either an improving situation or that journalists are bored and have wandered off to something else. My gut feeling is the former.

          • Atlas says:

            Afghanistan is vastly better than it was before. It’s now a case of to what extent the national government (which is actually elected, if hardly the model of democracy) has swat in any given area rather than which warlord/foreign power rules that area.

            The US didn’t invade Afghanistan because of its low HDI score; it invaded it because the Taliban government harbored Al-Qaeda. The goal was not to materially improve the lives of Afghans—which indeed I doubt that the US invasion has done on net—but to destroy the Taliban.

            How’s that working out for us after 18 years or so?

            With a Shia political movement dominant at the moment who are (despite past support) trying to break Iran’s influence without being dependent on the US.

            Can you provide some evidence for the claim that the Iraqi government has any interest in “break[ing] Iran’s influence?” The reaction to President Trump’s recent comments about US forces in Iraq “keeping an eye on Iran” does not suggest to me that Shia Iraqis consider the US and Iran to be equally welcome foreign patrons.

            Besides, since we did the Iraqis such a huge favor by deposing Saddam and implementing “democracy,” shouldn’t they be more than happy to be our willing ally and accede to our wishes? It seems suspiciously to me like Iraqis might possibly not be very grateful to the US and not very willing to cooperate with it, which I would say reflects a deep failure of the US mission there.

          • albatross11 says:

            If Afghanistan and Iraq are the kinds of successes we can expect from invasions and occupations, I think I would like to do fewer of them, because places we have to occupy for decades to keep from falling apart don’t look much like success to me. I don’t claim deep understanding of surgery, but you keep killing the damned patients, so I’d like to pass on your next several proposed optional surgeries.

    • arlie says:

      I don’t think that anyone at the time thought that “democracy” was necessarily more effective than “communism”. That belief has become “self evident” since the collapse of the USSR, at least in American discourse, but before that it was argued by a monority, who often seemed to be trying hard to convince themselves, never mind anyone else.

      At least, that’s my best steelman as to why. I can also come up with reasons involving corruption, Realpolitik, or both.

    • Garrett says:

      The foundation of America isn’t Democracy, it’s liberty. We instituted the form of government we have in order to protect the rights and liberties of the people. Democracy is neither required nor sufficient for that outcome. A benevolent dictator might to well, and Zimbabwe shows what elections can do. It’s just that the long-run average of democracies is expected to be better.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      *Žižek snort* Pure ideology.

      They honestly believed democracy market capitalism liberalism were an inseperable bundle, and wherever you could open a pinhole to let one drip in, the others would flood in eventually – “No two countries with McDonalds go to war with eachother” – and so if you could only really get movement on one of those axes in the moment it was just as good as broad reform, over time. Just like George W Bush overapplied the lesson of Post-WWII Germany/Japan to Iraq, Cold Warriors overapplied the lesson of South Korea. As late as the Clinton administration, people still honestly believed engaging with the Chinese market post-Deng was leading slowly to Chinese democracy – the idea of an persistent authoritarian capitalist superpower was not something the elite consensus allowed people to consider

      • Atlas says:

        As late as the Clinton administration, people still honestly believed engaging with the Chinese market post-Deng was leading slowly to Chinese democracy – the idea of an persistent authoritarian capitalist superpower was not something the elite consensus allowed people to consider

        Out of curiosity, why is this an unreasonable belief? The histories of South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and Singapore would seem to suggest that wealthy capitalist Asian countries, like wealthy capitalist European countries, tend to become democracies. The 2014 Hong Kong period of protest is also a possibly interesting datum here, though I don’t know enough to judge its significance.

        By the way, speaking of the lessons of South Korea, I was reading a very interesting 1961 article from Foreign Affairs on South Korea by a foremost American expert. He was very pessimistic about the situation, and wrote:

        Thus it can easily be seen that there is no possibility of an economic miracle being wrought in South Korea. Judging from the record to date, it will be miracle enough if the economy can be made to grow even a little faster than the burgeoning population.

        The funny thing is, given the information he had at the time I’m not sure how much he can be faulted for this prediction.

    • Atlas says:

      Thanks to everyone who replied to my query, I found the responses quite interesting.

      • Atlas says:

        Addendum: It’s nothing personal (or even a judgement on how insightful/thought provoking I found your comment) if I don’t get around to replying to it. I very much enjoy posting, but I am unfortunately a very slow writer and thus the opportunity cost of posting can become regrettably high.

