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Open Thread 125.75

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1,387 Responses to Open Thread 125.75

  1. vV_Vv says:

    What’s the deal with Greta Thunberg, the 16 years old schoolgirl who has become the face of global environmentalism?

    In less than a year she went from sitting with a sign outside the Swedish parliament to giving TED talks to speaking with world leaders at Davos to meeting the Pope. She’s been even nominated to the Nobel Peace Prize.

    What she has to say isn’t particularly novel or smart, but she does say it in a fundamentalist way: apocalyptic predictions, explicit black and white thinking, fire and brimstone references.

    – Why is she so popular? Her parents are rich and famous in Sweden, but they are pretty much unknown outside their country, so I doubt they can prop her up internationally so much. Is she being astroturfed by “the powers that be”? Is it the appeal of the child saint, the mix of innocence and fanatism, that made her into a new Joan d’Arc who can inspire the masses and the elites alike?

    – What does this mean for environmentalism? Is it now doomed to be a secular religion of rituals of purity signaling but no actual actions being taken? Greta becoming the face of environmentalism signals a shift from “trust the consensus of climate scientists” to “trust a schoolgirl”. And note how Greta never speaks of any concrete action plan, and when politicians actually try to do something it blows up in their face, e.g. the yellow vests protests in France were provoked by a fuel tax increase. Has environmentalism become just a performative act?

    • dick says:

      Never heard of her, and this seems like just gratuitously bashing your outgroup. Environmentalism is “doomed to be a secular religion of rituals of purity signaling” because a random teenager became semi-famous for being passionate about it? Sheesh.

      • Aapje says:

        I remember when progressives used to make fun of dictators who would kiss babies and put forward indoctrinated children as role models & those we should listen to (a polemic trick, as these children can debate very harshly, but debating back similarly looks like abuse).

        Now progressives in my country do this with reckless abandon.

        D, don’t you agree that there is something perverse about children with extremist beliefs being asked to speak in parliaments, for the UN, etc; as if they are experts, even though their opinions are typically based on (scientific) falsehoods?

        • Nornagest says:

          As annoying as I find this case, I gotta say there’s nothing uniquely progressive about it. People of all political stripes have been propping up well-coached children to act as their mouthpieces probably since before the stakes were higher than which monkey gets kicked out of the tree. And then condemning the same thing in their opponents, because hypocrisy comes about as easily as breathing to most of us.

          We should know better by now, but is it really surprising that we don’t?

          • Aapje says:

            As annoying as I find this case, I gotta say there’s nothing uniquely progressive about it.

            I already very strongly implied this in my first sentence.

            People of all political stripes have been propping up well-coached children to act as their mouthpieces probably since before the stakes were higher than which monkey gets kicked out of the tree.

            Yet I can’t remember this in my country, at the UN, from the Nobels, etc when I was younger. Nor do I see this behavior in others in the West.

            At this point in time, it really seems to be a part of New Left culture that is not copied by others.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            People of all political stripes have been propping up well-coached children to act as their mouthpieces

            Right. There is a reason that drug dealers and warlords find child soldiers so useful. They don’t question you much, and when the other side fights back, you can use them as human shields and talk about how the other side is attacking kids.

        • dick says:

          D, don’t you agree that there is something perverse about children with extremist beliefs being asked to speak in parliaments, for the UN, etc; as if they are experts, even though their opinions are typically based on (scientific) falsehoods?

          This is circular reasoning. “Isn’t my outgroup bad for being wrong?” Yes, if we assume that your outgroup is wrong, i.e. abandon all pretense at rational inquiry and skepticism, I suppose it is.

          Greta is not the new leader of the environmental movement. If you want to get in to the spirit of this forum, you might put some thought in to why you want her to be.

          • Aapje says:

            I don’t see how that is a fair way to interpret my argument.

            My claim is not that the outgroup is being wrong for being wrong, but that these children are being given platforms far beyond what is reasonable, given their credentials and actual contribution to the debate. I think that this disproportionality is largely due to the emotional impact of using children, rather than a rational reason.

            Note that I’m not claiming that this is a cynical ploy, but rather that the people who employ these tactics themselves act on emotions when favoring these kids.

            This argument depends in no way on this behavior being done by the outgroup or the extent to which I agree with the argument of the person. In fact, I agree more with Greta than with Trump on climate change, so…

            Greta is not the new leader of the environmental movement.

            She seems to be the leader or at least spokesperson of the children’s protests, which happen in many countries. She got to speak at the UN, in the EU parliament, in various national parliaments, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, etc.

            This doesn’t make her “the” leader, but there are very few “the” leaders of movements in general. I never claimed this anyway, so you are demanding that I substantiate a claim that I never made.

            Again, my argument is that the level of influence is far beyond what is reasonable, most likely due to the emotional impact of using children, rather than depending on the strength of the argument.

            You may dismiss my claims, but do you disagree that the number of youths getting Nobel prizes, getting to speak for the UN, getting to speak in parliaments, etc has increased a lot during the last decade or so? This still demands an explanation, even if you think mine is wrong.

          • dick says:

            My claim is not that the outgroup is being wrong for being wrong, but that these children are being given platforms far beyond what is reasonable, given their credentials and actual contribution to the debate.

            Maybe that’s your new claim. Your previous one was, “there is something perverse about children with extremist beliefs being asked to speak in parliaments, for the UN, etc; as if they are experts, even though their opinions are typically based on (scientific) falsehoods?” That’s not a claim that people without credentials shouldn’t get a platform, it’s a tautology predicated on the assumption that Greta Thunberg has extremist beliefs based on scientific falsehoods.

            So, on to your new claim: we shouldn’t give such a big platform to people who lack credentials or expertise. That’s reasonable, but a) it’s not new or specific to Greta – celebrities with no scientific credentials have been giving speeches about environmentalism pretty much non-stop for the last thirty years, and b) it doesn’t say anything about environmentalism – a dummy holding position X is not evidence that X is wrong. (I know you didn’t claim otherwise; OP did. This all started with him asking whether this means the environmental movement is doomed.)

        • vV_Vv says:

          Greta is not the new leader of the environmental movement. If you want to get in to the spirit of this forum, you might put some thought in to why you want her to be.

          If not the leader she is certainly the figurehead, if you disagree then I challenge you to find any other environmental activist who has gotten anywhere near her level of international public presence in the last year.

          • dick says:

            A figurehead is a leader without power; AFAICT Greta is not leading anyone. I think the term you’re searching for is “poster child” (which is usually metaphorical, but in this case very literally applicable).

            But arguing about semantics is boring. Call her what you like, leader, figurehead, whatever. Your whole premise is that this “means” something, and that’s what I’m saying is wrong. If next year the media darling of the environmental movement is a lovable Scottish grandmother, or a one-legged Tunisian nun, or a giant tortoise with an amusing name, that won’t mean the environmental movement is doomed either.

          • Plumber says:

            @vV_Vv

            “….I challenge you to find any other environmental activist who has gotten anywhere near her level of international public presence in the last year….”

            I can’t as I haven’t heard of any, but until you brought her up I never heard of Greta either.

            It’s not that the environment isn’t entirely out of the news, today’s New York Times front page has a photo captioned: “Frozen, Stony and Vital to Life
            North America’s glaciers are losing ice as the world warms. That’s disrupting habitats for fish, insects and even bacteria.
            Page A14″
            , with nothing else environmental on the front page though, turning to page A14 I see mentions of “Jon Riedel, a geologist”, and “J. Ryan Bellmore, a biologist” who are presented as researchers, not activists. The last environmentalist activist that I remember getting any press attention was the girl who lived in a tree to prevent it from being cut down one or three decades ago, none on my radar since.

            I don’t think that the get much attention otherwise.

            How did this Greta girl get your attention?

    • Clutzy says:

      Environmentalism, its establishment form, is too tied up with leftism to really make a statement about “what is environmentalism?” Activists with no power, like her, just do what activists do, and they often look like a religion or performance art from the outside.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      If there is demand for an international figure, her parents creating a national figure might be sufficient. Similar to how Canadian content laws create Canadian bands, which are successful in America. But it’s hard to measure demand if there’s only one slot, vs lots of bands. (And why are Canadian comedians so much more successful than Canadian musicians? Are there relevant laws or subsidies?)

    • Plumber says:

      vV_Vv

      “What’s the deal with Greta Thunberg…”

      I never heard of her before, but after a brief glance at the Wikipedia link I’d put her in the “It’s a great big world” category.

      “…Why is she so popular?…”

      She must’ve caught someone’s attention and now folks like you are telling others about her.

      “…What does this mean for environmentalism?….”

      That while not as noticeable as in decades past it still continues.

    • Aapje says:

      apocalyptic predictions, explicit black and white thinking, fire and brimstone references.

      She has Asperger’s and said herself that this makes her very prone to black/white thinking.

      Is it the appeal of the child saint, the mix of innocence and fanatism, that made her into a new Joan d’Arc who can inspire the masses and the elites alike?

      Modern (elite) progressives have it very good themselves, but obviously feel that the future is gravely under threat from climate change, nationalists (Brexit), racism, etc.

      So it makes perfect for them to focus the debate on future generations, rather than themselves, because if they did the latter, it would not be a good look.

    • J Mann says:

      What she has to say isn’t particularly novel or smart, but she does say it in a fundamentalist way

      There is definitely an appetite for people who will say the stuff you already believe in a convincing way, either to stuff it to the wrongthinkers or to convince people in the middle.

      Lewis Black, John Oliver, Trump, Joe the Plumber, AOC, Ilhan Omar, etc. are popular in part because they’re “not afraid to say” some stuff that their fans already believe to be true. The fact that they don’t make sophisticated arguments is not a problem – their fans are already convinced, and are looking for someone to make vigorous arguments.

  2. Deiseach says:

    Happy Easter/Passover/Nice Sunshiny Day to everyone!

    Can anyone tell me who invented, or popularised, the phrase “Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism” (as in the wondrous utopia of the post-scarcity, post-AI and robots will do all the work and create such surplus everyone will be rich, future just twenty-five years down the line that’s been promised for the past hundred or so years)?

    I ask, because I saw this in Private Eye‘s “Pseuds Corner” and thought “I recognise that phrasing!” Is this person trying to claim it for themselves, or is it knocking around enough everyone (in particular circles) is using it as a common “author: Anonymous” type thing?

    Mark delivered a keynote address, ‘Our Frightful Hobgoblin, or, Notes Towards Full-on Fully-Automated Luxury Green Interspecies Feminist Queer Space Communism of Colour’, calling for critics and creators to play a larger role in building solutions to the multiple, overlapping, anthropogenic global crises engulfing us. – Dr Mark Bould, Scholar Guest of Honour at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, held in Orlando, Florida, USA

    • rlms says:

      According to this, the popularisation of the phrase minus “Gay Space” was a youtube video. My guess is that the full phrase was popularised by a Facebook page, but I don’t know for sure.

  3. sty_silver says:

    So, Andrew Yang, an asian guy running as a democrat in 2020 on Universal Basic Income and lots of other things.

    I like this guy a lot, certainly far more than any other candidate. I genuinely think he has the best policy ideas, some of them not so typical, like making taxes fun or have a term limit for Supereme Court Justices

    But most importantly, I think he’s got a legitimate ability to distinguish good from bad policy ideas even if both are from his camp, and that just puts him so far above the field. For example, he’s anti-climate change but pro nuclear energy. He’s pro UBI, but not pro minimum wage and not pro universal job guarantee. Pro VAT but not pro wealth tax.

    PredictIt has him in 5th place, which is actually above Warren. And this isn’t a one-time thing, the only time I’ve seen him below Warren was right after he was added. Afaik he’s polling at around 3% right now. He’s made lots and lots of appearances on all sorts of outlets left and right, including CNN, MSNBC, Fox, TyT, Ben Shapiro Show, Joe Rogan, Sam Harris, Breakfast Club

    • Heterosteus says:

      I think he’s got a legitimate ability to distinguish good from bad policy ideas

      For example, he’s anti-climate change but not pro nuclear energy.

      These two statements seem like direct contradictions to me. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a credible plan for sustainable energy that doesn’t involve a lot of nuclear.

      ETA: Ah, it was a typo. And Yang is indeed pretty solidly pro-nuclear. Never mind.

      • sty_silver says:

        That was a flat-out error by me. The “not” is just wrong. I edited it out as I noticed it but you must have caught the early version. Apologies! he’s PRO nuclear energy.

      • rlms says:

        sty_silver’s comment looks like it’s been edited to say pro-nuclear rather than not, but in any case your information is out of date. It’s true that a sensible person who’s concerned about climate change should not favour shutting existing nuclear power stations down (they’ll just be replaced with coal, as happened in Germany), but the cost of new nuclear power is now higher than the cost of renewables (I believe due to price change in both directions).

        • Tarpitz says:

          the cost of new nuclear power is now higher than the cost of renewables

          I was under the impression that this was an extremely difficult thing to calculate, and subject to all sorts of critical methodological questions without obvious right answers. It would amaze me to learn there was a reliable consensus on this.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Did you notice that RLMS said that nuclear is increasing in cost? It now has practically infinite cost. Aside from it being illegal, people have completely lost the ability to manage it and now destroy plants in routine maintenance.

            Even before nuclear power was politically destroyed, it was increasing in cost. Optimistic people think that this was the same political problem, so that if you could magically solve the first problem, you would solve the second. Aside from the magic, this might just not be true. It’s probably just that concentrated stores of wealth are stolen.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I love nuclear but even China appears, at best, wishy-washy about it. The fracking boom has just made natural gas so cheap.

            Maybe humanity could have made it work if we’d done things differently over the past 50+ years. I hope it doesn’t turn out that we really needed it to reverse global warming (because maybe you don’t just need little dirty energy, maybe you also need boat loads of clean energy, to do things like power EVs, grow lab-meat, and do carbon capture).

        • sty_silver says:

          He’s also for investing in renewable energies, and names that as a tool to combat climate change.

    • Pepe says:

      Under Climate Change, he has:

      “End the current tax benefits and cuts given to fossil fuel companies which give them an unwarranted competitive advantage over alternative energy sources.”

      What are the benefits and cuts that fossil fuels receive that others don’t? I hear this often, but don’t personally know the details.

        • Christophe Biocca says:

          The Intangible Drilling Cost deduction’s impact (the first one in that list) is overstated by a lot, because it treats the revenue impact from time shifting as the “annual cost” of the policy.

          It’s a subsidy because it lets companies claim deductions earlier than they otherwise would, but that means the net savings are the time-value of the shift, not the gross amount.

          LIFO accounting for taxes (the second one on the list) is similarly a time-shift, and is generally allowed in any business (but only ones with large inventories and rising COGS will use it because that’s when it reduces your taxable income).

          MLPs are a way to lower dividend payment now at the cost of paying more (either on dividends or capital gains) in the future. Again a time-shift.

          Fixed % deduction does have a real impact beyond time-shifting, because you can eventually claim more than the original investment in deductions.

          So on net, the subsidies are real, but they’re not nearly as impactful as the article makes them out to be.

        • It might be true, but one would have to look pretty far beyond the linked page to tell. The sources of their information clearly have an axe to grind, as do they. What they count as subsidies are mostly tax rules which they think are biased in favor of fossil fuel industries:

          These kinds of obscure tax loopholes and accounting tricks are not widely known or debated, partially because you have to be a tax lawyer to understand them

          Hence one also has to be a tax lawyer or equivalent to tell whether they are really subsidies–the author of the page expects the reader to take his word for it.

          Part of the page is on the effect of subsidies on output.

          The researchers acknowledge that the impact of subsidies on these decisions is extremely sensitive to oil prices. If oil prices rise back up to, say, $75bbl, as some forecasters project, the impact of subsidies will appear far smaller.

          But at current low oil prices, subsidies are making a huge, huge difference.

          The conclusion the author wants is that, without subsidies, much less oil would be produced. But that doesn’t follow from his argument. If subsidies were eliminated and output fell, prices would go up, so how much oil would be unprofitable at present prices without subsidies doesn’t tell us the actual effect. What he needs and doesn’t provide is some estimate of the elasticity of demand. If it’s perfectly inelastic, then removing a $10 subsidy just means that prices go up by $10 and output stays the same. His calculation is only informative if you assume demand is perfectly elastic, hence removing the subsidy has no effect on price.

          I don’t have an opinion on whether the basic claims are true–I assume fossil companies do their best to get benefits from governments, like other firms. What struck me reading the page is that, if you agree with it, it feels like good objective evidence for the conclusion you want. But it isn’t.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          This is kind of a segue on the topic of Yang, but I am very interested in the question of how the fossil fuel industry is supposedly so highly subsidized. The link by Hoopy was far from helpful. I had to go three links in before I could even find a listing of these subsidies, and then it was just an amount and not an explanation.

          I am very skeptical of these numbers, but I think there ARE some subsidies, and it would be good to know what they are. As Christophe notes, there use of two tax timing differences without explaining that is what they are is a clear indication that the numbers must be closely examined to find the truth.

          DF notes that one of the authors states that you have to be a tax lawyer to understand them. Well, I am a tax accountant, so I think I would understand them if there were proper cites. Does anyone know of any cite that actually lays out how each of these numbers are calculated, hopefully without 100 pages of verbiage around it?

          • Clutzy says:

            Its one of the least subsidized industries in the US in the form of actual subsidies. You can argue its somewhere in the middle or at the low end with regards to the tax code depending on if you think some of their tax writeoffs are targeted at them, or are just a general consequence of encouraging high-capital, relatively high risk endeavors using the tax code.

            In either instance they are way behind industries people “like” like auto production and clean energy. Also behind industries that people “hate” like banking.

        • Pepe says:

          Thanks Hoopyfreud for the article and the others for the discussion.

          “End fossil fuel subsidies” is one of those things that you hear so often, yet I have never seen any specifics. Without knowing what the subsidies are, how can you know that they need ended?

          • Defining subsidies is hard, for at least three reasons.

            1. “Tax expenditure” means a firm paying lower taxes than it would under some alternative set of rules, so calculating it requires you to know what the tax rules should be, which is far from clear.

            2. Governments do things for many reasons with many effects. If the government buys fighter planes that presumably raises the income of firms that make airplanes, but we don’t usually consider that a subsidy. If the government gives poor people food stamps that may raise the demand curve for agricultural products, benefiting farmers–and that might be one of the reasons for such a program, so it comes closer.

            The biofuels program, turning something like a third of the U.S. maize crop into alcohol, was justified primarily as a way of slowing global warming. I gather that people concerned with global warming eventually concluded that it had no such effect–but the program remains, presumably as a way of subsidizing farmers who grow maize. That’s a somewhat clearer case. Al Gore has publicly admitted that his support for the program was in part because he was running for president and concerned with the Iowa primary.

            3. Various activities have, or at least can be argued to have, negative externalities, so one can view the failure to charge for those externalities as a subsidy–and some people calculating subsidies to fossil fuels do so. The size of the externalities is often very uncertain. In the case of climate change, I’ve even argued that the sign of the externality is uncertain.

            So anyone who claims to know the magnitude of net subsidies to fossil fuels should be viewed with suspicion. Less so if he specifies what he is including and how he calculates it.

    • bullseye says:

      Regarding Supreme Court Term limits:

      He proposes two ways of doing it: Constitutional amendment, and only choosing justices who pledge to step down in 18 years. Would either work?

      The second method wouldn’t work; it would only limit justices nominated by Yang himself. Later presidents, especially Republicans, would feel no need to follow Yang’s example.

      Amendments are always hard, and even more so with the country this partisan. If it gets enough support from one party the other will turn against it. An amendment proposed by the president, and plainly intended to thwart a major goal of the other party, is dead in the water.

      There is a situation where it might have some chance: if SCOTUS flips to majority Democrat during Yang’s term. If this convinces Republicans that the amendment now favors them, but Yang still keeps his own party on board, it might have a shot.

      • sty_silver says:

        Is there any way to enforce term limits other than an amendment?

        If not, I think it’s a good idea to have this policy proposal, even if it unlikely to be implemented if he wins.

        • bullseye says:

          As a Democrat, I’m against trying to do it without the amendment. Two possibilities:

          A. Yang’s appointee actually steps down after 18 years, with about a 50% chance of being replaced by a Republican appointee.

          B. Yang’s appointee doesn’t step down after 18 years, and Republicans call him a liar and might even seek to impeach him (impeachment being the remedy that Yang proposed for a justice who broke his pledge to step down).

          No Republican appointee would have to deal with this problem because no Republican president will ask for a pledge to step down.

    • Deiseach says:

      For example, he’s anti-climate change but pro nuclear energy. He’s pro UBI, but not pro minimum wage and not pro universal job guarantee. Pro VAT but not pro wealth tax.

      Exactly why running under the Democrat umbrella he has no choice. Look at what they’re all currently doing now, kicked off by Elizabeth Warren – impeach Trump, yeah yeah yeah.

      It’s not about policy, it’s about what will grab headlines and beat the tweeting progressives wing of the party to the punch.

      I have no idea if a UBI is workable, I’d personally like something of the sort but the financing of it still depends too much on Magic Money Tree thinking (“see, we’ll cut this programme and increase these taxes and pass a brand new Get Money From Very Rich People Bill and voila!”). Being anti-minimum wage and anti-job guarantee is going to get him nowhere with the 18 16 14 12 years old and you can have a free pony! young voters that he wants to capture (and that they’re all looking to capture, I love the notion that by simply dropping the voting age enough you will have hordes of mythical engaged activist kids turning up at the polls more than once in a blue moon when they’ve been organised to go by canny adults running a campaign specifically targeted at getting them there, but that’s by the way) – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez put “universal job guarantee” into her Santa Letter Green New Deal and that wasn’t by accident. Activist young voters have suckled with their mothers’ milk the notion of guaranteed minimum wage and universal job guarantee, and any candidate not promising them this will be regarded as a dirty centrist (if not an outright filthy rotten right-winger proto-Republican in disguise who hates poor people and wants to make the fat cats even fatter).

      Nuclear power? The environmentalist left have spent decades campaigning against this; once again, anyone advocating this is going to be met with shrill cries of “Climate change denialist! We all know the only way to save the planet from burning is ban plastic straws and everyone cycle everywhere, not build polluting dangerous nuclear death-traps!”

      Again, I think VAT would be sensible because I frankly cannot understand the American system of taxes, local taxes, state taxes and we-just-felt-like-it taxes on products so you have no idea what you’re going to pay at the till, but given that it’s highly unlikely that all these local revenue raising taxes would be stripped away, I fear VAT would only be slapped on top of them all, and that would be disastrous as it would be a genuine huge increase in prices (over here, for example, we have 13.5% VAT rate on services/labour and 21% rate on goods; I’d hate to imagine the final bill if we had to pay “and add in sales tax and then state tax and our particular city tax” on top of that). So that’s not going to be a runner.

      Anti-wealth tax? So how’s he going to fund the UBI, given that most suggestions I’ve seen price it on “and we tax rich people/corporations so they pay their fair share and redistribute the wealth”? And again, the young activist voters they want to entice to the polls have it embedded in their bones about “tax the rich, they’re all tax cheats”.

      So yeah, no realistic hope. Sorry, Andrew!

      • sty_silver says:

        I want to keep the question of whether he can win separate from whether it would be good if he won. I think you agree that his policies are unusually reasonable, right?

        His answer for how to fund UBI is roughly
        – First, UBI is opt-in and it doesn’t stack with most other social services (it does stack with some). Most people though would prefer an unconditional 1000$ with no stigma over whatever their current benefits are (those will involve bureaucracy and often some amount of lying). Therefore, we’d have to spend a lot less on social programs which would bring down the price tag
        – Implement the VAT and scale it so it disproportionately affects goods that rich people buy. His justification for a VAT in particular is that it’s harder to evade than other taxes (like a wealth tax)
        – If implemented, the UBI would grow the economy by XYZ, which offsets some of the cost
        – (usually unsaid) increase the deficit, at least in the beginning

        I think the biggest problem with his plan is that there are some people who’re currently benefiting enough from other social services that his UBI wouldn’t help them much (or at all) and they might in some cases be worse off than before, because of the VAT. So it’s not perfect, but that’s criticizing from a really high baseline of sanity. The usual case with political candidates is that they have several ideas that seem obviously stupid (to me, anyway).

        As for his chances of winning, my honest view is that if PredictIt has him at 10% then he is objectively a serious candidate. He also outperforms many other candidates in google hits and small donors. (Although by the google trends metric, Pete is currently crushing everyone else.)

        • – If implemented, the UBI would grow the economy by XYZ, which offsets some of the cost

          Because?

          He sounds more thoughtful and interesting than the other Democratic candidates, but that may be damning with faint praise.

          • sty_silver says:

            Why would it grow the economy, or why would that offset the cost?

            Either way I’m probably not qualified to answer that.

          • rlms says:

            He sounds more thoughtful and interesting than the main Republican one as well, but that praise is so faint it’s barely there.

          • Why would it grow the economy.

          • sty_silver says:

            The reason Yang gives is that there are usually things like car repairs or buying a new consumer product which people put off based on having no money. Giving them 1000$ per month would then mean they can pay for these kinds of things. Demand goes up and that leads to new jobs.

          • quanta413 says:

            He sounds more thoughtful and interesting than the main Republican one as well, but that praise is so faint it’s barely there.

            Maybe it’s best that candidates don’t sound too thoughtful or interesting.

            All else equal, boring plans are probably safer than interesting plans.

          • Of modern American politicians, the one who sounded to me as though he would be most fun to have an hour or two long conversation with on an airplane was Newt Gingrich. I somehow got on a mailing list for tape cassettes of talks he gave and listened to some of them.

            Of course, there might well be other and more interesting ones whom I don’t have any equivalent information on.

          • John Schilling says:

            The reason Yang gives is that there are usually things like car repairs or buying a new consumer product which people put off based on having no money. Giving them 1000$ per month would then mean they can pay for these kinds of things.

            Unless you raised that money through taxation, in which case someone else has $1000 less to spend buying things. Or you borrowed that money, in which case someone else gets turned down for the $1000 loan they were going to use to buy things. Or you printed that money, in which case inflation happens and you find out that people’s aggregate buying-things ability is $1000 less than it would have been under a naive pre-inflation calculation.

            Also, people who receive a windfall that they can’t count on lasting more than an election cycle into the future, often put it into their rainy-day fund rather than rush out to buy things, whereas people who suddenly have to make a $1000 tax payment are more likely to reduce spending to compensate.

            This strikes me as the same sort of foolish wishful thinking that leads Republicans to believe that all tax cuts will automagically pay for themselves with increased tax revenue because Laffer Curve FTW! Count me out.

          • Guy in TN says:

            The more persuasive argument, is that the UBI is good because it doesn’t attempt to maximize economic value, but people’s material well-being instead.

        • Deiseach says:

          Implement the VAT and scale it so it disproportionately affects goods that rich people buy

          Yeah, because every one of them is going to be buying an even bigger super yacht than the other guy every six months, hence Profit!

          I have a strong suspicion really rich people manage their expenditure so that it all goes via accountancy tricks that they end up not having to pay taxes on. If I can put down my super-jet as “company jet” rather than “my own private jet for my own personal use” and have it treated as a corporate asset, even though in practice as the “company” jet I’m the only one who gets to use it, of course that’s what I’m going to do. And good luck hitting my company with high levels of VAT for business expenses, because we and every other big corporation are going to be lobbying to have corporate VAT rates as low as possible.

          I think Dorothy L. Sayers had it right in Murder Must Advertise, where Lord Peter learns that businesses don’t make money off rich people buying stuff, businesses make money off the middle and lower classes buying stuff because (a) in the aggregate, there are more of them than there are of rich people (b) they have to buy more of it to replace what wears out (c) you can coax or entice them into aspirational spending:

          Like all rich men, he had never before paid any attention to advertisements. He had never realized the enormous commercial importance of the comparatively poor. Not on the wealthy, who buy only what they want when they want it, was the vast superstructure of industry founded and built up, but on those who, aching for a luxury beyond their reach and for a leisure for ever denied them, could be bullied or wheedled into spending their few hardly won shillings on whatever might give them, if only for a moment, a leisured and luxurious illusion.

          To make the figures come out, you are going to have to extend the VAT to more than simply “what rich people disproportionately buy” – look at all the celebs who ‘borrow’ frocks and jewellery etc for the Oscars or big charity bashes, and don’t actually spend one red cent themselves.

          • sty_silver says:

            And good luck hitting my company with high levels of VAT for business expenses, because we and every other big corporation are going to be lobbying to have corporate VAT rates as low as possible.

            I’m very suspicious of that argument because it can be applied equally well for any policy.

        • The Nybbler says:

          The “grow the economy” think looks like classic broken window economics. If you take from the economy with a broad-based tax like a VAT, and give back with a broad-based benefit, there’s no reason to believe the net effect will be greater than zero.

          • sty_silver says:

            Isn’t the reason very straight-forward? The VAT will be designed to affect the rich disproportionately. Rich people obviously don’t spend all of their money. UBI will go disproportionately to poor people (because there are more poor people). Poor people basically spend all of their money immediately.

            And the VAT doesn’t pay entirely for UBI, so there’s more money entering than leaving.

          • John Schilling says:

            Rich people obviously don’t spend all of their money.

            Right. But the money they don’t spend, if it isn’t taken from them, they loan to other people who want to spend it.

            Rich people put approximately zero dollars into Giant Money Bins. Poor people often do put money into mattresses.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            During a recession: “Now is the time for stimulus spending! Here are all of Keynes’s arguments.”

            When not in a recession: “Shut the fuck up, we need to goose consumption spending!”

          • The Nybbler says:

            Rich people obviously don’t spend all of their money.

            As John points out, this doesn’t help. If you actually manage a VAT which taxes the rich disproportionately (which is rather unlikely while still getting significant revenue), you’ve moved some of the spending of the rich from investment to other people’s consumption. This does not grow the economy.

            And the VAT doesn’t pay entirely for UBI, so there’s more money entering than leaving.

            That’s borrowed. I don’t think you can borrow the economy to wealth either.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          I’m for a VAT, but once you start saying “let’s scale it so that it disproportionately hits the rich” you are now implementing some different beast but slapping the label “VAT” on it to fool me.

          Everyone is going to try to make sure their stuff doesn’t get counted as “stuff the rich use.” You can’t just say “my platform is Moloch-proof.” Saying you are Moloch-proof is probably the worst evidence possible of Moloch-proof-ness.

        • Clutzy says:

          His policies don’t seem all that reasonable. To me he has 2x the maximum amount of utopianism in him for me to consider him reasonable. UBI and VAT are exactly exemplary of that. The UBI trusts people more than I really am willing to, and the VAT trusts politicians more than I am.

          I don’t like our welfare state currently, and part of that is because its too complex, but also part is because I don’t think either achieves goals worth achieving. But, in favor of the current welfare system (vs. UBI) is I have high confidence levels in the depravity of my fellow man. And that UBI is gonna go up in smoke a lot of the time, and into needles a lot of the time, and into bottles, etc. And I would be fine with that IF humans lacked compassion. But we have compassion which is why the welfare state exists at all, so in the end we are going to end up giving a lot of people their UBI + what already exists. And his idea of the “opt out” is the ultimate example of his naive utopianism. When John Smith and Joe Johnson OD on heroine they bought with a UBI without having insurance, Yang will make hospitals treat them, and pay for their prescriptions and dialysis and a place to sleep, etc.

      • Exactly why running under the Democrat umbrella he has no choice.

        (I assume “choice” is a typo for “chance.”)

        I’m not sure.

        Suppose half of the primary voters are enthusiastic progressives with all the views you describe and the other half are traditional Democratic voters who don’t buy into much of the current left orthodoxy. Four or five progressives split their half, two or three non-progressives split the other half. Seen from that standpoint, the real threat to Yang isn’t from Warren et. al., it’s from Biden.

        • Deiseach says:

          You are correct, blame the wrong wording on chocolate overload this Easter Sunday 🙂

          I think Yang, like the rest of them, is caught between the vocal (whether or not they’ll actually turn out to vote) progressives and the traditional Democrats. In order not to be drowned out in the online rush of condemnation, they have to plug the progressive line (which will turn off the traditionals, who rightly recognise “a VAT rate is not going to be levied on Richie McFatcat alone, it’s going to hit me in the purse or wallet”) and then the appeal to traditionalists (as in “I’m not going to expect every single building in the US to meet zero emissions within five years” type proposals) are going to be loudly booed by the progressives, who will refuse to vote for a compromise like that.

          I agree Warren has shot her bolt, but I don’t see Biden or even Sanders as being the ultimate choice. All the doubts about old age and health that were raised about Trump apply every bit as much to Sanders, and Biden has the “old white guy” handicap in this modern race.

          I think Yang will do “better than expected” but as a realistic candidate when it comes down to the crunch? Not expecting him to get the nod.

        • Plumber says:

          @DavidFriedman

          “Suppose half of the primary voters are enthusiastic progressives with all the views you describe and the other half are traditional Democratic voters who don’t buy into much of the current left orthodoxy. Four or five progressives split their half, two or three non-progressives split the other half. Seen from that standpoint, the real threat to Yang isn’t from Warren et. al., it’s from Biden”

          Prompted by your post I thought to look at some polls to see what the relative strengths of “progressive” vs. “traditional” Democrats is (and I think I’ll do a top level post about it in the next “hidden” open thread), but I wanted to first share what seemed notable to me:

          1) Both the social “liberal” and “socialist” contingent of the Democratic Party is indeed more than just a few years ago, those who class themselves as “liberal” instead of “moderate” or “conservative” is much higher than in years past, and nearly one-in-ten will now call themselves “socialist” (whether they mean Cuba/North Korea/Venezuela or Canada/Denmark/Norway the polls don’t show), which is probably the highest percentage of Democratic Party voters calling themselves that, at least since the 1940’s, if not ever.

          2) Unlike the majority of Republican Party voters who say they think the G.O.P. still isn’t “conservative” enough and is still too “moderate”, the majority of Democratic Party voters say they think that their party isn’t “moderate” enough, and is too left/liberal.

          3) The majority of Democratic Party voters has never even heard of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in many ways the “moderate” wing of the Democratic Party knows less about the “Progressive” wing than Republicans do.

          4) “Twitter” Democrats and “off-line” (still the majority) have different views and demographics.
          Democrats who post on social media tend to be younger, whiter, more educated,  concentrate in expensive cities, and are much more likely to call themselves “progressives” than the majority of Democratic Party voters who tend to be older, more often union members, much more often are African Americans than “on-line” Democrats, a bit more often other non-whites, and are more likely to call themselves “moderates”.

          A telling indicator is that after it was publicized that the Democratic Governor of Virginia had a yearbook photo where he’s in ‘black-face’ white Democrats in Virginia were more likely to say he should resign than black Virginian Democrats, and white Democrats nation wide were more likely to blame the fortunes of black Americans on continuing racism than black Democrats and black Americans in general themselves (though still more than all Americans in general).

          5) Democrats in “Red States” are more likely to be older, blacker, and self-identified “moderates”, and they still have a say in who is the Presidential nominee, despite living in areas that elect fewer Democrats to Congress and local offices.

          Conclusions: ‘Leftists’/’liberals’/’progressives’ are definitely a growing contingent of the Democratic Party coalition and are much more likely to have their voices heard than the “moderates” by journalists (the national press mostly live in the same areas as ‘progressives’) but “moderates” and those who think the Party should be “more moderate” (I presume in order to win in general elections) are still the majority of the Party, but they also tend to be less engaged and decide which candidate to support later.

          Biden’s decades old anti-abortion, and anti-bussing statements hurt him more among younger white Democrats than among older black Democrats (who ironically seem to be more forgiving of old enough indications of what may be regarded as anti-black attitudes).

          The energy is definitely on the “progressives” side (who want to “build a movement”), but the numbers are still on the side of the “moderates” (who just want to win the current election, and prefer “half a loaf to none”).

          Biden and Sanders are currently the leading candidates, but it’s way too earlier to pick a winner now, if an African-American candidate (Booker? Harris?) can get enough name recognition and young white liberal support, then they may grab enough support to get the nomination, historically the candidate thought of as more moderate will win, but I’d say they’ll have a fight similar to the 2016 Clinton/Sanders struggle.

          The odds I give to win the Democratic Party nomination are:

          Biden: 20% chance to win

          Sanders: 15% chance.

          Harris 17% chance

          Booker: 13% chance

          Warren 10% chance (many Democrats agree with her, fewer think she’ll win)

          Someone else I don’t know (because it’s still early): 25% chance to win.

          If nominated for the general election I’d give:

          Biden’s odds to win against Trump as 52%,

          Sanders at 45%,

          Harris at 40%,

          Warren at 35%,

          and I’ve no sense of the odds of the other candidates.

          • older black Democrats (who ironically seem to be more forgiving of old enough indications of what may be regarded as anti-black attitudes).

            Part of what may be happening here is that older people remember farther back.

            If you are twenty something and grew up in a politically left of center environment, you may feel that everyone except bigots and crazy people agrees that abortion should be legal, gay sex and even gay marriage is fine, discrimination against blacks is horrible. If you are sixty, even in the same environment, you remember back to a time when lots of what you then considered reasonable people rejected some or all of those views.

          • Plumber says:

            @DavidFriedman

            “Part of what may be happening here is that older people remember farther back…”

            “….If you are sixty…”

            I think there’s also another aspect of the generation gap involved, my grandparents generation that first cast a ballot for F.D.R. is now mostly dead, and there’s just not that as many older whites who are Democratic Party voters, anymore, while older blacks still vote for Johnson’s Party, but are more moderate than the youngsters.

            The polls show that young whites are more likely to be “Left” and Democrats than older whites, but I haven’t seen any polls that compare young blacks to old whites, I have seen some polls that show that older Hispanic men are more likely to vote for Republicans than other Hispanics, so my guess is that younger blacks will be more “progressive” than older blacks as well, but not to the extent that young whites are as they tend to be less likely to have a college diploma which (in the young) correlates with progressivism (I wish there was a better label).

            I may be very wrong (and we will never find out) but I have a hunch that if only and all of black Americans over 60 years old, and an equal number of non-black Americans over 60 selected randomly, or even an equal number from only Republicans had the could decide from among themselves who would govern the U.S.A. they’d have produce a government that less of all citizens “Left” or “Right” would object to if it was kept a secret that most of the Nation was disenfranchised.

            On the larger “culture war”; I’m only 50 years old and don’t remember earlier than the 1970’s, but my sense is that “the Left” in the U.S.A. was louder and much more violent in the ’70’s and early ’80’s than today, and “the Right” was louder and more violent in the ’90’s than today, but never at the level of the Left in my lifetime and far less than say the 1920”s. 

            1970’s and ’80’s the Left was louder, 1990’s and 2009-2010 the Right had mostly been louder, and after 2015 both have been getting louder and a bit more violent, but we’re still nowhere near the political violence of the 1970’s, or the first half of the 20th century, with the 1860’s (of course) the greatest period of political violence in the U.S.A.
            Those who decry an increasingly shrill “culture war” are right, it is louder than, and slightly more violent than during most of their lifetimes, but it’s still less than historic norms.

      • CatCube says:

        Again, I think VAT would be sensible because I frankly cannot understand the American system of taxes, local taxes, state taxes and we-just-felt-like-it taxes on products so you have no idea what you’re going to pay at the till

        OK, I’m going to confess confusion about your confusion here: you pay sales tax at the till. The rest of “state and city taxes on top of federal taxes” are income taxes, and you file the returns for them all at the same time. Sales taxes are nowhere near as hard as you’re making it. It’s a minor irritation when you first buy something in a jurisdiction, but once you know what the rate is, you just use simple arithmetic. For example, I just took a trip to Illinois, where they have a 9% sales tax. If you buy $8.00 worth of stuff, you pay $.72 of tax. If you’ve got a partial dollar and you’re not fancy with the mental arithmetic, you can just round up to the next whole dollar and you’ll overestimate by a few cents.

        As a matter of fact, I despise the very idea of VAT, because you don’t know what you’re paying. Gas prices include the taxes invisibly here, and it’s irritating because I don’t know how much I’m paying in taxes vs. what I’m paying for the product. The lack of transparency is frustrating.

        • rlms says:

          Can you not just look up the gas price tax rate and multiply the price by it?

          • Nornagest says:

            There isn’t a single gas tax rate. It’s not terribly complicated, but federally there’s an 18-cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline, and then you have widely varying state and local taxes on top of that. California for example levies a 55-cents-a-gallon flat tax, plus a 2.25% sales tax (which is not the same as the state’s ~6% sales tax on everything). And I’ve seen local taxes too, which are uncommon but can get up to about a buck a gallon in especially woke localities.

            While the total isn’t exactly hard to calculate it’s not trivial either, especially since the order in which they apply isn’t clear from a Google lookup.

        • You are ignoring property taxes.

          • CatCube says:

            Well, you don’t normally pay property taxes at the till, nor did Deiseach seem to think that you do, so I didn’t think they were too relevant to my point. There’s also room taxes, airline ticket taxes, and various other things that aren’t parceled out on a percentage basis, though I don’t know how those work in other countries. It’s possible that they get rolled into the price of a room/ticket in Europe the way the VAT does and the gas taxes do here. Those types of fixed fees can be a little more difficult to account for, but they’re also generally given to you when you book.

            I was just pushing back against the notion that sales taxes in the US are particularly difficult, because it seems to be a common European notion that they’re this arcane, baffling process to deal with at the register; my mom taught me and my sister how to do them when we were six.

            Edit: I do have to acknowledge a complexity I didn’t account for in my original post: some things don’t get sales tax. I know in Michigan groceries are in this bucket, so there if you want to know your taxes before reaching the register you’d have to only add up your non-food purchases. I still don’t find it too difficult, and if you’re just trying to make sure you have enough cash out you can still estimate based on your total purchase.

    • The Nybbler says:

      He wants UBI and universal medicare and to keep all the other welfare, which makes him basically Santa Claus for NEETs. I understand the appeal here (UBI) but I don’t think these are at all good policies.

      • sty_silver says:

        He does not want to keep all the other welfare. UBI would not stack with most welfare programs.

        • The Nybbler says:

          UBI would not stack with most welfare programs.

          But all those programs are still around, so people get to choose whichever’s bigger. And he doesn’t say which programs. And there’s universal medicare which does stack. Further, any “compromise” which could make it through Congress would be “no cuts in welfare AND UBI”. Also his 10% VAT will be woefully insufficient to fund it, it would be more like 20%. And would require a constitutional amendment. So basically Yang’s UBI is far too expensive as proposed, would be even more expensive as passed, and there’s no practical way to pay for it.

          • sty_silver says:

            But all those programs are still around, so people get to choose whichever’s bigger.

            Yeah, and in all cases where UBI is bigger, they will choose UBI (and in some cases where UBI is smaller, they might still be UBI because it comes without bureaucracy). This reduces the price tag. Obviously, the remaining price tag is still large. You can’t do UBI without it being expensive.

          • Clutzy says:

            Just as importantly, even if his UBI opt out idea passed, it would immediately expand to a “both” program, as UBI choosing people end up without food and housing because they spend all their checks on vices.

        • Deiseach says:

          UBI would not stack with most welfare programs.

          Unwinding all the other welfare programmes would be an absolute fucking nightmare, pardon the use of Strong Language. It wouldn’t be as easy as a straight switch for Mary Singlemother or Joe Unemployed to move to UBI from whatever benefits they are currently receiving, and they might even end up worse off.

          So you’ll have a two-tier (at least) system of UBI for those who want to opt-in, and the existing programmes for those already on them or who don’t want to go on UBI, and the juggling of finances to pay for both, the cuts that are going to have to be made, and the replacements of some payments is going to be a long and complicated process to undertake.

          The basic idea may be sound, but the assumption “and everybody just switches painlessly over in the morning to their EFT payment into their bank account where the social welfare department automatically updates that now they’re on UBI and not their previous benefit” is not gonna happen, as anyone here who’s dealt with switching large systems on custom and incompatible software and regulations about different schemes which all have a string of exceptions and are mutually inapplicable can tell you.

          • sty_silver says:

            I completely fail to see the argument here. UBI has simplicity and lack of conditions as a core feature. If you are on some other programs that don’t stack and want to have UBI instead, you can just stop applying for them. That reduces bureaucracy, it doesn’t increase it. Existing programs are very unlikely to make it difficult for you to stop receiving their services.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            UBI has simplicity and lack of conditions as a core feature.

            https://xkcd.com/927/

            You are adding an entirely new system without unwinding the old system. No matter what, you are making the system more complex, for the people managing it and the people using it.

