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Links 12/19

[Epistemic status: I haven’t independently verified each link. On average, commenters will end up spotting evidence that around two or three of the links in each links post are wrong or misleading. I correct these as I see them, but can’t guarantee I will have caught them all by the time you read this.]

You’ve probably seen the Russian city flag with the bear splitting the atom. But this is just the tip of the great Russian animal flags iceberg.

All archaeologists agree that the Roman artifacts dug up around Tucson, Arizona, are a hoax. Everyone agrees that there was no Roman colony of “Calalus” in North America that did battle with the Toltec Indians before finally being defeated in the 9th century AD. But who buried dozens of carefully-forged “crosses, swords, religious/ceremonial paraphernalia containing Hebrew and Latin inscriptions, pictures of temples, leaders portraits, angels, and a dinosaur inscribed on the lead blade of a sword” around Tucson during the 1920s to make it look like there was?

New study by growth mindset proponents finds an effect size of d = 0.11, highest in medium-achieving schools with challenge-supporting peer norms when the moon is in Scorpio. Even if true it should cast doubt on previous studies, since 0.11 is not a human-observable effect size or commensurate with the small-study findings in earlier growth mindset work.

Before genetic engineering, there was atomic gardening, the 1970s practice of planting some seeds in a circle around a radiation source and hoping some of them got beneficial mutations. The process produced modern Ruby Red grapefruits, among other things.

Despite the apparent renewal in interest, only about 1% of Americans think the gap between rich and poor is the most important issue – although it looks like it’s hard to get people to agree on what is a major problem in general.

What is continuous AI takeoff? What would a discontinuity in AI takeoff mean?

One of the engineers who worked on the Viking Mars landers continues to make the case that they discovered life on Mars in the 1970s and everyone is just ignoring this for no reason.

Table Of Organic Compounds And Their Smells. Smell is…a lot more logically organized in a dimensional space than I thought. And in case you have the same question I do: “ethereal” = “smells like ether”.

You might already be following the Navy UFO thing: over the past few years, the Navy has encouraged its pilots to come forward with UFO accounts, signal-boosted the reports, and sponsored UFO research organizations, as if they’re trying to stoke interest for some reason. Now the plot gets weirder: a Navy scientist has filed a patent for a quantum superconducter antigravity drive capable of UFO-like feats of impossible aeronautics. When the Patent Office rejected it as outlandish, the Chief Technical Officer of naval aviation personally wrote the Patent Office saying it was totally possible and a matter of national security, after which the Patent Office relented and granted the patent. The patent thanks UFO researchers in the acknowledgements, includes a picture of a UFO recently sighted by Navy pilots, and does everything short of print in capital letters ‘THIS COMES FROM A UFO’. Scientists who were asked to comment say the proposed drive is “babble” and none of the supposed science checks out at all. Has the Navy fallen victim to conspiracy-peddlers, are they deliberately trying to stoke conspiracy theories for some reason, or what?

Related: Army Partners With Former Blink-182 Founder To Study Alien Technology.

Principles For The Application Of Human Intelligence: Can decision-making by human intelligences introduce bias? Can HI be racist? “Until…human debiasing techniques reach the efficiency of our regular auditing, review, and modification of algorithms, we should not implement these human decision systems.”

BMJ: Failing to complete a prescribed antibiotic course does not contribute to antibiotic resistance.

Along with all of WeWork’s many other red flags, did you know they used kabbalah in decision-making? I would add that the name “Adam Neumann” has kabbalistic implications all by itself, regardless of what decision-making procedures he uses.

A while ago I linked an article about a supposedly disastrous trial of genetically engineered mosquitos in Brazil. This was wrong. The media misunderstood the incident, blew it out of proportion, and it seems that possibly the journal screwed up the original paper somehow? In any case, the scientists who wrote the paper the whole thing was based around are so upset that they are asking for their own paper to be retracted.

California passes a law saying that freelance journalists may not write more than 35 stories per year, which many freelance journalists argue is not enough to survive on and would essentially destroy freelance journalism as a career option. The story seems to be that California wanted to ban Uber from classifying its drivers as freelancers, and the easiest way to do this was just to ban freelance work and carve out exceptions for any form of freelance work the state didn’t want to ban, and whoever was in charge of exception-making randomly chose the number “35” for freelance journalism. The lawmaker responsible has apologized to freelance journalists, but the cynical part of me isn’t sure what apology they can give beyond “we’re sorry our law ending people’s freedom to make contracts with flexible work schedules also affected popular people who can complain”. And if you think I sound angry, as always you should read @webdevmason’s takes (1, 2). Anyway, I think California journalists should feel lucky to be allowed 35 stories; most new housing in the state is limited to two.

Minced oaths: You probably knew “gosh” = “God” and “darn” = “damn”. But did you know “crikey” = “Christ kill me”, and maybe even “bloody” = “by our Lady”? As always, Aaron Smith-Teller takes it too far.

The Middle East is quickly becoming less religious.

Which occupations disproportionately support which Democratic presidential candidates? Mostly what you’d expect, if anything a little too on the nose. Mathematicians for Warren, talent agents for Harris, pizza delivery drivers for Yang, etc. Also, if you want to figure out who is “the candidate of the rich”, you will find all the data you need here.

Jason Crawford’s Roots Of Progress blog on the history of science is going full time. Highly recommended – see eg his post on iron here. There’s also a subreddit.

Latest poll on how Americans view civility: 88% believe that “compromise and common ground should be the goal”, but 83% believe that “I’m tired of leaders compromising my values and ideals [and] want leaders who will stand up to the other side.”

A few weeks ago I posted about the bygone age when people used the Internet for endless arguments about atheism. If you’re sad you missed that era, good news! There’s still a little piece of it going strong over at DebateReligion.reddit.com.

Pollution map: California wildfires vs. a totally normal day in China

Local Bay Area news: mass shooting at a party in an AirBnB house in Orinda, five dead. Orinda responds by banning AirBnB; AirBnB responds by banning parties. Seems to me like they’re just launching pointless attacks on coincidental features of this particular shooting instead of going after the real problem: houses.

Some pushback against Bryan Caplan’s Open Borders: Garrett Jones does an analysis where he shows that on Caplan’s own assumptions, average income of native-born US residents would fall by 40%, from $55,000 to $38,000. Caplan pushes back in a couple of ways. First, even under Jones’ assumptions, global GDP would almost double (because the natives being worse off is more than compensated by immigrants being better off). Second, a bunch of complicated statistical issues with Jones’ analysis. Third, pointing to South Africa, where the end of apartheid did not lower white incomes at all (!), showing that, even in multiracial countries where a richer race/class is outnumbered by a more politically powerful poorer race/class, this doesn’t seem to hurt the richer race/class (at least so far). There’s more at the link. See also the discussion of Open Borders at r/TheMotte.

Did you know: Brazil has more homicides than America + China + Russia + the EU + the rest of the Anglosphere combined?

Last month I linked the BernieBlindness subreddit so people could speculate whether weird media failures to include Bernie Sanders in lists of candidates were mistake or conspiracy. Here’s an even more impressive list of weird media failures to include Andrew Yang. Since I don’t think anyone feels especially threatened by Yang, I count this as strong evidence for the media just being too dumb to remember who all the candidates are consistently.

I can’t believe we’ve been rationalists for over a decade now and nobody proposed just doing a scientific study to see whether the Democrats or the Republicans are better. Apparent answer: when studied through careful causation-detecting economic techniques, having a state switch from Democratic to Republican control, or vice versa, has almost no effect on various outcomes of interest like unemployment, crime, or school attendance. This is true even when you limit it to the most extreme cases (state goes from unified Democratic control to unified Republican control and stays that way for many years). Not really sure what to think of this.

LW: autopsy of last year’s self-driving Uber crash. Hindsight is 20-20, and I usually try to hesitate to critique people smarter than I am who are trying to do an insanely difficult thing – but this still seems completely inexcusable and shockingly incompetent.

Texas plane crash was gender reveal party gone wrong; this comes hot on the heels of gender reveal parties being linked to a pipe bomb death and alligator abuse.

A team including Joseph Henrich (author of Secret Of Our Success) publishes a giant paper making the case that Westerners’ psychological differences from the global norm (more individualist, more trusting, less bound by tradition) date back to kinship structures enforced by the early Catholic Church (many of you will have first heard this theory from Twitter user @hbdchick, who’s been using it to explain everything for the past half-decade). There’s been a big (and sometimes nasty) pushback from less-quantitatively-oriented historians; see The Scholar’s Stage for a great play-by-play and a spirited defense of Henrich.

I’ve always wondered how long it takes to make a really good painting; some seem so intricate that I imagine an artist working full-time for a year just to get it right. Turns out I am very off and a skilled artist can make impressive-looking paintings in a few hours.

The Libertarian Party of Kentucky ran a third-party candidate who split the vote and helped a Democrat get elected Kentucky governor this year; here is their statement on the results.

Last month, one of the world’s leading Napoleonic historians was rescued from an icy river, only to have relief turn to horror when he was discovered to be wearing a backpack full of severed human arms. Then things got weird.

Alexey Guzey spent 130 hours chronicling errors in the first chapter of Dr. Matthew Walker’s hit book Why We Sleep, and is suitably upset by it. It seems to be paying off with high-volume sites like Andrew Gelman and Hacker News taking note. No response yet from Walker, but I agree with Gelman’s suggestion that Joe Rogan (who helped popularize Walker) should invite Alexey on his show to talk about it. See also this comment on the subreddit critiquing some of Guzey’s points, with ensuing discussion – the one about not using correlation to infer causation in all-cause mortality stats is a very important point, here and always.

Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook in college and cemented a cultural association between young people and entrepreneurship. But according to the American Institute for Economic Research, this association is wrong: the average successful entrepreneur is 45 when they found their company, the youngest entrepreneurs are the least successful, and a 50-year-old’s company is almost twice as likely to succeed as a 30-year-old’s.

A few weeks ago I reviewed an NYT article on incentives; since then some real economists including David Henderson (Part 2 here) and Bryan Caplan have weighed in with their own thoughts.

If you’re wondering what socialists want, this article on How To Build Socialist Institutions gives a pretty good rundown of moderate socialist proposals (eg nationalize things that have successfully been nationalized in other countries and times, switch various things to co-ops).

Myths about WWI: contrary to the portrayal that officers sat in comfortable tents as they sent enlisted men to certain death, officers were about 50% more likely to die than ordinary soldiers.

From the best of new Less Wrong: Design Principles Of Biological Circuits. I was especially impressed by this passage: “The body uses an integral feedback mechanism to achieve robust exact adaptation of glucose levels, with the count of pancreatic beta cells serving as the state variable: when glucose is too low, the cells (slowly) die off, and when glucose is too high, the cells (slowly) proliferate…mutant cells which mismeasure the glucose concentration could proliferate and take over the tissue. One defense against this problem is for the beta cells to die when they measure very high glucose levels (instead of proliferating very quickly). This handles must mutations, but it also means that sufficiently high glucose levels can trigger an unstable feedback loop: beta cells die, which reduces insulin, which means higher glucose “price” and less glucose usage throughout the body, which pushes glucose levels even higher. That’s type-2 diabetes.” Any experts reading who can confirm if this is true?

“Do you think we’re prepared for the big reveal that the last century and a half of history has been orchestrated by an immortal Andrew Johnson with space-radiation-related superpowers and a grudge?”

New research paper claims that “deaths of despair” are caused by white people being angry at the loss of their white privilege. This should immediately prompt another round of “spot the statistical malpractice people are using to provide scientific cover for the dominant narrative”, but in this case Clay Routledge has already done our work: the paper is just a rehash of the finding that Trump did unusually well in areas hit by the opioid epidemic and deaths of despair. The paper uses Trump support as a proxy for racism, tries to adjust out a few confounders, declares the whole thing probably causal, and so reframes this as “racism must be causing deaths of despair”.

The Department of Homeland Security opened a fake university in Michigan. They convinced immigrant students (who had legitimate student visas) to go there, used their openly-DHS-persona to ensure students the university was legitimate – then arrested those students for visa fraud since they were attending a fake university. They claim that since the university was fake (ie didn’t have any real classes or professors), they were operating a sting on immigrants who were okay with attending a fake university in order to keep their visas. But students claim they weren’t told it was a fake university without classes or professors when they signed up, and some students who transferred out once they figured out it was fake were also arrested. I’ve been reading about efforts to abolish the DHS recently, and the people involved stress they don’t mean that nobody should ever enforce immigration laws. They mean that the DHS, specifically, as an organization, has a screwed-up culture, and that dissolving it and leaving immigration enforcement to various other departments the way it was before 2001 would work better. This university thing seems like Exhibit A.

Man wields narwhal tusk to thwart terrorist’s murder spree is now a thing that has happened.

Kurt Vonnegut’s ice-9 is science fiction, but the same process – a new crystalline form arising in a substance, spreading unstoppably, and destroying everything that relied on the old form – happened in real life to the AIDS drug ritonavir (tumblr post, paper).

Zero HP Lovecraft: God-Shaped Hole

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910 Responses to Links 12/19

  1. Freddie deBoer says:

    Uber drivers work under obscene work conditions and their status as “freelancers” or “private contractors” is an absolutely transparent means for a massive company to avoid having to give many thousands of workers the same employee rights and protections that most people enjoy. Freelance writing is no better. Clearly the bill as written is a ham-handed kludge, but the fundamental issue of exploitative working conditions and scuzzy tactics by Silicon Valley to avoid labor law is absolutely in need of addressing, whatever libertarians think.

    • Jacob says:

      From the article describing the new bill: “Why a limit of 35 stories? The number is the result of negotiations between lawmakers and interest groups, including journalists and journalists’ unions, according to Steve Smith, communications director for the California Labor Federation. The union coalition was one of Assembly Bill 5’s chief supporters, and worked on it with its author, San Diego Democrat Lorena Gonzalez.”

      This bill is a transparent means for a few unionized staff writers to keep their jobs and perks by making sure that freelance journalism in no longer a viable livelihood and pushing their freelance competitors out of the industry. The bill is not a ham-handed kludge, it’s a carefully designed weapon.

      Which outcome do you think is more likely:
      A. Most freelance writers who used to write >35 pieces will now get employee rights and protections.
      B. Most outlets stop commissioning freelancers once they hit 35 while hiring none or few new full-timers.

      If you think it’s A, I have an equity share in a regional newspaper to sell you.

      • Freddie deBoer says:

        Which outcome do you think is more likely:
        A. Most freelance writers who used to write >35 pieces will now get employee rights and protections.
        B. Most outlets stop commissioning freelancers once they hit 35 while hiring none or few new full-timers.

        And this, friends, is capitalism’s insistence that you have no good choices and should content yourself with the gruel they ladle out. A truly unionized writing industry would have the negotiating muscle to guarantee livable working conditions for all of their membership, and a country that was serious about labor protections would extend them to everyone who works regardless of how many hours they work. Because humane working conditions are the kind of intrinsic good government is meant to secure.

        • Erusian says:

          To be clear, your contention is that a union worked to push freelance writers out of working but a “truly unionized writing industry” would not engage in similar behavior?

          How do you account for the well documented phenomenon that worker’s collectives, even in socialist states like Yugoslavia, tend to also work to minimize the number of workers that enter the industry so to sustain greater per capita earnings at the cost of total productivity? (Which is what’s happening now, at least as Jacob tells it: a union trying to limit the number of workers in an industry to increase their individual compensation.)

          • Urstoff says:

            Minimize the number of workers is quite literally cab companies do in most cities, after all. You can pay higher wages if you artificially restrict supply and can thus increase prices. Is it reasonable to think that every single person can be employed in an industry that artificially restricts supply?

          • zzzzort says:

            This is only a bad thing if it leads to unemployment, or if worker’s preference for an industry is really high. I for one would rather have a secure, good paying job in some role than the chance to apply for a job in a specific role.

            To be more concrete, I work in academia, and I would welcome a law that outlawed temporary work such as post-docing and adjuncting beyond a level required for training. It would kick some people out of the field, possibly including me, but the people that remain would have better jobs, and the people who left would have more time to retool for different jobs if they start looking at 28 instead of 38.

          • and the people who left would have more time to retool for different jobs if they start looking at 28 instead of 38.

            And it doesn’t bother you that you are (hypothetically, by supporting the law you propose) making a decision for them, on the assumption that you know their interest better than they do?

            Your “possibly me” seems to imply that you are a post doc or adjunct, rather than tenure track faculty with whom they are, arguably, competing. If so, and if you believe that leaving academia earlier is better, why haven’t you done so?

          • benwave says:

            and if you believe that leaving academia earlier is better, why haven’t you done so?

            This seems a bit uncharitable. I think it’s clear from what they said that they would prefer a permanent academic job, but that if they are not going to get one they’d prefer to leave sooner so their time is not wasted.

          • zzzzort says:

            I would prefer the academic industry to tell me now if they will give me a permanent job. This reduces the risk that I invest in this industry and then have to leave. They would prefer to tell me later if I will get a permanent job. This reduces the risk that I go from promising researcher to bust of a professor, and keeps me working hard until tenure. I contend that it makes more sense for the large institution to take on the risks rather than the individuals.

            I guess I would still be ok with hiring post docs who knew they were never going to get permanent jobs in academia and chose to work there anyway; in practice I expect those numbers would be quite small and academic science would have to come up with a new labor model.

          • ana53294 says:

            I have the same preference as @zzzzort. It’s like the interns who work really hard, putting many extra hours trying to impress the company to get hired. Many of them would prefer to know whether there’s a realistic chance they’ll get hired. If they know they definitely are not going to get hired, they can coast by doing the minimum, spend some time learning what they actually need instead of what their bosses demand they do, and in general have a better time.

          • John Schilling says:

            I would prefer the academic industry to tell me now if they will give me a permanent job.

            How is that supposed to work, exactly? “The academic industry” isn’t a single firm or legal entity that can make such a decision, and the institution at which you spend a term as a postdoc is not necessarily the one that will eventually offer you tenure.

            Also, I’m pretty sure that this is one of those “if you’re not sure who is the sucker in the room, it’s you” situations. Postdoc and adjunct positions beyond those necessary for training, as you put it, aren’t that hard to recognize, and it ought to be common knowledge by now that if you follow that path you’ve got roulette-wheel odds of ever getting tenure.

          • I contend that it makes more sense for the large institution to take on the risks rather than the individuals.

            Except that your model means, not just that the university bears the risk, but that the university ends up with half its faculty (number invented) being people who are not sufficiently productive scholars or good enough teachers so that they want them.

            It isn’t like fire insurance, where you transfer the risk but the amount stays about the same. It is, assuming (optimistically) that the university is competent in its tenure decisions, more like buying a house, where your model is equivalent to allocating houses to buyers without letting them first inspect the house to see if it’s what they want.

            Unfortunately, evaluating a scholar takes longer than evaluating a house.

            Adjuncts, in my experience, are either people outside the academic world, such as lawyers or judges, who enjoy doing some teaching for a small payment, or people who want to stay in the academic world and are willing to do it at a low salary, even though they don’t expect to end up with a tenured position.

            In some cases I suspect the adjunct, if a lawyer in a law school or an executive in a business school (the latter is conjectural, since it isn’t a situation I have observed), is taking the opportunity to evaluate students as potential future hires.

          • zzzzort says:

            How is that supposed to work, exactly?

            The parent suggestion was passing a law prohibiting short term positions. This already exists in some form, where the government (which provides the vast majority of the funding) strongly disfavors funding of postdocs who are more than x years past phd. The problem is that x is a large number, and phds have gotten longer. Medicine accomplishes the same goal by restricting (over restricting in my view) admissions to med school; if you make it past that filter you’re in great shape for a career (my first best preference is to regularize non-professor researcher as a career, but that seems just as unlikely in the US).

            if you’re not sure who is the sucker in the room, it’s you

            Thanks for the vote of confidence! 🙂 I’m pretty sure I have a good handle on the lay of the game, but there’s a lot of specialization, which means small numbers, which mean high variance. I also have a two-body constraint, which significantly complicates the problem. Early career academics who think they control their destinies are the real suckers.

            @DavidFriedman

            not just that the university bears the risk, but that the university ends up with half its faculty

            I don’t understand the ‘but’ in that sentence. The universities’ risk is that they will invest in some hires worth less than other people they could have hired, so obviously if they hire enough people they will get some duds. The individual’s risk is that they will invest in some skills that will be worth less than skills they could have invested in (if they knew the eventual hiring outcome). As each person only plays the game once that risk will be all or nothing, but you currently spend years training people in e.g. theoretical particle physics, only to have >90% of them (not a made up number) end up working outside the field. Either way there are inefficiencies and wasted resources, but the incidence is indeed very different.

          • Erusian says:

            This is only a bad thing if it leads to unemployment, or if worker’s preference for an industry is really high. I for one would rather have a secure, good paying job in some role than the chance to apply for a job in a specific role.

            To be more concrete, I work in academia, and I would welcome a law that outlawed temporary work such as post-docing and adjuncting beyond a level required for training. It would kick some people out of the field, possibly including me, but the people that remain would have better jobs, and the people who left would have more time to retool for different jobs if they start looking at 28 instead of 38.

            I don’t mind this position, honestly. You see, you’re arguing that the empirical economic data is correct and that it will result in a deadweight loss and a loss of jobs etc. But you think that the loss is worthwhile for effectively reasons of moral allocation.

            And I’m not discounting that at all. It’s possible that economically sub-optimal answers might be ideal for other reasons. We are, at that point, arguing morality and our ideal society. On that there can be honest disagreement. What bothers me is when people deny there’s a trade off. And that’s what I responded to: the idea that if you introduced a union this economic trade off would just disappear because… people power, I guess?

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            The decision is actually made primarily for the employers, who, in the case of academia, don’t get to exploit people as much with a pipeline to tenure designed to extract as much low-paid labor as they can.

            Of course, your ideology is based on the idea that revealed preferences are always good preferences, but those who don’t share this axiom can believe that people have harmful tendencies that require some benevolence within the system, rather than maximal exploitation.

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Note that people’s revealed preferences are hardly autonomous, as people are heavily groomed by society, including in delayed gratification. So arguably, the academic system is a 1-2 knockout punch as people are first taught that they get what they want by delaying gratification and grinding things out, with vague promises of success that people are supposed to trust, yet this gets exploited by academia with immensely poor odds relative to the grind.

          • Of course, your ideology is based on the idea that revealed preferences are always good preferences

            I don’t know what you intend that to mean. I certainly don’t assume that the preferences of A are always good for B–A might have a preference for murdering B.

            I do assume that A usually knows what is in his interest better than any external authority is likely to, and that A can better be trusted to act in his own interest than any external authority can be to act in A’s interest—the one important exception being if A is a small child.

            Is that what you meant?

          • ana53294 says:

            @David Friedman

            But a person will only act in their own best interest if they possess the full information. Academia seems to try to hide as much information as they can from mid-career scientists so they can squeeze their work.

          • @Ana:

            My context has been law schools and economics departments in the U.S., where I don’t think I have observed such a pattern–also physics departments about fifty years ago. I can’t speak to other fields, times, or places.

          • You can pay higher wages if you artificially restrict supply and can thus increase prices.

            Assuming the cab company is free to set wages, the effect is the opposite. The fewer drivers they have to hire, the lower the wage they have to offer.

            That was my father’s experiment in economic education long ago. When he had a cab ride in N.Y., he would discuss the medallion system with the driver. The driver’s view would be that if the medallions were abolished there would be more cabs (true), so they would make less money (true), so the drivers would be paid less (false). The drivers didn’t own the medallions, the companies did, and the more drivers the companies had to hire the higher the wage they would have to offer to get them. The reduction in income to the companies and the increase in cost of hiring drivers would reflect the reduction in the value of the medallions (to zero).

            His conclusion was that on a short drive he could generally not get the argument across, on a long one, I think 20 minutes or more, he could.

            On the other hand, if there is a drivers’ union in a position to control wages and entry, it is indeed true that they can push wages up and the number of drivers down. That roughly corresponds to what I understand to have been the arrangement between coal companies and the miners’ union in the past. The union was, in effect, the enforcement arm for a cartel of mining companies. If a company produced too much coal, the union would strike against it. The companies shared the resulting monopoly profits with the workers in the form of higher wages.

          • John Schilling says:

            The parent suggestion was passing a law prohibiting short term positions. [for example] postdocs who are more than x years past phd. The problem is that x is a large number, and phds have gotten longer.

            But the reason PhDs are getting longer (in some fields; I haven’t seen it in mine) is that universities are presumably using captive doctoral students as cheap scientific labor. If you say “no more than X years of postdoc labor”, that incentivizes them to make even more use of captive-doctoral-student labor.

            So, your next step pretty much has to be a requirement that they throw out all the students who don’t get a PhD within Y years. And then everybody gets hired as a “lab tech” or an “adjunct professor” instead, so you’re going to have to put caps on that, because everybody knows adjunct professors are just overworked abused serfs…

            Except that my father spent most of his career teaching one class a semester at SUNY-Albany, which brought rewards of a different kind than his day job and made him a generally happier person. Same with a couple of my present colleagues. You’re going to wind up taking that happiness away from maybe half a dozen people, in the hope that their losses will add up to one tenure-track position for someone like you, Yay You. Except, not “yay” IMO.

            And the new equilibrium for that is that “tenure-track” assistant professors wind up with pay and working conditions more like postdocs and adjuncts, and roulette-wheel odds of actually getting tenure before they’re told to bugger off and look for an “assistant professor” position somewhere else.

            And if you somehow rule that out, and make it so that academia and research as a whole have to either commit to tenure or kick people out by age 28 or whatever, then an awful lot of academic research that is currently being done, won’t be done because it’s too financially risky. You might get a small increase in the number and certainty of full-time tenured positions you aspire to, but only a small increase and only at the expense of scorched-earth destruction of every other possible path in academia or research. Since some people who aren’t you actually prefer those paths, and some of them do good and useful work, that strikes me as quite selfish.

          • quanta413 says:

            @ana53294

            But a person will only act in their own best interest if they possess the full information. Academia seems to try to hide as much information as they can from mid-career scientists so they can squeeze their work.

            It’s not that hidden. Like it’s very understandable if you don’t think things through fully before deciding to go get a Ph.D. I sure as hell didn’t at 22. But if you haven’t figured out what the postdoc and professor route would roughly be like by the time you finish your Ph.D. you must have either incredibly bad powers of observation or incredible capability for willful self-deception.

            Which means that for most people who decide to go the academic route, I think they really do think the academic life is worth being paid way less than they would in industry. Maybe they’d do it even if the chance of becoming a professor was 0. Most academics are people with good alternative options. The only people who can save them from themselves are themselves.

        • A truly unionized writing industry would have the negotiating muscle to guarantee livable working conditions for all of their membership

          Yes, and you wouldn’t have an easy time getting into their membership.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I cannot wait until the cops come to arrest me for putting out journalism without a license.

          • Alsadius says:

            Edward: There’s been a lot of socialist systems like that, as it happens.

          • John Schilling says:

            I cannot wait until the cops come to arrest me for putting out journalism without a license.

            Under plausible US systems, the cops won’t come to arrest you. But all the major media outlets, even purely online ones, will demand to see your union card before they publish any of your content, because if they don’t all their union journailsts will go on strike – and they can’t maintain their status as major media outlets with just scabs and amateurs so they can’t afford to piss off the union.

            You’ll be able to run your own “journalistic” web site, of course, or publish your own newesletter for anyone who can be bothered to read it.

            And I’m not saying this is likely, but it’s within the realm of possibility and it seems to be what Freddie is asking for.

        • Jacob says:

          Is there a single country with a thriving *free* journalism industry in 2019? Socialist or not, the only governments that care about securing cushy positions for journalists are those who control the media themselves. I hear that “China Daily” has good perks if you can get a job there.

          Somebody will figure out how to do profitable quality journalism that allows writers to make a good living. I’m quite optimistic about this because I’m personally willing to pay for it, and so are many others. I don’t know what shape it will take (I don’t think “The Correspondent” is quite it), but I know one thing for sure: it won’t happen in California.

          • Clutzy says:

            IDK. What is a living a journalist should be making? Most of them are not really that skilled. Its an easier job than a schoolteacher for sure, and that is a mildly skilled profession. But its also a potentially glamorous position ala hollywood.

            Seems like more of a job than a profession, where in an equilibrium state 90%+ of the people are also working 2nd jobs.

          • Statismagician says:

            There’s probably a lot of space for re-working what journalism looks like. We spend a lot of time mocking the press for missing really basic scientific concepts; maybe the answer is to spin up a ‘reporting about x’ subspecialization in individual technical fields – of course, you’d have to pay them commensurately with what they’d be making as a programmer or a biologist or whatever.

          • Viliam says:

            A specialist journalist would probably have to write for multiple newspapers, because a non-specialized newpaper probably wouldn’t publish enough articles about their topic.

          • Alsadius says:

            Jacob: “Thriving” is a relative term. Literally. An industry is thriving if it’s getting bigger relative to what it was before. Journalism isn’t thriving, because people are willing to pay less for journalism than they used to, but it’s not going to get to zero. There will still be professional journalists, including some who make a pretty decent living. It just won’t be as many as it was.

            Statismagician: It already exists in most fields of meaningful size. For example, my field has Investment Executive (though admittedly it’s a bit less relevant to me now that I’m not in sales). These seem to be all over the place if you go looking.

        • Anon. says:

          Literally the entire point of a union is to act as a monopolist: restrict supply in order to drive up prices. Excluding non-union workers is not an unintended side-effect, it’s the mechanism by which the union extracts money for its members: some of the incidence falls on excluded workers, some falls on consumers, and some falls on shareholders depending on the relevant elasticities (and this is all socially sub-optimal, obviously).

          • NoRandomWalk says:

            To what extent is this true?

            I dislike unions a lot in practice, because I don’t like regulation and think the more easily I am exploited the more compensation I will get for being exploited. That being said, I thought a big part of what a union did was ‘collective bargaining’. If a corporation has market power, its workers unionizing could theoretically actually make it more efficient.

            Does anyone have any examples of unions which focus on improving benefits through collective bargaining, but don’t significantly restrict the supply of workers?

          • Freddie deBoer says:

            Sure, my union, PSC-CUNY, which takes on hundreds of new adjuncts a year and is constantly working to take on more. Given that unions need dues to survive this is not at all uncommon practice.

          • albatross11 says:

            Anon.

            An obvious counterexample is public service unions.

          • AMT says:

            “batshit right wingers.” Wow.

            Considering that Anon’s description is basically textbook economics I’m not too sure what to think either. Maybe supply and demand aren’t actually a thing, I guess. And rent control is optimal for society too, obviously.

          • Public employee unions are a special case because they can lobby for increased spending on whatever their members produce by fiat. When spending on the products is determined by people voluntarily purchasing the product, there’s no advantage to the union to demand the company overproduce, it will result in loss of revenue to the company, which means less they can bargain for.

          • m.alex.matt says:

            That’s the purpose of a guild. A union, at least ostensibly and to the extent it is not merely a re-labelled guild, restricts supply by having workers withdraw their labor from the market in unison. It’s still about being a monopoly supplier, but it (at least in theory) doesn’t require restricting entry — only that all entrants join the union and cooperate with it, or at least enough entrants to significantly effect the market price of labor.

          • Plumber says:

            @NoRandomWalk says: "...Does anyone have any examples of unions which focus on improving benefits through collective bargaining, but don’t significantly restrict the supply of workers?

            Sure, to a large extent the UAW and most mid 20th century “Industrial unions” (in contrast to “craft unions” like the one I belong to).

          • zzzzort says:

            and this is all socially sub-optimal, obviously

            Maybe not obvious to everyone? Certainly not to me. One problem I have is that arguments against unions also tend to be arguments against corporations. At the shop level, unions try to be monopolistic, but firms are tautologically monopsonistic. At the industry level, unions often try to be monopolistic, but then firms often try to be monopolistic. Unions sometimes funnel surpluses to some well-connected people in leadership, corporations are specifically designed to funnel surpluses to well-connected people in leadership.

          • but don’t significantly restrict the supply of workers?

            Whether or not they act to restrict the supply of workers, their central purpose is to push up wages in their industry. Raising the price of labor reduces the demand for workers, so the result is the same, even if through a different mechanism—fewer people employed in the unionized industry.

          • At the industry level, unions often try to be monopolistic, but then firms often try to be monopolistic.

            At the industry level, unions almost always try to be monopolies, and often succeed, with some help from labor law. Firms often try to get bigger, but very rarely to be monopolies, and rarely succeed—and actions that tend to create monopoly, such as mergers, are frequently forbidden by the state, at least in the U.S.

          • John Schilling says:

            One problem I have is that arguments against unions also tend to be arguments against corporations.

            Are arguments against the bare existence of unions still a major thing? Most of what I come across are arguments against unions being granted special privileges that may amount to a de facto government guarantee of monopoly for whoever first establishes a union in a particular market, and/or dictate the terms of customers’ interaction with such unions in ways that would never be tolerated for corporations.

          • Aapje says:

            @NoRandomWalk

            Does anyone have any examples of unions which focus on improving benefits through collective bargaining, but don’t significantly restrict the supply of workers?

            That is the standard model in my country, where the collective bargaining agreement typically becomes legally mandated, which means that there is no need to do the kind of stuff that seems to happen in America (like Hollywood), where unions seek to ensure that only unionized workers get jobs.

