Or is the convention against discussing politics here silly?

I propose a test.  I'm going to try to lay down some rules on voting on comments for the test here (not that I can force anybody to abide by them):

1.) Top-level comments should introduce arguments (or ridicule me and/or this test); responses should be responses to those arguments.

2.) Upvote and downvote based on whether or not you find an argument convincing in the context in which it was raised.  This means if it's a good argument against the argument it is responding to, not whether or not there's a good/obvious counterargument to it; if you have a good counterargument, raise it.  If it's a convincing argument, and the counterargument is also convincing, upvote both.  If both arguments are unconvincing, downvote both.

3.) Try not to downvote particular comments excessively, if they're legitimate lines of argument.  A faulty line of argument provides opportunity for rebuttal, and so for our test has value even then; that is, I want some faulty lines of argument here.  If you disagree, please downvote me, instead of the faulty comments, because this post is what you want less of, not those comments.  This necessarily implies, for balance, that we not excessively upvote comments.  I'd suggest fairly arbitrary limits of 3/-3?

Edit: 4.) A single argument per comment would be ideal; as MixedNuts points out here, it's otherwise hard to distinguish between one good and one bad argument, which makes the upvoting/downvoting difficult to evaluate.  (My apologies about missing this, folks.)

I'm going to try really hard not to get personally involved, except to lay down a leading comment posing an argument against abortion, a position I don't hold, for the record.  The core of the argument isn't disingenuous, and I hold that this argument is true, it just doesn't lead to my opposing abortion.  I do not hold the moral axiom by which I extend the basic argument to argue against abortion, however; I'm playing the devil's advocate to try to help me from getting sucked into the argument while providing an initial point of discussion.

Which leads me to the next point: If you see a hole in an argument, even if it's an argument for a perspective you agree with, poke through it.  The goal is to see whether we can have a constructive political argument here.

The fact that this is a test, and known to be a test, means this isn't a blind study.  Uh, try to act as if you're not being tested?

After it's gone on a little while, if this post hasn't been hopelessly downvoted and ridiculed (and thus the premise and test discarded as undesirable to begin with), we can put up a poll to see whether people found the political debates helpful, not helpful, and so on.

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I always wondered why the Less Wrong community was so "libertarian" (US-style, ie, pro-free market).

It seems at odds to me with LW views on other topics. Free market is akin to evolution : it's at optimisation process which, given enough time and space, will end up finding local maxima, but it's a blind, uncaring force that doesn't care about the sufferings it produces, that has no long-term vision. It's Azathoth. The same way that good engineering is more efficient than evolution (show me a bird flying as fast as a plane), wouldn't a good partially planned economy be better than free market ?

Or if you look at it from a CS view, especially with the SIAI view on AI (which is not shared by all Less Wrongers, but by most) : we use Azathoth-like solutions (neural network, genetic algorithms, ...) when we don't have a classical engineering solution. Shouldn't we do the same in economy ? Try to have more "engineered" solution when we can do so, and resort to the "free market" as a suboptimal but working default when we don't have an engineered solution ? If you look at EDF or SNCF (french electricity and railroads), it seems there are domains in which the ... (read more)

I'm not a principled libertarian who will defend the "free market" consistently (in fact, I think the very notion is rather incoherent), but the sort of "engineering" you're talking about runs into two problems:

  1. We still lack the epistemological means to obtain the expertise necessary for such engineering, except for some basic simple insights that were already known to governments of civilized countries centuries ago. Insofar as any economic engineering interventions have been successful historically, they have been based on this ancient common-sense knowledge. Practically all the other stuff dreamed up by economists during the last hundred (or maybe even two hundred) years is a frightful abomination of cargo-cult science, anti-epistemology, and rationalizations for ideology and rent-seeking. (This also goes for the bulk of "social science" in general.)

  2. Even insofar as such expertise can be obtained, there is still the problem that the intervention must be executed by a realistic government, whose agents have their own venal interests and ideological aims (and delusions). And given the above-described state of the economic "science," even

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I understand this point of view, but it doesn't feel to really watch the situation we are in right now.

We are more like with current medicine : we don't yet how to build a purely synthetic body that will not age, be sick, tired, ... and the best we have is the Azathoth-built biological frame, but yet we can do lots to improve that biological frame (like vaccines) or fix its flaws (glasses, painkillers, pacemaker).

Looking at the world, we can see that even if not perfect, there are many cases of things which are done "outside of the market" but does works, from CERN to Appolo project, EDF/SNCF as I said in my original comment, European-style universal healthcare, ... it feels to me that being libertarian in this context is more like akin to refusing vaccines and keeping Azathoth alone.

And it also strikes me as odd that while here at LW we are so enthusiast in mind upload and the like (to fix what Azathoth did imperfectly in our bodies) the common LW opinion is much more to keep Azathoth for the economy than to try to think and test alternatives.

Blood transfusions often failed before we knew about blood groups, but the rational reaction was to consider that sometimes they succeed, and try to tell when they fail and when they succeed, so you can use them, not giving up.

Looking at the world, we can see that even if not perfect, there are many cases of things which are done "outside of the market" but does works, from CERN to Appolo project, EDF/SNCF as I said in my original comment, European-style universal healthcare, ... it feels to me that being libertarian in this context is more like akin to refusing vaccines and keeping Azathoth alone.

When you mentioned economic "engineering," the first thing that occurred to me were various schools of macroeconomics and their proposed measures for economic planning via monetary, fiscal, trade, and other policies. Speaking as someone who has spent considerable effort trying to make sense of this supposed "science," I really don't see anything there but pseudoscience driven by ideology, hubris, political expediency, and rent-seeking.

What you mention here, however, is in the domain of those much older kinds of interventions that I spoke of: public infrastructure spending, wealth redistribution, and patronage of arts and sciences. Unlike the modern macroeconomic "science," you could have an interesting discussion about those even with an ancient Roman statesman. I am ... (read more)

At least one problem with this is that any attempt to actually control the market will almost definitely get sidetracked by politics instead of what works. With lobbyists involved, I wouldn't trust the government to do what's best for the country. See farm subsidies for an example.

I understand the issue, but I'm at odd with it for three reasons :

  1. If the problem is lobbying and corporate corruption of the government, I don't see how getting rid of the proxy and putting directly the corporations in charge will make anything better. Regulations may be imperfect and biased by lobbying, but having the corporations directly in charge seems even worse to me.

  2. It seems to me by looking around the world than when a reasonably democratic government starts providing real services to the population (universal healthcare and education, social safety net, ...) the people become less apathetic towards the government, and will get more involved with how the government is runned. It also seems to me that countries with higher wealth redistribution, like Scandinavian countries, have lower corruption.

  3. This is a kind of defeatist arguments. Here at Less Wrong, we speak of defeating death itself, conquering the stars, breaking the FAI problem, getting to the "level above" in understanding of the world, and yet, on this specific issue of politics/economics, we concede defeat so easily ? There are countless ways to "actually control the market" that we could

