## 1,871 thoughts on “Open Thread 153.25”

1. johan_larson

Here’s a list of countries ranked by GDP per capita, at purchasing power parity. Estimating purchasing power parity is quite hard, so even experts differ. But three different institutions (IMF, World Bank, CIA) rank Ireland in the top ten in the world (4th, 4th, and 7th, respectively.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)_per_capita#Lists_of_countries_and_dependencies

That’s unexpected. For a long long time, Ireland was notable mainly as a source of semi-disposable laborers. Did someone discover a dollar mine in County Kildare?

1. Deiseach

It’s the leprechauns. By judicious management of their gold reserves, they ensure we punch above our weight on global rankings.

More seriously, it’s the huge number of multinationals that we’re dependent upon; bookkeeping jiggery-pokery means the profits temporarily parked in Irish accounts before winging their way to Luxembourg or wherever get recorded as exports for us, and hence contribute to our GDP.

Or something, it’s too fecking complicated for me to understand, the leprechauns make more sense.

1. ec429

the profits temporarily parked in Irish accounts

That money was just resting in their account. /ted

2. johan_larson

Huh. If I compensate for the claimed 62% over-reporting of Irish GDP per capita caused by the tax schemes, that leaves Ireland with an effective GDP per capita (PPP) of $53,000, putting it right between Australia and Canada in the IMF rankings. That makes more sense. But I thought Ireland was even poorer than that, like Poland or Portugal, say. Has Ireland had some sort of economic boom this past generation? 1. A1987dM But I thought Ireland was even poorer than that, like Poland or Portugal, say. Huh, based on what? 1. Deiseach Huh, based on what? Probably our austerity budgets after the 2008 crash. As to how our economy works, I have no idea. Trump wants to bring the American pharma plants home, which if he does Cork will basically shut down and my own brother will be out of a job. We’re supposed to be in a recovery (or we were before the Coronavirus) but mostly the jobs are in Dublin and are going the tech/finance/services way rather than the manufacturing plants way. Again, having tech/finance quarter in Dublin where the FAANGs have outposts probably distorts our figures; if you stripped out all the American and other multinationals I imagine we’d be reliant mainly on agricultural/food business exports and tourism. 2. ana53294 It’s PPP adjusted. Ireland is quite a bit more affordable, at least in housing, and that’s a huge part of the cost of living. Ireland has South European prices while having North European salaries. 1. Deiseach Ireland is quite a bit more affordable, at least in housing, and that’s a huge part of the cost of living. Well, the private sector rental crisis wishes to disagree with you 🙂 We had South European prices after the bubble burst and the global crash of 2008 meant that house prices fell through the floor. They’re starting to creep right back up again, though. Rent seems to be shooting up; again, it’s worst in Dublin because that’s where the jobs paying North European salaries are, there aren’t enough houses/apartments and landlords are seeing that they can start hiking up rents to take a good chunk of those salaries. 3. baconbits9 But I thought Ireland was even poorer than that, like Poland or Portugal, say. Has Ireland had some sort of economic boom this past generation? Well yes. Looking at PPP per capita numbers Ireland was ~$21,500 in 1990 and the UK was at $26,500, so while they weren’t a developing nation by any stretch they were a laggard in the western world and they have caught up more or less in the last 30 years. One reason you might think of them as poorer than they are though is that their population growth has been low and starting from a relatively low base. Their population hasn’t even been Dublin (sorry, not sorry) over the last 60 years so they haven’t gotten that double whammy of international attention from increasing per capita wealth and also having a large surge in population. 2. keaswaran Ireland underwent an economic boom, at least in part driven by a population that mostly speaks English and has enough cultural ties to several other rich countries for this population to get educational and employment opportunities, and it takes time for cost of living to catch up. 1. ec429 Rents and quasi-rents? When they rise (which doesn’t happen immediately because of lease durations etc.), the “more stuff” that was previously concentrated on the newly productive is now spread out to include the owners of the inelastic resources they were using. So it doesn’t catch all the way up, but does rebound a bit; from the perspective of the non-rent-collecting labourer, some of their gains are reversed. 1. DavidFriedman That results in a rise in the income going to the owners of those resources. So as long as they are also Irish, real income per capita has gone up by as much as it would have without the effect, just distributed a little differently. So your statement about the non-rent-collecting laborer is correct, but balanced by an increase in real income to the rent collecting non-laborer. 2. ec429 So as long as they are also Irish, real income per capita has gone up by as much as it would have without the effect, just distributed a little differently. Agreed. I was suggesting an answer to “why would [keaswaran] expect the cost of living to catch up?”, not arguing that that affects GDP-PPP in the way implied. I could have been a lot clearer about that, sorry. 3. LesHapablap @DavidFriedman, There’s some economic principle similar to this which I’ve been trying to remember the name of. It’s named after some guy. It states that if real estate is constricted by either geography or regulation, then the fruits of economic growth end up going to the landowners. Do you know what I’m talking about? 2. ana53294 Another Elon Musk tweet. He seems to be suing Alameda county to reopen the Freemont factory, and is threatening to move to Texas. Actually, moving to Texas seems like a wise move: they received most of the subsidies they could from California, and now they have to become a mature company, and start building more cars. While moving the factory may not be wise, moving the headquarters seems quite a good move. How many other businesses will move out of California? Will states start poaching businesses out of states that have been stricter with the lockdown? 1. Athos There has been a large amount of California -> Texas migration for years now, especially to places like Austin that have a rapidly growing presence of technology companies. This is largely due to the lower cost of living here in Texas and the lighter tax burden, which benefits both employer and employee. The tech startup environment obviously doesn’t exist in Texas like it does in Silicon Valley, but that’s less of an issue for well-established players like Apple, who just began construction of a$1B campus in Austin.

That said, most CEOs aren’t nearly as hasty as Elon Musk. I would expect taxes and regulations to be a much larger driving factor than a temporary lockdown with an indefinite end. This could be the straw that breaks the camels back for some companies, but Elon seems to be making this decision based at least in part on principle, as evidenced by his tweets over the last couple weeks.

1. Matt M

That said, if you’re just looking for low taxes, cheap labor, and a favorable regulatory environment, even Texas is probably too progressive at this point. You could do better on all three attributes by going to Alabama or Mississippi or somewhere like that.

Of course your talent pool would suffer more, but hey…

1. Wency

Just want to point out that Huntsville, AL is a growing technology center, particularly for rocketry, aerospace, and defense, but there are tons of software and electrical engineers — one of the highest densities of engineers in the country. Blue Origin is set to start building its rocket engines there.

It’s not Silicon Valley or even Austin, but you could do a lot worse when it comes to talent pool.

2. keaswaran

Is there any evidence that lockdown policies at headquarters offices anywhere are stricter than what corporate internal governance would choose?

3. Uribe

Whenever there’s a recession I hear economists talk about a permanent loss in growth, presumably meaning that even though growth will eventually return to normal, not all of the loss will be made up for.

Is this true? Since long-term growth depends on productivity increases , technological innovation is key, and perhaps economic crises drive as much if not more innovation than the good times do. It’s well known that a lot of technological innovation occurred in the 30s despite not being put to use in the economy until the post-war era.

It even makes sense on some intuitive level that hardship could be a source of innovation.

What makes most sense to believe?

Occam suggests permanent loss. It’s a loss after all, and only by adding complexity to the model you can get to overcompensation. So the question is: why wouldn’t the loss be permanent?

And to try my hand at an answer: I see this pandemic as a chance to reset things. Stop the social and institutional entropy growth and maybe cut it back a bit. Make culture war less relevant. Put some topics into perspective. And yeah, to be perfectly honest: make my side of the CW gain ground, or at least make the other side lose some (Greta who?)

Economic-wise… bankruptcy is not not necessarily bad for society. Goods are not destroyed per se – just the entrepreneurs and investors, which is kinda in their job description. And even them – they rarely end up in personal bankruptcy, so while it’s a very very shitty situation, they can always start from scratch.

On the other hand, having whole sectors decimated and repopulated in a couple of years may be a chance to overcome local maximum issues. We keep expecting ubiquitous WFH for… 10? 20? 30 years? Nope, exactly 50 years.

I wonder how gig economy will survive this. On one hand, uber is in a pretty shitty situation. On another, it’s much more flexible: uber drivers can do deliveries by just installing a couple of extra apps, and there’s no looking for job process when things pick up – things just pick up. Plus they’re freer to arrange their time – maybe 3-4 hours a day for uber+deliveries when things are moving, and something completely different the rest of the day.

2. Thomas Jorgensen

Long periods of unemployment makes you less employable and hurts your long term wage prospects. This holds even when huge parts of the population is unemployed for structural reasons.

Conversely, some random “looser” getting a job for half a year because the economy is so overheated that “You are a warm body, that showed up” will suffice for getting hired can kick that looser into a positive spiral because they can now afford to eat right, buy clothes that is respectable, and get into the habit of being productive.

Hysterisis is very, very real, and the fact western central banks er on the side of excessive restraint has done enormous, lasting, and catastrophic amounts of damage to the west. Ditto politicians who are in love with austerity.

3. John Schilling

The first-order version: If you were expecting to spend the year Making Stuff, and you instead spent the first three months Watching Stuff Rust, you will forever more have less Stuff than you otherwise would have. By somewhat over three months’ production.

The ideal that second-order effects are going to wholly compensate for this is speculative and needs to be proven. Also needs a plausible mechanism at the level of actual Stuff production. Are you expecting everyone to work fifty-hour weeks for the rest of the year to make up for the early shortfall, or what?

1. Wrong Species

This is reminiscent of the argument that socialists used to make: Capitalism produces a lot of waste because you have different companies producing the same product, therefore socialism is better economics. Of course, they were wrong but it did make intuitive sense. If you look at the last hundred years of the American economy, you notice a correlation between reduced frequency of recessions and decreased productivity. Of course, the null hypothesis should be that they are unrelated but there is some evidence in favor of his hypothesis.

2. LesHapablap

If you have a certain amount of wealth that grows at 2% per year, and you spend half of it on something, then from then on you will have half the amount of wealth you would have otherwise. So in 10 centuries you’d have half the wealth you would have otherwise. Which at 2% growth would be about 20 years behind.

So when you say 3 months’ production, that’s true, but in 10 centuries we’ll be behind by year 10020 AD’s version of 3 months production.

That’s all very spherical cow of course

4. Wrong Species

If that was true, then shouldn’t we have seen increased productivity after the last recession?

5. eigenmoon

The very concept of permanent loss only makes sense if you believe (like Keynesians) in a world with a permanently booming economy. Then you can compare the present world to the Keynesian paradise.

However, the Keynesians offer only one explanation as to why their paradise has failed to materialize yet, and that is: not enough money was printed (see Thomas Jorgensen’s comment). I don’t find that convincing, to say the least.

1. Loriot

I would be very surprised if that description had much if anything in common with actual Keynesian belief.

1. eigenmoon

I feel like Keynesians are somewhat like feminists in the sense that Scott wrote:

We will now perform an ancient and traditional Slate Star Codex ritual, where I point out something I don’t like about feminism, then everyone tells me in the comments that no feminist would ever do that and it’s a dirty rotten straw man. And then I link to two thousand five hundred examples of feminists doing exactly that, and then everyone in the comments No-True-Scotsmans me by saying that that doesn’t count and those people aren’t representative of feminists. And then I find two thousand five hundred more examples of the most prominent and well-respected feminists around saying exactly the same thing, and then my commenters tell me that they don’t count either and the only true feminist lives in the Platonic Realm and expresses herself through patterns of dewdrops on the leaves in autumn and everything she says is unspeakably kind and beautiful and any time I try to make a point about feminism using examples from anyone other than her I am a dirty rotten motivated-arguer trying to weak-man the movement for my personal gain.

I feel that way because I have already played that game with Hoopdawg the Krugman fan. I’ll let you decide the score. Of course if I can’t figure out what one particular Keynesian believes, then it’s entirely hopeless for me to figure out Keynesian beliefs in general.

1. acymetric

Was the comment section really filled with people defending feminism in 2014? Times sure have changed.

2. Hoopdawg

Hoopdawg the Krugman fan

For the record, I am neither a Keynesian (much less a New Keynesian) nor a Krugman fan, and frankly I find any insinuations to the contrary offensive.

Also for the record, what Scott described and our earlier interaction are incomparable. In Scott’s account, people who try to minimize the impact of the quotations still agree with him about their literal contents, their meaning, and even their severity. Nobody comes over and tells him “you are misrepresenting what’s being said on a fundamental level, in a manner transparent to everyone with basic reading comprehension”.

3. eigenmoon

@Hoopdawg

For calling you a Krugman fan, I apologize. It was an easy mistake to make, given the fervor with which you rushed to his defense.

As for your insinuations about everyone with basic reading comprehension, I – as you can see – am perfectly willing to display our encounter as an example of weird stuff that happens when you talk about Keynesians and let the readers decide for themselves.

2. DavidFriedman

However, the Keynesians offer only one explanation as to why their paradise has failed to materialize yet, and that is: not enough money was printed

I’m not sure how you are defining “Keynesian,” but back when it was the dominant school of thought, followers of Keynes rejected the idea that increasing the money supply would gets us out of a depression — that’s the “pushing on a string” metaphor. Their prescription was government deficits financed by borrowing.

1. eigenmoon

Come to think of it, I’d define Keynesians as clowns hired by a criminal gang that controls a territory. The clowns’ job is to convince the population that it’s awesome for the society to have a gang of burglars, because the burglars would take money that would otherwise lay unused and immediately spend it in the pub, thereby accelerating the economy. While we’re at it, I would define MMTists as upgraded clowns that additionally tell the population how great it would be for the economy if the criminal gang would also counterfeit money in addition to burglaries.

This is of course a political outlook on Keynesianism, so I apologize to anybody who honestly believed in it. In this particular conversation, I’ve recognized the idea that the pendulum of booms and busts should be stopped in the “boom” position as trademark Keynesian. A related very Keynesian idea is in Thomas Jorgensen’s comment: hiring a lazy and incompetent worker is a win for efficiency because it gives him a chance to improve.

In my view this is obviously wrong: the employer would benefit from (and would pay for) more accurate information about his workers’ performance, and since in this scenario he’s not getting it, the situation is inefficient. You know better than me what this view is called, but I’d guess it’s Austrian.

1. Thomas Jorgensen

Oh, it is not ideal for the company, but since no modern society is going to let the lad(ette) starve to death, getting them straightened out – and this absolutely will happen to a fairly high percentage of them – is a clear win for the nation.

Conversely, involuntary unemployment will turn productive workers into “incompetent lazy bums” in a shockingly short period of time. Productivity is not a fixed inherent characteristic, it is a set of skills and habits, which can be both learned and eroded.

2. eigenmoon

@Thomas Jorgensen

Productivity also erodes when people around the worker are paid for doing little to no work. For example:

The workman made the following simple calculation, and he made it aloud: ‘The state gives me 30 sous for doing nothing, it pays me 40 sous when I work, so I need only work to the extent of 10 sous.’

3. Loriot

Come to think of it, I’d define Keynesians as clowns hired by a criminal gang that controls a territory.

Less of this please.

3. Thomas Jorgensen

Yes. That. Seriously. If you have unemployment and low inflation both, you are absolutely not printing enough money, and are ritualistically cutting the nose of your entire economy to project the appearance of virtue.

1. DavidFriedman

That sounds as though you believe that the Phillips Curve represents actual causation, that there is a long term tradeoff between inflation rate and unemployment rate. That was accepted economics sixty years ago, but I don’t think it is now, the experiment having been done and the error explained.

1. Thomas Jorgensen

Not exactly. Monetary flow is the upper bound on trade – that is, beneficial exchanges only happen if there is enough liquidity in the system to facilitate them. This means if money supply is not growing, the economy can not grow.(yada yada monetary velocity, yada yada,. Velocity cannot infinitely increase, so irrelevant to theory, even if very relevant to any central banker doing practical implementation) Technically, if you get the monetary expansion exactly right, you get full actualization of the real economy without inflation.

But every time you err low, you are strangling real growth. So in practice, being inflation phobic is terrible economic policy.

And the “disproof” of this has an other name. I like to refer to it as the great Opec Heist. The cartel imposed enormous rents on the west, which showed up as inflation. The “lessons” learned from that event were damn well wrong.

2. DavidFriedman

This means if money supply is not growing, the economy can not grow.

That assumes that prices are frozen. With zero economic growth and a reasonably flexible economy, the nominal money supply is fixed but the real money supply grows as prices decline.

In the same way in the other direction, increasing the money supply faster than economic growth increases the demand for money doesn’t make economic growth faster. Prices go up, so the real money supply is growing at the same rate as economic growth.

3. Thomas Jorgensen

But as a matter of empirical fact, prices damn well are frozen in the downward direction. Getting enough deflation going to expand the monetary supply even a tiny bit takes vast under supply of money, and deflation has pernicious effects on everything, besides.

Sure, you can expand the base too much, and get inflation. The problem is that we, as a civilization, have pretty consistently not been doing that. Decades of near zero inflation.

How likely, exactly, do you really think it is that this is because central banks have been riding the knife edge of exactly sufficient expansion?

As opposed to the much less super human competence assuming explanation that they have consistently been overly hawkish and leaving real growth on the floor?

4. eigenmoon

@Thomas Jorgensen

much less super human competence assuming explanation that they have consistently been overly hawkish

How about a third explanation: central banks have printed money like crazy with little to no restraints but printing money doesn’t automatically cause inflation, because the more people rearrange their activities from doing useful stuff to catching the sweet sweet stimulus, the more damaged the economy becomes?

5. Thomas Jorgensen

Think about what you just wrote. You just said that damaging the economy – that is, reducing real output – while increasing the money supply will somehow result in reduced inflation. You can see the basic flaw in that logic, right?

6. eigenmoon

@Thomas Jorgensen
If money velocity goes down, you could see reduced output and expanding money supply and reduced inflation, no?

4. Iago the Yerfdog

Since a number of folks here are knowledgeable about economics, I have a question about the state of the discipline in microeconomics vs. macroeconomics.

My understanding is that in macroeconomics there are a bunch of different schools of thought with varying degrees of overlap in how they think about macroeconomic issues. I’m inclined to the cynical view that more or less whatever conclusion you want to come to, there’s a macro school to back you up.

On the other hand, there don’t seem to be schools of microeconomic theory. Disagreements in micro seem to be about relatively obscure or technical stuff. I’m aware that Austrians reject indifference curves and various other methods for philosophical reasons, but I’m not aware that they draw radically different microeconomic conclusions from these differences. (Maybe Marxists differ more on micro issues?)

Is this about right?

1. DavidFriedman

That way I like to put it is that a course in macro is a tour of either a cemetery or a construction site.

But to be fair, I don’t do macro, so may be a biased judge.

2. AlesZiegler

I think you are correct that there is, let’s say, higher degree of consensus in micro vs macro. But that consensus is only about sort of basic stuff on how markets, on the fundamental level, work. When you go deeper on things like microeconomic effects of various types of taxation or environmental economics, level of consensus rapidly deteriorates on a level seen in macro.

(disclaimer: I am not a professional economist, just an interested observer of the field)

1. Iago the Yerfdog

Do these differences in opinion tend to correlate with affiliation with the different macro schools? If so, that would explain why you don’t see different schools of microeconomics; they’d be redundant.

1. AlesZiegler

Most honest answer is that I am not sure. But in general, economists are so specialized that if somebody is, let´s say, focusing on environmental economics, he does not do a macro, so it is not readily possible to slot him into particular macroeconomic “school”.

But everything correlates with politics. Perhaps economists arrived at their political opinions by researching what is “optimal policy”, but I dont think so. It is imho the other way around. Economists tend to do research that confirms their preexisting political opinions. Like everyone.

1. DavidFriedman

Economists tend to do research that confirms their preexisting political opinions.

There is some of that, but some positions are easier to support with economic arguments than others. So the political position of economists comes out of a tension between what they want to believe for ideological/social pressure reasons and what they think they can make good arguments for.

To take two examples, economists, whether on the left or right, are generally pro-free trade. That’s because the usual arguments against it depend on not understanding the relevant economics. It’s possible to make arguments against free trade that don’t depend on that, but it’s harder.

Economists are much more likely to be critical of minimum wage laws and rent control than other academics, although not as likely as I think they should be.

It isn’t quite the same issue, but economists are more likely to be libertarians than other academics are, although again not nearly as likely as I would like them to be. The strongest argument against the libertarian position is based on the inability to understand decentralized coordination, and understanding that is part of understanding basic price theory. There are other arguments that don’t depend on that, and many economists make them, but the result is to make a position that is very uncommon among social scientists in general fairly common among economists.

Ideological libertarians tend not to realize that, because they observe that there are lots of economists who support political positions they disagree with and make economic arguments for them, which is true. But academics, social scientists in particular, are heavily biased towards the left, and economists are not. And extreme libertarian academics are, in my experience, more likely to be economists than in any other field.

Of course, in that case, my sample may be a biased one.

5. Matt M

Has anyone else considered purchasing a cheap prepaid burner phone for the purposes of potentially evading a track and trace system?

Putting aside the moral dimension of whether it’s appropriate or not, would it really be that simple? They just ask for a phone number and if you give them a working one that stays in your house, they’re satisfied you’re isolating as required?

1. Well...

Who is “they” in this scenario? Because some “they”s might track you in a more sophisticated way than others.

1. Matt M

Good question. Hell if I know. Who would be in charge of this? Local health authorities with the assistance of local law enforcement, I assume?

2. acymetric

They just ask for a phone number and if you give them a working one that stays in your house, they’re satisfied you’re isolating as required?

I’m pretty sure that isn’t what track and trace is, but even if it was this almost certainly wouldn’t work. Beyond the fact that they can probably figure out that isn’t your “real” phone number, all they have to do to short circuit this is random phone check ins during the day.

3. ana53294

Unless you switch it off at home, they’ll be able to detect that the burner seems to be living in your home.

1. Matt M

Because “living in your home” is exactly what they’re demanding/what you and your phone are supposed to be doing at such a time?

1. Matt M

I want them to think/know the burner is me.

I don’t want them monitoring my real phone.

4. AG

Why do you need to take your phone with you on these covert outings? Just leave the thing at home.

1. Matt M

Because I am a normal western consumer who cannot be apart from his smartphone for more than a few seconds without experiencing physical pain?

Mainly it’s got my music on it, which makes driving 100x more enjoyable.

1. John Schilling

iPods are still a thing. Furthermore, the tree of liberty requires refreshment not only with the blood of patriots and tyrants, but also the sweet, sweet tears of the 21st-century consumer deprived for a while from his smartphone.

1. AG

Yeah, I have a separate music player. The thought of draining my phone battery on something as frivolous as music when I could have a dedicated device with much, much, better battery life makes me twitch.

I do sympathize with bringing a phone on errands, as I can easily bring up something to read when standing in line for anything, which you can’t always do with a book.

2. A1987dM

@AG: Does listening to music through earphones with your display off except when switching songs actually drain non-negligibly more battery than phone stand-by, though?

2. keaswaran

My understanding is that most places using these phone apps for tracing require you to present a phone with a green app rating in order to engage in commercial transactions.

5. BBA

Will you be taking the license plates off your car too? Cameras with plate recognition are already widely deployed, I’d assume they’d get roped into whatever tracking regime gets imposed.

6. Chevalier Mal Fet

Some people in Korea have tried this to evade quarantine and no, it doesn’t work – they check up to make sure that you are actually with your phone. Several foreigners have been caught and deported for attempting this.

6. -James-

TLDR:
– New Zealand have 0 covid 19 cases today (9/5/20) so are close to eliminating covid in the country.
– Some scientists have formed an independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) in the UK, mirroring the official government one, in an effort to try and make the official one behave better
– The president of Brazil is being an ass about coronavirus, which is getting pretty bad in Brazil (“So what?” he says)

Which made me think – to what extent does and can the government in one country affect the government in others? And to what extent do governments really have “culture” which alters the culture of the country, or does this relationship only go people –> leaders?

A few things struck me from the article about New Zealand eliminating coronavirus, but one of the main ones was that there might be talks with Australia about opening transport only between those two countries as both of them have went hard on covid elimination strategies (NZ explicitly, Auz just hard lockdown quite early). Of course, the two of them could also join into some relationship with Hong Kong which has also done really well. The ridiculous conclusion of this pattern would be some kind of fractioned world where there is a network of countries who have covid under control, and a network who don’t, and never the twain shall meet (without quarantine procedures or whatever).

Some possible implications of something silly like this:
– It seems likely that the “clean” countries might be better off with their trade and citizen happiness, assuming the “dirty” countries don’t just say “screw it” and share covid between them.
– The fact that some countries can trade and others can’t puts an extra stick up the ass of countries who are failing to control corona, and might actually make governments try harder to join the “clean” club, both now and in future pandemics.
– This says that good government might be catching, at least where infectious disease is concerned.
– It’s kind of interesting to me that “ability to join the selectively open borders club” impresses me as something which would get governments trying to imitate good practice elsewhere more than “having fewer deaths” or “able to go outside normally” – I haven’t entirely got an argument why this would be, apart from some kind of wanna-be-in-the-ingroup psychology, and I might be completely wrong about it. (Thoughts?)

This peer pressure in governments links to the other two articles in different ways. The SAGE scientists are basically trying to peer pressure the UK government into being better, which might work? Not too much to say I just like seeing something done well tbh.

RE the Brazil article – now that Is a politician behaving badly. How much does that kind of attitude legitimise being an ass in the country? How much in other countries? I’ve seen some opinion pieces saying that people in parts of America seem meaner and ore callous than one might expect re coronavirus, and pinning this on Trump’s influence – though the same people were probably surprised Trump was elected, so it is still difficult to sort out the mean American-Trump causality paradox. But beyond this, are other politicians around the world getting more… Trump-ish because of Trump, in the same way we can hope the UK SAGE might get more transparent, or other governments more New Zealand-ish? How much is there a global culture of government or a peer pressure effect in governments?

1. -James-

Not a huge amount, I think. The main thing is transparency – there’s been some drama over the fact that who is on the official group was never made public, and neither were the details of its meetings and advice. This follows people being unhappy with the UK’s initial “mitigation” coronavirus strategy, where they said they were “following the best science”, but wouldn’t say exactly who or what they were reading/listening to. The independent group might not be better at what they are doing but they are certainly doing well at being more open.

If they take the privacy seriously, there most definitely are a few. What are the chances you pick two 10 person groups of the most qualified people and have no overlap?

But in practice they probably just politely refuse, probably saying in private why.

2. John Schilling

It seems likely that the “clean” countries might be better off with their trade and citizen happiness, assuming the “dirty” countries don’t just say “screw it” and share covid between them.

I’m extremely skeptical on this point. The United States isn’t going to be one of the “clean” countries. The EU isn’t going to be “clean”. Neither is the UK. China isn’t credibly going to be “clean”, and Hong Kong isn’t going to be able to seal its border with China. South Korea might be “clean”, but it’s not likely to survive saying “We want nothing to do with you dirty, filthy American!”. By the time you exclude all the “dirty” countries, you’ve excluded almost all of the world’s markets and almost all of the world’s heavy industry, you’re basically stuck with a bunch of low-population island nations with limited industrial capabilities. A union of hermit kingdoms, isn’t going to be that much better off than a single hermit kingdom.

The nations which adapt to endemic COVID-19, are almost certainly going to be richer than the nations which seal their borders against it. Ideally we get a decent vaccine and don’t have to make the choice, but if we have to chose I’m staying on this side of the border.

The fact that some countries can trade and others can’t puts an extra stick up the ass of countries who are failing to control corona, and might actually make governments try harder to join the “clean” club, both now and in future pandemics.

So, the plan is for the Kiwis, etc, to present themselves to the world as a people who have developed a superior way of living, based on a code of purity and cleanliness, which has made them rich and prosperous, but from which outsiders are kept at a distance because of their uncleanliness. And you think this plan is going to result in everyone else saying “These people have clearly Got It Right and we should be ashamed of ourselves and strive to be more like them”?

Because, I seem to recall another group adopting that plan, and they kind of got the opposite reaction from most of the world.

1. LesHapablap

A couple notes:

We (NZ) can still trade with ‘dirty’ countries. It’s just going to be more expensive and almost all trade requires face-to-face meetings at some point, so it will eventually wane.

NZ government has committed to having the borders closed (except to Aus) until there is a vaccine. They invested a lot in this approach so it will be politically hard for them to back down from it if there is an effective treatment developed, but possible I guess.

There is no way that the clean countries will be better off. This will be glaringly obvious in three months when all the ‘dirty’ countries are back to business as usual and NZ is stuck by itself. The economic hit to NZ is going to be absolutely massive. In a month the 12-week wage subsidies are going to run out and unemployment is going to skyrocket.

There is hope here that the ‘clean’ NZ image and Jacinda Ardern are doing some good advertising for NZ which may help tourism once the border is open. But it is all moot until a vaccine is developed.

There aren’t that many clean countries to open borders with. Taiwan is out because it would piss off China. Hong Kong is possible but they’ll be facing protests again once the lockdown is done there. Australia still has quite a few cases. Singapore has gotten a resurgence of cases.

And as John points out, if western countries actually tried to eradicate the disease, it is not possible at this point without 6 months+ of really serious lockdowns, way more serious than anything the US has had. That would mean -40% GDP for 6+ months and you’d have rioting in the streets long before the vaccine ever got eradicated.

But let’s say you’re right and the US and Europe were clean: third world countries cannot afford lockdowns, even though some of them are trying. So that means you’d cut off the third world, creating humanitarian disasters so bad that the west will forever be blamed for committing genocide on developing nations in order to save themselves.

1. DavidFriedman

and almost all trade requires face-to-face meetings at some point

Do you think that’s still true in a networked world?

Refusing to let foreigners in wrecks the tourist industry, but I don’t see why it should have a large effect on trade.

1. John Schilling

Refusing to let foreigners in wrecks the tourist industry, but I don’t see why it should have a large effect on trade.

The United States Air Space Force buys a lot of rocket engines for its satellites from foreign suppliers. And, apropos New Zealand, it’s talking about buying Electron launch vehicles for some of those satellites. But not a single engine will be bought without me or one of my people physically inspecting the production facility and witnessing the tests. If that can’t happen, we’ll buy from someone more accommodating.

People don’t make billion-dollar deals, and rarely even million-dollar deals, by clicking “buy” on Amazon or Alibaba or even having a Zoom chat with the other guy’s sales department. If they can’t meet the people and inspect the goods, they’ll take their business elsewhere.

@John Schilling

While the size of some deals is indeed large, it could be that the total trade in toilet paper is about as big … actually googled, and it’s about 16 billion for Europe only. And you can get by with samples and quality controls.

Also I think that for strategic deals they’re likely to bend, and just test you a couple of times. Possibly keep you in a 24 hour quarantine between tests.

Which leaves the middle ground, when you want to build a new toilet paper factory to your specs. This could also be accommodated somehow, or just postponed a couple of years.

3. LesHapablap

It is eventually required. Just as an example, my ex’s brother used to import e-cigarettes and airsoft stuff from China to Japan. So, small goods, not terribly complex or anything. He needed to travel to China regularly, sometimes urgently like when one of his products exploded. He also needed to go to trade shows in other countries, mostly the US.

It could obviously be done without the face-to-face, but there’s an extra cost/risk to doing so which is passed onto the consumer. In some cases the extra cost or risk would not make it viable or competitive.

@LesHapablap

There’s need and need. If going vs not not going means a sizable income or risk difference for the business, you need to go.

There’s also a pretty big equalizer in everybody not being able to go. For example – no more trade shows. And no more relative risk vs the competition.

5. albatross11

If NZ has the virus under control, they can still people in from countries with circulating virus, they just need to require some testing. For example, require people coming into NZ to have two consecutive tests (a week before departure and at arrival) that show negative for viral RNA. that captures the overwhelming majority of cases. That plus some contact-tracing as needed and maybe asking visitors to wear masks and avoid big groups of people for their first week there (when they get one more RNA test) would get the probability of bringing the virus into the country acceptably low.

6. LesHapablap

@albatross11,

That certainly seems possible but the NZ government or media hasn’t proposed anything like that. They seem pretty adamant about the 14 day quarantine.

I think this will all be different in two months however when the shit really hits the fan. And some in our government (Foreign Affairs minister Winston Peters of the NZ First party) really want NZ to be entirely self sufficient with little trade or export, and are actively trying to piss of China at the moment to make that dream come true:

3. eric23

Well then, at least we know that they can go back to absolute normal for a decent period of time (except international travel).

4. albatross11

If you have workable fast testing and some trustworthy partners in other countriea, you can probably allow outsiders to come to NZ with minimal added risk. Require a COVID test a week before coming to NZ, and another as you get off the plane in NZ. Give every traveler another one as they leave, or two weeks after they arrive if they’re staying longer than two weeks.

5. albatross11

Politics has plenty of pathologies, so you can imagine them tainting the selection or operation of the advisory committee.

1. Deiseach

Also, “Lord of the Flies” was written as a response to “The Coral Island” (kind of like Philip Pullman deciding he would write the anti-Narnia in “His Dark Materials”).