            @DavidFriedman

            In my country, there is competition between unions, where unions have been ‘undercut’ by other unions.

            The employees can vote with their feet to switch to unions that they think represent them better or they can abstain from joining a union, which means that they opt out of ‘voting’ and if too few people in total join a union, tends to result in no collective bargaining agreement for that sector/company.

          • ana53294 says:

            In Spain, you don’t have to be a union member to strike. Anybody can strike during a lawfully called strike, as long as they aren’t part of the minimum service (which exists for hospitals, public transport, etc). I’ve vaguely heard it’s not like that in other countries.

            Also, like Aapje said, everybody has the contract according to the collective bargaining agreement.

            There are other benefits of a union that means most people don’t become free riders. The union only protects members, for example.

          • JD says:

            An obvious counterexample is public service unions.

            In this case the tax payer and wider population bears the burden of less services for the same money. Or more services than want it asked for, since using a bureaucracy to decide how many heath and safety inspectors do we really need usually backfires — they will create work to justify their existence.

            Speculating here but, public sector unions benefit from more and more members that are much harder to fire, and therefore increasing bargaining power for the union and decreasing workload for each union member — unlike the private sector that can hire cheaper temporary workers to undercut union workers. i.e. same service for lower cost.

            Side note: worked in Germany some years ago where we hired temporary (factory) workers to avoid increasing permanent union workers. We wanted to keep many of those temporaries cause they were good, but had to let them go. To make them permanent would be much much more expensive.

          • Alsadius says:

            Once a union has captured an employer, it tends to want to maximize employment. Local teacher’s unions are obsessive about this, to pick one I’m familiar with. It’s only cases where they have no meaningful employer to capture that they focus on restriction. If your employer is basically just the general public, barriers to entry help people in the industry. So doctors and lawyers and cabbies try to limit entry, but teachers and auto workers try to increase entry, because that’s how they extract value from employers (who are actually concentrated enough to negotiate with directly).

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          And this, friends, is capitalism’s insistence that you have no good choices and should content yourself with the gruel they ladle out.

          The parent comment had just pointed out that your proposal would result in lost jobs. You’re basically telling us we should reject capitalism’s “gruel”, as you put it, and instead play a lottery where we might win oatmeal, but might win nothing at all.

          And since we’re now funding a lottery system, we will necessarily get nothing more often than we get oatmeal.

        • Skeptic says:

          Freddie,

          I disagree with you on pretty much every issue but I’m glad you’re back in the mix. Hope all is well and I look forward to reading articles with your byline well into the future. We need intelligent and compassionate socialists to keep us accountable and ensure the least of us is not forgotten in public policy. You’re a great value add in the realm of public policy.

          That being said, as an economist my take is that everything you’ve said is literally incorrect; morally and mathematically. Preventing adults from having labor market options is not doing them a favor.

          Willing adults choose to engage in a voluntary mutually beneficial transaction. The state decides it should be abolished.

          My worldview is based on ceteris paribus, and I think innocent people were robbed of their ability to sell their services.

          We should be extremely wary of any law that says a man cannot sell his own labor.

          Cheers

          • Guy in TN says:

            My worldview is based on ceteris paribus, and I think innocent people were robbed of their ability to sell their services.

            You can’t steal what someone doesn’t own.

            Unless you are just using “robbed” as a colloquial “thing I am opposed to”. In which case I declare that not giving uber drivers labor protections is robbery.

          • Unless you are just using “robbed” as a colloquial “thing I am opposed to”. In which case I declare that not giving uber drivers labor protections is robbery.

            You don’t see any difference between “you are not allowed to sell X” and “the government is not going to set prices for X?”

          • Guy in TN says:

            You don’t see any difference between “you are not allowed to sell X” and “the government is not going to set prices for X?”

            Do I see an inherent difference in terms of the axis of “is this robbery?” No I do not.

          • Cliff says:

            @Guy in TN,

            Is it your opinion that people have any rights? Would you say the same thing if, for example, the government passed a law mandating a certain amount of rape, and I objected that the people being raped were being robbed of their right to bodily autonomy, freedom from violence, etc.? I.e. would your response be “can’t be robbed of something you don’t have”?

          • Guy in TN says:

            for example, the government passed a law mandating a certain amount of rape, and I objected that the people being raped were being robbed of their right to bodily autonomy, freedom from violence, etc.? I.e. would your response be “can’t be robbed of something you don’t have”?

            If you objected to it on the basis of solely “the right to bodily autonomy”, that would be a simply factually incorrect objection. Under such a law, you clearly don’t have the legal right to bodily autonomy.

            You’d be better off making a case for how you think things ought to be, rather than making a case that relies on pretending that things are how they aren’t.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @Cliff

            Is it your opinion that people have any rights?

            If it were true, where would these right come from?

          • albatross11 says:

            +1 on welcoming Freddie back. I usually disagree but I also usually learn something.

          • Cliff says:

            @Guy in TN,

            More pointless games with semantics? If a law enslaves people then we can’t say that it took away our right to freedom from slavery, instead we have to say that people should have a right to freedom from slavery- otherwise you’re going to post a comment about how we said the wrong thing instead of addressing the point?

            They had the right to sell their services until the law said they couldn’t, so in what way does your argument have any substantive content?

          • Cliff says:

            If it were true, where would these right come from?

            There’s a pretty expansive literature on natural rights…

          • Guy in TN says:

            The purpose of this is to make it clear whether you are making a normative or a descriptive claim.

            If Skeptics’ claim that such a law “robs the ability of someone to sell their services” is intended as descriptive, it’s factually incorrect. The public never “owned” the ability to sell their services in such a way to begin with, the state has always retained the legal right to regulate it at will.

            If the claim is intended as simply normative, it doesn’t contain much persuasive element other than a restating that the OP thinks the action is unjust. Well, I think not regulating it is unjust. So there!

          • Mary says:

            the state has always retained the legal right to regulate it at will.

            So human beings don’t have rights, but the abstraction known as “the state” does. Which means, since “the state” does not really exist but is some people exerting power over others, some human beings have the right to treat other people as they wish, but the other people have no right to object.

            This is not so self-evident as you think.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Which means, since “the state” does not really exist but is some people exerting power over others, some human beings have the right to treat other people as they wish, but the other people have no right to object.

            The state obviously exists, and is comprised of humans who have authority over other humans. This isn’t as damning as a statement as you appear to think it is; basically everyone who isn’t an anarchist or libertarian understands and agrees with this.

            some human beings have the right to treat other people as they wish, but the other people have no right to object.

            If I have a farm, and you want to come on my farm and plant soybeans, and I say “no, I don’t want you using my land”, would you describe this situation as “treating you how I wish” and giving you “no right to object”?

          • So human beings don’t have rights, but the abstraction known as “the state” does.

            The statement you were responding to was not about rights but about legal rights. If the state makes the laws, it isn’t surprising if …

          • DarkTigger says:

            The state obviously exists, and is comprised of humans who have authority over other humans. This isn’t as damning as a statement as you appear to think it is; basically everyone who isn’t an anarchist or libertarian understands and agrees with this.

            The damning part of the statement isn’t that the state has rights (or exists, about as much as any cultural construct exists), but that the state has rights outside of given law, and single humans not.

            I don’t think you have to be an anarchist to disagree with that line of argumentation.

          • Guy in TN says:

            The damning part of the statement isn’t that the state has rights (or exists, about as much as any cultural construct exists), but that the state has rights outside of given law, and single humans not.

            This is going to need some unpacking. What do you mean “the state has rights outside of a given law”? It’s a confusing sentence. My assertion is that the rights of the state (as with the rights of everyone) are derived from the law. So the idea of a “right outside the law” comes across as oxymoronish.

            Are you talking about how the state derives its initial authority? (in our system, through democracy?)

          • My assertion is that the rights of the state (as with the rights of everyone) are derived from the law.

            The word “rights” has a lot of different meanings, and it isn’t clear which you intend. Obviously, legal rights are derived from the law. But claims about rights are usually moral claims, and to identify legal rights with moral rights requires some additional argument—I can’t tell if you want to do that or not.

            For my own contribution to the rights literature, involving a sense of rights that is neither legal nor moral, see this old article.

          • Guy in TN says:

            But claims about rights are usually moral claims

            I tried to cover this base all the way back in my first post in this thread. If you are just using the words “rights” as the normative “how I think ought to be”, then it contains no persuasive element and is merely a re-stating of your conception of what is just.

            A: “I think people should be able to do x.”
            B: “I disagree.”
            A. “Well, don’t people have the right (normative sense) to do x?”
            B: “You are just repeating yourself.”

          • @Guy:

            I don’t think “rights” and “should” are quite equivalent. If I say “I have a right to life” I don’t mean that I should live forever or am not entitled to commit suicide or even that I am entitled to an unlimited amount of medical care, only that someone who kills me is acting wrongly. Similarly for other negative rights as the concepts are used by those who believe in them.

            So a right is a particular sort of “should” statement, one that appeals to the moral intuition of many people, although perhaps not to yours.

          • Alsadius says:

            Guy in TN: It’s not “robbery” in the legal sense, because the right to do a thing is not a physical good. But I previously had the right to sell three dozen articles a year in California, and it was taken away from me. The fact that it was taken away from me against my will makes me feel like “robbery” is not especially hyperbolic.

          • Guy in TN says:

            If my boss cuts my hours, that too feels like robbery.

            Previously, I had the right to work x numbers of hours at a given place. After the hour cut (which happens against my will, I might add), I only have the right to work x minus a certain amount at that location.

            Now sure, sure, I could always work somewhere else. And likewise, you can always try a different career, rather than Uber driving or journalism.

            And if we are just using “robbery” to describe “making someone worse off”, then certainly Uber is robbing the taxi companies as well?

          • John Schilling says:

            If my boss cuts my hours, that too feels like robbery.

            Previously, I had the right to work x numbers of hours at a given place.

            At one specific given place, which is a new addition that breaks the analogy. And it’s going to feel a whole lot more like robbery if, hypothetically, your employer were to somehow cut the number of hours you are allowed to work even at competing firms.

          • Guy in TN says:

            A country isn’t one specific place? Is total land area the deal-breaker for you here?

          • John Schilling says:

            A country isn’t one specific place? Is total land area the deal-breaker for you here?

            The difficulty in changing countries is vastly greater than the difficulty in changing jobs. That pretty much is a deal-breaker for me.

        • ECD says:

          The phrase “race to the bottom” does sort of leap to mind.

          • Clutzy says:

            But a race to the bottom of what?

          • Race to the bottom means the cheapest prices for consumers.

          • ECD says:

            But a race to the bottom of what?

            Working conditions, benefits, wages and treatment.

            Race to the bottom means the cheapest prices for consumers.

            Yep (well, assuming they choose to pass along those savings and not just keep them). Of course, it also means that you may not even be able to afford those prices. Or medical treatment. Or retirement.

          • assuming they choose to pass along those savings and not just keep them

            “Choose?” You speak as if they are collecting monopoly rents and can impose prices on customers without recourse.

          • ECD says:

            You speak as if they are collecting monopoly rents and can impose prices on customers without recourse.

            Uber? Not yet. Though they’re doing an excellent job of setting the standard for ‘freelancer’ working conditions and terms which I believe will have extraordinarily negative effects on people who work for a living. But then again, I generally think that the ‘gig economy’ is basically just a nicer (and shorter) way of saying ‘fucked by modern capitalism’s current lack of need to justify itself or even pretend to be acting in support of the society it nominally belongs to.’

          • Though they’re doing an excellent job of setting the standard for ‘freelancer’ working conditions and terms which I believe will have extraordinarily negative effects on people who work for a living.

            Some people just don’t grasp the notion of competition, that charging prices higher than the equivalent competition and paying your workers less than the equivalent competition is not good for business.

            But then again, I generally think that the ‘gig economy’ is basically just a nicer (and shorter) way of saying ‘fucked by modern capitalism’s current lack of need to justify itself or even pretend to be acting in support of the society it nominally belongs to.’

            Look, I’m not a fan of the big tech companies. They are run by arrogant pricks and [I’ll let you fill in the rest here]. But I understand that that’s how the market works. Do you really think the old taxi monopolies cared about you? That they were full of public spirit unlike horrid “modern” capitalists? No, they cared about themselves; there’s nothing wrong with that. There is something wrong with them using the power of the state to prevent someone else from offering his services to the customer at a better price.

          • ECD says:

            Yep. You got me. I don’t understand competition. That’s what it is. Also, the reason I oppose slums is because I don’t understand housing markets. Did I love Taxi companies? No. The public transport system has been fucked up for a long time because it’s unsexy, easy to cut, mostly used by people who don’t vote and usually funded at a local level (and thereby easily ignored).

            None of that is inevitable. The options aren’t just ‘taxi monopoly’ or ‘uber’. That is a false choice and I reject it entirely.

          • Also, the reason I oppose slums is because I don’t understand housing markets.

            You laugh, but I have a simple question for you, should India, Brazil, Nigeria, should they ban slums? Should they mandate first-world housing standards? I say no, so I guess I’m “pro-slum.”

            The options aren’t just ‘taxi monopoly’ or ‘uber’. That is a false choice and I reject it entirely.

            Well, you haven’t proposed any alternative. The only regulation I’d support is an imposition of a “minimum fare” to guarantee an effective minimum wage to the drivers, as it makes little sense to make this one sector exempt from minimum wage legislation.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @Alexander Turok

            There is something wrong with them using the power of the state to prevent someone else from offering his services to the customer at a better price.

            What makes this wrong?

          • Clutzy says:

            Working conditions, benefits, wages and treatment.

            Race to the bottom means the cheapest prices for consumers.

            I hear that as a potential as a race to the bottom. But, OTOH why isn’t California’s regulation of Uber the bottom? Its such a bad law that they have to make special carve outs for things like freelance journalists. When a law can’t be applied uniformly, that is very strong evidence that you have a law that is destructive to the fabric of society. This has commonly came up in religious exception cases as of late. If a law is so odious when applied to devout Jews, Muslims, Christians, Native Americans, etc, that you can give them an exception, then the law probably isn’t worthwhile.

          • What makes this wrong?

            Well, I guess “right” and “wrong” are a matter of opinion. But ask any child “is it wrong for you to go over to the neighboring lemonade stand, tell him he has to set his prices artificially high, and threaten to break his stand with a baseball bat if he doesn’t comply?”

          • Guy in TN says:

            But ask any child “is it wrong for you to go over to the neighboring lemonade stand, tell him he has to set his prices artificially high, and threaten to break his stand with a baseball bat if he doesn’t comply?”

            If we are trying to gauge universal folk-morality, does the fact that every democratic country has voted to implement at least some form of market regulations not also factor in?

          • If we are trying to gauge universal folk-morality, does the fact that every democratic country has voted to implement at least some form of market regulations not also factor in?

            All market regulations are not equal. I support, at least some of the time, minimum wages, health and safety regs, anti-discrimination laws, anti-monopoly laws, and redistributive taxes. All those things can be justified by common moral principles. The anti-Uber regulations cannot be justified by moral principles commonly held.

          • All those things can be justified by common moral principles.

            How do you justify a law saying that it is illegal for me to agree to work for you save on terms set by the state, which is what a minimum wage law does? More precisely, how do you craft a justification of that that doesn’t justify the California restriction on freelance work?

          • How do you justify a law saying that it is illegal for me to agree to work for you save on terms set by the state, which is what a minimum wage law does? More precisely, how do you craft a justification of that that doesn’t justify the California restriction on freelance work?

            Studies of the minimum wage have found almost perfect inelasticity of demand, it doesn’t create unemployment at the margin. Alternatively, it creates very little unemployment, so that 40 low-wage workers get their wage raised for every worker made unemployed. In contrast, the anti-Uber regs are clearly about kicking one group of people out of the workforce to benefit another.

          • Studies of the minimum wage have found almost perfect inelasticity of demand, it doesn’t create unemployment at the margin.

            Could you point me at those studies?

            Increases in the minimum wage have a negligible effect on the national unemployment rate, because only about one percent of the labor force earns minimum wage—any signal is lost in the noise. But I don’t know of any studies showing what you claim.

            The closest I know of is the Card/Krueger piece, which offered a clever argument for why an increase in the minimum wage might not increase unemployment, could even decrease it. But the evidence they offered was, if I remember correctly, the response to polling employers in a state that had had a small increase to see if they thought they would be hiring fewer workers, not an actual measurement of what happened.

            And David Card is on record as saying that “It doesn’t mean that if we raised the minimum wage to $20 an hour we wouldn’t have massive problems, if we enforced it. “

          • Ketil says:

            [minimum wages, health and safety regs, anti-discrimination laws, anti-monopoly laws, and redistributive taxes] can be justified by common moral principles.

            How do you justify a law saying that it is illegal for me to agree to work for you save on terms set by the state, which is what a minimum wage law does? More precisely, how do you craft a justification of that that doesn’t justify the California restriction on freelance work?

            I think regulations (minimum wage, anti-monopoly) can be justified if one party (e.g., the employer) has much more bargaining power than the other. Other regulation (health and safety) can be justified as they act as a pre-negotiated Schelling point when the things being negotiated over is too complex for individuals to negotiate effectively in their best interests. Redistributive taxes can be justified from charity, or from the utilitarian perspective of one dollar affording more utility to a poor person than to a rich one. I don’t necessary agree with this, but I think the argument can be worthwhile, and like Alexander Turok, I would probably say “in some cases”.

            Limiting freelance work to some arbitrary number looks very much like the completely unprincipled patchwork approach to “fixing” problems by slapping poorly thought out laws on top of the stack of other similarly poor and ineffective laws, and in this case, a blatant attempt by privileged groups (taxi license holders and employed journalists) to eliminate competition. Interestingly, the ability to drive and write are common skills, so regulation is probably necessary to keep that kind of work profitable.

          • Limiting freelance work to some arbitrary number looks very much like the completely unprincipled patchwork approach to “fixing” problems by slapping poorly thought out laws on top of the stack of other similarly poor and ineffective laws

            The piece I was responding to was talking about moral justifications. Obviously, as a practical matter, you can believe that the state has the right to do lots of things, but some of them are things it shouldn’t do.

          • m.alex.matt says:

            David:

            Work on monopsony in labor markets has come a lot further along than the twenty year old Card/Kreuger work. It seems to be real, it does seem to have an effect where a wage floor doesn’t decrease the demand for labor, and it’s pretty empirically solid as a result.

            It also has nothing to do with what Alexander Turok is saying. Markets without monopsony buyers of labor are harmed by minimum wages and there are very many of them. Indeed, the places where minimum wages tend to be raised first — large, liberal cities with growing economy — are the least likely to have monopsony labor markets. It’s low population rural areas that suffer the most from monopsony.

            And minimum wages are a really blunt instrument for addressing monopsony, anyway. The solution is something more like what this whole discussion started from, anyway: Unions. Monopsony buyer, monopoly seller. At least in the areas where monopsony is actually a problem.

        • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

          And this, friends, is capitalism’s insistence that you have no good choices and should content yourself with the gruel they ladle out.

          If you are the kind of “journalist” who has to write more than 35 articles just make ends meet, perhaps the only good option left for you is sepukku. Some form of labour pays next to nothing because it’s next to worthless.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Eh… too mean.

          • There’s 52 weeks in a year, so 35 articles a year is less than 1 article per week.

          • ECD says:

            Except, of course, it’s 35 stories PER PUBLISHER per year. If you’re actually a freelancer, that’s unlikely to be a problem (though there is going to be an issue about who is a publisher, especially in this wonderful* era of media conglomeration).

          • John Schilling says:

            Actual freelancers are claiming that it is a problem, that things like a weekly column for each of 2-3 different publications are a big part of how that industry works. I haven’t seen anyone with industry experience saying they are wrong.

          • ECD says:

            Actual freelancers are claiming that it is a problem, that things like a weekly column for each of 2-3 different publications are a big part of how that industry works. I haven’t seen anyone with industry experience saying they are wrong.

            I’m perfectly willing to believe that 35 is the wrong number. However, I’m also unconvinced that someone writing a weekly column is not actually an employee.

            Honestly, the broader problem is a massive oversupply of people willing to write for peanuts/free, which this isn’t going to solve, but neither is anything else.

          • Honestly, the broader problem is a massive oversupply of people willing to write for peanuts/free

            I don’t see what’s the problem here, it’s working fine for the SSC comments section.

          • Aapje says:

            As a great ape, I get house and board from the zoo anyway, so peanuts are a nice bonus. I’d be flinging shit at people anyway and doing it over the Internet is much more efficient.

            PS. Bonus picture of an SSC colleague who shall remain anonymous.

          • DarkTigger says:

            @ECD
            Here in Germany we have an concept called “Scheinselbständigkeit” it roughly translate to pseudo-freelancer. It describes people who have freelance contracts but look a lot like employes. I.e. somebody who have an unlimited contract, with so many working hours they can’t realisticly offer their services to somebody else.

            Writing what boils down to an 1000 word essay, once a week, really does not look like that.

        • thetitaniumdragon says:

          Unions exist for the purpose of monopolization. Moreover, an entirely unionized press is *extremely* undesirable, as unions are hopelessly biased and tend to be corrupt as well.

          Unions don’t make things better for people; they make things worse for people. They just care about their own money and power and screw everyone else.

          Unions passing laws for the purpose of preventing competition with unions should result in the dissolution of unions and a total ban on their existence.

          The reality is that freedom of speech is vitally important and trying to restrict who is allowed to speak and who is allowed to be paid to create content is monstrous (and almost certain to be unconstitutional under the Citizens United decision).

        • Garrett says:

          and the people who left would have more time to retool for different jobs if they start looking at 28 instead of 38

          I’m in the same boat with my dating life. Any way I can get a guarantee out of society about whether I’ll get a wife or not? If not, I’ll make other plans.

        • MostlyCredibleHulk says:

          A truly unionized writing industry would not let any random Joe or Jill with a computer within 10 miles of a union job. If they want a writer job, they should get in line, pay dues, wait to get seniority, wait for 10 years and then maybe they’ll get a decent job. If you’d be on the good side of the union that is. No this capitalist bullshit of just going and writing articles and selling them to whoever wants to buy them without the union getting the cut. No, the true union would protect you from that, whether you want it or not.

        • Alsadius says:

          If the writing industry is unionized, how can a random person become a writer? A lot of my favourites started out in other jobs, writing in the evening, got published, got some popularity, and built their careers from there. I think there’s a ~25% chance I’ll try to become a published writer someday, but I’ll never be in a position to sanely join a writer’s union until long afterwards.

          You’re basically blocking all the on-ramps for people, other than presumably “get an Official Writing Degree, join the Official Writer’s Club, and become an Official Writer”. Not everyone wants to be a J-schooler at 18 and spend their life on it. Taking away everyone’s choices is not as helpful as you think it is.

          Also, capitalism gives lots of good options. Few of them involve the government of California, though.

      • benf says:

        In a country with actual labor laws, like the one I live in, there are strict restrictions on how much work a freelancer may do for an employer, to stop companies from replacing real employees with freelancers. It works.

        If you’re a freelancer writing more than 35 stories a year, you’re not a hard-nosed investigative journalist. You’re a beat writer getting screwed out of health insurance benefits.

        • Aapje says:

          The people who complain that people can’t live on 35 stories are missing this point.

          Pro-fixed contract laws are supposed to make it harder to be a freelancer.

          • John Schilling says:

            Pro-fixed contract laws are supposed to make it harder to be a freelancer.

            You say that like it’s a good thing. I hope that’s not your intent.

          • Aapje says:

            Yes, it is.

            Freelance contracts should be for freelance work.

          • John Schilling says:

            Freelance contracts should be for freelance work

            Which should be as easy as possible for people to engage in, with a minimum of legal impediments. The alternative to freelance work is “wage slavery”, and while that term is perhaps loaded with unnecessary hyperbole in most contexts, when someone makes a virtue of making it harder to escape from that condition, I’ll go with it.

          • Aapje says:

            I should have said temporary work. Brainfart there.

    • Urstoff says:

      What’s the envisioned counterfactual of banning Uber-style employment models? That Uber still exists but pays much better with benefits, or that Uber doesn’t exist and these people find better jobs (or no jobs)? Or something else?

      • Freddie deBoer says:

        That Uber pay its workers a living wage and extend to them the kind of labor protections that were won at great cost in many industries in the 20th century. It’s not impossible; in some cities cabbies are unionized, make a living wage, and enjoy basic employment benefits. If that can’t happen it’s because Uber artificially reduces the cost of their service in a bid to expand market share and keep the VC cash flowing, which is a completely unsustainable and warped business model in the first place.

        • Urstoff says:

          Right, so the “Uber doesn’t exist and people will seek different employment” counterfactual, then. Seems like an open question whether those people are better off in that world.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Lets see, Uber drivers currently

          Can work any number of hours they want without being fired, can quit at any time, take second jobs (or make uber their 2nd job), work in a climate controlled environment while making 3-5x the real wage (and more) of most of the workers who won labor protections in the 20th century. It is likely that driving an uber is safer than most of those jobs as well.

          Finally Uber DOESN”T MAKE A PROFIT. The whole socialist ‘hey, look at the unscrupulous capitalists exploiting workers’ shtick completely falls apart under that condition, the capitalists have been subsidizing Uber employees for years to the tune of billions to tens of billions of dollars.

          • Freddie deBoer says:

            You’re right! They live in Libertariatopia!

            work in a climate controlled environment while making 3-5x the real wage (and more) of most of the workers who won labor protections in the 20th century

            lol inflation: it’s a thing. Half of Uber drivers make less than $10 an hour. And even that oversells it because they are constantly depreciating the value of the car they own which they will eventually have to replace.

            “Finally Uber DOESN”T MAKE A PROFIT.”

            All the more reason to fully fund public mass transit systems that exist to contribute to the public good rather than to make a profit, which as you say, Uber can’t, because capitalism is a system built on magical accounting and fraud.

            Here’s my question, friend: why aren’t you an Uber driver? If the job is such a paradise, why is it that you would never deign to work it yourself?

          • Aftagley says:

            Finally Uber DOESN”T MAKE A PROFIT. The whole socialist ‘hey, look at the unscrupulous capitalists exploiting workers’ shtick completely falls apart under that condition, the capitalists have been subsidizing Uber employees for years to the tune of billions to tens of billions of dollars.

            This is BS and you know it. Uber isn’t taking a loss because they care more about their driver’s economic well-being than they do about their bottom line.

          • bonewah says:

            Maybe the advantages he listed arent that important to him. Thats the thing about this world, we all have differing needs and wants and desires. Maybe Uber drivers would rather have the flexible work hours over health care or paid time off or whatever. Who are you to tell them they can only have what you imagine they need?

            Same with public mass transit systems. I think they are great, but Uber sells plenty of rides in places with some of the best public transit systems in the world. Again, maybe all consumers dont all crave the one solution you have decided is right for them.

          • Clutzy says:

            Mass transit is already overfunded and poorly managed. You could do more with less money, and reduce congestion, just by removing bus stops and forcing people to walk 4 blocks instead of 2 to a bus stop, for example. Trains into major metro areas have the same problem of having too many stops.

            If bus and rail systems actually functioned well, the demand for taxis and ubers would diminish. One major reason that they are so popular in major city centers (as opposed to being used outside major traffic points to get to train stations or bus lines) is because public transit is a morass of special interests as opposed to an optimized people pushing system.

            So, yea, transit is yet another example of a problem that more money wont solve. Instead it needs to be solved by a dictatorial libertarian mayor.

          • Here’s my question, friend: why aren’t you an Uber driver? If the job is such a paradise, why is it that you would never deign to work it yourself?

            By this logic most jobs wouldn’t be allowed to exist.

          • baconbits9 says:

            lol inflation: it’s a thing.

            Really? I guess I should have used the term real wages… Oh wait.

            Half of Uber drivers make less than $10 an hour.

            Meaningless even if true since large numbers of people try them out but don’t make them a significant source of income, but also unlikely to be true. The median hour worked is over $15 an hour before expenses such as depreciation and over $20 an hour in some areas.

            All the more reason to fully fund public mass transit systems that exist to contribute to the public good rather than to make a profit

            So in other words if Uber is profiting off people it is bad and evidence for your preconceived notions, and if they are not profiting then it is evidence for you preconceived notions. That is some solid intellectual rigor there.

            which as you say, Uber can’t

            I didn’t say Uber can’t, I said they didn’t.

          • baconbits9 says:

            This is BS and you know it. Uber isn’t taking a loss because they care more about their driver’s economic well-being than they do about their bottom line.

            This is a non-sequitur, the socialist critique of capitalism in regards to exploitation has nothing to do with the intent of the capitalist, it is (supposedly) about the economic value of the work being done and the rents extracted from the worker.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            This is a non-sequitur, the socialist critique of capitalism in regards to exploitation has nothing to do with the intent of the capitalist, it is (supposedly) about the economic value of the work being done and the rents extracted from the worker.

            This is a strawman. The socialist critique of capitalism does not require perfectly rational capitalists who never make a bad investment.

            On the contrary, socialists often contend that, contrary to libertarian ideology, capitalism doesn’t result in efficient markets, but rather in stable inefficiencies due to entrenched interests and regulatory capture, punctuated by boom-and-bust cycles driven by hype, hysteria and other mass-irrationality phenomena.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Why doesn’t Uber use their regulatory capture abilities to drive everyone else out of business and raise their economic rents? Why isn’t Uber exploiting stable market inefficiencies to create monopolistic rents that extract consumer surplus? Why isn’t Uber using their superior bargaining position to lock drivers into exclusive driving relationships?

            I mean, there are pretty clear explanations for all of these.

          • pdbarnlsey says:

            This is a strawman. The socialist critique of capitalism does not require perfectly rational capitalists who never make a bad investment.

            On the contrary, socialists often contend that, contrary to libertarian ideology, capitalism doesn’t result in efficient markets, but rather in stable inefficiencies due to entrenched interests and regulatory capture, punctuated by boom-and-bust cycles driven by hype, hysteria and other mass-irrationality phenomena.

            And this feel like wanting to have your cake and eat it too. If capitalists make a profit, that’s just exploitation – those profits rightly belong to the workers. If capitalists make a loss, that’s just proof that capitalism isn’t an efficient way to organise production, planners would do a much better job.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            And this feel like wanting to have your cake and eat it too. If capitalists make a profit, that’s just exploitation – those profits rightly belong to the workers. If capitalists make a loss, that’s just proof that capitalism isn’t an efficient way to organise production, planners would do a much better job.

            It’s not necessarily conflicting. The cornerstone of socialist critique is that capitalists exploit workers. Whether the results of such exploitation end up lining the pockets of the capitalists who can make the best product, or those who have the best political connections, or just become wasted on foolish endeavors, it’s not central.

          • Cliff says:

            According to a socialist, what constitutes exploitation?

          • Sebastian_H says:

            Uber makes plenty of profit on its ride hailing business, it just loses even more on it autonomous car research. The idea that ride hailing services themselves are unsustainable is wrong. (The sustainability of infinite growth expectations ‘tech’ businesses is a different issue)

          • Douglas Knight says:

            How much of what people say about Uber are outright lies? How much are lies that they made up on the spot, versus heard at a distance, versus lies from the company?

            A quick google suggests that Uber spent half a billion on self-driving cars in the last year (see also quarterly report). Its last quarterly loss was a billion and the previous quarterly loss was 5 billion. The last year that the loss was as low as half a billion was 2014.

            Uber claims that it is profitable in mature markets and loses money only by investing in expanding to new markets, but a lot of people don’t believe them.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I personally boycott Uber, and have for years, so I know Uber simply does not have the market power to force everyone else out.

          • pdbarnlsey says:

            It’s not necessarily conflicting. The cornerstone of socialist critique is that capitalists exploit workers.

            My understand was that the existence of positive profits was both proof of and by-definition exploitation. If negative profits are also exploitative, then there needs to be a free-standing definition of exploitation that doesn’t rely on the gap between the value of what’s produced and the amount paid to workers. I’m not sure that it exists…

        • It’s not impossible; in some cities cabbies are unionized, make a living wage, and enjoy basic employment benefits.

          I.e., consumers pay more, and fewer people are employed, but it’s a good deal for the unionized cabbies, yes.

          If that can’t happen it’s because Uber artificially reduces the cost of their service in a bid to expand market share and keep the VC cash flowing

          If dumb billionaires are going to pump money into Uber so that the consumers get to temporarily enjoy lower-cost transportation, which I’m not saying is happening, I’d expect a socialist to be happy at the redistributive effects.

          • User_Riottt says:

            1. The only reason there is VC money to burn is because nothing else worth investing in when the only two types of people in your economy are debt slaves and oligarchs.

            2. Sad that I would need to spell this out to you, but the aren’t flushing those billions without a plan. This is capitalism, only poor people donate any significant percentage of their income to charity. Their plan just happens to involve bankrupting legacy cab companies, increasing cab driver suicides, and once they’ve eliminated competitors and monopolized the market jack up prices. You can check out this VERY deep dive (21 part) into the economics of UBer if you want.

            And enjoy the massive increase in traffic that they cause.

          • 1. The only reason there is VC money to burn is because nothing else worth investing in when the only two types of people in your economy are debt slaves and oligarchs.