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I wonder about cause and effect here. I would trust the government more to redistribute wealth fairly if it weren't so very corrupt and incompetent. I can think of several objections. Some laws are very complicated and require a lot of staff work by experts to formulate, and the jury won't be able to do a good job. Or did you want to require the jury to spend six months listening to testimony before delivering their verdict? Do you mean an American or British-style jury, that requires unanimity? If so, you will reliably get hung juries on any controversial law. There's a lot of laws that are time-sensitive. If the appropriations bills don't pass, the government shuts down. And we don't want to allow indefinite delays in restarting the government until the jury reaches consensus. (In America, there is probably 10% of the country who would reliably vote for shutting down the government, so you really cannot keep the country running if they can derail the jury.)
That's the thing, it wouldn't be corporations in charge of setting prices, there wouldn't be anyone setting the prices. Except in the case of monopolies, it would be the combined market. Okay, if that's true then that's a good argument for those forms of government control. But, that doesn't argue for involving the government in the other parts of the market. As to the third point, I'm not sure we know how to reliably make changes to the market that results in positive changes. I'd appreciate the input of an economist here, but from the basic econ I've learned, except in the cases of monopolies or other failure modes of the free market, government intervention mathematically always results in a net loss. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deadweight_loss)
I agree that putting the corporations in charge of government would be bad. That's why libertarians oppose crony capitalism. Eliezer would probably argue that it's more-or-less equivalent to the FAI problem. Personally, depending on what one means by FAI I think it may well be harder. Specifically it may well be possible to create at FAI capable of managing an economy composed of humans, said FAI would not be capable of managing an economy composed of AIs of comparable complexity to itself, more or less due to the pigeon-hole principal.
All economic systems not of the form "free market plus some government intervention" have failed horribly. Are you arguing for one of these, or just for more regulation in what's basically a free market?
I make a difference between long-term and short-term goal, like I make for the rest. If you take the medicine comparison made above, I'm aware that for now we don't know how to completely replace our Azathoth-made organic bodies with better, engineered ones. So for the short I'm advocating improving/fixing the body as we can. But for the long term, I would like us to find a solution to get rid of that Azathoth frame, and have an engineered body that is free of all the defects. I made the same stance for the economy. On the long term, I want to get rid of free market, this Azathoth process that may end up finding solutions to problems, but doing so without caring for the suffering it produces, and without long-term vision. Every time a company goes bankrupt, it's a huge amount of waste in term of energy, time and resources, and a huge amount of suffering, broken families, ... and so on. Natural selection is cruel, and it is as much as in the economy. But I'm aware we can't get rid totally of free market for now. We don't know how to do it. But we should try to improve what we can improve, fix what we can fix. Organs that can be made in a non-Azathoth way should be made so (EDF, SNCF, CERN for example). Safety measures should be added (unemployment money, working code, ...). Universal free healthcare and education. Things like that, that have working implementation already. And we should also continue looking and experimenting for ways to make deeper change. We have a very small amount of workers control over companies in France, a "Comité d'Entreprise" elected directly by the workers in the company, and that have a say on safety/hygiene related issues within the company. We should increase its power and see if it does really improve working conditions or not. I spoke of Cybersyn in my initial comment. This project was made 40 years ago, with much reduced computing power, in only 3 years, and yet it gave interesting results, before it was drawn in blood by Pinochet
Wouldn't a working theory of utilitarianism "solve" the economy directly? Similarly if everyone had perfect market knowledge they would know from the prices set on goods and services (including "live forever" and "be free of pain and suffering") what everyone's utility preferences were and it would be possible in theory to calculate a course of action that maximized wealth and at the same time maximized utility. The problem is that people produce artificial prices and utility values that don't reflect reality or their true preferences. Fixing that problem can only be done with more rationality, I think.
That runs into pigeon hole problems, even in theory.
Say a theoretical human can have M preferences and there are N humans so we need to store MN utilities. Clearly humans can't consciously hold that much information in their head even for just themselves, but I can currently store about 142 32-bit integers for every person alive on earth on a single relatively cheap hard drive. A centralized world economy could keep track of individual price-preferences of all products that have a UPC assigned using about 7x10^19 prices, or a little over 10 exabytes. Difficult, but not intractable.
Assuming the other humans aren't similarly using hard drives to extend their effective memory.
I guess there's an limit on the percentage of wealth owned by the people, then. In the worst case the government would need at least 50% of the total wealth to devote to mirroring the memory storage used by all the people. Pretty steep tax rate, and that doesn't include effective taxation by wealth redistribution that might result from the central government's calculations.
Were you aware of the LW survey results? Compare to the philpapers survey results for philosophy faculty and PhDs below. The differences are moderate, and can be explained by the disproportionate presence of computer science, hard science, male gender, Anglosphere origins, and industry (as opposed to academia; comparing people with equal IQ and education, those with more 'right' political views are more likely to enter non-academic fields) in the LW population. For "philosophy of computing," which may be especially relevant for comparison to LW: And for "social and political philosophers": For philosophers of the physical sciences:
The runtime complexity of modelling an economy is non-trivial, and a 'band-aid' reactionary approach to fixing issues in a system as complicated as the free market with an instrument as blunt as law is catastrophic in the long run (I subscribe to the Austrian school). I'm against central planning, because computers fast enough to actually do it well don't exist - and, if they ever do, a centrally planned society should be able to function perfectly well under capitalism. It should turn a profit, and people should join it voluntarily. No coercion involved.

And since the runtime complexity of the human body is non-trivial, we should give up on medicine and methods as blunt as surgery and drugs ? Sorry, but complexity is not an excuse to let Azathoth rule alone and not try to improve things. Or we would have given up on science and medicine since long.

As for coercion, capitalism relies on it too : coercion to enforce private property, even when it means, for example, expelling a family from its house and sending it to the street because they can't pay the mortgage. If you reject coercion, you reject private property which is enforced by coercion. If you accept some amount of coercion to defend private property, why not some amount of coercion to ensure people have a roof and food ?

The human body is subject to a number of reductionist approximations which allow us to work with it predicatively. These approximations and models are extremely well supported experimentally. So far, the only such approximations that apply to the economy are the Keynesian ideas, and those produce results that are intuitively nonsense, and have no experimental backing. Modifying the economy without causing more harm than good is much, much harder than it is in medicine right now. We are not surgeons here. We are plague doctors with masks, and leeches. Capitalism (more specifically, classical liberalism or Minarchist Libertarianism) does accept a minimal level of governmental coercion, as the loss of freedom associated with anarchy is even greater, and because you must draw lines between the rights of individuals, and property and contract is a reasonable place to draw it. You'll note that property rights are fairly straightforward. They're easy to enforce, they're inexpensive, and they're intuitive. Once you start cobbling on new laws in a patchwork attempt to fix current problems, though, it all goes to hell in a handbasket rather quickly. Adding new laws is costly. Because I'm not a strawman capitalist, I'm not going to claim that all poor people are lazy, or even that all poor people on welfare are lazy. However, I am going to say that there is a tendency for welfare to be abused by the lazy. It's like a magnetic cooling system. High energy particles escape, so after a while, all of the particles left in the trap are the cold, low-energy ones. Same basic principle applies. Additionally, the government is fantastically bad at spending money. Orders of magnitude worst than essentially any private organization. I've seen the way they buy chairs. It's terrifying. In general, putting them in charge of any significant sum of money is an excellent way to ensure that much of it will wind up being expended as economic waste heat.
And yet we've gotten past leeches, and developed medicines that work. Don't you think we should try some economic models to see if they work? Who cares if Keynesian ideas don't make intuitive sense? You just explained why that the economy is too complicated to understand intuitively. The evidence isn't very good (for or against), because it's never been properly tested. No they aren't. How do people come to own property in the first place? (are the descendants of native Americans due reparations? Who has the land rights to Israel / Palestine?) How much do polluters have to pay for the damage they're doing to everyone else's property? Do I have the right to sell myself into slavery? What ideas can be patented (copyrighted) and when do those patents (copyrights) expire? Unfortunately, to try to sort out who owns what, is to mire yourself in as twisted and complicated a political issue as any. Be specific. How does the government buy chairs? Also, overpaying for something doesn't make the extra money simply disappear as "economic waste heat." The people who sold those chairs can spend the extra money again. The actual cost is bad information being fed to the market, which can result in workers making too much of one thing, when everyone would have been better off if they'd made something else. And it's not as if private consumers always spend their money perfectly in accordance with their values either. If anything qualifies as "economic waste heat", it's the tobacco industry.
We have this in America and I think most other wealthy countries. We spend many tens of billions of dollars on food assistance for the poor, and a substantial amount on housing assistance. It's not even all that controversial, politically. (The food part works much better than the housing -- public housing projects in the US are notorious for sometimes being badly run to the point of being unsafe.)
1) I think it's very possible that in systems with a huge number of agents with varying preferences that an aggregate of those preferences like the free market can lead to better outcomes on average than any but the most advanced systems of control (which we don't have and don't seem close to having). 2) In general I think it makes sense to oppose many non free-market solutions simply because of the evidence we have for how terrible they are in practice. Sort like how I wish we could be governed by Plato's philosopher kings, but would not elect the philosophy departments of universities as our oligarchs.
Given that you only do this when the "engineered solution" is workable, sure, whatever. Please remember though, that all policies that are ever implemented anywhere in the real world are (at best) what from this perspective should be called "a suboptimal but working default" which are resorted to because "we don't have a ... [usable] engineered solution."
But then shouldn't we try to find the "engineered solution" instead of defending the "suboptimal but working default" as a matter of principle ? And shouldn't we use it in the domains where we do have a working one ?
It's interesting that the only proposed alternative to Azathoth in this discussion so far is government intervention of one form or another (the government itself is just another creation of Azathoth). But there exist many more such as changing the fundamental institutions of our society, including our very notions of property and democracy.
The parent comment didn't suggest specifically government intervention as an alternative.
I wish I could upvote this twice. It deserves being made into a top-level post.
I honestly pondered making a "discussion" post on that topic elaborating a bit more, but since there is a "no politics" rule on Less Wrong, I decided not to. When I'm part of community, I respect the rules of that community, even if I don't agree totally with them. To a point of course ;)
It is not clear whether there is a "no politics rule" on LW. You should make your post as a test to discover whether or not there is one. If you think there is a "no politics rule," be specific about what you think it is and what leads you to believe that it exists.
Well, that's more about economics than politics per se, and some similarly politics-reated themes (racism, religion, criminalization of drugs, women's rights, etc.) have been discussed on LW quite often.


Welcome to the site! We are glad to have you. But let me tell you a story:

A man goes to the mayor, asking to remove a fence on public property. He gives reason after reason why the fence should not exist, and how much better life will be once the fence is gone. The mayor listens closely, nodding in agreement, and the man finishes his argument. The mayor pauses for a moment, then asks, "Who put the fence there, and why?" The man waves his hand in dismissal: "I don't know and I don't care." The mayor frowns, replying, "Until you know why that fence exists, I can't let you tear it down."

Moving from the story to advice: reading all of this sequence may be helpful. Around a year ago, I mostly gave up discussing politics after finding Less Wrong, and my life is noticeably better. It's hard to elaborate all of the reasons why- but to start, I find myself less bothered by other people and the world, I find my time much better spent, as I'm reading positive psychology rather than political philosophy, and putting my hope in start-ups rather than political parties.

Instead of testing to see if politics can be discussed on Less Wrong, I suggest an alternate test: see how long you can go without having a political discussion. See what you do with your time and emotional energy instead.