  11. The Nybbler says:

    The FAA continues its crusade against toy aircraft.

    This time it’s a rule requiring the FAA ID to be marked on the outside, which is going to piss off a lot of the old guard flying scale planes with historical markings.

    As has been their wont with toy airplane rules, the FAA did this as an emergency rulemaking with no “notice and comment” period and going into effect on February 23.

    • Reasoner says:

      This video makes me think the FAA is being reasonable.

      • woah77 says:

        This is the token “Because criminals/terrorists/assassins will totally follow the rules” comment. Preventing people who build toy planes in order to stop terrorists is not only ineffective, but borderline tyrannical. We’ve already opened pandora’s box on drones. Now we just have to decide that they won’t be used by anyone.

        • Reasoner says:

          License plates make it easier for police to catch bank robbers. Why? Because if a bank robber is driving without a license plate, he can get pulled over on his way to the bank. Same for drones: Unmarked drones are known to be up to no good and can get brought down on sight. Also, drone suppliers can sell drones with markings by default, and make them somewhat hard to remove.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Same for drones: Unmarked drones are known to be up to no good and can get brought down on sight.

            There’s as yet no requirement the numbers have to be visible on a drone in the air.

      • The Nybbler says:

        I don’t think the makers of Slaughterbots will follow the FAAs dictates in every respect. Or any.

        Rather, if anything like Slaughterbots get built, it’ll be on a military contract.

      • INH5 says:

        The robots shown in that video could be easily defeated by extremely low tech means, ranging from deploying chicken wire to stop them (and many cities in tropical areas already have mosquito screens on every window and surrounding most porches, so don’t tell me this is infeasible) to, if they target people using facial recognition, just covering your face. The concept would have been torn to shreds by the Youtube nitpicker crowd if it had been used in a science fiction movie.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      This time it’s a rule requiring the FAA ID to be marked on the outside, which is going to piss off a lot of the old guard flying scale planes with historical markings.

      Doesn’t sound any more onerous than cosplayers having to mark their toy guns with orange tips

      • Garrett says:

        Solution: use real guns!

      • The Nybbler says:

        The idea of marking toy guns with orange tips is to keep the cops from shooting you. (Fortunately gangbangers haven’t gotten the idea of painting real guns orange yet). There doesn’t seem to be any similar issue related to putting numbers on the outside of a toy plane; nobody’s going to confuse it for a real one. The claimed justification for it, and the claimed justification for doing this with almost immediate effect and no notice-and-comment period, are transparent nonsense. This isn’t like the 400 foot rule which is unreasonably heavy-handed but at least has a basis.

        I think the real reason for the requirement is just general regulatory harassment; the FAA is trying to reduce the number of things in the air that aren’t airliners, and any additional regulation helps there.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          The tips are also to prevent freaking out the non-cops around you.

          Look, I get you have a personal stake here, but it seems to me that it’s the drone manufacturers that fucked up your hobby: by proliferating cheap flying hunks of metal (with cameras!) and making them accessible to morons. The FAA is just trying to do their job of keeping flying hunks of metal from causing havoc, if heavy-handedly (approximately zero normies will recognize a registration # but bureaucrats live in their own strange little worlds).

          I sympathize with a hobby suffering from a moron infestation, really I do, but frankly I don’t think “flying hunks of metal” is such a bad thing for regulatory anti-moron hammer to fall on a bit heavily.

          You’re not a moron, I think I can safely assume most of the people you interact with in the hobby are not morons. But the country is filled with morons and, lately, a cheap toy drone fad.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The tips are also to prevent freaking out the non-cops around you.

            Fair enough, but a registration number doesn’t work for that either.

            The point of registration is to give the FAA somewhere to send the notice of civil penalty. The point of having the number on the aircraft, in someplace accessible without tools, is so they know which registered person to send the civil penalty to (“We found your toy. Pay us $1100 or we’ll have you arrested”). Given those, having the thing on the outside adds nothing. It’s just harassment intended to reduce the number of users.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            (“We found your toy. Pay us $1100 or we’ll have you arrested”).

            So? That lines up with what happens when you get caught doing reckless shit driving a car (which, granted, is a larger hunk of metal but also much more limited and predictable)

            It’s just harassment intended to reduce the number of users.