            Existing programs are very unlikely to make it difficult for you to stop receiving their services.

            You are going to have to check that people aren’t double-dipping, getting both UBI and the old program at once. Those existing programs are going to care.

            The best benefit of UBI is that you don’t have to fill out forms to prove to the government that you are incompetent in order to get benefits. But if someone doesn’t fit under the UBI tent for some reason — and it’s obvious that if anyone doesn’t, it’s going to be the poor and those least able to fill out forms — they are going to have an even harder time getting services.

            Wait, is this an elaborate plan to kill off the welfare queens? Is Wang a crypto-Reaganite?

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Don’t rely on PredictIt. If I had to choose a single source, I would use Betfair (also), but you should look at both.

      In this comment you refer only to rank order. That agrees between the two sites. But later you quote 10% from PredictIt. However, most betting markets are designed to encourage excitement by biasing towards long-shots. Betfair has this problem, but to a lesser degree and puts him <5%.

      • rlms says:

        Tangent: electionbettingodds currently has the odds of “other” (someone other than Trump, Pence, Kasich and a couple of others) winning the Republican primary as 7.8%. That seems extraordinarily high to me (compare the “other” odds for the Democrat primary, which seems wide open, at 8.5%).

        • That may be coming out of the chance that Trump won’t run, either for health reasons or because he is Trump: “You people didn’t appreciate me properly in my first term, now you can go to hell and lose out on all the great things I would have done in my second.”

          If Trump doesn’t run, I don’t think there is an obvious alternative candidate.

      • sty_silver says:

        I’ve never managed to see a political bet on betfair. I’m assuming it’s a region thing but your link doesn’t even work if I use a proxy.

        However, your ‘other’ link works, and I’m ok with using that as my main source from now on.

        By the way, Yang has the highest P(winning general | winning primary) out of all candidates (that I checked, anyway).He is at 69% while Sanders is at 58% and Biden at 60% and Harris at 53%.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      I oppose the UBI, but I was getting ready to get on the Yang bandwagon, because the UBI is less-broken than other alternatives.

      And then I look at his policies. Many of them I like. Many others I appreciate are approached from the standpoint of implementing good policies — but pretty much all politicians are trying to implement what they think are good policies. It’s just that you or I disagree.

      I also see several things in there which I think are Bad Ideas, or Not The Government’s Business, and it makes me somehow especially annoyed. It *shouldn’t*, because if someone lists out 80 policies and I like 50+ of them, that’s better than the devil I don’t know. But somehow I’m hardening against him, for what is probably irrationality, and what is probably the reason more experienced politicians wait until the last possible second to spell out their proposals.

      • sty_silver says:

        That’s an interesting reaction which I don’t think I share (though I don’t strongly disagree with any of Yang’s policies so idk). I definitely think you should do a rational calculation when deciding whom to vote for. Which could include all sorts of other factors, like electability or how competent they are at implementing their platform.

        • Except you don’t have to vote at all.

          If you recognize the low probability that your vote will affect the outcome and are not sufficiently altruistic for the number of people affected to outweigh that, voting becomes a consumption activity—you do it because you enjoy doing it.

          Voting for a fool or a rogue doesn’t become pleasurable just because the other guy is worse.

      • Clutzy says:

        I think what you need to examine, rather than the policies, is why you think Yang thinks those policies are a good idea. I think there is a significant likelihood (for you) that this conflict is caused by him and you coming to the same conclusions for different reasons.

        I don’t always like to use analogies, but this is a simplifying analogy, so I think it works well:

        Mayoral election in your town has become, basically a 1 issue campaign: The water tower. You want a new water tower because the existing one doesn’t provide you enough pressure so you often have to boil water to ensure its safe. Candidate A opposes the new water tower because it will likely cause crops in the town this summer to face water shortages during the rebuild; Candidate B supports the tower because he generally likes public works, and is selling higher water pressure for showers.

        Now, lets say you are not a farmer, but you do know some, also you are not going to personally profit from the rebuild (aside from the boiling), but you do recognize that public works often go wrong in your town. Who do you vote for? Obviously candidate A because you know candidate B does not look at things the way you do. B thinks differently than you. A thinks like you do, but he came to a different conclusion.

  4. Douglas Knight says:

    Remember when Scott read the Very Short Introduction volume on Marx? By some philosopher named Singer? That’s a common name, there must be tons of philosophers named Singer. It turns out that it was Peter Singer. Why did Oxford choose him to write this volume?

    Surely the author affected Scott’s decision to chose this volume. Why didn’t he follow the standard practice and write out the first name the first time he mentioned the author? Why did no one in the comments mention this? Several people implied that Singer was an idiosyncratic choice, but I only count two comments that imply that he was someone I might have heard of.

    I’m not sure this really has any effect on my interpretation, but I’m bewildered that I managed to miss it.

    • Peter Singer is the main inspiration behind the Effective Altruism movement, something started by self declared Rationalists. It’s not a surprise Scott would assume his readers know that.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        And he’d expect his readers to know who Chesterton is, but when he reviewed a book by Chesterton, he gave the initials, despite it being a much rarer surname.

    • Heterosteus says:

      For what it’s worth, I think my response was “Singer? As in Peter Singer?” and then looking it up on Amazon. It does seem like an odd choice of author from an outsider’s perspective, but I assume he’s done lots of stuff in academic philosophy that outsiders don’t hear as much about as his utilitarian work.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        It was totally reasonable for you to assume that and not investigate. But your assumption is wrong, in fact backwards. His utilitarian work was ignored by the public until EA, while his animal rights work (book 1975 + activism) was very influential. You might be interested in the 2006 version of his wikipedia page. Even today, he is most famous as the infanticide bogeyman (1979).

        In the comments, David Moss says,

        I love Singer, but his book on Marx is fairly terrible. The problem is that he is really mostly interested in just knocking Marx down so he can get on with his utilitarian-darwinian-leftism (which I wholeheartedly endorse) and since everyone disagrees with Marx anyway, he doesn’t really need to delve too deep into what Marx actually argued to do this.

        This seems an anachronistic reference to A Darwinian Left (1999), which explicitly rejects Marx. But Singer’s volume on Marx is from 1980, at which point he had rarely mentioned him.

        • Heterosteus says:

          His animal-welfare work is his utilitarian work. As are his positions on infanticide (“post-natal abortion”) and all the other hot-button topics that make him notorious in many circles.

          When I said I assume he’s done other work, I meant work other than utilitarian ethics, like political philosophy or something. Which would include his explicit work on Marx. Though now you mention it I had heard of A Darwinian Left which might already qualify (I haven’t read it).

          • A1987dM says:

            Yeah, whenever I see him mentioned by someone other than rationalists or EAs it’s almost invariably someone outraged by his most mainstream-taboo positions such as those on infanticide or bestiality.

    • Deiseach says:

      I automatically assume “Singer” when mentioned by any EA or EA-adjacent or Rationalist or Rationalist-adjacent blog or person is going to mean “Peter Singer” and I just as automatically skip over whatever the Guru had to say.

      That’s a bit sharp. I’m sorry. But the reason I automatically assume “Singer = Peter” is that he does function as a sort of guru figure to my outside view of it.

      • Heterosteus says:

        I’m not sure “guru” is an accurate description. I’m pretty involved in EA which is probably the most pro-Peter-Singer community you’re likely to find, and while we all think he’s great and so on I’m not sure it’s a “study the works of the Master, so that you too may become wise” kind of relationship. Maybe a term like “founding father” or something would be a better description of our attitude.

        I get recommended Parfit’s work quite a bit more often than Singer’s.

    • J says:

      A singer is just someone who tries to be good

    • A1987dM says:

      I just kind-of assumed that was Peter Singer without it even occurring to me it might be someone else with the same last name.

  5. Hoopyfreud says:

    Zizek v Peterson debate:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78BFFq_8XvM

    Preregistering the prediction that it’s a garbage fire.

    [Meme: slovenly anime man staring at a lobster hanging in midair. Caption: Is this ideology?]

    • Well... says:

      I thought it was going to be this: https://youtu.be/nNuvcoQYnlQ

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        The entertainment value of that is higher tbh.

        Peterson’s platform would be interesting to me if it were well-informed. If he were a knife, I’d call him “sharp, but specialized for shellfish, and untempered,” and I wouldn’t buy him. I like what he does (even though I disagree with him pretty strongly), but I wish he’d do his homework. I’d love a version of this debate I could sink my teeth into, but Peterson has the texture of soft tofu and it puts me off my lunch.

        • Heterosteus says:

          That’s an impressive run of mixed metaphors there.

          What do you think about Zizek?

          • Deiseach says:

            What do you think about Zizek?

            Zizek is what I’d expect from an Eastern European academic post-Marxist philosopher now living and working in the West, so I don’t find anything strange, new or startling there.

            I would expect him to be deeper in the theory than Peterson, for example, and way sharper at the dialectical part of it, having cut his teeth on arguing heavy (and heavily-politicised) concepts within a very particular framework, while at the same time not being all starry-eyed about the West even if he does critique the structures of his background.

            A lot more rigour and dense referential stacking of brick upon brick, therefore. And Peterson is handicapped not by being a Jungian, but by not being Jungian enough – Freudo-Marxism versus Jungian-tinged philosophy-lite is always going to be a smackdown of the Jungian if they’re not mystically and conceptually dense enough to challenge the density of the Marxism 🙂

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            What Deiseach said, mostly. But just for you, in the knife department Zizek is a utility knife (which, despite the name, offers no additional utility over a chef’s knife and is technically but not practically useful). Wouldn’t buy him either. In terms of texture, he’s… beef jerkey, probably. Chewier than he’s worth most of the time.

            Also, @Deiseach

            Peterson is handicapped not by being a Jungian, but by not being Jungian enough

            I mean you’re right, but the world in which the debate was Jung vs Lacan: Answers to Questions You’ll Never Have is probably a worse one than this.

    • Nick says:

      Okay, I watched it so y’all don’t have to.

      My first impression, as the moderator introduces the two, is wow this audience is annoying. There’s no heckling, but the clapping and whooping still interrupts practically every sentence. Peterson has the first 30 minutes; Zizek has the next 30.

      10:00-12:00: I’m not impressed in Peterson’s opening. He starts by psychoanalyzing Marxists, and Marx and Engels in particular, having just reread the Communist Manifesto for the first time in 40 years. Peterson says the book has a high chaff-to-wheat ratio and that Marx and Engels exhibit what Jung calls “typical thinking”: having a thought and just accepting it as true before subjecting it to critical thinking. Peterson says he’s going to go on to outline 10 fundamental “axioms” (he loves that word) to Marxism. He says those axioms are unquestioned in the book, and that they are still held sacrosanct by contemporary academics, and Peterson’s goal here is to question them.

      1. “History is to be viewed primarily as an economic class struggle.”
      12:00-16:30: Peterson admits that viewing history as struggle between levels of a hierarchy is true so far as struggle like that is omnipresent biologically, but that making it about economic class struggle is mischaracterizing it: class struggle, indeed, predates not only capitalism but human history.

      16:30-17:15: Peterson next objects that there are many reasons beyond the economic that people struggle, and that if anything, our primary struggle has been against nature—what Peterson would usually call “chaos,” I think—which he says doesn’t seem to figure into Marxism at all. Indeed, we seem mostly to be cooperating against nature, leading into his next point….

      17:15-18:30: Peterson objects that hierarchy at least seems to have positive effects, another thing missing from Marxism. Hierarchy, Peterson seems to think, is one of the things helping us in our struggle against nature, that it is necessary for us to solve complex problems. It’s not clear to me at this point whether Peterson believes that hierarchy as we know it always existed, or whether it was developed by humans as a kind of social technology. If it always existed then the question to my mind is what changed such that it’s so useful today? How did we ever go from prehistory to history? Couldn’t the answer be one of material accumulation and hoarding of wealth? So perhaps Peterson thinks it was developed at some point. But a) that feeds into Marxist contentions that there is no “human nature” and hierarchy can be done away with just as it was adopted, and 2) that somewhat undercuts Peterson’s own first objection that hierarchy in a looser sense is always present.

      18:30-20:30: Peterson next objects that Marx views class struggle as binary, but that it’s hard to firmly divide proletariat and bourgeoisie. He says this problem is best exemplified by the Red Terror, in which the list of ways one can be identified as oppressor grew and grew, until it included even the kulaks—viz., peasants who owned their own farms.

      20:30-21:30: Peterson continues, saying that when you have a binary division, you implicitly have put all the good on one side and all the evil on the other. I don’t even remotely see how this follows unless, together with Peterson’s previous point, the boundaries are porous: that enables the oppressed to place practically whomever they want in the category of oppressor such that the term “bourgeoisie” is evacuated of any precise meaning beyond enemy.

      2. The dictatorship of the proletariat:
      21:30-23:00:

      What’s the problem? The problem is the capitalists own everything, they own all the means of production, and they’re oppressing everyone, that would be all the workers, and there will be a race to the bottom of the wages for the workers as the capitalists strive to extract more and more, um, value from the labor of the proletariat by competing with other capitalists to drive wages downward—which by the way didn’t happen, partly because wage earners can become scarce, and that actually drives their market value upward. The fact that you assume a priori that all the evil can be attributed to the capitalists and all the good to the proletariat meant that you could hypothesize that the dictatorship of the proletariat could come about, and that was the first stage to the communist revolution. And remember, this is a call for revolution, and this is not just revolution, but bloody, violent revolution, and the overthrowing of all existing social structures.

      Sorry, I know it’s a long quote. I had to, first because Peterson wouldn’t just define the damn thing, and second because this actually follows topically from his previous points about the binary class divide and his admission early on that the Manifesto is a pamphlet, not an academic treatise. So credit where it’s due: I’ve sometimes felt listening to Peterson like he’s meandering, but rhetorically this is quite a good transition.

      23:00-23:10: Lol, what is Zizek chatting with the moderator about in the background? Is he pantomiming?

      23:10-26:15: Peterson makes a flurry of objections: that Marx is hypothesizing first that the binary division can be made, second that the economy can be centralized such that instead of a market running things economically you have a few people doing it, third that you can choose a minority of proles to run things (because per two it will have to be a minority), fourth that this minority won’t itself be corrupted by newfound power, fifth that they can even make competent decisions about this newly centralized economy. He sixth objects that social pressure being a primary determiner of human behavior, something he says Marxists believe, the proles can be expected to act just like the evil capitalists they’ve replaced.

      Peterson seventh and finally objects that the idea that capitalists weren’t themselves producing labor is absurd, because an effective manager can extract more wealth from his ventures than an ineffective manager—If I understand him, he got here by way of pointing out that the proles put in charge will not understand the work that capitalists were doing for their ventures to succeed and consequently will not even understand that there is wisdom which centrally running an economy requires.

      [continued]

      • Nick says:

        3. Marx’s criticism of profit.
        26:15-28:45: Peterson seems to have backed right into the third big idea with his last objection. He restates it the right way round this time, explaining that the capitalist, by managing his workers well he builds a profit and that, first, profit is (figuratively or literally) how he gets through the winter. Second, profit is how a business grows, and if the product is valuable, good that it grows! Third, profit is a useful constraint on wasted labor: the prospect of not making a profit keeps you from spending resources on ventures that aren’t worthwhile. Peterson gives himself as an example here: he wanted to make his psychological services a for-profit venture on the grounds that “there were forms of stupidity that I couldn’t engage in because I would be punished by the market enough to eradicate the enterprise.”

        This was another nice transition to an interesting series of objections, but I think Peterson lets capitalism off the hook too easily with his original objection. A Marxist can agree that an effective manager extracts more wealth than an ineffective manager—where he will disagree is whether that means treating the worker well. Doesn’t the perennially criticized treatment of workers at Wal-Mart or Amazon suggest that effective management doesn’t mean humane management?

        4. The centralized economy will be hyperproductive.
        29:00-32:00: The era of smooth transitions is over. Peterson leads into this one by way of his criticisms of the previous two ideas, but also implicitly criticizing several more that, to my mind, should constitute some of these 10, like the alienation of labor (mentioned briefly at 30:25) or the utopia ushered in following the revolution (mentioned 30:35). Peterson’s time is beginning to run out, and since this is my first watch, I will charitably guess he’s skipping some of his 10 to get to a stronger criticism for the end. This is a damn shame, though, because I’d really like to hear his thoughts about the alienation of labor. Wheat or chaff, Peterson?

        Anyway, that the economy will be hyperproductive is apparently not even his number 4, because he’s implicitly criticized it already—and his objections that follow are aimed at the Marxist eschaton. He first objects that Marx’s vision of post-capitalist man is very shallow: why would everyone settle for bread and circuses and creative labor? According to Dostoevsky, Peterson says, we “were built for trouble,” and we should expect people, handed everything on a platter, to cast it away “just to see what happens.”

        I agree that a minority of folks would do just that, and we have evidence of that today even. But is that a force strong enough to destroy that society? Peterson hasn’t gone nearly far enough to show that.

        5. Revolution is necessary.
        32:00-33:30: He doesn’t even define this one, and his criticism is disappointing. Capitalism is more effective at producing wealth, Peterson says, than anything before it, something extensively documented in the Manifesto itself. So why is a bloody revolution necessary to bring about a change at all? Just let capitalism play itself out, and we’ll get the post-scarcity utopia Marxists dream of anyway.

        This is a bizarre objection for the obvious reason that Marxists believe “let[ting] capitalism play itself out” is both hellish and a necessary step in the process. Remember that idea about capitalism inevitably driving down wages that you dispatched in a single sentence earlier, Peterson? That’s what the Marxists think end-stage capitalism looks like, and that’s what is going to prompt the revolution! This is not a case of Peterson getting ahead of himself like before: it’s simply incoherent.

        33:30-35:00: Peterson psychoanalyzes Marx some more, calling him narcissistic this time. Yawn.

        35:00-38:30: He has perhaps realized his mistake, spending his last few minutes, saying that free markets produce inequality, yes, but also wealth at all levels, while less free markets have only succeeded in producing inequality. He lists off some facts about economic growth in capitalist economies. The purpose of this, evidently, is to show that the race to the bottom Marx predicted has not been borne out. I’m not sure what the point is, though, because 1) Peterson already assumed it earlier for the purpose of his arguments, and 2) the Marxist will simply respond, as (in my impression) they have always responded, that the race to the bottom hasn’t happened yet because we keep finding more resources in more places to extract. I mean, for heaven’s sake, the idea he chooses to close on is saying grandiloquently that the solution to poverty in undeveloped countries is capitalism, and so far as I can tell Marxists would agree! They will simply continue that when we’ve done that as many times, in as many places, as we can, we will experience a race to the bottom and bloody revolution followed by a communist utopia.

        My problem here isn’t that I disagree with Peterson about free markets being preferable—I absolutely do agree—my problem is that he’s doing everything but showing where the actual flaw in Marx’s argument is, and he’s doing it in backwards order no less.

        6-10. Oh you sweet summer child.

        [continued]

        • Nick says:

          Zizek’s turn next.
          38:30-40:00: Zizek starts by noting that both he and Peterson are marginalized by the academic community, so it’s a great irony for him to be here defending the left-liberal ideology against neocons when he receives most of his attacks from left-liberals these days.

          40:00-41:30: Zizek says he will illustrate the relationship between happiness, communism, and capitalism with the example of China. China has in the last few decades successfully combined their totalitarian state with capitalist economic practices, bringing about the very growth and wealth that Peterson praised, and have even defended it on the grounds of greater happiness, in a Confucian “harmonious society” sense—while not, perhaps, actually making anybody happier. If we’ve learned anything from psychoanalysis, he says, it’s that humans are good at sabotaging our pursuit of happiness.

          41:30-42:30: Happiness, Zizek says, is a confused notion; it relies on our own inability to get what we want. We pretend to want things we don’t really want, and the worst thing for us is getting what we really want. Human life, Zizek concludes, doesn’t consist in pursuing happiness; it consists in finding a meaningful cause beyond our desires.

          1. First qualification
          42:30-43:00: Zizek stops to qualify that we can’t just accept a cause from some authority; it is our responsibility for finding it. So finding a cause doesn’t consist in just being a servant or instrument of that cause, because we’re free individuals first. At this point I have to stop and caution that I’m not really sure I’m getting the sequence of ideas right—I think this is what he’s saying, but he’s moving a bit more quickly through his arguments than Peterson was and the conclusion he’s working toward isn’t clear at the outset.

          43:00-43:45: Zizek observes that when authorities lose their authority they cannot get it back, and if it looks like they have, it’s a “postmodern fake.” Trump is an example of this when it comes to traditional values, he says, and can be seen in his combination of them with obscenity. I have no idea where he’s getting the idea that authority cannot be regained, and while I agree that Trump is a performer, I don’t think it follows that “traditional values” cannot regain their authority. I really, really don’t want to get into the weeds here, because dammit this talk is not about Trump; suffice it to say I would like an actual argument to back up this assertion.

          43:45-44:45: Conservatives, Zizek says, believe that we’ve lost reliance on a transcendent being (i.e. religion) for our values, and without that there’s nothing stopping us from simply trying to fulfill our desires. They believe that religion is needed for bad people to do good things. Zizek on the other hand agrees with Weinstein: without religion good people will do good things, but with religion, good people will do bad things. These quotes are so stupidly general that my only reply is, “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

          44:45-47:00: Dostoevsky, Zizek says, likewise warned that without religion everything is permitted, but if 9/11 proves anything, it’s that people will do anything in the name of God. Yawn. Zizek finally gets to the point: this is the problem with ideology, it makes people do these bad things. This, confirmed around 45:45, is what Zizek meant at the beginning when he said that we shouldn’t be servants or instruments of our cause, but it’s not clear to me yet what his alternative is.

          He continues, saying that we must accept the burden of our freedom, but don’t let that burden become an idol. Don’t become obsessed with your own suffering or make the renunciation of pleasure a pleasure. White left-liberals, Zizek says, self-denigrate so that they can retain their position: I think what he’s saying is that their participation in identity politics amounts to hanging a lampshade on their own sinfulness, but I’m not sure how that connects with his point.

          2. Second qualification
          47:00-49:00: Lacan said that jealousy can be pathological even if the jealous person is right; likewise, Zizek says, Nazi antisemitism can be (and was) pathological even if Jews did various terrible things (which they did not). Jealousy for the husband had become a part of his identity; antisemitism was likewise bound up inextricably with a Nazi ideology of a harmonious society of cooperation, so an ‘intruder’ race like the Jews could not be tolerated. Zizek analogizes this once more to rightwing opposition to taking in more refugees: even if there are serious problems with bringing in more refugees (and Zizek admits this), the reasons for opposing it are pathological, he says.

          49:00-52:15: Hitler, Zizek says, was a storyteller, and a successful one at that, for the story he told about the Jews. Ideology, he says, is the story we tell ourselves about ourselves, and it’s always a lie, and must be contrasted with what we actually do; I think the “harmonious society invaded by intruders” is the story Zizek says Hitler was telling. The alt-right today likewise has a story, in which cultural Marxism has pervaded society and is responsible for sexual promiscuity, when in fact what the alt-right too is doing is responsible for the very symptoms it has detected. Zizek references the book Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism by Daniel Bell about how capitalism undermines its own moral foundations; the alt-right is blaming cultural Marxism, it seems he’s saying, because it doesn’t want to face its own culpability for the mess it’s in.

          Longtime commenters may remember a discussion some months back about Bell’s form of argument: arguing that the conditions of a society undermine or inevitably birth its contrary. Marx’s wage race to the bottom, where capitalism destroys itself, is one; I’ve referenced here a few times Why Liberalism Failed by Patrick Deneen, which purports to do this with Western liberalism. Bell’s book, I take it, makes an argument like these.

          52:15-52:45: After calling the alt-right Nazis for a while, Zizek turns his attention on left-liberals again, saying Trump is their fault, and that they demonize him because they don’t want to face how their own failures created him.

          3. Third qualification
          52:45-57:00: “One should stop blaming hedonist egotism for our woes.” The opposite of egotist self-love, Zizek says, is not altruism but envy and resentment. Envy makes one act against one’s interests; evil therefore is more spiritual than goodness. I have not got a clue how Zizek arrived at any of this. But, he says, it’s is why egalitarian should not be accepted naively: because it can be distorted into meaning “we must tear others down so that we can all be equal.”

          Zizek stops to note that political correctness seems to many to be excessive, but he feels this is masking its own defeat. Zizek says he wants his egalitarianism to be one in which the most people possible can self-actualized. The left is being pushed back from all corners in America: even free healthcare and free education are failing. Having free healthcare and education, according to Zizek, is just a basic necessity for him and others to do that self-actualization.

          If I haven’t seemed terribly critical of the last few sections, let me clarify it’s because I basically don’t know where to begin. First, Zizek has flitted quickly from Hitler to the alt-right and back to Hitler and thence to Trump, to the refugee crisis and the obviousness of free healthcare. I’m no stranger to culture war, but if we started discussing all these things at once I don’t think we could ever stop. Second, it’s because I’m having a lot harder time following the thread of Zizek’s argument. I think I have a good grasp on everything Peterson was saying—I don’t have remotely that confidence with Zizek.

          [continued]

          • Nick says:

            4. Zizek’s critique of Peterson
            57:00-1:03:00: Zizek first qualifies that he’s not a straw social constructionist. He accepts the importance of our species’ evolutionary history. But (and you knew the but was coming) things being biologically determined in various ways doesn’t prevent their being susceptible to incredible emergent behavior. He gives the example of sexual desire and the weird things our species has done with it: obsessions, courtly love, various perversions. Zizek says the same goes for human tradition.

            Zizek points out that in Christianity there is an ideal of a community where family relations, race, sex are abolished. Democracy, he says, is an extension of this; a community where decisions fall to all of us, and not to that of an experts, much less the fake experts of the Soviet Union. Zizek does not believe that power, which he defines as exerting authority, can be grounded in competence; it’s something more “mysterious, even irrational” than that. He admits that yes, one lobster might prevail over others, but does not think that lobster has authority. He doesn’t say it, but it seems to me Zizek is saying that democracy has an authority proper to it that competence does not? This part was very confusing to me.

            1:03:00-1:05:30: Zizek begins his conclusion by asking, where does communism fit in here? He admits that capitalism won in the twentieth century, but believes that it faces insurmountable obstacles (what he calls “antagonisms”) in the coming years, including the coming ecological collapse and scientific advancements in genetics. These obstacles are all, he says, to do with the “commons”; the global environment is the obvious case. Capitalism cannot face these obstacles not because its many competent and effective managers are evil, but because in their project to create more wealth, the environmental consequences never even factor in.

            1:05:30-1:12:00: Zizek concludes his, uh, conclusion, saying that he believes mounting a careful response to ecological collapse and managing the privacy problems created by neural links will be “game changers.” He believes that capitalism has already more or less taken over the world, so where’s our utopia? Instead, we permit disasters like Yemen or regimes like the Congo to continue—situations which create refugees, as he puts it—even as their participation in global capitalism is assured. Zizek’s “plea” as he puts it is that we regulate this global order more. He laments that the state is actually more involved than ever before, and we’ll probably slide into apocalypse.

            Peterson’s reply:
            1:13:15-1:20:00: Peterson says he heard more an attack on capitalism than a defense of Marxism. Peterson admits early that he’s not confident we can confront the problems Zizek points out; he was himself attacking Marxism more than he was defending capitalism.

            Peterson sounds a point of agreement: yes, commodification of culture is bad. But capitalism is responsible for that great increase in wealth, and psychometrically, getting people out of dire straits (as it has done) is much more important than giving them more money after that. He believes that as far as happiness goes, that much is well-defined. This, I take it, is his response to Zizek problematizing the pursuit of happiness.

            1:20:00-1:23:00: Peterson stresses that he hasn’t heard an alternative from Zizek. (I can’t say that I did either.) Peterson believes that the social justice folks Zizek criticized are wrong because of their Marxist presuppositions, which presuppositions Zizek did not defend. Peterson heard an egalitarianism that sounds like equality of opportunity, not outcome. Peterson heard a plea for more intervention, but we already have some, and we don’t even know how much intervention is necessary; what’s wrong with our current experiments in intervention?

            1:23:00-1:25:15: Peterson concludes with a quick summary, then says that he believes the proper path forward is individual moral responsibility aimed at the common good, an inheritance of our Judeo-Christian tradition. Our society, says Peterson, is structured so that each person is a “locus of responsibility and decision-making,” so that the continuance of the state depends on “the integrity of their character.” Peterson says he advocates people to take on as much responsibility as they can handle while keeping their aim on the highest good. He connects this somehow to iterated games, which I did not pick up.

            Zizek’s response:
            1:25:15-1:29:45: Zizek talks about happiness again. He mentions a study where people in Scandinavian countries reported very low happiness, while people in Bangladesh reported very high happiness. Zizek says (as far as reported happiness goes, I think), democracy is terrible for it, because you have a burden of responsibility. Happiness is greater when things are bad every once in a while, like no meat once a month. These are absurd results, Zizek thinks, the point being that pursuing happiness is bunk; if it occurs as a byproduct, so be it, but pursue it and you are sure to go awry.

            1:29:45-1:31:15: Zizek’s greatest fear, he says, is the way the authoritarian government protects the capitalists in China from things like trade unions.

            1:31:15-1:32:30: Zizek says he agrees with some of Peterson’s critiques of the Manifesto. He admits that the class binary thing and Marx’s whole theory of power was a problem, and Marx’s views seemed to idolize the very expertise Zizek decries; but he believes that Marx was aware of the difficulties and had good instincts, to be interested in things like the Paris Commune.

            1:32:30-1:38:30: A flurry of responses. Zizek doesn’t know where the equality of outcome thing Peterson is getting comes from; he says Marx only addresses that once, and dismisses it as bourgeois. He insists he doesn’t see how the free market can solve the polluting of the ocean. He asks what Peterson would do about a thing like Yemen. A few others I can’t make out. He says, amusingly, that Peterson’s optimism is very Marxist, while Zizek himself is a great pessimist.

            They soon open it up to questions, and I suspect the interesting stuff is behind us. That’s all I’ve got.

          • quanta413 says:

            Thanks for watching it. It sounds interesting but not over an hour interesting from your summary.

            It’s not clear exactly how much the two are addressing each other’s points. But maybe that’s to be expected. What little I’ve read from both of them is a bit mystical.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        +1 for the effort.

        • Nick says:

          Thanks. I should warn, though, that the interesting stuff is pretty much all in the opening Peterson stuff and some of the opening Zizek stuff. After that I was losing steam and having a harder time following the arguments. I blame the format of the debate.

        • albatross11 says:

          +1

  6. Deiseach says:

    I saw this mentioned, thought it was a leg-pull or a spoof (come on, this must be from The Onion, right?)

    No, it’s a real headline. (The accompanying story is at least a little better).

    Good grief, Charlie Brown!

    • The Nybbler says:

      Meanwhile, a headline from The Onion itself: “French President Pledges To Rebuild Notre Dame In 5 Years”.

      Wait, that’s actually true.

      • Deiseach says:

        Yeah, when did The Onion start doing proper news reporting and the mainstream media start doing the clickbait wacky stuff? 😀

      • Machine Interface says:

        I’ve heard several commentors argue that he was being hyperbolic for the purpose of public discourse, and the actual goal is to be able to reopen to the public at least part of the cathedral within 5 years, not to have the entire thing all done by then.

        • Gray Ice says:

          Side question: Have there been any recent proposals for major projects on the time scale of a cathedral? Even in the the sense of this will take 10 plus years and we won’t know until we start (it doesn’t have to be a monument, earlier today a separate discussion mentioned the building of railroads in the US).

          It seems like it is hard to propose anything that will last longer then the next election or shareholder meeting, but maybe I”m missing some good examples.

          • quanta413 says:

            My vague impression from driving is that the U.S. manages to expand or redo highways all the time. For really big stretches. I could be totally wrong about this, but it seems like the U.S. builds a lot of roads even if they sometimes get blocked or delayed.

            Plus, a Cathedral might have been a multi decade or century project way back when, but maybe restoring a piece is only a single decade now.

          • Gray Ice says:

            quanta413: Fair enough, I guess the US interstate highway system would count, although it is close to being completed in most states.

            I will be curious if newer technology allows for automated high speed transit along rural interstate routes. I think this is one of the practical near future applications for automation/AI.

          • The research that ultimately produced the Xerox machine took more than twenty years. Drug companies routinely do research that takes considerably longer than the time to the next stockholder meeting.

          • Gray Ice says:

            Follow up/Clarification:
            A number of programs have done what I was asking about in the recent past (such as the two mentioned by quanta413 and DavidFriedman).

            But! is there any new programs in their recent stages that meet these requirements?

          • Machine Interface says:

            Asides from highways and train lines, I’ll add next generation nuclear reactors. France’s EPR reactor has been in construction since 2007 and is still in progress — admitedly it was supposed to be completed by 2011 and has been affected by numerous delays and budget inflation. Currently the expected start of operation is 2020.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The Big Dig? (ha ha only serious)

            The replacement of the North River Tunnels (train tunnels under the Hudson connecting the Northeast Corridor)? (One must laugh, otherwise one will cry.)

            Washington National Cathedral (also Gothic style) took 83 years to build, completed in 1990.

          • But! is there any new programs in their recent stages that meet these requirements?

            People still seem to be working on fusion power, with the assumption that it will take quite a while to be good enough for real world use.

          • LesHapablap says:

            Stratolaunch was started in 2010 and just did its first test flight a few weeks ago.

            Quantum computers have been researched by IBM and Google for quite a while.

            The Pratt and Whitney Geared Turbo-fan engine was an idea in 1993, The GTF program officially started in 2001, flight testing started in 2008, and first production version sold in 2016.

          • Fitzroy says:

            Guédelon Castle is an attempt to recreate a 13th century style castle using period tools, techniques and materials. It started in 1997 and is still going.

            That’s a project almost exactly on the time scale of a cathedral.

      • CatCube says:

        It’s actually not too crazy if he actually moves on it. As an example, repair of the Oroville spillway took two years. If he just says “Make it like it was before. Cost is no object. Aaaaand, GO!” I think there’s a good chance they can get it darn near 5 years. Most of the delays in todays projects are caused by a bunch of bickering and lawsuits about the goals, ways, and means of a project. The big tradeoff, of course, is the whole “money is no object” part. That may or may not be worth it.

        Now, if he lets it go until the pack of tools who are trying to propose changes to make it “relevant” and “modern” get a head of steam, then we’ll be back to bickering about it and it’ll take 15 years and a bunch of design studies.

    • rahien.din says:

      Which is the more tone-deaf part: describing it as a “mecca” or saying it was also a place of worship?

      • Deiseach says:

        Well, “mecca” was a nice touch, but it’s the common usage that has become totally divorced from its original meaning (and if Muslims want to complain about that, I can sympathise: there’s a chain of bingo outlets in Britain called Mecca Bingo).

        No, it was the “Tourist site also has some kind of vague religious connotations, who knew?” tone of the headline (and as I said, the story wasn’t so bad; I sometimes think headline editors are trained to go “What is the most misleading thing I can slap on top here?”).

        • Compare it to Mecca, or more narrowly the Kaaba and associated sites.

          My guess is that, of all the people who pass through Notre Dame in a year, a large majority are tourists there to look at it, not to worship in it.

          My guess is that the opposite is true for the Muslim sites.

          Yesterday I attended a Passover Seder. My guess is that none of the people present actually believed in the religion whose ceremony we were performing.

          • Well... says:

            Yesterday I attended a Passover Seder. My guess is that none of the people present actually believed in the religion whose ceremony we were performing.

            Do you merely mean to say they were secular Jews, or that modern Jews in general, even the most devout, are divorced from the realities of the religion prescribed to them in the Torah?

            One of my struggles with Karaism has been reading the Torah and constantly encountering things I’m commanded to do but knowing that I can’t — and frankly, don’t want to — do them.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Huh. I knew about Mecca Bingo from the Arctic Monkeys song, but I assumed “mecca” meant something else in the UK, and didn’t connect that the bingo parlor was named after the city.

    • Tenacious D says:

      The worst take on the Notre Dame fire that I saw came across my Facebook feed from a page one of my friends follows called “The Professor Is In.”. A professor of medieval history named Dorothy Kim had advice for her colleagues that if they were interviewed by local media the most important thing is to avoid playing into all trite narratives about the cathedral being a symbol of western civilization:

      In particular, avoid using the term civilization, and especially western civilization. Avoid making this about Catholicism and or Christianity. … Remember that Joan of Arc is a symbol for the French far right of all things French and National.

      What should they talk about instead?

      talk about living spaces of use, about the complexities of upkeep, about governments not giving money to make sure things can be maintained, safe, secure, etc. Just do not make your discussion, your piece, your interview into far right cat nip.

      • Guy in TN says:

        I mean, if you insist on the narrative of Notre Dame being the symbolic representation of Christianity and Western Civilization, with Christianity/Western Civilization being what this fire is about (as opposed to the loss of history, architecture, or questions of structural safety), that would just make myself (and many others) galvanized into being glad Notre Dame burned down.

        As long as the narrative is broadly-palatable, you’ll have near-universal support and sympathy. Make the narrative about Christianity and the primacy of Western Civilization, and you’ll have people like me laughing and mocking its downfall.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          “A symbol of” =/= “the symbolic representation of”.

          Also, what do you mean by “making the narrative about Christianity”? Should reporters refuse to mention the fact that Notre Dame was built by Christians as a place of Christian worship? Would you really “laugh and mock its downfall” if Notre Dame’s religious nature were mentioned?

          • Guy in TN says:

            Should reporters refuse to mention the fact that Notre Dame was built by Christians as a place of Christian worship? Would you really “laugh and mock its downfall” if Notre Dame’s religious nature were mentioned?

            No and no.

            “Making the narrative about Christianity” would be to frame Notre Dame as being primarily a symbol of Christianity, and therefore the fire as a loss primarily to Christians. This doesn’t have to be done explicitly, but more commonly via omission. Something along the lines of: “Notre Dame was a built as a symbol of Christianity, used as a house of worship for Christians, and its loss is a blow to Christians”.

            All of this framing omits the secular aspects, the reasons why the non-Christian ~50% of the French population might have an interest in Notre Dame.

            Note that there’s no symmetry here: making the narrative of Notre Dame about history, architecture, tourism, or safety in no way alienates or excludes Christians. Only by framing the narrative around Christianity do you politicize the accident.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            “Making the narrative about Christianity” would be to frame Notre Dame as being primarily a symbol of Christianity, and therefore the fire as a loss primarily to Christians. This doesn’t have to be done explicitly, but more commonly via omission. Something along the lines of: “Notre Dame was a built as a symbol of Christianity, used as a house of worship for Christians, and its loss is a blow to Christians”.

            Do you really think that the media — made up largely of people who are non-religious, if not actively hostile to religion — are likely to do that? And what exactly is so wrong about portraying the loss of a place of worship as primarily a loss for the people who actually worship there? I know that if the Great Mosque of Djenne were destroyed by a fire, I’d consider it to be primarily a loss for Muslims, without that detracting from the sorrow I’d feel at the destruction of a beautiful building.

            Note that there’s no symmetry here: making the narrative of Notre Dame about history, architecture, tourism, or safety in no way alienates or excludes Christians. Only by framing the narrative around Christianity do you politicize the accident.

            Ignoring the fact that the cathedral is a place of worship and treating it like nothing but a collection of nice artwork doesn’t exclude the worshippers? Come on.

            And frankly, if you think that portraying the loss of a cathedral as primarily a loss to the people who worship there “politicises” the loss to such a degree that you would be “laughing and mocking its downfall”, I suspect the problem lies with your own religious bigotry rather than anyone else.

          • Guy in TN says:

            And what exactly is so wrong about portraying the loss of a place of worship as primarily a loss for the people who actually worship there?

            Well, are you sure its an accurate portrayal of the situation? If a famous Shinto shrine burned down in Japan (beloved by the country and a popular tourist destination), do you think it would be accurate to say that active Shinto practitioners are primarily the ones affected?

            Would the destruction of the pyramids of Egypt primarily effect practitioners of Egyptian polytheism?

          • Guy in TN says:

            Ignoring the fact that the cathedral is a place of worship and treating it like nothing but a collection of nice artwork doesn’t exclude the worshippers? Come on.

            It doesn’t exclude them, assuming they support preserving history and artwork. If you have a point, make it.

            What it does do, is universalize the accident such that it can’t be used to advance a specific political or religious agenda. Maybe they’ve looked at the trade-off of politicization, and determined it is worth while. But like I said earlier, make the narrative about Christianity at your own peril.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Well, are you sure its an accurate portrayal of the situation? If a famous Shinto shrine burned down in Japan (beloved by the country and a popular tourist destination), do you think it would be accurate to say that active Shinto practitioners are primarily the ones affected?

            If it were still an active and important Shinto shrine, sure.

            It doesn’t exclude them, assuming they support preserving history and artwork.

            “Treating lynchings in the Deep South as just extra-judicial killings without mentioning the racial aspect doesn’t exclude or alienate black people, assuming they’re opposed to extra-judicial killing.”

            “Treating Kristallnacht as just a load of vandalism doesn’t exclude or alienate Jews, assuming they’re opposed to vandalism.”

            Not exact parallels, of course, but I think they get the point across that dumbing down everything to the lowest common denominator can in fact be exclusionary and alienating.

            What it does do, is universalize the accident such that it can’t be used to advance a specific political or religious agenda.

            If you claim not to see how ignoring the role of religion in building a famous monument can be used to advance a specific agenda, then you’re either extremely naïve or just disingenuous.

            But like I said earlier, make the narrative about Christianity at your own peril.

            Thanks for the advice, but I really have no need of your concern trolling.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            “Treating lynchings in the Deep South as just extra-judicial killings without mentioning the racial aspect doesn’t exclude or alienate black people, assuming they’re opposed to extra-judicial killing.”

            “Treating Kristallnacht as just a load of vandalism doesn’t exclude or alienate Jews, assuming they’re opposed to vandalism.”

            Or if you don’t like these analogies, consider the following. Your sister, a noted local philanthropist and pillar of the local community, dies tragically in an accident. Everybody’s very sad and commiserates each other on the loss of such a person, but nobody thinks to commiserate you specifically for having lost a close relative. Do you think it would be possible for you to feel unhappy at this unless you don’t support philanthropy and helping the local community?

          • Guy in TN says:

            but nobody thinks to commiserate you specifically

            I’ve already said that I think Christianity deserves to be mentioned, perhaps I was unclear.

        • Tenacious D says:

          I didn’t say primacy.

          • Guy in TN says:

            I’m going to post what Dorothy Kim wrote with more context, for those who are interested:

            To begin, as someone who works on the 12th and 13th c. and also in medieval musicology and art history, I have in fact written or worked on things related to Gothic art, Notre Dame polyphony, etc. I know that a lot of medievalists are feeling deep grief about this (though we hope that some things in the early reports were wrong and we can save some of the material artifacts).

            However, I would like to point out that the far right is already promulgating conspiracy theories that this is basically the work of religious outsiders (i.e. Islamaphobia and Antisemitism) and that the burning of Notre Dame is a sign that western civilization and the values of the Christian West are under attack. My colleagues who work on alt-right things have informed me that Richard Spencer and Ben Shapiro are already speaking about this. You can literally look at the Twitter and Facebook threads under “Notre Dame Civilization” and you will see all of this.

            If you are planning to write a thing and or going to be interviewed by mainstream news agencies, please do not say things that will be immediately used to stoke this “western civilization” we are under “attack” rhetoric. In particular, avoid using the term civilization, and especially western civilization. Avoid making this about Catholicism and or Christianity. Also, avoid the French nationalism angle, because that is just going to stoke a lot of white supremacist French Nationalism/Catholicism towards really vulnerable groups already under attack out there in Europe. Remember that Joan of Arc is a symbol for the French far right of all things French and National.

            So, work on counternarratives people. Work on discussing how governments how have the control of keeping up buildings, art, etc. of the past that are major tourist sites, do not fund these things–same can be said of the Brazilian fire and the National Museum there. Discuss that. But stay away from the FAR RIGHT BUZZWORDS and RHETORIC: No Western Civilization. No Civilization. No French Nationalism. No Catholic Nationalism etc.

            I know you didn’t say “primacy”. But there are groups of people, for whom in using the rhetoric of the value of “western civilization”, they have its primacy as the unstated implication.

            I imagine you are a good de-coupling rationalist who uses the term “western civilization” as often as “eastern civilization”, and your usage carries no unspoken normative implications regarding the primacy or superiority of either. But there are actual racists and nationalists in our midst who are fighting for the cause of western civilization, and their threat shouldn’t be ignored.