So it’s very deliberately inverting the story of the older novel, and that’s possibly why it’s so grimdark. It may or may not have pretensions to psychological realism, but it is very much working to “if the original said they all worked happily together, this must be the opposite”.

(Side note: I read this and the sequel The Gorilla Hunters back when I was a kid, and the contrast between the 19th century view of the gorilla – hideous violent man-killing monster! – and the modern view, probably heavily influenced by David Attenborough, of ‘gentle noble creature’ is striking).

1. Lambert

Also he was writing shortly after the war and the holocaust and the Dresden and Stalin and the beginning of the threat of nuclear war (which is what had happened in-universe).

It was never really about children.

1. John Schilling

The control group, composed of middle-aged English Lit professors, was dead within the week.

See also “In the Heart of the Sea”, preferably the book about the aftermath of a shipwreck rather than the movie that thought it was the True Story of Moby Dick(tm), for another outcome. Core group of veteran whalers with relevant skills and strong social ties, mostly came through OK. Newbies hired just for the one voyage, mostly got eaten by the core group. Well, mostly-ish, I really don’t want to go back and tally the disposition of fates

1. matkoniecz

The control group, composed of middle-aged English Lit professors, was dead within the week.

Is it referring a real story or is it a joke?

2. Lillian

See also “In the Heart of the Sea”, preferably the book about the aftermath of a shipwreck rather than the movie that thought it was the True Story of Moby Dick(tm), for another outcome. Core group of veteran whalers with relevant skills and strong social ties, mostly came through OK. Newbies hired just for the one voyage, mostly got eaten by the core group. Well, mostly-ish, I really don’t want to go back and tally the disposition of fates.

I don’t think your account there is an accurate representation of what happened.

The 20 crewmembers of the striken whaleship Essex set out in three whaleboats on November 22nd of 1820, two days after the ship was wrecked by a bull sperm whale. They had salvaged what they could from the wreck and rigged the boats with makeshift masts and sails. The boats were commanded by Captain Pollard, First Mate Chase, and Second Mate Joy. On December 20th, they arrive on the deserted Henderson island, where they restocked on supplies. Three men, the three crewmen who were not Nantucket natives in fact, elected to stay behind. They were rescued on April 5th of 1821 by an Australian transport that had been asked to look for them and taken to Port Jackson, Australia.

On December 27th, the remaining 17 men resumed their journey on the three whaleboats. On January 10th they had their first death, Second Mate Joy, whom they buried at sea. On January 11th the boat under the command of First Mate Chase separated from the other two with five men aboard. One of them died on January 18th and was also buried at sea. Another died February 8th, but his body was kept and cannibalized. The remaining three men, First Mate Chase, Boaststeerer Lawrence, and Cabin Boy Nickerson were rescued by a British whaler on February 18.

Of the remaining two boats, Joy’s boat was now commanded by Boatsteersman Hendricks with two other men aboard: a sailor and the ship’s steward. Captain Pollard’s boat had seven other men, of whom four died between January 20th and January 28th, with all bodies kept for food. On the 28th Hendricks’ boat became separated, and would eventually wash up on Ducie Island with three skeletons aboard.

On February 1st the men on Pollard’s boat drew lots, and the Captain’s first cousin, the unfortunately named Owen Coffin, got the black mark. He was shot and devoured. On February 11th another man died and was also devoured by the remaining two survivors: Captain Pollard and a sailor named Ramsdell. On the 23rd they were rescued by a Nantucket whaler, 93 days after the wreck of the Essex.

It is very likely all 20 men would have made it if they had sailed for Tahiti as Captain Pollard initially intended, but the crew objected because they feared the island was inhabited by cannibals. Instead only 8 men survived, five of them after cannibalising seven others.

2. matkoniecz

Also

Later, when they got to the top of the island, they found an ancient volcanic crater, where people had lived a century before. There the boys discovered wild taro, bananas and chickens (which had been reproducing for the 100 years since the last Tongans had left).

what is a ridiculously good luck.

3. matkoniecz

Six schoolboys were shipwrecked on a tropical island for 15 months.. They cooperated and thrived.

Thanks for linking it, very interesting story!

Why is there such an appetite for stories like Lord of the Flies?

So people can say “maybe I am wretched, but not as wretched as this fictional people”?

4. albatross11

Are there many cases like this? Thinking about it, it seems like all my intuitions about how this is likely to work out are based on fiction I’ve read, and so tells me a lot more about what the authors of the fiction believed than what’s actually likely to happen.

5. Atlas

Michael Levin in Why Race Matters:

Smudging the line between innate and socially inculcated behavior challenges the ancient conception of norms, or “culture,” as Reason’s governor on “natural” impulses. Plato and Kant thought pure reason revealed a noumenal realm beyond man’s empirical character; Hobbes thought instrumental reason delivered man from his natural state of war; romantics like Mark Twain invert the relation, opposing the innocence of nature to the corrupt artifices of society. Against all such views bio-environmental determinism maintains that socialization expresses genes just as surely as do presocial drives like sex or hunger. Nurture is natural. An innate tendency to follow a norm can be expected to correlate with an innate tendency to train the young to follow it, and an innate tendency in the young to respond positively to the training, for all these tendencies are apt to be adaptive when any one of them is. Where cooperation (say) increases inclusive fitness, so does training one’s children to cooperate, and so does the responsiveness of one’s children to training in cooperation. Training and its positive uptake enhance the cooperativeness, hence the inclusive fitness, of one’s offspring, and what enhances one’s offspring’s inclusive fitness enhances one’s own. In an environment favoring cooperation, that genotype is likeliest to spread half-copies of itself which programs cooperation, the training of offspring in cooperation, and offspring who cooperate when trained. Instinctual drives emerge as passive genetic correlates of socialization.29 Training is no epiphenomenon; it does modify instinctual drives. But it is a collateral effect of the genes that produce the drives it modifies, with the causal relations posited as in Figure 6.2.

The idea that morality transcends nature comes of asking what unsocialized humans would be like, a question that assumes there could be unsocialized humans. This assumption is invited by the occasional feral child, who indeed acts like an animal, and by the ways in which differences in socialization contribute to between-culture differences. Since training obviously counts for something it is natural to extrapolate, to ask what would happen absent all training—if, in effect, every child were feral. The wholly asocial behavior then imagined, usually something out of Lord of the Flies, becomes the baseline for what is “natural,” and the gap between this baseline and actual human conduct is interpreted as the contribution of “culture.” If training is a correlate of innate drives, however, socialization of some sort must emerge in all human groups. The evolutionary pressures that selected wildness in children also selected for adult impulses to curb it. The best evidence for this is the fact that socialization to codes of conduct has emerged in every human society without the intervention of any outside agency. The (unnaturally all male) children in Lord of the Flies will grow up to resemble the adults who rescue them, or they won’t grow up at all.

The hypothesis of a hypothetical question must be consistent with the laws of nature. The need for this “cotenability” condition (Goodman 1966) is clear a propos such a question as, “How fast could a 50-foot-tall man run?” On one level the question is intelligible: a normally proportioned, ambulatory giant violates no rules of logic and is easy to visualize. But according to biomechanics, the science of the movement of creatures of various shapes and sizes, a giant cannot exist. He would collapse under his own weight. So the question “How fast could a man run were he 50 feet tall?” is ill-defined after all, suspending as it does the very laws needed to answer it. Likewise, the question, “What would a world of unsocialized human beings be like?” suspends the very evolutionary laws that produced human beings, and govern what human beings would do under hypothetical circumstances. As the development of socializing mechanisms is part of man’s nature, according to these very laws, there is nothing unsocialized men would be like.

6. ana53294

The real boys are teenagers, whereas the ones in the Lord of the Flies were kids.

I hated the book so much I couldn’t read it, instead reading the sparknotes version.

But I agree with some of the comments in the discussion: modern teenagers are artificially placed in a jail and not allowed to contribute to the survival of society. Teenagers in the past were expected to contribute more, and in some cases were full adults. In my experience, people become way more decent when they grow up, and teenagers are way more civilised than kids*.

So while I don’t agree with Golding’s views, I think that little kids don’t have good chances of survival alone.

*I don’t know, it could be because I’m a woman; once little boys become adolescents, they don’t hit girls anymore.

1. Mycale

I think the most charitable interpretation is that Wisconsin is seeing quite disproportionate rates of infection between racial groups (per the article, Latinos are 7% of Wisconsin’s population but account for 29% of COVID-19 cases; African Americans are 6% of Wisconsin’s population but account for 21% of COVID-19 cases). People are generally aware that testing shortages exist, and it may be difficult to get people from at risk groups (which Latinos and African Americans in Wisconsin are apparently disproportionately in) to understand that they should and can get tested. This approach might have some success from a public communication perspective. Also, it says “free COVID-19 testing,” so it might not be about access per se so much as reassuring people that payment won’t be an issue (and perhaps there are means tested programs for poor people in other groups? If so, not mentioning that seems like a PR failure).

Less charitably, yes, this seems pretty clearly to be race-based distribution of health care. Long-term, I doubt this will play out well at all. Someone’s going to have the clever idea to juxtapose this with a proposal re: Medicare for all . . . .

1. matkoniecz

per the article, Latinos are 7% of Wisconsin’s population but account for 29% of COVID-19 cases

Is it before or after starting race-based rationing of health care?

1. Mycale

Those numbers are from the article announcing the new policy, so presumably from before.

Of course, the policy may end up looking self-justifying if it results in even higher official infection rates in those communities (because that’s where additional tests get done). But, assuming those are pre-policy figures, it does seem like there’s some justification for focusing on testing among these groups (even if this is an extremely ham-handed way of doing that).

1. albatross11

At a guess, this has to do with outbreaks in meat packing plants, which tend to be very heavily Hispanic and which appear to be a nearly-optimal environment for the spread of the virus–they’re refrigerated, loud, with fans blowing everywhere, everyone is working hard and fast all the time, and there are power saws and such going constantly to aerosolize any glops of virus that happen onto the meat being cut.

I think this is a very different sort of thing than the usual affirmative action program–more like “Holy shit, we’ve probably got extensive spread in this immigrant worker community that basically never goes to the doctor unless they’re deathly ill–let’s try to get a handle on this!”

2. Mycale

@albatross11, I don’t disagree with that view, which is why I feel much, much more charitable toward this program than I would toward most things that could fall within the class of “government provided race-based healthcare.” That said, at best, I think the way they announced this program represents a serious PR misstep by the people running it (even if I think the motives could be understandable).

3. Matt M

At a guess, this has to do with outbreaks in meat packing plants

Uh, then why not just have your policy be “free testing for meat packing plant employees?”

Why bother bringing race into it unless you have/want to?

4. matkoniecz

And is there really zero of poor white workers in this meat packing plants?

Why not just make it “free for people that are below powerty line” (or whatever else method for defining it)?

Because I am going to assume that poor/rich people is not cleanly separated by race.

2. matkoniecz

Am I crazy or is this article admitting that the state of Wisconsin engaging in race-based rationing of health care?

Assuming that article is true: yes.

You may claim that such racism is beneficial and should not be called racism but some other euphemism.

Still, it is clear case of race-based rationing of health care. And as bonus it will heavily distort statistics that will be used to justify it.

3. ltowel

Probably, but since stay at home orders have a disparate impact on disease risk reduction by race it seems reasonable to try to rectify that with expanded health care access. Unless we have a crazy excess of testing I think all testing should be going towards “essential” workers and those in their family units but if we can’t make that happen having a similar result demographically seems fine.

1. edmundgennings

Why do you think that stay at home orders have a disparate impact on disease risk reduction by race?

More affluent people have more space to spread out in, less likely to have roommates, etc. Race correlates with wealth.

2. ltowel

From the article:

“The truth is that Latinos, I would say we’re overrepresented in the food industry and other industries where we would be deemed essential workers,” said Milwaukee Alderwoman and state Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa. “Most Latinos aren’t as privileged as I to get to stay home and work virtually and remotely and participate in Zoom meetings and conference calls all day.”

2. Signal

Unless evidence that race is a risk factor — which I haven’t seen — we are better off targeting true ‘risk factors’. Why use race as a proxy for poverty when you could more simply target poverty.

Testing by race rather than by poverty (or whatever medically demonstrated marker) is divisive, but no doubt politically expedient for some.

1. ltowel

I tend to agree with albatross11 up-thread about why this is the approach.

I said above that I’d prefer to push all tests towards those that are essential workers (even over symptomatic people who are not essential workers), and in an ideal would they’d do that.
I have seen statistics, both in that article and from WA’s testing that indicate a racial disparity in incidence of the disease, while I haven’t seen similar numbers based on poverty. We’ve already tossed out a pile of norms for the sake of responding to this disease, so yes, I think rationing the tests to a group where the tests are more likely to detect the disease is worthwhile.

1. Cliff

It appears to be unconstitutional and violate equal protection. And for good reason, in my opinion. Tossing out the social norm of government not discriminating on the basis of race would be a massive loss.

I have seen statistics, both in that article and from WA’s testing that indicate a racial disparity in incidence of the disease, while I haven’t seen similar numbers based on poverty.

I believe it is based on material resources and that no one proposes a genetic component is involved.

2. keaswaran

Race is obviously an important factor in terms of trust and relationship with law enforcement and government advice. (Just look at the last five years of history if you have any doubts about whether white people or black people consider cops more trustworthy.)

Trusting law enforcement and government advice has been extremely important during a public health incident like this.

4. Tatterdemalion

Sort of. Testing for a disease isn’t quite the same as caring for it – the main beneficiaries will be not the person being tested but everyone they interact with – but it’s a hair-splitting enough distinction that I wouldn’t go as far as saying you’re wrong.

1. albatross11

The fact that we aren’t *drowning* in tests by now is pretty strong evidence that we, as a nation, have comprehensively screwed the pooch w.r.t. our response to the virus. At this point, nobody should be rationing tests–instead, people should be complaining about how they’re constantly being asked whether they’d like a COVID-19 test, a pack of N-95 masks, a bottle of hand sanitizer, and an application form for a job as a contact tracer.

1. ltowel

Agreed. Assuming that we do have to ration tests though, we should ration them so the results to change individual’s behavior and reduce spread.

2. Matt M

I’ve heard that there are plenty of jurisdictions where they have tests and not enough people who want one. Haven’t attempted to verify this myself.

I certainly don’t want one. Have you seen the videos? The most common form of it looks like torture.

7. ana53294

Why are coronavirus survivors permanently disqualified to join the military? They can apply for a waiver, but they presumably wouldn’t start this policy if they were going to blanket waive everybody.

I guess this is legal, because the army gets to recruit according to the criteria of their choice, but is it politically tenable? Should we expect other discrimination of coronavirus survivors?

There is some nonsense about not knowing the health consequences of recovering from coronavirus, but the military does fitness tests. A person with lung damage would not be able to pass those tests (and if they would, maybe they should make stricter criteria for the fitness test?).

1. Kaitian

The article you linked takes a stab at explaining the decision:

However, given the limited research on COVID-19, there are likely a few factors that military medical professionals are trying to hash out when it comes to recruiting survivors: Whether respiratory damage from the virus is long-lasting or permanent, and whether that can be assessed; the likelihood of recurring flare-ups, even if someone has had two consecutive negative tests; and the possibility that one bout of COVID-19 might not provide full immunity for the future, and could potentially leave someone at a higher risk to contract it again, perhaps with worse complications.

Coronaviruses do damage organs other than the lungs, for example they can cause inflammation of the heart muscle, which in some cases can cause the person to suddenly drop dead weeks later. In very rare cases even normal “common cold” coronaviruses cause this. It could be detected if they made the medical examinations stricter, but I guess they’ve decided that it’s not worth the effort.

If a lot of people get covid, to the point where 30% or more of the population are “covid survivors”, I bet they’d change the policy of not accepting any survivors, replacing it with exams or tests that check for whatever the actual problem is.

2. johan_larson

I’m guessing this is precautionary; we don’t know what the long-term consequences of COVID-19 infection are, and the military doesn’t want to get stuck with fat bills down years from now. There probably aren’t any big consequences, but the military is careful about guarding its budget.

1. John Schilling

Agreed, and I expect that they’ll eventually back down from this when it becomes clear that the potential for long-term damage from an uncomplicated COVID-19 case in their target age group is small. But for now, there’s still some uncertainty on that front, and they don’t have to take the risk so they aren’t.

3. bean

There’s no way this is going to last long-term, although it makes little sense in the short term either. I’d guess that they were trying to protect the training pipeline from infection, as coronavirus has basically stopped all military training. But that ship sailed weeks ago. Of course, this is the US military, and they’re often slow about this kind of stuff. There’s also the concern about long-term health problems, which I’m sure will be resolved eventually.

But yeah, there’s no way this will stay in force.

4. Lambert

I think it’s ‘permenantly’ as opposed to ‘hasn’t had a fracture in the past year’. Not as in ‘we’re never going to change this rule ever’.

5. Matt M

They can apply for a waiver, but they presumably wouldn’t start this policy if they were going to blanket waive everybody.

They’ve been blanket waiving “marijuana use” and “small, inoffensive tattoos” for a couple decades now. So I wouldn’t be surprised.

1. ana53294

Then why have the policy?

Or is it that they want to have an excuse to reject somebody they don’t like for another reason that can’t be stated?

1. Matt M

I think it’s one of those “ideally, we wouldn’t take people like this, but without doing so, we’ll fall short of our manpower requirements” things…

6. edmundgennings

People in the military who get kicked out for medical problems, even those unrelated to their military service, get a surprisingly large amount of money. It makes sense for the military to wait until we have a better sense of the long term impact of covid before potentially being on the hook for these kinds of payments.

8. SearchingSun

I’m looking for a quote that I really enjoy, but I can’t remember who it’s attributed to. To paraphrase, it goes something like this: “All human progress was created by a very small minority of people, who were usually hated.”

1. Tenacious D

Sounds like Heinlein, maybe?

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

This is known as “bad luck.

1. ec429

Also, shades of George Bernard Shaw:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

2. SearchingSun

Ah yes, that’s the one! I had a hunch it was Heinlein, but I couldn’t find this particular quote through Google. Thank you!

3. eric23

But is there any truth to it? I don’t remember Newton, Einstein, Leonardo, Franklin, Edison, Westinghouse, or any other scientific/technological innovator being despised or condemned or universally opposed.

1. Loriot

Didn’t Scott have an entire post a while back debunking the whole “they laughed at visionaries” thing?

2. eyeballfrog

The first half of the statement is obviously true, though perhaps dismissive of the majority who kept things running while that was going on. The second half is less clear to me.

9. johan_larson

Your favorite bar, coffee shop, or fast-food place has shut down and reopened under new management. And the new management is a neo-Nazi. The guy who runs the place now doesn’t make a big deal about it, but you recognized the tats, asked him, and he told you. You’ve never seen him mistreat anyone, and the goods he’s selling are about the same as the last guy who ran the place; they’re different, but neither better nor worse.

Will you keep doing business with this establishment? And if not, how far out of your way would you be willing to go?

Had to replace neo-Nazi with SJW to make it challenging. Nazi is remote and exotic, I’d be more curious than anything.

But yeah, as long as his behaviour would be pleasant enough in routine interactions, sure. I see no reason why not. And quite a few reasons to expose myself to things I’d tend to avoid. But only if the coffee’s still good.

1. Anteros

I wouldn’t have thought to do the SJW thing, but I agree – I’ve never knowingly met a neo-Nazi so I’d be intrigued.

With the SJW I’d probably get triggered, fume and carry on frequenting the place.

2. chrisminor0008

I don’t have to imagine. My local coffee shop was run by a proud SJW.

Good coffee. ‘Nuff said.

2. Kaitian

I wouldn’t, because a proper Neo Nazi would hate me personally. So I wouldn’t trust him not to give me bad service on purpose.

If it was someone whose views I found hateful and offensive but not personally threatening — let’s say a strictly focused anti-muslim activist — I wouldn’t go if it was somehow really obvious, like if he hung up posters about it in his establishment. But if it was just his private opinion, I guess I might go.

If it was just someone I disagree with, but find ultimately harmless, e.g. an SJW type, I’d still go even if they put up SJW themed decorations. As long as they’re not making me feel unwelcome, I don’t mind.

3. A1987dM

Part of the reason I go to a bar or coffee shop or a sit-in restaurant is the ambiance, and a neo-Nazi likely wouldn’t have the same aesthetic as the previous owner. OTOH if we were talking about a grocery store I’d have no issue, unless there was an almost equally good one nearby or the new one seemed likely to actually act upon their ideology beyond just tattoos.

1. albatross11

“It’s a nice enough coffeeshop, but all the baristas wear jackboots and red armbands for some reason….”

1. Le Maistre Chat

And the boss works the espresso machine themself and your server offers you a drink called a ‘Hugo’…
“Another Hugo, Boss!”

4. toastengineer

I object to the premise of the question.

Being a neonazi or a hardcore SJW is a pretty extreme thing. If it really never meaningfully affects his behavior, he can’t be that much of one, can he? I wouldn’t associate with someone specifically because someone who really thinks that way is liable to do something nasty that I don’t want to be associated with.

1. Paul Zrimsek

Nothing is more common than people having political beliefs which don’t affect their behavior.

1. acymetric

Nothing is more common than people having political beliefs which don’t affect their behavior.

Not unique to political beliefs, you see that pretty much everywhere.

2. Tatterdemalion

Being a neonazi or a hardcore SJW is a pretty extreme thing

The first half of this is true, the second is not. Just because someone is part of your outgroup doesn’t mean you should suspend Godwin.

1. albatross11

I think this would work as “being on the far-right or being an SJW is a pretty extreme thing.” Neo-Nazis are a tiny despised fringe even among people on the far right.

5. Theodoric

If he didn’t bring it up while running the business, yes, I would keep doing business there. I am generally opposed to penalizing people for privately held views. If, for example, he started playing neo-Nazi music over the PA, then I would find someplace else to go.

6. ec429

Sure I will. I’m an an-cap Brexiteer, and yet I regularly patronised a drinking establishment with Communist imagery on the signboard and a public FBPE stance, until they stopped stocking the soda I like. It’s not just pecunia that non olet; when engaging in trade, why should I care about irrelevant details of the counterparty?

Anyone who shuns me as a result is probably not someone I wanted to be friends with anyway.

I don’t know if this is me being libertarian, or me being Aspie. (I think they correlate, anyway, so porque no los dos?)

1. Garrett

> why should I care about irrelevant details of the counterparty

Because a good part of the population doesn’t think like that and will actively work to drive you out “freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences” and all that. So if the other side is going to defect, the game-theoretic correct thing to do is to retaliate in-kind at least once.

1. ec429

Because a good part of the population doesn’t think like that

And if I were economically insecure or otherwise highly dependent on others’ goodwill, or if doing it violated some law, then maybe I wouldn’t do it. But luckily for me (and for businesses run by people I dislike, I guess?) I happen to have marketable skills and no dependents or major fixed liabilities. This in fact means that social opprobrium can push me towards such things, on the grounds that “if I can’t stick my head over the parapet, who can?” (This is no idle boast, either, as those who followed the LinuxGate controversy may be aware.)

the game-theoretic correct thing to do is to retaliate in-kind at least once.

That depends on what effect “setting an example” has on the behaviour of others; I’m sure plenty of people would be capable of scrupulously separating their valëssef if they ever came to believe it was good to do so.

2. A1987dM

The imagery on the signboard is hardly an irrelevant detail of a drinking establishment. There’s a reason why I’m drinking there rather than just buying drinks at a supermarket and drinking them at home.

1. ec429

In this case, my main reason was the excellent street food trucks that parked outside it.

… what, you thought I would be there to socialise? I just mentioned I’m an Aspie 😛

7. John Schilling

If I can see the tats to recognize them, it’s likely that he’s seeking and even more likely that he will wind up with a Nazi clientele. But if that’s not the case, then I don’t have a problem with it, nor with e.g. an ex-tankie.

1. Milo Minderbinder

Yeah, this is an important distinction. Guy who has Neo-Nazi/White supremacist tattoos as a result of former poor life choices who no longer holds such views? Not really an issue (though I’d recommend he cover the tattoos regardless). But I’d rather not patronize a den of Nazis if I can help it.

8. AG

Just look at the case of Whole Foods.

For your specific scenario, I would get a member of their outgroup to be a customer and see how the owner reacts. If there’s little to no reaction, then there’s a clear Daryl Davis opportunity.

9. A Definite Beta Guy

Portillo’s is run by Nazi?!

If you’re not going out of your way to cause problems for people, I don’t really care, and I don’t really care about this particular industry because there are a good number of substitutes.

10. Loriot

Well I never boycotted Chick-Fil-A. My lesbian aunts have boycotted Cracker Barrel, but I imagine it’s a much more personal situation for them.

At any rate, I think it depends on whether they flaunt it or not. If it’s just a normal business, the only reason to avoid it is the distant risk of being shamed on social media.

11. edmundgennings

If it is subtle the political views of owners do not matter for me though they can be small plus if it makes me feel like the place is part of my sub tribe. But there are lots of reasons why I would shop at a High Tory Anglophile catholic royalist shop in America so it is hard to distinguish.
If it is in one’s face it does slightly impact my consumer behavior, but I still buy cheeses that celebrate a (quasi)genocidal regime that would have hunted me down and killed me.

12. Milo Minderbinder

No. I have no strong favorites among the bars/restaurants I go to regularly, and live in an urban area where competition for such services is intense. As a minority, I’d be more than happy to take my business elsewhere, and would encourage any friends I have who also frequent the establishment to boycott it as well.

13. SamChevre

I will keep doing business with the establishment.

My favorite coffee shop for years, one of the most influential places/social groups of my life, was run by a lesbian couple, one of whom was fairly activist. I was then, as I am now, a fairly conservative Christian. (The people who ran it, and some of the other customers, are still my friends a decade-plus later.)

I still miss 17.5 Cafe. It was actually living up to the liberal ideal of “we need to be able to get along with and learn from people who are very different from us.”

10. Le Maistre Chat

A Hollywood producer wants an Oscar-worthy drama about the travails of French people who were domestic servants when WWI broke out. However, due to mid-budget Oscar bait losing ground on “core” Academy Awards like Best (male/female) Actor and Best Picture to superhero films, they want to combine parts of the studio’s budget and make the characters slightly-superhuman martial artists.

1. johan_larson

Late in the war, the French military forms units of shock troops with special training in infiltrating and breaching trench-lines. They are rather like the German Stoßtruppen, except they have borderline superpowers. They units are very successful, and the soldiers in them become very famous. The people with these powers come from all walks of life, including the most humble, like street-peddlers and domestic servants. The B-plot deals with some of these folks adjusting to their new-found fame.

2. Bobobob

You and Johan Larson join forces as producer and director and crowdsource the dialogue from MCU comments on Reddit. I would pay to see early 20th-century French chambermaids discussing the relative merits of the Avengers movies as they empty spittoons and fluff pillows.

11. Uribe

As I comment more here I worry more about meeting 2 of the 3 standards for commenting, because I really want to stay within the bounds Scott wants.

1) Truthful. This one seems easy. I assume saying what I believe to be truthful counts & if it turns out the Earth is flat it won’t be held against me I thought it wasn’t.
2) Necessary. This is the hard one. I don’t think any post is necessary so I interpret it to mean “relevant” “does it add something to the conversation ” But even that is pretty subjective.
3) Kind. This is easy if you aren’t in the process of disagreeing with someone. Disagreement can be civil but can it be kind?

I find the hardest measure to be #2.

1. Anteros

If you check through the list of bans and the examples of comments that led to them, I think you’ll find that no commenters have been banned for kind comments.

I agree that it’s possible to argue the toss about whether something is true or whether it’s necessary, but if a comment is at least not (at all) unkind, I think it’s going to be in line with the ethos of the blog.

1. Belisaurus Rex

As Socrates said “Justice is knowing one’s place.” And as Keats said “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”

QED Anything true is both necessary and kind.

1. Anteros

Perhaps, but I thought his perspective was both unusual and interesting.
However, the comment given as an example of what he was banned for (…You want to be fat. Anyone can tell by looking) is surely characterized by unkindness.

2. DavidFriedman

Disagreement can be civil but can it be kind?

Perhaps it’s kind if you have lots of tempting opportunities to say something hostile to the person you are disagreeing with, and don’t take them?

12. broblawsky

Has anyone gotten an email for the NIH Coronavirus Serosurvey yet? I got mine today.

1. Evan Þ

I got one inviting me to fill out a short pre-screening questionnaire, which I did.

13. ltowel

I’m dreaming about when we’re allowed to do international travel again – as an American Europhile what secondary or tertiary cities should I be dreaming of visiting? Right now I’d love to go to Lyon, Split or Malmo – I’ve loved Ghent, Salzberg and Florence but found Cologne lacking.

1. sharper13

When airline ticket prices crashed, I got tickets for the whole family to Aruba in September. That was my best guess as to when we would be allowed to go with a high probability, but because the airlines were (are?) making all tickets fully refundable/transferable due to the uncertainty, it seemed like an easy bet to make.

1. tg56

I guess the risk here is bankruptcy. The tickets may not necessarily be honored in that case. They generally have been in past bankruptcies (to some degree or another, generally at minimum to get stranded people home even if the governments step in to do so) but for tickets way out I’d be hesitant at least about smaller callers that might just cease to exist as opposed to restructure. These are pretty unprecedented times. That said governments are likely to backstop major carriers to some degree in many countries (it’s a fairly essential service in normal times and you don’t necessarily want to rebuild the whole industry from scratch down the line).

1. sharper13

I did check into that ahead of time. The tickets are with American Airlines. In previous bankruptcies, tickets were honored, if nothing else because the new owners of the assets (name, planes, airport slots) want to continue to have customers also. Also, I believe the order of claims works out favorably for ticket holders. If worse came to worse, could probably get CC company to give a refund and/or use the travel insurance which comes with the card.

2. SamChevre

I’ll suggest northern France/southern Belgium for WW1 history. Amiens would probably be the best center point.

1. Cliff

Ieper has a good WWI museum that I enjoyed (Northern Belgium). In Louvain-le-Neuve there is also a Waterloo museum and battlefield, which I haven’t had a chance to see yet.

3. ltowel

In terms of planning a vacation that makes a lot of sense to me. Maybe it’s time to finally visit “Disneyland with the death penalty”, if they’ll let Americans in.

4. eric23

What in particular are you looking to see? I made a brief visit to Malmo as a side trip from Copenhagen. It was nice in relation to its size, but wouldn’t have been worth a dedicated trip.

It seems that lately, political ideology has been a dividing factor here on SSC. So I decided to explain my own stance on ideology – my own meta-ideology, in a sense – and why I generally find myself supporting liberalism over conservatism, leftism, or the more extreme forms of libertarianism.

I’ve studied political theory for years, and at the end of the day, if there’s one thing I’m absolutely sure of, it’s that I care more about how policies will affect people’s day-to-day lives than about any grand abstractions about how the world “should” work. When I’m considering policy stances, the main questions I’m asking are: “How will this affect me? How will this affect the people I know? How will this affect the average middle-class suburbanite?”

I think that’s a big part of why I’ve moved away from hardline libertarianism, and also a big part of why I reject far-left politics. Liberal reformism might be “boring,” and it’s not as sexy as the idea of a glorious revolution in which the old system is completely burned away so that a perfect new system can be created from scratch, but it offers a clear vision of what life will be like if its proposals are implemented. “Things will be mostly the same, but [everyone will have healthcare like they do in most other first-world nations] or [income tax brackets will be arranged differently] or [there won’t be as many pointless regulations that hurt consumers and hinder small businesses] or [everyone will get a Universal Basic Income so they have a safety net to fall back on] or [the electoral system will be more fair and more accessible to all citizens].”

The idealists (of both the free-market libertarian sort and the far-left socialist/communist/anarchist sort) generally don’t offer these sorts of answers. Typically, when asked what life will be like under their preferred system, they’ll handwave the question with vague utopian promises (“we can’t know exactly what it’ll be like, but it’ll definitely be better!”). Or they’ll dismiss the question, either by exaggerating the plight of our current situation (“it doesn’t matter, because anything would be better than what we have now!”), or by appealing to some sort of deontological morality without regard for the consequences (“it doesn’t matter, the current system goes against my principles”). And I don’t find any of those arguments particularly compelling.

Of course, it’s easy for someone to say “sure, I’m not ideological at all” without actually realizing what that entails, so I decided to give an example using two deeply ideological arguments that I see all the time. (Actually, they’re more or less the same argument, there’s just a right-libertarian version and a leftist version.)

The libertarian version of this argument is “taxation is theft.” Libertarians imagine a hypothetical world that’s exactly the same as the current one, except citizens didn’t have to pay taxes at all and they’d simply have X dollars more in their bank account, where X is the amount of money that they pay in sales tax, property tax, income tax, and so forth. Of course, this is nonsensical: without taxes, the government wouldn’t be able to exist at all, and U.S. dollars wouldn’t be a thing. Sure, you could use Bitcoin or gold or pressed latinum or some other form of independent currency, or maybe just go back to a barter system. But in terms of real purchasing power, that would almost certainly be a net loss that left the libertarian (and everyone else) far worse off. And that’s without even considering all of the government-provided services (infrastructure, utilities, law enforcement, emergency services, logistical coordination) that contribute to economic growth and result in a higher quality of life and a greater degree of wealth for everyone.

