Tuesday assorted links


"I say worry about what has destroyed past civilizations."

While we should do that (and it boggles the mind that we haven't built a functioning missile shield), by definition the thing that ends humanity is going to be something novel that has not occurred before. It would be astounding if it was just some 5 s.d. version of a normal problem.

The expected death rate in the US from, say nuclear attack, might be higher than that from malevolent AI. But that doesn't mean malevolent AI is not something you need to worry about. Sometimes you need to worry about more than one thing.

"I say worry about diet and exercise." (Worry about civilization is probably just sublimated death-fear anyway.)

Sometimes you need to worry about more than one thing. It's part of being an adult.

If peeps were rational adults I'd be happy. Many in this vein You’re more likely to be fatally crushed by furniture than killed by a terrorist

Funnily enough, the Black Hawk flights scanning for nuclear materials are occurring outside my window right now. I didn't notice them prior to the bombing a few years ago; I suspect they're new.

You will be happy to know, anon, that my bookcases are firmly strapped to the wall.

So is carrying about real problems instead of the Boogeyman.


Anxieties about historical forces beyond personal control is manifest personal unhappiness projected on the wider world.

Are you guys incapable of thinking about something without going into a panic? Out of sight out of mind?

You are missing at least my emphasis. I am saying that attention should be allocated in rough parallel to risk. They say that Americans have a 1 in 6 chance of dying of hear attack. What would you say the odds of dying by "death of civilization" to be? If it is 1 in a million then there is a long list of more rational risks to attend.

On the other hand, if this is just science fiction fun, and not an actually "worry," carry on.


Over the last couple of hundred years, living in a great power, the odds of losing everything in a cataclysm has been what, 20%? Death has been quite a bit less likely, but war has gotten a lot more lethal. Most every great power has undergone revolution or invasion with only a couple of exceptions (the US, and arguably England). So 10% is a pretty good estimate. 1% is way too low. 20% is probably too high.

anon - all the things we might prioritize more "naturally" are basically just an early death or suboptimal living conditions. Compared to civilizational collapse or the end of humanity, who cares? Well, we do, because we don't want to be dead early or live a crappy life. But it makes an awful lot of sense to allocate some resources to such things.

I think if you look at humanity, the theme is misallocation of concern. Examples above.

But to continue this would be misallocating my concerns and so ...


By that measure, everyone working on pandemic preparedness, bank regulation to prevent another financial meltdown, global warming responses, and military planning for potential future wars must be unhappy and just projecting their personal unhappiness onto the world.

"Reagan disproved that silly argument..."
No, he didn't. He proved "that deficits don't matter", but he surely didn't prove that America could get anywhere near a working missile shield system without tempting its enemies to attack first (or get near a functional missile shield system, period). He and Bush I had 12 years to prove it, they never could. Quite the opposite, they (plus W.) proved they could anger the Soviet Union/Russia plus the West European NATO allies without ever getting near delivering the goods. It surely made America less safe.
"and that argument does nothing to counter the problem of rogue states or terrorist groups willing to launch a first strike and risk retaliation."
Or rogue states or terrorist groups using any other kind of nuclear weapons delivery or any other kind of WMD to cripple America. A missile shield would be the ultimate Simpson's bear patrol, it would work brilliantly when unneeded and fail spetacularly if Seriously, doesn't the USA have real problems, such as stagnating living standards, terrorism, Chinese economic and military competition, a chaotic Middle East, immigration, the Pakistan-Afghan disaster? Why divert people's attentions from real world problem for the sake of playing Tom Clancy?

Back again, after spending the day with Tetlock's Superforecasting.

Albatross, those things have different "baseline probability." Banking crises for instance occur with some frequency.

Cataclysms, on the level of the US Civil War are much more infrequent and harder to gauge. Is once every 200 years even a good number? Probably hard to pin down, and Tetlock's expectation that no one can predict 10 years out is probably (IMO) right.

"Probably hard to pin down, and Tetlock’s expectation that no one can predict 10 years out is probably (IMO) right."

Better not to think about it right? Spend the money now on things we consume today and not worry about some contingency?

You're defending an absurd position.

Claims about the relative probabilities of accidental, homicidal, and long-term death-causes of the "don't worry about terrorism, more people are shot by toddlers than killed by terrorists" demonstrate a profound misunderstanding of statistics. I don't need to worry that I'll die from sudden heart disease in 1/6 possible universes - for the most part, I control that. I don't need to worry about being shot by a toddler I see on the street at night - that isn't what the statistic means. I don't need to worry about being crushed by furniture in my house - I control the stability of my furniture. I don't need to conclude that 10 rape accusations against a celebrity is more powerful than one - those events aren't independent.

Every one of these claims is an intellectually dishonest misdirection from the reality about risks - and they all seem to come from the motivated reasoning of the left protecting brown people, women, or attacking guns.

The fact that 1 in 6 Americans do die of heart attack, and that it is the most common cause of death, is straight up an indication that you should give heart health attention.

If motorcycle riders die, and you decide not to ride motorcycles, you've done your attention there as well.

But if you ride a motorcycle say, and spend time worrying about terrorists, you are doing it wrong.