          • Jaskologist says:

            > My colleagues who work on alt-right things have informed me that Richard Spencer and Ben Shapiro are already speaking about this.

          • Viliam says:

            there are actual racists and nationalists in our midst who are fighting for the cause of western civilization, and their threat shouldn’t be ignored.

            This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

            Western civilization exceeds individual nations, so I am not sure why exactly the nationalists should be the ones fighting for it. For example, European Union is a project of western civilization, but I wouldn’t call it a project of nationalism. As far as I noticed, nationalists would prefer to see their countries separate again.

            And racism is almost an opposite of, uhm, civilization-ism. Racism means that civilization almost doesn’t matter, because people are going to do what their genes command them anyway. The opposite perspective is that behavior of people is mostly influenced by the culture where they grew up and where they live; in other words, by civilization.

          • broblawsky says:

            The vision of “Western civilization” that people like Shapiro and Spencer fight for has nothing to do with Niemoller, Aristotle, and Einstein. It’s the vision of the Crusaders: oppressing people who happen to be marginally different from you in faith, culture or genome for gold and glory.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Western civilization exceeds individual nations, so I am not sure why exactly the nationalists should be the ones fighting for it.

            I can’t speak to the inner-workings of why white nationalists often talk about “western civilization”. But its a common, not-made-up phenomenon.

          • eyeballfrog says:

            broblawski, do you have any idea what views Ben Shapiro actually holds or are you just assuming because someone put his name in the same sentence as Richard Spencer?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            broblawski, do you have any idea what views Ben Shapiro actually holds or are you just assuming because someone put his name in the same sentence as Richard Spencer?

            Judging by his comment, he doesn’t have much idea of what the actual crusaders or their opponents thought, either.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Yes, there’s been this weird thing lately where the mainstream media keeps calling Orthodox Jew Ben Shapiro “alt-right.” Shapiro is the second neoconiest neocon who ever conned a neo*. I don’t know how this stuff gets started, but that Kim lumped Shapiro in with Spencer should be a knock on her credibility with regards to politics.

            * After Bill Kristol.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            Shapiro gets jumped in due to being anti-islam. Some neoconservatives are often not as rhetorically hostile to Islam as long as the person in question is not affiliated with a geopolitical rival of Israel. They are also generally opposed to hostility towards people considered the out-group (unless the outgroup is explicitly anti-Israel) **in western countries**.

            But it doesn’t help Shapiro’s case when RS will say something like he’s a ‘white zionist’ — Zionists really really don’t want to be lumped into that category.

          • 10240 says:

            I imagine you are a good de-coupling rationalist who uses the term “western civilization” as often as “eastern civilization”, and your usage carries no unspoken normative implications regarding the primacy or superiority of either.

            If Western civilization is not superior in some sense, why did Dorothy Kim’s ancestors move there? (Along with a lot of other people from other civilizations, and a lot more wanting to.)

            As a current and prospective migrant, I choose my destination on the basis that I think it’s a better place than the one I’m coming from.

      • Nick says:

        There’s been a spat in the online medievalist world the last few years between Dorothy Kim and Rachel Fulton Brown which came to my attention just last year. Kim has been writing about white supremacy pervading medieval studies for a while now; if you click through to some of Fulton Brown’s posts you can get a taste of what else Kim has been saying.

      • The Nybbler says:

        The best part is Dr. Kim’s advice plays right into the hands of the “all trite”.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Well if making Notre Dame about Catholicism, using the noun “civilization” and especially the adjective “Western”, and loving Joan of Arc are altwrite, that’s what people ought to be.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        I don’t think in 2019 people are fearful or concerned with Christianity as such, they’re concerned about ethnic Europeans and the things they are associated with. (Including medieval Catholicism) It’s the same sense in which anti-Islam is depicted as a species of racism.

        To the literalist and the rationalist this is confusing and nonsensical. But thinking at the object-level it’s completely sensible. ‘Islam’ is a concept but the ‘Muslims’ are much more concrete beings.. And Muslims are [predominantly] “MENA”, which does come closer to the concept of a race or ethnic group.

        “Western Civilization” in the same token gets treated as a dog whistle to mean ‘white [ethnic european] supremacy’, rather than some abstract set of characteristics of a society. Because again, it’s easier to think at the object level then the abstract level.

        So a combination of very young and very old Europeans who for our purposes are ‘the far right’ who are convinced they’re being intentionally replaced by middle easterners or north or subsaharan africans with the consent and approval of their government will cling to medievalism, or christianity, or neo-paganism or roman iconography, or basically any banner they can rally around.

        It’s also easy for such a person to believe that the building was set fire to intentionally by someone with a grudge against Christian [read; european] people.

        It’s also easy for such a person to think even if the fire wasn’t set intentionally that the destruction is symbolic of their own fear of erased from history.

        So all of these things end up becoming proxies for ethnic struggle and perceived dominance in a territory, whether or not they were intended as such. And people who deal in abstractions are confused at the vitriol surrounding a partially burned cathedral.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Not related to your main point, but, a quibble: Muslims are not predominantly Middle Eastern and North African; none of the top 5 countries by % of world Muslim population are Middle Eastern or North African, and together they’re almost 50% of the world Muslim population. The other slightly-more-than-half isn’t universally MENA either.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            I’ll have to revise that part then. I’m tempted to say that the bulk of Muslims currently settling in europe are middle eastern or african rather than Indian/Indonesian but I’m not super confident in that either.

          • Heterosteus says:

            I’m tempted to say that the bulk of Muslims currently settling in europe are middle eastern or african rather than Indian/Indonesian but I’m not super confident in that either.

            I’d actually be interested in the answer to this. I’d guess that the bulk of current Muslim refugees in Europe are MENA, but I’m not sure about current rates of South Asian Muslim settlement in e.g. the UK.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I’d guess that in continental Europe Muslims tend to be of North African, Middle Eastern, Western Asian (Turkey isn’t MENA, after all), or Central Asian extraction. In the UK, though, I’d imagine a higher % of Muslims are of South Asian origin.

          • Heterosteus says:

            @dndnrsn

            I would also guess this. I was just wondering what the Europe-wide pattern would average out to.

  7. johan_larson says:

    This is the subthread for discussing episode 2 of season 8 of Game of Thrones, which will be airing on Sunday. Because this thread will have been superceded by 126.0 by that time, most readers will have moved on, and we will therefore be able to speak freely without covering up spoilers.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      Not to change the subject or jump the gun, but: We are, of course, subscribed to HBO streaming for two months. What else is there that we should not miss? I poked around and was surprised how little interesting I saw.

      Last season, we also picked up the first season of Westworld, but were mostly pretty disappointed. It had a great look, and the big surprise (nobhg gur gjb qvssrerag gvzr fgernzf) was elegant, but boy did they miss the chance to say something interesting about human-level AI, so we aren’t tempted to look at season 2 unless somebody responsible tells us we should be. The Sopranos and The Wire have never particularly appealed. We started watching Deadwood way back when, but the milieu just seemed indistinguishable from dog-eat-dog anarchy, and we couldn’t stay engaged. (So why do we like Game of Thrones? Who knows? Maybe what saves it is the knowledge that the game of thrones is just a terrible distraction from what really matters.)

      The movies are mostly available on Netflix, or will be soon, and if we had wanted to see them sooner we would have seen them in the theater.

      Advice?

      • itex says:

        Just wanted to chime in to anti-recommend season 2 of Westworld. I felt that the show doubled down on having a big twist at the expense of plot, character development, and even basic coherency. Expect to watch through at least twice if you want to understand what the hell’s going on. It also veers dangerously close to pseudo-philosophy in the vein of the Matrix sequels while continuing to say nothing interesting about AGI. Oh, and there’s roughly 10x more violence, mostly gratuitous.

    • johan_larson says:

      Another quiet episode. The next one will be the big fight.

      The scene where Jaime knighted Brienne was quite a thing. Gwendoline Christie did an awesome job of showing herself to be quietly but intensely moved.

      And Arya and Gendry got it on. Has every single episode of this shown included either fucking or fighting? I can’t remember.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Definitely has that feel of “talk to all of your squadmates before they die in the big mission” sequence in RPG games.
      The real question being, who dies? Some initial thoughts:
      -Brienne is basically toast. She has realized her character arc. She has no moving plot left. She’s commanding on the front line.
      -Samwell death odds are much higher. I originally thought he had narrator plot armor, but maybe Tyrion has that now after his conversation with Bran. I wouldn’t call it likely or even-money, but higher than the 1% chance I would’ve called it before.
      -Lady Mormont says “good fortune,” but not “good fortune in the wars to come.” Subtle difference. Jorah and Lady Mormont both have much higher survival odds, IMO, especially since Jorah now has a +5 plot armor sword.
      -How does Gendry even fit into this? Does he even have a point anymore?
      -Missandei and Grey Worm should get their happily ever after, they’ve earned it. Someone has to have a happy ending at the end of this show.

      Some other random thoughts:
      -The War Council did not prepare for the obvious “Ice Dragon” or dozens of White Walkers hurling anti-dragon javelins.
      -Ghost appearing off-hand for a few second is annoying.
      -Tyrion suggesting that either Varys and the other person that one of them might be wearing the Hand of the King seems like on-the-nose foreshadowing: of Tyrion taking the Iron Throne!
      -Tyrion and Bran’s conversation was not shown, presumably meaning some plot relevant details there. Tyrion seems a bit more chipper than the rest of them in the fireplace scene.
      -The Crypt is so obviously a death-trap that I have a hard time believing it is a death-trap. Particularly since the Crypt and Winterfell are both supposed to be fed via the magic of dead Stark Kings. However, that aspect has never really been built up in the show, so not really sure whether corpses are going to kill everyone as First Move or Second Move, or whether Sean Bean and the Army of the Dead are going to beat the snot out of the Wights.
      -A random reference to Whispering Wood by Jaime. One of GOT’s previously used war tropes is that you try to defeat an army, and the main body of the army was never there. Perhaps the Night King is already heading down to King’s Landing. The more I think about it, the more it doesn’t make any sense to play it out that way, though.
      -Arya’s look at the end of the episode is deeply unsettling.

      I expect a pretty straight episode where there’s a predictable unpredicted twist, because obviously their plan is freaking terrible. You are going to lure a several thousand year mythical entity into the Godswood and ambush it with Dragons. Yeah. The chances of that succeeding are roughly zero.

      I would like to see the army getting mostly curb-stomped, because it’s a ridiculously poor plan.

      • Gossage Vardebedian says:

        “You’re right, Sam. It’s a bad plan. What’s your plan?”

        The lack of any dragon-related planning seemed . . . odd. Anyone think Arya is going to be the one to kill the Night King? Chekhov’s Spear has to do something, and Jamie’s gonna kill Cersei, so . . .

      • J Mann says:

        “What’s your plan, Jon?”

        “Well, I’m going to Leeroy Jenkins towards the middle of their line and hope someone arranged for reinforcements and didn’t tell me.”

        “So you haven’t learned anything?”

        “No, I did tell Theon to zig-zag with Bran’s wheelchair while running away from the Night King”

      • Doctor Mist says:

        Tyrion taking the Iron Throne!

        That was my secret guess for quite a while, but not after we learned about Jon Snow’s true parentage, which so clearly appears to be crucial to untangling everything — just how, I’m not sure. Targaryens wouldn’t object to an aunt/nephew marriage, but Jon wasn’t raised as a Targaryen.

        I am intrigued by the assertion that his true name is Aegon, since the books have Aegon Targaryen as Rhaegar’s son by Elia Martell, assumed, probably incorrectly, as deceased. There is a character bumming around on Essos who is alleged to be he, but unless I missed it the series has not mentioned him. This Aegon would have a prior claim to either Daenarys or Jon. It makes me wonder (a) if the series ending will be substantially different from the books’ ending and (b) whether the last book will ever actually appear.

    • CatCube says:

      As much as I think they really necked down fast from where the books were, I realize that this was necessary to actually finish the story. All the plot threads they were trying to weave together were an unwieldy mess, which is how you got a bunch of things that really seemed to not have much point; for example, they started the Dorne storyline, realized they wouldn’t have enough time to actually do anything with it as fully developed as it was in the books, and just killed the characters so they could move the fuck on.

      I think the sitting around the fire discussion is one of my favorite things in the last season or season and a half. It’s nice to just watch the characters bounce off of each other, and it’s where the good actors they’ve got can really bring things to life.

      I think that Dany was too quick to let Tyrion off the hook; I think that she’d have gotten there eventually, but it she was too quickly convinced by others. Like the harrowing of the plot I discussed in the first paragraph, I think this was driven by the fact that they needed to move the story along to not run out of episodes, and it gets a pass from me.

      Contra @A Definite Beta Guy, I’m not bagging on their plan, per se. I do think it’s a bad plan, but I don’t know that they actually have the ability to bring off a better one. I can’t think of something more likely to work, and in real life simplicity in a plan counts for a lot.

      Finally, I’m not quite sure what to think about Jon telling Dany about his parentage. It wouldn’t surprise me to have her backstab him over this, since she’s really, really invested in putting her ass on the throne, and she’s not all that stable a personality. She’s not anywhere near as petty about it as Cersei, but her continued insistence on the forms of everybody acknowledging her to be the rightful queen even while preparing for the zombie apocalypse is a little concerning. She also really, really likes setting people she perceives as disloyal on fire.

      In a vacuum, I think Jon would have been better off to wait until after the crisis passed to pursue this conversation. However, it was a little bit foreshadowed that Sam might have spilled the beans at an inopportune moment due to his anger over his family, so Jon’s best move might have been to try to get out in front of it as he did when he had the ability to control it a little bit.

    • John Schilling says:

      I liked this episode for what it was, the calm before the storm, a chance for everyone to set their dramatic affairs in order before the battle that will probably kill at good fraction of them. Even when the plotting fails, this show has always been good at putting interesting characters in a room and having them just talk to one another. The fireplace scenes were almost perfect, as were most of the private interactions.

      The war planning, as others have noted, less so. In particular, the complete absence of any mention of the Zombie Ice Dragon makes it hard to take the plan, or the planners, seriously.

      Finally, the implications of this episode in the overall plotting of the season. This was a bottle episode, cheap to film, and very little of it needed to be filmed in winter, so the stated logic of the season needing to be shrunk to six episodes for cost, schedule, and climate reasons rings hollow. It looks more like the season has been shrunk to the minimum necessary to tie off the plot threads because someone knows they aren’t very good at generating plot. So,

      S8E1 – Reminded us where everything was at the end of S7, and ratcheted the dangling plots thereof forward in an absolutely predictable way

      S8E2 – Personal and dramatic preparation for the battle against the Zombie Hordes, with minimal plotting and no plot-level surprises

      S8E3 – Zombie Hordes defeated, with great spectacle

      S8E4 – Preparation for the confrontation with Cersei Lannister, which will need a bit more plotting

      S8E5 – The final showdown with Cersei, which may not be a giant battle

      S8E6 – Coronation of (p>0.85) Daenerys Targaryen, everyone else still standing gets their happy and/or tragic ending.

      Which means a great deal is being cut. Theon’s rescue of Yara deserved more than a brief scene, for both plot and character development reasons. Arya/Gendry needed more than just a bit of gazing over the forge and “craft me a weapon” dialogue to set up. Tyrion’s redemption, which should never have been necessary but after last season clearly was, ditto. OTOH, if this sort of compression led to their ditching the obvious stupid plot where Jon and Sam and Bran keep Jon’s parentage secret from Dany for several episodes of tragic misunderstandings, then I’m OK with that.

      • johan_larson says:

        Yes, I think that’s the straight-line path from here on.

        But is there another possibility? Might the defenders of Winterfell fail, with a few survivors withdrawing in disarray to the Iron Islands? The Night King would continue down Westeros and take on Cersei and the Golden Company. Then, when Cersei and her army have winnowed down the Night King’s forces and Cersei herself has died, a relatively small force of ironborn and the survivors of Winterfell manage to mount a sneak attack and kill the Night King.

        • John Schilling says:

          I don’t think you can do that in four episodes. More importantly, I don’t think you can make the audience care about the battle between Cersei and the Night King, and I don’t think they will throw away the dramatic potential of a face-to-face confrontation between Cersei Lannister and one her many personal, human enemies. Think Arya/Walder, or Jamie/Olenna, or even Cersei/Ellaria, and consider the Night King’s distinctly limited potential for the sort of interesting dialogue that is late GoT’s strongest suit.

          • honoredb says:

            Why not have both? EP3: Jamie assassinated at a poorly-timed moment by Bronn. Winterfell falls, most of the main characters die but some escape on dragons.
            EP4: The White Walkers take King’s Landing. Jamie as a near-mindless wight strangles Cersei, but the Night King resurrects her as a White Walker to act as a figurehead, and lets her keep much of her original personality to be extra demoralizing to the others. Meanwhile the Winterfell survivors face down Euron for control of the fleet.
            EP5: LoTR-style plan with an army mounting a doomed siege on King’s Landing and negotiating with Walker!Cersei, all as a diversion while a small band takes down the Night King.
            EP6: Back to politics.

            The Iron Throne as physical object has to be destroyed at some point; it’s the main character of the series. I’m not sure whether it’s the Night King who destroys it, one of Dany’s dragons melting it to slag during a fight, or a peacetime symbolic decision to scrap it in the last episode.

          • J Mann says:

            I’m frankly having trouble caring about the battle between Cersei and anyone. I’ve been looking at wrapping up Cersei as basically the scouring of the Shire, and have trouble seeing it as more than that.

            If the dragons survive Winterfell and get killed by Cersei, it’s going to leave a bad taste in my mouth.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            There is some potential interest in seeing Cersei redeem herself by saving the world. But I agree there is not time; in a mere six episodes it would be deus ex machina.

          • vV_Vv says:

            The Night King has been the main force driving the plot, killing him off in Ep 3 and ending the series with a three-way dynastic struggle between Daenerys, Cersei and Sansa would be anti-climatic and too predictable.

            I agree with johan_larson. Here’s my prediction:

            – They get their ass kicked in Winterfell and the survivors fall back to the Iron Islands.

            – The Night King overruns Kings Landing and Cersei dies, possibly she commits suicide to avoid being turned into a zombie by setting on fire the Red Keep or the whole Kings Landing with wildfire, melting the Iron Throne and culling the army of the dead, thus creating an opportunity for our heroes to counterattack and save the day.

            – Once Nighty is defeated, and with the Iron Throne, the symbol of Westeros unity convenently melted, the victors agree to partition the country into independent kingdoms. Ending montage, culminating with 80 years old Tyrion dying with a belly full of wine and a girl’s mouth around his cock. Credits roll.

          • John Schilling says:

            The Night King has been the main force driving the plot

            Debatable, but even if we grant it for the sake of argument, the Literal Game of Thrones has been a very close second in driving the plot of “The Game of Thrones”. Its resolution will not be shoehorned in around the edges.

            I agree with johan_larson. Here’s my prediction:

            Counterprediction: Cersei Lannister will be defeated – not necessarily killed, and not necessarily in battle, but defeated – by a living human enemy or enemies, in the context of an episode largely devoted to seeing the defeat of Cersei Lannister play out and with the Night King as at most a supporting character.

            Secondary counterprediction: We will not see more than a brief mention of the Iron Islands again, though I am less confident of that one. But, and especially now that they have mentioned Yara has only a few ships, I think it most likely that her appearance in S8E1 was simply to tie up the loose “Hey wasn’t Yara still Euron’s prisoner?” plot thread.

          • dick says:

            Man, if Cersei doesn’t die by Arya’s hand I’ll eat my hat.

          • John Schilling says:

            Cersei Lannister killed by Jamie Lannister, 40%
            Cersei Lannister killed by Arya Stark, 30%
            Cersei Lannister killed by anyone else, 10%
            Cersei Lannister defeated but alive, 15%
            Cersei Lannister victorious, 5%

            Mostly gut feel and reading of tea leaves.

      • johan_larson says:

        The reason I’m a bit skeptical of the structure John has outlined is that it puts the apparent climax of the story so early. The big fight of the living against the dead is in episode three out of six? Giving us a full half a season for wrap-up? No, something isn’t right here. The climax should be later, unless the writers are pulling a real switcharoo on us. So is Winterfell going to be a bit of a wet firecracker, with the real final boss fight being in the south in a later episode?

        • John Schilling says:

          But which climax is “apparent”, and to whom?

          There are two major plot-driving conflicts left unresolved. The Dead vs. basically every living character not named Cersei Lannister, and Cersei Lannister vs. basically every living character not named Cersei Lannister. You may consider the latter to be an irrelevant afterthought that nobody should care about in comparison to the battle against The Dead, but the plot and the plotters almost certainly don’t. A great deal of effort has been put into making the audience care about that story and those characters, so I think it is unlikely that the final downfall of Cersei Lannister will be treated as “wrap-up”.

          Until a few episodes ago, it was at least possible that they’d deal with Cersei first and the Night King second, but that’s now pretty much out of the question. The Night King is going to be the focus of the next episode, and there isn’t room for the Night King story arc’s resolution to stretch much beyond the next episode while still leaving enough time for a story that will satisfy the people who think Cersei Lannister’s arc is still important. Which, again, almost certainly includes the showrunners given the attention they have paid to it.

          • johan_larson says:

            I agree that Cersei is an important opponent, and it is important for the story that she be defeated. The question is how to present the fight against her as the true climax. To do that will require the fight against her to be somehow bigger than the fight against the dead.

            The dead have a vast zombie army, a battalion of creatures of legend, and a dragon. That’s pretty impressive. What the heck can Cersei do to put on that big a show? She has Euron Greyjoy’s fleet, the Golden Company, and as special forces she has Bronn and Ser Robert Strong. Her forces are just not as impressive.

            The only way I could see it making sense is for the fight against Cersei to be very different from the fight against the dead. It wouldn’t be a conventional battle. It would be cloak and dagger stuff, one-on-one, very personal struggle.

          • John Schilling says:

            That would certainly be the way I’d do it, particularly from where we now stand. Possibly it would have been better to deal with Cersei first and the Dead second, and even then I think I’d prefer the cloak-and-dagger or even political route for defeating Cersei. A mass battle against enemies as underdeveloped as Euron Greyjoy(*) and the Golden Company is unlikely to be dramatically satisfying, and Cersei as an adversary is fundamentally better suited to cloak-and-dagger and dirty politics than great battles.

            But it’s got to be bigger than “OBTW Arya somehow infiltrated King’s Landing and dispatches Cersei as easily as she did Walder Frey”. So it’s almost certainly going to be at least a solid episode of material, after an episode’s worth of shifting gears from Winterfell to King’s Landing and before an episode of actual wrap-up.

            Also, there’s the CleganeBowl to consider, and that probably fits in better with a cloak-and-dagger plot than a mass battle plot.

            I fear that we may nonetheless get another, lesser, “great” battle. But however it’s done, four episodes of working space doesn’t leave room for more than an episode, maybe an episode and a half, to put the Night King firmly to bed.

            * Who is a naval power, and nobody else has either a fleet or a reason to travel by sea, so how is he even relevant any more? Though it would be nice to see Cersei realize this, and Euron realize that Cersei just realized this…

          • The Red Foliot says:

            @johan
            I have read that the climax in a story is actually the point where the protagonist realizes what they have to do to bring their struggle to a conclusion, and that the act of them carrying out what they need to do to bring it to a conclusion is actually the denouement, so that ‘climax’ is a counter-intuitive term for people, as they assume that the climax is when the spectacle is at its grandest. The climax of Ned’s story arc in the first ASOIAF book, for instance, would be when he suddenly realizes the truth of Joffrey’s parentage (after Arya offhandedly mentions something about Joffrey’s hair colour), while the act of him confronting Cersei, getting thrown in prison, and then getting his head chopped off would be the denouement. So, according to classical structure, the climax should be coming somewhere near the middle of a work, and, while dramatically it is highly momentous, in terms of spectacle it’s likely to be overshadowed by the denouement.

            In John’s predictions, I would define the battle against the ice king as both a moment of great spectacle and the denouement of a given subplot. The confrontation against Cersei would be the denouement of a second subplot, including the ‘preparation’ episode which preceded it. And then the coronation of Daeny would be the resolution of a third subplot in addition to that of the primary plot of the series. I think there’s actually some nice contrast in having the spectacular battle against the night king preceding a more subdued confrontation against Cersei. I also think that fans of the show are probably going to show up for its final episodes regardless of how much action they have, since they are already highly invested in its plot, so that it’s unnecessary to provide them with amazing action. I think focusing on plot rather than spectacle for the final episodes is appropriate.

          • gbdub says:

            The other problem with “second big battle “ is that it would require the northern army to mostly survive the battle against the Night King, making that fight unsatisfying.

            Euron exists mainly to ferry the golden company around, a much more important role before the kingsroad became a warp portal.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Martin has said that the coming Winter is a metaphor for climate change. As I said elsewhere, the point of Game of Thrones is that the game of thrones is a petty distraction from what is Really Important. Given that, I can’t see resolving it halfway through the final season.

            Can we deduce anything else? Daenerys is still hammering on how important it is that everybody acknowledge her as queen. Do her misplaced priorities mean she will not come out on top?

            The one person who seems to have finally transcended the game is Jaime, who has deserted his beloved Cersei “to fight for the living”. Unlike Cersei, he has had enough character change that it would be reasonably satisfying to see him pick up the pieces of the kingdom after the last battle — but the last battle would have to take place in the south, not the north, because Jaime would have to be picking up the pieces, with Cersei, Daenerys, and most all other major players gone. Given that The North is almost another character, that doesn’t seem real likely to me, but there might be a way — maybe the zombie dragon lays waste to the complacent south before cleaning up the north.

            Any chance at all that the White King wins? That would cause a major crapstorm, but given the metaphor maybe it would be thought important to give fans a sobering ending.

          • Nornagest says:

            Martin has said that the coming Winter is a metaphor for climate change.

            Way to drain all the interest out of a perfectly good gimmick. I’m not even particularly skeptical of climate change, but I’ve seen enough hand-wringing over it to last me three lifetimes (or 10m of sea level, whichever comes first).

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Way to drain all the interest out of a perfectly good gimmick.

            Sorry about that. I figured it was both well-known and obvious. I agree with you, but it’s metaphorical enough that it hasn’t sapped my enjoyment. (It would work well enough for any number of other existential threats.) But perhaps I should have stuck with in-story considerations and dramatic meta-level considerations, and skipped author psychology.

          • J Mann says:

            @Doctor Mist

            Martin has said that the coming Winter is a metaphor for climate change. As I said elsewhere, the point of Game of Thrones is that the game of thrones is a petty distraction from what is Really Important.

            I think it’s more precise to say that Martin has said that the plot parallels climate change response in some ways, but that it’s not an intentional metaphor. (Which is probably what you Within the universe, who sits the Iron Throne is fairly unimportant because there happens to be an invasion of ice zombies dedicated to extinguishing all life. But for the 7,000 years between ice zombie invasions, whether the government is good or crappy does matter – just ask the Lazarene.

            I do agree with your second sentence and that it’s hard to imagine how Cersei’s plot is going to be relevant – I mean, I suppose she could decide at the last minute that her 20,000 soldiers are better spent helping Dany and Jon than waiting to fight whoever wins, or I guess Jaime could come back, kill her, and use the soldiers for the final battle.

            (Here’s GRRM’s quote on the subject:)

            [NYT]: Many observers have pointed out that “Game of Thrones” offers a perfect metaphor for understanding climate change. What do you think of this interpretation?

            Martin: It’s kind of ironic because I started writing “Game of Thrones” all the way back in 1991, long before anybody was talking about climate change. But there is — in a very broad sense — there’s a certain parallel there. And the people in Westeros are fighting their individual battles over power and status and wealth. And those are so distracting them that they’re ignoring the threat of “winter is coming,” which has the potential to destroy all of them and to destroy their world. And there is a great parallel there to, I think, what I see this planet doing here, where we’re fighting our own battles. We’re fighting over issues, important issues, mind you — foreign policy, domestic policy, civil rights, social responsibility, social justice. All of these things are important. But while we’re tearing ourselves apart over this and expending so much energy, there exists this threat of climate change,

          • Plumber says:

            Martin:"...It’s kind of ironic because I started writing “Game of Thrones” all the way back in 1991, long before anybody was talking about climate change...."

            No one?

            LIES!!!

            Your pants are on fire George ARR! ARR! Martin!

            I remember Carl Sagan talking about “the Greenhouse effect” back in 1980 on Cosmos, and I clearly remember in 1991 when Saddam had the oil fields set on fire people talking about what it meant for climate.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Eh, I’ll give him charity for misspeaking. If he had said “before everybody was talking about it”, he’d have been spot on.

    • johan_larson says:

      I have a question about the Winterfell defenders’ plan. Does it make any sense at all to have troops massed outside the walls? Wouldn’t they be more effective fighting from the battlements of Winterfell, where they have superior position and actual cover? And if there isn’t enough room on the battlements, let them fight in rotating shifts, so they have time to recover. Or perhaps there could be a lighter outer wall that is defended as long as possible, and when/if that is overrrun, the defenders could regroup inside the actual castle.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        Why would the undead bother to fight them? Just bypass Winterfell and eat the rest of Westeros.

        Or: if they are clustered together in Winterfell, the zombie dragon cold-burns it to the ground, trapping them.

      • John Schilling says:

        That depends on whether the Night King has the patience and the authority to command a siege. The Living have a rather large army plus apparently most of the North’s civilian population to feed, and the Dead don’t need to eat.

        If the Dead will predictably try to storm the walls of Winterfell, yes, that’s probably the best place to meet them. But they may not.

        ETA: ninja’d by Dr. Mist

        • Protagoras says:

          Yeah, that was my thought; the dead seem capable of indefinite siege. While it isn’t clear whether they would take that option, if there’s any chance they would, better not to give it to them.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          Yay, I’ve never ninja’d before!

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Light outer wall would be overwhelmed within minutes, like what happened at Hardhome. Also, within the context of the show, castles are pretty freakin’ lame defenses. There’s probably no gate on Winterfell worth the name after that Giant destroyed the main gate during Battle of the Bastards, so the wights are just going to walk in and eventually steam-roll whatever small group of defenders are there (no phalanx is going to hold, it’s just the logic of the show that it’s going to collapse within minutes).

        After that it just becomes a brutal melee in which the dead are going to win becuase they have the numbers.

        Also, Dothraki can’t fight in Winterfell.

        • John Schilling says:

          Also, Dothraki can’t fight in Winterfell.

          Dothraki being fairly capable archers, and Winterfell being lavishly equipped with dragonglass arrowheads, they should be able to re-deadify the Night King’s army with minimal effort or risk so long as A: the Night King orders an assault and B: the writers don’t nerf the castle.

          Realistically, the Night King would order a siege. Dramatically, the Night King would order an assault but the writers as you note will always nerf castles.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            writers will always nerf castles.

            To be fair, it isn’t even a stretch. The ice dragon took care of The Wall in seconds.

            Hmm, but of course, that was ice, and castle walls are earth, so maybe they would be more of a challenge. Still, The Wall was freaking enormous.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Yeah….but I suspect the destruction of the wall was writer bullcrap. Balerion didn’t destroy Harrenhal, so I’m betting there’s no way that dragon should’ve been able to get through the Wall. Except that the plot demanded it.

            Standard action tropes demand that gates are fragile, walls are surmountable by standard siege equipment, and practically every castle is easily breached by a little known and unguarded entrance. Once there’s a breach, “elite” soldiers can readily defeat whatever defenders wait on the other side.

      • gbdub says:

        A thought / observation – I don’t think the Night King is there. The episode ends on a slow pan up the leg of a zombie horse, up the side of what you assume is going to be the Night King…. but it’s not, just one member of a squad of White Walkers. Nowhere in the wide shot do you see the king or the dragon.

        So either he’s lying in wait somewhere to spring from an unexpected direction, or he’s bypassed Winterfell and is headed for Kings Landing, zombifying the whole country along the way.

        That might be one way to avoid the awkwardness of two “final confrontations” – the battle of Winterfell is a feint. The defenders win after a hard battle, only to realize that the true threat now has a head start into ripe “recruiting” ground. Deep magic protects Winterfell itself, but they will have to leave it to truly defeat the threat.

        • John Schilling says:

          That could be a superb plot, worthy of George R. R. Martin. It would take I think two more episodes than the show has remaining to carry it out, unless the plan is to turn the game of thrones part of “The Game of Thrones” into an eight-season shaggy dog story.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            Possibly relevant that the remaining episodes are supposed to be 80 minutes of runtime, as opposed to the normal 50-60.

            I’m not sure that gets us the 2 extra episodes we’d need, but it’s getting close.

          • gbdub says:

            The remaining 4 episodes are ~80 min a pop. 5.5 hours of run time is only an hour less than the entire original Star Wars trilogy. Plenty of time for plot, although obviously the pace needs to pick up.

            I think you could do it – next week is Battle of Winterfell, then an episode of piece moving / the freezing of Westeros, then The Battle of 3 Armies, then denouement.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            NK to KL was my initial thought as well, since GOT has already pulled that trope a few times (Casterly Rock, Whispering Wood).

            But:
            1. Doing that really nerfs Cersei for the Final Battle, unless she is meeting up with the Golden Company somewhere else.
            2. Why the move back to the Iron Islands? That seems pointless unless you intend to actually use the Iron Islands at some point during the next episode or two.
            3. This might just be me talking, but moving an entire army of Wights to KL with no one noticing is ridiculous, especially with the blizzard that would doubtless accompany it.

          • gbdub says:

            Maybe Yara gets back to find the Iron Islands frozen and zombified? Maybe they just wanted to put her on a bus?

            It doesn’t matter if everyone notices the walker army – there’s is no one south of Winterfell who can effectively oppose them except Cersei, and she doesn’t believe in them as a true threat and won’t do anything proactive to oppose them.

  8. Dan L says:

    I fixed my sink today. It wasn’t anything major, after some quick diagnostics I just needed to pop the faucet off and dunk it in some vinegar for a few hours to get it flowing again. But at first I was going to just call my super, until I was struck by the vision that somewhere in the Bay Area a single tear was rolling down a man’s face and he didn’t know why. So thank you Plumber, for inspiring me to… uh, deny your profession an easy job? Shit, I think I lost the plot there.

    • Plumber says:

      “I fixed my sink today”

      Congratulations! Good job!

      “It wasn’t anything major, after some quick diagnostics I just needed to pop the faucet off and dunk it in some vinegar for a few hours to get it flowing again”

      Do you mean the aerator or head?

      “But at first I was going to just call my super, until I was struck by the vision that somewhere in the Bay Area a single tear was rolling down a man’s face and he didn’t know why”

      Ah! That explains why I was feeling a bit verklempt…

      “So thank you Plumber, for inspiring me to… uh, deny your profession an easy job?:

      Your welcome.
      Happy to be of service?

      • johan_larson says:

        Clearly your mere presence inspired Dan L to take on a task he would otherwise have left to others. You taught a man to fish, without actually teaching him anything at all. Not a bad trick, that.

      • Dan L says:

        Do you mean the aerator or head?

        The whole spout, actually. It’s an older piece of hardware, and didn’t have a separable aerator. Step two is probably going out and getting a new spout, because my guess would be that it’ll be a recurring issue what with how much sediment gets flushed through every time the water gets turned back on after maintenance.

    • Deiseach says:

      So thank you Plumber, for inspiring me to… uh, deny your profession an easy job?

      I think we are all deeply moved by this inspiring tale of hands across the ocean, or keyboards, or kitchen sinks 🙂

  9. Atlas says:

    Random thought: People often say “You can’t compare x to y!” or “How dare you compare x to y!!!???” For instance, recently on Twitter dot com [1] MSNBC host Chris Hayes compared critics of extreme (for the time at least) abolitionists during the American Civil War to critics of the Russiagate thing. The immediate reaction was: “How dare you compare Russiagate to slavery!!!???”

    What’s wrong with comparing two things, though? I agree that it would have been obviously incorrect to equate the alleged Russian hacking that allegedly elected President Trump with American slavery in terms of the harm caused. However, Hayes was not doing that. He was saying that a position in a debate on one issue is analogous to a position in a debate on a different issue. The specific comparison might be wrong or irrelevant, but the act of comparison itself—which is what many are seemingly criticizing—is a perfectly valid method of argumentation.

    For instance, more people have probably died and suffered as a result of murder than as a result of slavery. Yet there’s a whole list of murder-related idioms that no one objects to, even though saying “Wow, I could kill for some Chinese food right about now” is theoretically offensive to the memory of the uncounted millions of people who have been murdered throughout human history. (Actually these idioms would hypothetically be more offensive than Hayes’ comparison, because they are nominally equations and not just comparisons, but everyone understands that they are comparisons [and also exaggerations] and thus are reasonable things to say.)

    I feel like the idea that “comparing” and “equating” things are different would be a valuable meme to spread.

    P.S. You might be wondering what I personally think of Hayes’ comparison. On a simple level, I agree with the Greenwald/Tracey/Taibbi/Chomsky/Chapo left-wing Axis of Sanity that the Russiagate thing was basically a fiction that was a massive waste of time and a gift to President Trump.

    (On a semi-serious galaxy-brain edgelord troll level, though, I want to argue that Hayes’ comparison is accurate, but that the position he cites from the American Civil War was based and redpilled and therefore anti-Russiagate leftists are also based and redpilled.)

    [1] What was I, a citizen of epistemic virtue, doing on wretched hive of scum and villainy Twitter dot com, you ask? Well, you remember that episode of Scrubs where JD and Turk save someone’s life outside a strip club while a protest is going on, and then they get interviewed by TV reporters covering the protest, and then Carla and Eliot ask them what they were doing at the strip club, and Turk and JD stick with the story that they were going to the protest? Yeah, it’s basically like that.

    • Randy M says:

      I think the idea is that when you compare even superficial aspects of two activities, it implies that they are of the same magnitude.

      This can be done humorously, such as “My brother asking my girlfriend out was the greatest betrayal since Judas Iscariot.”

      It seems to be triggering sort of sacred/purity impulse of not invoking a great tragedy (or more rarely, triumph) for a relatively trivial matter. As a matter of rhetorical hygene, it’s kind of a suspect practice as you are smuggling in the affect of the more momentous event to color the other.

      On the grand scheme of things, though, it’s probably just a way to try and score cheap points by finding any remotely credible claim of offense.

      • Well... says:

        I think that’s exactly right, for whatever my two cents are worth.

      • Aapje says:

        It also runs a big risk of people drawing different conclusions than intended by the comparison.

        “Hitler was like Ghandi in that both were vegetarians” can become:
        “Hitler was like Ghandi” can become:
        “Hitler was like Ghandi in that both hated the Jews”.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        There’s another thing, too.

        I once was in an RPG discussion with somebody who was very adamantly opposed to the GM ever fudging the dice (ie, ignoring a roll and declaring it success or failure despite the actual number). This is a dogmatic position for some people, and while I agree that you don’t want the GM just constantly ignoring the system (sounds like the system doesn’t match the game well in that case), I was trying to offer some perspective.

        So I was on a general train of argument to the effect of, “Even granting the proposition that it’s a bad idea, you don’t have to freak out about your GM doing something that you think is a bad idea every once in a while. If you love the majority of the game and once every few months there’s one thing that you have a disagreement about, you should try to keep perspective.”

        To which people offered up several analogies, including the prospect of the GM, instead of fudging a die roll, whipping off his pants and masturbating in front of you, and also someone who said, “Why would you throw out this great relationship after one little rape?”

        So the point is, there are classes of extreme events that have qualities all of their own. The Nazis are the apotheosis of bad people. Murder, torture, and rape are the ultimate crimes.

        Comparing everything to the worst possible things is an attempt to remove perspective and nuance. Murder (classic, straightforward, “I went out to kill Bob who has done no wrong” murder) is, to probably the overwhelming majority of all people, unforgivable. If you compare all crimes to murder, you’re pushing people to make all crimes unforgivable.

        The rules that apply to slavery, rape, murder, torture, Nazis, the Holocaust, genocide, and other way-over-at-the-end-of-the-spectrum extreme things are different than the rules that should apply to almost everything else. That tends to make them non-useful comparators.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I’m a pretty dogmatic anti-fudger – having once been that GM who really did only fudge every once in a while, and having decided it was still bad – and yeah, that’s a really weird comparison. We had a GM who was just railroading in the most obvious and blatant ways, and while it bugged us, we grinned and bore it. However, we basically revolted over an incident of really over-the-top magical-realming.

          In this case, it isn’t just exaggerating something – it’s comparing it to an unlike situation. Fudging in a game is unlike whipping one’s dick out – especially because there was a period of at least a decade where the standard GM advice was “fudging is great, don’t let the dice get in the way of the story” while I have never read GM advice that suggests hauling out one’s junk.

          It’s taking something that’s well-intentioned but misguided and ultimately more often than not bad, and likening it to something that is harmful and malicious.

        • Lillian says:

          If someone made that comparison, i would ask them if they truly feel that fudging a dice roll represents such a deep and fundamental violation of their trust that it would make it impossible for us to continue gaming together. Because if it does, then i would have to ask them not to play in any game i run, because i can’t promise that i will never, ever fudge a dice roll. Not with the same certainty that i can promise never to start fingering myself at the table. If it’s not that deep a violation of trust, then maybe they should stop being so melodramatic about it.

          Relatedly, my take on fudging is that it should never happen. Not because the GM shouldn’t bend the rules of the game, but because such bending should happen before the roll is even called. Once you commit to rolling the dice, you have committed to abiding by the result. For example, let’s say a character is terribly wounded and by the rules has to make a save or die roll. If you don’t intend to let the character die, then just don’t call the roll. Either grant an automatic pass, or make it a save to stay concious, or do something else. Rolling dice only to discard the results is a waste of everyone’s time, so you should avoid it when possible.

          • Gray Ice says:

            Lillian: I shouldn’t admit this….. but I might not be the only the one thinking it: Part of this post made me think “not even if I roll one or more nat 20’s on a persuasion check?”

            I hope this does not result in your and/or your boyfriend rolling 20’s on unarmed combat against Gray Ice (for entirely understandable purposes).

          • Lillian says:

            With a Nat 20 on that Persuation check, i’m sure you could convince my Boyfriend that you’re a funny guy.

    • J says:

      This is a big annoyance to me too, in particular “but those things aren’t the same!” Mate, they’re not supposed to be the same. You can tell because they have different words.

      • Don P. says:

        Analogies are supposed to be a tool for increasing understanding, and I think it’s legitimate to be annoyed by somebody who deploys an analogy that adds a negative amount of understanding, which was what analogizing rape to dice-fudging would do.

        More generally, I once heard this wisdom: analogies are a tool for teaching, but they are nearly useless in an argument.

  10. rlms says:

    K-pop group BTS release album based on a book summarising Jung’s work. Wildly extrapolating from this and Lobster Man, it looks like the zeitgeist of the next few years will be Jungian.

  11. S_J says:

    Last year, during the week leading up to Easter, I took part in a special ceremony.

    The ceremony was based on the Passover celebration, but it was focused on Passover as Jesus of Nazareth might have known it…and the way that Jesus transformed a portion of the Passover celebration (with Matzah and wine) into the ceremony now called Communion.

    It was a little surprising to me. I’ve mostly considered Jesus as a founder of a new religion. But this ceremony reminded me that Jesus spent most of his life as a Rabbi.* He was in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover.

    It’s a powerful reminder of the twists and turns of history.

    A troublesome Rabbi is condemned by the religious council that is dominant in Judaism; that council convinces the Roman governor to deliver the death penalty. Early the next week, the followers of that Rabbi claim to find an empty tomb; they claim to have seen Jesus living again.

    They are persecuted by the leadership of the Temple. Yet the followers of Jesus still go to the Temple to pray for some time, as well as meeting in private houses. Further persecution leads to a dispersal of the followers of Jesus into surrounding areas. They take the story of Jesus with them. And it seems impossible to suppress this new religious group, even after the Jewish leadership of the Temple does all in their power to separate the followers of Jesus from the protective umbrella of Judaism.

    * Indeed, it’s possible to make a case that Jesus of Nazareth was the most influential Rabbi in the history of Judaism. At least, among those who answered to the title “Rabbi”, Jesus has more name-recognition than Rabbi Hillel, or Rabbi Maimonides, Rabbi Gamaliel or any other that I can think of.

    • Deiseach says:

      It was a little surprising to me. I’ve mostly considered Jesus as a founder of a new religion. But this ceremony reminded me that Jesus spent most of his life as a Rabbi. He was in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover.

      Today is Good Friday and also the eve of the Passover for this year, so the Gospel narrative is in tune with the times once again:

      Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him.

