SELF-RECOMMENDING!

Open Thread 146

This is the bi-weekly visible open thread (there are also hidden open threads twice a week you can reach through the Open Thread tab on the top of the page). Post about anything you want, but please try to avoid hot-button political and social topics. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit – and also check out the SSC Podcast. Also:

1. In 2016, I made a bet with bhauth that the US median income growth under Donald Trump wouldn’t significantly outperform the trendline for the past 25 years. It did, so I lost. As his prize, bhauth asks me to signal-boost his work on a new type of battery that outperforms lithium-ion.

2. Some people have already gotten a nice head start analyzing the SSC survey; see eg wulfrickson on autogynephilia and jsmp on various things.

3. The SSC podcast is still trying to recoup its costs, so it’s started offering ads. You can get your ad read on the podcast for $100/month; they get about 1500 downloads per episode, and there are 10-ish episodes per month. Email slatestarpodcast[at]gmail[dot]com for details.

4. I need to make my inbox more manageable, so I am going to ask you not to send me emails asking for comments on your manifestos or ideas or interesting links you found. I find myself feeling annoyed if I spend time on them and guilty if I don’t, and it’s unfair to you to have to listen to me saying I will answer you and then never doing so. If you have interesting things like this you want to bring to my attention, post them on the SSC subreddit, which I read pretty often. I continue to accept other types of emails. Sorry about this.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

712 Responses to Open Thread 146

  1. FormerRanger says:

    Does anyone have any insight into what is happening in regard to the contaminated ranitidine problem?

    Zantac (ranitidine) tablets with high amounts of N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) in them were discovered last year. NDMA is a (low-level) carcinogen. The tablets were recalled, more brands (prescription and generic) were identified with excess NDMA, those were recalled, drug stores de-stocked it, etc. These drugs are mostly manufactured in India and China, not universally known for perfect manufacturing. The first reports, IIRC, were from lots made in India.

    On the one hand the FDA said the levels found are minor (similar to what you’d get from eating grilled meat), and there was nothing to worry about while a fix is found. Other sources suggest the amounts were much higher than what the FDA reported. Some health authorities suggested switching to Prilosec (generic is omeprazole). However, omeprazole is a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) and issues with those have been reported in the last few years as well.

    So, is there any consensus or new news on this topic? Is ranitidine less safe than omeprazole or vice versa? Is the problem really sloppy manufacturing processes, or is it inherent? What other alternatives exist?

    • Dack says:

      I’ve used omeprazole and ranitidine in the past. Omeprazole seemed to make me gain weight, and I threw away my ranitidine when I heard about the cancer stuff (even thought it’s probably a big deal over nothing).

      I just don’t take meds for heartburn anymore. But since I went to a ketogenic diet, I haven’t had any symptoms.

    • JayT says:

      I’ve always used famotidine and have been happy with the results. As far as I know, there haven’t been any issues found with that recently.

    • Whatever says:

      I’m interested as well. I switched from Zantac to Prilosec soon after I heard the news.

      What are the issue with proton pump inhibitors?

      • FormerRanger says:

        PPIs such as omeprazole have higher cardiovascular issue risk (+18%, I think) with long-term use. This is one reason why they always say “use for no more than two weeks.” The risk may be overstated, according to some sources. It’s particularly an issue in older men. See WebMD for more detail.

        Prilosec is omeprazole, which is a PPI.

        Famotidine is an H2 inhibitor (like randitidine). It has the usual laundry list of “rare” side-effects but otherwise seems fairly benign.

        • Whatever says:

          Interesting, thanks. I note that the article also says:


          “The report concluded that the evidence supporting all of these risks was low- to very-low quality,” he said. “Therefore, there’s insufficient evidence to conclude that these adverse outcomes are likely to be an effect of the PPI therapy.”

          I tried Famotidine (Pepcid AC) and it didn’t work for me. Otherwise I wouldn’t hesitate to switch.

    • Whatever says:

      A quick googling reveals that NDMA may appear when ranitidine is exposed to heat (e.g. during shipping or storage). It may even be fine when it leaves the factory but not when the pills reach your house.

    • zardoz says:

      So, I remember reading an article about generic ranitidine being contaminated with NDMA a while back. I tried searching for that article just now, and I had a hell of a time finding it. Instead I just found a lot of articles linking to the FDA’s statement.

      I think the FDA statement is misleading, because it doesn’t mention the name of the laboratory that actually discovered the problem, Valisure. Most news sites are following in this pattern as well, using the passive voice to weasel out of mentioning who actually found the problem (“X was found…”)

      There is more information in this Washington Post article.

      The pharmacy, Valisure, is a start-up with only 14 full-time employees. But since its scientists alerted American regulators that Zantac and its generic form, ranitidine, contained a chemical thought to cause cancer, more than 40 countries from Australia to Vietnam have either stopped sales, launched investigations or otherwise stepped in to protect consumers from possible health risks.

      For Valisure’s scientists, finding NDMA in ranitidine was a particularly dramatic example of the kind of discovery they make routinely. Valisure checks the chemical makeup of drugs before it ships them to consumers, and it rejects more than 10 percent of the batches because its tests detect contaminants, medicine that didn’t dissolve properly or pills that contain the wrong dose, among other issues. Since late 2018, Valisure has reported more than 50 problems directly to drug companies. Occasionally — as in the case of Zantac — their scientists find a problem so urgent they play the role of watchdog.

      “I had a fairly dim view of drug quality in the United States going into this, but we’ve discovered tons of problems I never even thought of — and they’re all over the place,” said Adam Clark-Joseph, one of Valisure’s founders.

      The FDA firmly rejects the idea that the drug supply is unsafe and said that one of Valisure’s conclusions– that ranitidine turns into NDMA in the stomach– is not supported by the agency’s testing. The agency reviews reams of data before approving a drug, inspects factories that make them, runs its own tests on selected drugs and collects reports of safety problems.

      “Americans can be confident in the quality of the products the FDA approves,” spokesman Jeremy Kahn said.

      Valisure makes money the same way other pharmacies do — buying drugs from wholesalers and taking a cut of the price when it sells them. To set itself apart, it chemically tests the medicines it dispenses — marketing its services on the premise that people can’t be confident about what’s inside the pill bottles that fill their bathroom cabinets.

      Clark-Joseph, an economist with some chemistry training, was drawn to the idea because he kept getting sick. In graduate school, he refilled a prescription only to find that the new, supposedly identical drug didn’t work. When his doctor told him to try another pharmacy because he probably got a bad batch, he was appalled. After similar incidents occurred, he started searching for a lab that would verify the chemical contents of his medication. When he didn’t find an obvious solution, he called his college friend David Light, who had worked in biotech, and suggested that they partner on a business that would verify the chemical contents of drugs.

      I won’t quote the whole thing, but to summarize: Most generic drugs are made in overseas factories. The FDA doesn’t perform any testing on the drugs that are imported into the country. They do inspect the overseas factories (although there is an alarming 2016 report that states that “almost a third of 3,000 foreign drug establishments licensed by the FDA may not have been inspected”) There seems to be good reason to believe that they are way too lax about it even when they do inspect the factories. And they don’t inspect the outputs at all.

      I wonder how many “medication X mysteriously doesn’t work on Y% of people” findings in medical studies are because some batches are just defective in various ways.

  2. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Deiseach from a couple of threads back. I tend to like a lot of British isles folk music, even some of the sweeter stuff. I don’t know whether you’d count The Chieftains as insipid.

    As for The Great Chinggis Khaan, for me, it’s pretty much fun because it sounds scary. I wonder what the invading Mongols would have thought of it.

    You cited A Proper Sort of Gardener as infuriating. Me, too, though for somewhat different reasons, I think.

    I think there are people who dislike Judaism and Christianity for real reasons rather than just virtue signaling. I think the worst thing about the song is that she’s describing things (God mistreating Adam and Eve, the man losing his garden) which should rouse fury and/or grief rather than wistfulness.

    • Deiseach says:

      Oh, I don’t mind the Chieftains at all; they did good music, though they also had a canny commercial sense and went for the market of “guest album with X” and good luck to them on that.

      The resurgent Mongolian Khanate nationalism is all good fun, though if the Golden Horde Mark II rocks up and starts invading China, it probably won’t seem like such fun 😀

      The gardener song drives me spare because it’s a particularly English kind of simpering tweeness: on the face of it, it’s a saccharine song of “when I were young” vintage, the commercialising of English Heritage Memory. But the lyricist has to slip in a dig at Christianity out of nowhere for no reason other than swanking and showing off their Precocious Juvenile Atheism, and where the simpering tweeness comes in is that they use the excuse of “I’m praising kind nice Mr. Neighbour who let me pick flowers out of his garden when I was young, not bigging myself up” when pluming and preening about said Precocious Juvenile Atheism is the whole point of the damn thing.

      I’m sure Mr. Neighbour was a nice, kind old man and I have no quarrel with him. I do kind of wish our Precocious Juvenile Atheist, when they were being a garden-invading flower-stealing brat, had snacked on some laurel berries – then there wouldn’t be any problems with arch little songs 😉

    • Dino says:

      Nancy scooped me – Deiseach also inspired me to want more discussion of British isles folk music. I’m with Deiseach about the twee – I prefer more of an edge. So a rock&roll treatment of a murder ballad or a supernatural thriller (e.g. “Alison Gross”) makes me a fan of Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention. The R&R isn’t necessary, just has to be non Enya-like – I also love Pentangle. And The Chieftains and Planxty and Boys of the Lough and Clannad (yeah – Enya’s sister, WTH?). Curious to hear what others think about them. Then there’s also folk-adjacent stuff like some Jethro Tull (thinking of “Songs From the Wood”) or Donovan (who is sometimes too twee for me) or Traffic’s “John Barleycorn” (which I like). My knowledge is somewhat behind the times, so would like to learn about more recent stuff.

      • rmtodd says:

        Clannad (yeah – Enya’s sister, WTH?)

        More than just her sister; IIRC, everyone in the band is either Enya’s sister, her brother, or her uncle. (Enya herself was on the Fuaim album, around 1980 I think…)

    • Bugmaster says:

      Well, FWIW, I personally dislike all religions for what I think are real reasons; I dislike American Christianity in particular for its theocratic ambitions on top of everything else. That said, you only have my word for it, I could be virtue-signalling at his very moment…

      • Deiseach says:

        Well, you state your position in a manly (or womanly, or personly) manner and that’s excellent. You’re not engaging in some hand-raising smirking “Mr Neighbour is so nice and kind, not like that God person Papa told me about in the Bible – what, I’m just saying Mr Neighbour is lovely!” and then expecting to bask in praise for not being fooled by that silly old Bible writing such a nice song about such a nice childhood memory.

        A Christopher Hitchens style rant would be a worthwhile song because it would have something to sink your teeth into, whether you wanted to shout it out while thumping the table with your beer mug in agreement or whether (like me, say) you went into a frothing rage; a “when I was a wee bratling I robbed flowers from an old man’s garden and instead of walloping the backside off me like he was entitled to do, he told my mother it was fine with him – by the way, isn’t religion stupid? Now back to the nicey-nicey old-timey nostalgia!” syrup fest is not worth the whistle.

  3. johan_larson says:

    If we use the Turing Test game to try to distinguish real Canadians from American pretenders and vice versa, what are some good questions?

    To find the real Canadians, ask them who Terry Fox was.

    To find the real Americans, ask them how many feet there are in a mile.

    Other useful questions?

    • EchoChaos says:

      To find the real Americans, ask them how many feet there are in a mile.

      Wait, do Canadians really not know this?

      • johan_larson says:

        I would guess most of us don’t know the number of feet in a mile without looking it up. We do use US customary weights and measures quite a bit, but Canada is officially metric and that’s all we are taught in school. This means we tend to know the most common conversions like feet to inches, but we miss out on some of the rarer ones like feet to miles.

      • jermo sapiens says:

        I know it’s not a logical number like 1000 but more like 5342 or something silly like that. All I know is that 1 mile ~ 1.6 kilometers, and that is sufficient for me.

        • johan_larson says:

          It’s a really terrible number. Divisible by 11. 11!

          • SamChevre says:

            That’s because 2 rods is 11 feet – a mile is (2^6)*3*5 rods.

          • CatCube says:

            It’s also divisible by 32, which means you can find a lot of whole-feet dyadic fractions (where you keep dividing in half, halves, fourths, etc., which were much easier to find without machine tools than tenths). It can also be divided into thirds (because it’s a whole number of yards).

            ETA: @SamChevre
            I think you mean 2 rods is 11 yards, not feet. An acre is 40 rods by 4 rods, or 66 feet by 660 feet. (660 feet is an eighth of a mile, or 220 yards).

      • Aftagley says:

        To find the real Americans, ask them how many feet there are in a mile.

        Wait, do Canadians really not know this?

        Wait, do most Americans know this? I honestly have no clue. I know it’s a bunch, and I know if I start running I’ll do a mile in around 7 minutes or so, but no clue otherwise. Hmm, this and my love of poutine is making me think I might not actually be a real american.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I know it’s “five thousand something” but I don’t think it has ever in my life been useful to know exactly. The whole point of using the Imperial System is because “useful for humans” and not “easy to convert.” Feet are for small measurements, miles for big ones and who cares how many smalls are in a big?

        I was curious, though, so I googled and found this page with a neat trick:

        Think of five tomatoes: Each syllable of that phrase represents a number in the four-digit 5,280. “Five,” “two,” “m-eight,” and “oh’s” for zero.

      • DinoNerd says:

        ROFLMAO. Well, this Canadian, living in the US since the early 90s, and old enough to remember the Canadian conversion to metric, immediately thought of the correct answer.

    • S_J says:

      To find the real Canadian, ask them the temperature of the hottest summer during their childhood.

      If they give you a number below 40 degrees, they are Canadian.

    • Tenacious D says:

      For Canadians:

      Ask about Peter Mansbridge or the guy from Shawinigan.
      What’s the matter with Gary Bettman?
      Have you ever heard a land acknowledgment?

      For Americans:

      Maybe something about college sports or fraternity/sorority experiences?

    • BBA says:

      Last time we had this, my answer was “Who was your favorite teacher in school? What grade did you have them in?”

      An American would answer the latter question with something like “ninth grade” while a Canadian would say something like “grade nine.”

    • bean says:

      I believe the test suggested last time this came up was to start with “Oh, the year was 1778…” and see if they continue.

    • whenhaveiever says:

      What’s a double-double? The American has a sports answer; the Canadian has a coffee answer.

    • Deiseach says:

      If we use the Turing Test game to try to distinguish real Canadians from American pretenders and vice versa, what are some good questions?

      Ask them to describe what is bacon.

    • Dacyn says:

      Dangit, I am 1 for 3 on the questions to prove I am American so far.

      I wonder if there’s anything to be gained from questions like who was the sixteenth president, or when is Thanksgiving. Or even when is Groundhog Day, when I was in the UK no one knew that.

      • JayT says:

        I would guess that the average American couldn’t tell you who the 16th president was, and for Thanksgiving would probably say a Thursday in late November, or the last Thursday in November. I doubt they could give the actual definition.

        • Don P. says:

          In my childhood (1960s) the 16th was the only President whose number you’d be expected to know, not counting the current one.

          EDIT: And the first, and I guess the first n for very small n.

          • Nornagest says:

            Pretty much all Americans know the first President (Washington), and most know the third (Jefferson), but I’d bet that most don’t know the second (Adams) unless they’ve taken a US History class recently.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Nornagest

            Favorite President fact:

            Of the first twelve Presidents, only two did not own slaves.

            Both were named John Adams.

      • Jake R says:

        I’m an American and I couldn’t tell you when Groundhog day is.

        • Nornagest says:

          Sometime in February is about as close as I can get. Couldn’t name the dates for MLK Day or President’s Day, either.

          Labor Day would distinguish America from most of the world — an American would say the first Monday in September (or at any rate sometime in late summer), while elsewhere it’s usually 1 May — but as it happens the Canadians align with the Americans on this one.

      • Deiseach says:

        when is Groundhog Day

        That one’s easy, it’s on the Feast of Candlemas, the day after Lá Fhéile Bríde 😀

    • Eric Rall says:

      Casually mention a Canadian-born actor who’s best known for roles in American film and television, describing him as an American actor. If your interlocutor corrects you, they’re probably Canadian.

    • Matt M says:

      I am American and I know who Terry Fox is because I watched all of the original ESPN 30 for 30 documentaries.

      I also may have picked it up anyway through cultural osmosis because I’m a huge hockey fan and a lot of the people I follow on social media, podcasts I listen to, etc. are Canadian.

    • TJ2001 says:

      I think you would be better off asking pop-culture questions than factual information… Probably less than 1 in 100 Americans knows there is 5280ft/mile…. 99 in 100 know about Jussie Smolette… Where the rest of the world could care less….

      Conversely – Canadians seem to be a *lot* more interested in British Royals than Americans… For example – the average American knows nothing about Prince Andrew except that he recently got into some trouble with The Queen over something or another…

      Most Americans also have ZERO idea what Tim Horton’s is or even who Tim Horton was….

      So for example – the dividing line between American “Northerners” and “Southerners” has nothing to do about a war 150+ years ago… It’s Sweet or Unsweet tea? Sweet or salty cornbread? Rolls or biscuits? “Yall” or “youns/you guys”…

      • acymetric says:

        I think you would be better off asking pop-culture questions than factual information… Probably less than 1 in 100 Americans knows there is 5280ft/mile

        That is…way too low. I would probably buy that the number is less than 50%, but it certainly isn’t 1%.

    • How about the same question for Northern California vs Southern California?

  4. Taccount says:

    I made a petition you should all sign. All you need is a name and a real or fake email and address.

    • Evan Þ says:

      Have prediction markets actually proven to be effective tools for establishing the probabilities of events which depend significantly on actually-unknown scientific facts? Let alone events which also depend significantly on political decisions which might well be influenced by those prediction markets?

      (Let alone how online petitions are only slightly more effective than a personal blog.)

    • Hey says:

      The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security has a collaborative prediction platform (not quite a prediction market). They have questions about various diseases and recently added questions about the novel coronavirus.

    • Reasoner says:

      Tried to sign but got an error message.

  5. Are there any bodybuilders who also have genius level IQ and write research papers in high level mathematics or physics?

    • John Schilling says:

      That’s an extremely specific set of requirements; why do you ask?

      I can give you a genius former professional football player who wrote research papers in high-level plasma dynamics and medicine.

      • That’s an extremely specific set of requirements; why do you ask?

        Because stereotypically being extremely muscular and extremely intelligent aren’t associated in people’s minds, even though there’s no particular reason why they shouldn’t be, and off the top of my head I couldn’t think of an example of someone who has excelled in both things at the elite level. You get kind of borderline examples; Dolph Lundgren is supposed to have an IQ of 160.

        • Creutzer says:

          Of course there’s a reason why they shouldn’t be associated. Even if someone has the potential for great achievements in multiple fields, they normally pursue only one because one has only so much time and energy.

        • SamChevre says:

          Related fields, so not exactly what you asked-but Roger Bannister was both the first person to run a sub-four-minute mile, and the author of a major textbook on neurology.

        • redxaxder says:

          There is a reason they shouldn’t be!

          Assume that they’re totally unrelated. Then suppose you produce a list of people who are sufficiently smart, sufficiently strong, or some combination.

          This criterion ensures that the people who are dumb and weak don’t make it in. That’s enough to introduce an inverse correlation between those variables on the set of people who made the list.

          This is Berkson’s paradox.

        • viVI_IViv says:

          Because stereotypically being extremely muscular and extremely intelligent aren’t associated in people’s minds, even though there’s no particular reason why they shouldn’t be

          If being strong and being smart were independent, then being both extremely strong and extremely smart would be very unlikely.

          Strength and intelligence are probably positively correlated to some extent because the g factor positively correlates with things like general health, lifespan and height, but the number of people who are in the tail of both distributions is still going to be small.

          d off the top of my head I couldn’t think of an example of someone who has excelled in both things at the elite level.

          You might observe a negative correlation in terms of professional success at elite level, because its hard to specialize in more than one thing.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Oh, if you’re in for the shock value, previous picture is Dr. Mike Israetel. I’ve seen him speak live once – one of the nicest men I’ve seen.

    • JayT says:

      Not exactly a bodybuilder, but John Urschel was an NFL player, and is now getting his mathematics doctorate from MIT.

    • Well... says:

      The calculus professor at my high school was a bodybuilder. I don’t know if he was a genius or not, or if he ever wrote research papers, but I was told his program was nationally regarded.

    • Dino says:

      Not math or physics, but Oliver Sacks was a bodybuilder/weightlifter.

    • AlexanderTheGrand says:

      Richard Kadison was a mathematician who won a lifetime achievement award for his work on operator algebra, as well as qualified for the Olympic Men’s Gymnastics team for the United States.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Surprisingly, Niels Bohr wasn’t one. Good think I checked, could have sworn. He was sporty, but not extremely so.

      Not sure how close this is to what you want, but I’ve met and learned from Menno Henselmans, former BayesianBodybuilding. Couldn’t really resist such a title. Also – not sure if it’s a new phenomenon or not – but there’s a LOT of PhDs involved in fitness these days, at least if you look in the right places. I could give you many names, but most of their papers are in their domain. Menno has a background in data crunching first, so it might be closer.

    • noyann says:

      Not quite up to your requirements but still an example against the stereotype: The net says Schwarzenegger has an IQ of 135. Yet I would not see him as genius, more as a combination of tenacity and determination, high general intelligence, and talent. He had/has impressive multiple successful careers in fields as diverse as bodybuilding, acting, business, and politics. He once sad having been underestimated has often helped him.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        Just started using IQ test as a hiring aid (it’s legal here) and I have a newfound respect for the average 😀 So far I’m barely beating 100. 135 is pretty high.

        • noyann says:

          Sure. But bear in mind that I had no reliable source, sooooo, kg of salt for quick web search.

          While searching I came across a list that had Boris Johnson at the bottom with 79. Probably there is a fine print somewhere stating that it’s not the PM…

          • Tarpitz says:

            I doubt (the real) BoJo has ever taken an IQ test – it’s not particularly common in Britain. But he is definitely possessed of native wit considerably greater than the average.

    • johan_larson says:

      I can’t name anyone who fits those specific criteria, but Arnold Schwarzenegger was a champion bodybuilder who also succeeded as an actor, investor, and politician.

    • Incurian says:

      Doesn’t meet exact specs, but Dolph Lundgren.

    • Reasoner says:

      Not bodybuilding, but this guy used to play for the NFL, which is more legit than bodybuilding if you ask me. (A friend of mine claims that the US doesn’t do well in international strength competitions because there’s way more money in football.)

      https://news.mit.edu/2019/student-john-urschel-math-football-0515

    • Aceso Under Glass says:

      I knew a guy who got an astrophysics PhD at 25 and literally competed in bodybuidling competitions.The PhD was from a second tier school, but he was plausibly handicapped by low family SES. He has written many papers, although I don’t know what his impact rating is. He said a lot of his co-workers worked out seriously as well, although not to his level.

      I do think that bodybuilding is maybe the wrong marker of physical success here- it’s closer to modeling than athletics.

  6. Deiseach says:

    Film review time!

    I have just watched the 2019 reboot of Hellboy and the verdict is a resounding “meh”. I still prefer the 2004 original movie (I agree that the 2008 sequel was weak).

    Pros:
    – Milla Jovovich acts her little socks off, though it’s Ian McShane who does the heavy lifting in the thespian department.
    – Daniel Dae Kim. I feel any movie is improved by his inclusion, and he doesn’t even need to take his top off (though it is an added bonus here). I love that boy’s facial bone structure 🙂 And he pulls off a decent English accent, too! (I’m less impressed by the standing aside of the originally cast actor for Major Ben Daimio, as the character is Japanese-American, in order for an Asian-ancestry actor to be cast in the part – then they go out and cast a Korean to play Japanese. Though see below re: casting of Merlin’s actor, which is probably the same “eh, close enough, who’s gonna notice?” attitude).
    – Greatly amused by Brian Gleeson as Merlin, complete with strong Irish accent. Merlin should be Welsh by rights, but I suppose it was “eh, close enough” for Celticness as far as the movie people were concerned.
    – Hellboy’s fight with the giants is about the best fight scene in the movie.

    Cons:
    – Argh. Prologue set in Ye Olde Darke Ages, though they at least do get it right for being the 5th century. Excalibur is also a pretty good example of a sword of the period (more or less). King Arthur and his armour, however, are not. Again, probably down to “But everyone expects Arthur to look like this”.
    – The music is poor. Bland standard rawk jams for the fight scenes, but oddly anaemic for the purpose of getting the adrenaline going.
    – NOT ENOUGH LOBSTER JOHNSON. THIS FILM NEEDED AT LEAST 50% MORE CLAW OF JUSTICE.
    – The CGI is – CGI. Visibly so, but then again you can’t really expect it to pull off ‘realistic’ monsters, giants and were-jaguars.
    – Second to that, the movie looks oddly cheap. Comparing budgets, 2004 Hellboy cost $66 million as against 2019 Hellboy‘s $50 million, so I suppose by today’s standards it was made on the cheap. And it shows, despite brave attempts to portray otherwise.
    – Too much swearing. Yeah, an odd complaint, but since every second line was “fucking this, fucking that, and fucking the other” it really simply grated on my ears. Less foul-mouthedness, more dialogue!
    – The plot was very linear and simple. Okay, it’s supposed to be the excuse for the kewl fight scenes, but the fight scenes are not that interesting (and the bland music doesn’t help). You can ignore a “point A to point B” plot if the fight scenes are big and brassy and loud and colourful, but the fight scenes in this didn’t amount to much (other than more CGI and the live actors striking ‘cool action poses’). Okay, yes, I did admire Daniel Dae Kim with his top off, but even that can’t make up for yet more hacking and slashing and throwing buckets of gore around. No suspense in the plot, not even “will they/won’t they get to the next Nimue Casket first?” because nope, the bad guy was on track to find them all first.
    – Pursuant to the above, too much damn gore. I’m hardened to it by now so I just go “ho-hum” at faces ripped off etc. so it didn’t have the shock value they might have been going for. Buckets of gore are not how you make fight scenes zing!
    – Lumpy mix of cheesy humour, gore and (fleeting) moments of angst. Not incorporated well, and to be blunt they’d have done better to go full-on cheesy humour and play it up a bit rather than the “hack, slash, flying limbs, unconvincing cannibalism (seriously, how do you mess up Baba Yaga the baby-eating witch????) and buckets of stage blood” they went for.

    To sum up: gore is no substitute for imagination. Guillermo del Toro still wins this bout. You can see that the ending is setting up for a sequel (with Abe Sapien) but I doubt it’ll happen and I’m not going to be disappointed if it doesn’t (whereas with the 2004 movie I was in great expectation for the sequel).

    • noyann says:

      Dialogue vanishes more and more in films, both in quantity and quality, because everything beyond trivia translates bad into really different cultures, some of which unfortunately happen to be a market to huuuge to sneeze at. And humor above slapstick or gross — the same.

    • Atlas says:

      I have just watched the 2019 reboot of Hellboy and the verdict is a resounding “meh”. I still prefer the 2004 original movie (I agree that the 2008 sequel was weak).

      Indeed, and I’d argue that the first GDT movie was even better than the (good) source material comics. (At least, the specific origin story ones roughly corresponding to it.) Heck, I’ll even say that the second del Toro movie was decent enough, if a step down from the first one.

      – NOT ENOUGH LOBSTER JOHNSON. THIS FILM NEEDED AT LEAST 50% MORE CLAW OF JUSTICE.

      There is never enough Lobster Johnson. Conqueror Worm is a great story arc from the comics, if anyone is interested but not familiar with it.

  7. proyas says:

    Why does China need to build a new hospital for coronavirus victims? Wouldn’t it be cheaper and faster to erect military hospital tents like this? https://www.losberger.com/us/en_US/datasheet/inflatable-shelters/

    • JayT says:

      I’m assuming they were already planned to be built, and they just moved them up the priority list to meet the demand from the outbreak. I doubt they were starting from scratch on these.

    • Aftagley says:

      My guess: because there are more public officials within the local and national CCP organizations that feel like their future depends on them Doing Something than there are actual productive things to do.

      As I mentioned below, SARs was a pivotal moment for the CCP, the official’s inaction and secrecy ended up being very unpopular and multiple officials were fired or disciplined as a result. Judging by the response thus far to the current outbreak, it looks like the response they’ve settled on en mass is “Do Everything.”

      Hopefully amidst all the busy work, actual effective disease mitigation efforts are funded and enacted.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Then don’t scale well enough. To deal with a small crisis they’re more or less ok, but a 500 bed hospital needs to be a hospital – otherwise you’d scrub, then walk outside to see patients.

      Plus plumbing 🙂

  8. edmundgennings says:

    I am curious what different types of clergy do quite frequently that would not be known to outsiders. For example, after getting to know them better it has become clear that Catholic priests spend a whole lot of time ministering to the sick, dying, and the dead, and their families. Not only do they spend a decent fraction of their time doing this, they are basically always on call to do this as people generally do not ask for a priest until they will need on pretty soon.
    I imagine there are equivalents in other faith traditions and I am curious what they are.

    • Two McMillion says:

      The above is true for most Protestant clergy as well.

    • Garrett says:

      A friend of mine is in an organized Protestant denomination. A few things I’ve noticed he deals with:
      * People claim he “only works 1 hour a week”
      * Fails to account for sermon preparation time (say, 3-5 hours)
      * Fails to account for bringing communion/services to shut-ins and the handicapped (at least 2 hours each).
      * There’s Bible study plus preparation (say, another 2-4 hours)
      * There’s meetings with the congregation leadership on everything from “What does God want for us?” to “how do we get the money to fix the broken toilet?”
      * Meetings with the denomination on everything from spiritual to mundane/bureaucratic.
      * PR events where the pastor is expected to “show up” even if they don’t have a formal role. Eg. rummage sale.

      Plus:
      * Annual mega-reports on overall church attendance, financial audits, church building condition, continuing education, etc., etc.
      * As mentioned, being on-call for everything for everyone. Usually life-or-death events. Sometimes it’s scheduled marriage counselling. Sometimes it’s just people who want to talk at that moment.

      • CatCube says:

        Yeah, the sermon prep thing alone probably accounts for quite a bit and it’s a little dismaying to hear that people discount it. My pastor isn’t bad at speaking off the cuff, but there’s a distinct delta between the skill with which he’s delivering a 15-25-minute sermon completely from memory and when he’s asked to make a 30-second announcement when reading from something he was just handed. The guy is very obviously spending a lot of time practicing the sermon.

      • dodrian says:

        There’s meetings with the congregation leadership on everything from “What does God want for us?” to “how do we get the money to fix the broken toilet?”

        This takes a lot for a pastor of a small to medium sized church (large churches may have a board with a chair that isn’t the pastor to fill the mundane parts of it).

        It often involves mentoring other (formal or informal) leaders in the congregation, or finding or chasing up people who have promised to do things.

      • bean says:

        As mentioned, being on-call for everything for everyone. Usually life-or-death events. Sometimes it’s scheduled marriage counselling. Sometimes it’s just people who want to talk at that moment.

        I think you underrate the “people who want to talk” aspect. There’s a lot of regular spiritual needs that pastors are expected to cover, some of which comes with people in the hospital, and some of which isn’t. There’s the usual “if you want to talk to someone after the service, people will be at the front” thing, but those people usually aren’t sorted out in the 5 minutes after the service, and somebody has to help them long-term.

      • Aftagley says:

        I’ve always thought of priests/monks/pastors as being equivalent to firemen. I honestly don’t care what they do with their time 99% of the time as long as they are on point during that 1%

      • TJ2001 says:

        Remember also that the Pastor is typically the 1st line of Mental Health and Family Counseling…. If for no other reason than the pastor is known and “Free”….

        Also don’t forget typically being the first line for drug/alcohol addiction issues…. Parents or relatives bring their addicted relatives to the pastor for help….

