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As Multiheaded added, "Personal is Political" stuff like gender relations, etc also may belong here.


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What's going on with fertility?

My comments on a Marginal Revolution post that linked to this Der Spiegel article about the ROI of different forms of fertility subsidies. (As of 2010, German fertility rates were 1.39 despite sizeable subsidies for family formation.)

Reshuffled my comments to make for easier contiguous reading:

What I take away from the German article is that people REALLY don’t want to get married – or rather, [people really don't want to] avoid single parenthood. Thus bribing them to have two-parent households is really expensive. If you want to increase your birthrate, the argument goes, subsidizing single motherhood + work instead has a better ROI because that’s what people want to do anyway.

Let that sink in for a moment. Somehow, in the last few generations, the traditional family model that people have been eagerly perpetuating for centuries has suddenly become incredibly unappealing. People don’t want to get get married, and women in an incredibly wealthy country would rather add a little additional income rather than spend time raising their children. (Whatever happened to diminishing marginal utility of money?)

There’s good evidence that kids were never a

... (read more)
There is some evidence for such a preference in some ancient cultures during some times and places (these were rare for obvious reasons), e.g., Italians during the late Roman Empire. This reminds me of Calhoun's mouse universes.
I agree that something unusual is going on. Humans, unlike any other species I'm aware of, are voluntarily restricting our own population growth. But I don't know why you say that there's "no reason" to believe that this strange behavior might benefit us. Surely you can think of at least one reason? After all, all those other species that don't voluntarily limit their own reproduction eventually see their populations crash, or level off in the face of fierce competition over resources, when they meet or exceed their environment's carrying capacity. The laws of physics as we currently understand them dictate that exponential growth cannot continue forever. I'm not saying that there are no foreseeable downsides to population leveling off. And I'm not saying that there's no risk of unforeseeable consequences of the social changes underlying this demographic shift. But I am saying that (amid all the pros and cons) there is one obvious, important reason why human population leveling off might be a good thing. The downsides are neither so obvious nor so potentially dramatic. To illustrate this, lets look at Last's (awful) WSJ article quoted in the Marginal Revolutions post. Last does his best to paint declining fertility as a nightmare scenario. But the data he presents simply don't support his tone. For example: In other words, low-fertility societies do have an incentive to innovate - in medicine and life extension. And not just for the benefit of the old - they also have an incentive to keep the young healthy and productive as long as possible, to maintain their shrinking workforce (which may go some ways toward explaining Japan's excellent school nutrition program, and low, declining childhood obesity rates). They also have an incentive to develop automation to replace aging workers, which I know is a major reason that Japan is a leader in robotics. Let's take a closer look at Japan: Wait, did he just admit that Japan's economy is still growing? Yep, both GDP and
It's probably not about money, but about status. There is never enough status, by definition, for an average person. Feminists taught women that having a job is high status, and taking care of children is low status. (Of course there are also other reasons to prefer job, not only status. People may like their jobs, or at least enjoy the sense of financial security or social opportunities that jobs provide.) Maybe jobs today are actually quite easy and pleasant, and we just have a cultural taboo against admitting it. I mean, I was surprised when I asked some people about what would they do if they luckily became millionaires and never had to go to work again. Many people responded that without a job, life would be boring. (What, they can't imagine a time-consuming hobby?) So it seems like to some degree people today have jobs to avoid boredom or existential anxiety; and they ask money only because they need to pay their expenses, and as a status symbol. This would explain why so many different jobs have similar working times and similar salaries.
Agreed that status is part of the explanation, and the recent devaluing of parenting effort vs. job effort is certainly contributory. I'm not sure how to weigh your statement that jobs are now "easy and pleasant" (certainly they're physically less demanding and safer than in the past) with the prevalence of chronic stress and so on. Certainly your millionaire example is weak evidence that jobs are some combination of fun and statusful, though it has the same status-quo caveats as people thinking of the upside of death. Also note the great stress and unhappiness coming from being laid off or otherwise unemployed, even among well-off people with adequate savings. But notice also that past aristocrats were able to amuse themselves perfectly well without what we now recognize as a job, with some combination of socializing and deep immersion in hobbies. We have many people now with similar levels of wealth, yet they don't tend to evolve in that direction. Status, rather than fun, seems to be the more important factor here. Another thought is that perhaps work has become more gameified than in the past through the same evolutionary pattern that produces superstimulus foods. This is much more possible in office work than in for example agriculture where the pattern of tasks is set by uncaring nature at a very deep level.
“I suppose it is because nearly all children go to school nowadays and have things arranged for them that they seem so forlornly unable to produce their own ideas.” ~Agatha Christie Maybe the modern aristocrats unable to enjoy their life without work are victims of the school system. They spend years learning that you have to participate in some structured activity in the morning, and then you have to waste your time in the evening. As opposed to doing something meaningful in a relaxed manner all the time.
Wikipedia doesn't say that much about the actual effectiveness of the birth control.

I still think these threads are a bad idea.


This seems like an odd position for someone who spends a relatively larger fraction of his LW time on politics.

Edit: Didn't mean to make it personal. Was just interested in the rationale.