  12. Radu Floricica says:

    Somehow related to the career change question. I may mentor a newbie stating programming soon, and at some point we’ll have to decide for a stack. There are no considerations other than being reasonably beginner friendly and quick to becoming employable, so I’d add long term viability to the list. I’m 40 and I had a dollar for every fad that came and went, I could drink coffee at Starbucks for a week.

    Personally I’m doing backend with vanilla Java (no enterprise) and MySQL (and happily for 20 years). It could be my personal bias, but I think it kinda fits the bill. Am I blind to other obvious options?

    • dick says:

      My stack advice for newbies is: the best choice is “whatever the person who’s willing to teach you for free likes”, and second best is Javascript due to the wealth of free newbie resources and the likelihood that your first toy project will be a webapp.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        The learning language will definitely be Javascript. No reason not to, these days – slap a leaflet lib and pack it into cordova, and you get yourself a wicked cool mobile app from absolute scratch with only a few weeks worth of programming under your belt.

    • rlms says:

      I feel like web development is maybe a bit easier to get into for someone not coming from a CS degree or similar nowadays (this probably depends on geography). If the mentoring will include referring them to companies you know people in this doesn’t matter, in that case it’s presumably sensible to use the stacks of those companies.

    • brad says:

      I’d definitely go with something you are comfortable in over something you aren’t. There are enough moving pieces without his mentor in the background trying to come up to speed on insane javascript idioms (for example).

    • Viliam says:

      If you go with Java, I would recommend Spring, and perhaps H2 database. For desktop applications, I would probably stay with Swing; for web applications, I would provide web services… and leave the front end to someone else (not necessarily using Java).

      For unit testing, JUnit and Mockito. For building, Maven. Probably something from Apache Commons; nothing specific in mind, just good to know that these libraries exist, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel for trivial things still annoyingly missing in standard Java.

      This should be more than enough to find a job.

    • johan_larson says:

      If you’re looking for an all-in-one course on web dev, this book seems good: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1491978910/

      The tech is kind of old-fashioned (PHP, MySQL, jQuery), but there are lots of systems out there that use it.

      The problem here is that PHP is a really terrible place to start if you can’t already program. Even JavaScript has weird quirks. So this isn’t really the place to start for a complete beginner.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        I haven’t programmed PHP since classes were the newest feature, but when I look at people nowadays it really seems like they have to learn it twice: first for the language, then for whatever framework they’ll be using. And I don’t see much skill transfer between, say, yii and laravel. 5 years ago most likely I would have gone with php, it’s insanely popular and not a bad language in itself.

        Another downside is that many career paths tend to go towards front end, or even worse stuff like wordpress, and that’s not a happy life.

    • beleester says:

      C# is another good option. Very similar to Java in syntax and design, commonly used, and supported by MS so it’ll be around forever.

      There’s not a lot of difference in SQL platforms until you start using more complicated features, so I wouldn’t stress to hard about that one. MySQL is fine.

      Also, I would recommend including some web development (HTML, CSS, JS), along with a modern JS framework like React. (It doesn’t matter which one – like you said, fads come and go – but the need to fix the problems in vanilla JS isn’t going away so you should definitely learn one of them.)

    • Teeki says:

      I’ve done this last year (went with python, java, postgres, javascript and tooling i.e. AWS, unix, bash, etc. geared for backend. Took about 8 months from start to landing a job.) My only regret is leaving market research towards the end of the course. It still turned out fine, but I discovered that backend jobs typically require more experience, and are rarer than FE jobs. Saw plenty of entry-level web dev positions requiring Node, React, etc. which we weren’t equipped for, which caused momentary panic.

      My experience was that for someone who isn’t a CS graduate, the HR layer is the hardest. If they got a good head on their shoulders and stuck with learning, then they shouldn’t have any issues with in-person interviews once they got their foot in the door. I had my student work through “Cracking The Coding Interview” while they built projects for building the resume/have something to talk about.

      I’m not sure what your student’s background is, but take that, add whatever you’re willing to teach him to their resume and do an eyeball sanity check for if that’ll get them past the HR layer.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        Thanks, this helps. What was the time commitment of the student in this time?

        • Teeki says:

          I’m hesitant to give a baseline for this. I doubt we’ll have similar experiences because I imagine there would be massive difference between our students. Mine was an undergrad who had no post-secondary education on math, logic, etc. which made certain topics slower to teach, but on the other hand they were definitely smarter than the average person and incredibly driven (partially from having their back against the wall.)

          With that caveat out of the way, I think they committed 5 hours on working days which was planned to be 5-6 days per week. It definitely wasn’t as consistent due to interpersonal issues between family so sometimes nothing got done for a week or two.

          I also had a rather hands-off approach after their first language and project, which may be skewering my sense of their time commitment. Told them what they needed to do, provided resources or a project, and it was a “I’ll be available anytime you have a question” thing. They did most of the learning solo after the second month.

  13. DinoNerd says:

    I’m noticing that as I realize how complex and interconnected everything is, how unpredictable, and how little understood, I become more and more of a natural recruit for some kind of populism. Burning it all down – and stiffing the people I see as unfairly successful – looks really good.

    In that way, being on SSC has actually been bad for my overall middle-of-the-roadness and small-c-conservatism (motto – don’t fix what ain’t broke).

    Fortunately (?) I don’t live in a place where any of the local simplistic ideologies on offer actually address the problems that are frustrating me and seeming both insoluble and the result of other people’s bad behaviour. But without the historical warning, I could pretty easily see myself trying to help elect a communist party, and I loved the idea of California seceding from the US until I took a good look at precisely who was backing and bankrolling that movement. I semi-actively blame the executive class and their legislative enablers for just about everything that goes wrong in my life, up to and including the weather, and it’s flamingly obvious when I stop to think about it that this reaction is 90% the fast-and-innaccurate system, not the slow-and-thoughtful system.

    It’s notably worse since I became convinced by SSC that it was impractical for me to personally research and understand everything that mattered to me. As long as I believed things were understandable, I was somewhat innoculated against “throw the rascals out” pseudo-solutions – and inclined to distance myself from alies who were basically clueless True Believers.

    I don’t think this is good for me. (Writ large, I don’t think it’s good for society either.)

    Any thoughts for how to counteract this pattern?

    • greenwoodjw says:

      Accept that you can’t know everything you would have to in order to successfully run the system you are bothered by, recognize that no one else can either and fight for the political system that leaves the people closest to individual problems, and therefore know the most about them, free to solve them.

      Everyone saying “I have a plan!” from 1000 miles from the problem is Red Mage, not Thrawn.

      Basically, become a Libertarian. 😛

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I think the way to counteract the problem is to focus your attentions on things within your control. This is the essence of Jorge B. Lobersterman’s “Clean Your Room” advice.

      Similarly in The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape is quite pleased when the Patient becomes fascinated with far away problems and political causes and ignores his relationship with his mother.

      So, take care of your own life, vote for people who you think will act in some way congruent to your own interest and don’t worry so much about what everyone else is doing.

      • greenwoodjw says:

        Jorge B. Lobersterman

        Is he really filtered?

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          No. But obfuscating his name signals to the commentariat that “yes I know I’m talking about this guy everyone is sick of talking about but ha ha give me a pass because I said his name funny.”

          • greenwoodjw says:

            I was moderately entertained once I realized who it was. +1

          • Plumber says:

            It took me some Web searches but I have a guess based on the name of a very famous former fisherman who moved to Italy, and a word for a man related to you.
            Someone please e-mail me at

            HOJ[dot]Plumber[at]gmail[dot]com

            to please let me know if I’m on the right track.

            And yes I have seen my guesses name discussed here but I’m pretty unfamiliar with the guys work.

            C.S. Lewis I’ve read a lot of (along with Bertrand Russell whi I’d alternate reading works of in my private attempt at something of an education) about 12 to 18 years ago.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            Er… what?

            It’s Peterson. That’s who we’re talking about.

          • Tarpitz says:

            That’s what Plumber was getting at. Peter is the world’s most famous fisherman and the first Bishop of Rome, and one of the closer male relations a person can have is…

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Peterson’s star was cresting right before you started posting here, Plumber. He was (overly?) hyped by the Intellectual Dark Web social media types and (definitely overly) denigrated by the mainstream media and so was a frequent Culture War flashpoint. His name showed up in practically every other OT and I think lots and lots of people got sick of discussions having to do with him.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            Oooooooooh thanks Tarpitz.

          • Plumber says:

            Thanks @Conrad Honcho,

            I saw that he’s got lots of YouTube videos  of lectures out, which isn’t really a form of media that like (unless it’s the charming young ladies of “Girls, Guts, and Glory” – “Ichabod” cracks me up), but he’s got some books which mostly seem to be “Self help” for young men – and at my age I’m pretty beyond help, I’d say my masculine role models are my grandfather, some old timers in my union, some Joseph Conrad characters, some John Steinbeck characters, and some attitudes of Matthew Crawford, so would any books by Peterson be worth my reading?

          • Viliam says:

            @Plumber

            would any books by Peterson be worth my reading?

            He wrote two books; the first one is complicated and hard to read, the second one is short and (in my opinion) enjoyable.

            It has twelve chapters, and after first two or three you will know whether you want to read the rest.

            Here is a free audiobook. 😀

          • Dan L says:

            Scott did a book review on said second book and was generally positive, for a particularly meaningful datapoint.

          • Plumber says:

            Thanks @Viliam and @Dan L,
            I tried to listen to the audio book, but that medium just wasn’t for me, I just prefer text, maybe I’ll try later.
            I noted that in our host’s review he wrote:

            “…If we lack courage, we might stick with Order, refusing to believe anything that would disrupt our cozy view of life, and letting our problems gradually grow larger and larger. This is the person who sticks with a job they hate because they fear the unknown of starting a new career, or the political ideologue who tries to fit everything into one bucket so he doesn’t have to admit he was wrong. Or we might fall into Chaos, always being too timid to make a choice, “keeping our options open” in a way that makes us never become anyone at all…”

            Of those two faults I suspect that I now fall much more on the “Order” side, but I think that’s pretty common as one gets older.

      • Nick says:

        I think the way to counteract the problem is to focus your attentions on things within your control. This is the essence of Jorge B. Lobersterman’s “Clean Your Room” advice.

        This, 100%. Single best part of Lobsterman’s advice.

        • Gray Ice says:

          Seconded.

          I’ve heard this described as a three bucket approach (no, don’t put lobsters in the buckets):
          1. Things under your control.
          2. Things you are not in charge of, but can influence.
          3. Things which are out of your control.

          Take care of number 1, put in a good word for number 2 when you have the time and energy, and do your best not to worry about number 3.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Its a subtly inaccurate description though. Peterson’s advice is ‘Do bucket 1, which will actually start to push things from bucket 3 into bucket 2 and bucket 2 into bucket 1.’ Roughly half of the criticisms of this rule that I have seen totally ignore this aspect and act like he is trivializing people.

          • Nick says:

            Its a subtly inaccurate description though. Peterson’s advice is ‘Do bucket 1, which will actually start to push things from bucket 3 into bucket 2 and bucket 2 into bucket 1.’ Roughly half of the criticisms of this rule that I have seen totally ignore this aspect and act like he is trivializing people.

            Right—if I remember correctly, Peterson says that “clean your room”/”get your house in order” is a necessary prelude to going out into the world. And his criticism of a lot of activists is that they go out into the world while their house is in shambles, and this distorts or undermines their work.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Also, having your room clean helps you withstand the messes others try to make in your room or the vicinity thereof.

            This was his interpretation of the description of Noah, that he was “perfect in his generations.” He had a good relationship with everyone in his family, so when in came time to build the ark, he had family support instead of family trouble.

      • DinoNerd says:

        I mostly wind up acting individually, because that’s what I can do. My problem isn’t that I want to save the world, and can’t.

        It’s that I’m seeing “those people” producing results that look (to me) at best like they consider folks like me as objects to be used (no moral worth whatsoever) and sometimes like they are actively out to get us.

        In general, I can work around these things, and am certainly significantly better off than most people in the US, never mind the world, both financially and in terms of control over my life. (They often go together.) So I’m to an extent in the position of someone who doesn’t appreciate their (large) share of the pie getting smaller, or even not growing as they expected.

        This is perhaps made more complex by my politics. I don’t believe that “greed is good” – not as the primary organizing principle for society, economy, or life – mine or anyone else’s. I’m not going to congratulate myself as being somehow “better” because I happened to have talents that became highly valued in my lifetime, and managed to use those talents to advance myself far beyond my parents.

        So while “from each according to his abilities; too each according to his needs” has been demonstrated utopian and unworkable, given human nature (as well as unconsciously sexist), I’m pretty much committed to the idea that “greed is good” is just as bad, and only a mixed system even has a chance to be either long term workable or just.

        But none of that has me wanting to overturn the apple cart. That’s evolutionary slow system thinking, not temper and grasping for quick fixes.

        I want to upend the system because those people are with me, and I can’t see any way of adjusting their incentives to stop them. Or at least I want to get those .

        And in many ways, what they are doing to me is trivial compared to what they are doing to others – but that’s just something I can cite to demonstrate that I’m not just selfishly motivated (even though I am), or that my self interest works for the greater good.

        I figure this is a very human reaction – but it doesn’t tend to either make me happy or encourage me to act in ways that are likely to have good outcomes.

        • I’m pretty much committed to the idea that “greed is good” is just as bad

          I cannot think of any ideological position held by a significant number of people that implies that greed is good. That sounds like the way some people describe the views of other people they don’t like.

          It doesn’t, to take the most obvious candidate, describe the position of Ayn Rand or her followers, as should be clear both from her characters and her life.

          • DinoNerd says:

            The basic concept behind the “greed is good” soundbite it is that the invisible hand of the market causes good thing to happen when everyone involved acts only based on their personal self interest.

            That concept is unobjectionable, if you insert qualifiers like “often” or “usually, in certain realms of endeavour”. My historical understanding is that this was one of Adam Smith’s big insights – or at least he got credit for saying it clearly first.

            The problem is that there are exceptions – and those exceptions are sometimes very bad. (You won’t need to google “tragedy of the commons” or “externality” to find examples of these exceptions, but someone might.)

            AFAIK the soundbite itself actually comes from a movie – the 1987 movie Wall Street, put in the mouth of a fictional character named Gordon Gekko.

            A quick google found CNN claiming, in 2004, that Ronald Reagan used this soundbite in a speech in 1984. I think both Reagan and CNN qualify as mainstream.

          • So what you mean by “greed is good” is “greed has good consequences.” The problem on that reading is that “greed” implies considerably more than “acting in one’s self-interest,” which is what Smith argued led to generally desirable outcomes. It’s at least arguable that being greedy is not in your self interest.

            The bulls can make money and the bears can make money, but the hogs always lose.

            (Old Wall Street saying)

            You are correct that individuals acting in their own rational interest sometimes leads to sub-optimal outcomes. I like to define “market failure” as describing a situation where individual rationality doesn’t lead to group rationality. The problem is that, while such situations exist in a laissez-faire system, they also exist in all of the alternative systems. As I like to put it, market failure is the exception on the private market, the rule on the political market.

          • DinoNerd says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Frankly, some quantity of people – and I can’t really estimate a proportion – act in ways that look to me as if their primary “ethic” – if you can call it that – is “make more money” – either for themselves or sometimes for a business (always one they profit from). Some of them pretty it up as “responsibility to the shareholders” or various other terms. But from where I sit, they appear to have no other ethic in their relationship with customers, employees, etc. (Maybe they are kind to stray kittens, or people they know personally; I wouldn’t be in a position to know that.)

            Some also make statements that read, to me, as promoting or teaching that ethical position. I think “greed is good” is a pretty good soundbite for them – and more accessible than anything I could coin based on “the Invisible Hand”.

            And it beats simply refering to them as e.g. “sociopaths”, even though that term is appropriate to at least a subset. (Let’s say the subset that wind up convicted of e.g. fraud in their pursuit of profit-uber-alles, since you probably won’t want to defend them.)

          • Some also make statements that read, to me, as promoting or teaching that ethical position. I think “greed is good” is a pretty good soundbite for them

            Could you point me at a statement of the sort you are describing?

            Do you distinguish between greed and a policy of maximizing your own welfare? To me “greed” implies more than that.

          • DinoNerd says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Could you point me at a statement of the sort you are describing?

            Probably not immediately, because I haven’t been keeping a collection, and I don’t read all that much material aimed at MBAs and wannabee MBAs – which is where I’d expect to find much of it, rather than as explicitly political discourse.

            One place I see this is reading between the lines a little in statements made by employers (mine) to their employees. It doesn’t take much reading between, but it does take some.

            E.g. what does it mean when HR’s response to a criticism of company ethics is a statement that they intend to abide by the law? To me, that’s a statement that they intend to do no more than the bare minimum that the law requires. Sometimes that’s their constant response when asked about specifics, even while advertising their virtue (to employees, or even outside the company) regularly in utterly generic, non-actionable terms.

            But after seeing this sort of thing far too commonly, when I read “maximizing shareholder value” held up as the one and only responsibility of management – or worse, as uniquely virtuous, I assume this will be on the backs of the workers, the customers, the suppliers, and most likely many of the shareholders. I.e. such statements tend to support a hypothesis that the speaker (or their employer) acts in accordance with a belief that “greed is good” – at least when it’s their greed, and their benefit.

            Do you distinguish between greed and a policy of maximizing your own welfare? To me “greed” implies more than that.

            I think I do, but the whole topic is kind of fuzzy.

            In general, if the improvement of your welfare is small, and the cost to the welfare of others is high, then acting to increase your own welfare gets labelled as “greed” – and not just by me.

            I would expect that acting to maximize your own welfare implies picking up even trivial gains, regardless of the costs to others. So the behaviour of someone with that policy will usually be labelled “greed” – except when there are no low-benefit, high-cost gains available to them, or the particular ways in which they are pursuing such gains are near universal among relevant social circles.

            This gets fuzzier when we start talking about intangible gains. How much does being the wealthiest person on the planet benefit an intensely competitive person, compared to being measureably (but hardly noticeably) merely second? You can come up with a thought experiment where this person gains more “utils” from this tiny promotion, than the total cost to their victims, regardless of how high that cost might be. Fortunately, I’m not even sure I’m utilitarian, let alone willing to ride utilitarianism thru a reductio ad absurdum – if people are e.g. dying as a result of his competition, he’s a bastard, and I hope someone kills him.

            You can also fuzz this by presuming the maximizer has to reckon on the possibility of people retaliating against their grasping behaviour, thereby putting limits on the benefit they can get from it.

            But as a short answer, unqualified – yes, I see maximizing one’s own welfare without leaving anythign on the table as generally a manifestation of greed. It may not be the result of believing that “greed is good” – the person might profess ordinary values, while failing to live up to them due to personal selfishness. But human nature being what it is, professing “greed is good” is a great way for such a person to have their cake and eat it too 🙁

          • But after seeing this sort of thing far too commonly, when I read “maximizing shareholder value” held up as the one and only responsibility of management – or worse, as uniquely virtuous, I assume this will be on the backs of the workers, the customers, the suppliers, and most likely many of the shareholders.

            The company belongs to the shareholders, so I don’t see how maximizing shareholder value can be on their backs. The one thing management can do on the backs of the shareholders is to pursue management’s goals at the expense of shareholder value. The farther management is entitled to go away from maximizing shareholder value towards achieving other goals, the easier it is to do so.

            The basic argument is that the other players–workers and customers–can leave if they don’t benefit by their interaction with the company, so the company cannot hurt them, it can only reduce the amount it helps them. A shareholder can only leave if someone else is willing to buy his share. If the company acts in a way that reduces shareholder value, he has to swallow that loss, whether he holds or sells. Rather as if an employee was only allowed to leave if he found a substitute employee to take his place, or a customer had to keep buying unless he found a new customer to replace him.

            The argument isn’t perfect because of sunk costs and information costs and such, but it’s the right first approximation. Treating workers, customers, and shareholders as equally “stakeholders,” as some want to do, ignores that fundamental difference.

            To me, “greed” implies something beyond selfishness, as suggested by the Wall Street quote in my earlier comment. Someone who is greedy is quite likely to make himself a lot worse off by trying too hard to increase his gains just a little more.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The company belongs to the shareholders, so I don’t see how maximizing shareholder value can be on their backs.

            The company graveyard is littered with examples that run counter to this. Current shareholders can become former shareholders, but some shareholders get left holding the bag.

            There are plenty of takeover schemes that involve draining a company of cash, leveraging it with debt, and then cashing out. The fact that this leaves a company whose long term health is in much greater doubt than before isn’t material to the people who engaged in the takeover and have turned that into liquid profit.

            Sure, in spherical widget world it’s not possible. But out in the real world it absolutely happens.

            Or you can simply look at schemes were the far end is Enron’s outright fraud. Yes, the Enron scheme didn’t work out fantastic for the board and the C-level officers, but if they hadn’t pushed quite so hard, they may very well have ended up on the back side, free, clear, and very wealthy.

          • Guy in TN says:

            The basic argument is that the other players–workers and customers–can leave if they don’t benefit by their interaction with the company, so the company cannot hurt them, it can only reduce the amount it helps them.

            One person’s usage of a scarce resource necessarily makes another person worse off, since it can’t be used by everybody.

          • The Nybbler says:

            One person’s usage of a scarce resource necessarily makes another person worse off, since it can’t be used by everybody.

            If no one uses the scarce resource, it is as if it did not exist at all, and nobody is at all better off than in a scenario where one person uses it.

          • Guy in TN says:

            If no one uses the scarce resource, it is as if it did not exist at all, and nobody is at all better off than in a scenario where one person uses it.

            My argument is not against the use of resources, but rather in favor of not treating resource use as an island.

            That someone else will be made worse off is an unavoidable fact of life. If I eat an apple, that’s an apple you can’t eat. It doesn’t mean I’m against eating apples. It means that we do actually have to consider how our actions effect others.

          • Guy in TN says:

            I mean, would you agree with the statement:
            “because you can leave if you don’t benefit by your interaction with a government, a government cannot hurt you, it can only reduce the amount it helps.”

          • There are plenty of takeover schemes that involve draining a company of cash, leveraging it with debt, and then cashing out.

            And they are not maximizing shareholder value.

          • If I eat an apple, that’s an apple you can’t eat. It doesn’t mean I’m against eating apples. It means that we do actually have to consider how our actions effect others.

            The beauty of the price system is that it makes it in our self interest to do so. The price you must pay to get an apple to eat measures both the value to whoever would otherwise have eaten one more apple and the cost of producing one more apple.

            It doesn’t measure it perfectly, but it does measure it, and it is only in your interest to eat the apple if its value to you is at least its price.

            Do you think you could do better, or even nearly as well, absent prices, by merely thinking hard about how your eating the apple affects others?

            The people trying to maximize shareholder value are already taking account of almost all of the effects their actions have on others. If they need to employ more labor, they have to pay those workers enough so they are willing to come. If they produce more output for the consumers, they get paid by the consumers for the value of that output to the consumers.

            This is a very sketchy explanation, and the argument hinges in part on the concepts of marginal cost and marginal value. I have no idea whether you have ever studied price theory, so don’t know if it is all obvious to you and you are making some point about the flaws in the mechanism or if you really have no idea how the problem you raise is routinely solved in a market system.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Do you think you could do better, or even nearly as well, absent prices, by merely thinking hard about how your eating the apple affects others?

            Yes, extremely easily. A mother makes this very utility calculation every time she feeds her children.

            It’s not that prices are an imperfect measure of utility- its that they aren’t a measure of utility. You’re looking where the light is, trying to find a way to make utility easily measurable and quantifiable, settling for the the simple but incorrect conclusion that market value is a proxy for it.

          • Clutzy says:

            I mean, would you agree with the statement:
            “because you can leave if you don’t benefit by your interaction with a government, a government cannot hurt you, it can only reduce the amount it helps.”

            What system even contemplates allowing that?

            That argument might (and I must emphasize might) have been valid in 1600, but we currently have a global government cartel of interconnected governments who prop each other up. Until we have inter-space travel at a fairly reliable level this argument has no merit.

          • Guy in TN says:

            I have no idea whether you have ever studied price theory, so don’t know if it is all obvious to you and you are making some point about the flaws in the mechanism or if you really have no idea how the problem you raise is routinely solved in a market system.

            A “market system” is a thing that literally cannot exist. Private property precludes it, since property enforcement is a non-market mechanism. A system without any property (mob justice) precludes it for the same reasons.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Clutzy

            Do you take issue with the statement that you can leave your government? Seems pretty obvious you can, unless you’re posting from the DPRK.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Consider a scenario of a starving man with one cent to his name, who wants to buy a loaf of bread.

            A rich man, already with lots of food, comes along and wants to buy the loaf instead, and is willing to pay two dollars.

            Conduct a poll, include educated and uneducated, children to the elderly, across nations and languages, and the answer will be the same: Give the starving man the bread, he will literally die without it, because his well-being (his, ahem, utility) depends on it.

            Only someone who’s mind has been seeped in years of neoliberal ideology will answer that the best choice is for the rich man to get it it, because it produces 200x more utility for him compared to the poor man. Because “economic value = utils”, or as you might qualify the statement, an “imperfect measure” but better than any alternative.

            But is there really no alternative? What is it that everyone else seems to understand, all those people who didn’t spend their life in the chamber of neoliberal economics? There must be something going on there. The polarization of opinion indicates that either liberal economists have unlocked a highly counter-intuitive secret to understanding human well-being that everyone else missed, or that one of their basic foundational assumptions is simply incorrect. I’m betting on the latter.

            And I already know your answer to this: economic value may not actually be utility, but we don’t have to worry about it, because the utility losses will all even out over the long run, and so as long as its a Marshall Improvement, its okay. But it doesn’t even out, not over the long run, and no matter how many more people you add to the mix, because the wealth is not distributed evenly. And if the “winners” of Marshall Improvements aren’t distributed evenly, they are no longer an indicator of utility, just “rich guy wins”.

          • Yes, extremely easily. A mother makes this very utility calculation every time she feeds her children.

            Figuring out the effect of your actions on several hundred million strangers is a somewhat harder problem.

            It’s not that prices are an imperfect measure of utility- its that they aren’t a measure of utility.

            They are a measure of utility distorted by differing marginal utilities of income. Unless you happen to know the MUI of the person who was the next highest bidder for the apple, you have no good way of improving on that.

          • Consider a scenario of a starving man with one cent to his name, who wants to buy a loaf of bread.

            And you think I’m using spherical cows?

            Consider the application of fluid dynamics to an airplane. One can imagine logically possible situations in which the design implied is not optimal. Hence we cannot design planes? We don’t have a solution to the tree body problem. Hence we cannot fly satellites in the Earth-Moon system.

            One can imagine circumstances in which prices give the wrong answer—all it takes is a world entirely populated by starving people and millionaires. Fortunately, that isn’t the world we live in.

          • DinoNerd says:

            @DavidFriedman

            In brief, when I hear an executive talking about “maximizing shareholder value” I expect it to be a euphemism for “manipulating the stock price in such a way that this executive can maximize their own income”. If the executive is an “activist investor” I’m even more certain of this – their whole business model is to buy up enough shares to take control, force short to medium term payouts at any cost whatsover (excessive long term risks, effective business suicide, etc.), and then sell out.

            This is not the way “maximizing shareholder value” is used by folks discussing economic or even political theory. But IMNSHO, it’s the misleading soundbite routinely used by executives to excuse behaviour that rarely does what the soundbite implies.

          • Guy in TN says:

            One can imagine circumstances in which prices give the wrong answer—all it takes is a world entirely populated by starving people and millionaires. Fortunately, that isn’t the world we live in.

            But we do live in a world where wealth is highly concentrated. Hence, my thought experiment is not just an empty abstraction, but rather a demonstration of the inadequacy of your proposed system. If you have to assume economic quality to make it logically work, it doesn’t work.

            Question: Do you agree that the giving the starving man the bread produces more utility, or not?

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            We shareholders seem to be doing pretty well, for people whose value management is only pretending to maximize.

          • Controls Freak says:

            @Guy in TN

            Consider a scenario of a starving man with one cent to his name, who wants to buy a loaf of bread.
            A rich man, already with lots of food, comes along and wants to buy the loaf instead, and is willing to pay two dollars.

            Conduct a poll, include educated and uneducated, children to the elderly, across nations and languages, and the answer will be the same: Give the starving man the bread, he will literally die without it, because his well-being (his, ahem, utility) depends on it.

            I’d like to joke about each of those 7.53 billion people donating 2.67e-10 dollars. Listening to the question and responding to the poll is probably more expensive to those people (in terms of utility). Putting any actual thought into the question is definitely more expensive (in terms of utility). And so, even in this case, economic value is still ~ utility.

            Perhaps you could refine your criticism. Instead of attacking, “Market prices are literally exactly equivalent to utility in every situation, even the most pathological,” perhaps you could critique, “Market prices are, most of the time, the best proxy we have for utility, and we hope that things like charity can alleviate the edge cases.” This would, for example, cut at statements like

            But we do live in a world where wealth is highly concentrated. Hence, my thought experiment is not just an empty abstraction, but rather a demonstration of the inadequacy of your proposed system.

            Because we don’t live in a world where market prices + charity fail in allocating $2 loaves of bread. This has been an extreme success of capitalism, which has been uniquely good at (ahem) capitalizing on the industrial revolution to plow through Malthus’s cap. The exceptions, where distribution has been disrupted, tend to be due to corrupt, powerful governments (e.g., holodomor, various warlords through Africa/middle east, etc.).

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            If leaving a company involved as much expense as leaving a country, then not leaving would be much weaker evidence that you benefit by staying. But it doesn’t: for starters, you don’t actually have to go anywhere if you leave a company. (The main point of Friedman’s anarcho-capitalism is to try to make changing “governments” [ETA: scare quotes added] as inexpensive as changing companies.)

          • Plumber says:

            @Paul Zrimsek "If leaving a company involved as much expense as leaving a country, then not leaving would be much weaker evidence that you benefit by staying. But it doesn’t: for starters, you don’t actually have to go anywhere if you leave a company. (The main point of Friedman’s anarcho-capitalism is to try to make changing “governments” [ETA: scare quotes added] as inexpensive as changing companies.)" How does one change “governments” in anarcho-capitalandia?

            If it’s by one person-one-vote then what makes it different than democracy? 

            If it’s by one-coin-one vote then (of course) power imbalances are baked in, and if it’s by “voting-with-your-feet” then I’m bitterly opposed, I want residents impowered to change the circumstances of where they live and have grown among, and not to have to move.

          • Nornagest says:

            if it’s by “voting-with-your-feet” then I’m bitterly opposed, I want residents impowered to change the circumstances of where they live and have grown among, and not to have to move.

            You can empower people to change the circumstances of where they live and have grown among, or you can ensure that nobody gets priced out of a detached single-family home, but you can’t do both. Gentrification is precisely what you get when people are sufficiently empowered to change their circumstances.

          • J Mann says:

            @Guy in TN

            Consider a scenario of a starving man with one cent to his name, who wants to buy a loaf of bread.

            A rich man, already with lots of food, comes along and wants to buy the loaf instead, and is willing to pay two dollars.

            Conduct a poll, include educated and uneducated, children to the elderly, across nations and languages, and the answer will be the same: Give the starving man the bread, he will literally die without it, because his well-being (his, ahem, utility) depends on it.

            Only someone who’s mind has been seeped in years of neoliberal ideology will answer that the best choice is for the rich man to get it it, because it produces 200x more utility for him compared to the poor man.

            IMHO, the problem is that without price signals, the wrong amount of bread will be baked. If you take away enough bread from the baker and give it to the starving man, the baker will start to bake less bread, and fewer people will build bakeries. It might take a while.

            A better solution is for the people who want the starving man to have bread to buy him some bread. (Or better, yet, give him enough money to buy bread and let him decide what to spend it on, unless we have serious concerns about his judgment.) You can do that through private charity on the part of the people voting that he should have bread, or through government redistribution.

            But blaming the prices on the distribution is not mid-long term helpful, even if it’s common.

          • Question: Do you agree that the giving the starving man the bread produces more utility, or not?

            Almost certainly. Although I suppose it could just keep him alive long enough to go through horrible weeks with net negative utility.

            What I disagree with is the idea that some alternative mechanism for solving the coordination problem would produce more utility than the market solution. We don’t have the option of turning the problem over to an omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent social planner.

          • Ghillie Dhu says:

            @DinoNerd

            I don’t know if this will change your mind on the topic or harden your current position, but in business school I was taught that ethics require management to maximize shareholder value. To do anything else is tantamount to defrauding your investors for the simple reason that it’s their money, they provided it in exchange for expected profit, and if management pursues some other end they’ve taken it under false pretenses.

          • Clutzy says:

            @Guy in TN

            @Clutzy

            Do you take issue with the statement that you can leave your government? Seems pretty obvious you can, unless you’re posting from the DPRK.

            I indeed take issue with that statement. I take issue with it to such an extreme extent that I almost consider anyone who disagrees with me insane.

          • J Mann says:

            @GuyinTN, @DavidFriedman

            Thinking about the starving man hypothetical a little more, I think I have a useful insight:

            Consider a scenario of a starving man with one cent to his name, who wants to buy a loaf of bread.

            A rich man, already with lots of food, comes along and wants to buy the loaf instead, and is willing to pay two dollars.

            All the price tells us about the utility of a loaf of bread is that it is worth at least two dollars. That information is, under the facts of the hypothetical, accurate.

            The problem isn’t that we haven’t forced bread makers to sell their bread for $0.01, it’s that the starving man doesn’t have $2 to buy bread. The price signal is absolutely accurate that bread has at least $2 worth of utility.

            If we give the starving man $2.50 and he lives in a country with a functioning market,* he can buy what he wants. If the rich man bids bread up to $10, (a) the starving man can buy rice or hamburgers, and (b) bakers will start to bake more bread.

            * True scarcity is a special case. If the only food in the entire county is two loaves of bread, and there’s no way to get more food without the starving man dying or suffering injury, and the rich man wants them both, then we’re in an unusual case, but in the normal case, price signals measure minimum utility pretty well, and we should remedy the situation by giving the starving man money.

          • Ventrue Capital says:

            @Plumber wrote:

            How does one change “governments” in anarcho-capitalandia?

            If it’s by one person-one-vote then what makes it different than democracy?

            If it’s by one-coin-one vote then (of course) power imbalances are baked in, and if it’s by “voting-with-your-feet” then I’m bitterly opposed, I want residents impowered to change the circumstances of where they live and have grown among, and not to have to move.

            How does one change (for example) insurance companies (health, auto, or life), or private security companies, or private schools, in mixed-economyville (like the USA today)?

            Is it done by one-person-one-vote, by one-coin-one-vote, or by voting with one’s feet?

          • Ventrue Capital says:

            @Guy in TN wrote:

            Consider a scenario of a starving man with one cent to his name, who wants to buy a loaf of bread.

            A rich man, already with lots of food, comes along and wants to buy the loaf instead, and is willing to pay two dollars.

            Somebody else — exactly who it was escapes me at the moment — once wrote a book in which he said:

            Contrast the relationship between two men, one having an income of $10,000 a year and one of $5,000, with the relationship between two men, one part of a political faction with ten votes, one part of a faction with five.

            Bidding for necessities, the richer man outbids the poorer; if there were only enough food on the market for one man, it would be the poorer who would starve. But when the richer man is bidding for luxuries and the poorer man for necessities, the poorer man wins. Suppose the richer man, having bought enough flour to make bread for himself,
            wishes to buy the rest of the flour on the market to make papier-mâché for his children’s Halloween masks.

            The poorer man still does not have anything to eat; he is willing to use as much of his income as necessary to bid for the flour. He gets the flour, and at much less than $5,000. The richer man already has used half his income buying flour for bread (since there too, he was bidding against the poor). His remaining income is barely equal to that of the poorer man, and he certainly is not going to spend all of it, or even a substantial fraction, for Halloween masks.

            Now consider the same situation with votes. The man with the larger faction votes to have the flour given to him (and his allies) for bread. Then he votes to have the remaining flour given to them for making papier-mache. He wins both times, ten to five. Since voting is much more of an all-or-nothing thing than spending, such inequalities as do exist have much greater effects. This may explain why in our society, where the poor are also politically weak, they do far worse on things provided by the government, such as schooling and police protection, than on those sold privately, such as food and clothes.

            Someone else — couldn’t have been the same guy — wrote:

            Law and order, on the other hand
            The state provides us for the public good;
            That’s why there’s instant justice on demand
            And safety in every neighborhood.

          • Ventrue Capital says:

            @Guy in TN wrote:

            Conduct a poll, include educated and uneducated, children to the elderly, across nations and languages, and the answer will be the same: Give the starving man the bread, he will literally die without it, because his well-being (his, ahem, utility) depends on it.

            Another random quote from an unknown author:

            If almost everyone is in favor of feeding the hungry, the politician may find it in his interest to do so. But, under those circumstances, the politician is unnecessary: some kind soul will give the hungry man a meal anyway. If the great majority is against the hungry man, some kind soul among the minority still may feed him—the politician will not.

          • Plumber says:

            @Ventrue Capital wrote:

            "How does one change (for example) insurance companies (health, auto, or life), or private security companies, or private schools, in mixed-economyville (like the USA today)?

            Is it done by one-person-one-vote, by one-coin-one-vote, or by voting with one’s feet?"

            By all three.

            The rules under which they operate are one-person-one vote, which has decided that many of those decisions shall be decided by one-dollar-one-vote, except when overruled by the political process which makes different municipalities, states, and nations have different rules.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Controls Freak

            If we allow the possibility that economic value may, even in the rarest and most extreme circumstances, not be a good indicator of utility, then we open up the Pandora’s Box of having to investigate under what circumstances this occurs, and what the non-market remedies are for such situations.

            perhaps you could critique, “Market prices are, most of the time, the best proxy we have for utility, and we hope that things like charity can alleviate the edge cases.”

            This is basically my critique, except I replace “charity” with “wealth redistribution”. I am not an advocate of strict central-planning.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @J Mann

            But blaming the prices on the distribution is not mid-long term helpful, even if it’s common.

            In a hypothetical system where the allocation of goods are determined exclusively by markets, and not by the central-planning of private agencies (charity) or the government (welfare), then it would be quite correct to blame the price system on the distribution.

            Fortunately we don’t have such a system, and have incorporated plenty of non-market mechanisms to prevent the worst excesses of disutility.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Almost certainly. Although I suppose it could just keep him alive long enough to go through horrible weeks with net negative utility.

            What I disagree with is the idea that some alternative mechanism for solving the coordination problem would produce more utility than the market solution.

            But how can you tell it produces more utility, though? Giving the poor man the bread is not the market solution, so you must be using some other mechanism.

          • Ventrue Capital says:

            I wrote:

            (Quoting me:)”How does one change (for example) insurance companies (health, auto, or life), or private security companies, or private schools, in mixed-economyville (like the USA today)?

            Is it done by one-person-one-vote, by one-coin-one-vote, or by voting with one’s feet?”

            @Plumber wrote::

            By all three.

            The rules under which they operate are one-person-one vote, which has decided that many of those decisions shall be decided by one-dollar-one-vote, except when overruled by the political process which makes different municipalities, states, and nations have different rules.

            I apologize for not asking my question clearly enough.

            When a person in the contemporary United States wants to switch to a different life insurance company, or automobile insurance company, or send their children to a different (private) school, or when a business wants to use a different private security guard company, they don’t have take a vote of their neighbors. They simply decide to cancel their contract with their current vendor, and make a contract to use a different one.

            It will work the same way in Ancapistan: an individual or group can switch to a different police service, crime-insurance company, or judicial firm, without having to take a vote and/or move.

          • DinoNerd says:

            @Ghillie Dhu

            Actually, this is part of the problem. If the executives are paperclip maximizers on behalf of the shareholders – it’s not likely to go well for employees, customers, neighbours, etc., particularly if e.g. the business is “too big to fail”, or big enough to buy the local government.

            Fortunately most executives remain human, and balk at some types of wrongdoing, even if it would be profitable, as well as often letting their “fast” system trick them into treating some people as if they were e.g. friends or family, regardless of the gains to be made by not doing so.

            Unfortunately, they’ll also, predictably, maximize their own value ahead of (other) shareholders, and/or do stupid destructive things not in either their long term interest or that of the company.

          • If we allow the possibility that economic value may, even in the rarest and most extreme circumstances, not be a good indicator of utility

            A possibility raised by Alfred Marshall, who pretty much invented the concept currently referred to as economic efficiency. And discussed.

          • Guy in TN says:

            I’m less interested in what he thinks, than I am in what you think.

            I have little interest in reading someone’s bad ideas that I cannot personally rebut.

          • I’m less interested in what he thinks, than I am in what you think.

            What I think is available in Price Theory and elsewhere, and in part based on what Marshall thought.

            I was responding to the tone of your comment, which seemed to imply that this was a point economists didn’t routinely allow for–when in fact recognition of the point is as old and as conventional as the economic analysis you want to use it as a critique of. I devoted part of a chapter to it in Price Theory, three pages in Law’s Order, four in Hidden Order.

          • Guy in TN says:

            I’m still curious what your mechanism is, for determining that giving the bread to the starving man produces more utility, despite producing less economic value.

            This rejection of the market is atypical for you, would be interesting to hear what your rationale is.

          • Controls Freak says:

            If we allow the possibility that economic value may, even in the rarest and most extreme circumstances, not be a good indicator of utility, then we open up the Pandora’s Box of having to investigate under what circumstances this occurs, and what the non-market remedies are for such situations.

            I don’t think this is much of a Pandora’s Box, and I actually welcome this investigation. That said, I think it’s extremely likely that when you find such cases, you’re likely to find an alternative mechanism that already exists within the market structure. One obvious example is the circumstance you identified, where charities already exist within the market structure and suitably fix the problem.

            perhaps you could critique, “Market prices are, most of the time, the best proxy we have for utility, and we hope that things like charity can alleviate the edge cases.”

            This is basically my critique, except I replace “charity” with “wealth redistribution”.

            Why?

            the central-planning of private agencies (charity)

            It’s silly to call this “central-planning”. Let’s consider a simple case; if I see a homeless guy on the street and buy him some Chipotle, is that “central-planning”?

          • J Mann says:

            @Guy in TN

            I’m still curious what your mechanism is, for determining that giving the bread to the starving man produces more utility, despite producing less economic value.

            Price is a good way of determining a floor on utility. If the rich man would pay $2 for the bread, we can infer that he believes the bread is likely to create at least $2 in utility for him, and that he believes it is likely to create more utility than any alternative use of the $2 that he has. Price can’t actually tell us how much utility, or whether he’s correct in that belief.

            Similarly, if we find out what the starving man would pay for the bread if he had the money, (let’s say $2.01), then we can infer that the starving man believes that the bread is likely to have at least $2.01 in utility for him, and more than any alternative use of the $2.01. Again, we can’t tell how much more than $2.01, but that’s how prices work.

            If your complaint is that prices aren’t a magic tool that reveals consumer surplus, you’re correct.

            If your complaint is that the man is starving, then the problem isn’t that prices exist, it’s that the starving man doesn’t have $2. The solution is to give him some money, at which point prices will reveal whether the starving man prefers bread or rice, or whether he’s on a hunger strike and the bread would actually create more utility in the hands of the rich man. If the starving man prefers bread, prices would also communicate to bread and grain producers that there is a demand for more bread.

            Yay prices, boo poverty!

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Controls Freak

            That said, I think it’s extremely likely that when you find such cases, you’re likely to find an alternative mechanism that already exists within the market structure. One obvious example is the circumstance you identified, where charities already exist within the market structure and suitably fix the problem.

            It’s silly to call this “central-planning”. Let’s consider a simple case; if I see a homeless guy on the street and buy him some Chipotle, is that “central-planning”?

            Charity is not a market transaction. The act of charitable giving explicitly rejects the price signal and instead uses planning of the property owner to allocate resources. Quibble over the term “central planning” if you like, but its still planning as opposed to market-determined. No real difference from the state allocating out food stamps.

            So the question is: under what circumstances do we reject using market value as a proxy for utility and switch to planning (via either the state or private) instead? Would love to see it fleshed out, not something I’ve ever hear David talk about.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @J Mann

            If your complaint is that the man is starving, then the problem isn’t that prices exist, it’s that the starving man doesn’t have $2. The solution is to give him some money, at which point prices will reveal whether the starving man prefers bread or rice, or whether he’s on a hunger strike and the bread would actually create more utility in the hands of the rich man.

