Why I love Walmart despite never shopping there

In a discussion thread that wandered to the subject of Walmart and its enemies, I said “Scratch a Walmart-basher and you’ll find a snotty elitist, a person who hates capitalism and consumption and deep down thinks the Wrong People have Too Much Stuff.”

The commenter replied: “You know, I don’t think you need to be an anti-capitalist in order to disdain over-consumption and its enablers.”

No, certainly not. My own preference is to live simply, getting and spending little and putting my energy into creative work. Much of what we think of as “normal” behavior in a consumer society strikes me as wasteful and vulgar. But it’s a disdain I tend to keep quiet about, for at least two reasons:

I find that, as little as I like excess and overconsumption, voicing that dislike gives power to people and political tendencies that I consider far more dangerous than overconsumption. I’d rather be surrounded by fat people who buy too much stuff than concede any ground at all to busybodies and would-be social engineers.

But there’s more than that going on here…

Rich people going on about the crassness of materialism, or spouting ecological pieties, often seem to me to me to be retailing a subtle form of competitive sabotage. “There, there, little peasant…” runs the not-so-hidden message “…it is more virtuous to have little than much, so be content with the scraps you have.” After which the speaker delivers a patronizing pat on the head and jets off to Aruba to hang with the other aristos at a conference on Sustainable Eco-Multiculturalism or something.

I do not – ever – want to be one of those people. And just by being a white, college-educated American from an upper-middle-class SES, I’m in a place where honking about overconsumption sounds even to myself altogether too much like crapping on the aspirations of poorer and browner people who have bupkis and quite reasonably want more than they have.

I was less reticent when I was younger, until I noticed what I sounded like. I’ll still snark freely about vulgar ostentation and overconsumption in people who are richer than me, but I don’t do the other direction any more. It’s…unseemly.

Which is a reason I tend to mute any criticisms I have of Walmart. I basically don’t ever shop there – I think I bought a specific $13 tacklebox once because I knew by seeing an example that it was right for a use I had in mind. I do not love the ambience of Walmarts; by my standards they’re loud, cheerless, and tacky – and that describes a lot of their merchandise and their shoppers, too.

But my esthetic and aspirational standards are those of a comparatively wealthy person even in U.S. terms, let alone world terms. To the people who use Walmart and belong there, Walmart is a tremendous boon that stretches their purchasing power, enabling them to have things that don’t suck.

That’s why I love the idea of Walmart, and will defend it against its enemies.

626 thoughts on “Why I love Walmart despite never shopping there

  1. Well, there’s good, practical reasons not to shop at Walmart, mostly they have some of the worst service in the industry. I’ll take Target everytime. They actually give a crap about their customer’s experience, and I’m more than willing to part with 1-2% more for something to get that better service.

  2. ‘Over consumption’???? Walmart doesn’t encourage overconsumption; it can’t. The people that shop at Walmart couldn’t overconsume if they wanted to. They can’t afford it.

  3. I would agree, Don, but the closest Wal-Mart to me is five miles away, and the closest Target is 50. That 100 miles raises the price of stuff, and the kinds of things I can find at Target aren’t worth the extra time and cost, for the most part.

  4. I always liked how Glenn Reynolds put it: “I think there’s a class issue: Wal-Mart is unavoidable evidence that the American working classes don’t think, or live, the way the American thinking classes want to imagine. For this sin, Wal-Mart can never be forgiven.”

  5. Eric, I don’t even know what “over consumption” means. Perhaps you are thinking of people who eat in an unhealthy way, but that doesn’t seem to be a Walmart problem. Traditionally Walmart didn’t even sell food (though many of them do now.) Nobody at Walmart is buying a corporate jet, or a tacky McMansion in the suburbs. Is it over consumption if you have a couple extra pairs of pants than you need, or you buy new sheets for your bed every year? What exactly can you buy at Walmart that would count as ostentatious? Walmart is the antithesis of ostentatious.

    As to the ambiance, I am confused. I don’t find them loud, cheerless or tacky. On the contrary, I find them surprisingly quiet and cheery especially on holidays. Tacky is obviously rather a subjective thing, I don’t find them tacky at all. But, frankly, I’m not all that sophisticated, and I like that salt of the earth, NASCAR, camouflage pants and shotgun type of style. (Though, for sure you’d never find me out in the woods killing Bambi.)

    As to the people — again, I’m a little shocked. My experience is that the people there are delightful for the most part. Of course there are nasty people everywhere, but I think you’re more likely to find more bitches at Nordstrums than at Walmart. I have never, had a problem with customer service either.

    The only criticism I think is fair about Walmart is that their stores are a little dirty, and I find their planogramming a bit confusing. Nonetheless, I shop there all the time. I suggest your lack of shopping experience there might have allowed you to be influenced by the snooty types to believe all the nonsense they talk.

    Even the whole “Walmart is a terrible employer” meme is entirely bogus. Chicago tried to stop Walmart from opening a store there for years. Eventually they relented, and Walmart had something like 20,000 job applicants for a couple of hundred jobs. Apparently, the elite know better what these applicants wanted better than they themselves do.

    Heck what other place on earth can you buy a shotgun sells for your huntin’ trip, oil for your car, diapers for your baby, and a “diamond” ring for your girl, all in one place, and still get change out of a hundred dollar bill?

  6. That should be “shotgun shells…” darn, I hate the fact you can’t edit your comments here.

  7. Walmart is where I go to get cheap things for what they’re really worth. Converse Chuck Taylors list for $45 or more — that’s an outrage for a couple pieces of canvas, rubber/plastic, and some eyelets. The Walmart brand equivalent is $12. Until someone can explain to me why I should pay more than 3x as much for a similarly assembled pile of cheap materials, there is no argument that could ever sway me away from Walmart.

  8. I agree completely. I have a 15 year old car, 5 year old phone, wear clothes till they fall apart. As long as I have money for smokes, booze, and women I’m happy. But every time someone starts talking about “over-consumption” or “McMansions”, I’m on the side of the daily shoppers faster than you can blink. Because there are *my* choices, and there are *theirs*.

    You notice the self-appointed guardians of other people’s decisions never com right out and say “the masses are stupid”. No, it’s always “lack of education”, “brainwashed by advertisers/media/big corporations”. It’s the modern day white man’s burden.

  9. Ltw Says:
    > It’s the modern day white man’s burden.

    That is profound, I’ll have to remember that.