[Meta] I've gone long periods of time without having political discussions. My interest in such waxes and wanes, much as my interest in writing poetry, my interest in writing prose, my interest in programming games, my interest in having any contact with other people, etc. I wouldn't say my life at any point in any of these cycles is better or worse; if it were better, I doubt my interest would wane, if worse, I doubt it would wax.

As for my reasons for introducing this test, it was introduced in response to another individual calling the rule "Stupid," in rather less polite terms. I decided to create a test to see if the fence was actually useful; I didn't create an article calling for it to be torn down, I asked the mayor to create a space in that public property without that fence, to see if it did indeed serve the purpose it was erected for. I'll "conclude" the test sometime tomorrow, and ask people whether, indeed, they found the discussions here constructive or informative. (I've already learned one thing, which I'll elaborate on tomorrow, in my closing poll and commentary. So personally it has already been both constructive and informative.)

I read th... (read more)

I've gone through the same sort of alienation and apathy about politics from reading lesswrong and moldbug, but that actually makes it more FUN for me to discuss politics now that I no longer identify as a blue. The separate discussion as to how much fun conversation there should be on the forums could be interesting, but I would enjoy more of it and I think it's also somewhat useful to see non-blue and non-green political points made.
Indeed. Policy Debates Should Not Appear One-Sided is my favorite entry in that category, and this is worth keeping in mind as well.
My experiences mirror yours. Without delving into the details, I've also given up politics. Doing so has allowed me to focus my energy into activities that make me happier and improve my well-being I do periodically feel the urge to re-involve myself in politics, though. Addiction is too strong of a word, but maybe it's compulsion? Sometimes I push through it, ignoring it until in goes away. But other times I re-involve myself. It usually lasts a few days, at least until I realize how miserable it's making me and I pull myself away. Regardless of whether politics can/should be discussed on LW, I likely shouldn't involve myself. Let this be my public per-commitment that I won't discuss politics on LW. Also, Vaniver, I enjoy your posts. If you'd ever care to discuss positive psychology, I'd definitely be up for a Skype chat.
Agreed. I have not bothered to inform myself about politics since I was in grade school. I have never followed mainstream news (TV/newspapers/etc), not even occasionally. And my life is much richer for it. I have more time for other pursuits, I'm not angry about things I can't affect, and I'm not alienated from people with different a political allegiance. There have been times when I honestly didn't know who the prime minister of my state was. (I happened to have heard the name of the current one some time ago.) And I'm happy that way. There are so many much more interesting things in the world I can spend my time on! Why should I concern myself with what I would do if I were prime minister? It's more fun and just as profitable to think of what I would do if I were Superman.
That analogy conflates two things: The fact that the man doesn't know why the fence is there, and the fact that he doesn't care. If I were the mayor, I'd dismiss his request simply because he hadn't done his research. This is not analogous to tearing down laws or social norms so old and complicated that no one could reasonably be expected to know why they were made in the first place. Maybe laws against homosexuality made sense once upon a time, or maybe they were always a bad idea. But I don't need to know that in order to establish that homosexuality should be allowed and accepted today. If there really were a fence, with no record of who built it or why, that just seemed to be inconveniencing everyone, we really would be justified in tearing it down. Sometimes 2 + 2 is just 4.
Is this relevant to a norm whose invention was explicitly documented six years ago? How confident are you that an argument for abolishing a social norm that is thousands of years old that makes no charitable reference to why the norm survived thousands of years is calm, dispassionate, and complete? (I should note this is a general response, and I am entirely uninterested in discussing the specifics of homosexuality in this thread.)
"Need to know" is a strong condition, and I probably agree with you that you don't need to know the relevant history in order to establish that a particular law is a bad idea. But I would also agree that if I'm actually trying to determine whether a law ought to change (rather than trying to justify my pre-existing belief that the law ought to change), trying to understand how the law came to be in the first place seems like a really good place to start.

I think the organ market should be legal. The arguments against it are far to weak to justify so many people dying.

Organs don't work like drugs; allowing sale would greatly encourage smugglers. This would lead to organ theft. Families could also pressure people who don't earn enough to sell their organs.


Organs don't work like drugs

It seems to me that the differences between drugs and organs make organ sale easier to regulate. Surgical operations already have plenty of paperwork and administrative oversight (by the government and insurance companies). And patients probably care more about where the organ came from than they do for drugs.

Emile's counterpoint makes me undecided on whether to believe you without some kind of evidence or citation. What you say rings true but my intuitions with respect to organ theft are pretty bad.
There are ways of preventing theft if you have oversight. The only way to avoid oversight is to do it on the black market, which will be much harder when you have to compete against a legal market. Maybe the majority of people who sell organs will be idiots who really shouldn't at that price, but it's better than not doing it at all. You could put a price floor on it, although then idiots who don't need them as much would start selling them, and there'd be costs with all the people waiting in line to sell. Subsidies wouldn't work at all, since they'd pretty much end up going to the people buying the organs.
It's unlikely there would be end-to-end oversight. Legal organ harvesters would probably not get looked at very closely (not enough money for inspection) and could easily pass off stolen organ as legitimately bought ones. I disagree with your characterization of pressured people as idiots. "You aren't bringing home the bacon and you have poor marriage prospects, so you'd better sell a kidney, or I'll kick you out of the house" is not idiocy. But that's not really the point. I don't see at all how a price floor helps with that.
Why not? It's outright illegal in every country except one. I would expect it to be heavily regulated if it is ever allowed. If there are problems with stolen organs, they would definitely start regulating it. Also, I haven't seen anything saying that this is a problem in Iran. I read it has been a problem in India, so they made it illegal. It's not the same as regulating, but it shows that they won't allow that sort of thing to happen. I just mean people selling their kidneys when it hurts them. "Idiots" meaning acting irrationally, not necessarily stupider than average. I guess it's possible for it to happen like you describe so that they have an additional incentive to sell, in a bad way. I don't think that's likely to happen. It makes it more likely that it actually will be worth while for them. If it's never worth while to sell your kidney for below $x, then setting a price floor above $x would at least mean that some of the people selling their kidneys would benefit.
So tax organ sales enough to pay for the inspection costs.

This policy is plausibly superior to the status quo, but I'm not convinced it is the best available alternative. Can you tell me why you think this would be a better way of doing things than, say, mandating organ donation upon brain-death?

Or, for that matter, making organ donation opt out rather than opt in.

Empirically, opt-in vs opt-out doesn't matter. Kieran Healy writes about this extensively. I think he discusses other things that actually have resulted in large changes in Spain and Italy in this paper. This time series is nice. One relevant fact is the in virtually all jurisdictions, the heirs can and usually do veto donation. [Edit: Actually, just one of many obstacles, probably a small effect. I forget why I included it.]
In the United States it's kind of neither. When you get an id card there is a yes/no checkbox you need to check.
It already is in Italy (and I'd guess in much of the rest of the EU too).
One thing that makes the OP a better idea than yours is that no way in a million years (this is hyperbole) will any US political system ever adopt mandatory organ donation. However just making it opt-out instead of opt-in as suggested by antisuji below seems like it would capture 80-90% of the benefit (wild guess) with 5-10% of the political fallout (another wild guess).
I mostly mean the organs you donate while still alive. In the case of the organs you can't live without, it's pretty much the whole free market thing. It will create incentive for people who want to be able to keep their organs when they die. There's no more reason to take their organs when they die than there is to take their money and spend it on saving lives. I'm not entirely convinced that this is the best either. I don't know how much incentive people really get from stuff that happens after they die. Perhaps it should at least be encouraged with fees to keep your organs, or subsidies to sell them.

You know, it would probably be possible to benefit from your organs' value while you're alive. Sign a contract to agree to be organ-harvested after your death, and get a stipend for the average estimated value of your cadaver, today! Free money, from your perspective. You could get more if you contractually agreed not to smoke or take certain dangerous jobs.

You know, it would probably be possible to benefit from your organs' value while you're alive. Sign a contract to agree to be organ-harvested after your death, and get a stipend for the average estimated value of your cadaver, today! Free money, from your perspective. You could get more if you contractually agreed not to smoke or take certain dangerous jobs.

That's a brilliant idea and it is a travesty that it isn't in place now. (The whole "moral hazard" thing would need to be solved but there are ways to solve it.)

That has a pretty similar result as the government forcing you to donate and slight change in the tax system. That part would be useful.
Certainly, but loss-of-autonomy has a cost associated with it, in my utility ordering, at any rate. I think it's best to allow people to do what they want with their bodies. Creating incentives is far less intrusive, in terms of personal freedom, than forcing a single course of action on everyone. Besides which, leaving aside the provisional issue at hand, I don't like to think too hard about the legal implications of deciding that people don't own their bodies and brains.

There's no more reason to take their organs when they die than there is to take their money and spend it on saving lives.

If people were routinely burning all their assets when they died, preventing anyone from getting any use out of them, I think I would be in favor of a policy that mandated the donation of the property for life-saving purposes. In the property case, one could at least make the argument that mandating redistribution after death would disincentivize people from working hard during their lifetimes. I don't see a similar disincentive associated with mandatory redistribution of organs after death.

