Friday assorted links


6. Contra Douthat: Complacent, decadent, whatever. Get a room.

Good article. These “decadence” pieces are really only written by people who are in the top 1% or at a minimum 10% of the global wealth distribution. Life doesn’t look so decadent to the median human. For the median human in the world (meaning, a Chinese or Indian peasant), 1970 resembled 1920 far more than 2020 and more progress was made in the 2000s than the 1960s. If you’re too decadent and want a grand mission to give your life meaning, how about trying to extend the ability to be decadent to more of the human population than the maybe 10-20% who enjoy that ability today?

Or weren't alive in 1973 to know what it looked like.

I agree with most of the list, but #1? 70's colors were awful.

I don't think this is technical or even societal. It is a characteristic of the changing of the guard. The baby boomers, that glut of population born after WW2 is getting old. For many reasons, mostly overseas competition and government spending going into everything except effectiveness and competence, almost no one has been trained to take over the numerous complicated tasks that keep the world running. You don't learn this stuff at school, in fact you likely have to unlearn everything you learned at school to do the job well. So it isn't so much a productivity or stagnation; it is a reflection of massive numbers of people dropped into tasks they are unprepared to do, and have a steep decades long learning curve to get to where there predecessor was. In the mean time things muddle along, as their mistakes consume any surplus in the economy.

As long as all the lessons of the 20th century don't have to be relearned, we might be ok. But that isn't looking realistic. Socialism and communism are back, so is antisemitism. Judges are taking kids away from parents to be sterilised, reminding one of various incidents of the 20th century where things like that were done. Obama ran his wars like Johnson did, losing them all the while employing thousands in Washington. The discredited criminologists of the 70's have been resurrected.

So if nothing really bad happens, or maybe if the 20th century is a guide something really bad happens, likely in 20 or 30 years there will be another massive jump forward.

Oh please. 19th century Douthat would scold 19th century Thiel's decadent lifestyle. Heck, modern day natalist Douthat doesn't approve either.

Not a single word about decadence being associated with blood sports as mass entertainment?

1. Watched to with the sound off. Whats the big deal?

test * test * lazy * test &

#6 Redefining a term such as decadence, which has a fairly common meaning, is a poor way to put forth a thesis.

"Decadence here means sameness, complacency or boredom"

Here and nowhere else.

When "stagnation" is already taken

+1, when an essay starts with an obvious mis-definition, it's clearly a bad sign.

decadence - moral or cultural decline as characterized by excessive indulgence in pleasure or luxury.

Or starting that way is self-recommending.

It’s hard to actually think of a real historical society that qualifies as decadent though. Usually, by the time a society goes into terminal decline, its economy has been weakening and it is no longer able to afford those pleasures and luxuries. Take the Roman Empire, the most often-cited historical example of decadence. I think the historical evidence is quite strong that by the AD 200s, living standards for the average Roman and economic activity were already significantly lower than was the case a few hundred years earlier. Far from declining because of “decadence,” the real story of Roman decline is the John McCain quote that things are always darkest before they go completely black. Indulgence in pleasure and luxury is good because it boosts the economy, and has never seriously harmed any actual society.

"It’s hard to actually think of a real historical society that qualifies as decadent though."

Maybe 1920's American high society for a brief period. But even then, I tend to agree with what you wrote. The classic signs of a decadent society seem to be the case of a few examples that get raised to out sized importance.

May have been the source, but I got a strong "decadent" vibe reading an Englishman's history of Paris, "La Belle France." Not simply the monarchy or the upper classes, but sentences like "his body was torn to pieces by an angry mob of women, who then ate it." And that sort of thing was by no means confined to the Revolutionary period.

6. This article defines “decadence” as “ sameness, complacency or boredom.”

Yet the article also explains: “we are fragmenting into more individualistic pleasures, which are less readily understood by the rest of us.” In other words, “sameness” is decreasing.

The article further says: “ There is so much to be gained by simply sitting at your screen and surfing, exploring the cultural niches of YouTube or learning Game Theory online or simply playing videos games.” Sounds like boredom is decreasing too.

So on at least two of the three indicators of “decadence” as the article defines it, society is less “decadent” than in the past.

The article is incoherent.