(It's good to have less social pressure against odd-seeming positions, so that they can be freely examined according to their more carefully construed meaning rather than surface appearance.)
Having less pressure against unorthodox or novel positions is a good thing. But I think it makes sense to have minimal social pressure to give some account of apparent discrepancies between actions and beliefs-- since it suggests (though doesn't necessitate) contradictory beliefs somewhere.
This seems to act as an incentive for both resolving the conflict, and for obscuring its presence or nature. I feel that the latter effect can be more damaging, so it might be safer to avoid this pressure. For example, drawing of attention to the presence of an apparent conflict (if it's plausible that it has been missed) that isn't accompanied by (implied) disapproval.
My original comment was about as devoid of implications of disapproval as I could make it. I'd be interested to hear better formulations.
Fair enough, but they do seem pretty civil thus far. I've been monitoring them to make sure they don't get out of hand, and that they don't start infecting the rest of the discussions. (There have been a couple of political-leaning topics, but no more than before, and I think maybe less.)
The objection is mind-killing and agent-reputational effects, not incivility.
I find it strange that the potential for political bias is seen as so much worse than a self imposed ban on The-Subject-Which-Must-Not-Be-Discussed. Is intellectual evasion really seen as preferable to potential bias?
If one doesn't know, it is better to know that one doesn't know.
The Subject Which Must Not Be Discussed ? Is that still a thing? (infohazard related to Super AIs?) I can see two other reasons. The first is that a culture WILL develop, and if outsiders see the political culture, we might not get a chance to teach them enough rationality for them to not be mindkilled instantly. The second is that it's well established that smart people often believe wierd and/or untrue things. This, combined with the lack of respect for political correctness (in both the old-timey 'within the realm of policy you can actually talk about' and in the modern offensive language sense) and contrarianism, and a cultural site, could result in really bad politics.
We've got to deal with politics eventually. The whole world isn't going to listen to the Singularity Institute just because they've got a Friendly AI, and it's not like those cognitive biases will disappear by that time. Besides, I feel like LW could get more done with discussions about political brainstorming, at least in the near future.
If an AGI wants you to listen, you won't have any choice. If it doesn't want you to listen, you won't have the option. The set of "problems for us after we get FAI" is the null set.
Kind of, almost. It could be that we (implicitly) choose to have problems for ourselves.
In case it's not clear. This means the FAI causing problems for us on our behalf, not literally making a choice we are aware of.
(Or 'choosing not to intervene to solve all problems'. The difference matters to some, even if it is somewhat arbitrary.)
Are you saying that an AGI would distribute relevant information to the public, compelling them to make sound political choices?
That doesn't sound very likely to me for either a friendly or an unfriendly AI. Letting people feel disenfranchised might be bad Fun Theory, but it would take a lot more than distribution of relevant information to get ordinary, biased humans to stop fucking up our own society. As a general rule, I'd say that if a plan sounds unlikely to effectively fix our problems, an FAI is probably not going to do that.
I thought he was saying that once you have a Super AI, you don't have to deal with politics.
That doesn't sound like something I'd infer from his previous comment
'Just' because they've got an FAI? Once you have an FAI (and nobody else has a not-friendly-to-you-AI) you've more or less won already. Apart from being able to protect against any political threat (and so make persuasion optional, not necessary) an FAI could, for example, upgrade Eliezer to have competent political skills. The politics that MIRI folks would be concerned about are the politics before they win, not after they win.
Work done by Lesswrongians could decrease the workload of such an FAI while providing immediate results. If it takes twenty years for such a thing to be developed, that's twenty years in either direction on the good/bad scale civilization could go. This could be the difference of an entire year that it takes an FAI to implement whatever changes to make society better.
You are not taking AI seriously. Is this intentional? A superintelligence could likely take over the world in a matter of days, no matter what people thought. (They would think it was great, because the AI could manipulate them better than the best current marketing tactics, even if it couldn't just rewrite their brains with nano.) It may not do this, for the sake of our comfort, but if anything was urgent, it would be done.
While I wouldn't dismiss this possibility at all you seem a little overconfident. The best current marketing tactics can shift market share a percentage point or two or maybe make a half-percentage-point difference in a political campaign. Obviously better than the best is better. But assuming ethical limitations on persuasion tactics and general human suspicion of new things "days" seems pretty optimistic (and twenty-years pessimistic). No good reason to think the persuasive power of marketing is at all linear with the intelligence of the creator. We ought to have very large error bars on this kind of thing and while the focus on these fast take-over scenarios makes sense for emphasizing risk that focus will make them appear more likely to us than they actually are.
Incidentally, my biggest problem with these threads comes from the fact that the positions I'm most interested in hearing good arguments in opposition to, I suspect I wouldn't find any opposition on here. I'm fairly aware of the first-principles differences which result in most of my disagreements; the baffling ones are things like support of drone warfare coming from people who believe in universal healthcare. (I can see support of one, or the other, but not both at the same time. And yet people exist who do support both at the same time.)

I see no particular reason why someone can't believe that healthcare consequentially saves lives and that drone warfare also consequentially saves lives.

Yeah, this claim confuses me. ( I mean, I see this kind of thing every day, but Less Wrong seems to be where it would never occur.) I do support universal healthcare, for pretty much all the normal reasons. I don't support drone warfare, but I am willing to criticize people who make bad arguments against it, because I don't think I'm smarter than the US military strategists.
I am baffled by your bafflement. Kill your enemies, save your allies. Where's the contradiction?
Sorry about the confusion; I just realized exactly where the disconnect is. I was discussing drone warfare in another forum, specifically the use of drones against a nation's own citizens. Absent that context my statement doesn't make much sense at all, no. Does it make more sense when I clarify that I'm referring to the use of drone warfare against a nation's own citizens without judicial oversight?
Which country is that happening in? But presumably that government, rightly or wrongly, has decided that some of its citizens are enemies.
are you against drone warfare vs OTHER types of warfare or are you just against warfare? I think that might be where the confusion is. If you think we should try to save more people and therefore support healthcare and oppose warfare, I think that makes sense. I think it also makes sense to say you support healthcare because it saves lives and you support drone warfare because it saves lives in comparison to other warfare, vs the less realistic no warfare.
I was referring to a very specific use of drone warfare and was insufficiently explicit in my comment. (A peril of switching back and forth between different forums of discussion, dropping context.) It wasn't even until the latest round of comments that I realized why exactly people were baffled by my position. Specifically I was referring to the use of drone warfare to target a nation's own citizens without judicial review.
I still don't see the contradiction. Both universal healthcare and drone warfare are fundamentally come from a belief or alief that life or death decisions about citizens should be made by the government.
Not really; universal healthcare is based on a belief (or alief) that life is a fundamental right. A simple belief that government should be making these decisions might lead to a belief in government-provided or government-run healthcare, but that's hardly the same thing as universal healthcare, which holds that government doesn't have a right to decide, only a responsibility to provide.
Ok, I think a better way to formulate my point is that both universal healthcare and drone warfare come from an alief that the government has unlimited moral authority, in the sense Arnold Kling discusses here and here. I don't see the difference, especially when you remember that resources are finite.
You seem to be conflating intention and results in the opposite direction I usually see; you're suggesting that the practical necessities of implementing universal healthcare are a part of the ideology or principles which lead one to seek it.
Specifically an ideology/alief that causes one to decide which policies to support without thinking about how they would actually be implemented in practice.