            I basically agree with you. In a system of perfect wealth equality, prices would be a much stronger indicator of utility. However, to the extent that we have wealth inequality, is the extent to which they are not.

            So the solution is either: 1. Achieving wealth equality, at which point the market system is very good at maximizing utility. 2. Allowing for wealth inequality, and using non-market transfers to mop us the disutility distortions caused by the market.

          • Controls Freak says:

            Quibble over the term “central planning” if you like, but its still planning as opposed to market-determined.

            Maybe ‘non-market transfer’ (as you use in the next comment) rather than ‘planning’.

            In a system of perfect wealth equality, prices would be a much stronger indicator of utility.

            I don’t think this is the case. You have to add significant constraints on market transactions to achieve perfect wealth equality. I once did a simple simulation where, on their 18th birthday, every individual began receiving an identical yearly income, each consuming/saving identical fractions of that income, each retiring at [I don’t remember what age I picked now, but they were all the same], with enough savings to live out their life at the same consumption level (with some reasonable estimates for inflation/ROI); I used existing population age data to describe when they would die, and there was a 100% estate tax (anything they had left just went back into the imaginary bucket). I pretty easily came up with one of those, “The top X% owns Y% of the wealth,” with Y significantly greater than X (the numbers that come to mind is something in the 10-20% range for X and the 50-70% range for Y, but all the details are on a computer located elsewhere at the moment). This is only age effects.

            We’d have to put significant constraints on things like consumption (and other market transactions) in order to achieve anything remotely like perfect wealth equality. Doing so would massively distort the market, likely doing more to decouple prices from utility than anything we have now.

            I’m not sure I want to say much else besides to direct you back to the question that I think is still lingering:

            This is basically my critique, except I replace “charity” with “wealth redistribution”.

            Why?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            In a system of perfect wealth equality, prices would be a much stronger indicator of utility. However, to the extent that we have wealth inequality, is the extent to which they are not.

            One of the nice things about free-market capitalism are the homeostatic effects it carries. For example, no one can establish a monopoly on a commodity and then raise the price without bound, because people can always opt to not buy that commodity. Even a commodity with inelastic demand (e.g. water) cannot be run this way; something else would have to be dreadfully wrong before that was even possible. So, the price is held within a range that will clear that market.

            Similar effects apply to wealth inequality. For example, the greater a person’s wealth, the lower the utility of each additional ducat, meaning the rich man is usually willing to pay more ducats for a given item than the poor man. This causes the rich man’s wealth to leak into the rest of the economy faster than the poor man’s. In other words, the buying power per ducat of the poor will tend to increase faster than that of the rich, even if the rich’s overall buying power increases faster due to returns on invested capital.

            More importantly, that wealth benefits everyone else. The more rich people there are, the greater that benefit. Which suggests that wealth inequality is good news for the poorer people, not bad. The only way I’ve seen it argued that it is bad, relies on a premise that wealth is zero-sum, and that premise doesn’t hold, although it is often thought to. Is there an argument that it is bad, which does not rely on that premise?

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            The only way I’ve seen it argued that it is bad, relies on a premise that wealth is zero-sum, and that premise doesn’t hold, although it is often thought to. Is there an argument that it is bad, which does not rely on that premise?

            I doubt many people actually believe wealth is truly zero-sum in the absolute sense. But rather, the argument is that while wealth can be created, it is difficult to create. Sometimes its easier to use rhetorical zero-sum shorthand rather than be pedantic about it.

            Its like, if my plan is to blow up the planet, one argument against it would be that its the only planet we live on. This, of course, falls into the zero-sum fallacy: it ignores that we could simply harness the power of the sun and forge a new plant Earth, given enough resources are allocated to the project.

            You would understand this quickly, I imagine, if the anti-zero-sum argument was turned on something you might be opposed to. For example: Do you have an argument for why the government of the China owning the territory they control is bad, that doesn’t rely on wealth being zero-sum? Couldn’t the people opposed to it just build new land if they don’t like it?

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Controls Freak

            I’m not sure I want to say much else besides to direct you back to the question that I think is still lingering: Why?

            My opposition to relying solely on charity, is that it adds an additional layer of complexity, an unnecessary moving part that reduces efficiency. Its like, do you want to solve poverty in the first distribution, or use the first distribution to create poverty, then use a second distribution to try to un-create it.

            To help clarify, my plan is:
            1. Use the law to distribute property in a way that eliminates poverty.

            The charity-only plan is:
            1. Use the law to distribute property in a way that creates poverty.
            2. Use charity to redistribute property in a way that undoes the poverty created.

            So why not just skip past the part where we allocate resources in a way that creates poverty? The charity plan would have to be 100% effective to reach the levels of poverty-reducing you could have achieved with the first plan.

            There’s also the problem that charity via private organization is allocated autocratically or oligarchically, but welfare (if administrated by a democratic state) is allocated with democratic input, which help keep weird pet-causes from becoming the focus.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Been thinking more about the charity vs. redistribution angle today:

            Right now, as a baseline, we have of certain flows of wealth that go to people, such medicare, social security, food stamps, housing subsidies, et cetera. These flows of wealth are part of our economic distribution.

            We also all have distributive goals. That is, ideal systems we are advocating for that differ from the current system. For those of us who are advocating for changes to the current system (either in favor of more welfare spending or less), we are advocating for a re-distribution of the wealth. Eliminating welfare is redistribution, just as much as increasing it is.

            So your question for me, is “if you don’t like the current distribution, why not just use charity instead of redistribution?”

            But I could also ask the same of you. If you don’t like the welfare state, why not just use charity to try to undo it (e.g. give money to rich people), rather than turning to a re-distributive dismantling?

          • Clutzy says:

            But I could also ask the same of you. If you don’t like the welfare state, why not just use charity to try to undo it (e.g. give money to rich people), rather than turning to a re-distributive dismantling?

            1. That is adding steps. A simpler system is typically a better system, particularly in this case where there is deadweight loss at every stage of redistribution.

            2. One of the main benefits of reducing welfare and taxes that pay for it is it increases good incentives (like building and utilizing capital both human and mechanical), and reduces bad ones. Shifting money up the income scale doesn’t do that, just like we see with current bad policies such as the mortgage interest deduction and farm subsidies.

            3. Doesn’t actually eliminate any of the state coercion involved in the system.

            4. Likely impossible based on human psychology.

          • Guy in TN says:

            That is adding steps. A simpler system is typically a better system, particularly in this case where there is deadweight loss at every stage of redistribution.

            Well, we’re in agreement on this point then. No matter what your distributive goals (less welfare, or more), charity is an inferior way of achieving it, compared to simply designing a good system to begin with.

          • Controls Freak says:

            I think you’re being too clever by half with your claim that private charity is somehow more complex than government redistribution. Both of your stated plans start with

            Use the law to distribute property

            This seems to imply that the concept of private property is baked into both plans, right? (Really want to make sure “end private property” isn’t still lurking in your plan somehow.) So, it seems like you’re burying multiple steps into one of your ‘single steps’. It seems more like:

            1. Use the law to protect property.
            2a. Use the market+law to distribute property in a way that eliminates poverty, or
            2b. Use the market+charity to distribute property in a way that eliminates poverty.

            In fact, unless our law to protect property outlawed charity, it’s almost certain that charity would exist even if we just did (1), regardless of how the rest of the law affects the distribution of property.

            There’s also the problem that charity via private organization is allocated autocratically or oligarchically, but welfare (if administrated by a democratic state) is allocated with democratic input, which help keep weird pet-causes from becoming the focus.

            This is actually the opposite of true. The government is one entity (or a small handful of them if we include local/state/federal), and its control over welfare looks vastly more autocratic/oligarchic than private charities. Democratic control over the government has always been somewhat of an epicycle to attempt to ensure that those privileged few make decisions which benefit people (and avoid too many pet-causes). As the looong history of pork illustrates, it is certainly no guarantee of avoiding pet-causes.

            Instead, when it comes to the particular type of decoupling of price/utility that you’ve identified (inability of ultra-poor to buy bread), private charity actually has fewer failure modes. If 50%+1 of the population decides to not fund this, it just goes away. Poof. (And that’s assuming that democratic control even actually works rather than the lawmaking apparatus being co-opted by powerful/moneyed interests.) But especially given the fact that actual ultra-poor is an extremely small percentage of our population, it takes only a small minority of charitable folks to cover the need. Maybe 5%? (And it could be any set of 5% out of the population, not just the folks who are powerful/moneyed enough to perhaps wrangle control of the government.) I can buy the guy on the street some Chipotle and donate to my local food banks/soup kitchens without convincing almost anyone else that it’s a utility-improving non-market transaction.

            You’re right that this doesn’t totally eliminate pet-causes, either. I think that eliminating pet-causes is essentially impossible without full-on central-planning… but even then, you’d need a magic deity in charge of the whole thing.

            Eliminating welfare is redistribution, just as much as increasing it is.

            Sure. With respect to the status quo. Given any two distributions, moving from one to another is a “redistribution”. It takes a bit more work to determine whether there is any special prior or ‘first’ distribution.

            So your question for me, is “if you don’t like the current distribution, why not just use charity instead of redistribution?”

            But I could also ask the same of you. If you don’t like the welfare state, why not just use charity to try to undo it

            This doesn’t actually make any sense. That’s not what the role of charity is, in any plan. Charity has an intrinsic purpose and intrinsic properties. You might as well ask, “Why not just use charity to give an aircraft lift?” Uh, it’s just not that kind of thing.

          • Guy in TN says:

            So, it seems like you’re burying multiple steps into one of your ‘single steps’. It seems more like:

            1. Use the law to protect property.
            2a. Use the market+law to distribute property in a way that eliminates poverty, or
            2b. Use the market+charity to distribute property in a way that eliminates poverty.

            Logically, step 1 can’t be to “protect property”, but to distribute property (i.e., to figure out who owns what). Property can’t be protected until we first determine how its distributed, after all. It is in the first stage that we determine what the initial property distribution will be. I support using property law to create a more equitable initial distribution. So in my plan, there is no step 2, because we take care of the poverty at the distribution stage, rather than in a later post-distribution stage.

            In contrast, the charity argument says that we should first distribute property in a way that creates poverty, then re-distribute it in a way that un-creates it. Two steps.

            Instead, when it comes to the particular type of decoupling of price/utility that you’ve identified (inability of ultra-poor to buy bread), private charity actually has fewer failure modes. If 50%+1 of the population decides to not fund this, it just goes away. Poof.

            Compare to switching to a system private charity, without taxation. If the 1,000,000 richest people in the US (<1% of the population) all decided to stop funding welfare and other state services, poof. You may have to end up convincing something like 99% of the population (large enough to include those 1,000,000 richest people), to keep those welfare services from disappearing. I'll take relying on 50%+1 any day over this!

            This doesn’t actually make any sense. That’s not what the role of charity is, in any plan. Charity has an intrinsic purpose and intrinsic properties. You might as well ask, “Why not just use charity to give an aircraft lift?” Uh, it’s just not that kind of thing.

            Charity is about achieving a certain outcome regarding resource distribution, no? If your distributive goal is for the rich to have the same amount of wealth that they otherwise would if not for the welfare state, you can try to achieve that via charity.

            (It’s not absurd to use the term “charity” for donations from the less wealthy to the more wealthy, e.g. if I give to The Nature Conservancy, a very rich organization.)

            If I proposed to you: Why not distribute wealth equally, then you can use charity to achieve your distributive goals? I’m hoping you are thinking “but wait, using the law to distribute wealth equally, then using private transfers to try to undo it is terribly ineffective…”

            Well yes, this is my point: It’s always better, for whatever your distributive goals may be, to take care of it at the initial distribution level.

          • Controls Freak says:

            Logically, step 1 can’t be to “protect property”, but to distribute property (i.e., to figure out who owns what). Property can’t be protected until we first determine how its distributed, after all.

            I kinda threw it in there later, but this implicates what I had said:

            It takes a bit more work to determine whether there is any special prior or ‘first’ distribution.

            Certainly, the first instantiation of a legal system meant to protect property has to figure out who owns what, but that doesn’t necessarily do the ‘distributing’. If, prior to said legal system, Individual X has one coconut that he protects with his fists and Individual Y has two coconuts that he protects with his fists, that’s a sort of distribution of resources, even if those resources aren’t “property” under some legal system. By the time we erect our first legal system protecting property, a distribution of resources necessarily exists.

            Now, thankfully, these legal systems were set up long ago. People hadn’t gathered many resources yet, and there was still plenty out there. So, in the real world, they just set up the system to respect the gathering of resources that had already occurred. Also in the real world, they set up mechanisms by which individuals could go out and acquire new resources that were unclaimed. They would become ‘property’.

            Your perspective divorces us from the real world. You want to set up a counterfactual world in which the first step of setting up a legal system to protect private property necessarily involves reassessing which resources every individual currently possesses as well as prospectively distributing all other resources in the world, including resources that we only hypothesize will be of value in the future and including determining that distribution with respect to hypothetical future individuals.

            It is in the first stage that we determine what the initial property distribution will be. I support using property law to create a more equitable initial distribution. So in my plan, there is no step 2, because we take care of the poverty at the distribution stage, rather than in a later post-distribution stage.

            This seems like you’re saying that the only way to implement your plan is to literally time travel back to when the first property law was established, so that we can at that point set up the initial distribution of all of the resources of the world, in order to avoid any ‘step 2’ problems? Wow.

            Alternatively, perhaps your perspective turns on the factual nature of the first ever law on property. Suppose we had an oracle and were able to interrogate what happened in the distant past. We wanted to know how the first ever law on property occurred. Suppose we discovered one of two possibilities:

            1. They went ahead and let Individual Y keep his two coconuts while Individual X kept his one coconut.
            2. They agreed that Individual Y would split one coconut in half and give it to Individual X.

            If it was factually the case that (1) occurred, then it seems like we’re just screwed. We can’t fix the initial distribution of property. Ever. It was in the past! We’re just doomed.

            If it was factually the case that (2) occurred, would you be satisfied? “Yep! We solved poverty with the initial distribution of property.” if not, what’s missing?

            If the 1,000,000 richest people in the US (<1% of the population) all decided to stop funding welfare and other state services, poof.

            This is different in kind from the specific situation you identified where price diverges from utility – inability of the ultra-poor to buy a loaf of bread. Can you address this particular situation, in context of the reality of our present world?

            Charity is about achieving a certain outcome regarding resource distribution, no?

            Not at all. Wikipedia gives, “A charity or charitable organization is a non-profit organization whose primary objectives are philanthropy and social well-being,” or, “The practice of charity means the voluntary giving of help to those in need, as a humanitarian act.” You simply have the kind of thing that charity is wrong, so the entire argument fails to get off the ground.

          • Guy in TN says:

            This seems like you’re saying that the only way to implement your plan is to literally time travel back to when the first property law was established, so that we can at that point set up the initial distribution of all of the resources of the world, in order to avoid any ‘step 2’ problems? Wow.

            Maybe I was unclear on the temporal aspects here. While the origination of property law occurred hundreds of years ago, that’s not what I’m talking about when I say “initial distribution”. I’m talking about the background distribution, that is necessarily determined prior to private exchanges or transfers that take place later. This initial distribution could have been determined decades, years, months, or days ago. If you receive food stamps, that’s an initial distribution of property that is determined every month. The legal allocation of food stamps is the logically necessary, prior background that occurs before the exchanges take place.

            Importantly, property is actively determined and enforced by the law every day. The distribution of tomorrow is still unset. We can change tomorrow’s “initial distribution” without having to go into the past.

            So, to bring it back, when you give to charity, the first step is to come into ownership of what you give. This acquisition, the initial background distribution, could have happened even just seconds prior. But it is necessarily prior.

            My plan is to take care of poverty at the initial, prior step, the background distribution. The charity plan is to first use the prior background distribution to create poverty, which I think is counter-productive.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Not at all. Wikipedia gives, “A charity or charitable organization is a non-profit organization whose primary objectives are philanthropy and social well-being,” or, “The practice of charity means the voluntary giving of help to those in need, as a humanitarian act.” You simply have the kind of thing that charity is wrong, so the entire argument fails to get off the ground.

            I’m confused. Is your argument not that the changes in distribution brought about by taxation/welfare are counter-productive for social well-being? And thus, restoring the distribution to a pre-taxation arrangement would be for the benefit of mankind (aka “charity”)?

            This is different in kind from the specific situation you identified where price diverges from utility – inability of the ultra-poor to buy a loaf of bread.

            The bread example is a thought experiment to help illustrate a more general principle, that economic value is a bad proxy for utility. If it is true, then there are implications for much more than just this highly specific example.

            If I’m talking about the Trolley Problem, my concern is not actually about railroad safety procedures.

          • Controls Freak says:

            If you receive food stamps, that’s an initial distribution of property that is determined every month.

            Did that food stamp come from somewhere? Did the food that you’re able to acquire with it come from somewhere? Then, wasn’t the initial distribution the place where it came from?

            It sounds like you’re saying that if the government gives you something from someone else, that’s part of the “new initial distribution”. Frankly, I don’t know what else to say other than that that’s patently absurd.

            Importantly, property is actively determined and enforced by the law every day. The distribution of tomorrow is still unset. We can change tomorrow’s “initial distribution” without having to go into the past.

            So, using the market+charity to set tomorrow’s “initial distribution” is just as ‘logically prior’?

            How in the world is, “Transactions are going to occur between today and tomorrow. Some of them are dictated by the market; some of them are dictated by the government; some of them are dictated by charitable giving. The first two count for setting tomorrow’s ‘initial distribution’, but the third doesn’t count whatsoever” a remotely defensible position? …maybe…

            when you give to charity a loaf of bread to a person with food stamps, the first step is to come into ownership of what you give. This acquisition, the initial background distribution, could have happened even just seconds prior. But it is necessarily prior.

            You’re really going to have to try again, because I can’t make any bloody sense of this. Honestly, the best I can do is that you think that a new ‘initial distribution’ occurs every day every time the government gives someone a food stamp and that this sort of government action is the only thing that ‘resets’ the ‘initial distribution’. I can’t come up with even an absurd-sounding theory for why this should be called an ‘initial distribution’.

          • Controls Freak says:

            Is your argument not that the changes in distribution brought about by taxation/welfare are counter-productive for social well-being?

            Interestingly, I never made that argument.

            The bread example is a thought experiment to help illustrate a more general principle, that economic value is a bad proxy for utility.

            But as I argued, this is probably false in general. Economic value is a pretty damn good proxy for utility, except in some edge cases. You replied with a remark about Pandora’s Box. I invited Harrison Ford and the Nazis investigation to show when that was the case. You dropped the point. So, we have one exemplar for when price diverges from utility. We should be able to test your position against the case we both agree it would be applicable for.

            That is, if we’re discussing, “How should we handle price diverging from utility in some cases,” it makes a lot more sense to consider the cases where we agree this occurs. Otherwise, we have to go back and argue whether price actually diverged from utility in the case being considered (which is going to derail the entire conversation, given that you immediately opened it up to ‘all welfare and state services, entirely’).

          • Guy in TN says:

            How in the world is, “Transactions are going to occur between today and tomorrow. Some of them are dictated by the market; some of them are dictated by the government; some of them are dictated by charitable giving. The first two count for setting tomorrow’s ‘initial distribution’, but the third doesn’t count whatsoever” a remotely defensible position?

            This is a really straightforward idea.

            Conceptually, the definition of “charity” requires two distributions: An initial distribution set by the law, and the changed distribution determined with the influence of private actors. This is what it means to do charity, you change from the distribution set by the law (the initial distribution) to the changed distribution. Same thing with the market, in order for people to exchange, there has to be an initial distribution set first (otherwise what are they exchanging?). This is why charity and the market cannot set an initial (or “background”, or “prior”) distribution, its always a two-part process the requires an previous distribution set by the law beforehand.

            In contrast to charity or the market, when the government determines the allocation of property, no previous distribution is required. To answer your specific food stamp question, in this case the government actually brings the property into existence when it issues them.

            For instance, if the government declares “you plowed this field, so you are now the owner” that allocation of property in no way relies on a previous ownership of that property for it to be enforced. The property could previously be unowned, owned by a private entity, or owned the government. It doesn’t matter at all. When the government declares ownership, the prior distribution is irrelevant. This is in contrast to charity or the market, which uses the prior distribution set by the government as the background to make further changes.

          • Controls Freak says:

            @Guy in TN

            I hope you find this. It won’t let me directly reply for some reason.

            if the government declares someone to be the owner of a piece of landproperty of any sort (including, say, a loaf of bread), that allocation of property in no way relies on a previous ownership of that property for it to be enforced. The property could previously be unowned, owned by a private entity, or owned the government. It doesn’t matter at all. When the government declares ownership, the prior distribution is irrelevant.

            So, it is by definition impossible for the government to “redistribute”? Literally any action the government takes concerning ownership of property results merely in a “new initial distribution”? I just want to confirm that I’m actually reading you correctly before I respond in detail to what sounds to be pretty ridiculous.

          • Controls Freak says:

            Ugh. Well, it seems to have posted in the right place, but it won’t let me edit. I guess I would like to add another question. Does this contradict when you said that you were in favor of redistribution or when you said:

            Eliminating welfare is redistribution, just as much as increasing it is.

            Were you just wrong back then? Eliminating welfare is setting a new initial distribution, just as much as increasing it is?

          • Guy in TN says:

            I invited investigation to show when that was the case. You dropped the point.

            I thought it was obvious what my position was but I’ll make it clear: The bread examples demonstrates that as long as there is wealth inequality, market value is not a proxy for utility.

            If you disagree, then I would ask: why do you think the bread scenario is an example of a disconnect between economic value and utility (if you do at all)? David Friedman seemed to agree that is was a disconnect (indicating that he would ignore market value and give to the starving man), but then declined to elaborate why. It seems like the wealth inequality is the diving factor here, but I’m open to alternatives.

          • Controls Freak says:

            The bread examples demonstrates that as long as there is wealth inequality, market value is not a proxy for utility.

            This is almost certainly not true, either. The bread example demonstrates that under certain conditions of wealth inequality, market value isn’t a perfect proxy for all utility. You’ve demonstrated no more than that.

            why do you think the bread scenario is an example of a disconnect between economic value and utility

            Extreme poverty.

          • Guy in TN says:

            So, it is by definition impossible for the government to “redistribute”? Literally any action the government takes concerning ownership of property results merely in a “new initial distribution”?

            You could describe the exchanges that take place on a market after a redistribution, as relying on a new initial distribution as the prior. That makes sense to me. Maybe it would be more helpful to call the “initial distribution” the “background distribution?”

            The idea of the background distribution, is that if two people exchange, they have to come into ownership of the things first. How they come into ownership could be based on a redistribution of wealth, or a maintenance of the current distribution, its not really relevant.

            Were you just wrong back then? Eliminating welfare is setting a new initial distribution, just as much as increasing it is?

            Eliminating welfare is a redistribution that sets a new initial distribution (or background distribution), for the purposes of the context of further charity or exchanges. Is there a word I need to taboo to make this more clear?

            Saying “we need to rely on charity” implies that we create a system where are continuously allocating resources one way, and then are changing the allocation later. We continually allocate to the rich and unallocate to the poor.

            Saying “we need to change the legal distribution” implies that we simply allocate to the poor to begin with. And “begin with” means right now, not hundreds of years ago. We create a system where wealth is already allocated to the poor, so no second part is necessary.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Extreme poverty.

            Is it like a binary that cuts off at a certain income level (extreme poverty= market value is bad, non-extreme poverty= market value is good), or would you describe it more as a sliding scale?

          • Guy in TN says:

            Trying to think how to make this point:

            Let’s say we both agree that the best distribution is for you to own 2 apples, and for me to own none.

            One way to do this, is to have the law say “you own 2 apples”. Boom, its done. Our distribution goal is complete.

            Another way to do this, much weirder, would be to say “let have the law say I’m the initial owner of both apples, and then I can give you the two apples as charity/exchange. This way, we rely on charity to achieve our distributive goal.”

            I mean, this may be able to accomplish the same outcome, but it creates a lot more room for failure points along the way.

          • Controls Freak says:

            You could describe the exchanges that take place on a market after a redistribution, as relying on a new initial distribution as the prior.

            So, when a government takes an action concerning ownership of property, is that a “redistribution” or a “new initial/background distribution”?

            Eliminating welfare is a redistribution that sets a new initial distribution (or background distribution), for the purposes of the context of further charity or exchanges.

            Maybe it’s both? And increasing welfare is also a redistribution that sets a new initial/background distribution?

            Saying “we need to rely on charitywelfare” implies that we create a system where are continuously allocating resources one way, and then are changing the allocation later.

            Because every time the government hands out a food stamp, they’re redistributing and creating a new initial/background distribution. Your “one step plan” skipped the second step, which is, “Redistribute (reset the initial/background distribution) over and over again constantly.” Or as you put it,

            We continually allocate to the richpoor and unallocate to the poorrich.

            Saying “we need to change the legal distribution” implies that we simply allocate to the poor to begin with. And “begin with” means right now, not hundreds of years ago. We create a system where wealth is already allocated to the poor, so no second part is necessary.

            So, we’ve actually done that. We handed out a bunch of food stamps already. So, we’re done, right? No second part is necessary, you said. The gov’t can pack it up?

            Is it like a binary that cuts off at a certain income level (extreme poverty= market value is bad, non-extreme poverty= market value is good), or would you describe it more as a sliding scale?

            I don’t know how sharp the sigmoid would look, but I’m open to that Pandora’s Box of investigation.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Maybe it’s both? And increasing welfare is also a redistribution that sets a new initial/background distribution?

            Yes, this is correct. Note how welfare differs from charity, in that it does not rely on a previous distribution for it to take place. It does not rely on the the idea the government previously owned the wealth, private entities owned the wealth, or anyone owned the wealth. It’s a stand-alone thing.

            Your “one step plan” skipped the second step, which is, “Redistribute (reset the initial/background distribution) over and over again constantly.”

            But this same step (the government maintaining the background distribution, every day), is one that also applies to the charity plan. It’s +1 to both sides of the ledger, leaving the charity plan still with one extra step.

            So, we’ve actually done that. We handed out a bunch of food stamps already. So, we’re done, right? No second part is necessary, you said. The gov’t can pack it up?

            Today we enforce property law. Tomorrow we enforce property law. If you get to count the welfare state’s two days of property enforcement (ensuring flows of welfare) as two acts, then surely we must count the neoliberal state’s enforcement (ensuring flows to owners of capital) the same way.

          • Guy in TN says:

            I don’t know how sharp the sigmoid would look, but I’m open to that Pandora’s Box of investigation.

            Curious how you are able to make interpersonal utility comparisons without using prices? Some economists say such a thing can’t be done.

            I personally think its doable, and I have my methods, but I’m afraid you might find them a little silly if I explained. But I’m glad to see we are in agreement on this point.

          • Guy in TN says:

            So, we’ve actually done that. We handed out a bunch of food stamps already. So, we’re done, right? No second part is necessary, you said. The gov’t can pack it up?

            Can the government “pack it up” in your scenario either? No, it has to continually enforce property law.

            To spell it out, my plan is:
            1. The government enforces the background property law, for today.
            2. The government enforces the background property law, continuously for the future.

            The charity plan is:
            1.The government enforces the background property law, for today.
            2. Private actors try to undo the distribution initially set by the government.
            3. The government enforces the background property law, continuously for the future.
            4. Private actors try to undo the distribution set by the government, continuously in the future.

            I mean, there could be a legitimate reason why we would want to take on the transaction costs involved in the charity plan that would be absent from the initial distribution plan, but all else equal the first plan seems superior.

          • Controls Freak says:

            welfare differs from charity, in that it does not rely on a previous distribution for it to take place.

            This gets causality the wrong way ’round. Charity does not rely on a previous distribution. And even if it did, the only real conclusion we get out of this statement is, “If we got rid of private property, we could get rid of charity, because people would have literally nothing that they could give.” Are you back to abolishing private property again?

            But even this doesn’t actually work. Even if we got rid of legal property, people would still acquire resources, and charity would likely still occur (unless we’re so harsh in preventing people from acquiring anything that looks like private property so that everyone lives in extreme poverty, having no resources).

            It does not rely on the the idea the government previously owned the wealth, private entities owned the wealth, or anyone owned the wealth. It’s a stand-alone thing.

            But, unfortunately for you, there actually was a prior distribution. So, unless you’re going back in time to the beginning, the factual state of affairs in which your government is operating is one where various people/entities own wealth and are exchanging it in market/non-market transactions.

            Look, I get that you’re focused on, “Welfare is government action. Legal protection of property is government action. If we squint and don’t think too much, all government action is the same, so these things are the same!” But this reasoning would implicate basically every other government action, equally. Whatever convoluted combination of government action you can imagine is all “one step”. Warfare? Part of the one step. This is just a conceptual mess in order to reach a motivated conclusion. Sure, in certain domains, simpler things tend to work better than more complicated things. But the way you’ve twisted this domain, there’s no reason why this one has to work according to that heuristic. Especially since you’ve twisted your measure of “simple” to include potentially extremely un-simple things.

            Not only are you combining any multi-step, perpetual, convoluted set of government actions into “one step”, but this “step” can’t possibly occur in a vacuum. From the coconuts example, people gather resources, whether or not a government protects it as property. Unless you want to go full Khmer Rouge and punish people for picking coconutsberries, they’re going to go out and acquire resources. And they’re going to trade. And they’re going to exhibit charity. This is constantly happening, and your messed up wrangling trying to talk about “initial distributions”, as if they were discrete resets for an underlying continuous dynamical system, made it clear that we can’t get away from it. Your plan is not simpler, because it still involves the underlying system.

            Or is this really because you just reject realism concerning the underlying system? Clearly, without the legal apparatus, folks will gather resources, trade, and perform charity. I don’t think you reject this, but maybe you still think that we can just abandon private property, having a central planner perfectly allocate everything to everyone in just the right way that no one will ever desire to trade or give away?

            Curious how you are able to make interpersonal utility comparisons without using prices?

            It’s probably not completely impossible in all cases, but it’s extremely difficult, which is part of why you needed such an extreme edge case. Most of the time, prices work best.

          • Controls Freak says:

            The charity plan is:…
            3. The government enforces the background property law, continuously for the future.
            4. Private actors try to undo the distribution set by the government, continuously in the future.

            So, how are you going to get rid of latter step in your plan? Say, what about:

            1. The government enforces the background property law, continuously for the future.
            2. Private actors try to ‘undo’ the distribution set by the government via market trades continuously in the future?

            Are market trades similarly “undoing the distribution”? Do you think that the government will be so perfect at every detail of the distribution they set that no individual will have any desire to either trade or perform charity? Is that what you’re going for? …do think this is something other than total central planning?

          • Guy in TN says:

            Even if we got rid of legal property, people would still acquire resources, and charity would likely still occur (unless we’re so harsh in preventing people from acquiring anything that looks like private property so that everyone lives in extreme poverty, having no resources).
            […]
            From the coconuts example, people gather resources, whether or not a government protects it as property. Unless you want to go full Khmer Rouge and punish people for picking coconutsberries, they’re going to go out and acquire resources. And they’re going to trade. And they’re going to exhibit charity.

            One of the core concepts behind the idea of “charity” is that you own the things you are giving, right? Merely acquiring them is insufficient. I think you would agree that it is insufficient, if they case were say, breaking into a house and acquiring a television, then giving the TV away as supposed charity.

            The reason why you discount the television example, but not the coconut example, is probably because you are operating under the idea that there is a pre-legal “real” distribution of property, and the government is just coming along and mucking it up with their additional distributions.

            But what is the “real” distribution of property? It’s not just be whatever people can grab (the television example). So what are these unspoken, unwritten rules that supersede the law, and why should I accept them as defining “real” property?

            …the only real conclusion we get out of this statement is, “If we got rid of private property, we could get rid of charity, because people would have literally nothing that they could give.” Are you back to abolishing private property again?

            I don’t support abolishing private property. On the contrary, my distribution-plan relies on the government’s rigorous enforcement of a new property law.

            But, unfortunately for you, there actually was a prior distribution. So, unless you’re going back in time to the beginning, the factual state of affairs in which your government is operating is one where various people/entities own wealth and are exchanging it in market/non-market transactions.

            Right, but all the previous ownerships before the government sets the distribution are conceptually irrelevant for my plan. (They are also conceptually irrelevant for your chairty-plan: so +0 to both sides on this one)

            Your plan is not simpler, because it still involves the underlying system.

            I never claimed my plan was simpler because it doesn’t rely on the underlying system. Of course it relies on the underlying property law system. Yours does to.

            But this reasoning would implicate basically every other government action, equally. Whatever convoluted combination of government action you can imagine is all “one step”. Warfare? Part of the one step. This is just a conceptual mess in order to reach a motivated conclusion.
            […]
            Not only are you combining any multi-step, perpetual, convoluted set of government actions into “one step”, but this “step” can’t possibly occur in a vacuum.

            My plan, like your plan, isn’t simple, and involves lots of moving parts and various actors. But crucially, these are much of the same parts and actors involved in both plans. So you keep trying to make my plan sound more complicated than it is, but at every attempt so far, you’ve ignored how that additional level of complication applies equally to your own plan.

            So when you subtract away all the similarities, you are left: my plan requires one person, and your plan requires two people.

            You say my plan involves government? Yours does to.
            You say my plan involves people who previously owned things before either plan was implemented? Yours does to.
            You say my plan relies on the underlying property system? Your does to.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Are market trades similarly “undoing the distribution”? Do you think that the government will be so perfect at every detail of the distribution they set that no individual will have any desire to either trade or perform charity? Is that what you’re going for? …do think this is something other than total central planning?

            I’m not opposed to market trades. I didn’t include market trades as part of my plan, because they are not part of the poverty-reducing aspect about my plan. If people want to do them, they can, if they don’t then they don’t. In my plan, poverty will already be taken care of before charity is necessary.

            Contrast this with the charity-only plan, which relies on additional trading (or at least, transfers) as part of the poverty-reducing aspect.

          • Controls Freak says:

            Merely acquiring them is insufficient. I think you would agree that it is insufficient, if they case were say, breaking into a house and acquiring a television, then giving the TV away as supposed charity.

            I disagree.

            The reason why you discount the television example, but not the coconut example

            I don’t discount the television example. If we had no legal property rights, it basically would be whoever could grab a television (and protect it with force). It’s the assumption of an existing legal system that you’re baking into the television example, likely due to the fact that it’s probably impossible to get people to coordinate sufficiently to make something like a television in a world without property rights (but mostly just poisoning the hypo, because we implicitly correlate televisions with societies with property rights).

            So you keep trying to make my plan sound more complicated than it is

            No. I simply disagree with your claim that your plan is simpler in comparison.

            So when you subtract away all the similarities, you are left: my plan requires one person, and your plan requires two people.

            This is also not true. You need at least 50%+1 to set up the scheme plus additional people to administrate it.

            Most of the rest of your comment is showing how they’re of roughly equal complexity. This is closer to what I think. I think you’re just barking up the wrong tree in thinking that complexity analysis is going to be helpful here (or even well-defined).

            I didn’t include market trades as part of my plan, because they are not part of the poverty-reducing aspect about my plan.

            They’re not part of the poverty-reducing aspect about any plan. I’m glad you agree with this.

            In my plan, poverty will already be taken care of before charity is necessary.

            I’ll ask again, since you didn’t answer it the first time: Do you think that the government will be so perfect at every detail of the distribution they set that no individual will have any desire to either trade or perform charity? Is that what you’re going for? …do think this is something other than total central planning?

          • Guy in TN says:

            I don’t discount the television example.

            Wait, so by “acquire” you really just mean acquire, including by any means?

            So, to be consistent, if the government taxed wealth, making it the new owner of the wealth, and gave that wealth away in the form of welfare, you would describe this situation as “charity”?

            You need at least 50%+1 to set up the scheme plus additional people to administrate it.

            My argument doesn’t hinge on a democratic government enforcing the distribution mechanism. If the government was autocratic, the same logic of charity requiring more people would apply.

            It’s true that a distribution-based plan in a democratic government would require more people than a charity-only plan in an autocratic government, but that’s just tacking on an unnecessary and unrelated second variable.

            They’re not part of the poverty-reducing aspect about any plan. I’m glad you agree with this.

            Right, the charity-only plan doesn’t rely on market trades to reduce poverty. But it does rely on additional transfers. Like, conceptually, the word “charity” involves two people (plus, of course, the government, as we’re been over). While the concept of “I own this” requires just one person (plus the government).

            Do you think that the government will be so perfect at every detail of the distribution they set that no individual will have any desire to either trade or perform charity?

            No, there will be plenty of errors I’m sure, where charity can pick up the slack. Remember my argument isn’t that charity is bad. Its that its inferior to the best option.

            It’s like “we should design cars with better airbags” vs. “we should design AI cars that don’t ever crash”. Surely you would agree, that if it could be done, cars that don’t crash would be the superior option?

            The analogy doesn’t even do it justice, because unlike AI cars that don’t crash, the technology to distribute resources such that poverty is eliminated is already here, we are just choosing not to implement it.

            Is that what you’re going for?

            Ideally, I would like to design our economic institutions such that we don’t intentionally choose to create poverty, yes.

            …do think this is something other than total central planning?

            The charity-only plan is non-market based and involves planning the distribution of resources from a centralized point (that of the property owner).

          • Guy in TN says:

            And while its true that, within a given country, a government is necessarily larger (more “centralized’) than the individual property owners underneath it, there is a level of decentralization below even them: The non-property owners.

            So my question to you is, why have you settled on this particular level of central planning, no more and no less?

            EDIT: And as one more addendum, it feels a little weird to describe as “total central planning” what would only amount to a small portion of the economy: Enough to get and keep everyone out of poverty.

          • Controls Freak says:

            Wait, so by “acquire” you really just mean acquire, including by any means?

            Aye.

            if the government taxed wealth, making it the new owner of the wealth, and gave that wealth away in the form of welfare, you would describe this situation as “charity”?

            Aye. “Public charity”, if you will. We’ve been short-handing “private charity” above.

            If the government was autocratic, the same logic of charity requiring more people would apply.

            Not necessarily. You could set it up different ways administratively. But in an important sense, just counting up the number of people “involved” isn’t particularly useful. As I said above, any subset of individuals can choose to provide private charity, and if some of them drop out, others can take their place on their own accord. On the other hand, the autarch can take away public charity on a whim, and no one can do a thing about it.

            Like, conceptually, the word “charity” involves two people (plus, of course, the government, as we’re been over). While the concept of “I own this” requires just one person (plus the government).

            You think the government isn’t people. Cute. In any event, for the same reasons I said above, counting the number of people “involved” isn’t particularly useful. It doesn’t really correlate with “simplicity” within any domain for which the heuristic “simpler things work better” is applicable.

            there will be plenty of errors I’m sure, where charity can pick up the slack. Remember my argument isn’t that charity is bad. Its that its inferior to the best option.

            So, your system isn’t simpler, because it still has charity. Since that was the only reason you gave for your system being superior, but that reason was false, your conclusion does not follow.

            The charity-only plan is non-market based and involves planning the distribution of resources from a centralized point (that of the property owner).

            That’s not what “centralized” means. And that’s why your later question doesn’t even make sense.

            it feels a little weird to describe as “total central planning” what would only amount to a small portion of the economy: Enough to get and keep everyone out of poverty.

            I was asking specifically about whether you thought you were going to eliminate charity and/or market transfers. You have denied this, so the conclusion does not apply.

          • Guy in TN says:

            In any event, for the same reasons I said above, counting the number of people “involved” isn’t particularly useful. It doesn’t really correlate with “simplicity” within any domain for which the heuristic “simpler things work better” is applicable.

            Okay this part is absolutely critical, and I think we’re getting to the meat of the matter: Your plan requires two people who must make a transfer. And there are always costs to a transaction. From an economic standpoint, any reduction in the number of transactions necessary is certainly relevant.

            This transaction costs that are present in the charity plan is absent from the direct-distribution plan.

            So, your system isn’t simpler, because it still has charity. Since that was the only reason you gave for your system being superior, but that reason was false, your conclusion does not follow.

            My system has less charity, and therefore less transaction costs. Think of it as a spectrum.

            It’s like
            A:”wouldn’t it be simpler if we took a direct bus route instead of one that has a stop-over in another city?”
            B:”ah, but what if the bus needed need to go through that city anyway because of road closures?”
            A:”uh, yeah I guess when that happens it would be equally as simple?”
            B: “But not stopping in that city was the only reason you gave for it being simpler. Therefore, all bus routes are equally as simple”
            A: …

          • Guy in TN says:

            Aye. “Public charity”, if you will. We’ve been short-handing “private charity” above.

            Alright. So since you are a supporter of public charity over direct-distribution, can you tell me your reasoning for making the government the legal owner of resources prior to distributing them out as charity?

            For instance, in a land redistribution program, what advantage would there be to the government first expropriating the property under state control, before distributing it out to the new private owners? Why create the middleman, instead of doing it directly?

          • Controls Freak says:

            This transaction costs that are present in the charity plan is absent from the direct-distribution plan.

            This is not true. There are plenty of transaction costs for state charity.

            since you are a supporter of public charity over direct-distribution

            I didn’t say that.

          • Guy in TN says:

            This is not true. There are plenty of transaction costs for state charity.

            I’m contrasting it to the direct distribution plan, not the state charity plan. I agree that in the state charity plan there are equal an equal number transactions, but that’s not the same as my plan, the direct-distribution plan.

            I’m going to tally up the number of transactions for each plan.

            Direct distribution plan:
            1. Property is allocated by the state.

            Charity plan (state or private):
            1. Property is allocated by the state.
            2. Property changes hands.

            Before you respond with an additional +1 transfer to the direct-distribution plan, think really really hard about whether the same transfer applies to the charity plan. Examples of such transfers that apply equally include:
            1. Transfers that happened before the property is allocated by the state
            2. Transfers that are required to maintain the overall property enforcement framework, both currently and in the future
            3. Transfers that occur outside of the poverty-reducing program
            4. Transfers that occur when one of the systems fails

            I didn’t say that.

            Well, what’s your position then? That the charity and direct-distribution plans are exactly equal? Or that the direct-distribution is superior, and we’re actually in full agreement, just quibbling over the rationale?

          • Controls Freak says:

            Before you respond with an additional +1 transfer to the direct-distribution plan, think really really hard about whether the same transfer applies to the charity plan.

            There are plenty of transaction costs to direct-distribution. Also, there’s basically no way we can actually quantify either sort in the space of a couple comments without significant modeling and econometrics.

            Let me ask a quick practical question for your plan: a person picks a berry. How is this property allocated by the state?

            Well, what’s your position then? That the charity and direct-distribution plans are exactly equal? Or that the direct-distribution is superior, and we’re actually in full agreement, just quibbling over the rationale?

            No and no. It’s that your analysis is wrong, and you just can’t measure “simple” in that way, nor does your measure of “simple” necessarily correlate with “better” in this space.

          • Guy in TN says:

            There are plenty of transaction costs to direct-distribution.

            Of course, I agree. There’s just one less transaction in the direct-distribution plan.

            It’s that your analysis is wrong, and you just can’t measure “simple” in that way

            Counting transaction steps is not a fringe concept. This isn’t some weird socialist thing. For example, if I were wanting to sell hamburgers, I could think about selling them directly to the consumer, or selling them to a distributor who sells them to the consumer.

            All else equal the most direct route (producer to consumer) would be the most beneficial for the consumer, since at every step along the way there are transaction costs. If the middleman is adding some value to the process (shipping, advertising, ect) then it might add enough benefit to overcome the costs of having additional transactions. But our debate is in the abstract, meta-level here: in concept and all else equal, having fewer transactions should be the best choice of action regarding distributing resources to the poor.

            Let me ask a quick practical question for your plan: a person picks a berry. How is this property allocated by the state?

            Is your question in regards to how things operate in the US in 2019? Most berry picking is accomplished on farms, by people who don’t own the berries they are picking. Because of this, the property of the berry is allocated to the landowner, not the berry-picker, by the force of law. The state could choose to allocate it to anyone they like, but at this point in time they choose the landowner.

            As for how its allocated this way: the property is created, maintained, and enforced by the state the same way any other legal institutions are enforced. By utilizing a claim of monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, in this case being legitimized through democratic consent.

          • Controls Freak says:

            Let me ask a quick practical question for your plan: a person picks a berry. How is this property allocated by the state?

            Is your question in regards to how things operate in the US in 2019?

            In your plan.