Lord Action, two things conspire




"IF you ride a motorcycle"

Exactly. Meanwhile, IF I choose to support the federal government paying to bring 10,000 people of which 20-50% will support attacks on America, death to apostates, beating wives, or some or many other social dysfunctions? It's as if you are approaching understanding my point that certain risks can be mitigated by individuals, like motocycle accidents (hint: don't ride), and certain ones cannot, like the terrorist attacks that will statistically occur as a result of 'immigration-as-politics' by the left.


The statistics are how you decide which risks you should worry about addressing, and how much time and energy you should spend addressing them. Your toddler can drown in your swimming pool, or can be eaten by a mountain lion outside your house. However, toddlers often drown in swimming pools, but almost never are eaten by mountain lions, so you probably should spend a whole lot of time making sure your toddler can't get into the swimming pool unattended, before you spend any time at all worrying about preventing mountain lion attacks.

A major problem here is that news, especially TV news, tends to spend a lot of time on some kinds of death that are spectacular and make for interesting pictures and gripping television, like plane crashes. It also tends to spend a lot less time on boring, one-at-a-time causes of death, like dying of cancer or falling down the stairs. That means that most people have a skewed intuition about what the real risks are--what's most likely to kill you?

The best way I know to address that is to learn something about the mortality statistics, which tells us what fraction of total deaths in the last few years can be attributable to various causes.

Thus, while terrorist attacks, policemen shooting unarmed black kids, plane crashes, and Ebola outbreaks are all really scary things that make the news and get a lot of public attention and shouting, none of them are a significant fraction of total mortality. Assuming the future looks more-or-less like the past, if you list the things that might kill you in descending order of probability, being killed by a terrorist or shot by the cops or dying in a plane crash or dying of Ebola are all really, really far down that list.

Now, sometimes, you know stuff about your own life that should make you think those numbers don't apply to you. If you're a volunteer with Doctors Without Borders working in Liberia, maybe you *should* worry about dying of Ebola. If you're a special-forces soldier running operations in Syria, Isis probably *does* pose a big risk to you[1].

But in general, these statistics, especially when broken down by race and sex and age, are a pretty good guide to what dangers you actually face. If you're a random American living in the midwest somewhere, it would be pretty silly to make huge changes to your life to decrease your risk of dying in a terrorist attack, because your risk is already *really small*. That's true even if you vacation in Paris and Brussels and Istanbul every six months.

[1] Though you probably pose a pretty big risk to them, too.

"“I say worry about diet and exercise.” (Worry about civilization is probably just sublimated death-fear anyway.)"

Apples and oranges. Worrying about diet and exercise or being crushed by furniture relates to extending one's life expectancy by at most a few decades. Preserving civilization is about leaving something worthwhile to our grandchildren and great-grandchildren to enjoy after we are all long gone.

I am saying I don't see much altruistic worry.

A missile shield would allow America to invade the world with impunity and face no risk of nuclear retaliation. As a result, it would lead to a massive arms race and significantly increase the probability of conflicts between major powers going hot.

In short, it would eliminate the nuclear deterrent which constrains the possible scope of action for America.

No matter that it would be hard to persuade American voters to support any such thing. That is how it would correctly be analyzed by other military powers.

That's not a strong objection. Neither Canada nor Mexico have nuclear weapons. And yet the threat of US invasion remains remote.

It is THE objection (ignoring whether the technology might even work). I'm talking about the Russias and Chinas of the world, not neighbours who for practical purposes a) have no intention of going to war and b) are not major powers.

Why do you think Russia gets all pissy when anti-missile defense systems increasingly approach their borders? It theoretically enables the West to attack Russia without paying the price of a retaliatory attack.

For nuclear peace to work, major powers must have the ability to destroy each other, hence preventing major conflicts from starting.

"For nuclear peace to work, major powers must have the ability to destroy each other, hence preventing major conflicts from starting."

No, that's how MAD works. MAD = Mutual Assured Destruction. MAD has always been the equivalent to a civilization ending Mexican stand off.

There's no inherent requirement for large countries to be able to nuke each other to prevent war. That's patently absurd. And in any case, it would be ridiculous for the US not to defend itself from ballistic nuclear weapons if it reasonably could. Weren't you arguing in favor of spending $4.5 billion a year to prevent potential pandemics that could potentially cost $60 billion over the next 30 years? Well, the cost of a single nuclear missile detonating over a major American city would stretch to the hundreds of billions of dollars.

Reagan disproved that silly argument, and that argument does nothing to counter the problem of rogue states or terrorist groups willing to launch a first strike and risk retaliation.

Compared with the possibilities of an accidental launch in a nuclear country with poor command and control procedures (Russia, Pakistan) or an arguably-irrational strongman government (Iran, North Korea), I can't say I'm terribly worried about the Chinese getting pissy that they can't annihilate the U.S.

Now that is interesting....

You are arguing for wasteful spending on military hardware that will not perform as advertised, all in the name of safety, based on the idea that the US will never attack a nation that can't destroy the US with nukes, just like the US never attacked Cuba, Afghanistan, Iraq,... who could not possibly seriously attack the US much less destroy the US.

