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Open Thread 122.5

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645 Responses to Open Thread 122.5

  1. DinoNerd says:

    On the topic of the powers that be arranging thing to give more to those who already have more: 401K vs IRA contribution limits. If you work for the right kind of employer, you are allowed to save more for retirement in a tax sheltered way. If not, well, sux to be you.

    Kind of similar to the unfortunate 2 tier system of health insurance – thru the workplace always cheaper/better than individually purchased. (And that’s even if the employer passes on all costs, and even without the different tax treatment.)

    Both examples USA. I live there.

    • Nornagest says:

      These days even the retail workers I meet have 401Ks, although that might not be true everywhere. The single biggest subsidy to middle-class+ people that I can think of is the mortgage interest deduction.

    • S_J says:

      I’m not sure how the rules for 401(k) can be considered to give more (or give more tax credits) to those who already have more money.

      Since you appear to be talking about the U.S. Tax code, and I live in the U.S. (and do my own taxes)… Tax laws/regulations make it hard to take advantage of both 401(k) and IRA during the same tax year.

      Any taxpayer whose income rises above a certain cut-off, and who has put money into a 401(k), cannot deduct IRA contributions from their taxable income.

      I discovered this because I had put contributions into my IRA, then switched employment status and got some 401(k) coverage late in the year. When doing taxes for that year, I discovered that my IRA contributions may not be deductible.

      For taxpayers who only use one or the other, the deduction is helpful. I’m not sure I would classify it as giving more money those who already have above-average money. My understanding of income tax is that IRS rules are a confusing mess, and some rules hurt above-average incomes and provide benefits to below-average incomes; other rules provide little benefit to those with below-average incomes and much benefit to those with above-average incomes.

      Per @Nornagest’s comments, a larger subsidy (hidden as a deduction that can be applied to Adjusted Gross Income before taxes are computed) is the mortgage interest deduction. A related deduction is the deduction of Local/State property taxes.

      Both of these deductions have a smaller max-deductible value this year, compared to previous tax years.

      In my eyes, that hurts people who are at the very top of the income scale, but I’m not sure about reckoning the total impact on all portions of the tax-paying public.

      • DinoNerd says:

        The difference I see is that those with well paying jobs get 401Ks, with their higher limits, and additional tax free employer match (raising the limit farther – one can in principle take less salary and more match, thereby getting even more of one’s compensation in a tax-delayed form). And those with lower paying or generally lesser jobs get stuck with the far-lower-limit IRAs.

        This is rather like US health insurance. Legally, I’m sure low wage employers can have medical plans, or 401Ks – but they don’t. So the person who already has low pay, gets to buy health insurance at higher prices, and do it with after tax dollars besides.

        It should be a legally level playing field whether you save for retirement inside or outside of a company plan. And ditto for whether you buy health insurance through your employer or as a singleton.

        You’ll *still* tend to get higher prices as a singleton, for a bunch of financially reasonable reasons. But the tax code shouldn’t be making things worse.

        For the same reason, the total limit of employee match + personal contribution should be the same for all tax sheltered retirement plans. If you have a 401K from a cheapskate employer (little or no match) you should be allowed to make up that difference yourself. You’ll still tend to get better choices of investment and lesser fees with a good employer plan, but the tax code shouldn’t be increasing the disparity.

        [Afterthought: I think part of the no health plan, no 401K thing may also relate to the size of the employer. Smaller employers are less likely to have either. Certainly I got stuck without a 401k the last time I worked for a startup, even as a highly compensated kind of tech employee, though they did have adequate health insurance.)

      • Nornagest says:

        You can, however, contribute up to the max in a regular 401K and then contribute up to the max in a Roth IRA, and reap the Roth’s tax benefits when you withdraw from it in retirement. Not sure if you can do the same with a Roth 401K and a standard IRA.

  2. Winja says:

    I’m not nearly as smart as a lot of the folks here, and I haven’t read Scott’s Moloch post in awhile, but I was struck by a thought the other day.

    It seems that the overarching theme with the concept of “Moloch” is that you can sort of define it as when a system stops working in favor of some stated end goal, but rather becomes an end in and of itself, to the exclusion of all other things, including the original end goal.

    Thoughts?

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Moloch is the god of coordination problems.

      • Winja says:

        I should have probably re-read Scott’s essay before posting.

      • albatross11 says:

        Moloch is the god of optimizing systems getting so good they optimize out everything but their objective function. If we ever get superhuman AI turning us all into paperclips, it’ll be an instance of Moloch.

        Fortunately, we have an unintentional ally in his idiot brother Bollock, the god of optimizing for the wrong thing by mistake. Molloch would turn all life into ruthless self-copying hegemonizing swarms; Bollock sticks his, er, hand in, and suddenly you’ve got peacocks competing on how ridiculously overlarge their tails can get, flowers competing on spectacular pollenator-target displays, etc.

  3. ProbablyMatt says:

    Saw this article today and thought it was cool to see adversarial collaborations being used in scientific research. Don’t remember if Scott had this or similar projects as inspiration, but figured readers would be interested.

  4. 2181425 says:

    Apologies if this is a repeat, but on This Week in Nominative Determinism it was announced that the new president of Nintendo America is set to be Doug Bowser.

    link text

  5. Edward Scizorhands says:

    What are good/reputable carbon offset companies? I may be looking to buy some offsets.

    For a rough value of “reputable” I want something where the firm is not selling the same offset to multiple people.

    For a rough value of “good” I want something where an additional unit of offset I purchase actually ends up removing some carbon.

  6. S_J says:

    Saw something a little more than a week ago.

    A conservative-leaning publication writes an article the effects of Voter-ID rules inside the United States. The headline of the article is Study Finds Voter ID Requirements Don’t Repress Minority Votes.

    The executive summary of the linked paper, from the National Bureau of Economic Research, is

    U.S. states increasingly require identification to vote – an ostensive attempt to deter fraud that prompts complaints of selective disenfranchisement. Using a difference-in-differences design on a 1.3-billion-observations panel, we find the laws have no negative effect on registration or turnout, overall or for any group defined by race, gender, age, or party affiliation. These results hold through a large number of specifications and cannot be attributed to mobilization against the laws, measured by campaign contributions and self-reported political engagement. ID requirements have no effect on fraud either – actual or perceived. Overall, our results suggest that efforts to reform voter ID laws may not have much impact on elections.

    I find this interesting.

    The usual narrative of politics around voting in the United States is that Voter-ID laws are either (A) intended to suppress minority votes, and/or (B) a useful tool for combating voting fraud.

    If those laws don’t have an effect on either part of the narrative, is there any argument left either for, or against, laws about Voter ID?

    • J Mann says:

      You can still argue both sides based on confidence in elections or effects in specific elections.

      (1) Even granting that the study is valid and replicable and that there are no significant effects from voter ID laws overall, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t specific cases of either (a) people who want to vote but don’t as a result of the law or (b) people who vote fraudulently as a result of the law not being in place.

      If you think that any discouraged votes or fradulent votes are too many, then you may have an opinion on the law.

      (2) Even if the law doesn’t have a measurable effect in either direction, it’s possible that its existence or lack thereof may swing specific close elections.

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      One of the arguments on the right is that certain states, I guess California being #1 on this list, do not require enough verification before registering people to vote. Requiring a valid ID in order to vote is therefore a significant step up in ensuring only valid voters are able to vote.

      I don’t know if there is any real validity to the Republican contention. Part of the contention is that California wants more votes from invalid voters, and so they intentionally design the system to be unable to detect fraud. If true, then there would be (by design) no way to measure whether this happen or the effects of any potential remedy. Evidence that I have seen is along the lines of “there are more people registered to vote in X county than there are citizens/adults/population” but mostly in extremely partisan sources, so I take it with a grain of salt. It’s probably true, but the implications that the records are intentionally poor and that this results in illegal votes is far from proven. Again, since the accusation is that the inability to prove is the intention of California and other Democrat-controlled states, so the lack of proof is expected and can’t be held against the theory. Obviously this is a dubious method to determine reality.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        “there are more people registered to vote in X county than there are citizens/adults/population”

        That could be the case if only those legally entitled to vote were registered- emigrants (and descendants of emigrants) have to be registered to vote somewhere.

        Any US citizen who has ever lived in the US remains registered in the last place in the US where they lived (even if they were a minor when they left). Federal law states that these people have to be allowed to vote for Federal offices, including Senators and Representatives, though it is up to the states whether they can vote in state or local elections.

        US citizens who have never lived in the US can usually vote in the last place where their US citizen parent* lived. 37 states explicitly allow this (although many limit it to Federal elections), none explicitly forbid it. In the specific case of California, any US citizen living abroad who has never been registered to vote in any other state can register to vote in the California county where their parent, guardian, spouse or civil partner would be eligible to vote.

        So if Alice was born in the UK to parents who emigrated from New Jersey (which has no law allowing foreign-born children of its former residents to vote), lived there her whole life, and married Bob who had lived in California (or who was born in the UK to Californian parents!), she would be able to register and vote in California.

        *It is rarely possible for a US citizen who has never lived in the US to pass on their citizenship to their children who also don’t live in the US.

    • Dan L says:

      Boring answer would be that they controlled away the dependant variables. Got a version of the study that isn’t paywalled?

    • Protagoras says:

      Election data is extremely noisy, so an effect could be meaningful without being sufficient to stand out from the noise in a study like this.

    • JonathanD says:

      I’m glad to hear it, but I’d point out that the study doesn’t actually address (A). Whether or not these laws are intended to suppress minority votes is independent of whether or not they’re successful. And if they are so intended (as the courts found in the North Carolina case) then they should be struck down. (A better solution would be the electorate recoiling from such efforts and punishing people who voted for them, but that doesn’t seem to be on offer.)

      • acymetric says:

        For what its worth regarding the North Carolina case, not only did the courts find that they were intended to suppress minority votes, but some republican representatives openly said that was the goal.

        • EchoChaos says:

          I will politely suggest that striking down a facially neutral law because a politician said a bad thing is a terrible precedent that needs to be never ever used.

          Would liberals who are cheering the striking down of this voter ID law be happy if all gun control laws were struck down because Dianne Feinstein has said she’s in favor of total confiscation?

          Or add your own idea about abortion/immigration/etc.

          Politicians’ statements should have precisely zero effect on “is a law Constitutional”.

          • acymetric says:

            I didn’t say those comments were the sole reason the law was struck down, I was just noting that they were made (to inform people who may not be aware of NC politics).

            That said, your examples don’t fit because they all sound more like slippery slope issues (why would you strike down a law that doesn’t involve total confiscation just because someone said they would support a separate law that does?), where this was a yes/no question (was it racially motivated?) where the answer had a clear impact on constitutionality.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Sure, there are some abortion advocates who have made statements about the fact that a higher percentage of black babies than white are aborted (true fact).

            Does that mean that abortion should be illegalized?

          • acymetric says:

            You’re still missing the point. It isn’t a question of whether it disproportionately impacts a certain group, it is whether it was intended to do so. The same applies for drawing districts, you can have districts that show some racial segregation, but they become illegal if race was a primary criteria in drawing the districts (as opposed to the distribution being the result of using non-race related criteria).

            These are specific laws regarding elections…you can’t just apply them to anything else you want and your example still falls flat because disproportionate impact != intent to have disproportionate impact. The fact that there is disproportionate impact where none was intended may well be a good reason to revisit current laws, but does not make them illegal.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @acymetric

            That is exactly my point. If a facially neutral law has a disparate impact, that is certainly something that can be discussed about how to mitigate it.

            But whether or not the framers of the law INTENDED a disparate impact is irrelevant to whether the law should be allowed.

            but they become illegal if race was a primary criteria in drawing the districts

            This is untrue. You are in fact required to have majority-minority districts under the Civil Rights Act.

            So to get back to it, New York just passed a law legalizing late-term abortions. If the demography of late term abortions matches the demography of abortions overall, this will have a disparate impact on black babies.

            If (hypothetically) one of the representatives who voted for it said that she voted for it because she hates blacks and is happy black babies are being aborted, should that law be overturned?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Without taking a particular side, if the governing court ruling is about intent, then intent matters.

            If the governing court ruling of gun regulation was that gun regulation cannot be done if the purpose is to confiscate all guns, then finding out Feinstein said it was done to confiscate all guns would be relevant.

          • acymetric says:

            Thanks, that’s what I’ve (possibly ineffectively) been trying to get at.

          • Nicholas Weininger says:

            You’ll be unsurprised to know that at least some of us libertarianish types would happily take the other horn of that dilemma and strike down gun control laws whose proponents explicitly intended them to get around/undermine 2A protections etc. On abortion, it would certainly give me pause if you actually found a prominent political supporter of liberalizing abortion rights who openly said, or clearly insinuated, that their goal was to decrease the fraction of black people in future generations; I’m not aware of anyone who has done that, and it really does make a difference whether the person expressing such a sentiment is a random activist (you can find random activists on all sides of any issue expressing all sorts of terrible intentions) or one of the elected officials who actually helps write the law and gets it passed.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Edward Scizorhands

            Which is why I said it’s a terrible precedent. The fact that courts make dumb precedents is hardly new to me.

            @Nicholas Weininger

            That was one of Margaret Sanger’s explicit goals. I don’t know how much you’re aware of white supremacists, but most of them are overtly pro-abortion for that exact reason. Richard Spenser, to use the most odious of them these days.

            In terms of elected officials, most of them are wise enough to not say things that obviously, of course. I genuinely don’t know how they feel, not that it changes my mind much.

          • JulieK says:

            “Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.”
            Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Interview in The New York Times Magazine, July 7, 2009.

          • ProbablyMatt says:

            I agree it is terrible precedent, but AFAIK it is the precedent favored by conservative federal judges. The idea being that it is harder to prove that a law was passed with racist intent than that a law has disparate impact on particular racial groups.

          • Nicholas Weininger says:

            @EchoChaos

            I would respectfully suggest that what Margaret Sanger believed a hundred years ago is very unlikely to have much to do with what abortion-rights advocates– and especially, with what pro-choice elected officials– believe today, and that the “white supremacists are pro-abortion” argument is on an epistemological level with “Hitler was a vegetarian”.

            There is also, of course, the key distinction between imposing and loosening restrictions on private conduct (between, for example, coercive state-led eugenics and reducing legal restrictions on abortion). I think interrogation of motives is much more important and justified in the former case, but then of course I as a libertarian-leaner would think that.

        • J Mann says:

          @acymetric – Can you cite to the comments and law you are thinking of?

          NC is such a mess that it’s hard to separate voter ID from district lines from Sunday voting from ….

          • acymetric says:

            Ok, so I did have my wires slightly crossed (although I was mostly correct).

            The comment about targeting black voters was made in reference to ending Sunday voting specifically (which was a part of the Voter ID law but technically the comment wasn’t in reference to the ID portion itself so I was like half to 3/4 right). This statement was actually made in court defending the law. Link (I can’t find a non-snopes article…I’m probably just not looking hard enough). Quoted from court documents during the proceedings, more text available in an image embedded in a tweet on the page:

            The State then elaborated on its justification, explaining that “counties with Sunday voting in 2014 were disproportionately black”

            For the voter ID law, the comments were that it was intentionally targeting likely Democratic voters (implicitly minorities and the elderly, but I was incorrect that they explicitly stated it in this case). The offender was Don Yelton, who later resigned and tried to recant his statement, presumably because while it was true it wasn’t a very tactful thing to admit when you are trying to pass the ID law under the guise of preventing fraud (as opposed to preventing legitimate voters from your opposition from voting). Link

            “The law is going to kick the Democrats in the butt,” Yelton said. “If it hurts a bunch of college kids too lazy to get up off their bohonkas and go get a photo ID, so be it. If it hurts a bunch of whites, so be it….If it hurts a bunch of lazy blacks that want the government to give them everything, so be it.”

            (I don’t know anything about Deadline, so you can skip the analysis/spin in the article if you’d like but the quote is real)

            Here is another article with some additional choice quotes from the interview. To their credit, the Republican party forced Yelton to resign, but conventional wisdom around North Carolina is that it had a lot more to do with saying it in public than that he was alone among NC legislators in sharing those views.

          • Garrett says:

            My poor understanding of the “Sunday voting helps black folks” argument is that they were claiming they were attempting to remedy a disparate impact.

            The problem here isn’t so much “government hates black people” so much as “disparate impact doctrine is incoherent”.

          • J Mann says:

            @acymetric – thanks, I appreciate it.

            It’s interesting that the VRA makes voting procedures something of a one-way ratchet. You can institute a change that increases minority representation, but they’re pretty difficult to undo, so no one is required to institute Sunday voting, but once you do, you can’t undo it.

      • S_J says:

        One thing that I find strange about the North Carolina case is that the Voter ID law in question was a referendum on a State Constitutional amendment.

        The attitudes and intentions of the Legislators who drafted the amendment and put it before the State voters may be dispositive, but the amendment itself was approved by a State-wide vote, not by the Legislature.

        From one news article I read, the Judge’s finding is phrased in a problematic way: the State Legislature was an unconstitutionally-gerrymandered body, so State Constitution amendments that were proposed by the Legislature and passed State-wide elections are invalid.

        Admittedly, the proposed amendments needed 2/3 majority in State Legislature to pass, and then a majority of the State-wide popular vote. Thus, the 2/3 majory may not have been achieved with a different, less-gerrymandered composition of the State Legislature.

        But does that mean that all Legislative acts of that Legislature are unconstitutional and invalid? Or only the ones that are challenged in Court in this way?

        • acymetric says:

          One thing that I find strange about the North Carolina case is that the Voter ID law in question was a referendum on a State Constitutional amendment.

          There are actually two separate Voter ID law controversies getting blended together here. I think based on context that JonathanD is talking about the Voter ID law which was introduced several years ago, and then struck down do to (more or less openly stated) intent to suppress minority votes. That is the law I am talking about in my sub-thread above.

          The Voter ID amendment was a second attempt at getting some kind of Voter ID requirement enacted, essentially an attempt to get around the “this is unconstitutional” problem by making it a part of the state constitution.

          From one news article I read, the Judge’s finding is phrased in a problematic way: the State Legislature was an unconstitutionally-gerrymandered body, so State Constitution amendments that were proposed by the Legislature and passed State-wide elections are invalid.

          As much as I am opposed to the Voter ID law (and even moreso to the idea of making it part of the state constitution), I had the same thought when I saw the ruling. I wish the judge had found a different (better) justification. Although, if I’m being honest, I would be mostly fine with throwing out all the laws passed by this legislature. I do think that this is in part the judicial branch punishing the legislature for trying to get out of redrawing the districts as ordered by the court.

          The whole amenment thing was wierd though, they had something like 8 proposed amendments on the ballot this year, in some weird attempt to weaken the executive, increase turnout of Republican voters to support certain amendments, and codify Republican policy in the state constitution where it is virtually unchangeable before they lose power (although they’ll likely still be the majority) after the districts are redrawn and as NC continues to go purple. I found all of this pretty distasteful, but my biggest gripe is learning how the amendment process works here.

          I don’t know if this is the typical process…but at the time we voted on the amendments, they hadn’t been written yet. Is that normal?

          “Constitutional amendment to establish an eight-member Bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement to administer ethics and elections law.”

          As an example. This is to replace the existing 9 member board…but there is nothing about how they intend to do it, how the new board will function, etc. Shouldn’t amendments be fully written before being put to public vote? How do other states do it?

          “Constitutional amendment to require voters to provide photo identification before voting in person.”

          Leading up to the election, it was stated that “additional legislation to work out specifics of the law, requirements, and enforcement would be written later”. Umm…what!? That just seems crazy to me…but maybe this is totally normal and acceptable.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            Leading up to the election, it was stated that “additional legislation to work out specifics of the law, requirements, and enforcement would be written later”. Umm…what!? That just seems crazy to me…but maybe this is totally normal and acceptable.

            This seems very unusual to me as well. It sounds like maybe they ran out of time to actually write the thing before deadline? Or couldn’t agree on the language in time at least.

            As far as legal – I suppose anything passed by such overwhelming majorities would naturally be legal, unless it was specifically disallowed by the Constitution. Still not a good way to go about such things.

    • BBA says:

      In the abstract, there are perfectly valid arguments for poll taxes and literacy tests. But given how they were historically used in the US, nobody wants to be seen trying to reinstate them. You have to pay a fee to get an ID card, so I consider voter ID a poll tax in practice, and I oppose it for the same reason I’m against direct poll taxes.

      Now if you’re really concerned about voter fraud, I’d consider borrowing a page from our neighbors to the south. In Mexico everyone is issued a photo ID upon registration to vote. This card is the only form of identification accepted when voting; it’s also the “standard” ID card used for most other purposes, much like driver’s licenses here in the US. The drawbacks are that Mexicans can’t register by mail or vote by mail like we can, but there are always trade-offs. Despite the many other things that are wrong with Mexican society, their elections are fair and free.

      • Clutzy says:

        The voter ID issue is a distraction. In every instance of successful voter fraud (see e.g. the carolina case or the 2013 west virginia case) it was through registration fraud, absentee fraud, OR ballot destruction, or a combination (most infamously Kennedy over Nixon in Illinois). Only deployed soldiers should be allowed to vote absentee.

        • Garrett says:

          How much effort has been put into detecting this? The Trump administration wanted to put together a panel on this and pretty much every State government told them to go pound sand. If the issue can’t be studied effectively, it’s hard to rule in/out, no? FWIW, your statements match my intuitions and the data I’ve seen, but sometimes it really is worthwhile to study the “obvious” to make sure we are right.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Absentee ballots are definitely a much bigger issue. I am not sure I would go so far as to say “only deployed soldiers can vote absentee” but it is a super ripe area for fraud.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            I think the system in the Netherlands is about right- AFAIK people can only apply to vote by mail if they are actually resident in another country (not necessarily for reasons of military/government service).

            People who are unable to vote in person for other reasons, including being temporarily in another country, are allowed to nominate a proxy who lives in the Netherlands to vote on their behalf. Nobody is allowed to act as a voting proxy for more than two other people.

            (Also, Dutch citizens living abroad don’t get to vote in provincial elections, which means they have no input on the composition of the Senate).

      • S_J says:

        Some states (including my own home State) have allowances for no-cost-ID for those who cannot afford the fees for a State ID. There are also fallback methods for those who don’t have an ID, but who are on the registered-voter list.

        Do all Voter-ID laws have such allowances?

        If these allowances are used, does that weaken the argument that Voter ID is effectively a poll tax?

        • Mr. Doolittle says:

          The courts have consistently required free IDs and alternate methods of proving eligibility, across states. It is precisely because of the problems of poll taxes that these provisions are required, and so they are built into every successful Voter ID law.

          • BBA says:

            I believe that it was Indiana that legislated a free ID but forbade the DMV from telling anyone about it. Unless you knew the law and specifically asked for the free ID, the DMV would charge you the fee.

            This may technically get around the requirements of the 24th Amendment but to me it still stinks.

          • albatross11 says:

            BBA:

            That is indeed shitty. Was the goal to try to suppress the poor voters without quite running afoul of the courts?

          • Gobbobobble says:

            That is indeed shitty. Was the goal to try to suppress the poor voters without quite running afoul of the courts?

            I don’t know but my prior is pretty strongly weighted toward simply protecting a revenue stream they were pissy about losing.

  7. albatross11 says:

    This Huffington Post article is pretty interesting. If you rewrote it by making the substitutions “white”->”Jewish” and “black”->”white”, you would have an article that could appear on Stormfr-nt, but that would not be publishable in any mainstream US media outlet. If you wrote a parallel article by a white guy detailing various ways he’s upset about hispanics somehow causing his bad economic outcomes (lowering wages for native-born whites, raising crime rates, worsening schools), it would similarly be an unpublishable-in-mainstream-outlets Trumpist screed.

    Of course, a freewheeling intellectual discussion can include anything, including this (kinda dismal) article. But it’s kind-of striking, to me, that the same folks who are very concerned with “noticing the skulls” and suppressing socially-disruptive discussions when they’re intellectual discussions between Sam Harris and Charles Murray about IQ statistics, don’t seem to be too concerned about this kind of (common as dirt) article. I mean, I know there’s some special pleading intellectual argument about how stirring up racial animosity directed at whites isn’t really socially destructive or something[1], but still, this feels very much like an isolated demand for rigor, or at least for the careful consideration of the social consequences of your arguments.

    [1] From FBI hate crime statistics from 2017, about 10% of reported hate crimes were motivated by racial hatred of whites, so it’s hard to argue that stirring up this kind of racial animosity doesn’t sometimes lead to bad outcomes.

    • baconbits9 says:

      The two things I found interesting are that the author is lumping herself in with the poor minorities who can’t afford to buy houses, but (by profile picture) is very white and apparently college educated, and that the author thinks it is going to garner her favor by attacking sacred things held by her ‘allies’. She criticizes her colleagues parents for getting married, buying a house and having life insurance, what next complain that they don’t spend to much money and save? Complain that they are going to take care of their own children well? Oh wait, she actually does that last one!

      • Well... says:

        Maybe it’s a lambsblood thing. The author precipitates anticipates there will come a time when “they” come for her, so she’s smearing lamb’s blood on her doorposts so the reckoning will pass over her house.

        • baconbits9 says:

          It sounds more like resentment to me, its become OK to bash the people, and types of people, that she doesn’t like and she is taking the opportunity. There is obvious bitterness about her economic station (at some point in her life) and probably unhappiness about some portion of her family.

        • Plumber says:

          @Well…
          In the essay you linked to you mention “Black Lives Matter” signs put up by whites, for what little it’s worth during my daily commute I drive through both majority black and majority white neighborhoods and I see far more “Black Lives Matter” signs in majority white neighborhoods than black ones (in majority black neighborhoods I see more “Jesus is Lord” signs), I’m reminded of a New York Times essay titled The Democrats’ Left Turn Is Not an Illusion which I’ll quote from:

          “…From 2001 to 2018, the share of Democratic voters who describe themselves as liberal has grown from 30 to 50 percent, according to data provided by Lydia Saad, a senior editor at the Gallup Poll.

          The percentage of Democrats who say they are moderate has fallen from 44 to 35; the percentage of self-identified conservative Democrats has gone from 25 to 13 percent.

          Well-educated whites, especially white women, are pushing the party decisively leftward. According to Gallup, the share of white Democrats calling themselves liberal on social issues has grown since 2001 from 39 to 61 percent. Because of this growth, white liberals are now roughly 40 percent of all Democratic voters.

          While a substantial percentage of Democratic minorities identify as liberals, those percentages have not been growing at anywhere near the rate that they have for white Democrats, so blacks and Hispanics have not contributed significantly to the rising percentage of self-identified Democratic liberals. Over the past 17 years, for example, the percentage of black Democrats who identify themselves as liberals grew by a modest three percentage points, according to both Gallup and the Pew Research Center.

          In fact, white liberals are well to the left of the black electorate on some racial issues.

          Take the issue of discrimination as a factor holding back African-American advancement. White liberals are to the left of black Democrats, placing a much stronger emphasis than African-Americans on the role of discrimination and much less emphasis on the importance of individual effort.

          Among white liberals, according to Pew survey data collected in 2017, 79.2 percent agreed that “racial discrimination is the main reason why many black people can’t get ahead these days.” 18.8 percent agreed that “blacks who can’t get ahead in this country are mostly responsible for their own condition,” a 60.4 point difference, according to a detailed analysis of the Pew data provided the Times by Zach Goldberg, a doctoral candidate in political science at Georgia State University.

          Among blacks, 59.9 percent identified discrimination as the main deterrent to upward mobility for African-Americans, and 32.0 percent said blacks were responsible for their condition — in other words, blacks are more conservative than white liberals on this issue…”

          I assume that the author of the Huffpost essay being discussed falls into this pattern, a white person decrying other white people isn’t new or even very notable (I must admit that I only skimmed the Huffpost piece, the jist of which basically seemed to me to be “Rich people who are white use their wealth to stay rich”, a blindingly obvious statement along the lines of “cats go meow, cows go moo”).

      • JulieK says:

        The two things I found interesting are that the author is lumping herself in with the poor minorities who can’t afford to buy houses, but (by profile picture) is very white and apparently college educated

        Scott makes a similar point in I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup:

        Around the time the Ferguson riots were first starting, there were a host of articles with titles like Why White People Don’t Seem To Understand Ferguson, Why It’s So Hard For Whites To Understand Ferguson, and White Folks Listen Up And Let Me Tell You What Ferguson Is All About […]

        And on a hunch I checked the author photos, and every single one of these articles was written by a white person.

    • Randy M says:

      I mean, I know there’s some intellectual argument about how stirring up racial animosity directed at whites isn’t really socially destructive or something

      We’ve had arguments here before about how wantonly using terms like white privilege and racism is dangerous; how when you rule one class of arguments off-limits for racial gaps it makes society look unfairly malevolent. I don’t want to unfairly characterize the counter argument, but it seems to me to be something to the effect of “minorities have never done anything as bad as Nazis or Jim Crow” and “whites will always have the power in the West even as they are no longer a majority” so worry about hate directed towards them is just getting in the way of actual progress and justice. Needless to say, I don’t find these arguments comforting.

      From FBI hate crime statistics from 2017, about 10% of reported hate crimes were motivated by racial hatred of whites, so it’s hard to argue that stirring up this kind of racial animosity doesn’t sometimes lead to bad outcomes.

      I wonder what the numbers look like if you compare actual prosecution criminal convictions rather than reports.

      • albatross11 says:

        I don’t know enough to be sure, but my impression is that it’s really hard to come by those numbers–someone has to specially count them, since nobody is automatically collecting and reporting them.

    • J Mann says:

      It’s a bit Harrison Bergeron of a solution, but it takes an observed fact – that stable family formation is a major factor in economic success – and implies that the solution is to prevent white people from forming stable families. (Or I guess, if I read it more generously, that since white people disproportionately tend to have stable families, they have an obligation to engage in more wealth transfers to groups who tend not to.)

      I haven’t read it, but my understanding is that Murray wrote a book a while back arguing that family formation and cultural habits are very important across racial groups – that poor whites tend to have unstable family structures and wealthy POC tend to have stable ones.

      • Mr. Doolittle says:

        Or I guess, if I read it more generously, that since white people disproportionately tend to have stable families, they have an obligation to engage in more wealth transfers to groups who tend not to.

        I would tend to believe that this, rather than a less generous interpretation (despite potentially being more valid based on the actual arguments) is the real goal. The problem is that there are people who make genuinely bad life decisions, and we want to discourage, as a society, such decisions. We also want to encourage good life decisions. I don’t know how we can make systematic wealth transfers to poorly performing demographic groups without discouraging good behavior or encouraging bad behavior. We can, and I believe should, make sure that opportunities are fully available to all people. This will result in poor whites and poor blacks receiving less, and since there are more poor blacks than there are poor whites (proportionally), we will see a larger share of black citizens performing more poorly, even absent any discrimination or any inherent differences in populations other than relative wealth. This appears to be a very difficult problem to solve, without throwing merit out the window.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          An easy solution would be to focus on policies helping poor people specifically, while being race and gender blind (if you ask me, all policies should be race and gender blind out of general principle, but that’s a different discussion).

          Problem is political will. “Poor people” is not a tribe – people don’t identify as poor, and definitely don’t feel like they belong to a “poor people’s club”. So unlikely to be a good electoral bet. Minorities on the other hand, much easier to sell things to, politically.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            An easy solution would be to focus on policies helping poor people specifically, while being race and gender blind (if you ask me, all policies should be race and gender blind out of general principle, but that’s a different discussion).

            I agree with this approach, but it seems to be as far from a solution to the article as possible. Not only does it fail to lift black people up relative to other races, but it will have the natural result of hiding black poverty in a larger discussion. Again, I think both of those things may do more good than harm, but the people writing articles like the HP in the first post will find your solution the opposite of helpful.

          • Aapje says:

            Helping poor people will lift up black people more, since a larger percentage of black people are poor.

        • Guy in TN says:

          I don’t know how we can make systematic wealth transfers to poorly performing demographic groups without discouraging good behavior or encouraging bad behavior. We can, and I believe should, make sure that opportunities are fully available to all people. This will result in poor whites and poor blacks receiving less

          One way to approach this, is to view inheritance is a systematic wealth transfer. Letting private actors transfer wealth doesn’t ensure that they go to “better performing” groups (however that is defined) anymore that state transfers do.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Inheritance is a voluntary wealth transfer, though.

            The fact that most fathers choose to leave their wealth to their children doesn’t mean that all do. Leaving someone out of the will is a cliche.

          • Guy in TN says:

            I don’t understand your argument here. A private entity can choose to transfer money to someone or not, based on a certain set of privately-set criteria. And the state can choose to give welfare to people or not, based on a certain set of legally-set criteria.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Guy in TN

            Because the state takes the wealth involuntarily first in order to transfer it, and does so without concern as to objections the individual has.

            I have an objection to my wealth being transferred to atheists or homosexuals, for example. I suspect you’d be just as willing to object to transferring yours to my church.

            “But I can get the votes to do my transfer” isn’t a moral principle.

          • baconbits9 says:

            One way to approach this, is to view inheritance is a systematic wealth transfer. Letting private actors transfer wealth doesn’t ensure that they go to “better performing” groups (however that is defined) anymore that state transfers do.

            You have to make a bunch of unsupported assumptions to hold this position. If any of the following are true then the point doesn’t hold.

            1. People will consume more of their resources if their inheritance will be transferred to people not of their choosing.
            2. Heirs, through similar genetics and environments, are more similar to the person who controlled the money in their lifetime than a random person.
            3. People leaving inheritances won’t put stipulations on the use of the inheritance or the conditions for receiving it, including expectations of behavior while they still live.
            4. Heirs receiving an inheritance from a relative will treat the money differently than a person receiving money from a faceless bureaucracy.
            5. Heirs receiving a one time payout will act differently from someone who expects a multi year payout.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @EchoChaos

            Because the state takes the wealth involuntarily first in order to transfer it, and does so without concern as to objections the individual has.

            It’s true that the state exercising/maintaining it legal right to the wealth is involuntary for those who disagree with their actions. But that’s true for private entities who exercise/maintain legal rights to wealth as well.

            @baconbits9
            Remember that per Mr. Doolittle’s initial post, that we are talking about “good life decisions” here. That open-ended moral question is how we are judging “good behavior” in that context.

            So, for example, your third objection:

            People leaving inheritances won’t put stipulations on the use of the inheritance or the conditions for receiving it, including expectations of behavior while they still live.

            is certainly true. People do put stipulations on how wealth is used, of course. But if I think those stipulations encourage bad behavior (defined by my own moral beliefs), then government transfers would be superior from my perspective.

            I’m guessing your response is to a concept of “better performing” that is defined in some other way that in relation to morality, which is why your objections come across as non-sequitur to me, so I don’t feel the need to go through them systematically..

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Guy in TN

            It’s true that the state exercising/maintaining it legal right to the wealth is involuntary for those who disagree with their actions. But that’s true for private entities who exercise/maintain legal rights to wealth as well.

            I have no idea what you’re saying here. How is it involuntary to maintain legal rights to your wealth? Are you implying that preventing someone from taking my wealth is equivalent to taking my wealth in your moral system?

          • Guy in TN says:

            @EchoChaos

            How is it involuntary to maintain legal rights to your wealth?

            The state has a legal right to the wealth it taxes. Are you saying it is “involuntary” for them to maintain this right?

            Are you implying that preventing someone from taking my wealth is equivalent to taking my wealth in your moral system?

            Context-free, sure, as long as your act of “preventing” is a legally-allowed mechanism that prevents the transfer (e.g. a tax deduction). The “preventing” and the “taking” are both just mechanisms our society uses to allocate resources, devoid of moral content.

          • JulieK says:

            If you tried to outlaw inheritance, people (especially rich people) would figure out some work-around (trusts, life insurance, passing on most of the money while alive, etc.).

          • Guy in TN says:

            I’m aware that all laws have a less than 100% enforcement rate.

            This applies to private law as well (e.g. the enforcement of property).

          • Guy in TN says:

            Its true tho that if your goal is to “make sure that opportunities are fully available to all people” as Mr. Doolittle says, equalizing inheritance alone is not sufficient, it’s just a necessary step. Private transfers while people are still alive is also a big hurdle.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Guy in TN

            Ah, you hold the position that creating something doesn’t grant you the right to keep that something. I find that morally abominable, but at least I understand it.

            Our axioms are too different to come to any accommodation.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @baconbits9
            Remember that per Mr. Doolittle’s initial post, that we are talking about “good life decisions” here. That open-ended moral question is how we are judging “good behavior” in that context.

            I don’t see how this changes my point.

          • The Red Foliot says:

            @EchoChaos
            Governments create the ability to take people’s wealth. Sugar barons also create the ability to take people’s wealth. One way is painless, the other involves addicting billions of people to harmful products and thereby engendering much pain. It is more just for the government to take money.

            Also, there would be no sugar barons without the government’s enforcement of property rights, so sugar barons cannot be said to be creating their wealth alone. They are creating wealth with the complicity of government. If government then requires payment for this service, that is to be considered part of the deal. Nobody is forcing the sugar barons to accept the deal. Sugar barons would not exist without the government’s complicity.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @The Red Foliet

            Sugar barons also create the ability to take people’s wealth. One way is painless, the other involves addicting billions of people to harmful products and thereby engendering much pain. It is more just for the government to take money.

            “Creating a good that people give wealth for” is such a non-central usage of the word “take” that we’re not even speaking the same language.

            Also, there would be no sugar barons without the government’s enforcement of property rights, so sugar barons cannot be said to be creating their wealth alone.

            Again, our axioms are hilariously different here. Wealth is created with or without the influence of government. All a government does is prevent the involuntary confiscation of someone else’s wealth unless the government does it.

            Nobody is forcing the sugar barons to accept the deal.

            They very much are. If the sugar baron tried to not give their wealth to the government, the government will send men with guns to take the wealth.

          • The Red Foliot says:

            “Creating a good that people give wealth for” is such a non-central usage of the word “take” that we’re not even speaking the same language.

            So what is your non-semantic objection? If people hook other people on drugs, such that the drug-addicted people are psychologically compelled to give up their money for no benefit to themselves, how is that a better state of affairs then people simply skipping the drug-addiction step and just straight up taking the money?

            Again, our axioms are hilariously different here. Wealth is created with or without the influence of government. All a government does is prevent the involuntary confiscation of someone else’s wealth unless the government does it.

            I didn’t say that wealth isn’t created. I said specifically that sugar barons wouldn’t exist. Sugar barons have no practical alternative in our world. An ethos that only works in the case that they do have a practical alternative is not an ethos that could work in our world. Your ethos is one that could only work hypothetically and so cannot be used to resolve the practical concerns in the world we have now.

            Nobody is forcing the sugar barons to accept the deal.

            They very much are. If the sugar baron tried to not give their wealth to the government, the government will send men with guns to take the wealth.