        All the pastors I know maintain a list of known/respected mental health professionals, family counselors, and drug treatment programs for referral purposes…

        99% of their job does not happen on Sunday morning… Giving the weekly Sermon is the fun part compared to daily counseling with married couples and parents/children who are at eachother’s throats and such..

    • semipermeable says:

      UU ministers:
      -not so much visiting the sick, but still plenty of funerals
      -maybe more time on worship-planning, because our services are less standardized/lectionaried
      -leading workshops on how to do good better
      -studying how to do good better
      -many meetings (so many committees)
      -maybe more public presence than other denominations

  9. eqdw says:

    Scott, apologies if this breaks any rules or toes too close to the line. If you have to delete this comment I won’t be offended.

    The other day I was cleaning my house and found my old stash of tianeptine sulphate that I got from Ceretropics after reading a suggestion here at SSC to try that out. It is too soon to tell, but I think it is having a dramatic positive effect on my anxiety and quality of life.

    One small problem: Ceretropics closed down. So if I keep taking this, I have maybe a month’s worth left.

    So, question: Does anyone have recommendations for a trustworthy and reliable alternative to Ceretropics that I can source tianeptine sulphate (not sodium!) from?

  10. DragonMilk says:

    As mentioned in a hidden thread, my newest desktop is in an interminable BSOD. Does anyone have recommendations for:

    1. BIOS diagnostic tools you can put on a USB drive?
    2. A Linux distribution meant for diagnostics that you can put on a USB drive?

    Essentially I can consistently get to the BIOS but booting (or attempting to reinstall Windows) always results in a BSOD of various errors. My understanding is that between software on a USB stick and the BIOS (which does not have built in diagnostics as I cheaped out on the motherboard), I can be told what piece of hardware is responsible for the ooof.

    Thanks!

  11. N Zohar says:

    Paging Jupiter764, who replied to the OP in 145.75 about playing instruments. I only got around to reading your post now and realized you’re in the exact same boat, guitar-wise, as I am: I played obsessively as a teen, dropped off in my 20s, but am now getting back into it, practicing daily with a metronome. I too want to write and record, and have written a bunch of songs. I’ve even recorded demos of some of them.

    First, I’m curious to know what drills you do, or where you might recommend I should go to find those and more. I’ve found a few but they’re basically just playing scales/broken thirds/arpeggios up and down the fretboard, almost more like hand exercises, and I want to supplement this with something that will actually train me better as a player.

    Second, like you I don’t know a lot of musicians, but I do know a drummer (very well) and I also play bass (not all that well) and sing (pretty well). I am not opposed to the idea of trying a long-distance collaboration. I wouldn’t call the music I’m writing “metal” though it is some kind of heavy rock…closer to Helmet or Faith No More.

    So, I’ll just let that hang out there…hope you respond!

  12. Well... says:

    I’m pretty sure there are tons of resources for spouses of people who are going through e.g. cancer. Are there resources for spouses of people with mental illness? What about spouses of people who have a family history of mental illness and maybe might be almost kinda sorta starting to develop signs of it themselves?

    Asking for a friend.

    • TJ2001 says:

      This is literally one of the hardest things for spouses and there really isn’t much help. Support groups are one thing – but reality and family life is another situation altogether.

      For example – it’s nothing special for guests to come over to check on the one who is having trouble and literally not say a word of comfort or lift a finger to help the spouse who is having to pick up all the slack and do all the heavy lifting alone…. “Oh how is Shirley, I know she has had such a hard time with her condition. She really is trying to be such a trooper isn’t she. Oh – can you get me a cup of coffee while you are up?”

      Well meaning people show up and don’t think to offer any help around the house, yard, taking off trash, or with a grocery run – and the spouse is left holding the bag for all this along with all the responsibility for keeping hospital visits, doctors office visits, fetching prescriptions, keeping up with appointments, working their own careers, getting kids to school, clothes washed, dinner cooked, and bills paid.

      • Well... says:

        How reassuring.

        My friend says the issue isn’t so much cooking meals, paying bills, picking up around the house, dropping kids off at school, etc. — “in sickness and in health” and all that — but rather just knowing what to say and how to care for spouse. When spouse says something like “I had more aural hallucinations today, I’m really scared” how should my friend respond so that spouse feels acknowledged and supported? “Wow, that sucks, I’m so sorry, here’s a hug” doesn’t seem to cut it. But maybe that’s all my friend can reasonably be expected to do? These are the kinds of things my friend is looking for resources on.

        • Randy M says:

          When spouse says something like “I had more aural hallucinations today, I’m really scared” how should my friend respond so that spouse feels acknowledged and supported?

          I don’t know if resources are going to help. If your friend has basic interpersonal skills, I think the best response is going to depend a lot on the personality of the affected person, and they are the expert on that. Couples counseling might help if they can afford it, just to have someone help them talk about it together in a place where it’s accepted to share their fears.

          Any way, your friend has my sympathies.

        • TJ2001 says:

          I think this is where your friend needs to get in touch with a quality, trusted mental health professional and pay for some help developing a “Personal tool kit” for dealing with the spouse’s specific condition.

          A good professional should be able to help you develop this – as it will make his job much much easier by heading off stuff that happens out in real life before it explodes into a crisis/hospitalization….

          For example – (Aural hallucinations) “Honey – last time this happened, you forgot to take your medicine for a couple days”
          “GRUMBLE.. I know I know.. But, it makes me so groggy..”
          “Well yes but this really worries me – Can I bring you the medicine today…”

          Or whatever….

          This is so important – it’s critical that everybody in the family is “Pointed the right direction”….

        • Roebuck says:

          I would have thought that “Wow, that sucks, I’m so sorry, here’s a hug” might actually do quite a bit – of course in more measured words.

          Only recently I realised that an average person differs a lot from a non-neuro-typical (NNT) one in that when something bad happens to them, the NNT person would more often prefer hearing “Yeah, I had a similar experience there and then” because that’s a proof that the other person can empathise, while the average person would more often prefer a simple “Oh no, that’s terrible!” with appropriate body expressions.

          My intuition tells me that this community could be biased against speaking “Oh no, that’s terrible” to people who feel terribly, so I would like us to make sure we’re not making a mistake here.

          • albatross11 says:

            One thing from personal experience: after awhile, it just gets exhausting to constantly be soaking in your partner’s (physical or mental) health problems. You have to keep the house running, try to keep up at work, make sure the kids get their homework done, take her to her doctor appointments/support group meetings/etc., and there’s not a lot of downtime or space to meet your own basic needs. (And you can feel really awful about taking any time to do that–how dare I go off and see a movie when she’s suffering at home and the kids probably need something and…. This is a recipe for burnout.)

            I don’t know your friend’s situation, but finding things you can do to give them a break from all that might be pretty helpful. Maybe just bringing dinner over and hanging around playing a game with them or something, so you can help them escape the whole “my whole life is just all about my partner’s illness” scene for an hour or two. Better if you can get them out of the house for a bit without causing problems for their partner/family.

  13. bean says:

    Biweekly Naval Gazing links index:

    I’ve dug into my photo archives and put together a selection of photos from Iowa’s enlisted quarters.

    The escort as a concept is surprisingly recent, with some interesting applications to SF worldbuilding.

    Continuing my tour of cool military facilities, I’ve looked at the Navy’s premier acoustics research station. It’s in Idaho.

    Lastly, the fourth and fifth atomic bombs ever set off were used to test the survivability of ships in the face of nuclear attack. They also inspired a swimsuit.

    • acymetric says:

      The escort as a concept is surprisingly recent, with some interesting applications to SF worldbuilding.

      I thought it was supposed to be the world’s oldest profession? It can certainly spice up an otherwise dry SF story though, I have no doubt about that.

    • EchoChaos says:

      The escort as a concept is surprisingly recent, with some interesting applications to SF worldbuilding.

      Have you read the Alexis Carew series by J.A. Sutherland? I ask because he deals with this by having no stealth in space and instead having FTL travel occur in a region called “darkspace” that for narrative reasons is exactly like the age of sail.

      It does a good job about being clear that space battle in real space being completely different from the age of sail while having some battles be exactly the same because it’s more fun.

      • bean says:

        I have not, although I’ve seen several sail-esq SF worlds, most notably the Honorverse and RCN series. I might take a look at that one if I ever find myself looking for something different to read.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Have you read the Alexis Carew series by J.A. Sutherland? I ask because he deals with this by having no stealth in space and instead having FTL travel occur in a region called “darkspace” that for narrative reasons is exactly like the age of sail.

        I feel like I can’t read this series without being extremely disappointed by them not living up to your description “exactly like”. I’m imagining this “darkspace” as a literal 2D plane of water where the only way to move is catching the wind in the 2D plane of breathable air directly above it. And if any land exists in “darkspace”, it’s only exact copies of Earth locations as they existed during the age of sail.

        • EchoChaos says:

          I’m imagining this “darkspace” as a literal 2D plane of water where the only way to move is catching the wind in the 2D plane of breathable air directly above it.

          It is 100% like that except that you can’t breath the darkspace air.

          It really is a fun series, honestly. Not high literature by any means, but a solid read.

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      That naval base on Lake Pend Oreille was the largest city in Idaho during WWII. I went scuba diving there once to look at shipwrecks. There was lots of talk and legends among kids growing up there about sunken submarines (the story expanded throughout my lifetime until it was a sunken nuclear submarine whose payload would one day vaporize the lake and steam the surrounding mountains. You know, as frequently happens. How this would affect the spirits of the notoriously haunted former POW camp is left as an exercise for the reader.

      • bean says:

        I’m guessing very few of those shipwrecks were Navy vessels, and really doubt they’d leave subs sitting around where anyone else might get them, although there is apparently a research barge lost in a storm in the 70s that’s a thousand feet down.

        Also, I’ve toured the Farragut museum stuff, but didn’t realize/remember that it was the largest city in Idaho.

        • FrankistGeorgist says:

          No they’re all sunken steam ships and rowboats and maybe a tugboat. There’s actually more (and more accessible) sunken steamships in nearby Coeur d’Alene Lake, but they were intentionally sunk (if I remember correctly) which isn’t as good a story as “landlocked navy base” or indeed “oops the government forgot a nuke down there.” I’m reasonably certain there’s no lost submarines.

          The haunted POW camp was also not where I think the supposed hauntings happened (on the hillside in the forest) nor as far as I know did any POWs actually die there.

          Farragut briefly being the largest city is like Idaho briefly being 1/3rd Chinese, a function of Idaho being nowhere and on the way to nothing, with transient populations to match. Hope your visit was enjoyable though.

    • Aftagley says:

      I’ve dug into my photo archives and put together a selection of photos from Iowa’s enlisted quarters.

      I know this is from the 80s refit, but this is pretty much exaclty what every enlisted quarters on every ship I sailed on looked like (admittedly, most of the cutters I was on were ALSO built in the 80s). I’ve heard more recent vessels are somewhat more spacious for the crew, but… not much. Get a commission, then you’ll at least get a semi-private head.

    • noyann says:

      The Bikini wasn’t inspired so much as named after that bomb test, because it hit the public ‘like an atom bomb’. (Those were the days when, after WWII experience of real bombs, people used ‘bomb’ (in my countries’ language, anyway) in a way similar to today’s ‘awesome’). Cf. also the frequent use of ‘sex-bomb’ (for Marilyn Monroe, for example).

    • Civilis says:

      Continuing my tour of cool military facilities, I’ve looked at the Navy’s premier acoustics research station. It’s in Idaho.

      I missed out on a chance to visit where the Soviets used to have their naval acoustics research station: lake Issyk-Kul in landlocked Kyrgyzstan.

      I guess salinity either doesn’t have much of an effect on the acoustic properties of water, or that the scientists involved can easily factor in the distinction.

      • bean says:

        I guess salinity either doesn’t have much of an effect on the acoustic properties of water, or that the scientists involved can easily factor in the distinction.

        AIUI, salinity itself isn’t a big deal, but salinity gradients can mess up sonar in areas where different bodies of water meet.

        Also, interesting. I should have known they’d have a similar facility.

    • NTD_SF says:

      If passive defenses are generally ineffective against missiles, it seems like escorts would be very useful to increase the point-defense bubble. These would be probably be the cheapest thing you could strap your weapons to, and may be deployed from the missile-carrying warships just before battle, so they wouldn’t be quite like modern destroyers. However, if both this escort role and a scout/patrol/raid role is necessary, it could be more efficient to build one platform that could do both.

      Fighters are unlikely without physics breaking, but most Naval SF includes FTL. A modified form of FTL engine that transported relatively small things in-system, while normal FTL transported large things between system, could lead to a carrier type situation. What I’m imagining here is that without FTL sensors, the light ships would be used to pinpoint the enemy’s carrier before dropping a pile of FTL missiles on it. Would still be drones unless there was Andromeda-style ‘computers can’t navigate FTL.’

      • fibio says:

        As with all soft sci-fi (of which navel sci-fi generally falls into) a lot of what’s possible depends on just what technologies the author puts into the setting. One or no FTL types pretty much rules out space fighters as everything is in the same medium and there’s no real advantage to building parasite craft with similar performance to the mother-ship. If there’s two or more forms (or radical difference in performance based on scale) then there’s the opportunity to build very different ships for different missions.

        For example, say a setting has one form of FTL that’s fuel efficient, one that’s fast, one that’s high precision and one that’s hard to detect. They you have the big fleet carrier ships moving on the high efficiency drive (to get as much to the battle as cheaply as possible). The escorts and/or parasite craft using the high precision drive (to make sure they can maneuver into the right position to attack/defend). The actual weapons using the high speed drive and low speed stealthy ships trying to slip between them all to get into position to strike the fleet carriers.

        The key is to build the setting around the kind of combat you want to see. Something like Battle Star Galactia has space fighters for no determinable reason. Their role would be much better filled by FTL escort ships covered in those big flak batteries. Same with Star Wars. Something like Honor Harrington though set out to make eighteenth century navel battles in space and the entire technology base is built around making that style of fighting seem reasonable.

  14. johan_larson says:

    Some good news from Africa:

    In fact, over the last twenty years, the gross domestic product (GDP) of sub-Saharan Africa has tripled, and average per capita incomes, adjusted for inflation and purchasing power, have more than doubled. Beyond economic measurements, infant mortality rates have almost halved and literacy rates have increased by 8 percent. That may not sound like much, but this increase means that 136 million more Africans can read and write since the year 2000.

    • silver_swift says:

      literacy rates have increased by 8 percent.

      I thought this sounded kind of unimpressive, given the rest of that paragraph, so I looked up their source.

      According to that source, Literacy rates have climbed from 56.7% to 65.6% (which is either a 13 percent increase or a 9 percentage point increase, but whatever). This is a much higher literacy rate than I would have expected for sub-saharan Africa, given that I occasionally hear people complaining that the literacy rate in my own country is something like 80% (though that might be measured by a different standard for literacy), but it still does not sound like a very impressive growth compared to the GDP and purchasing power growth mentioned.

      • hilltop says:

        Spitballing that 1) only kids learn to read, 2) 33% of the current population is or was a kid of learning age in the last 20y, 3) kids of literate parents always learn to read, and 4) parents had the same 43.4% illiteracy rate as the general population— gives a maximum possible reduction (if all kids learned to read) of 43.4/3 or 14.5. To get the improvement we see, more than 60% of the kids of illiterates (and more than 83% of all kids) learned to read.

        I think that is impressive.

        • silver_swift says:

          Good analysis and I agree that it sounds a lot more impressive phrased this way.

          I don’t know if 1) is quite true and 2) is probably lowballing it by quite a lot (this suggest over 60% of the entirety Africa, so including the super-Saharan parts, is 24 or younger), but it is a good point that there are pretty strong limits on how much you can grow the literacy rate in a generation.

    • Squirrel of Doom says:

      Money quote:

      Today, average income in the region is equal to that of the average Western European living in the year 1900 — roughly $4,000 per year. By 2030, based on current growth trends, it can be reasonably expected that incomes in sub-Saharan Africa will be equal to that of the average Western European in 1934 (i.e., approximately $5,000 per year). A sum of $5,000 per year is not much to live on, but the fact that sub-Saharan Africa will likely achieve the same income growth over a 10-year period as Western Europe did over 34 years, is remarkable.

      • Aapje says:

        I don’t see it as remarkable. Western European growth required both technological and organisational improvements. It’s much easier to copy those than to develop them new.

    • Roebuck says:

      I agree, this is good news – per capita income seems to have been rising by around 4% per year for these 2 decades.

      But from what I saw recently, nowadays sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP per capita (the per capita bit makes a 2% difference) grows similarly to the rest of the world.

      See this chart and subtract 2%. It is unfortunately closer to European growth than the Indian or Chinese one.

      Furthermore, the growth that comes from improvements in literacy and the employment rate is rather a one-off event. I recall the highly-cited paper from my lecturer, who looked at the very high growth in South-East Asia between roughly 1966 and 1900 and put it in a rather unenthusiastic perspective by subtracting factors that can’t rise forever such as the employment rate to calculate the total factor productivity growth in these countries in this period

    • Clutzy says:

      Article doesn’t have anything about agriculture and food production. I understand that is a big barrier still.

  15. EchoChaos says:

    Fun anecdote:

    I’ve always worked and focused better with music, and as I grew up, I figured out that the heavier the music the more it helped me. I have my own office, and play metal at high volumes while I work. It helps quite a lot.

    Now that I have a couple of sons that my wife is homeschooling she is often frustrated by their work, which can be distracted and slow. Not that they aren’t smart, just distracted.

    When my wife was talking to me about the frustration I mentioned that I was like that as a kid. So she put on loud metal for them while they did their schoolwork. Immediately the quality and speed of their work improved.

    It was funny to see the confirmation that my sons are so like me, and also to know that a problem that I had to figure out over long years was so easy to solve for them.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      My son listens to metal every night while he goes to sleep. It’s bizarre, but it puts him out like a light.

      • noyann says:

        When he was still in the womb, did mommy listen to metal?

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Nope. I don’t even listen to much metal, and never at home (like EC, it sometimes help me wake up and get my work done at the office). One time I was driving him to Pre-K and turned on the Liquid Metal station on XM and he was like “what…is this…?” and thereafter, he would always ask for it, and then when we got Alexa he’d be asking it to play The Winged Hussars or whatever.

          Last fall Sabaton did a US tour and had a stop a few hours from here so I bought tickets. He had a great time. All the metalheads were giving him fist bumps and such, and it was funny because people assumed we were dragging him along. I said to the people we were in line to get in with “no, this is his favorite band, we’re here for him” and he’d rattle off his favorite songs.

          One time my wife had him up on her shoulders during the concert and the guy next to us was laughing because my son was singing along with the word to the songs…he knew them all. Finally at the end we were near the exit, which happened to be near the stage. The stage manager saw my son and during a break between songs waved the guitarist over and pointed to my kid. The guitarist flicked his pick to my son so he’s got a treasured souvenir now 🙂

          • Witness says:

            My daughter’s a big fan of Sabaton as well, but I’m not as good of a parent as you are – when they came to my neck of the woods (on my birthday) the wife and I went without her.

            (To be fair, she hadn’t become a fan by the time we bought our tickets).

            At the show, there was a very young girl (probably 5?) on her father’s shoulders up in the front. Joakim complimented her ear protection and asked if it was her first metal concert. “No” – of course not. He handed her his shades as a souvenir, which was really cool.

    • Well... says:

      Ah but the inevitable question arises: what subgenre of metal?

      Also, how are performance outcomes affected if you swap in post-hardcore or mathy stuff like Snapcase or DEP?

      • EchoChaos says:

        Ah but the inevitable question arises: what subgenre of metal?

        Power metal, mostly. Some speed metal.

        Also, how are performance outcomes affected if you swap in post-hardcore or mathy stuff like Snapcase or DEP?

        Experiments with your children are the foundation of good parenting, after all!

        • Well... says:

          I’m not really a metal-head, so please remind me: power metal is the one with triumphant galloping rhythms and lyrics about wielding the magic sword of this or that against the dragon of that or this, right? Iron Maiden, etc.?

          • EchoChaos says:

            power metal is the one with triumphant galloping rhythms and lyrics about wielding the magic sword of this or that against the dragon of that or this, right?

            Yes, although it’s not just fantasy. There is sci-fi power metal, historical power metal, etc.

            Iron Maiden, etc.?

            No, Iron Maiden is more like proto-power metal. It’s pretty much straight heavy metal, which is a bit different.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Yes, although it’s not just fantasy. There is sci-fi power metal, historical power metal, etc.

            There’s also symphonic metal, which is like power metal with more instruments than lead and base guitars and a drummer. The late Christopher Lee made the fantasy kind with Rhapsody/of Fire (he also sang with Manowar) and also had his own band that put out historical narrative albums where he sings the role of Charlemagne.
            He was nearly 88 years old when he started releasing these, because of course he was.

        • rahien.din says:

          You should get her to check out Paladin’s Ascension. Fantastic powerthrash album, lyrics are actually worth knowing and singing. And it’s just their debut.

      • WashedOut says:

        I’d imagine genre really matters in this instance. My guess is that the desired lulling, focussing effect on people from metal has to do with constant, pummeling low-end rhythms. DEP play in standard tuning in odd meters and twice as fast as most metal.

        Having said that, Ire Works is one of the best post-hardcore/metal albums ever so please do listen to it and get your kids psyched about it.

      • rahien.din says:

        The jagged kind of math metal might be pretty disruptive to a learning environment.

        Meshuggah on the other hand have a real smoothness to them that makes for excellent concentration.

    • ownshoes says:

      Yes! Death metal is my go to music for focusing. I just spent half an hour on data entry, listening to Gojira. If I’m going to be doing a rage-making task, might as well match my outer to my inner world *and* have some fun with it.

      • DarkTigger says:

        I do the same with Bolt Thrower. My rationalization for why it works is, that deep roaring noices where a sign of danger in ancestorial environment, so so your body get’s into alertness mode.

        Also it tends to be a rather steady kind of noice which drones out my colleauges.

  16. johan_larson says:

    You are invited to fill in the blank.

    I wish they all could be ____ girls.

    It follows the meter of the original, or it gets the hose again. Cal-i-FOR-nia. In-de-PEN-dent. Bi-me-TALL-ic.

  17. AlexOfUrals says:

    Anyone knowledgeable about bringing gold coins through the US customs? I’ve found myself in a possession of one such coin while abroad, is it likely to cause any troubles when reentering the US – like I need to declare it and pay the taxes? Online sources I’ve found seem to agree that the general $10,000 limit applies, but they disagree whether it applies to the face value, price of the gold, or actual price of the coin and how the latter is determined. Overall it looks like I should be fine, but thought it’s better to check anyway.

    To go into specifics, the coin was a gift, so no purchase price for me (and it has been passed down from a person now dead, so none has any clues where the coins originally came from), price of the gold is definitely too small to pass the limit – it weighs about 11g, – and the face value is 15 Russian rubles of 1897 which I have no idea how to convert into modern day dollars. Most online sources list prices for the coins of this issue in $500-1000 range, but presumably some may be worth much more. I have no reasons to believe mine is one of those unique ones.

    • Another Throw says:

      Looking around, it appears that transporting more than $10,000 requires you to fill out FinCEN Form 105 and provide it to customs. According to that form (ETA CFR 1010.100):

      Currency: The coin and paper money of the United States or any other country that is (1) designated as legal tender and that (2) circulates and (3) is customarily accepted as a medium of exchange in the country of issuance.

      Since gold coins from 1897 are probably not recognized by Russia as legal tender, what with being a few governments ago and all, it is unlikely that you can use the face value. And the other conditions are pretty suspect, too.

      ETA: Gold coins that were intended for circulation are usually in the neighborhood of 22 karat. With a total weight of about 11g, that gives a fine gold content of about 10g. With a gold spot price around $50 per gram, $500 or so is going to be the bullion value.

      • AlexOfUrals says:

        Yes, it definitely does not circulate or customary accepted, so apparently the face value is out of question, thanks. And if they use the bullion value I should be fine. I wonder if it’s possible that they require some kind of a proof that the thing is not of an exceptional value as a collectable? Sounds somewhat silly, but otherwise it seems to be quite a loophole, or requires an unreasonable degree of expertise on the customs officers’ part.

        • Aapje says:

          IANAL, but AFAIK this is largely at the discretion of the customs officers. Basically, if they feel like it, they can detain you for a long time while they investigate.

          So in practical terms the question is what makes customs officers target you. I suspect that they are less likely to notice, the less you treat it as special. The safest is probably to put it in a small cloth to protect it and then put it in a wallet with other coins. Then it seems extremely unlikely that they will notice it.

          • AlexOfUrals says:

            Thanks, I think I’ll do something along these lines. Probably put regular coins in one compartment of the wallet, and the gold one in another next to it, so it’s not visible separately under x-rays, but I can plausibly deny I was hiding it if questioned.

    • JayT says:

      Put it in your pocket, and don’t claim anything.

      • Matt M says:

        Yeah, this was my first instinct as well. I don’t recall ever having been patted down or forced through a metal detector when going through customs, myself…

        • The Nybbler says:

          I have, once. A search of my luggage (which was full of very stinky clothing… I probably _could_ have hidden a few bricks of heroin in there because the customs officer definitely wanted that search over with) too. Just random as far as I know.

      • The Nybbler says:

        That’s a great way to get busted for no reason.

        • Aapje says:

          Busted for what? There is no duty to declare it, is there?

          • The Nybbler says:

            You’re supposed to declare everything acquired overseas, even if there’s no duty on it or if it’s under the duty-free exemption. Lots of people bring small stuff in and don’t bother with little risk, but a gold coin seems likely to be the kind of thing that might be looked askance upon if you happen to get picked for extra scrutiny.

          • Matt M says:

            “Oh that little thing? Totally forgot about it. It was a gift from my grandpa. I don’t even think it’s real gold. Sorry about that!”

            Unless they’re suspicious of you already for other reasons, this won’t be a big deal.

          • Squirrel of Doom says:

            Well, having an antique gold coin scramble around among your regular coins in a pocket kinda screams “sneaky try”, if it’s ever discovered.

            Of course the chance of discovery is very low. I don’t think detectors can pick out gold from other metals?

          • fibio says:

            Gold might behave differently under x-rays than regular coins but I doubt the machines are set up to look for that. Although if they had a full tub of water and a reference sample of pure gold…

    • The Nybbler says:

      There’s no duty on gold coins and no tax on foreign gifts. So there’s no reason for them to question a declared value on a small gold coin. For FinCen 105 (which is where the $10,000 reporting limit comes from), I do not believe the collectible value matters (only the bullion value, or the face value for negotiable currency if it is greater), but I am definitely not a customs lawyer.

  18. Nickel says:

    “In 2016, I made a bet with bhauth that the US median income growth under Donald Trump wouldn’t significantly outperform the trendline for the past 25 years. It did”

    OK I could spend a few hours trying to find out US median income growth in the past 25 years, and what it has been under Donald Trump. Can anyone reward my laziness by giving me what those figures actually are?

    • broblawsky says:

      Real median household income up until 2018.

      Edit: It’s worth noting that this improvement is more about inflation remaining low; increases in nominal household income remain roughly on-trend.

      • Cliff says:

        I don’t think it’s “about that” at all. You can’t increase real income by lowering inflation.

        • broblawsky says:

          You can increase it relative to other points in history that have had similarly large increases in nominal income but larger increases in inflation. Inflation tends to ramp up over the duration of an economic cycle; the lack of inflation in our current (uniquely prolonged) cycle is something of a historical aberration.

          • bobbert says:

            Your position does not have the right direction of causality. Inflation is most strongly caused by increased money supply and increased velocity of money; real wage growth is most strongly caused by higher demand for employment and lower supply. There are all sorts of feedback effects in economics which can obfuscate the difference between the two.

            Most importantly, looking at the graph of nominal income and saying everything is on-trend focuses wayyyy to much on the growing money supply, which provides a long-term trendline with a strong positive slope. There is a default expectation of growing nominal income; there is no default expectation of growing real income, or real income growing by greater-than-trending percentages.

          • broblawsky says:

            That’s making a bunch of assumptions about whether classical monetary theory is predictive of inflation; I’m not convinced that these assumptions are correct.

          • Cliff says:

            You can increase it relative to other points in history that have had similarly large increases in nominal income but larger increases in inflation.

            No, you can’t.

            Money is neutral and inflation has no effect on real income growth. (leaving aside e.g. contracting the money supply triggering deflation and a depression, which will lower real wages due to the depression).

            There is no mechanism by which lowering inflation (a monetary phenomenon) in ordinary times would make RGDP go up.

          • broblawsky says:

            No, you can’t.

            Money is neutral and inflation has no effect on real income growth. (leaving aside e.g. contracting the money supply triggering deflation and a depression, which will lower real wages due to the depression).

            There is no mechanism by which lowering inflation (a monetary phenomenon) in ordinary times would make RGDP go up.

            I honestly can’t see how this is correct. All “real” values are just nominal values adjusted by some inflation value estimated via a model. Nominal values are the only things we can measure directly (as @mfm32 already noted). Real incomes are every bit as much a “monetary phenomenon” as any measure of inflation itself; they’re derivatives of the same analysis that gives us the inflation number itself.

          • Dacyn says:

            @broblawsky: Just because something is easy to measure, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a lot of inputs. Obviously, if Cliff says real GDP is independent of inflation, he means that changes in inflation directly cause changes in nominal GDP in such a way that when you compute the real GDP it cancels out. This is basically saying that inflation applies on a GDP level and not just to whatever market basket you use to measure inflation. I don’t know if this is correct but it seems pretty plausible, the point of a market basket is that it is supposed to measure typical inflation, and there is no obvious reason why GDP should be atypical in this respect.

        • mfm32 says:

          There is the practical point that we can only directly measure nominal values and then use an adjustment (more or less controversial) to arrive at real values

      • The Nybbler says:

        Real median household income, graphed along with inflation

        It’s true if you go back before that series, inflation has been considerably higher and nominal median income growth slightly higher. So what? It was a called shot, quibbling about the call after the results are in is sort of a reverse Texas Sharpshooter fallacy.

    • rachetfoot says:

      I don’t see how Scott lost that bet. Percentage changes in ’17 and ’18 are basically at trend growth and in fact much lower than ’15 and ’16, before Trump.

      https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/MEHOINUSA672N

      • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

        Yes, the graph broblawsky posted doesn’t suggest above-trend growth at all.

      • Nickel says:

        To me, real median income is the best indicator of how people are actually doing. I found that tidbit about it under Trump being so clearly better surprising.

        Thanks for the link. One thing is that it only has two years of data under Trump, and they don’t seem outstanding. For 2016-18, I get 2.2661% growth, annualized to 1.1267%. 2014-2016 for comparison saw 8,44% growth.

        Mr. Alexander conceding after only 2 years (if this source is indeed the basis of the settling of their bet) is curious. But then for 1991-2016 I see a growth of 13.74%, annualized to 0.512% annually, so Trump is indeed significantly better than the 25 years trend, though one bad year could make it go the other way. Note that this is mostly due to how awful years 1999-2012 were, a regression of more than 9%.

        • MrSquid says:

          More importantly than the raw numbers is the word “significantly”. Unless it’s being used other than to refer to statistical significance, that bet is won by Scott. The FRED data for year-to-year change in real median household income when put it shows no statistically significant difference between Trump-years and non-Trump years (even less when constricting Trump-years to 2017/2018 and not including 2016). Those years are higher growth but not significantly so (in fact, the p-value (and yes, I know it isn’t a perfect measure) for average growth 1990 – 2015 =/= 2016-2018 is .628 which is pretty firmly in the bounds of not significant). Unless someone can point out something missing, it seems that a basic test for significance indicates that “US median income growth under Donald Trump didn’t significantly outperform the trendline for the past 25 years” is at most not able to be judged false currently but certainly not already proven false.

