I got lots of helpful comments in my first post, so I'll try a second: I want to develop a list of criteria by which to evaluate a presidency. Coming up with criteria and metrics on the economy is pretty easy, but I'd like to ask for suggestions on proxies for evaluating:


  • Racial relations;
  • Gender equality;
  • Impact on free trade / protectionism;
  • Education;
  • Any other significant factor that would determine whether a president is successful.
Note: a few people have pointed out that the president is restrained by senators and congressmen etc - I realise that; but if we are willing to admit that presidents do have some effect in society, we should be prepared to measure them.



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Gender equality: reduction in male female differences in lifespan, deaths on the job, % victory in custody disputes, % in prison, % in college, % in medical school, % in law school, and eliminating any gender favoritism in college sexual harassment complaint adjudication.

I suspect you are coming from a "men are actually "less equal" than women" perspective...
In many ways. I actually think that on average men have a higher variance of outcomes than women so most people on the top and bottom of society are men.
If x < y is inequality, so is y < x. Or perhaps we should call it "greater-than-or-equality" to avoid confusion.
"Less equal" is a reference to "All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others" from Animal Farm.
The lifespan gap may be enforced by biology, but it seems wildly unjust to me that retirement-related social programs like Social Security and Medicare do not take the lifespan expectancy gap into account. For example, if the life expectancy gap is 5 years, the Medicare age of eligibility should be 68 for women and 63 for men, so that both sexes get the same number of years of expected coverage.
I would wager that the majority of gender inequalities in the Western world are reinforced by biology.
(Also income and other professional phenomena.)
I think those are extremely unlikely to be in any way the fault of former US presidents.
Vietnam? runs away
Good point. (But FWIW Scott expressed skepticism at the idea that Trump will decrease that particular kind of male deaths.)
Certainly not most of it, but: "According to estimates from the National Institutes of Health, in the United States in 2010, 207,090 women and 1,970 men will get new cases of breast cancer, while 39,840 women and 390 men will likely die from the disease. The estimated new cases of prostate cancer this year — all affecting men — is 217,730, while it is predicted 32,050 will die from the disease....In fiscal year 2009, breast cancer research received $872 million worth of federal funding, while prostate cancer received $390 million."
If breast cancer is a more serious disease than prostate cancer, it does make sense to spend more on the former. (Assuming that the number of breast cancer deaths equals the number of breast cancer cases times exp(-(federal funding for breast cancer research)/k) and likewise for prostate cancer disease, the constant k is $529M for breast cancer and $204M for prostate cancer, and the allocation of $1.262bn among these two diseases that minimizes the total number of deaths is about $765M for breast cancer and $497M for prostate cancer, resulting in about 68,200 combined deaths compared to the actual 71,890, so the actual allocation is at least in the right ballpark.)
(This used to be a gentle comment which tried to very indirectly defend feminism while treating James_Miller kindly, but I've taken it down for my own health)
I was trying to humorously point out a common false assumption: that improving gender equality would necessarily benefit women relative to men. I'm not good at tone (and this does get me in trouble) so could you please explain why what I wrote might be considered offensive?
To stick my oar in for a minute, as I am wont to do, I didn't find your comment offensive. That which is true should never be offensive, and those are some real metrics by which gender inequality can be measured. However I didn't get "humorous". I thought it was intended to be serious, though I could interpret the intended message in several different ways - interpretations to which my responses could range anywhere from "total agreement" to "not even worth engaging", so I decided to see where the discussion went before joining in anywhere. I think if the humour was intended to arise from "this is not the type of list you expected", you might be underestimating how frequently points about "gender inequalities which disadvantage males" are made in public discussions of anything related to gender equality. I'm not criticizing your tone - I think tone-policing is rarely useful unless someone's being an egregious dickhead - so I guess I'm just criticizing your comedy.
Regarding tone specifically, you have two strong options: one would be to send strong "I am playing" signals, such as by dropping the points which men's rights people might make, and, say, parodying feminist points. Another would be to keep the tone as serious as it currently is, but qualify things more; in some other contexts, qualifying your arguments sounds low-status, but in discussions of contentious topics on a public forum, it can nudge participants towards cooperative truth-seeking mode. Amusingly, I emphasized the points of your comment that I found agreeable in my first reply, both since you're pretty cool, and also since I didn't want the fact that I'm a hardcore feminist to be obvious enough to affect the discourse. However, to the extent which my reply was more serious than your comment, this could have made me look like the less feminist one out of the two of us :D
Fair enough! I am readily willing to believe your statement that that was your intent. It wasn't possible to tell from the comment itself, since the metric regarding sexual harassment report handling is much more serious than the other metrics.
Yes, I probably should have omitted that one. My information bubble keeps discussing cases in which men are treated horribly in college sexual harassment disputes, but I should have recognized that other peoples' bubbles don't and so my including it would send an unintended signal.
Is there any reason to think that % in prison "should" be more equal? (Some alleged psychological differences between typical men and typical women are controversial. Some are less so. That men are statistically more prone to violence is surely one of the ones that's less so.)
Since we're talking about optimizing for "equality" between two fundamentally unequal things, why not? Are you saying having the same amount of men and women in prison would be detrimental to the enforcement of gender equality? How does that follow?