I'm pretty convinced that mandatory organ donation upon brain-death is an unmitigated good thing. Are there any sound arguments against it, besides the pragmatic difficulty of selling the policy to people? So the important question for me is: Should we institute an organ market for living donors in addition to requiring donation upon death? There are costs to the organ market, as has been pointed out in the comments. Also, an organ sold by a living donor is one less organ harvested from a cadaver, so an organ market wouldn't increase the number of organs available for trans... (read more)

Are you aware that it would mean no more cryonics? (Even if you want to preserve the head only, the injection of anti-ice fluids makes the rest of body unusable for transplantation.)
Thanks! I was not in fact aware of that. I actually thought about the cryonics objection when I was writing that comment, but I figured neuropreservation would not be a problem. Looks like I was wrong. I probably should have tried harder to follow up on my initial suspicion rather than dismissing it.
But they are making use of their organs. I don't know why they consider burying them important, but it's not my place to judge. It might not make them nearly as happy as it would the recipient, but the same can be said of them spending money on luxury when there are people who have trouble meeting their basic needs. Yes it would. To my knowledge, it's pretty rare for people to die in a condition where their organs can still be used. I wonder how that would work. Would they move people who need organs to hospitals where people who match them are dying? Why couldn't they do that now? Perhaps they can, and just don't because there's no money in it and it seems really tasteless.
You are probably much more libertarian than I am. I don't buy the strong self-ownership assumption that undergirds many libertarian arguments. I think it is within a government's legitimate sphere of power to legislate against sufficiently widespread wastage of important resources, even if those resources are legally acquired by their owner. If a crazed billionaire began buying up all the silicon in the world in order to bury it on the moon, I think the government should step in to prevent this from happening. When the relevant resource is literally a part of the owner the government should err on the side of liberty, but there can still be cases of waste egregious enough to warrant intervention, and the widespread burial of transplantable organs is sufficiently egregious. Ah, I didn't know this. If this is the case, then there is good reason to encourage living people to give up their organs. I was thinking more about living donors. An organ market would encourage some people to sell their organs while they were alive. Unless something goes really wrong, these organs are presumably going to end up transplanted. If all of those people waited until they were dead, some fraction of those organs would be wasted, either because their former owners died in a way that renders the organ usable, or simply because the organ could not be transported to a suitable recipient in time.
The problem is, once you get past the poverty line, additional money doesn't make you all that much happier. If you're well past it, anything you do with your money is wasting it. If you stop them from wasting it, you're just stopping them from earning much money. You'll destroy incentives. There's no reason to stop them from wasting resources in one way if it just means that they'll waste them in another.
We don't have to choose between the extremes of allowing people to do whatever they want with their resources (as long as they don't use them to directly harm people) or legislating against any socially suboptimal usage of resources. I think people should have quite a bit of freedom to use their resources the way they want, precisely because we don't want to disincentivize people from working, and also because a government that is constantly monitoring its citizens to ensure socially optimal resource usage would be unbearably intrusive. But I also think there are cases where the benefits of government intervention outweigh these costs. Where exactly to draw the line is a difficult question, and there are a number of cases where I'm unsure whether a government mandate is advisable. However, there are also cases that are clearly on one side or another of the line. Banning all luxury consumption, for instance, is definitely a bad idea. I also think its pretty clear that mandating organ donation (perhaps with a religious exemption clause) is a good idea. In this case, the costs aren't that great. I can't see any disincentivization of productive behavior, and the additional intrusiveness required to adequately enforce the policy does not seem all that burdensome. And by all accounts the social benefits would be quite significant.
Since the government is hardly going to do the best possible thing with our money, my last comment was vastly exaggerated. Even so, I don't think people are generally expected to help others with their money. If they manage to do something particularly wasteful, you can tax them for it to make up for it. I generally prefer the idea of subsidizing the stuff that does help people, but it works out the same if you add a tiny change in how you do income taxes.
Consider someone who is deciding whether to donate their money to Seeing Eye or use it to dig ditches and then fill them. Seeing Eye is less than 0.05% as effective as the Fred Hollows Foundation, so the difference in social optimality is less than 0.05% of what it could do. This means that if they dig ditches and then fill them, they are less than 0.05% more wasteful than if they donate to Seeing Eye. Why not just move the line by 0.05%, and let them do whatever they want? You can just tax them an additional 0.05% to make up for it, and they'll still end up with more incentive. For that matter, you'd probably save enough money on not bothering with regulation to make up for it. It seems like digging ditches and then filling them is infinitely more wasteful than donating to Seeing Eye, since it makes an infinitely smaller difference, but that's not really how it works. The difference is so small it's lost in rounding.
i disagree with the kind of analysis you're doing here. Just because a difference is a small percentage of the maximal possible difference does not mean it is a small difference. Suppose you have three mutually exclusive actions available to you: A - play video games all day, B - put in a small amount of effort that will ensure that malaria is eliminated, C - put in a moderate amount of effort that will ensure that everyone in the world lives forever without sickness or deprivation. As a percentage of what you could accomplish by doing C, the difference between doing A and doing B is negligible. But it seems absurd to say that the difference between doing A and doing B is so small that it doesn't really matter. Sure, it's small as a percentage, but it's still a massive difference. Of course, it still might be the case (in fact, it probably is the case) that in your particular example, the cost of intervention outweighs its benefits. But I have already granted that this is often the case. If your example was meant to provide a general argument against any government regulation of resource usage, I don't see how it works. Instead of discussing hypotheticals, why not talk about the actual policy under consideration: Do you think that the cost of a mandatory organ donation policy plausibly outweighs its benefits? If you don't, do you have other non-consequentialist grounds for opposing the policy?
It doesn't matter because you could add a rediculously tiny tax to make up the difference. Also, I think it's generally a good idea to give taxes and subsidies to get rid of externalities. If this is done correctly, it makes no difference at all how you spend your money.
One argument per comment, please. I disagree with your first response and agree/appreciate your second.
You can do either, or both. The two policies don't really affect each other.

Meta: Reading through this thread was pleasant and rewarding. I feel like I learned as much about the practical ethics of organ donation in ten minutes here as I would from an ordinary two-hour-long argument in real life, and I feel a lot better now than I'd feel after a two-hour-long argument.