            The deal is that the sugar barons get to utilize the land provided to them by the government in return for taxes. To not accept the deal doesn’t mean to utilize the land and then not pay taxes; it means not to utilize the land at all. That is the freedom the sugar barons have, and it is the same freedom which the workers employed by the sugar barons have, so that sugar barons are party to the same rights as everyone else; the same rights that everyone else would have even in a libertarian utopia.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            Sugar Barons

            It may be prudent to elaborate on what you mean by “Sugar Baron” as the underlying assumptions seem to be very relevant to the conversation. I am somewhat familiar with the history of sugar monopolies, but the conversation seems to hinge on additional details, and certainly some baseline understanding of the history of sugar barons that is not common knowledge.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @EchoChaos

            If “if you created it, you can keep it” is your moral axiom, I don’t see how this is an argument in favor of inheritance. Surely we can both agree that the recipient of the inheritance did not create it himself?

            @BaconBits9
            I don’t understand any of your points then. Flesh one out to its logical endpoint and maybe we can banter about it. By themselves they just read as non-sequiters to me.

          • The Red Foliot says:

            @Mr. Doolittle
            I just mean people who sell sugar and sugary products. I believe in the theory of the hedonic treadmill and so take it as a prior that sugar provides no long-term net happiness, but that it does have addictive qualities and also damages a person’s health, so that it is strictly harmful to society for it to be marketed (in the same way that hard drugs would be). A sugar ‘baron’, as I say, would then be in err of taking people’s wealth by preying on their psychological compulsions. Deriving money for their product but not providing any benefit with it. The only moral distinction I see between them doing this and an entity taking people’s wealth through taxes, is that in the latter case there is no necessary harm being done, so that classifying them differently in terms of ‘in what way’ the people having their money ‘taken’ agreed to have their money ‘taken’ is merely a matter of semantics and not morality.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            If “if you created it, you can keep it” is your moral axiom, I don’t see how this is an argument in favor of inheritance. Surely we can both agree that the recipient of the inheritance did not create it himself?

            “You can keep it” necessarily means “you can do what you want with it”, including “you can give it to other people of your choosing”. This is standard among all property rights advocates, and consequently worth remembering as a key to understanding their arguments.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Guy in TN

            If “if you created it, you can keep it” is your moral axiom, I don’t see how this is an argument in favor of inheritance. Surely we can both agree that the recipient of the inheritance did not create it himself?

            “If you created it, you may dispose of it as you wish” is a better phrasing. If I wish to give all my wealth to my sons and daughters, then I may. If I wish instead to give it all to a charity focused on spreading the Gospel in China, I may.

            Why would that be an argument against inheritance? I created the wealth, I am giving it to my sons. The fact that they didn’t create it is no more relevant to the discussion than the fact the charity didn’t create it.

            If people can dispose of their wealth however they want, a substantial portion will give it to their children.

            As for “they didn’t earn it”, of course they did. They worked for the love of their parent to the degree that the parent gives them the money as opposed to giving it to a charity or blowing it on booze. As we’ve discussed, leaving someone out of the will or reducing their inheritance is a cliché because of how often it happens.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @The Red Foliot

            Ah, I now understand your objection. I am not a pure libertarian and have absolutely zero problem with banning problematic things.

            Although we might disagree on magnitude, banning sugary drinks that are too sweet, candy, etc. would be fine with me. Someone who profits off of something banned (cocaine farming, for example), I have zero moral issue with seizing that wealth and the government using it as the people wish.

            That’s not what we’re discussing in a general sense with inheritance.

            For example, Elon Musk has provided multiple services that he created of extreme value. He has five living children and is young enough he may have more. I believe he should be allowed to give them his wealth upon his death in whatever degree he sees fit.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Red: Possibly you’ve got some very specific grievance with “sugar barons”, in which case you probably shouldn’t be using them as generic examples of anything bigger.

            Otherwise, and taking “sugar barons” as a generic, it seems your argument is that anyone who offers for sale a luxury good not strictly necessary for human health and survival is committing an offense worse than armed robbery, in that they are both inflicting the harm of addictive hedonic adaption, and taking another’s wealth, property, or labour, whereas the “your money or your life!” crowd are at least offering the choice. This must necessarily leave all of humanity in abject but not quite starvation property, with you imagining all of them to be happy poor people because they haven’t hedonically adapted to any luxuries at all. And by process of elimination, all human wealth and productivity beyond not-quite-starvation poverty must be taken into the care of the government, to be expended wisely and prudently in a fashion I have no doubt you will be glad to prescribe for us. Have I got that about right?

            I’ll dedicate the Coke I’m drinking right now to you, and make quiet preparations for the conflict to come.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            @BaconBits9: I don’t understand any of your points then. Flesh one out to its logical endpoint and maybe we can banter about it. By themselves they just read as [non-sequiturs] to me.

            Would it help if you thought of it as a game, with moves?

            1. Alice embraces a strategy of producing high wealth, at the expense of much of her time, because it improves her quality of life, and later that of her daughter, Carol.
            2. Sally observes Alice’s wealth is high, and Patti’s wealth is low. Sally likes Patti, and believes some of Alice’s wealth would help Patti more than it would help Carol. Sally declares she’s willing to use force to stop Alice from transferring all her wealth to Carol.
            3. Learning that, Alice embraces an alternate strategy, of producing less wealth, at the expense of less of her time. That extra time is spent instead on hobbies that make Alice happier, since that extra time wouldn’t help Carol anymore. Alice and Carol are subsequently worse off, and Sally and Patti are not appreciably better off.

            This is basically a fleshing-out of baconbits9’s point 1. Similar game-theoretic applications illustrate points 2 through 5 – why they happen, and what happens as a result. In all cases, Sally fails to make Patti noticeably better off, and instead just makes Alice and Carol worse off.

          • The Red Foliot says:

            @EchoChaos
            I was originally objecting to what I thought was implied by this:

            Ah, you hold the position that creating something doesn’t grant you the right to keep that something. I find that morally abominable, but at least I understand it.

            Our axioms are too different to come to any accommodation

            I disagree with the moral philosophy which holds‘’rights’ as a worthwhile thing to uphold independent of anything else. To me, rights are merely a tool for practical benefit. If you thought that upholding property rights was useful for creating incentives and allowing capital to become compounded over time, I would agree with you. But so far as it’s a value unto itself, existing independently of outcome, which I took to be implied by your finding it ‘morally abominable’ (rather than pragmatically inadvisable), I find it pointless. The only moral axioms or ideals I agree with are those which place human happiness and dignity as their primary concern. The freedom ideal often subsumes those things in the interest of maximizing the somewhat nebulous concept of freedom of choice, and so I am against it. I am a mechanistic determinist and so do not think much of freedom of choice independent of the outcomes it brings. I have never been persuaded of its inherent desirability.

            @JohnSchilling
            You are in many ways correct about my overall worldview and ideals. However, I realize that an utterly rational and benign government is an impossibility and so accept the practical need for some, even most, of capitalism’s excesses. I do think, however, that libertarians often overstate how nonviable various socialistic enterprises are. I need only point to places like France and Scandinavia to show how viable some of them are. While I idealize a society of happy poor people, I readily accept a country more akin to Norway as a decent substitute. I think my main disagreement with libertarians is over their veneration of the nebulous freedom ideal. I do not find it persuasive or even coherent, and more often then not I suspect of being a mere excuse by them to argue for lower taxes, as many of them are rich.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @EchoChaos

            As for “they didn’t earn it”, of course they did. They worked for the love of their parent to the degree that the parent gives them the money as opposed to giving it to a charity or blowing it on booze.

            You’ve switched your argument though, in a way that undermines your original objection. At first you were saying “creating something grants you the right to keep it”, but now it’s “if you created it, or if someone gives it to you because you meet a certain criteria”.

            So now we’ve looped back around. Government spending, remember, is also is a transfer based on people fulfilling a certain criteria. Both it and inheritance have a moral target for “good behavior” and they transfer money to incentivize that behavior. So what’s the difference again?

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Guy in TN

            So now we’ve looped back around. Government spending, remember, is also is a transfer based on people fulfilling a certain criteria. Both it and inheritance have a moral target for “good behavior” and they transfer money to incentivize that behavior. So what’s the difference again?

            Voluntariness of the creator is the difference. I have said that repeatedly.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            Learning that, Alice embraces an alternate strategy, of producing less wealth, at the expense of less of her time. That extra time is spent instead on hobbies that make Alice happier, since that extra time wouldn’t help Carol anymore. Alice and Carol are subsequently worse off, and Sally and Patti are not appreciably better off.

            Laffer curves. You are just describing the relationship between taxation and total government incomes. Sometimes we are on the right, sometimes on the left. In your story, the taxation makes everyone worse off, but it doesn’t have to be that way. No economic law says it must.

            Keep in mind that a 100% tax on inheritance isn’t the same thing as a 100% tax.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            You are just describing the relationship between taxation and total government incomes. Sometimes we are on the right, sometimes on the left. In your story, the taxation makes everyone worse off, but it doesn’t have to be that way. No economic law says it must.

            You mean, other than the law of incentives? baconbits9 has tried to present it as producers choosing to consume wealth they would otherwise lose. I’ve tried to present it as a game. At this point, I’m forced to believe that you think of wealth producers as mere black boxes, mindlessly following Laffer curves. There’s a reason they follow such curves, and it’s not because they’re looking up that function on a graph and deciding they must do what the y-axis says.

            That reason is – well, it’s precisely what baconbits laid out. If they know they’ll lose something, then they might as well spend it. Frankly, I’m running out of ways to phrase it.

          • Guy in TN says:

            I mean, of course they are going to spend more of it if they think they are going to lose it. The question is whether this is true:

            In all cases, Sally fails to make Patti noticeably better off, and instead just makes Alice and Carol worse off.

            And its not. You’ve got a just-so story that places you on the right side of the Laffer curve. I can think of a just-so one that places us at the left.

          • Plumber says:

            @Paul Brinkley,

            Since one person’s spending is another person’s income why is it good to incentivize saving?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Since one person’s spending is another person’s income why is it good to incentivize saving?

            Because spending isn’t the only thing that can happen to wealth. A lot of wealth isn’t transferred; it’s simply consumed. The straw example is if I sell you a wrench for $20, and then burn the $20 bill. Or I pay you $30k for a car and then crash it. Or I hire you for $500 to solve a problem, you study it, and declare it unsolvable.

            There is some technical way in which one could argue that something valuable was obtained nevertheless – perhaps I got warmth from the $20, or had fun crashing the car, or know more about the problem than before – but if we consider alternative uses for the $20, the car, and my $500 or your time, we often see better uses.

            Which brings us around to saving. If I save my money instead of spending it, it’s often because I see something more valuable in the future than whatever I might buy today. A classic example would be some capital good I could purchase with that saved money, or a business I could invest in, versus some consumer good I could purchase in the present. Sure, I might buy a trip on an oceanliner, which employs various people, but the better option, for example, is to put toward businesses that enable those people to do what they do for less effort.*

            At the same time, some people still trade some wealth for cruises and luxury cars and other consumer goods, eventually, since improving quality of life is still the end goal. But that has to be on the terms of the people who own said wealth. Forcing people to make suboptimal decisions will lead to them doing precisely that.

            *I am possibly getting some micro-econ wrong here on subtle details, so if some of it doesn’t add up, by all means point it out and I’ll give it another look.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            It’s not [always the case that Sally fails to make Patti noticeably better off, and instead just makes Alice and Carol worse off].

            Okay, you know what? That’s fair. I should have instead said that Sally will fail to make Patti noticeably better off in more cases than she will succeed. (And will still make Alice and Carol worse off in all cases.)

            You’ve got a just-so story that places you on the right side of the Laffer curve. I can think of a just-so one that places us at the left.

            Okay, please sketch a case where Sally declares intent to force Alice to give some of her wealth to Patti, and Alice would still produce as much as she would otherwise, or at least enough such that Patti will be better off by more than Carol would be worse off.

            And don’t express it in terms of macro curves, but rather in terms of personal incentives.

            In response, I’ll show in similar terms how Alice will inevitably seek to get herself out of that situation, in a way that leaves Patti no better off.

            Just to head off one possibility: Sally is not allowed to seize wealth Alice has already created; she has to declare intent beforehand. Otherwise, I get to claim Sally gets to pull that off once, and all the other instances of Alice notice and react predictably, and we’re now modeling a sum over all instances of Alices and Carols and Pattis.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            (ETA: If I can’t show how Alice would seek to get herself out of the situation of having to give up wealth to Patti, I will instead claim that Alice would continue to give wealth to Patti even if Sally had not declared intent to use force.)

          • Guy in TN says:

            or at least enough such that Patti will be better off by more than Carol would be worse off.

            This is really easy, depending on how you are defining “worse off”. If a dollar is worth 100 utility to Patti but 10 utility to Carol, then even if the total amount of wealth produced goes down, the system can be net-better off as a whole.

            I’ll show in similar terms how Alice will inevitably seek to get herself out of that situation, in a way that leaves Patti no better off.

            As other’s have helpfully pointed out in the thread “Alice will just not work” is not something that can be extrapolated on any society-wide scale. People will work so long as they still want food and shelter.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            This is really easy, depending on how you are defining “worse off”. If a dollar is worth 100 utility to Patti but 10 utility to Carol, then even if the total amount of wealth produced goes down, the system can be net-better off as a whole.

            This doesn’t work. The utility to Alice of giving her money to Carol is clearly better than that of giving it to Patti, or else Alice would have already given that money to Patti (without the added negative utility of Sally using force). This utility can in fact be extremely high, if for example that transfer of wealth includes an entire business enterprise, complete with added cash to enable Carol to afford its maintenance.

            If that increase in Patti’s utility were greater even than that, then Patti has an incentive in demonstrating that to Alice, and negotiating until the utilities are equal. And even hiring Sally to help. But that is nowhere near assured, and if it were, again, Alice would simply agree and cut a check.

            As other’s have helpfully pointed out in the thread “Alice will just not work” is not something that can be extrapolated on any society-wide scale. People will work so long as they still want food and shelter.

            What others such as ADBG and John Schilling have pointed out is the exact opposite. People will work hard enough to get enough food and shelter for themselves, and then no harder without a great deal of additional impetus. Such as for loved ones, which Patti is not, as far as Alice is concerned.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            @ Guy in TN

            This is really easy, depending on how you are defining “worse off”. If a dollar is worth 100 utility to Patti but 10 utility to Carol, then even if the total amount of wealth produced goes down, the system can be net-better off as a whole.

            This doesn’t address the issue at all. This is a justification for why society might force Alice to do this. It has no bearing on Alice’s reaction, unless she is simply altruistic. The arguments responding to you are talking about Alice’s incentives, which are completely unchanged regardless of the number of utils that someone else would derive from the funds. The correct metric to measure would be Alice’s utils for giving the money to Patti, not Patti’s utils for having that money.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            If that increase in Patti’s utility were greater even than that, then Patti has an incentive in demonstrating that to Alice, and negotiating until the utilities are equal[…]But that is nowhere near assured, and if it were, again, Alice would simply agree and cut a check.

            Why would Alice cut her a check? She doesn’t care about Patti, she might not even know Patti. And we’ve already established that it gives Alice more utility to give the money to Carol than Patti. Patti has no grounds to “negotiate” on, other than a plea for sympathy. I feel like I’m missing something important here.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Mr. Doolittle

            Diverting the money from Carol to Patti would cause Alice’s production to decrease and her utility would decline, of course. But it could still be the best course of action, in terms of net-utility.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            Diverting the money from Carol to Patti would cause Alice’s production to decrease and her utility would decline, of course. But it could still be the best course of action, in terms of net-utility.

            It sounds like you would agree with the proposition: “If you take away all of a person’s ability to accumulate wealth, then they will stop working in excess of what they are allowed to keep.”

            Would you agree with that statement?

          • Guy in TN says:

            I would phrase it: If you design your economic institutions such that a person cannot have any access to wealth, then they will stop trying to engage in behaviors that increase their access to wealth (since there aren’t any such behaviors available).

            Is that equivalent enough? If so, what next?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Why would Alice cut [Patti] a check? She doesn’t care about Patti, she might not even know Patti. And we’ve already established that it gives Alice more utility to give the money to Carol than Patti. Patti has no grounds to “negotiate” on, other than a plea for sympathy. I feel like I’m missing something important here.

            Alice might care about Patti for the same reason Sally cares about Patti. Would you agree that Sally derives positive utility from seeing Patti well off?

            It’s not even necessary that Sally knows Patti, either. Sally may derive positive utility from knowing that the poor are made better off. This is a great deal of the drive behind any charitable initiative.

            Alice might feel this, too. In fact, it’s plausible that Alice has already donated to a charitable cause, and now wished the rest to go to Carol. In our hypothetical, Alice may derive positive utility from each $1000 she bequeathes to Carol, and that might be, say, 15% more than she would derive from giving it to Patti (or a hundred Pattis) instead. Or the utility to Alice might vary highly depending on the amount – maybe Alice is okay with giving up 9%, but not 10%

            There are multiple ways Sally could conceivably close the utility gap other than threat of force, such as lowering the amount she asks from Alice until the utility balances, or offering some of Sally’s own resources, or sharing information that alters Alice’s utility calculation.

            It sounds like you would agree with the proposition: “If you take away all of a person’s ability to accumulate wealth, then they will stop working in excess of what they are allowed to keep.”

            To express this in terms of utility in a way I think Mr. Doolittle would agree with (and perhaps, hopefully, avoid the appearance of dogpiling you too much): taking away a person’s ability to gather wealth results in their gathering no positive utility in return for the effort they would have exerted to gather it, leaving them with nothing but the negative utility of said effort. So the obvious option is to forgo that effort altogether. (Less obvious options include channeling effort into either hiding from or neutralizing the agent seeking to take away their ability.)

            I would phrase it: If you design your economic institutions such that a person cannot have any access to wealth, then they will stop trying to engage in behaviors that increase their access to wealth. […] Is that equivalent enough? If so, what next?

            Then we inform you that those behaviors you just abolished were the only known ways to reduce the effort – and capital – required per calorie of sustenance, yard of clothing fabric, and square foot of living space. What do you do then?

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            I would phrase it: If you design your economic institutions such that a person cannot have any access to wealth, then they will stop trying to engage in behaviors that increase their access to wealth (since there aren’t any such behaviors available).

            Is that equivalent enough? If so, what next?

            This is helpful in understanding your viewpoint.

            If someone “stop[s] trying to engage in behaviors that increase their access to wealth,” would you expect the overall economy (where others are under similar conditions) to increase, decrease, or stay the same, verses our current economy? If decrease (which, to be clear, I think we all agree is the case), then do you see the concern many posters here are talking about in regards to Venezuela? A systematic decrease in each person’s attempt to increase wealth, resulting in reductions of wealth.

            As to “because there aren’t any such behaviors available” – do you think that a black market would form, and people hide their income? If not, why not?

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Paul Brinkley
            I mean, if you structure the individual motivations of the people in the hypothetical such that Alice makes the net-utility maximizing decision on her own, then sure, there’s no need to intervene.

            Let’s look at what you originally asked, with emphasis added:

            Okay, please sketch a case where Sally declares intent to force Alice to give some of her wealth to Patti […] In response, I’ll show in similar terms how Alice will inevitably seek to get herself out of that situation, in a way that leaves Patti no better off.

            So I thought the challenge was to show that Sally’s transfer necessarily decreases net-utility, regardless of Alice’s particular utility function. If you can just say “well let’s imagine that Alice gains a lot of utility from giving the money to Patti, which makes it so she happens to choose the net-utility increasing option” that defeats the whole exercise.

            Then we inform you that those behaviors you just abolished were the only known ways to reduce the effort – and capital – required per calorie of sustenance, yard of clothing fabric, and square foot of living space. What do you do then?

            Well, that sounds pretty bad! Fortunately, I’ve never advocated for preventing people from having access to any wealth. Like I said earlier in the thread, a 100% inheritance tax is not a 100% tax.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Mr. Doolittle
            I do not support, and have not been advocating for in this thread, preventing people from having access to any wealth.

            It’s not a position any ideology subscribes to, not even communism. No one is advocating for amassing all of humanity’s wealth and destroying it.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            if you structure the individual motivations of the people in the hypothetical such that Alice makes the net-utility maximizing decision on her own, then sure, there’s no need to intervene.

            Agreed – in that case, Alice has reason to believe everyone is better off, including herself.

            I thought the challenge was to show that Sally’s transfer necessarily decreases net-utility, regardless of what Alice’s particular utility.

            My challenge to you was to show that Sally’s threat of force leaves Alice producing the same amount, or leaves Alice producing enough to still make Patti better off. If you could, then I would show how Alice would try to avoid that.

            Things got into a discussion of utility, which I was happy to go along with. In terms of utility, you would have to show that Patti’s utility has increased after Alice has adjusted to Sally’s threat. I drifted into net utility talk along the way; you can ignore that for the context of the challenge itself.

            However, Alice’s utility still matters, because it becomes an input to Patti’s utility later. If Sally threatens to take Alice’s extra wealth by force, then Alice receives no utility from producing that extra wealth, and so she won’t. Which then means Sally has no wealth to transfer to Patti, and so Patti’s utility stays the same.

            The 100% case, aka the “any wealth” case, is only brought up for demonstration. It doesn’t matter whether it’s 100% or 50% or 1%. Any amount Sally threatens to take, Alice will seek to avoid having to produce (or to reveal), because there’s nothing in it for her.

          • Guy in TN says:

            My challenge to you was to show that Sally’s threat of force leaves Alice producing the same amount, or leaves Alice producing enough to still make Patti better off.

            In strict monetary terms: You are asking if Patti is better off than what, the alternative of receiving 0$ from Alice? As long as Alice is willing to work any amount, then Patti is financially better off in this way. If you design your hypothetical such that Alice will quit working after any amount is taken from her, then Patti is no better off, sure, but that’s just designing it such that we’re always on the right side of the Laffer curve.

            But if you are asking, again in monetary terms, if Patti will be better off than Carol is worse off, then I would agree that she will not be. Net-wealth would absolutely decline.

            Any amount Sally threatens to take, Alice will seek to avoid having to produce (or to reveal), because there’s nothing in it for her.

            This is why Sally takes in terms of percentages, not “all wealth over x amount”. As long as Alice produces wealth (and she will, assuming such a program is instituted on a society-wide scale, because of biological necessities such as acquiring food and shelter), then Alice will be producing a percentage that Sally can take.

            How does one grow an apple, while avoiding to grow x% of an apple? It can’t be done.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            As long as Alice is willing to work any amount, then Patti is financially better off in this way.

            Patti clearly isn’t, if Alice responds to incentives by working only enough to sustain Alice alone.

            If you design your hypothetical such that Alice will quit working after any amount is taken from her, then Patti is no better off, sure, but that’s just designing it such that we’re always on the right side of the Laffer curve.

            I’m not purposefully designing the hypothetical in that way at all. To the extent I’m designing it, I’m only simplifying down to one each of Alice, Carol, Sally and Patti, and then letting incentives take over. Incentives drive the Laffer curve, not the other way around.

            If Sally takes a percentage small enough of Alice’s surplus that Alice will have an incentive to produce it anyway, then that surplus will not make any appreciable difference to Patti. This is exacerbated when factoring in the overhead cost of Sally making a credible threat, and of administering the transfer of wealth, and the cost to everyone, including Patti, of Alice producing that much less wealth (and later, Carol).

            How does one grow an apple, while avoiding to grow x% of an apple? It can’t be done.

            How does one take only x% of an apple?

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            I do not support, and have not been advocating for in this thread, preventing people from having access to any wealth.

            It’s not a position any ideology subscribes to, not even communism. No one is advocating for amassing all of humanity’s wealth and destroying it.

            Well that’s good, but I don’t think anyone was accusing you of that line of thought. I’m not being snarky with the “that’s good” line – there do appear to be people who would fully advocate that approach, and it makes the next stage of the conversation much more frustrating and/or impossible.

            It seems incontrovertible that there is some level of restriction on the ability of individuals to control their own possessions/wealth that results in the breakdown of the economy and society. Venezuela is the recent example, which is why it has come up here. And I want to be clear about what happened there. The government thought that they could fix real problems with command solutions. They saw that people could not afford toilet paper, so they made it illegal to charge more than a low amount when selling. So producers did the obvious thing and stopped making it at a loss. Money was losing value, so they passed a law that “set” the value of their dollar to a higher value – which was meaningless.

            “We will pass a law” is not always a solution, and because it’s been a go-to practice in many known economic failures, it’s being treated derisively here. The real question is not whether we can pass a law or what the law says, but what the reaction to the law will be. The most common reactions are people stopping productive activity, and hiding their productive activity (black market).

            I absolutely agree that we can take a portion of a person’s economic productivity and redistribute, and not destroy the economy. The pushback you are getting from other posters here is very much of the nature of “you are trying to take too much.” The exact level that can be taken without a breakdown in society is unknown, but we know the end points. 0% taxes will result in no people dropping out of the economy due to taxes. 100% will cause all people, at least not those being purely altruistic, to drop out of the (formal) economy. Allowing a child to receive zero dollars of their parent’s wealth is, in fact, a 100% tax. That is, necessarily, too much. If people were immortal and kept their self-generated wealth, we could make assumptions about people continuing to work for their own benefit. Since people will die, “what happens to my wealth when I die” is of the utmost importance in this conversation. If you simultaneously introduce a “the state will take care of your needs” program, such that I could do nothing and still survive and have lots of free time, then the incentives move even further towards “screw working myself to death for nothing!”

            This thread has gotten really long and it’s on an old post, if you want to continue the conversation maybe we can move it to a new post?

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            If Sally takes a percentage small enough of Alice’s surplus that Alice will have an incentive to produce it anyway, then that surplus will not make any appreciable difference to Patti.

            This is exacerbated when factoring in the overhead cost of Sally making a credible threat, and of administering the transfer of wealth, and the cost to everyone, including Patti, of Alice producing that much less wealth (and later, Carol).

            The U.S. government actually does have money to spend on welfare, even after taxation, the decrease in production, the “cost of making threats”, and the cost of administrating the transfer. And for many people this welfare makes an “appreciable difference” in their lives.

            In your story, you’ve created a hypothetical framework where something that is currently happening is impossible to happen. So color me unpersuaded.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Mr. Doolittle

            It seems incontrovertible that there is some level of restriction on the ability of individuals to control their own possessions/wealth that results in the breakdown of the economy and society.

            I would describe it instead, as there are certain levels of concentration of power that become destabilizing. On the object level I disagree Venezuela has an improper concentration of power in the government, but we can set that aside for now, as I agree with the principle.

            100% will cause all people, at least not those being purely altruistic, to drop out of the (formal) economy. […] Allowing a child to receive zero dollars of their parent’s wealth is, in fact, a 100% tax. That is, necessarily, too much.

            A 100% tax on inheritance is different from a general 100% tax. If I propose a 100% tax on bananas, that doesn’t mean that people are all just going to stop working, plunging society into chaos.

            But all that aside, even if I was proposing a 100% general tax, that would necessarily come with significant benefits (cash, or goods) which you would gain access to by not dropping out of the system. So with a 100% general tax+significant benefits, there could still be a strong incentive to work and maintain the economy.

            If you simultaneously introduce a “the state will take care of your needs” program, such that I could do nothing and still survive and have lots of free time, then the incentives move even further towards “screw working myself to death for nothing!”

            Even in a system of complete collective ownership+UBI, people would still need to work to keep the system operating. This is akin to some poster’s earlier statements (and I paraphrase) “I’m going to stop working and plunge the world into chaos and suffering, and I’m going to have no incentive to do otherwise!” Seems to me the incentive is pretty obvious.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            Seems to me the incentive is pretty obvious.

            The solution also seems incredibly obvious to me, but I suspect we are not thinking the same thing. The black market, meaning illegal and untracked trade, seems to me the obvious result of such a system. Attempts to crack down on that black market are what come to mind when I think of “dystopian socialist regime.”

            I’ve asked a couple of times what your thoughts are about a black market rising in your proposal. Can you explain your thoughts?

            (Everything people are doing in this Washington Post article is illegal black market activity.)

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            The U.S. government actually does have money to spend on welfare, even after taxation, the decrease in production, the “cost of making threats”, and the cost of administrating the transfer. And for many people this welfare makes an “appreciable difference” in their lives.

            And as a result, we spend hundreds of millions of dollars per year administering that program, and complain endlessly about people who go well out of their way to avoid having their wealth taken and put into it, and spend hundreds of billions of dollars per election year fighting about it.

            Have you considered what other projects those hundreds of billions of dollars might have gone toward instead?

            In your story, you’ve created a hypothetical framework where something that is currently happening is impossible to happen.

            You’ve pointed out the existence of a few people who enjoyed an appreciable difference. I’m pointing out the existence of thousands, maybe millions of Alices doing exactly what I predicted they’d do in response. In other words, in today’s non-hypothetical framework, something I said would happen, is happening. Are you sure you’re unpersuaded?

          • Clutzy says:

            Even in a system of complete collective ownership+UBI, people would still need to work to keep the system operating. This is akin to some poster’s earlier statements (and I paraphrase) “I’m going to stop working and plunge the world into chaos and suffering, and I’m going to have no incentive to do otherwise!” Seems to me the incentive is pretty obvious.

            This makes absolutely no sense to me. The fact that there is a collective incentive to work does not mean there is an individual incentive. What ends up happening is a classic tragedy of the commons situation, where each individual’s optimal choice is bad for the collective. That is the fundamental problem with welfare programs, universal benefits programs, etc. And we see the bad incentives at play even in the current programs that you have cited as not causing civil society to break down. Well, they were on the verge of that until the welfare reforms of the 90s. Many small communities have the kind of dystopian elements we are talking about because benefits for them are large enough to induce that.

            We simply haven’t encountered a level of disincentive at the top yet that causes them to stop working as well. Although there are many instances where its clear people have reduced work, and increased leisure time.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Mr. Doolittle

            I’ve asked a couple of times what your thoughts are about a black market rising in your proposal. Can you explain your thoughts?

            If there are people who think they have a better chance of being successful by facing the risk of doing illegal activities vs. following the law, then they will do the illegal activity. This problem isn’t unique to states with high taxation, and happens in our current system all the time. High taxation incentives theft in the form of hiding wealth from the government, but low taxation incentives theft between private parties, due to the tendency for wealth to concentrate.

            The way to minimize this problem (and it can never be eliminated, only minimized) is to make sure that the most people possible in your economic system feel like they are getting a better deal by following the law, than they are by breaking it. In a system without taxation and welfare, the incentives for poor people to obey property law would be minimal.

            I don’t think its self-evident that low taxation necessarily creates a system with less illegality than high taxation system does.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            I’m pointing out the existence of thousands, maybe millions of Alices doing exactly what I predicted they’d do in response. In other words, in today’s non-hypothetical framework, something I said would happen, is happening. Are you sure you’re unpersuaded?

            Unpersuaded of what? That Alice’s production would decrease compared to the alternative? I’ve said time and time again in this thread that I agree that’s what would happen. That’s never been the question at hand.

            I’m not sure we’re even debating about the same thing, at this point.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            The way to minimize this problem (and it can never be eliminated, only minimized) is to make sure that the most people possible in your economic system feel like they are getting a better deal by following the law, than they are by breaking it.

            I strongly agree. Would you say that there are more “poor” people in society, or more that fall into other categories? I feel like there are far fewer “poor” people (putting that in quotes because there are lots of different definitions). If the majority of people are not poor, then optimizing society for the minority seems like an inefficient decision. More people will feel that “they are getting a better deal by following the law, than they are by breaking it” implies that we should optimize for the largest segments of the population.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Here’s what I said near the beginning of all this:

            [P]lease sketch a case where Sally declares intent to force Alice to give some of her wealth to Patti, and Alice would still produce as much as she would otherwise, or at least enough such that Patti will be better off by more than Carol would be worse off.

            In response, I’ll show in similar terms how Alice will inevitably seek to get herself out of that situation, in a way that leaves Patti no better off.

            In a technical sense, I suppose you succeeded. Despite many Alices trying to avoid this state of affairs, despite the capital lost to inheritance taxation, despite the discreet businesses lost to even a marginal tax, and despite all the money Sally spent on enforcement and overhead, you assert there exist Pattis which nevertheless came out appreciably better off. And I have to concede that there exists at least one such person in the entire US. Likely more than one.

            Do you think you got your money’s worth? (Pardon: these Alices’ former money’s worth.)

            Of these people you cite are appreciably better off: how many are no longer poor? How many are no longer waiting in line for that welfare handout? Do you remain doubtful that this cadre of doughty beneficiaries could have been made larger, more capable, or both, by spending those billions-per-year in a different way?

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Mr. Doolittle

            Would you say that there are more “poor” people in society, or more that fall into other categories? I feel like there are far fewer “poor” people (putting that in quotes because there are lots of different definitions).

            The current distribution of wealth is a vast majority of people clustered at the bottom with an very small amount at the top, with the wealthiest 1% owning ~half of everything. If we lived in a system where the pyramid was inverted (with 99% percent of the people owning 99% of the wealth, and only the poorest 1% as outliers owning practically nothing) then there would be a valid argument that I am proposing moving to a system that makes more people worse-off than better-off. But we do not.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            Of these people you cite are appreciably better off: how many are no longer poor? How many are no longer waiting in line for that welfare handout? Do you remain doubtful that this cadre of doughty beneficiaries could have been made larger, more capable, or both, by spending those billions-per-year in a different way?

            I do indeed think the welfare state is worth it. Much of the things that have made my life better (schools, roads, parks, funding of research, ect) I could never have paid for by myself. The amount I pay in taxes is far too small to ever purchase such items on the market.

            And I’m one of the people who can currently work. If you can’t work (disabled, elderly, children) then you have no hope of receiving income on the labor market. I don’t think we should design our economic institutions to exclude allocating wealth to such people.

          • The current distribution of wealth is a vast majority of people clustered at the bottom with an very small amount at the top, with the wealthiest 1% owning ~half of everything.

            Wikipedia gives, but doesn’t explain, a figure of 37% of total wealth in America owned by the top 1%.

            What is more relevant is income or consumption expenditure, not wealth. Checking Wikipedia, half of income was earned by the top 20%. The top 3.65% earned 17.5% of total income.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I do indeed think the welfare state is worth it. Much of the things that have made my life better (schools, roads, parks, funding of research, ect) I could never have paid for by myself. The amount I pay in taxes is far too small to ever purchase such items on the market.

            Would you ever have been able to pay for it? As in, after the fact?

            Because if you can’t, then you’re a net drain on that system – the system would never regain the amount of money it disbursed for schools, road, parks, and other programs divided by {number of taxpayers}.

            No one is necessarily a bad person for being a net drain. This isn’t a moral judgement. But it is an economic one. If enough people are a net drain, then the system will not be able to bring in enough revenue from the people who aren’t to offset the people who are; the system runs out of money, terminates, and now no one gets anything.

            If you are a net benefit to the system, then you’re paying more into it than you’re getting out, and you would have an incentive to stop, or to pay less until the amounts are about equal.

            If you are a net drain currently, but would be a net benefit later (because you’re using that education or road system to create wealth from which you pay in), then a more customary way to arrange that exchange is with a loan, commensurate with the amount of each part of that infrastructure you expect to use. (Some people use very little of the infrastructure, and some are driven to lower standards of living by the expense for a share of no use to them. Some use roads a lot, but not parks, and vice versa, and so on.) Student loans are effectively one manifestation of this.

            If you’re not sure how much you’ll use, then a more customary way to arrange that is with insurance, possibly accompanied by a market to trade shares in people’s premiums as they learn more about each other’s usage.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Of course I’m a net drain on the system, financially speaking. Most people are, if you set it up such that the top 1% own 37% of everything.

          • John Schilling says:

            Most people are, if you set it up such that the top 1% own 37% of everything.

            That does not follow, and I’m not sure how you think it would. Imagine the perfectly egalitarian society of your dreams, in which each of the 990,000 citizens produces exactly as much as every other and each consumes exactly as much as every other and has as much wealth presently in their possession as every other and and this is balanced so that absolutely no one is a net drain on that society.

            Introduce to this society 10,000 people each of whom has present wealth equal to fifty-eight times that of your egalitarian proletariat. Now 37% of that society’s wealth is in the hands of the 1%. But the 99% do not produce any less, nor do they consume any more, nor is their wealth diminished, so they are still not a net drain on the system.

            But of course you believe that the 1% obtained their unfair wealth from the poor. So, imagine instead that we add to your ideal society 10,000 people who have nothing to their credit but the ability, via sneaky unfair trade and crony capitalism and whatnot, to extract 37.4% of the wealth and labor and value of the actual productive workers. Again, the 1% now own 37%. But everyone else is still producing as much as they used to; they are just consuming 37.4% less. That makes them the very opposite of a drain on the system.

            The only way you can make “the 1% own 37% of everything”, into the 99% as a whole being a drain on society, is if you insist on transferring wealth from the rich to everybody else. Assuming an otherwise fair system in equilibrium, then for the duration of that wealth transfer, the 99% will be a net drain on the system. Is that the scenario you are envisioning?

          • Guy in TN says:

            Again, the 1% now own 37%. But everyone else is still producing as much as they used to; they are just consuming 37.4% less. That makes them the very opposite of a drain on the system.

            We’re talking about different things. Paul’s question, I believe, was in regard to government revenues, which I reference as “the system” in my statement. For the purposes of whether you are a net-drain on the tax system or not, it doesn’t matter how much wealth you produce, but how much you pay in taxes minus what you receive in benefits.

            If the question of whether you are a drain to “the system” is whether you are net-positive contributing to the total national wealth, you can’t answer that question by looking at tax liability and benefits.

            I agree that it’s possible to imagine a hypothetical society in which the 1% own 37%, and the 1% are not a net drain on government revenues. My statement of “most people are, if you set it up that way” was not intended to be an all-encompassing rule, but rather a highly probable outcome.

          • Clutzy says:

            I don’t see why it would be implausible. If most people are working and paying taxes most of the time and your welfare state is not overwhelmingly lavish you will have an equilibrium where basically only children and a tiny % of the indigent will be net drains.

          • Guy in TN says:

            This is all such a bizarre tangent to me. Of course you have to set up your welfare system such that, if it is to be sustainable over the long term, its takes in more than it pays out.

            I’m not sure where Paul was going with this.

          • John Schilling says:

            We’re talking about different things. Paul’s question, I believe, was in regard to government revenues, which I reference as “the system” in my statement. For the purposes of whether you are a net-drain on the tax system or not, it doesn’t matter how much wealth you produce, but how much you pay in taxes minus what you receive in benefits.

            That doesn’t change the analysis, or the analogy. If you have a flat tax and a roughly balanced(*) budget, which pretty much has to be the case for the egalitarian baseline, you just multiply all the numbers by 25% or 75% or whatever the tax rate is, and the people who weren’t net drains on the total-economy system are still not net drains on the government tax-and-spend part of the system.

            And that’s still true even if 1% of the population are filthy rich and making sixty times as much money, paying sixty times as much taxes, and receiving sixty times as much government services as anyone else. The only way you get the 99% being a “drain on the system” is if you are using the government to progressively tax the rich and use their money to provide services to the poor.

            You can’t simply assert that the existence of a wealthy elite makes everyone else a “net drain on the system”, for either the whole-economy or tax-and-spend definition of “system”; you need to add and defend the assertion that the net effect of the system’s policies (e.g. government taxing and spending) is to make the rich poorer and the poor richer. Is that in fact what you believe?