Clearly the only reason for star wars is to defend against Russia that has the most nukes and ICBMs. China has many fewer and no nuclear subs. Second to Russia is Israel. Pakistan and India can't hit the US as they are focused on mutual destruction. Korea isn't a credible threat to the US.

a) It doesn't matter whether the USA WOULD attack other countries, what matters is that strategically speaking they must engage in an arms race based on the possibility of it, were their nuclear deterrent to be made null.

b) Risk of terrorists - let us know when any terrorists are able to send nukes 5000 miles away. Not relevant today, not even close. Concerns about terrorists revolve around them somehow smuggling a bomb into the US and setting it off in a major city, and hence all the requirement for reporting quantities of uranium, etc., to find out if/when there is any potential that any materials have gone missing.

c) This is standard international relations doctrine. If you disagree, take it up with the people who drive strategic thinking around the world, not me. I'm parroting standard doctrine here. Yeah, there's always the possibility of a nutjob. Russia, however, is not going to invite MAD by sending nukes in the direction of America.

"and it boggles the mind that we haven’t built a functioning missile shield"

Hey, I'm a liberal scientist and engineer pacifist, but I cheer you on, but you must first get Republicans to vow to tax and spend trillions of dollars on trying to do the impossible.

That would really boost the economy because everything associated with star wars will need to be manufactured in the US by only US citizens with no imports, because to do otherwise means commies and Muslims and anonymous will insert back doors to allow them to take over the system.

Going to the moon merely provided cover for trillions in central planned US labor high income jobs programs funded by bipartisan tax hikes.

Reagan became an anti-taxes while working for GE et al who got the benefit of this tax and spend high income jobs program. GE's peers suffered greatly from their anti-tax advocacy, as did GE, but it was more diversified and grew rapidly relative to peers who fed at the defense tax and spend trough.


Honest question: when have "environmental problems" ever destroyed a past civilization? I can't think of any examples.

That claim is sometimes made for Easter Island.

Generally it's only possible at a really small scale.

Viking colonies in Greenland? Also pretty small in scale.

I was thinking about those, too. Did they die out or just relocate? The one in Newfoundland may have died out.

You need a complete lack of geographic diversification for this to be an existential issue.

I guess that's because outside of really small islands, civilizations don't generally "end", but rather merge, fast or slow, into new civilizations. The Normans conquered England, but the peasants who lived there continued speaking Old English and maintaining their old rural customs, until 400 years later, it was difficult to tell Norman from Saxon. Likewise Franks and Gauls, etc.

There are a few exceptions: Quite a lot of Native American tribes are gone, never to be heard from again, but that was due largely to pandemics of a kind that are unlikely to happen again. Some thousand-year-old civilizations (Mayans, Mycenae) have apparently disappeared, but it's telling that such a thing hasn't happened since we started keeping careful track of historical events. Conquerers may disposess their enemies and expel them from the country, like the Romans in Judea, but it's doubtful whether you can call that the "end" of the civilization.

Any way you look at it, it's a pretty simplistic way of thinking about the progress of civilization.

The decline of Mycenae was part of a larger decline--- the Hitties also declined at this time abandoning Hatusa, Ugarit was completely destroyed, the Egyptian New Kingdom ended, etc.

Some say this bronze age collapse was environmental, but those claims seem a stretch.

Indeed. I think that back then, the tipping point was far closer that it is today. For most of the history of our (farming) species, a bad crop was a disaster. Hence the ancient and classical world's worries about locusts, too.

(Even later than the Mycenaean era. At any given time, Rome had what? at most 5-6 weeks of grain to feed a large population.)

I think that one of the main theories for the collapse of the Mayan Civilization in 9th and 10th centuries is widespread environmental problems stemming from over-logging and over-exploitation of soil.

I see climate change cited as a reason all the time now, whenever some ancient (usually Neolithic or Bronze age) civilisation is found to have declined mysteriously. It's plausible enough, but sometimes I wonder if it is just a catch-all.

Easter Island is special because it is one of the very few cases where the people or thought to have brought environmental change on themselves, by cutting down their trees.

I think the Khmer empire, and at some point Mesopotamia, also accompany the Mayans as examples of civilizations collapsing (or undergoing traumatic periods) due to environmental problems.

It's not a whole civilization, but the way of life/piece of the economy built on whale hunting kind-of went away when a the sought-after whale species were hunted to or near extinction.

Recent research indicates that the trees were eaten by rats brought by European explorers

Haiti is another example of this.

The storyline is, roughly, expanding beyond the natural carrying capacity, mining natural capital, and then either the natural capital is depleted or some environmental change reduces the maximum natural carrying capacity. This leads to great unrest, messes with the economy and social systems, and contributes to a "civilizational" collapse. To date, only observed on smaller scales, but, then, previously, we could just go somewhere else if we'd mined out the local natural capital. Perhaps we will find technological solutions around such issues, but it is not an irrational concern, so long as one is not too irrational about it.

"Collapse" by Jared Diamond makes some pretty credible arguments about this line of thinking, not at all hysterical, with a variety of historical case studies and some explanations for why we should be attuned to such concerns in the modern day.