Meta: Is the OP really a political position? The mere fact that the resulting comment thread is highly informative and not contentious at all makes me doubt it... More precisely, it seems to me that a majority of participants here share values, e.g., saving lives is more important than almost anything else. Most of the refutations of arguments against the OPs position are about updating the map to match the territory. Nobody's arguing about what course one ought to set through the territory per se. Consider the contrast between these comments and the abortion debate in the US. I think the essence of the latter is a disagreement about the absolute and relative moral statuses of and rights due to fully grown humans and potential people. I expect it would continue to exist even if everyone agreed on the pertinent biological and medical facts of the matter.
I doubt that this is a descriptively accurate characterization of the debate. I'm guessing a majority of the most committed pro-life activists aren't motivated by a concern for potential people; they actually believe a foetus is a person, not just potentially a person. A number of Christian denominations preach that ensoulment occurs at conception, and that personhood (in the moral sense) is associated with ensoulment. If everyone agreed on the pertinent biological facts -- one of which is that there is no such thing as a soul -- this justification would no longer work.
Thanks for catching this. The words "person" and "potential person" were just intended to be labels, but I ended up unintentionally sneaking in connotations. Let's imagine that in my counterfactual situation no one is doing that either intentionally or unintentionally. I don't disagree, but I do think religious people might claim something similar to, "even though the soul is not a physical thing, it still exists in the sight of God".
Yes. If they thought the utility gained by making potential persons into actual ones, was greater than the negative utility to women who become unwilling mothers (would abort if they could), then they would support forcing all women to be constantly pregnant.
They're deontologists -- it's a mistake to attempt to predict their ethical reasoning using consequentialist or utilitarian terms.
That's necessary for any disagreement we could have a real discussion about. I've gotten into political arguments with people with similar values. I'm largely libertarian, not because I believe in individual rights, but because I believe that it's what produces the most happiness. There are plenty of people who are socialist, not because they value equality, but because they believe that it's what produces the most happiness.
Maybe this was already obvious to you, but it wasn't to me until just now. Thank you for that.
I think the abortion "debate" is a Blue vs Green, Arguments as Soldiers issue. Pro- or anti-abortion doesn't follow logically from other positions held by each party. Counterfactually, if the two US parties had chosen different positions on abortion due to some historic accident, then I would expect their electorate to still support each party along current divisions.
I agree. That's why I set up my counterfactual. I have the contrary expectation -- I can't conceive of a historical accident that would swap the parties' positions on abortion without also swapping their respective bases.
Agreed. But I also think that the government should buy some of those organs at market value (Edit: they could negotiate for better prices like any other large buyer, but not force any supplier to sell), to be distributed according to the current system. (But then, I'm for socialized medicine in general, since it appears to be more efficient: countries with socialized medicine achieving better outcomes at lower costs.)
How would that work? You have an option to either buy a kidney or wait in line and hope for the best? If your insurance doesn't cover kidneys, you wait for a government one? I think it would be a lot better if the government finds the people that likely would end up waiting in line (like the people on medicare or medicaid) and just buy them organs immediately. Either that or just buy them for everyone.
How much do you expect markets to increase the supply of organs? You seem to be assuming there'll be enough for everyone.
The organ market is legal in Iran, and there are indeed enough for everyone, including some people from other countries who came there just for the organs. At least, for kidneys and stuff. I'm not even sure if you're allowed to sell stuff like your heart when you die there. From what I understand, even if you mandated everyone give away their heart, there still wouldn't be enough since it's rarely an option. In those cases, I suspect there will still be a significant increase. Also, it makes it so that people have more of an incentive to work hard so that they can afford health insurance that will pay for those organs. If you're going to have inequality anyway, you might as well take advantage of it.
What exactly do you mean by "organ market" ? META: How should I vote if I'm neither for nor against your viewpoint, but if I simply do not understand it ?
If you need a kidney, you find someone who has an extra, and you buy theirs. Also, you can opt to sell your organs when you die, instead of just donating them.
This scenario provides several strong incentives for unscrupulous agents to harvest people's organs without asking for permission (in addition to any existing incentives that may exist in our current society). Thus, I believe that the total utility of legalizing the organ market (as I currently understand it) would be highly negative.
If that becomes a problem, have the government check to make sure that the people who are listed as selling kidneys both gave permission (preventing people from just harvesting without telling you) and is actually missing the organ (preventing people from claiming they gave an organ that was harvested from someone else). The only other option is for the entire operation to be off the books. This would be prevented the same way it is now, along with the fact that people are less likely to buy organs on the black market if there's a legal option. Also, even if that was the only way the organ market worked, for every organ stolen there'd be a life saved. It seems like it would still be positive unless they actually killed the people they were taking organs from, and even then only if they only took one organ each. How could it be highly negative?
How would the government achieve this in practice ? For example, let's say there's a demand for livers this month. How would the government know whether the liver A for patient B came from a legitimate donor, some unfortunate homeless person within our country who was robbed of his liver against his will, or from some foreign national who lives in one of those totalitarian and/or lawless countries where human life isn't worth much ? Furthermore, let's say that people could sell their organs after they die -- by proxy, presumably -- as per your scenario above. Doesn't this create a powerful incentive for unscrupulous agents to speed their demise ? I don't think this is true. Firstly, organ transplant procedures do not have a 100% success rate, due to rejection issues, surgery complications, etc. Secondly, what do you mean by "a life saved" ? All lives will end eventually. Would it be worthwhile to shorten someone's life by, say, 10 years (due to their loss of a kidney), in order to grant someone else 5 extra years of life (by using that kidney) ?
If it didn't come from a legitimate donor, either the doctor has to explain why he didn't say who the donor was, why the donor doesn't know about it, or why the "donor" still has a whole liver. As for the foreign country, just don't accept organs shipped across national lines if the other nation doesn't check the stuff. I suspect it's a bad idea to ship organs across national lines anyway, as opposed to just shipping the donor, but I don't really know all that much about how organ donation works. No, but I'm willing to bet that's not what the ratio will be. If losing an organ hurt you more than it helped the person getting it, nobody would ever consider donating them. Edit: You mean their next of kin? I don't see how it's much more of an incentive than it would be to kill them just for the inheritance. Also, I suspect that the health insurance company would normally take the money, since most people aren't going to be in a position to donate their organs and people tend to be loss-averse.
Organ transplantation costs tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, including the costs of doctors, hospital time for recovery, drugs, etc. Paying less than $5,000 for a legal kidney (at prices in Iran), or even $25,000 in rich countries with more expensive surgical staff, makes for a trivial portion of the overall cost of the operation. Why make the whole operation illegal (making it hard to advertise, recruit employees and customers, avoid imprisonment, etc) by not using voluntary donors to reduce costs by a few percent? Consider that the surgeons make up a much larger portion of the cost. Should we fear that legalizing organ transplantation will drive a criminal industry kidnapping and enslaving surgeons to perform organ transplants? We don't see such an industry for coronary bypass operations, so we shouldn't expect it for organs.
It's likely an international organ market would move organs from poor countries to rich ones. This would create great resentment in poor countries, while not being that huge a source of revenue.
That seems odd. They don't have to sell their organs to foreigners. You could make laws about only doing it within the country. I'd be against that, for much the same reasons as I'm against all protectionist policies.
Perhaps it would be odd for the particular people who are selling their organs to feel resentment. But it doesn't seem all that odd if people in poor countries who need organ transplants feel resentful that the organs which would otherwise be harvested from cadavers and given to them are instead being bought up by rich foreigners.
The big supply change from organ markets is incentivizing things like kidney or marrow donations from living donors. Those donations would not be made otherwise (and the overwhelming majority of organs of the dead are of far worse quality, since people tend to be old and sick when they die, and sudden causes of death like car accidents have a tendency to wreck the body).
I could see ways in which it would be disastrous. In places where getting a $25 microloan is a big competitive advantage, a $5000 organ donation would be absolutely disruptive (according to this article kidneys go for anywhere from $20,000 to hundreds of thousands depending on country). If you were an entrepreneur in such a country you would basically never be able to compete with anyone else who donated organs without donating one yourself. That could definitely cause a lot of resentment.
I think this is an exaggeration. The severely poor are demarcated as earning less than $1 per day. There are many millions of migrant workers from poor countries working in richer countries, e.g. Somalian taxi drivers in New York, Bangladeshi janitors in Dubai, and so forth. They make many thousands of dollars per year. They send remittances, and sometimes come home. This doesn't seem to cause terrible resentments or anger. Rather, the money significantly boosts the standard of living back home, allowing the purchase of more imports and raising wages for local workers (paid out of the remittances and by the returnees).
More disasterous than someone dying? Is there going to be hundreds of people resenting per donation? Kidneys are worth $2,000 to $4,000 in Iran, according to this article. They are illegal to sell in any other country.

META: Upvoted for using empiricism.

Where can I find a defense of the (ETA: seemingly) implied claim that whatever sells itself as testing something can be assumed to have greater benefits than costs without further analysis?

I don't see the implication. If I upvoted a post for its eloquence, would you infer that I assume without further analysis that any eloquently phrased idea has greater benefits than costs?

If an eloquent but otherwise really damaging post were made, and someone commented "upvoted for eloquence" and received a lot of upvotes in turn, I might similarly complain. Moreover, eloquence (with its resulting good feelings in the reader) is more of a goal that one can sometimes successfully achieve, whereas empiricism is more of a strategy that one can freely take but that often isn't worthwhile; this makes me skeptical of the analogy. ETA: also, there may be relevant differences between upvoting for eloquence and saying one is upvoting for eloquence, and between claiming that something can be assumed and assuming.
You have added a hypothesis: namely that the original post is "really damaging." If you think so about this particular post, come out and say it. Moreover, if you do think so, you should make it a top-level comment, rather than hiding it in this thread, as if Thom Blake and Pragmatist were the only people who disagree with you. Practically everyone participating in this thread is implicitly claiming that the thread is not "really damaging" simply by participating.
Claim not implied. I would like to see more posts where people try to use empiricism. People should generally be encouraged to actually test things more often.

I figure political discussions are perfectly fine as long as they're quarantined. Just make periodic threads like this one to discuss politics, and make the rule to not discuss politics in non-political threads.

LessWrong threads aren't quarantined from each other; all comments show up in recent comments and in the sidebar.

That sounds fun. I'd really like to a regular thread for this, or let people discuss politics in the open threads.
Then why not just discuss politics on another site?

Because on a different site, the users would be different, i.e. I wouldn't be talking with people I knew I share a certain mindset with.

Because then we won't be able to discuss them with lesswrongers.
What if you advertised the site only to LessWrongers?
Then why not just discuss it on LessWrong?

Clutter, distraction, drama.

(ETA: Very much confused by downvotes. Are these not relevant considerations that differ relevantly between the scenario where politics is discussed in threads on LessWrong, and the scenario where politics is discussed on a different site inhabited by LessWrongers?)

The "clutter" and "distraction" concerns don't seem to be specific to politics. Any topic which a substantial portion of the community is uninterested in discussing raises similar concerns. I am sure there are a number of readers who are not all that interested in the interpretation of QM, for instance, and for them MWI-related threads and comments are clutter and distraction. Is your worry that political threads will generate far more comments (and thus far more clutter for the uninterested) than other topics that aren't of nigh-universal interest? Or do you think that the portion of the community uninterested in discussing politics is significantly larger than their counterparts for topics like MWI? The "drama" concern might be especially salient for political discussion. That's where experiments of this sort are useful. If it turns out that the discussion remains largely drama-free (as it has so far), that is at least some evidence that we can talk about politics on LW without too much drama ruining the site.
That an error is commonly made is not an argument for making it.
I disagree with various parts of that, but in retrospect it was a mistake for me to enter this discussion and I'm hereby bowing out.
From my experience on other parts of the internet, yes a political thread with lots of disagreement clogs the heck out of recent comments etc.

I believe government should be much more localized and I like the idea of charter cities. Competition among governments is good for citizens just as competition among businesses is good for consumers. Of course, for competition to really work out, immigration should not be regulated.

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charter_city

Of course, for competition to really work out, immigration should not be regulated.

How does this follow? Unless I'm having a severe case of reading misapprehension, this is equivalent to arguing that there should be a market in housing because competition between landlords will result in good housing with reasonable rents -- and then adding, as if it were obvious, that for competition to work out, landlords should not have any rules for screening potential tenants.

I think his point was more like 'the landlords / cities must allow people to freely leave.'

Wouldn't that be a lack of regulation on emigration, not immigration?