  10. @Ltw:

    By converse, I’m entirely happy to say “the masses are stupid”, or at least, “the masses are vastly less intelligent than the people I like to spend time with”. I’m just more than content to leave the masses to their stupidity in peace.

    @ESR: Reading the title of this post, first thing I thought of was “Because it pisses off leftists.”

    Also, SES = socioeconomic stratum, or something like that?

  11. Really? There are equivalent shops which don’t use as despicable of business practices as Walmart. Overconsumption, tackiness, etc are all red herrings in a discussion about why the existence of Walmarts is a negative thing.

    [Disclaimer: I actually do end up shopping at Walmart a fairly high percentage of the time.]

  12. Really, all is relative. If you live in largely rural area and do have access to a Walmart, you shop there simply because of the lack of equivalent or better alternatives. OTOH, if you are like esr and live in a more heavily populated area you have the luxury of alternatives.

    We shop at Walmart because it has the best selection at the best prices and it’s that simple since there are limited alternatives. In any case, I agree completely with Jessica Boxer. Perhaps you should shop at Walmart more and see what you are missing and misinformed about.

    Don must live near the worst Walmart in the world since his bears no resemblance to any I have been in.

    Most of all, it has been my experience that more is less and less is more. Gross materialism is mind-warping.

  13. Yeah… when I was in school (about 35 years ago) and I heard that we had “progressed” from having a production-based economy to a consumption-based economy, I thought “this can’t be correct or it can’t be good”.

  14. Wal-Mart has done more good for more people than all of liberalism.

    Which is why liberals hate it so.

  15. @BeSlayed – Define “despicable business practices”. I think you’ll find that GE, DuPont and others make WalMart look saintly by comparison.

    I’m not saying they do no wrong, but in the grand scheme of things, they’re a bunch of pikers.

  16. Walmart and other retail giants’ entry into India is being opposed vehemently opposed not by the elite, but by farmers and local retailers who fear they will lose out to the aggressive price-cutting of the MNC giant.

    In many ways, Walmart is seen as the elite in countries like India, maybe unlike in the US where Walmart is seen as the average person’s shopping solution.

  17. Walmart has a number of problems with it — some real, some bourgeoisie snobbery.

    One big problem with it is that it’s tacky. Building a Wal-Mart can blight a neighborhood. Huge lot cleared for parking, then a plain, squat, white, relatively featureless building. Amazing how Soviet capitalism can look sometimes. I suspect that the bourgeoisie who rail against Walmart’s tackiness would rather see shopping centers develop like they imagine they do in France: narrow cobblestone streets bustling with shoppers visiting the small boulangeries, farmer’s markets, and that sort of thing. What these people fail to realize is that Walmart is a French invention — a hypermarché whose business model is derived pretty much verbatim from the French prototypes like Carrefour. (Meanwhile here in Murka, mirabile dictu, the shopping mall is evolving into a sort of residential-shopping complex with a bit of that cobblestone-street feel. My hometown just tore down an eyesore of a mall to build such a thing in the space.)

    In general I think that anything that affords lower prices to the consumer is better, but a real concern with Walmart is some of the ways it makes things so affordable: it doesn’t pay its employees competitive wages. That becomes problematic when, as BioBob said, there aren’t many alternatives and thus not many ways to get above the poverty line.

  18. @Jeff Read -

    If they didn’t pay competitive wages, then they wouldn’t get workers except in the very worst of times. Since they don’t have union overhead to deal with, they are quite competitive.

    And “tacky” is a very subjective thing. I think that these mega-malls are tacky. But I don’t live near one and don’t have to look at it, so I don’t worry myself over it.

    The so-called “bourgeoisie” who rail against Wal-Mart do so because if anyone can have a big TV in their house, then what’s the point of being rich? I mean, if you can’t be better than your inferior neighbor, what’s the point of even existing?

  19. never come right out and say “the masses are stupid”.

    Sure they do. Then they laugh at them.

  20. a hypermarché whose business model is derived pretty much verbatim from the French prototypes like Carrefour

    I’ve been travelling in China for years. I’ve seen the poorest of the poor, sights that are beyond unthinkable in North America in the last 60 years. A few years ago, I was in the suburbs of Shanghai where I was taken to see their new, modern supermarket. It was a Carrefour and it was HUGE, filled with everything from shit to grease and all at reasonable prices.

    10 years plus previous to that, such a thing would have been impossible. No (reliable) power, no wealth, no one even with enough money to frequent such a store.

    North Americans would take that for granted, and yet in China it was like stumbling across an impossibility.

    Wealth is good. Even the old hardline Chinese Communists understand that.

  21. I am, by nature, fairly frugal. I don’t shop at Wal-Mart because there’s none within reasonable distances of me, unless I’m buying something specific (and I’ll shop Target preferentially for those things).

    Here in the Midwest, we have “farm supply stores” which compete with Wal-Mart, and usually have prices that are 5-10% higher for durable goods, but the goods are usually American made and last longer. Plus, their selection is more eclectic.

    (I still contend that if you think you’ve got yourself a woman worth sticking by, doing date night at Blaine’s Farm & Fleet is the acid test. It’s like the bastard offspring of a Wal-Mart, an Ace Hardware Store and a Sears shop…and now you folks have this mental image of three large buildings humping each other and setting off siesmographs…but I digress. If she can’t find something in there that makes her go “Oh, coooool!”, it’s time to release her back into the dating pool because she’s gonna be miserable once she figures out who you are.)

    My big objection to Wal-Mart is how they tend to drive smaller, locally owned businesses under Back when Magic: The Gathering was The New Hotness, game stores would buy boxes of Magic boosters at Wal-Mart because it was cheaper than buying them through distribution…and because if any of their customers knew that they could be had at Wal-Mart, the local game stores would close.

  22. >Eric, I don’t even know what “over consumption” means.

    That is a good point, I think it is important to clarify what we refer to as ‘over-consumption’ in the context of Wal-Mart. I think it is for me that seemingly inevitable pattern of market demand where the quality of production is pushed lower in order to produce a cheaper but inferior and quickly obsolescent product that because of high product turnover results in greater frequency and volume of consumption. And this eventually ends up harming the consumer, financially, and in quality of life.

    And on a side note, I really think that for utility products the not-rich would maximize benefit if they would use secondary markets rather than low cost primary markets for their consumption. Simply because high quality possession should not be and don’t have to be the exclusive domain of the rich.