"Gender equality" is a fuzzy term. Taken sufficiently literally, it's absurd (We demand equal rights for men to bear children! We demand equal rates of breast cancer for men and women!). So, when the goal is reasonable discussion (as opposed to, say, making one's ideological opponents look silly), we should either avoid using the term or interpret it more charitably.

I think there is a useful thing that the term "gender equality" is gesturing towards, even though taken absolutely literally those words don't point in quite the right direction. It means things like not giving preferential treatment to one sex or gender over another when there isn't an actual reason for doing so, and finding ways to reduce disadvantages faced by one sex or gender even if they are (incidental) consequences of real differences.

This is not the same thing as claiming that there must be absolute equality according to all measures. Neither is it the same thing as saying that any sort of equality must be enforced. (Yes, I saw what you did when you slipped in "the enforcement of". That's rude. Please desist.)

Yes, I am suggesting that a modicum of charity be extended even to your p... (read more)

So what's your problem?

That a bunch of people are deliberately misinterpreting what ArisC wrote in order to make snarky points about how People These Days are too nice to women and not nice enough to men. I think that sort of discussion is better conducted more straightforwardly, and I am rather bored of the way that every. single. time anyone on LW says anything suggesting what fir want of a better term I'll call progressive social values, someone comes along to display their oh-so-brave contrarianism by boldly sticking up for the idea that maybe Socia... (read more)

note: topic text was originally different, and included a recently-elected president's name; which would've ranked on google for related-keywords. Below is unedited comment, asking for that name not to be included

Since "Downvoting temporarily disabled", I would like to express a very, very strong disapproval of this topic being discussed on lesswrong. Rationale:

1, Politics is the mindkiller

2, It attracts the sort of people who would like to discuss these sorts of things, at the expense of those (including myself), who do not; specifically, by ra... (read more)

I started to read this comment, went to upvote it, read the last paragraph, and didn't upvote.
Can you point at the part which you find objectionable?
The point isn't that I find any part objectionable. It's that I thought it was a good comment but I would not in fact "like to ask for an Admin intervention". (Perhaps my memory is failing, but I think that when I read it before it said that "all upvoters of this comment" wanted an admin intervention specifically to delete the post; what it says now is more reasonable, though I still would not go so far.) As it happens, I do find it very slightly objectionable to claim that "all upvoters of this comment" want some particular thing (some people might upvote without noticing that claim, aside from anything else). I would object less to the formally-kinda-equivalent "Please upvote this comment if you would like X, and downvote it if you think X would be a good idea", but in general I think it is better to leave upvotes and downvotes to mean approve/disapprove; if you want upvotes to be interpreted as advocacy of a particular thing, post a comment that only advocates that particular thing.
Admin intervention is way too much.
I am actually looking for criteria to evaluate any president. I only wrote Trump because it's whom I had in mind, obviously. Can I edit my own article?
Yes. The pen icon underneath your post will allow you to do that.
Done! Thanks.
(And since this is a rationalist forum, let me just point out that... 1. Personal opinion, everything else pertains to politics, and is kind of pointless if not; 2. Yeah, so? Unless lesswrong.com is specifically designed for you, that's a bizarre comment; 3. Again, very specious argument. You can apply it to literally everything ever written anywhere on the internet. 4. Anecdotal evidence, inadmissible.)

Large difference in estimated competence even when plenty of other information available; plausible differences in competence are mostly not large. Largest differences I've heard of from actual scientific investigations are about one standard deviation, for "mental rotation" tasks; most are smaller and they go in both directions. So for most tasks, and still more for most jobs (since a job typically involves multiple diverse tasks), I would expect average sex differences to be well under one standard deviation. Now suppose a nontrivial amount of ... (read more)

Yes, but by the same standard, all metrics are interesting to the extent they are causal to happiness!

best metric, one of the very few that are easy to meawsure:


... and who paid for it ;-)

And girth.