            There is a real economic mystery with why interest rates are so low, but socialists always used such rhetoric to describe our economy, so that can’t be it.

            Their plan just happens to involve bankrupting legacy cab companies, increasing cab driver suicides, and once they’ve eliminated competitors and monopolized the market jack up prices.

            The plan is stupid on the face of it, Uber isn’t a monopoly, it is competing with other services like Lyft, and if they decide to collude, another company will start competing with them.

            And enjoy the massive increase in traffic that they cause.

            In other words, more people are using cars to get from point A to point B. That’s a good thing in my book. If half of the cars in America went up in flames tomorrow, many would benefit from less traffic. That’s wonderful if you ignore the people who are now denied a mode of transportation. Banning Uber would have the same effect.

          • And also about the traffic, the solution is congestion pricing and building more roads.

          • Cliff says:

            the only two types of people in your economy are debt slaves and oligarchs.

            This is just a lie, right? Why even say something like this when it makes it obvious you’re not arguing in good faith?

            This is capitalism, only poor people donate any significant percentage of their income to charity.

            Is that actually true? Obviously the literal statement is not, but is the implication that poor people donate a higher percentage? I suspect it is not.

          • Ketil says:

            1. The only reason there is VC money to burn is because nothing else worth investing in when the only two types of people in your economy are debt slaves and oligarchs.

            Yes, only Bill Gates and Warren Buffet can afford to take a taxi these days.

            How about: the reason Uber is running at a loss, is that the founders and owners think there is more money to be made from investors than from consumers, and that growing the company is more important to future valuation than immediate profits?

            So Uber actually takes money from rich “oligarchs” and spends it on running cheaper and more flexible transportation services and adding more job options. But since they hope to make money some time in the future they are evil, and they should instead keep their money and let the debt slaves go back to lower incomes and more expensive services.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            If Uber is losing money right either Uber is betting on self-driving cars being a thing and not having to lower rates but having lower variable costs or using some kind of first-mover advantage to raise prices later on. An app connecting a user to other drivers doesn’t seem as dependent on economies or scale or network effects than social media so the latter strategy seems unlikely to succeed.

            _____________

            Semi related but this debate really centers on two things:

            1. Is uber a price maker or a price taker
            2. Can private firm’s workers bargaining power be increased without restricting labor supply relative to labor demand.

            Depending on the answer to 1 and 2, the idea of Uber simply deciding to raise prices and paying their drivers more is feasible or unfeasible.

            Focus on that rather than the snark.

          • Thegnskald says:

            My experience with cabs:
            Scheduled pickup an hour in advance, as required. Can driver picked someone else up. Had to wait an additional thirty minutes for my cab to arrive.

            Had can driver who didn’t know how to get to the airport. An hour and a half of buffer between end of business day and flight was consumed entirely in traffic – good thing I had it, as they had just closed the doors when I arrived to the flight and let me in anyways.

            Multiple cab drivers going the long way to a destination on off hours to run up the meter. The one I knew the area well enough to catch on as it was happening lost all his English speaking skills.

            A cab driver who gave me the choice of paying to fill up his tank or being left at the gas station.

            Can drivers lying about their fare pricing (for example, by claiming per-mile pricing, when there is an additional per-minute fare).

            Bad experiences with ride-sharing app drivers, who I have ridden with many more times at this point:

            None.

            If your argument relies on a return to taxi-only service – that is a major no-go.

          • albatross11 says:

            Note that none of those bad outcomes are inherent to cab service. It’s kind of like why the DMV is infamous for bad service–it’s the incentives.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Those experiences are spread over the three countries I have used taxi services in, so it isn’t one defective institution.

            I left out the cab driver whose rate tripled when I was 20 miles from the nearest city, because that was a developing country and I expect that crap there.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Their plan just happens to involve bankrupting legacy cab companies,

            Good. Maybe I should stop boycotting Uber, as a reward for them delivering that social benefit.

        • Sebastian_H says:

          The good news is that your model did indeed exist before Uber. The bad news is that it was horrible for consumers, and not actually that good for the cabbies themselves (great for the medallion owners) and terrible for people who wanted to be cabbies. But other than that…

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            What about the model in the rest of the world outside of the 7 or so US cities where medallions are a thing?

          • I may be mistaken, but I believe that most U.S. cities restrict the number of cabs in one way or another.

            Auckland, New Zealand, is the only city I know of where cab companies are, or were when I was there, free to set their own prices.

        • MostlyCredibleHulk says:

          It’s not impossible; in some cities cabbies are unionized, make a living wage

          And that’s exactly why Uber exists and is so wildly popular – because most of these cabbies suck. I mean, individually they may be brilliant hardworking individuals, but as an industry they suck big time. I remember when there was no Uber and I had to use cabbies – it was afwul. Both super-expensive and super-inconvenient. And sometimes outright dangerous (i.e. you could be left in unknown city on the street at night because the cab company decided not to have anybody serving that area at that time. Personal experience). When Uber came about, getting a ride became super-easy, cheap enough so you don’t even think whether it’s worth it, and abundantly available. So yes, it’s possible to kill all that improvement in the quality of life, deprive all Uber drivers of their income (no, they won’t drive the unionized cabs – those positions are already filled in by the same unionized cab drivers that did that before Uber) and ruin the thing for everybody. It’s be just an awful thing to do. But I guess it’d tickle the right ideological bone for some people, so it’d be worth it, right?

      • Walter says:

        Honestly, it is legit hard to ban Uber. Like, that was their whole scheme from the get go, they gambled that the cabby system was unenforceable, and they were right.

        • Guy in TN says:

          It’s politically hard to ban uber, because of the dominant ideologies of most of our elected politicians. But practically it should be pretty easy, no different than banning any other kind of unlicensed business operation.

          • Except that once it gets established, and a very large number of people find that it is a great improvement over cabs, even elected politicians who have no ideological objection to regulating things — on the evidence of other things they regulate, most of them — may find it in their interest to leave it alone.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Huh. I live in a city that has uber well-established, yet I would still vote for a politician that would ban it. Something must be amiss.

          • @Guy:

            Given sufficiently strong ideological beliefs, it is possible to be in favor of almost anything.

            But do you disagree with my claim that most of the people who use Uber and most of the drivers would oppose abolishing it, and that that is the reason the taxi cabs have been unable to maintain their traditional state enforced monopoly?

          • Walter says:

            @Guy in TN. re: But practically it should be pretty easy

            I dunno if that is true.

            Like, I (as the state), can ban a store easily enough. I send some cops down there to wave guns around. Done. But I (again the state) have been failing to ban prostitution for roughly ever, because it can happen wherever you have 2 people and money.

            Uber is closer to prostitution than it is to supermarkets. It just needs people, cars, money and an app. Uber cars look like ordinary cars (or, they will, if cops start hassling them), and my guys can’t just take people’s phones away to check for apps.

            Uber itself (the entity) is out of my jurisdiction, Uber’s drivers are judgement proof and going after the users runs into the exact problem of going after the johns in shutting down prostitution.

            I get that I am not actually a state, of course, and presumably there are clever things I havent’ thought of that it could do, but, like, at least somewhat weak evidence in favor of ‘it is hard to ban uber’ is that at the beginning a lot of really strong interests (cab companies, local govs, people who believe in the law actually mattering) were heavily in favor of banning it, and it didn’t get banned.

          • Clutzy says:

            Huh. I live in a city that has uber well-established, yet I would still vote for a politician that would ban it. Something must be amiss.

            Not really anything amiss, you are just different from most other people in your city. Most people hated cabs. They were rude, expensive (and often impossible to really determine how much a ride would cost upfront), smelly, and the drivers really weren’t all that well paid. The best indication of that last part is that in a big city like Chicago or NYC almost all the cabbies were foreign born, whereas uber drivers contain plenty of Americans in their ranks. This is strong evidence that either A) Pay is better; of B) Under the table exploitation is lesser.

          • CatCube says:

            @Clutzy

            I’d also add possible founder effects. Are the cabbies in a city prone to being from one place (I seem to recall this in Las Vegas, but that’s the only place I’ve taken cabs)? When a new person gets to the US, they’ve got a cousin who “can get them a job,” which since the cousin is a cabby, is likelier to be a cabby.

            For an example, from memory because I can’t find the right Google incantation now, in some places Koreans heavily dominate convenience store ownership–not because of exploitation, but because they’ll find it easier to get advice and support (including loans) for opening a convenience store, because their acquaintence network is more familiar with that kind of thing. Nor does this mean that there’s some kind of “racial affinity” for this, just a random die roll at the beginning that meant there was a really good Korean store owner in the past.

          • Alex Zavoluk says:

            Police can’t check people’s phones, but they can download the app and arrest or fine the driver.

            They might also be able to go after the company, and force them to prevent the use of the app in their locality. Companies clearly have the ability to that, since it’s exactly what Lyft and Uber did in Austin for a while.

        • Cliff says:

          Actually it’s just that they’re not taxis, they’re a car service, which has always been allowed- right? You can’t stand in the street and hail an Uber.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            There was a whole English High Court case about that. On the other hand, the part of Uber’s business model that made them too close to a taxi (according to Transport for London, who lost) wasn’t how passengers are picked up but how the fares are calculated. In London, only licensed taxis are allowed to use a taximeter which calculates fares based on time and distance. The taxi drivers said the Uber app counted- the judge said it didn’t because the calculation didn’t take place in the car.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            This is an important point which often gets deliberately ignored.

            We have had car service companies since we have had cars. You ask for a ride between two places and they quote a price and you take it or leave it.

            A lot of the specific regulation of taxis is based around their ability to be hailed in public and have a stranger get into them with no chance for any prior relationship.

      • benf says:

        That more of the revenue of Uber goes to employees and less to shareholders.

        • John Schilling says:

          Uber has never paid a dividend, and that doesn’t look like it is going to change any time soon. So, zero percent of Uber’s revenue goes to shareholders, and you want to make that less? There’s no legal basis for a levy on Uber shareholders, so I’m not sure how that’s even supposed to work.

          • NoRandomWalk says:

            @John Schilling is that said in earnest?
            Uber shareholders want the stock value to increase.
            If uber paid more to employees, more of its profits would go to them and it would have less money left over, and as a result its stock value would be lower. I agree with you on the merits but your reply doesn’t make sense.

          • John Schilling says:

            and it would have less money left over, and as a result its stock value would be lower.

            That’s a different claim than the one you made before, which is that Uber’s revenue would otherwise go to the shareholders.

            That claim was erroneous. Uber’s revenue doesn’t go to shareholders, and any gains that Uber shareholders can reasonably hope to make must come from third parties, not from Uber or from Uber customers. And the process by which third parties decide to throw buckets of money at current Uber shareholders, has little apparent connection with Uber’s current revenues, so even the indirect connection you’re positing now is weak.

          • NoRandomWalk says:

            oh c’mon.
            He said

            That more of the revenue of Uber goes to employees and less to shareholders.

            Revenue doesn’t go to shareholders, either. That you in response to him brought up dividends means everyone in this discussion is using ‘revenues’ interchangeable with ‘profits’ or ‘cash available for mutually exclusive allocation’

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            There absolutely is a legal basis and straightforward implementation of a levy on Uber shareholders; it’s called a capital gains tax. If you think the market is has failed to price in Uber’s revenue correctly, buy some options.

          • John Schilling says:

            Revenue doesn’t go to shareholders, either. That you in response to him brought up dividends means everyone in this discussion is using ‘revenues’ interchangeable with ‘profits’ or ‘cash available for mutually exclusive allocation’

            OK. It is an error to claim that Uber’s “revenues”, “profits”, “cash available for mutual transactions”, or any other such thing, has ever gone to Uber’s shareholders or is likely to go to Uber’s shareholders in the near future. This is not a thing that happens. Uber doesn’t make profits, and its available cash all goes to people other than shareholders(*).

            Some people think it might happen in the distant future, but for now the only way Uber shareholders ever get a penny in cash out of the deal is A: from third parties and B: in a way that is only weakly correlated with Uber’s current revenues, profits, or available cash.

            Dividends, if they existed, would be the closest plausible approximation for Uber revenues/profits/cash/whatever going to shareholders, which is why I brought them up. This may have been a mistake on my part.

            * Unless those shareholders are also Uber employees or suppliers, being paid in that capacity.

          • NoRandomWalk says:

            for now the only way Uber shareholders ever get a penny in cash out of the deal is A: from third parties and B: in a way that is only weakly correlated with Uber’s current revenues, profits, or available cash.

            What are you talking about?
            If I buy uber stock, and its revenues/profits increase above market expectations, my stock value goes up and I can sell it for a profit.
            Whether a company pays dividends doesn’t affect the shareholders at all in most standard economic models, and dividends paid have very little correlation to ‘how well the company is doing’. Dividends don’t really tell you how well the company is doing, they are paid out based on whether the board thinks it can generate a higher internal rate of return on reinvesting cash, vs. dispersing it to shareholders.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Still and all, perhaps we should defer talk of redistributing Uber’s profits until they’ve actually made some.

          • John Schilling says:

            perhaps we should defer talk of redistributing Uber’s profits until they’ve actually made some.

            Which is why people are talking about redistributing Uber’s revenues, albeit without understanding where those revenues go and how profitless growth companies work.

    • bonewah says:

      Ive got to tell you, ive taken hundreds of Uber rides and not one of the drivers complained and I make it a point to ask specifically what they think of driving for Uber. Not saying your wrong, but i have to think that if the working conditions were truly “obscene” then i surely would have heard at least some glimmer of that.

      • Urstoff says:

        classic false consciousness

        • NoRandomWalk says:

          Can someone explain to me what false consciousness is?

          Is it a meaningless statement that I can’t evaluate?
          Is it like ‘false self’ in buddhism where people who meditate reliably report noticing the illusion?
          Is it a true statement in that those who think clearly reliably recognize they were foolish?
          Is it a false statement in that those who lived under socialist regimes reliably fled them to capitalist democratic regimes when they were given the option to?

          • It’s when members of a group don’t recognize the authority of the self appointed leaders of said groups.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Approximately, it is a self-reinforcing narrative it is difficult to escape from; effectively a set of beliefs which accurately predict reality, such that they cannot be falsified, but which prevent someone from attaining greater understanding.

            A local predictive minimum, basically.

            In practice it is just a way of saying someone is wrong.

          • Aapje says:

            False consciousness is when a societal narrative misleads exploited people into believing that the social order benefits them. For example, workers being grateful to have a job, rather than questioning why the means of production are in the hands of a small segment of society.

            Another example is that feminism is false consciousness for men, where many men are convinced that they get the best outcome, because society keeps pointing out the (supposed) good parts of their lot and the (supposed) downsides of being a woman, when they slave away at a job (which according to the false consciousness should make them happy) and then hand much of that money over to their female partner. Etc.

            The basic idea is that a segment in society does have a narrative about their place in society and what is good for them, and has goals that they try to achieve, so they do have group (in the case of Marxism: class) consciousness. However, that narrative is actually beneficial to another group/class, which makes it a false consciousness.

            Note that various philosophers/thinkers disagree on the specifics of how false consciousness works and/or how people come to believe it and/or what groups suffer from it. For example, Chomsky applied it to mass media with a narrative that you now more commonly hear from the right.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            Which means that as a concept it can be at most used to lower probabilities, but hardly ever to raise them. You can say that “workers could be satisfied because of false counsciousness, so their satisfaction isn’t 100% proof, only 90%”. But you can’t say “workers would be better off fully employed because false counsciusness”, because it can be just as easily used to lower the probability of the counterfactual. Full time employees are satisfied with their full time jobs and minimum wages because they’re living in a false counsciousness in which freelancing is risky and less profitable.

            So it’s a generic weak counterargument, but using it as an argument is probably a mistake.

      • Freddie deBoer says:

        A minimal amount of research will reveal that Uber drivers have been protesting going back years. For example. And it’s not hard to wonder why given their low wages.

        • bonewah says:

          And so the fact that *some* drivers choose to protest (but not, apparently, change jobs) means that all Uber drivers everywhere suffer obscene working conditions?

          Color me unconvinced.

          • benf says:

            People given predatory mortgages weren’t complaining until they lost their homes. People being sexually harassed by their superiors weren’t complaining as their careers were conditioned on sexual receptiveness. People in Jonestown weren’t complaining as they drank poison.

            People don’t always vocalize their grievances, especially if they don’t understand them.

            Driving for Uber is essentially volunteer work when depreciation is taken into account. Depending on a workforce that doesn’t understand accounting principles is predatory, and we shouldn’t take the lack of protests as a seal of approval.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            “The people voluntarily entering this relationship are too stupid to know what’s best for them, like I do” is the first step in many bad systems.

        • AlexOfUrals says:

          I’m a bit curious why don’t they just leave Uber and become cab drivers since it’s so much better and there’s no problem in doing so.

        • Guy in TN says:

          I’m a bit curious why don’t they just leave Uber and become cab drivers since it’s so much better and there’s no problem in doing so.

          Because the cab industry is in decline, because of Uber?

          • AlexOfUrals says:

            Then why did they leave the cab industry in the first place? Or if they didn’t leave it, where the uber drivers came from?

          • Guy in TN says:

            Pretty sure most Uber drivers aren’t former cab drivers. Haven’t looked it up tho, could be wrong.

          • AlexOfUrals says:

            Well that means there was some large group of people who wanted cab-driver-like kind of job but for some reason couldn’t get it with the existing cab companies, and Uber gave them such opportunity. And if Uber begins to operate like a regular cab company, this opportunity will most likely disappear for the same reasons it wasn’t viable for them before Uber. It’s not quite obvious why interests of those people should mean less than interests of cab driver. Even less so given that they’re providing better services than cab drivers for everyone else.

          • albatross11 says:

            Uber and Lyft provide much better service at a competitive price, which means there are more people wanting to pay for rides, which means there’s more employment available.

          • Guy in TN says:

            It’s not quite obvious why interests of those people should mean less than interests of cab driver.

            Are you sure its not in the interests of the Uber drivers to be classified as regular employees, with all the various labor protections that they would receive?

            My intuitions tells me its greatly in their interest, but I’d honestly be willing to change my mind, if polling indicated otherwise.

          • cassander says:

            @guy in TN

            My intuitions tells me its greatly in their interest, but I’d honestly be willing to change my mind, if polling indicated otherwise.

            it’s in the interest of the small number of them who would be worth the overhead of being a full time employee and who want to work for uber as a full time employee. But there are a large number of uber drivers who don’t want a full time job, wouldn’t be able to keep one if they got it, or who’s productivity is too low to justify the overhead of hiring them. And frankly for those people, uber is a godsend.

          • Guy in TN says:

            it’s in the interest of the small number of them who would be worth the overhead

            How do we know that number is small?

          • cassander says:

            @Guy in TN says:

            because the average uber driver works 17 hours a week for 3 months and makes 10 bucks an hour. the turnover is immense.

          • Aapje says:

            @cassander

            That fact seems like a nice scissor statement. It can just as easily be taken as evidence that the job meets a short-term employment need of many people or as evidence that the job is so exploitative and unfair that most workers quit fairly soon.

            In the latter case, it might even be true that most people encounter drivers who are still in the ‘honeymoon’ period, while ex-drivers have become disillusioned, so you might draw completely different conclusions if you ask current drivers or ex-drivers.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            I just want to add that the “if you don’t like it you can leave” argument would be:

            1. 100% disingenuous if Uber was replacing more remunerative alternatives.
            2. 100% legitimate if Uber was simply adding to the stock of available employment or was only replacing alternatives that were no better than Uber.

            My impression is that Uber falls somewhere between 1-2 but it sounds like it’s closer to #2 Because:

            It seems like Uber is adding a lot more jobs than it is removing, and those jobs that it replaces aren’t necessarily paying more given that:

            1. Taxi drivers with medallions might see a higher portion of fares going to the medallion owner.
            2. The app allows drivers to be spending comparatively more time on the road with customers which means earnings per hour in the car are going to be higher even if fares are not higher. (efficiency)

            I don’t like the rise of the gig economy or the large # of people who want but cannot find full time work, but I generally I see the existence of these things (gig economy and part time work) as an effect of an underlying condition rather than the cause.

          • albatross11 says:

            Is there data on whether there are fewer, more, or the same number of hours being worked by people giving other people rides for money now vs before the rise of uber? My impression is that there are more total hours of employment available, but I don’t know that for sure.

          • I don’t like the rise of the gig economy

            I do.

            One of the standard critiques of the conventional capitalist model, and one with which I have some sympathy, is that it puts employees in a hierarchical relationship, where someone else is telling them what to do. An old libertarian idea is that it would be more attractive to have an agoric economy, where everyone was, in effect, a one man firm dealing with other people on the market.

            There are good economic reasons, sketched by Coase in his old article on the theory of the firm, why we don’t have an economy where that is the norm. But the gig economy is a place where it does happen—as are self-publishing, blogging, selling on EBay, and a variety of other cases of disintermediation enabled by the internet. That strikes me as a good thing, not a bad thing.

          • acymetric says:

            Except the gig economy doesn’t really afford people control over price or policies. The only control the individual has for the most part is hours worked. I don’t think that is close enough to “one man firm” to make it truly appealing in that sense.

          • LesHapablap says:

            The gig economy is a bit sad because it affords no long term stability. That’s sort of ignored in the libertarian snapshot assessment.

          • John Schilling says:

            Except the gig economy doesn’t really afford people control over price or policies.

            How do you get this? Uber’s dynamically adjustabe “surge pricing” gives the individual worker more control over price than he would anywhere else, easier and at less risk. If the price isn’t to your taste right now, don’t work right now – the price will probably be higher later. If it turns out that the price is never high enough to meet your standards, then you weren’t getting paid for that service under any non-extortionate system; there’s clearly enough people willing to work cheaper than you to fill the demand. But, flip side, if Uber tries to underprice the market, they can’t get away from it on the backs of “Well, I can’t afford to quit my job; got no choice but to endure” workers, because now the workers have finely-gradiated options between “quit my job” and “give the boss 40 60 hours on whatever terms he demands”; Uber will suffer an immediate shortfall.

            And Lyft will benefit, because the other key aspect of the gig economy is people having more than one gig at a time. They will, dynamically, adjust their work balance to give as many hours as possible to whomever is offering the best pay and policies at the moment, with lesser contributions to the worse-paying gigs. There’s no need for the risk and transaction costs of quitting one job in hopes of finding a better-paying job elsewhere.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The gig economy is a bit sad because it affords no long term stability.

            Long-term stability is a myth, period; 2008 demonstrated that pretty well.

            What this issue underlines is that the regulations on “employees” have become so onerous that a significant number of employers and employees are willing to work together to get around them… even when that goes directly against their politics, as with journalists.

          • LesHapablap says:

            @The Nybbler,

            You’re not wrong. There are no free lunches.

          • Except the gig economy doesn’t really afford people control over price or policies.

            That depends on which parts of it. I control the price I charge for my self-published books, within broad limits. A seller on EBay or Etsy controls the price he charges. Similarly for a variety of other parts of the gig economy.

            A driver for Uber doesn’t control his price, presumably because letting drivers bid for customers is too complicated, although one can imagine modified versions in which he did, either with the software giving the job to the lowest bidder or with the customer choosing among bids on the basis of price, distance from him, and perhaps other information.

            A farmer can be a one man firm in my sense. He doesn’t control the price he sells his goods at. His choice is to sell them at the market price or not sell them, rather like the choice faced by an Uber driver.

          • John Schilling says:

            That fact seems like a nice scissor statement. It can just as easily be taken as evidence that the job meets a short-term employment need of many people or as evidence that the job is so exploitative and unfair that most workers quit fairly soon.

            My understanding is that Uber drivers can work whatever hours they want, in the sense of being logged in as available for whatever customers may want their services. If the average Uber driver is indeed only working 17 hours in this sense(*), that strikes me as pretty strong evidence that what they want is something very different than the standard concept of full-time employment with a single employer.

            And it’s difficult to interpret that any other way. If they wanted something more like a regular full-time job, logging in for the other 23 hours even if it winds up being mostly slack time would be more like full-time employment than the 17-hour version, at little cost beyond some constraints on how they exercise slack, and they aren’t doing it.

            * I don’t think it is plausible that the 17-hour figure refers to time actively spent driving paying customers.

          • Aapje says:

            @John Schilling

            I was referring more to the 3 months of working, than the 17 hours. The former is very high turnover, which can indicate that the job meets some temporary need, but also that the job causes dissatisfaction fairly soon.

            Presumably, both are true to some extent.

          • bean says:

            I was referring more to the 3 months of working, than the 17 hours. The former is very high turnover, which can indicate that the job meets some temporary need, but also that the job causes dissatisfaction fairly soon.

            Hold on. How is that average calculated, and do we have more information about the shape of the distribution? I could easily see it being the case that the majority of people who sign up for Uber quickly decide they don’t like it and quite, while a minority decide that it’s a decent job and keep doing it for a long period. The average of three 2-week drivers and a 1-year driver is basically 3 months, and yet the vast majority of the actual driving is done by the 1-year guy, who presumably likes doing it.

          • Aapje says:

            Cassander said the average driver, not the average per driver, so it can actually be the median.

            However, I’m not cassander, so it is up to him to give the source of these numbers and/or more details.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Except the gig economy doesn’t really afford people control over price or policies. The only control the individual has for the most part is hours worked. I don’t think that is close enough to “one man firm” to make it truly appealing in that sense.

            I think I qualify to be working for the gig economy, even though most of my jobs are as an employee. I do temporary accounting jobs, and I have been doing this for 15 years. I most definitely have a lot more control over prices than I did when I was an employee. I am currently looking for my next gig right now, and everyone I talk to have asked me what pay I am looking for. My last non-gig job was for 19 years as a regular employee, and I often felt I was being exploited there to work lots of hours and to be paid less than the market rate. I now am totally immersed in the market, and I will receive whatever the market will bear. I also get paid for every hour I work. Previously I felt I pretty much worked however much my boss told me to work, unless I wanted to go find another permanent job, which is difficult.

      • viVI_IViv says:

        My experience is similar. I don’t ask all of them, but some of them will ask about my work, if they do I ask how it is to drive for Uber and they all say they like it: the pay is good and they enjoy the flexibility.

        I suppose there is a survivor bias: those who don’t like it quit early so they are less likely to complain with the customers. But how is that a bad thing?

      • albatross11 says:

        I’m in the same boat as bonewah: I’ve taken a lot of ubers (because it’s enormously better than legacy cab service) and I always chat with the drivers. Before, I took cabs, and would chat with those drivers. Both sets of drivers seemed to be reasonably content with their jobs, though uber drivers seem a little happier AFAICT.

        That doesn’t mean they’re all thrilled with the company, or that there aren’t protests. But that does mean that as a whole, uber drivers seem to be pretty happy driving for uber.

      • LesHapablap says:

        No service worker who, in part, depends on reviews for their livelihood is going to tell you they hate their job. I bet you think strippers like you too!

        • Some workers might expect to get a larger tip or a better review from a passenger sympathetic about their circumstances. Consider beggars who make a point of how much they need the money.

          The effect you mention might bias results some, but it doesn’t explain a consistent pattern of drivers who appear to like the job. Besides, most people are not very good a lying.

          • zenmore says:

            I know that American restaurant waiters are frequently poorly paid and depend on tips for a living.

            Yet when I’ve gone in to eat and asked them how they are, they’ve never once explicitly mentioned how poorly paid they are to me for sympathy.

            I assume this is not because of a compulsive need to lie but just simple avoidance due to social constructs.

            Besides, most people are just as bad at spotting lies as people are at telling them.

          • albatross11 says:

            Restaurant waiters are usually poorly paid, but can make very good money thanks to tips. This works especially well when the waiter is a pretty 22-year old woman and the customers are mostly men, but pretty-much anyone who can be personable and provide good service will do okay with tips.

          • John Schilling says:

            Yet when I’ve gone in to eat and asked them how they are, they’ve never once explicitly mentioned how poorly paid they are to me for sympathy.

            When I’ve talked to friends and family members who have worked as waitresses earning most of their money from tips, they’ve generally said that it’s a pretty good gig (by working-class standards). And often unprompted, so not “simple avoidance” and definitely not trying to please the customer.

        • LesHapablap says:

          I don’t mean that it is evidence that most uber drivers don’t enjoy their jobs, certainly. But speaking as someone who works with customers, I would never tell them that I don’t enjoy my job, even if it had nothing to do with reviews. And I do get asked frequently, and some days I do hate my job. No job is going to be fun 100% of the time of course.

    • albatross11 says:

      Will the uber drivers thank the state legislature for saving them from this awful exploitation? Or will they believe themselves worse off if it becomes impossible for them to continue as uber drivers?

      My guess is that the people being saved from exploitation will feel like they’re getting screwed over by their legislative protectors. Sort-of the way that sex workers have had their lives made worse off and less safe by various campaigns to stop them using internet advertising and other moral-panic-inspired legislation and prosecutorial action.

      Now, perhaps the state legislators know uber drivers’ interests better than they themselves do. It’s not impossible. But it does seem kind-of unlikely….

    • eqdw says:

      I make a point of asking uber drivers about their jobs, the money they make, and do they enjoy it, and I have yet to talk to one who didn’t _enthusiastically enjoy_ their freelance status. I keep hearing people say that the uber drivers are horrendously oppressed but apparently nobody’s told the drivers that

      • NoRandomWalk says:

        The ability to get your compensation in hard currency and flexible working hours instead of vaguely defined or deferred health care/career stability benefits really is wonderful.

        • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

          Are you speaking from personal experience? You’re paid hourly and don’t have healthcare through your employer?

          • NoRandomWalk says:

            I am salaried, and could pay premiums to get insurance from employer but choose not to. If I could be paid hourly and have more flexible hours, I would prefer that. But I like my job for other reasons so I stay.

            But I was inferring it from the choices people seem to make and preferences they claim to have, rather than offering anecdotal data.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            Which choices and preferences do other people seem to have?

          • NoRandomWalk says:

            What @eqdw said, beyond just uber. The gig economy (etsy, taskrabbit, etc) has exploded in large part because being able to have flexible hours, often not be tied to a particular location, and be paid directly in cash now, rather than indirectly eventually in benefits, is something a large subset of people enjoys greatly to the alternative (show up to the same place for set hours every weekday, get fixed sallary/benefits+job security)

          • albatross11 says:

            The fact is, there are a *lot* of people who would like to pick up some part-time work if it’s flexible and on their schedule, including people with a current job who’d like to moonlight, stay-at-home moms whose kids are in school 8-3, retired people who’d like a little extra income but don’t want the overhead of a 9-5 job, students, etc.

            My sense is that formal employment has mostly become more rigid over time, probably because of a mix of labor law and the kind of HR procedures that work best for large companies. It’s actually really hard to get flexible-hours part-time work. But lots of people would like more choices along those lines.

            ISTM that bashing on the gig economy is likely to make it harder to find such jobs, which will make the world a worse place for lots of people.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            I’m sure that some Uber drivers do fit the picture that albatross11 has described of loving the *flexibility* their corporate overlords have generously bestowed upon them. But presumably the ones suing Uber and going on strike do not, and given the seeming lack of Uber drivers suing governments that have viciously removed their *flexibility* I suspect that this latter group is more numerous.

          • and given the seeming lack of Uber drivers suing governments that have viciously removed their *flexibility*

            Do you believe such a suit would have any chance of success?

            There are lots of things my government does or has done that I disapprove of, up to and including military conscription. I never sued to stop any of them, because it would have been a waste of time.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            @DavidFriedman
            Do you believe such a suit would have any chance of success?

            I don’t see why not. Probably it would have to be in a jurisdiction where some relevant fact or law has changed since the original decision that Uber drivers must be classed as employees, but Uber operates in a lot of places so I’d be surprised if none such exists. Alternatively, Uber drivers could lobby governments to change the relative laws in favour of *flexibility* but I haven’t heard of that happening either.

          • John Schilling says:

            Which choices and preferences do other people seem to have?

            When I was co-owner of a small business, I could set my own hours with the understanding that fewer hours would mean less income. I could work multiple side gigs. And I could buy whatever private health insurance policy (pre-ACA) best fit my needs. I chose to do this, because I preferred it to full-time employment for a large corporation with whatever health care plan they decided I should have. I chose to leave a fairly secure job with a large(ish) corporation to pursue this opportunity, and may do so again if the market allows.

            Since you asked.

      • Statismagician says:

        Selection effects? If most Uber drivers are doing it part-time and as a preferentially-selected part-time job (because they like driving/social interaction/whatever, and instead of e.g. data entry), then most people you talk to will say good things about working for Uber, while still allowing anybody doing it as their sole income source to be stressed out and subject to unpleasant incentives, as I think we can say is uncontroversially pretty true for piecework generally.

        • Alex Zavoluk says:

          On the contrary. Your driver is more likely to be someone who drives full time than part time, because the former does more rides. You should expect to only encounter more part time drivers if there are many more part time drivers.

          (The above analysis assumes eqdw is encountering uber drives by using uber, rather than encountering them elsewhere by coincidence.)

          • Statismagician says:

            I had assumed this was the case. Not so?

          • albatross11 says:

            FWIW, I often end up taking ubers on weekends, very early in the morning, or very late at night, and mainly use them to get to/from the airport. So I may be getting a skewed sample, but a lot of the drivers I’ve talked to do not seem to be doing it full time.