            I still think that keeping the morons out of this particular space is a good thing. An unfortunate side effect is that everyone else has to jump through hoops to prove they aren’t morons. Some hoops are dumber than others but, as a general rule, no government agency can do anything good without fucking it up at least a little bit

          • The Nybbler says:

            The FAA civil penalty process is even less just than that for a traffic ticket (it’s more like that for a _parking_ ticket, but with higher penalties).

            I mean, if you think that people who fly toy airplanes SHOULD be screwed, there’s not much I can do to change your mind. I’m aware that there’s a lot of people both in and out of the aviation club who would like to keep the rest of us unwashed out of it; that’s a difference in terminal values.

        • Protagoras says:

          Fortunately gangbangers haven’t gotten the idea of painting real guns orange yet

          Gang bangers don’t want their guns to look fake; most of the time they’re trying to scare people with them, not shoot people with them.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          (Fortunately gangbangers haven’t gotten the idea of painting real guns orange yet)

          Yes they have. Actually, both criminals and gun owners feeling like being smartasses have experimented with deliberately painting guns in toy-like ways. With the law-abiding gun owners it’s generally been as mockery of people afraid of “scary black rifles”, so they get an AR-15 and render it into a pink and white Hello Kitty themed weapon and go “Hey, there you go! Much better now, right?!”. With the criminal weapons I’ve seen both day glow neon paint jobs and simple attempts to make a real gun look like an airsoft gun by painting the muzzle break/flash hider/tip of the barrel blaze orange.

          However, AFAIK it’s not become widespread or popularized, because I’ve only seen the criminals’ weapons in the context of breathless local news coverage where the local PD/Sherriff puts on a press conference touting how scary and dangerous criminals are these days and holding up examples of the painted weapons taken as part of other arrests.

          If we ever have an incident where a police officer is actually killed because he or she is fooled by a real gun made to look fake, I think we’d see some new laws passed pretty fast, but I doubt that will ever happen. If anything, police are more likely to be fooled into thinking a fake gun is real than vice versa because it’s far easier to survive the public furor over shooting someone who it turns out only had a toy gun than it is to survive being shot with a real gun you assumed was fake.

  12. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    Was Judas Iscariot the original effective altruist? From John 12:

    Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”

    I know the next verse says he was skimming off the top of the donations fund, but doesn’t EA teach us to judge charities by the good they do and not by how much overhead they have?

    • Walter says:

      I don’t think so. If he was an EA who believed in Jesus’ teachings he shouldn’t have worried about giving money to the poor, since all that mattered was insuring their salvation. If he was an atheist EA he wouldn’t have been following Jesus around in the first place, as there were presumably many other things he could have been doing with his time that would help other people more.

      • Jaskologist says:

        If he was an EA who believed in Jesus’ teachings he shouldn’t have worried about giving money to the poor, since all that mattered was insuring their salvation.

        You should maybe read Jesus’ teachings before pronouncing on them.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          As I understand Christianity, giving money to the poor helps save *your* soul, and that’s a top priority.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yes. And Jesus seems pretty clear in the NT that you’re graded on effort, not on impact. Think of the widow giving a few pennies vs the rich guys dropping substantial sums into the collection for the poor.

            When you’re concerned with the effect of your action on the world, you think about impact. When you’re concerned with the effect of your action on you, then you think about effort and internal mental state and intent.

    • Deiseach says:

      I think the next verse about the skimming is meant to show where his real concerns lie; he doesn’t care about the poor as such, he is shocked by what he sees as a waste of money (because he likes money best of all) and if the monetary value had been given to him – either the price itself or the ointment to sell – then the implication is that he would have skimmed hard and not much of it would have made its way to the poor. You could perhaps link it up later with Sapphira and Ananias who likewise wanted the credit for being perceived as charitable but also wanted to hang on to as much of the money as they could.

      Judas is always going to get the rough end of the stick in anything written by the disciples afterwards, though, so it’s hard to know his real motives and character. It is interesting that he is presented as the keeper of the common purse, not Matthew the publican (as you would expect for someone whose previous job was dealing with collecting and disbursing money).

      • Jaskologist says:

        Sapphira and Ananias are a different case from Judas. They were virtue signalling, and you need to nip that sort of thing in the bud fast before it becomes a holiness spiral. Jesus was very, very anti-virtue signalling.

        They do fit the EA ethos nicely, though.