Much of what Jared Diamond wrote in that book, especially about Easter Island, has been disproved.

So what really happened in Easter Island?

That's a pretty easy thing to say. Care to defend the argument with some references?

There's a HUGE difference between not having offered 100% of the explanation or later evidence showing that a few details weren't 100% on the mark, and being "disproved" in a general sort of sense.


Collapse is much less good than Guns, Germs, and Steel.

Lead poisoning in ancient Rome?

Bronze Age collapse. There's a good probability it was precipitated either by volcanic eruption, drought, or a Bond fluctuation, combined with the invasion of the "sea peoples." Minoan civilization (the Linear A one, not the later, explicitly Greek Linear B), the New Hittite Kingdom, and the New Kingdom in Egypt all collapsed within a 50 year period.

This is what I get for not fact-checking. Minoans disappeared about 300 years before the Bronze age collapse, and the main theory for their demise is that of a volcanic eruption. The Bronze Age collapse did affect a civilization on Crete, but it was the Mycenean Greek (Linear B script-using) one.

"Honest question: when have “environmental problems” ever destroyed a past civilization? I can’t think of any examples"

The Anaszi of SW America:


ps the history of most human civilisations historically has been driven by climate change. See in particular:


The term Anasazi is not politically correct any more. Can't use it.

But we have direct evidence of what happened to them - preserved coprolites. Found in the fireplace at at least one site. They contain unmistakable human DNA remnants. Yes, they were conquered, eaten, then the invaders slept in their beds before taking a crap in their fireplace.

Climate change or the environment is just what Leftists blame when they do not want to face the truth. They create these myths about the peaceful Maya and then can't explain what happened to them. Despite pretty large amounts of evidence staring them in the face.

Declining local environmental conditions weakened the Anasazi and made them easier to conquer. Both explanations could be true.

You have no fucking idea what you are talking about.

Joseph Tainter, an anthropologist, studied 27 civilizations that no longer exist and determined that the deciding factor in their demise was the growth of bureaucracy and decline of marginal utility. His book on the subject is "The Collapse of Complex Societies". http://www.historytoday.com/christopher-chippindale/collapse-complex-societies

4. I say worry about what has destroyed past civilizations. That is usually warfare, conquest, and environmental problems.

But the particular form of warfare, conquest, and environmental problems tends to change with technology and opponent. So merely saying "worry about warfare" is meaningless without identifying potential opponents, such as Russia or (in defense of Caplan) Skynet.

Yeah, this seems like pretty unhelpful advice for thinking about future risks in a world with ongoing rapid technological advancement. Until the end of WW2, nuclear war wasn't a threat anyone had to think about; in 1970, it's hard to imagine anyone ranking anything else higher on the list of threats to end our civilization.

I have no idea whether AI or nanotechnology poses a dire threat to our species in the future, but it's hard to see how studying the past could help me figure it out, since those things are still being developed. it would be like a cavalry general in 1860 trying to work out the risks posed by the development of armored warfare.

4. Internal breakup due to differences in cultural identity between regions of multiethno/relgious empires have caused the decline of many civilizations e.g. Mughal Empire, Ottoman Empire. You know, like what is happening to the United States today.

And here I thought the Ottomans fell apart because they lost a war where foreign powers carved up the empire into various colonial administrations (which largely persist into present day borders) and the Mughals largely fell apart because pre-existing Hindu powers eventually rose up against the colonizers.

Yes, I remember Lawrence of Arabia leading all those English divisions to conquer the outlying loyal Ottoman provinces. And the Mughals facing rebellion in their multi-religious empire is an excellent refutation of this point that such organizations tend to decline.

And the comparison between empires which conquer foreign cultures and an incoming diversity of immigrants is ... just how strong?

The lessons to be learned from the two cases is that if you go conquer foreign lands and rule them imperially, that eventually they will resist, and will accept foreign supports in their resistance. For example, Western powers trying to rule the ME via various influence peddling might be expected to attract backlash.

The Ottoman Empire was in the process of falling apart before WW1. There were multiple coups within the 10 years before WW1. It was labeled the "sickman of Europe" by the time of the Crimea War.

This was something I noted a few days ago. You seem incapable of accepting new ideas that don't fit into your world view.


You're ignoring the part of that article which points out that both Russia and England incorrectly diagnosed them as the "sick man", leading to underestimating Ottoman abilities, and resulting in some catastrophic military losses early in WWI.

Yeah, some 19th century guys said that. Doesn't make it true.

I don't buy the argument.

"I don’t buy the argument."

Yes, I get that. You're pretty much a narrow minded type.

But for the benefit of others who might be reading: The Ottoman empire had been weak, torn with strife and tottering on the brink of collapse for years before WW1.

"The defeat and dissolution of the Ottoman Empire (1908–1922) began with the Second Constitutional Era, a moment of hope and promise established with the Young Turk Revolution. ... The Young Turk Revolution (July 1908) of the Ottoman Empire was the restoration of the Ottoman constitution of 1876 and ushering a multi-party politics in two stage electoral system (electoral law) under the Ottoman parliament by the Young Turks movement. ... On the other end of the spectrum were ethnic parties which included; Poale Zion, Al-Fatat, and Armenian national movement organized under Armenian Revolutionary Federation. Profiting from the civil strife, Austria-Hungary officially annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908. ... Ottoman military reforms resulted with the Ottoman Modern Army which engaged with Italo-Turkish War (1911), Balkan Wars (1912–1913), and continuous unrest (Counter coup followed by restoration and Saviors followed by Raid on Porte) in the Empire up to World War I."