            * At least to the extent that debt does not grow faster than GDP

          • Guy in TN says:

            The only way you get the 99% being a “drain on the system” is if you are using the government to progressively tax the rich and use their money to provide services to the poor.

            Given that we live in a government that has the norms of progressive taxation, welfare spending, and democratic rule, its very hard to imagine that in our society, you could make the 1% own 37% and not end up with the 99% being a net-drain on the government budget. Like I said earlier, the “99% will be a drain” is not intended to be a universal economic rule, but in relation to the system we have today.

            You can’t simply assert that the existence of a wealthy elite makes everyone else a “net drain on the system”, for either the whole-economy or tax-and-spend definition of “system”

            Is your objection here based on causality? Do you think I wrongly assert that “the existence of a wealthy elite…” is the cause of the 99% being a net-drain? That’t not my position. The cause of the distribution of wealth is our economic institutions, which includes both property law and the tax/welfare system. I don’t blame the wealthy elite for the law of the land, which is largely the result of democratic process.

          • John Schilling says:

            Given that we live in a government that has the norms of progressive taxation, welfare spending, and democratic rule, its very hard to imagine that in our society, you could make the 1% own 37% and not end up with the 99% being a net-drain on the government budget.

            In our society, some members of the 99% are a net drain on the government budget. Others are very much not. “The 99%”, encompasses everything from destitute street people to literal multi-millionaires. To imagine that the existence of the remaining 1% washes away all of these differences, is folly. The 99% cannot be treated as a single demographic or economic bloc. They are not all your natural allies in a class struggle, and will not be even after you enlighten them.

            And if, in fact, you are a net drain on “the system”, most of your fellow 99% are not. Making the claim that because the 1% exist and are rich, everyone in the 99% from street person to millionaire is a net drain on the system, that the sole necessary evidence of your “drain on the system” status is your not-1% status, merely indicates that you are blind to all of this. And I’m not sure what to do about that.

          • Clutzy says:

            This is all such a bizarre tangent to me. Of course you have to set up your welfare system such that, if it is to be sustainable over the long term, its takes in more than it pays out.

            Yes, and the point is that given the stated goals of many politicians that will not be the case long term. The people in the middle will be discouraged from work, thus discouraging pay in and encouraging them into the pay out class. The people at the bottom will get a large influx of unearned resources, discouraging any incentive to become pay in. That is why most EU welfare states are funded with VATs, which are just universal flat taxes. Taxing the rich has never been effective because they are rare and have much less money than most people imagine.

            While most narratives center around the top 1% vs. the bottom 50%, the reality of economics is about the 40-60% vs. the 0-20% and which norm will prevail. Most people work for minor incremental improvements to their lives and the lives of their children/grandchildren. For a guy earning 40k a year the extra 5% in taxes and extra 5% in benefits is often very meaningful.

          • Guy in TN says:

            So, I misspoke when I typed that all of the 99% are a drain. I meant to say that most of the 99% are a drain on the system (in line with my original response to Paul), but clearly in my quote, I mistakenly upped that number. This is my bad.

            And if, in fact, you are a net drain on “the system”, most of your fellow 99% are not.

            This is just an empirical question. We can answer this: does >50% of U.S. citizens pay less in taxes than they receive in benefits? The only sticking point I see is how to quantify non-monetary benefits (schools, roads, ect) in dollars, since we can’t say, for instance, what buying military defense would cost on the market exactly.

            Some quick googling tells me that 44% of all people don’t pay any income taxes. Now granted, that’s not the only one tax, but its by far the biggest.

            Some back of the napkins calculations on benefits: the transportation budget for the U.S. government in 2014 was $416 billion. Divide that by 319 millions people, at you get $1,300 per person. On transportation alone! That essentially negates the average sales tax in many cities, and we havn’t even touched all other other benefits.

            I am just not seeing how we could keep this number under the 50% mark…

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Clutzy
            I did not intend to imply that taxing only the top 1% would be sufficient. It’s got to go a lot deeper than that to be sustainable, as you point out.

          • At only a slight tangent …

            Guy in TN, and perhaps others in this discussion, are assuming that the measure of what you contribute to the system is taxes paid in. That’s too simple, because taxing something alters its price, which affects people consuming it.

            For a simple example, suppose the supply of something is perfectly elastic–if it sells for $10/lb, producers will produce as much as anyone wants, at any lower price nothing. You impose a $1/lb tax on it. The price rises to $11/lb, because at any lower price none is produced. All the money is being paid in by the producers, but the cost is being born by the consumers.

            Most goods and services we consume are in neither perfectly elastic nor perfectly inelastic supply, so in practice if you tax something, part of the cost is born by producers, part by consumers. The division doesn’t depend on which of them actually hands the money over.

          • baconbits9 says:

            its very hard to imagine that in our society, you could make the 1% own 37% and not end up with the 99% being a net-drain on the government budget

            No it isn’t as the 99% – 1% divide isn’t static and the bottom 99% aren’t homogeneous. It is very difficult to claim that the 90-99th percentile in income earners are a net drain on the government, nor the 80-90th. Something like 70% of the US (not sure if individuals or families) will spend at least a year in the top 20% of income.

          • Plumber says:

            @Guy in TN
            "I do indeed think the welfare state is worth it. Much of the things that have made my life better (schools, roads, parks, funding of research, ect) I could never have paid for by myself. The amount I pay in taxes is far too small to ever purchase such items on the market.

            And I’m one of the people who can currently work. If you can’t work (disabled, elderly, children) then you have no hope of receiving income on the labor market. I don’t think we should design our economic institutions to exclude allocating wealth to such people"

            +1 

            Thank you Guy in TN!

            I very much like having public bridges, fire fighters, libraries, police, roads, and sewer systems, and wanting to replace “one person, one vote” with “one gold piece, one vote” seems strange to me.

            I get that libertarians don’t like the coercive aspect of the modern state, but trading in getting bossed by the police (when at least I have some say on what the laws are) for getting bossed by the hired goons of the local “ring-giver” land lord/tycoon/warlord seems a bad deal to me.

            But the choice isn’t between Somalia and the Soviet Union anyway – Canada, for example, seems pretty nice.

      • Plumber says:

        @J Mann,
        I think you’re referencing Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 (which unlike his earlier The Bell Curve I haven’t read), and IIRC when it came out it promted ‘chicken-or-egg” arguments about culture and economic fortunes.

      • albatross11 says:

        Murray has argued that a lot of what’s going on here is cultural. There was a lot of cultural stuff that encouraged people on the bottom to behave in prosocial ways that gave their kids a reasonable shot at success–marrying before having kids, staying married, working for a living, maintaining a community, etc.

        The bad news is, it’s pretty hard to use government to create changes to culture, and it’s not at all clear how to undo some of the destructive changes to underclass culture (black, white, and hispanic) that have done the damage described in _Coming Apart_.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Since the article writer is not even bothering to control for anything (age being one obvious thing), and starts with a bunch of polemic about Jared Kushner (who hasn’t done anything wrong, to my knowledge) and Alex van der Zwaan (who isn’t American), I think it’s safe to say the article has little of value to offer. It’s not quite to the level of “reading to one’s kids is unfair” but it’s approaching it, particularly with “But taking care of people we love can’t be an excuse to actively disadvantage other people’s children.[…] any action on behalf of one’s own family has consequences beyond it.”

    • 10240 says:

      Of course

      The wage gap contributes significantly to the wealth gap. White men are still paid more than every other racial and gender group, and white women are the highest paid group of women.

      while according to the actual linked article, Asians make more than whites, among both men and women.

    • broblawsky says:

      Isn’t this basically just toxoplasma?

    • Aapje says:

      @albatross11

      From FBI hate crime statistics from 2017, about 10% of reported hate crimes were motivated by racial hatred of whites, so it’s hard to argue that stirring up this kind of racial animosity doesn’t sometimes lead to bad outcomes.

      I see 17.1% on that page.

      • albatross11 says:

        Aapje:

        59.6% of reported hate crimes had racial hatred as a motive; of those, 17.1% were motivated by anti-white hatred. Multiplying those two numbers gets you about 10.2% of the total.

        • Aapje says:

          Is that a meaningful way to look at it? If the debate is about whether the rhetoric blaming whites has reasonable costs compared to the benefits, then aren’t only racial hate crimes relevant?

          I don’t see how anti-white racism can be expected to reduce discrimination against gays, for example.

          • albatross11 says:

            If I’m reading the report right, then we have:

            a. 59.6% of reported hate crimes are based on a racial hatred motive.

            b. Of the hate crimes based on a racial hatred motive (the only ones we care about for this question), 17.1% were based on anti-white racial hatred.

            Multiplying those together is how I get 10.1% of all reported hate crimes (which include hate crimes based on religion, language, sexuality, gender identity, and maybe some other things I don’t know about) being driven by anti-white hatred. That’s about 865 reported cases of racial hate crimes motivated by hatred of whites.

            It seemed to me like reporting the fraction of all hate crimes that were driven by anti-white hatred (as opposed to anti-Semitism, hatred of transpeople, etc.) was the right way to do things. But you can make a case for the 17% number (the fraction of racially motivated hate crimes directed at whites).

            And all this is from FBI reported data–I don’t know if everyone even reports these crimes to the FBI, and it’s pretty certain that a large fraction of these crimes are never reported to anyone. (Someone punches you out in a bar because he hates whites/blacks/gays/Jews/Mexicans/transpeople/etc., the bouncer tosses his ass out, and you go home at the end of the night without bothering the cops about it.

          • Aapje says:

            I’m not questioning your calculation, but whether the fraction of total hate crimes is relevant.

            You made a choice to relate anti-white hate crimes to all hate crimes, rather than to all crime. This suggests to me that you think that anti-white rhetoric has an impact on all hate crimes, but not on all crime.

            I question that implication, since I think that anti-white rhetoric has an effect on how people look at white people, and how white people look at other ethnicities, but not how people look at gays and such.

            If you want to evaluate the (negative) impact of anti-white rhetoric, it seems to me that you should either look only at the things that the rhetoric changes or take a truly broad view (by looking at all crime).

    • toastengineer says:

      If you rewrote it by making the substitutions “white”->”Jewish” and “black”->”white”, you would have an article that could appear on Stormfr-nt, but that would not be publishable in any mainstream US media outlet.

      Everyone already knew this. People were pointing this out in, like, 2004. Story’s the same, only the names change.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I honestly don’t understand how an author who writes stuff like this:

      Without connection, care and community, self-care is simply narcissism. And, without engagement in real, political efforts to change the racial and economic status quo, the ideology of self-care amounts to… regimes of whiteness that reinforce the mythology of the primacy of the individual. Wellness without a radical, collective politics doesn’t offer resistance to regimes of power, but rather, a way to remain in them.

      Can be taken seriously.
      I’d say this is largely the same as Paltrow’s stuff: a product devoted to a special niche in the market. Apparently it’s fulfilling some need. I don’t expect the people reading this to engage in large-scale violence against white people, so I’m not particularly concerned. Hopefully the center-left party can filter out some of the radical ideas underlying this thesis…I probably have a great deal more confidence in our institutions to do things like that than the majority of people, though.

      • albatross11 says:

        Do you think people are affected by the common messages and ideas in their popular culture, even when they don’t think of themselves as being? That seems kind-of likely to me, but I don’t really know how to prove it one way or another.

        I think hundreds of essays and think-pieces and media messages bashing on men, or whites, or white men, probably have some kind of effect on how people think, and on what kinds of behavior they think appropriate. But I don’t really know that.

        Just to be clear, I don’t have any desire to shut down such writings, or to no-platform anyone. I am already boycotting the Huffington post because they don’t produce much of interest to me, so it’s not like I could threaten to boycott them even if I were so inclined (which I’m not, really). But it’s a commonplace in our society that negative messages about blacks or gays or Jews or Muslims or hispanics are somehow going to lead to bad things happening to them–they’ll encourage discrimination and abuse of those groups, or they’ll normalize mistreatment of them, or they’ll discourage members of those groups from being successful. If those concerns make sense, then it seems like parallel concerns w.r.t. whites/males/Christians/straights/etc. make sense.

    • Nicholas Weininger says:

      Part of what’s bad and unhelpful about this sort of article is that the problems that the author is gesturing at are actually real problems: there really is a history of affluent people in the US organizing politically for government policies that skew opportunity toward them and place barriers in the paths of less fortunate folks trying to make it, and US history being what it is, this has a tremendous racial disparate impact and was sometimes in the past explicitly racist in motivation. Books like _The Color of Law_ and _The Dream Hoarders_ are good on this, much more specific, evidence-based, and devoid of the rhetorical idiocy of this article. But people who might have been persuaded by the sorts of arguments in those books can now, because of articles like this, instead dismiss them as the rantings of the performatively and fashionably woke; and that’s a shame. The application to other current controversies, e.g. the discussion of Israeli influence on American politics, is left as an exercise for the reader.

      • The Nybbler says:

        This kind of highlights the problem with “disparate impact”. Because I could as easily say that there is a history of people organizing politically on behalf of the poor for redistributive policies, and those policies have a racial disparate impact as well.

        • Nicholas Weininger says:

          Yes, there is, but on balance it has been (IMO, I understand people may have different views of the evidence) less effective and lower-impact.

          • 10240 says:

            I’m pretty sure that income redistribution in the form of taxation and benefits and government services trumps any policies that may go in the opposite direction on the net. Redistributive taxation is perhaps the result of political organization by well-off progressives on the behalf of the poor, rather than organization by the poor themselves, but that still contradicts the claim that the better organization ability of the rich results in policies that benefit the rich at the expense of the poor on the net.

      • albatross11 says:

        Nicholas:

        Yes, that history exists. Further, I’d say there are a fair number of current policies that amount to well-off people keeping their own wealth at the expense of others, and also of policies that clobber the poor extra-hard.

        In the first category, I’d put NIMBY laws, which keep housing prices artificially high. In the second, I’d put policing for a profit, which often extracts pennies from poor people at a high human cost.

        I think the bigger dynamic, though, is that the lower you are on the economic/educational totem pole, the less voice you have. So some new policy that becomes a problem for wealthy educated people tends to get an organized, effective response. A new policy that becomes a problem for poor, uneducated people tends to get little or no effective response. And so policies that clobber poor people keep getting enacted, while policies that clobber wealthier people get reversed.

      • Aapje says:

        @Nicholas Weininger

        Even worse, this rhetoric is used by people who are themselves rather affluent and who fight for policies that benefit the affluent, under the guise of helping the less fortunate.

        One of the common ways this happens is that certain groups are collectively treated as privileged or unprivileged & then policies are made that benefit the most privileged of the groups that are collectively considered to be less privileged.

        For example, affirmative action at Ivy league universities that mainly benefits affluent black people. So the people who get help this way are actually on average more affluent than the average white person (in society, not those who apply to Ivy’s), yet are talked about as if they are poor.

    • Guy in TN says:

      @albatross11

      If you rewrote it by making the substitutions “white”->”Jewish” and “black”->”white”, you would have an article that could appear on Stormfr-nt, but that would not be publishable in any mainstream US media outlet. If you wrote a parallel article by a white guy detailing various ways he’s upset about hispanics somehow causing his bad economic outcomes (lowering wages for native-born whites, raising crime rates, worsening schools), it would similarly be an unpublishable-in-mainstream-outlets Trumpist screed.

      If you were to take an article from a mainstream source in 1860 that said “blacks must be freed from the slavery imposed by whites”, and switched “black” and “white”, that too would only be publishable in the most extreme weird corners of society. Wild! Or not so wild, because there is a larger understood background context (i.e. racial oppression) that makes one statement reasonable and the other absurd.

      • albatross11 says:

        Guy in TN:

        Would my alternative pieces be nonsensical (as with your example), or would they merely be offensive?

        If you wrote a think piece explaining why the problems of the white working class were the fault of {Jews, Asians} and their selfish behavior of hoarding wealth and passing it onto their kids, that would be unpublishable, not because anyone thought it was bizarre and silly, but instead because everyone would think it was an offensive attempt to drum up hatred against {Jews, Asians}. If you wrote a think piece explaining why the problems of the white working class were the fault of {blacks, hispanics} because of their willingness to work for low wages, bad school performance, crime, etc., once again, the problem publishing it would not be that it was silly and counterfactual, but rather that it would look like an attempt to stir up anti-black or anti-hispanic hatred. Note that I wouldn’t want to forbid anyone writing or publishing either of those pieces–I think our prestige media are too narrow in the views they’ll discuss. But it sure is hard to square the claims that we mustn’t even mention IQ or crime statistics in public lest we stir up racial hatreds with the fact that the set of people who are upset about bringing those statistics up in public don’t ever seem to object to this kind of piece.

        • Guy in TN says:

          I’ll admit a bad example of my part, because my switch made the statement factually untrue.

          But that’s unnecessary for my point. Would you agree that in 1860 someone saying “us blacks should band together and take power away from whites!” is morally justifiable for publication, but someone saying the reverse is not?

          Or is stirring up racial animosity not ever acceptable in your worldview, even if it is used to combat a system of racial supremacy?

          But it sure is hard to square the claims that we mustn’t even mention IQ or crime statistics in public lest we stir up racial hatreds with the fact that the set of people who are upset about bringing those statistics up in public don’t ever seem to object to this kind of piece.

          Not a contradiction at all. Context matters, as always. It’s cool and good for peasants to stir up hatred against the king, because dethroning the king will make the world a better place. Stirring up hatred against the peasants does not have this positive effect- it just reinforces the bad system.

          So if you share the following two views that I presume the author holds (which are rather mundane, IMO, but perhaps not for ’round SSC)
          1. White supremacy is bad, and racial equality is good.
          2. We are living in a society still bound by the vestiges of white supremacy.

          Then the author’s position is really quite defensible.

          Her article really makes a lot of sense.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Or is stirring up racial animosity not ever acceptable in your worldview, even if it is used to combat a system of racial supremacy?

            This is like having intercourse for the purpose of promoting virginity. It can’t work. If you don’t want a system of racial supremacy, you have to do things which decouple race and “supremacy”. Stirring up racial animosity does exactly the opposite. Unless you’re going to go as far as the Haitians did, which is definitely not acceptable in the US today.

          • Guy in TN says:

            If you don’t want a system of racial supremacy, you have to do things which decouple race and “supremacy”. Stirring up racial animosity does exactly the opposite.

            Not so sure about this. There was plenty of racial animosity during the Civil War, but the end result was actually a system of lesser supremacy than before.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Guy in TN

            Was the outcome of the US Civil War due to stirring up racial animosity against white people? I don’t think it was – it was due to the North (its population and armies primarily white) fighting and winning a war over the South (its population ditto, although less so; its armies whiter than those of the North). It wasn’t a slave rebellion or anything like that. If it was the result of anything, the war was the result of increasing animosity between the South and the North over the issue of slavery.

            I suppose maybe one could find sources and argue that Northern and Southern whites saw each other as different “races” Albion’s Seed-style. However, that’s, by today’s standards, an extremely noncentral example of race and of racial animosity.

          • Guy in TN says:

            I feel like we’re splitting hairs here. Wikipedia tell me the Union Army was about 10% black, and the Confederate Army about 0% black. Maybe that 10% made no difference. I’m not a Civil War historian, I can’t say. Bad example on my part.

            But since you mentioned slave rebellions, let’s talk about them: Do you think they are they good or bad? I think they are basically always good, even if they are motivated partially by racial animosity. (So long as the animosity isn’t to such a degree that they set up another slave state with the races flipped).

          • dndnrsn says:

            With regard to the civil war: I’m just historically quibbling, because, yeah, we need good examples – good analogous situations. It’s not a discussion of the goodness or badness of comparative animosities. The two sides were made up primarily of white people. There may have been anti-white-Southerner animosity on the part of the black Union troops, very likely, but there was also likely (maybe less likely, probably to a lesser extent) anti-white-Southerner animosity on the part of the white Union soldiers.

            With regard to slave rebellions, they were certainly better than slavery, and certainly a lot more justifiable, to say the least. Whether they were good or not I suppose hinges on whether something with unquestionably good motivations (anyone who could blame someone for not wanting to be a slave is probably someone who supports slavery, and fuck those guys; I also have very little sympathy for the suffering in the rebellion of the slaveowners and their ilk) that is likely doomed to failure (and thus to getting a lot of rebels killed, without changing the status quo) is good in an absolute sense. Sympathetic, understandable, far better than the status quo, definitely. I’m not actually sure how I feel on this point – perhaps how good it is depends on how bad the status quo is (eg, the Warsaw ghetto uprising is definitely good – because the people rising up were going to be murdered or worked to death no matter what, and they knew it; in that situation I think it is fair to say that if you are going to die no matter what, it is absolutely good to try and take some of your tormentors with you).

            To take a less contemporarily-charged example, medieval peasant rebellions – which, as I understand it, followed a script similar to most slave rebellions: the peasants rise up, deal out some violence to the lords and so forth immediately at hand, and then are crushed when other lords gather forces of trained soldiers, who tend to steamroll untrained peasants (especially before good firearms are common). The peasants are far more sympathetic than the lords they rise up against. However, the end result of the rebellion is usually to get a lot of people, mostly peasants, killed, and then the status quo returns.

            When the peasants actually are liberated from a feudal system or something equally bad, it usually comes, not due to a peasant rebellion (or not due to a peasant rebellion alone) – there has to be some sort of competent fighting force on the side of the peasants, which rarely consists of peasants, or at least not of raw barely-trained peasants armed with pitchforks. Likewise, the end of slavery in the American South wasn’t due to a slave rebellion, motivated by animosity or otherwise – it was due to the actions of the Union in defeating the Confederacy. I think that we can safely say that the actions of the Union were, on the whole, good, because slavery is very bad.

          • albatross11 says:

            Or is stirring up racial animosity not ever acceptable in your worldview, even if it is used to combat a system of racial supremacy?

            Not a contradiction at all. Context matters, as always. It’s cool and good for peasants to stir up hatred against the king, because dethroning the king will make the world a better place. Stirring up hatred against the peasants does not have this positive effect- it just reinforces the bad system.

            I think these two quotes capture an interesting disagreement between us. One way to think about proposed norms for public discussion is in terms of some kind of broad content-neutral rules, like “No intentional stirring up of racial hatreds” or “No advocating extralegal violence.” Another way to think about them is to choose a side of each issue, and support whatever rules will privilege your preferred side in the discussion.

            When we’re deciding the rules of conversation in some venue, or what norms we would like to see people following, based on a straighforward evaluation of what benefits our sides, it’s really hard to see how we’re going to agree on those norms.

            Also, if we care about reasoning correctly and getting to correct conclusions, setting up the rules of the discussion to be whatever benefits our preferred sides is probably a very bad way of going about that. Put a heavy enough thumb on the scales of allowable discussion, and you can guarantee that all allowed discussions end up supporting your desired policies. If you want to make the argument that discussion of IQ and crime statistics should be suppressed because they will undermine support for your preferred policies, well, that’s pretty much the claim that my side of this discussion has been making for awhile now.

            So if you share the following two views that I presume the author holds (which are rather mundane, IMO, but perhaps not for ’round SSC)
            1. White supremacy is bad, and racial equality is good.
            2. We are living in a society still bound by the vestiges of white supremacy.
            Then the author’s position is really quite defensible.

            I suspect there’s an entire structure of beliefs you’re packing into the term “white supremacy,” and unpacking those is likely the core of the disagreement here. (The system of white supremacy under which we currently live leaves Asians with a higher average IQ, income, and life expectancy than whites, which I’ll admit seems like a kinda funny version of supremacy.). And I’ll note that if we wanted to engage the core idea that inequalities in current wealth are the result of past or present discrimination against blacks by whites, we’d need to dig into exactly the kinds of statistics and data that you generally think ought not to be aired in public.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @albatross11

            One way to think about proposed norms for public discussion is in terms of some kind of broad content-neutral rules, like “No intentional stirring up of racial hatreds” or “No advocating extralegal violence.” Another way to think about them is to choose a side of each issue, and support whatever rules will privilege your preferred side in the discussion.

            It’s the like the classic Atheist vs. Christian misunderstanding: I have a morality that I wish to uphold, that could even be codified into broad society-wide rules. But they are so different from yours, that from your perspective it looks as though I’m operating without a moral code at all. We just have different procedural ethics, that’s all.

            Also, if we care about reasoning correctly and getting to correct conclusions, setting up the rules of the discussion to be whatever benefits our preferred sides is probably a very bad way of going about that.

            I’m not so sure about this. Political discussion has two, almost always intertwined, purposes: advocacy and debate. I would agree that pure debate has little downside, but advocacy is always smuggled in. And there’s lots of misinformation and rhetorical manipulation out there.

            Note that even Scott has a “true” parameter in his comment moderation- a justified thumb on the scales in favor of the version of reality he subscribes to.

            And setting aside the truth-seeking question, there’s also the problem of second-order societal impacts. I don’t care if its true that blacks have lower IQ: if people are going to use it as a catalyst for setting up an ethnostate or whatever, then they should not be allowed to know its true. I would take a society that is uninformed and happy over technically-correct-but-miserable, any day.

            And I’ll note that if we wanted to engage the core idea that inequalities in current wealth are the result of past or present discrimination against blacks by whites, we’d need to dig into exactly the kinds of statistics and data that you generally think ought not to be aired in public.

            Yes, my argument is that wealth inequalities are the result of (largely past) discrimination by whites. I haven’t done an in-depth investigation on it, since the evidence seems so obvious: 1. Wealth gets passed down from generation to generation 2. Institutionalized racial discrimination existed within the existing lifetimes of a lot of older people.

            So I guess the counter-argument would be that wealth that accumulated before the 1960’s has already dissipated throughout society? Hit me with it.

          • Nick says:

            Note that even Scott has a “true” parameter in his comment moderation- a justified thumb on the scales in favor of the version of reality he subscribes to.

            This is not how Scott is using the term true:

            Recognizing that nobody can be totally sure what is or isn’t true, if you want to say something that might not be true – anything controversial, speculative, or highly opinionated – then you had better make sure it is both kind and necessary.

            The “thumb on the scales” is in favor of consensus, not what Scott himself believes.

          • I don’t care if its true that blacks have lower IQ: if people are going to use it as a catalyst for setting up an ethnostate or whatever, then they should not be allowed to know its true.

            Setting up an ethnostate is extraordinarily unlikely, more like paranoid fantasy than a plausible risk.

            On the other hand, assuming that any differences in outcomes are due to discrimination is a widespread practice. If the assumption is wrong, the policies it leads to are likely to do substantial net damage. Hence keeping true facts about IQ differences (your argument assumes they are true) secret can be expected to have bad consequences.

            Yes, my argument is that wealth inequalities are the result of (largely past) discrimination by whites. I haven’t done an in-depth investigation on it, since the evidence seems so obvious: 1. Wealth gets passed down from generation to generation 2. Institutionalized racial discrimination existed within the existing lifetimes of a lot of older people.

            Both Jews and Asians were discriminated against within living memory—Asians to the extent of being put in concentration camps and losing much of their property. Both groups arrived, for the most part, as nearly penniless immigrants. Yet both groups now have above average incomes. That suggests that both the passing of wealth from generation to generation and discrimination are less powerful factors than you assume, something else, genetic or cultural, more powerful.

          • albatross11 says:

            Guy in TN:

            And setting aside the truth-seeking question, there’s also the problem of second-order societal impacts. I don’t care if its true that blacks have lower IQ: if people are going to use it as a catalyst for setting up an ethnostate or whatever, then they should not be allowed to know its true. I would take a society that is uninformed and happy over technically-correct-but-miserable, any day.

            This is a kind-of breathtaking statement, to me.

            Let’s think about this a bit:

            First, in terms of consequences, basically everyone in psychometrics and educational psychology knows about the black/white IQ difference[1], as does everyone who read _The Bell Curve_ (which was a bestseller), everyone who listened to Sam Harris’ podcast with Murray, and everyone who read that Vox hit piece on Murray and Harris. As best I can tell, the number of those folks who want a white ethnostate is miniscule. So the terrible outcome you fear from public knowledge of IQ statistics doesn’t seem like a real threat.

            But then, there’s this bigger problem: You seem to believe yourself suited to decide what facts people are allowed to know. Is there some particular reason why you think yourself qualified to make such decisions? I’m a believing Catholic, but wouldn’t be comfortable giving the Pope the power to decide what people were allowed to believe.

            And then there’s one more level to consider.

            I would take a society that is uninformed and happy over technically-correct-but-miserable, any day.

            A society that is uninformed may end up happy by good luck, but that sure doesn’t seem like the way to bet. Mostly, not knowing true facts about the world (or “knowing” a bunch of false things) leads you to make bad decisions–as individuals and as a society via voting and markets. For example, knowing that smoking causes cancer probably made a lot of people unhappy, and all but destroyed an important industry, but it also led a lot of people to make decisions that left them living another decade or two.

            [1] My parents (both special ed teachers by training) knew about it when I was a kid, and found it very disturbing to their liberal beliefs.

          • Guy in TN says:

            First, I want to clarify the “if/then” nature of my statement regarding race and IQ. If it is going to used as a catalyst, then I would support banning the speech. Currently, I don’t think the dry scientific discussion is a catalyst for anything. But if that speech (or any other sort of speech) would likely lead to drastically negative second-order effects, then it should be banned.

            You seem to believe yourself suited to decide what facts people are allowed to know. Is there some particular reason why you think yourself qualified to make such decisions?

            Well in a democratic system, it wouldn’t be me personally who bans certain speech, but the result of collective democratic consensus. We’re doing a pretty good job of it so far, in my opinion. We should have the right, as a society, to ban speech behavior that makes us worse off.

            Mostly, not knowing true facts about the world (or “knowing” a bunch of false things) leads you to make bad decisions–as individuals and as a society via voting and markets.

            I think the most important aspect here is lying by omission. That is, you can say nothing but the absolute, undisputed truth and leave someone with a poorer understanding of the world than they had before.

            You’re a long-time commentator here at SSC, so forgive me for pointing out the Chinese Bank Robber issue. Does speech that comes in this form of selective-truths lead to a better or worse understanding of reality for the reader?

          • Gobbobobble says:

            But if that speech (or any other sort of speech) would likely lead to drastically negative second-order effects, then it should be banned.

            What is your opinion of Martin Luther?

          • Guy in TN says:

            I’m not familiar with the specifics of this bit of history, but if his speech was the catalyst that lead to millions of deaths (and I’m not saying it was, merely if), then how can it be justified on utilitarian grounds? (Other than the argument that the Catholic Church could be responsible for even more deaths had Martin Luther not intervened. But that would just shift the question from not whether speech restrictions are justifiable, but to one of the appropriate target).

            In US law, we already treat some speech with dangerous second-order effects as unlawful (as incitement).

          • albatross11 says:

            As far as I know, we never allow speech to be banned based on bad second-order effects like you’re talking about–you can advocate for a communist revolution or a second holocaust, and that’s protected speech under the first amendment. For incitement to be a crime, my understanding is that is has to be likely to lead to imminent violence–not just “kill all the lawyers” but rather “there’s one of those bastard lawyers now–let’s get him!”

    • Clutzy says:

      My problem with that post is less about its race essentiallism and more with the fact that the writer is just attacking people for making smart choices. Like, its basically an attack on people behaving responsibly.

      • Guy in TN says:

        How are you defining “smart choices” here?

        As “actions that benefit yourself”?
        As “actions that benefit society”?

        • Clutzy says:

          In this case the answer is both. Building your private capital and raising children responsibly and not depending on some act of god or winning the lottery to do so is good for both. The Huffpo article is an attack on competence. “Oh those people’s parents had life insurance”, yea, you should; “oh they had home equity” well yes, that’s much better than the 0 equity loans that overwhelmingly caused the 2008 crisis.

          I think people who think like the writer of this article don’t understand people. Just as an example, my father, the day my brother (youngest) got his 1st job out of college he said to me, “well I guess I’m done now”. He’s cut his work hours roughly in half, and dedicated much of it to his pet projects. If the inheritance tax was 50%, as opposed to the low amount at his wealth levels, I can say with almost 100% certainty he would only be doing his “pet projects” now. These things do make him money, because it is political consulting, and he’s won many races for underdogs, but its not very useful for society. The fact that he can pass money onto grandchildren is the primary reason he is still currently doing good work society wants.

          And that is most people. Particularly as they get older. Lots of young people are competitive, but it is pretty rare for a 55 year old who is doing ok, but knows he’s not going to ever be a multi millionaire (outside of the lottery) to be all that motivated for reasons other than family.

          • Guy in TN says:

            When she says:

            Better wages mean more money to invest in home equity.

            I don’t think the correct interpretation of her piece is that she is against whites buying houses, and against whites accepting raises. She is using these as examples to illustrate how even “good people” inadvertently perpetuate wealth inequality.

            The prescriptive portion of her piece, where she proposes we do about this situation, is pretty clearly about taxation and school funding.

            In this case the answer is both. Building your private capital and raising children responsibly and not depending on some act of god or winning the lottery to do so is good for both.

            I think the author lays out a pretty straightforward case of an example where amassing private capital is in conflict with societal good. She says:

            black families have been systematically ripped off in the housing market. Because of the racist practices of the Federal Housing Administration, banks and real estate agents ― like redlining, racially restrictive covenants and racial steering by real estate agents ― home ownership continues to work in favor of white families.

            Questions of the truth-value of the statements aside, this is the context the author is working with. Would you say that using racial discrimination to amass wealth is good in both the personal and societal sense? I think it is not.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I don’t think the correct interpretation of her piece is that she is against whites buying houses, and against whites accepting raises. She is using these as examples to illustrate how even “good people” inadvertently perpetuate wealth inequality.

            That isn’t all she says, she says that her collegues parents saving money and transferring it to her, her marrying a man who earned more than her and them (probably) leaving wealth to their kids are all making the problem worse. She is very clearly against whites improving their living conditions unless it corresponds to an equal or greater increase for black living conditions, that is the only logical way to read this piece. \

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Would you say that using racial discrimination to amass wealth is good in both the personal and societal sense? I think it is not.

            How are the “good people” using racial discrimination to amass personal wealth? Wealth passed down by your parents who “benefitted” from racial discrimination is not the same as you personally taking racial actions to build your own personal wealth.

            Regardless, you are side-stepping the point, which is that the proposed actions to remedy wealth inequality are incentive-reducing and will need to net loss. If you want to equalize school funding, that’s fine: that just means I no longer have an incentive to work because I don’t need an expensive house to get into a good school district. If you want to tax inheritances so small that they would prevent you from putting a down-payment on a house and also include life insurance policies, that’s also fine, there’s just no incentive to build up any personal wealth because I can basically pass nothing on to my children. The only incentive would be to pay for their college, but presumably you would pay for that as well, so what’s the point in me working?

          • Randy M says:

            How are the “good people” using racial discrimination to amass personal wealth?

            Your biological children have at least 50% correspondence with your race, therefore any money you spend on them has a disparate impact on your own race versus others. Ergo, if you are white, caring for your children is racist.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            her marrying a man who earned more than her

            I wonder what she thinks of the man marrying someone who made less? It seems there are really only two options – one of the spouses makes less than the other, or they make the same. One non-working spouse is just an extreme example of “one making less.”

            Considering her laser focus on the colleague marrying up, that reads to me like an envy-driven perspective. She’s only looking at the person most closely associated with herself, who has managed to improve her lot in life better than the author did. This also ties in well with the observation that the author is lumping herself in with the poor blacks who the system cheats.

          • DinoNerd says:

            Interesting thought.

            Here’s my single anecdatum: I’m 61, with no children. I’m still working, and currently crossing the “If I quit today, I can live as comfortably in retirement as I currently do” line, after having already passed the “I can afford to retire line” a couple of years ago.

            I behave competitively at work out of habit, and as a side effect of my habit of trying to fix things. I did take a new job – one I felt nervous about my ability to handle – shortly before crossing the first of those lines – reasoning that even if I failed at it so badly as to never see a good reference again (very unlikely) as well as being dismissed, I’d be able to afford retirement by the time that could happen. (This also involved a raise, and being far less bored and frustrated than at my previous job).

            I’m unsure what on earth I’ll do in retirement, and am inclined to stay working until I figure that out, unless this job becomes seriously annoying. But it will be my last one, barring extreme surprises.

            On the other hand, I am a multimillionaire – not unusual for anyone living in an expensive area who’s done a decent job of saving for retirement. (Zillow informs me that my completely paid off house would sell for more than a million, and I also have a nice fat 401K.) That doesn’t feel rich to me, just middle/upper middle class. But YMMV.

          • Plumber says:

            @Randy M,
            My son’s are indeed 50% white and 50% not, and traditionally 50% doesn’t meet the threshold for “whiteness” in the U.S.A., if they have kids, depending on the mothers, their kids may “pass” so I suppose your point may hold then.

            As a posted earlier, the Huffpost piece is trivially obvious, rich people try to pass on their wealth and more American white families have had more time to amass wealth in the past than non-white families, so what else is new?

            Given time the proportion the wealthy who are non-whites will likely continue to rise (as it did from the 1940’s to the 1970’s, falling in the ’80’s, and then again rising in the ’90’s, falling after 2008, and now rising again), pretty much following general post war booms that create “new money”, dropping during “busts”, but in general building during living memory.

            What puzzles me about it is who does the author think doesn’t already knows this stuff and will find her arguments convincing as to me the way she frames her arguments (judging from my brief skim) they seem more designed to alienate rather than convince.

            I just don’t have a “mental model” for her audience.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @baconbits9

            She is very clearly against whites improving their living conditions unless it corresponds to an equal or greater increase for black living conditions, that is the only logical way to read this piece

            I don’t think so. If an opinion author proposes a problem, you can’t assume that their proposed solution is that they support doing the opposite.

            If I say “kids in Michigan are drinking lead water”, the logical reading of my piece isn’t “kids should die of thirst”.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy

            The only incentive would be to pay for their college, but presumably you would pay for that as well, so what’s the point in me working?

            You tell me: What would happen if you, and presumably everyone else, all collectively decided to stop working? Seems like that would cause some major basic-necessity-crises, no?

            So there you go- there’s your incentive. Its the same as always: food, shelter, caring for loved ones.

            How are the “good people” using racial discrimination to amass personal wealth? Wealth passed down by your parents who “benefitted” from racial discrimination is not the same as you personally taking racial actions to build your own personal wealth.

            Of course. I presumed Clutzy was also referring to where the author mentions racist actions in the past, when he defended the people as making “smart choices”.

          • John Schilling says:

            You tell me: What would happen if you, and presumably everyone else, all collectively decided to stop working?

            Then we wind up living in Venezuela. Or maybe Maoist China, or Greece if we’re lucky enough to have some rich polity that’s obligated to cover our credit-card payments no matter how much we charge, but that last one doesn’t seem terribly likely for the contemporary United States.

            Seems like that would cause some major basic-necessity-crises, no?

            See Venezuela, and yes. But, thing is, if everybody else stops working, we wind up living in Venezuela no matter what I do. And I don’t control what everybody else does, only what I do.