        • Anthony says:

          I only take Lyft, not Uber, but many of the drivers work for both. Every driver except two I’ve talked to about it works pretty much full-time – Lyft *is* their job. (One has a full-time job with slightly odd hours, the other does rides for Lyft or Uber, then switches to Uber-Eats mid-day, then back to passengers.)

          None that I’ve asked felt “trapped” into working for Lyft.

          • albatross11 says:

            A lot of the people I have talked with had multiple jobs or were graduate/professional students who drove for uber on the side.

    • deciusbrutus says:

      Next up: Privately owned livery services hiring a central coordinator to identify customers and funnel them to the driver. Using smartphone apps. And also handling billing. And advertising. And branding.

      Uber could easily have been built, in a form substantially identical to the current one, focusing on passengers instead of drivers.

      And state laws putting arbitrary limits on journalists are facially unconstitutional and will never be enforced.

    • teneditica says:

      Uber drivers work under obscene work conditions and their status as “freelancers” or “private contractors” is an absolutely transparent means for a massive company to avoid having to give many thousands of workers the same employee rights and protections that most people enjoy.

      They choose to work under these “obscene conditions” rather then having the same “rights and protections that most people enjoy”. Who are you to say that they’re making the wrong choice?

      • albatross11 says:

        The argument here, I think, is that the uber drivers/adjunct faculty/freelance writers are in a prisoners dilemma situation. That is, everyone[1] wishes they could get 40-hour-a-week employment with benefits and fixed hours driving an uber/teaching Psych 1 to bored undergrads/writing listicles to drive clicks to some online publication, but this isn’t stable because it’s cheaper for employers to hire unemployed drivers to drive an uber, unemployed PhDs to teach undergrads, unemployed writers to write clickbait, etc. Indeed, everyone is (assuming the claim of some previous posters for the sake of argument) willing to accept a smaller number of uber/adjunct/freelancer jobs available in exchange for those jobs being full-time jobs with benefits.

        If you accept those assumptions, then you can make an argument for banning this kind of contractor/freelancer/adjunct work. You’re basically preventing anyone from defecting after realizing they didn’t get the full time job and taking a contractor job that undermines the market for full-time jobs.

        If you relabel the participants, this is basically just enforcing a cartel. If all the companies in the industry compete on price and new competitors are allowed to show up and undercut existing prices, then the cartel members will have to lower their prices and will become less profitable. But if a cartel tries to raise prices together, there’s a lot of incentive for either existing cartel members or potential new competitors to show up and undercut those prices. Hence, the desire for a law enforcing that cartel.

        [1] This is the premise of several comments above. I am not at all convinced this is even a widely-held belief, let alone a universal one.

        • Jaskologist says:

          [1] This is the premise of several comments above. I am not at all convinced this is even a widely-held belief, let alone a universal one.

          It is not. I know people with established careers who drive for Uber on the side in order to get a little extra money to pay for kids’ braces or whatever else catches their fancy. These people have no desire to become full-time cabbies and are perfectly happy in their chosen career, but like being able to raise a little more income when they need it.

        • deciusbrutus says:

          Why don’t we just limit the number of people who can legally drive for Uber in any given month? Once we figure out how many we want to allow, just auction off the ‘Uber medallions’ and then allow them to be resold on the secondary market.

          That will keep transportation prices high, which is the goal here, right?

    • Radu Floricica says:

      whatever libertarians think.

      I’m still in the process of rechecking my libertarianism, and this conversation looked interesting. But after reading through it, I didn’t update much (“false consciousness” is a cute concept, but pretty weak).

      In larger terms it’s a lot like the “child worker” fallacy. My shoes are made by 15 year olds, which is evil, so I shouldn’t buy shoes until the company moves the factories… leaving the 15 year olds without the source of income. Feel free to replace “15 year olds” with “people paid a dollar a day”.

      In practice there are probably plenty of children that are forced by parents to work, so that the parents don’t. And there are probably plenty of people literally forced to work for low pay. But it is my understanding that these exceptions should be dealt with at local levels. Trying to close the factory because 1. some people in it are abused or 2. wages are lower than in developed countries, looks to me a lot like throwing away the baby with the bathwater. Possibly even keeping the value discrepancy in the metaphor – having people employed is the only way of raising their living conditions long term. Closing the factory is closing their future – how else are they supposed to progress?

      I’m sorry if you feel differently, but I still believe that we should always err in favor of allowing people extra liberties. If they want to work with Uber in these conditions, it’s their right and we should restrict it only with the uttmost care and paranoia of side effects.

      There were many good arguments for Uber in the conversation (like “if they wanted to work in a normal taxi company, they could have done it a long time ago. since they didn’t, it stands to reason that by turning Uber into a better taxi company most of those people will have to stop working for Uber”).

      While on the other hand the arguments against a freelancing model were on the level of “maybe some drivers are miserable”. Well, maybe they are. But that’s definitely not enough – to even start taling about chaning things we should go through “a lot of drivers are miserable”, with numbers, and “the change will make them happy”, and “the change will not make others more miserable”, and “what are the side-effects”, and “the side-effects are worth it”. THIS is how a working system should be approached. Otherwise we’re just trigger happy monkeys with wrenches trying to make a laptop run faster. Just because you have a hammer doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to use it – and good intentions are not an excuse.

      • In practice there are probably plenty of children that are forced by parents to work, so that the parents don’t.

        Why do you think that?

        My impression is that child labor usually is by poor people, and both parents and children work.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Mostly steelmanning, plus thinking about begging in local Romania – rumor is there’s quite a bit of money to be made from it, and not of it remains with the kids, though that’s probably a different phenomenon. But mostly steelmanning – even if there is such a thing, and since the world is big it probably exists somewhere, it should be adressed as an exception. It’s no reason to stop the source of income for everybody.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I know this will get buried, but since I wrote the original link I want to explain how I think of this.

      The existence of Uber is good for drivers. Offered two deals (work for Uber at whatever Uber’s current terms are, or do whatever the driver’s next best option is), drivers chose to work for Uber. So the existence of Uber’s contracts, as they’re currently written, improves drivers’ lives.

      It’s possible that both deals are terrible and neither provides an acceptable life. Maybe not driving for Uber would have resulted in a completely miserable life, and driving for Uber would have resulted in a mostly miserable life, so they chose to drive for Uber. In this case, everyone except Uber is the villain of this story. Somebody is living a completely miserable life, Uber offers them an opportunity that improves them to only mostly miserable, and nobody else helps them in any way at all.

      (by analogy, suppose a beggar is broke. A thousand people pass by. 999 give nothing. Bob gives $5. Living on only $5 is miserable, and maybe Bob could have been less stingy, but this is still a story about how the rest of society sucks and Bob sucks a little bit less.)

      One can still ask the question “Could we force Uber to provide drivers with an even better deal?” If we assume that we care more about drivers than shareholders (since drivers are poorer) this could still be net positive if it were a simple transfer of money from the shareholders to the drivers with no other negative effects. We could force the company to provide drivers with a good (rather than mostly miserable) life, and nobody loses out.

      I have five interrelated objections to this, one moral and four practical.

      The moral one is that if you want to transfer money from rich people to poor people, there’s already a way to do that. It’s called redistributive taxation, and it doesn’t disproportionately punish rich people who employ poor people, or disproportionately reward poor people who work for successful companies. It just transfers money from rich people to poor people. Forcing Uber to provide a better contract is like making a law that anyone who gives money to a beggar must give at least $20. It will disproportionately punish good people like Bob who give money, while not putting any burden on bad people who don’t. And it will provide a powerful incentive for Bob not to donate if he can afford to give $5 but not $20.

      (I’m not claiming Uber pays its drivers out of charity. Uber pays its drivers in order to get drivers. But if you start talking about using Uber to ensure its drivers have a good life, then you’re talking about charity, and these same considerations apply).

      The first practical one is that this risks destroying everything that lets Uber offer its workers a good deal. There’s already a heavily-regulated version of Uber. It’s called the taxi industry. Every Uber driver chose to work for Uber rather than the taxi industry for some reason (“The taxi industry didn’t have jobs available” is a reason). If you regulate Uber to the point where it’s just a second taxi industry, it will end up the same way as the taxi industry – people almost never use it because it’s too expensive, and it can’t employ many people. Regulating Uber X% of the amount you regulate the taxi industry will just make this happen X% as much. You could avoid this just by using redistributive taxation.

      The second practical one is that a lot of the Uber drivers I’ve talked to work for Uber exactly because it offers them some deal other than the usual “work forty hours a week for this corporation, exactly when they tell you, or get fired” wage slavery. Some of them are parents who can’t work normal hours because they need to take care of their kids. Some of them are people working a day job who drive whenever they have a few spare minutes here and there. Some of them are disabled people who can’t work 40 hour weeks for one reason or another. If you force Uber to only offer the standard wage-slavery package, and ban them from offering other packages workers like better, you’re destroying these people’s livelihoods and forcing them back into poverty for no reason, since you could just do redistributive taxation.

      (This is what I meant when I said the only difference between the journalists who are sad that their livelihood is being destroyed and Uber drivers who are sad that their livelihood is being destroyed is that journalists are popular enough that people will listen to them.)

      The third practical one is that you’re limiting people’s mobility. I have a lot of patients who can only make their doctors’ appointments because Uber is really cheap. The existence of Uber opened up a whole new world for people who couldn’t afford cars and didn’t have access to good public transit. By gradually making Uber more and more expensive through overregulation, you’re destroying these people’s lives as well, all to accomplish a goal you could have accomplished better by redistributive taxation.

      (and I know I’m using contingent terms here, like “helped provide poor people with mobility”, but I think all of these are just instances of more general principles. If a company is making money, it’s providing somebody with something, making society more efficient in some way, and we should be trying to protect that insofar as that doesn’t trade off against other things we want)

      The fourth practical reason is that our benefit laws, and the whole way we think about benefits, are just incredibly stupid. You can have health insurance, but only if you work for at least thirty hours a week, because your company is going to pay for it, but not in a way that prevents you from having to overpay for it, and if you ever lose your job you lose your health insurance too, and if you switch jobs then you also have to switch doctors, and God forbid you ever have to go on disability for a health-related reason because then they count that as not working and you can lose your health insurance because you’re sick. We keep ruining more and more semi-functional systems in order to prevent people from escaping this incredibly stupid way of linking health insurance to work, we keep condemning more and more useful companies because they’re not linking health insurance to work in the exact stupid way we insist on them doing, and the whole system is just ridiculous. We should be working harder on dismantling this everywhere, not trying to tighten the screws around it. Just do redistributive taxation!

      We seem to be pushing harder and harder for this world in which you have to be a slave to exactly one corporation working exactly the hours they want you to work, and if you don’t then you can’t have health care, and asking poor people, companies that employ poor people, and customers who consume services provided by poor people to pick up the bill. This is all incredibly stupid, Uber changed the urban landscape and employed hundreds of thousands of people and provided millions of others with unprecedented mobility because it briefly avoided this system, and now we’re trying to kick it back into the pit so it can become overpriced and useless like the taxi industry and everything else. JUST GIVE POOR PEOPLE MONEY.

      • Guy in TN says:

        @Scott Alexander

        The existence of Uber is good for drivers. Offered two deals (work for Uber at whatever Uber’s current terms are, or do whatever the driver’s next best option is), drivers chose to work for Uber. So the existence of Uber’s contracts, as they’re currently written, improves drivers’ lives.

        You are missing that by lowering wages and working conditions, Uber is affecting what the worker’s next best options are, by undercutting the competition. The workers are accepting the contract, yes, but possibly only because Uber has removed better options that were previously available. If someone comes in and destroys all my good options, and then offers me a lousy option which I accept, I would not describe that person as “improving my life”.

        The moral one is that if you want to transfer money from rich people to poor people, there’s already a way to do that. It’s called redistributive taxation

        I mean, sure, the ideal scenario would be the socialize the profits from Uber, pay it out as a UBI, and allocate a targeted monetary bonus for people who are willing to spend their evenings driving other people around. (If this sounds extreme, what exactly did you have in mind in your suggestion to use taxation+welfare to give Uber drivers the equivalent of minimum wage, without actually mandating that Uber pay them a minimum wage?)

        But if that proposal doesn’t have the votes (not to mention the massive social and legal barriers to enacting such a plan) then what? Isn’t the moral action necessarily dependent on what it is possible for a person to achieve? And in this case, what is politically possible?

        • imoimo says:

          Wouldn’t the increased competition from Uber only destroy worse options or force other options to become better? If a better option existed before Uber, why would people leave it en masse for Uber?

          Not an economist, maybe I’m missing something here.

          • If a better option existed before Uber, why would people leave it en masse for Uber?

            My impression from chatting with Uber drivers is that most of them are not ex-cab drivers.

          • imoimo says:

            @DavidFriedman Good point. If we think of Uber drivers and taxi drivers as mostly non-overlapping groups, the former does seem to have destroyed a good option for the latter.

            This makes “good” look more subjective though. Uber seems to be the best option for one group, while taxis are the best for the other group. This might be an even trade, but I suspect the public good of Uber (as a transportation service) tips the scale in its favor.

      • The moral one is that if you want to transfer money from rich people to poor people, there’s already a way to do that. It’s called redistributive taxation

        Quang Ng, an Australian-Vietnamese economist I knew (and a utilitarian), published a formal version of this argument. You do tax and transfer redistribution up to the point where the dead weight cost of making it less good to be rich and less bad to be poor, hence modifying incentives, just balances the utility gain. If you then also tweak your system to help the poor and hurt the rich in inefficient ways, you get the same effect of dead weight cost just cancelling utility gain, plus the additional cost of the inefficiency, so a net utility loss.

        My brief summary of his much more technical article.

      • Aapje says:

        @Scott Alexander

        The existence of Uber is good for drivers. Offered two deals (work for Uber at whatever Uber’s current terms are, or do whatever the driver’s next best option is), drivers chose to work for Uber. So the existence of Uber’s contracts, as they’re currently written, improves drivers’ lives.

        The existence of wife-beaters is good for women. Offered two deals (a relationship with a wife-beater or staying single), women choose to have a relationship with wife-beaters. So the existence of wife-beaters, improves women’s lives.

        Aren’t both a false dichotomy?

        PS. Note that Uber et al also operate in nations where insurance is independent of work, like mine. The likely future result of the ‘gig economy’ is large scale elderly poverty, with far fewer people having a pension (and in turn, a larger burden on tax payers). So Uber et al are effectively getting subsidies, by not offering pensions.

        • DarkTigger says:

          But just as “Why did she go back to her wife-beater of a husband?” is a very good question we SHOULD ask, to understand what the problem is and how to change it, “Why do those peole work for Uber.” is a very good question.

          Is working somewhere else even worse? (Then why are we beating down on Uber and not on those other places?) Are those people not able to work elsewhere? (Why, can we change that?) Is Uber somehow tricking this people and than keeping them bound? (If so how, and what happen when we simply ban Uber?)

          • Aapje says:

            But just as “Why did she go back to her wife-beater of a husband?” is a very good question we SHOULD ask

            I agree that it’s a good question to ask. I disagree that the only reasonable answer is that having wife-beaters around is good for women. Note that one reason may be externalities (where acceptance of wife-beating causes violence to women who don’t choose a wife-beater) and another is that we may want to protect people with bad judgment.

            I disagree with the idea that we should necessarily allow things to happen if some people prefer them.

            Is working somewhere else even worse? (Then why are we beating down on Uber and not on those other places?)

            If ‘we’ consider the work conditions to be unacceptable, we can also demand that they improve those conditions. Like we have done for many other things, like worker safety, where we don’t allow people to work too dangerously, even if they accept it.

            Are those people not able to work elsewhere? (Why, can we change that?)

            Perhaps the alternatives are run out of business by Uber, in which case, banning Uber or demanding that they change their operations, may fix this.

            Is Uber somehow tricking this people and than keeping them bound? (If so how, and what happen when we simply ban Uber?)

            They paid a $20m settlement because of misleading drivers about their income.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think laws protecting people with bad judgment are *extremely* easy to abuse, and so we should be very reluctant to override an adult’s judgment of their own interests outside some well-defined cases (serious mental illness leading the a court finding of incompetence, for example).

            In the case of Uber, you’re looking at thousands and thousands of people taking a job. Maybe they’re all deluded and stupid in how they spend their many hours driving people around, and you, sitting in your armchair, know their interests better than they do. It’s not impossible. But I have to say, this seems awfully unlikely to me.

          • Aapje says:

            Bad judgment is also fairly easy to abuse.

            This week a Dutch millionaire got EUR 1 million stolen from him with an ‘replace your bank card’ SMS scam, it was reported that dating fraud is substantial, etc.

            In my view, technology is making it easier and easier to exploit human weakness. If we don’t limit this a bit, cynicism, paranoia and social withdrawal become the only successful life strategies.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          The existence of wife-beaters is good for women. Offered two deals (a relationship with a wife-beater or staying single), women choose to have a relationship with wife-beaters. So the existence of wife-beaters, improves women’s lives.

          Absolutely! If a woman’s only choices are being single and being married to a wife beater, and the woman prefers marrying the wife beater, then the availability of the wife beater certainly improves the woman’s life. Note that I changed it to singular from your universal because your scenario was so absurd as a universal. Increased choices ALWAYS improve lives. I am kind of surprised you would say otherwise.

          • Aapje says:

            @Mark V Anderson

            So you assume that choices that people make improve their lives?

            Do you accept that there are situations where this is false?

      • NoRandomWalk says:

        I agree with @Scott on this one. Yes, *if people have bad judgement, or uber destroys the norm of having pensions, healthcare, etc.* are valid arguments, I just think in practice they don’t map onto what’s happening at all.

        I think multi-level marketing schemes and infinite interest pay day lending are classic examples where that’s a reasonable discussion (in my opinion we should ban MLM it would be good if MLM was much less of a thing, and pay day lending is much better than alternatives like pawn shops, putting up car as collateral, etc).

        But in Uber’s case we had taxis, which offered expensive, bad service, and clogged up streets more than uber in large part because uber’s technology to match supply/demand is so much more efficient.

        Also, Taxi’s can discriminate on the basis of X, Y, Z. With uber anyone can access it, and a suddenly a ton of sick people or just those in poorer areas can get around.

        It just seems to me based on talking to uber drivers and interacting with other members of the gig economy/their customers that it’s allowed them significantly more freedom than they had before that they are benefiting from based on reasons that seem totally obvious and completely reasonable.

        • albatross11 says:

          Yeah, alongside all the abstract arguments, what I see is that Uber came along, broke a bunch of local laws, offended a lot of peoples’ sense of what the economy should look like, and somehow made the world an enormously better place, for both drivers and riders. And then I see lots of people up in arms about these upstarts daring to make a huge positive change in the world because the gig economy offends their sense of how an economy should work or plays badly with tying pensions/healthcare to a long-term job or violated a bunch of local laws, and I think maybe my values are just so different from theirs that communications is very difficult.

          Because I have to tell you, if I could wave my magic wand and make ten more companies that had the same scope and direction of change in the world as Uber has caused, I’d do it in a second.

          Perhaps this is the inverse of authoritarian tendencies. Some people say “yes, the strongman used the police to hassle the opposition party and put restrictions on newspapers to keep power, but the trains run on time and the streets are safe and life is better.” I say “yes, the startup company broke local laws and displaced existing incumbents and upended a lot of existing social and financial arrangements, but the cabs run on time and the drivers have more options and life is better.”

          • Aapje says:

            Uber is relatively benign because it disrupts such a shitty industry. However, the same ‘gig’ mechanisms are happening elsewhere too.

            AirBnB is causing lots of damage by turning homes into hotels, harming neighbors and enabling fraud (like people renting out their subsidizing housing, effectively creating a subsidized hotel). It transforms living neighborhoods into tourist neighborhoods.

            Delivery drivers are being forced to buy vans themselves with a design of the delivery company, causing sunk costs, which is then exploited by ratcheting down the compensation.

            The common ‘per item’ pay allows for below-minimum wage compensation. The myth that gig workers are entrepreneurs instead of workers, allows the companies to set up incentives so that workers can only earn a decent living if they break the law, while the company doesn’t take any responsibility when workers do break the law.

            Merely pointing at Uber, while ignoring the other gig jobs seems like cherry picking to me.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Hotels are shitty cartels too, just not as obvious as taxi monopolies. But it wasn’t hotels that were the intended targets of the law, it was Uber and Lyft. And it wasn’t delivery drivers with vans who were complaining, it was journalists. So it makes sense to look at those cases even if they aren’t the only one’s affected.

          • Aapje says:

            In what way are they cartels?

        • acymetric says:

          and pay day lending is much better than alternatives like pawn shops, putting up car as collateral, etc

          This is pretty much entirely unrelated to the Uber discussion, but I’m curious why you think pawn shops (usually end up costing about 5-20% above what was loaned) and title loans (which usually have reasonable, if high, interest rates) are better than payday lending where the interest can be upwards of 3-4,000%? I mean, none are great options, but payday lending seems to pretty clearly be the worst option, and biggest trap (very difficult to get out of).

          Fully agree on MLM. I now a few people involved, and I have to restrain myself quite a bit around them whenever they start talking about it.

          • NoRandomWalk says:

            @acymetric.

            When we say payday loans have XX% interest, that’s usually calculated with small amounts and short time horizons.
            If I borrow $1000 and agree to pay back $1400 in a month that’s
            (1+r)^(1/12)=1.4 = technically a loan with 5500% interest rate.
            Also, payday lending is the business of giving money without collateral to people with maximally bad credit history which has lower profit margins than most banking.
            When you go to a pawn shop or lend your car you usually get less money then the item is worth. Pawn shop/guy with your car hopes you don’t come back.

            Also, because in so many cases it is so expensive to get your money if the person isn’t willing to pay or skipped town, the business model of pay day lenders is in my understanding not ‘lend a bunch of small amounts, hope they don’t pay, sell at a discount to a 3rd vendor who now has the legal ability to harass thousands of people with small claims lawsuits,’ it really is ‘lend small amounts, hope it gets repaid back quickly, identify locally people with bad credit on paper but high conscientiousness, repeat the cycle’.

            Finally, going to a pawn shop/loaning your car not only requires having collateral in the first place, but it also takes a lot of time because you’re dealing in illiquid assets and has high transaction costs.

            Because of this, the most direct comparison isn’t pawn shops, it’s overdrawing your free bank account and then paying large fixed fees, which in practice ends up being worse for people.

            Basically, there is a spectrum of credit worthiness, desperation, and how much illiquid collateral you have, and depending on your circumstances any of ‘be broke nothing you can do no one will give you money under any circumstances’, ‘overdraft bank account’, ‘pay day loan’, ‘pawn shop’, ‘loan your car’, ‘get standard large loan from a bank’ may be optimal, and pay day loans are at the margin a lot better for a significant chunk of people.

            My understanding is that MLMs get a bad rap in the media because they actually trick people with false hope who end up going bankrupt, often dragging their family members down with them.
            My understanding is that payday loans get a bad rap in the media because they’re ‘easy to regulate’

            I would be much less confident in the above if it turned out that
            1) Payday lenders had higher profit margins than ‘more legitimate’ financial institutions (like banks)
            2) Most of the profit of payday lenders came from ‘first time customers who never pay off initial loan’ rather than ‘repeat customers who, even if they end up paying a lot of interest, have at least paid off 1 loan previously to the same vendor’.

          • acymetric says:

            If I borrow $1000 and agree to pay back $1400 in a month that’s
            (1+r)^(1/12)=1.4 = technically a loan with 5500% interest rate.

            Right, I understand that.

            I would guess that most people getting a payday loan are not going to be able to pay it back a month later and end up paying thousands of dollars over the course of months or a year+. Most people who can afford to repay a payday lender on that quick of a turnaround (after being paid only once or maybe twice more since the loan) have access to better options.

            I will further speculate that a not-insignificant amount of payday loan business comes from problem gamblers.

            Because of this, the most direct comparison isn’t pawn shops, it’s overdrawing your free bank account and then paying large fixed fees, which in practice ends up being worse for people.

            Mentally it probably seems worse, but financially the overdraft is almost certainly better for you even 1-2 weeks out from the event than a payday loan.

          • NoRandomWalk says:

            @acymetric.

            I think we’re running into the same issue as others above were with uber, where we have very different understandings of what the ‘typical payday loan’ is.

            The media clickbait narrative is ‘someone desperate signs on a dotted line, soon owes infinity dollars, life ruined’
            The PR from payday lenders (another reason I think MLM is much worse is because they spend way more on advertising than payday lenders which I take as a bad sign). Payday lenders mostly spend money on lobbying against regulation in the form of interest rate limits (again, payday lenders have lower profit margins than banks) is ‘someone has emergency, needs cash now, yes we make money but without a loan their life would be ruined’
            You think the typical case is as far as I can tell ‘first time borrower is irresponsible/ignorant (doesn’t get how interest rates compound, needs money now for bad reasons like gambling), soon owes infinity dollars.’
            And I’m saying that based on the limited research I did the typical payday loan is small and to someone who regularly takes out payday loans to manage regular occurences (Not emergencies!) most commonly rent, etc.

            Since most of the earnings of payday lenders comes from repeat customers for loan sizes that are similar to past loans they have taken, I will trust those repeat consumers to know what’s best for them given the array of alternative options they have.

          • John Schilling says:

            +1 to NoRandomWalk here. I haven’t done a great deal of research myself, but from what I have been reading (including a long-form piece by a reporter who went undercover as a payday-lender teller, IIRC) suggests that the median customer is someone who has a modest life-circumstances cash crunch which, if fixed, they can afford to pay in a month or two even at the typical rates (e.g., a car that needs fixing, which iff fixed will get them to the job that earns the money to pay the repair bill), and who has done this several times before with tolerably good results.

            “Gambler in debt to his bookie, who will then be hounded to bankruptcy and beyond by the payday lender”, is an edge rather than central case. For the central case, people who know from past experience what they are doing, haven’t found a better way to get it done. We aren’t doing them any favors if we just say “no, you can’t do it this way” and then walk away smugly satisfied with our having Done Good.

      • John Schilling says:

        We seem to be pushing harder and harder for this world in which you have to be a slave to exactly one corporation working exactly the hours they want you to work

        Yes, and I think that’s pretty much deliberate. Because,

        A: That’s the labor version of evenly-spaced rectangular grids; states and their fans generally see this as a good thing.

        B: That’s how it mostly worked in some past times and places that many people see as a sort of Golden Age (and think would have been even goldener if it it had worked entirely like that).

        C: That model greatly weakens workers’ ability to negotiate decent pay and working conditions by any means other than powerful labor unions and/or state regulation. If you adhere to some ideology that already thinks everything should be run by the state and/or powerful labor unions, this gives you a captive audience.

        By these standards, Uber drivers and freelance writers and all the rest are defecting from the one true (and rectangular) path to the new golden age, so all that is needed is a rationalization for not letting them do that without feeling like a bully in the process. “It’s for their own good; they just don’t understand that yet” is one of the classics in that regard.

        • LesHapablap says:

          I don’t like the idea of a gig economy because it contributes to further atomizing of society, it is stressful*, there’s no longterm stability, and in some forms it approaches winner-take-all. Uber is not a good example of those bad things. Uber is much better than say, Youtube content creator. Overall expanding the gig economy seems like a good thing because it gives people many more options, but it is not all roses.

          Aside from the potential problems with work conditions, imagine a world in which instead of requiring both parents to work full time to afford a mortgage in an area with good schools, both parents must now work full time and also freelance during their time off.

          *I used to play online poker for a living. It was incredibly hard work, very stressful and there was no long-term stability. There was no pure time-off to relax, because any time you’re at home, you could be working. It is like owning a small business: it is great in many ways but also risky and stressful, you have to be available all the time, and there is no limit to how much extra work you can put in. It is absolutely not for everyone.

          • Aside from the potential problems with work conditions, imagine a world in which instead of requiring both parents to work full time to afford a mortgage in an area with good schools, both parents must now work full time and also freelance during their time off.

            That’s a world where people are poorer, but that doesn’t have anything to do with freelancing. You might as well imagine a world where everyone has to work one job full time and a second job part time, and conclude that having jobs available is bad.

          • LesHapablap says:

            Freelancing is really convenient and great in many ways that having a second job is not. That fact is the reason that it is popular and the popularity means that enough people may do it to get the income priced into the housing market.

          • and the popularity means that enough people may do it to get the income priced into the housing market.

            It sounds as though your model of the housing market is that prices rise to absorb any increase in income. That could be the case if there was one monopoly seller, but that’s very far from the case.

            Do you believe that real incomes have been essentially static for the past century or two? That would seem to be the implication of taking such a model seriously.

          • LesHapablap says:

            Don’t prices rise with incomes? Don’t prices rise if for example, cheap credit becomes available? My economics understanding is somewhat limited so you might need to explain this to me like I’m an 8 year old.

            It used to be easy for a single breadwinner household to afford a house, and now since most households both spouses work, it takes both working to afford a house. That is sort of the analogous situation

          • John Schilling says:

            Don’t prices rise with incomes?

            Prices for strictly fixed goods, e.g. undeveloped land, rise with total income. But if the increase in income is due to an increase in labor productivity, then the price of produced goods will remain on average unchanged. And the “gig economy” may have an advantage in dynamically allocating labor to the most immediately productive task, increasing average productivity along with income.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            In the most competitive real estate markets, real estate will absorb all available income, but that has nothing to do with second jobs or gig economies. Those endless bidding wars are their own problem and the only answer is to GTFO before it kills you.

            I have vague concerns about the gig economy, but this can’t be one of them.

      • zenmore says:

        The way that the media concentrates on Uber almost makes it seem like a false flag operation.

        It’s not profitable now and isn’t forecast to be profitable in the near future. These additional shackles from regulations will just drag down a corporation that’s actually a good net transfer of wealth from investors to employees, riders and drivers.

        The correct route is still to address the resiliency of modern capital buildup and accumulation through re-distributive taxation or otherwise.

        I have to say though, a lot of the reasons I use Uber are not solely because of price. If there was a similar app offering taxi prices which worked on a global scale and offered the same functionality, I would probably still be willing to use it occasionally (if not quite as often as I use Uber/Lyft)

      • BlackboardBinaryBook says:

        The existence of Uber is good for drivers…
        [snip]
        our benefit laws, and the whole way we think about benefits, are just incredibly stupid.

        This whole comment pretty much sums up how I feel about it, and this quote in particular.

        This is a personal issue for me. I have a sibling/roommate whose sole income is from gig driving. Due to persistent mental health issues, the only jobs they’ve had in the previous 10 years or so were “starving artist” and “underpaid, frequently injured warehouse worker.” Even the warehouse thing didn’t last very long (which honestly I was thankful for because of the injuries).

        Being a gig driver is “good for” my sibling in the sense that it’s better than being 100% dependent on family or the state. They are still partially dependent on both (family for subsidized housing & food, the state for health care). But having their own source of income means they feel like (and to some extent, are) a contributing member of the household again. That has done wonders for their mental health.

        I still worry about my sibling getting hurt on the job, what with the prevalence of car accidents. I worry that they don’t make enough money, especially given the “hidden” expenses of being a gig driver – their car is falling apart and it doesn’t get great gas mileage. They definitely don’t earn enough to save for retirement, or even for car repairs, so the clock is ticking on how long this line of work will last. I worry about what will happen when they get older and can no longer drive/do other gig work, and they have no retirement savings. But the answer to these concerns is not to outlaw this type of work – it’s to take better care of people who can’t work, or who can’t do traditional 9-5 work.

        • albatross11 says:

          Just a sideline comment: Your sibling isn’t just feeling like they’re a productive member of society–they are doing something valuable for other people. The evidence is that people are willing to pay your sibling to drive them places.

      • benf says:

        You missed the part where Uber lies about how much you’re actually getting paid. Sure they pay you cash, but you’re running off almost all of that in capital depreciation on the car you own. Most people don’t even know what depreciation means so they accept, do the work for a little while, many slowly catch on to the fact that they’re being scammed, and quit.

        Meanwhile the taxi industry is undercut because customers have to pay the entire cost of the ride whereas Uber has tricked drivers into sharing that cost, so taxi jobs are no longer available because everyone is picking the option where the driver splits their fare with them.

        The ponzi scheme does collapse eventually, but I’ve never heard that used as an argument that ponzi schemes should not be illegal.

        • Aapje says:

          It’s not a Ponzi scheme* and it can last indefinitely, as long as there are enough new gullible people and people for whom this is not so bad a deal.

          For example, imagine that Bob bought a car to get to work. This person was laid off. Now it can be beneficial to earn back the sunk costs of the car by driving for Uber, even if it hadn’t been beneficial to buy a car for that purpose.

          Another example is the person who drives after work, using the car they already bought to get to work.

          Of course, it can still be considered fraudulent when Uber deceives people who are not in situations like these.

          * Please don’t contribute to the issue of people calling all fraud a Ponzi scheme, when that is a specific kind of fraud.

        • acymetric says:

          but you’re running off almost all of that in capital depreciation on the car you own.

          Maybe if you’re driving a brand new current year-model car. Outside of that case, most likely deprecation caps at ~10% of income, probably lower.

        • acymetric says:

          One other note. Remember that Uber drivers can also deduct miles driven (for Uber, including miles between pickups) at $0.58 per mile (which is more than gas + most per-mile depreciation estimates).