Do you think the Ottoman Empire would have collapsed if not for WWI?

Two empires which opposed another empire called the third one "sick". Shall we discuss the great diversity of rebellions and lacks of satisfaction in both the British and Russian Empires which made such claims?

Geez man, it's a legitimate point of disagreement. Not sure why you'd call it "narrow minded". Not everything was perfect in the Ottoman Empire. Not everything was perfect in ANY empire. The Ottomans were not on the winning side of WWI. What more really is there to the story than that?

Past civilisations are pretty hardy, arguably the only ones that have really been destroyed were the new world ones, the principal language, most of the legal basis and civil and religious structures of the Roman Empire for instance really remains in place for instance in continental Europe. Egypt is recognisably the same place it was 5,000 years ago and so on. Even Persia remains broadly there with the borders of Iran. China and Japan are as close as makes the difference to themselves in antiquity. If an American came back in 2,000 years and found people looking dimly to himself and speaking a derivative of English occupying the same borders as now, wouldn't it be fair for him to think that America had endured?

The threat that is by humanity now is more like the threat that the Neanderthals faced from homosapiens. AI will be the end of humanity just like we were the end of Neanderthals, there is no continuity between ancient and modern Neanderthals except a faint trace in our genes.

I just read Nexus (Ramez Naam) yesterday. It was pretty powerful and dark. The idea that IF you get a posthuman intelligence it will prevail seems hard to contest. It will be a run-away one way or another. But I put odds in my lifetime down at the 1 in a million range. Computers are still too big, stupid, and fragile.

The #2MA thing, likely technology risks in our immediate future, is more of a rational concern to me.

> The threat that is by humanity now is more like the threat that the Neanderthals faced from homosapiens. AI will be the end of humanity just like we were the end of Neanderthals

This x10! Look what destroyed past intelligent species: more intelligent species.

2. Of course, there's nothing free about free trade. I will accept Mankiw's explanation for the steel tariffs (though it's a bit of a stretch that the Bush administration supported the steel tariffs - as the price for getting the votes necessary to pass TPA - because they knew the tariffs were a violation of international trade rules and would soon be abrogated), but it's a little late in this presidential campaign to argue that Republicans are the free traders - can you say "Donald Trump". I appreciate that some folks prefer to ignore history, but this is history as it's happening (a "You Were There" moment when the Republican Party went bonkers). Who will defend "free" trade now? In the good old days when developing countries supplied the raw materials and developed countries supplied the technology and industrial labor (now that's the comparative advantage I remember), all was good and right in the kingdom. Shifting industrial production to the developing countries has turned the world order upside down, so now it's necessary to have a program to tell who is a "free" trader. Are you?

I believe that NAFTA and most "trade agreements" actually emphasize IP protections and the "trade" they allow for is mostly an increase in cross-national intra-corporate allocations of resources. To the degree this is true, the choices are between multinational corporate protectionism vs. national protectionism, with genuine increases in international trade between distinct institutions being incidental.

(Also note that NE Asia, Europe and Canada have been trading with the US in a more genuine sense before the "free trade" debates of the 90s forward: this would further suggest that NAFTA etc..are something distinct from actual trade agreements.)

The term free trade invokes Ricardo and free market economics but is -and has been for decades- a misnomer. If Krugman and Mankiw agree on this framing, does that mean it's accurate? Or does this mean that they both represent different wings of a Globalization: There Is No Alternative elite consensus and would rather not confuse the narrative?

Best user name (benign intent) ever! Anyway, free "trade" agreements today are as concerned about normalizing the tax fraud that shifts billions, trillions in income to tax havens than comparative advantage and efficiency and actual trade. When historians (it won't be economists) write about this era and the shift of productive capital to low wage developing countries and the shift in income to tax havens, how will they assess the owners and managers of business, the lawyers, accountants, and economists who facilitated their schemes, and the politicians who exploited the social and economic instability that resulted? Not kindly.

#2. And so we see the shape of the post-trump political world aligning. If Trump wins (which is now almost certain), the Republicans cease to be the party of the free market. They go protectionist on trade and big government on infrastructure spending, which favors white working class labor, as well as probably agricultural subsidies, which would complete their takeover of the midwest.

The Democrats, meanwhile will seize the free trade mantle and combine it with liberal immigration policies and a generous welfare state.

Neither of these new mixtures is particularly compatible with libertarianism. If anything the axes are even more philosophically incoherent than before with the Democrats being marginally more libertarian and the Republicans significantly less so.

If Milton Friedman can find room in his economic philosophy for the negative income tax, then libertarians can stomach welfare. ("Generous" certainly doesn't include Democratic executive governance in the last 40 years and going forward: not when universal healthcare is a First World norm and a Great Recession hit).