  19. Tenacious D says:

    In OT 145.75, @Mark V Anderson started an interesting discussion on the differences in how Catholic and Protestant congregations relate to their clergy. A closely-related topic (tangential to the opening question of the impact of priestly celibacy on this relationship, but very relevant to some of the other factors discussed) is the different types of Church governance models. After the Protestant Reformation, there was a lot of experimentation on this point; differences in ecclesiastical polity are perhaps as much of a distinguishing factor between Protestant denominations as doctrine is. Something I find quite interesting is that this experimentation took place in an era–and to a large extent in the same places (Switzerland, the Netherlands, Great Britain, New England)–that was also brimming with new ideas for political governance. I suspect there was a lot of cross-pollination. Among the Puritans (to take a popular SSC example), Congregational polity was common; it’s not hard to see parallels with the popularity of town hall meetings in New England. Identifying the types of ecclesiastical polity that correspond with other groups from Albion’s Seed is left for other commenters.

    • edmundgennings says:

      There were in England very strong religious connections to the different political factions. Supporters of bishops were royalists and those who opposed bishops were roundheads (parliamentarians). Some of this was due to contingent political realities and there were lots of funny exceptions and inevitable strange bedfellow situations, but views on church polity and state polity were greatly linked.

  20. Is the rate of male pattern hair loss generally constant? So if your hairline cuts by an inch over 5 years, in another 5 years will it have cut in 2 inches?

    • JohnNV says:

      Not in my experience at all. My hair loss was very slow from 23 (when I first noticed thinning)-35, then accelerated from 35-39, then slowed down again, and I’m 42 now.

    • JayT says:

      I lost a lot of hair when I was ~28, but haven’t lost any since, 10+ years later. I went from very thick head of hair, to an average head of hair.

    • Gossage Vardebedian says:

      It usually slows down. Also, most men lose a small band of hair in the front in their 20s which is separate from age-related male pattern baldness.

      Remember, early on you have a lot more to lose, later you have less, but losing those hairs leads more directly to bald patches. Early on, you are more likely to notice hair loss from seeing a pile on the floor or in your sink, or stuck to your comb/brush, rather than a change in your appearance. Also, psychologically, when you’re older and, say, married for 10-20 years, you’re probably not going to care as much, and you’ll be expecting it, so it won’t demand as much attention. Tl;dr – many things make it hard to say with certainly, but it does usually slow, and the most noticeable impact usually comes early.

  21. bagel says:

    In lots of fiction, characters see something weird and dismiss it as them “just seeing things”.

    Is that a thing that happens? To sober, human adults who are sound of mind?

    Or is it just a literary device?

    • I think it’s more of a literary device, at least when it’s something very weird. People are more likely to either believe completely, or think they need to seek medical help since they’ve started hallucinating.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      I have seen a few things out of the corner of my eye that made my brain think “That looks like X” before I realized it couldn’t possibly be X and it must have just been the corner of the eye having terrible resolution plus something something predictive processing. But the literary device tends to be about things seen more directly so I’m not sure if this counts.

    • The Nybbler says:

      You’d have to be more specific. Seeing someone you recognize but couldn’t be there? Definitely happens (and is most of the time just mistaken identity). Seeing flying saucers land in broad daylight? Definitely not.

    • Elementaldex says:

      I’m a sober human adult who often sees things which are not there and dismisses them. I heave really unusually bad vision though (not legally able to drive) and my brain pattern matches the fuzzy things I see in ways which, after a moment of thought, are obviously false.

  22. SteveReilly says:

    A very specific medical question.

    My wife has complex regional pain syndrome in her hand and might undergo surgery on her foot. A doctor told us a few ways to minimize the risk of the CPRS spreading, and said they’d cut the chances down by 30%. Except when I asked about the base rate he didn’t know, and seemed to think it was an odd question. Google hasn’t been much help here.

    Does anyone know of good resources on estimating the chances of CPRS spreading due to surgery? Thanks.

    • Statismagician says:

      It doesn’t appear to have been specifically studied; I can’t find anything in PubMed about CPRS spreading due to surgery. Independent spread, and CPRS post-surgery, yes, but not for your specific question. This might be helpful as a very, very, very rough guide – they have some numbers on post-traumatic spreading by limb relationship, but note that the sample sizes for some of those groups are very small.

  23. helloo says:

    How linear are beliefs? Or if not linear, what is their shape?

    As in, if you ranked favorite numbers from 1 to 10 – if it was linear, then those who liked 5, find 3,4,6,7 soso and dislike the rest. Those who liked 1 would hate 10 and dislike 4.

    If it was horseshoe or circular, however, then 1 and 10 would be close.
    Maybe it is like a bowtie where it is linear, but 1.01 and 1.02 hate each other as much as 2-4.
    In this case, there might not be any relation, and knowing if they liked 1, doesn’t hint at what they feel about the other numbers.

    Of course, this can be applied to all beliefs – from politics, to music preference, to color, to food. As long as it can be ranked in some way.

    With the amount of work done regarding voting and preferences, I would have thought that this would be a common measure. But though I’ve heard of various theories and maps, I’m not sure what this is even called much less studied.

    • Dacyn says:

      This seems to actually be about preferences rather than beliefs.

      In any case, I’m not sure I accept the premise that political opinions or food can be ranked like this — like, do bread, potatoes, and rice count as close because they they all constitute the “starchy” part of a meal? And won’t any attempt at grouping political opinions have baked into the premise that close opinions should be correlated? But I think my music preferences are linear, basically I prefer anything closer to 1700 [1]. My color preferences seem nonlinear though, I like red green and blue, but there are some shades of green I really don’t like, and I don’t like pink all that much either.

      [1] Well, there is a lot of variety in modern music so it would be harder to succinctly describe what I like or don’t like there, but “resembles classical music” is a good first approximation.

      • helloo says:

        They don’t need to be structurally close.
        Like number ranking can be linear even if the line happens to be 5 4 1 3 2.
        As long as 5 hate 2 and 1 is meh with everything, it still fits linearly.

        As long as something can be ranked, it should be possible to build a map of how your first rank impacts your other rankings. Or at least show if things are actually linear or not.

        • Dacyn says:

          Oh I see, it’s not really a property of an individual person but only of groups of people. It seems to me for politics people ask this all the time, in the form of “are Left and Right coherent clusters of people/ideas?” For music time of origin seems to be an at least somewhat useful metric. Color and food are trickier though.

    • Statismagician says:

      I have a half-worked-out model of politics as mostly like astronomy, with individuals accreting into small (asteroids) and larger (moons and planets) parties. These exhibit gravity, as you’d expect; smaller groups end up falling into the orbit of larger ones even if the initial impetus behind their formation doesn’t really gel with the larger group. Probably there also needs to be some behavior from electrodynamics worked in, with how violently certain groups define themselves by opposition to each other. I imagine other preferences work somewhat similarly, clouds of similarity (cool colors, genre fiction) denser at the center (say, dark blues or hard science-fiction writing) and less so further out (purples, vaguely-supernatural detective stories).

      • Statismagician says:

        There was a comment here asking about statismagics which appears to have vanished – I just wanted to say that it gave me the idea for the following pun, which is too amazingly bad not to share.

        The problem with statismagics is that if you end up rejecting the Noel hypothesis, it can break Christmas.

    • TJ2001 says:

      It’s way messier than that. I think you would find most people’s “beliefs” on most things were completely pliable given a trusted persuader.

      For example – it’s telling with US National Politics that the two parties can completely reverse/trade their positions on some “Key point” and nobody on either side even “notices” the change… It’s literally my side goes from “Butter side up” today to “Butter side down” tomorrow and the opposite side switches too – and neither side notices anything contradicted..

      Nobody on either side questions anything. All my pundits immediately and seamlessly change to “Butter side down” while all the Opposition Pundits immediately and seamlessly switch to “Butter side up”…

      If I didn’t know better – I would think they enjoyed doing it and then laughing at us….

  24. hnau says:

    Marginal Revolution recently linked this economist’s defense of rent control. I’ve always thought rent control was bad for the standard Econ 101 reasons but this seemed like a compelling and clearly reasoned case for the other side. On the other hand Cowen captioned the link “#TheGreatForgetting” which I assume means he thinks it’s missing something important. So what (if anything) am I missing here?

    • ana53294 says:

      First of all, rent control does reduce the amount of available rental housing.

      find evidence that rent control decreased the number of available rental units, by encouraging condo conversions.

      Property rights?

      Saying that

      A rented house or apartment is still a family’s home, which they have a reasonable expectation of remaining in on terms similar to those they have enjoyed in the past. Just as we have a legal principle that people cannot be arbitrarily deprived of their property, and just as many local governments put limits on how rapidly property taxes can increase, a goal of rent control is to give people similar protection from being forced out of their homes by rent increases.

      Is all very nice and good, but that house belongs to somebody. Why should the government take away their property without due compensation?

      The absence of rent regulation may also create political obstacles to efforts to increase housing supply, attract new employers, or otherwise improve urban areas, since current residents correctly perceive that the result of any improvement may be higher rents and displacement.

      That just doesn’t follow. Residents will oppose increases in housing supply whether there’s rent control or not. People don’t like high rises near them, period. And increasing housing supply may mean kicking some of the people out to tear down and build a new building.

      So what rent control is limiting are the rent increases that are not the result of anything the landlord has done — the rent increases that result from the increased desirability of a particular area, or of a broader regional shortage of housing relative to demand. There is no reason that limiting these windfall gains should affect the supply of housing.

      Except housing has ridiculously low profit and those windfalls are the only reason letting houses is a viable long term propositions. If the area your house is in is becoming less desirable, your investment is bust.

      In a setting where the supply of new housing is already limited by other factors – whether land-use policy or the capacity of existing infrastructure or sheer physical limits on construction – rent regulation will have little or no additional effect on housing supply.

      Yes, if you ban all new construction, rent control will have no effect on that.

      • bondaires says:

        That just doesn’t follow. Residents will oppose increases in housing supply whether there’s rent control or not. People don’t like high rises near them, period. And increasing housing supply may mean kicking some of the people out to tear down and build a new building.

        I think you misunderstood the point. The author is saying that without rent control renters have an incentive to oppose any improvement (as in better sanitation, security, etc.) to the neighborhood or at least not collaborate. I think the same whenever I hear any campaign promoting “taking care of your neighborhood” in places where most people rent. If people could afford it they’d rent somewhere already improved. If the place improves, then rents will go up. So you better start trashing the place if you don’t like moving!

        • Brett says:

          I don’t think he’s wrong, though. We don’t see a marked lack of NIMBYism in neighborhoods where the majority of people are homeowners and thus have secure property tenure, versus areas that are dominated by tenants in rental housing.

          If anything, I suspect that giving tenants more secure tenure rights will make them act more like homeowner NIMBYs.

    • baconbits9 says:

      But as more state and local governments raised minimum wages, it turned out to be very hard to find any negative effect on employment. This was confirmed by more and more careful empirical studies. Today, it is clear that minimum wages do not reduce employment.

      This is not true, there are plenty of studies that demonstrate the that the minimum wage has a negative effect on employment, some of these studies still conclude that increases in minimum wage are good because overall wages increase in spite of these losses but those studies still exist and they still conclude a negative impact. This is an outright falsehood.

      none of these studies have found evidence that introducing or strengthening rent regulations reduces new housing construction,

      This is an intentionally deceptive approach, the most direct way in which rent control (which is almost always the control of current prices of rents and so rarely directly ties to new construction which has no current rent) effects housing is to decrease the quality of the housing stock. Landlords who have little ability to raise rents have little incentive to increase the quality of the property and have a strong incentive to allow the property to deteriorate in many cases. He even acknowledges this in one of his links

      A 2007 study by Gilderbloom and Ye of more recent rent control laws here in New Jersey finds evidence that rent controls actually increase the supply of rental housing, by incentivizing landlords to subdivide larger rental units.

      So now you have a shift in the quality of the individual rental units, where is his discussion supporting the idea that more but smaller rental units are obviously good for the renter. He doesn’t do it because he is attacking the weak man argument that rent control must make rental units more numerous, and not that rent control makes rental units worse (which could be volume, size, amenities, upkeep etc).

      But it also recognizes the legitimate interest of long-term tenants in remaining in their homes. A rented house or apartment is still a family’s home, which they have a reasonable expectation of remaining in on terms similar to those they have enjoyed in the past. Just as we have a legal principle that people cannot be arbitrarily deprived of their property, and just as many local governments put limits on how rapidly property taxes can increase, a goal of rent control is to give people similar protection from being forced out of their homes by rent increases.

      This is complete and utter nonsense. This argument would equally apply to the owner of the property, its his freaking property so why doesn’t he have a reasonable expectation of his renters remaining in his property on the same terms? Can you imagine the outcry if there was a law passed which allowed landlords to force tenants to renew their lease at the same terms if he saw fit?

      • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

        He doesn’t do it because he is attacking the weak man argument that rent control must make rental units more numerous, and not that rent control makes rental units worse (which could be volume, size, amenities, upkeep etc).

        Less numerous, shourly? But I disagree that that is a weak man argument. He doesn’t need to make the argument that trading quality for quantity is obviously good. Rather, the point is that it’s not obviously bad in the way that trading quantity for nothing is.

        This is complete and utter nonsense.

        That’s like, just your opinion man.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Rather, the point is that it’s not obviously bad in the way that trading quantity for nothing is.

          I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you are trying to say here. It sounds like you are arguing that fewer but larger houses is trading the number of homes for no gain, which is clearly ridiculous.

          • Guy in TN says:

            It sounds like you are arguing that fewer but larger houses is trading the number of homes for no gain, which is clearly ridiculous.

            It certainly could be, if I view larger houses as “worse”. If I dislike large houses, and rent control makes houses more numerous and smaller, then it’s a win-win for me.

            he doesn’t do it because he is attacking the weak man argument that rent control must make rental units more numerous, and not that rent control makes rental units worse

            Do you see the issue, now, with moving from the question of quantity to quality? “Quality” is an argument you can’t win on objective grounds. What is “good” for you could be “bad” for me, and vice versa.

            Now, I know the liberal economist’s next move here is to try to define “improves quality” as “maximizes aggregated economic value”, something which extremely few members of the general public would agree with, if they understood what it meant.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            The typical argument against rent control in my experience is that lowering prices causes a decrease in supply that takes the form of a reduction in the number of houses. There is no suggestion that houses will also be embiggened; it’s just “fewer houses” – “trading quantity for nothing”, not “fewer but larger houses” (which would be trading quantity for quality). The loss of quantity with no corresponding gain in quality is obviously bad.

            If instead the effect of rent control is a reduction in quality but an increase in quality, that’s not obviously bad. It’s not obviously good either, but a pro-rent control arguer doesn’t need it to be. The point is that it counters the typical argument above, not that it provides an additional benefit to rent control.

          • baconbits9 says:

            It certainly could be, if I view larger houses as “worse”.

            No, only if you think every single market participant thinks that larger houses are =< small houses, not just if you view it to be true in this discussion.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Do you see the issue, now, with moving from the question of quantity to quality? “Quality” is an argument you can’t win on objective grounds. What is “good” for you could be “bad” for me, and vice versa.

            There is no such issue in this discussion. The author made a claim about what economic theory predicts for the outcomes of price control based on supply/demand curves. However supply/demand curves assume that the good being supplied is homogeneous across time, that he then goes on to show that housing is not homogeneous across time without a discussion about the changes in housing shows that either he is a hack just going for his angle or ignorant of the most basic assumptions of S/D curves.

            Finally the author himself argues that a family renting should be able to continue renting ‘on similar terms’, in what world would anyone consider an apartment that is half the size of what it once was ‘similar’ from a housing perspective? Even if you prefer small houses you would not find it ‘similar’, and so the author ought to be outraged that landlords were dividing apartments into smaller units.

          • Guy in TN says:

            No, only if you think every single market participant thinks that larger houses are =< small houses

            “Market participants” are not the only relevant subgroup when trying to convince people that the quality of houses will be “better” or “worse”. After all, non-market participants are the ones who are going to enact rent control via voting. So they do indeed have to be convinced.

            Now, you personally may feel that “market participants” are the only relevant subgroup that we should take into consideration, but that’s not an assumption I share.

      • JayT says:

        The first quote baconbits quoted basically turned my mind off when reading this article. To claim something that is still argued about has a consensus told me everything I needed to know about the author’s opinions.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          Yes, exactly my reaction. When I saw how severely he cherry picked the minimum wage studies, it was obvious he would be manipulating the rent control studies to match his ideology.

      • MoebiusStreet says:

        he is attacking the weak man argument that rent control must make rental units more numerous, and not that rent control makes rental units worse

        Supporting your point is an article just out from Reason:

        When the New York legislature passed major changes to the state’s rent regulations in June 2019, critics warned the new law would reduce investment in, and renovations of, rental properties in New York City. Six months later, those predictions are bearing out.

        Bloomberg reported this morning that sales of apartment buildings in the Big Apple fell by 36 percent in 2019, and that the money spent on those sales fell by 40 percent. The prices investors were paying for rent-stabilized units—where allowable rent increases are set by the government and usually capped at around 1 or 2 percent per year—fell by 7 percent.

        “The fact that there’s no correlation between the amount you put into a building and the amount of rent you can charge has completely shifted investment interest in rent-stabilized buildings,” Shimon Shkury, president of the brokerage Ariel Property Advisors, told Bloomberg.
        https://reason.com/2020/01/27/totally-predictable-consequences-of-new-yorks-rent-regulations/

      • Guy in TN says:

        @baconbits9

        This is complete and utter nonsense. This argument would equally apply to the owner of the property, its his freaking property so why doesn’t he have a reasonable expectation of his renters remaining in his property on the same terms?

        The argument would not apply equally to the owner of the property, because the property is not his “home” and he doesn’t live there. The author is pretty clear that he views that the renter deserves stability not because he signed a contract, but because he has turned the house into his home. Key difference.

        • baconbits9 says:

          This is not the implication of his writing. The author does not argue that having lived in the home for an extended period he should therefore own the home outright, but that he should have a ‘reasonable expectation’ of continuing in renting it under similar terms*.

          He then draws a parallel between tax caps and property and renters not being asked to move

          Just as we have a legal principle that people cannot be arbitrarily deprived of their property, and just as many local governments put limits on how rapidly property taxes can increase, a goal of rent control is to give people similar protection from being forced out of their homes by rent increases.

          So the author is NOT making a specific case that renters need/deserve specific protections unique to them, but that every (or many) class of people needs specific protections. From there the logical leap is clearly that if the renter should have protections that allow them to continue the terms of the agreement indefinitely then the property owner should have a similar claim against the renter.

          A communist making this argument can hold this position consistently by arguing the illegitimacy of the ownership, but this attempt to walk between the two positions implies that the property owner also has rights to the property.

          *This is also a completely nonsensical statement. This position would force him to concede that if the original contract mentioned that the person was to pay a market rate for the property then rent control shouldn’t prevent such price increases.

          • Aapje says:

            From there the logical leap is clearly that if the renter should have protections that allow them to continue the terms of the agreement indefinitely then the property owner should have a similar claim against the renter.

            Only if ensuring a more stable income is equally valuable as having a more stable living arrangement, which I consider far from evident.

            To wit, it is far more reasonable to expect people to have savings, which they can use to cover a loss of income, than to expect people to have a second home, to cover the loss of their primary home.

            There are also practical reasons. For example, if almost no renter rents multiple homes, but most property owners rent out multiple homes, then the average property owner already has more security, assuming that renters will rarely leave en masse. The renter will lose 100% of his home if he is kicked out, while the property owner will use less than 100% of rent income. The property owner is also typically more wealthy than renters.

            Your argument is like arguing that a duty by an adult parent to take care of their underage child automatically means that there is a duty by an underage child to take care of their adult parents.

          • Matt M says:

            To wit, it is far more reasonable to expect people to have savings, which they can use to cover a loss of income, than to expect people to have a second home, to cover the loss of their primary home.

            Brain: “With savings, one can buy a place to live.”

            Homer: “Explain how!”

            Brain: “Money can be exchanged for goods and services.”

            Homer: “Woohoo!”

            Sorry for the snark, I just love that reference. Meant all in good fun.

            In all seriousness though, if you have savings, you can find another place to live. Even better, if you have savings, you can afford an increase in rent, and you won’t get evicted in the first place.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @baconbits9
            I’m not the author, and I can’t get inside his head, but to me it looks as if he is indeed calling for a special carve-out in the law that would apply only to the people who occupy the house and not to the property owner. (I’m not claiming that the author is suggesting a change of ownership of the title, but rather a change in the standards of rental law). With emphasis added:

            First, these arguments misunderstand the goal of rent regulation. In part, it is to preserve the supply of affordable housing. But it also recognizes the legitimate interest of long-term tenants in remaining in their homes. A rented house or apartment is still a family’s home, which they have a reasonable expectation of remaining in on terms similar to those they have enjoyed in the past. Just as we have a legal principle that people cannot be arbitrarily deprived of their property, and just as many local governments put limits on how rapidly property taxes can increase, a goal of rent control is to give people similar protection from being forced out of their homes by rent increases.

            The distinction is that the house is not the landlord’s “home”, he doesn’t occupy it, and he won’t be “forced out” if the rent changes.

            This is also a completely nonsensical statement. This position would force him to concede that if the original contract mentioned that the person was to pay a market rate for the property then rent control shouldn’t prevent such price increases.

            He said the contract would be “similar”, not “exactly the same”. With the implied key difference being that rent would not go up.

          • Dacyn says:

            @Aapje: In addition to what Matt M said, I would add that it’s appropriate to distinguish between “losing a home” in the sense of losing an actual piece of property, and “losing a home” in the sense of losing the ability to rent property at a certain price. The latter is very much the kind of thing you can easily find another of (though the new one may be of lower quality (including location))

          • Cliff says:

            The landlord and tenant are free to agree to terms that give the tenant notice if they will need to find a new place to live. Indeed, such terms are commonplace. Tenants can even negotiate for a 2-year or 3-year lease, or even 5 years or 10 years like a commercial property. But tenants would rather have the option of leaving without penalty if they find a better place. It’s a solution in search of a problem. What the tenants really want is free stuff/subsidies.

          • acymetric says:

            The landlord and tenant are free to agree to terms that give the tenant notice if they will need to find a new place to live. Indeed, such terms are commonplace. Tenants can even negotiate for a 2-year or 3-year lease, or even 5 years or 10 years like a commercial property. But tenants would rather have the option of leaving without penalty if they find a better place. It’s a solution in search of a problem. What the tenants really want is free stuff/subsidies.

            I wouldn’t be able to get a 2-3 year lease where I live no matter how much I wanted one. The most I’ve ever seen is 13 months. Typically tenants aren’t actually just off the hook when the lease expires, they have to give a 30-60 day (almost always 60 in my experience) notice or the lease automatically goes month to month at an increased rate you are obligated to pay until you give the notice and your 60 days are up.

            I also see several people here who comment talking about rental properties they own, but think it is important to remember that most of the time when we’re talking about rental properties we aren’t talking about individuals renting out one property. The analysis pretty much has to be different in those two cases…apples and oranges to me.

          • Matt M says:

            that most of the time when we’re talking about rental properties we aren’t talking about individuals renting out one property. The analysis pretty much has to be different in those two cases…apples and oranges to me.

            Why? What exactly is the difference, other than that a corporation is less sympathetic than an individual?

            Why should the landlord’s rights and considerations and wellbeing be important if it’s one landlord renting out one house, but unimportant if it’s a thousand landlords pooling their resources together to rent out a thousand houses?

          • Lambert says:

            Risk.
            If a 1 out of 100 houses in a company makes a loss, that’s a slightly smaller dividend for the shareholders or whoever. If a private landlord’s 2nd only rental property goes tits up, that’s a significant chunk of their savings.

    • There’s a big difference between the minimum wage and rent control. The minimum wage can have no effect on employment if demand for labor is highly inelastic, employers need a set amount of low-wage laborers and will pay whatever price, within reason, to acquire them. This is a reasonable theory. In contrast, the economic case for rent control says that suppliers will supply the exact same amount of housing units no matter the rent they can charge and thus profit they can achieve, because presumably businessmen don’t care about profits. This is not a reasonable theory. So why didn’t it expand? The reasonable explanation is that the government didn’t allow it to expand. Econ101 works on the assumption that markets are free.

      Finally, he found that rent controlled units had much longer tenure times, supporting the idea that rent control promotes neighborhood stability.

      This is only a good thing if you assume people have an irrational preference for moving and thus require the government to incentivize staying in place.

      They also found that eliminating rent control also raised rents in homes in the same area that were never subject to the controls, reinforcing the idea that rent control contributes to neighborhood stability.

      Or it indicates rents rose for other reasons. I mean, come on, this should be screaming “I’m a natural control group.”

      A 2007 study by Gilderbloom and Ye of more recent rent control laws here in New Jersey finds evidence that rent controls actually increase the supply of rental housing, by incentivizing landlords to subdivide larger rental units.

      This is the toddler-tier logic of thinking breaking vegetables in half changes total quantity.

      • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

        This is only a good thing if you assume people have an irrational preference for moving and thus require the government to incentivize staying in place.

        Or neighbourhood stability is a public good, cf The Rise of the Meritocracy.

        • It’s not a public good because it’s excludable, it’s a club good.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            I’m not convinced that that’s true; how do you exclude someone from the benefits of neighbourhood stability in a way that isn’t analogous to excluding someone from national defence (the archetypal public good) by excluding them from your country? But granting that it is, is that a relevant difference?

          • You exclude them if they aren’t willing to pay the higher rent and leave the community.

            But granting that it is, is that a relevant difference?

            It’s relevant because there’s no free rider problem. With pollution you can have people pollute pollute pollute and know they will suffer an infinitesimal fraction of the ill-effects. In contrast, when people decide to leave a formerly stable community, they lose the formerly stable community in addition to having a negative effect on it for everyone else. If they are doing so, it suggests they don’t value it very much.

          • Loriot says:

            This comes across as rather callous. Do you think people living homeless on the streets also “suggests that they don’t value [stable communities] very much”?

            I used to be much more sympathetic to the free markets all the time “rent control is evil” position, but I’ve realized that while free markets work in general, you never actually have ideal markets in practice, and thus you need regulations to correct for externalities and imperfect markets.

            Renting an apartment isn’t like buying milk. Transaction costs are very high and thus short time price elasticity is basically zero. Moving is extremely disruptive, especially if unplanned. You have to find a new job, a new house, new schools/daycare, build new social networks, and so on. Plus, requiring people to move frequently in search of lower rents is damaging to society at large. Stable communities absolutely are a public good.

            For the record, I’m against rent control initiatives in my area and think that we need to build more and denser housing. But I also think that this isn’t a situation where you can just say unleash the free market and let the chips fall where they may.

          • Do you think people living homeless on the streets also “suggests that they don’t value [stable communities] very much”?

            Yes.

            I used to be much more sympathetic to the free markets all the time “rent control is evil” position, but I’ve realized that while free markets work in general, you never actually have ideal markets in practice, and thus you need regulations to correct for externalities and imperfect markets.

            Sure. But the question should always be “do the regulations actually correct for externalities and imperfect markets?”

            Moving is extremely disruptive, especially if unplanned. You have to find a new job, a new house, new schools/daycare, build new social networks, and so on.

            And if the costs exceed the benefits, you don’t do it. That’s the beauty of not letting people sob story the costs away while keeping the benefits.

            For the record, I’m against rent control initiatives in my area and think that we need to build more and denser housing. But I also think that this isn’t a situation where you can just say unleash the free market and let the chips fall where they may.

            Then what regulations do you have in mind?

          • LesHapablap says:

            Loriot,

            Changing rentals is not that bad, especially if you are the one terminating the lease: you can wait for a better apartment to come up in the same location. If it doesn’t come up you stay put.

            And the market doesn’t need everyone to behave that way to function: enough people willing to shop around will moderate the prices.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Renting an apartment isn’t like buying milk. Transaction costs are very high and thus short time price elasticity is basically zero

            Transactions costs are also high on the landlord’s side. We own a rental and one month without a tenant is 8.5% of our annual income with basically no relief from the costs of ownership. To raise the rent we charge by 10% would pay us back a lost month in rent looking for another tenant at the new price 11 months after the rate hike. If we don’t find anyone at the higher price we will basically never get that money back. Having to evict a tenant can basically break a landlord and make them a net loser for years to decades to come on their property.

          • albatross11 says:

            I used to be much more sympathetic to the free markets all the time “rent control is evil” position, but I’ve realized that while free markets work in general, you never actually have ideal markets in practice, and thus you need regulations to correct for externalities and imperfect markets.

            ISTM that the critical question here is why you expect the regulations to make things better. Democracy failures and regulatory failures seem like they happen at least as often and are at least as damaging as market failures.

          • Matt M says:

            Indeed. The adverse effects of government action are, themselves, externalities. What proposed regulation is going to save us from those?

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            you never actually have ideal markets in practice, and thus you need regulations to correct for externalities and imperfect markets.

            The part after the “thus” does not follow from the part before it. All sorts of markets function well enough without being ideal.

          • Dacyn says:

            @Alexander Turok:

            If they are doing so, it suggests they don’t value it very much.

            It only suggests they don’t value it much more than the person who they sell their house to does, since the latter will be included in the price of the house.

      • Guy in TN says:

        This is the toddler-tier logic of thinking breaking vegetables in half changes total quantity.

        It’s clear from context that he’s just using the colloquial definition of “supply”, i.e. “the number of available houses”.

        Many a bad argument from neoliberal economists hinges on playing on the difference between the colloquial and economic understanding of terms.

        Rent control can simultaneously cause a housing “shortage” while increasing the number of houses available for people. It can reduce the “supply” while increasing the number of houses. Very tricky for the layman to parse.

        • baconbits9 says:

          It’s clear from context that he’s just using the colloquial definition of “supply”, i.e. “the number of available houses”.

          No he’s not. When he is talking about the minimum wage he says

          Among economists, rent regulation seems be in similar situation as the minimum wage was 20 years ago. At that time, most economists took it for granted that raising the minimum wage would reduce employment. Textbooks said that it was simple supply and demand — if you raise the price of something, people will buy less of it.

          And then he says that the same thing happens with rent control

          You may still see textbooks saying that as a price control, rent regulation will reduce the supply of housing.

          Let me now turn to the question of why the textbook story is wrong. There are several features of housing markets and of rent control that help explain why the simple supply-and-demand model is inapplicable.

        • It’s clear from context that he’s just using the colloquial definition of “supply”, i.e. “the number of available houses”.

          Many a bad argument from neoliberal economists hinges on playing on the difference between the colloquial and economic understanding of terms

          I don’t think the non-toddler population would see any difference. You don’t increase the supply of money by exchange your tens for fives, you don’t increase the supply of milk by providing it in 1-liter rather than 2-liter bottles, and you don’t increase the supply of housing by subdividing the existing housing stock.

          • Guy in TN says:

            you don’t increase the supply of housing by subdividing the existing housing stock.

            Let’s say there is a giant mansion in which one strange person lives. We pass a law that says “you can’t live alone in a giant mansion”, so instead, the person who used to live alone there sells it to company. That company renovates the giant mansion into 100 apartments for people to live in.

            So when the city before was able to house 1 person in this building, it can now house 100.

            Do you think the average person would agree with the statement: “This city has seen no change in the supply of rental housing”?

      • Hoopdawg says:

        I don’t exactly have a horse in this race (I am completely open to the possibility that merely trying to reign in capitalism does more harm that it prevents; instead, I vastly prefer sidestepping (or, if possible, doing away with) private renting with communal housing creation). As such, I have only skimmed the article in question and do not intend to defend it in particular. I just take offense to some of your argumentation.

        the economic case for rent control says that suppliers will supply the exact same amount of housing units no matter the rent they can charge and thus profit they can achieve, because presumably businessmen don’t care about profits. This is not a reasonable theory.