The leftist version of this argument is “profit is theft,” the idea that any money which goes to a corporation’s shareholders is being ‘stolen’ from the workers who actually produce the goods and provide the services that make money for the business. Again, this posits a hypothetical world that’s exactly the same as the current one, except the money that now goes to shareholders would instead be distributed among workers in the form of increased income. But again, this hypothetical falls apart: if there hadn’t been shareholders to invest their money in the company back when it was a startup with no guarantee of success, the company wouldn’t have existed in the first place. Sure, you could have sole proprietorships and partnerships and co-operatives, and those models work great for small businesses. But for large-scale endeavors that require the coordination of thousands of people across the world, and might not survive, and probably won’t generate any net income for years even if they succeed? It just isn’t feasible. And again, that’s without even counting the numerous ways in which the world as a whole would be worse off without the shareholder model in place. Without the large-scale enterprises made possible by investment, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the benefits of mass production and global supply chains and modernity in general, and people would be much poorer in terms of real purchasing power. (Marx himself understood this, he just predicted that the economic and technological developments caused by capitalism would plateau at some arbitrary point, allowing the workers to do away with the shareholders. This is why the Communist Party dictatorships of the USSR and China practiced what Lenin called “state capitalism,” in which the government itself would serve as the shareholder class until “true communism” could be achieved.)

But even if I was to concede the point that “taxation is theft” or “profit is theft,” so what? To the very limited extent that they’re true, they’re only true in a highly abstract philosophical sense. Maybe if you subscribe to some extreme deontological “never compromise, even in the face of armageddon” code of ethics, it makes sense to oppose taxation/profit purely on principle. But to me, that’s the same kind of logic as saying “no, I wouldn’t lie to an axe murderer, not even to save my friend’s life, because lying is always wrong regardless of the circumstances.” (And no, I didn’t make that post last week to build up to this point, it just seems salient now.)

Personally, I prefer to put the actual, tangible, material well-being of real living people above these sorts of esoteric ideological reifications. If some amount of codified “theft” results in better outcomes for everyone, then so be it.

1. DavidFriedman

Of course, this is nonsensical: without taxes, the government wouldn’t be able to exist at all,

Probably correct, although Ayn Rand would disagree.

and U.S. dollars wouldn’t be a thing.

Yes.

Sure, you could use Bitcoin or gold or pressed latinum or some other form of independent currency, or maybe just go back to a barter system.

Privately issued money isn’t rocket science — Scotland had it when Smith was writing.

But in terms of real purchasing power, that would almost certainly be a net loss that left the libertarian (and everyone else) far worse off.

So far argument by assertion. Why do you believe that? How carefully have you looked at proposals for how a modern stateless society would work? If not at all, you are in a poor position to reject (or accept) them.

If you are curious, my first book provides such proposals. The second edition is a free pdf on my web site, the third a $4.99 kindle. 1. LadyJane Why do you believe that? How carefully have you looked at proposals for how a modern stateless society would work? I have, and for what it’s worth, I’ve actually seen a lot of good proposals for how a stateless society with a decentralized market economy would function. (And some very bad proposals, but that’s neither here nor there.) As for whether I believe it could work, my tentative answer is “no, it can’t,” but with the caveat that saying that a political or economic system “can’t work” can mean a few different things. For instance, when I say that a Soviet-style command economy couldn’t work, I mean that in a very literal sense. It could never work under any set of circumstances, because the very structure of the system contradicts the laws of economics. In fact, the system is ultimately self-contradicting, albeit in ways that might not have been immediately apparent to the people who originally developed it. When I say that an anarcho-communist gift economy couldn’t work on a large scale, I don’t mean quite the same thing. In fact, I could see it potentially working if material conditions were very different – for instance, if we lived in a post-scarcity civilization where virtually all goods and non-social services could be provided by machines for free. I could also see it working if humans were wired differently, if we had different cognitive functions or different social and emotional capacities or an entirely different set of drives and impulses built into our minds. But since humans are humans and not some other sapient species, and since we don’t live in a post-scarcity society yet (and probably won’t for a long time, if ever), I think it’s safe to say that such a system is functionally impossible. When I say that market anarchism (what you call “anarcho-capitalism”) couldn’t work, I don’t mean it’s conceptually impossible like Soviet communism, or functionally impossible like anarcho-communism. In fact, I think a market anarchist economy could work quite well, even with normal modern-day humans using normal modern-day technology, provided it came to exist in the first place. If it were possible to create an entire fully-formed civilization ex nihilo, without having to go through the trouble of actually developing one from another state of affairs, I think market anarchism could both sustain itself and bring about good outcomes. I simply don’t see any viable path for getting from here to there, because the existing set of sociopolitical incentives are constantly forcing the system in any number of different directions. If you are curious, my first book provides such proposals. The second edition is a free pdf on my web site, the third a$4.99 kindle.

Funny enough, I’m already in the process of reading it. I downloaded the pdf onto my phone a little while back, and I’ve been going through it piece by piece. (Ironically, my entire refutation of the “profit is theft” mentality in the post you replied to was inspired by a similar argument in that very book.)

1. ec429

I think market anarchism could both sustain itself and bring about good outcomes. I simply don’t see any viable path for getting from here to there

On that, you and I are in agreement! The difference is that I respond to that by continuing to search for such a path, while trying to push society in directions that seem likely to widen relevant parts of the option space.

Do you believe that there’s a valley of worse outcomes in the ‘hybrid of current system and market anarchism’ region that we shouldn’t enter if we can’t cross it, are you choosing to focus your efforts towards some other system which in your estimation is more reachable or more beneficial (or both), or are you focusing on hill-climbing/optimisation within the broad outlines of the current system? (All are defensible positions, I’m just curious which — if any — applies to you.)

2. GearRatio

In the spirit of this, my ideology:

I’m pretty generically conservative in philosophy for a lot of reasons, but I don’t believe anybody in either party at the Congress or Executive level isn’t completely bought and paid for in a way that makes their political ideologies anything but window dressing on most issues.

In recent years I hardly care about politics to the point where I rarely read the news anymore and can barely bring myself to vote. I care a LOT about arguments I perceive to be flawed for reasons I perceive to be intellectual dishonesty or laziness.

The way this all pans out is I don’t have anything interesting to say, but I pounce on other arguments and try to tear them apart. I’m not particularly charitable when I do this, because as mentioned above I feel rather than always think the people I’m going after are either being intentionally dense, dishonest, or lazy. Because of my bias towards conservative philosophy, I end up doing this to people I perceive as liberal 9/10ths of the time.

I’m not at all sure I add any value to conversations by doing this, and I’m pretty sure it makes me a dick.

1. Anteros

Well, you get ten out of ten (from me, at least..) for honesty.

I suspect what you see in yourself applies to most of us more than we realize. I’m much more like that than I’m usually happy to admit.

3. Uribe

I can’t decide whether I’m social democratic leaning or libertarian leaning. I’m for vastly fewer laws and regulations but a bigger welfare safety net paid for by more progressive taxes. Isn’t that kind of what Sweden does compared to us?

I despise how American leftists look to Scandinavia as a utopia without understanding that Scandinavian country’s lack of business regulations is a big part of why their system works, and one we couldn’t hope to emulate unless we got rid of most regulations. Of course there are other issues but let’s start with that.

Practically speaking, that’s exactly where I fall too. I’m fairly opposed to most forms of economic regulation, although I do believe that some basic “common sense” regulations are necessary to protect workers, consumers, and the environment. I’m also supportive of universal healthcare, albeit through the German model where the government simply pays for private insurance on behalf of citizens who can’t afford it, as opposed to the British model where the government itself is the primary healthcare provider. And I generally see welfare as a good thing, although I’d greatly prefer a Universal Basic Income to the current system. But I also think UBI can and should be used to phase out other forms of welfare as well as minimum wage laws, both of which would largely be rendered superfluous by a basic income. So even in terms of fiscal policy alone, I occupy a weird place on the political spectrum, at least by American standards. And that’s without even getting into the complexities of social policy, civil policy, foreign policy, and so forth.

And yes, seeing Americans talk about the politics of Scandinavian countries is always extremely frustrating to me. Both conservatives and leftists like to conflate Nordic-style welfare capitalism with Soviet-style state socialism – the former to condemn welfare capitalism, the latter to promote socialism. It’s especially ironic and especially annoying because the Nordic countries are actually more capitalist than the U.S. in some ways, particularly with regard to regulations. I recall a story from a few months back that sums it up perfectly: A Swedish Social Democrat went to a Bernie rally during a trip to America. In terms of actual policy, the Social Democrat was basically on the same page as Bernie, maybe even slightly further to the left on some issues, so he expected to find people who more or less shared his views. Instead, he was shocked and appalled to find people shouting radical slogans like “abolish rent” and “nationalize the banks” and “end capitalism now,” and generally espousing some extreme far-left viewpoints that (according to him) wouldn’t be heard in Sweden outside of a few Marxist and anarchist circles on the fringes of society – certainly not at a mainstream political rally for a major party’s second most popular candidate!

My point is more that people should assess each policy position individually, as opposed to supporting or opposing the policy on the basis of who else supports it or what ideology it’s associated with. I’ve seen too many libertarians take up a position simply because it’s the designated libertarian stance, too many progressives take up a position simply because it’s the designated progressive stance, and so forth. When discussing a policy, the right questions to ask are “Will it achieve the intended results?” and “Who will it benefit and who will it harm, and by how much?”, while asking something like “Is this the most [capitalist/socialist] position?” is definitely the wrong question.

Also, not everyone needs to take a stance on every single issue! I’ve spent my life studying politics and there are still issues that I’m undecided on. Should the internet be treated as a public utility? I’m not sure, because I don’t know enough about the way that internet infrastructure works to even make an educated guess on whether or not that would produce better results for most people. Should education funding be used to improve public schools or to provide families with vouchers so they can choose the school that’s best for their child? Again, I’m not sure and I’d have to do a lot of research into the structure of the American education system to feel comfortable taking a hard stance.

1. ec429

as opposed to supporting or opposing the policy on the basis of who else supports it or what ideology it’s associated with

I think “I support this because it’s the Designated X-ist Policy” is shorthand for “I don’t have time to think through every policy issue myself, but other X-ists whose intelligence and probity I respect have considered this one in detail and have concluded that the basic principles, values and assumptions of X-ism lead to this Policy, and while their version of those principles might not be identical to my own, it’s close enough that it’s highly probable that this is the policy I’d settle on if I did examine the issue myself”.

It’s sort of like Aumann’s agreement theorem, if you squint at it.

Do some people overuse this shortcut? Very probably; man is a herd animal (and other clichés). But then, most people haven’t “spent [their] life studying politics”, so their choice might be to either get such political opinions as they have from ‘ideology’ or remain strictly apolitical. I suspect you wouldn’t be okay with a system where the political conversation and franchise are restricted to the liberal gentleman with leisure enough to devote his time to study; so there’s clearly a trade-off to be made. How do you propose we should locate the optimum?

My point is more that people should assess each policy position individually, as opposed to supporting or opposing the policy on the basis of who else supports it or what ideology it’s associated with. I’ve seen too many libertarians take up a position simply because it’s the designated libertarian stance

My personal solution is to start from a libertarian default, but open to being convinced. Sounds like a little thing, but it’s amazing how many things are regulated by the state simply because it’s the default to be regulated. There are _a lot_ of people that go so fast to the regulated default, they don’t even understand the null hypothesis – they jump right into “how we should regulate this” and never ever get out. Could even be a majority.

3. Hoopdawg

You seem to have assumed that the end goal of leftism is to have as many regulations as possible.

…frankly, I hope simply phrasing it this way already demonstrated the absurdity of such assumption.

1. Aapje

I think that the goal is to eliminate injustices, which means either replacing us all with AI’s in a simulation, or to try to micromanage away all injustices.

4. Skeptic

When people of either tribe refer to Sweden or any of the other Nordics as evidence for X, I mentally swap “high trust society” in for X.

It’s almost always what they’re actually arguing for, albeit unintentionally

1. A1987dM

I dunno, I’m not sure Argentinians trust each other less than Swedes, and they definitely don’t trust each other less than Belgians, but I don’t think all of the people who praise Sweden would pick Argentina over Belgium.

1. Skeptic

High trust society has a very specific definition.

On the spectrum Argentina would be low, Sweden would be high.

2. nkurz

> I’m not sure Argentinians trust each other less than Swedes, and they definitely don’t trust each other less than Belgians

Why do you assert this? And why makes you say “definitely”? There are different ways of measuring “trust each other”, but one way is to ask “would you say that most people can be trusted or that you need to be very careful in dealing with people?”

https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/self-reported-trust-attitudes?tab=map
Share of people agreeing with the statement “most people can be trusted”, 2014
Argentina: 23%
Sweden: 64%
Belgium: unfortunately no data
Germany: 42% (for interpolation below)

https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/average-rating-of-trust-in-others-selected-countries
Trust in others in Europe (on a scale of 1 to 10):
Germany: 5.5
Belgium: 5.7
Sweden: 6.9

Combining these two graphs, Belgians seem to trust one another slightly more than Germans, who in turn trust each other much more than Argentinians. Swedes are higher than all these. This would seem to disprove your assertion. That said, there are definitely other ways to define trust. Do you have one of these in mind where your interpretation is true?

4. Hoopdawg

When I’m considering policy stances, the main questions I’m asking are: “How will this affect me? How will this affect the people I know? How will this affect the average middle-class suburbanite?”

Yeah, we on the far left call it a “class analysis”.

Liberal reformism might be “boring,” and it’s not as sexy as the idea of a glorious revolution in which the old system is completely burned away so that a perfect new system can be created from scratch, but it offers a clear vision of what life will be like if its proposals are implemented. “Things will be mostly the same, but [everyone will have healthcare like they do in most other first-world nations] or [income tax brackets will be arranged differently] (…) or [everyone will get a Universal Basic Income so they have a safety net to fall back on] or [the electoral system will be more fair and more accessible to all citizens].”

Note that all of those examples are actually promoted by actually existing far left, and rejected by most actually existing liberals. Calling this kind of reformism “liberal” significantly misses the point, it’s leftist reformism, as opposed to the alternative of leftist revolution, which, in present times, is not seriously considered by anyone (including the LARPers). And as opposed to liberal reformism, which, if it can even be said to exists at all, consists, at best, of fixing things that fail to work so spectacularly even liberals (i.e. propertied and professional classes) are hurt by them. At worst, of actively breaking things in the name of proprietarian free market ideology (see:late 1970s and onwards). It turns out it’s easier to choose realistic short-term goals when you have an overarching grand goal in mind.

if there hadn’t been shareholders to invest their money in the company back when it was a startup with no guarantee of success, the company wouldn’t have existed in the first place

If there hadn’t been capitalism, we wouldn’t be reduced to relying on investors because most people would have resources to invest. (In fact, historically that’s how capitalism starts – relatively wealthy egalitarian societies discover market and financial mechanisms to put their resources into more efficient use. Unfortunately, along with a short period of rising productivity, comes a longer period of rising inequality which leaves most people poorer and a bunch of oligarchs more interested in “safe” financial gains than in “risky” capital investment.)

Also, co-ops work great for any size of business, as evidenced by all the co-ops who have grown to be “large-scale enterprises”. (The main problem successful co-ops face are, simply put, the perverse incentives of capitalism. Once the business grows big and rich, current shareholders find out they can benefit more by changing the ownership structure so that new workers can’t join. Disallow that, and essentially nothing changes to productivity and investment, while our societies get significantly more equal.)

1. ec429

Unfortunately, along with a short period of rising productivity, comes a longer period of rising inequality which leaves most people poorer

Are you claiming that the US poor today are poorer than the poor, or even median, of any pre-capitalist era anywhere? Because that to me is an absurd claim (how many pre-capitalist peasants were well-enough fed to be obese?), but I can’t figure out what else you might mean by this.

If there hadn’t been capitalism, most people wouldn’t have resources to invest because we wouldn’t have seen rapid enough economic growth to escape the ‘Iron Law of Wages’. It’s only once the stock of capital is large compared to labour (making capital cheap and labour scarce) that it becomes possible to organise high productivity without the organisation’s main purposes being concentrating capital and guarding it against principal-agent problems. (One of the few things Marx got right was that capitalism (in this sense) is a phase society has to go through in order to get to another, better one. He was just completely wrong about why it was necessary and what the next phase was…)

And anyway, why would those people invest if they weren’t going to be allowed to make a profit? Capital is deferral of consumption, and people don’t do that without an incentive, because time-preference is a thing. The worker at a co-operative is actually receiving both wages and profits in the same paycheque, but that doesn’t mean profits have ceased to exist; and if the shareholders can benefit by changing the ownership structure, that indicates that restricting one’s buying opportunities for labour and capital to bundled sources of both is inefficient (as they tend to be anti-complementary in production).

Saying “we wouldn’t be reduced to relying on investors” makes it sound like you’re thinking of investors as a class (and slightly Othering them tbh). If “most people” invest the capital that companies need, that makes them investors; you’re still “relying on investors”, just not professional ones. Both kinds of investors have the same basic incentive: profit. (In fact, the wealthy are more likely to subscribe capital to eleemosynary corporations, as its marginal value to them is lower.)

1. Hoopdawg

Are you claiming that the US poor today are poorer than the poor, or even median, of any pre-capitalist era anywhere?

No, I am claiming is that poor people were historically getting poorer in pure, prototypical examples of capitalist societies (e.g. late medieval Italy, early modern Netherlands, industrial revolution era UK).
I will also claim that this is a meaningful thing to point to when discussing effects of capitalism, while a comparison between citizens of modern and pre-modern societies is meaningless for this purpose. It’s impossible to decouple effects of capitalism from other, unambiguously positive processes that happened in the meantime. Unless, of course, you are trying to attribute the entirety of technological and social progress to capitalism, but this is a dubious proposition. Technological progress show no apparent relation to it (in fact, the biggest leaps it made in recent times were under government control during large-scale military conflicts), while social progress has for quite a while been happening in direct opposition to it (in fact, ever since it has reversed somewhat in recent decades, poor people in the US are again getting poorer).

Capital is deferral of consumption

This is the kind of statement that only makes sense in simplistic economic models with a single numerical value representing wealth. (In what way can constructing a building with concrete represent deferral from consuming said concrete? In what way is the cessation of activity a consumption?) I find it more helpful and meaningful to frame this as people whose existence rises above basic subsistence level having spare resources and workpower to redirect to forward-looking enterprises.

Saying “we wouldn’t be reduced to relying on investors” makes it sound like you’re thinking of investors as a class

That’s indeed what I do. I concede I wasn’t semantically rigorous. (I don’t think I was alone in this in the course this discussion, consider for example your own equivocation of capitalist absentee rent with all profit.)
My point throughout is, largely as you stated it, that there will always be “investors” who have a “profit” incentive. This is true regardless of whether particular regulations specific to the capitalist system are present. (This of course does not mean all regulations are equally efficient, but again, I find no reason to believe capitalism is particularly good in that aspect. And, to return to the original topic, plenty of reasons to believe the status quo can be improved by (even simple and gradual) interventions aiming toward greater social accountability.)

1. ec429

No, I am claiming is that poor people were historically getting poorer in pure, prototypical examples of capitalist societies (e.g. late medieval Italy, early modern Netherlands, industrial revolution era UK).

I don’t believe that’s historically true. People flocked to the cities and the mills because it was a better life than backbreaking farm labour. But as Anthony Trollope reputedly* put it, “Poverty, to be scenic, should be rural”; the dark satanic mills look distasteful to us in a way that Far From The Madding Crowd doesn’t, so we tend to assume the former’s inhabitants are poorer.

* It’s not on wikiquote, which is my usual “did they really say it” check, and a quick google didn’t turn up anything like quoteinvestigator either. I got it via Dan Hannan.

Unless, of course, you are trying to attribute the entirety of technological and social progress to capitalism, but this is a dubious proposition.

Technological advances are a form of capital. That is, they are something which has a cost to produce which then reduces the costs (or equivalently, increases the output value) of subsequent production — much like, say, an individual machine tool does, except that the technology generally has a wider effect and is somewhat harder to capture all of the value from.

the biggest leaps [technology] made in recent times were under government control during large-scale military conflicts

Partly that’s because technology has more of a positive externality problem than other forms of capital, but partly it’s just that militarily-relevant technologies happen to also be more visible. What war and what government bureau was responsible for the smartphone revolution? (I don’t use a smartphone myself, but I don’t disdain the tremendous value other people get out of theirs.)

poor people in the US are again getting poorer

[citation needed]

Most of the world’s economic growth recently has been being eaten up by the global poor (fig. 1a); the 80 and 90%ile (which roughly corresponds to “the poor” in highly developed nations like the US) have mostly missed out on this growth but are still slightly positive.

In what way can constructing a building with concrete represent deferral from consuming said concrete?

The resources (land, labour, capital) that went into the creation of that concrete could instead have been used to create consumption goods. Perhaps it would be more strictly correct to say that deferral of consumption is the opportunity cost of capital; but I don’t think that affects my argument. I apologise for using the shorthand form; illusion of transparency / forgot to engage theory of mind.

people whose existence rises above basic subsistence level having spare resources and workpower to redirect to forward-looking enterprises

But they will only redirect in that way if they expect benefits to accrue to them or their descendants as a result. Otherwise, they’ll simply expend those resources directly on improving their immediate standard of living (e.g. eat more meat and fewer lentil stews). Having more than the minimal survivable income is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for capital formation.

consider for example your own equivocation of capitalist absentee rent with all profit

In fact, Marxism’s equivocation of profit with rent is one of the things that drives me mad. Rent is the return on unproduced resources (such as unimproved land), quasi-rent is the return on resources which are produced but in an inelastic way (such as a person’s inborn talents), profit is the return on capital which, being elastic in production, can be incentivised by it. (There’s actually a strand of libertarianism sympathetic to the Henry Georgists, on the grounds that true rents can be taxed without deadweight and/or are morally common property; see geolibertarianism.) “Capitalist absentee rent” is not a rent, it is a profit; it is not the only kind of profit*, but it’s the kind which scales, by decoupling the task of capital formation from the other tasks involved in production. (As the Unix boys say: Do one thing well.)

* I think I was explicit about this, when I said “The worker at a co-operative is actually receiving both wages and profits in the same paycheque”; I don’t know why you think I’m equivocating.

there will always be “investors” who have a “profit” incentive

Investors will always have a profit incentive. But if there is no profit incentive to be had, then there will be no investors either (in which case the statement “all investors have profit” is vacuously true, of course).

This is true regardless of whether particular regulations specific to the capitalist system are present.

You seem to have a narrower conception/definition of “the capitalist system” than I do, possibly equating it with “current US trade, corporation and securities law”.

In my ideal world, there’s nothing to stop you from setting up a worker’s co-operative, or a joint-stock corporation with or without limited liability, or any other form of organisation you can define in a contract; as long as you can get enough other people to voluntarily subscribe the necessary capital / sign on to provide their labour / permit the use of their land beyond what you’re able to supply yourself (for, if you could supply it all yourself, you wouldn’t need the organisation). Costs imposed on non-members (externalities) are handled through Coasian mechanisms.

Your “greater social accountability” would, if I understand it rightly, consist of rules forbidding some of those possible organisations. I find this deeply objectionable. Related: the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits; make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.

2. matkoniecz

I don’t believe that’s historically true. People flocked to the cities and the mills because it was a better life than backbreaking farm labour.

+1 Conditions in factories were horrific by our standards but people migrated into cities. Typically people without even scrap of land and even worse future in villages.

3. Hoopdawg

People flocked to the cities and the mills because it was a better life than backbreaking farm labour.

That’s just not true. We’re talking rich, advanced societies operating way above subsistence level. The farm labour wasn’t backbreaking, and the peasants could afford a lot of slack, especially compared to industrial labor. No, the problem was that peasants were increasingly finding themselves without work, or rather, without land to work on. You may recall England is often accused of intentionally orchestrating that state of affairs with enclosures etc., but as The Netherlands’ example shows, it can arise organically. Often by simple chance, someone literally breaks his back, cannot work his fields, has to sell them to someone less unfortunate to fund his recovery, and from then on he and his children become, at best, tenants on someone else’s land, but usually – wage laborers. Iterate over millions of people and a few generations, along with productivity improvements, and you have an army of the poor willing and needing to go and work anywhere to survive. This is, simply, how capitalism works.

Now, Netherlands in their prime had a positive net migration rate, thanks to arrivals from countries with more powerful feudal class, where serf labor could in fact be backbreaking. But it must have been the reverse for England, I’m not aware of any significant immigrant inflow to it, while many of its citizens (not to mention citizens of its nearby colony of Ireland) decided their future lies in rich, and readily available, arable lands of the New World.

Technological advances are a form of capital.

Again, and just to make sure. I am not arguing, and never had, against capital as in tools of production. There will, by definition, always be some “capital” in a minimally civilized society. I am merely arguing against a particular ownership scheme that is, for a reason but entirely incidentally, called “capitalism”.

[citation needed]

I mean, there are official statistics.
To my understanding they don’t even look that bad in the median case, but they show a complete collapse of the bottom half (which is now in debt on average), and near-total inability of people under 40 to accumulate any kind of wealth (which is a significant change from just a few decades ago), meaning things will get worse in the foreseeable future.

Most of the world’s economic growth recently has been being eaten up by the global poor (fig. 1a)

Specifically, by China.
This is a matter of framing. You could go “the world overall is statistically getting richer”, or you could go “a country with unique, idiosyncratic policies is eating up most of the spoils”. Only one of those statements implies the current system is working fine.

I think I was explicit about this, when I said “The worker at a co-operative is actually receiving both wages and profits in the same paycheque”; I don’t know why you think I’m equivocating.

I mean, you are using profit in a pretty narrow sense (which, admittedly, may not necessarily be equivalent to “capitalist absentee rent”, but the reason I have specifically invoked capitalist rent is because I am specifically arguing against it) and admitting there are other ways to (to use another word to disambiguate) benefit from investment other than this narrow kind of “profit”. At the same time, you claim no investment would happen without (such) profit, as if there were no other ways to benefit from it. That simply can’t be true, the benefits exist and their total value cannot change. The only difference lies in how they’re distributed.
I actually had a short paragraph pointing this out written for my previous reply, but wasn’t satisfied with how it came out and deleted it right before posting. This is probably what made my earlier objection incomprehensible. My fault.

You seem to have a narrower conception/definition of “the capitalist system” than I do, possibly equating it with “current US trade, corporation and securities law”.

Unlikely on both counts. I am by default using the basic socialist definition of “economic system based on private property”. Admittedly I may sometimes switch to a narrower Polanyian conception of “market system that directly rules over society, rather than being embedded in social relations”, as this allows for gradation (and therefore, well, reformism).

Your “greater social accountability” would, if I understand it rightly, consist of rules forbidding some of those possible organisations.

Framing. I like to say I would not forbid absentee property, I would just stop the state from enforcing it. Or, in other words, lift the rules forbidding actual users (workers) from fully controlling the capital they work with.

4. Aapje

My theory is that the agricultural revolution led to job-loss in rural regions, which caused people to accept factory work, mining, milling, etc.

So it’s not that people had the choice to be a farmer or farmhand like their parents.

IMO, this is way more logical, also explaining the revolutionary behavior of these workers, which doesn’t make much sense if their life was better than on the farm.

5. ec429

This is, simply, how capitalism works.

No, it’s how feudalism works, on account of how the lords don’t have to compete for the serfs because the serfs aren’t allowed to move.
Do you really believe that the pre-capitalist rural milieu consisted of smallholding farmers working their own land, rather than a mix of serfage and villeinage?

The farm labour wasn’t backbreaking

Your view of historical rural life is extremely rose-tinted. Trollope strikes again.
And your model of enclosure etc. is not how it happened; here’s my version, based on Adam Smith and rendered in the style of Rudyard Kipling.

I am merely arguing against a particular ownership scheme that is, for a reason but entirely incidentally, called “capitalism”.

It’s not incidental at all. It was (or so we hypothesise) a deliberate sleight of rhetorical hand by Marx to associate two distinct concepts — free exchange, and rule by the holders of capital — in the minds of everyone who used his language.

Specifically, by China.

… and India. And the rest of Asia. And Africa. And Latin America. China may have seen the biggest growth, but the whole ‘Global South’ is getting in on the action. (I don’t see Africa on Fig 1(c), but they are growing too — they stay in the bottom quantiles because other lower-quantile inhabitants are growing faster, not because they’re failing to grow at all.) The measures in Section 5 might be more relevant to such subset considerations, but watch out for cases where the paper talks about country-deciles gaining or losing position in the global distribution rather than income itself — the running text sometimes mentions gains or losses without being explicit about which kind.

I mean, there are official statistics.

I’m noticing a distinct lack of, well, links to official statistics that show what you claim.

you are using profit in a pretty narrow sense

No, I’m using it in an extremely wide sense: any income derived from return on capital, where capital is in turn derived from the deferral of consumption. It’s you who brought up the narrow sense (“absentee rent[sic]”), in the process of incorrectly accusing me of using it.

and admitting there are other ways to benefit from investment other than this narrow kind of “profit”

That’s because I was never using the narrow definitions of “profit” and “investment” (the ones that require money and securities to change hands). If a smallholding farmer keeps back some of his corn to use as next year’s seed (deferring the consumption of eating said corn), then that corn is capital, and his yield (income) next year contains elements of wage (for his labour), rent (on his land), and profit (on his capital). All in the broad sense, because there are no paycheques, rent payments, or dividends involved, just the imputation of the value of his crop.

At the same time, you claim no investment would happen without (such) profit, as if there were no other ways to benefit from it. That simply can’t be true, the benefits exist and their total value cannot change.

If there were a Stalin going around liquidating kulaks, then our hypothetical farmer wouldn’t bother to ‘invest’ in next year’s seed corn, as he knows it would be taken from him anyway. Instead, he’d just eat the seed corn now. Om nom nom, tasty corn.
Secure property rights are necessary for the (broad sense) profit to accrue to the creator of the (broad sense) capital, in the absence of which that capital will not be created because its putative creator has no incentive to defer his consumption rather than consuming now.

Narrow-sense profit and narrow-sense capital are just a thing that happens because some people are able to create more capital than they can put to work themselves, while others vice-versa, and it is in the interests of both to allow them to co-operate voluntarily on mutually agreeable, mutually beneficial terms.

I am by default using the basic socialist definition of “economic system based on private property”.

And yet you speak of “particular regulations specific to the capitalist system”. Regulations, as restrictions upon trade imposed by an external force (the government), fall without the ambit of ‘private property’, and are a limitation or qualification upon it.

I like to say I would not forbid absentee property, I would just stop the state from enforcing it.

Would you also lift the rules that forbid individuals from enforcing it themselves or contracting others to do so? Up to and including the capability to enforce their property rights against the state? If you have read DavidF’s book, you’ll be aware that in his system property isn’t enforced by the state.
In my experience, most people who oppose “capitalism” also (e.g.) support gun control, but maybe you’re different.

Or, in other words, lift the rules forbidding actual users (workers) from fully controlling the capital they work with.

There’s a game-theoretic point here in that the workers may want the ability to sign away that control, in that it’s the only way they can get enough capital. If Scrooge McDuck knows that anything he lends becomes the property of the recipient, he’s strongly incentivised to sit on his mountain of gold instead of sending it out into the world to fuel productive activity.
Again, the workers are in the situation they are in (of working with capital that they do not control) because they contracted freely and voluntarily to do so. If you want to make them sufficiently well-off that they no longer find that trade attractive, then solve that through secondary distribution; don’t just ban the trade itself, thereby making them poor and unemployable.

2. qwints

I think most marxists would disagree with you. For Marx, capitalism was preceded not by relatively wealthy egalitarian societies but by feudalism. The shift in the mode of production is described in Part VIII of Capital – primitive accumulation through forceful expropriation creates both a capital and laborers who must work for wages. It’s Adam Smith who attributes the creation of capitalism to improved productivity from the division of labor (Book 1 of the Wealth of Nations) and accumulation of capital by voluntary saving (“parsimony” in Book 2 or ec249’s “deferral of consumption above”). Marx acknowledges that this exists (e.g. a village blacksmith saving up funds to expand his workshop and hire laborers) but dismissed it as proceeding at a “snail’ s pace” saying it was blocked by feudal institutions (lords and guilds) and insufficient to deal with the world markets created once European ships reached the America’s. (Chapter 31 of Capital). For Marx, inequality isn’t a unintentional byproduct, it’s the direct result of force and state power. “These methods depend in part on brute force, e.g., the colonial system. But, they all employ the power of the State, the concentrated and organised force of society, to hasten, hot-house fashion, the process of transformation of the feudal mode of production into the capitalist mode, and to shorten the transition. Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one. It is itself an economic power.”

1. ec429

It’s Adam Smith who attributes the creation of capitalism to improved productivity from the division of labor (Book 1 of the Wealth of Nations) and accumulation of capital by voluntary saving (“parsimony” in Book 2)

He attributes the creation of capital to that, but his origin story for capitalism is in Chapters III and IV of Book 3. Fortunately, you don’t have to read through Smith’s rather weighty prose, because I summarised it in the form of a pastiche of Kipling’s poetry.