          • albatross11 says:

            The way I understand it ( not all that well ) uber drivers don’t make a lot per hour when you factor in depreciation/wear on their car, but tips can make up for that. I always tip pretty well for that reason.

          • acymetric says:

            I’m just not convinced this is true because the mileage writeoff on the taxes exceeds the depreciation (if it doesn’t, they can choose to write off the depreciation + maintenance costs from wear and tear and maybe even gas instead).

            Separately, and this may make me an asshole, I think I’ve only tipped an Uber driver maybe a couple times in years of riding. This is despite pretty strong opinions (in the opposite direction) whenever the tipping debate starts related to other areas like restaurants. I think it is mostly because the reason I use Uber is that it is quite affordable, and originally it was marketed explicitly as “affordable, no need to tip”. In fact, I think original policy may have been that tips weren’t allowed, before they eventually caved on that and added the ability to just tip through the app.

          • BlackboardBinaryBook says:

            I would be very surprised is most uber drivers/other gig workers do anything other than the standard deduction.

          • sharper13 says:

            @BlackboardBinaryBook,
            A sole proprietor like an Uber/Lyft driver deducts business expenses (like the standard mileage rate) on their Schedule C to reduce their 1099 schedule C business income while still taking the standard deduction on their 1040 form. The net income on the Schedule C becomes their income before regular 1040-style deductions.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        +100. Scott, this is one of your best posts. Yes it is too bad this is deep within the comments, so many won’t see it.

      • ec429 says:

        Scott,
        My internal monologue often gives you a hard time for the ‘redistribution’ half of this position, but I have to say that the ‘markets’ half was beautifully argued (it’s almost like you’re one of us), and if there were some way to get the whole package, and be assured that the polits wouldn’t backslide on the ‘markets’ part, I would welcome your left-libertarianism as pretty much the best compromise we libertarians can imagine getting with the left.
        For as profusely as your heart bleeds, you do a good job of not letting it lead you to the kind of value-destroying regulation you so cogently vituperate above, and I felt it necessary to commend you for that.
        Sincerely,
        an an-cap.

    • zenmore says:

      I think that, if implemented more widely, the best thing we’ll get out of the whole fiasco will probably be a decrease in clickbait sites.

    • Alsadius says:

      An employee is someone who works on the boss’ schedule and follows the boss’ instructions. A freelancer is someone who picks their own hours, does more or less what they want, and only works with the company insofar as they feel like it that day.

      Uber drivers aren’t merely freelancers. They’re basically the Platonic ideal of the freelancer. The only rules Uber seems to enforce are “Drive a decent car”, “Take a quick training session”, and “Don’t piss off too many passengers”. It’s hard to have many fewer rules than that without completely eliminating the business relationship.

      I looked into driving for Uber a few years back. Didn’t pull the trigger (my car was one year too old), but it was specifically the freelancer aspect that appealed to me. Uber driver as an employee relationship sounds like hell to me – no flexibility, no ability to respond to surges, and it’d probably require me to drive to their office in order to pick up the official company car after the dust has settled. And I had another job at the time(this was just to earn me extra money), so it’d have been totally impossible besides. We already have cab companies, and they already suck – why are we so desperate to re-create them?

      Do not tell people how they need to live their life. You don’t know nearly as much about their lives as they do. This kind of paternalistic dictatorship is offensive, impractical, and mostly serves to harm vulnerable people. You are not helping. Just stop.

      • benf says:

        Did you run the numbers on capital depreciation as part of your decision process? If so, what were they?

        • Alsadius says:

          Nah, I didn’t get that far – realized my car was too old before I got to running numbers seriously.

          At the time I was in a cash crunch(100% commission jobs are not for me), and I would have been happy to burn down fixed assets to get cashflow.

  2. An Fírinne says:

    Pollution map: California wildfires vs. a totally normal day in China

    China is actually doing far more then any western nation to combat climate change.

    A recent NASA study found that the earth had become greener because of the efforts of China and India. Of course western media won’t tell you this.

    • The Earth has become greener because CO2, which is an input to photosynthesis, increased. India and China certainly contributed to that, but since it is in the increase in CO2 which is believed to be the main cause of climate change, that isn’t combating climate change, it’s supporting it.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I doubt that greening itself is a meaningful metric as it is going to depend heavily on what stage your economy is in. Massachusetts was at one point almost entirely farmland and now it is almost entirely forest in the western half, but this greening started well over a century ago and now it is simply part of the denominator for the US without any real chance of contributing to greening. The same is true to varying degrees for most of the original US, they passed through their agricultural development stages into heavy urbanization decades ago (along with agriculture shifting to the great plains and California), opening up masses of land for greening.

      • An Fírinne says:

        Except China is taking direct action against climate change and its drastic increase in greening is not as a result of some economic accident but actual concrete climate action.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Your link directly describes the vast majority (82%) of greening in India as being a result of agricultural changes

          Another 32 percent of the greening change in China, and 82 percent in India, comes from intensive cultivation of food crops. The land area used to grow crops in China and India has not changed much since the early 2000s. Yet both countries have greatly increased both their annual total green leaf area and their food production in order to feed their large populations

          So at least 1/3rd of Greening in China and 82% in India are directly from their position in their economic paths, eyeballing the % of greening chart makes it appear that 50%+ of the total greening in India and China would be from shifts in agricultural practices alone.

          • An Fírinne says:

            Right 1/3 but what about the other 2/3s?

          • Aftagley says:

            A big percentage of it is anti-desertification tactics. They’re trying to fight land degradation by planting a bunch of soil-conserving plants.

            A worthy goal, sure, but one done for far less altruistic reasons than fighting climate change.

          • Clutzy says:

            A worthy goal, sure, but one done for far less altruistic reasons than fighting climate change.

            Thats how all the people who’ve actually made gains have made them. US moving to Nat gas instead of coal, for instance. Turns out fighting climate change altruistically isn’t that effective given our current tech levels.

          • An Fírinne says:

            @Aftagely Except that’s the expressed purpose of the tree planting compaigns. To fight climate change.

    • Statismagician says:

      That’s not what that study says. NASA is talking about literal greening, not figurative (change in % foliage coverage), not anything more interesting than that – planting trees is good and all, but it’s at best an offset for massive coal consumption, etc, and probably it’ll reverse in fifteen years when the groundwater runs out.

      • An Fírinne says:

        Even if its talking about literal greening it’s still a help and a hell of a lot more then what any other western nation has done.

        • Statismagician says:

          It’s irrelevant. Net and long-term impact is what matters, and your source is explicitly not talking about those. I don’t have a position on whether China gets an unfairly bad rap on climate change, but if you want to make that argument you need better data.

        • Aftagley says:

          Caveat: China isn’t a western nation.

          Rebuttal: One positive metric doesn’t mitigate a host of negative ones. Also, if you go back to the study NASA is citing, you’ll see that this greening is also the result of more-intensive farming techniques (related more towards food security goals than climate) and land degradation reversal attempts (again, not climate change related).

        • Reasoner says:

          Solar panels and electricity-producing wind farms have been around for decades. Yet, for most of that time, they’ve been a far more expensive way to produce electricity than burning coal or natural gas. Germany changed that. Starting in 2010, Germany’s Energiewende legislation heavily subsidized solar and wind. That, in turn, drove utilities and home owners and corporations to purchase solar and wind. And that, in turn, made the technology cheaper. As prices fell, other nations – first European nations, then the US, and then China – jumped into the fray, enacting more ambitious policies that further brought down the price of solar and wind (and now batteries and electric cars).

          Source

    • cassander says:

      this:

      China is actually doing far more then any western nation to combat climate change.

      is not the same as this:

      A recent NASA study found that the earth had become greener because of the efforts of China and India

      and given that china is well on its way to half of global carbon emissions in a couple decades, attempting to conflate the two is laughable.

    • pdbarnlsey says:

      Tree planting is nice to see, but pretty small beer relative to the massive increased in planned coal-fired generation. The net effect of these is very likely to be strongly negative (I’m hedging only because I can’t be bothered to run the numbers) so your opening sentence is almost certainly wrong.

      • On the contrary, it is more right than he realized, for the reason I pointed out. Putting CO2 in the air may or may not be a good thing, but it does result in greening the Earth.

        And whether or not India and China have contributed with tree planting or more intensive agriculture, that isn’t the cause the NASA account I linked to above offers.

      • zzzzort says:

        It’s actually not that far off, though you’ll run out of ground to plant trees on long before you’ll run out coal to burn. Trees weigh around a ton or two, C02 emissions per person in China are about 8 tons, so you’d need to plant ~1-10 trees per person, or 1-10 billion trees per year to fully offset. And then keep that level of forestation constant forever more, which is the hard part.

    • Ketil says:

      China is building 150GW of new coal power plants. This is the equivalent of 100 EPR reactors, or something like 60% of total US coal-based electricity production.

      https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/12/02/asia-pacific/china-coal-plants-clean-energy/#.XeZIo9F7m0o

    • silver_swift says:

      So, do you believe the information on the website that tweet links to is incorrect? Because this, looks very much like most of the CO2 on the planet is suspiciously concentrated around (eastern) China.

      • Nornagest says:

        That’s CO, not CO2. CO is a nasty environmental pollutant and developed countries are pretty good about scrubbing it — not perfect, though, hence the concentrations in Southern California and the Rhineland. CO2 is much less dangerous, and much harder to remove from your emissions.

        Compare the layer for sulfur dioxide (SO2), another environmental pollutant.

    • pepys says:

      Your link is incredibly misleading. China put into place policies that conserved forests locally, but encourages imports: “More than half of the timber now shipped globally is destined for China.”

    • mdet says:

      A recent NASA study found

      Of course western media won’t tell you this.

      It seems weird to claim there’s a conspiracy to hide information when your source for that information is literally a pop-science article by a large and well-known government agency. Not only that, but just googling “nasa China India green” immediately gave me relevant results from Forbes, CNN, Mashable, NPR, DailyMail, and US News. It might not be front page news, but it’s not exactly being silenced.

  3. Aftagley says:

    Despite the apparent renewal in interest, only about 1% of Americans think the gap between rich and poor is the most important issue – although it looks like it’s hard to get people to agree on what is a major problem in general.

    538 did an article about this a few months back.

    Also, I’m not sure asking people what their top concern is yields especially relevant data. For example, something can still be a widely acknowledged issue if only 1% have it as their top concern, but 60% have it in their top 10 concerns.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Also, I’m not sure asking people what their top concern is yields especially relevant data.

      To quote Mona Lisa Vito “It’s a bullshit question!”

    • sharper13 says:

      I strongly dislike poll question results of the “what issues are important to you?” format, because they’re virtually information-free due to the way the polls are constructed and tabulated.

      For example, if one (made-up) result is “Taxes are the most important issue for 47% of voters!” that has opposite meanings if 45% think the problem is that taxes are too high and 2% too low, or if 45% think too low and 2% too high. But both think there is a problem with tax rates!

      These types of polls typically lump people with exactly opposite concerns into the same results bucket and assume they’re all trying to express the same opinion. It’s such a lousy way to do polling that I can only conclude it’s intentional malpractice.

  4. viVI_IViv says:

    I continue to be dismayed by the process by which scientifically rigorous transhumanism gets enthralled with and captured by weird woo stuff within a generation or so.

    Scientifically rigorous transhumanism? Is this a joke?

    LW: autopsy of last year’s self-driving Uber crash. Hindsight is 20-20, and I usually try to hesitate to critique people smarter than I am who are trying to do an insanely difficult thing – but this still seems completely inexcusable to the point where everyone involved should be fired and maybe prosecuted.

    Uber’s gonna Uber. Seriously, their core business model consists in going to a city and operating an unlicensed taxi service, gambling on the fact that the government will be too slow to shut them down before their service becomes popular enough that shutting them down becomes politically inconvenient. I’m not surprised that they were applying the same philosophy to their self-driving car project. Move fast, break things, kill people.

    • Walter says:

      “Uber’s gonna Uber. Seriously, their core business model consists in going to a city and operating an unlicensed taxi service, gambling on the fact that the government will be too slow to shut them down before their service becomes popular enough that shutting them down becomes politically inconvenient.”

      Very much this. I’m not even a little surprised.

      • “Shutting them down becomes politically inconvenient” translates as “both the drivers and the customers discover that Uber is a good thing, and will be unhappy with politicians who shut it down.”

        • Walter says:

          I feel like you are kind of phrasing this as a disagreement, but I don’t actually dispute any of that.

          Like, I believe that it is very much better for people with money/phones that Uber exists instead of them being stuck using taxis. I think it is very very much better for unemployables that an uber-esque quasi job exists so they can make some money than that they be unemployed. I agree with you on that front.

          I think the way that Uber was brought into existence was illegal and unfair to the cab companies and their workers, who played by the rules and lost because those rules didn’t change fast enough. I resent Uber and its kind because of this initial action, and it has tainted them, in my mind, with an enduring odor of lawlessness.

          But that doesn’t take away the first part! Uber and the like are good for all concerned, and I believe that they will persist because of this fact. I wish that our system had been flexible enough to allow this kind of disruption without an initial outlaw paving the way, but it didn’t, and here we are.

          • albatross11 says:

            I see your point, but the cab companies in question hadn’t just played by the rules, they’d manipulated the rules to exclude competition, making the world a much worse place overall in so doing.

          • gbdub says:

            “The cab companies and their workers, who played by the rules…”

            Rules that were largely passed with the blessing if not active collusion of those companies and workers for the express purpose of limiting supply and raise barriers to entry, in order to benefit themselves at the expense of everybody else. So my sympathy is minimal.

            I really don’t like Uber’s tactics or general corporate mentality. On the other hand a company that did try to play by the rules would almost certainly have been throttled in the cradle by the same entrenched interests now crying crocodile tears over their lost monopoly. (And who are still playing their own rule exploitation game with ham-handed crap like this CA law)

            Since there are no good guys here I find myself notionally supporting the bad guys who are kinda sorta on my side, who have at least demonstrated an ability to make my life incrementally better.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @gbdub

            Rules that were largely passed with the blessing if not active collusion of those companies and workers for the express purpose of limiting supply and raise barriers to entry, in order to benefit themselves at the expense of everybody else. So my sympathy is minimal.

            There is an argument for cities to restrict the supply of taxis (allowed to pick up passengers who hail them on the street) in order to prevent the streets, which are a public good, being clogged up with empty taxis cruising around looking for passengers. Some cities (like New York) do this by only issuing a fixed number of taxi licences which can be bought and sold. Others (like London) make it very difficult to become a taxi driver, in London’s case with the famous Knowledge exam.

            The thing is that in most such cities Uber is not a taxi service. It is operating in another pre-existing sector of the market, the private-hire sector (car services in New York, minicabs in London). Because private hire cars aren’t allowed to ply for hire, there is much less incentive to restrict entry to this market. So it’s much less restricted. In London, the licensing criteria are essentially limited to ensuring that the vehicles they use are properly maintained and insured, and that the drivers aren’t criminals.

          • There is an argument for cities to restrict the supply of taxis (allowed to pick up passengers who hail them on the street) in order to prevent the streets, which are a public good, being clogged up with empty taxis cruising around looking for passengers.

            Taxi drivers could just as easily say that passenger cars are clogging up the streets, which are a public good they pay for, for them. And I could say that all these red-heads on the street are causing more traffic for us non-red-heads. The solution to this is congestion pricing, not arbitrarily denying access to the streets to certain groups.

            In London, the licensing criteria are essentially limited to ensuring that the vehicles they use are properly maintained and insured, and that the drivers aren’t criminals.

            Apologies in advance if I’m strawmanning you, but I would hazard to guess that you believe two things:

            1. It’s a tragedy that we have so many people incarcerated.
            2. It’s a further tragedy that, once they are released, no one will hire many of them and they find no opportunities, forcing some back into a life of crime.

            Now, neither belief logically requires one to oppose regulating Uber to exclude (former) criminals. You could say that you think criminals should have the opportunity to flip burgers or work in construction, but not drive Ubers. But you ought to at least think “hey, maybe the government shouldn’t step in and forbid this, let employers themselves decide if they want to take on that risk.” I don’t think these tradeoffs occurred to the regulators in London.

          • zzzzort says:

            Taxi drivers could just as easily say that passenger cars are clogging up the streets

            The difference is that most passenger cars don’t drive around while empty, while cabs spend a significant amount of time on the street without any passengers.

          • There is an argument for cities to restrict the supply of taxis (allowed to pick up passengers who hail them on the street) in order to prevent the streets, which are a public good, being clogged up with empty taxis cruising around looking for passengers.

            That’s a result of the city fixing the cab fare at a level at which it is still profitable to run a cab that is empty a lot of the time. It’s the modern version of the Hong Kong rickshaw surplus of long ago, which resulted from tourists being used to much higher wages than prevailed then in Hong Kong, hence paying rickshaw drivers much more per hour than they could earn in other activities–with the result that the drivers (pullers) ended spending a lot of their time waiting for customers.

          • The difference is that most passenger cars don’t drive around while empty, while cabs spend a significant amount of time on the street without any passengers.

            Spending time on the street is necessary to make picking up passengers easier. If they were disallowed from spending time on the street you’d have slightly less congestion but much greater wait times for cabs. You’re essentially penalizing people who don’t own cars in order to benefit people who do. This would lead to more car ownership and probably more carbon emissions too.

          • zzzzort says:

            You’re essentially penalizing people who don’t own cars in order to benefit people who do. This would lead to more car ownership and probably more carbon emissions too.

            ok…, but the point remains that ubering makes more use of some infrastructure than driving yourself. Ubers only have a passenger about half the time. There are other reasons to prefer a ride share model (car ownership, parking, drunk driving…), but congestion is still a valid concern.

          • Garrett says:

            There are other reasons to prefer a ride share model

            FWIW, I object to referring to Uber and Lyft as ride-sharing. The person driving wasn’t going to go where you are going to go without you paying for it.

            There was a company called Sidecar (which has since shut down) which IIRC was based on the model that you’d tell it where you were going to go and it would give you the option to pick someone up who needed to go from roughly where you are to where you were going. You could also pay/tip/whatever through the App. In this case it potentially reduced the number of vehicles and trips on the road at the expense of greater variability in terms of availability. I really wish this model would expand more.

          • Thegnskald says:

            How about cities require ride-sharing apps to pay a road use tax for single riderships?

          • @Garrett:

            I discussed the idea of a paid ride sharing market in a chapter of my first book, published in 1972.

      • zzzzort says:

        I’ve always wondered which bit of Uber made it as successful as it has been
        -Unlicensed taxi
        -Labor law work-arounds
        -Using large amounts of capital owned by contract workers
        -App based taxi ordering
        -App based payment and lack of tipping
        -Demand based pricing

        Some of these seem like good things to disrupt, some of them seem like legal things to disrupt, but I’d be interested if taxi companies had been more tech aware earlier, or slashed prices by using part time contract labor, or some other combination, if that would have been just as effective.

        • SamChevre says:

          In a few cities with medallion-or-similar systems, the “car service that’s as available and cheap as a taxi” (AKA “unlicensed taxi”) was important. In a few cities with unionized taxi drivers, the labor law workaround may have been important (I don’t know, but it’s psosible). But in the typical city, where cab drivers were freelancers who either owned a car or (more usually) rented one at a fixed per-day price, the big benefit was that app-based ordering and payment meant that people wanting a ride found it much easier to get one (Uber was anecdotally far more reliable, and cheaper for drivers, than telephone dispatch for cabs), and app-based payment meant that drivers were more willing to provide rides in bad neighborhoods.

          Anecdata partly from my grandfather, who was a cab driver in Miami.

    • Cliff says:

      Sorry to double-post, but they’re not a taxi service. Car services have been around for a very long time. You could always call a black car and have it come pick you up. Always.

      • viVI_IViv says:

        Yes but Uber primarily competes with taxis, not limousines.

        The legitimacy of their enterprise rests on a technicality: taxis are traditionally defined as vehicles with drivers for hire who will pick up people who hail them on the streets, you don’t hail Uber cars on the street but you summon them with the app, but for all practical purposes they perform the same service as taxis. Various local government decided that they should still be regulated as taxis, but Uber banks on the fact that the decision takes some time, and if they can achieve substantial market penetration before the decision happens, it becomes unlikely.

        • Cliff says:

          you don’t hail Uber cars on the street but you summon them with the app, but for all practical purposes they perform the same service as taxis

          Yes, just like black cars, right? You can easily call and have a lincoln towncar come pick you up and take you where you want to go, just like you could call a taxi.

          I think wanting to regulate them like taxis is just because they’re so successful and taxi owners feel very threatened.

          • zzzzort says:

            I think wanting to regulate them like taxis is just because they’re so successful and taxi owners feel very threatened.

            I think it has much much more to do with the markets they serve and how big the market is. The number of uberx’s on the road is going to be orders of magnitude more than the number of black cars.

          • Cliff says:

            Right… because they’re so successful?

          • zzzzort says:

            If your meaning was “because they’re so successful, and because taxi owners feel very threatened” then I agree with you. If your meaning was “they’re so successful, and so taxi drivers feel very threatened, and so people want to regulate them” then I disagree with you.

          • Aapje says:

            @Cliff

            I think wanting to regulate them like taxis is just because they’re so successful and taxi owners feel very threatened.

            Isn’t it because Uber blurs the lines, making them behave a lot like a taxi?

            At busy places/times, you have Ubers cruising around and people hailing them on very short notice, which is very similar to just hailing a cab by standing on a curb and flagging down for a passing taxi.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            At busy places/times, you have Ubers cruising around and people hailing them on very short notice, which is very similar to just hailing a cab by standing on a curb and flagging down for a passing taxi.

            Is there any reason the previous black car services couldn’t have had that happen, other than “the black car services weren’t successful enough to guarantee a bunch of calls in a busy place/time”?

          • Aapje says:

            @moonfirestorm

            The taxi companies also were stuck in their ways and didn’t see the potential of GPS-equipped mobile phones & taxi drivers were reluctant to just drive around, burning fuel. Of course, doing that is only worth it if the wait time to a new fare is low.

      • Hackworth says:

        I don’t know how it works in the US, but at least in Germany, if you transport people for a living, you need a special license and trainig, be it for a taxi, limousine, bus, or what have you. The training and requirements may differ in details, but the bottom line is that you may not cart around people for a living with only a standard driver’s license. So the “black car you can call” is only superficially similar to Uber, at least where I live.

    • acymetric says:

      Scientifically rigorous transhumanism? Is this a joke?

      I had the same thought when I read it.

  5. Clutzy says:

    The DHS thing seems like an expensive way to find illegal immigrants. But, immigration enforcement is so incredibly messed up and they have so many odd hoops to go through that I’m not surprised they occasionally engage in bizarre schemes.

    • GravenRaven says:

      The main point of the DHS sting operation was not to find illegal immigrants, it was to catch the recruiters who help match fake universities with the “students” who want to commit student visa fraud. Everyone criminally charged as a result of the sting operation was a recruiter. This is basically impossible without a sting operation.

      Every fake visa mill university, sting operation or not, is going to appear as officially approved by DHS, otherwise they would not be able to function. It is the student’s job to be aware of the requirements for their visa and DHS commmunicates this to students.

      If it is true that a few students were deceived by recruiters and actually thought they were going to attend a real university, then transferred to a legitimate university and had a student visa for that purpose, but were arrested and deported anyway, that seems unfortunate. But I’m skeptical that actually happened.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        “If it is true that a few students were deceived by recruiters and actually thought they were going to attend a real university, then transferred to a legitimate university and had a student visa for that purpose, but were arrested and deported anyway, that seems unfortunate. But I’m skeptical that actually happened.”

        How do you interpret the article’s claim that “A total of about 250 students have now been arrested since January on immigration violations…many of those arrested have been deported to India while others are contesting their removals”, and “Out of the approximately 250 students arrested on administrative charges, nearly 80% were granted voluntary departure and departed the United States”?

        • GravenRaven says:

          I can’t find any articles that report a number, or even a single detailed example, of people arrested and deported despite transferring to a legitimate program after arriving and realizing the university was a fraud scheme.

        • Anon. says:

          DHS claims they knew the uni was fake.

        • Aftagley says:

          The university was clearly and obviously fake. Fake as in, there were no classes, no papers, no tests, no nothing. It was a degree mill that was purposefully slowed down. The scam was that people would claim to be attending school here and actually be out working a job. They paid for this because their visa required them to be in school. There was no chance that someone thought they were legitimately attending school while signed up for this university.

          This explains why 80% took the voluntary departure – they likely knew they hadn’t been attending class and just copped to the penalty. Yes, maybe some people were deceived, but the vast majority of people swept up in this knew the score and knew they were committing visa fraud.

      • Aron Wall says:

        Every fake visa mill university, sting operation or not, is going to appear as officially approved by DHS, otherwise they would not be able to function.

        If that were really true, then there is also no need for a sting operation. If the DHS is willing to put in the manpower to draw up an official list of approved universities, and if recruiters are unwilling to recruit for a university not approved by the DHS, then a much easier route to enforcing the law is for the DHS to simply not approve visa mills. (Unless of course the real goal is to deport as many immigrants as possible, rather than to ensure the law is followed…)

        If on the other hand recruiters don’t always follow DHS guidance, then a sting operation could conceivably be warranted, but in that case it is also unnecessary for the DHS to trick people into breaking the law by deliberately whitelisting a fake university.

        The purpose of law enforcement should be to stop crime, not to encourage people to commit it.

        • Cliff says:

          The visa mills just say they are approved by the DHS, they are not actually approved

        • GravenRaven says:

          This is silly. The DHS does not have access to magical omniscience when certifying schools. Nor can DHS just instantly pull certification from every school it suspects is a visa mill. Most visa mills put a significant amount of effort into looking like a real school to outsiders and use networks of recruiters to find “students” looking for a visa mill. Nevertheless, having a certification system is useful because otherwise the barriers to entry for visa mills would be zero.

          Also, the problem of not being SEVP certified is not that recruiters won’t work for the university, it is that the students won’t be able to obtain the visas that are the whole point of enrolling.

          • Aron Wall says:

            So it’s only the poor students from India and China who are supposed to exercise magical omniscience?

            Everyone makes mistakes. But I’m sure the DHS is perfectly capable of coming to a much more accurate guess about this matter than most foreigners with poor English skills and borderline grades, and if there is any doubt the DHS could refuse to certify them, or spend their considerable money and manpower to actually go to the fake university campuses and see if classes are being held, rather than engage in legally and morally dubious entrapment schemes.

            On the other hand, constructing a whitelist of legit universities would be an actual service to foreigners. It’s not like it would be that hard; a real university is pretty difficult to conceal and most of the legit ones weren’t started in the last couple years.

          • GravenRaven says:

            The DHS, who the school is actively trying to deceive, is in a much worse position to determine whether a school is fraudulent than the “students” to whom the school is catering. This should be obvious. And if it were not clear to the student ahead of time, it is 100% obvious when they arrive.

            You have no understanding of how impossible it would be to construct a true whitelist. Most visa mills have a bit more physical presence than this egregiously fake sting operation. They will set up some physical infrastructure and hold some classes to pass physical inspection, they just don’t require the customers to actually attend or do anything.

          • They will set up some physical infrastructure and hold some classes to pass physical inspection, they just don’t require the customers to actually attend or do anything.

            Most colleges don’t require the customers to actually attend class, although I believe some do. They do require customers to pass exams, but not doing that would only become obvious at the end of the semester, and perhaps not even that soon.

          • Aapje says:

            In my country, there is ‘schoolification’ of universities happening, with an increasing number of paternalistic policies being adopted, like mandatory presence.

            I think that the main reason is the desire for maximum efficiency, with a lesser reason being the drop in student quality (although that may be driving a desire for more efficiency).

          • johan_larson says:

            “Schoolification” could potentially improve student performance.

            I studied kung-fu for several years back in high school. The typical session would begin with an hour of physical training and stretching, followed by an hour of instruction. For a while there some of the senior students were complaining about that first hour: too boring, not useful, too hard, too easy.

            In response, our instructor tried having that first hour free-form for a few months: we would bow in at the beginning, and then had 60 minutes to do whatever training we wanted. The second hour, the instructional portion, stayed the same.

            Training quality promptly nosedived. Most people would spend the free hour doing some light exercise and stretching, but many cut it short and spent lots of time talking with friends. I don’t remember seeing anyone do better or harder training than we had been doing before.

            A few months later we switched back to regular training, this time with no complaints.

          • littskad says:

            @DavidFriedman:
            Most colleges don’t require the customers to actually attend class

            “Require” might be not quite the right term, but any college that has students receiving Title V funding (which has got to be almost all of them) must be at least aware of whether they are attending classes, because their last date of attendance has to be reported for any class that they fail. I tend to satisfy this requirement in my undergraduate classes by giving frequent quizzes and using my gradebook as a de facto attendance book, as well as using it as a personal reminder to reach out to any student who misses a quiz.

          • Nornagest says:

            “Require” might be not quite the right term, but any college that has students receiving Title V funding (which has got to be almost all of them) must be at least aware of whether they are attending classes

            Perhaps this changed since I was in college, but I’ve literally never been in a college-level class that took attendance at lectures, and fewer than half — probably fewer than a quarter — gave frequent quizzes.

            Taking attendance at discussion sections wasn’t unheard of, though.

          • littskad says:

            @Nornagest:

            I believe you, but legally, universities are required to report “Last Day of Attendance (LDA)” for students receiving Title IV funds (I see I mistyped Title V above), since the money is supposed to be prorated depending on actual attendance and excess funds returned. For example, Indiana University’s official policy is here, and the University of Texas’s is here. The basic idea is, unless there is documentation to prove that a failing student attended at least 60% of the classes, they have to pay back a substantial amount (50% or more) of whatever Title IV funds they received in financial aid.

            I totally believe that a lot of faculty blow this off and just make something up when they need to put a date in their grade submission form, but that’s the sort of thing that can make the dean very nervous. By the way, it doesn’t have to be quizzes; relatively frequent assignments so that the instructor can get a date within a week or two should suffice. But only a midterm and a final, for example, without any other way to establish attendance with a bit more precision, is asking for trouble. I teach math, so frequent quizzes in undergraduate classes work well for this and, of course, I also use them to enable me to keep an eye on whether students are managing to keep up with things.

          • Aapje says:

            @johan_larson

            Traditionally, universities were supposed to churn out people with a high level of independence, self-knowledge and ability to self-motivate.

            Making universities more like a school makes more people ‘follow the flow’ and graduate as a result, but means that those graduates will have been challenged less on a motivational level and thus will not have developed as much on that front.

            It’s a trade-off. Historically, universities have made that trade-off differently.

            I remember a math professor presenting a proof during class and students complaining to him that they didn’t care, making him frustrated.

            It seems to me that less self-motivation will also result in more bare bones engagement with the material, as more students lack interest and just want to graduate with minimum effort.

          • bean says:

            Perhaps this changed since I was in college, but I’ve literally never been in a college-level class that took attendance at lectures, and fewer than half — probably fewer than a quarter — gave frequent quizzes.

            I have, but not that often. In some of the intro classes, they did it with clickers, occasionally doing some sort of cross-check to make sure nobody was bringing their friend’s clickers to class. In one of my higher-level aero courses, the professor said that if we missed more than one session without a doctor’s note, we’d lose a letter grade, and so took attendance. I suspect this is because it was the only way to avoid lecturing to an empty room. He was a bad lecturer, it was my only class M-W-F that year, and at 8 AM to boot.

          • Nick says:

            A lot of my classes took attendance (I graduated in 2017). Most just did roll call at the beginning of class, but many had regular quizzes, too, and at least from my junior year on there was pressure to make everyone show up for exams, I suppose for the Title IV reason littskad mentioned above.

            Someone in our psych department had that “if you miss a class without a doctor’s note you lose a letter grade” policy. She also had a policy that if you were late twice that was equivalent to an absence, I think. She would even lock the doors after 10 minutes, so if you were more than 10 minutes late you weren’t getting in regardless. There was a ridiculous mishap once where she forgot to unlock the doors at all, was sitting in the classroom for like ten minutes with everyone waiting outside trying the door and unable to get in. She finally found them… and marked everyone late.

          • gattsuru says:

            Most colleges don’t require the customers to actually attend class, although I believe some do. They do require customers to pass exams, but not doing that would only become obvious at the end of the semester, and perhaps not even that soon.

            To be clear, the legal requirement for F-1 and J-1 visas is not that students attend classes regularly, but that they maintain progress on their plans to graduate. DHS was not nabbing these students on that rule.

            DHS was getting these students on the specific rule that F-1 and J-1 students can only work for certain time periods, under very specific conditions. Students can work on-campus for up to 20 hr/week or off-campus after one year of normal enrollment (with limited exceptions) and explicit permission from DHS for up to one year of employment when it’s related to experience in their fields, in what is called OPT or CPT. It’s this prong that DHS looks to have been focusing on.

      • zzzzort says:

        But even the recruiters were (plausibly) entrapped. One was offered college credit by the DHS to recruit other people to the school. This is not some professional broker that was doing this habitually.

    • brad says:

      While I’m sure the people being deported think that’s the worst part, to me it’s the government keeping the “
      tuition money. That’s straight up stealing.