          • Guy in TN says:

            In my idealized plan? The berries and the land would be owned by the state. Poverty would be addressed not by the allocation of berry bushes to the poor, but by allocation of money. Use the state owned enterprises to generate wealth, then distributed it out.

            The new wealth created would be directly distributed to the poor, thus solving poverty without having to use the two-part system of charity (i.e, no one owns it as a middleman).

          • Controls Freak says:

            So, if a person goes out and picks some berries for his family, do you arrest him and put him in jail?

          • Guy in TN says:

            If you pick berries you don’t own without authorization, you could reasonably go to jail, yes.

            Note how this policy is identical to our current system, and most proposed fully-capitalist systems.

          • Controls Freak says:

            Ok, so berry-picking is out. If a person is unhappy with their current allotment from the State, can they go out and engage in any other private enterprise in order to improve their life or the lives of their family members? Or are they just all state-owned?

            And I suppose I dropped this from before, but I also intended to point out that the parties involved in your conception of today’s system is “exploited worker -> landed gentry -> poor”, with that final arrow representing charity… while the parties involved in your system seem to be “worker [not exploited for some reason] -> State [totally not run by the landed gentry somehow] -> poor”, with that final arrow representing welfare or “public charity”. Notice that there are the same number of transactions, and thus, your earlier claim was false.

          • Guy in TN says:

            If a person is unhappy with their current allotment from the State, can they go out and engage in any other private enterprise in order to improve their life or the lives of their family members? Or are they just all state-owned?

            If he is unhappy with the law of the state, he can either exit the relationship (which may require moving, if he lives within the boundaries of the state), forge some sort of bargain, or try to change it via the vote.

            Note how his options are improved here compared a scenario of private ownership, where his only options would be to either exit the relationship (which may require moving, if he lives within the boundaries of the property owner), or bargain for power (via offering to buy the property).

            Unlike in private ownership, the democratic state is forced to submit to the will of the people.

            while the parties involved in your system seem to be “worker [not exploited for some reason] -> State [totally not run by the landed gentry somehow] -> poor” with that final arrow representing welfare or “public charity”.

            This is incorrect. I have specifically laid out that the wealth produced by state owned enterprises would be directly distributed to the poor, with the state never being the owner.

            My plan is not that the state become the owner, and then decides to transfer it to the poor at some later point. It’s that a portion of the wealth produced by the state becomes directly the poor’s property at the time it is created.

            That the state physically acquires it is of no consequence, regarding the number of transactions. Consider a gold miner: despite carrying around buckets full of gold, at no point is the gold his property. It is never legally distributed to him. No one would say, at the end of the day, when he dumps his bucket of gold off for his manager that he is committing “charity”.

            Notice that there are the same number of transactions, and thus, your earlier claim was false.

            Transaction ≠ transportation

            In the economic sense, a transaction occurs only when there is a transfer of ownership.

          • Controls Freak says:

            Ok, so all “private enterprise” is outlawed. We’ve seen this story before. Or, when you say that he can “forge some sort of bargain”, do you mean, “Engage in some private enterprise,” or, “Engage in some private market transactions,” or, “Acquire private charity”? Also note that your tribe is already complaining about how both the vote and moving with your feet are worthless.

            Note how his options are improved here compared a scenario of private ownership, where his only options would be to either exit the relationship (which may require moving, if he lives within the boundaries of the property owner), or bargain for power (via offering to buy the property).

            This is flatly untrue. A person is completely free to engage in whatever private enterprise they feel like engaging in. For example, Zuckerberg did not have to exit any relationship or bargain for power. He merely needed to engage in the private enterprise of his choosing. He didn’t like picking berries, so he found something else to do…. something that the State wasn’t doing and that 50%+1 of the vote (or, really, the landed gentry who really run things) would never get around to doing.

            Unlike in private ownership, the democratic state is forced to submit to the will of the people.

            Asserted without argument. Literally magic.

            I have specifically laid out that the wealth produced by state owned enterprises would be directly distributed to the poor, with the state never being the owner.

            You also said:

            The berries and the land would be owned by the state.

            Were you lying before or are you lying now?

          • Guy in TN says:

            Ok, so all “private enterprise” is outlawed. We’ve seen this story before.

            The state already maintains the highest authority to the usage of property, as evidenced by its ability to tax ownership and the usage of eminent domain. Libertarians are correct to note that if the state can control your usage of something, or take it away, then you don’t really own it in any complete sense.

            So why haven’t we gone Khmer Rouge? What is missing from your simplistic cause-and-effect story?

            Or, when you say that he can “forge some sort of bargain”, do you mean, “Engage in some private enterprise,” or, “Engage in some private market transactions,” or, “Acquire private charity”?

            I mean he can propose a transaction, by offering something the state might want. For instance, resources outside the state’s control. I make no presumptions of my ideal state being a global-encompassing entity.

            A person is completely free to engage in whatever private enterprise they feel like engaging in. For example, Zuckerberg did not have to exit any relationship or bargain for power.

            In the US you are free in engage in private enterprise, if you first obtain the power of property ownership. And how do you obtain property? One common way is to offer somebody something in return, i.e. bargaining. Not much homesteading going on in the 21st century.

            Asserted without argument. Literally magic.

            Is your objection that democratic states literally cannot exist? I didn’t think I needed to prove that one.

            You also said: “The berries and the land would be owned by the state.” Were you lying before or are you lying now?

            Excuse me, slip of the tongue. Let me clarify:
            The [portion of the wealth necessary to eliminate poverty] that is produced by state owned enterprises would be directly distributed to the poor, with the state never being the owner.

            Obviously the poor are not getting all of the wealth produced by state owned enterprises, that would be silly and unsustainable.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Ok, so all “private enterprise” is outlawed. We’ve seen this story before.

            I want to touch on this a little more. Imagine two scenarios:

            1. Most land is privately owned. The state retains the right to tax wealth generated on the land, as also has as a list of restrictions regarding private decision-making (i.e. regulates its usage).

            2. Most land is state owned. The state allows private individuals who use the land to keep a percentage of profits they generate, and also gives them a list of certain decision-making powers.

            What is the difference between these two scenarios? It’s nothing. Or rather, the difference is only who nominally “owns” the land. The tangible effects are identical.

            You may notice that situation 1 looks a lot like how most modern countries work. So why do I bother with proposing state ownership, if I think the effects are identical?

            The rationale is, despite it being the norm everywhere, people have a really really hard time wrapping their mind around the idea that you can simultaneously own something, and also have it taxed and regulated. And so people develop ideologies, and push policies, that are based on the idea that such a simultaneous thing cannot be possible. Hence we get slogans like “taxation is theft”, and the belief that regulation infringes on ownership, as if a non-regulated ownership was ever the norm.

            So if the cultural ideological memes of the U.S. insist that nominal “private ownership” requires 100% control and 0% taxation, then I am forced to advocate for nominal “state ownership” just to move to >0% taxation and <100% private control. In other words, just to justify the system we have now to the libertarian-minded.

          • Controls Freak says:

            The state already maintains the highest authority to the usage of property

            And what they actually do with that power is currently a far cry from banning private enterprise. It’s a far cry from total central planning (which is another consequence of your plan). Frankly, they’re different in kind, not degree.

            So why haven’t we gone Khmer Rouge? What is missing from your simplistic cause-and-effect story?

            Because Pol Potyou haven’t gotten into power, banned private enterprise, and implemented total central planning yet. But that’s exactly what you say you want.

            I mean he can propose a transaction, by offering something the state might want. For instance, resources outside the state’s control. I make no presumptions of my ideal state being a global-encompassing entity.

            How does this work, exactly? Give me a concrete example of how you see this working. Is the only private enterprise allowed basically colonialism?

            In the US you are free in engage in private enterprise, if you first obtain the power of property ownership. And how do you obtain property? One common way is to offer somebody something in return, i.e. bargaining.

            That’s not “bargaining for power“, which is what you said. I mean, I guess if you really mean “engage in a market transaction”, whatever. But you’re just using words with negative affect to taint all voluntary exchange of resources. Do you seriously think that every voluntary exchange of resources is “bargaining for power”? …do you think that every voluntary exchange of resources is “bad”?!

            And you had also said that in your plan, a person could “forge some sort of bargain”. Are you using the same words to mean something different here, or have you snuck “buying property” back into your plan?

            Is your objection that democratic states literally cannot exist?

            You said, “Unlike in private ownership, the democratic state is forced to submit to the will of the people [emphasis added].” Is your objection that democratic states literally cannot exist if they protect private property?

            You also said: “The berries and the land would be owned by the state.” Were you lying before or are you lying now?

            Excuse me, slip of the tongue. Let me clarify:
            The [portion of the wealth necessary to eliminate poverty] that is produced by state owned enterprises would be directly distributed to the poor, with the state never being the owner.

            Obviously the poor are not getting all of the wealth produced by state owned enterprises, that would be silly and unsustainable.

            I didn’t assume that all of the wealth was being given to the poor. You literally said that the berries and the land would be owned by the state. You said that “this policy is identical to our current system, and most proposed fully-capitalist systems.” (Forgetting about unowned land,) today, I think the picture you’re painting is that if the owner of a berry farm hires a laborer to pick berries, the land and berries belong to the owner, and the laborer just gets wages from the owner. Similarly, your state-owned enterprise would own the land and the berries, and the laborers they assign to pick berries would only get wages. Then, after the berries are picked and owned by the state-owned enterprise, some of the berries are distributed to the poor (maybe in the city or something). How exactly do you imagine “direct distribution” with “the state never being the owner” actually working?! Details!

            just to justify the system we have now to the libertarian-minded.

            I’m not a libertarian. Are you saying that the reason why I think you’ve been taking dumb positions is because you’ve intentionally been taking dumb positions, just because you think some other people have weird beliefs?

          • Guy in TN says:

            It’s a far cry from total central planning (which is another consequence of your plan).

            The ownership of the resources has no relation to the process of how the resources are distributed. You could hypothetically have a 100% market system, with complete state ownership. Or alternatively, complete private ownership with only planned exchanges. No need to conflate the two concepts.

            How does this work, exactly? Give me a concrete example of how you see this working. Is the only private enterprise allowed basically colonialism?

            Countries make deals between each other all the time. Let’s say Japan wants access to some island in the Pacific, that China currently owns. One way to do this would be to offer them something it return, such as money or a land swap.

            The point, is that it’s conceptually the same sort of bargain you might make to influence a property owner. You want to pick apples on his land? Give him money, propose some kind of deal, or leave.

            But you’re just using words with negative affect to taint all voluntary exchange of resources. Do you seriously think that every voluntary exchange of resources is “bargaining for power”? …do you think that every voluntary exchange of resources is “bad”?!

            I don’t think power is bad, and I don’t think bargaining for power is bad. When you exchange resources, you exchange having legal authority (i.e. “power”) over said resource, so I think it is an accurate description. If I want an apple someone else owns, I have to “bargain for the power” to eat that apple.

            And you had also said that in your plan, a person could “forge some sort of bargain”. Are you using the same words to mean something different here, or have you snuck “buying property” back into your plan?

            If you want to call it “buying property” you can, but you have to make sure you are offering something the state doesn’t already have control over (so not any land or resources that already exists in its territory). I’m just being realistic, in assuming than my plan would not be implemented in a global one-world government scenario, but more likely on a country-by-country basis, with many resources still outside the state’s control.

            You said, “Unlike in private ownership, the democratic state is forced to submit to the will of the people [emphasis added].” Is your objection that democratic states literally cannot exist if they protect private property?

            Oh no, sorry about the confusion. I mean, within the democratic state, the aspects which are strictly private property do not have to submit to the will of the people (at least in the idealized capitalist version of “private property”). So if our hypothetical person was dealing with state ownership instead of private ownership, has the additional option of voting on the issue, which would be absent if it was privately owned.

            I think the picture you’re painting is that if the owner of a berry farm hires a laborer to pick berries, the land and berries belong to the owner, and the laborer just gets wages from the owner. Similarly, your state-owned enterprise would own the land and the berries, and the laborers they assign to pick berries would only get wages. Then, after the berries are picked and owned by the state-owned enterprise, some of the berries are distributed to the poor (maybe in the city or something). How exactly do you imagine “direct distribution” with “the state never being the owner” actually working?! Details!

            This is pretty close, really. The only aspect I would change, is instead of assigning 100% of the wealth generated by the berries to the state, some fraction of this (not all) would be initially legally distributed to the poor. As in, when the wealth is generated, it is legally binding that x% of it is actually the poor’s and the state is just handling it for them (like a gold miner carrying gold).

            So in summary: the state owns the berries, hires people to pick the berries, and initially distributes the wealth of x% of the berries picked to the poor. In this case, the more practical option would be for the state to also take over the processing, shipping, and selling aspects or berry farming. So rather than giving the poor buckets or berries at the end of the day, they give them money. But regardless, x% of the berries were always owned by the poor, from the start.

            So it may feel like a bit of a “legal fiction”, but then again, so is all property. “Transaction costs” are often the costs of doing nothing more than switching a name on a legal document, but they are costs just the same. At every additional transaction step along the way, there is room for mistakes to be made, and the chance that the transfer won’t be 100% (e.g. the middleman taking a cut).

            And most importantly, I just don’t see any atvantage to creating a legal middleman in the first place.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Are you saying that the reason why I think you’ve been taking dumb positions is because you’ve intentionally been taking dumb positions, just because you think some other people have weird beliefs?

            I’m not a linguistic prescriptivist. I don’t think its a dumb position to say that “capitalism” means the state isn’t taxing or regulating, it’s just a question of definitions.

            The prevailing definition in the U.S. seems to be, that to the extent that a country taxes and regulates, is the extent that it isn’t capitalist. Like, most political commentators would agree that Elizabeth Warren is “less capitalist” than Ted Cruz, despite both of them probably sharing basically the same views on who the nominal owner of property should be.

            So, I could go out there and be like “I support private property rights and capitalism! Also, I think the state should tax wealth at 80%, and control most aspects of private property use”. And while people in Norway might be nodding along think “yes, this is a logically coherent position” people in the US would laugh me out of the room.

            Like I said earlier, as long the property is taxed and regulated, the nominal owner shouldn’t really matter. But it does unfortunately have practical consequences, because people have constructed ideologies around “private property” that give it a special kind of meta-legal meaning.

            If someone says “I own this, therefore the state shouldn’t tell me how to use it”, which is the easier route for getting them to understand my position: Explaining to them that that’s not how the legal concept of ownership actually works, or just telling them “okay, you won’t own it anymore”.

          • Controls Freak says:

            You could hypothetically have a 100% market system, with complete state ownership. Or alternatively, complete private ownership with only planned exchanges.

            In what sense would the former be “markets”, and it what sense would the latter be “ownership”?

            Interestingly, you dropped the bit about banning private enterprise. That was pretty important.

            If you want to call it “buying property” you can, but you have to make sure you are offering something the state doesn’t already have control over (so not any land or resources that already exists in its territory).

            So, the only private enterprise that a citizen who lives in, say, Iowa can do to improve his life or the life of his family is to go overseas and engage in a sort of colonialism, acquiring foreign resources to trade to the State? If he doesn’t think the State has given his family enough berries, he can’t, say, go plant a tree? After all, that would be “private enterprise”.

            if our hypothetical person was dealing with state ownership instead of private ownership, has the additional option of voting on the issue, which would be absent if it was privately owned.

            But he loses the option to just buy it from somebody. Right now, he still has the option to vote gifts to himself.

            rather than giving the poor buckets or berries at the end of the day, they give them money

            Dude can’t eat money. At some point, he needs to transact that money for food, and so the State is involved in two transactions with the poor, resulting in two sets of transactions costs.

            I just don’t see any atvantage to creating a legal middleman in the first place.

            Your State is the legal middleman for everything.

            as long the property is taxed and regulated, the nominal owner shouldn’t really matter.

            Why wouldn’t it? Do you work just as hard for your boss’s bonus as you do your own? That money is taxed and regulated, so why do you think its nominal owner might affect your behavior?

          • Guy in TN says:

            In what sense would the former be “markets”, and it what sense would the latter be “ownership”?

            A market is a allocation mechanism that uses bidding and currency. But you don’t have to own the currency you bid with, or the things you are bidding on. For example, see electronic in-game currency markets.

            As for “ownership”, this is easy: we’ve already established that owners use non-market, planned transfers (e.g. charity) on a regular basis. If for some reason, the owners decided to exclusively use non-market, planned transfers I don’t see how this changes their ownership status.

            Interestingly, you dropped the bit about banning private enterprise. That was pretty important.

            People would generally be allowed to start for-profit businesses, essentially identically to those that exist today. They just wouldn’t be the nominal owner.

            If he doesn’t think the State has given his family enough berries, he can’t, say, go plant a tree? After all, that would be “private enterprise”.

            Planting a tree is not “private enterprise” in my understanding of the word. I’m sure the extra productivity of planting trees would be welcome, assuming the trees didn’t interfere with anything important. The state is the owner, not the micromanager.

            So, the only private enterprise that a citizen who lives in, say, Iowa can do to improve his life or the life of his family is to go overseas and engage in a sort of colonialism, acquiring foreign resources to trade to the State?

            Its true that in order to buy a resource from someone, you have to offer them something they want. And if you don’t have something they want, you’re out of luck on this front. This is not exactly a stunning indictment of socialism.

            But he loses the option to just buy it from somebody.

            We’re been talking about the option of buying from the owner (the state) for a while now? I don’t follow this.

            At some point, he needs to transact that money for food, and so the State is involved in two transactions with the poor, resulting in two sets of transactions costs.

            Poverty is measured in dollars, not amount of food. You’re adding on a non-poverty reducing aspect again. My claim is that direct distribution takes less transactions to reduce poverty, not to reduce some other thing.

            Your State is the legal middleman for everything.

            Its not the legal middleman for the x% of wealth that is directly legally distributed to the poor. Very critical part of my plan, needs to be emphasized.

            Do you work just as hard for your boss’s bonus as you do your own? That money is taxed and regulated, so why do you think its nominal owner might affect your behavior?

            That you can use taxes and regulations to create an equal outcome regardless of the nominal owner, doesn’t mean that we currently do.

          • Guy in TN says:

            For example: If I wanted to achieve the outcome of me and my boss each getting half the money, it doesn’t matter whether my boss is the “owner” who is taxed at 50% with the other half redistributed to myself, or I am the “owner” who is taxed at 50% with the other half redistributed to my boss.

            Likewise with state ownership. In terms of wealth, there’s no difference between owning the a business that is taxed at 20% vs. working for a state-owned business that pays 80% of what you produce as an incentive, and allows you to sell the right to work there (essentially identical to selling the business).

          • Controls Freak says:

            see electronic in-game currency markets.

            You own electronic in-game currency in approximately the same way that you own electronic currency in a bank.

            non-market, planned transfers (e.g. charity)

            This is an incorrect definition of “planning”, so your original statement does not hold.

            People would generally be allowed to start for-profit businesses, essentially identically to those that exist today. They just wouldn’t be the nominal owner.

            How?

            Planting a tree is not “private enterprise” in my understanding of the word.

            It was to the Khmer Rouge. How do you draw the line differently?

            I’m sure the extra productivity of planting trees would be welcome, assuming the trees didn’t interfere with anything important. The state is the owner, not the micromanager.

            So you’re saying that people can engage in private enterprise, so long as it’s small enough and hidden enough that the State doesn’t see it?! “You can evade paying taxes if you just hide your income.”

            Its true that in order to buy a resource from someone, you have to offer them something they want. And if you don’t have something they want, you’re out of luck on this front. This is not exactly a stunning indictment of socialism.

            You didn’t engage with my statement at all. The only way a person from Iowa can acquire resources with which to trade is to go overseas and engage in a sort of colonialism in your system. In the current system, a person can plant trees, pick berries, or start Facebook.

            But he loses the option to just buy it from somebody.

            We’re been talking about the option of buying from the owner (the state) for a while now? I don’t follow this.

            This was in context of the guy in Iowa who has no option to acquire things to trade to the State. (Assuming he doesn’t go overseas to plunder.)

            Poverty is measured in dollars, not amount of food.

            This entire conversation was started with you saying that money=/=utility, with your only example being lack of food. Are you now denying this?

            My claim is that direct distribution takes less transactions to reduce poverty

            This is not true, as an exchange of money from the State to a poor person requires the same number of transactions as the charitable exchange of money from one private citizen to a poor person.

            Its not the legal middleman for the x% of wealth that is directly legally distributed to the poor.

            But this doesn’t occur. The state owns the land, the trees, and the berries. The State owns the paper and the ink used to make currency. The State owns the currency once it’s printed. Then, it engages in a transaction to give that currency to poor people. Then, it engages in another transaction to exchange that currency back for food.

            Do you work just as hard for your boss’s bonus as you do your own? That money is taxed and regulated, so why do you think its nominal owner might affect your behavior?

            That you can use taxes and regulations to create an equal outcome regardless of the nominal owner, doesn’t mean that we currently do.

            This completely side-stepped the question about incentives.

            If I wanted to achieve the outcome of me and my boss each getting half the money, it doesn’t matter whether my boss is the “owner” who is taxed at 50% with the other half redistributed to myself, or I am the “owner” who is taxed at 50% with the other half redistributed to my boss.

            Right, but in your system, every single selection of “if I wanted” is a decision made by the State. This is the essence of central planning. Will you admit that your plan is absolute central planning?

            Likewise with state ownership. In terms of wealth, there’s no difference between owning the a business that is taxed at 20% vs. working for a state-owned business that pays 80% of what you produce as an incentive, and allows you to sell the right to work there (essentially identical to selling the business).

            This is very not identical to selling the business. Can you actually sell your entire 80% stake to someone? Can you “sell the right to work there” according to fixed rate, rather than a percentage? Can you select percentages/fixed rates that are not all equal?

          • Guy in TN says:

            You own electronic in-game currency in approximately the same way that you own electronic currency in a bank.

            Er, not sure about this, I’m thinking its all owned by the gaming company if its located on their servers. Let me give another example: redeemable reward points. You can use these points to buy things, but I think the points remain property of the company.

            This is an incorrect definition of “planning”, so your original statement does not hold.

            Dictionary tells me “to plan” means “to decide on and arrange in advance.” Are you using some other definition?

            How?

            You would go to the property owner (the state) and be like “I want to start a business here, what does it cost to buy that right?” and if you can agree on a price, then you can use that plot of land to do whatever it was you said. It’s pretty straightforward.

            It was to the Khmer Rouge. How do you draw the line differently?

            Private enterprise requires that you own capital, right? “Planting trees” is an activity that could take place in either private, state, or unowned land.

            So you’re saying that people can engage in private enterprise, so long as it’s small enough and hidden enough that the State doesn’t see it?!

            I’m saying people can plant trees as long as the state doesn’t disagree with it.

            The only way a person from Iowa can acquire resources with which to trade is to go overseas and engage in a sort of colonialism in your system. In the current system, a person can plant trees, pick berries, or start Facebook.

            It’s not colonialism if you already own the land to begin with. And in order to “pick berries, plant trees” in the current system, you have to own the land first. So in both scenarios, the requirement is that the person has to own things, before he can trade.

            Here’s the thing: I don’t like private ownership of land, and am trying to minimize it. I much prefer state ownership, because it can be democratically controlled. So if the guy in Iowa, who wants to find a way to circumvent the rule of the democratic state by simply buying the property finds that it is difficult, this is my system working as intended. I want it to be onerous and difficult to circumvent democratic rule, and gain the power of autocratic rule by buying full private ownership.

            And before you go “aha! So he is worse off in your system” consider this: The same difficulty in acquiring property exists in the current system if you’re poor. “Buy land, plant things” is not an option for a sizeable segment of people in the Untied States.

            So I will concede this point: If you are currently wealthy, my system will make you worse off. This is by design.

            This entire conversation was started with you saying that money=/=utility, with your only example being lack of food. Are you now denying this?

            I thought I made it clear back on April 24th that I thought your question of charity vs. initial distribution was in regards to the larger question of poverty, rather than access to a specific good.

            But anyway, let’s roll with it. You are interested in the question of what is the best way to distribute bread. So let’s tally up the transactions:

            Direct distribution plan:
            1. State allocates money to the poor.
            2. Poor exchange money for bread.

            Charity plan:
            1. State allocates money to someone who is not poor.
            2. That person gives money to the poor.
            3. The poor exchange the money for bread.

            But wait! You say you by “charity” you specifically meant things like food banks, where people directly give goods instead of money, right? That was never clear from the start, but whatever. Let’s tally it up:

            Food bank plan:
            1. State allocates food to someone who is not poor (I’ll be generous to you and let the state allocate food directly, since if the state allocated money there would be an additional transaction)
            2. That person gives food to the poor.

            So now the food bank plan and my direct distribution plan have the same number of transactions. Although we’ve now equalized it on that front, there is still a major difference between them. In my plan, the poor gets money, which it can use to buy things like clothes, shelter, or medicine. In your plan, the poor get strictly food (or whatever the charity is deciding to give out).

            I prefer giving people choices over their life, letting them buy things over the market, rather than having these decisions made for them by someone else. Each person’s needs are going to differ slightly, and only they know what is best for them.

            I’m curious to hear if you disagree with this, and if so why.

            But this doesn’t occur. The state owns the land, the trees, and the berries. The State owns the paper and the ink used to make currency. The State owns the currency once it’s printed.

            I don’t think I’ve advocated for the state owning all the money. In fact, time and time again in this thread, I have said that the poor people would be legally distributed ownership of the wealth produced, in the form of money.

            Right, but in your system, every single selection of “if I wanted” is a decision made by the State. This is the essence of central planning. Will you admit that your plan is absolute central planning?

            In my system, people have money which they exchange to access goods and services. Is this central planning?

            While its true that framework under which this happens has taxes and regulations set by the state, so does our current system. Is our current system central planning?

            Can you actually sell your entire 80% stake to someone? Can you “sell the right to work there” according to fixed rate, rather than a percentage? Can you select percentages/fixed rates that are not all equal?

            The state could easily set up such a regulatory system, if it wanted to.

          • Controls Freak says:

            redeemable reward points

            You can sue a company if they take away your rewards points without demonstrating that you breached the contract (via fraud or something).

            Dictionary tells me “to plan” means “to decide on and arrange in advance.” Are you using some other definition?

            Then all regular market transactions are “planned”, and your distinction is meaningless.

            You would go to the property owner (the state) and be like “I want to start a business here, what does it cost to buy that right?”

            What would you offer? Berries that you can’t pick/gather?

            Private enterprise requires that you own capital, right?

            As I linked, the Khmer Rouge thought picking berries to acquire additional resources (which could then be traded for other things) was private enterprise. Are you saying that Joe can pick berries with his hand, but if he makes a bucket or a step-stool to make him more efficient, that’s capital and unacceptable?

            I’m saying people can plant trees as long as the state doesn’t disagree with it.

            Boy. Wow.

            It’s not colonialism if you already own the land to begin with.

            He’s in Iowa, and he doesn’t own the land. Your State owns his land. He’d have to go overseas and engage in colonialism on other people’s land in order to acquire resource with which to bargain with the State for additional things.

            in both scenarios, the requirement is that the person has to own things, before he can trade.

            Sort of true. Unfortunately, you’ve made it nearly impossible for anyone to own anything. But regardless, a fairly minimal amount of ownership is required in the current system, due to the legality of private enterprise. Remember, basically all that Zuckerberg needed was a computer. Your system would prohibit him from engaging in this private enterprise.

            I don’t like private ownership of land, and am trying to minimize it.

            Will you at least stop at land, and not take our computers, our buckets, our stools, and our berries, too?

            If you are currently wealthy, my system will make you worse off.

            Maybe. It depends on how many people you want to let be a part of your government. You’ll need enough to force us off the King’sState’s lands, take our computers/buckets/stools/berries. And you’ll need give them some luxuries greater than sustenance in order to convince them to do this. But the control of all that land/computers/buckets/stools/berries will almost certainly fall to a small set of [previously-wealthy] government folks who have the resources to maintain the threat of force toward anyone who has a hankering for more berries than they’re allotted.

            In my plan, the poor gets money, which it can use to buy things like clothes, shelter, or medicine.

            Probably not. Who is going to have extras? If someone starts to make new clothing, they’re going to get thrown in jail for the crime of private enterprise, and your State is only going to allocate production to satisfy the absolute need. The fact that you can say, “Here is your ration, comrade; you can trade it for food/clothes/shelter/medicine, but only in the quantities defined,” isn’t really going to cut it. Your State owns all the businesses.

            In your plan, the poor get strictly food (or whatever the charity is deciding to give out).

            Charities can give out money just the same. But I really like how your State creates money from magic.

            I prefer giving people choices over their life, letting them buy things over the market, rather than having these decisions made for them by someone else.

            This is rich coming from the guy who won’t let us have computers, buckets, stools, or berries.

            I have said that the poor people would be legally distributed ownership of the wealth produced, in the form of money

            Money is a debt, not wealth. (Note that the price system does not rely completely on money; barter prices can be prices, even if they’re less efficient.) If carefully taken care of, a currency can function as a medium of exchange for wealth and a store of value. If it adds being a unit of account, it becomes money.

            In my system, people have money which they exchange to access goods and services. Is this central planning?

            Can they buy a bucket, or is that “private enterprise”?!

            Can you actually sell your entire 80% stake to someone? Can you “sell the right to work there” according to fixed rate, rather than a percentage? Can you select percentages/fixed rates that are not all equal?

            The state could easily set up such a regulatory system, if it wanted to.

            So, you’re fine with someone having the 80% stake in a business and hiring someone at a fixed wage to combine with the capital of the business in order to produce profit which then accrues to that person with the total-but-for-the-State’s-20% stake? Are you fine with, “How about we all just agree that Godthe State ‘actually’ owns all the things, but Godthe State doesn’t really do anything with that ownership, and instead, there are people who ‘run’ the place and accumulate the profits”? Because it sounds like you’re trying to play games with, “I’m defining ownership so vaguely that it could be literally no change at all from the current system,” (literally we just all profess that God owns everything and then go about our day like normal) in order to hide what your plan actually entails.

          • Guy in TN says:

            You can sue a company if they take away your rewards points without demonstrating that you breached the contract (via fraud or something).

            I didn’t know that. Anyway, the video game example still holds, and since you just need one example to show that something isn’t always so, that’s enough.

            Some food pantry distributors also use a token system for bidding, e.g. everyone who wants food is distributed 100 tokens (owned by the food pantry) to bid on items. That’s a market, where the bidders don’t own the currency.

            Then all regular market transactions are “planned”, and your distinction is meaningless.

            Markets are distinguished from planning by not being “decided in advance”, but by being decided by the highest bidder.

            Anyway, if you disagree with the dictionary definition, please feel free to provide your own that I can work with.

            What would you offer? Berries that you can’t pick/gather?

            You could offer money.

            As I linked, the Khmer Rouge thought picking berries to acquire additional resources (which could then be traded for other things) was private enterprise.

            Is this a definition you agree with, the Khmer Rouge’s? Seems like they might not be the most precise political philosophers that we should base our definitions off of?

            Are you saying that Joe can pick berries with his hand, but if he makes a bucket or a step-stool to make him more efficient, that’s capital and unacceptable?

            No, he can definitely make buckets and step-up stools, if the state was okay with it.

            Will you at least stop at land, and not take our computers, our buckets, our stools, and our berries, too?

            Maybe, it depends. If too many people hang on to meta-legal concepts of private ownership that get in the way of optimal regulation, then us socialists may have to do this the hard way. But if as a country, we could mentally reconcile the idea that regulation doesn’t interfere with ownership, but is rather a necessary component of it, then nominal private ownership could definitely be maintained.

            If someone starts to make new clothing, they’re going to get thrown in jail for the crime of private enterprise,

            Come on now, we can’t do this if you are going to just make up positions I supposedly have.

            and your State is only going to allocate production to satisfy the absolute need.

            Why would they do this? Is this what the state-owned enterprises of the Nordic’s do?

            Charities can give out money just the same.

            If you’re charities are giving out money, then you’ve just obliterated your argument that my system gets +1 transactions because the poor have to go spend that money for food. Then they have to do it in yours as well! Jesus man, follow along or drop the thread.

            Can they buy a bucket, or is that “private enterprise”?!

            They can buy the right to use the bucket for some purposes, but not for all purposes. Like all currently existing systems, there are regulations.

            So, you’re fine with someone having the 80% stake in a business and hiring someone at a fixed wage to combine with the capital of the business in order to produce profit which then accrues to that person with the total-but-for-the-State’s-20% stake? Are you fine with, “How about we all just agree that Godthe State ‘actually’ owns all the things, but Godthe State doesn’t really do anything with that ownership, and instead, there are people who ‘run’ the place and accumulate the profits”?

            There’s two levels of discussion here:
            1. Who should own it?
            2. What should they do, once they own it?

            I think the state should own it. And if the state felt like your hypothetical system produced the most social good, then they certainty could set things up that way.

            On the object level, I would make some tweaks (the state’s allocation of 80% to the operator seems far too high), but for the meta-question of “could the state do such a thing” the answer is yes.

            Because it sounds like you’re trying to play games with, “I’m defining ownership so vaguely that it could be literally no change at all from the current system,”

            It’s not a game, but the truth: By using the tools of taxation and regulation, we can make who the nominal owner is have little effect. The only reason it does matter, is because of certain cultural ideological memes regarding private ownership. With a blank-slate society, I wouldn’t care whether you call it private or public ownership. But we don’t have a blank slate.

            (literally we just all profess that God owns everything and then go about our day like normal) in order to hide what your plan actually entails.

            “God owns everything” honestly isn’t a bad strategy to break the ideological stranglehold people have regarding private property. If it’s not yours, people have to think of better arguments for why taxation and regulation is wrong, rather than the lousy usual ones. I’ve seen some radical Catholics utilize the arg, but it seems like an losing strategy for the 21st century, given the trends.

          • Controls Freak says:

            Some food pantry distributors also use a token system for bidding

            Fair enough. Notice that the entire point is to approximate actual ownership so that prices best approximate utility. However, this requires significant constraints to pull off artificially.

            Markets are distinguished from planning by not being “decided in advance”, but by being decided by the highest bidder.

            This is silly, and yes, I disagree with your interpretation of the dictionary definition. When people bid on something, they generally have a “plan” for what they want, what they want to spend, etc., right? You’re again trying to be too clever by half.

            You could offer money.

            You’re going to offer the money the State gave you for the State’s property. This is a “bargain”. Brilliant.

            Is this a definition you agree with, the Khmer Rouge’s? Seems like they might not be the most precise political philosophers that we should base our definitions off of?

            I’m asking you to even try to distinguish your plan, because otherwise, we’ve seen how your plan ends up.

            No, he can definitely make buckets and step-up stools, if the state was okay with it.

            So you’re resting on, “He can pick berries, if the State is okay with it; he can gain capital, if the State is okay with it; he can own land, if the State is okay with it.” Forget it; let’s just say the State is okay with the current state of affairs. We’re done here. Your “plan” is infinitely malleable.

            Is this what the state-owned enterprises of the Nordic’s do?

            They don’t own all of the land/capital, like they do in your plan (or at least, I think, because now you’re starting to refuse to even have a plan).

            If you’re charities are giving out money, then you’ve just obliterated your argument that my system gets +1 transactions because the poor have to go spend that money for food.

            That wasn’t my argument. Try again.

            They can buy the right to use the bucket for some purposes, but not for all purposes. Like all currently existing systems, there are regulations.

            Again, vagueness personified. Look, if your only position really is, “The State can do things,” and you’re still arguing against a libertarian straw man, just stop. If you want to take actual positions on ownership, private enterprise, capital, etc., then take them.

            “God owns everything” honestly isn’t a bad strategy to break the ideological stranglehold people have regarding private property.

            Expletive. I was right. You’re being intentionally stupid, arguing against a libertarian straw man (see also “If it’s not yours, people have to think of better arguments for why taxation and regulation is wrong, rather than the lousy usual ones”), literally unwilling to defend anything stronger than that we should all say a magic incantation around a word you don’t like, but let everything else about how the world works stay exactly the same. Who cares if we then use a new word or set of words to eventually mean exactly the same thing as we used to? You feel a little better, because you didn’t like the bad word.

            This is no longer fruitful.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Notice that the entire point is to approximate actual ownership so that prices best approximate utility.

            It approximates an egalitarian ownership, in which I agree markets are a good proxy for utility. If the food pantry distributed 100 tokens to some people, but only 1 to others, it would not be a good proxy.

            Forget it; let’s just say the State is okay with the current state of affairs. We’re done here. Your “plan” is infinitely malleable.

            The question of who should own the property is separate from the question of how the owners should govern it. Thus far, we’ve been honing in on the first question, so I’ve been giving you a narrow answer.

            The topic we are discussing is not the entirety of my political beliefs.

            They don’t own all of the land/capital, like they do in your plan

            So what is your argument here? If they did own all the land and capital, that they would cease to try to produce beyond the bare-minimum to satisfy human needs? I’m missing the cause and effect here.

            You:

            At some point, he needs to transact that money for food, and so the State is involved in two transactions with the poor, resulting in two sets of transactions costs.

            Me:

            If your charities are giving out money, then you’ve just obliterated your argument that my system gets +1 transactions because the poor have to go spend that money for food.

            You:

            That wasn’t my argument. Try again.

            ???

            Look, if your only position really is, “The State can do things,” and you’re still arguing against a libertarian straw man, just stop.

            Libertarians agree that the state should have the power to tax and regulate? I mean, the SSC bubble is weird, so maybe that is the case here. I don’t think it’s true on the outside.

            literally unwilling to defend anything stronger than that we should all say a magic incantation around a word you don’t like, but let everything else about how the world works stay exactly the same. Who cares if we then use a new word or set of words to eventually mean exactly the same thing as we used to?

            It wouldn’t be exactly the same, because people have ideological hangups regarding private property that keep us from implementing optimal taxation and regulations, resulting in the U.S. lagging behind European welfare states in terms of human well-being.

            If we are going to implement something like a social wealth fund, it’s going to be a lot easier to do in the US if the state owns the property. Like, the entire Tea Party movement, and its consequences, was borne out of this misunderstanding regarding the nature of private property.

            The words we use matter, because they have cultural and historical context that poke at human’s emotion lobes.

          • Controls Freak says:

            It’s that your analysis is wrong, and you just can’t measure “simple” in that way, nor does your measure of “simple” necessarily correlate with “better” in this space.

            The cherry on top is that even given your measures, your claims of simplicity have failed (both on the number of participants and on the number of transactions).

            “God owns everything.” The capitalist scum merely possesses and exerts control over property in a way that is exactly like ownership, but isn’t called ownership. I guess we’re done here. (Hell, we don’t need a State at all to make you happy, apparently.)

          • Guy in TN says:

            The cherry on top is that even given your measures, your claims of simplicity have failed (both on the number of participants and on the number of transactions).

            You’re just re-asserting your position here, ignoring the counter-argument I already provided. So I’ll repeat myself in case you missed it:

            Direct distribution plan:
            1. State allocates money to the poor.
            2. Poor exchange money for bread.

            Charity plan:
            1. State allocates money to someone who is not poor.
            2. That person gives money to the poor.
            3. The poor exchange the money for bread.

            The capitalist scum merely possesses and exerts control over property in a way that is exactly like ownership, but isn’t called ownership.

            Or rather, my plan is nothing at all like ownership if you have a particular liberal viewpoint that demands the owner be the highest sovereign over a given territory (i.e., the most common conception of “private ownership” in the US.)

            Hell, we don’t need a State at all to make you happy, apparently.

            We just need just democratic regulation, high taxation, and generous welfare. If you can do with private property that’s great, but I’m not getting my hopes up.

          • Controls Freak says:

            It’s that your analysis is wrong, and you just can’t measure “simple” in that way, nor does your measure of “simple” necessarily correlate with “better” in this space.

            .

            Or rather, my plan is nothing at all like ownership if you have a particular liberal viewpoint that demands the owner be the highest sovereign over a given territory

            We just need just democratic regulation, high taxation, and generous welfare.

            These aren’t the same thing.

          • Guy in TN says:

            It’s that your analysis is wrong

            What part, the arithmetic? Seems pretty basic: 3 > 2.

            and you just can’t measure “simple” in that way

            While there are many dimensions one can measure the concept of “simple”, the number of transactions seems like a fairly straightforward one. I think most people would agree that, all else equal, a plan with two owners is more simple than a plan with three.

            nor does your measure of “simple” necessarily correlate with “better” in this space.

            Given the inherent transaction costs, all else equal it should be a superior plan. But I’m open to the idea that creating a legal middleman is adding something of value to the process, you are right that simpler isn’t always better. If you have an argument for why we should be using a middleman in this case, I’m all ears.

          • Controls Freak says:

            What part, the arithmetic?

            That’s the cherry on top bit.

            While there are many dimensions one can measure the concept of “simple”, the number of transactions seems like a fairly straightforward one.

            Not really. What is the economic meaning of the velocity of money? What is the utility meaning? Often, people on the left make arguments that conclude in increasing the velocity of money, and then jump to, “And this is good.”

          • Guy in TN says:

            What is the economic meaning of the velocity of money?

            In regards to the concept of “simple”, clearly a lower velocity of money is “simpler” than a higher, sense there are less transactions. I think most people would agree that the concept of “simple” implies a situation with less of a thing, rather than a situation with more of a thing.

            What is the utility meaning?

            If we agree that a certain end result produces the most utility (e.g. the poor having the bread), then every transaction along the way (i.e. the velocity of money), and the associated transaction costs, introduce the possibility of decreasing the final amount of bread the poor will get. Hence, every transaction along the way reduces their final utility.

            If this seems weird, its because liberal economists usually don’t establish establish an end goal dsitribution as a utility-maximum, but rather focus how market transactions increase utility. But since both me and you agree that we should abandon typical market transactions in the scenario, and give the poor the bread despite it producing less economic value, the typical logic of the market no longer applies.

            Here’s an easy thought experiment to see why the middlemen matter:

            Let’s say 100 people are all standing in a room, and you and me agree that the outcome that produces the most utility is for the poorest person to have a loaf of bread.

            One option, is for the poor person to be assigned ownership of the bread. The poor person could then grab the bread themselves, or have someone else bring it to them. Either way, its the poor person’s bread, legally.

            Another option, is to first assign ownership of the bread to person A. He then assigns it to person B. Who then assigns it to C. And so on, for 99 ownership transactions, until the poor person, at the very end, gets the bread.

            From what I can gather from your argument, you think these scenarios have the same utility outcome. I propose they are not, based on transaction costs alone.

            But transaction costs aren’t even the only threat we’ve introduced, with the second option. This is because the owner of the bread can always eat the bread himself. Every time someone who isn’t the poor person owns it, there’s always that risk. Heck, there could even be someone along the chain who doesn’t even agree that the poor person should get the bread, and would refuse to make further transactions, thwarting who whole plan.

            So why take that risk? Clearly the two plans are not equal, in terms of utility. The second plan has to go perfectly smoothly (with no one going rouge), and even then we’ve introduced a hundred unnecessary transaction costs.

          • Controls Freak says:

            I think most people would agree that the concept of “simple” implies a situation with less of a thing, rather than a situation with more of a thing.

            There is almost never just a thing. You’re picking out one of a variety of possible things.

            every transaction along the way (i.e. the velocity of money), and the associated transaction costs, introduce the possibility of decreasing the final amount of bread the poor will get

            This doesn’t make sense. You seem to be assuming that there is a fixed quantity of money, and that as it is transacted, some of it disappears, leaving less money. I don’t see how this model remotely describes the real world.

          • Guy in TN says:

            You’re picking out one of a variety of possible things.

            That’s right- I’m saying its simpler in this one aspect, all else equal. That’s my argument, honestly. If you want to say that it’s more complex because of some other aspect, that’s fine. But can you at least concede this point?

            You seem to be assuming that there is a fixed quantity of money, and that as it is transacted, some of it disappears, leaving less money.

            I am not assuming there is a fixed quantity of money, or bread. Of course there’s not. I am assuming there’s a cost to making new wealth, though.

            Also, I am assuming that every transaction has a utility cost. This is just basic econ. Sometimes transactions also have utility benefits, and these benefits outweigh the costs. But I’m failing to see any utility benefit at all to these additional transactions- it seems like they just increase the possibility of the poor not actually getting the wealth, or getting less of the wealth than they otherwise could.

            The charity proposal sounds to like “we should introduce utility costs”, and I’m like “okay maybe, but only if there a utility benefit that outweighs it”, but this benefit is yet to be articulated.

          • Controls Freak says:

            But can you at least concede this point?