1. Doctor Mist

That’s lovely! We really should see more book reviews presented as pastiches of Kipling.

It took me a few tries to make

As the markets into which its Produce could be traded grew

scan.

Through the vagaries of browser rendering, I see â€” (‘a’ with circumflex followed by the Euro symbol followed by right double-quote) where I think you see an em-dash. I mention that only to help the next person to read it.

I go towards libertarianism on purely utilitarian grounds. True, my personality also matches it pretty well, but the fact is that if your goal is to have people living better – we need to move towards freer markets. I don’t go to David Friedman’s levels of “free”, but only because ideas need to be tested to be properly validated, and farther they are from mainstream the bigger the unknown and the risk. For example I really like the idea of private coins and I do think they will work – but world now is much bigger than Scotland then and we have high speed transactions. So I wouldn’t say “let’s move to private coin”, partly because I don’t think it’s a properly validated idea and also because it’s too far outside the Overton window to be a productive topic of conversation. But I would definitely support “let’s also have private coin, because why not?”. Cue overton window shifting, ideas being validated in practice etc.

I also see libertarianism as needing to compromise with commons. I know David has clever ideas about how free markets can solve most/all commons issues, but they usually have two drawbacks: 1. they need a lot more freedom than we’re likely to get any time soon (again that Overtown window) and 2. they need time to reach a proper equilibrium. Plus again, we should first move to test them more.

And the third point I want to make: all this is just a second order effect of politics. We need a lot more though poured into this, otherwise it’s like trying to devise ways to run faster with a millstone attached to your leg. I don’t think politics is as unpredictable as to make research and discussion useless. To the contrary, I think the patterns are very few and depressingly repeatable. And most of them are very amenable to research. So why aren’t we seeing more “theoretical politics”? Because the first condition of doing it right is to be 100% mistake theorist, and people are people.

And to be honest, I think there’s something else I’m not seeing, to explain the complete lack of political science topics. I know it can be interesting and relevant, because I’ve very occasionally stumbled on such. I strongly suspect the tools of economics would be sufficient at least to make a very good start. And yet. Other than being way too easy to derail, I have nothing.

6. Paul Zrimsek

When I’m considering policy stances, the main questions I’m asking are: “How will this affect me? How will this affect the people I know? How will this affect the average middle-class suburbanite?”

I can see the value of this sort of particularistic approach, but I think there’s also a trap lurking in it: it makes your view of how politics affects people’s lives deeper, but at the expense of making it narrower. The mind naturally gravitates toward schemes to enrich the people you’re considering at the expense of the people you’re not considering.

7. alchemy29

I care more about how policies will affect people’s day-to-day lives than about any grand abstractions about how the world “should” work.

This is not a trivial axiom. For many people, their sense of morality is not grounded in human welfare. Some people are honest about this and others rationalize. For example, people in the Middle East believe that sexual immorality offends God so fornicators, homosexuals, unmarried pregnant women all deserve to be punished. Until recently in many parts of the Western world, people agreed homosexuals needed to be punished but left fornicators alone mostly due to rationalization.

Other examples abound. Sophisticated socialists* claim that billionaires shouldn’t exist because wealth inequality distorts markets, stifles competition, and reduces opportunities for the lower class. But many self described socialists stop at “billionaires shouldn’t exist because no one should have that much wealth” – if billionaires lost all their wealth and no one else was any better off, they would be happier with that state of the world.

I should say I am not above moral rationalizations. If you successfully convinced me that say contraception reduces overall societal welfare by reducing human capital because educated women tend to use birth control more, I don’t know if I would support banning contraception. I don’t have a good reason – I could flail and gesture towards personal reproductive liberty. But without further thought this just a rationalization – why that liberty over other liberties? Obviously I am not saying any of this is true.

*I’m well aware of the formal definition of socialism but that isn’t how the word is used nowadays.

15. Well...

Penetrating the rock I live under is news of people boycotting — or at least saying they’ll boycott — Costco because of Costco’s mandatory facemask policy. It reminded me of a recent experience I had while standing in line for a return at Menards hardware store. Menards has implemented an even stricter policy than Costco, since not only do they require facemasks, but they are not allowing anyone under the age of 16 to enter. I watched a guy try to enter the store, get told by the security guard that facemasks were mandatory and he could purchase one for a dollar, and then he turned around and walked back out the door in a huff. A few minutes later (I was standing in line for a return) another guy came, got told the same thing, and also left in a huff. Both those guys were white and between the ages of maybe 40 and 60.

(Menards doesn’t normally have security guards as far as I know, so it seems like they hired this one just to enforce the mask policy. And she was wearing a bulletproof vest, so maybe they were anticipating some severe negative responses…)

But it got me wondering, what kinds of people are refusing to wear masks right now? Like, what is statistically likely to be true about those two guys who stormed away from Menards, based on their having stormed away?

1. sharper13

Probably not statistically likely, but one group unlikely to benefit much from masks would be people who have already recovered from COVID-19. They’re likely both immune and unable to infect others.

2. FLWAB

People who don’t like to be told what to do, people that don’t like change, and people who don’t like wearing masks.

1. Well...

Yeah, so…are these libertarian types? People who drive around with their radios permanently tuned to Rush Limbaugh, who maybe has been telling them [*] that the orders to wear facemasks have come from the liberal establishment? Those are my two first guesses but I have no basis for them other than raw intuition.

*I haven’t listened to Rush in maybe four or five years so I have no idea what kinds of things he’s saying these days.

1. mtl1882

I think there are a lot of people who dislike masks or being told to wear one without having any ideological basis for doing so. I suspect many of them are elderly or live in more isolated areas. Among white men aged 40-60 at a hardware store, there’s probably some correlation with listening to conservative media, not necessarily Rush, but I doubt it’s a great proxy. More of a personality thing. For some people, it could be the $1 thing as much as the mask. I think even most people who have issues with masks would be willing to put on a freely offered one for a few minutes, but some won’t. Some may have elaborate conspiracies, but for many it is more like they find it instinctively off-putting and unnecessary and that’s enough. We had resistance to masks in 1918 and I’m sure that’s been the case any time they were used. I think a lot of people really find it hard to grasp the idea of wearing one to prevent asymptomatically transmitting the disease to others—the concept of being asymptomatic doesn’t register for some people. 3. Radu Floricica I hope the huffing was metaphoric, otherwise it’s a pretty dangerous job for the guard. 4. John Schilling Like, what is statistically likely to be true about those two guys who stormed away from Menards, based on their having stormed away? I’m having a hard time reading this as anything but, “Look, a new outgroup! I don’t know much about this outgroup; what stereotypes should I have about them?” For the actual answer, yeah, see FLWAB. Also much less likely to be Blue Tribe, because it’s Blue Tribe that has made masks part of its civic religion. Red, Black, and Brown tribes already have a perfectly good religion, and Gray Tribe is mostly agnostic. 1. Well... I’m trying to figure out what kinds of narratives about this situation are permeating into different social veins around me and influencing people’s behaviors, mainly because I’m curious. My lifestyle is such that I don’t directly absorb much of any zeitgeist, so I’m asking others about this rather specific thing, since they already do. Also for whatever it’s worth I don’t consider libertarians or red tribers my outgroup. It’s a bit troubling if there’s people who think C19 is a liberal conspiracy or something (no idea if there are), but I also think there’s a ton of social value in a group of people who feel fiercely defensive of American rights and freedoms, even if they aren’t perfectly rational about it. 5. DinoNerd I’m complying when specifically forced to, and mostly staying away from places that require masks. I’m aware that wearing a (non-medical) mask may partially protect other people from me, if I’m infected but asymptomatic, though will almost certainly have negligible value in protecting me from them. But: – I don’t like sewing, and the masks I’ve ordered still have not arrived (ordered 21 April, IIRC, from 3 different sources; today is 9 May) – wearing cloth over my mouth and nose increases my tendency to heat issues. (High of 90 expected today here.) I’ve worn a bandana as a face mask 4 times; 2 of those times left me with breathing difficulties [hyperventilation that wouldn’t stop?] after I removed it – the first time for about 15 minutes. On a fifth occassion, it looked like I’d have to stand in full sun for at least 15 minutes with the bandana, in the hopes of getting into the store before I developed heat stroke; I turned around and went home instead. – My housemate is extremely hard of hearing and lipreads. Neither of us knows ASL. If I don’t wear a mask, I can repeat what the masked people say to her. Otherwise, she’s unable to understand anything. (And she generally insists in participating in any shopping trips.) I found a video on line explaining how to make a mask with a transparent panel over the mouth, and the materials I ordered for the purpose arrived yesterday. (Since they are also usable for making face shields, and were sold out already at some online sources, I figured they’d sell out shortly if I didn’t move.) I still may need to order more basic materials (cloth, thread, etc.) particularly if I don’t want an obvious mismatch of thread and cloth colours etc. also see “do not like sewing”. – I’m angry about the flip flop on masks/no masks – I’m not convinced in my gut that any homebrew mask I could breath through would actually protect those around me. (Evidence says it probably would, but my gut refuses to believe it.) – I’d rather people actually stay 6 feet away from me, than come close to me because they think that masks will protect us. Not wearing a mask might scare a few more of the non-distancers away. (The record in the past couple of weeks was the adult cyclist on the sidewalk, who came up quietly from behind, on two non-young people, one with grey hair, and a large dog – I half wish I hadn’t been able to move fast enough to restrain the dog from taking a nice healthy bite ;-( She was quite willing to enforce social distancing ;-() – I’m angry about several local counties (not mine, fortunately) mandating masks with insufficient time for people to acquire them – no store selling sewing materials is ‘essential’ locally, and people were given something like 3 days notice of the new requirement. 1. eric23 – I’m angry about the flip flop on masks/no masks Don’t be. If people realize they have made mistakes, you want to encourage them to admit and reverse the mistakes, not to dig their heels in further. 1. DinoNerd Precisely. Also, if masks are so all-fired important that I’m required to wear one, why don’t I see any sign of any of these authorities making it easier for me to acquire even a washable homebrew cloth mask, let alone a sufficient supply of masks more likely to be effective? 1. DavidFriedman admit and reverse the mistakes They reversed the mistake. Did they ever admit it? Was there ever a public apology for giving lethally bad advice? 1. John Schilling It’s also unclear which version is the mistake. And if it’s that easy to be mistaken about this, then you can’t be so confident in the belief du jour as to be imposing it on others with the zeal we’re seeing. 16. viVI_IViv The Imperial College COVID-19 epidemiological model, which informed government policy in the UK, the US and various other countries, is falling apart: the original source code, allegedly a single file of 15,000 lines of C++ code developed over the course of a decade, has not been and won’t be relased, but they eventually released a modified version, heavily refactored by Microsoft and others, and apparently its terrible. Here are two analyses: link, link. TL;DR – It has non-deterministic behaviors that cause each run to yield significantly different results, the researchers try to explain this behavior away by pointing out that the model is stochastic and you are supposed to average over multiple runs anyway, but in fact it produces different results even when the PRNG seed is the same, which means that either there are bugs (in thread synchronization, most likely) or the model is chaotic and even the slight non-determinism introduced by e.g. floating-point non-associativity in multi-thread operations can induce large divergences. Averaging over chaos may or may not be statistically valid, averaging over bugs most definitely isn’t. – It contains 450 different parameters and lots of ad-hoc rules. Most of these parameters appear to be “magic numbers” without any documented relation to ground truth data. Likewise the rules seem quite arbitrary. E.g. there is a loop that computes some value over all the places known to the model, excluding the hotels. Why are the hotels being excluded? Unknown. Maybe some of these choices might have been motivated in the papers published by the Imperial epidemology group over the last 10 years, but still it’s a terrible form of documentation and most of these choices probably make no sense anyway for the current version given that the model has been developed and adapted to different diseases and different scenarios over and over. – Perhaps most importantly, it doesn’t fit recent data, e.g. from Sweden. On a side note, Neil Ferguson, the leader of the Imperial team, had to resign from his government advisory position after it was discovered that he and his mistress met multiple times in violation of the UK lockdown guidelines that Ferguson himself publicly advocated for. This doesn’t speak to the quality of his research, but still, rules for thee but not for me. So, how should we update our view of the world based on this information, both specifically on COVID-19 and more broadly on the “trust the experts” issue? 1. meh how should we update our view of the world based on this information before this came out, what was your baseline for code quality and documentation for decades old code? 1. viVI_IViv Well, somewhat better than a single file of 15,000 lines of undocumented mess, especially for a scientific model intended to produce replicable research and inform public policy. 1. ltowel If this model was 15 years in the making I don’t think it was meant to do either of those – rather, it was meant to translate researcher hours into journal papers at the highest possible rate. Tests and documentation don’t publish, they perish. 1. viVI_IViv Oh I understand that the incentive structure of academia is one of the causes for this hodgepodge. Still, I have read academic research code (in various computer science fields), often published alongside the papers, and it isn’t typically that bad. Maybe CS researchers are just better at writing code even when they don’t work in the industry, maybe they want other people to use their code so that their papers collect citations, maybe the peer reviewers push harder for code releases. I don’t know if the Imperial model code quality is the standard in epidemiology research, and why this is the case. 2. A1987dM @viVI_IViv: Still, I have read academic research code (in various computer science fields), often published alongside the papers, and it isn’t typically that bad. Well, code in non-CS academic fields originally intended to be used by its authors only rather than to be published anywhere does tend to suck balls. Usually not 15k-LOC single files, but still I’m not astonished in the least. 2. Jaskologist My baseline is that this is typical for academic code. But that means that scientific papers which are based on computer models should be assumed faulty. They’re mostly just an encoding of the assumptions the researcher started with, plus a lot of bugs. If they refuse to share the source code, that’s equivalent to a scientific paper that refuses to disclose its methods. 1. matkoniecz If they refuse to share the source code, that’s equivalent to a scientific paper that refuses to disclose its methods. +1 And it is not equivalent, it is exactly case of refusing to explain how one arrived at some claim. I am surprised that source code was not available (I am probably revealing to be naive). Such research is not worth much. And “we are embarrassed about code quality” or “it is a legal quagmire” is not changing that it makes such research nearly worthless. 1. Lambert I think the thing about proper ivory-tower academia is that there’s probably only about 12 people on earth who might conceivably want to read or execute your code, and you’ve met all of them at various conferences. If these people want to look at your code, they’ll email you and ask. This leaves the code functionally accessible despite not being published. This isn’t a great state of affairs. Academic code should be available in git repositories and postgrads should be taught to write code that doesn’t look like semicolon-rich alphabetti spaghetti. 2. Garrett > If these people want to look at your code, they’ll email you and ask. I did and I got no response. > Academic code should be available in git repositories and postgrads should be taught to write code that doesn’t look like semicolon-rich alphabetti spaghetti. Yes. And if they are unable to do so, their research projects should include the funding required to bring someone onboard who is able to produce quality (and unit tested!) code in an accessible format. 3. Lambert > I did and I got no response. I mean like, if you’re running simlulations of the accoustic coupling between the air columns in a saxophonist’s trachea and their instrument or something, and you personally know all of the several people in your field. > their research projects should include the funding required to bring someone onboard who is able to produce quality (and unit tested!) code in an accessible format. Agreed. But they should also bring in CS profs to teach students how to write unit tests etc. as part of their under- or postgrad studies. 2. meh Then to answer the OP’s question, I guess you are updating very little based on this information. 2. ltowel I don’t think criticizing the quality of the code for one (early and albeit influential) model is a productive pursuit. Frankly, the only thing that is surprising to me is that it is written in spaghetti C++ (or C as Carmack says) and not spaghetti R (biostat’s people love their R from my experience) or Fortran (mmm those arrays). The amount the model varies based on weird assumptions is unfortunate, but in reality unimportant. You’ll run it, either get a result that you think is “reasonable” and write a press release, or get one that you don’t think is “reasonable”, chock it up to a bug and iterate. Lockdowns are a political decision, not a scientific one. People will pick a model that supports their priors – I like the IHME one because I know people who used to work there and I trust them, although it was more pessimistic then my taste initially. This model matters significantly less in political impact then the meme of Flatten The Curve. Politically, “Scientists” or “experts” are either shields used to either make sure your marginal middle class white voter’s grandma doesn’t die (so you don’t lose their vote) or rail against as elites trying to destroy liberty or the economy (so you can mobilize your base). Governors need to own this political decision and lead – we should understand what they believe is an acceptable number of covid cases prevented by pushing an extra person to suicide, make explicit words what we’re doing by mortgaging the lives of the poor and the livelihoods of the small business owners for the benefit of the white collar class and and either end or explain apparently unequal enforcement of stay at home orders. 1. Ketil I don’t think criticizing the quality of the code for one (early and albeit influential) model is a productive pursuit . This model matters significantly less in political impact then the meme of Flatten The Curve. Models like this matter because politicians will back up their decisions by pointing to science. They don’t say we should quarantine because they saw this really cool animated thing on insta, they say it’s because the smart people in white coats tells them it’s the right thing to do. So maybe they don’t really base their decisions on these models, but they sure pretend to. Calling criticism of the models (and their implementation) “unproductive” sounds fairly close to saying we shouldn’t fact-check or question political decision processes. 1. ltowel I really appreciate this criticism of my take on models – I think this is valuable. I don’t think that the legitimacy that was gained from this particular broken simulation is any higher then what you get from the general concept of “science” and having some talk show hosts have an episode. Idk, what does Jon Oliver think? 1. smocc As a scientist I feel the duty to be especially upset about “science” being used as a cloke of authority because I know all to well how little science can actually tell us for certain. It’s a little like how professional magicians would feel if government officials went to a professional mentalist’s show and then went home and started consulting fortune tellers. Mostly it’s personal. I’m sure politicians can and do find other ways to sell their ideas to the public, but this is my field you’re eroding for your own gain, dammit. Science is only science when it is subjected to intense scrutiny. Any authority it has derives from the intense scrutiny and from being brutally honest about its limitations. Presenting “science” to the public as the real thing can only lead to an erosion of the real thing. 3. Skeptic Our institutions gifted us a garbage model that’s not even self consistent, signal boosted the garbage as Official Science (TM), and made world changing policy decisions based on said garbage. Western civilization is a zombie meme. 4. Nornagest It’s not surprising to me that the code is shit. Academic code is always shit. At least in my experience as someone who’s spent a lot of his career trying to get it to do something useful for industry. That doesn’t necessarily mean the results are invalid in the general case (though it seems to have done poorly with COVID, and the inter-run replicability issue is concerning); to figure that out, we’d need to see how well it does on a broad sample of epidemics. Does that data exist? 1. viVI_IViv to figure that out, we’d need to see how well it does on a broad sample of epidemics. Does that data exist? They published papers based on it, so one would hope they evaluated it against real data, but each paper likely used a different ad-hoc version of the codebase and none of the experiments can be really replicated. As far as we know, they could have overfitted the model to each scenario by tweaking the magic numbers and ad-hoc rules. 2. Controls Freak Academic code is always shit. So much this. ….the things I’ve seen. Horror stories. It’s a wonder we know anything about the world. 5. Radu Floricica It’s not as bad as it seems. Sue Denim’s review in particular is quite uncharitable – it’s a decade old software for a research project that wasn’t that big of a priority. She/he comes from from a background where both expertise and budgets are incomparably higher. Total compensation for a google developer in a middle management position is probably over the budget for that whole project. I am pretty unsettled by the model not being able to match Sweden’s numbers. That’s strange, considering one of the complaints is that it has too many parameters to fiddle (which I don’t find odd – reality has many parameters to fiddle). I’m not at all worried about it not being deterministic. I can easily imagine a scenario in which several threads model separate populations in parallel, and the exact moment interaction happens influences end result. Say you make a one day visit from city A to city B, where A is clean and B is infected. A few microseconds of cpu time equivalent of a couple of days of modeled time catch B in different points of its exponential curve, so what you take back to A can be dramatically different. Just like in reality. Catch is to model enough cities and repeat enough times to get an idea of likely results. 1. ec429 I can easily imagine a scenario in which several threads model separate populations in parallel, and the exact moment interaction happens influences end result. That’s supposed to be something the RNG decides, hence determined by the seed. If the determiner of ‘time passed in simulation’ is ‘elapsed processor time’, rather than being an in-simulation variable, You Are Doing It Wrong. The visit to B should use B’s state at a time specified by the model, not some state that B had at some point but who knows when. (Though I don’t believe the Imperial model is designed in such an Egregiously Wrong way; it’s probably just common-or-garden race conditions, uninitialised variables, aliased pointers, and other such heisenbugs.) She/he comes from from a background where both expertise and budgets are incomparably higher. How is this relevant to the claim that “the model is too poor to be acceptable as an input to policy”? Sure, it may explain why the model is so poor, but Google don’t use all that expertise and budget on a whim, they use it because buggy code produces garbage answers. Sue is only uncharitable if she’s saying “this code is buggy, therefore its authors are Bad People”, which I didn’t see in the linked piece; what I did see is “the authors are claiming that the bugs don’t matter to the science, which makes them Bad People”, which I think is an entirely reasonable criticism. 1. Radu Floricica Nonono. If you have a real multitasking system, order of operations is specifically not guaranteed. It can vary with … god, pretty much anything. Very interesting things happen at high loads, and it’s actually a frequent mistake to assume that things happen in the same order when you run a test run and when you actually put the system under production load. You specifically shouldn’t assume that. buggy code produces garbage answers Nah. Every production code is buggy. Most have known bugs forgotten in Jira tasks lists for years. This doesn’t make every software you use garbage – just means it sometimes fails in some ways. Just like, I guess, everything does. Trick is to work well enough to be useful. Think earlier Windows versions – they were buggy as hell, and still the best and most uses OS on the planet. And a minor quibble. As far as I can tell (there’s no written rule) charitable is used here to mean “consider the best possible interpretation of a text before responding to it”. You’re not obliged to take it seriously, of course, but the simple act of putting it in your head tends to clear up a lot of misunderstandings before they happen. 1. ec429 Nonono. If you have a real multitasking system, order of operations is specifically not guaranteed. Just to be clear: you don’t need to explain that to me; I’m a Linux kernel hacker. But you know, we have these things called “spinlocks” and “mutexes” and “RCU” and what-have-you, specifically to constrain the order of operations in those ways which matter to the correctness of the output. If your system is written correctly, the execution order should be — well, CPU designers would call it “architecturally invisible”. If the output depends on it, that’s very nearly the definition of a race condition. (And something else you “shouldn’t assume” is that the result will be in any way sane; I don’t know the details of the C++ concurrency model but in C we say that if you do something that’s not defined by the rules of the abstract machine — invoke undefined behaviour — then it is “legal for the compiler to make demons fly out of your nose”.) Think earlier Windows versions – they were buggy as hell, and still the best and most uses OS on the planet. Given that Unix exists, I don’t think any version of Windows has ever been the best OS on the planet. (“Most used” depends on how you measure it. Unixen tend to get used for anything important, except for some stuff on mainframes that runs under MVS or VM/CMS.) And y’know that open-source trick that we use to make stuff like Linux demonstrably less buggy than proprietary competitors? Yeah, we copied that idea from science. Shame they stopped doing it themselves. I know the definition of rhetorical charity, but I don’t quite see how to construct a better interpretation of “this [bug] isn’t a problem running the model in full as it is stochastic anyway”. Except if you interpret “stochastic” to mean “a steaming pile of bugs and BS”, in which case, sure, this bug doesn’t make the output any more garbage than it was already. But that doesn’t exactly invalidate Suedenim’s “this model should not be used for science or policymaking” conclusion. And however you interpret buggy code, it’s still buggy; I don’t see where interpretation and charity come into that at all. (No-one’s suggesting the Imperial researchers deliberately wrote a buggy model.) The only way to steelman the code is to fix the bugs in it to find out what it was intended to do… at which point you’ve changed the text, not merely your interpretation of it. So please explain to me in detail what’s “uncharitable” about Suedenim’s review. 2. nkurz @ec429: > we have these things called “spinlocks” and “mutexes” and “RCU” and what-have-you, specifically to constrain the order of operations in those ways which matter to the correctness of the output. Get with the times — that’s the old slow way of doing it! Now-a-days we don’t bother with all that locking nonsense, we just let the strongest results win: Hogwild!: A Lock-Free Approach to Parallelizing Stochastic Gradient Descent Abstract: Stochastic Gradient Descent (SGD) is a popular algorithm that can achieve state-of-the-art performance on a variety of machine learning tasks. Several researchers have recently proposed schemes to parallelize SGD, but all require performance-destroying memory locking and synchronization. This work aims to show using novel theoretical analysis, algorithms, and implementation that SGD can be implemented without any locking. We present an update scheme called Hogwild! which allows processors access to shared memory with the possibility of over- writing each other’s work. We show that when the associated optimization problem is sparse, meaning most gradient updates only modify small parts of the decision variable, then Hogwild! achieves a nearly optimal rate of convergence. We demonstrate experimentally that Hogwild! outperforms alternative schemes that use locking by an order of magnitude. https://people.eecs.berkeley.edu/~brecht/papers/hogwildTR.pdf > (No-one’s suggesting the Imperial researchers deliberately wrote a buggy model.) Oh, so you mean Hogwild! isn’t the current state-of-the-art in epidemiological modeling? Then nevermind. Which is to say, I agree with ec429 here: if your modeling routine produces non-deterministic results and you aren’t writing a peer-reviewed paper explaining why this is actually a good thing, you’ve got a major bug, and the default assumption should be that the bug is large enough to invalidate anything you would otherwise call “results”. Yes, this may mean you should ignore the results of a lot of academic models, and for good reason. 3. Radu Floricica Well, I guess we’re stuck on whether order of operations matters for correctness of output or not, in their case. A charitable review would spend at least a bit of time to say why that’s not so, instead of automatically assuming they lied and demolishing them. 4. Ketil In principle, I agree with Radu, a parallellized simulation can be non-deterministic, and variations in output doesn’t necessarily mean that the output is not correct. For all its spinlocks and mutexes, Linux is plenty non-deterministic – but hopefully in places where it doesn’t matter, or where there are no implicit guarantees. I didn’t read the review, so I won’t have an opinion on whether the review is uncharitable or not. But if we are charitable and pretend C and C++ actually have a “concurrency model”, it is one that allows every thread to write anywhere, and then provide some easily circumvented tools to help the programmer out. This is incredibly hard to get right, I’ve been programming computers for 30 years and I try to avoid this kind of parallelism wherever possible. It is defensible for projects with Google- or Linux-kernel scale resources, but I’m skeptical that epidemiologists should enter into this kind of territory. And when someone writes a program as a single multi-Kloc file, it is a further sign of bad programming practices, and an indication that the programmer should learn better discipline before being let loose on multithreaded coding. Even though the program may appear to work, there is the difference between a program with obviously no faults and no obvious faults. A huge block of multithreaded C++ is almost by definition in the second category – at best. Given that Unix exists, I don’t think any version of Windows has ever been the best OS on the planet. Sorry, that’s too CW, and only allowed in threads divisible by 4711. 🙂 5. ec429 @Ketil: But if we are charitable and pretend C and C++ actually have a “concurrency model” FWIW, the C11 standard introduced an explicit memory/concurrency model, and various atomics, threading etc. features. (Which the Linux kernel doesn’t use, because they don’t match our needs; we have our own, written in asm for each arch, along with a machine-readable memory model to try and prove whether they work or not.) I believe C++11 did something similar, but I don’t know anything about it as I refuse to touch C++ with a bargepole. I agree with you, though, that these epidemiologists don’t look like the sort of programmers I’d trust with threads. (I’m not sure I’d even trust them with Go CSP.) there is the difference between a program with obviously no faults and no obvious faults If this place had upvotes, you’d get mine just for quoting Tony Hoare 🙂 6. Lambert > It is defensible for projects with Google- or Linux-kernel scale resources, but I’m skeptical that epidemiologists should enter into this kind of territory. The UN predicts an economic impact of$2 trillion due to COVID-19.
Pandemics this severe are perhaps once in a century events.

Maybe we should be giving epidemological teams Linux-scale resources.
How much is spent on kernel development, anyway?

Maybe we should be giving epidemological teams Linux-scale resources.
How much is spent on kernel development, anyway?

More than 10 million, less than a billion – probably. Commercial, of course, open source is a different beast. And you can get away easily with much less, if you just want a small OS.

But, like I said in a different comment, problem isn’t the cost. It’s the complete lack of a market for this kind of things. Commons problem, yet again.

8. nkurz

> I guess we’re stuck on whether order of operations matters for correctness of output or not, in their case. A charitable review would spend at least a bit of time to say why that’s not so

The original author has a followup critique that adds more explanation of why run-to-run consistency matters:

“In an uncontrollable model like ICL’s you can’t get repeatable results and if the expected size of the change is less than the arbitrary variations, you can’t conclude anything from the model. And exactly because the variations are arbitrary, you don’t actually know how large they can get, which means there’s no way to conclude anything at all.”

“Averaging samples to eliminate random noise works only if the noise is actually random. The mishmash of iteratively accumulated floating point uncertainty, uninitialised reads, broken shuffles, broken random number generators and other issues in this model may yield unexpected output changes but they are not truly random deviations, so they can’t just be averaged out. Taking the average of a lot of faulty measurements doesn’t give a correct measurement. ”

https://lockdownsceptics.org/second-analysis-of-fergusons-model/

Ensemble models are really useful things, and can be spookily accurate in certain cases. But behind the scenes they make a lot of assumptions about the cause of run-to-run differences. Once you’ve established that you are dealing with race conditions and memory corruption, all bets are (or at least should be) off. It’s not impossible for bugs like this to be benign, but it should never be the default presumption.

9. John Schilling

And when someone writes a program as a single multi-Kloc file, it is a further sign of bad programming practices

If it really is one programmer writing a single program, that only they will ever use or maintain, what difference does it make how many files the code is broken into?

And that does describe a lot of academic computing, and some of my own engineering computing. The problem is with code written and validated by one amatuer coder(*) being used for critical policy decisions. If you do that, you can’t trust the results no matter how elegant the code or how faithfully the coder adopted the “this is how professional coding teams do it” practices.

* Or a series of amateurs each picking up the project abandoned by the previous one. Serial coding monogamy?

10. Garrett

@ec429:

Is there a way I might contact you through a separate channel? I have some kernel internals issues which are causing me pain and have exceeded my ability to understand.

11. ec429

@Garrett: sure, just email {my username} at cantab dot net. Can’t guarantee I’ll be able to help, though; the kernel is a big place and there’s lots of bits of it I don’t understand either 😉

12. Loriot

Maybe we should be giving epidemological teams Linux-scale resources.

It would be politically untenable for a government to pay for this kind of thing until it is too late to matter.

Remember the story of France’s 2009 H1N1 preparations, which got publicly lambasted and resulted in France cutting back in preparedness by the time COVID came around?

13. matkoniecz

If it really is one programmer writing a single program, that only they will ever use or maintain, what difference does it make how many files the code is broken into?

Project with logical management of code are easier to manage.

And it is not such program, it was developed by many people, each person building on previous work.

14. 10240

@ec429 What do you think about the following model? (Inspired by one of the Twitter comments, though I’m not sure if this is what they meant.)

A thread pool is used. It’s non-deterministic which thread does which task. Each thread has its own PRNG (to avoid having to synchronize). Whenever a task needs a random number, it gets one from its thread’s PRNG.

No undefined behavior is invoked at any point. I don’t know if it’s technically considered a race condition, but the results should be valid (assuming that the code is otherwise valid): it shouldn’t matter which PRNG a particular pseudo-random number comes from.

Then again, if changes to the PRNG seed or the execution order cause major changes to the result, it’s very suspicious that the code is not otherwise valid.

2. John Schilling

It’s not as bad as it seems. Sue Denim’s review in particular is quite uncharitable – it’s a decade old software for a research project that wasn’t that big of a priority. […] Total compensation for a google developer in a middle management position is probably over the budget for that whole project.

Explaining why someone couldn’t do better than to implement a crappy model in crappy code, doesn’t make it any less crappy.

I am pretty unsettled by the model not being able to match Sweden’s numbers.

Yes, and the ability to generate numbers that match reality is what distinguishes good models from crappy ones. If you put good data into what looks like crappy code and get a crappy output, there’s a pretty good chance you’re dealing with a crap model.

*shrug* Haven’t reviewed the code myself. I’m just responding to the criticism I know a bit about. And yeah, the Sweden thing fails an outside view check, and that’s a lot more serious.

3. quanta413

I am pretty unsettled by the model not being able to match Sweden’s numbers. That’s strange, considering one of the complaints is that it has too many parameters to fiddle (which I don’t find odd – reality has many parameters to fiddle).

This is pretty normal for models that try to “build up” to the phenomenon you are studying from the interactions of many small parts (like statistical mechanics models of gases or agent based models of populations) instead of just black box fitting an enormous family of functions to data (like a neural network).

The specific way in which the different interactions are linked together is a strong constraint which usually means that wide ranges of behaviors are impossible in the model. They wouldn’t be impossible if you used something very flexible. This means overfitting is usually not as severe as a problem as in black box models. It’s typical for the effective number of parameters that control the states of the model that correspond to what you actually go out and measure to be much smaller than the number of actual parameters.