What evidence is there for the assertion (by e.g. Moldbug) that democracy and liberalism has made the world a worse place: by the usual measures of peace and prosperity? Even if I buy the cynical story regarding the nature and origins of the current world order why shouldn't my conclusion be that they're doing a pretty good job?


A quick talking point is that colonial Rhodesia used to be practically a first-world country. (Is now zimbabwe). Same story for most of the third world, AFAIK.

The fact that only rich imperialist powers happen to be progressive democracies isn't much evidence; if democracy fails in 9 cases out of 10, and fails in a way that degenerates to third-world barbarism, you will see a few successful progressive democracies, and a lot of third-world hellholes. Mind you, this is not an argument for tearing down democracy, merely that it could be the case that setting up a new democracy is a bad idea (see afganistan, iraq, etc).

Further, if you accept the cynical take, realizing that you live in a brainwashing theocracy ought to affect your intuitions about what looks like "doing a pretty good job". Have you taken this into account?

These are not my opinions. Being neither a historian, political philosopher, or government employee, I am not qualified to have opinions on this subject.

A quick talking point is that colonial Rhodesia used to be practically a first-world country. (Is now zimbabwe). Same story for most of the third world, AFAIK.

The problem with that talking point is that Zimbabwe isn't a liberal democracy, and neither are most third world countries. If you want an example of a third world country that is plausibly a liberal democracy, India comes to mind. And in this case at least, the country's economy has performed much better post-independence than it did under colonial occupation. It's true that India's growth in the first three decades after independence (the 50s through the 70s) wasn't particularly impressive, but it was still significantly better than its pre-independence record, which was positively dismal.

As Amartya Sen has pointed out, India hasn't experienced a famine resulting in massive loss of life since its transition to liberal democracy. Under British rule, famines occured at regular intervals, with the last major one in 1943 involving 1.5 million starvation deaths. In contrast, the closest India has come to famine conditions since independence was in 1966, and the death toll was only about 2500. According to Sen, the institution... (read more)

Sen goes on to argue that acute famines are better than chronic malnutrition, that democracy focusing on the obvious famines might make things worse, but no one quotes those parts.
I didn't quote it because I don't see the relevance in this context. Sure, malnutrition is a huge (and, apparently, growing) problem in contemporary India, but is there any evidence that it was a less serious problem under British rule? I'd be very surprised if there was. Periodic famine may be better than chronic malnutrition, but periodic famine plus chronic malnutrition is surely worse. I wasn't trying to argue that liberal democracy solves everything, just that genuine post-colonial liberal democracies are doing better than they were under colonial rule, and that the transition of countries like India from colonies to democracies has plausibly made the world a better place.
Three links on that country * First President * Current president * De Beers Responsible government at its finest. Note what Namibia and Botswana have in common besides being nice places to live in Africa and being considered "liberal democracies". Note where they tend to land on this list and how their economies tend to be strongly tied to resource extraction.
I'm not entirely sure what I'm supposed to glean from those links. It's true that the current president of Botswana is the son of the first president, but Botswana is hardly alone in this kind of dynastic succession. I can name a few first-world democracies where multiple members of the same family have been elected heads of state. And yes, Botswana is overly dependent on the diamond trade, and De Beers is a very shady company. The forced relocation of the San bushmen was an atrocity. Also, the country has a huge HIV/AIDS epidemic. But I wasn't holding up Botswana as a shining exemplar of all that is good in this world. I was saying that it is, overall, a much better place to live in than it was before independence. Do you disagree? Zimbabwe also has a low population density and an economy strongly tied to resource extraction, so those two factors by themselves don't fully account for the relative prosperity of Botswana and Namibia.
Of course and a monarchist would expect such things to generally work out quite well on average. My point was that first president was royalty, his family had strong enough social capital to reach for power once more decades later which suggests strong background influence during the presidencies of Quett Masire and Festus Mogae. Note how the former of those was Vice-president under Seretse Khama and how Ian Khama served as Vice-president under the latter. If that family does not consider the country as something like a family business I don't know which one does. Also that the De Beers company likely has quite a strong role in the governance of the country it doesn't need to share with many other corporate interests possibly approaching the United Fruit model, if this is so this is a very well run instance of that. Moldbug's theory of government in action? He seems to think so.
Ah, I see. Sorry, I misunderstood the point you were trying to make.
No its ok I should have given more context but was in a hurry.
Of course not, but I'm saying they help. Note how low density countries tend to be either horrible (West Africa) or wonderful (Iceland) places to live.
In the 10 years after South Africa became a democracy in 1994 they managed to reduce their average life expectance from 61 to 51. I don't think that a country can do much worse than South Africa as it became a democracy.
Yeah, South Africa was led by an HIV denialist for a decade. Despite Jacob Zuma's many other flaws, he has been a huge improvement in this regard . He massively expanded the distribution of ARVs, and the country's life expectancy is now back up to 60.
That's a very strange article it quotes 54 for the life expectancy in 2009 and 60 for the life expectancy in 2012? Google Public Data has a life expectancy of 52 for 2011 while Gapminder has one of 52 for 2010 and 53 for 2011.
The number in the article comes from a rapid mortality surveillance system created by the South African Medical Research Council to monitor trends in mortality without a substantial time lag. You can see their report here. I don't know enough to comment on the reliabiity of the number. Anyway, my point is that mortality rates in South Africa are improving rapidly with increased availability of antiretrovirals. That trend is corroborated by other sources (see page 6 of this Stats SA report, for instance).
I have heard that the country described differently.
Well that's just anti-democratic of you!
Cite? Which is definitely not a democracy. It isn't true that "only rich imperialist powers are liberal democracies". What is a "progressive democracy"? Does democracy fail in 9 cases out of 10? Sure. Though I am rather interested in hearing from the people who think we should tear down democracies. Those examples certainly apply to invading a country and then telling it to become a democracy. It's less obvious that, say, a Saudi or Iranian citizen should oppose domestic democratizing efforts. And there are older examples that suggest a conqueror willing commit sufficient resources can start a stable democracy (at least given certain populations). Quite. But I still need some evidence that we haven't always been at war with Eastasia and that Eurasia isn't our eternally loyal ally. Romanticism about colonial Africa isn't doing the trick.
I know very little about the history of that part of the world, but the GDP graph for Zimbabwe has quite an unusual shape. (Graph shows per-capita GDP in 2000 dollars, with aggregate data for all of sub-Saharan Africa displayed for comparison.) On the other hand, "practically a first-world country" sounds like an exaggeration at best: as the graph shows, GDP per capita was actually below that of sub-Saharan Africa in general until the first of those spikes, and fell back again after. For a very different story, see Botswana, which Wikipedia informs me gained its independence from Britain in 1966.