    I do understand ESR’s concerns about the tendency towards appeals to to statist control that these musings engender, but it is nonetheless valuable to consider optimal organizations within a capitalist framework, and understand that as access barriers to information begin to disappear markets will optimize predictably.

  23. Eric, I don’t even know what “over consumption” means.

    What I understand “over consumption” to mean is the “old” (i first heard it roughly 15 years ago) maxim that goes something along the lines of “the USA has N% of the world population and yet accounts for roughly M% of the worlds consumption” Where N is vastly less than M (think 80/20 rule style difference and not in a positive way). Depending on the agenda-of-the-week the corollary follows from there.

    The numbers change (as they do) and i can’t find a source that i would call legitimate but the source i can find gives :-

    * has 4.6% of the world’s population
    * uses 25% of the worlds energy
    * 60% of the world’s illegal drugs
    * 20% of all metals
    * 30% of all paper
    * 75% of total global toxic waste
    * 50% of the world’s production of diamonds
    * 30% of the world’s paper

    I have no idea how they come up with these numbers and most of the follow on arguments have some flaws but thats the crux of what “over consumption” means to me.

  24. Overconsumption is wasting resources. You can identify overconsumption in the waste: Gadgets hardly used, dresses and shoes never worn, heating/cooling your garage when you are on vacation, throwing away good food.

    There is a moral imperative that it is not just to destroy things of value. Overconsumption is wasting valuable resources (wasting as in throwing away).

  25. Every walmart I have ever been in to (and I do shop there on occasion, for certain items) has been an exercise in extreme patience for me. Too loud, especially during Christmas, too many people milling about and not caring who they bowl over to get from A to B with all their little kiddies in tow, too many video screens talking at me. Never especially Dirty, but definitely Cheap-feeling. The products aren’t tacky, but the layout and presentation feels that way.

    The one thing I like about it is that the vast majority of them are 24-hour stores, which is important for someone with my wonky, ever-changing sleep schedule. The closest big HEB to me here in Austin used to be 24 hours, but the downturn pretty well forced them into reducing hours and so more of my 1AM+ food shopping went to Walmart. Sad.

    Anyway, I don’t hate Walmart for what it is, but I thoroughly dislike actually being inside one. It’s not for me.

  26. > “the masses are stupid”

    Did you know half the people have an IQ below 100?

    </sarcasm>

  27. Just while we’re ranting about the left…. something that pisses me off is the cruelty to people who agree with them. It’s not cheap to be ecologically and labor-practices virtuous, and there are people who are encouraged to feel guilty for not buying what they can’t afford.

  28. To quote from a recent blog post: “The middle class should take joy in their opportunities for health, education, meaningful work, sufficient income, material comfort, relative freedom of choice and of behavior. The poor want these things for themselves, and by right should have them; to discount them would be to discount the reality of the struggles of the poor to achieve them.”

    As a life-long Quaker, I’ve tried to live a life of simplicity. When I moved out of a 700 sq. ft. apartment this spring, where I’d lived for 16 years, I was astonished at all I’d accumulated. I have lived at or below the level of poverty as officially defined for most of my adult life, by choice, and yet I’ve rarely known a days’ hunger, have never been homeless, have eschewed A/C but always had it when the heat here in NC got too brutal, etc etc.

    I’d like the Walmart haters to just try living in America on the kind of income we’re talking about, without going to Walmart. Loud, cheerless, tacky? Yep. And inexpensive. Especially the grocery section.

    We are so wealthy (and by “we” I mean pretty much anyone who can afford a computer, internet access, and has the education to be reading and appreciating ESR’s blog), yet most of us have no comprehension how wealthy we are.

    So: snotty elitists indeed. I’m not going to elaborate any further. ESR said it well enough already.

  29. “Heck what other place on earth can you buy shotgun shells for your huntin’ trip, oil for your car, diapers for your baby, and a “diamond” ring for your girl, all in one place, and still get change out of a hundred dollar bill?”

    Sounds like a great honeymoon, and they’re even taking the baby!

  30. Walmarts can also vary greatly in quality and ambiance, when I lived in far North Dallas a few years back there were two different ones that were about the same distance away. The difference was night and day. One was kind of grubby, run down, the produce never looked good. The other one, in Plano, was bright, cheerful, everything was always clean and neat, and the parking lot was full of BMW, Lexus SUVs, etc. It was also slightly more expensive than the one just a few miles away. The one in Plano even had a sushi chef. No guns or ammo though, but the grubby one did.

    Most rural ones that I’ve been in are somewhere in the middle, but urban ones seem to take on the character of the neighborhoods they’re in.

  31. Winter Says:
    > Overconsumption is wasting resources.

    I don’t believe that is the intent of the word at all. If the meaning was waste then “waste” would be the word. No, the implication of the word is using more than you need, and that is s moral judgement, not an objective measure. For example, the one example was that of the obese. If the assumption is that they get that way by eating too much, then the food is getting eaten, not thrown in the trash.

    (FWIW, I think the idea that people are obese because they eat too much is rather simplistic, but that is very much off topic.)

  32. Jessica Boxer says: Eric, I don’t even know what “over consumption” means.

    They are now (thankfully) out of business, but did you ever see a catalog from “The Sharper Image”? I think that pretty much defines it.

    One thing not mentioned here about Walmart (and similar stores) concerning their pay scale: We, the taxpayers, are subsidizing them. It’s been pointed out that the reason people can work for Walmart and make a go of it is the Earned Income Credit, food stamps, etc., that our government provides them. If not for that, Walmart would have to pay them more, and raise prices. Thanks to our progressive income tax, at least we can take some satisfaction in the notion that those rich critics are helping the stores they criticize.

  33. I remember when a Wal-Mart came to north Boston, and I got a full-on picture of redneckism. I couldn’t figure out where they’d imported all these hicks from, including a woman on a Rascal-type scooter who rammed my wife twice.

    But then I went to other parts of the country, and it’s normal people there. Here in Dallas, you’ll find your minister there shopping, like as not, and perhaps bump into a county commissioner.

    Perhaps that says something about the different parts of the country, but I’m not sure what.

  34. By the way, if anyone remebers Caldor, Ames, or the equivalent stores from other parts of the country, they were just as seedy as Wal-Mart.