        With some additional assumptions (for example, there being no better investment opportunities available, or a limit on construction companies’ capacity), it is. I fully expect the real estate ownership and renting to be among the most profitable investments today, so I am not surprised to hear that limiting those profits does not drive investment away.

        So why didn’t it expand? The reasonable explanation is that the government didn’t allow it to expand. Econ101 works on the assumption that markets are free.

        “Bad government prevents optimal markets from working” has such a long history of being a cop-out that it’s never a reasonable explanation by itself. Markets being free is altogether just not a realistic assumption.

        This is only a good thing if you assume people have an irrational preference for moving and thus require the government to incentivize staying in place.

        No, it’s also a good thing if you assume people have a preference for not moving, which they gladly act upon in absence of incentives to move somewhere cheaper. And that’s only a bad thing if you assume that such preference is irrational.

        I mean, come on, this should be screaming “I’m a natural control group.”

        It most certainly should not. Are you assuming prices on a single market to be uncorrelated with each other?

        This is the toddler-tier logic of thinking breaking vegetables in half changes total quantity.

        Only if we assume linear relationship between area and utility. This may be true for vegetables (whose utility is nutrients that directly depend on weight), but is certainly not universal. (For example, two lighter knives reforged from a single heavier knife may just as well provide zero utility, if lighter versions are useless – or twice the utility, if they’re just as capable as the heavier version – or even more than twice the utility, if the heavier version is unwieldy in comparison.) It may be that living area is more like vegetables, but you omitted the step of explaining why.

        • a limit on construction companies’ capacity

          Can you go into detail on what that is? Companies generally expand when possible. What could be limiting them from doing so? Is there some natural resource that is limited?

          I fully expect the real estate ownership and renting to be among the most profitable investments today, so I am not surprised to hear that limiting those profits does not drive investment away.

          Why would you assume that real estate ownership and renting are among the most profitable investments today? Suppose it were insanely profitable to buy an apartment building for 2 million dollars and rent out the apartments. You can invest 2 million and get a real return of, say, 15%, much better than other investment opportunities. What would be happening to the price of the apartment? It would be shooting up as investors want to get those above-average returns. This would lower the return on investment. You’re probably just looking at the fact that rent is going up for the renters and not considering that the cost to buy is also going up for the developers.

          “Bad government prevents optimal markets from working” has such a long history of being a cop-out that it’s never a reasonable explanation by itself.

          It’s a perfectly reasonable assumption when there’s a lot of evidence that bad government is doing what it is being accused of doing.

          No, it’s also a good thing if you assume people have a preference for not moving, which they gladly act upon in absence of incentives to move somewhere cheaper. And that’s only a bad thing if you assume that such preference is irrational.

          The same logic would lead to subsidization of anything people have a preference for.

          Only if we assume linear relationship between area and utility. This may be true for vegetables (whose utility is nutrients that directly depend on weight), but is certainly not universal. (For example, two lighter knives reforged from a single heavier knife may just as well provide zero utility, if lighter versions are useless – or twice the utility, if they’re just as capable as the heavier version – or even more than twice the utility, if the heavier version is unwieldy in comparison.) It may be that living area is more like vegetables, but you omitted the step of explaining why.

          The null hypothesis should be that if the market is supplying a good, be it knives or housing, in a set of sizes X, that is what is the optimal. Maybe customers have an irrational preference for a non-optimal set of sizes, maybe chefs are systematically using too-large or too-small knives or maybe there’s a market failure that isn’t giving them what they want. I don’t see any reason to assume that is true for housing.

          • EchoChaos says:

            The same logic would lead to subsidization of anything people have a preference for.

            State-supplied waifus for all!

          • Medrach says:

            Can you go into detail on what that is? Companies generally expand when possible. What could be limiting them from doing so? Is there some natural resource that is limited?

            Not the one you were talking with earlier, but one of the actual problems at least here in Germany is a skyrocketing cost to build. Some of that is due to increased regulation but companies are actually complaining about a lack of workers. Of course the supply of humans is limited but especially in a developed western country with somewhat stringent labor/immigration laws there just aren’t that many people willing to do back breaking manual labor.

            I’m generally against rent-control but one of the (to me) more cogent arguments for at least some form of it flows from this: If demand in a certain area skyrockets, rents go up. This also incentivizes people to build, so there is more supply so the rents don’t go up as much.
            But building anything much less high-rise dense urban housing takes ages. And, in the abscence of ANY rent-control, raising rents takes two seconds. Limiting the raising of rents in an existing lease to a certain percentage amount basically eliminates these price-jags and means that the entire market is a little more stable.

            The counter-argument, of course, and the one we are seeing lovingly lived out in Germany, is that it absolutely disincentivizes anyone from building until it is even later, making the price jumps even worse and also ensuring noone builds until the only thing it makes sense to build (concidering ground prices) are luxury condos.

          • Clutzy says:

            Housing is, in most places, a highly regulated market, but this appears to generally be the result of competing regulative ideas.

            Some people want to build free market Cabrini Green style high rises, some want only single family houses. They both fight in the political realm until we get a complex web of housing. In reality, the only thing that seems to work well for residents is old style cities that barely accommodate cars, or ex-urban/suburban style single family households with a train to an urban cultural center (that most people dont use on a daily basis). The idea of a concentrated work area that people commute to every day is a failure on the human level. Old cities were concentrated because they had a port (which port workers lived by) and a manufacturing district (where those workers lived), which is smart to put next to a port for costs, etc. Modern cities are planned such that everything cultural is placed with the business and the manufacturing is sent away. This is just a bad plan for human achievement long term because it mandates long commutes. The way out is atomizstion, not centralization.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            A German construction firm complaining about a shortage of skilled construction labor has only itself to blame – Spain is right there, and has a huge surplus of it, and the right to work… Uhm. Excuse me, going to make some calls.

        • aristides says:

          Just a quick side note, asking Econ 101 to not assume that markets will be free is the equivalent of asking physicists and engineers to stop running simulations with no friction, no vacuum, and no spheres, since those are not realistic assumptions. We know it’s not realistic, but it’s much easier to look at how things would work in an ideal state, and compare it to how it works in reality. With rent control, most economists agree that the ideal state with no rent control is better than a state that has it.

          • Lambert says:

            And most physicists would agree that spherical cows in a vacuum would be easier to roll around than to herd the normal way.
            But you don’t see them arguing for the construction of some kind of transcontinental bovine marble run.

            Sometimes approximations work, like the free market for most consumer goods or a the path of a football in a vacuum. Other situations are like a plane in a vacuum or a housing market with no friction and perfect information.

      • AlesZiegler says:

        In contrast, the economic case for rent control says that suppliers will supply the exact same amount of housing units no matter the rent they can charge and thus profit they can achieve, because presumably businessmen don’t care about profits. This is not a reasonable theory. So why didn’t it expand? The reasonable explanation is that the government didn’t allow it to expand.

        Last sentence of this almost contradicts the second sentence. Not because businessmen don’t care about profits, but because government regulation of housing supply exists.

        It is true than in a situation with zero government restrictions on housing supply, rent control will only limit a housing construction without any addition to consumer surplus accruing to renters. It is also true that in a situation when government bans any and all new housing construction, rent control will have no effect on it.

        Housing regulation in real world cities is somewhere between those two extremes.

    • Plumber says:

      “…this economist’s defense of rent control…”

      That piece was great!

      Nice to see something that fits what’s intuitive to instead of the opposite for a change.

      Thanks @hnau!

    • LesHapablap says:

      I did a quick search of the article for “airbnb” and didn’t find anything. Any article that discusses the economics of housing needs to include AirBnB: long-term renters are no longer the only ones bidding on housing stock. The more unattractive traditional renting becomes to a landlord, either through rent control or whatever else, the more housing units will be converted to holiday lets.

      • acymetric says:

        Regardless of rent control, I am strongly in favor of heavy and strictly enforced regulations on AirBnB (specifically for non-resident AirBnB operators).

          • acymetric says:

            Not appropriate use of residential properties. In places where there is a massive oversupply of housing, maybe, but that isn’t very many places.

            Tangentially I’m not a fan of Open Door, although that is more just gut reaction and not grounded especially in any concrete analysis.

          • Not appropriate use of residential properties. In places where there is a massive oversupply of housing, maybe, but that isn’t very many places.

            In sectors and areas with a functioning market economy there is no need to worry about shortages and oversupplies. More demand leads to more supply. There are many areas like that in the country.

            Regulations have a way of feeding on themselves. You’ve restricted the supply of housing, have a shortage, and now want to further restrict the supply of one type of housing. When you’re in a hole…

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            AirBNB is not going to help you build more houses or condos if the local zoning board won’t allow you to build more houses or condos. It’s just allowing more demand for the same limited supply.

          • LesHapablap says:

            In sectors and areas with a functioning market economy there is no need to worry about shortages and oversupplies.

            @Alexander Turok,

            I don’t think that describes the housing market in many, many places around the world. For a variety of reasons the housing market doesn’t function well. Most of those reasons are regulatory and it would be nice if we could ‘stop digging,’ but you know as well as I do that is impossible.

            Typically, running a business out of your home is only allowed based on its effects on the community. Your property rights do not allow you to turn your apartment into a restaurant, or a petting zoo, or a night club, because it would have bad effects on your neighbors.

            Turning your apartment into a hotel does not necessarily have the same effect on your neighbors, although it can be annoying, but it does have an effect on the community. It means one less place for a person to live in your community, which means that person has to commute from somewhere else if they want to keep working there, or just leave*

            As a community, you all should have the right to make certain decisions about things that effect the community. Maybe as a community you get together and decide you don’t want a portion of your population to have to leave or commute long distances to work in your community. Maybe because that reduces the cohesion of the community, or because you own a business and it means wages will have to go up, or because you personally don’t want to have to leave or have friends leave.

            *Yes if things were functioning well, demand for housing would cause an increase in supply. To see why that doesn’t happen in many places, see the many Reason videos of property owners and communities preventing developers from making that happen.

          • Most of those reasons are regulatory and it would be nice if we could ‘stop digging,’ but you know as well as I do that is impossible.

            There’s a limited amount of political capital you have. You could use it to remove existing regulations or add new ones. Declaring the former impossible and then plowing ahead with the latter is part of the problem, that’s being in the hole and keeping on digging. Do you think your views are more sensible and informed by evidence than the average normie? Then start acting like it!

          • LesHapablap says:

            I would probably agree with regulating AirBnB (for whole properties, not just for a single room) even if most of the other regulatory problems were fixed. On a case by case basis of course: not all communities are the same.

            “Removing existing regulations” so that housing can be more easily built isn’t necessarily as simple as taking a law off the books. It’s like trying to ‘remove existing regulations’ to fix cost disease in public transport infrastructure: there’s no single ‘Obstruct Projects Act of 1993’ to repeal.

          • The Nybbler says:

            there’s no single ‘Obstruct Projects Act of 1993’ to repeal.

            There is, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970.

          • bondaires says:

            > In sectors and areas with a functioning market economy there is no need to worry about shortages and oversupplies. More demand leads to more supply. There are many areas like that in the country.

            So we are going to play the game of “land is a commodity just like any other” and “pretend land use isn’t subject to politics”.

          • pretend land use isn’t subject to politics

            Of course it’s subject to politics. The point is it doesn’t need to be.

          • MrSquid says:

            In sectors and areas with a functioning market economy there is no need to worry about shortages and oversupplies. More demand leads to more supply. There are many areas like that in the country.

            Property will never be a functioning market economy with no worry about shortages or oversupplies because land has a fixed supply. There are only so many plots you can sell for downtown NYC before you have exhausted the supply. That some areas of the country have supply of land does not advance much as the point of residences are to be near certain goods and services that wide swaths of the United States lack (and are, accordingly, not populated). One of the most consistent critiques in economics — from all sides of the field — is that land has a fixed supply and holders of land can be insulated against typical market pressures as a result.

          • acymetric says:

            Property will never be a functioning market economy with no worry about shortages or oversupplies

            The market is also probably too slow the respond in most cases. I mean, you can build 1,000 housing units pretty quick, but probably not quick enough.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Even leaving aside the fact that land and rental housing are two different things, there is no economic principle which says you can’t have a functioning market when supply is fixed.

          • Property will never be a functioning market economy with no worry about shortages or oversupplies because land has a fixed supply.

            There is no inconsistency between a functioning market economy and one input being in fixed supply.

          • MrSquid says:

            There is no inconsistency between a functioning market economy and one input being in fixed supply.

            There is no economic principle which says you can’t have a functioning market when supply is fixed.

            Y’all are dropping a clause here: “with no worry about shortages or oversupplies”. If the supply is fixed, then any change in demand is going to lead to either an oversupply or a shortage that will be maintained until demand can shift back to equilibrium. When housing demand is also not very responsive (it’s primarily a function of population), it becomes pretty difficult to maintain that the market would be expected to regularly clear.

            The point about land and rentals being distinct is fair, but that’s also where zoning issues come into play. Some urban areas could easily support larger apartment complexes in terms of economics and infrastructure, but such complexes aren’t legal to build.

          • Y’all are dropping a clause here: “with no worry about shortages or oversupplies”. If the supply is fixed, then any change in demand is going to lead to either an oversupply or a shortage that will be maintained until demand can shift back to equilibrium.

            You, like most non-economists, are failing to distinguish between demand and quantity demanded. If demand increases (the demand curve shifts out, more is demanded at any price), the price goes up until quantity demanded on the new demand curve is again equal to quantity supplied. No further shift of demand involved.

            That is the standard market mechanism, whether the supply curve is vertical (fixed supply) or not.

          • Aapje says:

            If demand and supply are very unelastic, a shortage in housing drives up housing costs to the limit of what people can pay. Note that housing costs are often a large part of people’s spending and one of people’s biggest priorities/preferences. This is different from most other spending, where most people are typically unwilling to skirt disaster and demand thus to drops off before people get themselves in a financially precarious situation.

            The demand/supply curve doesn’t distinguish why demand drops, even though this is actually very significant for what policies I (and a lot of other people) support.

            Note that the demand/supply curve merely describes at what price the market clears. This price is only going to be achieved if the only goal of the participants is to clear the market ASAP, which it often isn’t.

            The housing (and commercial) estate market seems particularly ‘sticky’ for example, where sellers are fairly unwilling to lower prices in response to decreased demand, preferring to leave the real estate unsold.

            That is the standard market mechanism

            The demand/supply curve is not the market mechanism! It is merely a description of one of various market mechanisms.

          • Dacyn says:

            @Aapje:

            The housing (and commercial) estate market seems particularly ‘sticky’ for example, where sellers are fairly unwilling to lower prices in response to decreased demand, preferring to leave the real estate unsold.

            It sounds to me like you are describing elastic supply: those houses are not actually available to be sold at those prices, but they would be available at higher prices. (Incidentally, this has nothing to do with whether “the only goal of the participants is to clear the market ASAP”, which is not a standard economic assumption — the market clears itself, regardless of whether the participants want it to.)

            On the demand side, I assume not all the people are millionares who will live in the city at any cost; in the end some will move (or have more unfortunate prospects), making the demand elastic as well. And really this is the only possible solution to a shortage: if there’s not enough housing, some people will have to deal with that.

            So I question your assumption that supply and demand are inelastic.

          • MrSquid says:

            You, like most non-economists, are failing to distinguish between demand and quantity demanded.

            Here’s me, with my fancy masters in econ. Perhaps we refrain from assumptions about each other’s familiarity with the field.

          • Mr. Squid:

            I have a degree in chemistry but am not a chemist. I have a doctorate in physics but am not a physicist, although I once was. I have no degrees in economics, but am an economist.

            The relevant question is not what courses you have taken but you what you ended up knowing.

            You wrote:

            If the supply is fixed, then any change in demand is going to lead to either an oversupply or a shortage that will be maintained until demand can shift back to equilibrium.

            Can you offer an explanation of that that doesn’t imply that you were confusing demand with quantity demanded?

          • MrSquid says:

            Two responses: first, it is hard to view anything that extreme disrespect in first claiming that I am not an economist and then doubling-down when confronted with evidence otherwise that my education is irrelevant. I’m quite proud of my degree and my work during graduate school and I’m not terribly inclined to continue a conversation with someone who is willing to imply that this degree is nonetheless worthless. Second,

            Can you offer an explanation of that that doesn’t imply that you were confusing demand with quantity demanded?

            The simple answer is that you, along with Mr Turok, are mixing your terms. You are claiming that a market clearing implies that there is no shortage and supply. But this is not true, it merely means that the market will use its mechanisms to allocate the shortage. We ought to still be concerned about the shortage because the market allocation might not meet our goals. To use a common hypothetical example, if there were a particularly lethal disease with a known but difficult to produce cure (or simply one that only a few companies / individuals have the capacity to produce), it is almost certain that there would be a shortage even if the market settled into an equilibrium. That there is a market parity does not imply a societal parity, and with something like housing these are important distinctions. I might not have the resources to purchase a Ferrari, but I’m also capable of forgoing a Ferrari without wider consequences. One cannot forgo housing altogether without wider consequences.

            Thus, if there is something that creates a higher demand for housing, and housing is supply-constrained, the only way to alleviate the societal shortage is for that higher demand to return to normal. The market quantity demanded being the same in the new equilibrium might satisfy people for whom the market is the sole concern, but it hardly satisfies concern for say health economists who will note you now have a homeless population who will have higher healthcare costs because of a lack of housing, or urban planners trying to ensure the supply is adequate to meet the full demand and not merely gets to a point in which peoples ability or willingness to pay is lower than the market price. But the pricing mechanism alone is insufficient to resolve the gap between demand and supply in a way that actually meets the full demand and not just the demand that can clear a certain price threshold.

          • @MrSquid:

            I’m happy to terminate the argument as unproductive, but you have not altered my conclusion.

          • Dacyn says:

            @MrSquid: In a lot of places people may judge your intellectual capacity by what degrees you have, but in my experience that is less true for rationalist spaces, and that at least somewhat includes SSC. DavidFriedman isn’t saying that your education is irrelevant, only that the metric which he will judge it by is how much he thinks your arguments make sense, rather than formal degrees. Also, he didn’t “double down” on the claim that you are not an economist (which was a reasonable assumption at first given that most people here aren’t) but rather implied that his opinion of your economics ability would be dependent on your ability to answer his question (which you seem to have answered now; your explanation makes sense to me though I don’t know whether it’s true that others were “mixing [their] terms”, which seems like it might be the crux).

            ETA: Ninja’d, though hopefully my comment is still useful.

    • EchoChaos says:

      This feels culture war to me, but I can’t put my finger on it…

      • salvorhardin says:

        Yup. I think the general culture-warry question this raises is (trying to state this neutrally/descriptively in the spirit of an integer OT, though you can guess my own position and I apologize if it creeps in too much):

        To what extent, and under what circumstances, are members of a local community justified in using state power to privilege incumbent community residents over prospective new residents? Or on the other hand, when are such uses of state power

        (a) economically inefficient
        (b) human rights violations
        (c) evidence of morally culpable bigotry
        etc?

        You get different coalitions when this question comes up at the neighborhood vs the national level, but often similar feelings and rhetoric.

        • EchoChaos says:

          Sarcasm doesn’t translate well to text.

          This is white hot culture war and I know exactly why.

          It’s a fun topic for Wednesday, though.

          • hnau says:

            Yeah, in hindsight I regret dropping the link with so little explanation. I was mostly impressed with how clearly it presented the relevant technical questions and claims. I didn’t anticipate how quickly one could get to fundamental political-philosophy disagreements from there, though I probably should have.

      • DinoNerd says:

        Yes. I’m seeing comments that look like restatements of evidence-free beliefs as self-evident truth, and AFAICT the parties making those statements don’t all agree with each other. Also, I can fairly easily assign (US) political parties to the self-evident “truths” stated.

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      Rent control is an attempt at adressing excessive housing costs without going in and actually doing something about the supply. Which is daft. The proper response is in order: Aggressive zoning, the building of transport infrastructure to put more area in reasonable travel time, and if the market is still failing you, just directly build some more housing on the municipal dime.

      • bondaires says:

        Maybe this is a slight tangent but: when people say the state should build housing, do they mean for permanent sale or for rent/social housing?

        I feel building an enormous amount of government housing for sale would solve the problem for barely a generation. It’d make a generation rich that would in time turn to rent those units to the next generation.

      • Guy in TN says:

        @Thomas Jorgensen

        Rent control is an attempt at adressing excessive housing costs without going in and actually doing something about the supply.
        […]
        if the market is still failing you, just directly build some more housing on the municipal dime.

        So on one hand, the state could say “if you want to build a house on this piece of land, you have to do so within these specific design parameters, and rent it for no more than x amount” and on the other, the state says “okay so we’re going to build a house on this piece of land with this specific design, and rent it for x amount”.

        Don’t both methods have essentially the same effect on the supply of low cost housing? (assuming that the rent cap is set at a level that is still profitable, since the state has the power to operate at a loss while private landowners don’t)

        My take, is that for all its political divisiveness, rent control is still more mainstream-palatable (and therefore more politically possible) than the levels of taxation and eminent domain necessary to implement a level of public housing that would achieve the same effect. I say this with the all the acknowledgement that, political concerns aside, state owned housing would be the superior route.

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          If the first two options dont work, there is something seriously pathological about your local private housing sector – That is why the third option is “Do it yourself”. If you take a market which is genuinely already failing, and which continues to fail after you make best efforts to facilitate its proper function, and then add price controls to it… That is not going to end well.

        • bondaires says:

          @Guy in TN

          A lot of arguments against regulation follow that pattern.

          Every time there’s an X problem and Y government action is proposed someone will argue to leave it to market to produce the same effect as Y (only after wasting years and possibly ruining lives, of course) in the long term.

          • John Schilling says:

            Whereas the man from the government who is here to help you will solve the problem instantly and with no adverse consequence to anyone, I suppose.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            Eh. The state building a bunch of housing when there is not enough has a fairly decent track record. You can fuck it up monumentally, sure, but this works more often than not, especially if you do your homework.
            This makes it a better option than praying to the invisible hand *after* it has conspicuously failed to show up.
            Note the flow-chart of actions I laid out here. First you zone more and denser residential. Then you run a spur off your metro or light rail system into a goddamn empty field. If housing still fails to materialize, well, you probably have a cartel or something similar going on, so fuck the purity of the free market, buy bricks, hire bricklayers.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            The state building a bunch of housing when there is not enough has a fairly decent track record

            Cabrini Green. And I think 90% of the other projects in the US. There is a reason why govt housing projects aren’t so popular anymore. Even govt bureaucrats that get paid to favor govt spending figure it out after a while. A “fairly decent track record” is not at all true.

        • MoebiusStreet says:

          rent control is still more mainstream-palatable (and therefore more politically possible) than the levels of taxation and eminent domain necessary to implement a level of public housing that would achieve the same effect.

          I agree that we’d like to ensure that everyone in our society has a place to live. But why are we assuming that there’s an obligation to ensure that there’s something affordable in any given place? Doesn’t the refusal to allow any sort of market mechanism lead to the same problems that we see in education and healthcare?

          So your question is really forcing a false choice, to my mind. We shouldn’t assume that housing must be made available in Manhattan and SF, so long as there’s some place they could go.

          (Yes, I know Scott demonstrated that there are other problems leading to the cost problem, but insulation from any price dynamic is certainly among those causes.)

          • Aftagley says:

            That argument, imo, falls down when you look at the growing trend of empty condos throughout high-desirability living locations.

            Back in September, 2019, NYT reported that around one in four luxury condos built since 2013 remains unsold. Average price for these condos is somewhere in the millions of dollars. In addition to all these condos, a large chunk of the property that has been “sold” basically just acts as an unoccupied parking space for money for foreign investors. No one lives in these condos.

            In a world where every domicile is occupied and people are being priced out of the market due to increased competition, then yeah, it sucks but I guess if you can’t afford to pay as much rent as someone else is willing to, then it makes sense that you might not get to live where you want.

            On the other hand, when your rent is increasing because some investor wants to buy up your building, knock it down, replace it with a luxury high rise that will (a) at max capacity hold less than your current building and (b) remain under 70% occupancy for at least a decade, then there’s a problem.

            I might not have a sacrosanct right to live wherever I want… but I’ve got to have a greater right than, say, an empty condo.

          • ana53294 says:

            @Aftagley

            For places where you get many emptive apartments in a place where many people need homes, you can institute fines for every year a house stays empty, to force owners/developers into renting.

            You can also institute forced renting. This has been done with reposessed homes in severely affected towns in Spain, where city halls have forced/convinced banks to let houses for social housing purposes.

            Of course, in the case of luxury condos, they’d prefer paying fines over social housing, but they may find luxury renters, or put them on AirBnb, or whatever. The point is raising the cost of keeping a house empty, a Pigouvian tax.

          • Nick says:

            Why the heck are huge amounts of real estate being built and never occupied in the first place?

          • @Aftagley,

            This is a case where we see the harms of something and not the benefits. If foreigners are going to buy up our tulips, we see the fact that we have to pay more for tulips. We don’t see that the capital gains from selling tulips go to our richer citizens who will pay taxes on those capital gains, which eventually might benefit the middle classes. No reason not to let this go on as long as it can. Since manhattan real estate is a positional good, it’s not creating a shortage of anything real.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @MoebiusStreet

            But why are we assuming that there’s an obligation to ensure that there’s something affordable in any given place?

            I don’t think the assumption is that there’s an obligation ensure that there is affordable housing for every given location, but rather there is an obligation to assure affordable housing in many given locations. The state has heavily invested in public infrastructure (roads, schools, fire departments, parks, subways), and it wants these to be utilized to the best extent that they can. Not to mention people are going to want to live near where they work and shop.

            For example, the state could theoretically increase the housing stock by building state-owned apartments in remote cornfields four hours away from the nearest city center. But then these people would need all of the state infrastructure in the list above to be re-built, in order to live a comparably similar quality of life.

            Which is to say, the purpose of rent control is not merely to provide affordable housing for people, but to provide affordable housing at locations where people want to live.

          • John Schilling says:

            The state has heavily invested in public infrastructure (roads, schools, fire departments, parks, subways), and it wants these to be utilized to the best extent that they can.

            My first takeaway from this is, you’re arguing that the state has built too many roads, schools, subways, etc, and that having squandered the taxpayers’ money on this the state should then spend more of the taxpayers money to subsidize an increased population to use these things.

            But if there is any argument here for state-subsidized housing, it would be for state-subsidized housing in places where the existing roads/schools/subways are underutilized. But the demands I see for more housing at taxpayer expense, are in places like New York, Los Angeles, and the Bay Area – where the roads and subways seem plenty crowded and there are concurrent demands for funding to build more schools just to serve the current population.

            Where are the supposed locations that have underutilized roads, schools, etc, that also have an absolute shortfall of housing?

          • acymetric says:

            @John Schilling

            My first takeaway from this is, you’re arguing that the state has built too many roads, schools, subways, etc, and that having squandered the taxpayers’ money on this the state should then spend more of the taxpayers money to subsidize an increased population to use these things.

            I think you might have mis-read. I’m pretty sure the point is that the state would rather people live where the infrastructure is, rather than have them all go to Nowheresville 4 hours away from anything where housing is cheap but there is no infrastructure to support a bunch of people moving there. Unfortunately, “where the infrastructure is” tends to be more expensive, sometimes prohibitively so.

            Plus, if everybody moves to Nowhereseville for the cheap housing, the housing won’t be cheap anymore.

          • Guy in TN says:

            It’s true that the arg wouldn’t apply to any city that has infrastructure already at “maximum capacity”. But I’ve seen Tokyo— and no US city is there yet IMO. Rental size is still generous in the US, roads still have more private cars than buses. In the downtown of the city where I live, people still have yards. There’s a lot of wasted space.

          • Matt M says:

            I don’t think the assumption is that there’s an obligation ensure that there is affordable housing for every given location

            I dunno, man. I read an article a while back about various efforts to introduce new regulations to increase “access to affordable housing” in the wealthiest of all the Portland suburbs. The tone of the article was such that it was some sort of moral outrage that there was no space to live for low-income people in that specific suburb. The fact that there were plenty of other Portland suburbs with much lower housing costs was not considered relevant. This one had a crisis and had to figure out a way to solve this “problem.” And this was not a result of gentrification or anything like that, this place has always been one of the nicest, fanciest, and highest-cost-of-living places in the entire state.

          • JayT says:

            Related:
            https://la.curbed.com/2015/3/19/9978836/malibu-has-been-trying-to-pass-off-guest-houses-as-lowincome-housing

            Malibu is definitely not “where the infrastructure is”. If you don’t have a car, you’re pretty much SOL.

          • John Schilling says:

            In the downtown of the city where I live, people still have yards. There’s a lot of wasted space.

            But it’s not space the state can take any credit for creating, nor any mandate for filling with people. If the roads are empty, that’s wasted space that the state might have a legitimate interest in filling, if it could get past the question of why it built too much road in the first place.

          • CatCube says:

            The fact that yards could be considered “wasted” is one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard. I acknowledge that there are people who actually like the ridiculous little rat cages we call “cities,” but I confess that I don’t understand the mentality.

            I’ve lived in my current city for 5 years last October. I come in to the city every weekday for work, but I can literally–and I use the word “literally” literally here–count the number of times I’ve come into the city for any reason other than to go to work without taking off my shoes. I just absolutely hate the environment, and only tolerate it for work.

          • Guy in TN says:

            If the roads are empty, that’s wasted space that the state might have a legitimate interest in filling, if it could get past the question of why it built too much road in the first place.

            I see two ways off looking at it.

            The first is: “Why does this city’s transportation policies not match its existing housing policies?”, and view the situation as a crisis of too many roads. (I’m actually not unsympathetic to this position, honestly)

            The second is: “Why does this city’s housing policies not match its existing transportation policies?” and view the situation as a crisis of low population density. This is the view that public housing would aim to solve.

            But neither of these are questions the city has to “get past”, in the sense of having to answer for/explain itself, before moving to fix these incongruencies. If the city has bad policies, it should try to make them better.

          • John Schilling says:

            The second is: “Why does this city’s housing policies not match its existing transportation policies?” and view the situation as a crisis of low population density.

            Unless the population density has actually declined, which is not the case anywhere I see people playing the “inadequate housing – state must provide!” card, the answer is mathematically obvious. At some point in the past, the existing transportation was appropriate for the population density. Then the state decided to build more transportation, even though there weren’t the people to justify it. At taxpayer expense, for no good reason.

            If this isn’t plain stupidity, it’s a cynical move by people who want to govern a bigger city than they’ve currently got. “First we build more roads than anyone here needs. Then, we ‘have to’ build more housing so that the roads won’t be wasted. But if we’re clever, we can overbuild housing so that the existing roads aren’t sufficient. Lather, rinse, repeat”.

            As a net taxpayer with limited use for roads, I’m not in favor of rewarding this sort of thing. I also note that this is a game that can be played just about anywhere, so if you do insist on playing it with my money I’m going to insist on you doing it someplace where land is cheap.

            Start with California City. Third-largest city in California, with literally more roads than anyone knows what to do with, going to waste. Clearly, the State’s interest in building housing for people to use those roads is greater than anywhere else in California. And it looks like residential land goes for about $30K per acre; construction costs of $70K per median home.

            When you all have got the State of California to build out California City and fill it to capacity with the Californians and wannabe Californians whining about inadequate or overpriced housing, get back to me about San Francisco. Well, first Victorville, then San Bernardino, but eventually we’ll get to San Francisco,

          • Matt M says:

            Malibu is definitely not “where the infrastructure is”. If you don’t have a car, you’re pretty much SOL.

            And the notion that freaking Malibu, of all places, has any requirement whatsoever for “low income housing” is absurd.

            If you want low income housing, don’t live in Malibu. Malibu’s entire reason for existing is to provide expensive (but nice) housing for the rich and famous.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Unless the population density has actually declined, which is not the case anywhere I see people playing the “inadequate housing – state must provide!” card

            My hunch is that from ~1920-2020 population density did decline in almost every major US city, due to people moving out of the city center and into the suburbs. Granted I don’t have data on this, just a suspicion. Willing to be proven wrong about this.