I have no real ideological objection to immigration regulation but it seems that at the moment it is a big barrier to making governments really competitive among each others. If there were many charter cities within a relatively small area, I guess it wouldn't be an issue if some of them had stricter immigration rules. My personal guess is that governments with lighter immigration control would be the most successful (that was the case of the US a few decades ago) but I'd be happy to be proved wrong. As long as there is a realistic option for citizens to move from one government to the other, competition will work.
I like this idea, but for it to work how we want to, having immigration unregulated isn't quite the right way to put it. Immigration needs to be free, perhaps by contract between charter cities. There'd need to be protocols for the creation of the cities, for the transfer of land between them, for them shutting down, and so on. Perhaps this could be organized by a meta-government. I'm not sure how well a decentralized system would deal with that. The barriers to entry would be very high, unfortunately, and while I'm not well versed on the economics of the development of monopolies, it appears to me that there might need to be some kind of regulation to prevent them from developing and allowing new charter cities to enter the market somehow. Unless the division of land was predetermined and static, which also solves the previous problems of land transfer and city creation. In the end this ends up being a substantially less elegant system than initially imagined, but that doesn't mean it's still not potentially far more elegant and effective than the system we have now. States are supposed to operate and compete in a similar manner, but there aren't enough of them for that to work well enough and AFAICT the federal government plays a much larger role than is ideal. Forgive me if I'm being stupid, I only get over my social anxiety enough to post if I'm a little bit drunk.
Counterargument: cities can compete against each other not only by implementing policies that will benefit the average resident, but also by implementing policies that will attract already successful immigrants. Thus, localizing government could result in policies that are biased to the advantage of already successful people.

(Under the Politics is the Mindkiller test post. Incoming WALL of an argument.)

The typical view of capital punishment by the American right wing voter is correct. I'm speaking of the view that "we damn well know s/he's guilty so don't bother putting them in jail just give 'em a bullet to the head." I will argue that this is the correct course of action for running a justice system under uncertainty.

I'll be crystal clear. I am advocating execution of convicted persons without the special protections traditionally afforded to death penalty cases and without mandatory appeals which reach state supreme courts. I am not advocating for the current system of death penalty, which I consider worse than having no death penalty. "We know they're guilty so lets just kill 'em" can be considered an accurate description of my viewpoint. Also, getting this out of the way, the death penalty does nothing to deter crime more than threat of life imprisonment, and this argument does not rely on any special deterrence properties from capital punishment.

((Lets define some facts so we're working with mutual data. Since 1973, 1267 convicts have been executed, 140 death row inmat... (read more)

'Bednets would be a more efficient use of those resources' is a nearly-fully-generalizable argument against the vast majority of spending within the United States. Reducing US government spending on X by $2 million and increasing spending on bednets by $2 million would be an improvement for nearly all values of X, even if X is something that you support like scientific research, hiring police officers, repairing roads, lead abatement, or early childhood education.

Spending the money on optimal philanthropy is the wrong counterfactual to consider because the money that will be saved, if your proposed capital punishment reform is enacted, will not be spent on optimal philanthropy. My guess at the 4 most likely places where that money would go are:

  1. Other criminal justice spending (e.g. incarcerating more people for other offenses)
  2. General government spending (increasing the amount of spending on whatever policies the government is actually considering on the margin, not the ones that you think would be most valuable)
  3. Reducing the government's debt (or slowing the rate at which the debt increases)
  4. Lowering taxes (or reducing the extent to which taxes are raised), leaving the mo
... (read more)
You are correct on many of your objections, though I disagree on this point. Levels of action, talks about how we can either do something, or increase the rate at which we do something, or increase the rate at which we increase the rate... ad infinitum. It's basically the difference from increasing a number directly, or increasing it's 1st/2nd/3rd/etc derivative. To do lives saved, we can give children bed nets to directly save lives. Or we can build factories to build bed net to save lives faster. Or we can invest in automated technologies to build faster factories. Or we can invest in general AI research to build automated technologies faster (eg, the singularity). By devoting resources to bed nets directly we save lives now, but by going up each level we save way more lives later. Thus, things like donating to SIAI, are saving more lives eventually than bed nets directly. But if you're here, you probably already agree with SIAI above bed nets. For example with the government's case, scientific research eventually speeds up the rate at which we do everything, and education eventually speeds up the rate of the rate at which we do everything. In this manner, I wouldn't consider bed nets better than sci research or education. And there are a lot of other programs that provide similar benefits. However, I don't think imprisonment is one of those things where more funding gets us better meta-improvements. These inefficient programs should also get cut until their marginal utility is comparable. If they start wasting the money that was saved to imprison other people, then we fight that inefficient practice too. There are millions of ways in which our government is wasteful and inefficient. It's the job of us voters to try and constantly push it to be less so.

it's more worthwhile than 1,000 Africans

This is an implicit rate of $500 per life. GiveWell claims less efficiency than that for their top charities now, more like $1,600 to $4,000 (not including example effects of promoting efficiency or transparency and distant indirect effects).

Their number is probably better than Yvain's for talking about available marginal opportunities.

Are you nitpicking for nitpicking's sake, or do you really think that what the SIAI does with $500,000 is more worthwhile than 125 or 312 Africans but not as worthwhile as 1000 Africans, so that being off by a factor of 3 to 8 makes that part of Xachariah's argument invalid?

Mainly, I think it's bad news for probably mistaken estimates to spread, and then disillusion the readers or make the writers look biased. If people interested in effective philanthropy go around trumpeting likely wrong (over-optimistic) figures and don't correct them, then the community's credibility will fall, and bad models and epistemic practices may be strengthened. This is why GiveWell goes ballistic on people who go around quoting its old cost-effectiveness estimates rather than more recent ones (revisions tend to be towards less cost-effectiveness).

There has to be some factor where money sent to SIAI stops being worth more than money sent to Africans, no? If you don't like a 0-10x range, what is your interval?
I don't know, but I think it's unlikely a priori to be within an order of magnitude of the actual present-day effectiveness of the AMF. So I thought it was more likely that there was another reason for pointing that out, and indeed CarlShulman confirmed that.
Both reasons were present in my mind.
I noted this in my post, but it's so long it's understandable if one missed it. I'm not sure if malarial nets were never at 500/life efficiency, or if they were at 500/life at the start of their operation, then the charity got so much funding that all the low hanging fruit was picked and the price increased to 2000/life. My source was based on 'things I sorta half-remember from a newer Givewell interview' whereas Yvain had a concrete number written down, so I used that.

Until the last paragraph, you only made the case that death penalty is better than life imprisonment, not that it is good. So I suggest moving that last paragraph higher up. Also, you suggest the only alternative to life imprisonment or death penalty is setting them free; how about fines, penal labour, torture à la A Clockwork Orange, pillory, etc.?

I realized now that I hadn't made a sufficient argument for execution specifically. I left out quite a few things, but It's such a monolith I'm not sure where to add things in.

There's a few competing options. A non-exhaustive list includes imprisonment (status quo), execution, legalization, rehabilitation, and fines/labor.

Imprisonment is bad and because it's the status quo I focused on it entirely. I consider it the worst of all options except fines/labor. Execution is a terrible option but, as I argue above, better than imprisonment. Fines/labor is the worst because it could incentivize people to increase the number of people who commit crimes in order to get free money/labor, as is already happening with red light cameras causing accidents just to generate more money. Legalization or setting them free is the best option for several classes of crime, but as I mentioned murder isn't one of them.

Rehabilitation / Clockwork Orange's system seems interesting depending on the data. Not the torture part; torture is something I don't condone since it would be expensive and ineffectual. However, ignoring Clockwork Orange's implementation, the idea of perfect rehabilitation is a pow... (read more)