            Nah, because you’re still using silly ideas like government ownership not being ownership and government transactions being a “resetting” rather than a transaction.

            I am assuming there’s a cost to making new wealth, though.

            How is that new wealth created, and is the magnitude of that new wealth greater or lesser than the magnitude of the costs?

            I am assuming that every transaction has a utility cost. This is just basic econ.

            This is not basic econ.

            Sometimes transactions also have utility benefits, and these benefits outweigh the costs.

            This is basic econ.

            But I’m failing to see any utility benefit at all to these additional transactions- it seems like they just increase the possibility of the poor not actually getting the wealth, or getting less of the wealth than they otherwise could.

            You haven’t supported this in the slightest. You’ve just said, “Transactions cost exist -> magic -> increased possibility of the poor not actually getting the wealth.” There’s no mechanism, no comparison of alternatives, nothing. I have literally no reason to conclude anything about this probability from the one factor you’ve pulled out.

          • Guy in TN says:

            You haven’t supported this in the slightest. You’ve just said, “Transactions cost exist -> magic -> increased possibility of the poor not actually getting the wealth.” There’s no mechanism, no comparison of alternatives, nothing.

            Allow me to repost since you seem to have missed it. I said:

            “This is because the owner of the bread can always eat the bread himself. Every time someone who isn’t the poor person owns it, there’s always that risk. Heck, there could even be someone along the chain who doesn’t even agree that the poor person should get the bread, and would refuse to make further transactions, thwarting who whole plan.”

          • Controls Freak says:

            We’re talking about money being transacted along with goods/services. Sometimes, bread is involved; sometimes, it isn’t. And again, a private charity can simply give money to a poor person.

            EDIT: Your current model seems to be that there is a fixed amount of bread; as transactions occur in the economy, some bread disappears; therefore more transactions -> less bread that can be given to the poor. This is still a silly model.

          • Guy in TN says:

            And again, a private charity can simply give money to a poor person.

            Right, and this carries the exact same risks. What if that person disagrees that the poor should receive the money? What if they disagree about the amount? Why take that chance, when the poor person’s utility depends on it?

            Your current model seems to be that there is a fixed amount of bread; as transactions occur in the economy, some bread disappears; therefore more transactions -> less bread that can be given to the poor. This is still a silly model.

            My model makes no such assumptions. The concept of “number of transactions” is distinct from the concept of “bread production”. Of course you can produce more bread! You can also irrigate the soil for wheat, improve transportation routes, lower the unemployment rate, and change all sorts of other variables outside the question at hand.

            Like any model, when focusing on a variable (number of transactions), you want to leave all other variables constant (e.g. bread production) to figure out what effect the variable in question has.

          • Controls Freak says:

            What if that personthe government disagrees that the poor should receive the money? What if theythe government disagrees about the amount? Why take that chance, when the poor person’s utility depends on it?

            Again, any subset of private citizens can engage in private charity.

            Concerning the rest of your comment, you haven’t fixed the problem. At all. You posed a model where transactions somehow meant less bread. You quoted yourself for the mechanism being:

            “This is because the owner of the bread can always eat the bread himself. Every time someone who isn’t the poor person owns it, there’s always that risk. Heck, there could even be someone along the chain who doesn’t even agree that the poor person should get the bread, and would refuse to make further transactions, thwarting who whole plan.”

            You even prefaced this with things like:

            is to first assign ownership of the bread to person A. He then assigns it to person B. Who then assigns it to C. And so on, for 99 ownership transactions, until the poor person, at the very end, gets the bread.

            This makes no bloody sense when you think about the actual transactions involved for more than a quarter of a second. You’re not “holding other variables constant”. You’re setting up a fictional world with fictional dynamics that make no sense. The only things that happen in your fictional world are transactions which reduce the quantity of bread. That’s it. It’s bloody absurd. That’s why it fails to tell us anything meaningful about the real world. You’ve pulled out one poorly-defined thing (because you’re performing definitional twister with government “ownership” and government “transactions”), counted poorly, transferred your bad number to an even worse thought experiment, and left us all dumber for humoring you this far.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Again, any subset of private citizens can engage in private charity.

            I don’t understand the argument. That a person can engage in charity doesn’t mean that they will. That the 99-person bread transfer scheme can produce the same end result as direct-distribution, doesn’t mean it has the same likelihood.

            You’re not “holding other variables constant”. You’re setting up a fictional world with fictional dynamics that make no sense.

            Explain? The inherent variation in people’s opinions regarding the distribution bread is not the variable under consideration. I’m assuming there’s set distribution of opinion as a constant, i.e. “some portion of the population disagrees that the poor should get the bread”. Is this a ridiculous assumption?

            The only things that happen in your fictional world are transactions which reduce the quantity of bread. That’s it. It’s bloody absurd.

            It’s a thought-experiment model to address the question of “how many transactions should there be”, not an exhaustive description of the all the real-world economic institutions in existence. It’s a question of all else equal.

            If you want to determine the best policies, one good way to do this is by starting with the correct principles and working from there. You can deduce the best principle by examining simplified situations, in the form of models and thought-experiments.

            If I had just come out of the gate and told you what I thought the best policies were, you would probably ask “but why?”. So I am talking about economic principles instead. If you object to that, you object to the very concept of a thought experiment. Going to be hard to make any headway with those restrictions.

          • Controls Freak says:

            I don’t understand the argument. That a personthe State can engage in charity doesn’t mean that they will

            FTFY

            That the 99-person bread transfer scheme can produce the same end result as direct-distribution, doesn’t mean it has the same likelihood.

            Honestly, this is what it comes down to. You don’t even believe that your absurd scenario makes sense (hell; according to the principles you espoused earlier above, the State can perform those 99 transfers of ownership basically immediately, sooo…). Nor do you actually think that poorly counting up transactions actually results in some sort of meaningful transactions cost analysis or magic reductions in bread. Instead, it comes down to, “I personally trust the State more than I trust private charity to have a higher probability of doing what I want.” That’s how you really got the “magic” part of “magic -> increased possibility of the poor not actually getting the wealth”.

            It’s a question of all else equal.

            No, it’s not, because it’s not remotely reflective of how any of this actually works in the real world. You’re just holding bad assumptions equal. Look, I could just assume something silly about how transactions always generate wealth. “All I’m doing is holding everything else equal. Hey, look at that! More transactions means that there is more wealth to give to the poor! If you object to that, you object to the very concept of a thought experiment.”

            If you object to that, you object to the very concept of a thought experiment.

            Absolutely not. I object to terrible thought experiments.

          • Guy in TN says:

            That a personthe State can engage in charity doesn’t mean that they will

            Well obviously? If the state doesn’t want the poor to have the bread, then neither your nor my plan can help them.

            Nor do you actually think that poorly counting up transactions actually results in some sort of meaningful transactions cost analysis or magic reductions in bread.

            Nothing “actually results” with 100% probability, outside of the realm of physics. Come on, think like a rationalist here. I said it increases the likelihood of there being less bread (due to people eating it, cut that “magic” shit out).

            Instead, it comes down to, “I personally trust the State more than I trust private charity to have a higher probability of doing what I want.”

            Nope. I trust that having less transactions will result in the best outcome. If the entity that determines legal property distribution was some sort of non-state dictator, that would still be the preferable plan.

            You’re just holding bad assumptions equal. Look, I could just assume something silly about how transactions always generate wealth.

            Just to be clear, you object to the very notion that all transactions have costs? Can you find any economists who share this viewpoint? It seems so basic and obvious, like “all movement requires energy” that I am surprised this is up for debate.

            Google the phrase “all transactions have costs”, you get a lot of hits.

            Google the phrase “all transactions have benefits” and you get…nothing.

            There’s a reason this page exists, but not its inverse.

          • Controls Freak says:

            If the state doesn’t want the poor to have the bread, then neither your nor my plan can help them.

            I mean, I can just give them bread. Unless the state completes the panopticon and punishes me for it, of course. That doesn’t make your original argument any good. [EDIT: This has pretty much happened before, as we can go back to the Khmer Rouge example. Anyone who picked additional berries, even if just for their family or poor friends, was prosecuted for “private enterprise”. This hasn’t been a feature of any government that has operated remotely like the plan you dislike.]

            I said it increases the likelihood of there being less bread (due to people eating it, cut that “magic” shit out).

            So, your model is that more transactions (or an increase in the velocity of money) leads to less bread, because people eat it? This applies to all goods, right? Do you think an increase in the velocity of money leads to fewer pencils?

            Just to be clear, you object to the very notion that all transactions have costs?

            Nope. I simply presented a competing model. Are you objecting to the very concept of a thought experiment, holding everything else equal?

          • Guy in TN says:

            Do you think an increase in the velocity of money leads to fewer pencils?

            Will there be less pencils for the poor at the end of the chain? If you hold pencil production as a constant, I don’t see how it could result in anything but. More pencils changing hands, means more people using them, losing them, and also increases the likelihood of landing on a non-trader.
            ——————————————————-
            Not wanting to devolve too heavy into “gotcha”, but:

            Me:

            I am assuming that every transaction has a utility cost. This is just basic econ.

            You:

            This is not basic econ.

            Me:

            Just to be clear, you object to the very notion that all transactions have costs?

            You:

            Nope.

            ???

          • Controls Freak says:

            Will there be less pencils for the poor at the end of the chain?

            No idea. Your model doesn’t really speak to this, either.

            If you hold pencil production as a constant

            Then, lets go back to the question I asked, altered only slightly. Do you think an increase in the velocity of money leads to fewerthe same number of pencils… being produced?

            ???

            I’m not objecting, because it’s not worth my time to object. I’m merely ignoring it.

          • Guy in TN says:

            No idea. Your model doesn’t really speak to this, either.

            It certainly does, I’ve addressed the mechanism and even re-posted it. Should I repost a third time?

            Do you think an increase in the velocity of money leads to fewerthe same number of pencils… being produced?

            The amount of pencil transactions has no direct relation to the number of pencils produced. Curious where you are going with this, seems like a tangent.

          • Controls Freak says:

            The amount of pencil transactions has no direct relation to the number of pencils produced.

            Soooo, there’s this equation in the quantity theory of money. As they explain in the video, it’s considered an ‘identity’ and ‘true by definition’. My sense is that while folks have disagreed on how to approach this identity from a policy perspective (it’s four variables, so there is room for additional relations between them and with other economic parameters, while retaining the truth of this identity), most everyone agrees on an identity equation that looks basically like this.

            One thing that an identity relation like this implies is that you can’t merely hold everything else constant. Asking, “What would happen to [something else] if we held velocity of money, price level, and output constant while increasing the money supply,” is simply not a question we can ask, because the assumptions, on their own, break something extremely fundamental.

            I guess this is to now ask… in claiming that there is no direct relation between the velocity of money and output, are you rejecting this identity? In claiming that you want to hold everything else constant and only change velocity of money, is there a reason why I can’t just point to this identity and say, “Uh, you can’t do that”?

          • Guy in TN says:

            I guess this is to now ask… in claiming that there is no direct relation between the velocity of money and output, are you rejecting this identity?

            If you change V, you can keep it equal to P x Y by either changing P or Y.

            So the answer to “what happens to production when we increase the velocity of money” is “we can’t actually say”. There’s no direct relationship, because the equation explicitly says so. My answer is the one that accepts this identity!

            If you are trying to argue that you can’t hold both price and production constant, well that is obviously correct. If you hold price constant production would increase.

            But what of it? Higher production has no relation to how resources are distributed. You could make all the bread in the world, and if it doens’t go to the poor, then it means nothing it terms of their utility.

          • Guy in TN says:

            To put it in more concrete terms, you could very easily switch from a two person bread-chain to a 99 person bread chain (i.e. increase the velocity) without effecting the production of bread. It would just become a very expensive loaf of bread in the end (increase P).

          • Controls Freak says:

            But what of it?

            You can’t hold all else constant. That’s what of it.

            To put it in more concrete terms, you could very easily switch from a two person bread-chain to a 99 person bread chain (i.e. increase the velocity) without effecting the production of bread. It would just become a very expensive loaf of bread in the end (increase P).

            And you think this is the model you want to go with? You think that a system with private charity makes bread more expensive than a system with public charity, because you think there are “more” transactions involved?

            Can you square this with standard micro theory? You’ve held the supply curve fixed, and the quantity supplied fixed, so the price would be fixed.

          • Guy in TN says:

            You think that a system with private charity makes bread more expensive than a system with public charity, because you think there are “more” transactions involved?

            M x V = P x Y

            If you hold Y constant and increase V, then obviously P must increase.

            Can you square this with standard micro theory? You’ve held the supply curve fixed, and the quantity supplied fixed, so the price would be fixed.

            Can I square M x V = P x Y with standard micro? It’s a little outside my wheelhouse, but the experts say the reason V effects P, is because an increase in V actually drops the buying power of money (decreasing the demand for money), causing prices to rise.

          • Controls Freak says:

            This is starting to sound complicated. Almost like you can’t just hold everything constant, count up things that look like transactions (but aren’t, because you’ve defined them screwy), and make sweeping conclusions about what is a better way to provide bread to the poor.

          • Guy in TN says:

            lol this your tangent, not mine. I don’t even know where you were going with this pencil production argument.

            My argument for the superiority of direct distribution has nothing to do with production, prices, or GDP.

          • Controls Freak says:

            Your argument for the superiority of direct distribution has nothing to do with production, prices, or GDP… or really anything at all, because you can’t just hold everything constant, count up things that look like transactions (but aren’t, because you’ve defined them screwy), and make sweeping conclusions about what is a better way to provide bread to the poor.

          • Guy in TN says:

            I’m defining “transaction” as a transfer of ownership from one person (or entity) to another.

            How are you defining it?

          • Guy in TN says:

            So you really have no opinion regarding the 99-person bread transfer scheme vs. the 2-person?

            Are there no tools in our intellectual toolbox we can use to asses which might produce the best outcome? Is it really too complicated of a question to be knowable?

          • Guy in TN says:

            If I were to come to you and be like:

            “Say, your charity idea is pretty good. But what if we took it one step further? I have an idea called super charity. In super charity, instead of giving money directly to the poor, you give it to people who are not poor, and you hope that they have the same good-will you do, and will continue to pass it along to the actual poor. How about that?”

            Would your response be “Ah…since we can never truly hold everything constant, we have no way of gauging whether this plan is superior to my ordinary charity plan. The number of transactions is a meaningless variable for our purposes. Ergo, this super-charity plan is equally as good as my normal charity plan.”

          • Controls Freak says:

            I’m defining “transaction” as a transfer of ownership from one person (or entity) to another.

            So, transactions can occur infinitely-many times in an infinitesimally-short interval, as decreed by the State?

            How are you defining it?

            I could go with, “A financial transaction is an agreement, or communication, carried out between a buyer and a seller to exchange an asset for payment.”

            So you really have no opinion regarding the 99-person bread transfer scheme vs. the 2-person?

            Are there no tools in our intellectual toolbox we can use to asses which might produce the best outcome? Is it really too complicated of a question to be knowable?

            I picked a model. Holding all other things constant, more transactions increase wealth. That means that more transactions would result in more wealth to give to the poor. Do you object to the very concept of a thought experiment?

            super charity

            One of the great things about many private charity institutions (“super charities”) is that they explicitly tell you what they plan to do with the money, and usually publicly release external audits of their books.

          • Guy in TN says:

            So, transactions can occur infinitely-many times in an infinitesimally-short interval, as decreed by the State?

            Not infinitesimally short, but milliseconds is fine.

            I could go with, “A financial transaction is an agreement, or communication, carried out between a buyer and a seller to exchange an asset for payment.”

            Hmmm if this is what “transaction” means then why do they preclude it with the word “financial”? Seems like this is just a subset of the concept of “transactions”, otherwise the word “financial” would be redundant. Things like inheritance and gifts seems to fail to fit this definition, but surely we would agree they have transaction costs? [EDIT: I might be wrong about this. It seems that planned exchanges may not have any “transaction” costs at all]

            I picked a model. Holding all other things constant, more transactions increase wealth. That means that more transactions would result in more wealth to give to the poor.

            I’m glad you’ve finally spelled out your reasoning for why you think charity is superior: The 100 person chain is superior because you think all transactions create wealth.

            Bizarre choice, but I’ll let you have it. It’s honest, at least.

            One of the great things about many private charity institutions (“super charities”) is that they explicitly tell you what they plan to do with the money, and usually publicly release external audits of their books.

            This isn’t the case for the super-charity plan that I’m proposing, though. They are just random property owners, just like the initial property owners in your proposal.

            So what is your take on it? Why not give money to random property owners, who have made no claims of supporting charity whatsoever, instead? The number of transactions doesn’t matter, right?

          • Controls Freak says:

            Not infinitesimally short

            Why not? The State isn’t limited by needing to connect a buyer and a seller. They merely declare that ownership has been transferred. There is nothing preventing this from happening within an arbitrarily short period of time.

            if this is what “transaction” means then why do they preclude it with the word “financial”?

            Barter transactions exchange assets for assets.

            Bizarre choice

            That’s what I thought about yours. Honestly, I can’t believe that you didn’t even try to argue that your model is a more accurate description of reality. It really demonstrates how little you actually believed your model, instead simply using it as a shoddy rhetorical tactic.

            The remainder of your comment doesn’t seem reflective of anything worth commenting on. At best, it’s another utterly silly model. I might as well say, “Why not give money to a State that makes no claim of doing State-like things?” As though this is a worthwhile argument against the existence of the State.

          • Guy in TN says:

            I might as well say, “Why not give money to a State that makes no claim of doing State-like things?” As though this is a worthwhile argument against the existence of the State.

            Let’s go with it: What’s your argument against giving money to them?

            By your logic it shouldn’t seem to matter, number of transactions being irrelevant and all.

          • Controls Freak says:

            Yeah, I pretty much agree that I don’t see how number of transactions matters for anything here. There may be other factors at play, but number of transactions doesn’t seem relevant.

            Edit: This is made clear by the fact that you’re adjusting things that aren’t the number of transactions (things like whether the organization has made a public commitment) and expecting there to be a difference.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Perhaps my objection to the charity plan would be better phrased for you as: it relies on initially allocating money to people who may not be charitable, while the direct-distribution plan ensures that a certain level of resources are allocated for the poor.

          • Controls Freak says:

            As I wrote:

            it comes down to, “I personally trust the State more than I trust private charity to have a higher probability of doing what I want.” That’s how you really got the “magic” part of “magic -> increased possibility of the poor not actually getting the wealth”.

          • Guy in TN says:

            I’m assuming by “charity” you are visualizing the ownership of property moving something like this:

            private individual-> charity organization -> poor person

            And while it’s true that the charity organization has a dedication to giving to the poor person, the private individual does not. When the state allocates property to him, they are taking a gamble that he will give to charity at all.

            My first alternative, was to simply allocate property directly to the poor person. But because I do trust private charitable organizations equally to the state, I’m willing to explore an additional option I hadn’t previously considered. It looks like this:

            charity organization -> poor person

            In this plan, the charity is the initial owner, not private individuals. This plan prevents the property from ever passing through the hands of a person who hasn’t made a public commitment to serving the poor.

            Because I trust private charity as much as the state, I’m fine with this plan too. Property would be directly allocated to the charities, who then transfer it to the poor people.

          • Guy in TN says:

            That’s how you really got the “magic” part of “magic -> increased possibility of the poor not actually getting the wealth”.

            If we can agree that only organizations who have made a public commitment to serving the poor should be trusted, then my charity organization -> poor person plan is surely superior to one that begins with people who have made no such commitments.

          • Controls Freak says:

            If we can agree that only organizations who have made a public commitment to serving the poor should be trusted

            This is hilarious. Just amazing. BRING BACK PURITY OATHS! But seriously, this has nothing to do with economics. It has nothing to do with simplicity. It has nothing to do with number of transactions. Shit, it has nothing to do with exploring when price diverges from utility. You’ve made clear what you’re about. I’m actually done now.

          • Guy in TN says:

            This is hilarious. Just amazing. BRING BACK PURITY OATHS!

            Wait, wasn’t your objection to giving money to random people is that unlike charities, they failed to make a public commitment?

          • Guy in TN says:

            I guess you never answered the question directly, but you did seem to imply it here.

          • Controls Freak says:

            It was just amusing how you wrote it with no qualifier. “Think this guy’s telling the truth about the murder he claimed to have seen?” “I don’t know. Has he made a public commitment to serving the poor?”

            I had to laugh.

          • Guy in TN says:

            I thought the qualify [“trusted…to pass it on“] was unnecessary due to context.

            So anyway, what is your objection to giving money to non-charities instead, again?

          • Controls Freak says:

            It was for the lulz. All that’s left in this conversation is the lulz.

            I don’t recall objecting. I’m pretty sure this conversation is over. But don’t be sad. We’ve made real progress here. You’ve finally come around to being able to trust private charities. That’s a lot for you. You should take a week or so, and let it settle in.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Trust was never the issue for me? Ctrl+f “trust” and the only time I mention it, is when I say that I would trust a private entity with direct-distribution power.

            If all you’ve got left are straw men, I’d say I’m fucking killing it over here.

            I would gladly link this conversation to the main open threads for others to be enlightened by it, and I plan to.

          • Guy in TN says:

            I don’t recall objecting.

            So, you have no objection to instead of giving money to charities, you give money to non-charities and hope that they give money to charities? No objection at all? This is your serious position?

          • Guy in TN says:

            All that’s left in this conversation is the lulz.

            The tell-tale sounds of a man about to lose an argument.

          • Controls Freak says:

            Trust was never the issue for me?

            This is false. You’ve long since given up trying to argue by counting transactions.

            So, you have no objection to instead of giving money to charities, you give money to non-charities?

            I didn’t say that. I said that this line of questioning makes it clear that you’re no longer making an argument about economics, simplicity, number of transactions, or when price diverges from utility. If all you’ve got left are straw men, I’d say I’m fucking killing it over here.

            The tell-tale sounds of a man about to lose an argument.

            ROFL. After I predicted your real position forever ago, it eventually came out that I was right. We’ve gotten to the root of the issue. We’ve solved the main problem. The only thing left is for you to realize that number of transactions has nothing to do with it.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Man, you are really bad at context clues. Trust of charities to distribute to the poor was never as issue for me. So your paternalistic “oh look how you’ve grown to trust charities” is nonsense.

            I said that this line of questioning makes it clear that you’re no longer making an argument about economics, simplicity, number of transactions, or when price diverges from utility.

            I mean, all arguments about the distribution of property is economics. If you want to bow out from this “line of questioning” because it’s outside of your expertise, that’s fine. I’ll let you concede the debate.

          • Guy in TN says:

            I said that this line of questioning makes it clear that you’re no longer making an argument about economics, simplicity, number of transactions, or when price diverges from utility.

            It’s all interconnected:

            You wouldn’t even be advocating for charity, if you didn’t believe that there were cases where prices diverged from utility. So that was a necessary prior for the whole conservation.

            And I haven’t abandoned the number of transactions argument- it was you who suggested that trust of public commitments was a second, more important factor! So that’s two reasons I have for why direct distribution is superior. When I’m talking about one, that doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned the other.

          • Controls Freak says:

            Trust of charities to distribute to the poor was never as issue for me.

            I’m glad we agree that private charities result in a plenty high probability of wealth getting to the poor.

            I mean, all arguments about the distribution of property is economics. If you want to bow out from this “line of questioning” because it’s outside of your expertise, that’s fine. I’ll let you concede the debate.

            Man, you are really bad at context clues. But really, I’m not even sure if you still have an argument. You’ve certainly left counting up transactions. You’ve certainly left considering when price diverges from utility. And now you’re fine with private charities resulting in a plenty high probability of wealth getting to the poor. I’m not sure there’s any argument left to be had. I think when we’re down to the null set, we can pretty much say, “The null set is not economics.”

            I mean, if you have an argument, please state it. I haven’t seen on in a while.

          • Controls Freak says:

            it was you who suggested that trust of public commitments was a second, more important factor

            You were the one who boiled the problem down to trust, not transactions.

          • Guy in TN says:

            My argument is right here.

          • Controls Freak says:

            That’s an argument about trust, not transactions.

          • Guy in TN says:

            On second thought, I’m not going to waste time with someone “here for the lulz”.

          • Controls Freak says:

            It depends on how de minimis of a ‘cost’ you’ll accept.

            EDIT: Well, okay. If you’ve got an argument that rises above the level of lulz, let me know.

        • DinoNerd says:

          Arrgh – too late to correct, I see that random text enclosed in angle brackets gets deleted by this system. I was using <expletive> in several places in ym emssage above, which is why this sentence in particular appears incoherent.

          because those people are with me, and I can’t see any way of adjusting their incentives to stop them. Or at least I want to get those

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Well, this is why I was very pro-Trump and still am, even though I don’t really have any idea how he’s doing. It really doesn’t matter, as long as he’s not burning the house down. What was really getting critical was shaking the status quo a bit. Having a country led by two dynasties for… how long was it already? If Hillary had won, it would have been 7 terms, I think, and you can pretty much count Obama as well even if he doesn’t have the same last name. This is already “not funny” territory, for a country that prides itself on not being a monarchy.

      Trump has a critical advantage for a shaker – he’s against the pendulum. The danger he posed was a nazi style, executive order abusing, president-for-life kind – and that’s very, very unpopular right now. Well worth the risk.

      Any left-directed “burning down” would be a positive feedback loop (as opposed to a very steep negative loop for Trump). And … well, actually, that’s a SSC worthy question, but my humble opinion is the more drastic the revolution, the worse the results. The really successful ones were either evolutions (British Empire), building from ground up (US) or transitions, the gentler the better (Slovenia, Czech Republic compared to Romania, Yugoslavia, China vs South Korea and Japan, first Chinese revolution vs the second capitalist-oriented one).

      It could be just me, but at the moment I can’t think of a radical revolution that went really well.

      So I’d suggest you do your own short historical research, and if you come to the same conclusion it should help protect you from too much “burning down” desires.

      • Dan L says:

        Having a country led by two dynasties for… how long was it already? If Hillary had won, it would have been 7 terms, I think, and you can pretty much count Obama as well even if he doesn’t have the same last name. This is already “not funny” territory, for a country that prides itself on not being a monarchy.

        This is so far removed from what “dynasty” actually means that you should reconsider what your point is. If your true objection is “I don’t like the bipartisan consensus” then fine, but then you need to be making a different argument.

      • quanta413 says:

        You can’t count the one guy who wasn’t part of a political dynasty over the last quarter century as part of one. That’s cheating.

        • Anthony says:

          Especially when he beat the dynast in the election.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            On the one hand, we do, like all of the other ape descended life forms on the planet, seem to like our royal blood. The Bushes, the Cheneys, the Clintons (kinda), the Kennedys, the Cuomos, the Daleys, the Roosevelts, etc.

            On the other hand, if we are talking about the actual US presidency, the only sorta-dynastic final result that has occurred since Roosevelt is, I believe, W. Bush. So, uh, yeah….

          • Dan L says:

            @ HBC:

            An argument can be made that H.W. also counted, as he was the son of Senator Prescott Bush. But I’d award partial credit at best, as the two never held the same office.

            Talk of political “dynasties” is a clumsy metaphor that IME is used to identify a family whose trade is politics. That’s not the same thing at all, and there is good reason to expect the latter to crop up for the standard list of reasons family trades exist in the first place.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Dan L:

            Sure, sure. I just meant “The king is dead, long live the king” kind of “dynasty” talk, where you draw the next royal from the relatives of former royals.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            @Dan L

            Talk of political “dynasties” is a clumsy metaphor that IME is used to identify a family whose trade is politics. That’s not the same thing at all, and there is good reason to expect the latter to crop up for the standard list of reasons family trades exist in the first place.

            Good point. Should have said “families”.

            And yes, family trades exist for good reasons, except in politics, where we have terms for the very reasons we don’t want families. Power entrenchment, conflicts of interest, doubt of competence (would Hillary have made it to the top if she hadn’t been first lady?) etc.

          • Dan L says:

            @ Radu:

            And yes, family trades exist for good reasons, except in politics, where we have terms for the very reasons we don’t want families. Power entrenchment, conflicts of interest, doubt of competence (would Hillary have made it to the top if she hadn’t been first lady?) etc.

            I don’t particularly disagree. But Hillary didn’t make it to the top, and neither did Jeb. Voters these days seem quite capable of ousting the old faces when they’ve had enough.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            I really hope you don’t think I’m arguing for fun – I particularly like SSC for the lack of that. But I do want to make a point here – a Rationality lesson is to judge how good your performance was not solely by the final result, but by how good the original reasoning was, given the information available. Or, the way Picard put it, “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness; that is life.”

            Hillary got pretty damn close to the top. Waaay closer than she should have, now that we know how partisan DNC was. It took a Black Swan to make her lose (Trump looked damn unlikely in the very beginning). And things got that way exactly because both parties got too close to family trade as opposed to real democracy.

            But I guess I shouldn’t have put Obama in the same pot, since we was actually a very clear exception to that – he won the nomination in spite of the existing power groups.

          • Dan L says:

            @ Radu:

            I’m not picking on you for fun here, I’m objecting to your central point because the evidence in favor of it is thin and the evidence against strong.

            Trump wasn’t a Black Swan, he’s run multiple times before. In 2016 he had the distinction of having the worst net favorability of any candidate in modern election history. And he won! That’s not eking out a victory against long odds, it’s being pushed across the finish line by a strong tailwind.

            I gave H.W. partial credit and W. obviously gets full credit, but it’s insanity to think that Bill Clinton is retroactively an dynastic power due to his wife’s ambitions (and later mixed successes). This isn’t limited to Obama – your original claim was 7 terms and the best I can give you is two and a half.

            If you’re advocating political action as a response to entrenched power groups, it matters that you’ve overestimated those groups by more than double. Or more relevantly, you completely overlooked the forces opposing them.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            @Dan

            I rechecked my math. We were discussing how Trump was a good choice despite being himself, so it’s natural to compare it with the alternative (2 terms for Hillary). Had Hillary won, it would have made Clinton presidency a family business (another 2 terms). Plus 3 terms of Bush, makes 7. And like I said in the other comment, she was damn close enough to count, and the way she got this close was also supportive of a “family trade” hypothesis.

            The reason the count is not real is due to Trump – ergo Trump good, at least from this point of view.

          • Dan L says:

            @ Radu:

            I rechecked my math. We were discussing how Trump was a good choice despite being himself, so it’s natural to compare it with the alternative (2 terms for Hillary). Had Hillary won, it would have made Clinton presidency a family business (another 2 terms).

            Two terms of Hillary is not the inevitable alternative to a Trump win – you’re glossing over assumptions, and it’s sloppy. Also, see previous comments re: H.W. and Bill.

            But I think I’m disengaging at this point, since my primary interest was in rebutting the dynastic claim in the context of “a country that prides itself on not being a monarchy” and you seem to be sliding away from a discussion of vertical transfers of power. I invite you to reconsider why you would have mistakenly included Obama if your true objection was the “family trade” hypothesis, but that’s a different discussion.

          • quanta413 says:

            I don’t particularly disagree. But Hillary didn’t make it to the top, and neither did Jeb. Voters these days seem quite capable of ousting the old faces when they’ve had enough.

            Pinging in to agree with Dan L again. As far as countries go, the U.S. doesn’t seem either very enamored or the opposite of dynasties. I don’t think Trump was a weird black swan in his chances of winning. Another Republican would’ve probably had similar odds.

          • Gray Ice says:

            I think that “no dynasty” thinking in the last election hurt Jed Bush. Both his father and brother had previously held the same office, and his grandfather was a senator.

            Hillary, on the other hand, was the spouse of a former president, which is a case that has not happened in the US.

            However, outside of the strict definition of dynasty, then general idea of: “I don’t want the same clique in charge of things” may have worked against Hillary as well.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            @Dan

            But I think I’m disengaging at this point, since my primary interest was in rebutting the dynastic claim in the context of “a country that prides itself on not being a monarchy” and you seem to be sliding away from a discussion of vertical transfers of power.

            Because I already conceded that point 🙂 Family trade is a much better concept than what I was trying to do.

            And I’m actually prepared to go further back – the gist of what I’m trying (maybe clumsily) to say is that there are power structures that eschew normal democratic mechanisms inside the parties.

            Well, actually that was a glancing observation. The point of the original comment was that left leaning revolutions are more dangerous right now because they’re more likely to end in a positive feedback loop, so it’s probably ok we ended up with the self-limiting version.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            While we don’t have dynasties as such, we do have a certain number of people who are dynastically-minded enough to be imagining a big future for Chelsea Clinton.

    • Deiseach says:

      Complexity and the failure of new fixes to actually fix the messes does make the “burn it all down, clear the ground, start afresh” solution very tempting.

      Conservatism should remind us of how out of control fires can get, and how weeds grow up once more in the cleared ground to choke the new beginning and entangle it in fresh complexity that the new fix can’t mend. Memory is the duty of conservatism.

      Just keep the billhook sharp to keep the weeds in order and patch the leaks – don’t burn it down deliberately (accidental or natural fires are a different matter). See Notre Dame – it survived the recent fire very well, it would not have been better to stand back and say “let it all burn” or knock down the structure still standing after the fire.

    • Plumber says:

      @DinoNerd

      “I don’t think this is good for me…”

      For your own psyche? 

      It probably isn’t, being angry much of the time probably isn’t healthy.

      “…Writ large, I don’t think it’s good for society either…”

      I’m not sure about that, I think a big part of the problem is how un-democratic (small “d”) and centralized how we are governed is and I think much rancor could be eased by justgiving most people what they want politically, as in my reading of the polls of what most American voters want, it’s clear to me that a (slight) majority of Americans is both to the “Left” of even the congressional Democratic Party median with economics, and much closer to the Republican Party when it comes to “social issues” – plus people in different areas want different things, “One size doesn’t fit all”, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, San Francisco, and Seattle are different culturally and shouldn’t have to follow the same rules – more democracy and localism could ease the problem of the wishes of the majority being ignored, not “Libertarianism” (letting the powerful do whatever they want) as most want a “big brother” (cop) to keep the boss from putting his hands on your throat and the neighbor inline who keeps blocking my driveway when my wife is pregnant and I told him I may need to get her to the hospital quickly damnit! 

      Basically the politics opposite of what Howard Schultz peddles, his is the “centrism” of the educated and wealthy not the (slight) majority. 

      Any thoughts for how to counteract this pattern?

      Read less news (especially opinions), read more fiction, play Dungeons & Dragons, go bowling, maybe do some archery, once I would’ve suggested “plinking” (target shooting with a .22) but that’s too politicised now, re-build a fence, build some furniture, have a beer with friends and grill some steaks, take your kid to the park or a bicycle ride, walk by a lake, cook dinner for your wife, get a motorcycle (only do the last one if your kids are grown – as it really is dangerous, fun though), go sailing. 

      Also @DinoNerd, it’s a little eerie on how closely your thinking seens to match mine, I’m not used to that.

      • greenwoodjw says:

        not “Libertarianism” (letting the powerful do whatever they want) as most want a “big brother” (cop) to keep the boss from putting his hands on your throat and the neighbor inline who keeps blocking my driveway when my wife is pregnant and I told him I may need to get her to the hospital quickly damnit!

        How much work are the quotes doing there? The parenthetical isn’t Libertarianism at all and both of those examples are exactly what a Libertarian government would be focused on preventing.

        • Plumber says:

          @greenwoodjw,

          My impression is that Libertarianism plans to reduce the buffer of government between us and the bosses and eliminate what little is left of the safety net, and gut unions (and yes the example of a bosses hands around my neck is from life – I worked there an additional five years), bringing us back to the 19th century when we were “free” to be whipped for lack of production as a condition of employment, and also reduce taxes so there’s even less funds to pay for the cops to get that car towed who’s now free to block my driveway (being Oakland, California where the cops are overburdened the guy only got tickted and towed a few times and I had to resort to what the Wobbles call “direct action”, which I was free to do because I the cops weren’t going to come for that, as I told the guy when he tried to confront me “Go ahead and call, you seem to believe the landlord about which city the building is in, well Berkeley is two blocks north, and those cops drive by here every day, but they won’t stop”.

          I want a social safety net, even a “hammock” so you don’t have endure the tyranny of working in the private sector or be homeless.

          I want cops that come when called so you don’t have to be armed and ready to enforce “justice” on your own.

          Those things don’t come cheap.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            I get that you’re an old Union guy, but I’ve worked in some pretty terrible jobs and never had to deal with violence or tyranny. I’ve actually been on pretty good terms with most of my bosses, and I think that’s much easier without the hostility bred by a “labor vs. management” mindset.

            More than that, an economy that is not so tightly controlled is easier to find work in, so it’s easier to quit work. When it’s easier to quit work, it increases the costs of being a dickish super.

            And if the police aren’t shaking down motorists for revenue generation or conducting no-knock raids for pot baggies, they have more time and can take more seriously things like people blocking traffic or obstructing their neighbors.

          • Plumber says:

            @greenwoodjw,

            That all sounds plausible, and different life experiences can inchoate different attitudes, and different mind-sets may engender different life experiences.

            I think it would be neat, if say New Hampshire became extremely libertarian and next door Vermont became something between Cuba and Sweden, so we could see how well they work (keep Maine as is as a control).

          • cassander says:

            Which side do you think the government is more likely to be on, the workers or the bosses? The government, almost by definition, is a creature of the rich and powerful. If you’re weak, you should want it to be less powerful, not more, because it’s not going to work for you.

          • Plumber says:

            @cassander,
            Historically AFAIK over the last 2,000 years the boss, government, and landlord have usually all been one and the same, and while blood soaked lawless lands and times exist, I’m aware that the worst Hells humanity has made had governments (assuming that you call the Khmer Rouge a ‘government’ instead of a death-cult), but disparities in power and wealth don’t dissipate in the absence of nominal government – warbands/gangs or plutocracy are the default. 

            But a better way is possible -related capitalist welfare state democratic republics/social democracies.

            Of the places where most people thive – are happiest and live long: modern Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, Japan, Germany, New Zealand, Scandinavia, Sinapore, Switzerland, Utah – most are welfare states and democratic republics to greater or lower extent (full disclosure: the only one of these I’ve seen up close is Canada), Utah has less of nominally governmental welfare programs than the rest – but the Mormon church more than takes up the slack, Singapore is definitely an outlier with it’s “authoritarian” system (relatively benign fascism?) and if someone wants to detail why that system seems to work there I’m curious, Costa Rica seems to me to be the biggest outlier, and AFAIK if anywhere on the globe could be described as a successful libertarian-ish place it would be there, all I know of it is they’re relatively happy, long lived, have no standing army, but are relatively poor – I invite more details.

          • cassander says:

            @Plumber

            The call for limited government isn’t a call for anarchy. even David Friedman doesn’t want anarchy in the sense of total lawlessness. What it’s a call for is a government that is limited in its functions, for two reasons. Because as you rightly point out, the bosses are cruelest when they are backed by the power of the state. But also because a state that is only doing a few things can be more closely monitored. the cops in Oakland are crap for a lot of reasons, but one of the major ones is that the city spends 300 million a year on the cops and 1.3 billion on other things. The fewer things the government is doing, the more scrutiny they will get from senior leadership and the public, almost by definition.

            As to the assertion that every happy place today is a welfare state, well in 1945, every democratic state was christian. Another world is possible, as our friends on the left used to be fond of saying. And the places you list almost all top the list of the most capitalistic places on earth. Whipping as a condition of employment in the 19th century because whipping was condition of existence for most of human history. What ended whipping wasn’t democracy or democratic control of companies, it was capitalism raising people’s living standards and providing them with options so that they could afford to refuse those offers. Capitalism is working at bringing about the world you desire, we just need to use it more.

      • sharper13 says:

        Has it been your experience that people working in government are notably more virtuous in what they do with their power than people who are working outside government?

        • Plumber says:

          @sharper13,
          In my personal experience?

          On average yes, the best places I’ve worked have all been in private industry, but those were outnumbered by the bad places to work in private industry, and by far the worst places were sole proprietor – as were the best places, an involved owner really puts a stamp on the character of a place, for better or worse.

          In my experience as a government employee it’s on average better than being in most jobs in the private sector, but not as good as the best places.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          I’ve known more True Believers (on a proportional and total basis) in government positions than in the free market. They are trying to do good with their position.

          I will quibble with their results, of course.

      • DinoNerd says:

        For your own psyche?

        Yes. Being angry may be motivational (see unrelated thread about depression) but it’s unpleasant, and likely to create physical stress symptoms, some potentially very bad indeed.

        Read less news (especially opinions), …

        I like your suggestions, and intend to try some of them.

        Also @DinoNerd, it’s a little eerie on how closely your thinking seens to match mine, I’m not used to that.

        Yes, I’ve noticed that you are the person here I’m most likely to agree with.

        I suspect we have similar early backgrounds. My father was a good union man, and your “dented tins store” anecdote definitely rang bells for me. I didn’t have your terrible experience with high school/college though – instead had the reverse experience, and left my family’s class forever at that point via an almost full ride scholarship to an elite university, then got into tech. But while you can lift a kid out of the working class, they are likely to keep many working class values, and somehow the older I get, the less satisfied I am with the common beliefs and values of my adopted class.

    • Viliam says:

      The desire for the world being simple is natural, literally. Our ancestors lived their simple lives in a jungle, and that’s what the nature optimized us for.

      On the other hand, many valuable things are complex. Even the seemingly simple ones. In the jungle, you get no antibiotics, and no internet.

      Burning it all down – and stiffing the people I see as unfairly successful – looks really good.

      This is indeed what the historical lessons are for. A populist can easily say “you have nothing to lose but your chains”, when the reality is going to be like “you will see your friends killed, then you will watch your children starve to death, then you will eat the bodies of your children but soon you will starve to death anyway”.

      One of the reasons is that the simplicity of the jungle can only feed a several orders of magnitude smaller density of population than we have now.

      Any thoughts for how to counteract this pattern?

      Clean your room, exercise, eat healthy food, make money, connect with people… increase your power in all dimensions. First it will help with your personal problems. And later, if you get far enough, perhaps you get a chance to improve something on a larger scale.

      (And even in the case someone else makes the world burn… it will be better for you to be fit, healthy, and have useful skills.)

    • rahien.din says:

      Grow up.

      Like so many around you, you have gotten a glimpse of life’s complexity and panicked. And you are teetering on a dilemma – do we burn down civilization and start anew (as if that would alter life’s complexity) or do we just focus on the small, easy problems and ignore the big ones (as though ignoring a problem will make it go away).

      But at heart, those are different flavors of the same thing : the desire to abdicate personal responsibility.

      Maybe you’re looking for a leader. Arson-minded populists and small-problem conservatives make excellent followers, but they require a particular kind of leadership. They need something big enough to take everything from them. SSC, deightful space that it is, is chock-full of those types (the source of Scott’s problems).

      Or maybe you’re going to figure out why you’re here, and then go do something.

      Beats me. Good luck.

      • quanta413 says:

        Grow up.

        When you advise people to grow up, it’s more effective if you don’t take juvenile swipes at other random unrelated groups below.

        • meh says:

          random unrelated groups

          everything is interconnected

        • rahien.din says:

          See, this is what I’m talking about.

          • quanta413 says:

            The magic through which you somehow derive knowledge about unrelated topics from criticism about you is quite interesting.

            For the record, I actually agree you were somewhat correct about OP needing to grow up. You just weren’t the right person to deliver that message.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            You know what is really ironic? Reflecting upon one’s own negative tendencies, the causes, tendencies and cures, is one of the most mature and maturing things one can do.

            So the advice to grow up is missing the point, which is that OP is already actively engaged in this.

          • quanta413 says:

            @HeelBearCub

            You’re getting good advice into my mud wrestling. What’s all this raising the level of the discourse?

          • rahien.din says:

            DinoNerd,

            Observe.

            When I told you “Grow up,” quanta felt the need to defend themself from me. And I don’t have to say very much to get them to blurt out a bunch of confused sanctimony.

            Do you think that is a behavior that springs from authenticity? Or is it simply the response of a person who is easily manipulated.

            You might think I’m wrong. Maybe I am – who cares. But ask yourself : is that a life you want to live? Do you want to twist on other people’s hooks like that?

            quanta positively leapt onto mine and is hoping to stay there. They’re either going to respond in hopes of provoking a conversation, or, they will go silent and congratulate themself for refusing to “rise to the bait.”

            Doesn’t matter. Like I said, figure out why you’re here and go do something. Good luck.

            Cheers!

          • quanta413 says:

            When I told you “Grow up,” quanta felt the need to defend themself from me. And I don’t have to say very much to get them to blurt out a bunch of confused sanctimony.