Gerry Mackie's book Democracy Defended is probably the best scholarly counter-argument to Moldbug. It goes through all the usual arguments against democracy, and offers counter-counter arguments.

You would probably want to read Stephen Holmes' The Anatomy of Antiliberalism and Albert O. Hirschman's The Rhetoric of Reaction (Amazon link) as well to put Moldbug's claims in historical and rhetorical context. Holmes' book is on the history of reactionary thought, while Hirschman's is on the rhetoric that reactionaries have used through history.

Not that I think all of Moldbug's claims are bad. The idea that there is a definite connection between American Protestants and democracy is a very strong one, I think (see this paper that was linked on Moldbug's comments section that is a much better scholarly take on Protestants and democracy).

I don't actually agree with the assertion, but I can see at least one coherent way to argue it. The thinking would be:

The world is currently very prosperous due to advances in technology that are themselves a result of the interplay between Enlightenment ideals and the particular cultures of Western Europe and America in the 1600-1950 era. Democracy is essentially irrelevant to this process - the same thing would have happened under any moderately sane government, and indeed most of the West was neither democratic nor liberal (in the modern sense) during most of this time period.

The recent outbreak of peace, meanwhile, is due to two factors. Major powers rarely fight because they have nuclear weapons, which makes war insanely risky even for ruling elites. Meanwhile America has become a world-dominating superpower with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, so many small regional conflicts are suppressed by the threat of American intervention.

That gets us to "democracy/liberalism" doesn't get credit for making things better. To go from there to "democracy / liberalism makes things worse" you just have to believe that modern liberal societies are oppress... (read more)

What do you mean by "made the world a worse place"? Worse than it was before democracy and liberalism started spreading, i.e. pre-1700s? Or worse today than it would have been today if democracy and liberalism hadn't spread? The first question seems easy (we're more peaceful and prosperous than the past), the second a nearly impossible counterfactual, depending heavily on what government systems and philosophies we'd have instead.
I admit to not being clear what the claim is myself. I'm responding to to something that is routinely implied-- and implicit in a lot of reactionary rhetoric-- but for which I have never seen an extended defense. Steel-manning would recommend the second choice-- but then, people in this thread are defending the former interpretation (at least in limited circumstances). There might be good ways of evaluating the counterfactual claim. For example, we might examine measures we wouldn't expect technological changes to alter-- and see if monarchies performed better by those measures. Though of course-- the extent to which a government encourages or discourages innovation and economic growth is central to the question.
One example I stumbled on today: from a brief reading of Wikipedia, it seems like Ethiopia was doing pretty well under Halle Selassie I, but not so great now.
I'm not sure we can call Ethiopia a democracy but we certainly can't call it a liberal one. The Democracy Index labels them an "authoritarian regime".

I'm not sure we can call Ethiopia a democracy but we certainly can't call it a liberal one. The Democracy Index labels them an "authoritarian regime".

That a bad liberal democracy doesn't exist shouldn't surprise us, since, if it was bad, we wouldn't consider it liberal.