  35. My impression, after living a lot of years, is that Europe (and England specifically) has an attitude that good things should be restricted to those who have a lot of money. The plebs can be allowed to press their noses to the window and marvel at how their ‘betters’ live. Contrariwise, the USA is seen by me as a place where there is a belief that good things should be made available and affordable to everyone, so that no one has to envy the privileged. That’s why I love America. That’s why I love McDonalds, Walmart (Asda over here), Ford, and all the other US companies who work (or is that becoming used to work) tirelessly to provide good quality things for everyone at affordable prices. To me, that’s the acme of civilisation and long may it continue.

  36. What angers me most about the Wal-mart criticism is that it’s clear the haters have no clue what what it means to be poor. Yet they’re more than willing to dispense advice that’s designed to make themselves feel good while doing no service at all for the poor. Brerarnold made the point more gracefully than ever could. Suffice it to say, Wal-mart is a god send to the poor. If you don’t understand that, then you don’t understand what it means to wonder how you’ll meet all your bills for the month.

    As for business practices critiques, there’s not a lot of thought there. Yes Wal-mart will put stores that sell basic consumption items on Main Street out of business. In their place specialty boutiques crop up. Why should people pay more than they need to for a t-shirt? With the savings you can do more interesting things. If you’re poor, the extra money can be a major quality of life change. If you’re rich, then you’ll either more money for luxuries or more money to invest. Either way, more money goes to create more lucrative opportunities for others. And just to note, it’s not just poor people who shop at Wal-mart.

    As for the workers, it does no one any good if a Wal-mart competitor pays it’s employees $12/hr vs. Wal-mart’s $8/hr if the competitor has to lay people off. I loved seeing the old and disabled greet me at the door at Wal-mart because I knew they were given a job they would not have otherwise. Besides, low wage jobs are not meant to support an entire family of four by themselves. They’re perfect for people who are just getting started or who are not the only wage earner for the household, e.g. a roommate situation or a dual income family. All those extra wages and benefits that people want Wal-mart and other low wage employers to pay just denies more opportunities for the working poor.

    So yeah, whenever I hear people pick on Wal-mart what I really hear is “Screw you poor people. We’d rather feel good about yourselves than allow you to have the opportunity to better your situation.”

  37. # LS Says:
    > They are now (thankfully) out of business, but did you ever see a catalog from “The Sharper Image”? I think that pretty much defines it.

    Gosh, I am way out of tune with you, that is for sure. I liked Sharper Image, I thought they had some fun interesting products. So what I get from what you are saying is that over-consumption consists of the consumption of luxury goods? If I buy a Lexus rather than a Ford I’m a stereotyped fat happy American. What a sad way to look at life. And how ironic given that Walmart stores have a lot more Fords than Lexuses in the parking lot.

    > It’s been pointed out that the reason people can work for Walmart and make a go of it is the Earned Income Credit, food stamps…If not for that, Walmart would have to pay them more, and raise prices

    You seem to delight in the idea that Walmart would raise prices — do you know how destructive that would be to the poor — the people you seem to be advocating for? You use of the word “subsidize” is novel to say the least.

    I might add that I object to the characterization I have heard over and over again here that Walmart is for the poor. The town I live in has practically no poor people, and the Walmarts here do a roaring trade. It is also a plain fact that many low skill workers get a step onto the ladder of work at Walmart. Some of them just learn basic skills (like get to work on time, and do what the boss tells you), others go on to make a career at Walmart moving up the ranks. I think that really rocks. Employers are a benefit to the unemployed, not a burden. This is obvious from the plain fact that ever Walmart opening I have heard of has a vastly more job applicants that jobs available.

  38. > Overconsumption is wasting resources.

    A number of posts have interpreted ESR’s use of the word “Overconsumption” from a production point of view. I believe his idea was from a consumption point of view.

    I believe ESR was referring to attitudes and aspects like:

    Who ever dies with the most toys, wins.
    (before smart phones) Look how tiny my cell phone is!
    “Hello Kitty” everything (started in Japan, but has spread)

    and just the meme (is that word OK on these blogs?) that you aren’t living if you aren’t buying something, anything, preferably the latest thing, but basically just living to acquire stuff.

  39. >I believe ESR was referring to attitudes and aspects like: Who ever dies with the most toys, wins.

    That is correct.

  40. There is a left wing movement against Wallmart and other low cost retailers.
    It is organized and funded by unions and their democratic party yes men.
    I seem to recall opposition to the Kingsbridge Mall in New York based on a
    “living wage” and “Mom and Pop” theme. One local representative told a
    mother hoping to see her children gainfully employed to wait until he arraigned
    for good paying “green jobs”. This in an area with double digit unemployment
    before the good ship Wall Street hit an iceberg in 2007. Wonder how that worked
    out?? The problem is in blue states we are governed by baboons. We have lost
    control of the fiscal process to liberal doyens who prattle on about green jobs and
    stem cell research while real innovation is stifled by unions and local graft.
    Anybody want to hazard a guess why any government organization or their affiliates
    (teachers union, college administration, municipal employees, etc.) are slower to change
    than the worst run business you can think of? What would happen if the teacher union
    applied the same analysis and problem solving to instruction Sam Walton did to retail?

    I do not shop at Wallmart but what is the problem with “Everyday Low Prices”?
    Especially if they are able to extend that to prescription drugs, eye and medical care!
    We going to the picket line for “Mom and Pop Pharmacists and Doctors”?
    With technological innovation someones ox is gored every day.
    In the retail business Wallmart by supply chain optimization is doing the goring.
    Possibly Amazon or someone else will in turn gore Wallmart.
    No Internet sales tax would help. In the end the consumer probably wins.
    Mom and Pop, the grocers union and local politicians. Not so much.

    Coalition Vows Wage Fight Over Kingsbridge Armory Mall Proposal
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/17/nyregion/17wage.html

  41. Brian Marshall Says:
    > Who ever dies with the most toys, wins.

    Again, it is not clear to me why that is a bad thing. Exactly how much of the world’s resources are taken up by Hello Kitty lunch boxes?

    However, there is a bigger point here. All that putative over-consumption generates a constant pressure to create new and innovative things. Often the new and innovative things consume less resources than the ones they replace. “Look how tiny my cell phone is” being one example. Would we really be better off as a society if people changed their cell phones less frequently? Would we be better off if people kept their old gas guzzlers rather than buying new more efficient cars?