The tradeoff is you often won’t have very good fits. From a scientific point of view that’s actually useful, it’s easier to rule out your model as missing some important dynamics when it can’t fit. But from the point of view of short-term extrapolation or prediction, it might be less useful than a flexible black box.

6. ana53294

Clearly, Imperial are too embarrassed by the state of it ever to release it of their own free will, which is unacceptable given that it was paid for by the taxpayer and belongs to them.

No, the results of the research don’t necessarily belong to the taxpayer. Many things developed with taxes do not belong to the government. That’s not how government funded research works.

I checked this paper to see the funding;

This work was supported by Centre funding from the UK Medical Research Council under a concordat with the UK Department for International Development, the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Modelling Methodology and Community Jameel

The UK Medical Research Council is an NGO; the UK Department for International Development is a government agency; the NIHR is a government agency, but the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Modelling Methodology was started april 2020, so they clearly don’t own the research, either; Community Jameel is an NGO.

It’s not clear who funded this code; if it was made during 10 years, that means there was a long string of different government and non-government funding. Some parts were even written for free by interns, extra hours worked by researchers, etc.

People who work for a single company with a stable salary don’t understand how research funding works.

The responsibility of the policies instituted as a result of the model belong to the politicians. The code probably was terrible, and not up to industry standard. But researchers probably don’t get paid even half the industry standard.

1. viVI_IViv

No, the results of the research don’t necessarily belong to the taxpayer. Many things developed with taxes do not belong to the government. That’s not how government funded research works.

True. That part was a bad take, but still, publicly releasing the code used for academic publications is definitely a best practice, and government funding agencies can and should mandate taxpayer-funded research code to be released.

The responsibility of the policies instituted as a result of the model belong to the politicians.

But politicians are not, and cannot be expert at everything. Trump was severely mocked, and probably rightly so, when he rambled about disinfecting the body from the inside, because he clearly didn’t know what he was talking about. But if politicians have a duty to listen to the experts on scientific issues, then the experts have a duty to get the facts right.

The code probably was terrible, and not up to industry standard. But researchers probably don’t get paid even half the industry standard.

And if we live in a society where predicting the course of world-crashing pandemics is valued less than predicting which ads people are more likely to click on, then I say we have a problem.

1. ana53294

I can’t see anything at your link.

Politicians are not experts, but they should still factor in the uncertainty. That’s the job; making important decisions without having perfect data. If we had a crystal ball that told us what the results will be, it would be so much easier to make policy decisions.

If a stock experts tells me that airlines are great investments right now because [reasons I don’t understand], I should be able to use *common sense* to deduce whether what he’s telling me is realistic. In any case, the decision to buy or not buy belongs to me.

1. viVI_IViv

I can’t see anything at your link.

Just a Joker meme, apparently the link is broken.

And if we live in a society where predicting the course of world-crashing pandemics is valued less than predicting which ads people are more likely to click on, then I say we have a problem

Not as much “valued less” as “harder to monetize”. There aren’t many buyers for pandemic models, and probably more important, there isn’t a market where you can sell incrementally better and/or cheaper pandemic models. So… not path from you garage to a prosperous business.

Just another commons problem. 10 billion beneficiaries, give or take, many people who would be willing to work on solutions if properly paid but… nothing in between.

7. pjs

> which means that either there are bugs (in thread synchronization,which means that either there are bugs (in thread synchronization, most likely) or the model is chaotic and most likely) or the model is chaotic even the slight non-determinism introduced by e.g. floating-point non-associativity in multi-thread operations can induce large divergences

With respect, I disagree with the implications here. A multi-threaded stochastic simulation WILL almost always produce non-determinism, even if the thread syncrhronization and locking is absolutely perfect. The effort to avoid this is usually some combination of heroically obscure and/or performance-crushing code, and if you bite these bullets the LARGE costs are usually 100% scientificially pointless.

In a large stochastic simulation, the tiniest divergence even once (due to e.g. floating point issues, or my core was pre-empted to handle an interrrupt and yours wasn’t) quickly leads to divergences as large as if you had chosen a different random seed in the first place. Stochastic models always have a range of outcomes: calling this “chaotic” is either unreasonably pejogative (if you mean ‘chaotic’ in a colloquilal sense of ‘variable’) or simply false (if you have a more technical meaning in mind).

The commonly referenced non-determinism critiques of this code (I am only addressing those criticisms) have a core of correctness, but are basically naive. Give me a criticism that of someone (however credentialled) who has worked on a large multi-threaded schochastic simulation. The rules (well some of them) are just different there.

We WANT to know the range of outcomes correctly programmed model produces under different randomization. Adding more randomization via OS thread scheduling is probably irrelevant (scientifically). But if it’s not for some subtle reasons (and we are talking about really subtle here) … the question becomes how many tens of millions of $and decades do you have to get it ‘right’??? 1. Skeptic The model was sold as (and is intentionally) deterministic. Running the model with the same inputs gives answers off by hundreds of thousands of deaths. They’re not running the model and giving us their probability density function. They’re running seeds, taking the average of garbage and selling it as Gospel truth which is then parroted by the media 1. Radu Floricica Not really. From the first review, a quote from documentation: The model is stochastic. Multiple runs with different seeds should be undertaken to see average behaviour. It’s just the reviewer that assumes the model should be deterministic (without giving very good reasons) and proceeds to judge it through this lens. I much agree with pjs – it’s complicated to make an efficient, deterministic parallel simulation, and nothing to be gained from it. Imagine for example you have a crowdsourced version, with nodes running in computers all over the net. No reason this wouldn’t be stochastically valid, but it sure as hell wouldn’t be deterministic – at any point somebody can switch off their laptop unpredictably. 1. viVI_IViv I much agree with pjs – it’s complicated to make an efficient, deterministic parallel simulation, and nothing to be gained from it. Imagine for example you have a crowdsourced version, with nodes running in computers all over the net. No reason this wouldn’t be stochastically valid, but it sure as hell wouldn’t be deterministic – at any point somebody can switch off their laptop unpredictably. It depends. If each node runs independent simulations starting from different seeds, then averaging them is statistically valid, because you are averaging (approximately) independent random samples from the same probability distribution. This might not be always practicable, sometimes a model is so big and computationally expensive that even a single run needs to be split over different cores or nodes, and in these cases guaranteeing exact determinism can be hard and impose a performance penalty. But you can’t naively assume that the effects of this kind of non-determinism will cancel out on average, they may or may not, depending on the details. This is something that requires an analysis, which they didn’t do here, and in fact if I understand correctly, this isn’t even the intended behavior. 2. A1987dM Myself, I never even bothered to try to write any multi-threaded simulation. I don’t think the effort it’d take would be worth more than just launching n single-thread processes with n different random seed (well, at least in the kind of systems I simulate). 3. Ketil But you can’t naively assume that the effects of this kind of non-determinism [from multithreaded code] will cancel out on average, they may or may not, depending on the details. I think a more important aspect is that the added complexity of the code itself makes it much more likely that the programmer introduces errors. 2. pjs > Running the model with the same inputs gives answers off by hundreds of thousands of deaths. The code is buggy if single-threaded runs, with the same seed, compiled the same way, give different results. The code is apparently buggy in this respect, and to this extent the criticism is fair. But the criticism also explictly calls then out for nondeterminism with multi-threading, run (and presumably compiled) elsewhere, and so forth. If you have the tiniest nondeterminism perturbing a decision even if only once, and either as a genuine bug or in runs where it is to be expected, you often get outputs roughly as variable as if you change seed. If if it’s inherent in the model that that’s variation is tens of thousands, so be it; that’s a model characteristic. But it’s misleading to imply that the bug/nondeterminism is *especially* awful – because look how dramatically the results vary! Rather, given an inherently variable model, this usually just reiterates the fact that there was some nondeterminism. 1. viVI_IViv The point is not that there are bugs in this particular piece of code: there are bugs everywhere, even in security-critical mass-deployed software components (e.g. OpenSSL, not to mention the Boeing 737 MAX fiasco). The point is that if this is going to be as good as it gets in terms of our ability to model the world, at least in the foreseeable future, then as a society we should come to terms with the fact that we know much less that we think we know. I don’t think it’s even a matter of academia vs. industry: quants get paid a s**tload of money and I’m sure their models look tidy and pass all the nice regression tests, yet in the 2008 financial crisis they got their predictions wrong by several orders of magnitude and crashed the economy. If if it’s inherent in the model that that’s variation is tens of thousands, so be it; that’s a model characteristic. Yes, but if the model is so sensitive to tiny perturbations, chaotic in the technical sense, then what happens if you change a little bit the magic numbers or a few rules of its very complicated logic? That variation certainly wouldn’t average out over multiple runs. 2. pjs > Yes, but if the model is so sensitive to tiny perturbations, chaotic in the technical sense, then what happens if you change a little bit the magic numbers or a few rules of its very complicated logic? That variation certainly wouldn’t average out over multiple runs. Not confidently sure what you mean by ‘chaotic in the technical sense’, but if I guess your intent correctly my answer is: there’s no evidence or suggestion or faintest reason to believe that their simulation is so. Do you have an argument or citations otherwise? Nothing I’ve read makes it sound as anything other than a regular schochastic simulation with a certain (albeit wide) range of outcomes from run to run, but with no statistical abnormalities. For other reasons (NOT scientific reasons) we’d very much like same-seed, same machine, one-thread, runs to be replicable and it sounds as though they failed that which is worrying. But ‘techincally’ ‘chaotic’? Please justify. If your model simulation gives different results in different runs (e.g. by changing the seed or anything else), them reporting other than mean +/- standard deviation is egregious malpractice. BUT that’s not a _code quality_ issue. Edit: if by chaotic you mean that a tiny perturbation can change the results a lot, then yes, but a large stochastic simulation is either perfectly deterministic or chaotic (in this sense): it’s rare to find much in between. It’s super rare to find a complex multi-threaded simulation that is deterministic (and thus not ‘chaotic’ in this rather uninteresting sense) unless it’s coded to be basically as slow as one thread or else rewrites the entire operating system. 3. Radu Floricica The point is that if this is going to be as good as it gets in terms of our ability to model the world, at least in the foreseeable future, then as a society we should come to terms with the fact that we know much less that we think we know. …and starting from the same premise I find only praise for the authors. They were, after all, the only ones that actually bothered to put years of effort into developing a model at all. I kinda understand where Dominic Cummings is coming from: we need a lot more physicists* employed in government organizations if we want to solve this kind of problems. *) he’s a bit obsessed with physicists as being best scientists, but pretty much any numbers profession works. 8. S_J This reminds me of the ClimateGate release. Not the emails and conspiracy theories: but the observation that the modeling software was hard to understand, opaque, and very poorly structured. I suspect that is a regular problem for academic research projects. 1. A1987dM Exactly — the first thing I thought about ClimateGate was “if you’re going to distrust computational climatology because of that, you better distrust pretty much all computational physics…” 9. Loriot Note that research code is uniformly awful. One would have hoped that they cleaned things up before it entered use as a policy tool, but it’s not exactly surprising that they didn’t. The thing you have to ask is “who’s going to pay to fix the code?” 1. Conrad Honcho Note that research code is uniformly awful. Why is this tolerated? I could not turn in anything that looks like this at my job. My personal projects are exceptionally well documented because I know I’m going to have to look back at them later. Why is it just expected that “serious experts” are going to produce junk code? 1. ec429 “Throw-away code”? I thought this model was supposed to be the fruits of a decade of development and use. (And possibly more than that, since there’s a suggestion it started out as a translation of an earlier FORTRAN codebase.) This isn’t something that was hacked together for one paper, this model is supposed to be the foundation of an entire research programme, examining the effects of all kinds of variations in parameters, and providing a base on which to model additional hypothesised mechanisms. Any field that considers this kind of junk to be adequate “science” should have its funding taken away and given to someone who’s not a cargo cult. 2. ana53294 It’s generation after generation of throw-away code produced by different students, each of whom don’t have to go back to it. So somebody comes to the lab, they get the work of the freshly graduated student, have to figure it out despite the shitty documentation, and do the same thing to the next student. Unless there is one person who is permanently assigned to the group (like an on-staff programmer), nobody is responsible for the continuity of the code. So yes, it’s throw-away even if it gets picked out of the garbage every time it gets thrown. There is no continuity in such projects, since you rarely get to keep the same person on the same project; thus, nobody has an incentive to make it possible to continue the project by documentation etc. 3. ec429 It’s generation after generation of throw-away code produced by different students, each of whom don’t have to go back to it. Sure, that’s the mechanism. But some people in this thread seem to be talking like it’s a justification, that academia’s inability to do better makes it acceptable. If your institutional structure isn’t up to getting computers to do anything better than GIGO, put the fancy models away and stick to science you can do without the computer; or use off-the-shelf models written by someone who’s not part of your shitty broken system. Don’t carry on as normal, pretending not to notice that the planes don’t land. 4. ana53294 “Destroy the old world, forge the new world”, sounds good, but if you don’t remove the reasons why the old world didn’t work, you won’t forge a better one. Academia works badly, but it works. Don’t try to destroy it. And if you try to cheap out and expect top quality stuff, that’s how you get GIGO. Garbage Pay, Garbage Results. 5. Lambert What does the tertiary eductaion of an epidemologist look like? Do biologists whose work impacts clinical practice but who aren’t themselves clinicians get the ‘If you get this wrong then people die’ talk at university? POM-dependant models might be an acceptable tradeoff when the question is about some obscure bit of astrophysics or something else where the results don’t have an immediate impact on us. It’s using the products of that culture as a load-bearing part of society that’s the problem. 6. ec429 Academia works badly, but it works. Don’t try to destroy it. I don’t want to destroy academia. I just want it (or more precisely, any given field of it) to get laughed out of town whenever it starts claiming knowledge and certainty far beyond what its methods actually support; instead of getting respected because it’s Science Don’cha Know and that makes everything it says gospel and we have to do massive iatrogenic harm to our civilisation because the nice egghead’s model says otherwise we’ll all die of global warming / pandemic / whatever the next eschaton ends up being. if you try to cheap out and expect top quality stuff, that’s how you get GIGO Precisely; which is why you should reduce scope so that you can achieve quality within your means, rather than lying to the funding agency and saying “yes, we can totally build a complex and intricate simulation model on a budget of thruppenny-ha’penny and half a grad student”. But every academic right now does the latter because all the other academics they’re competing for funding with tell the same lie, so we have to change the incentives of either the academics or the grant agencies, and loudly and publicly mocking bad science sounds like it might go some way towards achieving that. 7. ana53294 But every academic right now does the latter because all the other academics they’re competing for funding with tell the same lie, so we have to change the incentives of either the academics or the grant agencies, and loudly and publicly mocking bad science sounds like it might go some way towards achieving that. I agree with this. put the fancy models away and stick to science you can do without the computer; or use off-the-shelf models written by someone who’s not part of your shitty broken system But this does sound like “destroy current world” to me. They do some models, and those models are not that good, and yes, you shouldn’t make decisions about locking the country on that basis. But at least they do something. You’re suggesting they do nothing until a new world is built. EDIT: @Lambert It’s using the products of that culture as a load-bearing part of society that’s the problem. Exactly. It’s the politicians who want to give the responsibility to somebody, instead of taking it for themselves. 8. Aapje @ana53294 Does academia work? A very high percentage of papers appear to be p-hacked to produce false results, which is basically cheating. The supposed mechanism to catch such cheating, replication, is not actually often enough to embarrass the cheaters. Wouldn’t we be better off if far fewer shitty papers were published just to fill the resumes of ‘scientists’ and instead, the focus would be on actually figuring out what is true? This doesn’t require destroying academia, but rather, reform. 9. ana53294 @Aapje: The thing is, because academia depends so much on the work of grad students, a lot of work is bound to be shitty, because it takes time, mistakes and effort to figure out how to do good work. It’s much harder to do good work from the beginning when most science is stumbling around in the dark trying to figure things out. But then, the thing is that the most innovative research is done by young people, mostly. So you do need to hire young, inexperienced people, and throw them in the pond. The fact that so many of them will sink, producing shitty research, is compensated by the few who learn how to swim. I agree p-hacking is bad, and it comes from bad incentives. But I think that most people in academia are making honest efforts to figure things out, and p-hacking, in many cases, comes from a lack of knowledge of statistics. 10. Aapje @ana53294 So isn’t the logical step to hire professional mathematicians (in permanent jobs) and have those work with the scientists to improve their methodology? These people don’t have to be young, as their job isn’t to come up with hypotheses or such. 11. John Schilling Professors in fields other than mathematics and computer science, generally don’t have better math and coding skills than do their grad students. 12. ana53294 Professors in fields other than mathematics and computer science, generally don’t have better math and coding skills than do their grad students. Well, a bit of this. But also, professors tend to stick to what they know. Going around stumbling in the dark is miserable, and that’s why grad students do it. So if you want innovation, you do need grad students. But I do agree that we should have more permanent professionals, who do have an incentive to build systems that last. There’s just no funding for that. In fact, many funders prohibit funding going towards permanent on-staff members of the team (and how will their salaries get funded?). 13. Radu Floricica But is it really a failure of academia? I honestly don’t expect people in their specialty to have the knowledge to properly re-code to standards a software this large. And I also don’t expect every research program to hire outside developers to build their software to standards from the beginning. Neither is a realistic real world option. Problem happened when you get to use this to make policy decisions. At the point where it started to give results and it got to be used in a “break glass, use tool” capacity, somebody outside academia should have paid for the conversion to a professional tool. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect the recipients for the grant to say “yeah, you paid us for the 10 years of work, we think we got it, but we need a bunch of money to completely rewrite the main tool”. Not only they won’t, they can’t. Somebody else needs to come and make sure a research project is ready to be used as a policy tool, and this needs to be semi-official and funded. And I think I need to add this to every comment: They were the ones to try. Don’t shit on the ones to try. 14. A1987dM @John Schilling: Even that’s an understatement. IME most of the academic code that doesn’t suck is written by youngsters. 15. viVI_IViv Unless there is one person who is permanently assigned to the group (like an on-staff programmer), nobody is responsible for the continuity of the code. But the lab does have permanent staff: Neil Ferguson has been working at the Imperial College for the last 20 years. He should have been the person responsible for the continuity of this codebase, or he should have hired somebody to do it if he didn’t have the will or skill to do it himself. The problem is that the incentives in academia are set in such way that it is not personally advantageous to the actors involved to do quality research: the grad students try to maximize the number of paper they can publish while toiling at the minimum wage in order to pad their CVs before moving to greener pastures, the professors get to put their names on these papers and use them to pad their grant proposals for the next round of funding. Replication, which ought to be the main quality control of scientific research, is not practiced to a sufficient extent (e.g. I’m quite certain that no paper based on the Imperial model has been replicated, because it would have been impossible before the code was released, and even with the code in its current state it would be extermely hard to replicate anything). The result is that many, maybe most, papers are garbage: we don’t become any more knowledgeable about the world by funding their production, if anything, we might become actually more misinformed and mislead by a sense of false confidence. This is particularly terrible if the fruits of this “research” are used to directly inform public policy, but is bad even when they are not. The world might not fall if astrophysicists get their models of the Big Bang wrong, but as taxpayers, why are we paying them to do get them wrong? 16. Garrett > Professors in fields other than mathematics and computer science, generally don’t have better math and coding skills than do their grad students. Nit: I have no confidence that professors of computer science are good at writing code, either. A lot of their research tends to be … esoteric. One of the most disappointing interviews I performed was of someone with a Ph.D in computer science. (I’m also a terrible interviewer) 17. Aapje @ana53294 There is no funding issue. Academia right now is wasting a ton of money on producing shitty papers. They could instead spend that same amount of money on producing fewer, but better papers (where more of those are replications) It would mean testing fewer (hopefully the most important) hypotheses and getting good answers, rather than producing lots of papers that are barely better than flipping a coin. It would require changing the funding model and there would of course be winners and losers. That’s what happens when you reform things, you can’t change things significantly and yet keep things the same. 1. ana53294 My personal projects are exceptionally well documented If it’s a project the student expects to go back to, they are much better. So, code written by a core group that does research on the same topic, and maintained by a professor or whatever, is good quality. Most students don’t get funding to continue with the project they were working on. They know that they’ll do this project, and it’s unlikely they will return to it again. Most projects end when the money runs out, not when they’re done and finished. In this scenario, it doesn’t make sense to do industry grade code for 10-20% of the salary. A UK PhD student earns minimum wage; 17000 USD/year (14000 GBP). It’s below a living wage. 2. Ketil I could not turn in anything that looks like this at my job. Let me ask you this: what kind of administrative software do you use at work? For managing hours, personnel, budgets, projects, paying bills, that kind of thing? In my experience, these all suck in ….interesting ways, and while I have never – and hope I never have to – look at their guts, I am absolutely convinced that many corporate programmers are not held to any kind of standards, other than the program must kinda work for someone who is intimately familiar with it. My experience from working as a programmer in industry is admittedly a bit dated, but we were among the best in class because we used “advanced” tools like version control. Really. 1. Lambert IIRC, the original recommendation (using magic numbers set up to model flu pandemics) was not to lock down. Then they realised that COVID-19 was much more likely to require treatment in an ICU and ventilation than flu so they changed the relevant parameters and decided to lock down in order to ‘flatten the curve’. 17. Loriot I’ve been thinking about starting a programming blog, and I was wondering if anyone had advice about hosting providers, blogging software, etc. Criteria: * Software/provider has a decent security record and is easy to set up and maintain * Editor supports at least markdown style features, and ideally WSIWYG support with headers, links, code blocks with syntax highlighting, etc. Math support via Latex would be nice but probably asking too much * Ability to embed Javascript or WASM to provide an interactive demo directly in the page would be nice * Separate domain name for branding purposes and ability to migrate hosting providers should it prove necessary * Cheap * Not needed: I don’t plan to support comment sections on my blog in order to simplify administration, prevent spam, etc. Does anyone have suggestions? I think Github Pages fulfills most of my criteria, but I’m not sure where a good place to get my own domain name is, and I don’t know if there’s a good editor/blog software to use with gh-pages, or if I would be better off with something else. 1. The Pachyderminator If you don’t want to support comments, seems like it would be easier not to bother with blogging software at all. Static HTML is low-maintenance and secure, and can be trivially generated from Markdown or what have you. 1. Douglas Knight In particular, you can run almost any blogging software locally and export to static pages. 1. matkoniecz Big +1 if comments are not included or hosted externally (Google “Various ways to include comments on your static site”) Separate domain name for branding purposes and ability to migrate hosting providers should it prove necessary I am happy about Namesilo – seems to have domains without hidden costs, so far was unproblematic. It seems good for people with minimal[0] technical experience (I needed to look a bit and click “”setup for Github pages” somewhere what completed configuration). Google domains looked promising but I skipped it to reduce risks of “Google randomly banned your Google account” and to avoid adding payment method to my Google account. Many other sellers refused to provide clear info about real costs or had hidden costs that I managed to notice. “first year 0.01$, second year and every subsequent – 50$, 100$ to migrate” scam is common. Bundling unwanted services with extra cost is even more common.

I don’t know if there’s a good editor/blog software to use with gh-pages, or if I would be better off with something else.

Here I am unsure, I ended hand-crafting HTML for my personal site (mostly because I wanted to do this way and wanted to remind myself how basic HTML works)

[0] Person who writes blog about programing is likely above it

2. ltowel

I started with GH pages using Hugo and migrated to Netlfiy. I found it a lot easier to set up SSL with. Bought a domain through google domains, had no issues. You should be able to add MathJax, although I’m not sure how well that would work with the rendering engine.

1. matkoniecz

I found it a lot easier to set up SSL with.

In my case setting up HTTPS for Github Pages required a single button press in settings (either at domain provider (Namesilo) or in repo settings, I don’t remember).

EDIT: It may be a good Namesilo thing, they had button somewhere “configure for Github Pages”

1. ltowel

If you can set up https and it works, just use GH pages. If not, look at netlify, it might also just work.

1. ec429

Why does something like this need https? The content is static and one-way, the only information coming from the client is “I want to read this blog” and “I want to read this specific post”, and the former is leaked anyway even with https.

Iunno, maybe I’m just a grognard who wishes the Web still looked like this, but I’ve never quite seen the point of “HTTPS Everywhere!!!”

2. Lambert

Better to have TLS and not need it than need it but not have it.

And I don’t trust the average non-grognard (on either the client or server side) to decide whether they need it or not.

3. Loriot

Even apart from all the usual reasons, a lot of browser features like service workers are blocked for non-HTTPS pages (and for good reason too).

4. matkoniecz

Why does something like this need https? The content is static and one-way, the only information coming from the client is “I want to read this blog” and “I want to read this specific post”, and the former is leaked anyway even with https.

Unencrypted pages are getting more warnings, AFAIK encrypted pages get SEO boost, eliminates MITM attacks (not only exotic ones! It includes ad injection on some wifis), leaking data using other channels may be finally fixed in the future.

5. ec429

Unencrypted pages are getting more warnings, AFAIK encrypted pages get SEO boost

Both of those are “because someone else is telling you to use https”, not reasons why using https is intrinsically a good thing.

a lot of browser features […] are blocked for non-HTTPS pages

And most of those browser features are utterly unnecessary, especially for things you can do with simple static HTML. (What part of ‘grognard’ didn’t you understand ;))

leaking data using other channels may be finally fixed in the future

And if you’re serving a blog about, iunno, homosexuality and you don’t want your readers to accidentally out themselves to their conservative Christian communities, that might be a reason to use https.

But a programming blog? I still don’t see it.

6. Loriot

It didn’t occur to you that a programming blog with demos might want to use service workers?

At any rate, the discussion is going nowhere. I see these as nudges to do things that any reasonable person should be doing anyway, whereas you seem to be coming at it from the perspective of “they’ll pry HTTP from my cold dead hands”.

I see it as a bit like answering the question of “do I really have to wear a seatbelt when driving” with “well apart from the obvious safety reasons, the car won’t let you go above 60mph if the seatbelt isn’t plugged in” and getting the response “well who would want to go that fast anyway?” The entire premise of the debate seems unreasonable to me. (Of course actual cars don’t work like that, this is just an analogy)

7. ec429

I see it as a bit like answering the question of “do I really have to wear a seatbelt when driving”

If the seatbelt were so heavy that it halved your miles-per-gallon, maybe. Cycles and RAM are cheap but that doesn’t make them free; and complexity is neither.

It didn’t occur to you that a programming blog with demos might want to use service workers?

Not unless they were demos of how to use service workers, no. And there were plenty of things “programming blog” could mean that weren’t about front-end web programming, and I didn’t notice that the person mentioning service workers was the thread OP.

you seem to be coming at it from the perspective of “they’ll pry HTTP from my cold dead hands”

I mean, I did say ‘grognard’; I’m not quite sure what else you were expecting. If you don’t feel that the grognard perspective is one you’re interested in hearing from, that’s entirely up to you.

8. thisheavenlyconjugation

@ec429
It probably doesn’t, but it should have it anyway so we can tell the normies “if you’re using a site without HTTPS then Bad Things might happen and you should be scared” without caveats.

9. CatCube

@Loriot

I have no earthly idea what a “service worker” is, but I’ll bite that bullet. Yes, take those away.

Let me explain why I say that, as a very-non-web programmer: the web is broken, and these (mis)features are big contributors.

I used to regularly read two websites on the train. One was Cracked, and the other was my local newspaper’s website (I got tired of dealing with the printed copy, and delivery was really iffy that I’d get it before going to work anyway.)

I no longer read either one, and cancelled my subscription to the newspaper. Because their websites stopped working on my phone. This wasn’t, like, petulance or principle or anything. I just couldn’t consume their content at a convenient time and sort of gave up. Cracked would typically hang about 1/3 of the way through reading the listicle, and often I couldn’t even get the news story to pull up without the browser tab reloading three times and giving up.

Do you recognize what’s the same between these sites? They’re both serving me textual content! Admittedly, I’m using an old phone (Windows Phone), but again: these are both text. You shouldn’t need the latest and greatest to consume something that can be expressed 100% in ASCII. My phone is still light-years beyond the computer I had in the late ’90s, which was capable of serving me simple text. Yes, there are typically some images with either one, but those weren’t usually necessary, and besides, serving static images alongside the text is also a long-solved problem that my late-’90s computer could also do.

What happened to both of them was they kept ladling more webdev horseshit onto their pages until my phone choked on it. So I couldn’t consume 2kb of textual content because of the (I dunno) 2 MB of other crap that I definitely didn’t need–again, because I’m there to read text–and probably didn’t want because it was either slurping personal data out or trying to shove ads in my face. A little bit of it may have been making the website more pleasant to look at.

So when you say that we need people to be forced to use HTTPS because otherwise we can’t safely use a bunch of stuff that consumes vast amounts of computer resources, I say: let’s stop consuming these resources instead, and use simpler web pages.

Offhand, Youtube is literally the only website I use regularly where I’m not consuming primarily text and static images. I guess some of the videos on Twitter, but honestly I probably wouldn’t lose a whole lot there. I’m perfectly happy sandboxing those websites that need this kind of additional content and forcing the rest to use something closer to ec429’s example. I recognize that most websites use a lot more than that (including this one), but most of that isn’t necessary for the user; it’s for the website owner, either to improve aesthetics or to track users. I don’t know precisely where something like the typical commenting system fits, but I’m willing to bet it could be a lot simpler than it is now, because we’re way down the slope of wasting 30% more of the user’s computer cycles to make it 5% shinier, rather than simple text input-output functionality.

10. Loriot

If the seatbelt were so heavy that it halved your miles-per-gallon, maybe. Cycles and RAM are cheap but that doesn’t make them free; and complexity is neither.

My understanding is that the overhead of HTTPS is negligible nowadays. If anything, HTTPS enabled pages are *faster* because it allows you to use HTTP2, which has a lot of important optimizations compared to legacy HTTP1.1.

11. DinoNerd

I’m really sympathetic to CatCube, though I don’t expect https to be the cause of their problems.

I don’t want more features – I want tools that work.

And I want them to work without requiring me to upgrade my hardware, just to support fancier graphics, continuous updates, or even more distracting ads.

And if your programmers are unable to supply that, you’ll need to hire some competent ones if you ever want my business, with rare exceptions where I can’t do without the product and the suppliers are in a race to the bottom on quality.

12. acymetric

And if your programmers are unable to supply that, you’ll need to hire some competent ones if you ever want my business, with rare exceptions where I can’t do without the product and the suppliers are in a race to the bottom on quality.

I’m not sure the problem, in this case, is the programmers being unable or unwilling to supply something. They’re just doing what they are told by various managers/the marketing department/etc. Your real problem is probably all the other customers who have different preferences than you who are getting their preferences enacted.

13. albatross11

ec429:

If encryption were extremely expensive and cumbersome, it would make sense to carefully ration its use–in that case, you’d have to think about the very small number of cases (bank transfers, diplomatic communications, etc.) where it was needed. That’s what the world looked like in the mid-80s, when encryption was used only for rare special things in the civilian world.

But with modern computers and cryptography, encryption is very cheap. So instead of spending lots of human time thinking carefully about whether this particular page lookup on this particular day needs to be one of the rare ones we can afford to encrypt, it makes sense to just encrypt everything by default.

Almost certainly, the problems CatCube was talking about came from either ads (blocking ads makes the web *way* faster) or from some other source of bloat on the page. The work of doing key agreement (what you do setting up a TLS connection) is not much work for the processor inside a smartphone, and encrypting the traffic once the keys are shared is a tiny bit of overhead–again, much, much less than you’re suffering from ads and trackers and such.

14. matkoniecz

What happened to both of them was they kept ladling more webdev horseshit onto their pages until my phone choked on it. So I couldn’t consume 2kb of textual content because of the (I dunno) 2 MB of other crap that I definitely didn’t need–again, because I’m there to read text–and probably didn’t want because it was either slurping personal data out or trying to shove ads in my face.

It is problem (or not, I stopped wasting time on Reddit after they redesigned site into unusable trash), but it is unrelated to an encryption. Encrypting actually relevant text takes some resources, but it is something utterly negligible.

Ads and ad-related surveillance is a problem here.

15. ec429

@CatCube: thank you. This is the rant I wanted to write, but I didn’t have enough steam left in my ranting tank to do it justice.

@Loriot: HTTP/2 has network performance features, mainly attempts to reduce round-trips and HLB for latency reasons, but also some bandwidth-saving compression (although really, if your HTTP headers are big enough for compressing them to make a significant difference, you’re probably using too many Pointless Webshit Features). Those features (especially the compression) actually increase the cost in cycles and RAM, though for the latency savings it’s probably worth it (and it annoys me greatly that browser vendors decided that they would hold the good ideas hostage to the bad ones by rushing through HTTP/2 and making it SSL-only). Both HTTP/2 and its deployment strategy are layering violations.

@albatross11: readable textual protocols are an advantage for debugging and, thus, robustness. SSL is an extra source of complexity, which is the most important cost in software nowadays (not cycles or RAM or whatever). So while I’m totally happy for something like GH Pages to default to HTTPS (heck, they’ve got the sysadmins and maintenance programmers to make sure it keeps working), it is very important that the tooling/ecosystem in general retains support for the simple protocol.

@all:
Peak grognard looks like either this or this. (Oh, and the latter’s original author was called Uriel. Mumble mumble coincidence.) Share and enjoy!