        • Deiseach says:

          I dunno, Jaskologist, loudly declaring “What a waste, this money could have gone to the poor!” seems like virtue signalling as well.

      • dodrian says:

        I wonder if Matthew was seen as an outsider by the other apostles: he had betrayed his people by collecting taxes for the Romans. Would you trust a former IRS agent to manage the cash (gold) of your anti-government survivalist movement?

        • Deiseach says:

          Would you trust a former IRS agent to manage the cash (gold) of your anti-government survivalist movement?

          If he’d been accepted into the group as a repentant member, sure! Particularly in light of the “Whose image is on this coin?” debate; who would know better exactly how much and in what fashion to render unto Caesar than a guy who used to work doing precisely that? 🙂

          And given that Jesus had to work a miracle so Peter could pay the temple tax, it doesn’t seem like Judas was taking very good care of the money handling. Honestly, you’ve got a professional in the group and you’re not making use of his expertise? Judas must have been fiddling the expenses! 😀

        • smocc says:

          One place to look for evidence about this is to how the other gospel writers refer to him. He appears to have used two different names, Matthew and Levi. Luke and Mark refer to him as Matthew when listing him with the apostles, but as Levi when telling the story of the repentant publican and do not explicitly make the connection. Matthew uses the name Matthew in both contexts.

          One possible interpretation is that the other writers are being respectful here, not wishing to permanently tie Matthew to his publican past, while Matthew himself feels comfortable owning it. I’m sure there are other interpretations, too.

      • Randy M says:

        Do we have any idea of what Judas earlier life was like? Actually, I shouldn’t say we, since I bet Catholics have some teachings on it that Protestants have ignored.

        • Deiseach says:

          Off the top of my head all I can think of is speculation (?) that he was a Zealot or one of the Sicarii, I’m not familiar with any mediaeval legends (though I’m sure there were some) about Judas. Well, apart from him being red-haired so red hair was associated with a mark of the Devil.

    • J Mann says:

      I don’t see that Iscariot’s actions were reasonably calculated to increase charitable giving, notwithstanding that they resulted in a small increase in public lands.

  13. 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 the product is pencils and they currently consume a tiny fraction of all suitable wood, graphite, etc., then you can probably increase demand by quite a lot with a negligible effect on price, save in the short run.

          If that isn’t all obvious to you, then you indeed have a hard time understanding the marginalist (i.e. neoclassical) viewpoint.

          • 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.

            Agreed. But Marx did not care so much about the short-term market-price, but rather the long-term exchange-value.

            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.

            Agreed, and as I acknowledged, Marx factored this in as something that would increase the exchange-value of a commodity as more and more of it had to be produced to meet a higher demand for the commodity at its exchange-value. For the larger aggregate quantity of production that depended on more marginal lands being brought into production of the commodity or its inputs, each unit of production of the final commodity would require a larger amount of socially-necessary labor-time.

            Note that Marx did not bother with guessing at the entire demand curve. This is because it is irrelevant, over the long-term, how many consumers would buy a commodity at half its exchange-value, or double its exchange-value, because competition and the “Invisible Hand” will see to it that the commodity is generally offered for sale at its exchange-value, or “natural price.”

            Attempts to sell a commodity at double its exchange-value will not be sustainable, even if there are willing consumers who would still buy the commodity at this heightened price, because the new competitors who are induced to come into the field will nevertheless drive the supply up and the price back down. Lucky for the utility of those consumers who would still buy the commodity at the higher price!

            It is only the quantity demanded at that natural price that is ultimately important for the long-run equilibrium.

          • nkurz says:

            @citizencokane

            Attempts to sell a commodity at double its exchange-value will not be sustainable, even if there are willing consumers who would still buy the commodity at this heightened price, because the new competitors who are induced to come into the field will nevertheless drive the supply up and the price back down

            I don’t know the relative timing, but did Marx’s theory take any account of patents or other forms of intellectual property being used to establish temporary monopolies? If not, have there been others who have extended his theories to allow for these? While an economic analysis that looks only at the steady state is theoretically interesting, I feel like it’s going to be almost impossible to analyze a modern economy without consideration of the short term effects as well.

            (Separately, thanks for your efforts to explain these ideas. It’s an area I know very little about, and I appreciate the opportunity to learn a little more.)

