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March 14, 2017

Wealth, risk, and power
Posted by Teresa at 01:56 PM * 167 comments

This is a thread I wrote on Twitter, because sometimes it’s easier to write about big subjects on very small pieces of paper. Numbers link to individual tweets. Title swiped from Jonathan Korman.

1. The rich don’t need fed. health insurance. Their up-and-coming competitors, who aren’t rich yet, do: one major illness can wipe them out.

2. The rich donor class hates social policies that make the non-rich braver and more enterprising. For example…

3. Social security, so a lifetime of hard work doesn’t end in misery. Student financial aid, so that talent + hard work can = achievement.

4. Bank regulation, so our careful savings and investments aren’t wrecked by irresponsible games the big-money guys play with each other.

5. Health and safety regulations, because it shouldn’t be okay to maim or poison people who don’t have clout. And so forth.

6. Us little guys shouldn’t have the nerve to start new businesses, develop new products, or go as far as our work and talent will take us.

7. Poor whites are supposed to stay poor, and know in their bones that they’re born to sorrow, and their luck will never last.

8. Blacks should keep quiet, and do first-rate work on jobs that are well below their ability, because things can always get worse, y’hear?

9. There’s no point in women having ambitions, because one little mishap can wreck everything you’ve worked for.

10. Keeping the rest of us in a constant state of low-level fear is the one consistent goal of the policies the donor class supports.

11. Why? Because we have to tolerate some risk in order to successfully compete with them and their less-than-talented offspring.

12. I’m not talking about rational, calculable risks. I mean the unforeseeable: illness, accidents, market crashes, natural disasters.

13. They want us to know in our bones that we have no defense against risk. If *anything* happens, we’ll be stuck paying for it forever.

14. We’re not allowed to build a more level playing field that we all share. They want us out of the game entirely, so they can always win.

15. Meanwhile, they’re always angling to get their own risk reduced. Always. Because winning.

16. One more thing. Who are the Alt Right? They’re guys who think they’re entitled to a place among the wealthy and risk-averse, …

17. …And haven’t figured out yet that few if any of them are going to succeed at that. They’ll get consolation prizes at best.

18. That’s why they harass egalitarians: they think we’re interfering with a game they plan to win, but have already lost.


19. And one more thing I forgot.

20. The wealthy donor class wants to instill fear in us, so we’ll be unwilling to try to compete with them.

This is grounds for hope.

21. Because if they could have made it impossible for us to fight back & compete, they’d have done it by now. Therefore, we can.

[real end]

Comments on Wealth, risk, and power:
#1 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2017, 03:01 PM:

This. So very much this.

#2 ::: 'As You Know' Bob ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2017, 03:13 PM:

EVERY Republican policy has at root their desire to increase risk and uncertainty for the general public. (And to reduce risk and uncertainty for the rich.)

Gun control? 'Guns for the mentally ill' serves ONLY to make civil society more dangerous;

Access to contraception?
Access to affordable health care?
The right to join a union?
etc., etc., ad infinitum

#3 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2017, 03:31 PM:

They really are an un-American bunch, those folks who're rigging the game.

#4 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2017, 03:45 PM:

Bob, I'd like to think they're a little more complicated than that. It's as hard to be all evil as it is to be all good.

They can't force their followers to buy guns, so that part of your theory doesn't work.

What I've noticed about guns is that there are gun users, who tend to own a few of the things, and gun nuts, who keep acquiring more and more of them. What this suggests to me is that they're trying to use guns to soothe some anxiety that guns do not address, which is why they have to keep buying new ones that will be magical for a while.

The NRA does the same thing. "More guns" is the answer to everything. I think they'd be better off seeing a good therapist, instead of hanging around with other guys who think that there are terrible things lurking out there in the shadows, and that more guns are the answer.

Everyone in this transaction is human.

#5 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2017, 03:48 PM:

Serge: If they were actual American patriots, they wouldn't make such cynical use of non-issues like flag burning, or freedom fries. I'm pretty sure they think we're dumb for caring about democracy.

#6 ::: Steve Halter ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2017, 04:37 PM:

Unfortunately, for everyone, as the wealthy attempt to mitigate their own risk by increasing the risk of everyone else, what they actually end up doing is an exponential increase of their own (or their heirs) risk. This story has played out many, many times.
1) Gain wealth/power at the expense of others
2) Repeat
People will only tolerate staying in the loop for so long before conditions become intolerable and the exit condition of overthrowing the people at the top occurs. This typically has very poor consequences for those at the top.

#7 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2017, 04:38 PM:

Teresa @ 5... Or they do believe those beliefs, but are capable of more mental flexibility than we are, like that gent I once had an disagreement with who proudly described himself as a conservative Christian *and* as a libertarian.

#8 ::: Holden Pattern ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2017, 04:45 PM:

Serge @ 7:

Or they do believe those beliefs, but are capable of more mental flexibility than we are, like that gent I once had an disagreement with who proudly described himself as a conservative Christian *and* as a libertarian.

That combination is basically Dominionism -- reactionary "Christianity" controls through violence all non-economic areas of the state, while anarcho-capitalism is the rule for all economic areas.

The result is the reinstatement and enforcement (by the power of a genuinely brutal state) of the great chain of being, only initially substituting economic power for a birth aristocracy.

#9 ::: Kevin Standlee ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2017, 05:04 PM:

Regarding gun users versus gun nuts: seconded!

When I was growing up in relatively rural parts of California, I owned a rifle and shotgun -- gifts from my family -- and our family hunted for deer, pheasant, and other game. After my grandfather died -- my guns were stored at his house as I had no use for them in the San Francisco Bay Area where I lived -- I gave them to my cousins, who were still hunting (I'd given it up for lack of time and skill). And if my cousins should happen to decide to give my mother or me some of the take from their next hunt, that's just fine and dandy with me. (I like elk, venison, and pheasant.) But none of my family are "gun nuts." Guns are tools, and ones that can hurt you quite badly, like an ax or a welding torch, unless you use them carefully. I have no truck with people who obsess over guns.

#10 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2017, 05:06 PM:

Teresa, #4: However, when you combine "more guns everywhere and fewer restrictions on them" with "our leaders are openly advocating violence against people who are Not Like Us", what you end up with is a sizable chunk of the population that feels like it's living in a war zone. I think that has to be taken as a Republican goal, because it's impossible to argue in good faith that they don't know their current behavior leads to that.

#11 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2017, 05:09 PM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden @4 said: The NRA does the same thing. "More guns" is the answer to everything. I think they'd be better off seeing a good therapist, instead of hanging around with other guys who think that there are terrible things lurking out there in the shadows, and that more guns are the answer.

The NRA being full of "More guns" == soothe my anxieties! nutballs is entirely a result of the rise of Black Civil Rights in the Sixties. The Black Panthers took pointed advantage of their own right to bear arms, and suddenly the NRA moved from "Sure, let's have stringent safety tests for licensing, that's reasonable" to "Noooo don't take my GUNS away, then we'd be in DANGER!"

From what?

From Black folks with a right to defend themselves and live as equal citizens.

The school choice movement AND the move of national Republicans into dominionism are both also explicit results of anti-Black racism, because their first issue and fight was the right to keep religious and private schools segregated.

#12 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2017, 05:13 PM:

Lee @10 said: when you combine "more guns everywhere and fewer restrictions on them" with "our leaders are openly advocating violence against people who are Not Like Us", what you end up with is a sizable chunk of the population that feels like it's living in a war zone. I think that has to be taken as a Republican goal, because it's impossible to argue in good faith that they don't know their current behavior leads to that.

It's worse than that: several SEPARATE sections of society feel they are the beseiged population in a war zone.

* The aforementioned "more guns to make me safe!" NRA demographic feels that not only are liberals going to come take their guns away, they'll probably let a lesbian and a fake pervert dude in a skirt rape their wives, while stealing all their money to give it to lazy black people.
* Many groups that group A dislikes and fears consider themselves at elevated risk of death from authority figures and white, conservative bystanders

#13 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2017, 05:13 PM:

I substitute "reactionary" or "conservative" for "Republican{ - because parties can change from liberal to conservative, and vice versa. (See: the history of the two current major parties. The Democrats used to be the reactionaries. It's easy to forget this.)

#14 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2017, 06:06 PM:

The points I made on Twitter in response to TNH's original thread were:

(1) We valorize enterprise (i.e., entrepreneurialism), but our top dogs have always fought to suppress as much of it as possible. Because who wants competition?

(Teresa's point that that the message to black people is "keep quiet, and do first-rate work on jobs that are well below your ability" is pertinent here.)

(2) Pushes for so-called "austerity", "belt-tightening," etc., are about protecting incumbent top dogs, first last and always.

#15 ::: Sarah E ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2017, 08:52 PM:

Elliott @ #12:

Yes, I've seen a couple of posts online, presumbly from people in Group B, saying "your desire for gun laws is racist because you'll stop us from defending ourselves against the Klan." I still think some sort of safety courses and licensing are a good idea but I can't be sure such laws wouldn't be selectively enforced.

#16 ::: D. Potter ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2017, 11:05 PM:

As I recall, people not adhering to items 3-9 constitute "moral hazard" to the conservative mindset. (Aka "Who'll do the crappy jobs if everyone doesn't have to work?")

[Still thinking about this. And sentence structure.]

#17 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2017, 11:29 PM:

D. Potter, #16: I think your sentiment might be better expressed as, "Who will do crappy jobs for shit pay if nobody is desperate?" Because that's the reason our agricultural economy is absolutely dependent on undocumented immigrants -- nobody who has the option of getting something better than hand labor in the fields (even if it's only janitorial work, which is at least indoors) is willing to do that, so there has to be a class of people who can be exploited and abused without fear of reprisal. Repeat at lesser levels of desperation for the shittier non-ag jobs.

Historically, the only thing that gets humans out of doing shit jobs is automation. Regulation can help (child labor laws), but only automation put an end (mostly) to chattel slavery.

Give people a way to have food, clothes, and a roof over their head without having to work, and you end up having to pay a lot more for shit jobs if you want anyone to do them. This is also what fuels a lot of the resentment over government assistance programs, because the Lazy Welfare Layabout is always, always assumed to be able-bodied, not have dependents, and exist in the midst of a sea of readily-available jobs for which little hindrances like race, gender, and lack of education cause no hiring problem.

#18 ::: Raven Onthill ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2017, 11:49 PM:

I think also that the very rich know they are not important. Any social function they do can be done by other people. They can be replaced.

Can you imagine how that makes them feel?

That's why they want so badly to privatize so much. Because, aside from making them money, it makes them necessary.

#19 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2017, 02:09 AM:

Huh. I was nodding along very firmly, but you lost me at #21. Is the goal really to outcompete the rich so we can be the ones with our boots on their necks? My victory conditions are more like "destroy capitalism and build a better world."

#20 ::: Jane Yolen ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2017, 05:36 AM:

Have I told you recently:

1. You are brilliant
2.I love you
3. We need to spend more time together.


#21 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2017, 06:44 AM:

Devin, I don't think that is what 21 is saying at all. Fight back against the rigged system, and compete so the money and power are more spread out, and create a more just world.

#22 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2017, 07:41 AM:

Devin @19:

It's not our attack vector. But it's the attack vector that they expect, and act against, because that's what they would do (have done) themselves.

Therein lie, I hope, the seeds of victory.

#23 ::: SunflowerP ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2017, 07:59 AM:

'7. Poor whites are supposed to stay poor, and know in their bones that they’re born to sorrow, and their luck will never last.'

But not anywhere outside their bones - and most especially not in their brains - because the usually-illusory hope of the (white) American Dream is a key part of the construction and perpetuation of racism. (See, f'ex, the article Lee linked in this post.)

Not unrelated to the observations about the alt-right in 16/17.

#24 ::: Megpie71 ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2017, 09:51 AM:

Sunflower @ 23: The American(/Australian) dream is more like a Lotto dream, in my opinion. Then again, I tend to hold to the adage that lotteries are a tax on those who are bad at probability mathematics, rather like any other form of gambling. It's the idea you could win which keeps you coming back and back and back to try again - and the secret is you can win just often enough to keep you paying the money out in order to keep winning.

Never mind the amount you spend on the tickets quickly eclipses the amount you win back.

You have to be in it to win it, after all....

#25 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2017, 11:18 AM:

I have a notion that the powers that be looked at the sixties counterculture and decided that no one will ever feel secure enough to do that again. Is this at all reasonable?

#26 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2017, 11:19 AM:

Megpie71, #24: 50 years ago the American Dream was very real... especially if you were white. The economy was thriving, and there was a good chance that your children would be better off than you were. The minimum wage was still a living wage at 40 hours/week, and a lot of jobs paid enough that somebody could be a stay-at-home provider of child care. Buying a house was within range of most middle-class or blue-collar workers. Public schools provided a decent education, and a student who wanted to go on to college could work their way thru, at a state university, and come out of it with no more debt than could be paid off in 5-10 years.

None of this is true any more, and people's fantasies about it go one of two ways: either they insist that it's still true (the "entitled millennials" thing) or they insist that the way things are now can never be changed (that asshole with the Facebook meme about how he works 60-80 hours/week to make ends meet, and everyone else should be able to do the same).