I'm not sure why that would be the case. I used the word liberal because sometimes all people mean by "democracy" is that there be voting-- when what we're talking about is copying the institutions of the West which includes more than just voting. What would that mean?. You're welcome to review their process. In the case of Ethiopia: it's basically a one party state where that one party controls all media and prior to elections arrested opposition leadership en masse, including members of parliament and charged them with treason. If this is the best data point for "liberal democracy is bad" I am unimpressed. Which isn't to say Ethiopia wouldn't be better off with Fredrick the Great running things-- but given the dearth of people with the ability to rule, rule effectively and then replace themselves, liberal democratic institutions seem like a solid option. I'm aware there are untried alternatives in the ideaspace but a)the fact that they have never been tried says something about the possibility of their ever happening and b)it's a large risk to take when you have a large number of existing successful states which all have similar institutions. Edit: Authoritarian democracy as in this?
The "liberal" in liberal democracy stands for classical liberalism, not "liberalism" in the US sense. Moldbug's philosophy is consistent with classical liberalism; when he talks about "liberalism" being a bad thing, he means the US modern sense. IOW, the fact that "authoritarian democracies" exist at all, and are even common in "transitioning", "democratizing" countries without a strong historical legacy, would seem to argue for Moldbug's point. For comparison, consider countries such as Singapore and South Korea; the latter successfully transitioned from a non-democratic regime which did nonetheless uphold liberal principles and individual rights to a modern liberal democracy. Japan is also an interesting case, although its involvement in WWII makes things unclear. Nonetheless, the Tokugawa-Meiji-Taishou periods did involve increasing recognition of individual rights.
Classical liberalism is often identified with libertarianism so I just want to emphasize that the "liberal democracy" refers to liberalism in a generic, John Stuart Mill, sense. From wikipedia: This generally includes strong private property rights but certainly doesn't prohibit a welfare state. I don't agree. Moldbug is basically pro-free market but that doesn't, at all, make him a classical liberal. And he treats the American left as continuous with it's classically liberal ancestors-- who were all women's liberationists and abolitionists and free marketers! John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham were humanists, to the Left of Quakers and Unitarians. "Liberalism" in the modern US sense he is, of course, particularly critical of. But aside from recognizing the success and power of the free market, I don't see how his philosophy is at all consistent with classical liberalism or the liberal democrats of old.
A potential issue here - liberalism can be taken in very different ways. Moldbug uses the term Progressivism for the target of his criticism.
Sure. But can we agree that he takes the liberal democratic world order to be the method of government created and prefered by Anglo-American Progressives?
Thomas Sowell comes to mind - worse, compared to that? In Moldbug's case, it seems to be anarchocapitalism with non geographically overlappping defense agencies. Which sounds like what we have now, except for people believing that they should have no say and exert no power against the defense agencies. As much as I find harmful in the progressive world order, I don't think that abjection toward government power would be an improvement.
Not entirely sure. I think Moldbug has a very uneven consciousness of importance of less-formal social influences on government. In particular, I see a difference between some traditionalist govt. structures in which there is a clear sense of responsibility, and those in which there is not.

I have more of a request for an elaboration of the position of others.

In very broad terms, what do you support the government doing? I'm not looking for a list as much as a rule governing your approval.

For example, I'm basically a small government geolibertarian. I'd have the government primarily protect your negative rights, set up laws and courts to resolve disputes as an alternative to the private resort to violence, and as major part of those laws enforce private property as the rules governing enjoying the fruits of your labor, or exchanging those fru... (read more)

I support the government acting as a solver of coordination and lack-of-information problems.

To reuse an example I brought up in another discussion, suppose that a company is using a chemical in some manufacturing process which is highly toxic, and that toxic chemical is making its way into the population in harmful quantities. 0.2% of the population knows about this and understands the danger, and of these, all who do not work for the company oppose the practice. The remaining 99.8% of the population has no opinion.

In such a situation, a boycott is highly unlikely to be useful (getting a boycott to work even under favorable conditions is a formidable coordination problem, and it's much worse in a situation where most of the population is unaware of the relevant information, since any attempt to raise awareness has to compete with every other source of information jockeying for the target audience's attention.) However, if the concerned parties can go to the government and say "this is the evidence that this manufacturing process is harmful, we all agree that it's too dangerous to allow," then the government can review the information and decide whether the process should... (read more)