16. Ketil

Peak grognard looks like either this or this. (Oh, and the latter’s original author was called Uriel. Mumble mumble coincidence.) Share and enjoy!

Oooh, more of this, please!

I agree 90% with cat -v‘s assessments, have no idea about 8% of them, and am puzzled about tmux vs screen (I use the latter, and don’t have any complaints), and head, which while provides a subset of sed, seems to belong in the category of do-one-thing-and-do-it-well (which we all know is Good And True, and therefore Beautiful). Comments?

17. ec429

@Ketil: I suspect the trouble with head is that it should just be a shell alias for the sed script; i.e. it should be written in the high-level domain-specific sed language rather than low-level general-purpose C.

But idk, that one did seem a bit odd to me as well.

I don’t use screen or tmux, but I occasionally use dtach. A surprising number of things can also be accomplished with nohup + tail -f. (Mostly I just have several workspaces full of xterms and leave them all running. I’ve just counted and my home desktop right now has 28 xterms across 7 workspaces.)

Oooh, more of this, please!

Others that come to mind: http://suckless.org (full disclosure: I found about them from them putting my IRC client on their “stuff that rocks” page); yarchive’s section for that bastion of grognardy, the LKML. Actually, if you like that, you’ll probably like all of yarchive.

18. AG

Not optimal, but if y’all want to be able to read text-heavy sites while cutting away the Web 2.0 nonsense again, I recommend switching to Firefox and installing the NoScript add-on.

You will have to do some finagling every time you visit a new site (especially since some cursed sites require goddamn Javascript just to load their friggin’ text), but I find it worth it.

19. Loriot

Firefox’s Reader Mode also tends to work great at cutting out all the crap on websites where you just want to read an article.

20. 10240

It probably doesn’t, but it should have it anyway so we can tell the normies “if you’re using a site without HTTPS then Bad Things might happen and you should be scared” without caveats.

@thisheavenlyconjugation Why should we tell that, rather than that you shouldn’t use a site without HTTPS to send or receive confidential information?

21. A1987dM

@ec429:

Peak grognard looks like either [http://n-gate.com/]

No, that hideous typeface automatically disqualifies them as a grognard, however otherwise minimalistic they are 😉

22. A1987dM

@albatross11:

Almost certainly, the problems CatCube was talking about came from either ads (blocking ads makes the web *way* faster) or from some other source of bloat on the page.

I dunno, even reading Slate Star Codex comment sections in Chrome in Android sometimes makes me disbelieve that I’m looking at mostly plain text on a machine with 8×1.8 GHz CPU cores and 4 GB of RAM. And these days lots of even ostensibly trivial Android apps take up over 100 MB for no apparent reason.

3. ec429

I just run a twistd web instance on my home PC (since that’s powered on 24/7 and I don’t get enough traffic to strain it) and serve static HTML to a .no-ip.org domain name (which was free). If you want a WYSIWYG Markdown editor, you can use something like https://stackedit.io/ and export the result as HTML which you then paste into your site. You do need to do the headers, footers, navigation links etc. by hand, but that’s not too onerous if you’re willing to not bother with fancy stuff like tag clouds. If you need to do anything server-side, twisted.web.resource is pretty easy to work with (I’ve done tons of single-purpose servers that way).
The main limitation is that it’s hard to do a comment section (you’d need to either set up a DB and write your own admin tools, or farm it out to something third-party like a Discourse instance that you iframe in), but you’re not after that so that’s fine.

Replacing ‘twistd on your PC’ with GH Pages in the above should still meet your needs.

18. DavidFriedman

It shows figures for what percentage of the population in each category got the disease and die of it. Do we have any estimate of how many people in that population got the disease? It’s possible that the risk by age, say, rises much faster than they show, and that their results reflect the fact that older people, knowing they are more at risk, are being more careful not to expose themselves to the disease.

19. Doctor Mist

For whatever it’s worth to all the amateur epidemiologists out there (and which of us is not?):

My wife and I were down sick in mid-February, largely with a bad cough, following a road-trip to visit friends in Santa Barbara. The illness was unusual in that both of us had the cough without much else of our usual cold symptoms — no runny nose, no sore throat, no pluggy head. When the news about Covid suggested that it was actually around in California during that time frame, and that it preferentially hits the deep lung rather than, say, the nasal passages, we played it safe but still couldn’t shake the idea that we had already had it and survived.

Last week we shelled out $130 each to get Quest Diagnostics to give us the antibody test. It came back negative for both of us. The accompanying boilerplate says that a false negative can’t be ruled out, especially if you have been diagnosed with Covid-19 or had contact with someone who has, but absent such considerations it is very unlikely. Oh, well. 1. Kaitian I’ve read that young people sometimes don’t produce the type of antibodies that the test checks for, because they can defeat the virus some other way. So if you had a mild case of covid, that’s consistent with existing data. But for your own safety I wouldn’t assume that you’ve had covid until you have some official confirmation. Weird coughs are super common in winter and could mean anything. 2. salvorhardin Just in case others might like to do it: how did you get Quest to give you the test? Was it through One Medical, or Quest directly, or some other channel? 3. Doctor Mist Kaitian- Interesting but not relevant here, as I am far from young. salvorhardin- I just ordered it myself on QuestDirect. But you would probably first want to go in through the Quest front door and select “Test options” -> “immune response blood test”, which will tell you: Who can get tested: Immune response testing is available only to patients who are not currently experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and have not experienced symptoms within 10 days. Common COVID-19 symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. and Where to get tested: You can make an appointment at a Quest patient service center for an immune response test. However, your doctor must have submitted an order for your test or you must have purchased one through QuestDirect. to make sure that some local instance of Quest is offering this. If you can get a doctor to prescribe it, your insurance will most likely cover it, but where I live doctors are still mostly saying you don’t need it. Which I can’t argue with. 4. eric23 No, you almost certainly didn’t have Covid. This is basic Bayesian analysis – basic extrapolation of exponential growth shows that there were only a few hundred cases in the entire US at the time, while your symptoms were common enough to be caused by many other pervasive viruses at the time. This was obvious even before the tests, and your experience with tests should be a lesson to other people who think they had it very early on. Or as they say in the medical field, “when you hear hooves, think horses not zebras”. 1. Doctor Mist No, you almost certainly didn’t have Covid. Which of course we knew going in. I’m not as sure as you seem to be about the fewness of cases in February, and California was an early adopter, but sure: the big argument against it was that we didn’t actually get very sick, and we are definitely in some risk groups. But it would have been such a boon to learn that we had had it and recovered handily, even if there is (still?) doubt about whether the antibodies confer immunity for a while. your experience with tests should be a lesson to other people who think they had it very early on Which of course is why I told the story. 20. Dack Re: the bans but keep in mind that the way I ban people is by putting their screen name into the censorship filter, so you might want to put their name in Pig Latin or stick some random characters in the middle if you mention it in your post. Isn’t this method exploitable? Suppose there was a topic that I didn’t want this community to discuss. Couldn’t I pick the top 10 or so terms relevant to that discussion, make accounts with those user names, and post incendiary comments until they all get banned indefinitely? 1. Belisaurus Rex Ah yes, the great martyr TR*MP. He came to this board and was banned so that we might have productive discussions. It is forbidden to speak his name, so we place an asterisk on the vowel to remember not to say it. 2. Loriot It’s been brought up before. Scott’s response was that he has other measures available to him should someone try to abuse the system. 21. albatross11 Perhaps it would be useful to ask: what would be the consequences of widespread knowledge of racial IQ statistics and their implications in the modern US? My predictions: a. Discussions about public policy on things like affirmative action, discrimination, and public education would all get much smarter, as people stopped expending so much mental energy on dancing around taboo subjects. b. Some people would feel justified in their racism, and overt anti-black racism would get a little more acceptable socially. c. Most people would still continue opposing racism. That opposition is a visceral and moral one, not based on claims of fact. (In exactly the same way, convincing evidence that blacks and whites were equally intelligent would not have eliminated the drive among whites for Jim Crow back when that was a going concern, because again, the drive for that stuff was visceral, moral, and tribal, not based on any actual claims of fact.) 1. Eugene Dawn I think the question is not framed quite correctly: “widespread knowledge” of more or less any set of statistics seems pretty unlikely, and I don’t think there is just one set of implications. I think the more plausible path to “widespread knowledge” would be something like a general stereotype about intelligence and race…and I’m not sure how far off from that we are today? This suggests that something around a quarter of whites believe that whites are more intelligent than blacks (at least, as of a few years ago), and given social desirability bias I think we can probably bump that up a bit (if anyone can find data on how much we think social desirability bias is playing a role that would be great). This link says that in 1966, 80% of whites thought that blacks were as intelligent as whites, and 57% of Southern whites; this is at the height of the Civil Rights movement so obviously there’s a lot of social desirability bias going on here. In 1942, 50% of Northern whites and 20% said that blacks and whites were equally intelligent; this would presumably be too early for much of the social desirability bias, predating widespread knowledge of the Holocaust and the Civil Rights movement, both of which are why IQ studies are held in so much bad odour. So, basically: I think depending on how much social desirability there is going on today, we may actually basically be in the world you imagine, or at least we are not so far off. And to answer the original question, I think that the more you imagine people broadly hold the idea that whites are smarter than blacks, the more you should expect society to look like it did when the 1942 survey was taken. At the very least I’d imagine a surge in support for the idea of segregated educational facilities. Although not strictly the same issue, I suspect this alternative world would also be a lot more willing to entertain the idea that blacks are more likely to be criminals, and so there would a lot less pressure to crack down on police brutality against blacks, or to worry about racial basis in the judicial system. I think there’d be a lot more toleration for discrimination in hiring. 1. uau I think there’d be a lot more toleration for discrimination in hiring. This makes me wonder: if discrimination was officially allowed (as in the government says feel free to put up “no blacks need apply” signs if you want), how common would it be? If it did occur, would it be for racist reasons, or as an easy way to avoid people who grew up in bad ghetto culture and would likely make bad employees? 1. John Schilling I’d expect very little (but not zero) official discrimination in terms of what customers a business would accept. Mostly it’s not going to be worth the bad PR. In terms of hiring, it depends on whether employers are allowed to see the applicant’s criminal record. If so, there’s very little (but again not zero) reason to discriminate there. If not, then when you’re not allowed to know whether Tupac is a crook but you are allowed to take into account that he’s a black guy named “Tupac”, I’d expect a lot of people are going to go with white guys named “Dave” instead. 2. Eugene Dawn Why do I not expect the majority of people to reason correctly based on standard deviations, and not just round off to the nearest stereotype? I think the question more or less answers itself. 1. viVI_IViv So people are too stupid to handle the truth, therefore we must deceive them? 2. Eugene Dawn I never said that, I was just asked what I thought the consequences would be, and answered. 3. Radu Floricica I think these few comments are the crux of the matter. You can try and tell the people that “the top of the hump is a little to the left”, and one journalist later it will be “the hump is to the left” and one reader later it will become “there’s first this hump, than this hump”. The heuristic that sticks in the mind of the average person will still be “they’re stupider, maybe with a few exceptions”. But does this justify not talking about it? *shrug* I’m too biased to be able to answer honestly. 4. Nancy Lebovitz I watch media get so excited over discovery of mental differences between men and women, and they generally don’t include charts. What’s the overlap of the distributions? 3. quanta413 At the very least I’d imagine a surge in support for the idea of segregated educational facilities. Why? I’d imagine a marginal uptick in say, polling, from say 1 lizardmen constant to 2 lizardmen constants, but nothing that makes much difference. People who want to keep their children away from whoever they view as undesirable can already manage it with the current public school system in most places and with private schools when that doesn’t work. The system you fear already exists de facto, and lots of upper middle class and upper class types talk a good game about integration and blah blah while making sure they already get a segregated model over what really matters to them. Keeping away the poor people. 1. Eugene Dawn I said support for the idea of–as in, it wouldn’t be a de facto system where everyone talks a good game, it would be an acknowledged fact that the system is segregated with much less apology. As I said in the beginning, I genuinely don’t think we’re far off from the hypothetical world we’re being asked to imagine. 1. DavidFriedman What do you mean by “segregated?” Belief that blacks average lower IQ isn’t a reason to have schools that only admit whites, since a smart black would still be smarter than a stupid white. But if the claim is widely accepted, there would be less pressure against a tracking system in which most of the kids in the fast track were white, since that wouldn’t be seen as evidence of discrimination. Is that what you mean by segregated? 2. Eugene Dawn What I mean by segregated is that the average white student will attend a school where the student body is X% white, where X is some number between 70 (the current number) and 90 (the number in the South in the immediate aftermath of segregation). And yes, as quanta413 notes, the difference between what I envision in albatross’s hypothetical future and what we observe today isn’t all that big–precisely because I doubt albatross’s premise that we don’t already live in a world where many whites believe that blacks are inherently less intelligent (and well-behaved, and etc.) 3. quanta413 I think we’re far off in the sense that most people sending their kids to school aren’t interested in avoiding minorities qua minorities. Which is why I said what matters to them is avoiding poor people. Although that isn’t quite accurate either, and I’m being somewhat unfair. They’re interested in avoiding poor people or keeping their kids away form ill-behaved kids, many of whom are minorities. They don’t say it, but that matches the overall pattern fairly well. White people don’t say they’re trying to avoid having their kids sit in school with poor people (even though a lot of white people obviously are), but they also wouldn’t mind having their kid be in school with William Julius Wilson’s kids or Thomas Sowell’s kids or something (I don’t know if either of these people have kids). A lot of them would prefer their kids go to that school. For a lot of people to whom this matters (I’m pretty sure it’s most), it’s just as important to them to keep their kids away from the “wrong kind” of white people as it is the “wrong kind” of black people. Which is why I think it strange that you think there would be a significant surge in support for racially segregated facilities. The middle class and up don’t care that much about that and already have what they want. Why would they bother pushing for racially segregated schools? To keep poor whites and poor blacks apart? Why? 4. SamChevre I’l add to quanta413’s point that I don’t think avoiding poor people qua poor people is a big deal either–it’s the cultures and family structures that go with poverty, not the poverty, that is the problem Very few people avoid sending their kids to schools where there are lots of kids whose parents are graduate students. 4. RalMirrorAd ‘Gifted Programs’ and Tracking already take care of the issue of certain students being held back or pushed forward unnecessarily. So there’s no to explicitly sort students by race when you can simply use past performance to decide whether the tracking is too hard or too easy for the student. The expectation of equal representation in these ‘tiers’ under an equal opportunity regime would go away. And the big reason tracking and AP programs etc, are opposed nowadays is precisely because they don’t achieve the kinds of representation we would expect under the null hypothesis (so they’re either biased or perpetuate privilege). Parents have been quietly pulling children out of schools and creating a de-facto segregation for awhile. I can chock this up to 1 of 3 things: 1. Behavioral issues of students unrelated to student IQ, they either fear for their child’s safety or don’t want said child adopting the negative behaviors. I have no “solutions” for this, sadly. And frankly I think behavioral differences cause more angst than IQ differences. 2. Thinking the school is ‘bad’ because under-performing students pull down the academic performance of the school. This would actually be mitigated somewhat if it became common knowledge that ‘school quality’ is something of an illusion created by upper middle class people congregating in the same neighborhoods. 3. Parents thinking the children are being held back because the teachers have to become ‘remedial’ with certain students; again this is solved with tracking. 2. Belisaurus Rex Your argument ignores the more interesting question by focusing on Blacks. We have already seen what that world would look like. What if it was widespread accepted that Asians were smarter? Damaging to the American psyche? Or would we excuse it and claim that our individualism still made us better? Edited because of overlap with comment above. 1. quanta413 I wouldn’t be surprised if a majority of Americans already believed that Asians were smarter (on average). I think you’ve answered half of how they deal with it. They think their individualism makes them better, or that Asians are boring grinds who lack “creativity” or “leadership”. 1. albatross11 Or just think “Say, maybe I should go with that Chinese doctor–she’s probably pretty smart.” 2. Radu Floricica I think the difference here is smaller. Large enough to see consequences in real life, but not large enough to worry anybody. 3. Loriot Knowledge != acceptance. There are many reasons to dismiss the practical relevance of such statistics. You act like your opponents simply haven’t looked at the data. 1. DavidFriedman What is the reason to dismiss the relevance of such statistics to the question of whether unequal outcomes — more white kids than black kids in the fast track at high school, more men than women as math professors at Harvard — are proof of discrimination? 1. Nancy Lebovitz What do you make of the claims that black children are punished more severely than white children for the same offenses? 1. DavidFriedman I’m not familiar with either those claims or the evidence for them. If you are talking about K-12, I would expect some negative correlation between severity of punishment and ability of parents to complain about it, with the latter linked to income and status, which correlate with race. 2. Garrett I have a hypothesis which I lack the domain knowledge to more thoroughly evaluate. However, many models of justice believe that punishment should be related to the severity of the offence (a person who steals$10 should be punished more than someone who steals $5), and/or that punishment should be associated with the degree of agency (a person who intends to commit a crime should be punished more than someone who accidentally commits the same act). Given that, I dug into height-weight growth charts for children. Though it’s considered politically-incorrect these days, older charts I was able to find which have now been memory-holed had different values for white vs. black boys. IIRC, between the ages of about 6-14, the values for black children roughly corresponded to those who were a year older and white. So the 50th percentile height/weight of a 9y/o black boy was roughly corresponding to that of a 10y/o white boy. All of my examples below are assuming a black/white boy at the 50th percentile because that was the data I had to look at, and would *probably* reflect aggregate trends. Given that weight categories exist in eg. boxing, it’s reasonable to assume that a larger person is able to commit more damage/harm when engaging in similar actions. Thus, if a black and a white boy acted inappropriately in a way which involved strength (throwing a book, punching, whatever) it’s possible that the black boy would have caused more objective damage. Likewise, if you saw two such people engaging in such inappropriate activity it’s likely that the black boy would be assigned more moral agency due to the bias of assuming among children that bigger=older=mature=responsible. I don’t know if this holds up, or if the charts I was previously able to locate were accurate. And even then, I’m not certain it proposes a solution – it would mean in a mutual fight between white and black boys of identical size that the white boy should be punished more severely because they have more moral agency. Or that we accept differing racial punishment outcomes. 3. Nancy Lebovitz I haven’t seen anything about actual size differences between black and white children, but I’ve seen a lot of complaints about (white?) people overestimating the ages of black children and therefore unreasonably expecting them to be more mature than should be expected. 4. Uribe Consider that in this corner of the internet racial IQ statistics are, in fact, well known. Pretty sure the most popular website that makes them well known is Steve Sailer’s. Now wade into the comments section of that website. It is full of White Nationalists. Intelligent White Nationalists. Were this not the case, were the leading website promoting racial IQ differences not full of White Nationalists I might be able to believe that the American public at large could accept the likely fact that there’s average differences in IQs among races without becoming more racist. But because that’s not the case, I’m not optimistic about the political results in this country were racial IQ differences made as popular among high-schoolers as they are among readers of Steve Sailer. 1. viVI_IViv White nationalists are mostly created in reaction to affirmative action policies and the associated censorship of critical ideas. 1. Mycale I’ll second this. I know a number of people who are aware of the idea that average intelligence varies between racial groups in the US. To the best of my knowledge, all of them became interested in that topic because of affirmative action, and the overriding reason they care is linked to their opposition to affirmative action policies. It turns out that when the government and society expressly discriminate against people because of the color of their skin, people often get pretty worked up about it. In my experience, that seems to be true regardless of the skin color of the people being subjected to differential treatment. Justice John Roberts’ quote that “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race” nicely captures the core of this viewpoint. 2. Ketil White nationalists are mostly created in reaction to affirmative action policies and the associated censorship of critical ideas. Alternatively, white nationalists exist in some number independent of any facts, and are attracted to anything that looks remotely intelligent and which can be used to justify their position. (Not unlike earlier discussion about slavery being motivated by the need for cheap labor (i.e. profits), but using inferiority as a justification – attempting to negate the obvious moral objections to it. But also a common theme across all topics, I think.) 1. quanta413 I think Ketil is right here in that for many the racial IQ justification comes after the belief and that the order of events is any different for white nationalists than for other topics. I’d add the order is the same for mainstream liberals and conservatives. 3. Tatterdemalion This theory is obviously at least mostly false, because white nationalists have been around and numerous for a lot longer than affirmative action or socially-powerful left wingers; the increasing stigmatisation of racism over the last few decades has seen them getting less numerous, not more so. I would be prepared to accept that there exist people who are white nationalists but would not be if affirmative action weren’t a thing, but not that they are a statistically significant fraction. 4. AlesZiegler Counterexample: Literal Nazis. I hope that Godwin´s law is not a part of comment moderation policy here. 2. Mycale As a counterpoint, it’s possible that the reason the comments on a website that acknowledges the possibility of differences in average IQ between races is “full of White Nationalists” is because that idea is so thoroughly toxic in the general discourse that no one dares to say it aloud (even if they think it might be true) unless they’re already far right. Apply some evaporative cooling to the group beliefs, and you can end up with an extreme viewpoint echochamber pretty easily (I don’t know if this describes the comments on Steve Sailer’s website; I haven’t read it). As another real life example, consider how the alternatives to reddit have consistently become far right. I’ll also gesture toward our host’s article titled “Neutral vs. Conservative: The Eternal Struggle.” Excerpt: “The moral of the story is: if you’re against witch-hunts, and you promise to found your own little utopian community where witch-hunts will never happen, your new society will end up consisting of approximately three principled civil libertarians and seven zillion witches. It will be a terrible place to live even if witch-hunts are genuinely wrong.” Thus, the end result might be quite different if this viewpoint became more normalized. Of course, it also might not. But I’m not sure how strong an inference we can draw from the viewpoints of people who are willing to post on websites several standard deviations outside the Overton Window (including this website). 1. Uribe Well, the example we have of this viewpoint being normalized was in the 1930s and things didn’t work out so well. This viewpoint has a kinda horrible track record. Maybe we shouldn’t emphasize it until there’s decent evidence it would lead to positive results. 1. matkoniecz Or at least admit that treating very similar ideas seriously resulted in horrible atrocities. And explain how current one differs and why it should be treated seriously. And confirm that you consider race-based genocide and race-based slavery as horrible things that should not happen. Denying that it happened or claiming that it was not caused/helped/justified by supposed race-based cognitive differences will not help. 2. Dack Or at least admit that treating very similar ideas seriously resulted in horrible atrocities. Did it cause it? Or did it correlate with it? 3. Mycale @Uribe, I think the implications from history are less clearcut than you’re making them out to be. As David Friedman pointed out elsewhere in this comment thread, the Nazi antipathy to Jews, for instance, was not because Nazis saw Jews as less intelligent, but because the Nazis believed Jews were “engaged in a conspiracy against the Aryans.” That’s a very different basis for conflict. I think the story underlying affirmative action policies — i.e. that the reason certain minorities in America continue to experience worse outcomes than whites is because of pernicious discrimination by whites — pattern matches closer to the adversarial conspiracy approach of the Nazis toward the Jews than it does toward an explanation that differential outcomes may partially (partially!) be explained by inter-group variation. Of course, that isn’t to say that people who want conflict between racial groups wouldn’t try to use this as a tool in their arsenal. They certainly would. But they use the current socially acceptable explanations that way anyway. The issue is whether the inter-group differences theory tends toward that type of conflict. I’m not so sure that the historical record indicates that it has to. 4. Eugene Dawn As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, this: engaged in a conspiracy against the Aryans. ignores that the alleged conspiracy was a natural consequence of the Jews natural racial inferiority to and incompatibility with Aryans; this is much more similar to “racial theory of differences” than to any other motive, a fact which is easily confirmed by taking a glance at what the Nazi beliefs were on the matter of racial differences when it came to groups other than Jews, like blacks. 5. matkoniecz As David Friedman pointed out elsewhere in this comment thread, the Nazi antipathy to Jews, for instance, was not because Nazis saw Jews as less intelligent, but because the Nazis believed Jews were “engaged in a conspiracy against the Aryans.” As mentioned elsewhere this claim is misleading, nazis were claiming both. See for example https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Eternal_Jew_(1940_film) And murder of millions of non-Jewish people was motivated by supposed inferiority. See https://slatestarcodex.com/2020/05/06/open-thread-153-25/#comment-892952 (and that is just what they did in one country) 6. albatross11 Eugene: I think putting “knowing about IQ statistics” in the same bin as “accepting Nazi theories of race” is approximately as good a model of the world as putting “knowing about income statistics” in the same bin as “accepting Communist theories of class.” If more people knew how unequal the income and wealth distribution in the US is, there’d probably be a few more supporters of a violent Communist revolution, as well as a lot more supporters of Bernie/AOC type social-democratic economic policies. But almost certainly no engineered famines, network of gulags, or great leaps forward. That’s true even though most people will not really understand the details of income / wealth statistics (as is visible in public discourse now, in fact). I think open knowledge of IQ statistics would look much the same–a few people would become more open racists, but mostly, people would accept that and be about as decent to each other as they were before, but also a lot of public policy debates would be less dumb because some relevant information would no longer be off-limits. 7. matkoniecz putting “knowing about IQ statistics” in the same bin as “accepting Nazi theories of race” Are you seriously claiming that claim was putting “knowing about IQ statistics” in the same bin as “accepting Nazi theories of race” ? This is a ridiculous distortion. No one claimed that knowing about IQ statics makes you a Nazi-eqivalent. knowing about IQ statistics” in the same bin as “knowing Nazi theories of race (knowledge about some topic) And my claim was that “describing$RACIAL_GROUP is less intelligent based on $SOMETHING_PRESENTED_AS_A_VALUABLE_RESEARCH” bin contains both IQ statistics case and Nazi case. Whatever it changes anything is a separate thing. Is it relevant / suspicious / alarming / misleading? Feel free to argue that. But it is clearly the same bin and trying to present them as not related in absolutely any way seems the weakest defense possible. 8. Eugene Dawn I agree, but “accepting that blacks are generally mentally inferior” looks a little closer, and as I’ve argued this is the more likely message to be absorbed. I think if you turn “know income statistics” into “believe the rich are getting more than their fair share” or something, I think this does start to have some similarities to Communism; if the USA had a 150-year history of a Communist dictatorship, and then the above message started becoming popular I suspect you would be more than a little concerned. 9. eric23 The 1930s weren’t the only time this viewpoint was normalized. Accepted wisdom throughout the 19th century, for instance, was that blacks were less capable than whites. Even Abraham Lincoln and many abolitionists believed this. One didn’t have to believe that blacks are equally capable to believe that cruelty and exploitation of them are morally wrong. 3. albatross11 Uribe: By exactly the same logic, Jacobin’s readers include an alarming number of communists. If only there were some aphorism about correlation and causation we could fall back on…. 1. Eugene Dawn I…am pretty sure their readership does include many communists? Whether you find this alarming depends on how many communists you require to be alarmed, but I don’t think the example proves what you think it does. 1. albatross11 Uribe’s comment suggested that open discussion of IQ differences led to white nationalism, and cited the makeup of Sailer’s blog comment section as evidence. Does Jacobin convince some people to become liquidate-the-Kulaks style Communists? Probably a few, but probably not very many. On the other hand, they probably attract a fair fraction of that tiny minority of the left who are into liquidate-the-Kulaks style Communism. In much the same way, I doubt that Sailer’s blog is a major driver of people becoming white nationalists, though I certainly don’t have data either way. 2. Eugene Dawn I am not sure that liquidate-the-kulaks communists are in perfect analogy to white supremacists; I’d say liquidate-the-kulaks commies should be in analogy with liquidate-the-mud-people white nationalists; but as I am a regular reader of neither Sailer nor Jacobin I won’t pretend I have an idea of what the typical commenter at either looks like, and so admit that I can’t judge the analogy fairly. 3. albatross11 I read Sailer’s blog and comment threads relatively often. I’ve seen a fair amount of overt white nationalism there, a fair bit of casual anti-black/hispanic racism, but zero calls for mass-murdering any ethnic groups, or even any kind of legal mistreatment of them like, say, reviving anti-misgenation laws. Maybe some of them believe that, but I’ve never seen anyone advocate for it. Also the majority of participants in the comment threads aren’t remotely white nationalists. The median participant is probably a relatively bright h-b-d aware Trump supporter. 4. Eugene Dawn As I say, I can’t speak to the precise contours of the analogy Steve Sailer : White Nationalism :: Jacobin : Communism but based on your most recent comment that there is “a fair amount of overt white nationalism”, it sounds like Uribe is basically right that Sailer’s site is “full of White Nationalists. Intelligent White Nationalists”. The only possible differences I can see between your characterizations are the difference between “full of” and “a fair amount”, which I’m not too interested in as I doubt either is meant as a precise estimate; and whether we are characterizing the comments or the commenters. Ultimately, it seems you and Uribe don’t disagree too much on how to characterize Sailer’s site, and I think mostly disagree on whether we should be alarmed by white nationalism that is not explicitly violent or coercive. But it does sound like Uribe is right that (though perhaps overestimating the degree to which) open discussion of racial IQ statistics is associated with (whether it causes, or is caused by, or attracts) white nationalism. I’d also consider the possibility that the fact that Sailer’s commentariat are intelligent white nationalists moderates their propensity to be violent and coercive: if you created more white nationalists who are, on average, less intelligent than the ones who frequent Sailer, would you expect those white nationalists to be more or less likely to be in favour of violence or legal mistreatment? 5. AlesZiegler I think that there would be virtually no consequences. Almost nobody would change their mind about anything, because few people do that in response to facts. Discussion would not get smarter, since you need people to get smarter for that to happen, and revealing new information to the public does not make people smarter. 1. albatross11 Some people are making themselves act dumber than they are because of the taboo on some h-b-d adjacent facts. Getting them to do the equivalent of taking the ball-and-chain off would make discussions smarter. Also, knowledge is good. When more people have better knowledge about what the world looks like (because major news sources stop omitting it from their coverage), we will almost certainly get better discussion and better policies. 22. Pandemic Shmandemic COVID19 is nowhere near the scope of WW2, and since WW2 there have been at least two flu pandemics quite comparable in size with COVID19 Just a decade apart, each killed about 1million world wide and about 100k in the US, back when the world and the US had about half and 2/3rds of their current populations, and we don’t even have any of them in our cultural memories. “Waiving privacy regulations” means retroactively reneging on core social guarantees that were in place for people when they went to seek medical treatment, so no nothing like this is remotely justified, especially since there’s no reason to believe any non-clinical data will be relevant towards finding a cure and anonymized clinical data of covid19 patients is already being actively researched. 1. keaswaran I mean, killing a million people seems pretty small by the scale of COVID19. Remember that we’re still only a third of a year into COVID19, and even with a massively unprecedented global reaction, it’s still already killed a third of a million people. If the rest of 2020 is on average the same as the first third of 2020, then we should expect COVID19 to have the same number of fatalities as these other pandemics that we barely bothered to try to stop. Presumably that means that if we hadn’t tried to stop it, then we would have had fatality numbers well into the tens of millions, and thus comparable to World War II. In any case, it’s quite obvious that COVID19 is the first time since World War II that there has been any attempt at a collective global response to anything. Even 9/11 and the various financial crises have only involved responses from a few dozen governments, and very little direct personal action from most individuals in those countries. 23. bpodgursky Eliezer tweeted a few days ago about cryonics, as applied to preventing “permanent” COVID-19 deaths. It reminded me about my general discomfort around the field and potentials of cryonics, even/especially if it works. I know there’s no shortage of short stories extrapolating on the premise of cryonics, but I decided to try anyway. I have three overarching qualms: – By taking up (small now, but potentially vast) resources on body-preservation we’re draining resources that would otherwise be spent supporting, growing, and enhancing the lives of “alive alive” people. Prioritizing the lives of the now-alive over people who could be alive in the future is the opposite of what how we traditionally build moral societies — by grinding through the pain now, in the hope that our children have a better future. – “Cryonics as default” moves us closer to the “death is the worst possible policy outcome” camp, which narrows the ambitions of civilization as a whole. Risk-aversion and safety prioritization is what killed manned spaceflight and childhood in the developed world. If cryonics becomes the default option, how can we morally justify letting people risk their lives in ways where they can’t be preserved? (Skydiving, mountain climbing, etc). – The saying goes, “science advances one funeral at a time”. Radically increased longevity without radically increased dynamicism as we age risks locking society into the same morals and ideas as the generation that invented cryonics; there’s no recycling of leaders, the powerful, or the wealthy. I know it’s an extrapolation past what was intended (using cryonics to prevent acute, dumb death), but the ethical framework behind it makes me uncomfortable. I’m open to being convinced this is dumb, though. 1. Brendan Richardson 1. I am signed up for cryonics and the total cost to me is ~$100 per month. It’s unclear how it could require “vast resources.” Furthermore, from the perspective of people living in the future, the “now-alive” people are them, and they should sacrifice for the sake of the “could be alive” people in cryopreservation.

2. We should justify letting someone risk their life because it’s their life and it’s none of your goddamn business what they want to do with it.