            If this is true, the answer could just as easily be that the US had a reasonably appropriate transportation system in 1920, that become inappropriately expansive due to changes in the housing system, not the other way around.

            Start with California City. Third-largest city in California, with literally more roads than anyone knows what to do with, going to waste. Clearly, the State’s interest in building housing for people to use those roads is greater than anywhere else in California.

            If the problem with California City is that its a road with no purpose, building public housing there just amplifies the problem: now you also have housing with no purpose. This just reiterates my earlier point that the purpose of rent control and public housing isn’t just to lower housing costs, but to lower housing costs in places that people want to live.

          • Clutzy says:

            It’s true that the arg wouldn’t apply to any city that has infrastructure already at “maximum capacity”. But I’ve seen Tokyo— and no US city is there yet IMO. Rental size is still generous in the US, roads still have more private cars than buses. In the downtown of the city where I live, people still have yards. There’s a lot of wasted space.

            I’m not sure I really agree with this. At least in Chicago, the big city I live in, the reason for premium housing being premium is because its proximity to things that people value, and that proximity is measured in time, not distance. Cramming more people into west loop will reduce the QOL of everyone already living in west loop, and basically all the people who use the same transit lines as west loop (Fulton, Little Italy, UC, etc). There is also the issue the the expensiveness does has positive local effects.

          • albatross11 says:

            If local officials are building a lot of unneeded roads, I’d assume the explanation is that they’re getting kickbacks from the contractors used to build them. This double-bankshot tactic for ruling a bigger city seems very unlikely to me.

          • Aftagley says:

            @Nick

            Why the heck are huge amounts of real estate being built and never occupied in the first place?

            Great question, and one that’s got me excited to answer. I think I’ll hold off until a fractional thread and draw up an effort-post trying to explain this.

          • Nick says:

            @Aftagley
            Looking forward to it!

          • JayT says:

            My hunch is that from ~1920-2020 population density did decline in almost every major US city, due to people moving out of the city center and into the suburbs. Granted I don’t have data on this, just a suspicion. Willing to be proven wrong about this.

            It depends on what you mean by “every major city”. Are you talking about the major cities of 1920, or the major cities of today? If you look at the top ten cities of 1920, most of them lost population, with the biggest drop being Detroit losing 300,000 people. If you look at the cities of today, you’ll see ones like Phoenix, which went from 30,000 people in 1920 to 1.6 million today, and Houston, which went from 130,000 to 2.3 million. Those two cities alone probably erase almost all of the population drops in other cities.

          • John Schilling says:

            Which is to say, the purpose of rent control is not merely to provide affordable housing for people, but to provide affordable housing at locations where people want to live.

            Aside from the fact that rent control generally doesn’t do that, and particularly doesn’t do that for people on the outside looking in,

            So what?

            I want to live on a private island with a supervillain volcano lair and mad scientist laboratory. And with Castle Anthrax on the other side of the island. That’s where I want to live, so, I guess it’s now the government’s job to find and implement whatever policy makes that affordable for me? And everyone else with similar tastes, but we all want our own separate island?

            It’s life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. If the thing you need to be happy, the place you want to live, is out of reach, then at least here in the United States the government’s job starts and ends with staying out of your way while you try to get it for yourself. If there’s literally no place you can afford to live, that’s one thing. If you can afford to live in Cal City but you want to live in the Bay Area, give it your best shot or cry me a river and listen to the world’s smallest violin.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Here is a list of the biggest cities of 1920. New York and Los Angeles have gotten a lot bigger. The rest of the top 10 have gotten smaller. Maybe half have gotten a lot smaller.

            Almost all cities peaked in population around 1950. Los Angeles is the only one on the old top 10 that grew a lot since then. Incidentally, Manhattan shrank a lot 1920-1950 because of public transit. It became possible to live in Brooklyn and work in Manhattan. But that probably means that the number of people working in Manhattan just kept going up: more people commuted from Brooklyn than just the ones that had left Manhattan.

            In general, cities are arbitrary boundaries. Boston has shrunk since 1920, but people complain about the rising rents. That could mean that people are consuming more square feet per person, but it could also mean that housing is being replaced by workplaces employing people from the suburbs.

    • MNH says:

      So I only have an undergrad level understanding of econ (though from UChicago!), but I am pretty baffled by this assumption that the housing supply is where we’d see the negative impacts of rent control. Have you thought about how hard it is to build a house*? I would start by assuming housing supply is relatively inelastic, and think

      1) probably rent controlled apartments get shittier down to whatever level people are paying

      2) where did that demand that was raising the apartment’s price go? Rent control probably makes the prices of nearby non-rent-controlled things higher

      I’m disappointed to see neither of these things addressed, and curious if they play out in the real world as I would expect

      *Really, even more relevantly, to build an apartment building?

      • MNH says:

        I come back to point out that I do notice he links one study claiming that rent control also held down surrounding prices. I am unsure if this counteracts my point 2), since maybe the very close apartments suffered from being near rent-controlled apartments that were shitty due to 1). What a mess to make sense of.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Good article. The parts that stood out for me (I already believe that rent control is bad, so I’m mostly interested in arguments that it’s not):

      Third, rent regulations in general affect only increases in rents. When a new property comes on the market, landlords can charge whatever the market will bear. And when they make major improvements, again, most existing rent regulations, including the current Jersey City law, allow them to recapture those costs via higher rents. So what rent control is limiting are the rent increases that are not the result of anything the landlord has done — the rent increases that result from the increased desirability of a particular area, or of a broader regional shortage of housing relative to demand. There is no reason that limiting these windfall gains should affect the supply of housing.

      Fourth, in many high-cost areas, housing supply is relatively fixed. The reason that existing homes in many large cities cost multiple times more than the costs of construction, is that the ability to add new housing in these areas is very limited, by some mix of regulatory barriers like zoning, and physical or economic barriers. In economists’ terms, the supply of housing in these areas is inelastic – it doesn’t respond very much to changes in price. This fact is widely recognized, but its implications for rent regulation are not.

      So, to sum a bit of what was new to me in this article: 1. Low supply of housing is predominantly because of NIMBY. Rent control is just one (relatively minor?) factor. So we could see it as a necessary evil until the other problems get solved. 2. Rent seeking is evil, and rent increases of old buildings due to gentrification are, well, pretty much rent seeking.

      Of course, by far the best solution is to free the market to settle into a new equilibrium but well… see point 1 above: we can’t, due to unrelated reasons.

      I’m not advocating for it, btw. I just found things to update a bit on. Yey.

      • Brett says:

        I could almost see rent control as a perverse way of “heightening the contradictions” on proper housing policy. IE “rich neighborhoods are blocking housing construction in the city so it gets focused in poor neighborhoods, now poor neighborhoods get rent control passed and punt the issue back so that the city finally has to allow for denser housing construction if they don’t want to force out all the young people who don’t want to live in their parents’ apartments forever”.

        I don’t think that’s how it works in practice, but it’s an idea.

      • gbdub says:

        The key assumption smuggled in there is that any rent increase above the level arbitrarily set by the rent control policy would be a “windfall gain” – that pretty much begs the whole question!

      • Aapje says:

        Low supply of housing is predominantly because of NIMBY.

        Or to put it differently: we haven’t found a way to tax and redistribute the major externalities of additional housing on existing residents, so people respond by regulation.

        The strong desire for regulation, even though there are big downsides, can be seen as a failure of the free market system…

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Did I ever mention my crazy idea of taxing property based on value? Point being a plot of land is a plot of land – but it being worth $1 milion and not $100 is not because it’s made of gold, but of what’s around it. Cumulated externalities make urban land expensive. Since the value comes from the society around it, it’s (more) fair to tax this extra value. At least it seems to me more fair to tax his positive externality (and call it as such explicitly) instead of taxing things like work.

          Which fits quite nice with my idea that the government’s business is first and foremost externalities, good or bad – the rest should be all markets.

          I don’t think it necessarily leads to a smaller government. Some externalities are huge, and the market is occasionally way too slow, so there’s a lot to do. But it does give a guiding principle where before there was none, and might lead to some pretty nice surprises.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Government already recognizes this and tries to do this, the problem is that the value of neighborhoods is not something provided by the government. The “externality” of me moving across the road to a different high school district is going to a better school, which is probably driven by student quality, which means the “externality” is hanging out with the children of wealthier parents.

            You cannot replicate this externality by building roads and sewers in my neighborhood, and at a larger scale, you cannot replicate this externality by building roads and sewers in Cleveland or Birmingham or Englewood.

            You also can’t just dictate the construction of hip neighborhoods in demand by yuppies.

          • SamChevre says:

            That’s not a crazy idea–that’s Georgist taxation in a nutshell. (Apologies if you knew that.)

          • Dacyn says:

            @Radu Floricica: Why would you want to tax positive externalities? Usually you tax negative externalities, to discourage them. Also, land value is not really an externality from the perspective of the person who owns the land, but rather from the perspective of the person who does things which incidentally increase its value, and that person isn’t being taxed here.

            @A Definite Beta Guy: Your high school example isn’t an externality at all, unless someone else made the choice for you to go to a different high school. (And your parents presumably care enough about you that it wouldn’t be an externality for them to make that choice.)

          • Radu Floricica says:

            @SamChevre Thanks!

            @A Definite Beta Guy
            Government’s job is to raise and spend taxes on behalf of the society. Doesn’t matter if it contributed anything or not – solving common coordination problems _is_ its contribution.

            @Dacyn
            I don’t want to tax the positive externalities generated by the property, but the ones received. Let’s say you own a coffee shop in New York, as opposed to the middle of the wilderness. The difference in income is given by the numerous externalities you enjoy: there are people, roads, coffee beans vendors, employees to hire and so on. Bigger the city, better the position – more externalities you enjoy.

            Problem is, those externalities are a limited commodity. You can’t open 1000 coffee shops at the same corner. And they come with negative externalities attached. Traffic. Pollution. Crime.

            Sure, you pay more for the plot of land you build the coffee shop on. That’s true. But those money go to the previous owner, and to the owner before him and so on. They don’t really contribute to the city surrounding the land and generating its value. Which I see as a sub-optimum coordination solution.

          • Dacyn says:

            @Radu Floricica: It sounds like you are viewing moving into the property as having the negative externality that no one else can move there. So in a way it is a negative externality tax.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            *shrug* Semantics? But the base value I’d use to compute the tax value would be the sum of the positive externalities provided by the society surrounding the property.

          • methylethyl says:

            Isn’t this how property taxes already work? It does run into some hitches: Once people look around and realize that they can live on high-tax property in town, or they can buy an acre and build just outside city limits, you get urban sprawl. Suburbs and exurbs start eating up the previously-forested-and-farmed landscape, as folks test the limits of commuting against the cost and regulatory irritation of building in town. This then becomes a major, major problem for farmers and other agriculturists, as their land (that they may have been working to improve for generations in terms of erosion control, soil quality, ponds, gravel road accesses, fencing, and other things that cannot just be transferred to cheaper land further out), because now their land is worth crazy amounts of $$… to developers who’d love to carve it up into tiny suburban lots (some of the country’s most productive soils, in Lancaster Co. PA and thereabouts, which should be preserved as a national treasure, have been carved up in this manner). Then you have to come up with regulations that keep the agricultural land from being taxed as though it were a potential subdivision… but you still run into trouble when you want your kids to inherit the land after you die, and continue farming: they can’t afford the inheritance taxes. Meanwhile, the “urbs” rot from the inside, as houses fall apart and nobody bothers to tear them down and rebuild on the lot… because it’s cheaper to build in the subdivision just off the highway. And now the only people still living in town are those who rent, and the neighborhoods decline accordingly. Now the land in town is cheap, but nobody wants to build there because it’s a crappy neighborhood. Eventually, perhaps, it’ll come full circle and there will be gentrification… but that takes a really, really long time.

            My hometown just went through a lot of this process at breakneck pace over the last ~18 months. We had a Cat 5 hurricane hit our mid-sized town, and something like 20-25% of the houses in town were rendered uninhabitable. Some have been demolished. Many are still standing, but full of mold and wildlife now. People are giving up on ever getting the money from their insurance companies to rebuild, and buying a lot in town has never been so cheap– even in good neighborhoods! Hardly anyone’s doing it, though. Instead, the county’s solution to the housing crisis, is to authorize new subdivisions, further out.

        • Clutzy says:

          The major externalities are typically hard to quantify. Crime being a large one.

    • Cliff says:

      Just read the comments there.

    • Brett says:

      Mason admits that rent control may have a negative impact on the supply of rental housing, but basically says that since cities have so many other barriers to housing construction, adding rent control helps tenants without really making the city any worse for housing construction.

      But it’s also a question of priorities. Mason considers it more important to ensure that tenants have the right to remain in “their” homes than that landlords have the right to control the use of their property. I personally tend to think that if cities want what is effectively “public housing” (IE housing governed primarily by public regulation rather than market exchange), they should just build public housing – but of course that doesn’t help existing tenants in privately owned units, and cities don’t like paying for public housing because it’s expensive (see how the New York public housing authority neglects the units it has).

      I do think he’s outright wrong in aiming for this, though:

      In particular, vacancy decontrol or allowing larger rent increases on vacancy significantly reduces the impact of rent control and may encourage landlords to push out existing tenants.

      Vacancy control is the strictest form of rent control, and also the most destructive in terms of housing quality and willingness to rent. There’s a good reason why even cities with rent control typically don’t include vacancy control on rents.

      If landlords are engaging in dodgy procedures to evict tenants, a better idea is to give those tenants a right to legal counsel and proper notification.

    • eric23 says:

      This argument seems to boil down to “The supply of housing depends on zoning laws not the market. So rent control will not affect supply, it will only transfer money from rich owners to poor renters, which is good.”

      The numerous problems with this argument, even if true, include:

      * Many renters are not actually poor, and many owners not actually rich.
      * The moral hazard in placing such restrictions retroactively and the risk such a legal environment creates for any investment.
      * The flippant regard it shows for property rights.
      * The likelihood that rent-controlled tenants will turn around and rent their apartments at higher prices (e.g. via AirBnB) with the various negative social consequences that normalizing illegal behavior entails.

    • TJ2001 says:

      I have firsthand sxperience that “The Market” literally doesn’t care anything about you the owner, the taxes you pay, the debt you owe, or the improvements/maintenance you need to perform. The price the market will bear is the price.

      And to make matters worse – your renters have unlimited freedom of looking in all sorts of various places while your rental unit is 100% immovably fixed in exactly one place..

      The Market only knows the price. In the rental market – if you deviate too much from “Comps” – you get ZERO renters… It doesn’t even matter if your reasoning for the price has merit and basis…. For example – if this town’s property taxes are 30% higher than the next one 2-miles over – the property owner over there pockets the money while you can’t recoup it.

      My own experience is that it’s also sort of naive to assume the current market is not “Saturated” for it’s current price/demand vs the cost of building new units. So in my own example – my 3br/2ba house rented for $1,400/month but cost me $1,700/month (counting taxes and such). I was “stuck” due to the Great Recession – I basically had to wait 9-years till I could finally sell it just to break even and was happy to do so. Renting it and losing “only” $300/month was a much better deal for me than losing $1,700/month.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      In an article full of bad arguments, one real howler stands out:

      There is no reason that limiting these windfall gains should affect the supply of housing.

      Where on earth did Mason get the notion that calling something a windfall causes it to stop being an incentive? If the state lottery stops paying out prizes, will that have no effect on people’s willingness to buy tickets?

      • EchoChaos says:

        If the state lottery stops paying out prizes, will that have no effect on people’s willingness to buy tickets?

        It only reduces your chance of winning by 1 in 292,201,338!

        • ana53294 says:

          Actually, this shows how even a tiny chance of winning (an area becoming “hot” and the rent going up) can have a sizable effect.

          • TJ2001 says:

            But the reality is different than this sort of theory.

            Rental prices are easy to figure out. So are house prices and local taxes. Unlike lottery tickets and stock shares they are quite expensive – so it’s not like choosing between a Starbucks Latte and a Pick 5 lottery ticket where a loss is “expected” and doesn’t matter… Losing $200k on a rental hurts in real life…

            So if there is a “very Favorable” profit margin – anyone who has simple math skills and a good credit rating can instantly “Get in” by just buying a house/unit that is already for sale.

            The reality is that “Local rental markets” already have this calibrated to the point that “New landlords” who have to finance end up eating a negative profit margin because the existing units were purchased years ago and are “grandfathered” on tax rates.

            Myself and many of my friends found this out the hard way in the recession. There was plenty of demand for rental units – but only at the market price. Unfortunately – our expenses were higher than Rental Market price. We learned a hard lesson about pricing and markets… But we were stuck in a situation where “losing a little” was a far better deal than “Losing a lot”….

  25. Murphy says:

    I heard on the news that the Wuhan virus had been isolated and sequenced so I thought I’d take a look.

    Here’s the nuccore entry if anyone’s interested.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/nuccore/MN908947

    Just for fun:

    Throwing it into BLAST , the most closely matching hit is a bat coronavirus (89.12%) with the SARS virus from 2004 coming in second place with a 82.34% match :

    Select seq MG772933.1 Bat SARS-like coronavirus isolate bat-SL-CoVZC45, complete genome 26943 35336 95% 0.0 89.12% MG772933.1

    Select seq MG772934.1 Bat SARS-like coronavirus isolate bat-SL-CoVZXC21, complete genome 22223 35276 94% 0.0 88.65% MG772934.1

    Select seq AY395003.1 SARS coronavirus ZS-C, complete genome 15213 22564 88% 0.0 82.34% AY395003.1

    So, checking the blast alignment between bat-SL-CoVZC45 and Wuhan-Hu-1 it looks like they’re highly similar except for a small region from position 21696 to position 23075

    https://i.imgur.com/BEPj64L.png

    So I grabbed just the non-matching bases and BLAST’ed those

    The best match for just that region was from japanese Bat coronavirus Rc-CoV-3

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/nucleotide/LC469301.1

    But that only matches reasonably well for 361 bp of the ~1500 bp region.

    So I grabbed the largest ~900 bp region that doesn’t seem to be matching to anything and tried some more forgiving searches allowing for more dissimilar sequences.

    The best hit for that is another bat coronavirus bat-SL-CoVZXC21 positions 21564 to 22378

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/nucleotide/MG772934.1?report=genbank&log$=nuclalign&blast_rank=2&RID=2KKTJ7R3016

    So possibly closely related to the old 2004 strain with some extra viral recombination with some other bat coronavirus

    For anyone who wants to play with BLAST:

    If you follow the link you can see the sequence of the virus.

    It’s the big block at the bottom starting

    1 attaaaggtt tataccttcc caggtaacaa accaaccaac tttcgatctc ttgtagatct

    Those are simply the DNA bases starting from one end of the virus.

    The NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) has a quite useful tool, called BLAST

    You can give it a DNA sequence and it will search all known sequences in it’s database: animals, plants, bacteria, viruses and return a list of the ones that are most similar. (no need to worry about the exact algorithm, but it’s impressive)

    Then you can see a similarity score, a percentage similarity (like the 89.12%) and a few other metrics.

    It basically means that about 89% of the bases in the match match your query.

    That lets you know what organisms your sequence is most similar to.

    Or if you have a whole genome like this you can take a guess at the most closely related organisms.

    It’s open to the public so if you want you can grab a chunk of DNA sequence and run a search:

    Since it’s made to fit with other tools you can just copy-paste without needing to remove the numbers

    Try copying this into the big text box here:

    https://blast.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/Blast.cgi?PROGRAM=blastn&PAGE_TYPE=BlastSearch&LINK_LOC=blasthome

    1 attaaaggtt tataccttcc caggtaacaa accaaccaac tttcgatctc ttgtagatct
    61 gttctctaaa cgaactttaa aatctgtgtg gctgtcactc ggctgcatgc ttagtgcact
    121 cacgcagtat aattaataac taattactgt cgttgacagg acacgagtaa ctcgtctatc

    Then hit the blue “BLAST” button

    It’ll take a minute or so to run and then you’ll get a page like this

    https://blast.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/Blast.cgi?CMD=Get&RID=2Y52N0BF016

    (If my link has died don’t worry)

    • hls2003 says:

      That is insanely cool. This feels like what I was promised with Big Data.

      • Murphy says:

        There’s a lot of really great bioinformatics resources out there and a surprising number of institutions and groups who make high value resources and compute time available to the public.

        Even to the level of if you’re curious what the proteins coded for in a virus look like you can get the full sequence, extract out the bits that code for a particular protein and then with other tools you can drop that sequence into another online tool to get the a graphic of the likely 3D structure and ways to guess what the active/functional regions are and see how they differ between related viruses.

        Most of it without needing any special software on your own PC.

        • arbitraryvalue says:

          drop that sequence into another online tool to get the a graphic of the likely 3D structure

          If you’re talking about homology modeling, I would caution enthusiasts that often the results are garbage, or a mix of good models and garbage. I’m a big fan of the technique but the output of the software should not be accepted unquestioningly.

          • Murphy says:

            Ya, sometimes the 3d structure is just garbage but sometimes it comes out nice and clean with a nest of highly conserved codons around what’s almost certainly the active site.

      • andenyalaa says:

        It’s not just Big Data, it’s Big Clean Intensively Curated and Integrated Data. The NCBI and UCSC and ENSEMBL have done yeoman work for decades now integrating the firehose of genomic data into usable format so you can casually search it like this and get useful results.

        Which allows stuff like this:
        https://genome.ucsc.edu/Neandertal/

        • Murphy says:

          Yes, the power of standardisation.

          It feels like one of those “what I thought it would be like” memes with lots of 3D spinning proteins vs sitting in an office going “qup format? What the hell is qup format and why did someone think it was a good idea to convert their labs data to it?” and a few years of hammering petabytes of data into standardised, normalised, usable formats so that my co-workers can easily do large projects.

          • Bugmaster says:

            There’s still a lot of room for improvement, sadly. For example, the VCF file format is the standard for representing SNPs (individual DNA mutations that are responsible for interesting phenotypes, such as cancer or petal size or whatever). Unfortunately, it is only a marginally better “standard” than XML is a “standard”. Most of the interesting information is stored in meta-tags at the beginning of the file, and sometimes it feels like every biologist is rolling his own encoding schema for those.

            Most of the available tools (ours included) can show some of the information correctly, but not all of it. I think it’s about time someone invented some kind of a superintelligent AGI to make sense of it all…

          • Murphy says:

            VCF format is a sin against all that is holy. It’s one of those things you look at and just know that someone bodged something together early on thinking it would just be a temp thing and then an entire industry standardised on it.

            I *wish* it was as standard as xml. sometimes parsers will get broken by the stuff programs stick in the headder because they just throw any old command in there and then parsers will pick up bits of those commands.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Murphy:
            Yes, exactly 🙁 We “solved” this problem in our own parser by simply ignoring any parsing errors in the headers, but obviously that’s not a real solution. In our defence, though, our parser is heavily optimized for speed just so that we can show the VCF file graphically as quickly as possible, so the tradeoff kinda makes sense.

            By the way, according to the standard (well, at least to one version of the standard), the lines in the VCF files are supposed to be sorted by coordinate, and each coordinate is supposed to be unique. This is almost never the case 🙁

          • Nick says:

            How hard is it to get folks standardized on something else? Are there any competing file formats that aren’t crimes against humanity quite so bad and just need some love from tools like Bugmaster’s company’s? 🙂

            ETA: I’m of course aware of the problem of introducing competing standards….

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Nick:
            The existence of other standards is almost moot at this point, since there exist a wide variety of free and open-source tools that can generate, analyze, and visualize VCF files. This means that everyone in the world is going to be using them. Yes, you could say “hey guys, let’s all switch to BugmasterNickF instead”, but who would listen ?

          • Nick says:

            I would think the folks whose headers can’t be read, or whose parser can’t read others’ headers, would prefer a format where that doesn’t happen. I’m sure VCF would continue being supported, but maybe a superior format for exchanging genetic information* would eventually supersede it? Or is the stuff in the header just not that important in the end?

            (*I’ve been told there’s an even more common way of exchanging genetic information, though it’s messy and inefficient.)

    • Bugmaster says:

      Shameless plug: our company publishes a free genome viewer, called “Persephone” (after the Greek goddess of spring and other stuff). We don’t have a lot of data loaded into our public version right now, but at least you can see things like this:

      https://web.persephonesoft.com/?bookmark=12281B40FACE5001887315B8444902C9

      The top rectangle is Rice Indica, the middle one is Rice Japonica, and the bottom is Sorghum (a feed crop). Every vertical (well, vertical-ish) line on the screen is an ortholog — basically, a gene that is very similar between the two organisms. You can zoom in with the mouse wheel (or shift-drag) to see individual genes, as well as individual DNA nucleotides (at the top). You can click the genes to get more information, such as the metadata, the spliced sequence, etc. The overall idea is to make genome browsing somewhat fun and easy, by contrast with older web-based tools that are very slow.

      We don’t have the Coronavirus loaded (yet), but you can BLAST it against Homo Sapiens (or Corn, if you like, heh) by clicking the “Run BLAST” button on the top toolbar (select BLASTN if you are aligning DNA vs. DNA, or TBLASTN if you’re aligning protein vs. DNA). Once you run the BLAST, you can see the alignment (if any) graphically, which can help you decide e.g. whether it’s a real hit, or some repeat region. That said, our servers aren’t as powerful as NCBI’s, so you might have to wait 15-20 seconds.

      My apologies if plugging commercial software is out of line for the Open Thread…

    • bmbr says:

      Murphy (and other expert-level BLAST users) please comment on the validity of this analysis and possible implications.

      https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.01.30.927871v1

      Thanks

  26. Aftagley says:

    How can you deal with anxiety when your anxiety is about anxiety itself?

    I’ve got a life event coming up that is likely going to be unpleasant and will have large implications on my professional career; possibly to the extent that if it goes badly I’ll probably switch careers/life tracks. I’ve prepared for it as best I can and I believe that it will go well, but I’m accepting of the possibility that it may not. The thing is, my success in this event will be, in some part, based on how calm and collected I can remain throughout the course of the event – if I seem like I’m freaking out it will go worse than if I’m calm.

    In recent weeks I’ve fallen into the following trap a few times – I think about something that could go wrong -> That makes me nervous -> I get nervous that I’m nervous -> I get more nervous since at this point I can tell that I’m visibly nervous -> ad infinitum. The more it happens, the worse it gets.

    The has kept me up a few nights now and is somewhat decreasing my quality of life. Are there any good mental techniques to break this stupid cycle? Meditation has helped, but only to break me out of the cycle once I’m already in it. I won’t be able to meditate during the event itself, so that technique won’t be useful.

    • noyann says:

      Hypnotherapy could be helpful, unless you are one of the ~10% who can’t be hypnotized.
      Make sure the hypnotist has a background of a medical or psychological profession, and if possible some years of experience with hypnotherapy. Also your ability to relax and trust will be different with different therapists – try several if possible.

      Examples
      One technique, if you can locate the nervousness in parts of your body, might be: going into a state of deep relaxation and well-being (with the necessary imagery) — concentrating well-being and relaxation and warmth (etc) in your hands — let the hands move to where in your body these are needed most (the hands will move there) — let the concentrated goodness sink/diffuse/enter into these parts. Train that (record the trance session, train once daily, e.g. before sleep) and you will be able to relax yourself with little conscious effort with some unobtrusive laying on of a hand.

      If moving hands won’t be possible, or the nervousness does not ‘sit’ in a particular location, there’s also mental imagery-only techniques, like imagining yourself in a situation of serenity, calmness, peacefulness. People have enjoyed basking on a sunny beach while their dentist has been furiously hacking and digging.

      With the help of a mental health professional you could devise your own special tools to e.g. redirect nervousness, or give it a shape/form/voice and communicate with it (tip: never argue, don’t negotiate: these things don’t work rationally but can have quite benevolent intentions — suppressing these can make the symptoms stronger).

      • Aftagley says:

        One technique, if you can locate the nervousness in parts of your body, might be: going into a state of deep relaxation and well-being (with the necessary imagery) — concentrating well-being and relaxation and warmth (etc) in your hands — let the hands move to where in your body these are needed most (the hands will move there) — let the concentrated goodness sink/diffuse/enter into these parts. Train that (record the trance session, train once daily, e.g. before sleep) and you will be able to relax yourself with little conscious effort with some unobtrusive laying on of a hand.

        I do not understand this. How do you isolate a feeling into a body part?

        • noyann says:

          Unsure if you meant a) finding, or b) setting the spot of the sensation. ‘Locate’ was unfortunate, it can mean both. I meant to say a). [ETA: I didn’t say ‘isolate’, this is not about repressing/splitting-off some part of your self.]

          Examples for a) (already clichés because they are so familiar to many): Fear or anxiety can be felt in a tight knot in stomach/solarplexus; joy or love can be felt as a warm fuzzy glow in the chest.

          Example for b): Going into a relaxed trance, then evoking a warm glowing soft ball, a ‘little gentle sun’ anywhere in your body. Letting it roll/flow/glide wherever you want it, deepening the well-being there with its warmth and relaxation. With training this can be learned to happen very fast.

          For some, the idea of hypnosis is too fearful, they might consider autogenic training.

        • Aftagley says:

          I find your writing fascinating, but I feel like we processes emotion in very different and potentially incompatible ways.

          • noyann says:

            Can’t reply to that — have read SSC too infrequently to build a mental model of how @Aftagley processes emotion. 🙂

            But I feel like going off at a tangent, on a day with too much free time…
            A general prejudice (I have no hard data, just observations from random people and forums):

            STEMy folks tend to attack their problems from an objective angle, like medication and drugs, reflexes ((de)conditioning), training/drill, correcting flaws in one’s logic (eg CBT) — they treat their body/mind like some object of work that needs to be corrected*), whereas humanities/art-y folks attack from the subjective angle, working on (or for) meaning, sense, feeling, narrative, myth — they seek to make an intelligible whole of their person and their life, find their place, integrate conflicting material within ’em, emancipate themselves from family myths, reject trans-generational ‘tasks’ or ‘burdens’, or catch up deficient personality building. They are ‘inside’ or identical to their object of inquiry/change.

            * exaggerated, but you get my drift -?

            The STEMy approach also tends to target the lower levels (in terms of systems hierarchy): molecules, simpler neuronal networks, metabolic states or hormones. The humanities/art-y approach targets higher, more complex systems, where the processed material is usually much more fluid. ‘Meaning’ is often fuzzy, ambiguous, and it is negotiated and often subtly shifted in every communicational exchange. (This freaks the hell out of people whose feeling of security relies on a highly predictable world, precise definitions, exact values, and a calculus or a logic for everything — I’m kidding. Almost totally, honestly! 🙂 )

            Disclaimer: this is a very rough caricature, and only from far enough with a hard enough squint it looks true. No doubt, countless counterexamples will spring to the reader’s mind…

    • Cliff says:

      For nervousness, propranolol (beta blocker) works great and is easily available online.

    • ZakMiller says:

      I can’t speak to the effectiveness of this technique because I’ve neither used it myself nor checked the research literature to see what’s there.

      That said, I was just reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl and in there he said that an effective technique for a number of things including stuttering, anxiety, and compulsive behavior is to try to do the action that you don’t want to do.

      Instead of avoiding anxiety, tell yourself that you’re trying to become as anxious as possible. Look at it as a game, with some humor.

    • Elementaldex says:

      I would take 5 mg lithium orotate every other day leading up to the event and the day itself. It is a very effective OTC mood stabilizer which I find to be extremely effective at preventing spirals of thought and generally aiding focus.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      I found out that for me, long walks outside are at least mildly helpful in dealing with anxiety. Obviously this will not help you during the event itself.