            No matter what I do, in this scenario, we wind up living in Venezuela with lots of people lacking basic necessities. And I know perfectly well that if my neighbors are starving and I’m not, you’re going to try and send men with guns to take my food.

            So, depending on how thorough I think your enforcers are going to be, I’m going to either A: work productively in black-market enterprises where I am confident I can hide whatever necessities and/or luxuries I produce, or B: eat drink and be merry while I can, for tomorrow we shall die. And for plan B, try to look pathetic enough that when your enforcers take stuff from the chumps fool enough to keep producing openly, they’ll give me some of it and I can party a bit longer. Then, when it’s dying time, I think I’ll chose to go out in a fierce gun battle with you and your enforcers rather than quietly starving.

            And everyone else, who can see what is coming for everyone but who controls only their own actions, will rationally do the same.

            To avoid that outcome, you need to credibly promise not to take everyone’s excess stuff in the name of “equality”. Or you need to nerve-staple the lot of us, in which case see Plan B, appendix 2.

          • Plumber says:

            @John Schilling

            “Then we wind up living in Venezuela. Or maybe Maoist China, or Greece if we’re lucky enough to have some rich polity that’s obligated to cover our credit-card payments no matter how much we charge, but that last one doesn’t seem terribly likely for the contemporary United States…”

            If your looking for examples of heavily re-distributist regimes there’s also Cuba and Gorbachev’s Russia which seem to have fared relatively well compared to say Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Lenin and Stalin’s Russia, and contemporary North Korea, though the least bad of those systems would not be an improvement for all but the most destitute among us (I imagine some of the homeless in the U.S.A. would’ve been better off had they been born Cuban instead, but most Americans would be worse off).

            I think there’s a “sweet spot” in re-distributism, too far and you get Cuba or worse, not enough and you get the 19th and early 20th century.

            Contemporary Canada, much of Europe, and the U.S.A. in the mid-20th century seem to have achieved a good balance.

          • Clutzy says:

            The prescriptive portion of her piece, where she proposes we do about this situation, is pretty clearly about taxation and school funding.

            Maybe, but school funding is ineffective and tax redistribution is already fairly high. So she can’t be calling for those in good faith.

          • Plumber says:

            @Clutzy

            “…school funding is ineffective and tax redistribution is already fairly high. So she can’t be calling for those in good faith.”

            Only if you assume she believes that school funding is ineffective and redistribution can’t be higher, I read no indication of that in her essay, she seemed sincere in her ideology.

          • 10240 says:

            She is using these as examples to illustrate how even “good people” inadvertently perpetuate wealth inequality.

            You see, this is the problem with considering inequality a problem: it makes successful people being successful without hurting anyone look like a bad thing. Absolute poverty should be considered a problem, not inequality.

            not enough [re-distributism] and you get the 19th and early 20th century.

            … aka the Gilded Age.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ GinT

            If the problem is lead in the water then anything that increases lead levels = bad.

            If the problem is black/white wealth inequality then anything that increases black/white wealth inequality is bad.

            Its as straight line as it gets.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @John Schilling

            So we all agree that things would be really bad if everyone stopped working!

            So what was that about “no incentive to work” again?

            ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Clutzy

            Maybe, but school funding is ineffective and tax redistribution is already fairly high. So she can’t be calling for those in good faith.

            I mean, if you assume libertarian assumptions are all universally believed to be true, then everyone advocating for non-libertarianism must be operating in bad faith, I guess. This is logical.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @baconbits9

            If the problem is lead in the water then anything that increases lead levels = bad.

            If the problem is black/white wealth inequality then anything that increases black/white wealth inequality is bad.

            Its as straight line as it gets.

            The problem isn’t that there’s lead in the water. The problem is that kids are drinking lead in the water.

            Therefore, the anything that causes kids to drink less lead water is good…right? Straight line.

            Or maybe we shouldn’t try to reverse-engineer arguments people aren’t actually making, which end up painting them in the worst light possible.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            So we all agree that things would be really bad if everyone stopped working! […] So what was that about “no incentive to work” again?

            There exists an incentive to work stemming from the need to feed yourself. It’s based on the assumption that if you work, you produce something, and you either eat it or trade it for food.

            But you’ve stealthily switched out that assumption with one that says if you produce something, everyone else gets a slice of it, so now you’re having to work N times as hard to get what you need to eat, where N = number of people getting a slice.

            Since you’ve now made it enormously expensive for anyone to feed themselves in public, you’ve now made option B – work in a black market – the least expensive option.

            But option B still produces less food per drop of sweat than the original option of eating what you produce, because it now includes the cost of hiding what you produce.

          • Nornagest says:

            So we all agree that things would be really bad if everyone stopped working!

            So what was that about “no incentive to work” again?

            As anyone that’s ever done a group project in school knows, collective incentives to work don’t imply individual incentives to work.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            But option B still produces less food per drop of sweat than the original option of eating what you produce, because it now includes the cost of hiding what you produce.

            Not necessarily. Of course there are maintenance costs to hiding your wealth from the state, but it works both ways. Set taxation at zero and the maintenance costs of hiding from private entities become enormous. (revolutions and such)

            you’ve now made option B – work in a black market – the least expensive option.

            We can always make doing illegal acts more costly than following the law, if there is the political will for enforcement with teeth.

          • ana53294 says:

            We can always make doing illegal acts more costly than following the law, if there is the political will for enforcement with teeth.

            Except for the fact that law enforcement also needs to pay high taxes, and they would rather get a share of the black illegal money than their wages. In countries like Venezuela, a known narco-state, police will get a lot more money from their black-market cover-ups than the government salary.

            There is no credible way to make law enforcement work effectively in a place where all legal income is taxed so highly it doesn’t make sense to have legal income.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Nornagest

            As anyone that’s ever done a group project in school knows, collective incentives to work don’t imply individual incentives to work.

            I mean, if the argument is that targeted incentives are more effective than general incentives, you won’t get any disagreement from me. (note that the question of effectiveness is a far cry from the “no incentive” argument )

            But non-government transfers aren’t even particularly good at rewarding the labor of wealth creation- rent, inheritance, charity, royalties, and perhaps most importantly capital income, are all transfers disconnected from this.

          • The Nybbler says:

            So we all agree that things would be really bad if everyone stopped working!

            So what was that about “no incentive to work” again?

            Basically you’ve created a Molochian incentive problem. While things would be really bad if everyone stopped working, every individual has an incentive to stop working.

          • Nornagest says:

            I mean, if the argument is that targeted incentives are more effective than general incentives, you won’t get any disagreement from me. (note that the question of effectiveness is a far cry from the “no incentive” argument )

            Okay, you do not technically have no incentive to work if you get paid (de facto) based on the average of what you and your 300 million closest friends do. But it’s so very small an incentive, stacked up against a cost in time and effort that’s just as large as ever, that this is a distinction without a difference.

            And sure, a state can do targeted incentives too. But, first of all, that does not just fall naturally out of “things would be really bad if everyone stopped working”; and, secondly, all the states that’ve tried haven’t been very good at it, mostly because of Goodhart’s law issues. From behind the veil of ignorance, I think I’d rather just have a small chance of living under a bridge.

            If you prove to me that your command economy can do it better than your average neoliberal first-world market economy, then I’ll be the first to wave the red flag. But it’ll take a lot of proving.

          • 10240 says:

            @Guy in TN Capital income incentivizes delaying consumption and taking risks by someone who would otherwise have the right to consume the property in question earlier.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Nornagest

            But it’s so very small an incentive, stacked up against a cost in time and effort that’s just as large as ever, that this is a distinction without a difference.

            “No incentive” means the collapse of society, lack of food and shelter, ect. “Less incentive” means that production drops by some degree, possibly with net-gain in social utility. It’s not a distinction without difference.

            secondly, all the states that’ve tried haven’t been very good at it, mostly because of Goodhart’s law issues

            Two thoughts on this:
            1. Every state uses the law to try to incentivize production. If you don’t recognize it as happening in your own state, that is likely because you’ve normalized such legal incentives as “just the way things are” rather that legal constructs that serve specific ends. The creation of property law, for instance. While it has numerous issues (rent, capital income, ect), it’s still more effective than the non-state alternative of no property law at all.

            2. Incentivizing production is fine and all, but it’s not the definition of a successful policy. There are trade-offs to consider, e.g. increasing total wealth while concentrating its distribution could lead to net disutility.

            If you prove to me that your command economy can do it better than your average neoliberal first-world market economy, then I’ll be the first to wave the red flag. But it’ll take a lot of proving.

            The high levels of state ownership and taxation in the Nordics is working out pretty well! No need to go full-fledged command economy.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @10240
            As you demonstrate, the state creates policy that rewards lots of things, not just direct wealth creation. Basically every policy has a reason behind it, pretty normal stuff.

          • John Schilling says:

            “No incentive” means the collapse of society, lack of food and shelter, ect. “Less incentive” means that production drops by some degree,

            You are positing an incentive reduction of approximately 99.9999996% for each relevant decision-maker. Pedantically asserting that this is not literally “no incentive”, is unpersuasive.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @JohnSchilling
            Are you even aware of what I’m advocating for, policy-wise, or are you just filling-in-the-blank with your least charitable interpretation?

            Definite Beta Guy’s post was about school funding, college tuition, and building an inheritance. I think the state should pay for college, fund school equally, and levy a hefty inheritance tax. Is this 99.9999999% of the reason you work?

            I’ve been making argument for why a >0% tax is acceptable, and you’ve taken it as evidence for myself arguing for a 100% tax.

          • 10240 says:

            Capital is used to create new wealth; most productive activity uses both labor and capital in various proportions.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think it’s really important to distinguish between:

            a. I did something evil and benefited from it.

            b. Someone else did something evil and I benefited from it.

            These are very different moral situations.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @10240

            Capital is used to create new wealth; most productive activity uses both labor and capital in various proportions.

            Right, but capital income goes not to the people who created the capital, but to those who own it. So describing capital income as a reward for wealth creation is inaccurate.

          • LesHapablap says:

            Guy in TN,

            A penny saved is a penny earned.

          • 10240 says:

            Right, but capital income goes not to the people who created the capital, but to those who own it. So describing capital income as a reward for wealth creation is inaccurate.

            Those who own the capital have the right to consume it earlier; or to delay consumption and take a risk, and thereby help create wealth, in exchange for interest/profit. It’s irrelevant in this regard who created it in the first place.

            Of course the one who initially created the capital have sold it to its current owner (directly or indirectly) for a price that depends on the profit it is expected to generate, or gave or bequeathed it to someone he wanted to benefit, so the person who initially created the capital was also incentivized to create it.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Those who own the capital have the right to consume it earlier; or to delay consumption and take a risk, and thereby help create wealth, in exchange for interest/profit.

            Merely being the legal owner of something is not wealth creation in of itself. The wealth-creation aspect is utterly incidental to the ownership- they own the capital whether they personally create wealth with it or not.

            Of course the one who initially created the capital have sold it to its current owner (directly or indirectly) for a price that depends on the profit it is expected to generate

            This is not how property rights were initially allocated in our system. The initial allocation of property was not, in fact, accomplished via the homestead principle.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ G in T

            The problem isn’t that there’s lead in the water. The problem is that kids are drinking lead in the water.

            No, the problem is that kids are consuming lead, giving kids water without lead is TOTALLY FINE. If the problem is a widening wealth gap between whites and blacks then any solution absolutely has to include financial transactions that do not add to the gap.

            This water has to much lead in it to be safe for kids = do not give it to kids without re-mediating the lead situation somehow.

            This set of financial transactions is increasing the black/white wealth gap = do not allow such transactions without some level of remediation of the problem.

            This isn’t some Nostradamus reading of her thoughts, she specifically says that her colleagues, who are good progressives, are making the problem worse through these actions.

          • 10240 says:

            Merely being the legal owner of something is not wealth creation in of itself.

            It isn’t, what is wealth creation is when you use that something you own to create more wealth, e.g. by investing it in productive companies. The wealth being created that I’m talking about when justifying the profit incentive is not the capital itself, but the wealth that is created using the capital.

            This is not how property rights were initially allocated in our system. The initial allocation of property was not, in fact, accomplished via the homestead principle.

            Agricultural land is a tiny percentage of all property in a modern economy, and unusual in the sense that it wasn’t created by humans. Most capital has been created by humans, and the people who created it had the right to consume their income rather than invest it and create capital, and had to be incentivized to do the latter.

          • Guy in TN says:

            It isn’t, what is wealth creation is when you use that something you own to create more wealth,

            Yes, or when someone else uses what you own to create more wealth. The owner of the capital certainly isn’t the only one who uses his labor+capital to create more wealth. His individual labor added is often quite minimal, yet he receives all of the gains because of the legal institutions he operates under.

            Then there’s also the issue of wealth created by (or inherent to) the capital itself, which neither the owner nor the laborers can say they “created” (e.g. land, space, trees)

          • Guy in TN says:

            Most capital has been created by humans, and the people who created it had the right to consume their income rather than invest it and create capital, and had to be incentivized to do the latter.

            Setting aside the fact that all capital has a natural-resource component (thus negating any claims of “I created this” in the absolute sense), I still think you are incorrect in your description of how ownership operates in our legal system.

            The vast majority of the time, the people who “create the capital” (e.g. builds houses, assembles cars, plants crops.) are not subsequently assigned to be the owners of the capital. Most creators of capital are not legally allowed (due to property law) to own the capital they create. And subsequently, most owners of capital end up owning capital that they share only a tiny fraction of the labor-responsibility for.

            Your “create capital= become capital owner” pipeline is very clouded, if not non-existent, in the actual legal property system we operate in.

          • 10240 says:

            The owner of the capital certainly isn’t the only one who uses his labor+capital to create more wealth. His individual labor added is often quite minimal, yet he receives all of the gains because of the legal institutions he operates under.

            He doesn’t receive all the gains, workers receive gains in the form of a salary for their contribution.Both labor and capital is necessary for most production, in various proportions. The labor input of the owner may be minimal or non-existent, but capital income is not a reward for labor, but for delaying consumption and taking financial risk. (Or sometimes just the latter. Riskless yields were negative on real terms for a few years.)

            The vast majority of the time, the people who “create the capital” (e.g. builds houses, assembles cars, plants crops.)

            Sure, most of the time we don’t produce what we want, but we do something we are relatively good at doing, sell it for money, and buy stuff we want with an equal market value for the money. In a financial sense that’s not an important difference.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @10240

            He doesn’t receive all the gains, workers receive gains in the form of a salary for their contribution.

            In the legal sense, the owner of the capital owns any gains that are produced using that capital. Only later, after becoming the owner of such gains, can he pay out a portion what he owns out as wages. While we do have minimum wage laws that mandate some amount of payment, describing the workers as “receiving the gains of capital” is inaccurate (since they have to be paid minimum wage even if the capital is operating at a loss).

            capital income is not a reward for labor, but for delaying consumption and taking financial risk.

            Well, it sounds like we basically agree. Capital income is an incentive for wealth creation, not a reward for it, since delaying consumption and taking financial risk could very well lead to wealth loss, instead of wealth gains.

    • Plumber says:

      @albatross11,

      Okay, I only skimmed it before, but with all the new comments here on it, I read the Anna Deavere Smith’s essay again (but not the links, because it still seems like old news to me) and this reminds me of the stuff the weird white girls with dreadlocks (and a few young men, but it was mostly young women I encountered) who grew up in the suburbs and ran away and joined the RCP or Uhuhru House and begged for donations for “the cause” in the 1980’s used to say, they re-frame Marxist “class struggle” into ethnic struggle because (I guess) they feel it gives it more moral weight or something.

      Other than now being on-line instead of on Telegraph Avenue this is old rhetoric.

      What’s the signifigence?

      • Nornagest says:

        The significance is that there’s only one Telegraph Avenue. You’re absolutely right that the rhetoric we’re seeing online now has a lot in common with activist rhetoric from the Seventies — I said as much myself when we were talking about Days of Rage on here — but it’s now reaching a much wider audience and has much greater mainstream buy-in, and that really does matter.

  8. JulieK says:

    Why did the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002 pass the Senate unanimously, while the vote on the 2019 Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act was 53-44 (insufficient to end a filibuster and pass the bill)?
    Do you think it’s because of differences between the bills, or because society changed between 2002 and 2019?

    • cassander says:

      because democrats are galloping leftward, and have been for some time.

      • rtypeinhell says:

        Could you clarify how a “leftward gallop” pertains to the mechanics of passing specific abortion legislation in the timeframe between 2002 and 2019? I can’t see how your reply is at all relevant to the question, and seems rather to reduce resolution of the issue rather than improve it.

        • cassander says:

          I would think it was self evident. 15 years ago there was a political consensus that very late term abortions were bad and should be illegal. The republicans still think that, the democrats don’t. It’s one of dozens of other issues where the democratic position has moved racially left of where it was 15-25 years ago. Pick almost any issue you like besides gun control and the democratic party is to the left of where they were then.

          • albatross11 says:

            How about free trade? I’d say the Democrats have moved substantially right (toward support of free trade) in the last 25 years.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I think everyone in power has been a free trader for a long time. Bill Clinton signed NAFTA. My entire political life I’ve been the only person I know who likes tariffs and doesn’t like free trade.

          • Plumber says:

            @Conrad Honcho,
            Our social circles must be very different, as most of the face-to-face voices I’ve heard have supported tariffs.

            I remember riding a 700cc Honda “Nighthawk” motorcycle, built in the 1980’s for the U.S. market, thar model had been 750c’s before and afterwards.

            They went down to 700cc’s because a tariff was imposed to keep Harley-Davidson in business (Harley later told Congress “We don’t need this anymore” and it was rescinded, perhaps because Harley recognized that their customers had previously owned Japanese “starter bikes” and it was easier to turn existing motorcyclists into Harley riders than someone who never rode).
            The motorcycle tariff was passed by a majority Democratic Party Congress (led by Speaker Tip O’Neil) and signed by Republican President Ronald Reagan.

            The 1994 NAFTA agreement was passed with 132 Republicans and 102 Democrats voting for it in the House, and 34 Republicans and 27 Democrats voting for it in the Senate, and most of the opposition were “Rust Belt” Democrats who had Labor Union support.

            Those were different times, neither the Democratic or the Republican Party are the same.

          • An alternative explanation is that the change was an increase in political polarization. Abortion is seen as a Republican issue. If the question is not “how do you feel about abortion” but “how do you feel about Republicans,” Democrats vote against the bill.

          • Winja says:

            The biggest example I can think of this, and I’m sorry if it’s perceived as throwing bombs, but, frankly, most of the views espoused by Trump are the sort of views held by the likes of Clinton-presidency-era Democrats.

    • March says:

      Granted I know very little about the mechanics of bill passing in the US, but if you have the first already passed, why would you need the second?

      I’d be against this 2019 bill because I think they use a weird definition of abortion and I’d be worried about knock-on effects. But also because I think the great majority of fetuses born alive after an abortion are just not going to make it anyway, because they’re too young or because there’s something wrong with them and that’s why people were doing the abortion in the first place. Mandating health care providers to pull out all the stops to prolong a life for potentially excruciating hours, days, months or years doesn’t sound like a smart thing to do for a government. (If nothing else, who’d be responsible for the costs? US medical debt can ruin families.) I’d also be worried it forces doctors’ hands in choosing procedures so they won’t be held responsible for ‘not doing everything they could’ or ‘intentionally killing a born-alive fetus’ – for instance by making sure the fetus is well and truly dead before aborting the pregnancy – which could cause physical or mental health complications for the mother.

      It seems to me this bill is in response to the fear that a pregnant woman at 36 weeks will suddenly think ‘meh, I don’t want this kid anymore’ and get an abortion. I’ve not yet been convinced this is a serious problem.

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      First pass, the 2019 bill seems to be in direct response to several Democratic state legislatures passing bills that would allow late term abortions, and specifically the Virginia governor’s discussion about deciding after birth whether to provide medical treatment to the baby.

      This, rather than the 2002 bill, was aimed specifically at scoring points for Republicans. Certainly the Democrats are to blame for any points that could be scored in this way, by making a play at late term abortions and teasing around actual infanticide. That said, the resulting bill is a partisan attempt at nothing more than driving that wedge deeper. I don’t think the Republicans are acting in pure bad faith here, as they likely truly believe this an important bill. That said, the timing and purpose have much more to do with partisan politics than the good intentions of the legislators.

    • Dan L says:

      Why did the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002 pass the Senate unanimously

      Unanimous consent is not the same thing as a unanimous vote.

    • aristides says:

      Combination of both. The first bill just clarified that the same laws that applied to everyone else applied to born alive infants, which was probably true before anyways, and would have been political suicide at the time to vote against since you would have to argue that born alive infants are not people. The new bill provides specific standards of care that doctors have to provide or face a potential felony charge. Democrats are worried this will make Abortion providers nervous and more cautious during the process than they need to be. Basically the old bill changed nothing, but the new bill would actually change practices, and therefore has a constituency that is against it. It also directly contradicts NYs new law, which puts federalism concerns in the mix.

      Personally I’m conflicted since I’m pro-life and pro-federalism. I think I’ll bite the federalism bullet and say that the federal government should stay out of abortions unless someone violates a state law and goes across state lines.

      • March says:

        What do you think of the weird definition of abortion they’re using? If I’m reading correctly, they call killing an unborn fetus an abortion but removing that dead fetus from a woman’s body NOT an abortion. (Whereas for me, the body horror aspect of the current ‘no late term abortion’ laws definitely include having to carry around a dead and very much wanted fetus until your body decides by itself to do something about that, which could be months and is medically risky to boot.)

        How does providing definitions in bills work? Can later bills point to this one and say ‘see, this is what abortion IS’ and build something weird from there?

        • Nick says:

          What do you mean? Doesn’t it follow that, if abortion is defined as excluding removal of an already dead fetus, restrictions on late term abortions don’t apply to such procedures?

  9. johan_larson says:

    Favorite state flags, anyone?

    Most of the state flags are just too complicated. A proper flag should have a bold and eye-catching design that’s easy to draw or at least approximate. All the ones with state seals are just impossible. Also, Maryland, are you high all the time?

    That leaves Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, DC, New Mexico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.

    I’m fond of the flags of Alaska, with it’s depiction of the big dipper and Polaris, and New Mexico, with its red sun symbol on a field of yellow.

    • JulieK says:

      I like heraldry, so Maryland is fine with me. And it won’t be confused with any other state flag.

    • Aapje says:

      Relevant TED talk.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        In general I think Dutch municipalities have good flags, tending towards the extremely simple especially for the larger cities.

        See here for a list.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        1) I like TED talks but I always feel like a complete tool while watching one.

        2) I looked up my city’s flag and it’s hideous. I kind of want to design a new one and submit it to the city council. It would be cool if we had a badass flag like Amsterdam’s.

        • johan_larson says:

          Amsterdam’s flag has quite the color scheme. It wins the Most Nazi award in the Not Actually Nazi division.

          • Aapje says:

            The coincidence of the similar color scheme of course plays a big role there, although it is less similar than one might think at first glance, because Nazis typically make their symbol(s) black or red. So the Amsterdam flag would be a lot more Nazi if the white and black were switched.

            The X-shaped crosses are (also) runes, which in ancient Germanic symbolism depicts a ward against evil, invoking godly powers.

            While Germanic runes were/are of course adopted enthusiastically by Nazis, that in itself didn’t distinguish them from earlier traditions or heraldry in general. It was/is more their love for a specific kind of obsolete and/or complex pattern.

            For example, these are all Neo-Nazi flags.

            Clearly, no neo-Nazi would be caught dead with 3 bare crosses or having their actual symbol be white (Nazi’s are known for their motto: black is beautiful).

          • Nornagest says:

            What I’m getting from this is that rotational symmetry is fascist.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Better get yourself a real gravatar then!

    • SamChevre says:

      I like Tennessee–because I grew up with it.
      States you didn’t list that I think are distinctive:
      Georgia, Mississippi, Hawaii.
      Arkansas and Wyoming are easy to draw but incredibly boring.
      Ohio has the most distinctive flag.

      List of state flags

    • gbdub says:

      Alaska, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas. Maybe Colorado but it always looked kind of 90s corporate to me. South Carolina is very good but a little complicated.

      I don’t really like updates. Prefer the “Old Glory” colors in general, and the new designs have way too many red stars – none of the state flags ought to be confused with North Korea. I like “keep it simple” but I don’t think the states should all be red, white, and blue. And while 2 and 3 colors are best, 4 colors can be okay if used judiciously (Arizona, Colorado).

      A few are good though. I like the New York and Pennsylvania designs, as well as Wyoming, which is already perfect but for that dumb seal.

      • johan_larson says:

        Arizona is almost ok. That star in the middle looks a bit too busy. Maybe move it down into the blue field. Texas, sure, no complaints here. South Carolina with that crescent moon looks like the flag of a small middle eastern sheikhdom, but at least it isn’t ugly.

        • John Schilling says:

          Arizona needs to pick a color other than blue; their flag screams “sunrise/sunset over the ocean”, which does not work for a landlocked state. New Mexico has the right colors and motif, saying “desert with Native American heritage”.

          California would be quite good if it had the self-confidence to let the bear speak for itself. Texas adequately symbolizes a bunch of Americans who went off to form a mini-America and came back. Rhode Island is basically a naval ensign, which works for them. The rest are mostly meh.

          • quaelegit says:

            South Carolina’s is good too. Honestly don’t know what’s up with the moon, but they are the Palmetto State!

          • Silverlock says:

            South Carolina’s is good too. Honestly don’t know what’s up with the moon, but they are the Palmetto State!

            I read long ago that the crescent is supposed to represent a torc, but I have not the foggiest idea why and I don’t really buy it.

            I am quite fond of our state motto, too, “Dum Spiro Spero,” which has nothing to do with Agnew but translates out to “While I breathe, I hope.”

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Also not a fan of the updates. You can’t just say “X represents Y”, it has to make sense. And the limited & uniform color palette it super bland. Especially with the pastel-ization of the red white and blue.

        I admit my native Illinois’ flag is a travesty but the proposed update is just unforgivably boring

        • woah77 says:

          Meanwhile Chicago’s flag is completely on point.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Was expecting a parking boot and a bag with a $ on it being handed off. Was disappointed.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Was expecting a parking boot and a bag with a $ on it being handed off. Was disappointed.

            Ah but that’s what the two stripes represent.

            They do because I baldly assert they do, what do you mean that makes no sense?

      • Rhode Island violates the rule of tincture. Artistic freedom is all very well, but there are limits.

        • John Schilling says:

          In precisely the same manner as did the Kingdom of Jerusalem, so I’m afraid Rhode Island is going to win on the basis of appeal to highest possible authority.

          • LHN says:

            “The British Isles follow the rule the best, with the rule being weaker on Continental Europe, and generally speaking, you can count on the rate of violations increasing the farther you get from England.” Rhode Island is approximately the same distance from England as Jerusalem, so…

            https://memoryofthisimpertinence.blogspot.com/2009/09/rule-of-tinctures-and-kingdom-of.html

            (ETA: I suppose that as with the other examples of Jerusalem and the Holy See, that violation can also be ascribed to its being specially overseen by Providence.)

          • And you know what happened to the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

          • John Schilling says:

            As I recall, it was eventually reduced to the level of a small coastal city-state, and eventually to a dinky little island just offshore. I’m still not seeing how this isn’t an appropriate vexillological role model…

            But we are overdue for a Saracen conquest of the Providence Plantations. That ought to be entertaining to watch, at least.

    • S_J says:

      I am partial to the flag of my home state, even though it fails most of those rules.

      Michigan has a dominant blue field (which makes sense for the Great Lakes State). There is a shield supported by two deer, with an eagle above. The shield has an image of a man on a lakeshore upon the sheild. The Latin motto of the United States is above the eagle, and the Latin motto of the State of Michigan is below the shield…and another Latin word is on the shield, and the single Latin word ‘Tuebor’ is upon the shield.

      I suspect Michigan is one of the few State flags to bear so many references to the Great Seal of the United States. A few other flags have eagles, but only Michigan has the phrase “E Pluribus Unum” above the eagle.

      I like the general pattern, but would also like it simplified. I think we should keep the blue field, keep the deer, and maybe keep the shield with the shoreline scene…but remove all Latin banners, remove the eagle, and remove the man from the image inside the shield.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      While the state of New York has an absolutely hideous flag, New York City has a fairly decent one. I like the blue, white and orange tricolor as blue and orange are complementary colors and the combination emphasizes New York’s history. The seal at the center is overly complex and unnecessary but it doesn’t detract too much from the design in my opinion.

      That said, in terms of states Maryland and Texas have by-far the best flags in the US.

      Edit: Also I just started reading the linked article and I’m dying.

      Hey you know what sounds like a great plan to reduce division? Getting rid of all those nasty flags that signify southern heritage and replacing them with designs made by outsiders. Nothing builds a sense of national unity like reopening war wounds from over a century ago.

    • S_J says:

      Among flags I like: Indiana is simple, but makes sense for a place that calls itself “Crossroads of America”. Wyoming has a simple base design with some detail inside the image of the bison…but the flag makes me think of Wyoming, so it works.

      Ohio is nice, especially in that it’s not a simple rectangle, and has lots of design elements borrowed from the Stars and Stripes.

      Among the ones that make me wonder what’s going on: Maryland looks like the flag at the finish line of an automobile race, and Hawaii’s flag contains the Union Jack and a bunch of Red/White/Blue stripes. There must be a historical reason for both, but it makes me scratch my head and wonder why.

      Almost in this category is Mississippi, which has the emblem from the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia in the corner, and bars on the field. Those bars are similar to those seen on many versions of the Stars and Bars flags of the Confederate States of America, 1861-1865. I get the historical reason, which means it’s not a head-scratcher to me…but it must be a head-scratcher to many.

      There must be a reason that Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Oregon and Wisconsin put their names on the flag. It seems like too much, though I guess if the design is close to that of a neighboring State, they wanted to put their name on it. The State of Washington has the face of George Washington on its flag: a little more subtle, but still a way of putting their name on the flag.

    • rtypeinhell says:

      Maryland seems the obvious best to me, in terms of recognizability and aesthetic appeal. Along with California, South Carolina, and Indiana, it’s the only one I’d consider putting on my wall, and the other three are much too detailed to be identified from a distance (California is one revision from perfect). I feel like Maryland and Texas are the only ones recognized across the country (don’t know how true this actually is), which seems like the strongest argument for them as models. Maybe those two states just love putting their flag on stuff, but isn’t that itself a sign of success?

      Arizona is almost there, but the gold star looks like crap. And is it supposed to remind me of imperial Japan?

      I’m not sure the potential to be drawn by a child is as important as the other criteria, especially when swapping one stripe or running out of red ink can put you on the wrong side of a war. Good luck having a kid consistently distinguish Belgium from Germany, Italy from Ireland, Chile from Texas, etc.

    • Nornagest says:

      The basic criterion for heraldry is “could you tell what this was if it was painted on the shield of a dude charging at you from a distance, atop half a ton of angry pot roast, next to a hundred other guys with their own shields?” This might seem a little obsolete but it turns out to generalize to a surprising number of applications.

      So: all the ones with a state seal on a field or a RWB tricolor are impossible to distinguish and therefore suck. Alaska and Indiana would be good but they’re too hard to parse from a distance. Oregon is a mess. Colorado, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and DC are adequate but boring. Ohio is weird but distinctive. Arizona would be good if I didn’t hear “Free Tibet!” in the back of my head whenever I look at it. California’s not bad but would be improved with a more iconic bear.

      Rhode Island, South Carolina, Wyoming and Arkansas are pretty good. Maryland is actually pretty good too, but I’d still put it a tier below Hawaii, New Mexico, and Texas.

      The only one of the proposed redesigns I really like is Kansas, and even that would be improved by deleting the star. Indiana and Virginia are okay, but still look like they belong on a short-lived brand of cola from the Nineties.

    • ordogaud says:

      >Also, Maryland, are you high all the time?

      Yes, but that’s beside the point. Our flag is amazing, everyone else is just jealous. And if you say otherwise we’ll cover you in Old Bay and throw you in the pot with the rest of the crabs 🙂

    • Tenacious D says:

      This might just be the FO:NV influence, but I like the California flag.

      For Canadian provinces and territories (see here), I think Quebec’s is the best. It is visually simple and the symbolism of the fleur-de-lis is well established in heraldry. Nunavut’s (the most recent flag design) is also a great design. BC’s flag is visually busy, but it’s obvious that they’re looking across the Pacific towards Japan, so points for clear symbolism. I also like all of the flags of the Atlantic provinces except for PEI. Ontario and Manitoba’s flags are my least favourite–too hard to tell them apart. Nothing against the red ensign, but I think it’s better suited for the military.

      • Nornagest says:

        Quebec’s the best, yeah. Nunavut is tolerable, but would be better with a bigger star and without the black outline on the inukshuk. Nova Scotia’s not bad. I don’t like any of the others. Most of them are just busy, boring, or illegible, but Newfoundland and Labrador’s an exception: doesn’t break any design rules, but it’s unforgivably ugly in a modern-art kind of way.

        • johan_larson says:

          Quebec’s flag is indeed pretty good, with a simple color scheme and a motif that reference their heritage. Nunavut heads in the same direction, but has bolder colors. But my favorite is definitely Nova Scotia: a simple blue cross on white with a nice-looking crest in red and gold. The crest is arguably a violation of one of the design principles, since it has details that are hard to draw, but the flag as a whole looks awesome.

          The flag of Toronto is good too.
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Toronto

          • Nornagest says:

            Toronto’s flag is too modern-arty for me. Belongs on a sports team, not a municipal government. Quebec City has a very good one, though, and Hamilton, Ontario has a solid one too.

            Calgary would be competitive, but I can’t take a flag seriously if it’s got a hat on it.

        • The BC flag is too busy. Nova Scotia and Quebec are the best.

    • BBA says:

      Those redesigns are all awful. Does any country force its subnational flags to fit a single color scheme? The whole point of flags is to stand out, but these just blend together. What a perverse branding exercise.

      As actual existing flags go, I’m with the crowd in praising Colorado and New Mexico and decrying the cliche of the state seal on a monochrome background that something like half the states have. I can pick my state’s flag out of a lineup, but that’s just because I work near a lot of government buildings and see it every day.

      Regarding city flags, and tying into the “cultural stagnation” thread below: I figured the flag of Los Angeles was a ’90s invention because of the bright colors and zigzag pattern. Nope, it was designed in 1931, way ahead of its time.

    • aristides says:

      Definitely Maryland by a landslide

    • Winja says:

      Colorado’s state flag is the best. The design is so well done that you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a modern design and not one that dates back to 1911.

      The Maryland flag is a design that absolutely shouldn’t work at all, but manages to be one of those examples of breaking all of the rules brilliantly.

    • John Schilling says:

      As it turns out, we’ve had the state flag discussion here before, with extensive commentary.

      Interestingly, the Arizona = Free Tibet connection seems to have been independently observed on both occasions. I also like the observation that Nova Scotia’s flag is twice as Scottish as Actual Scotia’s.

  10. Le Maistre Chat says:

    “[Arjuna] quickly released six hundred arrows, as if he had grasped one alone. He again shot seven hundred arrows, and another one thousand. These were impossible to repulse. He again shot another ten thousand arrows and killed many in Drona’s army.”

    “Kripa assailed the high-souled Arjuna with ten thousand arrows, which set up on the field of battle a loud roar.”

    “the son of Pandu … shot a thousand arrows at the Suta’s son, desirous of taking the latter’s life. Karna, however, in the dreadful battle, resisting all those shafts with his own, cut off Bhima’s armour also with his arrows. And then he pierced Bhima with five and twenty small shafts in the sight of all the troops.”

    (all from the Mahabharata)

    Would epic Hindu heroes best be explained as machine gunners, with their chariot functioning like a tachanka?

  11. DragonMilk says:

    I’ve noticed a consistent pattern in eating a meal of nearly entirely meat (steak, korean/japanese bbq, etc.) – I will feel like I’m coming down with a cold the next day, slightly sore throat, maybe a bit chilly, feel tired.

    Can anyone relate to this and have advice on what would reduce this post-meat consumption condition (obvious choice would be to not eat too much meat, but we’re playing with a conditional here)?

    Also, let me know if it could be something associated with meat, like salt.

    • broblawsky says:

      That sounds like keto flu to me. Are you eating any rice with that?

      • DragonMilk says:

        A tad of fried rice or noodles with Korean/Japanese BBQ

        • broblawsky says:

          If it’s more than a cup or so of grain, it definitely isn’t keto flu. Maybe try eating more fiber with the meal?

    • itex says:

      Wild guess as a non-dietician: Many ketogenic dieters report flu-like symptoms during the first few days of cutting out carbs. This may occur because lower insulin levels can result in increased sodium excretion and a hyponatremic state (source). I’m a little dubious that one meal would be enough to trigger this, but you might try having some carbohydrates with or shortly after your meal, or increase your salt intake the following day.

  12. Nicholas Weininger says:

    MR linked this article on cultural stagnation from 2012:

    https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2012/01/prisoners-of-style-201201

    Summary is that the differences in dress, buildings, music, style of manufactured goods, and a bunch of other things are much smaller between 1992 and 2012 than they were between ’72 and ’92, ’52 and ’72, ’32 and ’52, or ’12 and ’32.

    I agree with this, and that it is (self-referentially) still true and relevant in 2019. I don’t agree at all with the author’s proposed explanation, namely that geopolitics and tech have changed a lot (which they have, sure) and people have reacted to that with nostalgic cultural retreat. This explanation predicts, among other things, that the at-least-as-large geopolitical and technological changes between 1932 and 1952 should have caused a similar cultural and stylistic retrenchment, and they didn’t.

    Do people have other more plausible explanations to offer? Or evidence challenging the premise (i.e. reasons to believe culture and style haven’t actually been so relatively-stagnant)?

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Oswald Spengler predicted in 1918 that Western clothing, architecture and music/other art styles would take on fixed forms and no longer change by the end of the century, because according to his theory all previous civilizations had gone from dynamism to fixed forms and we aren’t special.

    • Joseph Greenwood says:

      “Stagnation” is an awfully loaded word for a pretty neutral observation.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I would challenge the premise, he downplays tattoos and piercings in importance when they are a really signifcant shift as far as style/aethetics go, and misses the big shift i entertainment. Its not “I Love Lucy” vs the Sopranoes, its I love Lucy vs Pewdiepie.

      • Nicholas Weininger says:

        Can you say more about why you think tattoos and piercings are such a big change? Were they *that* rare in the early 90s, or is it a matter of extent/type/style or commonness among mainstream trendsetters? I confess I may be biased here by having been closer socially than most to the tattoo/piercing-positive subcultures of 25 years ago (though I never did go in for them myself). Having hair dyed a color very obviously not found in nature (or a rainbow of colors, etc) might be something worth putting in this stylistic bucket as well, come to think of it.

        • Plumber says:

          @Nicholas Weininger,
          Tattoos and piercings seemed pretty common to me in the late 1980’s, most of my girlfriends had them back then.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Having hair dyed a color very obviously not found in nature (or a rainbow of colors, etc) might be something worth putting in this stylistic bucket as well, come to think of it.