But yes, both groups represent coalitions of convenience: rural white and poor + suburban white and rich for the Rs; urban minority and poor + urban white and rich for the Ds.

This makes for great sport: identity politics for the coalitions of the masses and Corporate Beltway consensus guiding the major contours of public policy in representing the Elite.

Good call about identity politics being the opiate of the masses. The R's have their hatred of immigrants, but the D's have their "marginalized groups" and social justice warriors, with BLM and "War on Women" being trotted out during election season to rally the troops. But the major public policy focus is establishment consensus, with the exception of a few token handouts (here, women, have some free birth control and mammograms).

Personally, while I object on justice grounds to redistribution of wealth entailed by the welfare state, I am much more concerned about the regulatory state, and there is an area where the Democrats are absolutely horrendous, and will descend into fits of apoplexy at any threat to it, even when it involves things like Uber and Taxi cartels. Quite possibly because at this point the people running the regulatory state are basically their own interest group. People that Democrats know would lose their jobs if we tried to simplify things. (Note for instance how the school lunch program essentially funnels money to the SEIU).

Sadly, the new Trump-oriented GOP looks like it's going to care even less.

And then there's eminent domain and civil asset forfeiture. Another couple of issue on which the D's are philosophically hostile, and the new R coalition will be as well.

The regulatory state serves several functions:

1) most nobly, it diminishes negative externalities and thus enhances the public welfare.

2). Secondly,it employs people: there are rational, nonselfish reasons to sacrifice economic efficiency (labor mobility) for labor stability. Stability is a great source of welfare for people and their families and it is irrationally discounted in a system that wills itself to measure welfare only as goods produced. However, this trade-off (stability vs. efficiency) needs to be explicit and transparent and therein would be the failings of the regulatory state.

3) Least beneficial of all, the regulatory state serves to insulate existing economic organizations from competition and from negative externalities themselves. This is regulatory capture.

So, in defense of a certain complacency among the Left for the regulatory state: the D's come out ahead than the R's when these 3 functions are assesses as a totality. Furthermore, I do not think that all or even most D's are blind to their own faults. I've read persuasive defenses of Uber and critiques of licensing schemes on liberal blogs.

You may likewise be sympathetic to the idea that a sufficiently generous safety net can replace the need or the justification of the regulatory state as an inefficient jobs program.

Finally, though no-doubt your views on economic justice are carefully considered, you may remember that classically liberal economic philosophy would claim an injustice in redistribution only where a) the combined parties to trade began from an equally non-coercive initial condition in which b) all potential negative externalities were internalized by the involved parties, and c) no parties gained wealth through economic rents that did not reflect mutually-beneficial prior agreements.

Since these ideal conditions have never held within dynamic economically diverse societies, there is no reason to see redistribution as a unique violation of liberal economic orthodoxy. And so redistribution is more adequately analyzed for its affects, rather than its offense to principles.

2). Secondly,it employs people: there are rational, nonselfish reasons to sacrifice economic efficiency (labor mobility) for labor stability. -

It employs people at the task of actively inhibiting other people's productivity.
I can't think of many WORSE way to employ people, even if you believe in economic stimulus or "labor stability" as you put it. Why not hire people to go around kneecapping other people while they go about actually producing stuff? it would be of equivalent economic value.

Since these ideal conditions have never held within dynamic economically diverse societies, there is no reason to see redistribution as a unique violation of liberal economic orthodoxy.

Well, then, I guess we can do whatever we want and call it justice, since the ideal conditions have never held.

"Finally, though no-doubt your views on economic justice are carefully considered, you may remember that classically liberal economic philosophy would claim an injustice in redistribution only where a) the combined parties to trade began from an equally non-coercive initial condition in which b) all potential negative externalities were internalized by the involved parties, and c) no parties gained wealth through economic rents that did not reflect mutually-beneficial prior agreements."

No, I don't remember that. That looks like an appeal to Anonymous Authority. So provide a citation please.

Well, this admittedly won't suffice but...

Adam Smith in book v of wealth of nations supported that the state educate factory workers.

The aforementioned M Friedman supported the negative income tax.

Do these bookended examples indicate a structural failing in the logic of classically liberal economics or can we derive theoretical justifications for them that confirm the underlying logic of free trade? I would think a proponent of free markets would want to argue the latter.

(Reductively, if a wealthy man offers a starving man food in exchange for enslavement, is this an example of free trade wherein both parties benefit optimally?)

Classic liberal economic doctrine includes a lot of assumptions which are not met in the real world. There is no reason to think that they would believe it to be inherently unjust to engage in post-facto redistribution to correct for market imperfections, having properly identified and quantified the effects of these market imperfections. Where they become more staunchly opposed to it is in the fact that it's rather difficult to quantify, and the burdens of proof are rather strong.

Unless by "classic" he's talking about the time before there was even such a field as economics.

I believe Republicans were the party that liked protectionism historically. Maybe Trump is just going old school.

Perhaps worthy of discussion?


"Facing a $220 million budget shortfall, Democrats in Hartford have proposed taxing the unspent earnings of university endowments with more than $10 billion in assets. Only Yale’s $25.6 billion endowment—the country’s second largest after Harvard—fits the tax bill."