    Aggressive consumerism has a pretty large upside too.

    Oh, and one other thing, about Sharper Image… if you guys buy those life sized models of Star Wars Storm Troopers and put them in your apartment, then you are obviously much less likely to get laid. And that means less babies. Isn’t that what the “save the planet” folks really want?

  42. >The problem is in blue states we are governed by baboons.

    I think you just insulted baboons. At least they can face reality.

  43. @Jessica Boxer:

    > And that means less babies.

    My personal experience is that nothing any one guy does or thinks affects how many babies are produced (although his behavior may certainly affect how many babies he’s on the hook for child support for).

  44. @Jessica Boxer
    > Who ever dies with the most toys, wins.

    It isn’t an economic issue, it is a point of view and a way of life. I judge my Toyotas by how many hundred thousands of Kms I can get out of them… my latest Corolla has only 140,000 but it is a 1990 and has a great engine and great-feeling suspension – for Toyotas (at least older ones) it is just nicely broken in.

    >Star Wars Storm Troopers and put them in your apartment, then you are obviously much less likely to get laid

    As someone who knew about subatomic particles, elliptical orbits of planets, and, in general, more about science than the science teacher that I repeatedly harassed in class in elementary school; as someone now using Fedora 14 but wouldn’t dream of using the new Gnome so sooner or later I will have to make a big change… my life has been dedicated to a style that pretty much eliminated the possibility of getting laid. However, I did get married and had two brilliant twin kids – I bailed out of the marriage after about 13 years. In any case, I don’t plan my life around those “people are evil” assholes.

    I question the economic value of massive consumption of stuff that is thrown away or ignored weeks or months later. Economic statistics have a category called “durable goods” – you know, stuff like fridges and clothes washing machines that last for twenty years. Except nothing lasts for twenty years anymore. Some stuff has basically been designed enough – as for fridges, I stopped liking the advances with automatic ice-cube makers; I guess if I used ice cubes, I might look at it differently but I don’t like connecting pressurized water to appliances unless it really is necessary – it can destroy your house.

    Another example… this is a matter of taste to some point, and I gather from the blogs that ESR takes a somewhat different view, but I think cell phones are great. I have a phone with which I can phone people and I use it to tell the date and time. I have a computer from which I do many things. I feel no desire to combine the two. I don’t like the idea of smart phones – they have way too much stuff buried in there – latest news – Smart Phones Carrier IQ (logs and reports every keystroke) – this doesn’t surprise me and I predict that the US Federal government is going to be at least trying to pursue their many wars (including the war on drugs) with this data.

    Short version: a life of buying stuff you are going to throw away after you get bored with it, durable goods that might last for two years, and electronic toys that have to be replaced at least every year to get the latest “apps” (as you can see, I also hand code html) is not necessarily good for the economy. As Lazarus Long said (I paraphrase) the only true sins are waste and hurting someone when you don’t mean to.

    I think super consumption involves a tremendous amount of waste – waste of time, waste of resources, waste of talent. Are the people that develop enough new toys to make people buy new smart phones really employed, in a true economic sense, more than government employees that have jobs that revolve around sending memos to each other?

    Plus, hey, I notice you jump on me rather than ESR (although you might have been composing while he responded).

  45. These blogs are much more fun and addictive than SlashDot.

    On one hand, on SlashDot, it seems more acceptable to express one’s point colorfully using words like fuck, asshat and douchebagery. And some of the sigs are wonderful. The only great one that comes to mind is “If you build a man a fire, he is warm for a night. If you light a man on fire, he is warm for the rest of his life.” and mine, a quote: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro” – HST.

    On the other hand, SlashDot doesn’t have ESR but it does have vast numbers of young people that feel that, if only we had more laws, we could fix these problems.

  46. Some stuff has basically been designed enough – as for fridges, I stopped liking the advances with automatic ice-cube makers

    My new refrigerator uses 10% of the electricity that my old one used. I think that qualifies as a major design advance.

  47. but it does have vast numbers of young people that feel that, if only we had more laws, we could fix these problems.

    Or as we call them, “Progressives”. Or the term I prefer – “Idiots”.

  48. > My new refrigerator uses 10% of the electricity that my old one used. I think that qualifies as a major design advance.

    Yeah, I knew that point would be raised, and of course you are right. But if it breaks down within the next 18 months, I (and Woodrow Willson Smith) are also right – waste is one true evil. (Another that I forgot to mention is a policy of hurting children, dogs or, in any case, because it makes the hurter feel better).

  49. Back in 1992 my conscience was bothering me so I took a Saturday and priced
    rubbermaid garbage cans with wheels same make and model from five local Mom
    and Pop hardware stores and the closest Home Depot. The Mom and Pops were at
    least 20 bucks pricier than the big box store. My conscience has not bothered me
    since and there are far fewer local hardware stores. The ones that survive specialize.

    Don’t fall for the overconsumption scam. Markets are there to meet needs weather
    they are for a Mini Cooper or BMW 750i. Attempts to shame someone into a new life
    style are normally a political trap. When oil was three hundred dollars a barrel the
    finger wagers were aghast at people daring to heat their 10000 square foot homes.
    They wanted legislation (power) to do something about the rich squandering resources.
    If you want to live like St. Francis be my guest but that choice is no more noble than
    living like Madonna. Of course St. Francis took a vow of chastity. Madonna not so much.

    One quote about overconsumption and our “scarce” resources.

    “Natural resources are not finite in any meaningful economic sense,
    mind-boggling though this assertion may be. The stocks of them
    are not fixed but rather are expanding through human ingenuity.”
    –Julian Simon, economist

    Both my wife and I are old enough to have parents raised during
    the depression. I’m sure were they alive today they would find the
    comments about tacky and rednecks amusing. The idea of an earned
    income credit and food stamps would be met with contempt.

  50. Wal-Mart wants to act as a cultural police

    There is some truth to that. Walmart has been pushing florescent light bulbs for a number of years and had a green policy for a while. I’ve also had the impression that some stores have pushed low fat dairy, yoghurt and such. Which shows that even the best go wrong when they embrace progressive science.

  51. > My new refrigerator uses 10% of the electricity that my old one used.

    10%?? Really, or the manufacturer in China says it does? Your measurements? Do you ever open the door? How much of it is compressor/condenser design and how much is adding insulation because power costs more these days?