The problem is that attempting to optimize subject to deontological/ethical restrictions tends to result in finding creative loopholes in said restrictions, i.e., attempting to obey the letter but not the spirit of the ethical injunction.
That is a risk, but some restrictions are easier to find loopholes in than others. Obviously, I think that injunctions where the letter accurately encapsulates the spirit are better than ones where it does not.
The fundamental political question is who does what to whom. Who gets to decide and enforce what on whom? Rights as prerogatives of choice and control that answer that question. How do you answer it? Positive, according to whom? As decided by whom? I note that people I disagree with on politics like to say "We" and "Us" a lot, but in fact it's still individual whos doing to individual whoms, and they don't like to point out the individuals too often, and certainly don't like to point out the element of force in that relationship. What are you ethical injunctions? They seem all important to evaluating your view of government, as without them, you're granting unlimited license to the government to make "positive impacts". One clear difference I'm noting between US libertarian traditions and progressive viewpoints is the null hypothesis on government power, with libertarians holding that government should only do what it is specifically empowered to do, and progressives holding that government is empowered to do whatever isn't specifically prohibited. Progressives want the government to force people to do whatever is good for society, and libertarians want government to protect rights and provide conflict resolution, but otherwise leave people to spend their lives on their own view of what is good.
This doesn't help much in practice, since legal and political disputes virtually always involve conflicting rights. The political answer is that we should find workable compromises and perhaps "deals" involving conflicting rights. Referring to "positive impact we can make on society" is just a way to say that we should evaluate such "deals" and choose optimal ones. Conversely, a "positive impact" perspective can easily account for constitutional commitments, such as limited government powers, checks-and-balances and upholding individual rights. "Governments" are social institutions, and any institution needs some kinds of grounding rules (and incentives) to channel its actions into desirable directions. Political and government agents are not magically benevolent.
Honestly, I don't think I can answer that off the cuff. I'll try to get back to you on that later, but as Eugine Nier already pointed out, such things are highly susceptible to loophole exploitation. I certainly wouldn't plan to establish a government on a set of restrictions that I've only spent a few minutes formulating (It's not as if I have a ready set worked out in case it comes up in a political discussion, because I don't think there's any realistic way I'll ever be in a position to meaningfully affect the implementation of a new system of government.) I do think, though, that the usual libertarian conception of rights is not a good way to narrow down issues that I care about (when it comes to protecting our country from attack, for instance, there are government initiatives I would pay for them to stop doing, not just because they're ineffective but because trying to address those issues at all sends a bad message which even the best case outcome of those initiatives doesn't make worthwhile) and I think most people care about some issues which they are not effectively able to address without outside intervention due to coordination problems.
I hope you do get back to me. When you have an answer on your ethical injunctions, please elaborate them in terms of "who does what to whom". That's where the rubber meets the road. The whole Dictatorship of the Proletariat could have been punctured with a simple question - "How exactly is that supposed to work?" When you get down to concrete individuals, you see quickly that individuals have different interests. "We" aren't going to be the Dictator. All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. Can you see how libertarians would find that disturbing? "I want the government to positive impacts, subject to some ethical injunctions, but I haven't really spent any time thinking about the ethical injunctions." Libertarians have spent more than a few minutes on questions of who does what to whom. Well, I'll go back to Thomas Sowell, and ask "compared to what?" Compared to what conception is the libertarian concept of right deficient? You don't seem to have alternative conceptions that answer "who does what to whom". As for coordination problems, it's a lot easier to coordinate people who have the same goals and want to cooperate voluntarily than force those who don't want to cooperate to do what you want. The Libertarian way is to have the government ensure that people are free to cooperate with others to spend their lives as they choose, instead of the dominant paradigm of a government where we fight to control others, and make them spend their lives as we wish they would.
Can you explain what negative rights you think the government needs to protect? That is, a list, such that everyone could agree what are and aren't legitimate negative rights to protect, and no important rights which society would suffer for not having defended are left out? I'm aware that what I have is only the rough shape of a form of government, which needs a lot of work to convert into something practicable, but I think you overestimate the degree to which the hard work needed to formulate libertarianism as a system that could actually stand to improve on our current one has already been done. It's certainly easier to get people to cooperate with a strong central authority whose goals are in accordance with their own than one which is trying to force them into something they don't think is in their interests. But when we look at examples of coordination problems like depleting fisheries, there's an ample history of people who had a shared vested interest in their resources not being exhausted failing to work out amongst themselves and implement a scheme that would preserve their interests in the long term, whereas governments have had significantly greater success dealing with this sort of problem. Governments have certainly demonstrated a lot of failings, but it seems that the answer to the question of "how good are people at solving coordination problems to improve their shared interests over the long term, without a central authority to arbitrate," is "pretty bad, compared to when they do have such an authority."
To start off briefly, I don't see the FAQ as a serious point of departure for discussion. It is a self conscious attack on a straw man. Not exactly an instance of Steel Manning.
This is true, but I think that the specific point with respect to the usefulness of "rights" in determining what actions are permissible is still relevant. People's negative rights can easily come into conflict with each other. I'm also not convinced that "positive" and "negative" rights hold up well as a distinction. Is a right to clean water a positive right (some body has to take action to ensure that the water is provided) or a negative right (nobody is allowed to take actions which corrupt the supply)?

I reject the idea that it is my duty to have political opinions. Conscription into the de-facto government is barbaric. Further, I don't have the power to tell them what to do anyways, so the question is low-value. Therefor I have no official opinion on what the GoC ought to be doing.

However, for the purposes of our entertainment in this thread, if I had a magic button that could make one small change to the government, I would require all MPs to read Yvain's consequentialism FAQ, and possibly something to kick some statistical sense into them.

The Conservative Party is already pretty good at talking the consequentialist talk, it would just be nice if they believed it too. On the other hand, they occasionally make stupid comments like "we don't make decisions based on numbers" (their excuse for scrapping the mandatory long bonus census). I'm also not sure they've got their values straight, or if they're pursuing lost purposes (they do an awful lot of selling "pieces of Canada's future" to China), and delusion (Christianity).

I reject the idea that it is my duty to have political opinions. Conscription into the de-facto government is barbaric. Further, I don't have the power to tell them what to do anyways, so the question is low-value. Therefor I have no official opinion on what the GoC ought to be doing.

I like this a lot. As a personal example, I was recently reading about the debate over allowing women to be in combat jobs in the US military, and trying to decide where I stood. Egalitarianism is good, definitely, and they've proved themselves capable as de facto combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. But can they meet the physical standards? What about unit cohesion? Ahhh!

And then I shook myself, and realized that I am hugely unqualified to make that decision, not being in the military or a position of power in the government, or an expert in this field or any related field at all. And luckily, no one is seeking out my opinion! I do not have to know the answer or even care. It's okay. This will not be on the test. It was tremendously liberating.