The American Dream is a carrot-on-a-stick now, but it wasn't always that way.

#27 ::: not my goal in life ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2017, 11:23 AM:

How does one point out small editorial things without becoming The Person Who Points Out Small Editorial Things?
(the propensity to pitch in to fix stuff can become a trap, if there's no minorstuff side comm channel)

#28 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2017, 11:38 AM:

D. Potter @ 16 and Lee @ 17:

Which is why I've come to the conclusion that the current economic system is almost exactly backward, because the most critical jobs are the most denigrated and underpaid. The world wouldn't go to hell in a handbasket if CEOs stopped working, but everything would grind to a halt if there were no farm laborers or sanitation workers.

Megpie71 @ 24:

I used to believe that about lotteries, and it might even be true of reasonably affluent people. What I see now is a lot of desperate people who know that the return on investment is crap, but maybe, just maybe, they might win, and that's their ticket out of poverty. Is it the best thing to spend money on? Statistically, no. But $1 to $5 a week to buy hope, and the remote possibility of never having to go hungry ever again? Yeah, that might be worth it.

Nancy Lebovitz @ 25:

The more I study American history, the more I see that it's about racism, pure and simple. Many of even today's conservative/reactionary political policies are a reaction to the Civil Rights movement and forced integration. I'd posit that making the climate hostile to any kind of revival of the '60s counterculture is a desirable side benefit.

#29 ::: Priscilla King ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2017, 12:10 PM:

Well I'm poor (income below US$2000, 3 years in a row, all of those years *in* the U.S.). I'm legally White (biracial, and yes I know which Cherokee people are my fourth and fifth cousins). I'm a woman at the awkward age--neither senile nor sexy. (To bean counters, anyway; men my age are another story.)

And I say I don't *want* an insurance gamble. I don't *want* handouts.

I want the money that I have well and truly earned. I want to go on earning more of it--I'm on Fiverr, on Patreon, also Guru and Freelancer and Iwriter. I want youall to tell me what I can do for you, and how to do it--other than just dying a slow, miserable, horrible death from the inside out as a useless "needer."

What everyone needs to understand, especially about *older* poor people: The people we loved best are already dead. If the living don't need our help, why should we even bother eating? The sooner we're reunited with those who *did* appreciate us, the better.

No, you don't say "depression." You say, "I humbly beg your pardon, Ma'am" (or "Sir"). "I must have been asleep with my eyes open, thinking about a lot of infants and people in iron lungs and addicts and other lifeforms that obviously do not resemble you in any way. Please, I need your help with [X] and I'm offering [Y]."

#30 ::: Priscilla King ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2017, 12:19 PM:

Elliot Mason: In real life I was John Holt's pen friend and David Peters' real-world schoolmate. I can assure you that for at least two major school choice activists avoiding the company of Black people was not an issue; I'm not sure DP even identified *as* White (he also knew who his Cherokee ancestors were), but I am sure he made friends with White, Black, Cuban, and Arab people *while* he was a poster boy for school choice.

One thing I have to say for Republicans: at least the majority of them have noticed that the majority of Democrats are no longer the same people who were active in that party circa 1950.

#31 ::: Idumea Arbacoochee, Gardener of Threads ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2017, 12:41 PM:

not my goal in life @27:

Teresa's a copy editor (among other things). There's no need of a side channel, because editorial corrections aren't minor to a good proportion of this community.

Feel free to post it in this channel.

#32 ::: Lloyd Burchill ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2017, 12:58 PM:

I agree with Teresa that the policies pursued by the rich donor class are generally whatever secures their access to cheap, docile labour. And lately I've been wondering: what happens if there comes a day when automation, AI, and robotics actually deliver that cheap, docile labour?

Roughly: does that whole flavour of ugly politics dwindle away after it has outlived its use – or was it just one manifestation of a deeper, unsavoury craving to control and immiserate, a craving which will then play out in a new form?

What might that form be?

#33 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2017, 01:30 PM:

Lloyd Burchill @ 32:

We're already halfway there (more or less). For all the talk about bringing back US manufacturing, for example, it needs to be noted that the US still manufactures a great many things. (Pick other countries as appropriate; I'm a USAian.) It's just that now a lot of work has been replaced by automation, and it only takes a handful of operators to keep an eye on the entire plant. A lot of farm labor has been replaced by a few machines. Where people are employed in manufacturing or farming, it's because they do something that the machines can't do at the desired price point, or because it's still too fiddly to do by machine.

I've worked on the design of power and chemical plants where it was explicitly stated that there would only ever be, say, two operators on duty at any one time, and they didn't want to have to leave the control room at all unless absolutely necessary.

All this is to say that I expect the ugly politics to get worse before they get better.

In fact, I'm beginning to suspect that the model of things that really kicked off with the Industrial Revolution is becoming obsolete, which is what is driving a lot of tensions. Before the Industrial Revolution, most people would do small home industry work (farming, weaving, etc.) and trade in order to feed themselves. With the Industrial Revolution, that transitioned to people living in larger cities performing factory and mining work in order to be paid so that they could eat. Now, with computers and automation, there isn't the factory work or the same sorts of mining work, but there doesn't yet seem to be anything to transition to.

However, the system still works well for the people on the top. They're playing in different leagues, disconnected from the need to work for a living in the same way, and they don't want to lose all the advantages that they currently have from the way things are.

#34 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2017, 01:33 PM:

Nancy, 25: The theory I came up with is similar to yours; I think the ruling class in the '60s began to see the full implications of letting all Americans have and exercise their constitutional rights, and they really didn't like that. So they've been dismantling it all little by little without letting on that's what they were doing, and now they're enough on top of it that they can start dropping any pretenses. The racist angle KeithS @28 points out is a huge part of it, but everyone who isn't them is a target.

#35 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2017, 03:39 PM:

#28 ::: KeithS

I really think the spectable of white kids not wanting to buy into the system added some impetus.

#36 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2017, 04:23 PM:

@ Nancy Lebovitz no. 35:

I've been following on Tumblr (I didn't end up ditching all of Tumblr, just a lot of it) an ongoing sarcastic take on articles about What Millennials Are Not Doing How Dare They Not Contribute To Our Economy. Millennials aren't moving into new houses. Millennials aren't playing golf. Millennials aren't buying fabric softener. The people writing these articles all seem to blame millennials' tendencies to play on their phones all the time and be slobs, instead of, you know, their tendencies not to have enough money to pay for nonessentials or time to go do things. One exasperated reblogger started posting recipes for homemade laundry detergent and dryer sheets because we are at an economic point where Kryslyn and Harlow need to use washing soda, just like their great-grandparents, so they can afford to eat! Also, if Procter & Gamble ever get wise to this fact, millennials are screwed, because the companies with the most attractive packaging and the slickest ads also have the highest prices, not to mention the downsizing trick. So let's hope that washing soda stays on the bottom shelf in the plain-Jane plastic bag.

#37 ::: Louis Patterson ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2017, 04:28 PM:

Lotteries actually make sense as an investment vehicle in certain limited situations; think of them as anonymised rotating savings / credit associations. Turns your too-small-to-bother-with surplus into a smaller number of usefully-sized surpluses, which is good in situations where you don't have the material or financial security to accumulate your small surpluses by themselves.

Good for homeless people, or mobile day labourers in areas with unreliable banking. The effective interest rate might be -50%, but it's still better than trying to keep cash secure or deal with bank accounts. If you had friends you could trust you could run it between yourselves and cut out the company take, but...

[which is to say: a lottery for these purposes is best with high-frequency low-value payouts; in many areas the services to the poor don't match the requirements of the poor.]

#38 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2017, 05:14 PM:

Nancy and Abi, 21/22

Yeah, fair. I've read enough of Teresa to know that "meet the new boss" wasn't really her desired endgame, but it's still the first thing I see in that tweet. I'm not a natural 140-character person, though, more of a natural footnote person.

Louis Patterson @37
I think workplace lotteries are a thing, some places, for largely the reasons you state. Everybody buys in on payday, somebody wins every week. (The reference I'm thinking of is Tim Powers, so, y'know, not exactly citation material but he probably didn't make it up. I've seen other references here and there.)

#39 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2017, 05:17 PM:

Chris Quinones @ 34 and Nancy Lebovitz @ 35:

True enough. There's no reason it can't be both, after all, and there's almost never only one reason.

The reason I reach for it as an answer is that so many policies that have the end result of making people economically unsteady tend to hit black people and other minority groups harder than white people. That it keeps white people down is a feature too, because then they fight with the others over the scraps and perceived worth, instead of banding together to look up.

But disdain for hippies and other movements like that probably encouraged these policies too.

And we're certainly seeing things that rhyme with complaints about lazy, entitled Millennials who don't want to buy into the system. Never mind that because of how things are rigged, they overall don't have the money to buy into the system.

#40 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2017, 06:02 PM:


I think your whole list attributes a lot of policies to rich people intending some set of bad outcomes, in ways that don't make much sense to me, and that I haven't seen much evidence for. Rich and powerful people seem like they spend a lot of time protecting their own interests, and a fair bit of time advocating for high-minded ideas that almost never turn out to undermine their interests. But if they're spending a lot of time plotting to make everyone else poor and miserable, it's hard to see where that's happening.

For what it's worth, I know a few quite wealthy people, and as best I can tell, they're not obsessed with up-and-comers threatening their position. I've seen a fair number of successful startup entrepreneurs be quite helpful to people trying to do their own startup, for example. Most comfortably well-off/secure people seem to mainly want to protect their own interests.

My alternative model of the world:

1 You can very loosely put people into a spectrum, from least powerful to most powerful. The people at the high end of that spectrum tend to be wealthy, well-connected, and have a voice. The ones at the low end of that spectrum have little money, few connections, and little voice.

2 Problems that afflict someone in the society are more likely to be fixed, the more they land on the high end of the spectrum. This happens because the people at the top have a louder voice. They vote, contribute money, volunteer in elections, know powerful people, write for major publications, etc.

3. Problems that afflict mostly people on the bottom usually don't get fixed. The people being hurt have little voice, so nobody cares. In fact, many problems that land overwhelmingly on people at the bottom aren't even *visible* to most other people.

4. Changes to the world (social, political, technological, financial) meet more resistance, the more they hurt people at the top, and less when they hurt people at the bottom. This isn't 100%--changes do happen that take power or wealth from the people at the top and give it to people in the middle or at the bottom. But it's a lot harder for that kind of change to happen.

I think those four explain a lot of the phenomena that you're discussing.

For example:

a. Obamacare looks the way it does because, in drafting it, protecting the insurance industry (at the top) was much more important than making sure people at the bottom got decent affordable coverage.

b. Police abuse and those corrupt fine-farming schemes some local governments use to extract money from anyone caught up in the justice system overwhelmingly screw over people at the bottom. So they're barely visible and rarely rise in prominence to the point that anyone cares. Even with BLM protests, the actual changes have been pretty minimal. Who's being hurt, and how much voice do they have?

c. Gay marriage went quickly from crazy idea to widely accepted to law of the land. One reason is that the advantages landed at least as much on people at the top as people at the bottom. Lots of prominent gay and lesbian couples cared a lot, which made it a lot easier for this change to happen. Most of the people against it were people closer to the bottom (evangelical Christians), who weren't able to push back all that effectively.

And so on.

I don't think you need to posit that the people at the top *want* insecurity for people at the bottom. They simply need to not know or care what happens to people at the bottom, and pursue their own interests, and the people at the bottom will likely find themselves with little security.

I also think a lot of the broken bits of our society come down to places where someone with a voice managed to get the rules changed to fix *their* problem, in a way that made some other problem worse, or created a long-term problem that never became urgent to address. For example, the current mess of student loans and ever-increasing tuition for college are the results of policies that were enacted to address a problem that landed on middle-class-and-up families (needing to send their kids to school). Sure, the solution was partly captured to make a nice business for some companies making guaranteed student loans, but even if it were the government making all the loans on the same terms, we'd still have the same problems.

#41 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2017, 06:13 PM:

Lee 26:

The interesting question is what would be needed to bring back a world where a normal person could afford a decent life. My understanding is that people in the middle or at the bottom are overall better off in material terms now than 50 years ago. Certainly we're all better off in terms of technology (better to be a Medicare patient with cancer today than a millionaire with cancer in 1967).

And yet, I think you're right that it's harder now for a high-school graduate to expect to be able to get married and have a decent life on his factory job salary.

#42 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2017, 08:24 AM:

I think workplace lotteries are a thing, some places, for largely the reasons you state. Everybody buys in on payday, somebody wins every week.

My workplace does a lottery every payday; you buy tickets, half the money goes into the holiday party fund, and the other half goes to the person whose ticket gets pulled. The prize is usually on the order of a hundred bucks. I've won once in the ~10 years we've been doing this, but I buy tickets every time because I see it as a bonding thing, rather than a way to get money.

#43 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2017, 09:45 AM:

albatross @40: Two points.

(a) Evangelical Christians are not "at the bottom". Their values and desires are catered to at almost every level of government in most places, and they contain some of the very richest individuals in the world (pastors of megachurches; millionaires). There are some poor evangelical Christians. There are some poor anything. They are not, in the main, poor, or downtrodden.