    If the order of magnitude change is actually a fair comparison, that truly is an advance in the level of civilization – not a huge one in the grand scheme of things, but a real one.

    I don’t question the value of this kind of advance, but (to go slightly off topic), I consider it to be an economic and possibly technology advance, not a moral advance.

    One key point is: Whoever has the most toys, pays (money or effort) the most to move.

  52. @Jessica Boxer:

    I don’t think you understood what I meant about The Sharper Image. It’s been years since I saw a catalog and my negative attitude has lasted longer than my memory of their actual products. I remember really useless stuff for high prices, aimed at people with more money than sense. I have no objections to those who would buy a Lexus. It’s a really fine car that will transport you reliably and in comfort. Money spent on one is not wasted.

    You can argue both ways about whether the government’s subsidies of Walmart’s workers is a good or bad thing. I expected from your previous comments on this blog that you would oppose such subsidies in principle.

  53. @LS

    I have several cousins who work at Walmart. They aren’t government subsidized, they don’t use food stamps and such. They do appreciate the employment and the hours can be flexible, say three 12 hour days with four days off for other things. The folks who shop at Walmart aren’t conspicuous consumers, they shop there for the convenience and because the prices are low and the quality reasonable, if not the best. In other words, they shop there because they don’t have a ton of money and they are looking to live cheaply. I’ve also noticed that Walmart employs people who probably can’t find employment elsewhere, older folks or folks with disabilities. Personally, I think esr with his weapons workshops and gaming is living a privileged life of unbridled consumption ;) Time is money, and not everyone has the money to buy time. The fact that he, and myself for that matter, can afford such things is a surplus of goods and mechanization. Otherwise, absent a fortunate birth, we would likely be scratching a living from the soil. At least esr has the grace to appreciate his good fortune and not insult those who have less or would rather spend their spare time snowmobiling, water skiing, or hunting than fighting with medieval weapons.

  54. In a trip through the jungle, one of us was carrying an artifact machete, hand crafted from the truck spring of an abandoned truck by primitive natives, one of us was carrying an heirloom machete, and I was carrying a cheap machete from Walmart. The Walmart machete was better than the artifact machete, and as good as the heirloom machete, probably better, though the artifact machete won on style and story.

  55. @James A Donald:

    The Walmart machete was better than the artifact machete, and as good as the heirloom machete…

    People talk about WalMart stuff being crap, and some of it is. But not, by any means, all of it, or even most of it. This is because WalMart actually allows you, nay encourages you, to take defective stuff back for a refund.

    As a friend of mine says, and as I’ve repeated many times (and probably at least 3 or 4 times in comments on various posts on this very blog), because I think there is a lot of profound wisdom in the statement when you unpack it: “Technology isn’t real until you can buy it down at the WalMart for $19.95.

    So when some fancy electronic thing costs $300 when it first comes out, you don’t know how well it will work. But by the time WalMart sells them for $20 each, you can be damn sure that most of them will, according to the opinion of the buying public, work just fine. Because otherwise, too many of them would come back and WalMart wouldn’t make any money. And we know that’s not in the plan.

  56. @chuck:

    Wal-Mart wants to act as a cultural police

    There is some truth to that. Walmart has been pushing florescent light bulbs for a number of years and had a green policy for a while.

    I couldn’t disagree more. If WalMart’s selling something, the most innocuous explanation is that people are buying. Although I could believe that a certain amount of their PR budget goes to insuring they stock thing that their enemies would complain about if they didn’t carry, there’s no way that WalMart is stupid enough to push their core customers away to other stores by not stocking things that the customers want.

  57. there’s no way that WalMart is stupid enough to push their core customers away

    They were for a while, but they gave up on the green policy because they were losing money on it. So they were just stupid for a little while ;) Which is better than I can say for some academics.

  58. # LS Says:
    > You can argue both ways about whether the government’s subsidies of Walmart’s workers is a good or bad thing.

    The government is not subsidizing Walmart workers, they are subsidizing people, and when those people have a job at Walmart, the subsidize them less. I find your logic entirely twisted and backward.

    > I expected from your previous comments on this blog that you would oppose such subsidies in principle.

    I certainly oppose the EIC as currently constituted, but it is just a small part of the larger mess that is our tax system. However, I suggest you read a little history on the EIC, it is a fascinating idea that went badly wrong.

    My preference, of course, would be that the destitute be helped by private charity.

  59. # Will Says:
    > I wouldn’t know; I was bringing up their music censorship policy.

    Does the fact that they do not sell hard core pornography offend you too? Or will you grant that they have a right to put whatever they want on their shelves, based on what, as a whole, they think will sell the most?

    The police put you in jail if you do something wrong. Walmart just won’t sell you “Debbie Does Dallas”, you have to go to Amazon.com for that. In what sense are those two things equivalent?

    Walmart bears absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to the police, cultural or otherwise.

  60. @Patrick Maupin: I suspect the ‘Culture Police’ thing has more to do with Walmart using its leverage to get bowdlerdized albums and movies produced specifically for themselves.

    Of course, said items do sell, and sell well. But it makes things more difficult when you’re looking for the original item without paying HMV prices.

  61. I feel bad for the people who don’t have access to anything but a wal-mart.

  62. > I feel bad for the people who don’t have access to anything but a wal-mart.

    Um… If they have no alternative, then the alternative is nothing. Certainly Wal-Mart is better than nothing.

  63. Pingback: DYSPEPSIA GENERATION » Blog Archive » ‘Why I love Walmart despite never shopping there’

  64. Re. Wal-Mart paying minimum wage, I seem to recall not long ago Wal-Mart supported an increase in the minimum wage. It turned out the reason was that Wal-Mart was already paying above minimum wage to its workers, but their competitors — Target, K-Mart, what have you — were paying minimum wage. (Presumably because that was the only way they could compete with Wal-Mart.) By campaigning for an increase in the minimum wage, Wal-Mart could disadvantage their competitors without harming themselves.

    Some years back, as part of an emergency-preparedness campaign for the Red Cross, I volunteered for a shift at our local Wal-Mart. (My job was to tell people about the display that was set up in the store, and the prize drawing.) That meant I spent a few hours working alongside the Wal-Mart “greeter,” an older chap, and of course we had time to chat. He was proud of the fact that he was an original employee there, having worked at that Wal-Mart location since it first opened. He seemed happy with his job and, I’d judge, quite ready to stay there until retirement. So working at Wal-Mart can’t be all bad.