One traditional punishment that I don’t see being explicitly discussed much is exile. I.e., we don’t want you here. You have a month to find somewhere else to go, then we shoot you on sight. It’s got quite a few good points for it: * The convict is responsible for his maintenance, so it’s him/her that must put a price on his/her life; * Even if we pay for his/her air fare it’s cheaper than permanent incarceration; * It’s not permanent (if the convict picks exile), so it can be reversed if new evidence comes up in a decade; * With modern communications the family can interact the convict without leaving the country, or they can choose to leave at the same time if they wish; * If no other country (or abandoned island) can be found to admit the exiled, that’s a pretty good justification for not accepting the cost of their upkeep; * If it so happens that Norway takes them in and rehabilitates them, so much the better; if it happens enough we might copy the experiment, or at least put in place a procedure to “parole” rehabilitated exiles; * Noncompliance is handled quite differently from things like illegal immigration and escape from prison: Next time you’re found (and we can confirm identity pretty well these days if we have the person before and after) you get executed within a couple of days, without the years of appeals and waiting in death row, and a much lesser chance to escape; * It’s pretty clear that people prefer it to prison, death row, and even persecution, given how many self-exile (e.g., run to Mexico) and claim political asylum; wouldn’t it be much simpler to just let someone go wherever someone’ll take them (remember, they get shot if they try to get back) than chase them all across the country just to drag them back, put them in prison, and pay for their upkeep for decades?
Could you describe the mechanism by which this happens? The link seems to include statistical studies showing correlation between cameras and accidents, but I can't imagine how this works causally.
Well, there is the government's FHWA study. There are a couple mechanisms. The first is that sometimes running a red light is safer. People normally don't think about red light cameras and thus their impact on behavior only comes into play when after the driver is already in a position to get caught. This leads to people making unsafe stops when it would be otherwise more advisable to just go through the light. The link above shows an increase in rear-end collisions. More relevant to the original point is how the city reacts. The city council enjoys money and shortens yellow light timings or blocks lengthening of yellow light timings, causing more crashes.
Looking briefly, they're all before-after correlational studies (longitudinal). These are not as good as randomized experiments, but they're still much better than a cross-sectional correlation (eg. "we looked at all traffic lights; ones with cameras have higher accident rates p=0.xyz"). For example, given a cross-sectional correlation result like that, there's a very easy retort: "people only install cameras at dangerous intersections!" The longitudinal design deals with that: "but they weren't so dangerous before the cameras were installed!" Now a critic must look to less likely explanations: "maybe there has been a traffic-crime wave whose early phases caused both the installation and later increased traffic rates" (or something like that, I don't know much about the issue). It is to deal with all these more exotic variants that one wants to step up a level and add randomization.
The critic's default should probably be "publication bias" or something related.
I agree about fines (though that could in principle be fixed by specifying beforehand a very narrow range of things fine money can be spent on); but as for forced labour, your point only applies if the value produced by the prisoners substantially exceeds the cost to house them; if the cost to house them exceeds the value produced by them, your point about regular imprisonment applies instead, and if the two are about the same you deter people without either of those drawbacks. (But yeah, an idea requiring fine tuning is probably not a very good idea.) Anyway, maybe the best possible solution is something that neither of us could imagine.
For the good of the tribe, do not daydream out loud about executing people for the good of the tribe.
If you have a more specific version of this objection, could you spell it out? We know that the current way of spending this money is corrupting: both prison guard unions and private prison corporations lobby for stricter sentences. Taking money from a specific use to the general fund seems to me less corrupting than spending money in any particular place. Of course, loss aversion may cause existing interests to react badly to the removal of money.

Meta: please make one comment per argument. Otherwise you can't distinguish "one very good and one very bad argument" from "two unremarkable arguments".

Hazing is not unethical, nor should it be illegal. Hazing is like BDSM, minus the sex. When it is safe, sane and consensual, hazing promotes group cohesion and intimacy. It is a fast-track to camaraderie, which is why so many fraternity/sororities use it.

I make this comment after being hazed myself, and deciding I couldn't handle it. But several of my friends completed hazing, and went on to haze other people. I see effects as being net positive.

Fraternity hazing seems to regularly involve drunkenness. Combining drunkenness with BDSM seems to be considered a bad idea in the BDSM community, both in terms of consent and safety.

About 80% of hazing deaths involve alcohol. I was lucky in that my organization was alcohol-free and safety-conscious.
Given that you assert that hazing is a net positive, and you notice that it causes some deaths, this seems to imply that you believe the benefits exceed the cost of those deaths. Is this correct?
I interpreted it to mean that hazing with safety considerations is good, not all current hazing.
Social pressure and alcohol mean in practice hazing isn't safe, sane, or consensual.
Maybe I was lucky, but in my case the hazing was all three of these things.
Is anyone trying to ban consensual hazing?

None of the 44 states with laws against hazing make an exception for consensual hazing, and some laws directly say that consent is not a legal defense.

I didn't know that! I checked French law and it too explicitly prohibits consensual hazing. I've been (very mildly) hazed and I believed the opposite. Those are dumb laws. If they're worried that people will be pressured to go along with it they should ban that directly. I'm curious about your experience. Mind telling what the hazing was and whether you had any trouble getting out of it?

Officially, my university had zero-tolerance policy towards hazing. In practice, hazing was permitted so long as wasn't dangerous. Some organizations inevitably pushed the line; they were punished. But my organization did not push the line.

Some activities I was a "victim" of:

  • Following a long list of arbitrary rules, such as which side of the sidewalk I could walk on.
  • Breaking these rules would result in group punishment. Every time one freshman messed up, all the freshmen would have to do push-ups or squats or something.
  • Memorizing arcane trivia about my organization and my university.
  • Speaking to upperclassmen in a formal and rigid procedure.
  • Lots of physical activity. Exercise was a way of life for the organization, and the upperclassmen would exercise with us for eight hours per week. (You were strongly encouraged to do more on your own) At one point, the upperclassmen were planning to make us run 18 miles. That was cancelled when the university raised an eyebrow.
  • I probably averaged 5.5 hours of sleep per night during the weekdays. I had to schedule naps during the day.
  • We had to pee in some unusual places.
  • Rules about how to eat, what we could wear, words we were
... (read more)

So... what conclusions can we draw from this experiment?

I learned a few things; first, http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/dsv/is_politics_the_mindkiller_an_inconclusive_test/73ug included a link to a more fully reducted form of the argument I was posing which I had previously been unaware of. (It relies on a metaphor, which I'm generally cautious of, but I think in this case it's a good metaphor.)

Second, I learned LessWrongians don't like rules on upvoting/downvoting. Either that or the fact that the comments here appeared in the comments section messe... (read more)

[Poll #2] Upvote here if you have a preference, considering how this experiment went, to start having quarantined (inasmuch as debate here can be quarantined) political debates on LessWrong
[Poll #1] Upvote here if you: [Edit] Found that this experiment demonstrated that useful political discussions are possible here.
[Poll #1] Karma dump
[Poll #1] Upvote here if you: [Edit] Do not find that this experiment demonstrated that useful political discussions are possible here.
You mean Poll #1, right?
Yes I did.

The impression I get is not so much that we avoid politics on principle but that there are more important "political" issues out there than those that most people understand and argue about. If more people would "taboo" (avoid) these arguments they would come across these more important issues much faster rather than being distracted before they get there.

Abortion for example: Even if we bite the right-wing bullet that humanity is killing thousands of innocent pre-conscious human entities (babies!) per day, it seems less significant in ... (read more)

I disagree: if you accept the premise that biological life (and not brain function) determines human value, then abortion becomes low-hanging fruit for saving human life-value. One law can prevent thousands of babies dying per day. It's like religion. If you accept that God and Hell are real, then becoming a fundamentalist Christian and trying as hard as you can to convert as many people as possible is the only ethical option.

It's like religion. If you accept that God and Hell are real, then becoming a fundamentalist Christian and trying as hard as you can to convert as many people as possible is the only ethical option.

Nonsense. That is the most ethical of the options that your brain is willing to provide you when you ask it "what is the best option?" But if someone actually had that belief a more ethical option would be to murder as many Muslims, Atheists and Buddhists (of child bearing age) as you can. The chance that you will successfully convert any given individual is tiny and if you allow them to live to breed they will raise children doomed to hell.

An even better option is to kill all males who will not convert and keep all women (Christian and otherwise) pregnant constantly with twins (IVF, fertility drugs). The children are to be taken and raised to be loyal to your faith.

(Or you build an FAI to tile the universe with Christians with the minimum possible lifespan to qualify for heaven.)

The bible's more coherent passages to have pretty strong claims about killing and enslaving people. But disregarding that, you're probably right. That said, most people are not that creative. Those that are tend to wind up atheists.
So God frowns upon your sin of mass murder, but you will have saved numerous souls from Hell. "Shut up and multiply," I think the saying goes. It's better still if you run a government, and can force conversion by the sword. Incidentally, similar reasoning applies to infanticide if you believe that dead children go to heaven automatically. In fact, this one is probably a better bet, since small children are easier to take in a fight, and killing them will directly guarantee their salvation. (I enjoy this topic more than is strictly proper.)
If you believe that god has the authority to define morality, than violating divine edict is immoral, regardless of your feelings on Hell. Although, that has serious problems, since divine commandments are internally contradictory...
That's why some hold all humans are inherently and necessarily sinful.
Yes, if you don't genocide the heathens you can be sentenced to death. I think you are only allowed to enslave foreigners too. The New Testament has a somewhat less positive attitude to slaughter---on the other hand it also says "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." then goes on to say that you just have to repent after you sin. It wouldn't be ethical to not slaughter all the heathens to preempt their breeding then repenting and feeling some shame about it. Kind of like with masturbation only it provides thousands of infinities of utility.
For a sufficiently fanatical believer the most moral act may be to genocide the heathens and then go to hell for it, thus sacrificing own eternity in order to save the heathens and their children from hell. Similar beliefs were held by the Romanian Iron guard movement (they were willing to go to hell to save their nation rather than the heathens but it's still sort of impressive).
Yes. They say killing unbelievers is a duty, and enslaving is allowed within limits (except when killing is mandatory). They don't say much about the need to evangelize and convert others, though.
But you can still go to heaven via faith. And even if you can't, then you're sacrificing your own salvation to save others, which is very moral.
I disagree - this is not known. Particularly the magnitude of the expected effect is hard to predict and a cost-benefit analysis requires a prediction. * The law would affect conception rates as well as birthrates, and we don't know how ahead of time. * It would also affect rates of unwanted babies born and given up for adoption or raised in unloving or too-poor or single-mother homes. These factors affect life expectancy (also through hightened poverty and crime), which have moral weight by the "biological human life" criterion. * Some women would still do illegal or at-home or out-of-state abortions. Some of the women would also die or be injured thereby. * Enforcement of the law costs money and resources and also depends on cultural support for the law in each community.
“God and Hell are real” doesn't imply that whoever is not a Christian will go to hell. Even some Christians (e.g. present-day mainstream Catholics) acknowledge that.
I wonder what your last sentence implies, as I have found "present-day mainstream Catholics" to be more reasonable than many other denominations. Though it depends who you place in that group.
Presumably the Pope is not a mainstream Catholic.
"Even" as in "not only detractors of Christianity, but also some Christians themselves". Edited to make that clearer.
Political issues are generally those that many people, or powerful people, care strongly and disagree about. At LW we discuss mostly issues that most people don't understand, know about, or care about. That's the only reason they are not "political". Suppose someone builds an AGI and it changes the world. Everyone will suddenly care about FAI, AI ethics, etc. The issues will become highly politicized and no doubt strong mind-killers for most people who talk about them. But I wouldn't want LW to then stop talking about those issues.