(b) Someone doesn't have to be evil in their heart or cackle to themselves, "Let's screw the poor!!!!" for the entire outcome of every policy they support to be screwing the poor and making it harder and harder to climb the ladder of success.

One can describe this as them "wanting the outcome", which is what Teresa is doing, without them specifically plotting out for that endgame to occur. People who have been convinced in their reflexes and hindbrain that most black people are also lazy, poor, drug-addicted criminals don't consciously want to cause the entire black population to be threatened in their persons by police and other authority, and to be systematically stripping the franchise from greater and greater proportions of black men (because of felony convictions pushed on low-level offenders in coercive "plea bargains", plus the widespread removal of lifetime voting rights from any "convicted felons").

But that's the systemic effect of their suspicious, hostile reflexes. They might even "have a lot of black friends", and think of themselves as "not racist". They still support and build a system of white supremacy, and black extinction.

Effects matter. Intent is largely irrelevant, except where you can use consistency with their intent to cause people to change their effects.

#44 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2017, 09:54 AM:

albatross @40: In re school debt.

Middle-class-and-lower families needing to send their kids to college is indeed a societal need.

It used to be addressed largely by supporting a state-owned network of really good colleges, whose costs for in-state residents were miniscule (compared to, say, Harvard).

The more lawmakers decided taxes have to be stripped to the bone, and benefits likewise, the more tuition everyone had to charge, and the costs were pushed off (again) on the resources of individual families.

Which is a matter of screwing everyone financially insecure to increase the wealth of the people getting the tax cuts (and who didn't need all those social services anyway, so they see no reason they shouldn't cut their funding).

This is not morally neutral. It is not some unchangeable economic fact. It is greed and lack of empathy, and insisting our public, communal governmental system should be warped to pay out profits to a small percentage of the population, instead of building societal infrastructure that benefits us all.

* Healthy adults are more productive in the workplace.
* Healthy children grow up stronger, smarter, and healthier.
* Well-educated children and college kids kick our economy in the butt and raise living standards for everyone.
* Free, easily-accessible, safe, long-term contraception options raise the productivity of those accessing them, provides more economic security and control, drops the abortion rate precipitously, and increases the number of children growing up in safe, loving, financially secure homes
* Safe, clean, modern public transportation anywhere it is remotely feasible (not just able to pay a large part of its costs through farebox recovery) drops emissions, raises economic growth, reduces commute times for everyone, and causes many positive urban-planning outcomes.
* Strong, ENFORCED safety regulations on our air, water, food safety, drug contents and safety, etc etc, makes everyone safer and healthier (see first two).
* Accountable police forces that ARE NOT outfitted like military units and not pushed into fearing their constituents make fewer errors in judgement, and raise safety society-wide
* Accessible, free mental health and addiction services to anyone have the same effects as the first two points above, plus increasing public safety, and dropping quite sharply the costs to emergency rooms and police departments
* Housing the homeless by GIVING THEM APARTMENTS gets them out of poverty and back into the workforce and paying for their own housing faster than any other method, as well as being humane, and lowering costs to emergency services and police (and making the streets look nicer to elites)

And on, and on, and on.

Cutting public services costs far more money in the long run.

It just doesn't generally cost the RICH more money.

#45 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2017, 10:05 AM:

Shorter me: supporting comprehensive public services to raise the minimum floor available to all residents is a profoundly selfish thing for a society to do. It makes the society richer. It raises the GDP. It fosters small business (some of which grow into large businesses) and innovation (some of which change the entire world and landscape of economics).

Cutting social programs to the bone and cutting taxes (especially by focusing tax cuts high on the scale) is a profoundly damaging thing for a society to do: it cuts it off at the roots. However, it strongly, strongly benefits those who already have a lot of money.

Governments should act selfishly. Governments should act for the good and profit of the COUNTRY, which means social services, instead of for the profit of a few thousand citizens.

#46 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2017, 10:21 AM:

Even shorter me: These problems are caused or exacerbated by an ongoing and increasing trend of trying to shift costs away from government onto individuals.

It's about "individual responsibility," which means, in the end, "those who can pay for it get to live well, and everyone else dies in poverty."

#47 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2017, 10:24 AM:

Treating this shift-costs-down tendency as normal and laudable may explain why Speaker Ryan is profoundly ignorant of how insurance even works.

The point of insurance is to charge small, regular payments from an enormous number of people so that, when it is needed, enormous amounts of money are available to pay out.

This means "the well subsidize the sick," because if the well ever end up in a pickle they'll get paid for too.

"Every penny you pay in, you get out as a payment for your own health" isn't insurance, it's a health savings account.

#48 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2017, 10:30 AM:

Elliott Mason @ 44... Cutting public services costs far more money in the long run

AKA "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure", and that applies at every level of society.

#49 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2017, 11:38 AM:

Elliot Mason @47:

I've long felt that insurance is the wrong model for health care, for much the same reason.

Insurance in any other field does not pay for routine maintenance. Unless something unusual happens (you get into a car accident, your house burns down, the principle actor on your movie set quits unexpectedly, etc), insurance does not pay out. It's a bet on bad luck, with the insurance company as the bookmaker. Most people never get any payout on their insurance.

As such, the only health insurance plans which are truely insurance are the "catastrophic" plans: $10k deductible before the insurer pays anything, and similar.

It's one of the reasons I'm disappointed in the ACA: The ACA made some changes in the health insurance marketplace, but didn't address the fundamental problem that health care is not the right fit for insurance. But as long as the political class continues to think in terms of health insurance companies, it'll stay that way.

Health care needs to be paid for, obviously, but insurance isn't the right model.

#50 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2017, 11:45 AM:

Elliot #43:

Effects matter. Intent is largely irrelevant, except where you can use consistency with their intent to cause people to change their effects.

I think there's a huge difference between:

a. X is happening because powerful people want X to happen.

b. X is happening because powerful people are pursuing their own perceived interests by doing Y and Z, and X is a side-effect.

c. X is happening because the beliefs widely held by powerful people lead to X, even though most of those powerful people don't particularly want X.

Those three are very different. If I want to predict how some social issue will work out in the next few years, (a), (b), and (c) generally lead to different predictions. If I want to think of how to accomplish some goal politically, they lead to different approaches.

As an example of (a), consider US support of Israel. This is largely driven by a lot of powerful people in the US caring deeply about Israel and wanting it to succeed. It's mostly not a side-effect of some other goal-seeking, or an unintended consequence of some other belief.

As an example of (b), think about the use of fines, fees, and civil forfeiture to fund local government. There is probably nobody who has a deep philosophical commitment to doing this, and not many powerful people who have a direct interest in seeing it done. Local voters don't like taxes, but they like services. Local politicians like getting elected. Revenue sources are hard to come by, but extracting fees from outsiders driving through doesn't upset many voters. Individual people with some power are making decisions in their own interests, and the result is this side-effect.

These seem like very different situations. If you want to change these policies, you'll need different approaches.

#51 ::: Clarentine ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2017, 12:26 PM:

I’ve always seen it as a battle of Us vs. Them, where the members of our own tribe will always privilege the members of the tribe. Those in power tend to stay in power because their actions and policies will tend to privilege their own tribe over others.

In times of scarce resources, those actions and policies can become more overt – and what else are we headed into, as proclaimed by so much advertising and educational pushes and governmental advocacy, but a time of greatly reduced resources as climate changes, humankind uses up all the land and pollutes a lot of the water, and oil and gas reservoirs dry up? We’ve spent decades, generations, trumpeting warnings of these changes (and hoping to provoke better natures into taking care of the poor while those in power take care of themselves).

Little wonder that those in power are grabbing up what resources they can while the resources still exist (because better natures rarely stand a chance against survival). They’re not changing all the rules related to oil extraction and movement, frex, to be evil; they’re changing the rules so they can reap benefits, quick, before all those investments become worthless.

#52 ::: Joshua Kronengold ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2017, 01:00 PM:

I think Albatross makes a lot of good points in #40 and #50. Ascribing intent that isn't professed to rich people (or even rich conservatives) is usually less good at predicting outcomes and solutions than looking at professed motives and rules of the game-as-played, plus the resulting consequences.

The taxes thing is a big thing here. Of course, rich people hate being taxed, so those who aren't politically devoted to a progressive tax structure will generally work to avoid it.

But also, people in -general- hate being taxed, so we've seen a lot of pushback on income taxes (or voting for politicians who promise to lower their income taxes) even when the benefits they're getting from those taxes are far greater than the costs.

I'd argue that this visibility is a large part of why there's so much more pushback for income taxes (that are largely fair, and except where excessive use of tax breaks has, well, broken things, fall on the right people) than of sales taxes (which except when dropped for all necessities, tend to fall disproportionately on poor people) and medicare/SSI taxes (which as "flat taxes" are far less fair than progressive taxes). But for those taxes, they're either small amounts that people don't have to go through extra effort to pay (sales tax), taxes with an obvious purpose that people want to get (social security and medicare) or both (ssi and medicare taxes when paid through W-2 withholding). So people don't complain about them, and no effort is made to fix them, except (maybe) dropping sales tax on something like non-luxury clothing.

In contrast, people are always complaining that their (income) tax is too high, so even (often) really bad tax "reform" plans get real consideration. Similarly, even people not subject to estate taxes hear about estate tax plans and think they aren't "fair" (and there are occasionally situations of ancestral homes that rise in value to the point that a not actually rich-in-practice family suddenly needs to sell their house in order to pay taxes), so those taxes get hit even though they exist to fulfil a very real need and are only intended to hit the very rich.

The very rich, obviously, have a louder voice. But it's where the very rich have their needs conflating with the desires of a large number of people (mostly not that rich) that the worst harm tends to be done.

#53 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2017, 01:04 PM:

KeithS @ #33:

To a first approximation "can't do at the desired price point" is identical to "it's still too fiddly to do by machine".

In essence, my job for the last 20 years has been "automate myself out of existence". The result is that I have larger, and to some extent more interesting, problems in trying to figure out how to automate what I do and larger, more spectacular, failures. Still haven't managed to end up on front pages, thankfully...

There's still times I go "OK, I can spend 10 minutes doing this one-time thing, or I can spend a couple of hours automating it". If I'm sufficiently sure it's a one-time thing, it's probably not worth automating it. And it's usually easier to automate something you've already done, once.

#54 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2017, 02:03 PM:

Buddha Buck #49:

"Health insurance" in the US is usually a benefit plan, with coverage for doctors, negotiated prices for various medicines and procedures, and also an element of actual insurance. There's no reason at all I shouldn't be paying cash for my normal doctor visits instead of a $20 copay, except that this is how the insurance works. (And because that's the way the market works, the list price for a doctor's visit when not paid via insurance is probably twice as high as what the insurance companies pay.)

There's also an insurance element--if I have a heart attack and end up in the hospital having emergency catheterization surgery and staying for a week to recover, that would be way more money than I could afford to pay. But nearly all my interactions with the medical system are routine things that wouldn't normally be covered by an actual insurance policy.

#55 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2017, 02:06 PM:

The short version: promoting the general welfare and ensuring domestic tranquility.

I have to assume there are a lot of people who haven't read that part and don't care about anyone not in their personal groups.

#56 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2017, 02:17 PM:

Ingvar M @ 53:

Yes and no. Don't get me wrong, the two overlap almost entirely. I had different things in mind, though.

For "too fiddly to do by machine", I was thinking of something like harvesting strawberries of the appropriate ripeness without smooshing the things. With a sufficiently large budget, all the problems inherent in the task could be overcome, true, but the robotic technology isn't really available in a mass-market way (that I know of). Sure, the fact that the labor is cheap helps a whole lot.

For "can't do at the desired price point", I was thinking about the poor factory worker I saw in an episode of "How It's Made" in a low- to medium-volume factory producing something like barbecues. His entire job was to pick up the sheet metal blank from one conveyor belt, place it in a press, wait for the press to do its thing, then pick up the newly-produced bowl and place it on another conveyor belt. That's a job that's so easily replaceable with a robot you'd think it would be a done deal, but obviously the human is cheaper in some way than the robot.

Both are essentially the same in the end, but one has a little more of a shade of no tool being available on the market yet than the other.

#57 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2017, 02:49 PM:

WRT health care, one of the problems is unnecessary treatment. And there is a lot of that.

When Evidence Says No, but Doctors Say Yes

Long read, but worth it.

In the health care debate, there's a lot of finger-pointing at single issues. But it's not just insurance companies or provider wages or hospital costs or pharmaceutical costs. I think one of the overlooked facets is just how much money gets thrown into the pool. It's an enormous pile of cash, and it attracts lots of fingers. I love the idea of single payer, but the basic costs have to come down.

#58 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2017, 03:18 PM:

The definition of "medically necessary" is a big can of worms. Doctors are frequently more willing to prescribe expensive surgeries than to prescribe (for example) chiropractic and massage -- surgeons do only get paid when they perform surgery, so there's some incentive there. There's a big scandal over a neurosurgeon here in Seattle doing a more expensive and less effective treatment (he first got promoted because he was bringing in lots of money, then fired when the scandal came out: according to today's Seattle Times, the US Attorney is investigating -- more info at A Lost Voice).