    • albatross11 says:

      There’s a danger with this kind of enforcement that AFAICT nobody’s talking about (because we all have to get our outrage and Orange Man Bad fix): We (the US) benefit enormously from having some of the smartest people in the world come to the US to go to school, do graduate work, do research, etc. Many of those people stick around and start companies, and among those who go back home, they often bring a lot of cultural affinity with the US and American attitudes home with them. They have lasting connections with US researchers[1], which matters for future research, for arranging postdocs/jobs for students, etc.

      This kind of sting operation has the potential to scare many of those top students away. This is part of a bigger pattern of making it hard for academics to come here that’s been going on since 9/11. I personally know researchers who explicitly decided to look for positions outside the US to avoid our immigration/visa system. Those are smart people–the kind who start companies and invent new technology and do top-tier research. We drove them away.

      I’ve also been in discussions about where to site academic conferences where there’s a big push to avoid US locations, because of our visa requirements. Instead of having the conference in the US, where it’s easy for American students and researchers to get there, we have it somewhere less convenient for us, because a bunch of the Indian and Chinese students worry they won’t be able to get in. I also know of several cases where very established top researchers with papers in big crypto conferences weren’t allowed in to give their talks, for inscrutable bureaucratic reasons. (These are people who were allowed in before and after, but somehow the paperwork didn’t get done in time for some conferences.)

      This stuff has a big cost, but the cost is invisible. It’s not measured in clicks for the latest Orange Man Bad story, or in big crowds of angry protesters, or in votes or campaign dollars. Instead, it’s companies not started in the US, top-tier research that didn’t happen in the US but instead happened in Europe or India or China, American influence on the smartest people in the world turning into Belgian or German or Chinese influence on the smartest people in the world. It’s measured in people whose students would have made breakthroughs or started companies here, only now they’ve decided to go look for a job in Europe or India or wherever. Maybe they won’t start a company elsewhere–most places are more hostile to that sort of thing than the US. Or maybe they will, but it won’t be an American company and won’t be hiring any Americans.

      This is one of those policy decisions that’s hugely important, but it’s not flashy and doesn’t offend any important interest groups or trigger any CW clickbait articles, so nobody notices as we gradually kill off a whole flock of golden-egg-laying geese. Our grandchildren will be *much* poorer, probably the whole world will be poorer, and the US will have much less influence in the world, as a result.

      [1] I’m an American researcher who has ties with a lot of foreign researchers, often from their time in the US when we collaborated on research.

      • EchoChaos says:

        The DHS says (and this may or may not be true) that everyone involved knew this was a scam university. They were told “this is a fake university that you’re paying to get a visa to the US so you can work there” and they paid money for that.

        Worrying about knock-on effects is worrying that Mexican travel agents will be hurt because the DHS ran a fake coyote operation.

        • albatross11 says:

          If indeed everyone involved knew it was a scam, then it’s a lot less likely to have bad effects. If many of the students thought they were going to a real college till they arrived and found out it was a scam, that’s very different. I’m not sure who I trust to give a straight answer on this–the DHS has every incentive to make their actions look good, the deported students have every incentive to make themselves out as innocent victims.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Sure, and media reporting “innocent students deported by heartless Orange Man” regardless of the correctness of the claim is also likely to make it have a negative effect even if the DHS is telling the entire truth, which is frustrating in and of itself.

          • albatross11 says:

            An interesting parallel is the students who got in via the college admissions scandal. Presumably some knew full well what was going on, others thought they were doing something like jaywalking that everyone does, still others thought they’d gotten in on their merits alone. But the reporting was very heavy on moral condemnation for these rich-but-not-that-rich parents for bribing sports coaches rather than the universities directly to get their kids in. There is nothing more powerful in media than The Narrative.

        • zzzzort says:

          My analogy would be an elaborate sting on home office installation getting people hit with tax fraud charges, and I think that would definitely hurt the business of H and R block, as well as things like charitable giving the tax code is designed to encourage.

          US immigration is a bureaucratic mess, and revealing suddenly that what looked like a loophole (this accredited university doesn’t require me to do much of anything) is actually sting is going to make everyone a lot more careful about everything. And if you have any sort of complicated status in the US (e.g. student switched to a resident, immigrant married a citizen, etc.) you will have done something wrong or borderline.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        The top students are going to big name universities; the “any school that gets me to America will do” crowd are not the cream-of-the-crop PhD-track superstars. Same goes for US natives, fwiw: if you’re in the “any school that gets me a degree” group, you’re practically by definition not one of the top students.

  6. Oddly enough, I too have been bitten by the new California law against free lancers, although less seriously. I had agreed to give a series of lectures based on my Legal Systems Very Different from Ours book for the adult education program of the university I recently retired from. When I did that a few years ago, no significant paperwork was involved. Now I had to fill out a bunch of paperwork and at some point I am supposed to be called in by the University’s HR department to do something or other in order to be classified as a temporary employee. I’m not sure it means I won’t volunteer to do the same thing in the future, but it makes it less likely.

  7. Aftagley says:

    The patent thanks UFO researchers in the acknowledgements, includes a picture of a UFO recently sighted by Navy pilots, and does everything short of print in capital letters ‘THIS COMES FROM A UFO’. Scientists who were asked to comment say the proposed drive is “babble” and none of the supposed science checks out at all. Has the Navy fallen victim to conspiracy-peddlers, are they deliberately trying to stoke conspiracy theories for some reason, or what?

    *tinfoil hat is firmly on*

    Possible options ranked in descending order of probability:

    1. The office is a front (IE money goes in publicly and is then privately diverted to classified projects). Either: noone involved expected any kind of scrutiny on what they put out, the office don’t care if their status as a front office is made public or the office’s cover has already been blown and this kind of buffoonery is just them winding down operations.

    2. The navy actually has made some kind of novel discovery and is creating a bunch of smoke to obscure their actual advancements.

    3. The office this guy’s in has gone rogue. It wouldn’t take the entire navy to have gone crazy to have resulted in this kind of thing, just one or two departments.

    [large gap]

    4. Aliens exist?

    • Garrett says:

      I think this matters very little. In-practice, patents exist so that you can sue over them. They are not and haven’t been technical documents for a long time in any case – that scientists can’t make any meaning out of them is pretty much a sign of the current patent system. The True Meaning will be established by lawyers at trial. If this indeed is garbage, someone in one section of the government managed to get someone in another section of the government to file something in one folder instead of another. This will have legal implications for ~18 years and then not matter. Alternatively, it really is something useful at which point perhaps our lives are about to get better. Or maybe it’s a better way of levitating a frog inside a superconducting magnet.

      As for my guess, I’d go with option 0.5: some one/people lost a bet internally and were required to file a UFO patent. The runner-up had to shave their head.

      • zenmore says:

        I’m intimately involved with patents in my day job and I have to say, setting aside the lawyerly language, most of the academics I work with are perfectly capable of understanding the contents of patents, given that they often draft them or refer to them.

    • cassander says:

      1. The office is a front (IE money goes in publicly and is then privately diverted to classified projects).

      that’s not really how defense budgeting works.

    • Brett says:

      NASA had a guy who basically got grants to do dubious experiments in warp drive and reactionless propulsion for years. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s something similar, especially if there’s some slender hope that it might produce some useful materials (the military would very much like access to meta-materials, if they can be made).

    • CatCube says:

      I’d swap #3 to the first position, by a good margin, but other than that the list is OK.

    • nameless1 says:

      I like the part where Mr. Pais has apparently also solved faster-than-light travel: https://www.inderscienceonline.com/doi/abs/10.1504/IJSPACESE.2015.069339

      • Riothamus says:

        This seems to be the clincher, from the abstract:

        This involves the instantaneous removal of energy-mass from the system (spacecraft) when the spacecraft’s speed reaches v = c/2. Hence under such conditions, faster than light spacecraft propulsion, is feasible.

        To rephrase: they can travel faster than the speed of light, assuming the ability to dump energy faster than the speed of light.

        • imoimo says:

          Dang, that is damning. There’s plenty of physics cranks out there, but it’s sad to see one being taken seriously by the navy. As Scott notes, maybe this is a disinformation campaign — I hope it is. I wonder if the CTO who wrote the letter of support would be immune from perjury in that case.

          This patent being crank science doesn’t much change my thoughts on the possible UFO sighting though. Navy sees confusing object; turns to scientist who claims to understand it. Or navy sees confusing object; uses crank scientist to spread misinformation as defense while they internally investigate. Either sound like plausible navy responses, without implying much about what the confusing object was. Maybe there’s a useful Bayesian update in here but I’m not seeing it.

          • nameless1 says:

            Shouldn’t they Navy be better at generating believable disinformation?

            I mean, technically, part their job is to generate disinformation – in general, not about this case – that can mislead Russian and Chinese spies whose data is checked by Russian and Chinese scientists.

            I mean, what else can you do with spies these days, you cannot throw them in a prison anymore as we are all technically friends now, no Cold War, so what can you do, you mislead them, what else. I think feeding spies bovine feces is probably a big part of the counter-espionage system and it should be believable enough bovine feces to mislead the scientists backing up the spies?

          • DarkTigger says:

            Or maybe the Navy just deceided to employ a couple of cranks, in case one of them does actually have a useful idea.
            If I have a couple of million in disposable income I can afford to put 5$ a month into the lottery, just in case.

            This one crank might just have a good hand with journalists.

    • MrApophenia says:

      I mean, if it was just the patents, sure, but isn’t this neglecting the fact that so many pilots have reported actually seeing these things flying around now for several years (plus radar and video recordings) that they officially changed their UFO policy?

      I do think this provides a plausible non-alien answer to the question – if any of this stuff is possible, then maybe somebody already built it and that’s what pilots have been reporting, in the same way a lot of past non-hoax UFO sightings turned out to be secret military tech like the stealth bomber.

      But the whole aspect where these patents come out after years of the Navy basically saying they keep running into these things as actual physical objects of some type probably does need to be factored in to figuring out what is going on.

      • imoimo says:

        I think the patent scientist Dr. Pais can be safely assumed untrustworthy based on previous publications (see comment above yours). I don’t think this says much about the UFO sighting either way.

    • John Schilling says:

      Reading the fine print, I note that the proposed system requires a magnetic field of 1E9 Tesla. No, that doesn’t mean you need a billion of Elon Musk’s finest automobiles pulling the thing like a gigahorse carriage; that might actually be practical. A 1E9 T magnetic field is assocated with a magnetic pressure of approximately 2E29 Pa, or thirty septillion pounds per square inch if you prefer imperial units. Three quintillion times the breaking strain of carbon nanotubes. To contain that magnetic field, you’d need a construction material roughly a trillion times stronger than you’d need to build a Niven-standard Ringworld.

      Also, 1E18 V/m electric field. That’s not quite enough to start pulling atomic nuclei apart by raw electrostatic force, but it’s close – within an order of magnitude or two, by my estimate. When you’re postulating a system where electromagnetism is pondering whether it can overpower the strong nuclear force by BRUTE STRENGTH, you’re not in the same galactic supercluster as the quaint concept of engineering feasibility.

      Not going to dig any farther down in the details, but this looks to be a bunch of handwaving with Trekkian technobabble, trendy buzzwords, and arbitrary big numbers mixed together. And if you imagine you can get anywhere within a factor of a billion or so of making the UFO drive work, you’re already well past giving all your soldiers pocket terawatt fusion reactors for their particle-beam death rays, and armor with all the weight and bulk of a t-shirt that will let them survive direct hits by tactical nuclear weapons, so maybe lead with that?

      • Belisaurus Rex says:

        Article says the magnetism is equal to a magnetar and the electricity is equal to a nuclear reactor. We’d know if they built a magnetar on earth, right? Is that why my WiFi has gotten so spotty?

    • aristides says:

      My money says that this is a counter intelligence op. Russia and China know this technology is almost certainly impossible, but do they want to bet on it? They will assign at least one scientist to investigate whether this technology is possible, if it is can we replicate it, and if it is can we build counter measures? More likely both countries will assign a whole interdisciplinary team of scientists and engineers to look at it. I doubt they will spend much time or money looking into it, but we didn’t spend much time or money creating the patent docs, so on the net we might waste more of their time than our own. Even if you do not think Russia and China will look at it, a Lieutenant in PSYOPs easily could have, and persuaded a Captain to go along with it.

      • rminnema says:

        That was my thought. One of the reasons that there were leaks about stealth technology and ABM technology during the Reagan years was to persuade the Soviets that they were out-of-their-depth. This led them to have to try and play catch-up on

        I think someone’s taking advantage of the weird USN UFO observations to try and run a PSYOP to try and convince the Chinese to invest a bunch of money in a gigantic hole.

        Or someone in the government is diverting money to Operation All Deeze Lap Dances.

        • MrApophenia says:

          I wonder if there could be a version of this where those scenarios are combined – ie, someone capitalizing on the weird UFO sightings to get approval for a budget for nonsense.

          I guess the UFO sightings could be part of a PSYOP themselves but there would need to be so many people involved for that at this point that that itself starts to seem like an implausibly large and elaborate conspiracy theory.

  8. siberian fox says:

    (would typically reply on twitter but you seem not to check it anymore)

    From the best of new Less Wrong: Design Principles Of Biological Circuits. I was especially impressed by this passage: “The body uses an integral feedback mechanism to achieve robust exact adaptation of glucose levels, with the count of pancreatic beta cells serving as the state variable: when glucose is too low, the cells (slowly) die off, and when glucose is too high, the cells (slowly) proliferate…mutant cells which mismeasure the glucose concentration could proliferate and take over the tissue. One defense against this problem is for the beta cells to die when they measure very high glucose levels (instead of proliferating very quickly). This handles must mutations, but it also means that sufficiently high glucose levels can trigger an unstable feedback loop: beta cells die, which reduces insulin, which means higher glucose “price” and less glucose usage throughout the body, which pushes glucose levels even higher. That’s type-2 diabetes.” Any experts reading who can confirm if this is true?

    This is essentially correct and most of it is quite elementary/mainstream, although AFAIK there is no evidence entablishing death by high glucose levels is an adaptation for proliferation *specifically*, it’s just a neat idea from this paper that would work to solve the real problem they present. Sections ‘Biphasic response can protect against mutant invasion but can cause vulnerability to disease’ to ‘Resistance to mutant invasion is enhanced by low proliferation, low cell number, and spatial compartments’ simply show correct predictions of this idea. Somatic heterogeinity/subpopulations of stem cells that compete and need countermeasures for excessive proliferation is quite accepted by now.

    The one big footnote I’d make is that there is a lot of evidence (also recent) you can have a good portion of the cell mass not dead but inactive due to exposure to exccess glucose, even in type-2 diabetes patients. This is the subset that can get better by a very low calorie diet.

    • Aminoacid says:

      While the cell apoptosis mechanism may be true, the last two sentences of the link seem wrong. Type 2 diabetes is characterized by an increase in peripheral insulin resistance (which can have multiple causes) long before beta cell dysfunction, which is why T2DM patients are not likely to have ketoacidosis. There is an unstable feedback loop involved in the pathogenesis of T2DM, but it consists on increased insulin resistance elevating circulating insulin level, which, being an anabolic hormone, results in adipose tissue increase, which contributes to an even higher insulin resistance, and so on. Beta-cell death happens at an advanced state of the disease, and I am not sure if it is established that the mechanism of apoptosis is due to an endogenous regulatory response or due to external factors, like nutritional overload

  9. Nick says:

    Scott, is the narwhal tusk story under the three day rule? Should we be waiting until tomorrow to discuss it?

  10. kokotajlod@gmail.com says:

    I don’t know how you can read that thread on Yang’s media blackout and avoid the conclusion that it was deliberate. In many of the examples they list and display every candidate except Yang… all 20 of them, even though Yang is roughly #7 in terms of polls, donations, etc. And he’s not exactly forgettable either; it’s not like there are 10 other middle-aged Asian-american men running. (And yes, Yang’s campaign did repeatedly reach out to them to correct the errors. They repeatedly apologized and fixed the errors… but then kept making new ones.)

    • James Green says:

      I think it’s a case of Yang not fitting into the media’s preconceived notions of how things should be. The mainstream media hate will ignore anything that doesn’t fit into their story templates until it becomes so big it becomes unavoidable or perhaps they just want to reduce (or increase!) everything down to a two horse race.

      It’s like that gorilla on the basketball court; the media don’t see him because they aren’t expecting to see something like him. They are not malicious, just stupid.

      • kokotajlod@gmail.com says:

        Deliberately leaving off a candidate who will be on the stage from your “list of candidates on the stage” seems like more than just stupidity. Especially when you do it repeatedly even after being corrected.

    • thetitaniumdragon says:

      Read up on the hostile media effect sometime.

      Yang’s national support is under the lizardman’s constant. He’s not a major candidate; he’s one of the fringe ones. The news media focuses on the people who do the most to stand out, which usually means either doing well in the polls or saying outrageous things or people raging out over them (like people whining about Bloomburg buying a lot of air time).

      It’s not surprising that the media forgets about him; when there’s over a dozen candidates, it’s pretty easy to forget about many of them.

  11. Erusian says:

    Despite the apparent renewal in interest, only about 1% of Americans think the gap between rich and poor is the most important issue – although it looks like it’s hard to get people to agree on what is a major problem in general.

    I disagree. Poor leadership is far and away the issue that shows as most important, varying between 23-34% of people. Immigration is next at 11-27%. They look even better when you combine them with related numbers (disunity, lack of respect sound like poor leadership to me). Everything else is single digits: healthcare at 7% maximum, racism at 7% maximum, national unity at 5% maximum and everything else even smaller.

    There’s a very clear message here: Americans want better leadership, a solution to immigration issues, and a stronger economy. A candidate who can convince people they will make the government better, show good leadership solve immigration, and improve the economy will be addressing a supermajority of American’s primary issues.

    More hot take: This probably means that the Democrat’s strategy of focusing on inequality is a losing one if the economy remains strong. Republican’s strategy of repeating over and over again the Democrat’s taxation policies will damage the economy is probably winning votes in net. Biden’s initial strategy of claiming credit for the stronger economy (through Obama) and claiming Trump is damaging it might have been better a message.

    I can’t believe we’ve been rationalists for over a decade now and nobody proposed just doing a scientific study to see whether the Democrats or the Republicans are better. Apparent answer: when studied through careful causation-detecting economic techniques, having a state switch from Democratic to Republican control, or vice versa, has almost no effect on various outcomes of interest like unemployment, crime, or school attendance. This is true even when you limit it to the most extreme cases (state goes from unified Democratic control to unified Republican control and stays that way for many years). Not really sure what to think of this.

    This reminds me of something I came off when looking at the Late Tokugawa Period. There was obviously a lot of desire for reform in the increasing chaos of the times. One domain embraced westernization and transformed their administration on the lines of Great Britain, the most advanced country in the world. Another embraced a highly reactionary approach, to the point they reimplemented some policies from as old as the 9th century. Both intended to rationalize the law, reorganize the economy, and increase the army (including producing more these new model weapons and tactics). These exact opposite policies (though intending to reach the same goal)… had the exact same effect. Both domains enlarged their armies with better, more modern weaponry, increased central control, and went into the ensuing Civil War as major powers. The main domains that failed did so because they were administratively impotent or corrupt or couldn’t overcome resistance to change or had a government that refused to confront the crisis. (Of course, even the successfully reformed domains were swept away by the Civil War, but that’s hardly their fault.)

    I’ve since held a suspicion that (if the government is intentionally trying to do its best for society and basically pragmatic), what’s more important is efficacy than the actual nature of the reforms. In other words, if they can be executed correctly either Republican or Democratic plans could work. Executing them correctly is the hard part. And this has structural factors that won’t necessarily be changed by simple transitions of power. And perhaps this is what populist movements can address: the Tea Party created a structural anti-government constituency, for example, that still exists even long after they’re gone.

    California passes a law saying that freelance journalists may not write more than 35 stories per year, which many freelance journalists argue is not enough to survive on and would essentially destroy freelance journalism as a career option. The story seems to be that California wanted to ban Uber from classifying its drivers as freelancers, and the easiest way to do this was just to ban freelance work and carve out exceptions for any form of freelance work the state didn’t want to ban, and whoever was in charge of exception-making randomly chose the number “35” for freelance journalism. The lawmaker responsible has apologized to freelance journalists, but the cynical part of me isn’t sure what apology they can give beyond “we’re sorry our law ending people’s freedom to make contracts with flexible work schedules also affected popular people who can complain”. And if you think I sound angry, as always you should read @webdevmason’s takes (1, 3). Anyway, I think California journalists should feel lucky to be allowed 35 stories; most new housing in the state is limited to two.

    Buy real estate in Las Vegas, if you can get it. That city and state are actively trying to recruit freelancers.

    What are they even trying to accomplish here? If you want to prevent contractors from being worse off than regular employees, it makes more sense to calculate the minimum wage and then add in all the regulations and benefits California requires for employees and then to set that as the minimum freelance rate in state. I mean, it’ll create issues similar to minimum wage, but that’s a lot better than just saying, “How many jobs do they need? Uh… 35. 35 jobs.”

    Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook in college and cemented a cultural association between young people and entrepreneurship. But according to the American Institute for Economic Research, this association is wrong: the average successful entrepeneur is 45 when they found their company, the youngest entrepreneurs are the least successful, and a 50-year-old’s company is almost twice as likely to succeed as a 30-year-old’s.

    Is this surprising? The average entrepreneur isn’t founding FB, they’re founding a much smaller company. But even among rapidly growing tech startups, experience, connections, and access to early capital are all great indicators of success. These things all become easier to get the further along in your career you are. Facebook was always kind of a black swan. Even among career entrepreneurs, the kind who started in college, they usually have their first hit in their late twenties or early thirties at the earliest. (This is Google and Amazon’s case, for example.)

  12. AlexanderTheGrand says:

    For the Caplan article, 55 -> 38 isn’t falling by 40% . Raising a 38,000 income by 40% gets you very close to 55,000 (38*1.4=53.2), but you only need to fall by 30% to get from 55,000 to 38,000 (55 * 0.7 = 38.5). Thanks confusing inverses.

    • Michael Watts says:

      One annoying thing covered early in economics courses is that economics defines the concept of percentage differently from everyone else. This is meant to solve the problem that values of an increase and a decrease that cancel each other out are not equal when measured in percentage points.

      I no longer remember the definition my textbook provided, but from first principles: the goal is to provide a number which is a function of two quantities a and b but independent of the order in which we encounter them. We can then measure a conventional percentage of this constructed quantity.

      The obvious quantities meeting this description are the sum or product of a and b. For the percentage we calculate to look roughly similar to the ordinary percentage, we want to use a value more approximately equal to a and b, so it will make more sense to use a mean. The mean based on the sum is the arithmetic mean (a+b)/2; the mean based on the product is the geometric mean (ab)^0.5.

      And regardless of which of those means you use, the fall from 55 to 38 is 36-37% of it. It seems fair to call this “about 40%”.

      • A1987dM says:

        Well, the real obvious way of achieving that is 100*ln(a/b)%, which in this case is 37%.

        (Myself, I only ever use percentages if the number before % is small compared to 100, and say things like “a factor of” otherwise. The whole point of % is to help with numbers which would otherwise be too small to handle comfortably. Saying “2,600%” rather than “26 times” is as silly as saying “2,600 cm” rather than “26 m”, IMO.)

      • eyeballfrog says:

        Those may be the obvious quantities that are symmetric in a and b, but there’s another mean that doesnt use them: the log mean, (a-b)/ln(a/b). Its kind of a fascinating construction–using only differences and ratios you come up with something between the two quantities.

        If you use that, you get your percent difference being ln(a/b), which as A1987dM points out, seems like the obviously correct choice for a symmetric calculation.

        • Michael Watts says:

          There are an infinite number of means. Why is the log mean the most obvious choice here? What are its properties and typical applications?

          The wikipedia article gives a derivation, but no motivation. And the definition, “the value m at which the curve f(x) = ln(x) has slope equal to that of the line between (a, ln(a)) and (b, ln(b))” doesn’t suggest anything obvious… to me. 🙁

          using only differences and ratios you come up with something between the two quantities

          Calling ln(x) “only differences and ratios” is a little overgenerous in my eyes. The arithmetic mean gets you a quantity in between two other quantities while actually using only differences and ratios.

      • One annoying thing covered early in economics courses is that economics defines the concept of percentage differently from everyone else.

        Could be true of a course you took, but it’s news to me. I certainly never did such a thing in any of the econ courses I taught.

  13. The Nybbler says:

    New Jersey is bound and determined to follow all of California’s mistakes, although larger carveouts for journalists seem likely. The inevitable future articles about businesses leaving New Jersey are unlikely to make the connection.

    • Anthony says:

      With larger carveouts for freelance journalists, there will be many more articles about businesses leaving New Jersey. Articles about California will have to be written from Las Vegas or Austin.

    • Ketil says:

      Given that journalism has been an online activity for decades, and that these are state regulations – what is stopping freelancers to lance for out-of-state publications in less hostile environments? This may seem like a win for salaried journalists, but the publishers they work for seem likely to lose – in as much freelancers contribute substantial value.

  14. Well... says:

    Sure, you can make a nice landscape in 2 hours if you use your imagination to fill in details. There are basic techniques to make realistic-looking rocks, grass, water, etc. Nobody will stand there and say “That doesn’t look anything like the wave I saw!” It’s much harder to do a high-quality 2-hr painting of something or someone specific that people would recognize.

    Re. Caplan and Open Borders: is his comparison to white Sith Ifricans supposed to make Americans feel better about mass immigration?

    • Aftagley says:

      Wasn’t this Bob Ross’s whole shtick?

      • AnteriorMotive says:

        Bob Ross even used this same translucent-crashing-wave template.

        Google “Bob Ross wave.”

      • Brett says:

        Ross extensively practiced all of his televised paintings beforehand. In addition to the painting you’d see him make on TV, he’d have two additional paintings exactly like the one he was painting (one of which was off-screen for him to use as a template).

    • AnteriorMotive says:

      The hardest part of painting is “understanding” the image/subject matter. After you’ve painted something one, you can paint it four times as fast a second time.

      In particular, this sort of natural subject matter can be thought of as a series of a few distinct patterns. Once you have an algorithm down for painting a segment of “roiling sea”, “epic clouds”, “backwash over beach sand” you can hammer them out very quick, because the human eye isn’t calibrated for recognizing errors in choppy surf in the same way that they’re calibrated for recognizing faults and subtleties in, say, a human’s face.

  15. Well... says:

    Also, repeating my plea for Scott to start numbering the links. Or at least tell us why he won’t.

    • b_jonas says:

      Rather than numbering the links, I’d recommend posting a top-level command about each link. That would make it easier to read the comment thread if you care about the topic of some links but not the others.

      • Well... says:

        I think numbering them would achieve this same effect (because people commenting about a given link would likely include its number prominently in their comment) without making anyone do any extra work. Just making top-level comments about each link doesn’t make it clear which link people are talking about because they don’t have a clear identifier.

  16. grendelkhan says:

    I continue to be dismayed by the process by which scientifically rigorous transhumanism gets enthralled with and captured by weird woo stuff within a generation or so.

    Is there a past example of an attempt at rigorous transhumanism that got eaten by woo monsters within a generation? I’m having a hard time thinking of anything as old as cryonics.

    • gwern says:

      Scott just did a post on atheism, of course, which is very adjacent. General Semantics comes to mind as a possible example. Dianetics is an interesting one because it was a fraud to begin with, but then Hubbard jacked his own movement to turn it into the even more cultish Scientology.

      • Protagoras says:

        It may be benefit of hindsight, I suppose, but Korzybski’s writings struck me as crackpottish, so while he seems to have gotten a certain amount of (undeserved) respect early on, I am not inclined to count General Semantics as an example that started out rigorous.

  17. meh says:

    does anyone remember the anti photorealism in art link?

  18. itex says:

    On Arab countries becoming less religious: the survey specifically asked about “متدين”, which is stronger that what Westerners typically mean by “religious”. The same survey found that, e.g., 94.2% of Libyans pray daily vs. 77.7% calling themselves religious.

    • Statismagician says:

      Interesting – care to take a stab at translating the term properly?

      • Erusian says:

        متدين (mutadayyin) means one who engages in tadayana, in the same way the more famous mujahideen means one who engages in jihad. (And so on for other words, like ‘one who engages in farming’: the commonality is grammatical rather than conceptual.) It’s distinct from (for example) ديني (diniy), which means ‘religious’ in a basically similar sense to the English word (din means ‘religion’, -iy makes it an adjective). Diniy is the word used in ‘religious studies’, for example. Mutadayyin studies would imply they are training you for actual spiritual practice.

        Tadayana is a verb and it’s implicitly asking them not about internal beliefs but actions (even if those are mental, spiritual actions). In other words, a person who beliefs in God but didn’t live a godly life or take active spiritual actions wouldn’t be mutadayyin. They might be religious, though I suspect some wouldn’t conceded that.

        Very roughly, “Are you a baker?” vs “Do you bake?” except with religion. Just because someone doesn’t identify as a baker doesn’t mean they don’t bake. (Sorry for those who know more, I know that’s a really rough way to put it. English doesn’t really have a modern word that works for mutadayyin.)

        • hls2003 says:

          English doesn’t really have a modern word that works for mutadayyin

          Perhaps devout, or pious?

          • Nornagest says:

            It sounds like “practicing”, as in “practicing Catholic”, but I could be wrong.

          • Erusian says:

            Perhaps devout, or pious?

            This incorrectly gives it an adjectival nature, in my opinion. How do you ‘piety’ someone? It also collides with words like ورع (wari), which means devout/pious and is more directly derived from words that mean piety or righteousness etc.

            It sounds like “practicing”, as in “practicing Catholic”, but I could be wrong.

            No, definitely not. A non-practicing Catholic doesn’t go to church every week or doesn’t follow all tenets of the faith. These are very much not the implications of not being a متدين. If they were, not being one would be a much stronger negative statement.

            Like, the closest word I can think of in English is the 16th century “religionist”, with its implication of religion as an active action and verb and its association with highly religious people and societies who took a great deal of their identity from religious beliefs.

          • johan_larson says:

            Over in politics, there is the notion that some people are “politically active”, while most are not. The politically active are the people who do stuff, perhaps as amateurs or perhaps as professionals. They don’t just have opinions and chat about politics around the water cooler and maaybe drag their butts to the polls once every four years. They get out and do things, whether by raising awareness, or organizing, or raising funds, or campaigning for candidates.

            I guess in the same sense one could be religiously “active”, or not.

          • albatross11 says:

            Among Catholics in my parish, there are:

            a. A bunch of people who usually aren’t registered and come for major holidays (Easter, Christmas, Palm Sunday) when it’s convenient.

            b. Many people who come to Mass now and then, maybe aren’t even registered.

            c. Regular parishioners who show up pretty-much every Sunday and all holy days of obligation (special feasts like Ash Wednesday), but aren’t otherwise involved much in the parish.

            d. Involved parishioners who are a subset of (c), but who also volunteer for various parish ministries and activities. My family is in this class.

            e. Super-involved parishioners who are often members of a lay order and/or some group like Knights of Columbus, help run the parish, etc. These are the folks who are always at the church doing something. (Our family sometime skirts the edge of this group.)

            f. Deacons, priests, members of religious orders, etc., who have devoted a big chunk of their lives to the faith, and often perform religious services.

            These categories bleed into one another at the edges, and I don’t know what survey question you’d ask to capture what fraction of people are in each. But my sense is that polling questions in the US usually capture somewhere around either (a) (identifying as Catholic) or (c) (regular attendance). I don’t know what question you’d ask to capture some of these distinctions, and the questions would be very culture-specific.

    • James Green says:

      Does it really matter though? There is a clear trend here, as long as the same word was used both times I don’t see a problem. The most interesting country there is Yemen, which shows an increase in religiousness (certainly related to the war).

    • Ketil says:

      The same survey found that, e.g., 94.2% of Libyans pray daily

      Might it be that praying is seen differently in Islam and Christianity? Islam set fixed times for prayer, complete with muezzin calls, so I suspect it is more comparable to “do you attend church” in the West. Here, many people will go to church for various rituals (weddings, baptisms, funerals) and occasions (Christmas) without considering themselves religious.

  19. grendelkhan says:

    LW: autopsy of last year’s self-driving Uber crash. Hindsight is 20-20, and I usually try to hesitate to critique people smarter than I am who are trying to do an insanely difficult thing – but this still seems completely inexcusable and shockingly incompetent.

    It’s been mentioned (via this article, though I can’t find the thread) on the Culture War thread before, but here’s a tweet about it: self-driving cars are either going to fail to move in cities, or they’re going to kill pedestrians.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Here’s a more nuanced version of that tweet. Well, I thought he described two urban neighborhoods, one which he thought cars could navigate and one which he thought would be difficult, but it doesn’t quite look like that to me now. Maybe I was thinking of this? (a)

    • Jacob says:

      There’s no reason AI-driven cars should be any more dangerous than human-driven cars. Due to AI-phobia, they will probably need to be a lot safer before getting approved.

      • Ketil says:

        To make them really safe, we should only allow self-driving cars that are nuclear powered.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Much in the same way that air travel is intrinsically more dangerous but actually less risky, if our self-driving cars were exclusively nuclear powered, they would end up being safer.

          As in … dedicated pre-approved routes, central coordination and approval of routes, minimum set-off distances, specifically and actively coordinated embarkation zones, etc.