In 2042, he will write: Technological Stagnation - "Disconnect your brain from the cloud and look around the room. How do you then know you’re not in 2007?

The writer states that since 2010 productivity has averaged 0.9% growth per year but the BLS shows 1.1% a year from 2010 to 2011. If he is excluding 2010, then he is cherry picking.

Then why don't everybody stop their f**king bitching?

So what will it be, Republicans? Common sense or communism? Mike is the right person to bridge the chasm between left and right and prevent a disaster. Mike is our man, if can't, no one can!

I can haz $2500 plz?

1 - that advert was probably a complete troll, and achieved its aims by getting people to discuss SAS worldwide.
2 - Ran out of NYT free page views so no comment.
3 - I suspect that a pretty girl playing chess on the internet gets maybe a few more views than the average chess player. Probably not a sustainable trend.
4 - Related to item 6?
5 - Car rental and hotels both seem to have the business model - try to find ways to rip off consumers after they have committed to the purchase. I am a libertarian but this is one area I would like to see more regulation.
6 - Why don't smart phones get more respect? And SpaceX? All these things would have seemed pretty cool to 1995 me.

For point 2 in chrome:

press F12 to open developer toolbox.
Find the tabs like "Elements" "Console" "Sources"...
Select "Application"
On the application tab, click the "Clear Site data".
Close all NYT tabs, re-open the link.

Viola, your views back.

" Why don't smart phones get more respect?"

The author's rule is that anything with a screen doesn't count toward showing technological progress since I'm sure he does consider smartphones and current computers a major advance from phones and computers since 1995 let alone since 1973.

With a url, add an adicional period after the com.

Works for any nytimes links.

Sorcery! Thank you.

You're right that there is an advantage in streaming to be an attractive female, but the growing popularity of chess streaming isn't dependent on female streamers. Botez, who is featured in the article, is the only female in the top 10 chess streamers by popularity on Twitch and is listed at 5th.

#5. Is this a step towards a better world? Consider it from the maids' point of view. Do they get paid per room? For smaller hotels/motels, if a 20-50 room place has nearly random distribution of check-out/check-in times, then does the maid staff have to be on-call 24/7? Will they be required to clean/service a single room at 3 am and then sent home? There is middle-ground between 11/3 in/out and anytime in/out which could actually make it better for everyone, I think. (And of course as robotics supplants people in these routine jobs, anytime in/out makes more and more sense but when will robots will make a significant contribution to the cleaning workforce?)

Could be better for the staff as it spreads the cleaning load through-out the day. I see the cleaning staff really rushing sometimes to get all the rooms cleaned on time, I think they rely on people checking out early and checking in late but if this doesn't happen then there is a problem. At least with this system it is more predictable (as the time of arrival and departure are agreed) and so if there is a rush extra staff can be found. As to nightime working, probably there has to be a certain amount of people anyway in a big hotel for the nighttime, but now maybe they are more efficiently employed.

harami madarchod, tere bibi ke gaand mein bhokandar phare.

3. She could be doing more interesting things in her apt with 3 computer monitors and a webcam

Dothat and Thiel define decadence in terms of productive accomplishment and, thus, makes sense to normal people like myself. The religious definition has never made a lick of sense to me.

It is not that simple.

#6: From the first point: “Go into a room and subtract off all the screens. How do you then know you’re not in 1973?”

Simple. People have a general knowledge of a whole lot more phenomena than in 1973. Try talking about sushi or Bollywood or dark matter or heck, a European vacation to your average 1973 American versus your average 2020 American. The conversation might not be deep, but it can happen.

The satellite pictures on several walls are pretty clearly not from 1973 (though someone at the National Reconnaissance Office might have had similar in a secure windowless facility).

The solar battery regulators are definitely not from 1973 either, and the LED lighting throughout the house (which is a trivial part of that solar power setup) isn't from 1973 either.

Not sure if the radio controlled clocks were particularly common in 1973 - several in the house use screens, but one is a standard clock with hands, not a screen. The wireless phone (still have one, plugged into the router) would not be very 1973 either, nor would its various functions.

The high efficiency wood stove is not very 1973 either.

And yes, the food selection in the kitchen/spice cabinet/pantry is certainly not very 1973 oriented - no Tang or Space Food Sticks, for example.