          I believe that started with anime geeks (and anime used it because Japanese people all have black hair, while visual media made by white people had four different hair colors to distinguish characters with). Though enough time has passed that now we talk about “the hair dye NKVD” instead of stereotyping people with exotic hair dye as otaku.

          • Nornagest says:

            Punks were doing it as early as the 1980s, well before anime had any presence on these shores (or, arguably, existed in a recognizable form — there was a Japanese animation industry, but most of the tropes we’re familiar with come out of 1990s series). Wouldn’t surprise me if otaku had a hand in popularizing it, though.

          • The Red Foliot says:

            A Clockwork Orange had lots of blue-haired women in it. Also, I remember a Stephen King short story (Crouch End, 1980) referencing a delinquent youth with a ‘great coxcomb of blue hair’, or something.

          • acymetric says:

            Yeah, I’ve got to second Nornagest here, died hair was a punk/rock/counterculture thing long before anime was a thing.

        • JulieK says:

          I think tattoos and piercings are a lot more acceptable in mainstream culture than they used to be. (I.e., if you want to dissuade your teenager from getting one, you can no longer truthfully say, “No one will hire you if you have a tattoo!”)

    • bean says:

      I can think of lots of explanations for various parts of this. Take cars. 1972 is helpfully right before the 1973 oil crisis, when fuel efficiency became a big thing. And we started to see other regulations, too. You can’t style a car today the way you could in the 50s because it’s horribly unsafe if you were to run a pedestrian down, and you need it to be aerodynamic to make your mileage goals. So we’re going to see some convergence in terms of vehicles. But at the same time, someone who is reasonably into cars is going to be able to see major differences. The world of 2012 had a lot more SUVs than 1992, for instance.

      I’m really unqualified to speak on things like clothing, but a lot of me has to wonder how much of it might be driven by other technological changes. Do clothes last longer today than they did in the past? If so, then you have a partial explanation for why things like bell bottoms don’t happen any more. People aren’t having to replace their clothes, so any major trend is fighting more inertia.

      And I also think baconbits is right that tattoos and piercings are a really big change in terms of style.

      And some of it may just be that we’ve explored the concept space reasonably well. Have we not seen new musical genres develop because we’re all just fine with the ones we have, or because there just aren’t that many concepts that work reasonably well and that we haven’t already tried?

      This article definitely seems related to the “innovation is slowing down” genre, although those are usually from scientists. Maybe we’ve picked the low-hanging fruit in terms of clothing and hair styles, and when there isn’t much space to go for “different for the sake of being different”, we eventually settle on something that most people find reasonably appealing.

      • itex says:

        I recall bell bottoms having a moment back in the 00s. Granted, this was strictly among women, and they were not as aggressively flared as one might have seen in the 70s.

        • Aapje says:

          I saw a woman with them yesterday.

          I think that she is a bit behind the times and there was a mini-resurgence here a few years ago.

      • Incurian says:

        were to run a pedestrian down, and you need it to be aerodynamic to make your mileage

        I read this as “you need to be aerodynamic to run a pedestrian down.”

    • ana53294 says:

      There are very niche new types of music.

      There is microtonal music, for example. Or there is 7 D music (you need headphones to listen to it).

      As others have said, tattoos are a big change.

      I also think that it’s not true that heels have become bigger and more frequent; it’s rather the opposite. Except for outliers like the Trump females, high status women now tend to dress more comfortably, and sometimes even ditch the heels. More sneakers with dresses/skirts.

      Female clothes have also become less sexual – partly because more brands want to sell in the more conservative Middle Eastern market.

      In makeup, Korean make-up is making great strides. Bb creams, lip tints…

      And changes in fabrics have improved sports clothes a lot. What about yoga pants?

      The biggest changes have already been made. I think most of the new changes are just pushing the edges a bit, because we have come up with most things that can be worn.

    • Beck says:

      I wonder if the particular years he used might be exaggerating the effect. Clothes and buildings don’t seem that different between, say, 42′ and ’62.
      Picking a year in which everyone was dressed like a lunatic to compare to (1972) seems like stacking the deck a little.

    • BBA says:

      It takes a while to identify whether something was a passing trend or a permanent shift. Until it starts looking or sounding “dated” it’s just “normal.”

      The Seagram Building doesn’t look like ’50s modernism to me, it looks like any other “glass box” office tower – but it was the first, so it’s all the other glass boxes that look like the Seagram Building.

    • Björn says:

      I majorly disagree with the article, both from the 2012 perspective and the 2019 perspective.

      From 2005 to 2010, there was a new youth subculture, Emo. The emos had wild hairstyles with extreme fringes tilting to the sides dyed in every imaginable color, they listened to alternative rock and post hardcore music, they posted on social media how sad and emotional they where. All of this is gone now, the only thing that is left is Panic at the Disco! and some underground core music. Anyone, like the author, who did not notice Emo, must have lived under a rock.

      Not only the emo subculture died, Goth, which was a quite long lived subculture that started in about 1980, is dying as well. Both are not able to attract new teenagers anymore. Metal is a little bit better off, since Metal has the best underground infrastructure and still attracts teenagers through bands like Ghost or Rammstein, but its not like in the times where all 12 year olds where drawn in by Nu Metal. You see this on the internet, in 2007 the internet and social media where full with stuff from those scenes, now you hardly see anything about it.

      Hip Hop, on the other hand, is a much more powerful cultural force than in 2007 or 2012. In 2007, there where some Hip Hop superstars like Jay-Z, but it was more segregated between people who cared about Hip Hop and people who didn’t. Now you can’t escape people like Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar, etc. You see this in fashion too, black streetwear is a big part of it, thanks to influencers like the Kardashians.
      Another big new thing of the last 10 years is the whole genderqueer scene, which has replaced Emo as the scene for angsty 14 year old girls on tumblr.
      And last but not least, the whole hipster look with buns, thick rimmed glasses, beards and nostalgic 80s look came about in the last ten years. 15 years ago everyone was afraid of the 80s, the decade of “bad taste”. Now there is a big rediscovery of all the 80s things that were good.

      I also must say, I find the culturepessimistic idea that pop culture is on repeat and its because capitalism incredibly stupid. It’s an idea of modernism that all new things need to be 100% original and may have no root in tradition. But this is not correct, western culture of the last 2000 years is a rehashing of Roman and Greek culture combined with ideas from Renaissance and Romanticism. The only thing that is happening is that pop culture from 1950-2000 has started to enter the equation, since its massively important for pop music and popular cinema.

      • AG says:

        Yeah, one only has to look at the progression of pop idols to see how much has changed within even just two decades. Fashion, hair, music, it’s all different. The through-line on Disney starlets alone is quite illuminating.

        Also, nostalgia cycles have been going on forever. Back to the Future and Happy Days and Grease and Hairspray are all based on nostalgia cycles. Singing in the Rain is based on a nostalgia cycle. Brahms was hella nostalgic for Beethoven. Ancient Rome was nostalgic for Ancient Greece. China was nostalgic for the Han Era for most of their dynasties. There have always been period piece productions, no matter the medium. Were they stagnating?

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Don’t really agree. Adele is not a substitute for Mariah Carey and Lady Gaga is not a substitute for Madonna. Both the 2012 versions are substantially better than the 1992 versions. 1992 also has the back-half of Michael Jackson, November Rain, peak grunge, and god only knows what I am forgetting. 2012 has, what, the back half of Katy Perry, early pop-Swift? Plus, MP3s are literally invented in 1992, and digital music now defines our music culture.

      On the movie front, 2012 has Avengers and Dark Knight Rises. 1992 is pre-Jurassic Park. 1992 has Home Alone, the Bodyguard, and Basic Instinct. Speaking of Basic Instinct, there’s a rather major cultural change in how people consume pornography.

      A 1992 Toyota Camry cannot be confused with a 2012 Toyota Camry.

      Dress….uhhh…I dunno, I think people might exaggerate some of the differences. A lot of these pics from Kramer vs. Kramer show people not in the 70s style of dress. Sort of like thinking EVERYONE in the 1980s dressed in neon pants, when most of the people dressed like the kids from the Breakfast Club.
      https://www.theawardsconnection.com/oscar-flashback/2017/3/6/twenty-years-of-streep-1979-kramer-vs-kramer

      Work culture is a lot different. Smart phones are ENTIRELY different.

      I don’t think there is any cultural stagnation. I think people are not noticing changes in the last 20 years and are stereotyping prior decades.

    • secondcityscientist says:

      Disagree with the article. He says he’s ignoring huge swathes of consumer electronics, where a lot of the changes have occurred. He acknowledges that TV is hugely more varied now but decides to complain about a Hawaii Five-Oh remake rather than credit all of the innovative TV happening in 2012.

      You would not confuse 1992 fashion with 2012 fashion. Everything was boxier and baggier in the 90s, and in the 2010s everything became closer fitted. Look at the suits on the 1992 vs 2012 NBA draft classes, for example.

      Movies are way different, because every big budget movie now has loads of CGI. CGI in ’92 was limited to a couple of bats in “Batman Begins”. You’d never look at “The Avengers” and think it came out in ’92.

      1992 cars mostly looked like boxes. 2012 cars look way better. If you dropped a 2012 Dodge Charger into 1992, it would look like a spaceship.

      Honestly I wonder where this guy was in 1992. This reads like something that a baby boomer would publish as part of a “kids these days” screed.

      • Plumber says:

        @secondcityscientist,

        I’m almost old enough to be a “Boomer” (and my wife who’s just a couple of years older than me is one), so maybe I qualify as an “out of touch oldster”, but I remember both ’72 and ’92 and fashion in 2012 definitely seems to me to have changed far less from 1992 than 1992 was from 1972, but 1972 was much more different fashion-wise than almost every other year ending in “2” in the last 100 years, so it’s an outlier. 

        A bigger difference to me is to compare my grandfathers life to my mother’s life, and how they both compare to mine.

        My grandfather was born in 1917 during a world war and shortly before a pestilence that killed around 4% of humanity, centuries old European monarchies were soon to be toppled by war and revolution, most of the globe was ruled by Europe, with the British Empire the largest Empire the world had ever seen.

        My grandfather began life on a farm in Kansas with no electricity and running water and during his lifetime wars and genocide the likes of which had never been seen before occurred, and atomic bombs levelled cities. From a farm boy picking crops, to a pilot in the U.S. Army Corps during another world war, to an aerospace engineer for McDonnell-Douglas whom he worked for during the moon landings, he lived into the beginnings of the 21st century, a lifetime that witnessed great and tumultuous change.

        My mother was born in 1946 in California, after the world wars but before de-colonization ended European rule over most of the globe, she grew up in a place and time of jet travel, television, running water, electricity, and the welfare state (she’s still alive).

        I was born in 1968 in California and I judge the circumstances that most Americans experience now as far more like 1968 than were most Americans in 1968 lives like those in 1918, when most Americans still lived on farms without electricity and running water as my grandfather did then.

        So yes, I think more Americans lives changed far more from a 100 years ago to 50 years ago, than from 50 years ago to now. 

        For the greatest changes in the material circumstances of Americans over a 20 year period?

        I would guess 1932 to 1952, the changes from ’92 to ’12 for Americans are paltry compared to then.

    • Winja says:

      Most modern dress is functional and the people who are in charge of the fashion industry disappeared up their own asses decades ago.

  13. Joseph Greenwood says:

    I would appreciate your advice on forgiveness. Over the last five years, I have improved significantly in applying the principle of charity, assuming people are motivated by good and not by evil. Over the last ten years, I have improved significantly in empathizing with others, likening their experiences to mine in a way that makes it harder to be angry at them.

    But I haven’t figured out how to manage forgiveness in the sense Scott alludes to in “I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup.” If Bob does something genuinely really bad, and I am confident I understand his motivations, and I still really think what he did was not just mistaken but evil… it’s really hard not to feel vindictive against him. Does anyone have any advice?

    Preferably, this advice will not throw the problem back on to charity (meaning giving the benefit of doubt), or empathy (understanding where they are coming from)–I acknowledge I can improve in both of those areas, but even if I were perfect at both there would still be opportunities to forgive in the sense I am here describing.

    • Aapje says:

      Accept that humans are fairly selfish and that there are good things about this too?

    • Randy M says:

      Feeling vindictive seems different from just not forgiving.
      Forgiveness is not accounting an offense against the offender’s character.
      Vindictiveness is wanting them to suffer for the offense.
      If you forgive them, you probably aren’t vindictive, but just because you haven’t forgiven them, doesn’t mean you are emotionally vindictive.

      In my reckoning, forgiveness is not a one way action. It requires some acknowledgement that a wrong occurred on the guilty part, and a recognition that either they were weak or ill-informed previously. Otherwise, forgiving is basically denying them moral agency.
      “You cheated, but you really can’t be expected to know or acknowledge that that was wrong, so I won’t hold it against you” is a pretty infantilizing position.

      If you struggle with letting go of anger even in the face of remorse and restitution, that is an area where you should (imo) try to better yourself. Recognize your own flaws or at least how much of your strength is an unearned gift. Or at least control yourself in the moment and try to let time heal the pain.
      If you are trying to forgive unrepentant behavior, I’m not sure that’s morally right, although it is still in your best interests to try to remain humble in cases of reasonable difference and tolerate transgressions that aren’t malicious. For example, language–cursing, identity slurs, etc.–you might not be able to enforce your norms (unless you have sufficient twitter followers) and are probably better seeing it as a legitimate difference of opinion rather than carry around anger or cut offenders out of your life, etc.
      But for serious moral offenses committed against you with no remorse or attempt at restitution, move on emotionally but don’t feel the need to forgive.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        nice post

      • Radu Floricica says:

        I hope I’m not being uncharitable, but an underlying assumption in your post is that there is only one morality, and the Actor is right by its cannons. I think the most interesting situations are those where you can understand the other guy’s motives, but you can’t empathize with them [due to cultural norms]. I’m reminded of Yudkowski here: you don’t have beliefs, you are your beliefs. That “due to your cultural norms” is almost always silent.

        OP may be looking for something more akin to intellectual humility. Yes, everything the Actor knows points him to the conclusion that the other guy is wrong, but to also call it Evil implies that the Actor’s beliefs are Good. That’s risky, so at most you should say something like “I very strongly disagree with what you did”. Couple that with understanding of reasons, and there may be a path to at least empathy, if not actual forgiveness.

        • Randy M says:

          I hope I’m not being uncharitable, but an underlying assumption in your post is that there is only one morality, and the Actor is right by its cannons.

          I do think there is only one morality, and yet I also think you are being unfair. lol. Because I said

          it is still in your best interests to try to remain humble in cases of reasonable difference and tolerate transgressions that aren’t malicious. … you… are probably better seeing it as a legitimate difference of opinion

          It’s quite possible to be wrong about morality, hence a call for humility is appropriate. No one has a perfect window to the truth. At the same time, there are plenty of circumstances where you can be very confidant of wrong doing and justly expect recompense, and see lack of remorse as a reason to intentionally withhold absolution. Intellectual humility does not mean having absolutely zero confidence in your discernment.
          Examples help.
          “You stole from me to buy drugs. That was wrong.”
          “Yeah, well. That’s like your opinion, man.”

          What’s the path to empathy here? There’s no reason to work yourself up emotionally, but also no reason not to regard the other party as a thief who should never trusted around your property.

          “You bumped into me without saying a word! I spilled hot coffee all over myself.”
          “Hey, that sucks, but around here you need to watch our for yourself, it’s crowded.”

          Okay, maybe that’s just legitimate difference in conventions and behavior norms that I don’t think are optimal but don’t actually say anything about the other party’s character.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            I think we were mostly disagreeing on how OP would get to his problem, not on anything else. I’m assuming a difference of moral systems, but that is a bias of _my_ cultural system. I’ve had a rather late and surprising transition from reformist to conservative, so now I’m on the watch for situations where one’s worldview is making one biased.

            I’m on board with you otherwise.

            > “Yeah, well. That’s like your opinion, man.”

            Incidentally, I hate extreme moral relativism. Or extreme cultural relativism. Sure, there is always doubt, but you still have to act on your convictions. To do otherwise would be cowardly and evi… oh shucks.

    • woah77 says:

      Forgiveness is about acknowledging that even though someone hurt you, you’re going to let it go. When you put conditions on forgiveness you’re still holding it against them. In a certain regard, charity and forgiveness run orthogonally, in that you don’t have to be charitable to forgive nor do you have to forgive to be charitable. I would suggest that the method of forgiving is probably best done by recognizing that it’s A: not your place to condemn them and B: even if it was your place, you’re not inherently superior in a way that the way you would condemn them would not also put yourself under condemnation.

      Forgiveness is a lot like “Let he who is without sin throw the first stone” and everyone drops their rocks and walks away. Nobody is perfect, and holding a vindictive attitude towards other flawed individuals in logically incoherent. Accepting that they caused harm and that you also cause harm, that neither of you could avoid causing harm even with all the motivations going any given direction, and that it is not your job to punish them, is a possible path to being more forgiving.

    • SamChevre says:

      I rather like the definition from the Making Light sidebar: Forgiveness is giving up on the possibility of a better past.

      I don’t think forgiveness requires not thinking the person forgiven did wrong, or not continuing to let the wrong they did affect your interactions. It’s rather wishing the best for the person, rather than desiring that they suffer for their wrong-doing.

      The top picture here may be my favorite picture of forgiveness.

      • Seen from a different angle, vindictiveness is a possibly rational commitment strategy.

        You don’t want people to harm you. One way of preventing it is to make it clear that if they do, you will harm them. One problem with that is that, after they harm you, you no longer get a benefit from retaliating–and if they know that, there is no reason not to harm you. Vindictiveness—I usually refer to it as vengefulness—is a way of hardwiring the commitment.

        This makes sense in the context of the discussion of feud law in my new book, a decentralized system of private law enforcement that has existed in a variety of societies and may be the original legal system on top of which most other system were built. It’s analogous to the way animals enforce property rights via territorial behavior.

        • albatross11 says:

          That’s a good explanation for why we evolved it, but that doesn’t mean it’s in your interests right now. (Though the ability to forgive does weaken the commitment to avenge yourself upon those who wrong you, whatever the cost.)

        • SamChevre says:

          Agreed. “Very many men will thus be killed, and no vengeance will be taken”–one of the ringingly true Kipling lines (from “A Sahibs War”).

          It’s possible to punish and then forgive. One of the verses that’s usually only partly quoted from Isaiah illustrates this dynamic. “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”

    • dndnrsn says:

      Are you looking to intellectualize it, or just on an emotional level? I’ve found I can, at least briefly, soften my feelings towards someone by remembering that they are probably like me in many ways, they too were a small child once, they too probably love their mother, etc. Warm feelings.

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      A few thoughts:

      :-Imagine suffering. Bad people suffer just as much as good people, and it’s just as unpleasant for them; I find imagining someone suffering viscerally unpleasant even when I think that they are a bad person and I am intellectually in favour of them doing so.

      :-Radical scepticism. You specify the case where you are confident that you understand Bob’s motivations; recognising that you may well not understand Bob’s motivations even when you are confident you do may make you err on the side of charity.

      :-Think about all the other bad people. There are vast numbers of people out there who do terrible things to one another for a variety of reasons but, if you’re anything like me, it’s only a handful who make you viscerally angry, and those generally aren’t the worst ones, they’re the ones in your outgroup. When you’re angry with Bob it’s easy to feel as though he’s the worst person in the world; he almost certainly isnt, and thinking about all the people worse than him and asking if you really want the plagues and tribulations you’re fantasising about being visited upon him multiplied across all those other people may help.

      :-Self-interest. I find that being angry and thinking about people I hate is unpleasant and stressful (but weirdly addictive); feeling that I am extending charity towards someone feels pleasant and relaxing. That might be harnessable to do the latter more often and the former less so?

    • Drew says:

      Your problem is upstream; you should re-examine the idea of “blame.”

      Imagine that a feral cat moves into my yard. It makes a little nest under a corner of my deck, and scratches anyone who comes near. The cat isn’t to “blame” for scratching me. It’s just acting according to its nature and circumstances. At the same time, the cat isn’t “forgiven.” Instead, I’ll be cautious around the cat so its nature doesn’t lead it to scratching me again!

      Apply this to Bob. You’re saying that — like the cat — his decision to act badly was an understandable consequence of his circumstances and nature. Fair enough. Don’t “blame” him, but don’t “forgive” him either. Instead, recognize that his nature lead to harm in the past and will do so in similar circumstances in the future.

      So, your caution has nothing to do with any kind of forgiveness, or resolution of some metaphysical debt. Instead, it’s driven by a practical desire to avoid future harm.

      The caution should continue until you learn that the bad-act was due to some extraordinary and unlikely-to-repeat circumstance (“I’m sorry I swore at you; I just learned that my father had died and wasn’t myself”) or you have reason to believe his nature has changed enough that he’ll act differently in the future.

    • Enkidum says:

      I’m not sure if you mean forgiveness in one’s personal life, towards people who have done you wrong, or forgiveness towards political enemies who have done/abetted in heinous acts.

      In the former case, it’s not precisely empathy, but more that an honest look back at my own life gives me plenty of examples where I was the one who caused pain to others. And I strive to be better, but I’m not necessarily very good at it. So when I feel others have done me wrong, it’s not that I understand where they’re coming from, but that I can see myself doing similar things. I don’t know if that means I forgive them, but I at least am less likely to view them as fundamentally flawed and alien to me.

      In the latter case, I tend to lean towards Kundera’s analysis from (I know, I know) The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which in a nutshell is that maybe forgiveness is overrated, and maybe we should be throwing more of the bastards into jail and destroying more careers. But there’s no way that saying more about that would not get into CW territory, so I’ll stop.

    • Jaskologist says:

      It sounds like you’ve been excusing more than forgiving. Coming up with reasons why whatever they did wasn’t really that bad has uses, but it is not the same thing as forgiveness, which acknowledges that what was done is inexcusable, and then wishes the best for the offender anyway. Yes, this is fiendishly difficult.

      As usual, C.S. Lewis got there first:

      But even if he is absolutely fully to blame we still have to forgive him; and even if ninety-nine percent of his apparent guilt can be explained away by really good excuses, the problem of forgiveness begins with the one percent guilt which is left over. To excuse what can really produce good excuses is not Christian character; it is only fairness. To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.

      This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life—to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son—how can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night ‘forgive our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.’ We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what He says.

  14. johan_larson says:

    In the wake of the recent decision to cancel dramatically scale back the California high-speed rail projects, Megan McArdle wrote an article explaining why it is so difficult to build high-speed rail projects in the US. In her opinion, the problem is that it authority is too decentralized between the feds, the states, and the municipalities. There are simply too many organizations who can say no or who have standing to file suit against a project, and they all have to be brought on side somehow.

    So, what’s the answer? Do projects like this need to be run by some more highly placed authority with some ability to ignore parochial concerns (like the federal government), or would the rules themselves have to be changed to make these projects viable?

    • A1987dM says:

      There’s no way California alone is more decentralized than the UK, France, Belgium and the Netherlands combined (or probably even than the Brussels region alone), and yet… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurostar

      • Aapje says:

        Well, the plan is to fully connect Amsterdam in 2020, so that’s 35 years after the first Eurostar too to the rails. And that is a relatively successful project.

        The European Audit Chamber did an audit of European high-speed rail:

        We found that the EU’s current long-term plan is not supported by credible analysis, is unlikely to be achieved, and lacks a solid EU-wide strategic approach. Although the length of the national high-speed rail networks is growing, the Commission’s 2011 target of tripling the number of kilometres of high-speed rail lines by 2030 will not be reached: 9 000 km of high-speed line are currently in use, and around 1 700 km of line was under construction in 2017. On average, it takes around 16 years for new high-speed lines to proceed from the start of works to the beginning of operations.

        there is only a patchwork of national high-speed lines, planned and built by the Member States in isolation. This patchwork system has been constructed without proper coordination across borders: high-speed lines crossing national borders are not amongst the national priorities for construction

        The quality of the assessment of real needs in the Member States is low, and the alternative solution of upgrading existing conventional lines is not often given due consideration, even though the savings achieved when this option is used can be significant. The decision to build high-speed lines is often based on political considerations, and cost benefit analyses are not used generally as a tool to support cost-efficient decision-making

        High-speed rail infrastructure is expensive, and is becoming more so: on average, the lines we audited cost 25 million euro per km (not taking into account the more expensive tunnelling projects). The costs involved could in fact have been far lower, with little or no impact on operations. This is because very high-speed lines are not needed everywhere they have been built. In many cases, trains run on very high-speed lines at far lower average speeds than the line is designed to handle. The cost of a line increases proportionally with the design speed […] Such high speeds, however, are never reached in practice: trains run on average at only around 45 % of the line’s design speed on the lines audited, and only two lines were operating at an average speed above 200 km/h, and none above 250 km/h. Average speed so far below the design speed raises questions as to sound financial management

        They also found low passenger numbers and that the cost per minute of travel time saved was more than 100 million euros for half of the audited lines.

    • Jaskologist says:

      The answer is to not build high-speed rail.

      The problem isn’t that the little people keep mucking up the plans of the important people. The problem is that some people keep wanting to do things that are not wanted by the ones who would have to actually pay the price. Stop doing those things.

      • Do you think that the people of East Asia and Europe are upset with their High Speed Rail?

        • Aapje says:

          I think that depends on the line in question.

          The Dutch HSL-Zuid was a major disaster, with the high-speed trains only running for 40 days before parts falling off the trains resulted in service being cancelled and the trains returned to the manufacturer. Now regular trains run on the high speed tracks at slow speeds, at a cost of 12 billion euros.

          One in four Spanish high-speed train stations handle less than 100 passengers a day. In 2015, there were 12,000 passengers per kilometre of high-speed rail in Spain. In France and Japan, it was 61,000 and 158,000. So that’s an enormous difference in utilization.

          • LA to San Francisco is low hanging fruit. It’s like asking if there is enough demand for a line from Paris to Brussels.

          • ordogaud says:

            >LA to San Francisco is low hanging fruit. It’s like asking if there is enough demand for a line from Paris to Brussels.

            Is it though? Are we certain that travelers between LA and SF would reliably choose the train over flying or driving and that there’s enough of them to cover the costs? Flying will likely still be faster, and plenty of drivers will still want the freedom/independence of a car.

            I mean you’d think D.C. to Boston high speed line would be the real low hanging fruit. But even if they replaced the current line with high-speed rail I sort of doubt many folks would start using it that often. It’ll still be more expensive than just hopping on a MegaBus for normal folks, and wealthy and/or business types will probably continue to fly.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            I find myself wondering what niche trains (high speed or not) would be able to meet that are not already being met. Trains are necessarily less flexible than buses, because we already have the infrastructure for the buses. Trains are also slower than planes, while requiring similar levels of logistic tasks (getting to and from stations/airports, etc.). Planes are even more flexible than trains, since you don’t need any infrastructure between airports, so adding new destinations is as simple as building a new end-point. With the added benefit or that new end point being connected to every other potential other airport that handles the same size plane.

            If trains were exceptionally cheap and easy to build (both of which are not true), I still can’t think of cases where we would want them over alternatives.

          • If trains were exceptionally cheap and easy to build (both of which are not true), I still can’t think of cases where we would want them over alternatives.

            One advantage over airports is that you can build the train into the center of a city, which is hard to do with airports.

          • Lambert says:

            Trains are significantly higher-volume, faster and more pleasant than busses whilst being cheaper than flying.
            And they don’t have the same issues with congestion and parking as cars.
            It makes sense for almost-suburban, suburban and urban areas.
            (I’m talking about regional routes here. Undergrounds, U-Bahns, trams etc are a different yet overlapping thing)

          • Nornagest says:

            I mean you’d think D.C. to Boston high speed line would be the real low hanging fruit.

            That would be the Acela, the US’s only high-speed rail line. Not that it’s very high-speed by European standards.

            LA-SF is much less of a shoo-in. It’s almost as long a route (380 vs. 430 miles), but has a lot more topography in the way (both LA and the SF Bay Area are surrounded by mountains) and has far less population to serve. You only need to deal with one state government, so that’s something, but that one state government happens to be one of the (maybe the) most NIMBY-friendly and environmentally picky in the country.

          • Nornagest says:

            Driving between LA and SF takes about six hours. Flying takes an hour and a half in the air, but add getting to and from the airport (say half an hour on each end) and the traditional checkin/TSA/boarding kabuki dance (say 90 minutes) and you’re looking at a time investment of about four hours. If you can locate HSR stations conveniently, keep the boarding workflow down to a few minutes (buy tickets online and scan in, say), and keep the TSA out of your hair, then it’d be time-competitive even at average speeds of only ~100 MPH, which is easy for rail.

            That’s a big if, though. And while HSR trains are cost-competitive with flying, they aren’t significantly cheaper: round-trip coach-class Acela tickets from Boston to DC cost between $113 and $188, which is about what plane tickets cost too.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Trains are significantly higher-volume, faster and more pleasant than busses whilst being cheaper than flying.

            These are true.

            And they don’t have the same issues with congestion and parking as cars.

            Congestion is a reason why society could prefer trains, but that doesn’t make people want to ride them.

            When you say “parking” you hit on a real issue, and a real separator between the US and Europe. In the US, you usually need a car at both ends of the rail trip, so you haven’t improved parking at all, since you would need to rent a car at your destination anyway. If you had two walkable cities, though, HSR between them becomes really convenient.

            Perhaps the US should be less car-centric. Perhaps I even agree. But you don’t get there by laying down an expensive (both financially and environmentally) expensive HSR system between two cities you want to be more walkable. Get walkable cities, and HSR becomes a nicer option.

          • Lambert says:

            Congestion is bad as an individual, because it slows down your car.

            And agreed on bottom-up being the way to make cities less car-centric.
            walkability -> convenient busses/trams/subways -> rail for commuters -> HSR

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            One advantage over airports is that you can build the train into the center of a city, which is hard to do with airports.

            True, but that dramatically increases the costs of a station and the line itself if it’s new construction.

            Trains are significantly higher-volume, faster and more pleasant than busses whilst being cheaper than flying.
            And they don’t have the same issues with congestion and parking as cars.
            It makes sense for almost-suburban, suburban and urban areas.

            I mostly agree, but will nit-pick a bit. Bus volumes can be increased pretty easily, and adding additional routes (and more buses) is fairly painless. Faster will depend on the route, available buses/trains, and how long it takes to get to a bus stop or station. More pleasant I suppose is true, but not necessarily so. If the bus riders that make it less pleasant moved to trains, we’d be complaining about the trains more. The real differences may be quite small – which is incredibly relevant when we put cost into the discussion.

            Driving between LA and SF takes about six hours. Flying takes an hour and a half in the air, but add getting to and from the airport (say half an hour on each end) and the traditional checkin/TSA/boarding kabuki dance (say 90 minutes) and you’re looking at a time investment of about four hours. If you can locate HSR stations conveniently, keep the boarding workflow down to a few minutes (buy tickets online and scan in, say), and keep the TSA out of your hair, then it’d be time-competitive even at average speeds of only ~100 MPH, which is pretty doable for rail.

            That’s a big if, though.

            So four hours either way (not including time to get to the trains station, as you added to the airport) and hoping that a large increase in train ridership doesn’t result in the TSA getting added. You’re right to say that the scenario is a “big if.”

            The problem becomes more apparent if we start to calculate an ROI. Let’s say we do save money and don’t spend much more time when comparing trains to planes on the LA/SF route. How many rides on the train do we need to give a positive ROI on a $77 billion construction cost? This LA Times study attempts to calculate the costs to ride the train. It’s from 2015, and estimates $86 for a train ticket, noting that is to be set at 83% of the plane ticket. So about $104 for the comparable plane ticket. At $18 saved per ride, to get a positive ROI would require a bit over four billion rides to get into positive range. That’s not counting repair and maintenance costs, and assumes the train doesn’t lose money in the process (selling tickets at below cost). This really good PDF on the subject provides a top estimate of 71 million riders per year (at 50% of the cost of flying, with a low estimate of 33 million at the 83% rate). Assuming the high estimate would take 60 years to reach positive ROI on the savings verses flights. Positive ROI on 33 million riders a year would take about 130 years. Since no one knows if the train could make money on operating costs at $83 a ticket, that’s all speculative. The LA Times study mentions some projected costs for tickets at the $104 level, which would make it literally impossible to get a positive ROI.

            That’s a bit unfair, since we have to buy planes and build airports, which I am not considering on the other side. That said, we already have planes and airports, so building a train at huge up front cost to save zero time and zero money sounds like a bad option. (And by some rough calculation, spending the same $77 billion on airplanes would give us the capacity to send over 300 million people a year between LA and SF, even spending a few billion on airports).

          • Clutzy says:

            I find myself wondering what niche trains (high speed or not) would be able to meet that are not already being met.

            The conceit of the train is that it is a less attractive terrorist target than a plane. If ever there is an attack on your HSR, then you get TSA for HSR, and it immediately becomes useless.

          • Nornagest says:

            not including time to get to the trains station, as you added to the airport

            I didn’t add time to get to the train station because train stations are a lot more compact than airports and can be put in urban centers. The Boston station for the Acela, previously mentioned, is South Station. In DC, it’s Union Station, a couple blocks off the Mall. In New York, it’s Penn Station. These are all way more convenient to the average traveler than Boston Logan, or JFK, or Dulles — exact gains are going to vary case-by-case, but half an hour doesn’t seem like an unreasonable ballpark figure.

          • Lambert says:

            The IRA spent a good many years trying to blow up train stations, and Wahhabists had a crack at it back in the 2000s.
            Now there’s a decent police presence and it’s a saga to try to throw your empty coke bottle away, but no airport security.

          • baconbits9 says:

            It seems counter intuitive to think that trains are less of a target than planes. A train can be attacked on any portion of its route where as planes are more single point of entry.

          • johan_larson says:

            Trains can be forced to come to a stop in ways that planes can’t really be. That’s why you sometimes hear about plane hijackings, but not train hijackings. Also, planes can be used as weapons in ways that trains can’t be, since trains run on a fixed track.

            Bad guys on a train are a far more contained problem than bad guys on a plane.

          • Protagoras says:

            But most of the airplane security is pointless. I suppose the airlines might lobby to impose the same security on trains (to hinder the competition), but the tradition has been much less security on trains, and absent a surge of such lobbying it’s unclear why the situation would change. It may also be significant that it’s considerably more difficult to steer a train into a skyscraper to knock it down.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Bad guys on a train are a far more contained problem than bad guys on a plane.

            Or snakes on a plane, for that matter.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The difference between train and plane is that the bad guys have to be on the plane*, but a train can be destroyed at any point along its route without even the bad guys ever having to get on. Now for hijacking and ransom Planes > Trains, but for terrorism it seems like Trains > Planes (assuming that 9/11 deweaponized planes substantially).

            *Well the bad guys have to do their work getting things in place before take off with very limited options after takeoff.

          • ana53294 says:

            Even coordinated bombings of a train resulted in ten times fewer deaths than 9/11. And it was the worst terrorist attack in Spanish history.

            And train security hasn’t changed much, even in Spain.

          • cassander says:

            > Now regular trains run on the high speed tracks at slow speeds, at a cost of 12 billion euros.

            In the US, getting any tracks built for only 12 billion euros would probably be considered a huge success…

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @cassander:

            In the US, getting any tracks built for only 12 billion euros would probably be considered a huge success…

            Make America Good Enough to Build Infrastructure Again, or MAGEBIA.

          • Clutzy says:

            But most of the airplane security is pointless. I suppose the airlines might lobby to impose the same security on trains (to hinder the competition), but the tradition has been much less security on trains, and absent a surge of such lobbying it’s unclear why the situation would change. It may also be significant that it’s considerably more difficult to steer a train into a skyscraper to knock it down.

            This is true. The 9/11 threat was immediately eliminated once 9/11 happened because passengers would no longer allow it. In addition to that they added locks and metal to the doors. These 2 facts are 99.9% of the reason there have been no major plane attacks recently. That the terrorists kept trying things like the underwear/show bomber instead of sabotaging trains is just evidence that they are kind of stupid.

          • Aapje says:

            A big benefit of bombing planes is that you can kill anyone on board if you make the plane stop going and that it is fairly easy to achieve that.

            That’s not true for trains. Even if the train derails, casualties tend to be low. The chance that a bombing causes a derailment is smaller than a plane going down.

            The direct damage from bombings is also fairly low, as trains are very imperfect bombing targets, being long and thin. Put a bomb in one carriage and the people in that carriage are screwed, but much of the energy will dissipate sideways, where there are no people.

            In Europe, the only passport and ‘TSA’ check for rail is when going into Britain, but that is for the simple reason that they are exempt from Schengen and thus check their borders, regardless of transport modality.

          • Basing your argument over which is better protected by terroroist attacks is completely missing the point. Both of them are targets of attacks but for both it’s pretty rare.

          • Randy M says:

            The difference between trains and plains planes for terrorists is, and I apologize for stating the obvious, the fact that planes can be aimed anywhere on the ground to multiply the effect far beyond merely the passengers aboard.
            Due to this I think a train carrying fuel or some other combustible freight through a city would be a much more enticing target than a mere passenger train, although I’m not sure if cargo trains go through cities much. Maybe near a port.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Taking down a plane is a flag issue for terrorists.[1] It gets them media and coverage. It’s not necessarily about damage. And the government has agreed to this, acknowledging that someone taking down a plane in their country is a valid way of attacking them.

            In a way, it’s a nice trade: terrorists irrationally pour resources into a suboptimal outcome for themselves, and we pour resources into stopping them there.

            [1] Meaning they way Scott does here: https://slatestarcodex.com/2016/04/04/the-ideology-is-not-the-movement/ . Taking down the plane is not their core issue, but their identity has become wrapped up in it.

          • John Schilling says:

            The difference between trains and plains planes for terrorists is, and I apologize for stating the obvious, the fact that planes can be aimed anywhere on the ground to multiply the effect far beyond merely the passengers aboard.

            Planes could be aimed anywhere on the ground, once upon a time, but almost never actually were. Then on 9/11/2001, in a historically unique incident, this was attempted once with partial success. Promptly following this unique incident, countermeasures were implemented to place the aim-airplane-at-ground controls beyond the reach of meddlesome hijackers.

            Actual terrorist attacks against airliners almost always fall into one of two categories. Those which exploit the free mobility of airplanes to park an airplane full of hostages in a more secure and/or geopolitically significant location for a prolonged high-profile negotiation re the hostages’ release, and those which exploit the relative fragility of airplanes to leverage a few pounds of explosives into a hundred or more deaths (but limited to passengers on the airplane). Attempts to use the airplane as a weapon against people on the ground are freakishly rare in history and likely to be more so going forward.

          • Randy M says:

            @ John
            Valid points, which still points to a distinction between planes and trains, just not as large a one as was available on 9/11.

          • LesHapablap says:

            If self-driving cars ever get going in a big way then HSR will have been pointless. By the time one HSR line would finish in California, it’s a good bet there will be high speed lanes for self-driving cars between LA and SF that put point-to-point travel times of HSR to shame, never mind the cost.

          • Clutzy says:

            In a way, it’s a nice trade: terrorists irrationally pour resources into a suboptimal outcome for themselves, and we pour resources into stopping them there.