And the amount of time that doctors have to spend dealing with denied claims, etc., varies a lot depending on how high up the medical food chain they are. I speak on this from personal experience working for a chiropractor. They're low on the food chain, but higher than PTs or LMPs.

#59 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2017, 04:19 PM:

If I had my druthers I would reduce all insurance claim forms to:

1. I am the person who prescribed this;
2. I am fully accredited and there is no legal impediment to my practice;
3. Here is the proof.

#60 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2017, 04:53 PM:

There is some health insurance fraud. The companies have reason to spend some money pursuing fraudulent claims. There have been cases of doctors charging for services that were never performed. Seriously, Jenny Islander, that approach has some major costs for the insurers (and, therefore, for the people paying for the insurance).

Whether the amount of time and money spent to prevent and detect fraud (and the money spent to get the insurers pay for non-fraudulent claims that have been conveniently denied) is an interesting question, and is a reflection of why game theory was developed. Cheating is an inherent cost in any system. Sometimes it's a low enough cost to be ignored: sometimes it's a high enough cost to demand serious reaction. It's not easy to tell which is which without data and experience, and it's not usually easy for folks outside the system to get either data or experience.

#61 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2017, 08:56 PM:

albatross @50: Step one is convincing the majority of people that X is horrible, and has a cause (not just as a natural consequence of the world that cannot be changed).

And, no, I disagree: if we air out the idea that X is horrible, and then surface all the different things that cause X to happen, we don't have to know WHICH is causing it at the outset. We have to commit to change it.

#62 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2017, 11:28 PM:

albatross, #50: Where I think your analysis breaks down is that even after observing that their actions are causing X to happen, they continue to do those things which cause X to happen. The reactions I've seen fall into 3 rough categories:

1) You're lying, my actions Y and Z don't cause X. (In the teeth of direct evidence.)

2) Who cares?

3) Yeah, so what are YOU going to do about it? (increasingly common)

So you're looking at some mixture of wishful thinking and/or deliberate falsehood, sociopathic indifference, and active malice, since it's not uncommon for all of these attitudes to be in play (to some degree) simultaneously. Once the connection between actions Y and Z and result X has been demonstrated, ignorance and cluelessness are no longer plausible explanations -- it has to be something more active than that.

They know what they're doing, and they don't give a shit. That's a difference only in degree, not in kind, from "they want it to happen".

#63 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2017, 11:40 PM:

Aha, just found something very relevant over on Slacktivist.

"One of the unspoken first principles of conservatism is that people will only work out of fear of poverty. So if you want people to be more productive, it stands to reason that you try to make poverty as nightmarish as possible."

So insofar as any of the people we're discussing subscribe to that philosophy, yes, they DO actively want these things to happen. They just hide it under the abuser's cloak of "It's for your own good."

One thing we must never forget is that today's Republican Party -- both its leaders and the rank-and-file of its power base -- have become the political and social equivalent of abusive spouses, and must be evaluated on that basis. It is a horrible mistake to try to apply the rules and thinking of a healthy relationship to an abusive one.

#64 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2017, 04:46 AM:

Further to 27 and 31, though off-topic to the main thread, the author of the review of Dead Right referred to in one of Teresa's current Particles is John Holbo; there should not be an m in his surname.

Once upon a time there was a small debate about whether the canonical adjective describing the length at which he writes should be "Holbonic" or "Holbovian," as in the question, "How many Holbovian lengths comprise a sagan?"

#65 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2017, 10:22 AM:

Lee @63: Link please? I want to cite that elsewhere.

#66 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2017, 12:00 PM:

Elliott, #65: It wasn't in the top-post, it was buried deep in the comments, and now I can't find it again or even remember which top-post it was. One of the most recent 2 or 3, if you want to go digging.

#67 ::: D. Potter ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2017, 01:48 PM:

Lee @66: Found it: ("Causes and Effects")

He gets a lot of comments in a short period of time.

#68 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2017, 04:50 PM:

Liberal democracy needs social democracy if it is to function as advertised. The class warfare of the rich against the non-rich since the Reagan/Thatcher era has involved seeking to delegitimise social democracy and the key elements of state support for it (universal health care, universal forced saving for pensions and other elder care, universal primary and secondary education, racial and sexual equality).

If we are to have a world that is fit for human beings to live in, it has to be one in which we are all more nearly equal than we are now.

#69 ::: stefan jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2017, 06:46 PM:

Short notes, written on a tablet with a clumsy keyboard.

Writing this in London, where the NHS is still a thing and the train announcer apologizes if the frighteningly large and efficient and modern rail service delivers a train to the station 7 minutes late. And there are little reminders of social safety net, however strained it might have become. Although I think London could use something like the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Reading about Trump's draconian, friends-serving budget infuriates me.

I'd like to see TNH's tweet thread essay-ized; I am certainly going to show it to me new friends at the local Democratic party office.

#70 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2017, 07:02 PM:

D. Potter: Thank you!

#71 ::: Race Traitor Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2017, 12:58 PM:

Teresa 4: What I've noticed about guns is that there are gun users, who tend to own a few of the things, and gun nuts, who keep acquiring more and more of them. What this suggests to me is that they're trying to use guns to soothe some anxiety that guns do not address, which is why they have to keep buying new ones that will be magical for a while.

I agree, but I'd add a third category: gun collectors. They keep buying guns, but more to have them than to use them; they don't have thousands of rounds of ammo on hand. They're no crazier than any fan collecting hundreds of unread books (admittedly a low bar).

Lee 10: I agree, and the goal only makes sense if you assume that what they want is to erode civil liberties and establish a totalitarian fear state, which in turn is consistent with their other policies.

Lee 62: Where I think your analysis breaks down is that even after observing that their actions are causing X to happen, they continue to do those things which cause X to happen.

And for my money those things are morally equivalent. We can't mindread, so we have to go by behavior; if they keep choosing actions that lead to X, we hold them responsible for causing X. IOW I don't give (or think anyone should give) a flying fuck about what's "in their hearts." As Aldonza said, what's in MY heart will get me halfway to Hell; I keep my actions civilized and don't worry about it. And I don't give adults credit for harmless intentions just because they profess them; I use something akin to the legal "knew or should have known" test.

#72 ::: D. Potter ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2017, 04:29 PM:

Elliott Mason @70: You're welcome!

all: I have to say these comments are very educational, especially for someone whose sole economics course in college was on Saturday mornings 30 or so years back. One of the reasons I tend to despise "conservatives" (and the right-wing generally) is that their idea of ethics would embarrass a cockroach.

#73 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2017, 05:54 PM:

Something in the area of the repair/replace balance.

I have a tablet with a non-working USB port. It does have a separate power connector, but it would be better fixed.

The USB connector is soldered to a PCB. Removing and replacing is a skilled job, needing the right tools, and so expensive.

More expensive tablets have the USB port on its own small PCB, with a connecting cable. This costs more to make but can be easily replaced.

My local repair shop won't touch it. They don't do soldering. And it wasn't so expensive a tablet when I bought it, but the effect of UK politics and the value of sterling have made a big difference.

So I shall get out my soldering iron and other tools and have a go. I don't really have anything to lose. I have something else, cheap, with a similar fault, that I can practice on.

Soldering iron: I have it.
De-soldering braid: cheap on eBay.
Extra flux: also from eBay.
Locking tweezers: local Pound-shop
Set of several types of replacement USB connector: eBay again

Plan of action. Set up for anti-static and open the case. Disconnect the battery (Taking a pic to show they layout. Disassemble sufficiently to access both sides of the PCB.

The USB port has two support lugs soldered to the board, and four connection points. Desolder and remove the old port. Check carefully for solder left which may short tracks and remove.

Find matching replacement connector, solder in place, check carefully.

Reassemble, finishing with battery, watching for smoke. Check USB voltage-current from charger (I have a gadget to do this). Reassemble case.

The first gadget is much simpler all round, and if I get that fixed, I can attack the tablet with some confidence.

It's all going to take time and, even at minimum wage, that's likely the biggest cost. It's the sort of work that gets seen by many as of trivial value.

It's the sort of work that gets done by brown-skinned people on the far side of the world.

Our glorious leaders, I think, don't realise how the world has changed, how dependent every business is on things being done in foreign lands. The USA is big enough to do far more itself than the UK, but for some things the world only gets more than one factory because a few companies know what a flood or earthquake might do.

#74 ::: stefan jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2017, 08:53 AM:

Good piece on golden age thinking in coal country:

#75 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2017, 12:36 PM:

stefan jones @ 74:

I found that article to be more frustrating than good. The author showed how much they longed for an idealized past that never was (seriously, coal mining as idealized past?), but never tried to dig deeper. Which... I guess it's good to show what sorts of things people idealize, but it's also clear that they only claim to idealize it given the sorts of people and policies they vote for again and again and again and again.

To top it all off, the author continually stressed how "nice" they were, and even, at the end, conflated those "nice" people with being "good" people. Nice to only each other and important outside guests isn't nice, and it's definitely not good.

Fred Clark should be employed to write about small towns (and a number of other things).

#76 ::: Singing Wren ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2017, 03:58 PM:

KeithS @ 75:

I have recently decided that I want to remove the word "nice" from my vocabulary, at least as an adjective to describe people and their behavior. I find myself feeling that it is simultaneously lacking in specifics and easily used to cover for some dreadful behaviors.

After all, a person who "means well and is generally polite" and another who "actively tries to avoid offensive behavior and apologizes when they fail" can both be described as "nice". But the second person seems a lot less likely to be a bigot.

#77 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2017, 05:12 PM:


You text "resist" to their number 50409 and the bot answers.

The bot asks for your name and zipcode. It finds your senators (it will add your representative if you use it again). Then it asks what you want to tell them. What you text to the bot is what's going to be put in the fax addressed to them, so you should address your representatives directly.

The bot formats it into a letter, which it screenshots for you, and then faxes to the appropriate offices. All told it takes about five minutes.

To sum up:
You basically get to text Congress without looking up their contact info
The resistbot sends it to them as a faxed letter
You don't have to call over and over again to get through jammed lines or full inboxes
You don't have to talk to a person or wait for open office hours

#78 ::: Seth Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2017, 12:18 PM:

It’s been a long time since I read Atlas Shrugged, but one thing I recall is that the heroic rugged individualists of that novel don’t compete with each other. Francisco d’Anconia never worries that some other mining magnate will find a cheaper way to extract copper out of the ground and undercut his prices. Rand confirms Marx’s prediction that free-market capitalism, left to its own devices, produces cozy monopolies: she just invites her readers to identify with the cozy monopolists.

#79 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2017, 12:55 PM:

#78 ::: Seth Gordon

That's for Galt's Gulch which has a tiny population. My feeling is that it's about 200 people, but no number is actually given.

Each person has a different specialty. In such a small place, comparative advantage might make this make sense.

Or it could just be Rand's weirdness where she wants to believe that everything will run very smoothly if you have good enough people.

I don't think she expected 0 competition in the larger world.

#80 ::: Privateiron ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2017, 04:41 PM:

In the spirit of the season: Capitalism pretends it is something like the NCAA basketball tournament, but it's always been more like Division 1 football. The former is weighted to established competitors, but has fairly low entry costs and reasonably fast progression for programs that put in the work. The latter is a almost impossible to join clique where 25 or 40 schools decide which of 4 or 5 tyrants will be proclaimed king this year. I am not saying that even the basketball model is perfect for applying to society at large, but it does fit the image of the "manly, but 'fair' free market" so many idolize.

#81 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2017, 05:52 PM:

Capitalism does not operate like Econ 101 textbooks. It doesn't operate like Political Economy 405 textbooks, for that matter. Capitalism exists for the sake of capital. It's amazing what happens when the sole virtue turns out to be greed.

#82 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2017, 12:13 AM:

More about ResistBot: When it asks for your name, you need to give your full name with title. It took me a couple of tries to figure that out, but after that the process was very smooth.

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#85 ::: C. Wingate sees jewelry spam ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2017, 05:43 AM:

rather obvious too

#86 ::: Ingvar M spots spam ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2017, 09:43 AM:

Looks like #83 and #84 (at the time of writing) are spam, but C. Wingate @ #85 has also seen it.

#87 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2017, 01:48 PM:

Peripheral idea from back around @37-42: A "lottery that is also a savings account" is now legal in the US. I haven't seen a lot of coverage of this. Basically instead of interest they give out prizes - large lump sums to few people. It did well in South Africa, but it was publicized there (the bank ran ads.) There's around one of these in the US that I'm aware of and it didn't exactly make waves.

#88 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2017, 09:05 AM:


There's certainly plenty of bad stuff about capitalism now and historically, but it's also the system of economic organization that has pulled mankind out of what we now consider horrible poverty, but was once considered a decent standard of living[1]. It's the system under which we've seen incredible technological progress, that has led to actual improvements in living conditions.

I'd say greed makes a very poor master, but is also an inescapable bit of human nature. Economic and social systems that harness it to do good things overall win over economic and social systems that don't.

[1] My grandmother grew up on a farm without indoor plumbing or electricity. They were poor compared to their neighbors, but not all *that* poor, and I think much of the world at that time would have considered their standard of living pretty decent. Nobody now considers that a reasonable standard of living in the US, because we've gotten so much richer as a society.