  20. S_J says:

    The article on homicides in Brazil is pretty shocking.

    I was aware of this, partly because I’ve done research on comparison of homicide rates of various nations in the past. (Also because I’ve heard stories from people who spent time running humanitarian work in/around the poor parts of Rio de Janeiro.)

    That article may be committing a statistical error: at first glance, the per-capita rate are not calculated, only the raw numbers.

    Checking population statistics makes the results look worse: Brazil has a smaller population (~200 million) than the United States (~325 million). The base rate of homicide in the US is in the vicinity of 5-per-100k-population, while the cited value for Brazil puts its rate near 30-per-100k.

    Wikipedia confirms that rate.

    Of note: Wikipedia also confirms that the smaller nations of Belize, Venezuela, and El Salvador have much higher homicide rates than Brazil. Their populations aren’t large enough to produce the large result cited in the article, but their per-capita rates are higher.

    • EchoChaos says:

      My recollection is that two circles drawn on the globe, one covering Brazil through Mexico and the other covering Central Africa, can circle half of all murders in the world.

    • Wency says:

      It’s not a statistical error to exclude per capita numbers in this case — it’s the whole point being made. “X country has very high murder rate” is a point we hear often; “X country has several continents worth of murders” puts that in another context to make an interesting point.

    • Clutzy says:

      Every time I look at Brazil’s homicide rate I feel really good about America’s homicide rate. Something in our institutions must be awesome such that we don’t trend closer to them than we do to Canada.

      • John Schilling says:

        As a general rule, Americans of pretty much every race or ethnicity kill each other less often than do the current citizens of whatever country or region their ancestors immigrated from. Principle exceptions are Native Americans (obviously), and the descendants of the Scots-Irish Borderers.

        • Aapje says:

          Where do you get this from?

        • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

          This isn’t true. The homicide rate for African-Americans is around 20/100,000. Neither of the African countries that have a rate greater than that (South Africa and Lesotho) were involved in the Atlantic slave trade. The African countries that were sources of slaves have rates ranging from around half the African-American one (e.g. Nigeria, Gambia) to significantly below the white American rate (Ghana, Guinea-Bissau). Likewise, the rate for white Americans (around 3/100,000) is significantly greater than that for e.g. the UK or Germany even before accounting for race in the corresponding countries.

    • DarkTigger says:

      And we have to remember 5 in 100k is still a rather high number for an developed country. In most of western europe it’s <1 in 100k.
      On the other hand. I don't put much trust in the official murder rates of China, and Russia.

  21. b_jonas says:

    > WWI […] officers were about 50% more likely to die than ordinary soldiers.

    Ok, but which way does the casual link go? I hear soldiers sometimes get promoted after they die heroically. How often did they get promoted to officials?

    • Gobbobobble says:

      Also, how high up the ranks does the effect hold for? If 90% of Lieutenants get gunned down leading the poor enlisted sods, that doesn’t do much to disprove the narrative that the generals and their staffs sat in comfortable tents sending everyone else to certain death. (I’m skeptical of that narrative for other reasons but this statistic is (probably) not great evidence)

      • Wency says:

        I’d be curious about this too. Anecdotally, a fair number of senior officers did die, whether from snipers, artillery barrages, or other causes. The most prominent for the British was Secretary of War Kitchener, who died when his ship hit a landmine. I’d think that in naval combat, casualties are more evenly distributed by rank.

      • sfoil says:

        Officers are too heterogeneous a population for this sort of analysis to be too useful. Generally, “unit leaders” get killed more often than the average rifleman and rear echelon troops less often. A company commander’s life is in serious danger; a staff captain is probably in a pretty safe spot. You can say the same thing about a sergeant who’s a squad leader and one who’s the general’s driver. Safe headquarters were stuffed with officers; so were death-sentence flying squadrons.

        In The Face of Battle, John Keegan speculates that a lot of the rancor directed at “officers” in WWI, at least in the British army, was towards members of the General Staff, who wore special insignia and were generally systematically segregated from combat troops, including other officers.

        All this said, it is ultimately true that generals directed bloody battles from relatively safe locations. Of course, that general used to be a lieutenant himself. If his time as a junior officer wasn’t as dangerous as that of the men he commands, well, that’s not exactly his fault.

    • Wency says:

      Definitely not that.

    • Athenae Galea says:

      (Both a reply to the parent and to @Gobbobobble’s comment above)
      I don’t know much about posthumous promotions, so can’t comment on what effect that has on the data, but I’m going to say that the statement would be true even without it.
      I was going to include a story I heard about a war memorial in France with only the entry “The class of 1914”, but looking it up it seems that only about half of that class (that is, of the officer training school) were killed.
      For comparison, out of 8 million mobilised overall, 1.4 million were killed. (I don’t have properly comparable numbers, which would be those mobilised at the outbreak of the war, so take this with a grain of salt.)
      For the higher ranks, in the British army, according to Wikipedia, 78 officers of brigadier-general or higher were killed, which together with it also saying a brigadier-general commands around 4,000 men, and the total size of the army was about 6 million, of whom around 750,000 were killed gives us (assuming the numbers of superior officers are negligible, so multiply this by … maybe 2/3? That’s just a guess though.) a 5.2% death rate for senior officers, compared to 12.5% overall. (Be aware that accuracy here is well below precision.)
      So back of the envelope calculations give a higher rate for junior officers and a lower one for senior. This is of course assuming that the 4,000 figure both was accurate around the time and didn’t change too much with the rapid growth in size.
      Also the 4,000 probably doesn’t include staff officers, who I would imagine had a much lower casualty rate.

      • Protagoras says:

        I’d be careful with back of the envelope calculations about numbers of officers, but as far as the results, junior officers having a higher death rate than enlisted and senior officers having a lower death rate is what I would have expected.

    • sfoil says:

      It would be and is extremely rare for someone to be posthumously promoted from an enlisted to officer rank. The “typical” case probably involves the dead man being entitled to commissioned rank but not permitted to wear it for one reason or another at the time of his death. There’s absolutely no way these edge cases have a significant effect on these numbers.

      Higher casualty rates for officers were (I would even say are, not that it gets talked about too much in public) considered normal and even a sign of a well-functioning military.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      I don´t know exact numbers, but I am surprised by a claim that myth about officers sitting behind the lines comfortably developed. In fact in a historiography about the Great war one regularly encounters statements about shortages of qualified officers due to huge numbers of them being killed in early months of the war.

    • Aftagley says:

      which way does the casual link go?

      The way Scott originally put it. Everyone else is right – front line officers and specifically junior officers die at much higher rates than the enlisted. This has been true for nearly every war. There are a couple of reasons why, but the biggest one is that the enemy specifically wants to kill people in leadership roles because doing so has the potential to incapacitate the rest of the platoon. If you kill the officer, maybe the NCO takes over, maybe he doesn’t. Either way, you’re still happy as a sniper or whatever.

      • cassander says:

        That’s not why. Most people killed in ww1 (and every war since) were killed by artillery, not anything aimed at any one person. Officers die because officers are leading their men, and a big part of that is being conspicuously galant.

        • Ketil says:

          Another possible reason (probably more true in modern times than earlier) is that more valuable targets tend to be more officer-rich. Riflemen is a low value target compared to artillery, armor, or aircraft – which tend to have higher officer-to-private ratios.

    • NoRandomWalk says:

      Not a historian, but Dan Carlin’s hardcore history had dozens of hours on WWI, and one thing that struck me is culturally going into WWI war was still thought of as noble. Like french officers would literally raise their sword and charge into gunfire rather than retreat.

      This might explain some of the imbalance. However it went the other way too, for example near the end of the war officers wanted a really big naval battle to test all the new technologies they were developing even though the outcome was almost determined (being ordered into battle in the final days of any war just suuucks).

      I would guess that in WWII the ratio was much more skewed, though I’m sure *on average, in all wars* it’s still true that infantry have lower mortality rates than officers.

      • bean says:

        This might explain some of the imbalance. However it went the other way too, for example near the end of the war officers wanted a really big naval battle to test all the new technologies they were developing even though the outcome was almost determined (being ordered into battle in the final days of any war just suuucks).

        That is 100% not why either side wanted a big battle towards the end of the war. For both sides, it was essentially a matter of honor. The British were (rightly) worried that their contributions to maintaining the blockade would be rounded off to “sat at Scapa while the Army bled in France” while the German officers were concerned about the honor and prestige of the fleet if they surrendered without a fight. Neither side was that concerned with “will this work?”

        I would guess that in WWII the ratio was much more skewed, though I’m sure *on average, in all wars* it’s still true that infantry have lower mortality rates than officers.

        The problem is that “officers” is a very broad category, so it heavily depends on the boundaries you draw. It’s pretty well-known that junior infantry officer is the most lethal position in a typical Army, but while the sight of a dead general is occasionally valuable to inspire the troops, you don’t want them dying too often.

        • NoRandomWalk says:

          Thanks. I could be 100% wrong. My expertise is literally ‘i listened to a podcast.’ Your link is good evidence that the german fleet’s officers wanted to have a big naval battle for honor. I’m not sure it shows that the same was the case for the british. I vaguely remember hearing that wanting to test their new ships/strategies which they had been building up through the war was a significant part of it.

          • bean says:

            From what I can remember of reading on this, there was significant disappointment that the Germans didn’t come out, but very little of it was because they didn’t get to play with their toys. It was basically an honor thing for them, too. It’s hard to train for war and then only get one chance to fight, as the British battleships did. I can check some sources later to confirm, but there’s at least some discussion here.

  22. eigenmoon says:

    I’ve found the socialist article to be very dumb, which is what I expected.

    The relative effectiveness of nationalized vs. private companies is a well-known question and I think it’s called Friedman’s rule that nationalized companies do everything at 2x cost and also with worse quality. The socialists seem to disagree… well, if your nationalized companies are so great, why not let the free market demonstrate it? Let’s allow private postal services and see who wins, for example.

    Worker co-ops and credit unions are nice capitalist institutions. Socialism is when Red Guards force every business to become a worker co-op. Surely if the co-ops are as great and super-effective as the socialists say they’d be able to peacefully push the traditional companies from the market without the help of Red Guards?

    The last paragraph is the most hilariously stupid so I couldn’t stop myself from making fun of it. Here goes:

    Democratic socialism means waking up in the morning without worrying about rent,

    Worrying about who gets what real estate was a very common occurrence in USSR. If you want to distribute something democratically, you should expect at least some drama to happen.
    Here’s a Soviet comedy about how dehumanizing real estate “democracy” can be.

    making breakfast with ingredients you grew alongside your neighbors,

    Historically accurate. The USSR government was so bad at delivering food to people that many people wasted their time on gardening in order to have a fallback source of food.

    and taking clean and free public transit

    “Free” means that you pay for it with your taxes. What, you thought rich people paid for it with their taxes? Of course not, the rich don’t have their companies anymore because socialism. Also apparently you pay for replacing the old not-so-clean vehicles with the new cleaner versions.

    for your short commute to the job

    Could be up to 60-90 min in the Moscow Metro. Somehow socialism didn’t magically make the commute in a big city short. I wonder why.

    where you and your co-workers elected your own management.

    The term for such a management was “Soviet”.

    It means having your share of the profits you help produce direct deposited into your local credit union,

    “Share of the profits” means salary, which in worker co-ops is usually lower than in “exploitative” businesses. In USSR salaries were very low. “Direct deposited” means that you’ll be taxed for all the “free” stuff.

    going on a long walk through your vibrant and diverse neighborhood

    Here’s another Soviet comedy about how every Brezhnev-era building was of the exact same boring model. That’s what happens when politicians have to approve your architecture.

    sleep in your warm bed without worrying about energy bills

    Semi-accurate. In USSR centralized heating usually ran hot, so in order to have normal temperature in the room you had to open a window during winter. You might not worry about energy bills, but guess who pays them in the end.

    You don’t have to call your insurance agency to argue over a deductible,

    And why not? The insurance agency, Gosstrakh USSR, is of course owned by the government, so you have no other options.

    you don’t have to have your allergies exacerbated by dirty air,

    Oh, you will be taxed for cleaning all the air as well.

    you won’t be stopped and arbitrarily questioned by an aggressively militarized police force.

    Because forbidding the entire population from owning businesses is totally going to work without aggressive policing. Riiiiight.

    • ECD says:

      I’m sorry, you read that article and came away with the notion that the USSR was an example of working socialism that he was relying on? The article which purports to answer the question:

      But if these socialists explicitly reject the models of the USSR or communist China, then what is their alternative? If not a bureaucratic command economy, does democratic socialism exist as anything other than an abstract daydream in the minds of the young and the pages of a few magazines?

      • eigenmoon says:

        The socialists may say that this time it will be nothing like USSR. So they’ve said about Venezuela. Here’s Jeremy Corbyn:

        Chávez… showed us that there is a different, and a better way of doing things. It’s called socialism… In his death, we will march on, to that better, just, peaceful and hopeful world.

        Then it ends exactly like USSR and socialists make a surprised Pikachu face. See this book for a serious take on that and this cartoon for a humorous take (although accurately portraying how socialists look to everyone else).

        The article does nothing to actually, not nominally, distance itself from USSR. Here’s an example:

        Because of its Cold War connotations, most Americans think of socialism solely as inefficient and bureaucratic public ownership through a powerful central government. But actual public ownership need not be either centralized or wasteful. The state of North Dakota owns both a public bank and the nation’s largest flour mill, …

        I don’t know what the Cold War propaganda told Americans, but USSR had lots of publicly owned companies.

        • ECD says:

          Okay, I’m less sorry now. The quote you give recognizes the USSR had lots of public ownership. It flat out says

          Because of its Cold War connotations, most Americans think of socialism solely as inefficient and bureaucratic public ownership through a powerful central government.

          And then goes on to argue public ownership can be non-inefficient, non-centralized, non-wasteful. You can disagree with that argument if you want, but again, the question its trying to answer is ‘what should/does his preferred model look like?’ The answer is very definitely not the USSR, which makes most of your response nonsensical at best. The same goes for Etoile below.

          • eigenmoon says:

            You keep saying that the proposed model is nothing like USSR but you’re not saying what’s the difference.

            Is it that this time everything will be efficient? But why would it be different this time?

            Is it that this time everything will be non-wasteful? But why would it be different this time?

            Is it that this time all ownership will be non-centralized? Now we might be getting somewhere but what does that even mean? How exactly USSR owning the bank that is now called Sberbank is different from North Dakota owning its public bank?

          • ECD says:

            You appear to have mistaken me for Brett Heinz. I’m not sure if I’m flattered, or offended, but either way, I’ll direct you back to the article, referencing sovereign wealth funds, increased worker ownership, worker cooperatives, participatory budgeting and…you know, the article itself, which references a bunch of stuff, only some of which was done in the USSR (and all of which has been done by other places without them becoming distopian hellscapes). Again, if you want to argue that’s not true socialism, knock yourself out, but it’s not a debate about the article in question.

          • Is it that this time all ownership will be non-centralized?

            We do have a model of a communist economy along those lines—Yugoslavia. My impression is that it worked better than the USSR, less well than conventional free market systems.

            There is also an extended literature coming out of the calculation controversy, with able socialist economists trying to construct and analyze workable models of decentralized socialism. I don’t think they succeeded, but the ideas are out there.

          • eigenmoon says:

            @ECD

            article itself, which references a bunch of stuff, only some of which was done in the USSR

            OK, so what exactly is the stuff that wasn’t done in USSR?

          • ECD says:

            Well, one obvious thing would be unions which can strike without being arrested and murdered. Sovereign wealth funds were not, to my knowledge, a USSR thing. Participatory budgeting definitely wasn’t.

            If you want more, you certainly seem well informed of the horrors of the USSR, maybe try reading the article which is allegedly under discussion.

          • Thegnskald says:

            The history of unions isn’t much better than the history of government and industry, with regard to violence.

            And while you can’t arrest a corporation, they get fined and have injunctions against them for going on strike against unions – sorry, refusing to negotiate in good faith.

            My personal experience of unions isn’t “Somebody standing up for me against management”, it is “Another set of management whose goals are to prevent me from actually having things to do instead of being bored to tears all day because I work faster than everyone else”.

            Which is to say, my experience of unions is worse than my experience of corporate management, except whereas the corporate management pays me for the impositions, unions force me to pay them.

            I think it is appropriate to view unions as another type of hierarchical power structure superimposed on the hierarchical corporate power structure. It exaggerates the problems of hierarchy, rather than ameliorating them.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            The history of unions isn’t much better than the history of government and industry, with regard to violence.

            You sure about that dude? I can’t think of any multimillion-deaths genocides/slave trades that you can blame on unions.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Technically true.

            In terms of this discussion, not terribly helpful, because it doesn’t really concern the context under consideration.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            What is the context under consideration in your view?

          • Thegnskald says:

            Organized labor disputes, and the way different organizations respond to them.

            (And can we not treat rebelling against slavery as a labor dispute? In spite of the lack of specificity of language I hope the difference doesn’t need to be spelled out.)

          • eigenmoon says:

            @ECD
            Trade unions are crap everywhere, as Thegnskald wrote.

            Late USSR has implemented “collective leadership” to dial down dictatorship. Once it was in place, workers were actually able to strike without being arrested and murdered. From the journals of Chernyaev (rus.) (my translation):

            1 November 1980
            […]
            In 1979 there were 300 “registered cases of refusing to work”, in which more than 9 thousands participated.
            […]
            This most likely would not be tolerated under Nikita [Khrushchov], they’d bring in the competent agencies and armed forces.

            But even over 9000 strikers did not improve Soviet socialism.

            Sovereign wealth funds are totally inconsequential. They’re just a separate pile of money.

            I like participatory budgeting because it reminds me of Switzerland. The Swiss voted for the debt brake, a law to prevent the government from doing deficit spending. And as Alan Greenspan said: “Deficit spending is simply a scheme for the confiscation of wealth”. I really like the debt brake and Swiss direct democracy and I’m looking forward to direct democracy resulting in even more measures against confiscation of wealth.

            maybe try reading the article which is allegedly under discussion.

            Easy there. I’ve read it. It looks exactly like USSR with some caveats like maybe we should experiment with new tech like participatory budgeting. Yeah, maybe the socialists should run more experiments before trying to ruin the entire country.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            Organized labor disputes, and the way different organizations respond to them.

            OK, please give some examples of union members massacring thousands of cops.

      • Etoile says:

        I think the onus to prove that the USSR WASN’T real socialism rests on socialists, not the other way around. Perhaps this isn’t clear because the USSR has gained somewhat of a cartoonish image in the west, but we forget that:
        1) Everyone (or most everyone) including some older modern-day leftists, believed in the USSR as The Answer to Capitalism, a valid competing experiment; moreover, many identified as Leninists, Maoists, etc., (and considered early reports of atrocities to be right-wing lies and propaganda), AND
        2) In the USSR at least, official policies and structures cleaved pretty well to modern progressive and socialist doctrines that they want for the West. They had universal healthcare, free or cheap housing, trade unions, collective farming, protected domestic industries, official policies in favor of ethnic diversity and feminism….

        So what happened there?

        • I think the same thing was true, later, of Venezuela. It had very large supplies of oil, so an obviously favorable economic situation, yet its socialist government has produced an outcome so bad that about 13% of the population has emigrated (since 1999). And, as best I remember, it was promoted by the western left as an attractive model of socialism—at least until it turned into a catastrophe.

        • Joseftstadter says:

          Are Western socialists in favor of collective farming? Collectivization was when the USSR completely went off the rails. The NEP model of Socialism arguably was sort of working, although it may not have been politically sustainable even had Stalin not put an end to it.

        • 420BootyWizard says:

          I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying here. Is it that you can’t have trade unions, universal healthcare, and official policies favoring feminism without USSR-style atrocities?

        • DarkTigger says:

          Wait the USSR had unions? I mean unions that were more than just party mouthpieces? I would like to have sources for that please.

          The only union in the Warschauer Pact area, worth their salt, I ever heard of was Solidanosc in Poland.

          • ana53294 says:

            Oral sources: I have been told that the USSR did not just have unions, they even had strikes against the government. They were repressed quite violently.

            That kind of thing does not appear in the newspapers of the era, as they were heavily censored. I am not sure you can get much better than oral sources.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            @ana53294

            Yeah, but they were illegal unions. Basically a form of underground resistence against the government. Probably most famous labor dispute in the USSR is currently Novocherkassk massacre, but I am sure many others were better covered up.

        • AlesZiegler says:

          In the USSR at least, official policies and structures cleaved pretty well to modern progressive and socialist doctrines that they want for the West

          .

          This needs some factchecking.

          They had universal healthcare

          Yes.

          free or cheap housing

          Sort of, there was corrupt quota system and rationing of apartments.

          trade unions

          No. Independent trade unions were illegal in the USSR, as well as worker strikes. Official “trade unions” had different functions than advancing worker´s interest.

          collective farming

          Sort of, but collective farms were in reality mostly controlled by the government.

          protected domestic industries

          Yes.

          official policies in favor of ethnic diversity and feminism

          Not really. Soviet Union was an imperialist power dominated by straight white men, some token representation for women notwithstanding. And ethnic minorities were as a rule (not always) treated badly.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Executing badly does not mean “didn’t have”. I think that’s part of the point. When a government that supposedly has all of the things that Western socialists want ends up as the USSR, maybe those things are the problem.

            One more thing:

            official policies in favor of ethnic diversity and feminism

            They strongly did have these OFFICIALLY. That they still ended up as an imperialist power dominated by straight white men doesn’t change the fact that their official policies were indeed this way and should be considered a strike against those policies.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            Most modern Western countries have most of those policies other than collective farming in some form. And yet, most Western countries are not the USSR!

          • AlesZiegler says:

            @EchoChaos

            I am sorry, but that is nonsense. Leadership of the Soviet Union had not tried to build woke utopia from dreams of US progressives that by giant mistake ended up as an imperialist power with a society thoroughly dominated by white straight males and with complete ban on independent unions. It was all intentional.

            They strongly did have these OFFICIALLY.

            Um, no. As I said, sometimes there were few token women on an important leadership committee, but overall society remained dominated by men to a degree that I think is hard to comprehend for modern Americans. Soviet propaganda, unlike propaganda of some other odious regimes, mostly hadn ́t openly proclaimed that women should be subjected to a rule by men or that some ethnic minorities are inferior, but if that is a bar for official policy of equality, postWW2 western capitalist regimes easily exceeded that.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @AlesZiegler

            I am not sure you got my objection. I am not saying that the Soviets tried internally to be woke at all. I am saying that they pushed a woke ideology aggressively worldwide in their official statements.

            Here are some good examples:

            https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/shortcuts/2016/jan/24/racial-harmony-in-a-marxist-utopia-how-the-soviet-union-capitalised-on-us-discrimination-in-pictures

            Those were in fact the “official policies” of the Soviet state. The actual policies followed were that their leadership was indeed heavily straight white male, assuming we’re calling Jews white, which I do, but many don’t.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            @EchoChaos

            Jews were also persecuted minority in the USSR.

            Those posters you linked show Soviet policy of anticolonialism, which indeed existed (well, sort of, after colonies were liberated from western rule, Soviets tried to include them into their own empire, but nevermind) and was a HUGE deal. But it is not at all the same thing as contemporary US progressive leftism.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @AlesZiegler

            That Jews made up the majority of early Soviet leadership and were also persecuted are not mutually exclusive. The Soviets persecuted lots of people.

            Their anticolonial ideology was based on ethnic diversity and feminism, both of which were shown there. They didn’t live up to that statement, we both agree.

            And yes, it didn’t exactly match modern woke ideology either, but it was an official policy in favor of ethnic diversity and feminism, which was the initial statement.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            @EchoChaos

            I doubt that Jews made up majority of reasonably defined Soviet leadership ever, but in any case that would be a short period indeed. Even if we do not count Jews as white, Soviet leadership taken as a whole for the history of the country would be overwhelmingly white, unless we do not count Caucasians as white.

            Soviet anticolonial ideology was based on one strand of the strands of marxism. Was that an ideology of ethnic diversity and feminism? Well, compared to 19th and 20th century variant of conservatism, I guess so. Compared to modern progresivism, hell No. Like, homosexual relations were literaly criminalized in the USSR from 1934 to its dissolution in 1991.

            Ethnic diversity, gender equality and LGBT rights were low priority for marxism-leninism, although it has to be conceeded that that marxism-leninism is not against them. It was however very much against workers rights. I do not think that ideology with those characteristics is similar to contemporary US progressivism. And I didn´t even get to the part that US progressives do not want to nationalize everything, abolish elections and institute gulags.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @AlesZiegler

            The Jewishness of Soviet leadership is a digression, as I consider Jews white, as I said.

            While those things were low priority, I think it goes further than “not against” and to “actively for, although low priority”, given the propaganda I’ve shown.

            I am not accusing modern leftists of those things.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            @EchoChaos

            The Jewishness of Soviet leadership is a digression

            I couldn’t agree more. Counting The Jews is a Bad idea. There is a joke that I´ve heard: conductors of Leningrad and New York Metropolitan Orchestra meet. During their conversation, Leningrad conductor burst out: “How could you Americans accuse us of antisemitism?! I have 21 jews in my orchestra!! How many do you have?”. American answers: “I do not know”.

            Otherwise I find it hard to locate where our disagreement lies. I do not think that current western leftists should by judged by the Soviet Union. Priorities of US left are significantly different from priorities of Soviet communists. Yes, I agree that in the context of 20s, Soviet Union could be classified as in favor of racial, gender and even LGBT equality compared to 20s West, but those times are long gone.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @AlesZiegler

            I was registering that I found @Etoile’s point about “official policies in favor of ethnic diversity and feminism” broadly accurate, especially for the time.

            You said they didn’t really have such policies, when I think it might’ve been better said “they did actually have those policies, but didn’t actually follow the policies they had”.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I relink this 1926 article around here every so often: The Russian Effort to Abolish Marriage.

            Soviets went all-in on feminism. It was just so disastrous that they had to roll is back pretty quickly.

          • Aapje says:

            The Soviets really wanted women to:
            – be educated
            – work
            – vote
            – have a right to a unilateral divorce

            These are core feminist planks (if one judges feminism from a distance, rather than for the concerns of the (current) moment). In some ways they went further to demand equality than even modern Western feminists, like the desire to have women do hard labor just as often as men.

            That they failed to change quite a few ‘patriarchal’ beliefs is non-surprising, since Western feminism is also rather bad at doing so, in part because of a denial of male burdens/female benefits and even more so, their effects.

            The partial equality that feminists tend to fight for is typically considered unfair and/or undesirable by many men and women, whose needs/desires are often dismissed, rather than taken seriously, which means that no good alternatives have meet those needs/desires is presented, which in turn results in defections.

            However, all that means is that Soviet society didn’t adopt feminism wholeheartedly, which is not the same thing as Soviet leadership adopting it. They did so to a very large extent, which the caveat that no government is the Borg, so dissent will always exist. When the desires of the top leadership diverge from what the commoners want, you typically also see lower levels of leadership act against the top leadership and in accordance with the lower level desires, even if just for pragmatic reasons.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            @EchoChaos
            @Jaskologist
            @Aapje

            I am going to reply to all three of you since you are making substantially the same point.

            First of, women did not have a right to vote in the Soviet union. Nobody had. There was a thing called “elections” (at least I think there was, I have´t checked, but it certainly was a thing in communist Czechoslovakia, which adopted lot of Soviet institutions), but it was not an actual choice of candidates, just a sort of compulsory manifestation of a loyalty to The Party. Of course that still means Soviet practices in this area were more equal than that of countries with only male suffrage.

            That they failed to change quite a few ‘patriarchal’ beliefs is non-surprising, since Western feminism is also rather bad at doing so

            I am going to start from here, since I disagree with this assessment of a Western feminism. Gender relations in 20th century West changed dramatically in a direction desired by feminists. And that didn´t happen in the Soviet union, or more precisely, it happened there but to a far lesser extent. Picture that Etoile is painting, that an official policy of Soviet leadership, guys like Stalin and Breznev, was to push for policies favored by contemporary US left, but they were stymied by a resistance of unwilling patriarchal society, is, to put it charitably, inaccurate.

            It is true that Soviet government wanted women to be somewhat educated and to be able to work outside from home, but those are not policies exclusive to progressive leftism. Mainstream conservatives today also support. You might also notice that USSR successfully implemented them, which is an evidence that if Soviet leadership would wanted to be more progressive, it could succeed.

            What imho actually happened: In the 20s, Soviet Union adopted some policies that were socially progressive compared to 20s West. Those policies were then partially but not completely rolled back in the 30s. From the 50s to 80s, while it would be silly to argue that gender relations in the USSR hadn´t changed at all, development in that area there was far less dramatic than in the West. So Soviet society remained dominated by men until its end.

          • Aapje says:

            Russian women got suffrage from the provisional government in 1917 and when the Bolsheviks took over, this was retained. The Bolsheviks/Lenin initially observed their promise of a soviet (= council) model, until they started losing elections. Then Stalin truly centralized politics. However, all along the way, women got as much as a vote as men.

            It is true that Soviet government wanted women to be somewhat educated and to be able to work outside from home, but those are not policies exclusive to progressive leftism. Mainstream conservatives today also support.

            Yes, after conservatives adopted feminism to an extent, they now support women working outside the home.

            Taking this as evidence that this isn’t a major part of feminism is ridiculous. That it is no longer very contested, doesn’t make it a core item of faith.

            So Soviet society remained dominated by men until its end.

            This is not very relevant, since modern Western society is also ‘dominated by men’ and will remain so, as long as feminists largely ignore the reasons why.

            Arguing that the Soviet union was worse than modern feminism for not achieving what modern feminism is also not achieving, is not fair.

            This is the general problem with your argument. You argue based on supposed lack of achieved equality (which you greatly exaggerate), that the Soviet leadership was not very feminist. Yet the propaganda and the laws were extremely egalitarian, with gender differences being primarily due to execution.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            @Aapje

            You are of course not wrong in that in the USSR women had as much voting rights as men. For the bulk of Soviet history, that meant aproximately zero voting rights.

            You might be surprised that I disagree with modern feminists on an issue whether current Western society is male dominated. However, Soviet society really was.

          • Aapje says:

            @AlesZiegler

            You might be surprised that I disagree with modern feminists on an issue whether current Western society is male dominated. However, Soviet society really was.

            Whether it was or not doesn’t distinguish between the old culture rejecting it or the leadership not desiring it.

            This is like arguing that because religion existed in the Soviet Union, the communists didn’t oppose religion.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            @Aapje

            Since this thread appears to be dead, you might wish to restart discussion on this topic somehere else. I remain unconvinced.

    • Zeno of Citium says:

      I’m not going to bite on the whole thing, but here’s a correction to something important that I think comes from a place of excusable ignorance:

      Worker co-ops and credit unions are nice capitalist institutions

      Cooperatives (of which credit unions are an example) are nice market based institutions. They aren’t capitalist even though they can exist and sometimes flourish inside a specifically capitalist market economy. Capitalism is a market economy based on the private ownership of the means of production, cooperatives have shared ownership of the means of production (at minimum, every member of a cooperative is also a part owner with voting power). Socialism is based on social, communal, or shared ownership of the means of production. This definition encompasses a market economy where all companies are cooperatives and a strong social-democratic safety net, doing away with the market and private property altogether (land ownership mostly, not personal property like your shoes or car), it can mean central planning like in Soviet communism.
      Democratic socialism explicitly rejects the dictatorship part, by the way, along with demanding that we create socialism by democratic means like elections – at least in part because previous attempts to create socialism by violent revolution have led inexorably to dictatorships and the accompanying gigantic pile of human skulls.

      • cassander says:

        >Socialism is based on social, communal, or shared ownership of the means of production

        So it’s identical to shareholder capitalism? Great! Where can I sign up?

        You only have two choices. You can let people decide what to do with their stuff, or you can decide what people do with their stuff. the former is called capitalism, the latter is called socialism, and it cannot avoid central planning, because that’s the whole point.

        • Nick says:

          This seems reductive. Where do you place cooperatives, then? Do you consider them capitalist or socialist?

          • ReaperReader says:

            Butting in here, the key issue for me is how free people are to choose what form of economic organisation. A society where people can work for a cooperative or a publicly listed company or set up their own privately owned one or join a partnership or whatever is fundamentally different to one where everyone is forced into one type of organisation, or even a small set.

          • cassander says:

            there’s obviously a continuum, or at least steps, between the two, but at the end of the day, every piece of property gets allocated by someone. Either it’s going to be buyer/seller or a collective. Co-ops, when well run, are just companies where employees are also shareholders. Me, I’d rather not my livelihood be entirely invested in one company, which is why in the long run, voluntary coops just get back to capitalism.

          • ksdale says:

            The question is whether the workers have formed the co-op voluntarily, or whether it is the only ownership structure available to them, if I understand cassander’s distinction correctly.

            As an aside, a while ago, I spent a bunch of time thinking about ways to promote the formation of worker co-ops because it seemed like it might be an easy way to do a good thing. I’m a tax attorney, and although I’m not familiar with the world of co-ops, I’m not a novice when it comes to business formation or operation.

            Reading through a bunch of the literature on websites that exist to promote worker co-ops, I came away rather disenchanted. They tend to handwave away the actual running of the business, as if it just goes without saying that a business owned by the workers will work great.