            You need to work on your mudslinging. I am the amused one. You are the sanctimonious one.

            You can tell because you randomly attacked some unnamed subset of posters. Whereas I attacked you. So now you retreat into more sanctimony. At least I am honest about mud wrestling when I engage in it.

            quanta positively leapt onto mine and is hoping to stay there. They’re either going to respond in hopes of provoking a conversation, or, they will go silent and congratulate themself for refusing to “rise to the bait.”

            When you predict all possibilities, your prediction is meaningless.

  14. Andrew Hunter says:

    Via the one non-evil journalist in the world, an interesting article about astrology startups. I found this amusing for two reasons:

    – the worst part of dating is screaming into an endless void of totally uninterested women who flake on you, but the most annoying part is how every fucking girl on Tinder is obsessed with being “witchy” and astrology. OMFG. But the woman quoted telling VCs to just talk to an arbitrary young girl is right.

    – Say what you will about capitalism, but if you tell capitalism it’s evil (From another piece on astrology, “Every astrologer I interviewed for this piece told me, unprompted, that she believes the fall of American capitalism is imminent. Much to look forward to.”) capitalism will cheerily nod and sell you merch and services. There’s really something admirable about that, isn’t there? Lenin said “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them,” and the capitalists cheerily agreed, sold him the rope, and won. I think that’s a great attitude.

    • lvlln says:

      the worst part of dating is screaming into an endless void of totally uninterested women who flake on you, but the most annoying part is how every fucking girl on Tinder is obsessed with being “witchy” and astrology. OMFG. But the woman quoted telling VCs to just talk to an arbitrary young girl is right.

      I’m guessing you’re referring to this paragraph:

      Banu Guler, the chief executive and co-founder of Co-Star, said not every investor she pitched was enthusiastic about her company and that some dismissed its practice area as pseudoscience. “I get that you’re not into astrology,” she said, “but if you had access to a 20-something or teenager who is a girl, that’s who you need to talk to.”

      What strikes me about that response is that she doesn’t even address the pseudoscience part of the criticism. She either seems to cynically consider it an irrelevant detail when there’s $$$ to be made from parting fools from their money, or to consider the claim that it’s a pseudoscience as so absurd that it’s beneath response.

      I found it a bit surprising that NYTimes seemed to just let this slide. Overall, the article seems to only pay a bit of lip service to the criticism that astrology is pseudoscientific nonsense that causes unnecessary suffering in the world due to people changing their behaviors based on these completely false beliefs. I wonder, had anti-vaccination gotten similar traction among the general population and VCs were putting $$$ into startups which were catering to anti-vaxxers, if a NYTimes article on that would similarly gloss over the fact that what they’re selling is totally bogus and possibly exploitative, instead focusing on how keeping their kids unvaccinated allows parents to “create some sense of structure and hope and stability in their lives” in the age of Trump or whatever.

      Say what you will about capitalism, but if you tell capitalism it’s evil (From another piece on astrology, “Every astrologer I interviewed for this piece told me, unprompted, that she believes the fall of American capitalism is imminent. Much to look forward to.”) capitalism will cheerily nod and sell you merch and services. There’s really something admirable about that, isn’t there? Lenin said “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them,” and the capitalists cheerily agreed, sold him the rope, and won. I think that’s a great attitude.

      Reminds me of the quote “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it” from John Gilmore

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I think astrology tends to get a pass because most astrological advice is harmless, or even beneficial if meaningless. Here’s my horoscope for today:

        Something inside you will be distracted today, as if something bad is about to happen and you’re reserving your energy, just in case. Relax! This worry is probably caused by the uncertainty swarming around you right now. But there is nothing going on that you don’t already know about (and can’t deal with just fine, thank you). Look at the facts, and you’ll be able to chill out. Don’t let pessimism get the better of you.

        So, relax, chill out and be optimistic because I can handle the stuff life throws at me. Got it. That seems like pretty good advice. Maybe there’s no real pressing need for the NY Times to put the kibosh on that.

        ETA: Also, isn’t astrology more a pseudoreligion than pseudoscience? Just about everything religious in nature gets a pass from mainstream debunking.

        • lvlln says:

          It might be the case that astrology-based advice is mostly harmless – I don’t know, but it seems plausible – but that’s not where I see most of the harm from astrology coming from. Most of the harm is from inculcating a belief in magical faith-based thinking. Of course, people tend to be good at compartmentalizing, so people who think the relative locations of stars and planets have actual physical effect in their day-to-day lives in the way that astrologers tell them they do aren’t all going out and hopping off cliffs in the belief that they magically know how to fly. But I still think it has some significant effect on the margins of encouraging people to be more credulous of magical faith-based explanations like homeopathy or anti-vaccination.

          ETA: Also, isn’t astrology more a pseudoreligion than pseudoscience? Just about everything religious in nature gets a pass from mainstream debunking.

          I’m not sure which is a better descriptor for it. But I think pseudoscience makes sense, since it’s something that claims to make accurate predictions about the behavior of things in the physical world based on some mechanism.

          I do agree that the mainstream seems to largely carved out an exception for things that are religious in nature, but I think astrology getting a pass like this is more a parallel phenomenon rather than the same one. That is, astrology, like religion, has a veneer of authority thanks to its long history, and like religion at least in the secular Western world, it’s considered a personal thing that you largely keep to yourself, and so it gets a pass. I think homeopathy enjoys something similar, even though IIRC homeopathy is only a couple hundred years old.

          I just would have hoped that NYTimes would buck these trends.

          • One possible argument for both astrology and tarot is that, although they provide no real information, they are a useful heuristic. Someone is told something random about himself or his life, and that starts him thinking–how is this true? Is this true? If it is true what does it imply?

            On that model, all the real information is generated by the person, not the stars or the cards.

          • Nornagest says:

            Divination as hypothesis generator? I can buy that being helpful. I don’t think astrology’s as rich in associations as most Tarot reading formats are, though. Maybe it can be if you get really deep into it, but I don’t think your average Tinder witch is on that level.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Most of the harm is from inculcating a belief in magical faith-based thinking.

            I just would have hoped that NYTimes would buck these trends.

            I think the only way for them to buck this trend would be to start “debunking” religion in general. And if you want that done in an article like this one about an astrology service…the article is not about astrology per se. Might as well ask for an article on a new halal butcher shop to include a few paragraphs about why Islam is not true so as not to inculcate a belief in faith-based thinking. I don’t think that’s going to go over well, so maybe everybody just smiles and nods at everyone else’s religious beliefs in public.

          • J Mann says:

            @DavidFriedman & Nornagest: That’s the gimmick in John Sandford’s heist books (usually called the “Kidd and Luann” series after their main characters, IIRC).

            One of the main characters uses Tarot spreads, and tells himself that they’re just to break preconceptions and cause him to think creatively, but of course the author uses them to foreshadow the plot, so they’re usually fairly on target regarding what is going to go wrong with the heist.

        • Nick says:

          This is my horoscope today:

          Has someone given you a chore to do and then taken off without giving you any instructions? It’s no wonder you feel confused and frustrated! If there is no manual, and if no one else knows what’s up, don’t feel bad about letting it go until you’re given proper coaching. It’s more prudent to wait than do it wrong and have to do it again. Better safe than sorry.

          I give them credit for being falsifiable, because this is false. I’m off work today for Good Friday, and I live alone, so no, no one has given me any chores to do without proper coaching.

          Here’s one from another site:

          More people than ever are in love with your ideas, and they are interested in talking to you right now. So be with as many people as possible and relish the feeling of being a star. The attention will enliven you and ignite your more animated side. Creative ideas are born in satisfied situations, so try to do most of your talking over food. A meal out with a bunch of friends is the perfect stage for you to shine upon.

          Hey SSC, are you more in love with my ideas than ever before? 😀

          • Randy M says:

            Bring me food and and I’ll consider upgrading passing interest to potential affection.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I task you with making me more in love with your ideas than ever before. No, I will not coach you on how to do this.

            ASTROLOGY CONFIRMED FOR REAL.

          • Plumber says:

            @Nick

            “….Hey SSC, are you more in love with my ideas than ever before? 😀”

            Um…
            I may be misrembering, but I recall you as being a Catholic, a Libertarian, and a player of 3.5 D&D, well I’m not a believer but I am affectionate towards Catholicism, and I usually like the Catholics that I know more than my fellow atheists – so no real change there but I did abstain from eatiing meat today in fellowship of my mostly Catholic co-workers (though the steak the Baptist had looked really damn good!), I’m still pretty anti-libertarian but @DavidFriedman has given convincing reasons why someone may believe that it would be for the greater good, as for 3.5 D&D – okay I can only be so charitable, um… it’s still called D&D, 4e is supposed to be even more different from real TSR D&D, and at low levels the Ranger doesn’t look that hard and probably fun to play, I could do that sure.

            I guess the stars do know.

          • Nick says:

            I’m more a ‘reform conservative’ like Ross Douthat or Michael Brendan Dougherty than a libertarian, and strictly speaking I play Pathfinder and not 3.5, but I’m also in Le Maistre Chat’s retro D&D campaign right now… maybe the stars aren’t too far off!

          • Ventrue Capital says:

            @Plumber wrote (about @Nick):

            I recall you as being a Catholic, a Libertarian, and a player of 3.5 D&D

            FWIW I’m Anglo-Catholic and an anarcho-capitalist Libertarian, and I have run every version of D&D (including Pathfinder) except, of course, 4th Edition.

            @Plumber, @Nick, why aren’t you in my current campaign?

          • J Mann says:

            @Ventrue Capital – how many players do you want in your campaign?

          • Plumber says:

            @Ventrue Capital

            “….why aren’t you in my current campaign?”

            I’m intrigued, but it’s been decades since I’ve made a GURPS PC and doing the character creation again seems like a chore to me as does studying rules I’ve forgotten (if the rules were BRP/Pendragon/TSR D&D/WotC 5e D&D I’d better remember, no slight to GURPS or The Fantasy Trip/Melee/Wizard – IIRC those are fine rules, but it’s been decades since I last looked at them, and I just don’t enjoy studying so much “crunch” at once), go pre-gen PC’s and ask: “What do you do? Instead of “What stat do you use? and I’m more intrigued.

            I like PC’s that may:

            Climb,

            Heal (non-magically, i.e. apply first aid), 

            Run,

            Shoot arrows,

            Sneak,

            Speak,

            Swim,

            Swing swords

            Track,

            and

            Walk

            As far as “back-stories” go, I loath that newfangled convention, but that hasn’t stopped me from making some Batman/ Mad Max-ish tragic blah-blah claptrap to play other PbP games, see some: here

            and I actually had fun writing the B.S. (“back-story”) for “Hans” from the village of “Dorfweitwegvonüberall”, but ultimately every single one of my PC’s amounts to “Guy with a bow and/or sword looking for loot and/or to do good depending on the circumstances” (“Why are we risking our necks to save the villagers from the Hobgoblin again? Gorobei Katayama expected to at least be paid!”)

            I doubt that I know the theory well enough to tell if I’m a “gamist”, a “narrativist”, or a “simulationist” (perhaps “laziest”?).

            To illustrate my experience of RPG’s in the 21st century:

            Me: I really miss playing the RPG’s I used to enjoy, but no one wanted to play them anymore, even D&D which used to be really popular. 

            Other people: You’re in luck, D&D is really popular again! 

            Me: Really? Great! But I’m really rusty.

            Other people: Don’t worry the current edition is much simpler than old D&D.

            Me: Simpler? Awesome!
            (Arcane Trickster?, Feats?)

            Hey! This is even more complex! 

            Other people: No way it’s simpler!

            Me: *Looks at old books*
            All these extra PC abilities and options make 5e look like a more complex game than old D&D.

            Other people: No way dude! Old D&D had Prestige Classes and even more Feats.

            Me: Presti…..what? 
            Just what do you mean by “old” D&D? 

            Other people:
            You know old, 3.5

            Me: 3.5?
            That’s not old D&D! 

            Other people:
            Whatever Grandpa.

            Me: Dagnabbit!

          • Ventrue Capital says:

            @J Mann wrote:

            @Ventrue Capital – how many players do you want in your campaign?

            At least one more than whatever I have when someone asks me.

            (Like the apocryphal farmer who only wants whatever land is next to his.)

            Here’s a link to join my game’s Discord server, which expires in 24 hours.

            What game systems are you familiar with and what fiction do you enjoy?

          • Ventrue Capital says:

            @Plumber wrote:

            go pre-gen PC’s and ask: “What do you do? Instead of “What stat do you use? and I’m more intrigued.

            I believe that one shouldn’t need to know the rules, or do a lot of homework about the setting, before playing in a well-run RPG.

            I’m happy to hand you a pre-generated PC and I *always* ask people “What do you do?” instead of “What stat/skill do you use?”

            I’ve been Old School since 1976.

            I like PC’s that may:

            How would you describe your character, either if he were a character in a book that you were explaining to me; or in RPG terms, i.e. race/class? I’m partial to this list, myself.

          • J Mann says:

            What game systems are you familiar with and what fiction do you enjoy?

            Game Systems – 30-25 years ago: AD&D, Champions, DC Superheros, Cyberpunk, Paranoia, Amber, Villians and Vigilantes, Space Opera, Top Secret, Boot Hill. Now: DnD 5e.

            Fiction – Classic: Dumas, Vanity Fair, Jane Austen, John Carter of Mars; Historical: Bernard Cornwell, Patrick O’Brian, George MacDonald Fraser, The Name of the Rose, Arturo Perez-Reverte; Fantasy: Tolkien, His Cold Commands, Pratchett; Sci-Fi: Currently enjoying the Expanse, like the best of David Brin and Orson Scott Card.

            I don’t know GURPS – that’s the biggest question I have

          • Ventrue Capital says:

            @J Mann said:

            I don’t know GURPS – that’s the biggest question I have

            You don’t need to know the system in order to play in a well-run RPG.

            All you need is a character concept, and someone who knows the system (either another player, or the GM,) can write it up for you.

            And all you need to do during play is say what you want your character to (try to) do, and someone else at the table can tell you what funny-sided dice to roll.

          • Plumber says:

            @Ventrue Capital,

            “Discord” may be a dealbreaker, as it’s an ‘App’ that I’d have to buy, and the phone I use is my employers and I’m not free to just install stuff wily-nily, plus I’m extremely reluctant to do any kind of “e-commerce”.

            Regardless from the list:

            The Bow and Blade Ranger, 

            Scout,

            Knight,

            Swashbuckler,

            Warden,

            Barbarian,

            Samurai,

            Cavalier,

            Rebel,

            Thief,

            Bandit,
            and
            the Sniper Ranger 

            all look cool as do:

            Conan,
            D’Artagnan,
            Fafhrd,
            The Grey Mouser,
            Sir Percival,
            Robin Hood, and
            Sinbad.

          • Nornagest says:

            Discord is free. Your employer’s phone policy is of course up to him.

          • Plumber says:

            @Nornagest,
            Thanks.
            It kept asking me for a credit card number of a pay pal account until I pushed the right button to just put in my gmail address (and then had me do a long and annoying “I am not a robot”.

            From what little I’ve seen tonight, I don’t like “Discord”it confuses me and it’s hard to read, it reminds me of the old Ridgidforum plumbers tools site, though I suppose that I just need to get used to it and figure out a way to enlarge the type.

          • J Mann says:

            @Plumber – I like Discord’s Windows client quite a lot. My main warning about Discord is that once you’re on it at all, you’ll find that everything you do has a Discord, and then you’ll be subscribed to 103 of them.

          • Nick says:

            @Ventrue Capital
            I’m not in your campaign because I don’t know GURPS at all, and I’m not sure I buy that knowing the system is unnecessary. If a DM is trying to keep track of all the modifiers, he’ll at least need access to the player’s character sheet, and it’s doable but tedious to have the DM do this every round. And knowing the system well is how you know what’s possible (and practical) for your player, giving you ideas you might not otherwise have, or eliminating bad ones that would never work. A player not knowing the system is handicapped there.

            @Plumber
            If you have a home computer you can download the app there or just login through your browser with the same email and password. Unlike the apps, the browser one actually does let you scale font size by hitting the “User Settings” gear in the bottom left and clicking Appearance in the menu.

            I’m in two RPG servers on Discord, and I’ve been really happy with them. We’ve just had some hiccups with our dice rolling bot lately.

          • Ventrue Capital says:

            @Nick wrote:

            I’m not in your campaign because I don’t know GURPS at all, and I’m not sure I buy that knowing the system is unnecessary. [. . .] knowing the system well is how you know what’s possible (and practical) for your player, giving you ideas you might not otherwise have, or eliminating bad ones that would never work. A player not knowing the system is handicapped there.

            I understand your point. One of the advantages of Old School-style gaming (at least by my definition of Old School) is that it encourages thinking “outside the skills list” and one of the advantages of GURPS is that it’s tactically transparent.

            “The idea is that the OSR encourages a sort of innovative, ad-hoc gameplay where players are always innovating and solving problems with outside-of-the-box solutions. They’re thinking with their heads, not their character sheets.” Technically-NSFW post: uses the f-word once

            List of some OSR-style challenges, defined as “obstacles that meet the following requirements:
            No obvious solution. (Straight combat is always obvious.)
            Many possible solutions.
            Solvable via common sense (as opposed to system mastery).
            No special tools required (no unique spells, no plot McGuffins at the bottom of a dungeon).
            Not solvable by a specific class or ability.”

            Link to Zak S.’s wonderful article “Drunk, Prone, and On Fire” about tactical transparency, which he defines as

            the degree to which a common-sense idea that would be effective in the “real” situation that the game-fiction mimics would also be effective in the game

            .
            .

          • Nick says:

            @Ventrue Capital
            Thanks. If that’s the case, good on GURPS. Does GURPS have umpteen modifiers on actions like 3.x?

            My third and final objection is that I don’t like the sound of play by post, which I think your page mentioned. How temporary is that? And how big is the group; is the problem that you can’t get all the players together?

          • Ventrue Capital says:

            @Nick wrote:

            Does GURPS have umpteen modifiers on actions like 3.x?

            I would say “Yes, but they’re all tactically transparent. Things — like being prone, or drunk, or on fire — have the same effect they would in real life.”

            My third and final objection is that I don’t like the sound of play by post, which I think your page mentioned. How temporary is that? And how big is the group; is the problem that you can’t get all the players together?

            Play-by-Post is until I get a job, or at least get my looking-for-a-job project under control to the point that I can resume running regular sessions on Roll20. Your guess as to how long that will take is as good as mine, unfortunately.

            The roster of players is plenty big, which is why I was running three sessions per week. It was (and will be) sort of a West Marches thing. (Since it was centered around a large swamp, I decided to call it the West Marshes.)

            And definitely an open table.

          • Nick says:

            @Ventrue Capital
            Thanks. I’m not sure I buy how tactically transparent the modifiers are but I’ll take your word for it. And I still don’t like the sound of play by post, but if it’s a large group with an open table that sounds just fine to me. Let me know when you’re back to regular sessions and I’ll consider joining.

            P.S. If you need to reach me for it try DMing me on Discord. I’m Avpx#2027, name ROT13’ed of course.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        > What strikes me about that response is that she doesn’t even address the pseudoscience part of the criticism.

        She can’t really have a public quote saying that yeah, it’s pseudoscience but it’s irrelevant. In her position that’s as close to that as it can get.

        • lvlln says:

          Well, she could always say, “No, those people calling it pseudoscience are mistaken.” Well, that might get into false advertising and fraud issues, so “No, I disagree that it’s a pseudoscience. I believe it’s absolutely real based on [these terrible shitty ‘studies’ that an illiterate 6 year old could tell in one glance are nothing but bullshit]” might work better. Heck, I’m pretty sure homeopaths, chiropractors, reiki healers, acupuncturists, magnet healers, etc. actually use that exact line of argument.

          • Randy M says:

            Or “I’m not a scientist, but I’ve found this to be deeply meaningful in my life and I’d like to help others as well.”
            Still probably not true, but it sounds good and can’t be disproved.

      • Deiseach says:

        You’re overanalysing. The witchy nonsense has been around and appealing to teeangers and young women for decades (Titania Hardie has been making a tidy living out of “I’m a third generation white witch” since the 80s with her books and website and what-not).

        The resurgence in what you could call Gardnerian witchcraft in the 60s, itself growing out of the inter-war Spiritualism fad/craze/growth, was more serious in that they really did try to slap some history and pseudo-science in it, and you had to have some kind of faux-scholarly depth.

        The New Age crystals, candles and cards style witchiness and astrology of our times hasn’t any of that; it’s aesthetics more than anything else. Plus I’d imagine this particular iteration of it has appeal to white/non-POC young women (because let’s face it, it’ll be primarily white girls and women buying this) because of the whole SJW “cultural appropriation” accusations that get slung around. Astrology is safely Westernised, nobody can be accused of ripping off Sacred Native Indigenous Traditions and Wisdom.

        It has all the benefits of “spiritual but not religious” and you don’t have to believe believe in it, you can believe in it without it really making any more of a difference than a surface-level “I’m gluten-intolerant” for the non-coeliacs or trendy veganism really inconveniences anyone.

        Sure it’s irrational but it’s fun. I like messing around with Tarot a bit myself, but I don’t seriously think of it as foretelling the future or anything deeper than playing with symbolism in an amusing and demi-artistic way. Look at UNSONG – that was immense fun!

        Some ventures will make money off this riding the trend of the moment, as long as they’re smart enough to get off the horse when the end of the fad approaches. Some will fail. This isn’t promoting irrationality, or at least no more strongly than the “gluten-free!” labels plastered on products that never had any gluten in them to begin with – it’s all just marketing cashing in on the bandwagon trend of the moment.

        • Nick says:

          Sure it’s irrational but it’s fun. I like messing around with Tarot a bit myself, but I don’t seriously think of it as foretelling the future or anything deeper than playing with symbolism in an amusing and demi-artistic way. Look at UNSONG – that was immense fun!

          It is immense fun, but I do wonder how much we should be dabbling in it as stodgy Puritans Christians. We certainly shouldn’t be using Ouija boards, for instance—those are firmly on the other side of the line. CS Lewis was a friend and admirer of Charles Williams, whose work was heavily influenced by the occult—but at the same time, he writes in Surprised by Joy of the danger the occult posed to him, drawing him away from Christianity in his teen years!

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m certainly no theologian, but if you go into it with a firm understanding that nothing supernatural is actually going on, I can’t see as it’s any worse than dressing up for Halloween.

            (Edit: moved between comment levels.)

          • Jaskologist says:

            The Biblical prohibitions on divination have always seemed to me to indicate that you’re supposed to avoid it quite irrespective of whether or not it works, but I couldn’t give a strong textual argument on that one.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I think the problem with a Ouija board is that it is specifically about contacting supernatural forces. Shuffling out tarot cards isn’t any different than consulting a Magic 8 Ball.

          • meh says:

            I’m certainly no theologian, but if you go into it with a firm understanding that nothing supernatural is actually going on

            This seems to permit almost anything from the occult

          • woah77 says:

            To add my 2 cents on the occult and christianity, while I see nothing wrong with Tarot cards, astrology, and other forms of platonic divination inherently, it is the invocation of supernatural forces that indicates an issue. The Bible’s ban on divination is, based upon several passages, clearly based upon the idea that it works for at least some people (king Saul comes to mind) but also inherently involves invoking idols or other gods. Playing with cards or reading astrology are not inherently invoking other gods, and therefore are not inherently sinful, but present a risk as a “gateway” to other forms of idolatry. (Admittedly, in today’s society, the most prevalent idol is not divination or other gods but the almighty dollar)

            Citation 1 Corinthians 10:23

          • Nick says:

            Well, so I checked an old manual and it appears the sin (divination) admits lightness if I have no faith in it:

            2286. … If there is no explicit invocation of the spirits of evil, the sin is of its nature mortal on account of the implicit commerce with the devil; but generally the sin will be light on account of the dispositions of the offender (e.g., because he is ignorant, or consults divination as a joke or from curiosity, or has no faith in it).

            I’m pretty sure Ouija, seance, etc., fall under this, because of acting as media for outside forces, which are invariably evil spirits; and circumstantially light or not, it’s still sinful and practicing it to be avoided. Actually using a Tarot deck is implicit invocation in their opinion, too:

            (d) divination that is made from non-human and contingent events in augury and auspice, which divine from the voices or manner of flight of birds; in omen or portent, which divine the future from some chance happening (such as meeting with a red-haired woman or a hunchback, a sneeze, etc.), in sortilege, which divines by lots or signs arbitrarily chosen (such as the letters that appear on opening a book at random, the numbers or figures that appear when cards are drawn or dice thrown). Superstitions about omens are of two kinds, some happenings being regarded as signs of good luck (e.g., to find a pin), others as signs of bad luck (e.g., to meet a black cat, to spill the salt, to break a mirror, to raise an umbrella in the house).

          • Randy M says:

            That reads confusingly to me; even if you don’t invoke the devil, it is by it’s nature a mortal sin, but a light one? (It would read better if that first “no” wasn’t there, imo). Is that like “light treason”?

            I assume this is of a different sort than leaving a decision up to chance, eg, casting lots for the cloak of an executed man? (Though in that case there are probably more worrying crimes having been committed).

          • woah77 says:

            What I read is that even when the “fortunes being read” are based upon chance or superstition, they should still be considered sin because they are relying on forces other than God to determine your fate. Which is fair, but I don’t believe that it is calling Tarot a mortal sin, just sin. Mortal sins, from what I recall, are things that can endanger the fate of one’s soul.

            That said, playing with Tarot cards is not the same actually anticipating real fortunes. If you lay out cards and then “read” them without any intent to take any credence with them, it is not divination. This seems to me like splitting hairs, but a lot of what is or is not sin has to do with the state of one’s heart, and not inherent to the activity performed.

          • Randy M says:

            I’m just trying to parse Nick’s first quote.

            If there is no explicit invocation of the spirits of evil, the sin is of its nature mortal

            Mortal is the bad kind, yeah?

          • woah77 says:

            It’s the second most bad kind. The “worst” kind is denial of the Holy Spirit which is the only sin (to my knowledge) which is unforgivable by Christ’s death.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            That reads confusingly to me; even if you don’t invoke the devil, it is by it’s nature a mortal sin, but a light one? (It would read better if that first “no” wasn’t there, imo). Is that like “light treason”?

            The “no” is there advisedly; the previous sentence was “If there is explicit invocation of evil spirits, divination is of its nature a mortal sin that admits of no lightness of matter, for it gives divine worship to a creature, acts on friendly terms with the enemy of God, and prepares one for apostasy and eternal damnation.”

            Anyway, I think the text is getting at the subjective culpability of the sinner. For a sin to be mortal, it needs to meet the criteria of (1) being a grave matter, (2) being done with full knowledge, and (3) being done with full consent. Practising divination is a grave matter, and hence “of its nature mortal” in that, if you do it with full knowledge and consent, you will thereby remove yourself from the state of grace; but since most people who dabble in it don’t really believe that it has anything to do with evil spirits, they aren’t doing it with full knowledge, and hence their sin is venial (“light on account of the dispositions of the offender”).

          • Randy M says:

            @The original Mr. X

            Well explained and clears up the confusion.

            @woah77

            Mark 3:29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.

            I’m honestly pretty clueless about what precisely this means. I assume it isn’t referring just to denying the trinitarian doctrine, since that would rule out conversion, basically.

          • woah77 says:

            I don’t have a simple answer for you on that, but my understanding about blaspheming is that it’s not just “I’m not sure what you’re talking about” but more of a “I know this is real and I hereby choose, with full knowledge and understanding to declare the holy spirit to be evil and deranged” etc. It’s more than having doubts and is more akin to intentionally denying and going so far as to declare something evil.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ Randy M:

            Well explained and clears up the confusion.

            I’m glad you fond it helpful.

            I’m honestly pretty clueless about what precisely this means. I assume it isn’t referring just to denying the trinitarian doctrine, since that would rule out conversion, basically.

            One of the more plausible answers I’ve come across is that “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” means despair of God’s ability to forgive your sins. Since you can’t really ask for forgiveness if you don’t believe it’s possible, this would explain why somebody guilty of this sin “will not be forgiven” (since on most systems of moral theology you need to ask for forgiveness to be granted it); and, since you’re implicitly either denying God’s truthfulness (“God *says* he forgives sins, but I don’t believe him”) or his power (“My sins are so great, even God can’t forgive them!”), it counts as blasphemy as well. I’m not sure why it’s specifically against the Holy Ghost, but no doubt somebody’s thought of an answer for this as well.

          • Randy M says:

            Why the Holy Spirit specifically? It seems theologically inconsistent to place that one a categorically worse plane than other blaspheme or intentional sins.

            Actually, I should provide more context:

            Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”
            30 He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.”

            The discussion of blaspheming the Spirit is brought about by teachers denying the work of Christ and attributing it to evil. So it’s not really about doctrine. Seems like it is more of intentionally leading someone away from Christ.
            Other possibility, given the role of the Spirit is to encourage repentance, it could be referring to encouraging others to continue in sin. Knowingly encouraging someone to endanger their own soul. Like taking a recovering alcoholic out for a few drinks.

            @The original Mr. X
            That may be true, but is seems rather convenient. “The only thing that can’t be forgiven is not asking for forgiveness.”
            Well, by convenient I guess I mean if fits together pretty well, but isn’t a perfectly straightforward reading. I think I like it more than my suggestions–but just to be safe, I’ll avoid all variations thereof.

            [Apologies to the non-Christian majority here for this theological tangent. I think we can be forgiven this week…]

          • Nick says:

            @Randy M: That is a genuinely difficult passage. Augustine struggled with it several times; you can read his later solution in his Sermon 21 on the Gospels, when he’s discussing the similar passage in Matthew 12. It goes like this: he first (§9-18) points out that the passage says “whosoever speaks a word” against the Holy Spirit; that’s not how the Greek goes, of course, but βλασφημία is indeed in the singular there, with no accompanying “any.” Augustine concludes that there must be a specific kind of blasphemy, not just any blasphemy at all, that is unforgivable, because otherwise Scripture would be contradicting itself; we know from elsewhere that all sins can be forgiven, and that Jews and heretics who deny the Holy Spirit can and have been reconciled to the Church.

            Second (§19), Augustine lists several passages indicating that the power to forgive sins is appropriate to the Holy Spirit. The remission of sins is the first gift of faith, as baptism washes away original sin, and the Holy Spirit especially is present: “Unless a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). And when Jesus appears to the disciples after the Resurrection, he said “Receive the Holy Spirit,” and immediately after, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld” (John 20:22-3)—it would appear that the power to forgive sins was passed to the disciples by virtue of their receiving the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit descends on the apostles as tongues of fire, and they go out into the crowds to preach, and Peter says (Acts 2:38), “Repent and be baptized, everyone one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”—it seems Peter means the forgiveness of sins which accompanies their baptizing them. Augustine refers in quick succession to many passages like this; I’m listing the references I understood, but there are more. Anyway, from this profusion of quotes Augustine concludes the close association of the Holy Spirit with the forgiveness of sins, and consequently that blasphemy of the Spirit is foremost (hence plausibly in this passage) rejection of the power to forgive sins.

            Third, a point Augustine made in the middle there, easily overlooked. If the forgiveness of sins is associated with the Holy Spirit, then Jesus forgives sins through the Holy Spirit too. And we know he casts out devils through the power of the Holy Spirit too, because he says as much—and Augustine doesn’t say it explicitly, but it seems to me the two must be identified, for 1) possession was thought a punishment for sin, and 2) Jesus fluidly turns in this passage from the casting out of devils to the forgiveness of sins, and 3) the power he gave the disciples likewise includes the power to cast out devils. Casting out devils is forgiving sins; and forgiving sins, for Jesus, often meant casting out devils. I confess this is the weakest part of Augustine’s argument for me; decide for yourself whether his confidence on this point is warranted, or whether perhaps I’ve misunderstood him.

            Finally, this raises the question why Jesus would distinguish here of all places between forgivable and unforgivable sins. The following interpretation I owe to Aquinas’ commentary on Matthew. It’s one thing for the Pharisees to mock Jesus himself by claiming he’s under the power of Beelzebub, but another thing entirely to mock that power to drive out demons; Jesus says as much in Matthew 12:32. He responds to the Pharisees with a series of arguments: the power to cast out devils, he stipulates, must come from Beelzebub or from the Spirit. But if it comes from Beelzebub, then his house must be turned against itself; but then how can it stand? And second, the Pharisees believe they can cast out devils; but how can they, if that power too must come from Beelzebub? Third, it takes a stronger man to enter a strong man’s house; so if Christ can cast a demon out of its dwelling, it must be because he’s stronger than the demons; but if Beelzebub has dominion over people, that leaves only God the one stronger. Fourth, demons overtake by violence, but he did not drive the demon out violently, so it cannot be that he is like demons.

            Jesus turns then to inveighing against the Pharisees themselves. He says that one who speaks against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but saying a word against the Holy Spirit won’t be. This is Jesus’ last, best argument: that he has proven his power to cast out devils comes from the Spirit, and that by casting doubt on that, the Pharisees are denying themselves any hope of salvation. But this only follows if denying the Holy Spirit confers the power to cast out devils is what denies them salvation. And the power to cast out devils is the same as the power to forgive sins. So the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit which closes off one’s salvation is denying the forgiveness of sins.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I admit that I have little understanding of the Holy Spirit: why the Divine Trinity has a third person in addition to the One and the Logos, why blasphemy of Him is rightly treated worse than blasphemy of the Father or Son (of Man), etc

            As to tarot reading, I consider it just a prompt to think about archetypes, which have their origin in the Divine mind. Belief thaat the cards drawn divine one’s future would be total bunk and so, I suppose, a sin (lit. “Missing the mark”). It’d be irrational and thus a vice if rationality is virtuous, but surely not a mortal sin.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          @deiseach

          teeangers

          Kind of a Freudian slip? Do you have irate kids in your life?

    • Atlas says:

      but the most annoying part is how every fucking girl on Tinder is obsessed with being “witchy” and astrology.

      See also this Vox dot com article on “magic as self-care after the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.”

      • Deiseach says:

        The Vox article is exactly what I’d expect – the nonbinary genderfluid yoga woman (and it’s always women who are ‘nonbinary genderfluid’) and her integration of the forces is the exemplar but that’s the kind of trendy non-intellectual stuff going on.

        Some of the “Magick Pagan Feminist Empowerment” types have one eye shrewdly on the bottom line – a bookshop holding a spell-casting night is hoping to hook some customers out of that from the types who would turn up to a spell-casting La Résistance night, as well as the persons who are chief cook and bottlewasher of their own Hedgewitch Valkyrie Hoodoo Coven Cunningwymyn’s Circle sending out press releases about their direct action spells.

        The best sport was in the direct wake of the election, and in a lesser sense this kind of L’Affaire Kavanaugh brouhaha, when neophytes of this type were broadcasting spells and action circles to wage occult war on Trump, and the kinds of scholarly Gardnerian/Western Esoteric Tradition groups were getting stuck in with “this so-called ritual is stupid, you’re stupid, and here’s why it won’t do what you want, will do the opposite, and blow back on you with the forces you’re trying to invoke and don’t have a clue what you’re doing”.

        The “purple velvet dresses, chains of talismans round their neck and flowers and candles” type witchcraft gets short shrift from the “this is an actual tradition, goshdarnit, not something to play with as a trend!” types 🙂

        In Terry Pratchett’s Witches novels, Magrat Garlick is the “purple velvet and talismans” type, only spoiled by the fact that she does possess genuine and real powers:

        Besides, they had retired to Magrat’s cottage, and the decor was getting to her, because Magrat believed in Nature’s wisdom and elves and the healing power of colors and the cycle of the seasons and a lot of other things Granny Weatherwax didn’t have any truck with.

        The two elderly witches sat on either side of the table in polite and prickly silence. Finally Nanny Ogg said, “She done it up nice, hasn’t she? Flowers and everything. What are them things on the walls?”

        “Sigils,” said Granny sourly. “Or some such.”

        “Fancy,” said Nanny Ogg, politely. “And all them robes and wands and things too.”

        “Modern,” said Granny Weatherwax, with a sniff. “When I was a gel, we had a lump of wax and a couple of pins and had to be content. We had to make our own enchantment in them days.”

    • Plumber says:

      @Andrew Hunter

      “….but the most annoying part is how every fucking girl on Tinder is obsessed with being “witchy” and astrology…”

      I’ve no experience with “Tinder” or with the young ladies of today, but I had to laugh as when I was a teenage boy and a young man in the ’80’s it seemed that all the girls were into anarchism, vegetarianism, and/or “goth” – and most had tattoos (when I found a girl without a tattoo I married her).

      As you get older the women the same age as you will grow out of it, until then I recommend older women, five years older should be enough – if not go older, though there’s a reason someone isn’t already “spoken for”, often it’s from being busy with job and/or school – but sometimes. ..

      • Gray Ice says:

        Plumber:
        I think the underrated part of your advise here is: “when I found a girl without [thing I didn’t like], I married her.”

  15. MasteringTheClassics says:

    Motivation/willpower question: my wife currently has exactly two ways in which she is capable of motivating herself to perform an action: sincere desire and rage; if she doesn’t want to do something already, she has to scream at herself in order to act. Basically, she doesn’t seem to have any valence-less willpower. She’d prefer to act without the rage, but more than once it’s come to her lying on our bed asking calmly how she’s supposed to move without getting angry at herself. Typically, this ends with her giving up and screaming until she gets up.

    Any advice on how to proceed here? I’m thoroughly lost.

    • Eric Rall says:

      That sounds like she might have untreated inattentive-type ADHD: a common issue for ADHD-i is finding it much harder to motivate yourself to do something you don’t urgently want or need to do, and a common family of management techniques involve creating artificial urgency to get things done when it would be nice to have them done rather than waiting until you actively need to do it. “Screaming at yourself in rage until you do it” probably isn’t the nicest way to create an artificial feeling of urgency, but I can see it doing the trick.

      I’d suggest encouraging her to see a psychiatrist to get evaluated for ADHD. If the psychiatrist confirms it, they can offer treatment options (usually a combination of stimulant medication and therapy to learn more constructive coping techniques). Or if I’m way off base and she doesn’t have ADHD, the psychiatrist can tell her that, too. And a lot of the other alternatives (depression, executive function disorder, etc) are also treatable.

      Also: is this a new issue or something she’s had as long as she can remember? The latter is a much better fit for ADHD, while the former might suggest some kind of depression instead.

      • MasteringTheClassics says:

        Interesting thought, I’ll look into it.

        As to how long this has been going on, unclear. She has a tendency toward self-hatred that goes back forever, but varying life circumstances make it hard to diagnose the start of the motivation issues (she procrastinated heavily in college, for example, but who doesn’t?) It’s only in the last couple years that she’s really had to face the problem of day-to-day mundane tasks without oversight, which is where the problem manifests.

      • greenwoodjw says:

        This is basically me most of the time, outside of the rage.

        • futatsuiwa says:

          Same here. I’ve come around to the idea that procrastination is the nature order of things – at least personally – if it was actually important you would want to do it right away, or at least put it in some sort of queue for the day/week/month.

          The key then is in the evaluation of what is “urgent” – if you don’t care about your appearance, for instance, doing laundry is going to sink down in priority. If you don’t value a task, it’s not getting done.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            No. There is important stuff that needs to be done but I always put it off right before the drop-dead time even though I know that increases the inconvenience and risk of failure. Or I actually do care about it and gain satisfaction from it (Cleaning my apartment or writing, for example) but I cannot bring myself to do it outside of rare circumstances where I’m actually capable of bringing myself to do things.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Is this purely verbal, or have you noticed things like fingernail crescents on her palms and/or bruising? High chance this is projection, but this matches some of my deeply unhealthy behaviors.

      • MasteringTheClassics says:

        No fingernail crescents, occasional bruising. She has been known to hit herself as part of the rage, but we’ve worked on that quite a bit and it’s getting progressively less frequent (less than once a month now). She’s generally had good success removing the negative actions/motivators in her life, she just hasn’t found anything positive to replace them with, and as a result now lacks any form of motivation.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Yeah, that sounds consistent with what I’ve got going on. I wish I could offer some advice about seeking treatment, but I haven’t been able to afford any. Props to you for sticking by her, man – I know I’ve driven away friends when it’s been bad. It can be scary as hell. You’re a good.

          I’m pretty sure that this is some sort of depression, possibly with an unusual pathology. In my case it’s probably linked to childhood trauma. I have a feeling that acting from that place of rage is maladaptive – usually when I hurt myself now I just break down crying about how awful it feels. Which, to be clear, is a step up from feeling good about hurting myself, and has accompanied a reduction in that sort of behavior. I’m not sure how much slack there is in your lives right now, but I’d suggest that she try not to allow herself to motivate herself this way. If nothing else, it’ll encourage her to find an alternative means. Also, this might sound manipulative, but people I love showing me how much this sort of thing hurts them helps me avoid it. Whether or not that’ll be helpful for your wife I cannot say.

          Does she like music, audiobooks, or short stories? I put some on when I have chores to do and I find that it’s easier for me to actually get my body moving when my mind is absorbed in something I love. I can recommend some short story podcasts if she’d like to try them – they probably saved my life, and she’ll have a near-decade of backlog to go through if she starts now. Pets have also helped – taking care of them is a good motivator and it’s nice to have some sort of creature that loves you around. Also, I’ve avoided alcohol my whole life, partly because of this issue. I have no idea how much that’s helped, but a family history of alcoholism and depression are a bad combo.

          FWIW, I have a deep fear of the side-effects of psychiatric meds, and would probably avoid them even if I could afford them. Emotional deadening, addiction, and hormone changes are a real risk. I probably have it a bit worse than I could if I were on meds… but it’s manageable, and I don’t have to worry about zombification. I’m not saying she shouldn’t look into the possibility; I’m saying that she may be able to work through this behaviorally if she wants to.

          Good luck. I don’t know if this sort of thing ever goes away, but it does get better. If she’s anything like me, you loving her helps more than you may be able to understand.

          • MasteringTheClassics says:

            That’s a disconcertingly well-matched series of detail (right down to her rational for generally avoiding alcohol). Best of luck to you as you move forward, and i’d love to hear those podcast recommendations.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @MasteringTheClassics

            For science fiction, fantasy, and horror, the Escape Artists podcasts at http://escapeartists.net/. Pseudopod, the horror one, is the best as far as I’m concerned.

            For stuff that’s… just very weird, there’s the drabblecast: https://www.drabblecast.org/

            General lit, LeVar Burton Reads: https://art19.com/shows/levar-burton-reads. Also Beneath Ceaseless Skies: http://www.beneath-ceaseless-skies.com/

            I listen on an iPod classic; they’re not particularly available nowadays, but Sony’s latest Walkman models (no, seriously) are apparently pretty good; that’s what I’m eying for when mine gives up the ghost. Phones are too easy to procrastinate with.

            Good luck to you and yours as well.

    • Incurian says:

      I’ve had a similar issue for the last few years. Can’t do anything I’m not intrinsically motivated to do, even if I really really should (like taxes or term papers). I haven’t tried the yelling thing, that sounds interesting.

      Caffeine helps until I develop a tolerance, then prescription simulants help until I develop a tolerance (at which point I go cold turkey and try to reset my brain). Otherwise I just hope the pressure of a deadline helps.

    • Randy M says:

      Are there other signs of depression?

    • aristides says:

      My wife is the same way except instead of rage it’s guilt. She’s been diagnosed with ADHD, depression, and GAD anxiety. SSRIs and adderall helped her, though she experiences enough side effects from adderall that she only takes it when she needs extra motivation. Seeing a psychiatrist is a good start, if she genuinely wants to change.

    • William James Kirk says:

      I had something like this. I’ve busted up a lot of my furniture, put dents in a lot of my walls, and chipped a couple of bones in the process, because I was so angry that I couldn’t get myself to do various important things and rage seemed like the only way to motivate any action at all. It started out being spontaneous expressions of overwhelming frustration with my own inaction, but eventually I started to cultivate it in lesser forms — “I have to get mad enough to pick myself up off the floor or I’m just going to lay here all day”, which would be accompanied by various mental and verbal growlings until I did so.

      The rage sure feels like an awfully inefficient approach to getting things done if there’s anything better available — it just emerges when there isn’t. The rage didn’t necessarily seem to relate to inducing a sense of urgency about the task — it was more about stepping up to a higher level of physiologic arousal. Genuinely life-threatening situations like almost driving off a cliff might have worked just as well at stepping up the adrenaline and pulling out the stop on the desired action, but those situations were just no