#89 ::: GC80 ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2017, 11:52 AM:

Sandy B @87: Here in the UK the government's National Savings and Investment agency has Premium Bonds, which are the same sort of idea.

#90 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2017, 01:36 PM:


I guess the idea is that $1 won't make much difference either way, but (say) $1000 would be life-changing? But I just don't see any way this can make sense, financially.

Imagine a lottery with no overhead costs and a 100% payout. I have two choices:

a. I buy a $1 ticket every week, and wait till I get my $1000 payout (with 1/1000 probability every week).

b. I save my $1 every week, and wait till I save up $1000.

The number of weeks it takes to win follows what's called the Geometric distribution--the expected number of weeks for me to win is 1000. So on average, it will take me 1000 weeks of playing to get my $1000 payout that would be life-changing.

The difference between saving the dollar until I have $1000 and buying lottery tickets every week until i win is that I know I'll get the $1000 at the end of 1000 weeks if I save it. With the lottery, I might get it sooner or later, and there's no telling which.

There's about a 9% chance I'll get the $1000 by 100 weeks, about a 63% chance I'll get it by 1000 weeks, and about a 15% chance I won't get it by 2000 weeks.

A real lottery won't be paying out 100% of what's put into it--I think state lotteries usually pay out 50%. With a 50% payout, you expect it to take 2000 days to get your $1000 by buying lottery tickets, vs 1000 days by saving your money. (If there were just one jackpot that was $1000, each ticket would need to have a 1/2000 chance if winning it. If there were lots of different sizes of jackpots, the exact numbers would change, but the result wouldn't--you'd expect to do a lot better for yourself saving that dollar every day than buying a lottery ticket with it.)

As far as I can see, lottery tickets are just straightforward gambling--people are paying for the fun of playing, and the fun of imagining themselves winning some huge jackpot. If they're expecting to benefit financially from playing the lottery, that's very unlikely to work out for them. Promoting buying lottery tickets as a savings program for the poor is like promoting smoking as a treatment for asthma.

#91 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2017, 02:19 PM:

albatross @90: But the savings account lottery SandyB linked to @87 gives the best of both worlds. You get the money you put in as savings; and you get a chance to win a fairly large payout in addition to the savings. This comes with a reduced interest rate on the savings account (though it's hard to get much lower than the rates currently offered in the US); and the indication from studies in countries that allow it is that this to a large extent replaces money that would have been spent on the lottery.

Your two choices are not the only choices on the table.

#92 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2017, 05:43 PM:

Talking about what capitalism is very quickly runs into the reality that if it's what we have now, what we have now isn't the only way to realize the various definitions of capitalism one finds lying about. It isn't private ownership per se that is the feature that matters; it's that a "business" is granted an ontological reality which includes a particular set of properties which are entirely a matter of social convention but which are heavily determining of our current situation. I would tend to call it "corporationism" rather than just capitalism, because the three key features are (a) corporate personhood, (b) share ownership, and (c) an executive structure that is distinct from the owners.

The thing is that this creates some class divisions which do make a difference. In particular the division between executives and owners is important, particularly since we have ways of distancing and diluting ownership (e.g. the mutual fund) above and beyond simple share ownership. People who are owners have assets and (potentially) income, but people who are executives get power--directly, which is to say they don't have to buy it, but that it is intrinsic to their position. They get money too, generally lots of it, but they don't get their income from owning capital.

What I see in this is that these two groups of "rich" have different "investments" in the system, and it gets more complicated when you look at the people who are traders in companies. Executives are most threatened by loss of power and position; the risk for owners is diminution of assets and confiscation. So who threatens them? Well, other businesses (and therefore the people who run them to some large degree); but the poor (a) tend to lack the resources to be much of a threat, and (b) they want to be rich. No, it's the professional upper middle class that poses the biggest threat, because they are the ones who can bring the power of government and non-economic power bases to bear against the corporation. I don't think the rich, of whatever sort, want to keep the poor down; it's collateral damage from exercising their desires in an atmosphere of amorality. But they do want to keep the socialists down, because the socialists, deprived of a moral sense, do want to bring them down. Which is not to say that anyone here lacks such a sense; it's obvious that the argument in this forum is based in a moral system. But the track record of such revolutions keeping that sense is not good.

#93 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2017, 06:43 PM:

@90-91: Sorry for any confusion. I thought I was being clear; see any "You are your own worst editor" rant for how THAT works out.

Yes, you get to save the principal and the interest is delivered randomly to small numbers of people in large lumps.

#94 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2017, 07:01 AM:

C. Wingate @92

I'm not a (Marxist) economic historian, but I think Marx saw the developments you're talking about as very closely connected to, if not inevitable contemporaries of, the development of capitalism. I recall a couple of quotes where he seems to regard the joint stock corporation as pretty essential, for instance. (Y'know, like you can have colonialism without boats, kinda, I guess, maybe. But they're pretty closely related all the same.)

It's a bit hard to say for sure, both because I don't actually know Marx well enough, and because what I do know says that he thought the counterfactuals were impossible-ish: that "what if we had a market economy and private ownership of the means of production and, like, factories and railroads, but no concept of joint ownership or shares" isn't something he put much thought into. It wasn't a state that was reachable from his position in history (even if you outlawed all forms of shared ownership, you still have the concept, you're just doing some weird legal gymnastics and you'd probably end up in a position where you had the same functional roles but organized as a special sort of loan or something instead of share ownership) and I'm not at all sure he considered it a possible result of an alternate history, even.

I also think you're being extremely generous in calling poverty "collateral damage." The threat of poverty is an extremely useful lever against the middle and working classes. Worsening the lot of the poor, therefore, sharpens that threat much as a public execution reinforces the power of the state. In that light, I don't think hurting the poor is accidental at all. It might not always be a primary goal, but it still serves the goals of those in power.

#95 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2017, 10:46 AM:

Tom #91:

Fair enough--I was thinking about the idea of using the lottery as a savings scheme, not about this particular bond that's a combination savings device/lottery. I'm not sure whether that's a good deal or not, but it's pretty different from buying lottery tickets as a form of savings.

#96 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2017, 10:55 AM:


If increasing poverty serves the interests of the powerful, then they've failed pretty badly over the last century or so, despite otherwise apparently doing really well for themselves. Also, it seems like increasing poverty works well for capitalists in one direction (if there's a huge crowd of hungry unemployed people standing around outside the factory, then the factory workers aren't going to be able to negotiate a higher wage). But it hurts them in another direction (when it's time to sell the factory's product--it's hard to sell computers or cars if 99% of your population is one paycheck from starvation.)

Empirically, we've seen China substantially industrialize, with a bunch of foreign companies either building factories there or buying stuff from locally-owned factories. The result looks to be a pretty huge increase in standard of living, from grinding awful poverty to something close to a first-world standard of living for a whole lot of Chinese. As best I can tell, this and the end of the cold war are the two best things that have happened in my lifetime.

#97 ::: dotless ı ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2017, 11:12 AM:

albatross@96: I suspect that standard of living compared to n years ago is imperfectly correlated with the anxiety in Teresa's points #10ff, which are more about feeling that one's current situation is precarious. For that, poverty only needs to be relative to the current context.

#98 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2017, 12:19 PM:

albatross: Poverty doesn't have to be common to be a threat. If losing your job means total ruin, the factory workers aren't going to negotiate no matter how few folks there are who "would be happy to have your job!"

#99 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2017, 01:01 PM:

re 94: I'm not that close a student of Marx either, but "joint stock corporation" is not the same thing as "private ownership". That's part of the reason I don't think that focusing on public vs. private, or even on ownership per se, gets at the issue well enough. What I see is that the details of ownership vs. control vs. responsibility matter a great deal.

Factories and to some large extent railroads are concrete things, but they aren't businesses, and there are plenty of the latter that have no concrete existence at all (e.g., a holding company which licenses out copyrighted works). Talking about "means of production" as if they were things is to some very large extent not true, never mind ownership. Ownership of a published tune is utterly a matter of social convention, after all.

I say all this not because these matters bear directly on the issue, but as a sign that the language shows all the marks of extrapolation of a man owning a factory and employing, saying, fifty or a hundred people who work directly for him well past where that image is accurate. The difference in scale between that factory and Charles Schwab is crucial to the way things work now.

Some article I read recently, probably in the Atlantic, pointed out that one of the things corporations do is defuse responsibility, and the way the exist now is designed to do that. But at the same time they also dissipate control at many junctures. Simply the sheer size of companies does some of that: the CEOs of whoever owns Safeway now cannot supervise my son's work there, and neither can people on plenty of levels below them; really, nobody below his particular store's management is even aware he exists. And I probably hold some infinitesimal ownership of that store, through mutual funds, but my ability to direct anything about how Safeway operates is negligible, not just because I don't own much, but because there are so many layers of ownership and management between me and that store. Or for that matter I am a direct owner of State Farm, but again my influence is very limited. That insulation is important to the system, because it makes CEOs into a class unto themselves, and in particular protects their exercise of power. They are key players in the game, and sure, to some degree they are employees; but it is they who hold the levers of power that figure here, not owners, who can do more than object to the exercise of those levers and get someone else. And what they get out of it is also different: they get precisely that exercise of power. They get money too, but in practice the correlation between that and performance is extremely sloppy-- as is generally the case in economics, classicists to the contrary.

My use of "collateral damage" was extremely cynical, but the point is this: the threat of unemployment is, after all, something that bosses wield, not owners in the large. Yeah, family-owned restaurants are hard on their employees, but it's the juxtaposition of ownership and management that does that; that juxtaposition is still very common, but the big money is elsewhere, and the social dynamics are very different.

#100 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2017, 03:52 PM:

C. Wingate @99

Yeah, they're different things. My point was that I think Marx saw them as closely-connected things that are both essential parts of the same structure. At the most reductive: I don't think you're actually arguing against his conception of capitalism, I think you're expanding on one aspect of it. (With, obviously, the benefit of an extra century to observe it.)

I agree that ownership vs. control matter a great deal. I think you're ignoring some areas where ownership and control overlap, however. Sure, owning a share of State Farm or Safeway means nothing, but that doesn't mean no one who owns those companies has any real power.

Someone with a 5% stake in the company, or someone who sits on the Board, is not limited to the choice of "agree with everything this CEO does or yank and replace them." They can certainly get a meeting with any executive they want, and whisper in their ear, and they are very likely to get results. (Not inevitably, of course: CEOs can and do take stands against factions of boards or shareholders.)

Re: unemployment. Just because I'm not holding the knife doesn't mean I don't have an interest in keeping it sharp. Look at it this way: let's say you own a bunch of mutual funds invested in shipbuilding. You don't buy any steel yourself, but the price of steel is connected to your financial wellbeing. Your new brother-in-law is a legislator, and he's on the fence about a bill that would reduce the price of steel 10%. Do you a) advise him to just flip a coin, because you don't sign any checks for steel so who cares? Or b) suggest that he vote for it, because even though you aren't a steel-buyer, you still benefit?

#101 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2017, 04:01 PM:

Albatross @96

Since poverty these days is so much better than serfdom... Do you have a boss? Does your boss ever do anything you don't like? Do you tell your boss where to shove it and storm out when that happens? If not, why not?

The important question is not so much "how shitty is it to be poor compared to other times or other worlds," but rather "how shitty is it to be poor, compared to being a bit less poor right here and right now."

You're right that small numbers of desperately poor people make a better threat than large numbers do. You might note that I said "worsening the lot of the poor" and "hurting the poor" serve the interests of the powerful, and did not claim that "increasing the numbers of the poor" serves those interests.

#102 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2017, 06:12 PM:

Devin, my brother-in-law is in fact an energy company CEO/board member, so I have some direct exposure to the kinds of pathologies some of these guys have. I also happen to have a close connection to one of Jay Gould's direct ancestors, who happens to be a pretty nice guy, but be that as it may.... My reading of things is that we get similarly bad results through a lack of systematic behavior based on a rather less calculatedly malicious mindset. There comes a point at which you need to show that, in the large, business owners at all scales act as they do because they think as you claim they do, I and see no hope of you showing that.

Of course you can make up situations in which you expect these people to misbehave. But how is that particular case relevant to the other pathologies you are claiming these people have? How many major corporations do have a single investor who is a person who is inclined to take that level of interest in the way things are run? How much of the economy is driven by such closely run companies? How many investors can supervise a company that closely? Extrapolating the family-run restaurant (which IS often ruin on this sort of basis) to conglomerates dominated by institutional investors will not do.

Here's the thing: what I'm seeing is that sheer organizational size creates supervisory vacuums, and by extension allows individuals access to both power and corruption. Communism as it was actually executed showed that; the Catholic Church shows that. And beyond that, wealth isn't the only thing people want, and in particular, powerful people tend to want, most of all, their power.

There's an angle in which this whole thing comes across to me as a rationalization for replacing supposedly evil, tyrannical business owners with supposedly enlightened socialist bureaucrats. But since the latter occupy the exact same positions as the old CEOs, it is reasonable to expect them to misbehave in the same ways. And the history is, they do. It seems to me that the enlightened social democracies of Western Europe are able to rise above this on the basis of a shared culture in which it is easy to bring pressures to bear against misbehavior. We clearly lack that in this country now, so how do we get it?