    The other unusual thing about that day…I was amazed at the number of Mennonites who shop at Wal-Mart. (This community has a substantial Mennonite population.)

  65. >Which is the problem.

    Well, if those rich fat cat mom and pop store owners would stop stealing from the people and give back to the communities, it wouldn’t be a problem. OCCUPY MAIN STREET!

    Of course the real answer is, everyone has alternatives. In some cases though, wal-mart is the better alternative. That’s not wal-mart’s problem though.

  66. >Which is the problem.

    I was going to say, surely you jest, but… I have a horrible feeling you aren’t.

    How can having an opportunity to buy stuff (like food) be worse than having no opportunity to buy stuff?

    As the poster above says, everyone has alternatives, but there is something seriously wrong with your concepts, here. Can you grok “no opportunity”. That means, ultimately, death.

  67. When I hear the word “overconsumption” I don’t think “Wal-Mart”. I think “Advertising industry” and “marketing department”. Overconsumption is a huge problem at all levels of American society, but I wouldn’t pin the blame on any one store. The finger really needs to be pointed at the people who are telling us “You *need* this overpriced little trinket”, and “you *deserve* this new outfit, and you’ll be nobody without it”, and “Don’t worry if you can’t afford the car we’re trying to sell you. We offer excellent financing options”.

  68. “Well, if those rich fat cat mom and pop store owners would stop stealing from the people and give back to the communities, it wouldn’t be a problem. OCCUPY MAIN STREET!”

    Of course, tmoney said that in jest….but back in the early ’80s, in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, there was just such a ‘movement’. The neighborhood had turned predominately black, and the local stores were run by Korean and Palestinian immigrants. The blacks wanted to see black workers in the stores. In vain did the store owners explain that these were family-owned businesses, and all the ‘employees’ were family members. Fortunately, the ‘movement’ petered out before too much damage was done.

  69. LS:

    I remember that. I believe the good and righteous Reverend AL was front and center in that
    campaign. That was before he demonstrated his verbal acquity with his famous resist we much
    speech. I think a convicted killer Sonny Carson was also menacing the Korean green grocers.
    What was a killer doing leading demonstrations. Hey it’s Brooklyn. You got a problem with that.

  70. I would be interested to see the examples of Evil Progressives Who Hate Walmart (and all it stands for) that Eric seems to be reacting against here.

  71. > Overconsumption is a huge problem at all levels of American society,

    We must keep in mind, here, that we are talking about personal philosophies, preferences in how to live.

    I am certainly not going to turn around and defend the “Over-Consumption” philosophy, but if it is a problem at all levels of American society, it is a problem with the minds of all those people.

    If we want to point out a problem at all levels of American society, I would say that it is the anti-intellectualism or perhaps anti-intellect-y’allism – sorry – not funny, well, not polite, anyway).

    The point is that the problem isn’t the advertisers, it is the people that respond to the advertising. It is, in my opinion, a philosophy that promotes waste at many levels. It is a problem of philosophy.

    If people don’t think about their philosophy (regardless of whether they actually use that word), that is the problem.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, the problem is the morons-by-choice or, rather, the morons-by-not-choosing, the people who care more about toys and fashion than ideas. This is something none of us are going to fix.

  72. I frequently encounter the same conceit with respect to my favorite fast food establishment. When doing training rides here in Colorado (mountainbiking), I often stop at Taco Bell for their $2 meal deal. It’s a great value (burrito, chips, and an endless fountain drink), which really hits the spot after a long hot ride, and all without getting stuffed or initiating the runs. It is PC among the well-dressed riders in this city to disparage Taco Bell, but its my needs for cheap, tasty, and conveniently available all over town. Plus the new restaurants have an outstanding upscale decor that is very customer friendly. Corporatism meets my needs just fine thank you, and the elitist snobs can take their haughty arrogance and shove it.

  73. >It is PC among the well-dressed riders in this city to disparage Taco Bell,

    Euuuurrgggggh. This is me agreeing with the PC crowd, just this once.

  74. Even the whole “Walmart is a terrible employer” meme is entirely bogus.

    Indeed. My wife clerked there for a few months to cover a temporary hole in our income.

    It wasn’t meant to be a lifetime job. But it could have been – clerk, learn the ropes, rise in the ranks. Not as glamorous as some jobs, or as fun as others, but it’s honest work, an Wal-Mart is no worse an employer than most. Better than some, that’s for sure.

  75. There was obviously opportunity before Wal-Mart came and took over.

    (also, to hell with the word grok)

  76. Brian Marshall Says:
    >Not to put too fine a point on it, the problem is the morons-by-choice or, rather, the morons-by-not-choosing, the people who care more about toys and fashion than ideas. This is something none of us are going to fix.

    Curious. Why precisely do you think that ideas are objectively more interesting that fashion or toys? They might be more interesting to you, but why do you have the right to project your preferences onto others? Life is short and frequently difficult. If ideas float your boat, then go for it. If a new pair of heels does it, then go for that too.

    @Will
    > I feel bad for the people who don’t have access to anything but a wal-mart.

    But most of the people in that situation don’t feel bad about it, on the contrary they are very pleased to have Walmart. Frankly that makes you a paternalistic patronizing jerk. The very epitome of the attitude in “White Man’s Burden” that another poster mentioned.

  77. >Frankly that makes [Will] a paternalistic patronizing jerk.

    It’s consistent with his stance about SF, too. It’s difficult to be sure at such a low word count, but “Will” sounds like the poster boy for New Class cultural and moral vacuity – not a bad person, per se, but completely bought into their shallow notions of sophistication.

  78. Well said, Eric. The sneering toward Walmart is a pretty good indicator of a snob. Often an unthinking snob. Walmart has done a lot for improving the living standards of lower middle class and lower economic classes by providing inexpensive food, clothing and other staples.

  79. chuck, Walmart hired a VP of marketing a few years back from a liberal political background in an attempt to better yuppiefy themselves. That VP as I understand it pushed Walmart into more “green” products, into more “organic” produce and other initiatives to attract the “right thinking” customers. In what some think were related moves, gun sales were de-emphasized as well.

    It was a failure as a strategy. A lot of those initiatives have been allowed to expire or die other natural deaths. Heck, nowadays Walmart even is selling AR rifles in a lot of stores. The redneck Walmart is back. Hooray.