      • Bugmaster says:

        Seconded for “long walks outside”, where “outside” is some kind of a nature trail (leading to a waterfall or whatever). You will need two pieces of special equipment: a large water bottle, and comfortable shoes (and perhaps also a hat). If you’re fat and weak like me, then by then end you’ll be too exhausted to be anxious; but the lack of anxiety will persist for a while after the walk itself.

    • LesHapablap says:

      At the end of last year I had some very stressful negotiations to take care of for work. I found that exercise and lifting weights prior to each negotiation session helped dramatically, by:
      -taking my mind somewhat off the negotiations temporarily, in a meditative sort of way
      -the usual endorphins from working out
      -tiring myself out a bit taking away some of the nervous energy
      -achieving something toward a different goal (fitness) reminding me that the negotiation and work in general is not all their is in life, and that my work life does not solely define me

      It worked so well that ‘rest days’ became a real drag. Before working out I’d be a nervous wreck, then after I would be calm and ready for bed or ready for the day.

    • eigenmoon says:

      Let’s try Mental Mountains.

      Take your acceptance:
      I’m accepting of the possibility that it may not.
      and translate it into emotion – safety, security, maybe indifference, “it’s going to be OK” – whatever it is that you actually feel about it – and feel this emotion at the same time as the anxiety. Don’t bash the anxiety into submission, be kind to it, like “yeah, your concern is valid, but look at this”. Just let the two emotions meet and figure it out.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      This is what medication is for. Stakes are too high to try and be “natural”. But strongly recommend you test it multiple times in advance. (My goto pill for this is very mild: theanine. Possibly half the effect is placebo, but as long as it works…).

      Mentally… maybe don’t try and be all calm and chill – it’s very dissonant. Embrace the adrenaline and enjoy it. It’s a real life test with real life consequences – those are increasingly rare in our world.

    • Purplehermann says:

      Play the 1+1, 2+2, 4+4,….. 1,024 + 1,024,…. game with yourself in your head. This has been useful for me whenever I needed to quickly distract myself from a thought.
      Calculating 1!, 2!, 3!,… is useful too.
      If the thought is too persistent I move to primes,
      2×3, answer ×5, answer ×7, etc.

    • wkfauna says:

      I use two main techniques for this. It’s worked well for me.

      – If you can get the “something wrong” to happen in a controlled way, then you can practice dealing with it directly. Then when you start worrying about it happening, you can tell yourself that if it happens you know what to do.

      Example: For singers, performance anxiety can cause elevated heart rate and shortness of breath, which in turn make it hard to sing. One solution is to simulate the effects of anxiety by practicing singing after/while doing jumping jacks.

      – Treat the worry as a voice in your head coming from a scared child. Thank the scared child for its input, but right now you are dealing with *whatever’s going on right then*, and you’ll get to its suggestions/ideas/notes later. This works well also for “oh shit I just screwed up, what if it happens again, I suck, oh no”. The key is to actually get to the suggestions/worries later, so the “child” doesn’t feel lied to. This way you can keep bringing yourself back to the present moment and allow the fears to be transient.

  27. Bobobob says:

    What’s the best deal you ever made at a yard sale or in a thrift store?

    Mine was when a thrift store in Brooklyn cleared out its book inventory for 10-50 cents per. In the interim, someone had dumped all 10 soft-cover book installments of Sandman, so I walked out with the whole series for one dollar. (I actually felt guilty, and told the cashier that the books were worth a lot more, but she just wanted to get them out of her store.)

    • whale says:

      Probably in ~2004 I bought a Nintendo Virtualboy with around 5-6 games and two controllers for $2 at a yard sale. I don’t know where they came up with that price. Kept it for about a month then sold it on Ebay for maybe $100.

    • GearRatio says:

      I bought a 100-something year old sydney era Wagnerware waffle iron for $10; I restored it and sold it for something like $150.

    • TheAncientGeeksTAG says:

      Got a pair of KEF speakers for £15..I don’t know what the real value is but its more than that, and they sound great.

      Also spent a couple of quid on original vynil editions of Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage I, II and III, currently worth about £100.

    • Clutzy says:

      When I was like 8-10 I bought a gigantic box of mixed lego pieces for $5. To get that many pieces at the store I’d have probably had to pay easily over $400 at the time. My brother took custody of the lego horde and still has it.

      Easily over 10000 hours of use combined between us two, and no reason to think our kids wont use it as well!

    • proyas says:

      I bought a rusty sword and scabbard at a neighborhood estate sale for $50. The dead man’s adult granddaughter was in charge, and she didn’t know what it was. It was a 100-year-old Japanese military saber that is worth at least $200.

  28. DragonMilk says:

    Hopefully this isn’t a CW topic but more of a PSA.

    Yesterday, my uncle (in law?) mentioned that the coronavirus figures reported by the Chinese government seem way too low given the number of international cases reported. He estimates that the true number of cases in China t obe closer to 200k or so.

    So that said, I’m probably cancelling my March trip there as even if I don’t get sick, I might not be able to get back if the “true” numbers turn out to cause a panic.

    Any fellow biologists (I am no tone) care to weigh in on approximate cases that would be implied?

  29. broblawsky says:

    Could I get a link to more information about that battery technology? Aqueous sodium metal chemistry sounds interesting; I assume that the electrolyte is super-concentrated to prevent direct reaction between the water and the sodium metal. If there’s some way of contacting @bhauth, I’d be happy to talk to them about it.

    • bhauth says:

      Superconcentrated electrolytes have been reported by some groups to suppress dendritic deposition on lithium metal. SMAC batteries use sodium metal, with Cs salt and Mg foil to prevent dendritic deposition of sodium.

      The aqueous part does have a high concentration of salt, and that is what reduces water solubility in the electrolyte. But that has nothing to do with superconcentrated electrolytes for lithium metal batteries.

      • broblawsky says:

        Thanks for responding. Can you go into a little more detail on the cathode reaction?

        • bhauth says:

          The pictures explain the basic reactions involved; you’ll have to be more specific.

          • broblawsky says:

            If I understand the half-reactions involved correctly, in the case of a hydroxide-type oxidizer, the anode (sodium metal) reaction is:
            Na –> Na+ + e-; E(stp) = -2.71 V
            and the cathode (oxidizer) reaction is:
            Na+ + e- + NaBrO3 + H2O –> NaOH + NaBr; E(stp) = ???

            I can’t quite get the cathode half-reaction to balance, however. AFAICT, there’s no way to do so without consuming or releasing some kind of gas.

          • godescalc says:

            The half-reaction would be
            3H2O + BrO3- + 6e- -> Br- + 6OH-
            (leaving out the Na+ as it’s a spectator ion on this side.)
            I can’t find an electrode potential for that right now though.

          • broblawsky says:

            I see, that makes sense. I’m not sure how you prevent the formation of elemental bromine, though. Is that a function of the superconcentrated electrolyte?

          • godescalc says:

            Good question. The standard electrode potentials indicate that in acidic solution bromate + bromide -> bromine happens; which would mean that bromate gets reduced first to bromine, and only to bromide when all the bromate has been used up.

            However, in alkaline solution, the bromate redox potential would be suppressed. (Note that the H+ -> H2 and H2O -> H2 + OH- potentials are different; that would be the case for bromate as well but my electrochemistry’s too poor to estimate by how much.) Maybe the extremely concentrated alkali would cause bromate to go straight to bromide, I’m not sure.

          • broblawsky says:

            Maybe the extremely concentrated alkali would cause bromate to go straight to bromide, I’m not sure.

            A simple aqueous Br pourbaix diagram suggests the opposite: at high Br- concentrations, Br2 is always formed before BrO3-, even at strongly alkaline pH. At very low Br- concentrations and very high pH, you can have direct conversion between Br- and BrO3-, but that seems to be at odds with the superconcentrated electrolyte concept.

            Forming Br2 could potentially happen in a test cell without the experimentor realizing it, I think. Based on some of my previous Br2 related battery work, if you operated the cell at low capacities and with a porous carbon electrode, you might not see the Br2 being produced, since it’d all be adsorbed to the cathode.

            Edit: @bhauth: Can you give us a little more information about your experimental methods and your test cell? Thanks.

          • bhauth says:

            @broblawsky Your link doesn’t seem to work, and you’re incorrect; bromate is more thermodynamically favorable than bromine at high pH, even at high bromide concentrations.

          • broblawsky says:

            Your link doesn’t seem to work, and you’re incorrect; bromate is more thermodynamically favorable than bromine at high pH, even at high bromide concentrations.

            It works if you’re logged into Materials Project. Regardless, let’s assume you’re correct about bromide being favorable to bromine under these conditions. Given that, it seems feasible that this could be a high-voltage, high-capacity electrochemical system. What kind of tests have you performed with it? Can you post CV or cycling data? I’d really like to see any information about the test cell or your electrochemical conditions.

  30. Aftagley says:

    International Driving:

    I’ve been abroad a bunch of times, but my current trip is the first time in a while I’ve been to a non-American/European city where the transportation system is based around people driving cars. I’m currently in a South American city and I’m terrified of these drivers.

    To my outside perspective, it looks like insanity on the pavement. Speed limits aren’t even thought about, pedestrians will just wander into busy traffic and I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen someone make a left turn from the right lane in front of oncoming traffic. People basically drive around with their horns blaring. It also seems like people are heavily unwilling to ever let someone go ahead of them – times where people need to switch lanes where it would be easier just to drop back don’t ever get utilized, they seemingly always speed up and try to pass. It’s clearly not a succesfull system either, you’re average car here is far more messed up than your average american car (although I guess this could be an artifact of less funds available for repairs).

    I’d previously bought into some steryotypes about American drivers (IE – people from Mass are assholes, people in the south drive in the left lane, etc) but none of those regional deviations are as strong as what I’m seeing down here. What could explain the difference in driving styles down here compared with where I’m familiar?

    Two theories I’ve thought up:
    1. Traffic laws just aren’t enforced here. I don’t know why this would be, since I see police way more frequently here than I do in America, but who knows?
    2. It’s a low-trust society? Maybe driving at home is people mostly operating in cooperate-cooperate mode (with a few road-rage-related defections) everyone here is in defect-defect mode?

    • voso says:

      To me it just seems like if a society enters the Nash equilibrium of “everyone needs to drive aggressively to get anywhere” it can be quite difficult to get out of, and I don’t know if I’d generalize that to other aspects of society.

      My quick example that comes to mind would be Taiwan vs Japan; Taiwan, despite its modern democratic society and high wealth per capita is definitely entrenched in the “chaotic driving” local minimum, while Japan has a relatively calm road culture. That said, I definitely wouldn’t generalize to “Taiwan is a lower-trust society than Japan.”

      • Aftagley says:

        Yeah, low trust was too overarching a term. I mean that people have low trust in the idea that driving like they value human life will work out for them.

        So, how could you go about breaking this Nash equilibrium?

        • Start enforcing the laws?

          I wonder if some country like China will ever mandate carmakers make cars that can’t go faster than the speed limit?

          It could also mandate censors on the front of your car which will detect if you’re tailgating and honk an annoying horn if you are.(And if it detects you removing the horn, will alert police.

          • noyann says:

            > censors
            Nice.

          • Matt M says:

            I thought China already had speed cameras literally everywhere?

          • JayT says:

            When I was in Luxembourg I apparently was speeding, because when I got home a ticket showed up in the mail about a month after my trip. Turns out they have speed cameras all over, and I got a ticket for going about 10 km/hr over the speed limit. Seems like you you could set up something like that not only for speed, but other common traffic violations. I assume that would go a long way toward fixing some of the issues.

          • It seems to me like putting the system in the car itself would be easier. It’s just GPS, a speedometer, and some anti-tamper software. No need to constantly repair cameras when they break.

          • caryatis says:

            I’ve never understood why cars are designed to go above the speed limit, and speedometers are designed so that driving at 80 mph looks “medium” rather than “close to the faster you should ever drive.”

          • The Nybbler says:

            Because 80mph is “medium”. A little fast for pulling out of the driveway, maybe.

          • voso says:

            I’ve never understood why cars are designed to go above the speed limit

            Because over-engineering something like that would put you in a bad situation if when things go wrong, a la 737-Max

          • MoebiusStreet says:

            I haven’t been to China in 7-8 years, but from my past experience – they have far more fundamental problems than speeding. Like:
            * red lights are optional so long as you’re blowing your horn as you go through them
            * double-yellow lines are similarly just suggestions
            * pretty much everything seems to be a game of chicken

            Which just makes me wonder why so much of the conversation (this conversation, but also neighborhood chatter in Facebook and so forth) seem to focus on speed, pretty much to the exclusion of everything other than the occasional worry about texting. Even when confronted with the DoT’s records showing that speed was only a factor in a small portion of local accidents, every post about an accident gets a reply of “why won’t people just slow down?” even before the cause is known. And we can see other forms of misbehavior, like pushing through yellow lights into the beginning of reds is pertty much endemic.

          • I’ve never understood why cars are designed to go above the speed limit, and speedometers are designed so that driving at 80 mph looks “medium” rather than “close to the faster you should ever drive.”

            They want to make the engines seem more powerful, most don’t actually go 150mph. The excuse is that they make the speedometers for multiple cars, some of which can go that fast.

          • MoebiusStreet says:

            They want to make the engines seem more powerful, most don’t actually go 150mph.

            Very few will go 150mph. But the acceleration thing is a big deal. The same power that gets you to a speed at which you can merge onto the highway safely will also get you up above 100mph eventually.

            Torque and power aren’t the same thing, but they’re interrelated. Some machines have specialized designs for which they’re very different (like a bulldozer, for example), but in general, the ability to accelerate reasonably – which is a safety feature in some scenarios – comes with the ability to achieve higher top speeds.

          • JayT says:

            You can have the acceleration without the high top speed though. Most performance cars have speed limiters that stop them from going faster than a certain speed. For example, my car kills the ignition as soon as you hit 130 mph. It’s also adjustable, so if I wanted to, I could lower the top speed.

          • Another Throw says:

            I’ve never understood why cars are designed to go above the speed limit, and speedometers are designed so that driving at 80 mph looks “medium” rather than “close to the faster you should ever drive.”

            Fuel efficiency.

            There is a direct relationship between RPM and fuel consumption. As a first approximation, in order to be even on the same planet as “fuel efficient” you’re highest cruising speed needs to be at the bottom end of the usable RPM range of your highest gear. The top end of your usable RPM range is probably going to end up being something like 3-5x that. In order for your vehicle to have enough oomph to actually drive at the highest expected cruising speed at the highest expected load——maybe choose 3 of: the max weight rating, a rooftop luggage carrier, a 20 knot headwind, driving up the maximum allowable highway grade——you need to have enough power reserve that under the lowest expected load you are not going to run out of power (for regular cars, probably usable RPM range for sports cars and trucks) until, well, really fucking fast.

            Furthermore, if your speedometer maxed out at the highest legal cruising speed, you would have no way of knowing how fast you’re going if you exceed it. Which is really easy to do with a steep down grade and a tail wind when you’re not assiduously paying attention.

            Thanks to fuel efficiency standards and not wanting to get hanged by your customers because their car can’t actually get up to highway speed under real world conditions you basically can’t build a one that isn’t capable of going really fucking fast so your speedometer needs to account for it.

            Leaving governors aside.

          • Lambert says:

            Im not sure about the rest of the world, but lots of commercial vans, articulated trucks, (mini)busses etc. in the UK do have a govenor limiting them to 60 or 70.

          • acymetric says:

            @JayT

            For example, my car kills the ignition as soon as you hit 130 mph.

            What? That sounds even more dangerous than actually going 130 mph.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @Acymetric- By “kills the ignition”, I assume Jay’s car has a governor similar to the one Lambert is talking about on UK commercial vehicles, or the one that many German cars have that limits the top speed to 155 mph. It doesn’t actually kill the engine, it just stops the car accelerating past that speed- using the same sort of governor that any car will have to stop the driver destroying the engine by over-revving it. This may cut the ignition briefly, giving the characteristic behaviour of a car ”bouncing off the limiter” as the engine speed reaches the limit, drops, increases until it reaches the limit again, etc. but I think on modern cars they tend to behave more smoothly.

            Usually something like a 130 mph limiter would be fitted because the tyres originally fitted to the car were only rated to that speed. I have driven a car with a warning label that said “do not exceed 190 km/h (118 mph) with winter tyres fitted”…

            Of course, living near Germany, these sorts of speeds on public roads are not purely theoretical!

            @Another Throw on speedometers- for a short while in the late 70s and early 80s, cars sold in the US were not allowed to have speedometers that could display speeds higher than 85 mph. This means that the DeLorean used in Back to the Future had to have a UK-market speedometer fitted, as an American one wouldn’t be able to show a speed of 88 mph…

          • acymetric says:

            Right, I understand how governors work, but “kills the ignition” means “turns off the car” to me, which is a little bit different.

          • fibio says:

            I think in full it would be ‘kills the fuel ignition’. So the engine stops firing and the car just coasts until the speed drops again. Not a car person so that’s just how I’d read it.

          • The Nybbler says:

            “Kill the ignition” in this case means turning off the spark, not the ignition switch. However, in modern cars a hard limiter will usually cut the fuel. If you just cut the spark you’re dumping unburned fuel out the exhaust, which is a great way to ruin the catalytic converter; on the positive side it can cause flame to shoot out the exhaust pipe.

          • acymetric says:

            the positive side it can cause flame to shoot out the exhaust pipe.

            I can’t envision any scenario where that wouldn’t be 100% worth it.

            Cutting the fuel is what I would have expected for speed limiting.

          • John Schilling says:

            I can’t envision any scenario where that wouldn’t be 100% worth it.

            Particularly since, in this proposed application, you’ll be travelling at Ludicrous Speed when it occurs. A giant incendiary middle finger to the nanny-state Speed Nazis.

          • Aapje says:

            @caryatis

            There is no “the speed limit.”

            Speed limits differ by country/state. Cars typically get sold in many countries and can travel to many countries.

          • The Nybbler says:

            A giant incendiary middle finger to the nanny-state Speed Nazis.

            Some people indeed do this unironically. Of course the car usually has had its catalytic converters (if it ever had any) removed, and often enough a spark plug in the tail pipe.

            Not me, though. My car is very well-behaved at Ludicrous Speed, and I haven’t actually hit the rev-limit in any gear (I think it’s actually drag-limited for top speed, but I haven’t gotten near that either).

    • keaswaran says:

      I suspect this feature of driving culture is one of those things where once it’s established, it’s incredibly hard to change. Every interaction with other drivers or pedestrians on the road reinforces the current patterns of behavior, and unless you apply some extremely strong external pressure, you won’t change it.

      (Although apparently one thing that did work better than enforcement was hiring a bunch of traffic mimes to ridicule people who engaged in certain behaviors: https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2004/03/academic-turns-city-into-a-social-experiment/ )

    • TJ2001 says:

      You forgot to mention the best ONE of all:
      The biggest vehicle always takes right of way even in the wrong lanes*

      * the only exception to this is if the other driver is brandishing guns – then that one probably gets right of way….

      So Big semi-trucks and heavily armed drug lords drive wherever and it’s your problem to not be smooshed like a bug, run completely off the road, or shot. You will literally see traffic/pedestrians/livestock “Part like The Red Sea” and a huge semi or a convoy of heavily armed black SUV’s comes barreling straight down the middle of the road…

    • TheAncientGeeksTAG says:

      France was like that until recently.

    • CatCube says:

      As others have said, this is very heavily dependent upon local cultures. If most people don’t obey a particular law, it’s nearly impossible for the police to enforce it.

      For example, speed limits in the US: most places they’ll be quite lenient. I’ve never gotten a speeding ticket (or any moving violation) in my life, and I pretty consistently follow the “9 you’re fine, 10 you’re mine” rule where as long as you go less than 10 mph over the speed limit the cops don’t care.

      If you could engineer a grand bargain where they’d raise all the speed limits 10 mph, but enforce them ruthlessly, it’s not clear that the police could physically do it. As soon as they bumped up the limits on the signs to the speed a lot of people use, everybody will just start going the same amount faster than the new limits and there aren’t enough police to pull over enough people.

      • acymetric says:

        Unless…

        https://what-if.xkcd.com/87/

        (scroll down to the bottom)

      • MoebiusStreet says:

        As soon as they bumped up the limits on the signs to the speed a lot of people use, everybody will just start going the same amount faster than the new limits

        This has been studied, and it’s not correct. I don’t have the academic stuff handy, but here are some articles on the topic:
        * http://www.sehinc.com/news/truth-about-speed-limits-explained-engineer
        * https://priceonomics.com/is-every-speed-limit-too-low/

        The gist of these is that the number on the sign doesn’t really drive people’s behavior very much. Instead, people instinctively drive at the rate they feel to be safe for the prevailing conditions pretty much regardless of what’s posted.

        In fact, that’s how the numbers on the signs are set to begin with. It’s not that authorities decide “we want people to do less than 30mph here”, but that it’s observed that 80% to 85% of traffic are going less than a given speed, so that’s taken as the limit.

        This is key, because it turns out that far more dangerous than absolute speed, is the relative difference in speed between drivers. If there’s one maniac weaving around everyone – or if there’s a slowpoke that everyone’s got to get around; both of these are dangerous situations, so we want to select a rate that most are comfortable with.

      • Gray Ice says:

        I’ve thought about this as well, and came up with an overly complicated scheme for how this bargain could be made in the US. It would require additional signage, new rules, and states with different ticketing rules to buy in so I doubt it could happen, but for some reason I want to share it.

        Tier 1: Interstate highways and other 4 lane highways. These roads currently have a speed limit and a minimum speed. An additional “recommended speed” sign would be added. The default would be for the current speed limit to become recommended speed, but no objections if local authorities want to use this opportunity to increase it by 5 mph. The speed limit would be 10 mph greater then the recommended speed. Violating the speed limit from 1-5 mph would be a fine, but no points*, 6-10 mph would result in 1/2 point, and 11+ mph would result in 1 point.

        Tier 2: 2 lane highways and “surface roads” (major city streets). No minimum, but recommended speed is added (as before, using current speed limit as default, etc.). Speed limit is 5 mph greater than recommended. The combination of 2 signs and 5 mph difference indicates different ticket rules: Now 1 -5 mph over the limit is 1/2 point, and 6+ is a full point.

        Tier 3: residential streets. Speed limit sign only. Leave it the same or increase it by 5 mph as before. All speeding tickets count as 1 point.

        *Most states have a points based system, where something like three speeding tickets in a year results in loss of license, but the exact values vary.

    • Aapje says:

      Both, although 1 is also largely 2.

      In these societies people will just take advantage of any generosity, without giving any back. Cops will also simply extort people for money, picking targets that they think will pay and based on how risky it is, regardless of how much they break the law. So poor people can do anything (unless the cop feels like beating someone up), powerful people can do anything and anyone else pays a cop tax now and then. There is no real point to obeying the law, since the cop will just see you as a ‘safe’ target (due to being unassertive).

    • zzzzort says:

      Second the idea that it’s not low trust in society at large that’s the deciding factor. Driving in Turkey is similarly hair-raising, but I’ve been literally handed money by a random old guy on the street so I could go buy him bread, seen people hand off babies to strangers on the bus so they could fish out change, and lots of other high trust behaviors.

      One explanation could be infrastructure. The US has a lot of traffic lights, side walks, maintained road markings and generally wide roads that make following traffic laws pretty easy (except for pedestrians, but so few people walk here).

      • Aftagley says:

        Yeah, I should have specified High Trust only in terms of driving, but even now I’m not sure that works. I see plenty of pedestrians wandering through busy traffic selling stuff and performing for donations; you wouldn’t do this if you didn’t trust people not to hit you.

        At least as far as I can tell there is no difference in level of road infrastructure between the South American city I’m currently in (with crazy drivers) and your average b-or-c tier American city (without). The Roads are well-marked. Potholes are present, but not debilitating or so large as to demand evasive action. Traffic lights and signs are as prevalent as anywhere else.

    • Clutzy says:

      Recently encountered a softer version of this in Greece. I think it might have to do with how crappy all the transit is. You got all these mopeds around, and its never worth it to buy a new car because someone with a shitty car will bump you anyways.

    • cassander says:

      Vietnam does not just not enforce traffic laws, they appear to never have heard of the concept. the scooters do not just drive whenever they feel like it in the italian sense. They’ll drive up the wrong side of the road while traffic is coming down it towards them, or dart through flowing traffic if they think they see an open route. It’s utter madness, I don’t understand how everyone isn’t dead.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Bucharest driver here. Best explanation I’ve found was a study correlating driving style with government corruption. If people have a generic distrust of laws/”the system”, they’ll end up driving like this.

      Take a simple example: you’re approaching a traffic light, and you can 1. stay in your lane or 2. illegally go into the adject tram lane thus somewhat obstructing traffic. The decision is pretty deterministic and depends on one factor only: if there are enough unpunished defectors, everybody will defect. Not to do so would simply make you a sucker, and we really hate being suckers.

      In Bucharest, I’ll take the tram line (well, I’ll make some utility estimation like “is there a tram coming”, but easily half the time I will). I’ll also ignore speed limits on the highway and mentally add 20(kph) to other speed limits. Driving in western Europe on the other hand, I’m just cruise controlling at the speed limit and be suuper happy about it. I’m a lot more relaxed this way – I trust the system and don’t have any problems playing by the rules.

    • CandidoRondon says:

      The only Latin American country I’ve been to where people drove safely was Cuba, where they are very strict about enforcing traffic laws. According to my driver if you drive drunk once you lose your license in Cuba and if you did a second time you’d go to prison for a number of years. I imagine enforcement for the other traffic laws was similarly strict as when I was there everyone drove the speed limit and were very courteous drivers.

      So one way to improve driving culture is to institute very strict driving laws and enforce them with prison sentences.

  31. bean says:

    Does anyone here have experience with modafinil tolerance? I was on ritalin/concerta for almost 19 years with no real tolerance issues, then switched to modafinil about 2 years ago. Lately, I’ve noticed that my concentration seems to be worse than it used to be. There are several other possibilities for why this could have happened (major life changes in the last 6 months), but I’d like to see if this is something I should be worried about. I really don’t want to go back to concerta, as Oklahoma has some laws which make it really annoying to get, but I will if I have to.

    • Don_Flamingo says:

      Did you take grapefruit and Curcumin supplements?
      It’s speculative bad advice, since tolerance is unproven, but it can’t hurt either.
      Hedges against there a specific plausible tolerance mechanism, at least.
      What’s your average dosage?
      Remeber that it’s an appetite suppressant as well as a metabolism booster.
      And it cuts down on the need for sleep a little bit. What you think is tolerance,
      might very well be cumulative exhaustion. Usually when I feel like this,
      I try to take a longer break.
      Also consider trying Armodafinil. Or even the (somewhat experimental, but probably just straight-up better) Flmodafinil, if you can get it.

      EDIT:
      Forgot to ask, why do you take it? I use it to self-medicate my ADHD. It’s helpful for that.
      source: 3 year personal experience with various Moda, Armoda and some recent experience with Flmoda. I’ve never felt sharper and more clearheaded than on very high dose Moda, but the state is frustratingly ephemeral and exhaustion becomes an issue.

      • bean says:

        It’s for ADHD, 200 mg/daily. I may just try to get more sleep, although if that’s the cause, it’s taking a very long time to manifest.

        • Don_Flamingo says:

          How long was your last drug vacation?
          I’d expect that you’d feel effectiveness restored if you don’t take it for two weeks. Getting more sleep should be a little easier without the drug in the bloodstream. Modafinil is 50 L/50 R. R/Armodafinil has a half life of 13 hours.
          That means that if you take 200mg daily, you’ll actually start the day with more than 100mg of Armodafinil. And this increases over time.

          Though 200mg isn’t that high to begin with.
          Have you tried taking more? Like 400 or 600mg?

          • bean says:

            I don’t usually do drug vacations, as work requires concentration. I miss a day here and there occasionally, but can’t/haven’t taken a long one since I started modafinil. And I can’t easily boost the dose, as I’m on prescription, and don’t want to buy gray-market, as I have a security clearance.

          • Don_Flamingo says:

            Well, that’s inconvenient.
            Flmodafinil is then probably not an option at all.
            Do you have any strategic Concerta reserves? You could use those to do the Moda holiday.

            [making some assumptions that might not fit you; using advice that works for me (and which I frequently ignore to my detriment)]
            Otherwise…. part of why Moda can be exhausting is that it (more or less) subtly increases hyperfocus/perserveration behaviours. (no sharp edges here)
            And whilst your metabolism is boosted, your ADLs go down.
            So you might be staring at your work, not moving very much for overly long periods of time. When I started taking it, I often had neck pain because of this.
            So there’s loads of tension in your body, because the nerves are stimulated but the muscles aren’t moving. This causes some low level physical anxiety (which would also impede concentration).
            A quick way to counteract this would be to do some intense weight training, especially the “go to muscle failure”-variety (Occam’s workout from the “4 Hour Body”). Think of it as a recalibration process for your nerves.
            other advice in that vein:
            get a heavy Kettlebell in your office and swing it around at least a couple of times per day
            learn Tai Chi 24 form (there’s YouTube and even apps that give a good 3d model) and do the exercises whenever you feel your concentration flagging.

            Think of the neuroanatomy of ADHD. A smaller PFC and an extra number of Dopamine Reuptake inhibitors, plus some other important regions damaged. Taking breaks where you actively and mindfully focus on something physical gives those weaker parts a much needed reprieve.

          • Don_Flamingo says:

            And also consider switching your prescription to Armodafinil. The R-enantiomer alone seems to be cleaner.

  32. Jeremiah says:

    I think Scott is wrong about something very important.

    Recently in his post about intellectual progress he made in the 2010s he said:

    In terms of x-risk: I started out this decade concerned about The Great Filter. After thinking about it more, I advised readers Don’t Fear The Filter. I think that advice was later proven right in Sandler[sic*], Drexler, and Ord’s paper on the Fermi Paradox, to the point where now people protest to me that nobody ever really believed it was a problem.

    I am advising the opposite, Don’t Don’t Fear the Filter.

    I provide a detailed argument at the link above, but in brief I think Scott hasn’t been comprehensive in considering all potential future filters. The SDO paper is just one study. And the downsides of fearing the filter and being wrong give much better outcomes than not fearing the filter and being wrong.

    Given Scott’s assertion that nobody believes it’s a problem, I’m expecting some pushback.

    *Apparently it’s Sandberg, not Sandler.

    • Dack says:

      I also do not consider the Fermi Paradox solved. Thank you for posting this.

    • Dacyn says:

      I’m not sure if you actually disagree very much with Scott or not. For example, the conclusion of his first post is that “we should be less afraid of the Great Filter than is generally believed”. You seem to agree with him on the examples in the post (which presumably means you agree that his post should decrease our credence in a dangerous Great Filter), but then you say that there could be other scenarios that don’t fall prey to the same arguments. But that much is obvious from his post (which says “This essay isn’t about proposing new [possibilities].”)

      So I think it may just be a difference of emphasis.

      • Jeremiah says:

        The SDO paper should not be taken as evidence for anything. And in this latest post he choose to emphasis the headline and additionally claimed that “nobody every really believed it was a problem”. Which is a pretty strong statement. He may have qualified things in his original post, but his most recent post had far less equivocation. And I understand that may not have been included for space. But it certainly seemed like the sense one was meant to come away with was “Fermi’s Paradox and the Great Filter are non-issues, and one shouldn’t waste any time on them.”

        • Dacyn says:

          I don’t think it’s so much “one shouldn’t waste time on them” as “we have a plausible explanation already; searching for alternate explanations has value but it’s not like it’s resolving the kind of fundamental confusion implied by the word ‘paradox’ “.

          I’m not sure what you mean when you say “The SDO paper should not be taken as evidence for anything.” In your link you write that it is “a great addition to the discussion”, which seems to imply that people’s probability estimates should be adjusted after we read the paper (otherwise we didn’t learn anything, did we?) So that is evidence in the Bayesian sense, and that is the one appropriate for the situation, is it not? It’s not as though anyone expects to be able to prove definitively that there are or aren’t aliens (unless they show up), so it’s all about probability.