            This ignores the fact that worker co-ops have always been allowed, and yet are quite rare. The only conclusion I could draw is that they are not actually intrinsically that great, for reasons that may be addressable, to be sure. But the literature doesn’t address what seem, in practice, to be nearly insurmountable difficulties.

            I tried to think of businesses that aren’t very capital intensive, because that’s naturally a big barrier to entry. Plenty of businesses would have an advantage if they had several people out of the gate who were willing to work.

            But I did some math, using estimates similar to what small business owners make for themselves from a business with a certain number of employees, and without the owner, the employees would make something like 10% more, which is nice, but comes with all the attendant problems of running the business by committee, which may come with at least 10% more work.

            There’s generally not nearly as much profit as people think, and owners of successful businesses make good money for sure, but it goes fast when it’s distributed amongst everyone, and running anything as a group is HARD, even when everyone is acting in good faith.

          • ReaperReader says:

            @ksdale, I once worked for a retired guy who once owned a fishing company. As did his dad. At one point the union demanded a share of the profits. “Certainly!”, said his dad. “And you’ll stand your share of the losses too.” The union switched to demanding a pay rise.

          • Mabuse7 says:

            I think that for any truly workable mutualist/co-op based economy to work the co-ops would invariably be modelled more on those that have been commercially successful in market economies, like John Lewis Partnership or Gore and Associates, rather than the smaller scale efforts usually lionised by worker ownership advocates. And I imagine that such an economy would end up looking much like postwar Japan’s, dominated by a few massive co-op conglomerates that formed to leverage scale and diversification to improve the returns of their worker-owners.

          • Clutzy says:

            An example of Co-Ops that are very common in the US is law firms. Only working attorneys can be partners.

            It just so happens to be that law firms, despite being run by otherwise very successful people, are very poorly run.

          • Statismagician says:

            Private medical practices, also.

          • ksdale says:

            @Clutzy
            In the US, partnerships and co-ops are actually different ownership structures. It’s true that only attorneys are allowed to own law firms, but they also have many other employees. As far as I know, a co-op is not allowed to have employees who are not owners. Partnerships offer a lot of flexibility as far as compensation and ownership are concerned, and co-ops have many more restrictions when it comes to differentiating between employees.

            This goes to what I said above about how there aren’t very many worker co-ops. I’ve had several clients who have wanted to do a co-op because of abstract ideas about fairness and realized that a different structure would much better serve their purposes, including their concerns about fairness between employees.

          • Clutzy says:

            @Clutzy
            In the US, partnerships and co-ops are actually different ownership structures. It’s true that only attorneys are allowed to own law firms, but they also have many other employees. As far as I know, a co-op is not allowed to have employees who are not owners. Partnerships offer a lot of flexibility as far as compensation and ownership are concerned, and co-ops have many more restrictions when it comes to differentiating between employees.

            Sure, but the problem for both is that you are missing a class of people who are unskilled at doing the underlying work (like law) precludes you from hiring skilled managers at reasonable rates.

          • ana53294 says:

            a co-op is not allowed to have employees who are not owners.

            That is not true. In co-ops such as Mondragon, becoming a member of the co-op is a privilege that is acquired after a number of years working for the company. Not everybody accepts (most people don’t have that kind of cash, and not everybody is willing to get a loan for that).

            They also have temp workers and such who don’t have even the chance of becoming a member.

            Of course, any kind of worker, from executive to cleaning lady, can become a member, so there isn’t the limitation of only lawyers.

      • ReaperReader says:

        Capitalism is a market economy based on the private ownership of the means of production,

        So publicly listed companies aren’t capitalist?

        cooperatives have shared ownership of the means of production. …. This definition encompasses a market economy where all companies are cooperatives

        So how under this are capital intensive projects like hydro power plants funded? A hydro power plant costs a lot to build but needs very few people to run. Does every worker at a hydro plant have to take on tens of millions in debt, to repay the cooperatives who built it?

        doing away with the market and private property altogether (land ownership mostly, not personal property like your shoes or car),

        So what happens if a small cooperative farm wants to hire some labour temporarily, let’s say one of the owners is pregnant. Does the farmhand get a vote and if so what are their interests in the long term productivity of the land?

        And how do you imagine the knowledge problem being solved if you do away with prices and markets? Does everyone get to spend two hours a day filling in information for a grand centralised network?

        Democratic socialism explicitly rejects the dictatorship part

        As did revolutionary socialism. They were very found of announcing how democratic they were. Not just before they took power, but afterwards. Even put it in the formal names of their countries. Have you heard of Hayek’s argument that democracy depends on individual economic freedoms, that a planned economy can’t tolerate diversity of values?

      • Brett says:

        I disagree a bit on cooperatives not being capitalist. A cooperative is indistinguishable from a partnership at the low end of firms, and they behave fundamentally like capitalist firms in a marketplace.

      • eigenmoon says:

        I think that the key question here is how to hedge against failure. If a worker of a co-op A is afraid that his co-op will fail, he may sell some of his shares and buy some shares of a co-op B, and workers of B will do likewise, and after some time everybody owns a bit of everybody. That’s capitalism.

        If the worker tries to sell his shares but Red Guards show up and explain that trading shares is forbidden and the only way to insure against co-op A’s failure is to trust that the Party will reallocate the worker to some other co-op, now that’s socialism.

    • beleester says:

      well, if your nationalized companies are so great, why not let the free market demonstrate it? Let’s allow private postal services and see who wins, for example.

      I think most socialists would take that bet. I generally hear capitalists make the opposite claim – the nationalized business will have an unfair advantage since they’re funded by taxes instead of profits, so they can provide any level of service the people want without regard to cost.

      The USPS, incidentally, has the opposite issue – the post office receives no tax dollars, but is mandated to provide service to everywhere in the US, up to and including tiny villages in Alaska only accessible by bush plane, while private carriers can just… not do that.

      • cassander says:

        I think most socialists would take that bet. I generally hear capitalists make the opposite claim – the nationalized business will have an unfair advantage since they’re funded by taxes instead of profits, so they can provide any level of service the people want without regard to cost.

        Socialists won’t take that bet precisely because they DO always do want that. taking the bet would be letting the national whatever company compete without subsidies, special legal protection or transfers from tax dollars. But when the national companies start to fail, the answer is almost always more subsidies, not “well, I guess that didn’t work out.”

        while private carriers can just… not do that.

        private carriers are illegal. but I’m quite positive that a private company could out compete the post office even with a universal service mandate. Step one, deliver mail every other day and you’ve just your cost base by a huge amount.

        • beleester says:

          taking the bet would be letting the national whatever company compete without subsidies, special legal protection or transfers from tax dollars.

          That seems… kinda pointless? A government program without any legal protections or mandates, funded solely by its profits, is just a private company that happens to have “government” in its name. You’re basically saying “I bet that the government is uniquely bad at hiring managers,” which… might be true, but doesn’t seem particularly revelatory about capitalism vs socialism.

          (Unless you were proposing to remove all the support but keep the mandates, in which case, no shit the one with more legal restrictions on its actions will have trouble.)

          Step one, deliver mail every other day and you’ve just your cost base by a huge amount.

          The post office has considered ending Saturday delivery to save costs for several years now. It comes up over and over, and so far they’ve decided that the expected loss of business from not delivering as promptly outweighs the expected savings.

          But go on, tell me more about how only the private sector could come up with cost-cutting innovations like that.

          • cassander says:

            @beleester

            That seems… kinda pointless? A government program without any legal protections or mandates, funded solely by its profits, is just a private company that happens to have “government” in its name.

            the point would be that government, liberated from the profit motive, would be free to meet the needs of customers, not shareholders. And those are not my words, that argument is constantly made.

            You’re basically saying “I bet that the government is uniquely bad at hiring managers,” which… might be true, but doesn’t seem particularly revelatory about capitalism vs socialism.

            How on earth could that not be relevant, given that under socialism the government hires all the managers?

            The post office has considered ending Saturday delivery to save costs for several years now. It comes up over and over, and so far they’ve decided that the expected loss of business from not delivering as promptly outweighs the expected savings.

            (A) I said every other day, not Saturday.

            (B) my understanding is that the post office has repeatedly tried to cut Saturday delivery, but isn’t allowed to by congress. So, please, tell me more about the efficiency of government run institutions.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            That seems… kinda pointless? A government program without any legal protections or mandates, funded solely by its profits, is just a private company that happens to have “government” in its name.

            Not at all. It means that it is run by the government. This is also very common; they are called enterprise funds in Finance jargon. A whole lot of water, garbage, sewer, etc. businesses are run by municipalities, and usually do not have subsidies from taxes. Sure, they have mandates, one of which would be to run an efficient and effective service for the townspeople. Usually it is a monopoly, which is why it is run by the government in the first place. Not at all pointless.

          • Clutzy says:

            That seems… kinda pointless? A government program without any legal protections or mandates, funded solely by its profits, is just a private company that happens to have “government” in its name. You’re basically saying “I bet that the government is uniquely bad at hiring managers,” which… might be true, but doesn’t seem particularly revelatory about capitalism vs socialism.

            I don’t think anyone has gotten to the crux of why it is revelatory about capitalism vs. socialism. The critique of capitalism (particularly in healthcare), it that it is exploitative towards both consumers and employees because of the profit motive. Also, often there are claims that we could wring out vast savings by eliminating redundant middle men like private insurance companies. An independent government program that is supposed to float on its own handles all of those critiques.

          • Garrett says:

            An independent government program that is supposed to float on its own handles all of those critiques.

            Is there any reason to believe that they would be any better than non-profit/charitable organizations? As it stands, about half of hospitals and (surprisingly) health insurance companies are non-profit/charitable organizations.

          • Clutzy says:

            Is there any reason to believe that they would be any better than non-profit/charitable organizations?

            In my mind, no. Some people would argue for scale.

      • MorningGaul says:

        I think most socialists would take that bet.

        That is not my experience. The French left has been consistently opposing any opening to competition, weither in energy, transports or communications.

      • I think most socialists would take that bet. I generally hear capitalists make the opposite claim – the nationalized business will have an unfair advantage since they’re funded by taxes instead of profits, so they can provide any level of service the people want without regard to cost.

        Sure, if the socialized firms can just tap into tax revenues whenever they lose out, they will win. But that’s unfair not just to the competitors but to the taxpayers who have to pay for services they aren’t using. Implicit in the challenge is that the socialized firm can’t do this. The only industry where the capitalists would say “no, we can’t have government in that industry even if they play by the same rules we do” is healthcare.

    • ReaperReader says:

      where you and your co-workers elected your own management.

      Imagine being a patient in a hospital where the main interest of the management was ensuring that their co-workers re-elected them. There’s a reason that public health care systems in democratic countries don’t appoint hospital managers this way.

      • Brett says:

        Neither do the large cooperatives, to be fair. The larger Mondragon cooperatives elect representatives who then hire and fire management, like appointing the top brass to a bureaucracy. Direct democracy just isn’t feasible with a large firm with heavily specialized employees and divisions.

        • albatross11 says:

          Interestingly, this is the same basic structure as many city governments in the US. The citizens elect a city council, the city council hires (or fires, as need be) a professional city manager and maybe some other top jobs (city engineer, police chief, etc.), can pass ordinances and funding bills, but otherwise lets the professional managers get on with running things. If they don’t like how things are going, they can fire the city manager and hire another.

      • An Fírinne says:

        Imagine being a patient in a hospital where the main interest of the management was ensuring that their co-workers re-elected them.

        Imagine being a patient in a hospital where the main interest of the management was ensuring that the fat cats who own the hospital get as rich as possible within the confines of the system.

        I dont believe in bottom-up management but its better then profit-based management

        • EchoChaos says:

          I dont believe in bottom-up magement but its better then profit-based managment

          Citation needed. Do you have evidence of health outcomes being better from one than the other? Because I’ve been in both government non-profit hospitals and private for-profit hospitals and I vastly prefer the latter.

          • An Fírinne says:

            Government owned hospitals are often underfunded and staff tend to go towards private owned hospitals as a result of this.

            Anyway I don’t know how rich you are but if you have a fat enough wallet you’re guaranteed a pleasant stay in a private hospital.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @An Fírinne

            Government owned hospitals are often underfunded and staff tend to go towards private owned hospitals as a result of this.

            You are incorrect. The VA is one of the best funded American government institutions, since it is favored by both the left and the right. It still is lousy compared to private hospitals.

            Anyway I don’t know how rich you are but if you have a fat enough wallet you’re guaranteed a pleasant stay in a private hospital.

            I’m an American, so top 1% worldwide. Good argument for Americans to stick with private hospitals, though. I’ll definitely use it.

          • cassander says:

            @An Fírinne

            So your argument is that government hospitals are managed better, and by better, you mean “underfunded by their management and thus worse”? Putting aside the contradiction here, how on earth does systematic under funding not reflect on the management of public institutions?

          • An Fírinne says:

            @EchoChaos

            You are incorrect. The VA is one of the best funded American government institutions, since it is favored by both the left and the right. It still is lousy compared to private hospital

            Well the United States is particularly notorious for its poor treatment of its veterans so it wouldn’t suprise me that the service is inferior there.

            I’m an American, so top 1% worldwide. Good argument for Americans to stick with private hospitals, though. I’ll definitely use it.

            Class discrimination is not a good thing

          • EchoChaos says:

            @An Fírinne

            Well the United States is particularly notorious for its poor treatment of its rans so it wouldn’t sup[rise me that the service is inferior there.

            I don’t know what rans are in this context, but I thought that since public ownership was so good that better funded public ownership should always win. But for some reason it doesn’t here?

            Edit to add: I see your fix to veterans. Is your argument is that despite the VA being incredibly well funded, the actual workers at the hospital hate veterans enough to make the service poor, or that despite massive overfunding relative to private hospitals the service is still poor because of something else?

            Class discrimination is not a good thing

            It is, though. And note that the private hospital I am talking about is a Catholic hospital that gives free service to indigent people, especially minorities, so it is both more inclusive than the VA (which only serves servicemembers and family) AND has better service.

          • An Fírinne says:

            @EchoChaos

            I’m honestly not familiar with VA so I cannot say but it seems premature to declare government-management to be inferior based on your single self-assessed anecdotal experience.

            Compare a Cuban run hospital (incredible healthcare system) to a Haitian one and tell me the Haitian one is still better.

          • An Fírinne says:

            @cassander

            So your argument is that government hospitals are managed better, and by better, you mean “underfunded by their management and thus worse”? Putting aside the contradiction here, how on earth does systematic under funding not reflect on the management of public institutions?

            Its the party in government which allocates the health budget. For instance in the UK right now the very anti-nationalisation Tory Party is in power and they starve the NHS of funds. If you deflate a balloon and then complain that its not rising into the air then you only have yourself to blame.

          • albatross11 says:

            Then compare the modern Pinkertons in the US to the Port Au Prince police and tell me whether we should have public or private police forces.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @An Fírinne

            I’m honestly not familiar with VA so I cannot say but it seems premature to declare government-management to be inferior based on your single self-assessed anecdotal experience.

            You yourself conceded that wealthy enough people should prefer private to public. Given that America is phenomenally wealthy, we should prefer private, which parses with my experience even in your worldview.

            Compare a Cuban run hospital (incredible healthcare system) to a Haitian one and tell me the Haitian one is still better.

            I don’t know enough about either, but if you have to compare Cuba to a third world mess like Haiti, you’re not convincing me well at all.

            Its the party in government which allocates the health budget.

            Correct, which is why the VA is such an excellent example, since both American political parties support funding it well.

            And more importantly, if your health system cannot handle the opposition ever getting power, you have a bad health system.

          • Clutzy says:

            Compare a Cuban run hospital (incredible healthcare system) to a Haitian one and tell me the Haitian one is still better.

            In 1950 Cuba was, on a per person basis, almost as rich as Florida in 1950. Haiti hasn’t caught up to 1900 Florida.

          • cassander says:

            @An Fírinne says:

            Its the party in government which allocates the health budget.

            yes, the managers. Unless you have a plan that doesn’t involve congress/parliament, you can’t say “well it everything would be great except for congress/parliament”

            For instance in the UK right now the very anti-nationalisation Tory Party is in power and they starve the NHS of funds.

            why do you make things up?

          • Lambert says:

            I’ve not crunched the numbers myself or anything, but the argument is that healthcare is getting more expensive faster than the NHS budget has grown in the past few years.

        • An Fírinne says:

          @albatross11

          Then compare the modern Pinkertons in the US to the Port Au Prince police and tell me whether we should have public or private police forces

          Don’t be silly. Cuba and Haiti are comparable because they’re both 3rd world countries and they’re right beside eachother.

          • Another Throw says:

            Yeah, and Germany and Liechtenstein are first world countries that are right next to each other. Lets compare them on GDP per capita.

          • An Fírinne says:

            @Another Throw

            Come on now, you’re deliberately being obtuse Cuba and Haiti are not the same as Liechtenstein and Germany.

          • Another Throw says:

            You’re right.

            Cuba has 8 times the GDP per capita as Haiti, compared to Liechtenstein’s 4 times Germany.

            You’re completely eliding the very real distinctions between Cuba and Haiti as being not even being worth discussion. It’s not a good look.

          • John Schilling says:

            Cuba and Haiti are comparable because they’re both 3rd world countries

            Cuba is not a 3rd world country and never has been. The three world model was specific to the Cold War, and under that model Cuba was a 2nd world country. Since 1991, use of the term “3rd world” has been deprecated, and the replacement scales (e.g. the IMF’s “developing/developed/industrialized nation”) pretty much always put Cuba in a different class than Haiti.

            This is not a reasonable comparison.

          • Clutzy says:

            Cuba, like Argentina, used to be a rich country. Argentina ~1900 may have been the wealthiest country in the world. Cuba in the immediate postwar era was richer than several western European countries.

    • NoRandomWalk says:

      The irony of fate is my favorite holiday russian movie and I have a tradition of watching it every year with family.
      Will check out Garage.

  23. The lawmaker responsible has apologized to freelance journalists, but the cynical part of me isn’t sure what apology they can give beyond “we’re sorry our law ending people’s freedom to make contracts with flexible work schedules also affected popular people who can complain”. And if you think I sound angry, as always you should read @webdevmason’s takes (1, 2). Anyway, I think California journalists should feel lucky to be allowed 35 stories; most new housing in the state is limited to two.

    Here’s something that could fix this problem: make a law that every legislator gets to force 10 bills a year into voting, no debate, no long-winded speeches, just vote yay or nay. That way, no legislator would ever be able to say “sorry I can’t undo it, life sucks.” If they can’t get their bill through, they’d have other legislator’s to blame.

  24. Zubon says:

    On “compromise and common ground,” let’s quote a small child explaining to her little brother: “Do you know what sharing is? That’s when you have something I want and you give it to me.”

  25. wonderer says:

    One of the engineers who worked on the Viking Mars landers continues to make the case that they discovered life on Mars in the 1970s and everyone is just ignoring this for no reason.

    Not just one of them, and he’s not just an engineer. Gilbert V. Levin was the principal investigator of the Viking labelled release (LR) experiment. Patricia Ann Straat was co-experimenter on LR (along with Levin), and she also believes her experiment found life on Mars. It was Levin and Straat who wrote the papers that announced LR’s results (paper 1, paper 2). Straat gave a fascinating interview about this on Event Horizon.

    It’s noteworthy that their papers from the 1970s say the results were inconclusive:

    Available facts do not yet permit a conclusion regarding the existence of life on Mars. Plans for conclusion of the experiment are discussed

    The results and their interpretation still leave unresolved the question of whether the Mars LR data were generated by biological or chemical activity.

    I’m not saying Levin and Straat are right or wrong. But the LR experiment was their baby, which means they probably know more about its ins and outs than anyone else in the world–but it also means they’d be the most biased in favor of a positive result.

    • Brett says:

      It would be worth doing a retest of the Viking biological experiments with tighter controls and the larger set of knowledge we have now about Mars. I still think they didn’t find life, but it’s worth testing again.

    • John Schilling says:

      That’s what we get when we send a robot to do a man’s job. Lots of ambiguity, and maybe a robot designer(*) with the firm belief that his baby can have done no wrong.

      Until we get full AGI, robots are at their best dealing with very clearly-defined problems, or at least problems for which we have lots of high-quality calibration data. We’ve got one data point for what a living planet looks like, and it doesn’t look like Mars. So I expect we’ll know whether Mars has life-as-we-don’t-know it, about the time we send human scientists to start digging and applying human judgement on the spot.

      Not that I begrudge the Viking team for doing the best they could in 1976, but it’s time to admit that we aren’t going to get the answers we want by Thinking Even Harder about the results of 1976’s experiments.

      * Hopefully not named Daystrom. Or Dyson, or really, I’m sensing a theme here

    • thetitaniumdragon says:

      The experiment very likely yielded a false positive, which reflects poorly on the experimental design, as they spent a vast amount of money to send a flawed experiment to Mars.

      I’ve read a fair bit of back and forthing about it, and the people with the abiotic explanations who point out that the experiments were flawed have the right of it. Frankly, we made this mistake a lot; as we have gotten a better understanding of how the universe works, we’ve found a lot of abiotic processes that can mimic life in some ways.

      Better experiments could be done, but honestly, I don’t think we’ll get any useful results unless we put boots on the ground on Mars.

  26. ECD says:

    Latest poll on how Americans view civility: 88% believe that “compromise and common ground should be the goal”, but 83% believe that “I’m tired of leaders compromising my values and ideals [and] want leaders who will stand up to the other side.”

    I almost certainly would agree with both those points. Compromise and common ground should be the goal. I’m also extremely tired of my leaders compromising my values and ideas, usually by refusing to argue for what I want either because they don’t want it (the democratic party is a lot further to the right than I am generally), or because they do want it, but don’t think its achievable and apparently continue to believe that the right way to negotiate is to announce your own goal is unachievable for now, then begin negotiating from a position five steps closer to the center, then end up ten steps closer to the center after negotiations, if we’re lucky.

    • mtl1882 says:

      Yeah, I get the sense that the issue here is people’s assessment of their leader’s “good faith,” and probably the “other side’s” as well. What they want is for both sides to actually get something done–to demand action and do the necessary deals to achieve it. They are unable to articulate this pointedly, and so they talk about “compromise” (which means “stop bickering and get to work”) at the same time they talk about “standing up to the other side” (which means “stop avoiding the issues”).

      We do have a terrible problem with wanting it both ways, as revealed by many polls, but some of the seeming contradiction results from lack of specificity and clarity in communication.

      I think a big problem is that we’ve tried to make “pork” type tactics unacceptable, so compromise becomes synonymous with meeting halfway, which on many issues is nonsensical and pleases no one. There are issues that have to go one way or the other, and a different type of compromise, agreeing to pair a decision favored by one party on one issue with a decision favored by the other party on another issue. In that case, both sides get a constructive project done. And since people generally have different levels of investment in various issues, one party may be fine to let an issue of lesser importance go against them to gain a victory on one of greater importance to them. I’m sure on an individual level, people favor compromise on certain issues but want total capitulation on others. They give mixed answers because the question is too broad.

  27. maintain says:

    Whoa, that smell thing looks really interesting. Can someone explain what is going on there? Anybody know enough organic chemistry to talk about it?

    • helloo says:

      Organic compounds are ones that mostly made of Carbon, Oxygen, and Hydrogen (very simplistic definition).
      Columns are the type/structure of the compound.
      Rows are how many carbons and thus “long/big” the compound is.

      Note this table only includes a portion of those types of compounds. And even then, mostly the ones with simple structures.
      One of the more important groups it leaves off is the aromatics, which as it’s name implies, often have strong odors (and not necessary bad ones). But grouping those on a flat table might be difficult.

      The general gist is that
      A) human’s smell often groups by structure
      B) smells are often very identifying when dealing with organic chemicals
      C) smells tend to get worse with long chains
      D) some smells are weird
      E) organic chemistry is smelly job

      In the Pipeline, a mostly chem blog by someone working in the pharma industry mentioned it a while ago. Doesn’t offer much details for this chart, but does show how others dealing in the field relate to it.
      https://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/2013/12/30/a_table_of_smells_stinks_and_aromas

      • helloo says:

        Thinking back on this, I should have phrased C) as “smells tend to follow trends with increasing chains”.
        It’s much more applicable and is “truer” regarding chemicals outside of that table. Some of the worse smelling chemicals tend to be on the small end (probably because they’re more gaseous and penetrating).

    • zzzzort says:

      I would say that the space of organic molecules is much much larger than this, and that the sense of smell is really complex; much harder to classify than sight or hearing. There are a whole of different sensors, they are sensitive to different ranges of molecules, and the information gets synthesized in various ways.

      I’m not a real chemist, but I know a bit about fatty acids. I find it interesting that the goat smell is periodic in the carboxylic acids (decanoic acid is also known capric acid, from the latin for goat). Biological fatty acids always have an even number of carbons; the enzyme that builds them adds carbons two at a time (this has been used for a test if a sample is of biological origin). Chains with odd numbers mostly (?) come from chopping off bits of longer tails. This happens in rancidification, and is probably why odd carbon fatty acids smell rancid (not that rancidification would also create even carbon chains, but not much else would create odd carbon stuff).

  28. Note that the anti-Alcor rant claims The Finders Course is a rip-off. Yet the Slate Star Codex post on The PNSE Paper says rather nice things about the founder of The Finders Course, Jeffrey Martin.

    • Tetrahedrex says:

      Yes, the author’s reflexive dismissal of the course seemed a little telling when it comes to his/her biases.

    • g says:

      There’s no obvious conflict between “wrote one interesting paper” and “started a course that’s largely useless and pretty scammy”. Scott’s article about the PNSE paper doesn’t really “say rather nice things about” Jeffrey Martin; in fact it says practically nothing about Martin. It says some nice things about the paper. Pretty much the only thing it says about Martin himself that isn’t specifically about what he did in the paper is this: ‘Martin is a Reiki practitioner associated with the “Center for the Study of Non-Symbolic Consciousness”, so we’re not getting this from the most sober of skeptics’. Not particularly rude, but also not particularly nice.

  29. fortybot says:

    > Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook in college and cemented a cultural association between young people and entrepreneurship. But according to the American Institute for Economic Research, this association is wrong: the average successful entrepeneur is 45 when they found their company, the youngest entrepreneurs are the least successful, and a 50-year-old’s company is almost twice as likely to succeed as a 30-year-old’s.

    How many of those successful older entrepreneurs previously started a failed endeavor?

  30. cassander says:

    >Not really sure what to think of this. (states not getting better or worse when they change political hands)

    You should think that states are ponderous beasts that don’t change very quickly unless they have to, and since they’re the biggest thing around, they almost never have to. And then you should thing about the inherent dangers in entrusting half of GDP, more or less, to be spent by institutions that no one actually controls.

  31. Brett says:

    I’m suspicious of cases where you have a successful public institution (like a public bank), and then extrapolate from that to claiming that you could have only public banks (something Matt Bruenig does regularly). Existing public institutions are all embedded within a broader market economy and often have private alternatives – to get an idea of what democratic socialism would really look like, it’s best to look at stuff where there is no alternative to the public institution. Some of that seems to work well (single-payer health care, at least on the insurance side). Others not so much (IE long distance passenger rail with Amtrak). Overall it’s not particularly promising.

    All that said, I wouldn’t be opposed to a policy of gradually incorporating greater employee representation and ownership over time. I think it’s good if the firm essentially has an institutional voice through employee representatives on the board, and don’t think it’s beneficial to leave them entirely to share-holders indefinitely.

    Mondragon is an interesting case because it’s so singular – there’s nothing really like it. It seems to work well for its members, so where are all the other Mondragons?

    Before genetic engineering, there was atomic gardening, the 1970s practice of planting some seeds in a circle around a radiation source and hoping some of them got beneficial mutations.

    We still do that now with mutagenesis in plant breeding. Blast the plants and seeds with radiation or some other mutation-inducing thing, then examine and cultivate the mutants for useful traits.

    Myths about WWI: contrary to the portrayal that officers sat in comfortable tents as they sent enlisted men to certain death, officers were about 50% more likely to die than ordinary soldiers.

    A huge chunk of the male British aristocracy got wiped out in WWI, because they were over-represented in the officer corps and had high fatality rates (especially junior officers).

    • ReaperReader says:

      Some of that seems to work well (single-payer health care, at least on the insurance side).

      Out of interest, where has tried single payer health care? The UK has a private health sector. And for that matter, many continental European countries have multiple health insurers for mandated care, without having noticeably worse or more expensive public healthcare systems than the UK.

      • Brett says:

        Canada. Single-payer insurance, no co-pays.

        • cassander says:

          canada has more out of pocket spending as a share of all spending than the US.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            As a share of all healthcare spending, yes. Why should we care about that, rather than a much greater difference in the opposite direction in absolute terms? If you want to object to Brett’s claim that Canada doesn’t have copays, the fact that Canada has any out-of-pocket spending is sufficient (assuming that figure only includes copays and not e.g. plastic surgery, which may or may not be the case).

        • ECD says:

          @cassander

          Note, that’s as a share of all health spending (ie the better you do on controlling costs, the higher your percentage is going to be) not all spending (at least at that link). That’s due to prescription costs, as I understand it. Despite having approximately the same per capita income, the actual cost is, by your source, $690 a year vs $1,103 per year.

          ETA: Nope, can’t just be prescription costs, as poking around that site claims the per capita prescription costs for Canada are $139. I’m unsure what’s going on, or where the data is coming from.

  32. pressedForTime says:

    88% believe that “compromise and common ground should be the goal”, but 83% believe that “I’m tired of leaders compromising my values and ideals…

    Well, I am tired of leaders who compromise my values and ideals, which just happen to be that compromise and common ground should be the goal.

    They’re moderate in all things, including their moderation.

  33. gdepasamonte says:

    Loosely related to ‘”speed of painting”: one of my best finds this year was the series Tom Keating on Painters. Tom Keating was a British art forger in the 60s, incredibly technically gifted but disillusioned with the cynical attitude of contemporary art. Having some understanding of historical painting styles from restoration work, he spent the decade thumbing his nose to the galleries & auction houses with fake Rembrandts, Gainsboroughs etc. When he was found out and arrested, the public discovered that he was rather a loveable old rogue, and he was duly put on television.

    In the series, he demonstrates in a fast-and-loose way how he imagined some of the great painters worked. One of the many pleasures of watching is seeing how quickly and accurately someone with a lifetime of working with a brush in hand can put down exactly the right thing. The re-imaginings of Constable’s Haywain and Turner’s Fighting Temeraire are my favourites. They are clearly done over several days at least, but are much more complex than the picture in the link (the amount of layering in some is staggering.)

  34. n8chz says:

    I guess that would explain the Gilligan’s Island episode with the radioactive seeds.

  35. Jacob says:

    Seems to me like they’re just launching pointless attacks on coincidental features of this particular shooting instead of going after the real problem: houses

    Please don’t give the Bay Area government any other ideas/excuses to limit housing

  36. guzey says:

    I should clarify that I did not spend “130 hours chronicling all the errors in the first chapter of Dr. Matthew Walker’s hit book Why We Sleep”. I spent 130 hours chronicling the five most egregious errors in the first chapter. There seem to be many more errors in the chapter.

    • j1000000 says:

      Thanks for that post. Sometimes I wake up feeling well rested at 7 hours, but because the 8 hours thing is so widespread, I usually force myself to try to go back to sleep.

      Have you gotten much pushback in the style of “even if it’s technically wrong, why bother debunking this since overall it’s probably good”?

      • guzey says:

        Yes, this was the majority of the feedback I got lol.

        Also — this sounds very similar to my experience. I used to force myself to sleep full 8 a lot even when I didn’t want to. After having done all of this research I’m much more relaxed and feel even better 🙂

    • Nick says:

      This post was a big relief to me—I worry regularly about how much sleep I’m getting, and had the same “Wow, trying to get 8 hours of sleep is apparently really counterproductive” bind back in college. And now I’m bingeing your archives. Thanks.

    • kotrfa says:

      Thanks for that article, really. I saw the feedback on reddit and hackernews, it’s quite sad people are like “well, but it may be better to lie like this”…

    • Rachael says:

      I envy you guys. I’m just about functional on 8 hours, dizzy and nauseous with fatigue on 6, and only feel well-rested on 10 or 11.

  37. pressedForTime says:

    …wearing a backpack full of severed human arms…

    This makes it sound like the arms of several people were in the backpack, but it was only (only!) the 2 arms of the woman he murdered.

  38. J says:

    “Professor Cyclone Covey” from the Arizona hoax article is obviously one of the X-Men. That’s right up there with “Nick Metropolis” in terms of epic names.

  39. theodidactus says:

    This is a risky post because I could look like an idiot or come out looking smart if I predict things in advance…

    …isn’t there some argument that the California law, at least as it pertains to freelance journalists, violates the 1st amendment? I’d liken it to certain campaign finance restrictions the supreme court has found to be unconstitutional. This is a “quantity based” restriction on speech, and perhaps more specifically the press.

    I can see the potential counterargument (for the press itself, there’s no limitation on the number of articles, there’s a limitation on the number of authors) …\
    but I still think this is weak to some kind of 1st amendment attack, precisely because the number “35” appears to be chosen arbitrarily.

    Foundation: I’m a 3L. I say that not as a point of authority but rathe