#103 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2017, 09:12 PM:

On thinking it over I was rather too accusatory in the last paragraph of what I wrote, so let me try a different tack on it. I'm looking at the original statements and following discussion as something of a thought experiment. For me, it isn't working; first, because the direct evidence of such a conspiracy is lacking, and second, because I don't think the system is capable of supporting it anyway.

More perhaps later....

#104 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2017, 06:44 AM:

C. Wingate

I'm actually not sure what pathologies I'm apparently claiming CEOs and/or owners of businesses have. I think the only actual claim I made was that damage to the poor wasn't "collateral," which was less a claim of intention than a simple cui bono argument. Maybe it's an unintended byproduct, but it's an unintended but useful byproduct and they ain't fixed the machine to stop spitting it out, so they must like it and by now it's fair to hold them responsible. (See Lee's comment #63, very relevant to this point.)

I would point out that we managed to start and then maintain a massively racist drug war on ostensibly colorblind terms for decades, so obviously our system DOES permit this sort of nobody-quite-says-the-words-outloud-in-public-but-somehow-the-message-gets-passed non-conspiracy. (I mean, I don't think every cop in America got in the same smoke-filled room/hangar back in 1971 and secretly decided, out loud, to make the War on Drugs way racist. But it is, in ways that go way past "shit in America is usually kinda racist," and it was (secretly, in a smoke-filled room) intended to be all along, and that conspiracy works even though most of the conspirators never have secret conspiracy-meetings). Hell, the voter-sheriff and voter-DA relationships even work much like the shareholder-CEO one, in some respects.

If you want to hash out some of the ways that conspiracy functions, I'm game. It might be illuminating. I think the ways capitalism maintains an unjust society are both broader and murkier, too large to see the outline of from our viewpoint within the structure and further obscured by clouds of hegemony, and thus much harder to talk about in any kind of concrete manner.

#105 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2017, 11:25 AM:


Using the word "conspiracy" for a situation where the participants neither know their a part of it nor intend the results bends the word all out of shape.

There are a lot of situations where we get emergent behavior from a group that wasn't intended by any member of the group. On the good side, we get markets that clear and incentivize people to make socially helpful decisions about resource use. On the bad side, we get tragedies of the commons. In both cases, there's not a conspiracy, there's a mechanism by which a bunch of individuals pursuing their own interests collectively bring about some goal none of them were seeking.

#106 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2017, 01:49 PM:

The predominant political-economic philosophy in modern America strongly resembles the cult of the Roman Goddess Fortuna.

1. Wealth and success are due to work, virtue and luck.
2. Luck is the favor of the Goddess.
3. To bestow additional rewards upon the successful is to court the Goddess.
4. To have an advantage and fail to fully use it is to spurn the favor of the Goddess.
5. Inequality is essential. In order for there to be winners there must be losers.
6. A person without virtue invites ill-fortune. (A political leader without virtue risks bringing ill-fortune down upon society.)
7. It is vitally important for society to enforce morality and diligence amongst the people.
8. Since poor people and the minorities are obviously unfortunate, whatever they are doing must be immoral somehow.
9. To reward the unfortunate and immoral is to invite the wrath of the Goddess.

Of course, the cult as practiced in America is not exactly as it was done in Rome. The followers mostly don't know about Fortuna and think they are Christians. The moral framework is Calvinist. But it makes sense that Americans would unconsciously recreate the cult of Fortuna. Like Rome, America is extraordinarily fortunate but the fortune is just not very evenly distributed.

#107 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2017, 03:35 PM:

Albatross @105

I was responding to C. Wingate, who was using "conspiracy" in a certain way. One might notice that on first reference I explained what sort of communication was involved and denoted it a "non-conspiracy."

I agree that, taken out of context as you did, my use in my comment #104 is strange. Maybe don't take it out of context, I guess?

However, it should be abundantly clear even just from that comment in isolation that I do NOT think the results are accidental and unintended, just that they are not formally organized and have no plaque bearing a mission statement. Characterizing the results as "some goal none of them were seeking" or "[un]intended by any member of the group" is frankly bizarre. If anything, that's akin to the position Citizen Wingate took which I was arguing against.

I do not think it is mere happenstance that the War on Drugs came down hard on young black men and very lightly on coked-up white bankers or stoned frat boys. I do not think that was a roll of the dice that could have come out the other way, even though there was no formal meeting where Nixon explained his desire to put the boot in his enemies and a thousand police chiefs agreed.

I do not think that, even if hurting the poor is initially accidental, executives really sit around after board meetings and go "yeah, it really sucks that wages are so low. I wish I had to pay more for labor. If only we'd known our actions would have these effects, we'd never have voted Republican, and then we'd be able to raise our costs and reduce profits."

If these examples were authentic tragedies of the commons, genuinely unintended and regretted, akin to, say, overfishing... You'd expect to see some of that, right?

#108 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2017, 03:36 PM:

C. Wingate # 102 writes:
"I also happen to have a close connection to one of Jay Gould's direct ancestors, who happens to be a pretty nice guy."

Also an extreme macrobe.

#109 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2017, 10:03 AM:

C. Wingate, #102:

"How many major corporations do have a single investor who is a person who is inclined to take that level of interest in the way things are run? How much of the economy is driven by such closely run companies?"

I don't know if I'm answering a rhetorical question, but quite a lot do. Aside from the obvious flashy tech-billionaire types running Google, Apple, Tesla, Microsoft et al, there are the Waltons, the Kochs, Buffett & Munger at Berkshire, some number of Duponts, and so forth.

I did a little math and around 20% of wealth in the stock market is in ten companies and seven of them, far as I can tell, are pretty much run by one or two people who are heavily invested. Almost all of them are founders.

THE MATH: The S&P 500 makes up something like 90% of the market cap in the US, and ten companies make up 20% of the S&P market cap. as of that article. Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Berkshire Hathaway, Amazon are pretty much in the hands of the first or second generation of owners, and I don't know about J&J, Exxon, GE or Wells Fargo. And Berkshire owns about 10% of Wells Fargo, so ... seven.

GE and J&J's largest holders are index funds and ETF's (if there's even a difference between those), it turns out.

#110 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2017, 05:04 PM:

Devin, #101: Precisely. Just because other people have (or have had) it worse than you does not mean that your pain is illusory or should be disregarded.

The argument albatross is making here is a very familiar one.
"Why are feminists upset about how women in America are treated? They should be worried about women in Saudi Arabia!"
"Black people should just be grateful that they're not slaves any more!"
"Eat your vegetables, there are starving children in China who would love to have them!"

Over on the DFD threads, we call that "playing the Oppression Olympics" when someone does it to you. And we spend a significant amount of time reassuring people that even though someone else has it worse, that doesn't mean that what you're experiencing isn't bad.

#111 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2017, 07:01 PM:

re 109: The duPont family has nobody listed on the board, and I would guess they haven't controlled the company in my lifetime. Who controls it? Well, apparently outsider "investors". It's not quite as extreme for Walmart but again the family appears to be pretty diluted by now. It's a bit harder to figure out how much MS governance is diluted. We can all come up with examples where a very small group of like-minded people have pretty much absolute control over a company, but what percentage of people work for such a company? If it's high, it's more likely because of large numbers of small companies (e.g. restaurants/franchises) rather than a pervasive pattern among the large. I'm also looking at Berkshire Hathaway, and while Warren Buffett bought See's Candies as one of his first diversifications, it is something that can be run directly by one person in a way that Geico or for heavens sake BNSF cannot (Dagny Taggart notwithstanding); also, looking up UP I see that it is mostly owned by "institutional" investors-- as is MS. This latter pattern, I suspect, is far more common.

Looking at it in terms of capitalization is extremely misleading, BTW; the whole point of the Market Watch article is that the capitalization of these tech companies is unreal. There is no way in hell that if Google were abruptly dissolved, that people would get their investment back. that's been an issue with tech company capitalization from the start, and why we had a dot com bubble. Or if you want to look at it in terms of capitalization per employee, those Google worker bees are insanely valuable.

#112 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2017, 07:45 PM:

"institutional" investors

Mutual funds and retirement funds, the kind of people who prefer consistent performance to a couple of spectacular quarters and then bankruptcy (or delisting and becoming penny stocks).

#113 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2017, 03:43 AM:

Lee @ #110:

Although with the right (wrong?) child, the "think of the starving children in Africa" gambit can misfire spectacularly. I hazily recall one dinner when I was about 5 or 6, when I'd grown sufficiently tired of hearing this, that I'd prepared (and left in my room) a cardboard box with "To the starving children of Africa" on it and the very next time it happened, I dashed off, grabbed my box and shoveled all food on my plate into it, then saying "now I want to go to the post office and send it to them!".

#114 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2017, 07:43 AM:

Ingvar M, I tried something similar when I was a kid (although not with an actual box; I admire your foresight there); I just said something like "well, why don't we send this to them, then?"

I got spanked and sent to my room for lipping off to my elders. I hope you had a less traumatic result.

#115 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2017, 08:58 AM:

Cassy B @ #114:

My memory says it resulted in a quick chat about "lack of addressees called 'starving children in Africa'", "food spoilage", and the time it would take the package to get there, if it would've been possible to send. Then I was told to not do that again.

#116 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2017, 09:25 AM:

TomB @106: May I quote you elsewhere? If so, under what byline?

(email me at 2ells2tees - at - gmail if you don't want to give a different nym publicly)

#117 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2017, 10:03 AM:

Elliott Mason @116: Of course you may. I'd prefer to preserve the illusion of pseudonymity, so "TomB" (on ML), if that will do.

#118 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2017, 10:24 AM:

Ingvar M @115: From the Department of So Missing the Point. :-) (Or maybe just "casually" ignoring it.)

#119 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2017, 02:21 PM:

Lee #110:

You said:
The argument albatross is making here is a very familiar one.

"Why are feminists upset about how women in America are treated? They should be worried about women in Saudi Arabia!"
"Black people should just be grateful that they're not slaves any more!"
"Eat your vegetables, there are starving children in China who would love to have them!"

Can you maybe point out the post where I'm making that argument?

#120 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2017, 02:25 PM:

Ingvar #115:

The fun part of this is that the objection you raised (and lots of other kids raised) to this line of guilting you into cleaning your plate leads pretty cleanly to the actual reason why the guilt routine doesn't make any sense--whether you eat the food now on your plate or not has nothing at all to do with whether those hungry children in China get anything to eat.

#121 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2017, 03:17 PM:

Devin 107:

Sorry about that--I somehow missed that you were explicitly saying "not-a-conspiracy" above and didn't realize you were using the term ironically later in the post.

Rereading your last couple posts, one place I think we disagree is that I suspect that most of the bad outcomes in our society are not primarily driven by powerful people wanting them, consciously or not. (And that's also true for most of the good outcomes.)

For example, there are a lot of homeless people on the streets, and that's partly the result of specific policies people enacted. But I don't see any reason to think that there are or were many people involved in those policies that *wanted* to see the streets fill up with homeless people. They wanted to massively decrease the number of people involuntarily committed to mental institutions for humanitarian or civil-liberties reasons. They wanted to spend less tax dollars on those mental institutions so they could spend it on their own goals. Civil liberties considerations that seem pretty sensible, and that were decided on by judges for what seemed to them to be good reasons, made it hard (at least officially) to have the cops run people out of town or arrest them for vagrancy or begging. Health and safety regulations raised the cost of housing to something a lot higher than you'd have found a century ago in lots of US cities (think flophouses)--those rules were passed partly for humanitarian reasons, partly for public-health reasons, and partly for NIMBY/improve the property values reasons. And so on.

The result is that cities all across the US have large populations of homeless people living on the streets.

I suspect that most of the broken parts of our society are like this. There's some problem, and maybe there's nobody who has a strong incentive to fix it and also has the power to fix it. Or maybe the way decisions are made makes it hard to fix (like if you have some problem where half the solution would be a federal issue and half would be a state issue). Or maybe the problem is just hard to fix.

There are broken things in our society that probably are driven by powerful people wanting them that way. For example, I'd say the extremely deferential way big banks are regulated and investigated for crimes is probably the result of some very powerful and wealthy people at the top of those banks using their influence. And again, there are plenty of side effects nobody wants--probably there's more instability and fraud in the economy (which most powerful people don't like) because the bankers have made themselves very hard to regulate.

#122 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2017, 05:50 PM:

albatross: over and over it is shown that the safest, cheapest, and most effective (at making them permanently non-homeless and employed) strategy is simply to give homeless people living space.

Right now there are two empty, foreclosed properties for every individual homeless person in the United States.

And yet, housing them is politically impossible, because of the widespread worship of Fortuna that says if we just GAVE them stuff they'd never WORK again.

#123 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2017, 05:53 PM:

Shorter me: if they actually wanted homeless people to become productive members of society and contribute financially to the economy, they'd follow evidence-based measures.

Instead, they don't want to pay to institutionalize, they don't want to pay for drug treatment, they don't want to pay for any social safety net at all, but they want to pay police to keep shoving helpless citizens out of sight so everyone can pretend there's no problem.

Supremely inhumane. And each step in the chain claims it's not THEIR fault, that THEY are good people!

At what point do you look at the outcome, and all the people who refuse to change it, and stop believing their claims of empathy?