  33. johan_larson says:

    I’ve been thinking about how a bunch of big companies I deal with know a lot about me. For example, I have been a client of Amazon for more than a decade, and during that time I have purchased hundreds of products from and through them. I doubt any one person at Amazon has ever closely examined my purchase history, but Amazon as an institution has enough information to form a very clear picture of me.

    Is that a threat to me somehow? And if so, what does it make sense to do about it?

    • Murphy says:

      Is there any scenario, any possible set of actions of any hypothetical future government under which you would ever lead a protest group, publish information problematic to the government, join anti-government campaign groups, rebel or otherwise cause trouble for the government or other powerful groups who might want you to stop?

      Are you likely to ever be in any kind of position of power of enough import that someone might want dirt on you?

      If not then it’s probably not a problem for you personally.

      Is there any scenario, any possible set of actions of any hypothetical future government under which you would ever want someone else to lead a protest group, publish information problematic to the government, join anti-government campaign groups, rebel or otherwise cause trouble for the government or other powerful groups who might want you to stop them?

      If so then extensive tracking is a second-hand problem for you.

      And there’s far more than just your purchase history. If you have a modern smartphone or to a lesser extend any mobile phone then where you go, who you meet with, who you communicate with, your entire social network, your appearance, your voice and any deviations from your normal routine are easily tracked.

      • viVI_IViv says:

        There are issues other than potential rebellion against the government.

        Any discretionary decision that a private business or the government makes when interacting with you might be potentially informed by the countless gigabytes of information that is being recorded about you.

        Getting a load, or being hired for a job, getting parole, and so on, for all these things somebody can, and in fact already did, build a giant machine learning model and feed it with as many data about you they can get their hands on. Your purchase history, the videos you watch on youporntube, the places you hang out and hence the people you associate with, even your heartbeat when you work out, will all statistically correlate with the expected outcomes of such decisions.
        This may go in your favor or against you, but more likely against you since it increases information asymmetry: the other party knows more about you but you don’t know anything more about them. There is a reason why people tend to resist being made increasingly legible by the state or other entities. Big data and machine learning are legibility on steroids.

        • TJ2001 says:

          It used to be a running joke that the Iranian leaders called the USA “The Great Satan!”

          Aka – bow down and you can get whatever itch you have scratched…

          But when you look more closely – that sort of behavior (aka a strong focus on diplomacy and foreign policy to accomplish your goals) is sort of required out of large empires if you don’t want to rely on war and brute force to accomplish national objectives (like reigning in a local dictator). It’s the classic “Confessions of an economic hitman” approach.

          And so… Think for a moment what it takes to get an axe-murdering serial killer Warlord leader of a small non-nation organization a Nobel peace prize WHILE he is still murdering people.

          You have to have the right sort of recommendations from a LOT of the right Influential people… You need The Committee to vote your way.. You need a cooperative media to basically go along and publish all sorts of glowing reports and hide all the bad stuff… Etc.

          That requires a LOT of influence and a LOT of manipulative effort to accomplish… But we are a big country with LOTS of resources….

          And Yassar Arafat got awarded a Nobel Peace Prize…

        • Murphy says:

          >parole

          If I remember right re: the parole thing, there was a company making a big deal about hundreds of data points…. and then some statisticians showed that 99.[something]% of the result hinged on 2 variables, number of previous convictions and age.

          A great deal of the time a lot of data points are surprisingly low-value.

          • TJ2001 says:

            But that’s mostly the case with much of real life…. 1 or 2 variables out of 100+ are the ones causing all the trouble.

            For example…. There may be 100 or 200 things wrong with your car at any given time (Dents, torn upholstry, missing hub cap, etc), but the flat tire is the only thing that has your car stuck on the side of the road…. All the rest falls under “Correlation not Causation”…

    • Well... says:

      I think it’s a threat it you acquire a sense of complacency about your lack of privacy, because that complacency can be incrementally exploited further and further. There’s certainly no reason why it wouldn’t be, from the companies’ perspectives.

      I would question how good a picture even a company like Amazon has of you. Your purchases probably show many of the things you need that many other people in your general situation would also need, some things you bought as gifts, and a few things you wanted that are reflective of your particular tastes and interests. But there’s no doubt a lot more to you that doesn’t show up in your Amazon purchases or even your browsing history.

      I think it makes sense to think about these things and foster a sense of privacy and personal individualist nuance.

    • Chalid says:

      To the extent that Amazon/Google/whatever really do know a lot about you, you would see this in their recommendations and ads actually being really well-suited for you. Do you think that’s the case?

      Story along those lines – someone several states away recently started a match.com profile with my email address, presumably a typo on their part. Within a few days, my wife started getting bombarded with ads consisting of variations on “How can you tell he’s cheating on you?”

      • Matt M says:

        Not the OP, but in my case, yeah, targeted advertising directed at me is pretty darn good and largely effective. Or at least, in the cases where it’s not (i.e. I get recommended products I’m not really interested in), I can typically understand why they’re under the impression I would be interested in such a thing…

      • johan_larson says:

        To the extent that Amazon/Google/whatever really do know a lot about you, you would see this in their recommendations and ads actually being really well-suited for you. Do you think that’s the case?

        Yes it is. I see ads that are clearly influenced by my recent search and purchase activities. I remember the time I bought a guitar from Amazon, and for weeks afterward kept seeing ads for guitars and related merchandise all over the web. These days I am seeing a lot of ads for cars (presumably because I bought a car a few months back) and for a software company that I interviewed at. I’m not sure whether those recommendations are based on my search traffic or my email activity.

        So, yes. I think Amazon and Google are collecting information about me and using that information to target ad traffic.

        • Dacyn says:

          Of course, if they are showing you ads for cars right after you just bought one, there is clearly a limit to how much they know.

          • johan_larson says:

            Clearly, we need to start a company that collects information about such purchases, and sells it to advertisers, so they can stop advertising cars and homes to people when they stop looking and actually buy one.

            How are you going to spend your first billion, @Dacyn?

          • Dacyn says:

            @johan_larson: Obviously buy a bunch of houses in a row, to confuse our new system 😉

          • Unsaintly says:

            (I work in advertising)

            This is a common misconception. The few weeks to months after someone buys a car (or fridge, or humidifier or other large long-term purchase) are when they are most likely to be in the market for that thing.

            I see this most often with people snarking about fridges, so I’ll use that as an example. It should be easy to see how it applies to other things too. For the sake of example, assume your typical fridge lasts 10 years. That means that in any given month a random person has about a 1/120 chance of being in the market for a fridge. But after someone buys a fridge, there is a significantly higher than 1/120 chance that they are unsatisfied with their purchase (whether because it’s faulty or has some unforeseen inconvenience or other issue). In that case, they are likely to return the fridge and be in the market for another new one.

            To demonstrate how this generalizes: Johan bought a car recently, and is therefore finding out a lot of new things about that car. Maybe its seats aren’t comfortable on long rides, or the air conditioner blows a little too hard, or the touch screen breaks or something. If purchased from a legitimate dealer (rather than buying secondhand etc), he can probably return the car and therefore be in need of a new one. The odds of this happening in the month or so after buying a new car are higher than the odds that this month happens to be the one where he’s buying a new car for other reasons.

            (note: I made up the actual odds here, just trust me that we’ve run the numbers on this one)

          • Matt M says:

            That logic makes sense, for mass market advertising. But when it comes to targeted advertising, I’m not sure it holds any longer.

            Consider: On a normal basis, I get almost no car ads (reasonable). When I start going to car sites and looking up cars, I start getting a ton of car ads (also reasonable).

            But at this point, you are no longer just showing me ads hoping that you’re just lucky and I happen to be in the market for a car. You have strong prior evidence that I actually am in the market for a car. (And presumably, you have to pay for this evidence via higher advertising rates than you could get in a mass market approach).

            So the relevant comparison isn’t “someone who just bought a car vs random person you know nothing about” but rather “someone who is currently in the market for a car vs someone who just bought a car.” The “person who just bought” might still be worth advertising to, based on your logic above. But they’re probably slightly less valuable to you than the person actively shopping who hasn’t just bought…

          • Unsaintly says:

            You are right on that! My previous comment was more high-level explanation for why the phenomenon exists at all. Here’s a somewhat more detailed answer that takes into account what you said.

            The basic structure of serving ads goes like this: A user visits a publisher page (publisher pages are the pages you see ads on), and the publisher has a certain number of ads on the page of varying sizes and location. The publisher sends a message to an ad exchange (basically an auction house), who then contacts advertisers. This information includes details about the ad slot, such as size, and about the user. The advertisers then send back a real-time bid, and the winner gets to put an ad there.

            For companies serving targeted ads like this, they are likely to have a profile on you. This information is used to construct a value assessment, which is compared against the ad campaigns the advertiser is running. (Side note: advertisers are very rarely the company the ad is for. A single advertiser will have many clients, each running one or more campaigns). Then, based on this assessment and the needs of each campaign, the advertiser places a bid for the campaign your profile best matches. The bid amount will vary based on expected value. So someone who has shown no particular interest in buying a car would get a low bid for a car campaign, someone who has recently searched but probably hasn’t purchased will get a high bid, and someone who has recently purchased a car will get a moderate bid.

            Now, because there are so many ads being served all the time there is a huge range in how likely a moderate bid is to win. Spending caps, frequency caps, guaranteed rates and other factors can change the relative weight of a campaign literally by the second. Even if only 1% of the ads you see are for this sort of moderate weight target, you could still see a dozen such ads in a single day.

            This is compounded by the existence of multiple advertisers as well. Very few companies only contract with one advertiser, and each of those advertisers has their own campaigns and their own frequency of how many car ads they want to show you.

          • Matt M says:

            Thanks! It’s very interesting to me how sophisticated some pieces of the advertising industry have become, while some pieces of it continue to be mass-market blasting (i.e. Bud Light spending $50 million for a super bowl ad). It’s also disappointing to me how bad a rap targeted advertising gets in general. I definitely think it improves our lives significantly. I’ve never been much for “I want my flying cars!”, my vision of the future is one where my future sons can go their entire lives without having to view ads for feminine hygiene products!

          • Unsaintly says:

            There is still a lot of mass marketing advertising even on the internet. While such advertising has dramatically lower returns on investment than targeted advertising, it is also ridiculously cheap. It’s easy to sign up to low-value exchanges (mostly ones serving low traffic or low quality sites, or ones serving sites that “reputable” advertisers don’t want to be associated with, like porn sites) and just blast out tiny bids on everything. You’ll win a lot of ad space (in absolute terms, even if relatively speaking you’re winning less than 1% of your bids), but the ads barely accomplish anything.

            Targeted advertising is definitely the direction the industry as a whole has moved online, and is where even offline advertisers are heading. Smart TVs are the obvious step, allowing you to show a different ad to each TV set, but there are also concepts in the works for road side billboards that can detect who is nearby and tailor the ad shown to that. Even a neat, if somewhat scifi dystopiaish, concept for a digital pedestrian billboard (like the ones on the side of bus stops) that is capable of projecting images in multiple directions and tailoring its ads for each passerby separately. That probably won’t happen soon, but that sort of wild thinking is part of narrowing the field to practical ideas.

      • Not for me. I see a lot of programming-related ads and I’m a programmer, but also a lot of geriatric medicine ads. Either they are clueless or just want to sell warm bodies to their ad buyers.

      • DinoNerd says:

        It’s reassuring that currently the folks targetting the ads are more interested in selling ads than in getting the ad viewers to actually purchase anything. Thus the months of ads that start to appear right after you buy a new car – a smart vendor that wanted their ads to encourage a purchase would figure out how frequently each potential customer has purchased automobiles in the past, and start advertising their cars just a bit before they are due to buy another.

        I expect that the folks purchasing ad placement will eventually either get a clue, or be replaced by people with a clue, and use some of that data to evaluate the (in)effectiveness of the ads they are purchasing. But fortunately this works against human nature, so this will likely take a while.

        OTOH, you get stories like the match.com one, and others about algorithms deciding someone must be pregnant, based on their purchases, and promptly telling the world. Whether or not the algorithm is right, the consequences to the target could be both huge and negative.

        • Matt M says:

          My fiance showed me that Facebook actually has a feature where you can click the details of an add and basically say “I’m not interested in this product” and then it asks you for reasons and one of them can be “I already purchased one.” In theory, that should stop showing you car ads after you just bought a car (while also signaling to advertisers that you may be interested in the future).

          Of course, most people aren’t going to bother doing that. And I’m unsure how you might go about doing something similar for other platforms.

          • Nick says:

            It’s not just Facebook; lots of ads let you do this. I do it sometimes when I get sketchy ads… though they seem to come back eventually. I only report inappropriate ads, though, since saying I’m not interested or that I’ve already purchased only gives the ad company more information about me.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Thus the months of ads that start to appear right after you buy a new car

          The people who have the numbers swear up and down that the numbers say that this kind of retargeting works, and works very well.

          (These people are of course advertising people, so some degree of dubiousness might be reasonable)

          • Nick says:

            The explanation I believe I heard is that big, rare purchases like these have a fair chance you’ll return and buy something else instead. So you’re actually a better target just after purchase than the usual person. But the case was like refrigerators or mattresses or something… I’m not sure it applies to a car.

          • Unsaintly says:

            I posted on an above comment, but Nick is basically right on this one

          • Statismagician says:

            I buy that for physical department stores, but for online shopping? I don’t even know who made my mattress off the top of my head, let alone what site I bought it from.

            EDIT: Oh, wait, I see what you mean now – ignore me.

          • Wency says:

            If true, the argument is probably just that frequent purchasers are overrepresented.

            E.g., my mother has bought I think 4 cars in the time I’ve bought 1. So based on our limited sample size (unrepresentative but perhaps directionally indicative), you have a 4/5 probability of getting her instead of me if you target recent purchasers.

            She has been known to buy a new car only 2 years after buying another one, so it doesn’t hurt to start advertising early and planting the idea in her head. She likes to think about new cars and might take an interest in your ad even if she’s still very happy with her current car.

            Meanwhile I’m going to ignore all car-related advertisements of any kind except during those rare windows maybe once per decade that I’m actually investigating the market for a few weeks and trying to decide what to buy.

            So the ads aren’t for me, they’re for her.

    • DinoNerd says:

      I hope this isn’t too close to cultural war – but yes, it is a threat, in particular, a threat to your pocketbook. Vendors love to sell the same thing to different people at different prices. (I believe the technical term is price discrimination.)

      I have no evidence that this is currently being done at scale, but it would be fairly easy for big data to arrange that the only offers you ever see are those for the more expensive end of what they think you might buy – and for the prices you are offered to be different from those your neighbour gets. I expect that to be SOP within 20 years, as more and more things are bought online, and retail stores become less available.

      The other danger is more theoretical. What if something you do today, turns out to violate a taboo tomorrow? Amazon has no direct interest in e.g. punishing everyone who ever bought fur, or cigarettes, or weapons, or romance novels featuring excessive use of force, or books teaching critical thinking. But they do have a direct interest in selling their data. And vigilantes have an interest in buying.

      In my youth, I was careful not to use credit cards to make purchases I thought would be more likely than average to put me on someone’s target list. Cash was anonymous, and purchases were face to face. That’s still possible, but not always easy.

      I don’t see a good workaround for the rest of this. What’s done is done. If you live in a privacy-conscious jurisdiction (e.g. the European Union) support laws restricting what they can do with the data they have, or even the extent to which everything can be linked together.

      It might help somewhat to obfuscate your online identity – multiple accounts, backed by multiple browsers, multiple email addresses, and multiple credit cards. But mostly – support your local retail stores, and pay them using cash. And read and internalize all the tricks implied by books like “Nudge”, and watch out for them being used to enourage you to buy things you don’t need and probably won’t enjoy, at prices nicely calculated to make you think they are “bargains”. (But don’t expect to find that easy, unless you are autistic.)

      • Matt M says:

        I have no evidence that this is currently being done at scale, but it would be fairly easy for big data to arrange that the only offers you ever see are those for the more expensive end of what they think you might buy – and for the prices you are offered to be different from those your neighbour gets.

        I seem to recall a few years ago someone wrote an article accusing Amazon of doing this. They claim it’s not at all uncommon to see different prices listed for items if you log into your account on Browser X, and compare it to an incognito window with no account in Browser Y. IIRC Amazon’s response was something like “Our proprietary pricing algorithms take a wide variety of factors into account, we cannot disclose the details, but rest assured we totally aren’t doing anything evil!”

      • There is a version of what you describe that I suspect has been standard practice in real estate since long before the internet. When you ask a realtor to find a home for you, one of the first qutestions asked is how much you want to spend.

        That seems an odd question, since how much I want to spend depends on what is available at what price. But realtors are paid a percentage of the purchase price, so they would naturally like to find you the most expensive house you are willing to buy.

    • johan_larson says:

      Anyone know if banks are allowed to sell information about what you have paid for with your credit or debit cards?

      I’d be a bit surprised if they were, but who knows.

    • There are surely possible circumstances in which sellers having detailed information on your purchases could make you worse off, but I think it’s more likely to make you better off. If advertisers know your tastes they are less likely to waste your time trying to sell you things of no interest to you, more likely to offer you things you might want to buy.

      One possible negative is in situations of seller monopoly, where knowing that you very much like something lets the seller price discriminate against you, charge you a high price because they know you will probably pay it. But even that comes with a positive, a reduction in the chance that a seller will charge you a price you are not willing to pay, leaving both you and the seller worse off.

      • DinoNerd says:

        I’m always amazed by your rosy outlook about personal interactions with large businesses. It feels as if we’ve been living in different worlds for our entire lives. Perhaps we have been, even though you are only a decade or so older than me, and we’re currently both home owners in the same part of the country.

        I wonder whether the difference is basically class. I’ve had a few interactions with what my grandmother would have called “carriage trade” suppliers, and those have been uniformly good – but expensive. I’m amazed to find suppliers who actually produce what I asked for, and fix it if they get it wrong. My suspicion, given your famous father, is that you’ve dealt with more carriage trade suppliers than I have, overall, and started this earlier in your lifespan.

        Whereas when I’m dealing with ordinary suppliers, those who do what I’d consider to be a good job are rare and notable. Mostly, the range seems to be from “take it or leave it” to “active attempts to defraud”. Reading history, it appears that food offered in poor areas tended to routinely include harmful adulterants, until governments stepped in, probably responding to outraged members of the middle class. This fits my model, which is basically that those selling to the masses (any large company, and many small ones) mostly care only about money now, and rely on advertising, not positive interactions – plus low competition – to keep the suckers (customers) coming back. (Or in the case of small companies, the large supply of potential suckers, compared to the number served by each small supplier.)

        I have no idea whether this model of differences in our attitudes is remotely valid. What do you think?

        • DinoNerd says:

          Her’s an example. My cleaning service just called, to tell me what time they’ll be coming tomorrow. They said some time between 11 and 2. We’ve told them repeastedly, starting from the day we first hired them, that we aren’t home after noon, and must have the house cleaned in the morning. They cannot consistently apply a time preference to a regular customer; in fact, they seem to be bemused when we remind them of this yet again – even though this is only the second or third scheduling person we’ve dealt with. This time, I was home when they called to leave a message about their planned arrival, and picked up the phone to ask them to change it – but that doesn’t always happen.

          The other fun thing they do is pay their staff bonuses based on receiving ratings of “excellent” from the customer, thereby trying to social pressure customers to (a) contribute time to ratings and (b) inflate the ratings as an act of kindness. The service is not “excellent” – we have to routinely hunt for items they’ve moved while cleaning, and often find radios or thermostats adjusted during their visit. Sometimes computer cables are left disconnected. And that’s ignoring simple cleaning failures – like cobwebs found in visible areas right after they leave.

          Unfortunately, this is our third cleaning service. The only way we’ll ever find a good one is if we luck into an individual (not a chain) with a good work ethic, before they develop a full schedule of customers so satisfied that they’ll never voluntarily switch cleaners. So we live with them: approximately one cleaning in three is missed because they show up at the wrong time of day, and every once in a while we take care of the cobwebs ourselves – it’s better than having no one but household members vacuuming up dog hair etc.

          • Our house cleaning is done by a Hispanic family who come in once a week for a few hours, and we are happy with them. I don’t know how close you are to us, or whether they want more customers, but I would be happy to ask them if you want me to.

        • I’ve generally shopped at the same grocery stores as other people in my area, and lived in middle class neighborhoods. When I was growing up, my parents generally bought their cars second hand. I get a good deal of my clothing from Haband, which is a sort of poor man’s equivalent to Land’s End that carries reasonably good clothes in a wide variety of sizes, including pants that fit me (I’m 5′ 3″ tall). They were also where my father got a good deal of his clothes, although I expect that later in life he probably bought more from higher end sources. Nowadays we get some things from Land’s End — I don’t know if you would count that as “carriage trade” or not.

          Off hand, the only object I can think of in our house that fits your conjecture is the sewing machine, which is a high end one — but then, I’ve used it to make a number of canvas tents, where quality of the sewing machine matters a good deal. Our cars are a Honda Odyssey and a Nissan Altima, which I would classify as neither low end nor high end.

          I don’t have much experience living in poor areas or shopping in stores mostly serving poor people, aside from my first year as a graduate student, but I don’t think I have much experience with shopping in stores mostly patronized by rich people either.

          • DinoNerd says:

            Thanks David. It looks like I was completely wrong about that. We were probably poorer than you when I was a very small child (family history has us “too proud to ask for welfare”, but eligible). But by the sound of it, once my father got some seniority in a union job, we were financially similar, at least in terms of lifestyle.

            I wouldn’t call Lands End “carriage trade” even before Sears bought it. Its target would be the ill-defined middle class – though its services were a cut above just about all of its competition. (In fact, it was an exception to my general observation of inadequate service and take-it-or-leave-it poor quality. I was sad to see it revert to the mean.)

  34. LesHapablap says:

    What’s going on with the coronavirus? How much of a global threat is it? Official numbers are at 2744 infected as of 0800z 27/1/20. I have heard rumors from people in China of 70,000 or 200,000 infected. I don’t know how they came up with those numbers, but there is not a lot of trust within China in the official numbers. How accurate is the 2744 number likely to be? Would the Chinese government be able to lie about it?

    • viVI_IViv says:

      I have heard rumors from people in China of 70,000 or 200,000 infected. I don’t know how they came up with those numbers, but there is not a lot of trust within China in the official numbers. How accurate is the 2744 number likely to be?

      The 2744 number (2804 on Wikipedia as I write this) is the number of confirmed cases. This is the count of the people who have been tested for the virus and the test came out positive.

      The 70,000 to 200,000 range is the estimated number of infected people. This includes people who did not seek medical care because they are asymptomatic or subclinical (either because they have good general health and natural resistance to the virus or they have been infected very recently and are still incubating) and also people who did seek medical care but hadn’t been tested yet, as the hospitals are over capacity and there are reports of long queues to access them (which is an issue on its own because people who have a common cold, get scared and go to the hospital to get tested might get infected by the 2019-nCoV while they are waiting to be processed).

      Anyway, so far the virus seems more infectious but less deadly than SARS. This could be an artifact of better detection (maybe only the most severe cases of SARS were diagnosed) but hopefully the virus is intrinsically less lethal. By comparison, seasonal influenza viruses infect hundred millions to billions and kill hundred thousands people per year.

      • Matt M says:

        Is there any particular reason to believe any of the numbers regarding this can be trusted, at all?

        Isn’t the ultimate source of all of these numbers the Chinese government?

        • EchoChaos says:

          If the numbers from the Chinese government are accurate, their actions are wildly and hilariously disproportionate.

          So either their numbers are pure fiction (totally possible!) or their actions are this out of scope.

          I hope it’s the latter.

          • Aftagley says:

            Eh, you’re skipping over a bit of historical context.

            The CCP got absolutely pilloried, both at home and abroad over how they handled SARS. They basically attempted to hide everything, didn’t give any official answers and downplayed everything. Once the scope of the disease got out, officials were more interested in avoiding blame than trying to solve the problem. As a result – more people got sick, more people died and people were furious.

            This was one of the few times when public opinion actually made the CCP respond. I think a health minister and a few regional officials were punished heavily as a result of their actions.

            It’s possible that the lesson China learned from SARS was – Treat any emerging virus as a Big Deal. Ensure you’re sharing information aggressively with the populace. Ever official must be seen doing something so that if something goes wrong they can claim they did their best.

          • baconbits9 says:

            If the numbers from the Chinese government are accurate, their actions are wildly and hilariously disproportionate.

            Disease control isn’t about the size of the problem at the early stages it is more about the potential scope of the problem which is a cross section of ease of transmission and severity of the condition. Chinese numbers could be a complete myth for all I know, but saying they shouldn’t have a massive reaction presumes that you know where that cross section is. The major concern right now is that it appears to be really easily transmissible and also asymptomatic people can be carriers which is the sort of situation where you are going to have to be very aggressive in quarantines if they have any hope of working well. More deadly, but less easily transmitted diseases can be treated quite differently and you often end up with high mortality rates among very specific groups (those tending to the sick) without broad contagion.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Aftagley

            Thanks for the context. That does make their actions make a lot more sense.

            @baconbits9.

            Fair enough. It sounds like coronavirus is moderately severe and very contagious, which could be a pretty big deal. Consider my objection mitigated slightly.

        • viVI_IViv says:

          I don’t think they have many reasons to lie about it now that the cat is out of the bag, and their actions seem consistent with dealing with a disease that is about as infective as the seasonal flu but potentially more severe.

    • Murphy says:

      View from a Harvard Epidemiologist:

      https://twitter.com/DrEricDing/status/1221132573340061697

      It’s no joke and seems to be highly contagious.

      It’s a worry for elderly or immune compromised people.

      It’s likely to rack up a significant body count if it spreads to enough people but the issue is that it’s so contagious, not that it’s terribly deadly. But it’s also not going to be another spanish-flu. That was so devastating because it killed young healthy people.

      And of course the lives of elderly and immune compromised people still count.

  35. Aapje says:

    Shoutout to Jsmp for a rather good analysis of the survey results.

    The tweet about the new battery technology is a rather poor introduction. The thing that is first and foremost of interest is what the status is of the project. Is it just a theory, has the base mechanism been tested, has a prototype battery been built, etc?

  36. zardoz says:

    [Post 6 reviewing Business Adventures]

    Previously: Post 1, Post 2, Post 3, Post 4, Post 5

    The next chapter of Business Adventures, “Making the Customers Whole,” is about another stock market crisis.

    This time, the background is the great salad oil swindle of 1963. Oh, and that one other little thing that happened in 1963: the assassination of President Kennedy.

    The great salad oil scandal is an interesting story in its own right, which the book only touches on briefly. For the purpose of this chapter, the most important part is that two Wall Street brokers, J. R. Williston & Beane, and Ira Haupt & Co, suddenly became insolvent as a result of bankrolling the risky financial speculation of Anthony “Tino” De Angelis. Worse still, the salad oil that Anthony put up for collateral turned out to be fictitious.

    As a result, these stock market brokers were at risk of going bankrupt. This would have jeopardized the money which their customers had invested with them. Haupt, in particular, seems to have been especially reckless. As Brooks writes, “… while the firm’s capital in early November had amounted to only about eight million dollars, [Haupt] had borrowed enough money to supply a single customer– Allied– with some thirty-seven million dollars to finance the oil speculations.”

    It’s interesting to note that the main systemic risk that Brooks is concerned about is the potential loss of the customers’ money, and how that would affect market sentiment, not a larger crisis caused by the firms liquidating. Perhaps this was an effect of the Glass-Steagall act which attempted to separate commercial and investment banking.

    In accordance with stock exchange regulations, Haupt and Williston & Beane were suspended on November 20, 1963. Other firms on the stock market quickly stepped forward to loan money to Williston & Beane. Haupt was not so lucky. By Friday, it looked like it might be on its way to bankruptcy. Just when things looked like they couldn’t get worse, news of the President’s assassination started to arrive. The market started to crash, and continued crashing for a half hour until the board of governors closed it prematurely at seven minutes past two.

    The situation now looked grim. However, over the weekend, Keith Funston, president of the stock exchange, orchestrated a plan to bail out Haupt. This invovled getting Haupt’s creditors to defer collection of its debts. Over the next few days, they scrambled to get all the creditors to agree to this.

    Most of the creditors were American banks with representatives in New York City. However, there were also a few British banks who had lent to Haupt. To make a deal with these, the exchange had to dispatch someone on a dramatic Sunday afternoon flight. Luckily, they had an extra day to come to an agreement. The stock exchange was closed on Monday in honor of the fallen president.

    It’s interesting to contrast this 1963 crisis with the 2008 financial crisis. The Stock Exchange handled the 1963 crisis itself, without any overt government help. The public saw its actions as a public-spirited defense of investors at a sensitive time. In contrast, in the 2008 crisis, some of the same firms (such as Goldman Sachs) needed to be “bailed out” by the government due to their exposure to subprime mortgage debt.

    Both crises involved derivatives, but the complex collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) of 2008 were much more complex. The perceived systemic risk was also much higher. It’s easy to see why many people have started to think that the 1999 repeal of Glass-Steagall was a mistake.

    It’s also interesting to note that Haupt’s general partners lost a lot from the crisis. Many of them filed personal bankruptcy papers later. Under the old partnership structure that these brokers operated under during this time, partners had skin in the game.

    Does the stock market of 2020 have anything to learn from that of 1963? I wonder what Brooks’ answer would be, if he were still around.

    • BBA says:

      Glass-Steagall itself didn’t affect much in 2008 one way or the other – Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers were clearly on one side of the line, and WaMu was on the other side, having the old law in place wouldn’t have stopped any of them. But the wave of deregulation and consolidation that included the Glass-Steagall repeal did make the crisis worse. Lehman was a bigger part of the financial system in 2008 than any bank or brokerage would’ve been allowed to be in 1963. (To give a sense of what kind of regulations there were, before the early ’90s, it was generally illegal for a bank to have branches in more than one state. Once that law was repealed, the mega-mergers began.)

      What I remember about 2008 is that the corporate loan market froze up completely after Lehman went down. Trust had broken down completely and the banks were unwilling or unable to provide even the “safest” short-term funding. So the government bailout became the only option for preventing a total collapse… at least, that’s the “official” story.

      • Matt M says:

        But the wave of deregulation and consolidation that included the Glass-Steagall repeal did make the crisis worse.

        “Deregulation” and “consolidation” are not the same thing. Banking is one of the most heavily regulated industries in existence. And continued to be so throughout whatever “deregulation” you think is the problem here.

        Consolidation is also a red herring IMO. To blame mergers and consolidation requires the belief that 100 small banks would have behaved significantly differently than 10 big banks did. This could happen, but also could very well not. Generally speaking, most businesses copy the most successful of their peers. In banking, being successful is largely about maximizing your risk/leverage while avoiding the consequences of lost bets. To the extent that betting hard on house prices always increasing was profitable business, it’s fair to assume a large percentage of the small banks, had they continued to exist, would have done so as well.

        Further, there’s actually a logical argument for consolidation as a hedge or for diversification purposes. Remember, even leading up to 2008, the argument from the true-believer set wasn’t really “housing prices will never go down” but more “housing is local, so housing prices will never go down everywhere in the country at once.” Big banks were able to claim “Our risk of catastrophe is low, because we own mortgages in California and Florida and Ohio and Colorado.” This ended up being false, but it’s at least a plausible argument – and there’s little reason to assume a small bank who only held mortgages in California or Florida would have done any better…

        • DarkTigger says:

          But if those 100 small banks are a lot more decentrelized (both geographical and in the kind of buissiness they are doing) it is far less of an problem for the whole system if 30 of them fail.

          When all the real estate mortage banks, in the country fail, but people can still get an buisness credit, and have access to their saving account, that sucks, but the economy is still going.
          If suddenly a third of all people can’t do any of the above we are in deep shit.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            A diversified large bank should be less likely to fail in the first place. The common analogy used is the Canadian vs. American banking systems in the Depression, where (supposedly) the Canadian bank system fared far better because they could have larger banks, whereas American banks were limited from expanding due to regulatory restrictions.