Think about it this way: Why are sports segregated by gender once one gets to a high enough level that people care who wins? What would happen if both genders competed in the same competition? Well, the top level would still be dominated by one gender, mostly male with the possible exception of things like gymnastics. Also in violent sports like (American) football you'd create awkward situations due to the fact that our culture still has a strong taboo against male on female violence. Now apply the same logic to combat.
I reject that idea as well. I even have some questions about the basic rationality of having political opinions. But I do have political opinions, and a lot of other people do as well, so I'm asking. I've got a briefer one. Ask Thomas Sowell's 3 questions. Compared to what? At what cost? What evidence do you have? Or Dan's 3 Fair Questions: When you say "It is unfair", what does "It" refer to, who are all the people effected by your solution to this unfairness, and how is your solution fair to everyone effected? Dare to dream. "If it saves even one life..."
Sowell's questions sound like a prime candidate for the rationality quotes thread.
I'd like to question what counts as "government" here. Everything tax-supported? Only the legislature, courts, and agencies with regulatory or law-enforcement powers? Take schooling, for instance. I see a pretty big difference between ① requiring citizens to pay taxes that fund state schools, and ② requiring kids to go to state schools instead of autodidacticism, homeschooling, or other unregulated education. Not just a difference of degree, but a qualitative one — because the latter forbids alternatives.
Is it a mystery where you live? I grant that you get boundary cases like government approved guilds that control licensing and access in certain industries. Is a doctor a government agent? Increasingly so. To answer you questions directly. No. Yeah, probably. And I see 1 and 2 as different as well and for similar reasons. In general, I see regulation and criminal law as more onerous than taxation because it entirely removes options.
I think the most important task for the government is to handle oncoming automization in a good way. The current trend with robotics and automization is fewer and fewer workers being necessary for the functioning of society. The end-point as I see it is one of two societies - either the fruits of automization are used to bribe the unemployed masses from rioting, or they're used to wall off safe places so that the people who own and run the robots don't care about riots. Obviously, I'd much rather have the first case than the second.
We've lost, by my count, 1,394,100,000 jobs in the US in the last two hundred years. You may notice that is a larger number of jobs than people actually exist; this is because, if all those jobs actually existed, we'd still be farmers. (Value calculated by dividing current median income in the US by an estimation of sustenance income necessary to a lifestyle appropriate to, say, the 1700's. Not terribly accurate, as it doesn't account for the increased value of leisure time, or the automation of non-economic tasks; the actual figure in these terms may be as much as 30x rather than 9x the labor force. Additionally, I didn't include the massive reduction in work hours over the past two hundred years, which could as much as double that figure again) The challenge isn't to figure out how many jobs automation will eliminate; it's already eliminated nine times more jobs than there are people doing jobs in this country. That's what permits our high standards of living; each person is enjoying the fruits of the labor of at least eight additional counterfactual people whose jobs are being performed by automation. The challenge is to figure out to what extent this trend can continue; there's obvious room for improvement in that most of the world still has substantial improvements to be made to its standard of living. The challenge is to figure out whether or not the most fundamental tenet of economics - that demand is unlimited - holds true.
Even if demands are unlimited, the problem is that automation will drive down the costs of a lot of labor to where regulatory and transaction costs make hiring most people more trouble than it's worth. It's not that there won't be labor people want done, it's that machines will out compete most people in those tasks, making then economically unviable.
Which is exactly what happened for the other 1.4 billion jobs that don't exist anymore in the United States. What you fear has been feared for a hundred and fifty years, since automation started to seriously replace workers. Instead of driving us to a dystopia, however, it's pushed us into a relative utopia. What you're proposing isn't new. The implication you aren't addressing is that the trend of -new- jobs, previously not worth employing someone to do, but rising at the margins with increased specialization, arising as workers were freed from old ones will suddenly cease.
It's not exactly what has happened. Machines used to compete on brute strength and endurance. Mankind always used to have advantages in intelligence, communication, sensation, and precision control. All of those are under attack in ways they have not before. In short, people are rapidly losing a comparative advantage versus machines. The real problem comes when the opportunities for profit from using machines overcomes the opportunities for profit by employing people. The accelerating rates of improvement in technology will make that more and more the case.
Actually, machines used to compete on strength. They required constant maintenance, however; many people were mutilated fixing the machines while they were still running. That was last century. Then they began competing on precision control; that's been on the rise for the past century. Communication has been the story of the last thirty years. Sensation, similarly, has been rising for the past twenty years. Intelligence is still in the works. At no point in this process did machines lead to mass unemployment; indeed, employment has -increased- over the past century, as women have begun entering the workforce. Your proposition ultimately comes down to this: You can't imagine what we'll be doing next. I have only this to say: The person who -can- imagine, that person will be the next billionaire, or possibly even the first trillionaire. It shouldn't surprise you that you can't imagine what jobs will keep billions occupied over the next century, if you could you would be the extremely exceptional case.
No, my proposition comes down to this: What comparative advantage will people still have? How big is that market? How many people likely to be out of work can fill that market? Really good robotic hookers and "escorts" are a ways off. There will be work there for a while, but not everyone would be in demand in that market. There's no reason every person has to have economically viable capabilities, particularly in a regulated economy where there is a minimum cost threshold through regulations. Some people now, don't. Babies don't.
I always thought demand was limited by factors such as the size of one's stomach the speed at which clothes wear out or go out of fashion, and most importantly income among other things. I'm actually kind of surprised to hear that unlimited demand was a fundamental tenet of economics.
The problem seems to be confusion as to what economists mean by demand and "unlimited demand". What they mean by demand is not a static number but a demand curve relating how much of something you would buy depending on its price, i.e., not just what you're buying now but also what else you would buy if you could. Thus by "unlimited demand" they mean that there is always more you would buy if you could afford it.
Historically it has never worked out that way. When a society gets richer the people eat more and better food, buy more clothes, live in bigger houses, buy cars and appliances, travel more, and so on. Based on the behavior of rich people we can see that a x10 or even x100 increase from current wealth levels due to automation would just continue this trend, with people spending the excess on things like mansions, private jets and a legion of robot servants. Realistically there's probably some upper limit to human consumption, but it's so far above current production levels that we don't see much hint of where it would be yet. So for most practical purposes we can assume demand is infinite until we actually see the rich start systematically running out of things to spend money on.
There are probably lots of examples of coffee-table "damned leeches, living off my tax-dollars" conversation getting proven wrong, or at least grossly simplified, but this is probably one of the most damning examples. There really ought to be a means of conveying information like this to the public, en masse. News outlets have stories like this on their websites, though I haven't found any live TV reports. Just imagine how any political debate down in the United States would go if every rhetorical comment and argument was shot down with articles like this, on both sides. In fact, there ought to be a repository for scientific findings that have immediate political and sociological consequences.
A few years back, Aaron Swartz & Peter Eckersley tried this with a website called Science That Matters (now down), which revealed a couple of potential problems with this idea. The first is pretty minor: the people running the repository might stop updating it after a while. STM got updated quite a lot through 2007, a couple of times in 2008, and never again after that. The second is that scientific findings might not be as weighty as they sometimes look. They turn out to be wrong, get over-interpreted, get under-played, or prove less relevant than they first appear. The last post on STM was titled "There is No Satisfactory Form of Utilitarianism", based on a paper arguing that any sane way of aggregating the welfare of many into a single measure leads to at least one of "The Repugnant Conclusion", "The Sadistic Conclusion", and "The Very Anti-Egalitarian Conclusion". This appears to force utilitarianism into an agonizing trilemma, as each of these three conclusions seems appalling. But the Repugnant Conclusion is arguably not so Repugnant after all, in which case the trilemma loses its force and the paper loses its urgency. Another STM post discussed the RAND Health Insurance Experiment. The post first went one way, exaggerating the study's results with the over-the-top title "Is the net effect of health care zero?", and then swung the other way, warning readers in an update that John Nyman highlighted a "terrible flaw" in the experiment that "would seem to severely throw these findings into question". (Families given free healthcare were less likely to drop out of the experiment than families that had to pay some healthcare costs, introducing a bias.) Half a decade after Nyman, it turns out that some of the experiment's results still stand after accounting for the flaw. A similar issue crops up for the proposed lead-and-crime link you mention. Although the effect of high lead exposure on mortality and mental test performance is well established (quasi-)experi
If this was intended as a response to me, I don't see the relevance to what I said. As for the lead story, that's been going around for a long time, and don't really see the relevance to most US political discussions. Childhood lead exposure can cause developmental problems leading to adult behavioral changes. Believable to me.
Sorry about that, it wasn't. I misclicked, and the retract button's line crossing seemed even worse than just leaving it there. The relevance to US political discussion is in policy decisions. With the information we have in this article, it's a better long term investment to get rid of lead usage in industrial and commercial settings that risk such exposure, if one is trying to reduce crime in cities, instead of building more prisons, "cracking down on crime", etc.
Quite recently under Obama the EPA did make a decision to limit mercury polution which got opposed by the Republicans. If you accept that lead should be regulated then why not mercury? The EPA did a pretty good calculation that estimated the costs and benefits of mercury regulation.
I approve of the government considering and honestly stating the repercussions of their actions rather than acting only on principle and disregarding what their principles do, or considering the repercussions of their actions and then lying about them for political gain. When that occurs and when I've tried to pick through to the actual repercussions of the government policy when it far more often doesn't, then I tend to pick the government representative or policy whose repercussions I like better, bearing in mind the overall trustworthiness from the previous assessment. This is similar to "I approve of government doing what is good" except that there is an obvious counter argument to that "What if the government doing what is good has bad reprecussions?" and I think this formulation attempts to address that.
non-exclusive enforcement of contracts non-exclusive protection of private property national defense sensible redistribution which would never actually happen so I'm agin it most importantly, none of these should be open to the democratic process