            This seems to be the best way of thinking about it that I’ve seen articulated. Its true, as others have said, that it requires less explosives, etc to make a plane casualty large, but its also true your not getting out of that situation alive as the plane-terrorist. And also you have to invest a lot in concealment of your weapons because even pre-9/11 plane security was stronger than modern train security. Plus that isn’t even accounting for the miles of obscure land a high speed train would cross that would be basically 100% unguarded, and a terrorist could strike and get away without being detected.

          • Aapje says:

            @Wrong Species

            Nightclubs are also targets, yet I don’t see anyone calling for TSA checks and such for those.

            Ultimately there is a cost/benefit decision behind this.

          • albatross11 says:

            Les Hablahap:

            I think you’re right. Further, I suspect we’re pretty close to having acceptably safe self-driving cars right now, if the only place they’re expected to drive is on a special reserved highway that moves 100 mph and has no other traffic and fences to mostly keep out pedestrians and wildlife, and you have to drive yourself to the on-ramp and then turn on autopilot. At that point, you’d get most of the advantages of high-speed rail, but with flexibility about when you leave and arrive, and a car when you get there.

            Unfortunately, actually building a new 4-lane divided highway between SF and LA will probably be tied up in court over NIMBY challenges until hell freezes over.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          I can’t speak to Europe, but in general, the people who are happy with the HSR are the people at the endpoints that want to be at the other side, and the people upset are the people in the middle who get their villages displaced or destroyed.

          China and the US are near the two extremes on how this process happens. In China, if your village is in the way, your village is gone. In the US, with strong property rights and court systems, lots of people can object and wield veto power, and sometimes they wait until the project is underway before exercising this power. Two reasons for this are 1. they hate the project, and want to make their veto as painful as possible, so they wait until lots of money is spent, so they can Teach You A Lesson about daring to think you can build that, and 2. if they wait until you have already committed a lot of money, you have sunk costs into the project, and are more likely to buy them off.

          Obama talked about the China extreme in one of his SOTU addresses.

          • I’m sure there were people who opposed the Interstate system in the US but today they are practically nonexistent. I’m not asking if anyone in Europe has ever opposed any HSR project. I’m asking if there is any sizeable contingent that thinks all of it was a mistake.

          • Aapje says:

            @Wrong Species

            Your question includes the assumption that there actually is a European ‘us,’ like there is an American ‘us.’

            I don’t see much evidence of that. There seems little interest in my country in any HSR lines that aren’t directly relevant to us and especially not much concern with how well-spent French, Spanish, Italian, English, etc money is. After all, if they spend their money poorly, it’s ‘their’ money, not ‘ours.’

            So to me your question indicates a fundamental mistake in imagining how many/most Europeans think. They don’t evaluate all European HSR in total, so they don’t have an opinion one way or the other.

          • I’m not assuming that at all. Does any sizeable percent of people in your country think the HSR lines in your country were a mistake? It’s quite a simple question.

          • Aapje says:

            I can’t find a survey, so I don’t know for sure one way or the other, but given the negative sentiment in the press, I suspect that the opinion of the people will be similar.

            Note that we actually only have 1 HSR line, which is the extremely problematic HSL-Zuid. Eurostar and Thalys used to use regular rail lines for the Dutch stretch. I never noticed negative sentiment around that, but there sure is a lot of negative sentiment around the actual HSR line.

        • A1987dM says:

          People in northwestern Italy have been protesting against the planned construction of the Turin-Lyon high-speed railroad for at least a decade and a half.

          • There’s a difference between protesting against a planned HSR and one that’s already completed.

          • ordogaud says:

            >There’s a difference between protesting against a planned HSR and one that’s already completed.

            That makes no sense, why would anyone protest something that’s already been built? Or should I go protest the Vietnam War?

          • DinoNerd says:

            @ordogaud I’m still ‘protesting’ the local stadium that was paid for in part with tax money, and regularly causes traffic that interferes with things I could previously do more conveniently – primarily by a lifetime boycott of the firm which proudly put their name on it.

      • johan_larson says:

        Well, the project was approved by referendum. And the places where it won are some of the wealthiest and most heavily populated parts of the state. So it’s a good bet those who said yes will be doing a disproportionate part of paying for the system.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_California_Proposition_1A

        • When it was approved by referendum, the price tag was a lot lower, and the time to completion a lot shorter, than what both turned out to be.

          • DragonMilk says:

            I’m astonished the government procurement process is allowed to exist as is. Like Bay Area highway repair, there should be final bids with bonuses for finishing ahead of time, and minimal payments until completion. Once an open bid is completed, THEN go to the voters.

          • CatCube says:

            @DragonMilk

            …minimal payments until completion.

            Contractors would go bankrupt if you tried to do this. They need the monthly progress payments to make payroll and pay their vendors and subcontractors (who subsequently need those payments to pay their payroll and their vendors and subcontractors). I don’t recall the exact proportion, but many construction companies are really only one or two progress payments from bankruptcy, and disputes over payment can push them over the edge. (Note that I mean “bankrupt” on a cash flow basis–that they’ll make huge bank on the project by the time the job is over doesn’t help with the fact that they may not have the cash on hand to pay the bills due right now. Some contractors may be able to take loans to cover this, but then they’re paying interest on those, which they may not have accounted for in their bids.)

            Now, the Government’s Contracting Officer (or, really, the alternate KO on site) is supposed to monitor the progress payments so that, say, when you’ve paid 50% of the contract cost you’ve got about 50% of the work complete. That way, if the contractor goes bankrupt, the Government still has funds approximately equal to the remaining work, and can go after the performance bond to cover letting a new contract.

          • Nornagest says:

            Some contractors may be able to take loans to cover this, but then they’re paying interest on those, which they may not have accounted for in their bids…

            If a contractor needs to take out loans to make payroll until a project is finished, and that contractor doesn’t account for the interest on those loans in the bid they submit, then that contractor is an idiot and deserves to take a loss. Actually, they shouldn’t be trusted to build so much as a banana stand in the first place.

          • CatCube says:

            @Nornagest

            They don’t normally need to take out loans, as they get progress payments. Recall that my post was discussing why we don’t just pay contractors a little bit and then give them a huge check at the end of a project.

            To be clear, I was discussing the context of a contractor under the current progress payment system not getting one of those payments, in which case they may have to take out a short-term loan that was not part of the bid.

            If you want to move to a system where you have the contractor take out loans on a regular basis to cover the project cost until they get paid up at the end of construction, well, they’ll bid that. You’ll end up paying for the interest plus their markup, of course. I’d suggest it’s probably more cost efficient for the owner to go to a bank themselves (or, if they’re the US Government, to sell bonds at a low interest rate) than to procure this service through a construction contractor.

            Edit to add: Don’t forget that the contractor’s markup will include the risk of them getting screwed by the owner trying to play games about whether or not they’re happy with the job as completed, or whether the job gets completed. As things stand, we don’t want to pay more than 30% for a 30% complete building, but the contractor doesn’t want to be paid less than 30% for a 30% completed building, as that requires them to assume risk that the owner won’t change their mind/go under–projects under construction do get delayed or cancelled by the owner due to changes in funding availability, and if you want the contractor to assume this risk they’re going to want to be compensated handsomely for it.

            Edit Further: I didn’t refresh before doing my first edit, and therefore it was made without seeing your 1645 post. I’d have done the edit as a separate post in response had that been the case.

          • Nornagest says:

            The way I read the thread, DragonMilk suggested funding projects with a lump-sum payment on completion, to which you said:

            Contractors would go bankrupt if you tried to do this.

            I’m saying that wouldn’t be true in general if we moved to such a system, and that where it’d be true in particular, the companies would deserve to go bankrupt. It would of course happen if you withheld payment for existing projects, ones already structured in terms of progress payments, but that’s not a very exciting statement: of course your contractor’s going to be upset (and maybe bankrupt) if you agreed to pay them tomorrow and now you decide that “tomorrow” actually means “next March”.

          • John Schilling says:

            If the objective of this scheme is to be able to not pay contractors when we don’t think that what they have delivered meets our requirements, and if this is a thing that actually happens more than a vanishingly small fraction of the time, then any “contracting loans” that you think contractors are going to be getting to keep themselves solvent are going to be high-risk loans of the sort bankers would prefer not to make. And that’s going to be particularly true for any new entrants, who are going to be stuck with the sort of interest rates that will make any honest bid noncompetitive and collateral requirements that they can’t afford to meet as a new entrant in the first place.

            You’ll wind up with the same small handful of “reliable” contractors getting all the prime loan terms and winning all the bids. Where “reliable” is defined mostly in terms of having the lobbyists and lawyers on staff to make sure that no claim of nonperformance ever really sticks, because that’s much cheaper and more plausible than actually completing every contract on time, under budget, and to every party’s interpretation of every requirement. And I’m not sure, but I think the stable equilibrium may collapse to one reliable bidder per market.

            More generally, if your clever economic scheme to incentivize everyone to proper behavior requires almost everyone to take out loans, check with the bankers first to see if they’re willing to make those loans and on what terms.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Since we have an ocean of capital, how come there are no firms that are capable of self-funding their projects until completion? It would take billions of dollars, but there are lots of people and firms with billions of dollars these days.

            Ideas are:

            1. “we’ve never done it that way”. There is no way to break this cycle until someone does it first, and no one has a reason to do it first because we’ve never done it before.

            2. A long-running firm doing construction is a ripe target for lawsuits after the fact. If firms naturally dissolve and reform every decade, there may be a competitive reason for that.

          • DragonMilk says:

            The objection to financing doesn’t make sense to me – any big project *should* be financed, and that puts the onus of underwriting not on hapless government officials who can do nothing about cost overruns, but banks that may see collateral erode if a good job isn’t done.

            Governments definitely are at fault for shifting goalposts all the time (NYC is notorious for this), but if there’s a super-specific pre-approved plan, then there’s enough scope for bids and a referendum

          • CatCube says:

            @DragonMilk

            The objection to financing doesn’t make sense to me – any big project *should* be financed, and that puts the onus of underwriting not on hapless government officials who can do nothing about cost overruns, but banks that may see collateral erode if a good job isn’t done.

            This is one of those things that seem wrong in so many directions that it’s hard to know where to start. Maybe you’ve got a deeper plan that makes sense, but I’m not seeing it.

            First off, John is correct, though I’m not sure it’s guaranteed that it’ll even collapse to a single contractor per market.

            If I understand your proposal correctly, you’re basically saying that a contractor working on a civil works project will become a real estate developer–that is, a company who finances the construction of improvements to property in order to lease or sell them at a profit–except that they don’t own the land (so can’t sell it to any willing buyer to make a profit), nor can they put a lien on it (to capture the value of a sale by the owner).

            I’m sure you’ll find somebody to bid on some of these, but man, it’s hard to imagine the percentage bite they’re going to expect to take on that risk.

            Maybe it will help discussing a specific project: the tunnel portion of the Alaska Way Viaduct Replacement. Quickly looking up some info, the as-bid cost for that tunnel was $1.2bb (I don’t know if that was a separate contract or the value of the Contract Line Item). If I understand what you’re saying correctly, the expectation would be that whoever had the bid for the tunnel should have gotten a loan for 1.2bb, and the state and city shouldn’t pay a penny until the project is complete. When construction was halted and additional cost accrued due to a steel drill string left in the path of the tunnel boring machine, are you expecting that the tunnel contractor is going to get told to suck a dick, and they’ll get the $1.2bb at the end of the project regardless of how much additional money that took? Because if the answer is “we’ll renegotiate in that case,” well, that’s not any different than what we do now. So either we end up with a lot of contractors walking away from half-completed projects, or we just end up modifying contracts to cover the overruns exactly the way we do now, plus we’re paying the huge premium for contractor loans.

            Bottom line, this seems like adding epicycles that won’t fix the fundamental problem, which is poor estimating and contract management by governmental agencies. It’s just adding more beaks to be wetted.

          • DragonMilk says:

            @CatCube

            Let’s just go with a very basic scenario – suppose due to population dynamics, an existing bridge is too congested and there’s a clamor for a new one placed upstream.

            Here are the proposed steps:
            1. Government identifies land available to build said bridge and hires surveyers to examine the landscape upon which the bridge is to be built; it’s a 1km bridge and estimated to cost $110MM and take 14 months.
            2. Armed with surveying info, Government specifies *exactly* the weight bearing needed, when the bridge needs to be completed, and what land is available to be used.
            3. Government opens the project up for bids, opening at $110MM, conditional on voter approval, with a flat weekly bonus for ahead-of time completion based on an estimate of increased productivity that results from the new bridge (value of time saved might be subjective, but this can be debated separately). Government states that milestone payments will total [20%] of the total award.
            4. Once bids are in hand, government asks for voter approval to spend up to $110MM for a bridge, plus any incentives for early completion.
            5. If voters approve, then the top [5] bidders are informed that they are top 3 and asked to provide a final bid. The cover bid (2nd highest) is revealed.

            So let’s say the winning bid is for $100MM. Winner gets $5MM for completing foundations, $5MM for completing construction of supports, $5MM for completing assembly of superstructure, $5MM for pouring slab, and $80MM for finishing it up. In addition, bidder gets a completion ahead of time bonus of let’s asy $8MM for finishing 8 weeks early.

            Your objection is that any contractor would go bankrupt for such a scheme. My point is that the above is something that is easily financed and underwritten. The winner could be an infrastructure fund who was able to obtain 70% advance rate financing from a bank. Infrastructure fund then goes out to hire contractors to complete the job ASAP. This is bread and butter project finance.

            Any complications are risks baked into the bid, and if necessary find an insurer too. What do you suppose the point of banks, insurance companies, and investors are?

    • CatCube says:

      The problem is that many of the constraints are either federal law, or decisions by federal courts; the federal government has most of the same constraints as the patchwork we have. These laws and decisions are relatively recent, within the last 40 or so years. We built the interstate highway system using the same patchwork of organizations you see, but they didn’t have to study everything to death. They just did stuff. Barring getting rid of these constraints, even the federal government isn’t the organization you’re looking for.

      The issue with high-speed rail (or, really, all major civil works) that drives up costs is that nobody has high-speed rail as their highest priority, even the people proposing it. I know this will generate protests, but the way to think about it is this: any constraint you put on a project means that you want that thing more than you want the project.

      For California HSR, let me throw out a toy hypothetical (because I don’t have time to think of a real example): say that the designers of the HSR system found that it would be cheaper to build a causeway using fill across the Sacramento river instead of a bridge. You’ll have a lot of objections, but one will be that this will inhibit passage of anadromous fish through the river system to their spawning grounds. If you tell the designers “do something else that won’t have this bad effect” then you want to avoid that bad effect more than you want the HSR. That’s not to say that you can’t satisfy both (build a bridge), but if it turns out that you can’t satisfy both at once, then by putting this constraint on the project you’ve placed it lower down on the list than anadromous fish passage. Multiply this by 10,000 times and you see what’s going on.

      • albatross11 says:

        My impression is that a large fraction of this kind of constraint is placed by people whose goal isn’t protection of a fish species, but rather prevention of construction/noise/eyesores close to their property. Those folks are going to find *some* kind of objection or constraint that requires that you not build close to their property, no matter how reasonable it is.

        • CatCube says:

          Right, the other reasons are captured under the “multiply by 10,000.” You’ve also got people that demand that wages are high, people who care about aesthetics, people who object to how the rail line will break up their property, people who object to the rail line being through a minority-majority area as racist…

          The point is that anybody who thinks that any of these are good reasons to design around (and some of them are at least reasonable, if not outright good) has HSR as a lower priority than these. It’s not bad to have higher priorities that constrain a design–to take an extreme example to illustrate the point, nobody would be in favor of a high-speed rail project powered by the blood of orphans, even if it was very cheap and efficient–but it’s important to recognize what that means for your priority list.

      • Some people are so ridiculous with how far they are willing to go to save obscure animals. It’s not like Polar Bears where people have actual affection motivating them. They don’t inherently value animal lives or else they would be vegetarian/vegans. They just think that we need to preserve the current distribution of species. So why is it so important to save some obscure fish that hardly anyone knows even exists, let alone cares about?

        • CatCube says:

          Well, in my toy example, “anadromous fish” was referring to salmon–“anadromous” is just the scientific term for fish species that swim out to the ocean as juveniles, then swim back to their home freshwater streams to spawn. Which is really important to a lot of people in watersheds where salmon fishing is a sport, and is an economically important food species fished in the Pacific.

          I used it because I do a lot of work on structures for anadromous fish species (fish ladders, etc.) and it was the first thing I thought of for an environmental objection that was easy to illustrate, as opposed to something like silting from regarding the area around the watercourse, etc. My example was deeply silly; building a causeway across a large body of slack water like a lake is doable (see Lucin Cutoff) but doing it across a river has way more problems than just blocking salmon swimming upstream to spawn.

      • Garrett says:

        The Interstate highway system has the advantage in that it’s fairly useful for people along the way, not just the people travelling between major stops along the way. That is, most people near the roadway themselves at least occasionally want to go into the large cities along the way. So they themselves are faced with “more noise but a much faster drive into town” when it comes to deciding how much effort they want to put into pure obstructionism.

        With high-speed rail, you don’t get any advantage unless you are near one of the stops to get regular service. So you get the downsides of interrupted roadways, noise, etc., but none of the upsides. So there is less likely to be any “carrot” for them.

        • CatCube says:

          Somewhat less likely to be a carrot, yes, but the Interstates had a lot of problems, too. These were solved by telling the people objecting to them to go piss up a rope and building the highways anyway. The backlash to that is why we have much of what we have in terms of blocking points.

          Not to say that HSR is troubled only because of these blocking points; even once you get through all of these new blocking points, you still have construction costs out of control, as Scott discussed in “Considerations on Cost Disease.”

          But people pound the table and demand why we can’t built high-speed rail, considering that we used to be able to build huge civil works like the Interstates, Hoover Dam, etc–“We used to be able to build great things.” However, those projects had significant downsides to their construction. As that Wikipedia page puts it: “However, many of the proposed freeway routes were drawn up without considering local interests; in many cases, the construction of the freeway system was considered a regional (or national) issue that trumped local concerns.”

          Letting the technocrats designing these systems trump local concerns is the other side of the coin of “building great things.” Since you can’t have a one-sided coin, if you want to build great things, you’re going to have to accept that local concerns are going to get stomped on.

        • The Interstate highway system has the advantage in that it’s fairly useful for people along the way

          The same thing was true of the original U.S. railroad system. Unlike high speed rail, if it went through a town it stopped there, and as a rule the inhabitants were in favor, not against.

    • Clutzy says:

      I think she greatly oversells the complexity of regulations and cooperation, and greatly undersells the hard problems for US HSR. In particular construction costs are high (not just because of regulation), and ridership is inconsistent.

      If that wasn’t true, governments wouldn’t have to fund all these projects.

      • albatross11 says:

        Without the NIMBY/obstruction problems, many of these projects would be underused white elephants, but they’d at least eventually get built.

        • Clutzy says:

          Yes, but in many ways that would be worse. You’d have an expensive toy that continues to hemorrhage money.

    • BBA says:

      McArdle’s views on transportation are well out of sync with mine, but okay, I’m willing to admit being a freakish outlier because I don’t like driving. So let’s talk about roads. The original 1956 plan for the Interstate Highway System was for I-95 to connect the entire east coast, from Maine to Florida, but until last year there was a gap in New Jersey. The planned route for I-95 was scrapped in the early ’80s due to opposition from the areas in NJ it was supposed to pass through, so instead I-95 was re-routed over existing freeways, with the only necessary construction being a couple of short ramps north of Philadelphia to connect the Pennsylvania Turnpike to the Delaware Expressway. Those ramps took over 25 years to build.

      Now I’m not we need another Robert Moses running around building useless megaprojects and demolishing neighborhoods whenever he feels like it, but if even something as obviously necessary as the first direct freeway link between New York and Philadelphia takes this long to build, we’ve got a problem.

  15. holmesisback says:

    Hi For anybody with a knowledge of chemistry. I was reading about equilibrium fractionation which basically means looking at the ratio of various isotopes to tell you things about the world. So one important one which is used in palaeoclimatology is O16 to O18 because when the world is hotter, there is is less O18 because it evaporates more.
    So 1) Why does 018 evaporate more than O16?
    And connected 2) Surely other istopes evaporate diffently, so why are Oxygen istopesthe only paleotheomomater that I’ve seen?

    • metacelsus says:

      You have it backwards: 16O-water evaporates more than 18O-water. This is simply because 16O is lighter than 18O.

      See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxygen_isotope_ratio_cycle
      and: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%CE%9418O

      And there are other applications of stable isotope analysis with non-oxygen atoms, see here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stable_isotope_ratio#Applications

      Carbon isotope ratios (12C to 13C, this is different from carbon dating which uses 14C) are sometimes used in archaeology to determine the diets of ancient people, since different photosynthesis pathways incorporate slightly different amounts of the isotopes.

    • Eltargrim says:

      The O-16/O-18 ratio is specifically used in the study of ice and water, mainly because water is overwhelmingly oxygen by mass, and is also subject to evaporation. Other isotopes do behave differently in different ways, but you always have to consider the application. U-235 and U-238 in UF6 behave slightly differently in the gas phase, allowing for production of a U-235 enriched phase, but that has no relevance to paleoclimatology.

      I’m not sure why H-1/H-2 isn’t used in paleoclimatology, but at a guess I would suspect abundance being a factor, leading to signal concerns, or possibly difficulty in quantifying deuterium. Some reading suggests that the measurements are often conducted on biological carbonates, which would exclude the hydrogen isotopes from consideration.

  16. Shion Arita says:

    Posting this here because it’s a little off-topic in the latest GPT2 post, but I found it interesting that the thing (the publicly released version) seems to make up its own fantasy character names:

    behold three crows and with her, a nest of fowl.
    “She buried Lucretia practicing unity in the woods,” she replies, “a little exercise for himself today, good match for love and well thought through.
    Well done, Philorrid, I’d be glad to dance to someone’s song if we catch up together after all.
    ” “Yes, we’ll do it,” Sylvia grins, “and so my baby: I’ll be Alice Joan Caswell.
    ” “You’ll wear a false hope, little Catherine.
    Otherwise I’ll have been sorry yet, but will wear little Philip always.
    ” Catherine opens the door to look at Philorrid.
    Catherine, sweetly, seems as majestic as she ever did.
    Henry pauses sullenly.

    All the other names in the story are real names obviously, but I wondered what ‘Philorrid’ was, so googled it, and got nothing. So it seems that it knows that unique fantasy names are a thing, and that even though it knows nothing of phonetics, its unique name is still pronounceable, so it seems to have glimpsed into that structure based on that (i.e. it’s good enough to not write fantasy names like “aslbhowghsds”.

    • woah77 says:

      Not only does it know how to make a fantasy name, but it knows that “aslbhowghsds” is a science fiction name and therefore not genre appropriate. The bigger issue with “aslbhowghsds” is that the appropriate response to such a noise is “gesundheit” and not “nice to meet you.

    • bullseye says:

      Is Philip short for Philorrid?

    • Winja says:

      Has anyone tried asking it to optimize for paperclips?

  17. CatCube says:

    Is anybody else getting logged out on tiny timelines? I seemed to have to re-login every time I visited a new page, but when I logged in on this page and spent about 20 minutes typing up a post it got eaten because I got logged out while typing it. I’ve made sure that I’ve been checking the “Remember Me” box on the login page.

    Edit: This seemed to start happening a few hours ago as of this post.

  18. Nornagest says:

    Suppose Gort and Klaatu descend from space tomorrow and declare that they’re quite taken with this Earth concept of “environmentalism” and have decided to enforce it. In ten years, if anyone uses fossil or nuclear fuels above research scale, they’ll blow up the Earth. No coal, no nat gas, no petroleum. Going forward, all power generation will have to use renewables. Battery storage is fine, so is burning or refining non-fossil biomass.

    Let’s just take it as given that the world manages the transition… somehow. Realistically, though, what are the limits of this kind of deal? Could you run anything resembling a modern economy on a renewable grid (and presumably with much less use of plastics)? What about with ten years of presumably highly motivated research, directed wherever you want?

    • I don’t see why not. You can build nuclear reactors–they are a more expensive source of power than fossil fuel, so we end up poorer, but not by that much. Add in solar and wind, less convenient, possibly more, possibly less, expensive.

      Land transport can be done with electric vehicles–that’s already gradually happening. Anything very substantial in the air probably needs liquid fuel, but you can synthesize that using nuclear or solar or wind power. Again, more expensive, I suspect a good eal more expensive. You might be talking about cutting world income in half, but I doubt you would be reducing it to a tenth.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        Nuclear is technically not renewable for two kinds of people: extraterrestrials with an absurdly long lifespan, and people willing to nitpick everything to gain a point.

        The catch is if agriculture can give a net positive in biodiesel. If yes, it will help us transition. The danger being, obviously, an ecologic fuckup of truly apocalyptic proportions: convert forests to biodiesel production fields, and you have at most 100 years left to live.

        As for main source o energy long term …. Looks like solar would be a pain in the ass, but not impossible as is. At 150 watts pe square meter, it would take 1.6 million square km to get to 250 terrawatts. I doubt it would be feasible to cover it with classic solar panels, but solar power concentrators would be more scalable – just mirrors, glass and a turbine. And if I’m not mistaken, also more efficient.

        • Basil Elton says:

          Unfortunately, Sun is not technically renewable either. And consequently neither are plants, winds, etc. I’m afraid if Gort is that nitpicking, our only chance is to convince him that whatever energy source he is using, it’s doesn’t meet the supreme standard of True Technical Renewability and cause him to bsod or suicide.

        • Shion Arita says:

          Nuclear isn’t renewable technically, but there’s not really too much else use for radioactive materials other than power generation.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            A devil’s advocate argument would be that radioactive material spread around is harmless, but concentrated in radioactive waste is bad for the environment.

          • Winja says:

            That’s why you institute a program to recycle the nuclear waste back into usable nuclear fuel.

          • DinoNerd says:

            That’s why you institute a program to recycle the nuclear waste back into usable nuclear fuel.

            That sounds like a perpetual motion machine to me.

      • silver_swift says:

        You can build nuclear reactors–they are a more expensive source of power than fossil fuel, so we end up poorer, but not by that much.

        Nuclear power is out too:

        In ten years, if anyone uses fossil or nuclear fuels above research scale, they’ll blow up the Earth.

        • theredsheep says:

          I’m guessing we’re screwed, then. Especially when/if the aliens realize the environmental drawbacks of solar and wind farms.

          Possibly some kind of ghastly industry would develop where poor immigrants get paid rice gruel to push turbines all day, like at the beginning of Conan the Barbarian? Less efficient than cattle, but their flatulence is not regularly cited as a greenhouse gas and there’d be an endless supply of them …

      • Winja says:

        I wonder how much of the expense from nuclear power plants is derived from the cost of insurance, bureaucratic red tape, and ossified design thinking in the nuclear power industry.

        It just seems like one of those industries that would be ripe for an Elon Musk-style disruption.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Since nuclear plants cost about 10x what they used to, you might be tempted to say that the answer is 90%. But you have to pin down a hypothetical to make sense of the question. Extrapolating the learning curve from before nuclear became illegal, I think the right answer is 99%.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          What does France pay?

    • Plumber says:

      @Nornagest,
      Almost a decade ago I read a little by called: Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning by George Monbiot, which indicated that most aspects of our modern economy could be done with less carbon and methane emissions, except jet travel, and reaching jet-like speeds (with super fast trains for example) would result in similar emissions.

      I don’t remember the percentage, but I do remember being suprised by how much “green house gasses” were caused by jets, so no, we can’t yet duplicate modernity with renewables or even with nuclear power.

      No jets.

    • Clutzy says:

      Not at all. Basically everyone in Africa and much of South America/Asia would have to be forsaken. The modernized countries would switch to nuclear and likely have to enact a culling to remove most people not working in agriculture from rural areas.

    • rlms says:

      People on the internet estimate the cost as around $100 trillion. Even if that’s an underestimate, $x0 trillion/year should be achievable just through redirected government spending plus increased taxes; it could probably be done by the US alone at a push. If you also set energy use reduction targets and invade anywhere that doesn’t meet them it would definitely be doable.

    • Incurian says:

      Realistically, though, what are the limits of this kind of deal?

      The aliens’ ability to enforce it.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Electricity is doable at least in theory, we’re paving the world’s deserts with solar panels and/or solar thermal and either building a worldwide grid or a LOT of storage or most likely, both. Food seem to me to be a bigger problem; producing fertilizer from natural gas is presumably out. So I guess we’re going to be needing a whole lot MORE power to produce ammonia from the air. Same for producing other liquid fuels without coal or natural gas. All seems technologically possible, though perhaps not economically.

      (and politically, forget about it. Every time someone files a lawsuit about the damage to the environment due to building solar plants, wind plants, transmission lines, storage facilities, mining for the materials needed, etc, you’ll need to summarily dismiss it)

    • abystander says:

      Producing new steel without using metallurgical coal is problematic.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Might be OK because that coal is not used for its energy, but if not, it’s carbon you need, not coal. Carbon is common in the form of carbonates. Provided you can get the power, you can get the carbon, but you’re going to need a LOT of power.

  19. Scott Alexander says:

    Is there already a name for this concept?

    Suppose you have a population of dinosaurs. If there were birds, they could fly to new food sources and outcompete dinosaurs and generally have much higher fitness than they do. But right now you don’t have any birds.

    A dinosaur has to go through some transitional steps before becoming a bird. Let’s say most of those transitional steps have small fitness advantages, but a few have small fitness disadvantages.

    If DinoWorld is 100% competitive, then the half-birds with small fitness disadvantages will be eaten immediately, and birds will never come to exist.

    If DinoWorld is less competitive, then some half-birds will survive, even though they’re at a slight disadvantage, and maybe they can wander around aimlessly enough that one of them takes the next step and evolves into a full bird with a fitness advantage.

    So it’s very important that DinoWorld not be too competitive, or have far-off isolated valleys, or include some random factor where sometimes worse animals win, or something like that. If you want to evolve the “best” animals, you want some level of competitiveness between 0% and 100%.

    The same is true in any other evolving system, like capitalism. Suppose that there’s some kind of basic physics research that doesn’t look promising, but will actually invent infinite free vacuum energy. In a very competitive economy, the research never happens. In a less competitive economy, where some people are eccentric billionaires and do things for no reason, the research might happen, discover the free energy, and then take over everything and produce trillions of dollars. So it seems like one interesting parameter of an economy is how competitive it is, with some optimal number between 0% and 100%.

    What is the right keyword to look up to learn more about these kinds of dynamics?

    • Enkidum says:

      +1 that I want to know the keyword. It’s analogous to exploration in a reinforcement learning sense, but that’s usually used to describe individual agents within an environment, not adaptive landscapes.

      • Incurian says:

        Yeah it sounds similar to whatever the opposite of greedy hill climbing is.

      • Enkidum says:

        So I posted this somehow assuming that “adaptive landscape” was in the post, because that’s more or less what it’s talking about. But apparently it’s not.

        As others have said, the keywords you want are things like “adaptive/fitness landscape”, “local maxima/minima”, “hill-climbing”, “temperature/entropy/mutability”, and that ought to get you a good enough start.

        I think there’s a lot of crossover with the reinforcement learning literature, especially looking at learning rate, which you posted about a few weeks ago in regards to nicotine, and meta-learning models.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I went looking based on “local maxima” and “evolution” and ended up at this paper, which suggests “adaptive landscape” may be a useful keyword.

    • chrisminor0008 says:

      That seems similar to the idea of simulated annealing, which is a computer science technique for finding the maximum of some function. Start with the idea of gradient descent, which is to make very small adjustments to existing guesses and take only the adjustments that improve your guesses. But the problem with gradient descent is that you’re liable to get stuck in local maxima. Simulated annealing tweaks this by choosing worse guesses with some probability, and this probability is slowly decreased to zero as the simulation progresses.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hill_climbing
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stochastic_gradient_descent
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simulated_annealing

    • Rana Dexsin says:

      I kind of agree with the simulated annealing comment, but more specifically a variable you’re looking for is “temperature” in that context; a higher temperature means more randomness / disregard for small differences, which helps get you get out of local minima.

    • sorrento says:

      People like to talk about “non-convex optimization” (roughly speaking, optimizing a function which has at least one minimum other than the global minimum.)

      Personally, I don’t really like the metaphor of function optimization for evolution, but function optimization is what the cool kids are talking about in AI research these days…

      So it’s very important that DinoWorld not be too competitive, or have far-off isolated valleys, or include some random factor where sometimes worse animals win, or something like that. If you want to evolve the “best” animals, you want some level of competitiveness between 0% and 100%.

      Reproductive isolation happens a lot in the real world. I remember reading a book by a biologist who suggested that the rapidly changing climate of the ice ages helped humanity evolve faster, by periodically creating reproductive isolation (plus extreme conditions). (Sorry, I don’t remember the author’s name…)

      This same book explained that our ancestors spent a million years creating teardrop-shaped pieces of stone sharpened on all sides. Our ancestors spent literally a million years creating these things, but there isn’t a clear consensus among academics what they were for.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      overfit

    • LesHapablap says:

      In my complete non-expert opinion, you’re talking about two things:
      -resources available. If there are more resources than anyone needs to survive, people can try all sorts of crazy things. Like how aristocrats with lots of time on their hands can study science in the 1800s
      -mutation rate. In evolutionary solver algorithms for non-linear problems, if the mutation rate is too low then once one solution works well enough, the algorithm gets stuck in that spot.

      This will be very ignorant so please someone correct me: if interest rates in an economy are very low, then a lot of projects become viable and many companies will take projects off the shelf to start as soon as interest rates reach a certain low level. For example, an oil and gas company in Papua New Guinea might decide that with low interest rates, it now makes sense to purchase some new model of helicopter which would have advantages over the old fleet. So the new helicopter, like an organism, will start to multiply and spread across the world, but only if the conditions are right.

    • In the capitalist context, all you need are investors willing to accept a high probability of a small loss in exchange for a small probability of a large gain.

      Of course, if there isn’t a way of maintaining ownership of the technology, the gain to the inventors will be much less than the total gain to everyone, so some things worth inventing won’t get invented. But that’s true with the approach you are suggesting as well.

      A different way of putting the argument is that this is a benefit from extreme income inequality. If there are a few billionaires around, one of them may think that subsidizing far out physics research is worth doing. That can still happen in a competitive economy. Think of it as the privileged minority solution to the public good problem.

      • J Mann says:

        David, I think what Scott means is that in his example, the physics principle is “basic” and therefore not protectable through IP. A rational firm wouldn’t invest in research that it can’t profit from.

        In that case, it’s a public good, or an opportunity for IP reform.

        • There are ways of profiting from basic research other than IP protection—first mover advantages and the like. The profit is likely to be a good deal less than the social benefit of the research, so some things worth doing don’t get done, but that’s true of the process Scott is describing as well.

    • Shmooper says:

      Scott, you should take a look at this article : “Survival of the Mediocre Mediocre” by Venkatesh Rao

      https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2018/04/24/survival-of-the-mediocre-mediocre/

      “Back in the Cretaceous era, to rule the earth was to be a dinosaur, and to be an excellent dinosaur was to be a large, apex-predator dinosaur capable of starring in Steven Spielberg movies.

      Then the asteroid hit, and as we know now, the most excellent and charismatic dinosaurs, such as the T-Rex and the velociraptor, didn’t survive.
      What did survive? The mediocre dinosaurs, the crappy, mid-sized gliding-flying ones that would evolve into a thriving group of new creatures: birds”

      • bullseye says:

        I feel like what he calls mediocrity (with regards to evolution) is generalization as opposed to specialization. And it does make sense that mass extinctions would hit specialists harder than generalists because generalists can handle change better.

        Later in the article he goes into human behavior, where he uses mediocrity to mean someone who doesn’t care about the rules, but only being punished. Of course evolution doesn’t care about anybody’s rules.

    • Clutzy says:

      The word is certainly “local maxima” and the concept has been known for years, but is probably not all that relevant to the real world in either scenario.

      Most real world examples of evolution are part of your “semi competitive” environment. Most male birds sacrifice camouflage for mating, many forms of antlers are too large and impede the ability of males to survive.

      There is a great deal of space in the real world for minor failures that lead to greater success, and there is also such a thing in the market. Lyft and Uber are clear examples currently in the “failure mode”, Amazon was “burning cash” for most of its early days. Maybe there is a new tech we are not pursuing that could theoretically make people richer, but the most likely explanation is that we are not currently rich enough to research it.

      • Enkidum says:

        I’m curious why you think it’s not relevant to the real world. At least one example would appear to be the evolution of really smart animals – which appears to have happened in at most two lineages (mammals and birds / possibly other dinosaurs) in all of evolutionary history. And the evolution of REALLY smart animals appears to have happened in precisely one species, ever.

        Given the clearly amazing competitiveness advantage that humans have due to various kinds of intelligence, it seems astounding to me that this hasn’t popped up all over the place. But for various reasons (I think the big one being the length of childhood) it hasn’t. Isn’t this an example of the kind of local minima/maxima Scott is talking about?

        • Clutzy says:

          Possibly. Its also possible that one of the major reasons for intelligence taking a long time to generate is you need a lot of other traits to develop intelligence. You need to evolve warm bloodedness, perhaps. You need to evolve limbs that grasp and vocal cords for communicating. This would imply that most species are not “rich enough” evolutionarily to even have a chance at developing intelligence.

          I guess your counter would be, but wouldn’t a really smart fish have a competitive advantage if they were as smart as humans, or something like that. But my point would be that humans are what a really smart fish looks like. Or perhaps more charitably, the octopus would need to develop a more aggressive metabolism before it could support a brain that does math. And aggressive metabolisms are their own reward even without brainpower (with tradeoffs of course), so its not that they are at an intelligence local maxima, its that they have to evolve an entire prerequisite trait, that on its own would probably be pretty useful.

          • Enkidum says:

            Actually after I posted I was thinking about octopi (and possibly other cephalopods) as the other case where we know of something pretty smart in non mammals/birds (assuming we could meaningfully compare between species, which is obviously fraught with issues). What I’ve frequently heard suggested is that they just die too damn fast to develop culture, because you need interactions between generations for that to happen, and that is the big difference between them and the warm-blooded intelligent animals – there is no passing on of learning.

            I’m not really sure where I’m going with this or how it relates to OP at this point, so I’ll let it percolate a while longer.

          • Nornagest says:

            Well, they die fast, yeah, but they could probably evolve out of that — there are some very long-lived mollusks. The bigger issue is probably that they’re mostly solitary animals. No social behavior means no chance to develop culture, means no evolutionary benefit to being smarter than the average octopus except insofar as that makes you a better hunter. And there’s no clear way to hill-climb into sociability.

            A few octopus species do live in colonies, but even those don’t seem to have very well-developed social behavior. Many squid are social, but they’re not as smart.

          • Enkidum says:

            Well, from what I understand (which is rather little) bears are fairly non-social, except between mother-children. And that’s enough to have passed on fairly rich cultural traditions, e.g. different styles of fishing on the two sides of the Bering Strait (I am likely garbling the details of this). But because octopus mothers die before their children are grown, not even that can get passed on.