          • @CitizenCokane:

            My point, which you seem to have missed, was not that Marx was or was not right. It was that your comment about the marginalist picture, which I quoted, was wrong, suggesting that you did not at all understand the views you were criticizing.

          • My point, which you seem to have missed, was not that Marx was or was not right. It was that your comment about the marginalist picture, which I quoted, was wrong, suggesting that you did not at all understand the views you were criticizing.

            I admit, I must be failing to understand something because what seems correct to me about marginalism seems trivial, and what is new seems incorrect.

            Anwar Shaikh, in this video here, and Paul Cockshott, in this video here, make the same point about neoclassical supply and demand curves: they are imputed and imaginary. We only observe at any one time actual coordinate pair of price and quantity at that moment.

            If we then see a different coordinate pair of price and quantity at a later time, we could then deduce what the previous supply curve would have been to give us both coordinate pairs, if we assume that the demand curve did not change in the meantime, or we can deduce what the previous demand curve would have been to give us both coordinate pairs, if we assume that the supply curve did not change in the meantime. But which assumption to make? How can we be sure that both curves did not change (in which case, we would have no idea what sort of supply and demand curve was giving rise to the previous coordinate pair)? How can we know which proportions of responsibility for any change in price and quantity are due to the supply curve shifting vs. the demand curve shifting?

            As one commenter on Paul Cockshott’s video summarized:

            …these curves…have no basis in any observation; empirical or social. Why should the curves be smooth, or the exact shapes they are? Despite our reasonable observation that producers and consumers have certain prices in which they will participate in the market, we have no idea what that willingness looks like overall; only the particular price at which the market clears, as you have noted.

            To which Paul Cockshott replied:

            The supply and demand curves of modern economists are flimflam to dress up a commonplace observation, known since the ancient world, that in times of shortage prices will rise and in times of glut they will fall. That was known to all the classical economists including Marx. Nothing testable is added by claiming these curves exist, they are nonoperational, rather they serve an ideological function. They allow the commonplace to be dressed up in maths giving it a sciency feel. So I agree with some of your comments, but think you are too generous to the economists.

          • If we then see a different coordinate pair of price and quantity at a later time, we could then deduce what the previous supply curve would have been to give us both coordinate pairs, if we assume that the demand curve did not change in the meantime, or we can deduce what the previous demand curve would have been to give us both coordinate pairs, if we assume that the supply curve did not change in the meantime.

            All of which is standard neoclassical price theory, and has been for more than a century.

        • J Mann says:

          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.

          We may have a language problem.

          The neoclassical assumption is that most supply curves slope up rather than being horizontal or vertical, and that (IIRC) most slope up more sharply in the short run than in the long run. Is your view that supply curves are generally horizontal in the long run?

          • Is your view that supply curves are generally horizontal in the long run?

            There are two contending factors to consider.

            One is the introduction of more and more marginal lands in the production of commodities and their raw inputs, which will tend to push the supply curve for a commodity slightly up over time (i.e. a larger aggregate quantity of a commodity will only be produced if the commodity’s “natural price” increases to account for the increased socially-necessary labor-time for each unit of the commodity).

            The other factor is Marx’s assumption (borrowed from Adam Smith, unless I am not mistaken) that a larger scale of production will enable a more complex division of labor to be used and for more automation and productive techniques to be employed, such that a sustained increase in demand for a commodity at its natural price will lead to more productive techniques in that industry to be discovered and employed, which will decrease the socially-necessary labor-time needed to produce that commodity, which will lead to a lower “natural price,” at which point there may very well be even more demand for the commodity at this new “natural price,” which may lead to an even-larger scale of production with a finer division of labor, more automation, etc. Or perhaps not, if there are practical limits, unique to each industry and each time period’s level of science and technology, for the possibilities of making production more efficient through increasing scale. Obviously there could be counter-examples where trying to increase the scale of production might lead to less efficiency (although I think it would be safe to say that Marx generally assumed that, by default, there was a bias towards more centralized production on a larger scale being more efficient…as the railroads, steel industries, German chemical industries, and other concentrated industries of his time period could attest to).

            I can’t confidently say, as a general case, which of these contending factors should overpower the other to give the “supply curve” its final shape. If Marx gives a general formula for this, I am not aware of it. My guess is that Marx would say the supply curve of each commodity would vary based on their dependence on non-renewable resources coming out of increasingly marginal lands + technical possibilities of making each type of production more efficient through increasing scale.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.