3. This is a fully general counterargument against medicine in general.

1. acymetric

I am signed up for cryonics and the total cost to me is ~$100 per month. That has nothing to do with how much it would cost to cryogenically freeze everyone who it appeared might die after catching the coronavirus. 1. DavidFriedman That has nothing to do with how much it would cost to cryogenically freeze everyone who it appeared might die after catching the coronavirus. On the contrary. That, allowing for some probabilistic calculations, measures how much the provider thinks it costs, since they are unlikely to offer the service at a price at which they expect to lose money at it. Would you expect the annual cost of holding a bunch of bodies, possibly just heads, at the temperature of liquid nitrogen to be substantial relative to what an ordinary individual spends on himself? 2. Brendan Richardson Eliezer had absolutely nothing to say regarding the funding mechanism for his latest crackpot proposal. If Jeff Bezos wants to pay for it all, I have no (fiscal) objection. I’d strongly oppose using taxpayer money for this. Eliezer having a harebrained scheme is not really an argument against cryonics. 2. The Pachyderminator #3 isn’t a fully general counterargument against medicine. It’s only an argument against measures that drastically extend the human lifespan (i.e. on a scale of centuries, not decades). 1. Brendan Richardson What’s your evidence for a threshold effect? It seems clear to me that every incremental increase in lifespan slows the turnover rate by that much more. Since there’s no evidence that the current turnover rate is optimal, I modestly propose that we start culling emeritus professors and see what happens. 1. The Pachyderminator It’s not necessarily a threshold effect. It’s just that civilization is on a longer timescale than human life. A few years one way or the other won’t make or break the march of progress, and the trend is probably noisy, so the effect of a relatively short lifespan extension might not even be noticeable. It’s only when you slow turnover practically to a stop that I’d see room for concern. 2. DavidFriedman It’s only when you slow turnover practically to a stop that I’d see room for concern. A lot of this depends on what people who don’t age, or age much more slowly, do with their lives. Your implicit assumption, which might be true but doesn’t have to be, is that they would continue doing what they had been, that tenured professors would remain tenured professors in the same field forever. I can see two other alternatives. One is that, having accomplished their goals and accumulated enough capital to live on forever, successful people would retire, having become bored of what they had been doing. The other is that, having exhausted their interest in one field and with the necessary renewed youth, they would switch to another, becoming part of the new wave of scholarship there. A similar issue arises with population. Do you decide that having children is something you have done and you can now enjoy grandchildren and great grandchildren with other parents doing the hard part, in which case the end of aging gives you only a linear population increase. Or do you decide that having children was so satisfying that you want to do it again. And again. In which case the increase is exponential. 3. Nancy Lebovitz I’ve wondered what not aging will actually mean. Is everyone stopped at their current age? Is there some degree of rejuvenation? If health is maintained for much longer than is now possible, do we get types of maturity we haven’t seen yet? Or types of mental rigidity? 4. Doctor Mist I’ve wondered what not aging will actually mean. Is everyone stopped at their current age? Is there some degree of rejuvenation? If the “damage” done by cryopreservation can be repaired, the damage done by aging should be child’s play. I expect we will get the latter much earlier than the former. If health is maintained for much longer than is now possible, do we get types of maturity we haven’t seen yet? Or types of mental rigidity? Sensible questions. I think I have considerable wisdom I did not have forty years ago, but cannot deny that I have more mental rigidity, too. I would like to think that after a few centuries of experience, the wisdom would be more important — and (at the risk of motivated reasoning) I sometimes suspect that even now my rigidity is the result of my wisdom: As with Niven’s Pak Protectors, when you see the right thing to do, why do something different? (Since there are other people of my age who disagree with me about the right thing to do, this unfortunately argues for Conflict Theory over Mistake Theory. So be it.) But I actually suspect that a lot of the sources of rigidity might be phenomena of the breakdowns caused by age, and may be treatable along with the rest of it. To have the time, as David Friedman suggests, to undertake something entirely new when your old calling palls also seems likely to be important. 2. Doctor Mist Maybe, but it seems to me that even #2 has the same flaw. We are good with the AEDs and the blood thinners and the quadruple bypasses and the appendectomies and the suicide-prevention hotlines because we are used to them and because we know people who are very grateful for them, but it’s hard to argue that they did not move us closer to the “death is the worst possible policy outcome” camp. 3. bpodgursky The other part of #3 I didn’t articulate well in the OP is that you’ll be pulling wealthy, powerful people out of cryonics, into the far future. Even if you aren’t radically extending lifespans, you’re setting up a situation where people can hop in & out of cold storage, pulling with them the morals and opinions of centuries ago, and imposing them on the future. But yeah, “radically extended live expectancy” also concerns me, if we don’t extend neural plasticity with age as well. I don’t think it’s right to build a society where 600 year olds rule with the opinions they gained at 20 … but at that point, if you’ve re-engineered individuals to have the neural plasticity and open-ness to new opinions of the young, why bother with the life extension? Maybe I just don’t believe in the sanctity of individual human life, but it feels like a long way around just letting new people inherit the earth. 1. DavidFriedman … but at that point, if you’ve re-engineered individuals to have the neural plasticity and open-ness to new opinions of the young, why bother with the life extension? The obvious answer, for me, is that I don’t want to die. Neither, so far as I can tell, do most other people. 3. keaswaran It seems to me that$100 a month for every person who is interested in being frozen really would be “vast resources” if we are asking to make this universal.

1. DavidFriedman

If nobody is subsidizing it, that means the individual has to accumulate enough capital to pay the cost of keeping him frozen. The productivity of that capital is then just balancing the cost.

Obviously, both the cost and the productivity of the capital are being estimated in advance.

2. James Miller

Widespread cryonics would likely reduce healthcare costs because people with expensive to manage brain wasting diseases such as Alzheimer’s would decide to get preserved before they would otherwise die.

1. Doctor Mist

I’m one. I have APOe4 and am really hoping I have it in me to starve myself when the time comes so that they can preserve my brain intact. Better still would be if either cryonics or assisted suicide were generally accepted enough that I could do it in a more comfortable manner.

Fortunately I think/hope the moment of truth is still a fair ways off.

3. sidereal

#2 seems irrelevant to me (people should be able to make informed decisions about risks and generally do) #3 is about increased longevity, a separate issue.

#1 is a fair point, right now the cost is relatively small but one imagines an unbounded-in-the-limit cost on society to simply maintain a bunch of frozen corpses. There is a hansonian economic argument that mitigates this if you assume continued exponential growth, where the cost should be bounded by some constant fraction of the economy.

A lot of this comes down to your optimism about economic growth and the emergence of strong AI. I’m not sure where I stand, and the idea of ancestors continuing to collect rent on descendants beyond death isn’t nice. But even in the pessimistic case I’m not that worried, if it ever became a serious burden I think there would be something akin to a debt jubilee except with a lot of thawing corpses.

4. viVI_IViv

The irony would be if somebody dies of COVID-19, is frozen, then the virus is eredicated, and 50 years later the corpse is thawed for some reason and the pandemic restarts because the virus survived cryopreservation.

1. Doctor Mist

Ironic but unlikely. The advances needed to revive a cryopreserved person probably go along with COVID-19 being a trivial concern.

1. viVI_IViv

Thawing != revival.

They have thawed bodies before, in some cases apparently the cryo companies folded shop and they literaly dumped the bodies or their equipment failed, in other cases the companies decided that they would only store the heads, so they sawed them off the frozen bodies which they them thawed and dissected.

1. Doctor Mist

Ah, I see your point. Quite right. There are agencies that economize by preserving patients in permafrost, so one hopes that permafrost stays permanent. Fortunately Alcor does not do that. The events you describe are from the infancy of cryonics.

2. Nancy Lebovitz

“The advances needed to revive a cryopreserved person probably go along with COVID-19 being a trivial concern.”

This is vaguely plausible but lacks detail. What would it take to make revival possible, and how would that interact with dealing with viruese?

1. Doctor Mist

Well, of course, if I had the details we could be reviving people now!

My own model, probably completely naive, for how it will happen is that nanotech lets us deploy godzillions of little machines to travel through the preserved body repairing the things it finds wrong, including deducing the most likely correct configuration across whatever freezing damage has occurred, and providing a scaffolding that keeps everything quiescent and stable as you bring the body back to room temperature. The application of such technology to rooting out unwelcome visitors from your cells seems pretty obvious.

1. albatross11

If catching it gives you lifelong immunity, I think it’s quite plausible. If immunity wanes after a year or two, probably not.

1. J Mann

If it’s like the flu and mutates enough to stay ahead of vaccines, it will be tough.

5. matkoniecz

Eliezer tweeted a few days ago about cryonics, as applied to preventing “permanent” COVID-19 deaths.

I know that Twitter is not balanced for making anything more than simplified slogans, but this tweet language implies that successful resurrection from preset-day cryonics is very likely.

What seems clearly absurd for many reasons.

This is your occasional sad reminder that long-term deaths from the novel coronavirus could have been nearly zero, if all the people who stopped breathing had been cryonically suspended immediately afterwards.

Sorry, but this is language of a secular religion.

1. thisheavenlyconjugation

Yes, when did Yudkowsky switch from “cryonics might be unlikely to work but the costs are fairly low and the benefits are huge so the expected value is high” to the vastly less justifiable “cryonics is definitely going to work”? Or is he just being silly with a non-standard use of “could”?

Gentle reminder that cryonics doesn’t offer a clear path to resurrection – currently it only suggests recovery of memories+personality. You don’t get defrosted, you get copied out. Main reason I’m not very interested.

Otherwise, I really really hate your arguments. They’re valid, I agree with them and so on. But you’re comparing them with all the loss caused by death. That’s like… huge scope insensitivity?

The hate comes because I suspect the same fallacy makes us invest so few resources in life extension.

1. acymetric

Gentle reminder that cryonics doesn’t offer a clear path to resurrection – currently it only suggests recovery of memories+personality. You don’t get defrosted, you get copied out. Main reason I’m not very interested.

This is a genuine question, and not necessarily specific to cryonics. Is there good reason to believe that those memories are stored in the physical brain matter to be recovered (as opposed to in part relying on the signal activity constantly running through the brain)? It seems entirely plausible to me that once a brain is “off” the information is gone…but I don’t know if this is probable, plausible, or already proven false.

For an analogy (a weak one, try not to parse into this too hard as it is just to demonstrate what I’m talking about) are we sure the brain isn’t more like a big gooey hunk of RAM than a hard drive?

1. Thomas Jorgensen

The brain, so far as I understand it, shuts down in pretty profound ways during sleep. This precludes much of anything beyond short term memory being stored in active patterns, because if that were the case, you would suffer amnesia whenever you slept. This does not guarantee whatever the storage mechanism is will survive freezing and cryoprotectants.

1. bpodgursky

Or if not sleep, medically induced comas are as close to deaths as most people can get, but we come out with intact memories as far as I’m aware.

2. Loriot

I find it plausible, but I suppose we don’t really know either way. I’m not a neuroscientist or anything.

IMO, cryonics is basically wishing on fairy magic given our current state of technology and scientific understanding. I would be extremely surprised if anyone frozen today could be revived in a meaningful way, even in principle.

1. Doctor Mist

Could be. Probably. But what’s your alternative? If you rot or burn your chances are even lower.

2. Doctor Mist

Unclear. Certainly information-copying/uploading is a potential tech for revival, and I am mostly untroubled by whether that would “really” be me.

But current practice at Alcor, for example, is vitrification (essentially freezing with antifreeze to keep large crystals from forming) rather than preservation with fixatives like formaldehyde, which do a better job of preserving the fine structure but which seem much less likely to be reversible in situ. Their ideal outcome is repair and revival, not uploading, and they are willing to compromise the chance of the latter if it enhances the chance of the former.

7. Athos

I’m more concerned with the other end of it; what happens after the thaw.

You’d essentially be an undocumented immigrant from the past, with no roots or connections in the future you’d find yourself in. Even in our current time, immigration is a large point of contention. We could have even less in common with the residents of the future than immigrants to our country do with us, which could lead to stronger antipathies. The novelty of waking people from the past to learn of their perspectives or any lost technologies will quickly wear off. Depending on the zeitgeist of the world you wake up in, you could very well be discriminated against or even enslaved.

One counterargument might be that a country would only go through the troubles of developing technology to bring people back to life if there was enough societal support behind the decision, and that they could be easily assimilated into the new world. However, I can just as easily imagine up a dystopian scenario in which a corporation would leap at the opportunity to have a large influx of human capital that has no rights and no one that will miss them.

1. matkoniecz

Even assuming magical technology and that frozen brain survives I think that waking in some dystopian scenario with debt for resurrection is quite likely.

It is moot anyway, as chances that current process actually preserves brain contents and that preserved brain will survive until restoring seems absurdly small to me.

Is Eliezer expecting this process to be reversible within years/decades? Or is he expecting both USA and company handling preservation to remain stable for centuries allowing this cache to be preserved?

1. Loriot

I think Eliezer is extremely overoptimistic about the future rate and course of technological progress. It’s a common affliction in the rationalsphere.

2. albatross11

I’ll note that people routinely come to the US from very poor parts of very poor countries, where both technology and social attitudes are quite different. I’d expect immigrants from the past to fit at least as well into a future soceity as, say, a guy from some farming village in Uganda fits when he comes to the US.

1. Athos

Even if the time traveler is much more fish-out-of-water than a highly unskilled immigrant of today, I wouldn’t be worried about it. I’d presume that in a world where people can be brought back to life, you’ll have more than enough added longevity (or immortality) and learning resources to catch up to the rest of society.

What I would primarily be worried about in that scenario is being locked out of society (via caste, lack of citizenship, etc), or the aforementioned slavery. Even if you do wake up in a utopia, you may not have access to any of it. You’d be reliant on the charity of some entity, and you might not get it. Imagine coming to America with absolutely no resources and not being able to access welfare, healthcare, the job market, etc without having an SSN imprinted in you via chip. Technology can amplify the difficulties of reaching a decent standard of living from scratch.

1. bpodgursky

There’s an interesting timeline where germline humans have been improved in the intervening centuries via gene editing (removed genetic defects, optimal beauty, improved intelligence) but there’s no way discovered to gene-drive that for existing people (brains have to develop structures from infancy, bone structure can’t change, etc).

Then you figure out how to defrost people and cure cancer or whatever, and you defrost the survivors into a timeline where they are… useless, ugly, and unfixable, a permanent charity-underclass. Yay!

2. 10240

@bpodgursky Most permanent-charity underclass much prefers being so to dying, and so would I.

3. 10240

I expect that the technology to revive or, much more likely, upload cryopreserved brains won’t come about before a post-scarcity society, in which no one has any reason to enslave anyone, and there is no competition for resources in the way that generates anti-immigration sentiment today.

24. salvorhardin

Folks who identify as SF Bay Area-rooted, techie, and or rationalist/rationalist-adjacent: have you, at some point in the past decade, seriously considered leaving the US to live somewhere else?

If so, how did you weigh the pros and cons of that decision, which values of “somewhere else” did you consider, and what did you ultimately decide?

I’m especially (though not exclusively) interested in those who considered leaving– whether they ultimately did or not– for philosophical/institutional reasons, i.e. “the US has become/has turned out to be the kind of polity I don’t want to live in anymore, let me consider whether there are better polities out there” rather than “I got a cool job/met a wonderful partner which/who happened to be outside the US.”

1. Loriot

No, though I did consider the possibility of someday retiring to Thailand at some point to save money. Then I realized that it was a terrible idea.

Leaving the country for ideological reasons is just stupid. Also, even if you ignore the MASSIVE costs involved in immigration, I believe the US is by far the best place to live for anyone educated/rich enough to have a real choice in the matter. It’s easy to fall into the “grass is always greener” trap, but it’s still a trap.

I do have a cousin who moved to Canada and seems intent on staying there for life, but that was for work, not a dumb political gesture.

1. salvorhardin

If, as you seem to imply, you think the US will continue to be the best place to live for folks who have a choice through the next few decades, can you say what makes you believe that?

To show my hand a bit, I’m concerned about continuing decline in US institutional quality/competence imposing increasingly large costs from the next few decades’ worth of disasters, so arguably more competently-run developed countries (Canada yes, but also Australia/NZ, Germany, Switzerland, maybe South Korea, maybe the Scandinavian countries) would be the natural points of comparison. The motivation is less ideology and more “these people can’t crisis-manage their way out of a paper bag, that isn’t going to change based on who wins the next election, and eventually it’s going to have effects I can’t buy my way out of.”

1. johan_larson

If you’re in the Bay area tech industry, you’re going to take a huge pay-cut if you move to any other country. When cities were bidding for Amazon’s second HQ, the bid documents from Vancouver and Toronto included pay rates for technical staff. I don’t have the figures in front of me, but Toronto programmers are paid something like half of what Seattle programmers get. And the Bay area pays even better than Seattle, as I understand.

US/California/San Francisco institutions would have to get really damn crappy to cover that factor of two.

1. Tandagore

I think most people give too much attention to easily comparable metrics like pay and not enough on other factors. I think most commenters here know the research about diminishing returns of money earned on happiness, but it’s also that especially in the US, you have some trade-offs that are rather unique. The bay area will pay a multiple of most cities in the world, that much is true. From what I get by lots of discussions, it’s also a place with a pretty horrendous homeless problem, a lot more crime than other cities and less-than-ideal government. All of these are hard to rate in monetary terms, but definitely influence your well-being in a city.

2. Loriot

The discussion is assuming a software engineer though, and thus not someone at risk of homelessness. The only way homelessness really impacts you is if you visit certain neighborhoods in SF.

Also, I’m not sure where you get “less-than-ideal” government. IMO the bay area governments are pretty much infinitely better than Atlanta, where I grew up. (This isn’t just a matter of politics either, government corruption is rampant back home, but almost unheard of in the bay). When I was a kid, there was a scandal where a local politician literally assassinated an opponent.

If it weren’t for the cost of housing, I would absolutely prefer to live here more than most places in the country, even in the absence of a job.

3. Tandagore

I didn’t mean risk of homelessness, although that is certainly increasing the longer this crisis lasts. I meant that a lot of stories from the Bay Area mention stuff like “people shit on sidewalks” or “homeless guy gets aggressive/shouty at passersby”, stuff like that. It is of course totally possible that I overestimate the frequency of such stuff.

One big part here seems to be that developing the town seems impossible, both from a political and a zoning perspective, at least towards a city with a bit more density.

4. Loriot

As far as I know, that’s only an issue if you visit certain neighborhoods in SF. The easy solution is to not visit those places, although I suppose depending on precisely where you live and where you work, it can be inconvenient. At any rate, that’s all confined to SF. It’s not an issue in the South Bay where I live.

2. Loriot

I don’t expect Trump to still be in charge come February, let alone decades hence.

Or to elaborate, there’s no real reason to expect America to have a large and consistent disadvantage when it comes to disaster management, especially to the extent that it would outweigh everything else.

1. salvorhardin

OK, I think we probably differ on the extent to which getting rid of Trump will help. I think he is a symptom more than a cause of a larger rot which has been proceeding for decades and will take decades to fix regardless of who is President. Not to say that getting rid of him won’t do some good, just not nearly enough.

2. Loriot

So which countries do you think can reliably do better? And be careful to avoid the grass is greener fallacy. Everyone is aware of the downsides of their own system but rarely sees the downsides of systems they don’t interact with.

Remember the eurozone crisis? A massive self-inflicted disaster that the US, for all it’s faults, is organizationally immune to?

3. John Schilling

The motivation is less ideology and more “these people can’t crisis-manage their way out of a paper bag, that isn’t going to change based on who wins the next election, and eventually it’s going to have effects I can’t buy my way out of.”

The United States having crisis-management problems that an upper-middle-class American can’t buy their way out of, is going to give the entire world crisis-management problems that you can’t run away from without a better spaceship than anyone can presently build. You might want to factor that into your analysis.

And if it matters, the relevant spaceships are far more likely to be invented in the United States.

1. salvorhardin

Depends what the crises are. A large-scale nuclear exchange or runaway AI would create inescapable worldwide problems, yes. But I expect that the other countries on my list will do much better at e.g. climate change adaptation, monetary policy and financial regulation, grid resilience against CMEs and cyberattacks, and biosecurity. Any one of those can be cushioned against by an upper-middle-class person but mitigating them all gets awfully difficult.

2. John Schilling

Approximately no single nation can “do better” on most of the things that are on your list, because they are transnational in extent. The United States is almost unique among nations in that it can have largely independent policies on e.g. monetary policy, and treat the rest of the world as a minor perturbation. You’re welcome to imagine another country with the same independence but better management, but the reality is that the allegedly better managed countries are far more subject to the whims of their less-well-managed neighbors.

And the constraints on what their neighbors can do to them, are mostly enforced by the United States of America, so if the US becomes grossly dysfunctional, all bets are off. You mentioned South Korea as one of your better-managed countries; how long does that last when the Kim Dynasty realizes that Seoul is no longer under the US nuclear umbrella?

3. Loriot

Also keep in mind that despite their relative politics, the US has been far more successful at reducing greenhouse emissions than Germany.

4. Tatterdemalion

Also keep in mind that despite their relative politics, the US has been far more successful at reducing greenhouse emissions than Germany.

If you cherry-pick a time interval, you can sort of make that technically true, but it’s incredibly misleading – according to http://energy-ecology.blogspot.com/2018/03/greenhouse-gas-emissions-per-capita-top.html the US went from emitting 26 tonnes of CO2-equivalent per person per year in 1990, to 29 tonnes in 2000 and is now back down to 24 tonnes, while Germany has been declining steadily from 16 to 11 or so over that time period.

So if you look at percentage reduction from 2000 to 2020, the US might narrowly come out ahead, but that’s really not a good measure of “which country handles greenhouse gas emissions better?”

5. matkoniecz

And Poland was even better thanks to heavy industry dying during and after fall of communism. It is easy to game or cherry pick such metric.

And to be honest you need to handle cases of pollution generating part of production moving elsewhere.

Moving cement production or steel mills to Russia/Ukraine/China and being proud that pollution decreased is not useful.

6. Loriot

I’m thinking about the most recent decade. To be honest, I didn’t bother to look up the statistics first to confirm my impression. I just assumed it would be true since in the US, fracking flourished and mostly pushed out coal, while Germany mothballed all its nuclear plants early and doubled down on coal, despite supposedly green policies.

2. zzzzort

I’m in the middle of considering leaving. The big issue is my partner is not a citizen, and the immigration system has become unpredictable. But neither of us is really enamored with the US as a place to live (I hate driving, we’d like to both live in a city and own our dwelling, not attached to single family house with a yard, various other aesthetic preferences). Not in tech, but our list is London, Toronto, Madrid, Istanbul, Barcelona, Berlin, and Vancouver, but that’s a combination of idiosyncratic preferences and job opportunities. Obviously not selected for administrative capacity either, only Canada and Germany are clearly better than the US (sorry UK).

3. LesHapablap

Moving to NZ is tough. You’ll have no friends and you won’t be able to relate well to anyone unless you are exceptionally socially skilled. The language, culture, values and humor are very different. If you aren’t white you’ll have lots of racism to deal with. Conveniences which would take a few days in the US, like getting internet hooked up at a new apartment, can take 6 weeks. Everything costs more and wages are lower. You’ll miss all the weddings and funerals back home because it will cost a fortune to fly anywhere but Australia.

Dealing with any government department is like a breath of fresh air compared to the US though. That includes police and civil servants like that: they have a completely different attitude. And the culture and values are much better than the US: they are sort of halfway between the blue and red tribes. A bit like if you took left coast liberals but made them value self-reliance and toughness.

1. salvorhardin

Yeah, that’s a good summary, thanks. The friends/community thing is tough for most expats in most places, but I can believe that it’s even tougher than average in NZ. The culture and values are an extraordinary part of the draw though, and were immediately apparent on even my one short visit there: not only the self-reliance and toughness thing, but what seemed to me an unusually low level of status seeking and display, much lower than that of even supposedly egalitarian Blue Tribers.

4. DinoNerd

I’m currently a SF Bay area techie, but I came here from Canada (via 2 other US states), so I’m not sure if my viewpoint is interesting.

At this point I’ve put down a lot of roots, and have a housemate who very much does not want to move to Canada, so last year I began to implement expensive parts of a plan to retire in place, rather than selling out and moving.

However, the possibilty of moving back to Canada is always somewhere in the back of my mind, and with both my parents and all their siblings now deceased, the main reason to do so would be political.

I don’t feel as safe here as I did in Canada. Some of this is due to changes over time, that also affected Canada, but much of it is not. I have slightly lower expectations of just about every government representative, from the cop on the beat to the decision makers at the CDC. I see a society that knowingly transfers more risk to individuals (and families) over time, away from any larger group, than Candians would tolerate even now. From where I sit, it’s not a big difference and I’m well positioned to do well in spite of it, but if I’d been average for my family, it would be huge.

Getting back to safety – as well as social safety nets, and things like “right to work” legislation (aka right to fire randomly with no severance), there’s the problem of gun-happy cilvilians. The sound bite version would be to point out the scale of Canada’s recent mass shooting in Nova Scotia – largest ever in Canada; kind of trivial in the US. But the bigger impact is small scale, retail violence. It’s almost impossible to imagine that a Canadian who objected to a face mask requirement would come back and shoot the security guard charged with enforcing it. It’s vanishingly likely that I’d ever encounter a civilian carrying a firearm, concealed or visible, in some random place like a city convenience store.

Now it’s also true that a lot of nasty things have been happening in Canada, that we’d done a better job of not noticing than the equivalent American problems. At the point when I moved to the US, I was blissfully unaware of many of them, some of which have since become public scandals. (Equivalent behaviours in the US were already well known, and sometimes proudly proclaimed by the participants.)

When it comes to politics, neither side of the US two party system has ever represented me. Bernie Sanders is the first US politician I recall encountering who simply seemed normal/mainstream to me. (Seeming mainstream doesn’t mean I’d have supported him, at least not in Canada where there’d be other mainstream Canadian options. But at least his page came from the same book as mine, unlike e.g. Clinton or either Bush.)

As long as I’ve been living here, I’ve had an eye out for political developments which would indicate to me that it was time to go back to Canada, possibly in an emergency fashion. (Just get out; deal with finding a job and selling or shipping what I can after I get there.) I’ve been fortunate in that US xenophobia and scapegoating have not, so far, focussed on people like me. (Who’d have expected, in 1992 when I moved here, that it would have settled on middle Easterners and Muslims?) And the longer I live here, the less obviously foreign I am – I am, after all, a white person who grew up speaking English. (No one asks me “where do I really come from”, even though I could name the places from which 2 of my grandparents immigrated to Canada.)

I think if I’d had children, it would have been harder to convince myself to stay in the US, in spite of the career opportunities and the lovely weather. I’d have wanted them to grow up with Canadian values, and to have a Canadian-style safety net if things went wrong for them. (One nephew has Crohn’s disease. That would be even more of a disaster in the US – unless we were wealthy beyond the level of a mere software engineer.) Or if I’d been better at languages, I might have considered some parts of Scandinavia, which (from a great distance) feel to me as if they have many of the best parts of Canada, without the US as a neighbour.

25. matkoniecz

“A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry” has “Collections: The Battle of Helm’s Deep, Part II: Total Warg”

https://acoup.blog/2020/05/08/collections-the-battle-of-helms-deep-part-ii-total-warg/comment-page-1/#comment-4458

Cavalry is called that in English because it is made up of cavallo (Italian, meaning horse, from late Latin caballus, meaning horse), which gives the Italian cavalleria (cavalry), which arrives in English via French cavallerie (and has nothing to do with Calvary; cavalry is dudes on horses, Calvary is a very particular hill). So if you ride cavalli, you are cavalry. If you ride camels, you are camelry. If you ride chariots, you are chariotry. If you ride elephants, you are elephantry. I promise I am not making these words up; these are, in fact, technical terms. My students find them hilarious, but that does not mean they are not technical terms.

Now I’m going to make some words up, because I don’t feel like writing “orc-warg-cavalry” two dozen times. Following the rules for forming these technical terms, if you ride wargs, you would be wargry

The guys who ride babies into battle are gonna be peeved when they find out that infantry took their name.

That is, in fact, the etymology. The Latin base, infans, means those incapable of speech – thus infant (child who cannot yet speak) in English. But in Italian, it came to mean ‘inexperienced, youths’ which was then applied to footsoldiers, because they lacked the training or experience to fight on horseback. Since they were infantes, their unit was infanteria, and thus in French infanterie, thus in English infantry.

1. Le Maistre Chat

So if you ride cavalli, you are cavalry. If you ride camels, you are camelry. If you ride chariots, you are chariotry. If you ride elephants, you are elephantry. I promise I am not making these words up; these are, in fact, technical terms. My students find them hilarious, but that does not mean they are not technical terms.

Now I’m going to make some words up, because I don’t feel like writing “orc-warg-cavalry” two dozen times. Following the rules for forming these technical terms, if you ride wargs, you would be wargry

Yes, this is both accurate and hilarious. If you have a ship full of men*, they man the oars, etc. If Mordor had any ships crewed by trolls instead of men, you’d have to say “Troll the oars!” and “Troll your battle stations!”

*Ambiguously including female humans. Did Greek galleys anthrope the oars or andre them?

1. Paul Zrimsek

I was wondering why the local choral society suddenly got so guttural when they came to the last line of “Deck the halls”.

1. Le Maistre Chat

Heh.
I’d also like to remind everyone that Plutarch reports Hannibal using a stratagem that required detaching some Spaniards from his van. One is free to imagine the van with detachable Spaniards having a wizard and elephant painted on the side.

2. ec429

If you ride chariots, you are chariotry.

Really? I was under the impression that chariot-riders were normally labelled by the drawing animal, i.e. horse-drawn chariots would be called cavalry. I mean, I guess they could be both depending on which factor you want to emphasise; if you’re discussing tactics of armies which have footsoldiers and chariots, you’d talk about “Odysseus trying to use his cavalry to flank the Trojan infantry” but if you’re discussing the advantages of horse-riders versus chariots you might say “in this-and-such battle, the Roman cavalry saw off the Briton chariotry”.
And if you really don’t care about the mechanics of it because you just want to focus on tactically planning your battles, you might use ‘cavalry’ just to mean “the mobile element of my forces, that are for manœuvre and skirmishing rather than static stand-up fighting”, in which case you’ll happily apply it to a category of tank.

‘Wargry’ isn’t wrong, and it’s a fun word, but let’s be a bit less giddy about correcting ‘cavalry’.

1. ec429

Well, “tank” is just an ascended codename; the tank wing in general is usually just called “armour”. (French “blindé”, German “Panzer”). So I guess if we’re going to assume French words are a hotline to Latinate roots (which this one isn’t, it actually comes from German according to wiktionary; but if My Ass is a good enough etymology for ACOUP then it’s good enough for me), the word would be “blindry”, and the pre-war British doctrine would divide it into (following the military tradition of Frenchily putting adjectives after the noun) “blindry-cavalier” and (what else?) “blindry-roundhead”.

1. John Schilling

Really? I was under the impression that chariot-riders were normally labelled by the drawing animal, i.e. horse-drawn chariots would be called cavalry.

This is incorrect. Wikipedia, every online or physical dictionary I can quickly check, and the Harper Encyclopedia of Military History all agree: Cavalry refers to people who fight on horseback(*); people who ride chariots are a different thing for which the only collective noun I can find is “chariotry”. Plural “chariots” also sees some use in this context.

* Or in some contexts in helicopters or light armored vehicles, but even after we started using it in that sense we didn’t retroname the ancient chariot-riders “cavalry”.

1. ec429

we didn’t retroname the ancient chariot-riders “cavalry”

Do you mean to say that Lindybeige lied to me? Gasp!

(More likely: translators of epic poetry will call it cavalry but military historians will call it chariotry, because they’re writing for different audiences and purposes.)

2. Lambert

IIRC, chariotry usually fought on foot.
They tended to be fight more like dragoons or motorised infantry than cavalry.

The Britons may have been an exception.

1. John Schilling

I think you’re right as far as directs shock combat goes, and lines of chariots smashing into each other (or into infantry) like medieval knights with lance and shield was never a big thing.

But throwing javelins or shooting arrows from a chariot, and using its speed to escape anyone who tried to retaliate, was I think fairly common and may have been the dominant use of chariotry.

3. Dack

people who ride chariots are a different thing for which the only collective noun I can find is “chariotry”. Plural “chariots” also sees some use in this context.

Charioteers?

* Or in some contexts in helicopters or light armored vehicles, but even after we started using it in that sense we didn’t retroname the ancient chariot-riders “cavalry”.

There is a Charioteer tank model though.

1. John Schilling

Charioteers?

That’s the plural for the people, not the collective for the military force. The only thing that explicitly include people+horses+chariots as a body is “chariotry”, and the people who think that’s a silly word that they don’t want to use generally just use “chariots” because the context usually makes it clear that they aren’t talking about unmanned horseless chariots.

So, “Egyptian chariots routed the Hittites at Kadesh”, or “Charioteers represented a military aristocracy in early Egyptian society”, but the reverse usage would be rare. “Chariotry” would be more correct for the former case but there usually won’t be much confusion.

1. Randy M

Aw, you’re reminding me that my favorite restaurant, Souplanation, just shutdown for good. Apparently they couldn’t make take out only work.

Hard to find a place, cheap, healthy, filling, and amenable to everyone.