          • albatross11 says:

            We have one cluster of worked examples of fully sentient species (hominids), and many worked examples of animals that clearly have some high level of intelligence (great apes, dolphins, elephants, crows, octupi). We also have some stuff that might be capable of evolving intelligence but looks nothing like us (eusocial animals–anthills, termite mounds, naked mole rat hives, etc.). I’m quite skeptical that we can rule a lot of evolutionary approaches out with our current knowledge.

          • Enkidum says:

            @albatross11 – I think your last sentence is meant to be arguing against something I said or implied, but I’m not sure what.

            To reiterate something like my main point: it seems really weird to me (and lots of other people) that human-level intelligence/culture has evolved precisely once in ~6 billion years, given how obviously useful it is to us as a species and as individuals. Human-level intelligence seems to clearly be a huge maxima/minima (depending on which way you define fitness as increasing) but, so the argument goes, must be surrounded by a vast region of flat or even negative fitness, otherwise it would be evolved all the damn time. So I think it’s an example of what Scott was getting at.

            Does that seem reasonable? I have a pretty hand-wavy understanding of biology in general, so would appreciate pushback/correction.

          • Clutzy says:

            I think its plausible that it is a maxima situation, but also its plausible that its an evolved complexity issue where other traits are needed and those aren’t exactly easy to evolve (even if they are individually helpful).

          • albatross11 says:

            Enkidum:

            Sorry, I guess I misread your later comment as claiming that intelligent life has to evolve in a very similar way to us. (Like needing to be a social animal.)

            I guess we can look at animals that have apparently been pretty smart for a long time (octopi, whales) and suspect that there was some kind of dead-end–they couldn’t get any further on the path to technology because something stopped them. But then, if we look at our nearest living relatives (chimps, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans), they all look like that happened to them, too. I mean chimps and gorillas can do some pretty impressive mental tasks, but they don’t seem to have built much of a space program just yet.

            My intuition is that once you get to the point of some species developing technological civilization (fire and spears, say), that cultural / technological evolution can run *way* faster than biological evolution, so probably the first species that gets there beats out all the others. That is, if homonids hadn’t arrived on the scene, maybe in another few million years there’d be a technological civilization derived from crows or something.

            And I have this odd ill-informed suspicion that you might get intelligence that worked almost nothing like human intelligence, but could still reshape the Earth and maybe spread to the stars. Anthills and beehives aren’t intelligent in the same way animals are, but they can engage in some pretty impressively complex behavior–maybe they can develop something like technological civilization without ever having anything like a human mind.

          • Enkidum says:

            @albatross11

            My intuition is that once you get to the point of some species developing technological civilization (fire and spears, say), that cultural / technological evolution can run *way* faster than biological evolution, so probably the first species that gets there beats out all the others. That is, if homonids hadn’t arrived on the scene, maybe in another few million years there’d be a technological civilization derived from crows or something.

            Yeah, that’s my intuition too. But then you come to the fact that it took billions of years to get to humans, which is just weird… like eyes evolved plenty of times, why couldn’t super-smarts?

            @clutzy

            OK, that makes sense.

    • quanta413 says:

      I told myself I wasn’t going to post on slatestarcodex until I finished my thesis, but like many graduate students before me I procrastinate. And this is too tempting since I get to procrastinate by writing about what I’ve spent so much time studying. So wall of text incoming.

      To give credit to those above, two of the keywords above are closely related and interact in the biological context and are “adaptive landscape” and “mutation rate”.

      Loosely speaking, you could break your competitiveness down into a couple factors.

      One is how big of a difference in survival does the typical transition between your dino-bird states make? Or as we say, what’s the difference in fitness between them. For this to be defined more rigorously you want to know what sort of randomness goes into this. The difference in fitness between two individual is typically defined to be delta_f if on average one individual would reproduce delta f times more per generation. But it’s also important what the spread in the results would be if you reran this competition repeatedly. In evolutionary biology, we often assume reproduction follows a poisson distribution if we’re looking at growth rates independent of each other. If we’re considering competition between individuals we often assume reproduction from generation to generation follows a multinomial distribution (there’s a type of evolutionary dynamics for fixed population sizes called wright-fisher dynamics that has this). This means population size is pretty important, because if reproduction from generation to generation follows a multinomial distribution small populations will have much noisier fitness dynamics than large ones.

      It’s also important to keep in mind that a lot of textbooks and human intuitions implicitly think of maximization in low dimensional spaces where it may be hard to cross valleys of low fitness in your landscape of dinobird forms. But genetic space is extremely high dimensional and there are probably a lot of neutral mutations and this means that the likelihood of connections with no drop in fitness between two peaks is somewhat higher than you would expect in low dimensions. On the other hand, lots of biological phenotypic traits are pretty resistant to change. I’m not aware of any mammal species with six functioning legs even if that would be a superior form. But maybe four or two is best, and we can see the the function of different pieces of the skeleton varies quite a bit across species even though there is a strong relationship between the skeletons of various mammals. After all whales have fins, humans have hands, and dogs have paws which are all adapted to very different use cases despite being similar in many ways.

      The second big thing that affects competitiveness is the mutation rate. If the mutation rate per generation exceeds the typical fitness differences between close relatives per generation, than the a population will be spread out in fitness space with many individuals of “sub-optimal” fitness. Dino-birds that are at a slight disadvantage. In some models, this is called the “error catastrophe“, although i don’t like that as a general term because it’s not necessarily a problem depending on the species and environment. Humans pile up way more than one mutation per individual generation and are in a sense nowhere near the optimal phenotype of that sort of model, but they’re a very successful species.

      To me the really interesting thing about biological systems is that some of the parameters that control the competitiveness you talk about like the mutation rate are actually controlled by the same or similar types of dynamics. Mutation rate(s) is a name we give to the result of a giant stack of biological processes. When beneficial mutations are very rare, we expect dinobirds to have their mutation rate gradually pushed lower since mutation rates are linked to the mutations they cause by being on the same chromosome (at least until recombination occurs), but when beneficial mutations are sufficiently common we expect dinobirds to have their mutation rate gradually pushed upwards for the same sorts of reasons. Michael Lynch (and others who have worked with him) argue that this is actually not broadly important to explaining cross species patterns in mutation rates because most organisms so rapidly approach their fitness maxima that beneficial mutations are always very rare and thus what prevents mutation rates from going to 0 is the first factor we talked about which is the stochastic component of fitness. If the difference in fitness between two types of dinobird is less than 1 over the population size than genetic drift occurs and the two types of dinobird may as well have the same fitness. This is called the drift-barrier hypothesis.

      You may also want to look at the work of Michael Desai who has studied abstract models of evolution where there is no maximum fitness (just an ever increasing tower of higher fitnesses). Or if you haven’t heard of Richard Lenski’s Long Term Evolution Experiment you might find that interesting. He’s evolved E. coli in a lab for over 60,000 generations now. And studied a lot of things about these evolutionary dynamics. Like does the current highest fitness population now tend to win in the long run? Are higher mutation rates favored in a given environment? Does fitness just keep increasing? In a limited environment how often will we see coexisting types of individual evolve that specialize in different ways. And so on and so forth.

      I can go on and on, but I should probably wait to see responses (if there are any) first.

      • Vermillion says:

        I don’t have much to add except I thought that was a very interesting post, thanks!

        • quanta413 says:

          Thanks! It’s nice to get feedback. I was afraid everyone might have zoned out before reaching the end although I think that’s unlikely here. People read pretty long posts.

        • albatross11 says:

          +1

    • Aapje says:

      @Scott Alexander

      Something similar is true for highways. If all cars drive the perfect distance from one another and don’t ‘force’ themselves into gaps, then with high road usage, there is not enough room to change lanes, exit or enter. So the fact that congestion happens before maximum utilization, rather than at maximum utilization is crucial to keep things going.

      I too would like a name for this phenomenon.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      I’d be very careful in talking about “competitiveness.”
      I’d bet that your ideas about biology are false. If you’re really talking about something else, I’m not criticizing that. I suppose that genetic drift matches a lot of what you say. But I think it is dangerous to slap a label on existing beliefs. It’s probably not what you mean.

      You might mean something about a malthusian world vs a sparsely populated world of expanding population. But why is it sparsely populated? Presumably there is some kind of catastrophe that occurs every few generations to wipe out the density. In that world fitness is dominated by surviving the specific catastrophe and rapid expansion, but it is just as competitive.

      It’s possible to imagine two fitness landscapes that differ in how big is the penalty of a single mutation away from optimal. You could call this “competitiveness” but it probably doesn’t correspond to anything you’d predict about the environment.

      You can certainly have small isolated populations. They will have faster genetic drift, the accumulation of more neutral mutations that happen to take over. Moreover, the threshold of what qualifies as “neutral” differs. If a mutation is mildly negative, but below this threshold, then in a bigger population it will never become big, but in the small population they could take over. But I don’t think that this is where innovation really comes from. I think that this matches your words pretty well, but I doubt that the size of relevant fitness advantages matches your imagination.

      • albatross11 says:

        ISTR a theory that the black death in Europe led to a lot of innovation, basically because Europeans could get out from under the iron law of wages for a couple generations and have enough excess resources to try some new things. That would be an instance of this idea.

        In biology, if this is a good model for how selection works, then we should see faster differentation:

        a. In new environments where you’re an invasive species expanding rapidly into open territory.

        b. After some mass-die-off of your species that didn’t include you, when there’s little competition.

        I don’t have any intuition for whether this is how things work out, though.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          I’m skeptical that you (or Scott) mean anything by “competitiveness.” How can you tell that these examples are less competitive?

          ———

          The example of the Black Death is controversial. I don’t think people agree on basic questions like what happened to the rural:urban ratio. My impression is that it did not encourage innovation, but despair. It wasn’t just a single shock, but waves of deaths for centuries, demoralizing and discouraging people from planning for the future.

          Why would you expect it to increase excess resources? Why are excess resources relevant?
          The obvious thing to expect is an increase in excess resources per person and a transfer from landowners to peasants. But were the people holding the excess resources under less competition than before? Principal-agent concerns might make you expect more innovation with yeoman farmers than plantations of serfs, but that sounds like a different theory.

          It also increased the capital:labor ratio by killing off half of the peasants while leaving behind their farm implements.

          • bullseye says:

            From what I remember it wasn’t so much the capital:labor ratio as the land:labor ratio. I don’t think that having extra plows lying around would help much (except to the extant that you can use the parts to make something else), but having extra land would mean that people can move off of the marginal land and each peasant can work the full amount of land that he can handle.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Right, that’s the uncontroversial part, that I said was “obvious to expect.” The glut of land shifted the bargaining position to labor. The mass of the people definitely ate a lot more calories afterwards. I assume that’s what Albatross meant. But what does it mean that things were less “competitive”? What predictions would you make from that?

            The last line with “also” was an additional effect. I failed to explain why I mentioned it. It was to say that things are complicated, going back to the original claim that things are controversial. It’s not clear what you should expect and it’s not clear what actually happened. The excess capital should increase productivity, but has more complicated effects, perhaps seen in rural:urban ratios. Some people say the shift in demand for farm labor caused a shift from urban to rural, so that the peasants were well-fed but manufactured goods declined in availability (opposite Albatross’s claim of innovation?). But others say that the peasants were so productive and the urban capital so abundant that there was no such shift. The threat to go to the land increased urban labor pay, but the labor stayed in town.
            Sure, there are diminishing returns to capital, but they probably weren’t there. There were probably more plows than could be used. Even if there weren’t, an excess of plows meant that blacksmiths could spend their time producing other kinds of tools. That fits better with idea of an innovation shock.
            [Maybe people say that the glut of land allowed experiments with crop rotation?]

    • littskad says:

      I believe the phrase you’re looking for is “noise-induced transitions”. This describes the phenomenon of stochastic forces allowing systems to transition between states which would be otherwise structurally stable. The classic text, I think, is Noise-Induced Transitions, by Horsthemke and Lefever.

    • hnau says:

      Others have proposed better scientific/technical terms to look for. But what this description reminded me of immediately when I read it was slack.

  20. We had a meetup yesterday, and there was one interesting observation. I generally ask people to let me know if they plan to come, so we will have a rough count of how many we are feeding. My rule of thumb from past meetups was that the number who showed up would be about twice the number who said they would.

    This time, it didn’t hold. The number who came was about the same as the number who said they came—I wasn’t sufficiently organized to check how many were the same people.

    I wonder if that was a result of our having done the meetups very month or two for almost two years, so that by now most of the people who come are used to coming and used to replying to my email announcement.

    • Aapje says:

      Perhaps your food is off putting or lethal to low conscientious people?

      Animals that get poisoned often withdraw to a secluded hidden spot to die. Did you check your attic for expired SSCers?

  21. ManyCookies says:

    Something I’ve been vaguely confused about the nuclear war articles I’ve read (e.g Stuart Slade’s essay): a theme is how nuclear strategy is not just picking a country or city to wipe off the map, and that countries need to prioritize specific objectives like counter-military or counter-industrial. But then they start talking about the war’s aftermath and it’s like “Welp central governments gone, we’re back to the 1X00s if lucky”… but then what the heck are the central governments or military doing? What’s the point of prioritizing specific objectives if the end result is Back To The 1X00s regardless? I’d imagine a lot of the details are classified, even more than the war plans, but is there a vague outline of a rebuild/re-consolidation plan anywhere?

    • Statismagician says:

      It’s a second-order effects thing, as I understand it. Modern civilization is too complicated to sustain without essentially everything we have now existing basically as it is; too many moving parts – but in between the missiles going up and ready stocks of [everything] running out, central planning can do a whole lot to improve the quality of the retributive strikes. Nobody really wins a real nuclear war; the point of targeting is to make sure you lose less, and to make it easier on your conventional forces if they should somehow become relevant.

    • sfoil says:

      In a nuclear war, there will be a fairly large number of people killed and capital destroyed by direct weapons effects, and others (probably a larger number) who will die from the loss of infrastructure needed to support their existence. The size of both of these categories but especially the second is speculative and highly contingent on the details of the war in question.

      One of the reasons you often see the assumption that the central government is destroyed is because of the idea that a nation won’t (or even can’t) use nuclear weapons unless it’s making a serious and likely-to-succeed attempt to completely remove the ability of its target from conducting any significant military actions, and this means that the targeted national government ceases to operate as a coherent entity. FWIW, I generally don’t think this assumption is correct. There’s no reason to think the command degradation caused by nuclear attack would always be total. Personally I think the “aftermath” part of Slade’s essay is a flight of fancy.

      Another possible reason for the disconnect that you’re seeing is that exaggerating the destruction caused by nuclear war is a deliberate ploy to prevent the use of nuclear weapons. Imagine that an all-out nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan “only” caused as much destruction as, say, the strategic bombing campaigns of WW2. Say 2 million dead and a bunch of cities in ruins, although it happens over a week or two instead of years. Unfortunately, we know that nations can both inflict and tolerate this level of destruction because it already happened in the 1940s. However, if you would rather this not occur at all, you do everything you can to convince nuclear states that the bombs are only useful as a force-in-being and that actually using them is a lose-lose proposition.

      • exaggerating the destruction caused by nuclear war is a deliberate ploy to prevent the use of nuclear weapons.

        That’s my interpretation of the Global Winter PR campaign. The scientific basis was preliminary and sketchy, but the claims were pushed in the hope of scaring people out of nuclear war, since even if it turned out that nuclear winter wasn’t real, the things we knew would happen were still bad enough.

      • bean says:

        FWIW, I generally don’t think this assumption is correct. There’s no reason to think the command degradation caused by nuclear attack would always be total. Personally I think the “aftermath” part of Slade’s essay is a flight of fancy.

        I’m not so sure about that. Yes, there may technically still be a United States of America 10 years after a nuclear strike, but it’s not going to look much like the US we have today. Let’s say you’re a farmer in Nebraska. How much control is the government in New Washington, West Virginia going to have over your life? Yes, there’s radio links, but most of the transportation infrastructure has been destroyed. Airplanes are vanishingly rare because all the factories are now glowing craters and oil is expensive when it’s available. The Mississippi, which allowed easy communication into the interior, is now heavily contaminated. Most of the roads are still there, but they’re not being maintained, and there are giant gaps in them where cities used to be, often at points that are difficult to route around. If you run into trouble, New Washington can’t really help, and if you tell them to go pound sand, they’re not going to be able to do much about it, either. This isn’t that different from “lack of centralized control” to modern eyes, even if there is technically a central authority.

        • sfoil says:

          An America with a 1920 level of government control can certainly exist. I’m very open to the possibility that the America of 2019 is sufficiently different from the America of 1920 that it can’t survive in any meaningful way without the federal government of 2019. But I doubt it, actually.

          I know the least about the long-term effects of fallout. Non-radioactive but otherwise very contaminated rivers like the Ganges are frequently used for effective transportation. And the contamination in those waterways is continuous; it seems to me that a one-time radiological event will only screw up a river for so long: there will be an initial dose, then runoff contamination at a decaying rate until eventually it all ends up in the ocean. The US can buy its new planes from Airbus or Embraer if they can’t get the factories up before the current fleet rots. Sure, things will be more expensive and there will be less money. But it won’t be a return to pre-industrial existence.

          Also keep in mind that the only country that even might have enough warheads to do things like blow up every aerospace plant and oilfield and transport hub is Russia.

          • bean says:

            An America with a 1920 level of government control can certainly exist. I’m very open to the possibility that the America of 2019 is sufficiently different from the America of 1920 that it can’t survive in any meaningful way without the federal government of 2019. But I doubt it, actually.

            This isn’t 1920 levels of control. It’s more like 1820 levels of control, because the transportation networks won’t let it be more than that. Ultimately, the authority of the government is backed up by its ability to use force to enforce its will. And that, to someone from 2019, is a lot more like “no centralized control” than the current government.

            And the contamination in those waterways is continuous; it seems to me that a one-time radiological event will only screw up a river for so long: there will be an initial dose, then runoff contamination at a decaying rate until eventually it all ends up in the ocean.

            That’s why I specified “10 years after a nuclear strike”. I’m well aware that a nuclear attack isn’t going to render everything uninhabitable for centuries. But for the first few decades, you’re going to be in a very awkward position.

            The US can buy its new planes from Airbus or Embraer if they can’t get the factories up before the current fleet rots.

            And the parts on those Airbuses and Embraers that are built in the US? Not to mention the need to get jet fuel to Nebraska with incredibly limited transportation infrastructure.

            Sure, things will be more expensive and there will be less money. But it won’t be a return to pre-industrial existence.

            I never said it would take us back that far, and I do think Stuart may have oversold his case in that essay. But it would be a big, big blow, because you’re also losing a lot of transportation infrastructure, and autarky has been out of style for a long time.

            Also keep in mind that the only country that even might have enough warheads to do things like blow up every aerospace plant and oilfield and transport hub is Russia.

            That kind of goes without saying, although I think that China could do more damage than you give it credit for. It doesn’t have to be every single one of those things destroyed, it just has to be enough of the infrastructure for the house of cards that is modern civilization to start to collapse. A lot of what makes the world today work is cheap transport, and it wouldn’t be particularly difficult for a targeted nuclear strike to drive up the cost of that a lot. Depending on how easy those problems are to route around, you could end up in a really bad place.

          • Lambert says:

            I wonder whether pirates and highwaymen would come back in a big way.
            And how much of Pax Romana was really a matter of keeping bandits off the roads.

          • LHN says:

            While we don’t have uniform crime reports for the Roman Empire, this book argues that banditry remained an ever-present concern of travelers by road and sea despite periodic efforts by Emperors to crack down (and proclamations that e.g., Augustus had Made The Roads Safe).

            https://historicalunderbelly.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/thoma-grunewald-bandits-in-the-roman-empire-myth-and-reality-2004.pdf

    • John Schilling says:

      The people who write these articles, like Stuart Slade, are not in fact nuclear war planners. Actual nuclear war planners, mostly don’t believe that the inevitable end result of nuclear war is “back to the 1X00s if we’re lucky”, and so mostly conduct plans to minimize the enemy’s ability to even knock them back to the 19X0s with a side order of maximizing the damage to the otherwise. Then the Stuart Slades of the world take up their pens and, at very best, describe what the nuclear war planners are doing and say “but of course this won’t work and we’ll be really be knocked back to the 1X00s”. Too often, they don’t mention that switch in perspective.

      And even more often, don’t really have a coherent mental model of nuclear war and/or nuclear war planners to begin with, but are just stitching together a patchwork of concepts and factoids from multiple and contradictory sources, with bits of “how to fight a nuclear war” they’ve overheard from strategists while “what happens after?” comes from post-apocalyptic fiction and anti-war propaganda.

      • albatross11 says:

        Suppose I want to read something from real nuclear war planners–where would I look? Would Ellsberg’s _The Doomsday Machine_ be a good start?

      • bean says:

        The people who write these articles, like Stuart Slade, are not in fact nuclear war planners.

        He was one in the distant past, or he’s done a truly heroic job of impersonating someone who was.

        I think that his views on this grow out of a rather specific view on nuclear strategy, where the concept of a limited nuclear war is basically nonsensical. I’m not sure he’s wrong, but I’m also not sure he’s right. He’s certainly been wrong before on things I know about. (I’ve told him this. Sometimes he listens.)

  22. Le Maistre Chat says:

    What would be the most rational use for an Armored Fighting Vehicle that weighs as much as the heaviest dump trucks (~800 metric tons fully loaded)? Being amphibious is an obvious requirement, so take that into account.

    • Incurian says:

      Mine clearing?

    • beleester says:

      Amazingly enough, we have a historical point of comparison: Nazi Germany drew up plans for a 1000-ton tank, the “Ratte“. It was never built, but consensus is that it would have been hilariously impractical – too heavy to cross any bridge (I guess that’s why you wanted it amphibious?), too big to transport by rail, it would tear up the roads as it traveled, and while it might be immune to tank shells, it’s such a big target that bombers (carrying much more boom than a tank shell) would have had an easy time.

      If you can’t drive it long distances and you don’t dare leave friendly AA coverage, maybe you should use it as static defense? Park it near something important, wait for the enemy to get in range, and shoot them with a really big gun?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        [“Ratte”] would have been hilariously impractical – too heavy to cross any bridge (I guess that’s why you wanted it amphibious?), too big to transport by rail, it would tear up the roads as it traveled, and while it might be immune to tank shells, it’s such a big target that bombers (carrying much more boom than a tank shell) would have had an easy time.

        Giant dump trucks are have to operate off-highway because they’d tear them up, and therefore can’t cross road bridges either. Whether they use rail transport, I don’t know.
        If you can armor a vehicle against tank shells but not bombs, does it make sense to make your landship an AA destroyer, with most of the weapons weight dedicated to AA and just a 5 or 6-inch gun turret, like a modern tank, to defend itself from ground targets?

      • Aapje says:

        @beleester

        Such vehicles are also very expensive for their ability and hard to repair.

        The Germans had a very strong tendency to over-engineer during WW II anyway, building fairly few expensive and capable tanks (Panzer IV, Tiger), which were hard to repair. These are mythological because of their individual prowess, but on the whole, the Americans and Russians went the much smarter route of making relatively cheap and easy to repair tanks.

        The end result was that they actually had tanks at the battle, while the Germans often didn’t.

        Note that modern tanks often have a removable ‘power pack’ which consists of the engine and all the stuff it needs. This can then be craned in and out on the road, allowing quick replacement in the field.

        If you can’t drive it long distances and you don’t dare leave friendly AA coverage, maybe you should use it as static defense? Park it near something important, wait for the enemy to get in range, and shoot them with a really big gun?

        That is actually already a fairly common strategy. One tank that was designed around this is the Swedish Stridsvagn 103. It can achieve extreme depression and has minimal stuff above the cannon. This means that it can be parked just behind a hill and depressed so the cannon peeks just over the hill, while almost all of the tank is behind cover.

        Here is a video review of the tank.

        It was designed to ambush the russkies, if they would get naughty.

    • kokotajlod@gmail.com says:

      Ideas:
      (1) Carrying around a small nuclear reactor to provide power in support of a larger ground force? If you have this much power it might be also good to add a bunch of laser turrets on top for point defense against incoming missiles and drones.
      (2) Mounting a railgun + capacitors, etc. that would normally require a ship.
      (3) Being an armored dump truck and/or excavator, useful for constructing field works, demolishing buildings and forests that block line of sight, and breaking into enemy tunnel networks?
      (4) Being a land carrier for a drone swarm. (As far as I know you could do it with an ordinary truck, but in case that proves to be too small a space for some reason, then maybe it would be worth it to use a bigger vehicle.)

      Honestly none of these sound great to me, but that’s the best I can do right now. My understanding is that these days the eternal balance between weapons and armor is heavily tilted in favor of weapons, and moreover our weapons tend to be missiles rather than guns, so they are more divisible and easy to carry around. So the two main reasons to have a big vehicle (heavy armor, heavy weapons) no longer work.

    • sfoil says:

      First answer: that mass itself would have to be used for something, probably demolition. I’m picturing a bulldozer that can systematically raze blocks of 2-3 story buildings by driving into them the way you might mow a lawn.

      Slightly careful answer: The Abrams tank weighs ~63 metric tons but only has maximum protection on its turret front. If the front armor with equal protection on turret front and hull glacis weigh 20 metric tons (equivalent to about 2.5 cubic meters of iron), and the top, bottom, and sides have the same surface area to be protected as the front while the rear has the same, then all-aspect protection costs 180 metric tons, 140 if we’re willing to leave the belly soft. Call it 160. Now the tank weighs 223 metric tons. In our original example, the ratio of tank to armor was 63:20, so if we preserve this same ratio for more power, suspension, etc we get 567 metric tons.

      If I add a squad-size troop compartment, I probably increase the area to be protected on top, sides, and rear from 2 to 2.5, that brings me up to just short of 700 metric tons. This isn’t properly accounting for the increases in size caused by the new power plants, drive train and suspension, etc. I’ll add the square root of 700 to bring us up to 726 mt.

      The only reason I can think of for needing such high all-aspect protection is in an environment where you have absolutely no control over what direction you might be attacked from. Urban is the obvious answer, which brings us back to the building-lawnmower idea. Maybe the environment is so hostile to human existence outside the vehicle — you’re fighting fluorine-breathing aliens on their home planet or something — that you can’t have anyone outside the vehicle for cover.

    • Basil Elton says:

      1) A super heavy self-propelled gun. With modern missiles and bombers it doesn’t really make any sense to have a super-big conventional gun, but as kokotajlod has suggested you can give it a nuclear reactor and a railgun. Thus it can stay well behind the front line, under cover of friendly AA and away from enemy tanks, so it won’t need that much of armor, if any. And inevitable low speed won’t be that much of a problem, you just need the thing to be able to move it from point A to point B, not maneuver it during a fight. You’ll probably for deep fording, rather than actual swimming, which is easier with a nuclear reactor as a power source too. Exactly how much of a tactical advantage a railgun offers on land over, say, MLRS, is anyone’s guess.

      2) A really impressive AA installation. With that size you can pack on it a good deal of strategic surface-to-air missile of Patriot or even SM3 level, a couple of short-range artillery mounts like Vulcan to protect against incoming cruise missiles, and a decent radar(s) and fire control, basically giving it AA capabilities close to those of a frigate ship. Not that it’ll be any better than equal number of smaller separate systems, but the hope is that it won’t be all that much worse (not accounting for the price, at least).

      • This sounds like the land version of the Ptolemaic forty.

        They only built one.

        • woah77 says:

          I’d say it sounds like Ogre (from the wargame) but we’re basically saying the same thing.

        • Basil Elton says:

          It sure does, but keeping it away from enemy lines might give it a chance.

          Though come to think about it, probably not that big. The Ptolemaic tank will inevitably be slow and big enough to hit with a guided artillery munition, and those have range about 20 miles and there’s no way it can be armored enough to withstand them. Perhaps using it purely as a way for the commander to show off is the most reasonable approach.

      • bean says:

        I’m not sure you could actually fit a ship-level Aegis installation on a truck of this size. Even the smallest Aegis ships are ~4 times the size of this thing, and I don’t think you could cut enough support facilities to make that work. And I’d also be nervous about trying to fit multiple systems onto even a really big dump truck. Radar interference is a serious problem on ships, and those are much bigger.

        • Basil Elton says:

          Fair point about radars. And the dishes would make deep fording problematic. Just weapons then, I guess, plus maybe control facilities.

          But why do you think it can’t fit Aegis? Is there some problem with moving the support systems to different vehicles, like actual land-based systems do?

          • bean says:

            Dishes? If I’m doing this today, we’re using phased arrays.

            As for Aegis, it depends. I was thinking in terms of a single vehicle, but I’d guess you could fit a reasonable Aegis system in 3 vehicles, or maybe 2 if you went for the frigate version. I’d be nervous about trying to cram serious radar and big missiles into the same chassis because of blast/flame and electromagnetic concerns, now that I think about it more.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Why not have a normal-size amphibious radar vehicle following the land destroyer with all the AA weapons around?

          • bean says:

            Because then I couldn’t get the radar I want, obviously. If I’m going to get the maximum out of the kind of missiles you might carry around in an 800-ton vehicle, I’m going to need a radar to match. Things like Patriot and the S-300 have big radars, to say nothing of the size of a SPY-1. Each face of one of those arrays is 6.5 tons, and you have another ~60 tons belowdecks. And you need a lot of power generation for them. Without that radar, the SM-2s and ESSMs you’re carting around really aren’t that much more useful than whatever missile the puny little radar array you are using was designed for.

          • cassander says:

            @bean

            On a limited sized platform, you might still want to use a spinning radar even if it’s a phased array. There’s a reason that the e-2D still has a spinning “dish” in the radome.

          • bean says:

            Fair point. The British did something quite similar on the Type 45, but in both cases, it’s enclosed, so you don’t have the same environmental effects of as a conventional dish.

          • Basil Elton says:

            @bean

            Dishes?

            Well admittedly I’m not an expert on the topic let alone the proper terms for it in English. I was referring to whatever cumbersome, obviously radio emitting, grid-ish or mast-like stuff Patriots and S-300/400 do carry around. All that probably can be folded down or permanently put into some watertight compartment, but I’d guess that will be more trouble than just put them on normal vehicles which can use bridges.

            Of course if as you say we can’t put the Aegis radar on a normal vehicle, that changes everything! Looks like we’ve finally found how this thing can actually offer some unique capabilities instead of trying to make it not to fail so badly compared with reasonably sized devices.

          • bean says:

            @Basil Elton

            Fair enough. Those are both phased arrays, as is any modern high-performance military radar. Cassander had a good suggestion, and I think I’d go with something like SAMPSON, which is a phased array, but rotates. If you do that, it shouldn’t be too hard to get a really good radar system with all-round coverage and the linked combat systems on one of these trucks. Have another for the weapons, and you’ve got a properly mobile air-defense system. Maybe not capable of firing on the move, but it’s a lot faster to set up than something like Patriot.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Well, assuming we already have it, the question is how to use it best. I’m assuming the question isn’t about artillery, because that’s already been done.

      In ww2, I’d put it best as either fortification buster, or tank battle winner. I’m guessing tactics could be devised for either scenario. For example in a tank battle using it with tanks around for defense, just like early tanks had infantry around. Ideally assembled on the spot, where big battles/sieges are expected – you don’t want to drive it a few thousand km.

      In modern times… mobile base in middle east. Funny thing is that it’s even scalable – make them able to interconnect, and you can have a convoy that link up when stationary. C&C, barracks, hell, you can even carry a couple of APCs in there.

      Doesn’t make sense against anything with cruise missiles, but plenty of hostiles don’t have them.

    • bean says:

      I’m not sure there is one. I can’t see one of these surviving a 2000-lb laser-guided bomb, and that sharply limits its utility, particularly because it’s too big to be easy to hide. The best answer might be some sort of mobile SAM site for something like Patriot or S-300. You probably couldn’t fire on the move, but you could move it about a lot more easily than a conventional one that has a bunch of trucks which need to be hooked up.

  23. Edward2 says:

    Edward Scizorhands here. I cannot post.

    If I am banned on purpose, okay, I will be quiet.

    If I am banned on accident, and you cannot figure out why, I can make a new account.

    If I am banned due to a technical issue with VPNs[1], I can modify that.

    [1] I put all my traffic through commercial VPN services, ever since a privacy incident occurred. I could exempt SSC specifically.

    • Eltargrim says:

      I can see this comment, and I’ve reported it via both report buttons. Hopefully this is just a technical glitch and it gets sorted out.

      • Edward2 says:

        I made a second account. I could post with this, but I do not want to ban evade if it was on purpose, or just bulldoze over some automated defense like an IP ban.

    • brad says:

      I have no inside knowledge, hopefully Scott will post, but I’d bet it’s #3 and has something to do with the hosting provider,, wordpress, or one of the wordpress plugins installed rather than e.g. a SA initiated IP ban on your VPN host.

      Edit:
      If you were banned no one could post your name. EdwardScizorhands

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Scott helped me figure it out. Thanks, all!

  24. johan_larson says:

    What is the most historically significant artifact that definitely existed and is currently lost but might plausibly be found again?

    • Butlerian says:

      Jesus’ bones
      The Chixicub meteor
      The original Declaration of Independence

      • johan_larson says:

        They believe they’ve found the crater formed by the impact that caused the K-Pg boundary. It’s not clear whether there is anything left of the original meteorite. It may have disintegrated in the impact.

      • brad says:

        Suppose for the sake of discussion there were three different people that got mashed together to form the legend of Jesus as we know it.* One of them was actually named ישוע‎ but a different one of the three gave the sermon on the mount. The third one was crucified by the Romans. In that case would we say “Jesus’ bones” existed?

        * I recognize that this is against the weight of scholarly opinion.

      • S_J says:

        About the (United States) Declaration of Independence: are you referring to the written draft kept by Continental Congress? Or the Rough Draft kept by Thomas Jefferson until he died? Or whatever copy/copies were sent to King George III and Parliament?

        That first one, known as the Matlack Declaration, is still kept in the National Archives.

        The second one, Jefferson’s Rough Draft, exists in at least one copy.

        A set of printed copies was ordered by Continental Congress on the night of July 4, 1776. That set was numbered about 200; some 26 are known to exist. Three of these are in London. At least two of these were acquired/captured by General William Howe and Vice Admiral Richard Howe in late-summer 1776, and sent back to London.

        Only a couple of years ago, a parchment copy of the Declaration of Independence was discovered in the West Sussex Records office in Chichester, England. It’s provenance isn’t fully described or confirmed.

    • drethelin says:

      All the other versions/prototypes of the Antikythera mechanism.

    • SamChevre says:

      What kind of evidence are we looking for for “definitely existed”, and is “currently lost” mean “location completely unknown” or “location not known precisely” (like many shipwrecks).

      I’m going to say the Ark of the Covenant.

    • brad says:

      Autograph Hamlet.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      The Gospel According To Q (not definite, but probably on as firm a ground as Jesus himself)

      • dndnrsn says:

        Q is hypothetical (and as a pedantic quibble, it’s not “according to Q” – Q is just short for “source” in German, meaning that “Q source” is like “PIN number”) – if we expand it to include a collection of documents rather than a single document (the identification of Q as a single document is scholarly shorthand) sure.

        On the one hand, more hypothetical than the figure of Jesus (I agree with most of the real experts that there was a religious leader matching the bill), but on the other hand, it would be way easier to doublecheck. You find some bones, maybe with a stone nearby labelling them as those of Jesus… How do you test that? Whereas, if you find some papyri containing all the Q material, the various forms of scientific dating check out, and textual critics look at it and conclude that it seems like an earlier form of the language than the canonical sources, etc, we got a winner.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          You find some bones, maybe with a stone nearby labelling them as those of Jesus… How do you test that?

          Roman-era Jews re-interred bones in ossuaries once the flesh had completely decomposed off buried corpses, so best case scenario you find a skeleton that can be carbon-dated to the 1st Century AD inside an ossuary with the name “Jesus”/”Joshua” on it… which was one of THE most common Jewish male names at the time, so big whoop. It’d do nothing to debunk Christianity by providing the dead bones of the relevant man.

        • Deiseach says:

          You find some bones, maybe with a stone nearby labelling them as those of Jesus… How do you test that?

          Ah, how fleeting fame is! 🙂 Does no-one remember the big splashy “Bones of Jesus found! Also his missus, Mary of Magdala! And their kid!” Well, maybe not a kid, but the entire family more or less. And maybe not the bones exactly, but the box the bones were in! The one, the only, the incomparable Simcha Jacabovici roped in James Cameron and the Discovery Channel for this whole “Lost Tomb of Jesus” special on the Talpiot Tomb in 2007.

          They linked it in with the James Ossuary story of 2002, again another big splash by the Discovery Channel and another alleged “this is a direct link to Jesus” relic, but one which has controversy swirling around it (e.g. is the inscription faked?) I mean, faking antiquities for fun and profit has been going on in the Middle and Near East since Roman times, so my attitude to both stories was one of extreme scepticism.

          Basically, if someone pops up claiming to have found the skeleton of Jesus complete with Shroud and signed note of Pontius Pilate about “this is definitely the guy”, my inclinations are “fake, fake and even more fake”.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I do remember that, vaguely – I wasn’t taking courses about early Christianity then, and when I did, nobody ever talked about that stuff. (Or, it’s possible that the annoying guy who wouldn’t shut up in class talked about them).

      • Joseph Greenwood says:

        Seconding dndrsn here. While Q certainly may exist, and would be extremely exciting to discover, we have plausible alternatives to its existence: namely, the Gospel of Matthew was written first, and the similarities between the synoptic gospels arise because everyone is basing their work on Matthew. This would not require the supposition that Luke and Matthew both had access to the same bunch of unnamed but important Christian sources. More tellingly, Origen claims that Matthew was written first (in Aramaic), and I tend to think the proximity advantage he had by living from 184 to 254 AD outweighs the confidence of scholars two thousand years later.

        (Source: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/101601.htm)

        • dndnrsn says:

          It solves some problems, but I think it raises more than it solves. Looking at the texts alone, I think the current closest-thing-to-scholarly-consensus view answers the various questions the best/answers the most of the questions. The church fathers had proximity, but I don’t know how much a proximity of a hundred years or so gives a decisive advantage – it’s already become an oral tradition at that point. (I have some books that touch on this; unfortunately I won’t have access to my library for a while.) With modern scholars, at least we can check their work.

          That said, I’d estimate my confidence that the current consensus on the synoptics (Mark, Q, Matthew and Luke’s special sources) is roughly correct in its entirety at ~70%, higher when the weather is good and lower when I haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep. A lot of scholars are waaaay too confident (reconstructions of Q and precursors to Mark that are very confident for entirely hypothetical documents) and I think there’s a decent chance that scholarship missed something that’s still in a jar somewhere in the desert/rotted away to nothing.

          • Joseph Greenwood says:

            That is certainly a fair position to take! Origen even admits that he is relying on tradition when he claims Matthew came first. But my priors are that historical scholars, and especially Biblical scholars, would prefer to prove tradition wrong than prove it right, and as far as I know scholars haven’t uncovered any pertinent information regarding the origins of the gospels that Origen didn’t also have access to. I’d probably give 60% odds against Q and in favor of Origen.