They're using the same tactic that Democrats have attempted to use against Walmart. A specific threshold designed to hit exactly one entity.

What would it cost Yale to relocate?

Pretty repugnant.

Also: does this pass constitutional mustard? I would think not.

#3 - it seems Jane Jacob's three conditions are necessary but not sufficient to make vibrant cities. By her logic, Wall Street, Manhattan, NYC is not vibrant, nor is Roselyn, Virginia, nor Crystal City, Virginia, nor Federal Triangle, DC, to name a few places last I visited a while ago. The one or two people who live in these places after work hours might disagree with you (or might not?).


The structure of city districts is important, too. European cities tend not to have the super-sized city blocks found in American cities. ...

In her book, Jacobs argues that vibrant activity can only flourish in cities when the physical environment is diverse. This diversity, she says, requires four conditions. The first is that city districts must serve more than two functions so that they attract people with different purposes at different times of the day and night. Second, city blocks must be small with dense intersections that give pedestrians many opportunities to interact.

The third condition is that buildings must be diverse in terms of age and form to support a mix of low-rent and high-rent tenants. By contrast, an area with exclusively new buildings can only attract businesses and tenants wealthy enough to support the cost of new building. Finally, a district must have a sufficient density of people and buildings.

#1: disgusting

Pathetic suck-up to Muslims. Full of error--e.g., citrus in Sicily in Roman Times! Whole endeavor gross and offensive.

I agree. It is altogether intolerable to acknowledge foreign influences in any Western culture. We should send paper back to the Chinese, and probably abolish modern medicine because Arab influences were too important in early developments. We probably need to cleanse the English language of all those pesky words of foreign origin, remnants of the days of empire and a disturbing reminder of how we have interacted with and learned from basically every culture we've ever interacted with.

Pathetic indeed.

"acknowledge foreign influences in any Western culture"

Only if they are true. Making up erroneous foreign influences to make Arab Muslims feel better about their culture would be wrong.

They do happen to be true. Medieval Arabs did make advances in medicine and math (some of it borrowed from India), which were later carried forward by the West. Arab culture then degenerated into fanaticism and excessively doctrinaire Islam, which was why they didn't make much more progress. Acknowledging (not "making up") these past influences may have the beneficial result of telling Arabs that they should feel good about the culture that they themselves abandoned in favor of excessive religiosity, and show them what their current culture lacks.

Not sure if you know about this. I was rather surprised when I learned about it too. But, our scientific history as taught in our textbooks are incredibly anglo-centric. For example, most of the scientific discoveries "made by Anglos" in the 15th and 16th centuries can in fact be attributed to earlier non-Anglo discoveries, many of which Arab.

If you don't believe me, go track down some high school science texts, find out who discovered what, then check the Wikipedia entry, where you will find that most of these things were not in fact discovered by Anglos.

I wouldn't be altogether surprised if other historical traditions involve similar such mis-attributions.

#5 - pandemic preparation would only cost pennies yet save dollars is the claim. I'm all for this, like asteroid/meteoroid/bolide detection and prevention, but, the bean counters will say that avoiding a distant threat 30 to 50 years from now by spending pennies today is a waste of money. It's because discount rates for more than 30 years are notoriously hard to calculate. A mere fraction change in the discount rate (irr) makes a big difference in Present Value. Thus, arguably the below is a BAD investment, depending on the IRR used.


"A very quick summary of the report would be that it suggests spending $4.5 billion per year to build up the world's response system to pandemics. It offers estimates that the costs of pandemics could average $60 billion per year in the next century".

[But it's a BAD INVESTMENT! Using an irr = 10%/yr, which is pretty conservative, and N= 30 years gives PV = 3.4B when FV = 60 B, hence $4.5B is too much money spent, while if N =50 years, irr = 5.5 %/yr (merely! too low in any event) will give PV = $4.1B, still not enough to justify the $4.5B spent up front to stop this calamity in the future.]

Pandemic preparation can also be beneficial in ways which are more difficult to quantify, for example the existence of information systems and other structures which can be repurposed to addressing a diversity of disasters and scenarios. It can also promote trust building between nations. The mere presence of an international structure which promotes collaboration on major catastrophic issues of common concern can itself contribute to variously better relations, reducing somewhat the probability of, say, going to war.

Also, some parts of pandemic preparedness are just good public health policy, such as promoting washing hands, not sneezing into your hands (in Canada they had posters showing people sneezing into their arms instead of hands, but a tissue or handkerchief is probably better if you can hold off the sneeze long enough), etc.

Also, since some of pandemic preparedness at the level of vaccines basically amounts to having excess capital on hand for vaccine preparation (presumably subsidized by the government), presumably this would have downward pressure on other vaccines.

@Ray Lopez: You're dating yourself there. IRR has been widely debunked as a good way of comparing alternative investments (probably anyone trained in the 1970s was aware of its drawbacks so my guess is you went to school in the 80s). Risk-adjusted returns and simple net present value are much better.

@msl - all three ways are taught these days, IRR is just a tool. You can have a high IRR but a low 'net return', that's well known. I.e., no good to get 1000% IRR and only make $10 in a million dollar asset project.