Note: a few people have pointed out that the president is restrained by senators and congressmen etc - I realise that; but if we are willing to admit that presidents do have some effect in society, we should be prepared to measure them.

If I go to a homeopath and get better afterwards, I could use the metric of my health to measure that the homeopath is great at helping me.

While you might not reason that way in the domain of medicine and see the error if I frame that example this way, you want to reason this way in the political domain. You want to measu... (read more)

[...] principle of charity [...] the most rational interpretation of what someone said, even if you're pretty sure he meant something dumber.

"Most rational" and "most literal" are not the same thing.

A better metric for gender equality

Oh, I dunno. I don't think it's a particularly sensible thing to try to evaluate a president on after four years. These things change slowly, and their effects propagate slowly. We could maybe measure, e.g., whether the Trump administration itself is biased against women when hiring, but gender equality in society at large? There's not that much Trump can do about it, and any effects he might have will take a long time to show up and be very difficult to disentangle from other causes.

But the sort of thing you could do ... (read more)

So basically [...]


I don't think anybody is claiming to be particularly courageous here.

The bit about courage is my attempt at figuring out some of the mental processes that lead people to behave that way. I could of course be wrong.

I'm not sure why equality is being treated as a terminal goal

I don't think it really is. It's just a convenient shorthand. I can't speak for ArisC, but I would certainly not welcome (e.g.) equalizing incarceration rates of men and women by framing a lot of women for crimes they never committed and throwing them i... (read more)

From the employer's point of view the problem is that women are usually less committed to their career. Specifically, they tend to get pregnant, have kids, and then decide that racing other rats for the position of the senior assistant to the junior manager isn't really worth it. Men are much more reliable in that respect :-/
That could affect willingness to hire, but it shouldn't affect estimates of competence. Some of those studies that found that female names made otherwise-identical candidates less likely to get hired also looked at hirers' estimates of how competent they were likely to be, and found that female names meant lowered estimated competence.

Jesus Christ. This is beyond derailed. For what it's worth, gjm is right, people are either purposefully misrepresenting what I wrote (in which case they are pedantic and juvenile) or they didn't understand what I meant (in which case, you know, go out and interact with people outside your bubble).

And anyway - the reason I want to measure progress towards closing the gap where women have it worse is so that I can fairly evaluate feminist arguments about Trump in 4 years time. If in 4 years time it turns out that women earn more than men across the board, t... (read more)

can you give an example of a better metric?

A better metric of what than what?

James was being extremely charitable.

Deliberately taking someone to mean something you are pretty sure they didn't mean -- which I'm not sure whether James in particular was doing, but others in this discussion certainly have been -- is not "extremely charitable", it is rude.

It means things like not giving preferential treatment to one sex or gender over another when there isn't an actual reason for doing so, and finding ways to reduce disadvantages faced by one sex or gender even if they are (incidental) consequences of real differences.

gjm already stated what he meant by gender equality quite clearly. I see no justification for putting words in his mouth.

I was trying to be funny so at least in this case, yes.

This is not at all easy to do, for multiple reasons, and probably not great content for LW because we will probably be attempting to reinvent a lot of wheels from political science and economics.

It might make a good topic review post if someone goes and does a literature review on the subject.

Guys, come on. I am not setting up a formal tribunal for Trump. I want your measured opinions. Don't let's be pedantic.
Well I would honestly start by doing a literature review of what the relevant academic fields have already studied. If I had to guess on the spot what makes a government good, I woild caution that a lot of what one sees in outcomes in the short term is determined by economics. On top of that there are broader political processes that are just gping to happen. Maybe one thing I feel fairly confident about is that starting expeditionary wars of aggression has a very bad track record.
It's hard to think of how one could do a lit review on that without, like, a thousand sources to try and characterize the general scope of the problem.

Are you really looking for metrics to evaluate Donald Trump as president or for metrics to evaluate any president? The title says the first; I think we actually want the second.