          • Matt M says:

            Also worth remembering that not all of the large banks were in need of bailouts.

            The government required them all to accept bailout funding specifically to deceive the American people and keep us ignorant of which banks were truly on the risk of insolvency and which ones were doing relatively fine (to prevent runs on the most in-trouble banks)

          • Chalid says:

            The small bank failures are all highly correlated though. It’s not obvious whether it’s easier to manage one giant bank failure or 1000 small ones.

          • baconbits9 says:

            But if those 100 small banks are a lot more decentrelized (both geographical and in the kind of buissiness they are doing) it is far less of an problem for the whole system if 30 of them fail.

            That depends on the problem, but one issue in the 2008 crisis was a difficulty in pricing a lot of the obligations. You could easily build a model where 100 smaller banks had a broader variety of obligations which makes pricing harder, which implies less certainty which implies larger price declines during a crisis which makes the crisis worse.

            Smaller banks are also not necessarily less centralized, the FDIC would have been bankrupt had it not gotten a loan from the federal government, and the federal government would likely have been bankrupt with its actions had it not been for the Federal Reserve. Just spreading the problem among many smaller banks doesn’t alleviate this pressure.

      • What I remember about 2008 is that the corporate loan market froze up completely after Lehman went down. Trust had broken down completely and the banks were unwilling or unable to provide even the “safest” short-term funding.

        Was this what happened or was it just that they demanded higher interest rates? Like they received in the past?

        The financial sector had grown more than the economy for no obvious reason in the decades before. And interest rates had been falling. Seems to me they should have just let both trends go into reverse. If they wanted to combat unemployment they should have just had across the board tax cuts to induce more spending and investing.

    • TJ2001 says:

      Don’t forget about Sovereign Wealth Funds. It’s one thing when Fidelity or TIAA CREF cashes out a bunch of 401k Mutual Funds to pay for retirement funds…. Completely another when Saudi Arabia or Norway need to cash out $1billion/month of Private investments in far less liquid “Real Estate Funds” to pay for their government.

      Krugman talked about this at length…. He said he felt it was critically important to keep Government investments out of “Private investment” markets because the amount of money they need to move at any one given time can cause an entire market to go insolvent…. AKA the REIT market could easily deal with some rich guy moving a couple $million in or out in any given day… But Saudi Arabia moving $1bn out in 1 day would capsize the whole market – there simply was not enough liquidity in the market to handle the transactions….

      Whereas forcing these governments to do big transactions like this in Gold or US government bonds would “fix” the problem.. You need to cash in another $1billion/month of US Treasury bonds – no problem… We can print that right up for you today….

      • Clutzy says:

        That creates an even bigger systemic risk (albeit probably less likely) where sovereign debt and national budget crises cascade even worse than they did in the EU in the aftermath of 2008.

        • TJ2001 says:

          This is the opposite of debt…

          Oil rich nations like Saudi Arabia and Norway “squirrel away” surplus oil money into various investments. These nations maintain a “Sovereign” portfolio of these investments. As you could imagine – the value of these investments is astronomical… Perhaps high $ hundred billion to low $ trillion..

          When oil prices go down below “Profitable” threshold levels – their governments can’t cease working though… They have to continue services and social programs… So they cash out of investments to fund the continuing operation of their governments and such.

          • Clutzy says:

            Right, and if the US has a sovereign debt crisis, now the US and Norway and Saudi Arabia all can’t pay their bills.

  37. smaynes89 says:

    1. WTF, why are you already giving up on this bet with 1 year left to go? And the bond yield curve having recently inverted? A 5% drop in median income between now and January of next year would be enough for you to win this bet, unprecedented in the past 25 years, but not as unlikely as that fact might suggest. I wouldn’t make a 50-50 bet on that happening in the next year, but I wouldn’t give up on an already existing bet necessitating it as the chances of 5% drop in median income over the next year are definitely quite a bit higher than zero given the current situation.

  38. Canyon Fern says:

    Let it be known publicly that Slate Star Showdex, Act 2 is on its way! [If you delight in what humans call laughter, and missed Act 1, try it now! Episode 1; Episode 2; Episode 3; Episode 4.]

    I’m looking to commission an artist to create at least one black-and-white or color cartoon illustration for the upcoming Act 2. I’m looking to spend $30 but can be flexible (I’m imagining $15/hour for 60-90 min of drafts and email/voice discussion, and 30-60 min of final version from drafts.) If the commission works out, I’d be open to commissioning further illustrations at a similar price point, with the same artist or other interested parties. Scott, you need not fear your IRL face being exposed: if any pictures involve your alter ego, Dr. Scott “Slate” Alexander, I’ll ask the artist to base his appearance on Jerry Holkins.

    Does this humble plant, who only wishes to effort post with maximum aplomb, have any takers? If so, please link me a sample piece or your portfolio in a reply (preferred) or email me at contact.canyon.fern AT gmail DOT com.

  39. Scott Alexander says:

    I am having a lot of trouble analyzing the SSC survey data to figure out whether it is biological or social firstbornness that causes overrepresentation in the sample. It seems to be either one, which doesn’t make sense. Can somebody else try to look at the data and tell me what they find? https://slatestarcodex.com/2020/01/20/ssc-survey-results-2020/

    • Emma_B says:

      It seems to me that given the data set, if the ‘confounded biological and social effects’ group and the ‘social but not biological effects’ group give the same results, then a social effect seems the most parsimonious explanation but I might just have misunderstood the question.

      I am using the occasion to propose an hypothesis to partly explain the strong overrepresentation of firstborns among SSC readers: because it is so strong, it is tempting to speculate that it is explained by a strong difference between firstborns and later borns. To my knowledge, though there are some average differences in some traits between first and later borns (a small number of IQ points for example), they are always small, ie much smaller than a standard deviation. It therefore seems tempting to make the hypothesis that the overrepresentation of firstborns among SSC readers comes directly from the only thing that is strongly different between a first and a later born: the relationship between the siblings, which is during the first years very asymetyrical, as the older child is more “competent” for many things.

      There could be a ‘little brother effect’ : living with someone in early childhood who is less competent than oneself (as opposed to interacting mostly with competent aduls at home), to show or explain things to, could somehow make people later more likely to be interested in SSC. If this is the case, then the rate of “SSC interest” among only children and last born children should be similar and low, it should be higher among the eldest of families with two children, and even higher among the eldest of families with three children, etc..

      I have looked at the SSC survey data and it seems to me that it is indeed the pattern observed but I might have made a mistake with the calculation, or used incorrect data for the distribution of family sizes among SSC readers.

    • Statismagician says:

      Parsimoniously, mightn’t it just be that differential parenting behavior by birth order is the causal factor, and whatever the key there is doesn’t care about which sort of first-born you are? I don’t think you asked about parental age at birth, but I’m picturing a causality chain like: first-borns have younger parents, those parents are less able to take time off from work, they’re left to themselves more (and haven’t got older siblings, obviously) and so develop their curiosity/own interests more, whence on into [subset of the sort of people who might read SSC who actually do].

      • Randy M says:

        they’re left to themselves more

        This does not fit the stereotype of parenting styles evolving with subsequent children, which is basically that you obsess over the first born but by number three just check to see if she’s breathing every once in a awhile. Which is the folk explanation for the “conscientious firstborn, class clown baby” pattern.
        I don’t have more rigorous proof that these effects are real, though.

        • Statismagician says:

          I’m not wedded to the story; it fit my experiences, but my parents were an evolutionary biologist and a pediatric nurse and my younger brother was a bit of a handful, so I certainly buy them not being typical.

      • Rachael says:

        “differential parenting behavior by birth order is the causal factor, and whatever the key there is doesn’t care about which sort of first-born you are”

        That would be a social effect, then.

        Scott is trying to distinguish between social causes, like that one, and biological causes, like maternal nutrients or something.

        Obviously most firstborns are both biological and social, so not helpful for distinguishing between the two possibilities. But some people are biological but not social firstborns (maybe raised with older half-siblings or adopted siblings) and some are social but not biological (maybe their older sibling died in infancy or was adopted away). Your suggestion would apply to the second type but not the first, so it does in fact “care which sort of firstborn you are”.

        • Statismagician says:

          Fair point. If the observation is that both social and biological (where different) first-borns show up similarly-disproportionately in the data (which is what I understood the situation to be), though, it either has to be a social cause or there’s multiple factors at work, some of which may affect overlapping subpopulations.

  40. Atlas says:

    CS Lewis once wrote:

    “There is a strange idea that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about ‘isms’ and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my endeavors as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.”[1]

    I think I respectfully disagree with this perspective, at least as it applies to philosophy, and at least as it applies to the layman. (Literature is a different matter, but for the record I’ve also made a separate somewhat tongue in cheek criticism of fiction in the past.)

    My reasoning is that most moderns are not so much interested in learning about, say, Plato, as they are in learning about things like ethics, metaphysics and political philosophy. Plato is interesting to us insofar as he made contributions to these subjects, not for his own sake as an individual writer/human being.

    Therefore, it is perfectly fine, in my opinion, to read more lucid modern summaries and discussions of the great philosophers rather than to read their original works. You might learn more about Plato by reading Plato, but I think you probably learn more about philosophy by reading a decent modern book about his teachings and legacy.

    I would also add that Plato’s dialogues in particular are relatively clearly written and straightforward, which is not the case for all influential works of philosophy. It would seem to me that secondhand explanations of the work of philosophers like Hegel are much more useful and informative for the layman than plodding through obscurantist, esoteric and/or pedantic firsthand books would be.

    • C_B says:

      I strongly agree with you, to the extent that I have trouble extending charity to those who feel otherwise. I tend to suspect them of having ulterior motives, like wanting to feel sophisticated and superior, or wanting to gatekeep comprehension of their discipline because they had to suffer through all those godawful originals, and therefore so should everyone else.

      I don’t really endorse this attitude in a considered way, but exposure to people like this over the course of my education has embittered me toward Great Works purists in general.

      • Secretly French says:

        You are the child who hates hates hates Lord of the Flies and Of Mice and Men, and Dickens or whatever, simply because he was forced to pore over them for endless weeks at a time in grade-school when he would rather have been chasing girls or playing video games. Detach yourself from the emotionality you readily admit you have about the issue, and realise the impersonal truth that the books aren’t bad*. I was the same child.

        * Sturgeon’s Law applies, obviously.

      • Deiseach says:

        I think I agree with Lewis, because my very limited exposure to Derridan fanboys had me going that it was plainly all a load of bollocks, but when I read a tiny quote of Derrida himself I suddenly saw that, whether I agreed with it or not, there was actual thought going on there.

        The explainers and developers of the work were a lot worse, more obscure, and bringing in their own hobbyhorses. Original Derrida may still be a load of bollocks (I’m not qualified to tell) but there is something going on more than jargon and the incestuous self-referentialism of the fanboys.

        If I want to know what generations of commentators have made of Platonism, sure I’ll read a modern commentary. But if I want to know what Plato himself said it was all about, I really do need to go back to read original sources. Whatever about philosophy, in theology at least it’s badly needed because everyone has got their own axe to grind and you can have Feminist Theology, Liberation Theology, Feminist Liberation Theology, etc. etc. etc. That still won’t tell you for sure if St Paul was a sexist racist homophobic epileptic with hallucinations and delusions, you need to read the Epistles to make up your own mind on that 🙂

        I tend to suspect them of having ulterior motives, like wanting to feel sophisticated and superior, or wanting to gatekeep comprehension of their discipline because they had to suffer through all those godawful originals, and therefore so should everyone else.

        I would put it to you that if the originals are so godawful, how is it that they are considered to have something worthwhile to say, that all these modern people expend time and effort constructing their own works around or based on them? (Though if you’re talking about German metaphysics, I’d be inclined to yield the point to you. Nietzsche never did anything for me except bring me out in a rash, and Nietzcheans are nearly worse than their onlie begetter).

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          Nietzsche never did anything for me except bring me out in a rash, and Nietzcheans are nearly worse than their onlie begetter).

          I enjoyed Nietzsche. Foucault put me to sleep.

          So maybe the lesson should be: Try to read the original. If it puts you to sleep then try another writer.

          • Lambert says:

            Reading Nietzche is like playing a game of ‘match the verb at the end of the sentence to its clause’.

            The only philosophical work in German I could make head or tail of is Über das Marionettentheater by Kleist. And even that was described by translator Idris Parry as ‘a physical event in the German language’.

    • Clutzy says:

      Who are these people who are interested in philosophy that don’t read translations of Plato?

      I’m not even all that interested and I read a translation of The Republic

    • mtl1882 says:

      My reasoning is that most moderns are not so much interested in learning about, say, Plato, as they are in learning about things like ethics, metaphysics and political philosophy. Plato is interesting to us insofar as he made contributions to these subjects, not for his own sake as an individual writer/human being.

      For very specific contexts, I agree this can make much more sense, as they will have sifted and highlighted the points relevant to the scenario. But generally, I’m pretty stunned by just how badly secondary sources usually *unintentionally* mangle the primary sources precisely because they are interpreting it as a piece of whatever their subject is, and not the writing of a unified mind/person applying a certain worldview and set of principles or assumptions. Plato probably wasn’t writing for whatever framework they are using—they can quite usefully bring him into it if they comprehend how the piece selected fits into his overall reasoning, but they often miss the fundamental assumptions in it. I wish I could think of an egregious example right now, but I’m failing to do so. Adam Smith comes to mind. Usually, when I go to the actual work of someone frequently quoted, I’m amazed at how much clearer the writing is, and how totally at odds it is from how it is portrayed. When it comes to historical works, the butchery of primary sources can be absurd, even when done in good faith. Subjects as broad as political philosophy can’t neatly be separated out from other ones–things considered separate disciplines now were very intertwined then, with good reason. It really depends on the skill and insight of the writer–it can definitely be done well, but my experiences have made me suspicious enough that if I were reading for anything more than entertainment, I’d feel a need to check out the original of a lot of things.

      I strongly agree with you, to the extent that I have trouble extending charity to those who feel otherwise. I tend to suspect them of having ulterior motives, like wanting to feel sophisticated and superior, or wanting to gatekeep comprehension of their discipline because they had to suffer through all those godawful originals, and therefore so should everyone else.

      From personal experience, I can say there is very good reason for it, and I wasn’t doing it to earn a degree. I agree some people just want to signal, and they can’t be assigned in a vacuum. There are many situations when modern summaries are appropriate. But a lot of these people were far from good awful–they could *write* like hell–and are much more vigorous and clear than their summarizers. And the summarizers frequently leave the impression that such people never considered alternative viewpoints or obvious rebuttals because they are so focused on explaining the person’s unique contribution to the discussion. But I definitely can understand having bad experiences with this in school. My primary source obsession started after I left school.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Agreed that secondary sources often mangle primary sources pretty badly. I think a big part of the reason is the insular nature of so much contemporary Anglo-American academic philosophy. Most modern analytic philosophers only interact seriously with other modern analytic philosophers, and when they do look at pre-modern philosophers, they tend to rip their arguments out of the intellectual context in which they were originally made, treat them as if they were being made by a modern analytic philosopher, and consequently butcher them completely. (Ninety-nine per cent of modern treatments of Anselm’s ontological argument are worthless for precisely this reason, for example.)

        • mtl1882 says:

          Exactly. And I understand how it happens. But it is a little scary that people who spend their lives studying these fields and writing analytical works *still* often fail to catch on to the problem. Much more context is now easily available in most subjects, and it’s quite easy to tell some things are awkwardly shoehorned. But most just keep repeating others’ interpretations and acting like the original writer just didn’t consider obvious counterpoints. And often, the original work directly and clearly addresses those counterpoints! Maybe not along the simplified modern ideological lines, but clear enough that a scholar should have no trouble understanding it. Or often they are just offering observations, which the scholar will then portray as uniform advice.

    • Evan Þ says:

      I agree with Lewis here, completely and vehemently.

      First, remember that Lewis is speaking here “as a tutor in English Literature,” about “the average student” – i.e. a college student at Oxford, who wouldn’t just be studying philosophy and ethics in general but studying many different thinkers in particular. If you’re interested in Plato’s metaphysics specifically, either because you’re studying Plato or you want to discern his influence on later thinkers, you really do need to – at least at some point – set down the commentaries and pick up his Timaeus and Republic. One thing Lewis is arguing here is that the typical student should start with Plato and perhaps turn to the commentators later. I don’t know if he’d say the same thing about Hegel – Lewis’s personal experience was focused on ancient and English writers in particular.

      Secondarily, yes, he’s writing this in an introduction to a translation of St. Athanasius’s On the Incarnation addressed to the average reader. (I’ve found it’s a very good translation, by the way, and it’s available online with Lewis’s introduction.) Lewis is making the claim that Athanasius is interesting not just for the bullet-pointed “contributions to theology” that’d get listed under his name in an encyclopedia, but as a human and a writer. He’s saying that Athanasius (and also Plato and many other ancient names) is a better writer than most modern commentators or theologians or classicists. One way is that his less-fundamental contributions shine from every word.

      Another benefit, Lewis explains later in his introduction, is that ancient writers’ emphases and what they take for granted gives us a perspective diametrically opposed to what we see in the modern day. For example, Plato was much more interested in justice and individual excellence than modern ethicists and sociologists. No matter which emphasis is better (by what standard of “better”?), it’s definitely a matter worth considering if you’re studying ethics or Plato. For another example, when my (Baptist) church youth small group studied Athanasius one summer, we were all shocked by how much emphasis he placed on Christ’s Incarnation and how much less (in comparison with modern writers and our own pastor) Athanasius placed on the Crucifixion. Perhaps a modern digest of Athanasian thought would’ve mentioned it – but even if it had, it wouldn’t have made anywhere near as much impact on us as reading Athanasius’s own words and thinking about what those nine chapters had spent much less time on.

    • muskwalker says:

      I think I respectfully disagree with this perspective, at least as it applies to philosophy, and at least as it applies to the layman. (Literature is a different matter, but for the record I’ve also made a separate somewhat tongue in cheek criticism of fiction in the past.)

      My reasoning is that most moderns are not so much interested in learning about, say, Plato, as they are in learning about things like ethics, metaphysics and political philosophy. Plato is interesting to us insofar as he made contributions to these subjects, not for his own sake as an individual writer/human being.

      It is entirely possible that the moderns Lewis spoke of differ in this respect than those seen today. The perspective that sees an ancient like Plato as primitive or at least preliminary—someone we can find better than, as opposed to someone worthy on his own account—feels a lot more mainstream in our era than it might have in Lewis’s. (At least, I was surprised by it when I started noticing it.)

    • Konstantin says:

      One thing Lewis is overlooking is that the student is reading translations. Translation, especially of complex philosophical works written in a dead language, is an inexact science. You’re not “reading Plato” you’re reading Plato as interpreted and restated by the translator. The line between a translation and a commentary isn’t always clear cut, and unless you know Ancient Greek there is always an intermediary, so you may as well pick the best qualified intermediary given your goals and the amount of time you are willing to spend.

      • Lambert says:

        I don’t think Lewis is the type to forget about complex philosophical works being written in an extinct dialect of Greek.

        You can’t elide the difference between careful metaphrasis with translation notes and a general summary of the work.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          Yes, there’s a difference of degree involved. Even a relatively free translation is going to hew much closer to the original than a secondary source giving a general summary, much less a source dealing with a topic like “the history of ethics” which spends a few paragraphs or pages discussing Plato’s ethical theories.

      • Deiseach says:

        Sure, “Traduttore, traditore” but for those of us who don’t have ancient or modern languages, a good translation is the best we can do (which is why it’s useful to read several different translations of the same work).

        But in the end, it’s the difference between reading the Sparknotes and reading the original text: if you’ve ginned up on the Sparknotes to pass a test, you may know the themes of the novel or whatnot, but you certainly cannot be said to have read the work.

        I’ve ranted on here before that there is a hell of a lot more going on in “Not poppy, nor mandragora, nor all the drowsy syrups of the world, shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep which thou owedst yesterday” than the tin-eared flat-footed “No Fear Shakespeare” modernisation into “No drugs or sleeping pills will ever give you the restful sleep that you had last night.” And often the commentators (and the commentators on the commentators on the commentators) are giving you the “the drugs don’t work” version of the original text.

      • Statismagician says:

        Lewis is a British academic, and so does not have this problem,.

        • When I was an undergraduate, I came across in the library an old translation of Golden Lotus, a famous Chinese novel. The sexually explicit passages had been translated into Latin.

          • Nick says:

            I’ve seen old handbooks of moral theology where the really explicit stuff, like bestiality, was left in Latin.

          • Lambert says:

            Same as George Murray Levick’s notes on the sexual practices of penguins.

          • My copy of the Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini relegates a sexual crime of which Cellini was accused to a footnote in untranslated Italian. However, the Italian word is a cognate to its English equivalent, so it’s not at all difficult to figure out what was meant and only makes me wonder why the translator (Symonds) bothered.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            That’s nothing. I once came across a translation of Catullus where the naughty bits were replaced by ellipses. “I’ll … and … you”, indeed.

          • Statismagician says:

            Isn’t there a Discworld character who does that in speech somehow?

          • Lambert says:

            I don’t imaginge much of Catullus 16 would have been left.

            I will … ,
            … ,
            … poems
            … .

            … .
            … ,
            … ,
            … ,
            … hairy old men
            … .
            … ,
            … ?
            … you.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            Isn’t there a Discworld character who does that in speech somehow?

            That would be Mr. Tulip, from The Truth. Definitely one of my favorite villains from the series: there’s really not much need for him to be anything other than a thug, but Pratchett had a lot of fun with him.

            “That –ing zombie is going to end up on the end of a couple of –ing handy and versatile kebab skewers,’ said Mr Tulip. ‘An’ then I’m gonna put an edge on this –ing spatula. An’ then… then I’m gonna get medieval on his arse.’
            There were more pressing problems, but this one intrigued Mr Pin.
            ‘How, exactly?’ he said.
            ‘I thought maybe a maypole,’ said Mr Tulip reflectively. ‘An’ then a display of country dancing, land tillage under the three-filed system, several plagues and, if my –ing hand ain’t too tired, the invention of the –ing horse collar.”

          • Deiseach says:

            Older translations liked to leave the saucy stuff in the decent obscurity of a dead language (though looking that quote up, it’s attributed to Gibbons and slightly different: “My English text is chaste, and all licentious passages are left in the decent obscurity of a learned language.”)

            If you had enough Latin to be able to read the spicy parts, then you were educated enough to be high-minded and uninfluenced by any moral naughtiness, unlike the lower classes or the fragile feminine brain, as the prosecution in the Lady Chatterley trial tried to instruct the jurors: “Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?”

    • Nick says:

      My reasoning is that most moderns are not so much interested in learning about, say, Plato, as they are in learning about things like ethics, metaphysics and political philosophy. Plato is interesting to us insofar as he made contributions to these subjects, not for his own sake as an individual writer/human being.

      Therefore, it is perfectly fine, in my opinion, to read more lucid modern summaries and discussions of the great philosophers rather than to read their original works. You might learn more about Plato by reading Plato, but I think you probably learn more about philosophy by reading a decent modern book about his teachings and legacy.

      Two replies. First, you assume your conclusion by limiting yourself to the decent modern book. How often are modern books decent? 90% of everything is crap, man. I know you like Russell, but Russell was Lewis’s contemporary, not yours. If you’ll forgive my assuming, the reason you picked up his history of western philosophy and not the newest, most up to date history on Amazon is that 75 years of readers have been recommending it to you, rather than one of his contemporaries’ dozen histories.

      Second, let’s look at what Lewis is actually saying about the average modern book. Rather than explain Plato’s ideas, he says, they tell you he’s for this ism, that guy’s for that ism, she’s for those isms. Contextualization is useful, but not when you don’t know what’s being contextualized or what the context means. Suppose you’re in a foreign country and need a can opener. You know it’s in the kitchen, but the lights are busted, and the man you’re asking for directions only speaks broken English. Where is the can opener? Well, the flarb is by the buggle. What is a buggle? That’s in the gawf. Okay, a gawf is what? Why, feel for a kfoof. Do you know where the can opener is now?

      This might seem like a weird failure, but I have honest to goodness seen this criticism delivered at certain books—nothing but pages and pages of “and then Alice’s brand of ism influenced the later ism of the very great Bob….”

      • I sometimes refer to the version of the history of economic thought that many students get as designed for cocktail party conversation. What do you know about Ricardo? He had a labor theory of value (not really true, as it happens). What do you know about Smith … .

        When I taught the course, I started out by asking the students to imagine that it was the year 1776, they were grad students getting ready for their prelim exams, and The Wealth of Nations was the latest work in the field.

    • TJ2001 says:

      This is still extremely common in Management Literature – especially the stuff written and published by Consultants.

      When you skip the Consultants writings and go back to the Original Writings by the men who worked thousands of hours grinding through the hard work – you get an extremely different picture of the reality. I myself have been quite confused when reading the original works and then subsequently reading the Management Consultant’s books which supposedly institutionalize the “same thing”…..

      For example – “Toyota Prodution System” by Taiichi Ohno (the original written by a 40-year employee who worked his way up into Toyota’s Executive Ranks) completely different and far more useful than “The Toyota Way” by Jeffery Liker (an American management and productivity consultant).

    • Statismagician says:

      What you learn from reading a philosophy summary text is just that: a [not the, some particular person’s particular one of the set of potential] summary [abbreviated, elided, fudged] of [not the actual subject, but something about] philosophy, not ‘philosophy,’ as though there were a whole thing, or how to philosophize, or much of the meat thereof. If that’s sufficient for your purposes, and generally it is, all well and good – but they are not at all the same thing.

      Translation is a major problem here, especially for the more technically-minded writers (Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, etc.). Since we’re talking about laymen explicitly, I think I can presume limited uptake of the ‘learn Attic Greek, German, and French before trying philosophy’ plan, so we’re stuck with a set of often poorly-translated (‘magnificent’ for Aristotle’s megalopsuches is flatly wrong; related, all Attic Greek grammars which try to use the Latin case system are flatly wrong but that’s what the Brits did, so here we are three centuries later) highly formalized renderings of what are supposed to be persuasive, interesting documents about very important questions. There are a few exceptions; for example, what Joe Sachs has done (most Aristotle, some Plato) is better than any competing translation (fight me, other people entirely too interested in competing translations of Greek philosophy texts).

    • Erusian says:

      I reject the notion you can separate learning about Plato’s works from learning about Plato’s philosophy. You can, of course, get a decent gist from a summary (with, of course, the biases of the summarizer). And you might get a better idea of the effect Plato’s had on modern philosophy at the time the book was written. But these are all second order from Plato himself. Even for things like Hegel, it’s somewhat important to understand exactly how plodding and obscurantist he is. If you read a summary that makes him seem lucid and clear you get an entirely different concept of his ideas.

      Further, secondary sources are well known to have issues and conventional wisdom that may or may not be true buried within them. You often get games of telephone. To take a historical example, I’ve read Stalin’s essay on socialism in one country. Most historians say it argues that the Soviet Union should stop seeking world revolution and instead build up strength within its borders, eschewing world revolution until its strong enough. This is not what it says. That is what Trotsky said the ultimate effect of what the essay advocated would be, and then Trotskyites said that was the real secret purpose of the policy (or even to abandon world revolution altogether). And this then passed as the meaning of the work through western intellectual circles, who changed it further. And ultimately into the history books. There, it only has a vague relation to Stalin’s actual work.

      This is not an isolated incident. It happens all the time.

      If you want a full conception of a work you must read it entirely in the original language and then use commentaries to add context. This is the requirement in any academic context and it should be. Of course, non-academics can usually get through their lives without a full conception of most works. I really think that not speaking dead languages and not reading authors who have no bearing on your life is a completely valid choice.

      But you should not use the fact you’ve read a summary of Plato to argue with an Ancient Greek speaking Plato scholar. Or even someone reading in translation. You should not imagine your understanding is as deep as theirs. And if there were not Plato scholars reading Plato in the original, much would be lost.

      All that said, I agree with you that, if someone is fully modern and wants to learn what is thought of Plato by modern philosophers in the present day, they need not read Plato. They should not imagine they understand Plato though but instead Plato’s part in modern philosophy. Of course, they should not then they are learning about Plato or Platonic philosophy. They are learning more about their own modern world. Which is, of course, valid and important.

    • Viliam says:

      It would seem to me that secondhand explanations of the work of philosophers like Hegel are much more useful and informative for the layman than plodding through obscurantist, esoteric and/or pedantic firsthand books would be.

      Actually, reading the first chapter of Hegel was very useful to me. I realized that this guy was pure bullshit. It’s not that I couldn’t understand the things he said. It’s that I understood the game he was playing. (Stick a few deep-sounding but completely unspecified words together, pretend that it’s as exact as math, and then pretend you are deriving a mathematical proof. No one will be able to point out a mistake, because the word salat you produced is not even wrong. And non-mathematicians will be impressed that you sound like math. At the end, put “therefore” and insert your opinion.)

      I couldn’t get the same knowledge, with the same degree of certainty, from a second-hand source.

      • Seppo says:

        the first chapter of Hegel

        That does sound useful. I’d love to know which of his books you mean!

        • Viliam says:

          That was many years ago; I think it was called “Logic” or something like that.

          • Seppo says:

            Thanks! That would have to have been either The Science of Logic or the Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences (whose first volume is, confusingly, also called The Science of Logic). I haven’t tried seriously to read either. Skimming both, the first one seems to fit your description better.

            (I was curious because I’m currently sort of on the fence as to how much attention to pay to Hegel; good evidence for “none whatsoever” could save me a lot of work!)

    • ilikekittycat says:

      My intuition is that both positions have their place and trying to make a general rule of thumb one way or the other smears out a lot of exceptions.

      There are, e.g., postmodernists, Merleau-Ponty, Heidigger, where you will never extract value from reading them naively even as a fairly intelligent person and basically have to follow one of the canonical “approaches” to understanding them. Lacan is gobbledygook but there are interesting things there if he really said what Zizek explains him as saying. Religious texts are almost all like this. Very old stories are like this, translations/works from very different cultures are like this. You can read Romance of the Three Kingdoms without any of the canonical context, and it might be a good story to you, but you won’t “get” it. These sorts of things, like you say, are better engaged with lucid modern summaries.

      Then there are things where the “court of public opinion” discussion is so insufferable or misguided you really are better going into it naive and reading the original before engaging with everything else. Lots of “high school classics” are like this, you can go insane trying to enjoy Great Gatsby when your teacher wants to dwell on green light across the dock. Lots of political things are like this… the common sense discussions around many political things is frequently shockingly different from what you get from a naive read. If you want to get into, e.g., the French Revolution, America’s Founders, or Smith+Ricardo+Marx, I would strongly suggest a naive readthrough of the primary sources first, because the secondhand explanations are so frequently biased/agenda-driven/path dependent in ways you’ll be able to see through them without specialist knowledge

      If you think of it like the Tom Kuhn theory of science, there are at any one time a great number of books for which development-by-accumulation of accepted critique is working well and most of the wild esoteric critiques are off the mark, and, at the same time, a great number of books where the canonical critical view has become incommensurate with the naive reading (because of any number of contingent historical circumstances) and a reevaluation (paradigm shift) is in order

    • Seppo says:

      Depends on the book, like you say.

      Plato and Aristotle were, I’m told, writing mostly for teenagers new to philosophy; and I’ve found translations of e.g. Plato’s First Alcibiades and Aristotle’s Categories far easier to follow and more interesting than any modern work I’ve read about Plato or Aristotle.

      On the other hand, many other philosophers were writing for their tradition’s equivalent of grad students, and are 100% completely impenetrable to me. In particular:
      – Chlup’s Proclus: An Introduction is far more informative than Proclus’ Elements of Theol