          • dndnrsn says:

            In the first case, kinda-sorta. I think it ties in with the overconfidence thing. My punning phrase is “the toxoplasma of page” – making an overconfident, controversial splash is better for one’s academic career. At this point, contradicting established scholarship might be punchier – nobody’s gonna be interested in “Jesus was an apocalyptic religious leader who got in trouble with the authorities”. Perhaps the time is right for a defence of the tradition, thus bringing everything full circle.

            With regard to Origen, I don’t know what he had at hand, but I’m pretty sure modern scholars have some late Second Temple Jewish texts he probably wouldn’t have had, I suspect he didn’t have access to Thomas… I also think we shouldn’t underrate the vastly increased access to texts even in the 19th century vs his time. The modern critical scholarly approach is very different, too.

            My % of a Matthew-first hypothesis being correct goes up if it’s not bundled with the traditional credits of the authors of the gospels. I still think that the theory of Mark as a cut-down version of Matthew doesn’t quite work – some of the differences would be rather odd changes to introduce.

          • littskad says:

            @dndnrsn

            Origen explicitly refers to a Gospel According to Thomas in his first homily on Luke. He uses it as one of his examples (he names several) of gospels that were not written with the Holy Spirit, contrasting them with the four canonical gospels which were written with the Holy Spirit.

    • The Nybbler says:

      The Ark of the Covenant. Though if that documentary I saw as a kid is right it’s not really lost but in a warehouse somewhere.

      Wikipedia has a nice list. The menorah was probably melted down for metal. The seal seems like a possibility. The sceptre is so hideous I imagine it was destroyed. The Irish crown jewels… anyone check the Tower of London? Peking man is technically prehistoric. The sword seems like a possibility as well.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        This came up in an earlier thread, but I didn’t get round to posting until it was already superseded, so in case anyone missed it, my favourite weird hypothesis is that if you want to know what happened to the Ark of the Covenant, the person you need to be interrogating is Robert Mugabe.

      • S_J says:

        Of the list from Wikipedia, I’d be most interested in the legendary treasure of Egil Skallagrimson.

        Maybe it’s because I just finished reading a translation of Egil’s Saga.

        I have a hard time imagining how to verify that the silver belonged to Egil, even if it can be verified that no other buried silver exists in that region, from the time-frame.

        If that could be verified, it might not have a large impact on historical knowledge…though it might add support to the historical connections claimed in the Saga. (Among the people named in the Saga are Harald Fair-Hair, King AEthelstan of England, Eirik Blood-Axe, Hakon Haraldsson, and Olaf the Red of Scotland.)

        If I had the ability to amass a personal collection of historically-interesting artifacts, I would start with that. Then I would look for the Crown Jewels lost by John Lackland, Llywelyn’s Coronet, and the Crown Jewels of Ireland. This last one is well-attested in the 20th Century, so it should be easiest to find.

        • The treasure lost by John may be the most historically important, depending on how you believe its loss affected the civil war going on at the time. Was John already sick at that point?

          Egil’s treasure might be the easiest to find, since if the saga is right we know where he started from, and he couldn’t have gone all that far before he dumped it.

          There should be the skeleton of the thrall somewhere close.

          We have the Tara brooch–what do you want the Jewels belonging to the most illustrious order of St. Patrick for?

          • Nornagest says:

            “Found the lost treasure of Egil Skallagrimson” would be an awesome thing to put on a resume.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        Wikipedia has a nice list [of historically significant artifacts].

        That list is nice, but appears to emphasize things of monetary significance (currency, jewelry, etc.), and leaves out a lot of things that are of historical significance only. (ETA: on closer look, it’s kind of a mish-mash.)

        It does link to “lost history”, which mentions other significant items such as the Lost Army of Cambyses, or the Tomb of Alexander the Great.

        Less significant items I did not see mentioned in either place include D.B. Cooper’s money and the burial site of Genghis Khan.

    • Protagoras says:

      Others may dispute the historical significance, but I’d like a copy of Protagoras’ “On Truth” (or better yet a complete works of Protagoras). Or perhaps the Barhaspatya sutras.

    • honoredb says:

      Any of Diogenes’s writings. Although if found it’d be a copy…is a lost meme an artifact?

      • Protagoras says:

        Diogenes of Sinope, presumably? Or would any Diogenes whose writings we lack suffice?

  25. Well... says:

    Suppose humanity is suddenly faced with an existential Seveneves-like threat (e.g. enormous chunks of the moon raining down on Earth, making life here impossible), and the only hope for human survival is to leave the planet within the next 5 years.

    If the threat is discovered tomorrow, what is the most plausible way that, within that time window, the maximum number of people can be launched into space and given a reasonable hope of surviving long enough to produce a self-sustaining civilization there?

    What if the threat is discovered in 50 years, when currently emerging or speculative technologies can be plausibly expected to be developed and available?

    • The Nybbler says:

      Naa, we’re all going to die. There’s no place to go.

      • johan_larson says:

        Yeah, I’m having trouble imagining a plausible scenario that has us developing a sustainable off-world settlement any time soon, even with dramatic resources to work with and the survival of the species on the line. It seems far more plausible to create some sort of long-term shelter here on Earth where a small population could oulast whatever disaster afflicts the rest of the planet.

        • albatross11 says:

          I think Mars is a better bet than anyplace else, but five years seems way, way too short to make anything like a self-sustaining Mars colony.

    • bullseye says:

      You’d just about have to liquify* the crust to make Earth less inhabitable than Mars. If it happens today, we all die. A few astronauts might die slower.

      In 50 years, it’s plausible for us to have an outpost on Mars, so the push would be to make the existing outpost self-sufficient. If we don’t have such an outpost, I don’t think it’s plausible to build it from scratch and make it self-sufficient in 5 years.

      *I’ve spelled this word wrong, but the correct spelling is dumb.

      • Well... says:

        This is a tangent, but why is it more plausible we’d have an outpost on Mars than on (or, in the upper clouds of) Venus?

        • Protagoras says:

          Because excess cold is easier to deal with than excess heat, and insufficient atmosphere is easier to deal with than excessive atmosphere with excessive weather and clouds of sulfuric acid.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            So the kind of interesting things is that there’s a layer of Venus’s upper atmosphere in which the heat is pretty mild, you’re above most of the sulfuric acid, and the pressure is a little over one atmosphere — so you could make a big balloon, fill it with Earth atmosphere at breathable pressures, and float around at that altitude.

            This has a number of attractive features. If there is a leak in your hab, the pressure differential is small and so the leak is slow. The temperature is much closer to your ideal than Mars’ is. You have access to lots of oxygen and carbon in the atmosphere around you. You have though atmosphere above you to protect you from radiation and meteorites. And, perhaps most compellingly, you have very close to Earth-normal gravity. And we just don’t know what the long term effects of Marian gravity on health would be.

            None the less, I think this is not a viable plan. You have no access to metals or any other elements not going in the venusian atmosphere. I see no real sign that we can successfully take rockets off from flight in an atmosphere, much less land them at such a habitat. And the atmosphere will be corrosive in a way that seems like it’s a huge maintenance burden.

          • Protagoras says:

            With the being above “most” of the sulfuric acid, plus the issues of staying airborn and getting raw materials that you mention, this doesn’t actually sound all that promising.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            Well, I mostly agree with you, that’s why I said it wasn’t a viable plan.

            That said, there is a huge open question about gravity. We know that zero gravity is highly inimical to human health even in the medium term. It’s unclear that even with many more resources than this scenario envisions, it will ever be possible for humans to be healthy in zero gravity in a decade+ kind of way.

            Gravity substantially less than 1G but substantially above 0G is a gigantic question mark. What’s its effect on human health? We have basically zero data. It seems to me that the chance that it’s grossly inimical to health in a way that makes long-term habitation of Mars a complete disaster is, from very vague first principles, low, but not trivial. 10% maybe?

          • albatross11 says:

            If we need 1G, then we pretty-much have to go for space and live in some kind of spinning habitats to get the necessary artificial gravity. (You can imagine doing something like that on the surface of Mars, with a train running fast in a circle or something, but it seems like it would lose many of the advantages of living on Mars if you had to live on a moving train.)

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            I think that aerosats on Venus probably present significantly less in the way of engineering challenges than building habs in space large enough and sturdy enough to spin to 1G.

            Spinning habitats in space are a lot more viable if it turns out that you only need 0.1G for health.

          • Well... says:

            Aren’t there materials (certain plastics, maybe?) that aren’t corroded at all by sulfuric acid? Couldn’t habitats and garments be composed of or coated in such a material?

            You could import metals & other materials from elsewhere, right? (Costly, I know, but it seems like you’d save a lot up front with a floating Venusian colony, compared with a buried Martian one.)

            As sandoratthezoo said, the engineering challenges presented by Venusian colonization are minor compared to Martian colonization, and this keeps me coming back to the question of why not Venus.

          • John Schilling says:

            You could import metals & other materials from elsewhere, right?

            From any other place where you have a civilization capable of conducting mining and interplanetary spaceflight, yes. If you have such a place, what exactly is the point of the Venus colony again?

            You can’t have your Venus colonists launching rockets from Venus to go out and get stuff, because launching rockets from Venus is roughly as hard as launching rockets from Earth except that on Earth you have the resources of a major industrial nation building rockets at the bleeding edge of modern technology and on Venus you have fifty guys hanging out on a glorified zeppelin. Earth -> Venus is in this context a one-way trip.

        • bullseye says:

          I figure it’ll be easier to build a settlement on the ground than in the air, and the surface of Mars is less hostile than the surface of Venus. The probes we’ve sent so far last years on Mars, hours on Venus.

        • Winja says:

          Because we’ve already explored Mars, and it’s conditions are well characterized and building structures on the ground is something we’ve been doing for 10,000+ years.

          Building a permanent, completely self-sustaining floating city in the atmosphere of Venus would require the development of completely new and novel construction techniques that could only be applied to a planet which is not nearly as well understood as Mars.

          The redundant backup systems alone for a permanently aloft habitat would require an enormous architectural undertaking.

          On top of that, the only in-situ resources you could utilize would be the gasses at that altitude. Mars has essentially unlimited resources by comparison in the forms of recoverable water, and dirt and rock that can be utilized for construction. A floating Venusian habitat would likely require massive amounts of hugely expensive and hard to manufacture materials like carbon fiber, titanium, etc.

          • albatross11 says:

            Also, CO2 and sunlight, which means a source of oxygen and green plants. (You need other stuff for those, but I think most of the mass of a plant is carbon, oxygen, and water. Two of those you get from the atmosphere, one you get from ice deposits.)

    • Erusian says:

      The biggest cost is weight escaping earth’s gravity well. So the natural thing to do would be to return to food rationing and reduce caloric intake so everyone is at a minimum healthy weight. If we can reduce the average human weight to 100 pounds (down from about 140 today), then we’d only need about 80 trillion dollars to send everyone (plus five years of population growth) to space with current technology, which costs about $10,000 per pound to send someone into space. This is presuming no savings from economies of scale etc, which would almost certainly come.

      Since the world produces 78 trillion dollars a year in output, it would produce roughly 390 trillion dollars in output in those five years (presuming no growth, which we’ll take as a cost of retooling the economy). So even presuming we have no assets we can salvage or capital we can convert and no special technological advancements, we’d comfortably be able to get everyone to space.

      The bigger issue is that we’d only have at most 310 trillion dollars of output to retool and shoot into space as much of our current capital stock as possible. I mean capital in the general sense here: machinery, tools, etc. We’d actually have much less. We’d need to construct ships and use some of it for consumption. It’s hard to guess how much we’d gain from cannibalization and wartime-style mobilization vs lose due to not being transferrable or because we can only cut consumption so much. We’d also have to take into account how much the assets weigh. Let’s just call it a wash and say that cannibalizing everything on earth balances out the costs. We can get exactly 310 trillion dollars worth of assets into space.

      We’d be reduced to a wealth per capita that would look something like 1946 if every region had been devastated as badly as countries like the Soviet Union. Probably worse, since we’d be in unfamiliar territory we don’t know as much about and which puts increased environmental stressors on humanity. But this is still far above the point where people would starve.

      The most natural way to proceed would be to start producing ships that carry heavy industrial equipment that can be used to produce infrastructure, power grids, power plants, mines, farms, whatever we need in alternate habitats. We’d send those with all relevant workers to wherever we need. We’d then basically reconstruct the economy from the ground up shipping the next stage and the next stage until we’ve gone as far as we can in four years. We’d then send the last evacuation ships take everyone else in the final year.

      Mars or Venus are the most natural choice, especially because anything else is so far away that if there is a mistake the plan can’t be retooled. Probably Mars because of its stability. We wouldn’t really be terraforming: we just need a ball of resources to draw on for things like iron. If we head to the Asteroid Belt, we’re taking up almost four years. If we head to Jupiter, Earth will be destroyed before we get there. This isn’t necessarily a problem: everyone could just be on the ships by that point. But if something goes wrong on Jupiter, we won’t be able to adjust our plans as easily. Plus the further out we go the less solar power we have. We’ll need to find hydrocarbons etc, but solar power is the only form of power we can use on Earth, mount on a spaceship, and then land on (say) Mars and have it work consistently. Besides, presumably we’ll need to grow plants for food. There’s enough sunlight on Mars to use natural sunlight (though no good soil).

      The main speculative technology would be anything that reduces costs. NASA says it wants to be able to reduce the cost of getting into space to $100 in fifty years. That would let us shoot more than a hundred times more wealth into space to make us comfortable. And indeed, at that point it’s likely we’ll have people living in space colonies. At that rate, it’s cheaper and faster for a human to go to the moon than it was for an Englishman to move to colonial America.

      • bullseye says:

        Any resource we need to get into space, from rocket fuel to expertise, is going to get vastly more scarce if we’re trying to get *everyone* into space. That’s going to throw your economic calculations way off. Even if we could manage our resources perfectly there are some things we just don’t have enough of.

        Also, bigger speculative technology is keeping a settlement alive without support from Earth; something we can’t currently do at all. Mars might have enough sunlight for some crops but it doesn’t have enough air; what could we do about that? And Venus is much worse; it quickly destroys everything we send.

        • Erusian says:

          How would it get more scarce? Demand would go up but that would lead to an increase in the amount of rocket fuel. Almost every factory, every refinery, every oil well could be turned to ship production.

          And we would have to use the technology in speculative ways but not necessarily speculative technology. We can make oxygen in sealed environments. We can also transport it in highly compressed forms. We wouldn’t grow crops on Mars. Instead, we’d have highly efficient agricultural stations that would use something like hydroponics (perhaps with water gleaned out of melted Martian ice) constantly pointed at the sun to produce oxygen and food. We’d have four years to develop and test these before the bulk of people relied on them too.

          • bullseye says:

            If you turn the entire economy to one purpose you’ll find that much of it is poorly suited to that purpose. I don’t actually know what they make rocket fuel out of, but ultimately it’s coming from some kind of raw material that we have to find rather than make. And the Earth only has so much of that material. Also, a lot of the world’s GDP is generated by people who have no job skills relevant to this project.

          • tossrock says:

            Rocket fuel is typically liquid oxygen and a hydrocarbon, sometimes just hydrogen. If you used hydrogen, you could crack an essentially unlimited amount of that out of seawater.

          • Erusian says:

            If you turn the entire economy to one purpose you’ll find that much of it is poorly suited to that purpose. I don’t actually know what they make rocket fuel out of, but ultimately it’s coming from some kind of raw material that we have to find rather than make. And the Earth only has so much of that material. Also, a lot of the world’s GDP is generated by people who have no job skills relevant to this project.

            You have a rather limited view of economic activity. Every labor hour spent cleaning as a janitor is a labor hour freed from a scientist with relevant skills. Same for every hour worked to grow their food. Plus, how many people can be retooled into things like factory work?

            And yes, we’d be destroying wealth by retooling everything this way. However, anything we don’t bring along is effectively lost. So even we can accept relatively small efficiency ratios and then burn a lot of capital stock to get what’s left into space. It would be devastating, sure, but there’s no point in preserving things that will be destroyed.

      • eyeballfrog says:

        If we can reduce the average human weight to 100 pounds

        Is this doable? I’m a short guy, but if I weighed 100 pounds I would probably die.

    • John Schilling says:

      In five years, you’re only going to get an unreasonable hope, and that’s going to be for a Mars outpost. No other site within reach offers a broad enough range of resources to build or sustain a technological civilization with the minimal up-front and zero ongoing support this endeavour will involve. And even Mars is iffy. If 0.38g isn’t enough for long-term human health and reproduction, humanity dies. If the necessary resources can’t be found within easy rover distance of the colony site, humanity dies. Etc, etc, etc.

      SpaceX claims it could build ~400 Merlin engines per year if needed, and fortunately it’s Gwynne Shotwell and not Elon Musk that made that claim. Simplistically assuming engine production is the long pole in this tent, that’s 40 Falcon Heavy launches per year, 200 in five years, assuming we can recover the boosters and reuse each one three times (the third time as an expendable core). A Falcon Heavy recovering just the boosters, should be able to put 15.6 metric tons on a minimum-energy trajectory to Mars.

      Slight complication in that the minimum-energy launch window we most want to use is 5.6 years from now, but I’ll handwave the ability to park the upper stage in high Earth orbit for 7-8 months while surviving whatever destroys Earth. The launch window in 3.4 years will be used sparingly to send scouting and technology demonstration missions; mostly we’ll stockpile launchers and payloads for an eleventh-hour surge, so that the payloads can be the best designs we can make based on the data from the earlier missions.

      15.6 tonnes in Martian space equates to maybe half that in payload on the Martian surface with a good lander design.

      Rule of thumb for manned space flight: A person, a long-term habitat, a life support system that can recycle everything but food, and the facilities to do moderately useful surface work (spacesuit, airlock, etc), adds up to five metric tons, and will need 25 kg/month in freeze-dried food and other consumables. So, 15.6 tonnes x 50% is one person and everything they’ll need to keep working for almost ten years.

      If each Falcon Heavy can deliver one person and their stuff, 200 Falcons means a 200-person colony. OK, a good chunk of them will die enroute or not long after, but there will be people other than SpaceX building boosters, so maybe that cancels.

      Except it doesn’t do us any good for 200 people to go about doing stuff for ten years and then starve. So, split the mission three ways – people/habitats/food, industrial equipment, and long-term supplies of everything they’ll never be able to get from Earth again. Vitamin pills, microchips, flash drives full of knowledge, etc, etc.

      We’re now down to 67 survivors, with 500 tons of industrial equipment and 500 tons of specialized supplies. Actually, let’s make that 50 survivors and 17 person-equivalents of livestock; long term we’re probably going to want fish and rabbits and chickens and goats, guinea pigs and lab rats, and maybe cats and dogs, so bring a generous Ark’s worth of those plus lots of frozen embryos. Frozen people-embryos as well, for genetic diversity.

      So, fifty people with five hundred tons of machinery need to figure out how to mine and refine Martian metal and plastic well enough to manufacture enough pressurized and illuminated greenhouses to feed at least fifty people, in no more than a decade. And set up a spacesuit-repair and spacesuit-part-manufacturing cottage industry before their spacesuits wear out. Etc, etc, etc, for enough etc’s that they will probably screw up at least one badly enough to kill everyone.

      But it wouldn’t be certain that they would fail.

      Do pick people with the right stuff, polymathic young healthy geniuses who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty, and skip the bit where every nation and every ethnic group gets in on the lottery, because you’ve read Seveneves. And if any Earthican politicians stow away, shoot them as soon as they show their face. You’ll have a captain with the authority to make that sort of decision.

      • Protagoras says:

        Surely this underestimates how quickly production could be ramped up in the face of a crisis like this? 400/year might be optimistic for the first year, but I’d be amazed if production in the tens of thousands weren’t possible by the third year, looking at examples like how dramatically countries ramped up aircraft production in WWII.

        • John Schilling says:

          During World War II, we were able to ramp up aircraft production by e.g. having automobile-engine factories produce aircraft engines. Large rocket engines(*) are less like anything else in production anywhere than aircraft engines were like auto engines. Meanwhile, most of the US industrial base has determined that short-term profits are maximized by very narrowly optimizing your factories for just-in-time manufacturing of just one thing (that isn’t rocket engines). And we just had the discussion of how few tool and die makers there are left in the US work force, critically handicapping us at the “make the tools to make the tools to solve the problem stage”. This isn’t 1940, and I’m not confident that the problem can be solved in five years.

          China, which has plenty of tool and die makers, has an industrial base mostly optimized for making cheap consumer goods on demand, and had to spend at least a decade just figuring out how to build modern aircraft engines when they wanted to compete with Boeing and Airbus.

          Also, there’s going to be a big problem with labor force motivation. The people who geared up to manufacture victory in World War II, expected to enjoy victory in World War II. And to enjoy being able to spend the money they earned in the process. Rationalist utilitarians often overestimate the extent to which people who are not rationalist utilitarians (i.e. just about everybody who works in manufacturing) really care about the abstract fact of human existence after all their friends and family have been killed. The sort of person who works for SpaceX today would probably volunteer eighty hours a week for this project, and I can maybe handwave SpaceX’s supply chain maintaining current productivity, but if you’re planning to ramp up production in other facilities, what currency are you planning to pay everyone in?

          * And bignum other things we’ll need in this scenario; treating this as just a rocket engine manufacturing problem is a useful abstraction that breaks if e.g. you assume every tool and die maker in the US is retasked to rocket engine production.

          • Protagoras says:

            I can’t find exact figures, but based on how many commercial planes get built, it seems a couple of thousand large jet engines get built every year. Jet engine production does not seem sufficiently different from rocket engine production that it would require the full five years to repurpose jet engine factories to make rockets, or even to expand them while doing it. I admit paying and motivating people would be hard (and perhaps would be the fatal bottleneck), but I think the examples you cite of technical issues have more to do with the difficulty of doing things profitably, rather than the impossibility of doing them at all; I remain skeptical of the latter.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            Paying and motivation will depend heavily on how many people may be able to go. Getting large buy-in for a few hundred people in space is going to be hard. Getting lots of people motivated to send billions, or even hundreds of millions, will be much easier.

          • John Schilling says:

            Jet engines are in fact very different from rocket engines. To take just one point, a jet engine fuel injector will need to deliver maybe ten gallons per minute at a pressure of a few hundred psia. A Merlin 1D rocket fuel injector has to deliver 1,500 gallons per minute at roughly 2,000 psia. Also, the jet engine fuel injector just has to spray fuel into air, which is omnipresent in the rocket engine and contains all necessary oxygen for consumption. The rocket engine fuel injector has to interface with a matching oxidizer injector(*) in a manner that resembles nothing so much as a fancy showerhead designed by a dark wizard. And we can have SpaceX give that design to e.g. General Electric, but the tools they use to build jet-engine fuel injectors simply can’t make that design. Or vice versa.

            * Contra Spengler, don’t not cross the streams, or imagine every molecule in your rocket engine exploding at several times the speed of sound.

      • DinoNerd says:

        Moon > Mars. Closer.

        Maybe stage from there to Mars, over time. Maybe just get supplies from there, from asteroids, etc.

        But probably not happening in 5 years, regardless of motivation.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          It is closer in terms of time, but not in terms of energy or fuel.

          The one advantage is that launch windows open up frequently, so there would be more opportunities to iterate rocket designs.

          Leaving from the Moon for Mars won’t happen. Carbon is an extremely precious resource on the Moon, and hydrogen is also pretty sparse. I assume either place would get lots of nuclear reactors, so Moonians could extract O2 from the lunar regolith, but you still need a hydrocarbon of some kind.

          Just living on the Moon is harder than living on Mars. The Martian isn’t exactly a documentary, but growing your own food should be possible. It’s certainly easier to deal with perchlorates than the fact that you have to import and recycle every molecule of carbon. As John said, we don’t know if 3/8g is enough to survive, but it’s certainly more likely than 1/6g.

        • John Schilling says:

          As ES says, the Moon isn’t easier to get to. In fact, having just done the math, a Falcon Heavy can land almost exactly as much payload on the Moon as it can on Mars, given reasonable lander designs in both cases. In some contexts it makes a huge difference that one trip takes maybe six days and the other six months, but here it’s a one-way trip where we’re betting everything that the people we send can remain healthy in the cans we send them in for at least six years, so spending six months coasting is a reasonable trade if it gets you to a better environment for long-term survival.

      • DinoNerd says:

        If 0.38g isn’t enough for long-term human health and reproduction, humanity dies.

        If (enough) humans can make it to reproductive age and reproduce, they can be sick half the time and die of old age at 40, provided they can somehow manage to maintain enough tech to keep the colony alive. But it would be one more obstacle on top of a very unforgiving environment, a too-small gene pool, and too few people to maintain enough specializations to keep all current tech alive.

        • albatross11 says:

          It seems more likely that 1g is needed developmentally for unborn or newborn babies or small kids or something. Adults living in .38g who never need to go back to Earth gravity seem a lot more likely to do okay.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          Gene pool probably isn’t a huge problem. You can send a lot of frozen sperm.

    • theredsheep says:

      Tangent, but something I wondered while reading Seveneves: I’m not a scientist, but assuming something did make the moon break into bits like that, why would the bits bump into each other? The magic force that broke them apart pushed them outward, right? Wouldn’t they either continue drifting apart until they fell out of/escaped orbit, or else drift back together again and stick under the influence of gravity? It’s all hard to visualize.

      • Another Throw says:

        Limit yourself to two dimensions.

        Draw an ellipse for the orbit of the current moon.

        Then draw a few million new ellipses randomly that all intersect at a point on the orbit of the current moon. These are the orbits of all the pieces generated by blowing up the moon. (There is cool math you could do to make them kind of accurate, because the generated orbits wouldn’t be completely random, but it doesn’t really matter as a first approximation.)

        Look at all the places that these ellipses intersect. Those are all places where the blown up bits have an opportunity to bump in to each other. Unless the two orbits that intersect at a particular place are resonate (like Pluto and Neptune are) they are eventually going to whack each other. Being resonate would be extremely unlikely. So, when they do whack each other, it will create a spray new even more blown up bits all over the place. Iterate ad infinitum.

        Then add in that if two bits get close together but don’t whack into each other, they’ll gravitationally interact, causing their orbits to change slightly.

        • Another Throw says:

          Hmm, I can’t edit. I should add that you should keep one of the foci of your few million random ellipses as the Earth.

          Then, as a second approximation, consider the pieces of the moon will simultaneously raise/lower the the highest point in their orbit, raise/lower the lowest point in their orbit, and rotate the axis passing through the highest and lowest point (and passing through the Earth at one of the foci of the ellipse) clockwise/counter-cw relative to the orbit of the original moon, with the magnitude of the effects more or less independent and randomly distributed.

          But I’m bad at this and it probably doesn’t help you visualize it.

          • theredsheep says:

            But why do they have different orbits? The book describes them as staying close together at first, not blowing off into all different directions in a way that would create chaotic, overlapping orbits. Which seems to imply that all the pieces are moving in the same direction as the old moon did, only slightly farther apart. Like throwing a ball of soft cheese through a wire mesh, sort of. They’re still close together something like a week later when they’re watching them bounce at the party and the seven pieces turn into eight.

            I could picture their mutual gravitational pull just sucking them back together, or their existing as a collection of rocks sharing the old momentum. The book’s description, though, is a headscratcher for me.

    • sorrento says:

      Launching people into space is actually the easy part. We’ve known how to do that since the 1970s using multi-stage solid or liquid-fueled rockets. The hard part is keeping people alive once they’re out there.

      In space you are exposed to a pretty large amount of radiation– one source says it’s equal to a CT scan every 5 days. Mars provides some protection, but not a lot, since it doesn’t really have a magnetic field anything like the Earth’s. Probably the most practical solution is tunnelling deep enough into the ground that you’re naturally shielded.

      Life support in general will be challenging since humans don’t have very much experience with creating closed life support environments. It will certainly involve eating a lot lower on the food chain than we do now. I’m not sure what the plan for things like power plants is, but it had better be pretty robust, since if there’s a malfunction everyone dies.

      I will buck the pessimistic trend and say we probably could do it in 5 years, with a heroic and well-funded effort by the best of humanity. But it would really, really, suck. And the politics will be very nasty since it will be obvious from the start that only a tiny percent of a percent of humanity at best will ever get off the planet.

      • albatross11 says:

        If you get to Mars, you can build your living spaces underground and get good radiation shielding for the time that you’re not working in the greenhouses/out on the surface in a spacesuit building stuff.

        I think if you could get a successful colony working, it would have to function at a much lower technology level in most areas than what we currently have, because with a very small population, you just can’t maintain advanced technology in most places. You have lots of expendable supplies produced from a high-tech culture, but you won’t be able to manufacture new microchips or flash memory or high-efficiency solar panels or most medicines or….

        Eventually, your descendants will be able to recover that ability, if you survive long enough and can expand. (And they’ll recover it way faster than it was initially developed, since you’ll have brought manuals and technical books.). But I imagine a long period of time where you have advanced technology in a few places you need it (maybe making the plastics you need for spacesuits and repair of your inflatable greenhouses) and really basic technology for most other stuff (maybe your main building material is bricks and the most common job is low-tech farming in a greenhouse to raise enough potatoes to keep yourself alive).

    • chaosmage says:

      Make Elon CTO of Earth and have him figure it out? Make the blueprints for Raptor and Starship open source and have everyone ramp up mass production ASAP.

      I think the near-availability of Starship makes us significantly more prepared for this scenario than the fictional Earth in Seveneves was.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Two destinations come to mind, and it might be worth it to try both.

      1. The moon, assuming at all possible. Much much closer than anything else, and compared to a space station you have raw material, sunlight (more than here, actually) and protection from radiation. Depending on specific catastrophic event, also no seismic activity. Dig deep enough to be safe, and basically you’re in a cave and can start growing tomatoes, Dutch style. Pretty comfortable.

      2. Find a place on earth that’s reasonably safe, and dig deep. Main disadvantage is no solar and likely a hostile (vs merely neutral) environment outside. Main advantage is that you can move heavy machinery there.

      As for how likely it is to succeed… a lot. We’re very much handicapped by our own fears. If we move to a wartime mentality we can literally move mountains in record times – but that would involve things like accepting higher rates of work accidents and feeding people calories instead of steaks.

      • albatross11 says:

        The underground survivors in Seveneves used geothermal energy. But given the outside temperatures, it’s not clear to me this would have worked–to get power from a heat source, you need a temperature difference.

        • Lambert says:

          There must be a temperature difference underground, otherwise everywhere would be equally good to build geothermal.

    • Deiseach says:

      If it’s within five years, then the maximum number is going to be very small indeed. I think if you managed to get a hundred people off-world and on the way to Mars you’d be doing well. There’s just too much that needs to be done and isn’t even started yet; it would be a real ‘hit and hope’ effort to expect the selection of humans that you could feasibly get off-world to not alone all arrive safely but all manage to build a base starting from nothing on Mars. If the colony survived its first year, it would be an astounding feat.

      Meanwhile, the vast majority of the rest of us left behind are toast.

      Fifty years at least gives a start to begin sending unmanned rockets to land supplies onto Mars, and possibly even develop things like the Mars rovers even more so that when they land they could start preliminary “get the domes constructed” work while the manned vessels followed behind, and give Earth a chance to keep sending support to the Mars settlers once they got there. You’re still not going to shift anything near seven billion people off-world, though; a million would be really pushing it and it’s more likely to be numbered in the “hundreds, maybe thousands”.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        A wonderful and underestimated characteristic of technology is that after you do something once, you just pump money into it to do it again.

        Google says ISS cost 150 billion, and the world GDP is about 78 trillion. Let’s go with a cost of 50 bil after economies of scale, and a 50% wartime tax, and you have 800 ISS per year. Allow 2 years to ramp up production, and you’re looking at around 2500 ISSs – and that’s a realistic number, without any wand-waving or technological advances.

        Do you know how they did development for the space program in the 50s? Well, I guess for the V1 and V2 as well. They had no computers and no way to simulate things, so they built big ass assembly lines and churned out hundreds of rockets (thousands?). After they blew up, they figured out what was the problem and fixed it for the next batch – until they didn’t blew up anymore.

  26. martoca says:

    Rough and loose quotes from Addy Pross’s “What is life? How Chemistry Becomes Biology” 2012, from back (finishing concepts) to front (seed concepts): complexity in the replicative world is the analog of entropy in the regular world; two evolutionary processes towards greater persistence; each expressing a particular measure of progress; whose asymtomatic exponential growth mathematics underpins why life has [flurished].197 Nature seeks persistent forms.195 Individuals are incomplete, dependent on the networks above and below.189 Complexification and network formation are the same.185 The synthesis of a living system is not a problem of material but of organization … of dynamic flux … far from equalibrium.180-1 The topology of replicating systems is inherently divergent. Backwards it is convergent ie tracing back evolutionary history.173 Complexity is not the cause or essence of the life phenomenon, it is its consequence.165 For replicating systems, matter is stable ie persistent if it does react, to make more of itself.163 The existence of an energy-gathering capability within a replicating entity effectively frees it from Second Law constraints.157 We live in two simultaneously discrete chemical worlds: regular down-hill non-replicative and the replicative aka biology.155 The complexifying transformation of replicating systems took place over billions of years and is undeniably present all around us.149 The essence of stability of replicators is rooted in populations, not individuals. Hetrogeneous populations evolve more effectively than homogeneous ones.144 The sequence of evolutions should read: replication, mutation, COMPLEXIFICATION, selection, evolution; for both chemical and biological phases. Though there are some instances of simplification, complexification is the underlying tendency.135 Cooperation is endemic. Symbiosis is everywhere: Gerald Joyce came up with an RNA molecule that could make copies of itself without assistance, 17 hours by itself and only two rounds; adding another distinct RNA module, replication double in one hour and went on indefinitely.133-4 RNA strands, normal chemistry, not being a living thing, replicates, mutates, evolves where the faster (shorter, simplifying) replicator dominates as it out competes for the required common building blocks.78-9 The essence of modern science is that nature is objective, that there is no underlying purpose to the natural order.33 Many of the molecules of life are chiral: has handedness; its mirror image cannot superimpose on itself. Within life: sugars are mostly D (dextro, right handed); amino acids mostly L (left handed). The chemical world with its inherent two-handedness contrasts with the single-handness of the biological. Answering why is the key challenge.29-31 All living things behave as if they have an agenda: “teleonomy” = life’s purposeful character.9

  27. hash872 says:

    India- a potential counterweight to a 21st century where China is the leading superpower? India has been underplayed as a future great power, and I find it really interesting how India displacing their former colonial power Britain as the world’s 5th largest economy this year has gotten virtually no press. (Seriously, no one is talking about it). I’ll just throw out the pros and cons of India becoming a great power:

    Pros- will likely soon have the world’s largest population, for however much one wants to count that. Also, unlike China & the US, India on average is quite young (half of the population is under 25), so not only will they soon have a larger population than China but they’ll have way more favorable demographics. Seem to have a high-performance, intellectual culture, as evinced by the number of incredibly accomplished Indians in the US. Already a nuclear power. Has a strong services sector. Has for the last few years consistently clocked some China-like GDP growth (6-7%ish range), as China has been slowing down.

    Purely from a US ‘let’s counter the Chinese’ POV- shares a border with China and they’ve already fought one war, plus skirmishes, over it. So they don’t require too much motivation to view China as a common enemy. #nationalism

    Cons- has some of the worst possible aspects of developing countries crushing bureaucracy & red tape. For example it recently took India 32 years to purchase a foreign-made artillery system (!) One of the most unfriendly places to do business possible (I suppose one could spin that as ‘lots of room for improvement’). Has every aspect of 3rd world country populism- politicians run on buying votes for groups (say, farmers) with outright welfare, they pressure the central bank to lower rates to boost the economy (we’d never do that here in the US….) Populism and messy 3rd world democratic politics make reforms extremely difficult. Economy is still about one-fifth the size of China’s, and their armed forces are decades away from being highly competitive. Large chunks of the population are in 3rd world poverty as dire as the worst parts of Africa.

    Worst of all, the world may be moving away from the old ‘manufacturing helps developing countries get to middle income status by learning basic skills and getting citizens off the farm’ model, which has worked for centuries for everyone from the US to China to Japan to South Korea. Automation may largely replace manufacturing employment.

    So- I’d say, OK but not amazing chance at being a great power? Still, at current growth rates they will start to approach Germany and Japan for economy size in the next decade or so. Hard to count out a nuclear power with 1 billion plus people and a top-3 economy. (We should probably start talking about giving them Britain’s Security Council seat once they’re there)

    • Erusian says:

      India seems unlikely to be a strong counterbalance to China simply because of where they project force. Okay, so they skirmish over Tibet. Sure. Tibet is one of the least hospitable, hardest to traverse, and poorest places in the world. It is a huge natural barrier. And they have ample buffer states in central Asia and southeast Asia. I have no doubt that India will grow and might even compete for influence in South Asia with China. But China is not India’s main geostrategic rival.

      The more interesting dynamic is that China wants to develop its belt and road. It wants a second outlet into the world trade networks because the Pacific is sort of encircled. And the only route out runs through Burma and Pakistan. (They could go through central Asia, but that’s a long way to go overland and is vulnerable to Russian interference). Both states that India would want in its sphere of influence and is better geographically located to influence. And both states India has a history of conflicts with. Both are currently leaning more towards the US than China for a variety of reasons. But if the US decides it cannot maintain its influence in Pakistan or Burma, then I could see them backing Indian influence.

      Of course, it’s unlikely the US will lose its influence in either. Pakistan and Burma don’t love the US but their allies are US allies. There’s no easy way for them to exit the US alliance system without leaving them alone against Indian, Iranian, Thai, Vietnamese, and possibly Chinese/Russian power. This is especially true of Pakistan. It’s less true of Burma geostrategically, but the Burmese faction that’s currently in power received significant US help in getting there. Likewise, the same thing works in reverse: India has reasons to back US influence in those countries over the Chinese. Not necessarily because the two countries are allies but because they have fewer conflicts of interest. The idea that the US will annex sections of Burma, for example, is absurd. Not so for China.

      • hash872 says:

        Pakistan is more of a US ally than a Chinese ally at this point?? Sorry, I don’t agree with any of this at all. That was true as recently as 10 years ago maybe, but things have changed…. Also I have no idea how Pakistan would ‘back Indian influence’. You know that they’re bitter rivals who have fought 3 wars, right?

        On a deeper level- the Belt & Road stuff looks like pure Soviet central planning to me. AKA when we finally prove (again) that over a long enough period of time, market economies always beat planned ones. For actual physical transportation of goods- ships basically always beat roads & rail over a long enough distance. There’s no market reason to favor physical roads over a supertanker ship. I don’t see this going well for the Chinese

        • Erusian says:

          Pakistan is more of a US ally than a Chinese ally at this point?

          Yes, it’s still a MNNA with close ties to the US. It’s also very close to Saudi Arabia, which is also a US ally, and a part of the US-led anti-Iranian coalition.