1. Not a follower of wokeism but I liked the the ad.

The longer version is only a little unsettling, in the beginning.
Key logical error: “most every part of a culture X was invented elsewhere, so there’s nothing intrinsically X.” They say in Scandinavia, everything is copied, so nothing is really Scandinavian.

But even if we describe a culture as a function of many variables with varying weights, the end result would still be unique. That’s why “American” is something special even if no individual component is. As is cheeseburger. One part of the American identity itself is multiculturalism, but it’s okay to let people take pride in it. They have to take pride in something, and it’s not going to be borderless global cosmopolitanism. At least not yet. But national cosmopolitanism seems reasonable, even if this future is not evenly distributed.

Also, natives would rather have immigrants adapt to the culture than the culture adapt to the immigrants. But if there is no unique culture in the first place, there’s nothing to assimilate into or decay. This gives social permission for immigrants to form isolated pockets rather than integrate into broader society — exactly the opposite message you want to send.

The moralistic fallacy strikes again. In fighting ethnonationalism, activists erase nationalism in much the way they fight racism by erasing race. Can’t discriminate on the basis of X if X doesn’t exist.

Broke: “Immigrants aren’t Scandinavian.”
Woke: “Nothing is Scandinavian.”


Maybe we could call this particular iteration - Chesterton's Wall?

"But even if we describe a culture as a function of many variables with varying weights, the end result would still be unique."

Correct and no one, including the ad agency who came up with this video, seem to disagree. A culture can be a cluster of characteristics but trying to identify a single characteristic as "uniquely X" usually ends in failure.

I once met an English guy who was equal measures amused and confused the first time he heard the expression, "as American as apple pie." And so it goes.

3. As someone that started playing chess only a year ago, Twitch has been a big reason for why I am still playing today. I don't have many friends to play OTB with, so chess streamers like Chessbrah, BotezLive and GMHikaru have been great places where I can take in some chess entertainment, learn and be part of a community.

#6: Many good points in that article. A small one, but one I have wondered about for some time, is that advertising has become completely stale. The basic format of visual ads - whether in magazines, on billboards or on the Internet - hasn't changed in decades. And that from an industry that considers itself to be creative.

6. I agree that we shouldn't just accept this redefinition in terms, but also these lists strike me as very glib, and not deeply thought.

“Go into a room and subtract off all the screens. How do you then know you’re not in 1973?”

No asbestos?

Higher construction efficiency. Lower energy demand. And better environmental standards overall.

Infrastructure is either 10x more expensive in real terms or infinitely more expensive since it cannot be built at all (how many veto points are there?)

I’ll give you asbestos.

Decadent is the wrong word. The word is complacent.

Tyler beat him to this book by a few years.

#5: Is this news? Most hotels I frequent (maybe not representative) allow "walk out" checkout (just drop the key in a box... or not) and a majority of hotels I frequent (same caveat) offer a variety of early check-in modes. I don't see anything more than incremental change here. But I may be missing the point somehow....

Usually early check-in has to be asked for, and often requires extra charges. This is a per hour rental model, so you decide when you arrive and when you leave.

Martin Gurri linked to Owen Cass saying the median worker can no longer afford housing, transportation, health care, and two kids in college. I think it is absurd to presume every adult has two kids in college at all times. Maybe Marginal Revolution can debunk it.

It is the usual confusion between basic goods and status goods living standards. If you measure living standards with basic goods and services (including living in a non-status location, and sending your kids to community college) then living costs have substantially declined. If however you want to be in the top say 10% and drive a status car, live in one of the world cities, send your kids to prestigious schools etc then living costs are increasing much faster than inflation. But of course that is to be expected, as you must limit the supply of status goods as otherwise they are not status goods. The way these status goods are allocated (at least in our society) is that effectively an auction takes place, with the price being set by how fast the economy is growing for the top 10%. Unfortunately it is literally impossible for the entire country to be in the top 10% of wealth and enjoy status goods.

Another point, many people in say the middle 30%, are the children of people who were in the top 10% and so are having a false impression that they should be enjoying a top 10% lifestyle. Let's say a couple in the top 10% have 3 children. By simple reversion to mean 2 of the kids will drop out of the top 10% (luck, poorer genetics or other factors). So they will spend most of their lives being envious of the top 10% as they compare versus their expectations through growing up in a high status household, even though when measured in non-status goods objectively their circumstances are much better than their parents.