I understand neither your calculation nor your claim that 10% returns are "conservative." Do you mean too high or (surely not) too low?

Spending $4.5 billion today to save $60 billion 30 years from now gives an annual return of 9%. I'll take that.

That was spending $4.5 billion per year.

Yes, and the benefit is also $60/billion per year.

The Commission’s own scenario modeling, based on the World Bank parameters, suggests that during the 21st century global pandemics could cost in excess of $6 trillion, with an expected loss of more than $60 billion per year.

So $4.5 billion this year saves $60 billion 30 years from now, and $4.5 billion next year saves $60 billion 31 years from now, and so on. Each $4.5 spent produces $60 billion thirty years later.

That's an extremely simplified calculation, of course, but it's correct on its own terms.

+1 - I saw that when I did my simple calculation.

"It’s because discount rates for more than 30 years are notoriously hard to calculate"

Incorrect. Its because of the 'Tyranny of the Net Present Value Calculation':

There are no 'financial benefits' beyond a five year time horizon; everything is discounted back to zero.

Which is madness when you consider the value of customer relationships over decades to, say, a bank.

Forget the bean counters, build that asteroid shield NOW! This is scary (Jupiter is getting so many 'out of the blue we did not see it coming' hits these decades. And some theories say Jupiter is NOT an 'asteroid/comet collector', meaning these bolides could have just as easily passed near earth)


This made him think about a similar incident that occurred when fragments of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet hammered Jupiter in 1994. That impact was observed by NASA's Galileo spacecraft, as well as astronomers on Earth.

"Thinking back to Shoemaker-Levy 9, my only explanation for this is an asteroid or comet that enters Jupiter's high atmosphere and burned up [or] exploded very fast," Kernbauer wrote.

Caplan misses what seems to me to be a pretty important (and obvious) point -- maybe past civilizations are so hardy BECAUSE we have a congenital tendency to paranoia and risk aversion. Our continued survival isn't proof that the naysayers are wrong; it's just that most Troys heeded their Cassandras.

It's Bryan Caplan. That he misses the mark by 35 miles, should always be expected.

OK, that made me laugh.

But the old observation that driving deaths rose after 9/11. Misallocation also kills.

4: Why do all these discussions about AI implicitly assume some single entity that achieves singularity, like Skynet or Colossus? Does the world of tech look anything like that? Much more likely is that there's one in the lab followed by a few instances elsewhere, maybe followed by an App on your phone. And assuming that we accidentally allow them to have control over our future, maybe some of them will try to destroy us and some of them will try to save us, and who knows what else may happen?

There has to be a first, right?

The first will be tightly regulated, probably. That is, against the expectations of most humans (low future time orientation having previously been more uncatastrophic at the general level), there will be a historical moment where knowledge of regulatory systems will be very important. It may not be a long human moment, and those with the adequate knowledge will likely be boxed out of any useful contributions, and things will likely go wrong. C.S. Lewis discussed the general contextual paradox in "The Abolition of Man"; in which he refined, in a moderate bestseller (hence the mention here) the ideas of earlier thinkers, and later thinkers have refined his ideas, although, to tell the truth, a thousand years from now no one will care, but if thinkers are still considered to have been important, there may be a footnote somewhere, however garbled. (Short version: eugenics, artificial or not, generally - and almost necessarily - implies theft of choice from later generations by less informed and uninspired individuals in earlier generations).

"The first will be tightly regulated, probably. " -- BWAHAHAHA. Good luck.

Hey, I actually read the rest of your post. It is 100% unworthy. Good job.

Thanks, genius.

5. Stockpiling physical barriers such as masks and gloves is one of the most cost effective ways of preparing for pandemics. Drugs and vaccines decay even when properly stored, and when improperly stored and monitored, a multi-million dollar stockpile can be found to be worthless when needed.

You want to hear about improper storage? Australia privatized its Commonwealth Serum Laboratories in 1994 and it went from an organisation that worked hard to give the region the most protection against pandemics possible per dollar, to being one that attempted to do as little as possible per dollar received in order to make as much profit as possible. They were required to keep supplies of vaccine in two separate locations to protect it from fire, natural disaster, war, or criminal activity. They decided that a shed behind the main building where they kept the vaccine counted as a separate location.

Apparently no competition. Another government monopoly? Suggest you read The Great Influenza by Barry to see how our lovely politicians reacted to the flu epidemic in 1919.

There are significant barriers to entry and also economies of scale involved in serum and vaccine manufacture, which make it almost impossible for anyone else to break into the field, so CSL is effectively a private monopoly granted that position by the government in 1994. If it had remained as a government monopoly that would be okay, as that appears to be the most cost effective way of providing the sort of public goods the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories used to. So, a government made monopoly, but not actually a government monopoly.

We've seen a somewhat similar mess made of electricity privatizations in Australia. It's a major reason why electricity costs an average of about 3.8 US cents a kilowatt-hour to generate in my state, but I pay 30 US cents a kilowatt-hour for grid electricity.

All other civilizations were socialist. People lived under corrupt aristocracies. Slavery also undermined economic development.

Obviously it's not socialist if it's led by a corrupt aritocracy and included slavery.

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