26. Edward Scizorhands

Bar soap recommendations?

Most things are back on store shelves, even rice. But liquid soap remains elusive. So I need to get some bar soap for handwashing. I haven’t bought bar soaps in at least 20 years.

I tried Irish Spring, but it gives off way too powerful an odor. My wife got rid of all of it because she said it was enraging her allergies. It had a slimy feel probably because it has some kind of moisturizer, but if I’m going to use it a lot I’d probably rather have the slimy feel than dry out my hands.

Are there bar soaps out there that don’t smell? I’m limited to what’s on the shelves, obviously. Any way to tell before buying it?

1. ana53294

Dove beauty cream bar: it doesn’t smell, and it doesn’t dry your hands that much because it is superfatted. We have it in most stores in Spain.

1. acymetric

Really probably any Dove bar soap will be fine, they are rarely very strongly scented. I was going to make the same suggestion.

1. Lord Nelson

I also would recommend Dove. Be sure to get one without added fragrances.

2. JayT

FYI, if you don’t like the slimy feel of Irish Spring, you definitely won’t like Dove.

3. Nancy Lebovitz

Apparently there’s only one kind of Dove which is absolutely scentless. I’ll look it up if anyone is interested.

2. Nick

Are there bar soaps out there that don’t smell? I’m limited to what’s on the shelves, obviously. Any way to tell before buying it?

I don’t know whether it will be available, but yes this stuff exists. Some products will be labeled unscented or fragrance free.

Any reason you’re not ordering some off Amazon, by the way?

3. Another Throw

Some people recommend just using WD40, others swear by a drop of 3-in-1 oil, but I personally prefer to use a good Teflon based product for my scizorhands.

1. Edward Scizorhands

WD40 is a water displacer, not a lubricant. It will attract dirt and clog stuff up! Makes it really hard to snap your fingers!

4. Deiseach

Are there bar soaps out there that don’t smell? I’m limited to what’s on the shelves, obviously. Any way to tell before buying it?

Look for ones marketed as for “sensitive skin”, those tend to have fewer/none of the perfumes in them. You should also be able to see if any are packaged as “fragrance free”, though you may not have a great selection depending on what is on the shelves of which supermarket. Dove soap is mild but does have moisturisers in it, so it may well feel “slimy” to you.

5. JustToSay

You could try Ivory bar soap. I find it to be like Dove except 25% less scented and lotioney. I can smell soap at the store through the packaging….although I guess if you’re wearing a mask that’s probably not so effective.

6. Lambert

> I’m limited to what’s on the shelves

Not if you can find hardwood ash and lard.

1. Lambert

non-sleep-deprived me would like to note that handling caustic soda when there’s a plague around is a bad idea. Do not make your own soap.

7. Buttle

Kirk’s coco-castile soap. It’s just actual quality soap, it’s available as either original scent, which is not overwhelming, or new non-scented. Shouldn’t be too expensive.

8. KieferO

In the past, I’ve bought 5 lb blocks of glycerin soap, which is incredibly unscented, but kind of hard on the hands. It has the advantage of being very inexpensive, but you have to cut it into usable bar sizes yourself, which is very doable with a hacksaw or similar but not very fun.

27. Deiseach

Oh holy hell, this is something else. Okay, call me an idiot, but damn it this is the 21st Century that skiffy promised me back when I was seven and watching Star Trek in syndication in rural Ireland! 😀

United States Space Force recruitment video.

1. Milo Minderbinder

This future is more like it. The two things in the Trump presidency I’m 100% behind: trying to buy Greenland and shamelessly ripping off the Starfleet logo.

1. Another Throw

I must say that being in space has its advantages. Any terrestrial force that changed their uniforms as frequently as Starfleet would be getting a serious lashing from the budgeting department. It is a little hard to argue with the people with the orbital bombardment weapons, though.

2. Evan Þ

Starfleet also has replicators, so replacing uniforms has got to be a lot easier.

3. Matt M

At least Starfleet doesn’t have seasonality!

The real US Navy technically changes uniforms semi-annually!

4. Another Throw

You say that, but their fielding schedule looks to be a complete mess. Some backwater station gets the new uniform years before the flagship? Even when fielded there is a mish-mash of uniforms being worn by the bridge crew and senior staff? I mean, I suppose there could be some tenacious hold-out waiting for the wear-out date before switching but you would think the Captain would have a little talk with them about setting an example for the rest of the crew.

5. sp1

The budgeting department of the U.S. Navy doesn’t raise a peep about uniform changes significantly more frequent than those of Starfleet. During my 8 year tenure there were around six very significant uniform changes with several more in the few years after I left.

Like many Naval rumors I can’t vouch for its accuracy but there was a widespread belief that the changes were essentially a grift by the companies producing the uniforms, made possible by offering retiring admirals sinecures in exchange for leaning on the not-yet retired leadership to support the changes. The fact that the recently retired had nurtured and promoted those individuals over the years combined with general elite chumminess makes the leaning easy. Plus messing with the uniforms is fun – it’s like getting to play dress up with real people – and it’s not as though it’s your money that you’re wasting.

6. Another Throw

I don’t follow naval uniform changes in particular, but I was actually thinking about the fact that Congress was getting annoyed enough with constantly getting hit up for money to fund uniform changes and have, AFAIK, started clamping down on them a little bit.

28. bean

Naval Gazing’s comments are broken for the moment (trying to get them fixed, but it could take a while) and I just put up the first part of my tutorial on Aurora. As such, I’m going to hope Scott doesn’t mind me moving the comments here for the moment. So this is the official comment thread for that post, and I’ll make sure anything said here is mirrored over there.

29. Edward Scizorhands

Is there a trope for “alien/fantasy world that treats our world’s history as part of their own”?

That’s probably a bad name. I’m reading The Phantom Tollbooth with my son again, and the characters in The Lands Beyond regularly refer to historical figures like George Washington and historical events like the exploration of America. But they are in an alien world that you need special techniques to access. No one in our world knows about theirs. They aren’t deliberately hiding from us like some secret society like in Harry Potter; in fact, they have a welcome center.

I know this is too far to read into a children’s book. But it feels like I’ve seen this before. Like the Donald Duck comic books that describe American history and how the Europeans founded America. I guess that’s an alternate universe where Columbus wasn’t the weird dog-man creature that is so dominant in that world, but I don’t think they’ve ever showed us his picture.

1. Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit

Nitpick: Donald Duck comics takes place in the real world (in the fictional city of Duckburg in the fictional U.S. state Calisota). The connection to the real world is not super strong but it exists. As an example: Theodore Roosevelt is a prominent character in some of the Scrooge stories. So it makes sense for the ducks to talk about the U.S. and George Washington.

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/ComicBook/DisneyMouseAndDuckComics

Like Reality Unless Noted: Everything relating to the Ducks and Mice is as it is and the rest of the world can be assumed to be like it is in real-life, give or take substituting the human population with animal people.

So I don’t think Donald Duck is a good example of what you are talking about. Bu the trope you describe exists.

1. Le Maistre Chat

Remember that Donald Duck has two Latino friends who are a chicken and a parrot.
I derive way too amusement from trying to figure out which real-world figures would be dogs vs ducks vs chickens vs parrots. Were Montezuma and La Malinche parrots while the conquistadors were chickens?

1. Matt M

The graphic novel Maus assigns different animal-man races to the various nationalities who participated in WWII.

2. Belisaurus Rex

Yes but in Maus the analogy breaks down, in universe as well. Jews are mice, Germans are cats, Polish are pigs, and Americans are dogs. Yet, what animal is the Jewish American? He is shown as both a dog and as a mouse in different panels.

2. bullseye

I haven’t read Donald Duck comics, but I saw DuckTales, in which most people are dog-men. I’m pretty sure Columbus would have been a dog or a duck in that show.

3. keaswaran

Is this meant to include things like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials, where the fantasy world is parallel to our own, or Planet of the Apes and 1984, where the world of the fiction is later than our own, or both or neither? I think there was a time when the genre label “fantasy” took it as definitional that the fantasy world was somehow visited by a character from the “mundane” world (like The Indian in the Closet, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Wizard of Oz, etc.), though of course this definition is no longer considered, because it would define The Lord of the Rings as non-fantasy.

1. Edward Scizorhands

I think there was a time when the genre label “fantasy” took it as definitional that the fantasy world was somehow visited by a character from the “mundane” world (like The Indian in the Closet, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Wizard of Oz, etc.)

I think this (what Kaitian called Isekai) is what I was thinking of. Imagine the characters in Narnia knew about Abraham Lincoln or mentioned their ancestors being on the Mayflower.

1. Randy M

Did they know about them, or did they just know the phrase from a prophecy?
Regardless, numerous inhabitants of Narnia were always canonically from our world.

Are you (Edward Scizorhands) looking for examples of coherent worldbuilding like this that incorporates Earth timeline, or incoherent worldbuilding that haphazardly has references from Earth thrown in?

2. matkoniecz

What is not surprising given that their royal line was imported from then still religious England.

3. Edward Scizorhands

Are you (Edward Scizorhands) looking for examples of coherent worldbuilding like this that incorporates Earth timeline, or incoherent worldbuilding that haphazardly has references from Earth thrown in?

I dunno. I don’t have a great concept here.

But maybe if I read about several of these things I’ll realize it’s a common trope and stop worrying about it, like just accepting hearing ships fly in space in sci fi.

2. Viliam

Harry Potter and His Dark Materials

Hey, I want to read this!

Oh, you mean those are two different books…

4. Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit

I’ve been browsing tvtropes for this for a while now and I can’t find anything. Strange, this seems like an interesting category.

It can be quite insidious. One of my cringes is when people cry “Fire!” as they shoot their bows in fantasy (looking at you, Peter Jackson). This doesn’t make sense because the reason we cry “Fire!” is because we have firearms, and a culture without firearms would use a different word. (Medieval England used “Loose!” or “Shoot!”.)

These insidious things are a lot harder to spot than aliens talking about George Washington, but it feels like they belong to the same category. I guess the question becomes where to stop: if you want to be hard about it I guess almost all idioms are off the table.

1. Kaitian

It always bugs me when people in stereotypical “medieval England” fantasies have names like John and Samuel. There are no Hebrews in this fantasy world, and if there were, there’s no reason for your fantasy pagans to be named after them. Call your dudes Fred and Carl and William if you want real world names.

1. SamChevre

Do you mean medieval England, or pre-Roman England? Because England (Wessex) was Christian by the end of the 7th century. “Bad King John” was a real-world character.

1. Randy M

He means faux medieval England, like Westeros, say, that exists without a similar analog to the ancient world.

I’m pretty sure it’s satire, but hard to tell.

2. Kaitian

I’m talking about fantasy stories that are set in “medieval Europe”, but with a fantasy history that doesn’t include Christianity. Of course many people in real medieval England had Christian names.

Examples include A Song of Ice and Fire and most D&D worlds.

3. Nancy Lebovitz

Sidetrack: Westoros has a mixture of common modern names, variant spellings of common and uncommon names from our timeline, and completely alien names.

Any one know why Martin did it that way? Theories about how Martin got away with it? It seems like it should be very jarring, but it generally doesn’t seem to bother people.

2. Nick

If you really want to be consistent, construct a language and culture and draw all your names from that.

1. Kaitian

If you really want to be consistent, construct a language and write your story in that.

I guess from a writing perspective it makes sense to have recognizable names. It just puts less strain on the reader’s brain. I’m amazed how many people manage to read about Jaime Lannister for thousands of pages and go on to write a comment about Jamie.

2. Lambert

Construct a language and culture and draw all your names from that then usually translate that back to English (except for one, where you just change the suffix).

3. zardoz

Yeah, I have no patience any more for fantasy authors who can’t be bothered to create their own custom language, orthography, theology, philosophy, cartography, and cuisine.

It’s like, are you even trying?

(This is satire, by the way.)

4. Loriot

I’m amazed how many people manage to read about Jaime Lannister for thousands of pages and go on to write a comment about Jamie.

Welp, I guess I just fell victim to the Mandela effect again.

5. AG

Cersei as Greek, Jaime as Mexican, “Are the Lannisters POC?” a thread locked after 14226 pages of debate

2. cassander

I’ve grown increasingly annoyed by this as well. Especially when they say
ready, aim, fire” as opposed to “notch, draw and loose.”

1. Lillian

You wouldn’t use “draw” and “loose” in the same command sequence because archers cannot hold a bow fully drawn for very long, and having them wait for a separate command after they’ve drawn would tire them out unnecessarily. Consequently you use either “draw” or “loose” to mean “draw and loose”. The medieval English seem to have preferred “loose” but the Spanish and French used “draw” to the point that to this day “to draw” still carries the meaning of “to throw or shoot” in both languages, and in Spanish “a draw” can mean “a shot” including gunshots. In fact in the dialect of Spanish I speak the word “to draw” which is “tirar” is only really used in the contexts of shooting, throwing, and having sex.

1. cassander

the genre convention of archers holding their fire for far too long is annoying, but it’s too dramatic to go anywhere. but we can at least use the right words to describe it.

2. Lillian

Just once I would like to see characters menaced by archers who are correctly holding their bows with arrows notched, but not drawn. It might even give some tension as the characters wonder if they could charge the archers before they draw and loose. Could even have some dramatic shots of panicked archers letting loose short of a full draw and the arrows flying off wildly or bouncing off armour.

Relatedly, when I roleplay in fantasy games I use the phrase, “loosing short of a full draw” instead of “going off half-cocked”, since I like using phrases that make sense in universe.

1. Nancy Lebovitz

I remember a panel at an sf convention which got into this on a world-building level. The specific example was that if your characters have no contact with the ocean, the adjective “pearly” shouldn’t be used. Now that I think about it, they could have had fresh-water pearls, but I don’t think that takes much away from the example.

1. Lambert

Pearls were widely traded throughout history, being valuable, small and non-perishable.

Wealthy Roman women often wore pearls from the Indian Ocean, for example.

2. Loriot

IMO, unless you’re Tolkein, you aren’t going to be able to create a fictional variant of English that is sufficiently “realistic”. And even if you could, readers probably wouldn’t understand it. Better to just use the Translation Convention and call it a day.

5. Kaitian

I think there are too many different genres that fit this description:

Magical realism, where a “normal” real world story is told in a way that includes magic or other fantastical elements (maybe the movies Pan’s Labyrinth and Life of Pi are good examples).

Urban fantasy and other types of “hidden fantasy society” stories. This includes Harry Potter and everything that has vampires hiding among us. Maybe the Cthulhu mythos stories also fit here.

Space fantasy where human history is often present as “what happened before space exploration”.

Isekai stories where a character from our world is transported to a fantasy world. This is arguably the most common kind of fantasy story (as @keaswaran has noted). Those worlds often have some sort of ongoing connection to our world too.

I don’t think Donald Duck counts as fantasy at all. If you changed the characters to look like normal humans they’re no different from other adventure comics.

1. Nancy Lebovitz

Urban fantasy isn’t necessarily about hidden magic. Laurel Hamilton’s Anita Blake was the first thing I’d seen where everyone knew about werewolves and vampires, and I believe they’re considered urban fantasy.

Is there any difference between Isekai and portal fantasy?

I don’t think so, with the exception that isekai can also include “reborn.” I’m thinking of Konosuba, where the protagonist is killed in a horrific…slow motion heart attack tractor accident…and then reborn in a fantasy world. I don’t think western portal fantasy ever includes rebirth…it’s always something like “walk bodily through a magical portal.”

Columbus has appeared in Donald Duck and he was human. From “The Lost Charts of Columbus” by Don Rosa: Imgur

1. Le Maistre Chat

Well that just shows that Don Rosa remembered that Columbus was Italian, not Spanish. Sadly we never got an illustration of chicken Queen Isabella selling her jewels to finance human Columbus’s expedition.

7. Le Maistre Chat

I guess that’s an alternate universe where Columbus wasn’t the weird dog-man creature that is so dominant in that world,

A question just occurred to me: was Carl Barks the one responsible for filling Donald Duck’s world with man-dogs?

30. RMECola

Hillary Clinton once said “Women have always been the primary victims of war”. While I understand the immediate umbrage taken at this claim, isn’t this irrefutably true? Civilian casualties in modern war typically outnumber military ones. A look at the Soviet Union in WW2 estimates 10 million military to 16 million civilian, which I imagine must be dis proportionally female. I would say it’s even more dramatically lopsided in conflicts like the Iraq war.

I’d say American’s might interpret this statement differently because we are unique in not suffering large civilian casualties in our wars.

1. baconbits9

What percent of civilian casualties are women?

If the 10 million military deaths were exclusively male then the 16 million civilian deaths would have to be 82% female for it to be a 50/50 split (and ignoring that these are generally divided into men/women/children, not male/female).

1. RMECola

Yeah, I was thinking that, but maybe the soviet union is a bad example, because early in the war so many soldiers were killed/captured and died in captivity enveloped, among other things. If you look at the the total for the entire war, its something in the range of 21-25 million military, and 50-55 million civilians. So that’s roughly 2:1. and if you assume that the civilian deaths will be at least in the range of 60% female, maybe higher, than it stands that women suffer more.

1. DavidFriedman

its something in the range of 21-25 million military, and 50-55 million civilians. So that’s roughly 2:1. and if you assume that the civilian deaths will be at least in the range of 60% female, maybe higher, than it stands that women suffer more.

21 + .4×50 = 41
.6×50 = 30

So on your numbers, male deaths are still much larger than female.

2. John Schilling

A look at the Soviet Union in WW2 estimates 10 million military to 16 million civilian, which I imagine must be dis proportionally female

Why would you imagine that? Estrogen-seeking smart bombs?

Even if you’re saying that the civilian casualties are predominantly female because the men have been taken out to serve in the Army, A: that’s rarely more than 10-20% of the male population, and B: if I take a balanced population, select out an all-male group, specifically kill a bunch of people from the all-male group, then go kill a bunch of people from the remaining group, it’s pretty likely that I’m going to kill more males than females overall.

Or we could just look it up in Wikipedia, which gives an estimate of 20 million male, 6.6 million female casualties for the Soviet Union in WW2.

1. RMECola

My analysis isn’t deep, just that in general if you have twice as many civilian casualties as military, and over 50% of your citizens are female (because some men have been taken into the army), then you’ll have numerically more dead females.

Of course I suppose you could have factors like Women surviving famine conditions easier than men, or disease, so very possibly civilian deaths could skew male in some ways.

1. Aapje

I think that you are making a statistical error, where you seem to believe that it is safer to be a soldier than a civilian.

Group sizes are very important in this analysis. If 1/3rd of casualties are from the 10-20% of the population that make up the military, then that group is not actually safer than the general population per capita, even if 2/3rds of the casualties are civilian.

Furthermore, if military casualties are 99% men and civilian casualties are merely 60% women, then the greater gap between male and female deaths in the military is not necessarily dwarfed by the civilian gap in the opposite direction, even if there are more civilian casualties.

Also, as I argued in my other comment, it’s hardly obvious that the gender ratio of civilian casualties will be equal to the gender ratio of the civilian population. So civilian casualties can be very close to 50% male.

2. DavidFriedman

if you have twice as many civilian casualties as military, and over 50% of your citizens are female (because some men have been taken into the army), then you’ll have numerically more dead females.

That does not follow, as you can easily check by putting in some numbers.

1. RMECola

That was a very rudimentary error on my part, almost renders this whole post moot, but glad for the fruitful discussion, just incorporating the idea that civilian casualties would screw male due to targeting factories/female resilience was something I didn’t consider.

2. Matt M

Yeah, the assumptions required for this line of thought to make sense would also lead us to conclusions like “the safest place to be during a war is in the army” which seems a little implausible, and leads to further interesting questions like “if that were true, then wouldn’t we start drafting women and children? for humanitarian reasons?”

1. RMECola

There are probably some cases where this is true. I’m think of recent African conflicts, where there aren’t large scale engagements between enemy forces and more reprisals on civilians. In that case being in the army might be safer, you’re surrounded by people with weapons.

1. bean

That’s a good point, but Clinton’s initial statement was categorical. Yes, there are some conflicts where it’s safer to be in the army, but those are very non-central examples of war. And based on the rest of that statement, she wasn’t thinking about Africa.

2. Aapje

A lot of reprisals against civilians are not gender neutral. For example, Boko Haram used to murder school boys, while leaving school girls alone. Ironically, they changed tactic because few cared about those boys and they wanted people to pay attention. So they switched to targeting women, but even then they didn’t murder them like the boys, but merely kidnapped them.

Also, Africa has some nasty warlords who terrorize their own population. This doesn’t really compare to WW 2-style of warfare/governance.

2. John Schilling

That’s a good way to put it. If being in the army is safer than being a civilian, then casualties in war will predominantly female. Otherwise, they are going to be predominantly male so long as armies are predominantly male.

3. Bobobob

More like, the safest place to be in a war is directly behind the baddest-ass soldier in the army. But I imagine there might be competition for that spot.

(Inspired by Erika Eleniak’s character in Under Siege)

1. Matt M

I mean yeah, there’s certainly cases where a “support” job in the army may be safer than remaining on the homefront, sure.

To use a less extreme example, one of my uncles voluntarily enlisted in the Air Force during Vietnam, because he was convinced he would otherwise be drafted, and being in the Air Force was considered safer (and it was, he was never in any real physical danger!)

But most jobs aren’t like that. There’s a reason that when war breaks out, nobody thinks “let me send my daughter to the front – that’s where she will be safe!”

2. Aapje

@Bobobob

Perhaps he is bad-ass because he knows when to duck…

Seriously though, non-frontline troops regularly got attacked in many wars.

@Matt M

I assume that he wasn’t a pilot. That was fairly risky business.

Note that the opponent didn’t have a real ability to attack airfields in that war, but that’s not going to be true for every war.

Seriously though, non-frontline troops regularly got attacked in many wars.

My dad joined the Navy as a lawyer during Vietnam, because 1) nobody’s giving lawyers guns and sending them into the jungle and 2) the VC isn’t doing raids against lawyers on ships.

4. bean

More like, the safest place to be in a war is directly behind the baddest-ass soldier in the army.

Almost certainly not, because that guy is going to be on the front, which means you’re also on the front, or near enough that you’re not safe from artillery. The safest place to be during a war is in an office somewhere that isn’t going to be attacked.

5. Aapje

As long as you fight enemies without mine-laying, submarine and/or battleship capability that is a good strategy, but during WW II ships weren’t that safe.

Little colonial wars like Vietnam are not the best example, IMO.

6. noyann

More like, the safest place to be in a war is directly behind the baddest-ass soldier in the army.

He certainly will know when do duck and cover, and do so faster than you.

7. Edward Scizorhands

Being next to the protagonist in Act I is how you get killed so the protagonist can avenge you.

You are safe in Act II. But in Act III you might be bumped off to show how serious it all is, or have to sacrifice yourself to save the hero.

4. Garrett

> “the safest place to be during a war is in the army”

This sounds way too much like it should be the theme of a 1980s comedy.

The next sentence was

Women lose their husbands, their fathers, their sons in combat.

So she was talking about women as victims of specific soldier-on-soldier type of warfare, but by proxy. To be fair, she then said “Women often have to flee from the only homes they have ever known. Women are often the refugees from conflict and sometimes, more frequently in today’s warfare, victims.” So she was thinking about this, too.

I imagine must be dis proportionally female.

Why would that be? And so much as to outweigh the military casualties, which are just shy of 100% men?

Edit: ninjer’d

1. RMECola

You know, In my mind I was comparing female civilian casualties to male military, not male military AND civilian. Which is very foolish, early morning for yea.

I imagine there are still some conflicts this applies (perhaps some of the more genocidal campaigns in history), but as a rule probably doesn’t hold up.

2. Aapje

Clinton’s statement also seems unfair to me by excluding soldiers as people who were victimized by being forced from their homes. It’s not like those soldiers would choose to live in barracks and trenches rather than their own homes, if they could choose, anymore than civilian refugees would prefer to vacate their homes.

1. Nancy Lebovitz

It’s one thing to be forced from your home if you’re drafted, and another if you’re forced from your home because it’s been destroyed. I assume the latter is more likely to happen to civilians, though some soldiers would rather take the job than be refugees, and some soldiers have been drafted from their homes and then the homes get destroyed.

I think you’re underselling the wrongness of being forcibly plucked from your home, packed into a tin can, shipped overseas, given a rifle and told to go kill somebody you don’t even know.

2. Nancy Lebovitz

Maybe I’m connotatively wrong, but I really think it makes a difference to have a home to go back to.

3. Aapje

@Nancy Lebovitz

AFAIK, many people flee from troops that approach, without their home being destroyed. They are going to be unsure whether their home will still exist if they get back, where the same is often true for the soldier.

Nancy, imagine becoming a murderer against your will. I don’t like that concept.

4. Aapje

@RMECola

Even if civilians are disproportionately female, that doesn’t mean that civilian casualties have to be, because bombings that hurt civilians were not random. They often targeted factories and such. I expect that factory workers would have been male disproportionately often, compared to the civilian population in general.

This not just true because men would have factory jobs more often, but also because women live longer, so the retired elderly who would not work in factories, would be much more often be female.

I found these numbers, which suggest that men died more often than women in every age group, in Russia.

In Germany, the losses should be way more lopsided, as the Germans forced a lot of men from other countries to work in Germany. With bombings concentrated on Germany, those forced laborers would be much more at risk than their wives, children and parents, who remained outside of Germany.

Then there are the reprisals. The Germans would execute male civilians in response to attacks by the resistance.

Note that a lot of civilian war deaths are due to disease and starvation. Women seem to be more resilient to these.

PS. Note that Clinton didn’t (just) argue about casualties, but talked about people suffering from losing a son or father to war. When making that claim she was being sexist, as she argued that the mother of a killed soldier would suffer, but excluded the father.

1. ec429

They often targeted factories and such.

Well, we tried to, but it turns out that’s really hard, so we just burned down Hamburg instead. Sorry, Hamburg; it was nothing personal.

(Also, when we did bomb factories, we mostly did it at night, which at least early in the war meant the workers weren’t in them at the time.)

Of course the USAAF did things differently; but precision bombing in WWII was generally only a thing if you had air supremacy (and even then, if you happened to be the Luftwaffe, you might decide to bomb Warsaw or Rotterdam instead to induce them to surrender to the Heer. Not to mention what the Allies did to Dresden).

I expect that factory workers would have been male disproportionately often, compared to the civilian population in general.

In WWII there was a big rise in female factory work, because mobilisation was causing shortages of male labour. There’s plenty of British newsreels showing young women and old men building aircraft.

Note that I’m not defending Clinton’s position, which was stupid; just quibbling some historical details I happen to be a nerd about.

1. Aapje

I would still expect the area around the factories to have relatively many male civilians and the rural regions to have relatively female civilians.

5. Randy M

It’s pretty foolish to try to stake anything on this comparison.
The front lines of combat are a super majority of male, and you are vastly under-counting “victims” if you only look at casualties; soldiers come back maimed or traumatized.
But, as noted, the civilian population suffers as well, depending on the historical period maybe much more, but lately probably less.
We generally see a death as the greatest loss, but losing a son or parent is tremendous suffering as well. However, these deaths fall upon both sexes equally, as do the depredations of war.
Possibly the statement is attempting to separate victimization on the basis of culpability; this is the apex fallacy; few men have the say in waging war to a degree much greater than women.
Trying to call one or the other a ‘primary’ victim should make the speaker look ignorant and callous. To the extent it doesn’t, the hearer is probably primed to see women as more morally virtuous or as experiencing more relevant suffering and the common man as having more agency.

1. Nick

Yeah, this sums up how I feel about the comparison more than any numerical argument would.

2. RMECola

That makes sense, I really only thought about this in the context of raw numbers, and even then I don’t think it holds up to scrutiny.

6. bean

The steelman of this presumably depends on counting sexual violence as well as more straightforward violence. As baconbits and John point out, there’s basically no way to have a big war and end up with more women than men dead. But armies have long had a reputation for being extremely unconcerned with consent, and depending on relative weighting of rape vs death, you could make an argument for this.

(I’m not really in favor of this argument, just pointing out that this is the strongest possible steelman. Another option would be that the benefits of war accrue mostly to men, leaving women with no offsetting advantages. This is also not really a great argument.)

1. Randy M

Ancient* warfare could be merciless to civilians, and I’m glad my daughters aren’t growing up in a world where being on the wrong side of a siege means they are enslaved or killed after being used by soldiers.
But whether that’s worse than being impaled by some jagged piece of metal and left to literally rot is hard to judge.

*And some varieties of recent warfare that we are privileged to be far from.

If you’re going to bring in rape, you also need to bring in non-fatal combat casualties, like losing a limb, PTSD, etc.

1. Nancy Lebovitz

One aspect of extended casualties from combat would be PTSD leading to domestic abuse.

Assuming that soldiers with PSTD are mostly male and heterosexual (this is less true with modern arrnies), this puts a wife and children at risk, so there’s a bias towards female victims.

As for Clinton’s claim, I’d say that the harm to women from wars is generally underestimated, but it’s hard to determine whether it’s larger than the harm to men.

It might be better to be clear that war is really bad for people instead of making it into a gender issue.

3. Aapje

@bean

I want to point out that sexual victimization is not exclusive to men. In some wars, it seems to have targeted men extensively.

7. Randy M

Here’s the full context of that speech. I think it may have just been a clumsy, if Freudian, attempt to tie the purpose of her conference in with the host nation’s recent history.
A better phrasing may have been “women have often been overlooked as victims of war”, which probably isn’t strictly true either but imo more forgivable.

Outside view: after war, there are many women left for few men. To the point where fatherless families are normal – women just get pregnant and raise children alone as a life choice. I have an example in the extended family.

1. edmundgennings

This is definitely a good way of steel maning the position. The vast majority of people want to be in a heterosexual romantic relationship and those who do not are typically not going to switch for “price” reasons. And most people want at least serial monogamy. Thus to be crudely reductive both supply and demand are quite inelastic. So a small drop in the number of males dramatically increases the remaining males bargaining power. This results in males getting much more of what they want in romantic relationships in a number of ways. And males, as a group, want more casual sex and less commitment than females. We observe this happening in a variety of places but it seems very well established as an empirical trend. After southern Italy sent a lot of young men and fewer young women to the US, marriage rates decreased and out of wedlock birth rates shot up. In the US, southern Italians who largely dated and married other southern Italians had high marriage rates and low out of wedlock birth rates.

9. Beans

I guess next time there’s a war I want to survive, I’ll be sure to join the military.

This is an extremely cynical take… but the quote itself seems to me to just be a logical outgrowth of male disposability.

You don’t weight the lives and physical well-being of individuals and groups in a society equally. So even if you quantify that 2, 3, 4 or more times as many men are killed in war it doesn’t really matter. Clinton isn’t saying that more women die in war, just that they’re the ‘primary victims’ — which might be necessarily true by definition depending on how heavily you discount the physical well being of males.

11. ana53294

Attempt to steelman it:

On the question of whether you are safer in the army or not. You are definitely more food safe in the army. When there’s rationing or less food, soldiers get their food before civilians (with many exceptions for high ranking civilians).

So, if you’re a poor woman in Westeros or something like that, you would be better off joining the army in winter. If they’d take you, that is.

12. Viliam

The simplest explanation that fits all known facts is that women have more qualia than men, on average.

This explains why women cry all the time, and it also means that even if fewer women are killed or hurt in the war, they might still suffer more qualia of pain than men.

The only surprising thing is how Hillary Clinton could have admitted such politically incorrect thought.

1. Brassfjord

You could argue that the sum of women’s suffering (in and after a war) is larger than men’s, since the soldiers that die don’t suffer any more.

1. Viliam

I think we need to add “all women in conquered territories must be killed” to the Geneva conventions, to reduce the suffering of women.

13. J Mann

Hillary Clinton once said “Women have always been the primary victims of war”. While I understand the immediate umbrage taken at this claim, isn’t this irrefutably true? Civilian casualties in modern war typically outnumber military ones. A look at the Soviet Union in WW2 estimates 10 million military to 16 million civilian, which I imagine must be dis proportionally female. I would say it’s even more dramatically lopsided in conflicts like the Iraq war.

I don’t think it’s true at all, but I certainly don’t think it’s irrefutably true.

1) If you define “victim” to mean “fatality,” then:

1.1) I’d look for data on how the ratio of men to women changed after a war. Based on the Russia numbers upthread, it sounds like Russia at least saw a relative drop in men relative to women, but I’d want to see some more data.

1.2) You could also argue whether you should determine primary victims by relative chance of death or by absolute numbers of death. If war caused men to have a greater individual chance of death, but more women died overall because there were more women, you could argue which was the “primary victim.” About twice as many white Americans as black are shot by police in a given year, but almost no one would argue that white Americans are the “primary victims” of police violence. (At the very least, it’s not “indisputable.”)

2.) Hillary probably meant “victims” more broadly that raw fatalities. So men have a greater chance of being drafted (and probably of being wounded or killed), but women have a greater chance of being the victims of sex crimes. Those are so hard to compare that I would say Hillary’s point is defensible (if you omit the word “always” as hyperbole), but not indisputable.

1. Aapje

If you start counting non-lethal victimization, do you count them once by person or each instance? Do the traumatizing experiences of a