Yes, thanks! Cass uses stagnant male wages, and ignores female wages. He ignores employer health care benefits, but counts full health care costs. And he includes one semester of college per year, a gross overweight.

This is what happens when lawyers attempt math.

Scott Winship tore it apart on Twitter. But the pithiest tweet was by Jeremy 'adjusted for inflation' Horpedahl:

"In 1997, it took 1,768 hours of work at the median wage to purchase a Dodge Caravan
In 2018, it took just 1,396 hours of work
No quality adjustment necessary!"

4) In Russia, dog watch you

6. "Safe middle-class jobs. “In 2007, more than half of Harvard graduates went to work in investment banking or management consulting.” And, “the national rate of company formation in America has fallen.”"

Parking our most ambitious in jobs that aren't nearly as impactful is pretty terrible from a human capital standpoint. Not too mention that those banking and consulting jobs are more political in nature than they are innovative, technological, or productive. So now we socialize those new grads into that type of role instead of a more entrepreneurial one. It's not a good look. We need more Bezos and Musks not faceless Ivy rubber stampers.

Notice that the author had to use data 13 years old to try to support his outdated argument?

The first job one takes after graduating from college is not indicative of one's entire career path. Jeff Bezos spent the first seven years of his post-college working life in finance. As in management consulting, these jobs leave a wide open field for future career moves due to the unparalleled network and experience they offer to young people.

Elon Musk was a risk-taker and entrepreneur at a younger age than Bezos but even he took the ultra-safe and conventional (by upper middle class standards) path of enrolling in graduate school for two years after leaving college.

I don't think there is much educational institutions can do for aspiring entrepreneurs aside from pairing them up with mentors and coaches and encouraging as many outside activities and internships as possible. But most people lack the knowledge, maturity and experience to start companies in their early 20s.

But there is nothing unique to "management"; no one should manage a company who has not worked there or in that field for years. This seems to me a weird and pernicious capitulation to the management-literature myth by all.

Or at least, locally, one is accustomed to greet the news from her proud parents that the pretty 22-year-old whose only concern up until that moment has been the stylishness of her clothes, has graduated and is now "consulting" - with a proper show of admiration, and an inward puzzlement over the meaning of it all.

6. Killing babies? Sexualizing children?

6. Agree with above comments, "decadence" is a word that sounds thoughtful but is really just an invitation for the writer to put forth a grab-bag of complaints about modern life. Several on the list in the link are defensible but these not so much:

Technical stagnation - This theory of technical stagnation is much more difficult to defend than nine years ago when Prof. Cowen helped popularize it. Drones, medical technology, the commercial space race, self-driving cars, voice- and facial-recognition that is starting to work, etc. (And if someone wants to say these haven't yet changed the lives of most consumers, ask what if they did -- would the writer then start complaining about how life is too soft and easy, people are too attached to material things and losing spiritual and social connections, etc.?)

Populist movements - how is this "decadence"?

Safe middle-class jobs - Are we really in a golden age of middle class safety? By some definitions, the middle-class is inherently composed of people with safe, stable jobs. Critics going back to Nietzsche have pilloried middle-class values and the people who promote them for precisely this reason. What is unique about 2020?

Housing is too expensive - how is this "decadence"? A complaint about economic policy, sure, but every age has policies that some people find regrettable.

In the political context, an example of "decadence" (as Douthat defines it, boredom, exhaustion and institutional decay in a time of prosperity) would be disengagement in politics. But populist movements are the opposite of this. Populism is the phenomenon of traditionally apolitical or indifferent people suddenly getting excited about politics. That may be many things but decadent is not among them.

5. Was it meant to say "convexify" and not "de-convexify"?

Re# 6: #3, 5, 8, 10 do seem to show more boring repetitiveness. Others are are so so or bad in non "decadent" ways. Why are low birth rates or populist politicians "decadent?"

there is a twitter quote here - apparently Zucman thinks French economy is better than US economy. I am not sure how this is possible, but it seems we don't even agree on basic reality

Goodwin is just openly praising Russian disinformation bots at this point.

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