Callous disregard, at minimum, combined with "But nothing IIII could do would CHAAAANGE it!"

It would. It can. If we actually admit the causal chains.

This isn't about "demonizing" people or "blaming" them. It's about pointing out that we have responsibility for our society, and that if we really want to save money we should do things shown, over long periods in many places, to achieve our stated goals for less money.

If we instead keep punishing the poor for being poor (even when it demonstrably costs us money), then I think "saving money" isn't actually the goal.

#124 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2017, 08:24 PM:

C. Wingate @111

There is a du Pont on the Du Pont board, actually. Second row, center.

The Walton family retains a controlling interest in Walmart. It's not even diluted by parceling out to the grandkids, for that matter: 40% of the company is held by one LLC. Whoever has the proxy for that bloc might as well be Mister Walmart. They also have three out of fifteen board seats, including the chair.

Aside from those matters of fact, it seems like you're now arguing in circles. Thesis: Companies can't be run in a centralized way. Counterexample: many are structured in exactly that manner. Response: ah, but that must be just for appearances or something, don't you know that companies can't be run that way?

Clearly no large operation can centralize all decisionmaking: even a family-run restaurant will have to let somebody else call some shots if they're going to open a second location. That doesn't mean all large organizations are totally unanswerable to their ostensible leaders. (Or if it does, we should probably blame some sergeant for ordering our invasion of Iraq, since George Bush clearly had no power to actually influence the military, not through all those layers of other decisionmakers.)

#125 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2017, 08:37 PM:

Albatross @121

Appreciated. I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on intentionality. Though perhaps with the note that I'm not talking about premeditation in most cases. We have evidence of that for the War on Drugs, mind, but I suspect it's the exception and that you're right about how most of this stuff starts. That doesn't mean it continues without somebody looking at the results and going "yeah, that works for me, keep doing it." And it doesn't mean I have even a grain of sympathy for someone given resources to fix it and spending them poorly because "it just didn't seem right to give houses away," say: Elliot Mason is absolutely correct on that score. Same goes for the sort of person who'd support (politically or financially) the less-effective effort on those grounds.

#126 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2017, 10:43 PM:

Part of privilege is not having to feel responsible for all the advantages that benefit you.

#127 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2017, 11:50 PM:

This is hopeful.
Summary: NYPD has completely revamped the training program for new officers, and is now emphasizing the human connection with their community and teaching de-escalation tactics.

albatross, #119: Pretty much the entirety of your #96 reads as "See how much BETTER OFF poor people are now?" I don't know if that's what you meant, but it's effectively what you said.

And @121: I suspect that most of the bad outcomes in our society are not primarily driven by powerful people wanting them, consciously or not.

Take a good look at Elliott's two responses. At what point are you willing to consider that a deliberate refusal to take actions which are already known to fix Bad Outcome X indicates that Bad Outcome X is in fact actively wanted? This is really not a case of "If only the Tsar knew!" -- the Tsar does know, and does nothing, and (more to the point) argues vigorously against doing anything.

#128 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2017, 12:07 AM:

Sandy B @ 109: The S&P 500 makes up something like 90% of the market cap in the US. The last time I asked Vanguard (who should know, because they do S&P, midrange, small, and total-market index funds) I was told that the correct figure was 64%. This may have changed in the last 3 years, but probably not far; it had been right around there for at least the 10 years that I was paying attention.

#129 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2017, 09:08 AM:

Lee 127:

In #96, I was pointing out that if the powerful want the workers to be worse off (hungrier, poorer, more miserable), they're doing a bad job of it, because people aren't poorer now than they were 30 or 50 or 100 years ago. This is true, even though the powerful and wealthy have done very well for themselves in other ways, have visibly warped (say) banking regulations to favor their interests, etc. That seems like counterexample to the claim that the powerful both want more misery and are acting to get it.

Elliot #122:

Can you point to someplace that has successfully implemented this strategy and resolved the problems with homelessness? Off the top of my head, it seems like both very liberal places (San Francisco) and very conservative ones (Salt Lake City) have a lot of homeless people wandering around.

#130 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2017, 09:28 AM:

Lee 127:

I guess the other thing that strikes me is that I see a pretty big difference between:

Case #1: I want problem X to exist because it serves my interests, and so I take actions and spend resources to bring it about.

Case #2: I am slightly sad about problem X, but since it doesn't land much on me or my interests, I don't take actions and spend resources to resolve it.

I think this difference is especially salient when we're talking, not about the president or the Czar making decisions from on high, but rather about the informal paths of influence in our society.

Here's a simple model of how I see this working: There is a highway that is being planned, perhaps one that's not really even needed. There's a rich neighborhood full of well-connected people, and a poor neighborhood full of people who don't know anyone with any power. The first proposed path of the highway runs through the backyards of the people in the rich neighborhood. The rich people push back on these plans--they call their congressmen, threaten lawsuits, talk to the press, etc. Eventually, the highway department changes their planned path to run through the poor neighborhood instead. The poor people don't like this either, but they're much less effective at protesting, and they end up with the highway running through their backyards.

The rich people didn't sit around plotting to put a marginally-necessary highway through the backyards of a bunch of poor people--they just used their connections and influence to keep that highway out of their own backyards.

I think this is an analogy for how a lot of social problems work in the US--problems that land on people with some influence become visible to the press and legal system and political system, and they're often solved. Problems that land on people with less influence are a whole lot less likely to become visible to the press and legal system and political system, and so they're often not solved.

Homelessness, bad schools for poor black and brown kids, high urban crime--all those look to me to follow this pattern.

#131 ::: estelendur ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2017, 09:59 AM:

albatross @129: I don't have time to find citations, but I suspect that the data on housing homeless people comes from small studies run by independently funded non-profits, and has never been tried on a city level, because even very liberal places such as San Francisco can be primarily controlled by people who, while they believe in and preach compassion for the poor and downtrodden, still aren't willing to "shut up and multiply" to find out what the correct action to take is -- and it's really not fair to just give housing to homeless people when there are working poor who can barely afford rent, is it? No, we can't give away housing to the working poor -- think of the landlords and how hard they'd push back, and besides there's not enough property... And we don't want to drive down property values even further by housing dirty addicts in neighborhoods that were nice before the recession, do we? and on, and on. In short, we have empirical data of some kind but we may never get a chance to test it, because the solution it suggests offends the moral or practical sensibilities of enough people that they would... write to their senators, threaten lawsuits, talk to the press, etc.

I live in an extremely liberal town that's also quite classist. As I said: we preach compassion for the poor and downtrodden, but G-d forbid we do anything to lower the cost of living in the city. The poors can live in [neighboring cheaper town]; that's what buses are for. I don't like it, but it won't change overnight. (And it's not like there are foreclosed properties within bus distance to put the homeless in. If there were any, they have all been snapped up by landlords to rent to students and the working poor, or demolished to replace with luxury apartments for rich students.)

#132 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2017, 11:41 AM:

The phrase to find information on housing homeless people is "Housing First." Here's one link. There are others. Most projects I've read about (but I'm not deeply read) has tended to focus on specific populations, e.g. homeless veterans or vulnerable groups. I don't know if anyone has tried it for an entire city.

#133 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2017, 01:02 PM:

Elliot, albatross, estelendur, OtterB"

Amsterdam has had a specific policy of helping homeless people into accommodation and onto benefits. (English links)

It's effective and, according to the city, cost-efficient. And it's certainly true that there are very few people sleeping rough in Amsterdam. I can think of maybe three times I've seen places showing evidence of habitation in the 10 years I've been around the city.

#134 ::: estelendur ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2017, 01:10 PM:

abi @133: Oh! That is very cool.

(Shame on me for reflexively considering only the institutional psychology of the United States.)

#135 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2017, 05:35 PM:

An outline for overcoming America's backward turn. Notice particularly what it doesn't rely on.

#136 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2017, 05:48 PM:

albatross @129: Salt Lake City (not a city known for liberalism) has had drastically positive results. A 91% reduction in chronic homelessness. is only one article covering the strategy. If you google "housing first homeless" you'll get a lot of discussion of it being tried lots of places.

Other jurisdictions have tried it as well, but the researchers presenting results are generally shut down by political forces insisting that homeless people "getting something for free" cannot possibly be spent on.

Even if it drops emergency room and police expenses precipitously, thereby saving the city more money than it cost ...

#137 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2017, 05:54 PM:

albatross, #129: How do you reconcile this argument with the recent (as in, the last 8 or 9 years) spate of actions specifically aimed at making things worse for the poor? And before you ask, I'm talking about things like deep cuts to social-assistance programs and laws making it a crime to feed homeless people.

and @130: This is a nearly canonical illustration of "intent is not magic". It doesn't matter whether your disregard for the poor stems from active malice or callous indifference, the results are the same.

And, reiterating, to the extent that said callous indifference arises from the notion that the only way to get those lazy bastards to get off their asses and work is to make poverty as onerous as possible... that counts as active malice.

Successful Housing First projects in Charlotte, NC and Utah.

#138 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2017, 05:54 PM:

albatross @129: Also, are you seriously saying that workers (upper working, lower and mid middle classes, economically speaking) are better off now than 20, 30, 50 years ago?

With a straight face?

Every economic indicator in the US shows that incomes and living standards for everyone in the bottom 3/5ths of the income scatter have dropped, between a plummet and a few percentage points down, just since 2005, and strongly since 1995 or 1940. There was an upward blip in the late-80s-to-early-90s, but it was short lived because tax cuts were implemented and the income continued to move upwards.

Study after study, graph after graph.

Yes, the workers are worse off. And getting worse every 5 years. There's a reason a unionized factory worker could afford to be the single wage-earner in his family, raise three kids, and send them all to college in the early 70s. Well, several reasons. But largely to do with concerted regulatory and tax actions that compound and compound to take away protections and lower wages.

#139 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2017, 06:09 PM:

My 138: Working living standards certainly rose between 1940 and sometime in the 60s or 70s. But today is below 1940 standards.

#140 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2017, 07:28 PM:

How subtle class cues can backfire on your resume.

Researchers at Harvard conducted a classic "blind test" in which prestigious law schools were mailed fictitious applications for internships. The resumes were identical except for 2 areas: male or female name, and what varieties of extracurricular activities the "student" had engaged in, where there were subtle indicators of socio-economic class.

Unsurprisingly, male upper-class "students" did much better than any other group overall. The surprise is that female upper-class "students" did least well, although the differences between them and middle-class "students" of either gender are not very large.

The researchers went on to schedule FTF interviews with representatives of those law firms, asking them to verbally evaluate various resumes. Again unsurprisingly, women are viewed as "commitment risks", likely to leave their jobs either for lower-paying social-justice work or for family reasons.

This is why we need feminism.

#141 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2017, 11:51 PM:

Something I just realized that ties heavily into the argument about providing housing for the homeless.

HOMELESS PEOPLE CANNOT VOTE. Because in order to register to vote, you have to have a permanent address. (Technically by law, homeless people are allowed to vote in the Presidential election -- but how often do you think that's going to be enforced?)

If you provide housing for the homeless, you give them a permanent address, and now they can register to vote. Which means that fighting against Housing First projects also supports the Republican voter-suppression strategy.

I don't think there's any legitimate way to discount that connection.

#142 ::: Race Traitor Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2017, 07:44 PM:

Courts have ruled that you can list a park bench as an address. This is specifically so homeless people can vote.

#143 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2017, 02:49 PM:

The city in which I live sent around a questionnaire asking what, in our opinions, was the thing they should concentrate on to best help the homeless. I returned mine saying that the answer was contained in the question; what the homeless need most is *homes* (duh). I attached the sites of some "tiny homes" organizations and references to nearby cities where there are some tiny homes developments. I have no idea whether they have made up their minds, up there in the rarefied air of the city council meetings.

But I'm still kind of amazed that the question had to be asked.

How times change! Twenty or so years ago, there was a a "finish this sentence" contest in a local newspaper. The sentence was "[City] is the kind of place where...", and one of the winners was "[City] is the kind of place where there is only one panhandler, and everyone knows her name."

So. I have avoided saying where I live for years, but now I've done it. If anyone else here lives in my [City], get in touch. We can have coffee.

#144 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2017, 06:18 PM:

How to get a personal VPN, and why you need one now.

Since the online privacy laws have been completely dismantled, this is your best bet for keeping ISPs from selling your information to anyone with the money to pay.

Xopher, #142: Again, how often and how vigorously is this going to be enforced? Especially in states like Texas, where feeding the homeless is now a crime?

#146 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2017, 10:58 AM:

A demonstration of how isolated from owner pressure even small joint stock companies can be and at the same time, investors can do a great deal of damage.

The common thread in both of these stories is how the people running the business find their interests in opposition to those of the owners who are supposed to be benefiting from their management. In the first case, management is absorbing an outsized share of corporate income; in the second the raiders are destroying the future of the company in favor of some short term gain.

Milton Friedman's notorious NYT opinion piece, so widely adopted as inarguable principle, has put us so far past both moral reasoning and business foresight that I wonder if the situation is unrecoverable. Everyone knows I don't believe the proffered scenario, but the main reason I don,t if it isn't already clear, is that I don't think wealth and power are capable of carrying it out. Venality means they cannot work together, and it also pits them against each other.