I think it's really difficult -- the important things a president can influence are all affected by lots of other factors too. Consider e.g. "Obamacare"; for good or ill, the healthcare reform Obama was actually able to get done was (for better or worse) strongly influenced by what congressional Republicans were willing to do, and of course its actual overall effect is lia... (read more)

Worth noting that many of those Ds are in states that voted R in the most recent election. We should increase predicted probability they will lose now, and not be surprised or change our evaluation of evidence when it actually happens.
Yup. Key point here: no, the Democrats are not in any way likely to retake the senate in 2018, even if Donald Trump is conspicuously disappointing. (If, as some have suggested might transpire, he is not so much "conspicuously disappointing" as "full-on fascist totalitarian dictator" then that might bring enough unpopularity to others in his party -- but in that case I wouldn't be too optimistic about the prospects for improving anything by voting, no matter what the result.)

Depends on your values. You might think free trade is causal to world peace. Or causal to world development and avoidance of XRisk. Or reduction in non-war suffering.

If you only look at the american economy you miss the other stuff.

Coming up with criteria and metrics on the economy is pretty easy

I think it can be quite hard to do this in the context of evaluating a presidency. For example while you could look at GDP, unemployment, etc. it can be hard to determine if the president had much impact on those numbers.

Does anyone know if there have been efforts to quantify the impact of a president on the economy? I would imagine that most of the change is due to randomness/external factors.


This is another tricky one, in that we might need to wait more than 4 years to see the results for a lot of metrics.

I agree. In fact, I think coming up with criteria and metrics on the economy is profoundly challenging within the US context. We know there are right tail events (inflation, unemployment, etc) that are very strong. But when they are all generally stable, or within the realm of stability, but the variation within demographics and geographies of the US is huge, the value of the metrics can start to dramatically collapse IMO.

It sort of seems like you have to decide what constitutes 'success' in your eyes. Going by what you've listed, I doubt you'll think that he's a success.

I'm a supporter. For me, I'd settle for:

1: Don't attack Syria 2: Sign the stuff that Congress passes as long as we have a Rep majority. 3: Appoint conservative justices to the SC if he gets the chance.

Bonus: 1: Make the countries that President Obama called 'free riders' start paying up. This seems like a passion of Trumps, he's been talking about it for 30 years. I'm moderately hopeful here, but realistic enough to know that this is probably a stretch.

OK that's not a well thought out response. So if Trump launches a nuclear war, or tanks the economy, or deports all Muslims &c, that's fine as long as he meets these 3 criteria?! I am trying to list criteria by which to evaluate any president. I am not trying to set up Trump to fail - else I could just have "appoint a liberal Justice".
Certainly, I'd agree that Trump would be a failure (nay, THE failure) if the world ends in nuclear fire. It sort of seems like at that point we don't need itemized lists though? I don't buy that presidents can affect the economy in a big enough way to tank it. At least, none that I've seen have done so. Grading a prez on what the econ does feels like grading him on the weather. I wouldn't have a problem with deporting all illegal immigrants. All Muslims, on the other hand, would involve deporting a lot of Americans. I'm not sure where you'd deport them too? But, sure, I'll certainly agree that deporting American citizens would be grounds for failure.
I was exaggerating a bit - but I am sure you agree that your criteria are too few and unimportant to judge a whole presidency...

Aren't we already using the hand size metric?

I apologize for assuming you meant something semi-reasonable by what you wrote, I will refrain from making that assumption in the future.

Okay, let's go into "talking to a 5yo mode". We have these facts: a) the vast majority of people use "gender inequality" to refer to the fact that women are disadvantaged. b) terms like this are defined by common usage. c) since common usage means "women are disadvantaged", the reasonable think to do is that when a random person utters the phrase, they refer to that. Whether women are in f... (read more)

I don't see why it makes any less sense than gender equality in general.

I didn't say it does. (LW has no shortage of people objecting to "gender equality in general". I'm offering a bit of metacontrarianism here.)

If you look at the evidence, as opposed to the squid ink being thrown around to make things "controversial", it's about as well supported as most of the others.

So, just to be clear, are you saying it is well supported or it isn't? It seems to me that it is but there may be a pile of evidence I'm not familiar with.

(What I... (read more)

As Scott Alexander wrote "Society is fixed, biology is mutable.". If gender income inequality is caused by society but gender prison inequality is caused by biology then we have more hope of fixing prison inequality.
We may, but probably not on a timescale of 4 years.

Obviously congress is also going to be doing things at the same time as Trump and might well have more of an effect on these measures than him personally. If there is a Democrat congress in two years time then could we perhaps try to isolate Trump's contribution by comparing between the two time periods?

I'm concerned about Trump's potential effect on the economy. Effects on employment and pay are also worth evaluating.

Subthread for metrics to evaluate the metrics.

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