META: I think it's an interesting experiment. However, I wouldn't want to get involved if it violates LW's posting rules. There's a longstanding community norm against discussing politics, but I don't know if it is actually violating the rules to do so. Can the mods please clarify?

Edit: I've observed that at least three people have voted this comment down. I'm unsure why.


It wasn't a mod-given verdict; it's just a (very beneficial, I think) norm that's arisen, partly due to the post this refers to.


It's worth noting that the actual enforcement of the norm-- downvoting of any comment remotely perceived as political-- is a dramatic enlargement of the recommendation actually made in that post.

I'm not saying that I think Overcoming Bias should be apolitical, or even that we should adopt Wikipedia's ideal of the Neutral Point of View. But try to resist getting in those good, solid digs if you can possibly avoid it. If your topic legitimately relates to attempts to ban evolution in school curricula, then go ahead and talk about it—but don't blame it explicitly on the whole Republican Party; some of your readers may be Republicans, and they may feel that the problem is a few rogues, not the entire party. As with Wikipedia's NPOV, it doesn't matter whether (you think) the Republican Party really is at fault. It's just better for the spiritual growth of the community to discuss the issue without invoking color politics.

Instead of merely downvoting the "good solid digs" and color politics people will downvote anything that even pattern matches with a contemporary policy issue. This, I would argue, actually exacerbates any political thinking because commenters then feel like they're being attacked and respond in kind.

The other half of this is that discussing politics is goddamn useless, and I say that as someone who really enjoy's discussing and thinking about politics. Even if you were to make really fast progress in coming to sound conclusions about politics it would still be useless because almost everyone has very little political power and thus changing their minds has very little effect on the world.


People here usually value having true beliefs for their own sake. It's hard to imagine convincing someone of the efficacy of NGDP futures targeting or humanitarian military intervention is actually more useless than convincing someone of the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics or Bayesian epistemology. There is no shortage of Less Wrong discussions involving people trying to persuade others to hold beliefs that will have no impact on the world and I don't think that criteria is diagnostic of whether or not a discussion should take place on Less Wrong.

Hey screw you buddy! (Ha ha, only serious.)
Perhaps I should note that I have spent many hours engaged in such conversations. It's just that the utility of the conversion isn't really relevant to the question of whether or not they're worthwhile-- I don't think the time spent on such conversations is wasted or anything like that...

Let's ban HPMOR discussion! We've wasted way more words on that than on politics.

It might be helpful to have a meta-discussion about the expected value of thinking about politics.

And then we can discuss whether having all the discussions about whether to discuss politics is really less costly than simply discussing politics :D

There's a community norm, but not a hard policy. It's been explicitly suggested in the past to have experimental posts like this around political issues, particularly to test the waters and see if we can take it.

"Upvote and downvote based on whether or not you find an argument convincing in the context in which it was raised. This means if it's a good argument against the argument it is responding to, not whether or not there's a good/obvious counterargument to it; if you have a good counterargument, raise it."

It can't be a good counterargument if there's a good obvious counterargument to it. obvious but not good is fine, good but not obvious might be/is sorta fine but not both. You could well have meant either, as a forward slash tends to mean or, but... (read more)

* Unless you mean good to include good for advancing the discussion but I didn't get that impression Advancing the discussion was the purpose of the rules I tried to forward. See this statement: "A faulty line of argument provides opportunity for rebuttal, and so for our test has value even then; that is, I want some faulty lines of argument here" After all, there may be a non-obvious counterargument to the obvious counterargument. A faulty line of argument may be a good line of argument wrapped in unnecessary faulty logic or assumptions.

Moldbug is less wrong than most political scientists, many historians and quite a few sociologists.

"I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible."

--Peter Thiel, The education of a libertarian

This has been my opinion as well since late 2011.

This implies you, and he, previously believed they are compatible. What evidence determined that original belief, and what evidence made you change your mind that only appeared in 2011 in your case? What changed Thiel's mind (link to quote context please)?
I have added a source for Peter Thiel's statement, some of his reasons are also mine. My previous belief was primarily based on adults telling me as a child that democracy was the mechanism keeping us free. My change of opinion stems in large part for me looking for the appropriate evidence for such a claim and not finding it. One of the arguments that kept me believing in my early teenage years was that looking around the world one sees "democracies" as better places to live and more free than "non-democracies". This isn't powerful evidence at all since we have only a handful of countries in the world that don't claim to be democracies. The problems of this poor data set are compounded by first world people play a game of no true Scotsman to explain the terrible results democracy brings to many third world countries, often with sentiments not far from: Note this is a fully general argument against all failure of any political regime or ideology, one that is often use to explain away the atrocities of Communism under Stalin or Mao. First world countries are much better places to live materially and have more freedom than many third world ones but I don't see a convincing case that this is due to democracy.
"Democracy keeps us free" is a very different claim from "democracy is compatible with freedom". Even if you now think democracy and freedom are not correlated at all, as long as they are not anticorrelated, why would you think they are incompatible? Thiel in his essay appears to be saying that specifically in the contemporary US, the people don't want freedom, so it is incompatible with effective democracy. (His relevant definition of freedom seems to be pure free markets without government intervention, or without intervention of certain kinds.) That's a tautology. Because they are better places, you call them first world countries.
The reasons why they might be anti-correlated Thiel explores seem mostly about the US and not some hypothetical country of mostly Libertarian voters. The thing is no such country exists in the world and this is I think no coincidence. Democracy is like having dinner in a expensive restaurant with a few million people where everyone knows they will be splitting the bill at the end of the evening. The incentives are both on a organizational and individual level messed up and we rationalize our choices afterwards to make them seen less like defecting against other people. If this wasn't bad enough people for some reason tend to have strong sentiments attaching them to their state of birth, which leaves them open to exploitation by that Eldritch Abomination. Note that I fully agree that "the market" is one too. Then there is the Moldbuggian argument that in a democracy power corrupts the truth finding mechanisms of a society. The map the society uses veers off in all sorts of unpredictable but memetically adaptive ways from the territory. One of the more insidious edits is the doddle at the centre of the map claiming that you are living in a good approximation of a Popperian Open Society. In short democratic government like many structures built out of humans doesn't necessarily behave in human friendly ways. We have strong evidence that it is viral and good at waging 19th and 20th century style wars, weak evidence that it is less unfriendly than most structures we have tried in the past and even weaker if any evidence that we can't come up with something much better. You are right. I should have said Western Europe, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan are nicer places to live and more free than say Iran, Egypt or Nigeria but the reason probably isn't democracy. While redundantly worded I think the original statement still makes sense. Countries that are nicer places to live may tend to be democracies, but they also tend to have higher rates o
Apologies for late reply. True. But we have no evidence that it's any worse, more unfriendly, than other modes of government we've already tried before. If one accepts the above statement, as I do, then "democracy is incompatible with freedom" implies "we have never had freedom yet". One who holds such a position, should be very wary of freedom: who knows what it might do to society if it's a major new untried social condition! Fortunately, I don't accept the premise.
Out of curiosity, do you think some other large-scale organizational system possible among humans is more compatible with freedom, or is this just a special case of the principle that large-scale human organizations are incompatible with freedom?
I think they are possible. I'm especially optimistic about the new possibilities opened by advancing technology. Thought talking to Konkvistador has made me think even something as simple as a well thought out monarchy might be better for city-states and small countries with no more than a few million people.

I think the problem with politics is that people forget that societies are like people: they change. So, to quote some Popperian philosophy: "The fact that change is never going to stop renders the very notion of a blueprint for the good society nonsensical, for even if society became like the blueprint it would instantly begin to depart from it." Imagine that instead of trying to tell society how to be perfect you had an even easier job: how to instruct a single human being in the art of perfection. I don't think that would be a very easy task -... (read more)


Hydraulic engineering is not an exercise in identifying the "perfect state of fluids" and then trying to fix fluids in that state. It is an exercise in identifying the properties of fluids that govern how they respond to various forces, and then using that knowledge to build fluid-dynamic systems that behave in useful ways.

Done right, politics is similarly an exercise in identifying the properties of humans that govern how they respond to various forces, and then using that knowledge to build human-dynamic systems that behave in useful ways.

The fact that individual humans change in the process of traveling through these systems is undeniable, but no more relevant to the perfectibility or imperfectibility of politics than the fact that different water flows through my pipes every day is to the perfectibility or imperfectibility of plumbing.

Your argument works against literally everything (it seems to be saying "things which are not perfect are not valuable"). It is therefore not effective against politics.