The biggest progressive vs. wealth class warfare problem is that the former want to impose adult responsibility on the latter. Well, OK, on one level it's inarguable, but on the other, it's obviously a problematic social dynamic.

#147 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2017, 02:15 PM:

[Coming back after a long drop-out for want of time and spoons]

C Wingate #146:

It seems like Friedman's position kind-of comes down to the question of whether your moral obligations are defined by the role you're in (especially one where people are trusting you to represent their interests), or some larger moral calculation.

Imagine a defense attorney who knows her client is guilty and will, if released, almost certainly go out and commit more crimes. Should she:

a. Do everything in his power to get her client off, consistent with the law?


b. Shade that a bit to try to make sure this dangerous guy gets taken off the streets?

This is a little like the corporate management/social responsibility question, because in both cases, you get this split between:

a. Do your job, fulfill your role, uphold your duty to the people you're supposed to represent.


b. Consider some broader moral goals, even when that hurts the interests of the people you're supposed to represent.

Now, one argument for treating these two cases differently might be that the legal system only works when we have defense attorneys working as hard as they can for their clients. But then, Friedman would probably have said something similar about large corporations where the management and the shareholders have little interaction[1]. And indeed, the agency problem is a big deal in companies, and managers routinely do things that amount to spending the shareholders' money for the managers' benefit.

I'm not sure how to resolve this. My own moral intuition is that the defense attorney should do the best job she can representing her client, and that the corporate manager should at least incorporate some additional moral reasoning into his decisions[2]. But I'm not sure how I'd argue the difference.

[1] On the other hand, I strongly suspect that most instances of obvious "corporate social responsibility" amount to the CEO building monuments to himself or using charitable donations as part of his PR strategy to recover from some scandal.

[2] At the very least, I'd like managers to avoid doing profitable things for which their moral intuition, if they weren't managers, would be "this really ought to be illegal, but the legislature doesn't understand it/is too inept/is too captured by business interests."

#148 ::: estelendur ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2017, 03:21 PM:

albatross @147: I note that the historical prevalence of people being considered dangerous hardened criminals for doing things I consider morally defensible is much higher than I should like, even if not objectively high -- I would be upset if I were, say, a prostitute and I got a defense lawyer who took position (b) and also considered prostitution intrinsically harmful to society. Similarly if I were a non-violent protester engaging in civil disobedience against a law I considered unjust, defended by someone who was a hardline proponent of that law. I do not trust the government* to protect the powerless, unless it is thus constrained by law.

I don't know enough about business to make a clear and informed comparison on this level. My vague and uneducated intuition, though, is that the similarly prevalent business problem is to overfocus on the duty to the shareholders at the expense of employees and customers (and the public as a whole, sometimes). I do not trust business to attend to the interests of the powerless, unless it is thus constrained by law.

* That is, I do not trust government as a whole, over the long game and across many administrations.

#149 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2017, 04:03 PM:

estelendur #148:

I hadn't thought about the issue of whether the crime itself should even be a crime, which is something we might not all agree on. (You could imagine this from the policeman's side--if he thinks laws against pot are silly, should he arrest people smoking pot anyway?)

To simplify the issue, we might imagine a crime that we'd all agree is horrible--maybe murdering strangers for fun or something. Should the defense attorney intentionally throw the trial, when she's convinced her client is guilty and will likely go back to murdering people if released?

I don't know that I can make a very strong argument for my position, but I think it would be a bad thing for her to throw the trial. Similarly, I think it would be bad for a doctor to intentionally kill the criminal, even if the doctor is 100% convinced he's a genuine Manson-level monster.

Further, I think that in almost all cases, it would be bad for a scientist to misrepresent his results or for a journalist to tilt her reporting to lie or be deceptive, even to achieve some valuable goal. (Even assuming I agree with their goal.)

#150 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2017, 08:43 PM:

I remember seeing an interview with a defense attorney that discussed the question of what he did when he was defending someone who was obviously guilty of a horrible crime. He was very firm that it was his duty to do his job to the best of his ability -- not just in spite of wanting the guy off the streets, but because of it.

The best way to see that happen, as I recall his explanation, is to make sure the trial establishes clearly that the guy is guilty and leaves no room for him or anyone else to cast doubt on the outcome. And the role of the defense attorney in that is to find the gaps in the prosecution's case so that the prosecution can fix them before the culprit escapes through one of them.

Throwing the trial might work in the short term to get the guy off the streets, but in the longer view it's hugely counterproductive: not just leaving a gap in the outcome but making a fresh gap and handing the guy a crowbar labeled "I've been the victim of a miscarriage of justice".

#151 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2017, 12:39 AM:

Friedman's statement has to get past two rather substantial objections, both of which it fails IMO. First, it's not an economic statement; it's a moral statement about who deserves payment more. On that level it is eminently arguable, but the other objection is worse: a much stranger case can be made that the first obligation is to the survival of the corporation. That's shown rather abundantly by the history of implementing his notion: it has inspired a lot of destructive acts in the name of short-term gains.

#152 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2017, 08:12 AM:

WRT to the "should it be a crime" issue, It's worth noting that there are traditionally two parties in a trial who get to kick back against the law. One of them is the judge, who can declare a law unconstitutional. The other is more controversial, which is the jury: A jury has the functional capability to find a defendant "not guilty" regardless of evidence.

Doing this as a disagreement with the law is called "jury nullification", but it is currently deeply frowned on; jurors are not instructed in this capability, and I have heard of judges "setting aside" jury verdicts. (I don't know how such cases come out in appeal.) And before anyone declares that sure, juries should nullify any pot or prostitution case, consider that the tactic has also been used in cases of lynching, fag-bashing, marital rape, and similar abuses.

Paul A. has solidly described the argument for defense attorneys maintaining a moral stance based on their role. Sometimes defense attorneys (including public defenders) do request that the judge find someone else for the defense, but AIUI this is mostly when the defendant sabotages their own defense, or is abusive toward the defense attorney.

Official "outs" like these reflect a pragmatic principle which is often recognized in the law, which is that the law isn't always perfect, and a law which inspires direct defiance even among those who are expected to implement it, might actually be problematic. Then too, you can't actually coerce someone's moral judgement, only punish them for acting wrongly.

The ultimate limit for such binding duties is the same option reflected by civil disobedience: There can be times when a person finds it necessary to abandon the normal restrictions and/or duties of their role or position, in order to follow what they consider a higher imperative. However, having done so, they should not expect the legal system to defer to their personal judgment; The price of placing your own judgment above society's, is facing society's retaliation.

#153 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2017, 09:59 AM:


Jury nullification seems like another instance of this same tension--my role is to apply the law to the facts of this case as best I can, but I may believe that violating my role would lead to a better outcome. I think the jury nullification *movement* wants to explicitly tell jurors that their role includes judging whether the law is just as it's being applied in this case. I don't know whether this would work better or worse than the current system, in practice. (Among other things, it's not clear how much it would affect anything, since something like 95% of criminal cases are resolved by plea bargaining.)

Re civil disobedience: I see civil disobedience as a political strategy, not a moral imperative, and not the only way one can morally ignore an unjust law. The problem is, society can make its retaliation so harsh that nobody dares try it. (Imagine trying civil disobedience against the unjust laws of the Soviet Union under Stalin.)

#154 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2017, 10:25 AM:

See, for example, the people arguing that health insurance coverage should be restricted to people who live "good lives", and not to people who the think are living "wrong". Many of said people are in he current maladministration, and none of them seem to believe in accidents, bad luck, or genetic predispositions.

#155 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2017, 10:29 AM:

C Wingate:

I don't think Friedman's position in the linked article is opposed to long-term thinking on the part of the managers. I think his whole point is that managers are working as agents of the shareholders, and their actions should be guided by that job, and not by some external social goals. That is, they should do their best to represent the interests of the shareholders by making the company profitable, rather than shading that in order to accomplish some socially desirable goal like lowering inflation.

I think people have simplified/corrupted his argument here into "maximize the current share price over all other concerns," and sometimes, that's actually the requirement for the CEO to keep his job. But I don't think that's quite what he was arguing for.

His argument for mangers being honest agents of shareholders is partly moral, and partly economic.

The moral side is that if you're the CEO of a company, you're in the role of a manager of the day-to-day operations of the company, on behalf of the owners (shareholders). To give out charity from the company's resources is taking someone else's resources (those of the shareholders) to give to a charity you like. It's in the same category as taking the shareholders' resources to get yourself an extra-fancy company jet[1] or to give your nephew and your mistress a cushy job doing nothing.

The economic side comes down to the socialist calculation debate. Basically, there's pretty good reason to think that the CEO of a steel company knows a lot about making steel, and there are good mechanisms for him to find out if he's doing a good job or not. There's not so much reason to think the CEO can accomplish broad social goals effectively--in Friedman's example, he probably doesn't know what actions of his would be most likely to decrease inflation. More broadly, he probably isn't all that great at figuring out whether his socially beneficial actions are actually doing more good than harm. Did his decision to build the new factory in the middle of a ghetto bring convenient jobs to a lot of poor people, or make a bunch of poor people live with a smelly loud factory along with their other problems[2]?

[1] This raises another possibility--the social responsibility actions of a company can be effectively part of the compensation package for employees. I think this is explicitly true of some companies, like Google.

[2] This is actually a constant problem with government and charitable attempts to make the world better--it's hard to measure the benefits. Probably a lot of government programs started with the best of intentions do more harm than good in the long run as a result.

#156 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2017, 10:37 AM:

One of the problems with the "defense attorney throws case for bad guy" point of view is that it is the job of the prosecution to prove the case for that particular crime.

Taking the case of a serial killer, as has been bandied about, it doesn't matter if the prosecutor and defense thinks the defendant is a serial killer, or have good reasons to believe that they have killed others and will likely kill again. What matters is if the prosecutor can prove to the courts that the suspect killed the specific victim(s) they are trying. It is a proper result if John Wayne Gacy is acquitted of killing JFK, no matter how bad Gacy was.

Dave Harmon @152:

In the US at least, judges cannot set aside jury acquittals. What the judge can do is declare that the evidence as presented cannot support a guilty verdict. Judges typically won't do it unless asked by the defense, and even then, the standard procedure is for the defense to ask for it before jury deliberations, be denied, and then ask for it again after the jury convicts (if the jury acquits, the judge then doesn't have to get involved).

I suspect that a verdict set aside is appealable, since the appeal is questioning the judgement of the judge, not the jury.

#157 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2017, 09:01 PM:

Poster with charts that summarize where all the prisoners are in the US, and what they're in for.

#158 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2017, 09:31 PM:

albatross @157: Fascinating chart, and they actually include (only very slightly hidden) the sources for all their information: I applaud them for that transparency. Thank you for pointing me to it!

#159 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2017, 03:47 PM:

More random open threadiness: Freddie DeBoer has an education blog that is very much worth reading. It's basically what newspaper coverage of education would look like, if the reporters were numerate and weren't trying frantically to hammer the world into the narrative their editors or readers expect.

#160 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2017, 06:04 PM:

I'm glad Avedon Carol introduced me to the term "Cheap Labor Conservatives." I suppose there are other kinds. In theory.

#161 ::: slope ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2017, 04:33 AM:

Friedman's statement has to get past two rather substantial objections, both of which it fails IMO. First, it's not an economic statement; it's a moral statement about who deserves payment more. On that level it is eminently arguable, but the other objection is worse: a much stranger case can be made that the first obligation is to the survival of the corporation. That's shown rather abundantly by the history of implementing his notion: it has inspired a lot of destructive acts in the name of short-term gains.

#162 ::: Paul A. sees possible spam ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2017, 05:40 AM:

The content of comment #161 is identical to comment #151, and that looks like a commercial payload in the user name.

#163 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2018, 02:55 PM:

What amazes me is that, Barack Obama having made capitalism safe for capitalists and prevented worldwide revolution from breaking out, the idiots who got us into the mess in the first place want to undo the safeguards Obama put back in.

Some people are bound and determined to prove Marx right. I am amazed. That these people are in charge of the largest economy in the world (for now), is frightening.

#164 ::: crazysoph ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2019, 02:37 AM:

Albatross @ 159 (and anyone else)

Alas, the link to the education blog is no more - the link here gives more details:

(content warning: it's a sad story of a personal problem wreaking a life)

Crazy(and wool-gathering, which is why I was looking up the link)Soph

#165 ::: SunflowerP ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2019, 06:35 AM:

Thank you for linking that, Soph. I've been deeply ambivalent about DeBoer for several years, and that sheds light on the things that caused my ambivalence.

#166 ::: SunflowerP ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2019, 06:58 AM:

And speaking of links that no longer work, the one C. Wingate @146 provides for the Friedman NYT piece now comes up with a 404 error, but I located one elsenet.

#167 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2019, 01:13 PM:

Crazysoph@164: The archive you link to is a continually changing and growing document. The article you mention seems to be currently the second one. It's titled "Statement", and was posted October 2, 2018; there's a new post above it dated February 13, 2019, so your post was completely accurate and relevant when you made it -- I'm posting this so other people can find the bit you were pointing to later (which is oddly appropriate in thinking about a link which talks about a post no longer being available, I suppose). As the I Ching says -- Praise, no blame, in relation to your post.

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