government authoritarian communist socialist libertarian republican democratic masculinism feminism political discussion thread politics

No reactionary tag :(

About a quarter of the threads that end up being in such threads are about Reactionary stuff.

Somehow I was more surprised by the lack of "conservative," and "liberal"!
To be cheeky, I think "Liberals" might note that "Conservative" is covered by the "Authoritarian" tag and "Conservatives" would point out "Liberal" is covered by "Socialist".
Well, Democratic and Republican at least refer to a coherent set of opinions, whereas those have been totally confused and drifted and corrupted.
Funny thing is that I didn't parse Republican and Democratic as referring to party names, but as relating to republics and democracies.
lol. Should I edit those, and if so, how?
Adding "Reactionary" would be fine I think. It made an appearance as a label on the alternative political identification version of Yvain's poll and 3% where ok with it.
Also, you included neither "conservative" nor "liberal." A stunning oversight!

What's the probability of a major war between Japan and China in the next decade?

I would say sub- 5% given a low prior for rich, well-governed nations fighting all out wars, Japan being relatively demilitarized still (and war being technically illegal), and the US having a defense commitment there.
On paper, sure. In practice the JSDF is one of the world's top ten military forces by overall measures.
Japan ranks #6 in the world for total military expenditures, according to SIPRI 2012. The JMSDF ranks #4 for tonnage of the world's navies (counting only active, commissioned combat-oriented vessels).
On the other hand China is facing social unrest and as well as problems due to its gender imbalance, so a war that gives people an enemy besides the government to focus their anger as well as killing of excess males might make sense from its point of view.
Sub-5% is very conservative. It's likely sub-2%. Japan is simply too anti-military, and China owns too many US dollars.
Next decade? Extremely low.
What about next 3 decades?
I am going to guess still pretty low although highly militarized intrigue, cyberwar, etc might happen. Or a false start (in either direction). I also really wonder just how strong the Peace of Europe is.
Wait a little while and then check here.
I was hoping someone would do that. I wrote down a low prediction (1%) after looking up some news stories because I expect the media to err on the side of exaggerating such situations in general and my priors are low.
Good question. I would say the probability is low, but the event has high expected impact (i.e. high expected number of deaths and economic losses). I am just reciting Taleb's philosophy of history here, but it seems likely that history is dominated by events with this character (= low probability but high expected impact). A difficult but important problem would be to rank events by expected impact.
I think you also want to incorporate some measure of their probability in there as well.

That's what "expected" means.