  80. >The sneering toward Walmart is a pretty good indicator of a snob.

    I’m not entirely without sympathy for Will. Forty years ago I might have sounded rather like him.

    Many forces drove me to my present state of thorny libertarianism. One of the most important is that I grew up amidst the elite New Class. I’m not a son of privilege, exactly; my dad was a poor boy from rural central Pennsylvania. But I grew up among hypereducated expats and in the bluest bedroom suburbs of the postwar U.S. – and, when I was in my late teens in the 1970s, I began to smell something smug and rotten about it all. I didn’t join up with the the hippies because they smelled worse than the establishment, both literally and figuratively.

    Will’s comments are laconic, but they reek of that same smell. It’s not easy to describe the components. Part of it is snobbery and an unearned sense of entitlement. Part of it is what conservatives now call “political correctness”, though it wasn’t nearly as elaborate or virulent in those days. Part of it is esthetic exhaustion, the kind of thing that shows up in art as one part excessive psychological involution to one part nihilism. Part of it was a hollowing out of moral reasoning, a gradual loss of both the will to make important judgments and the categories of thought needed to make them. Part of it was toxic politics, a sort of soft totalitarianism creeping in by stealth in exactly the ways Alexis de Tocqueville warned us democracy might be prone to. All of these seemed tangled together in subtle ways; I suppose one might as well call the result the stench of decadence as anything else.

    I suppose the usual reaction to noticing decadence is to become a conservative. The trouble with that response is that conservatives believe a lot of really stupid shit that I wasn’t willing to have any part of. And still aren’t.

    I value classic science fiction in part because, in a very real sense, it showed me the way out of that bind. Will, sadly, didn’t get the lesson.

  81. @Jessica Boxer
    > Why precisely do you think that ideas are objectively more interesting that fashion or toys?

    I was replying to a poster who said that Over-consumption was a terrible problem and the blame should be directed at advertisers and marketing.

    I suggested that advertisers should not be blamed, but, to whatever degree this is a problem, the blame lies with the people responding to the advertising.

    When I said “fashion” I was referring to the idea that if it isn’t the latest thing, it needs to be replaced. When I said “toys”, I was referring to anything that is bought because it is new, and replaced as soon as something newer comes along. If “newness” is the prime criteria for replacing what you have, this is a philosophical choice. I didn’t connect up the ideas in quite this way, but I was suggesting that the “newness is everything” philosophy is vacuous and might well be connected with the (what I consider fairly obvious) anti-intellectualism that is rampant today.

    Answering your question, of course, personally, I think that ideas are interesting and I replace them when I think that they are wrong, ie. when they need replacing. How interesting can something be if it is replaced just because something newer is available?

    Short answer: I wasn’t referring to clothing or children’s toys.

  82. @Jessica Boxer

    I swear that I wrote my post and used the word vacuous before I read ESR’s post with the phrase “moral vacuity”.

  83. >I swear that I wrote my post and used the word vacuous before I read ESR’s post with the phrase “moral vacuity”.

    I believe that.

  84. >the (what I consider fairly obvious) anti-intellectualism that is rampant today.

    I think there’s a deeper cause. Today’s anti-intellectualism is a largely justified reaction to the treason of the intellectuals.

    Note that I say “justified”, not “correct”; there are a lot of things the various anti-intellectual groups get horribly wrong. But the impulse to hang “intellectuals” from the nearest lamppost is quite understandable after the last century; much of the West’s intelligentsia willingly betrayed their own civilization and functioned as enablers for the most hideous evil in human history – Communism – and its offspring Naziism. The blight of that great betrayal is on us still.

  85. “On the other hand, SlashDot doesn’t have ESR but it does have vast numbers of young people that feel that, if only we had more laws, we could fix these problems.”

    Slashdot used to be mostly libertarians and a few european marxists.

  86. @JCB
    “What I understand “over consumption” to mean is the “old” (i first heard it roughly 15 years ago) maxim that goes something along the lines of “the USA has N% of the world population and yet accounts for roughly M% of the worlds consumption” Where N is vastly less than M (think 80/20 rule style difference and not in a positive way).”

    The central flaw with this kind of argument is that they leave out “The USA has N% of the world population and yet accounts for roughly M% of the worlds _production_”. With M also a lot higher than N…
    The US of A (and basically the whole industrialised West) can afford to consume more because they produce more.

  87. Here’s a clip summarizing a paper by noted economist Jerry Hausman of MIT.
    Found at http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2006/11/jerry_hausman_o.html.

    =================
    The magnitude of the benefit [of Walmart] is enormous. Hausman looked at food, and for that category alone Wal-Mart increases consumer welfare by 25 percent (I’m a bit worried that the theory behind his calculations holds only for much smaller differences, but I don’t have an alternative.) Since food is about 12 percent of GDP, multiplying .25 by .12 gives a benefit of .03, or 3 percent of GDP from Wal-Mart.

    . . .

    Oh, and by the way, Hausman finds that poor people get 50 percent more benefit from Wal-Mart than rich people.

    ====================

    The link in that article is broken. But, a similar paper by Hausman lives at
    http://econ-www.mit.edu/files/1036. You can get a lot from that paper even if you skip the equations.

    Chuck

  88. Well, that last post segues nicely into my personal views on the subject. The only reson we need Walmart (and we do need it… for now) is because we don’t actually produce enough basic goods. We’re no longer a self-sustainable society. This should be obvious from the enormous loans we’ve had to ask for (ASK FOR!) from China. And no, debt is not power, debt is the lack of power. It is the impact of someone elses power on you. We shouldn’t need someone to distribute the items we should be making locally anyway. [Insert anti-trolling rant here]
    Since personal Walmart stories are in abundance here’s mine: Raised in Milner, Georgia pop. ~500 excepting the local super-church whose congregations reach ~2000 on Sundays. One local store, four miles distant, one Walmart twenty five miles distant, twelve years later one Ingles eight miles distant. Family of self-employed potters, making our goods by hand, living in a A/C-less renovated log cabin built in 1825 and spared when Sherman marched through in the Civil War, aka War of Northern Aggression ;) Income ~10k a year, up to 14k on a good year.
    Now, the experiential data. We shopped at Walmart regularly. My parents still do. When you need things and don’t have money, you go where you can. We also cooked our own food, we fixed our own vehicles up to replacing our own engines, and we produced our own livelihood half from selling our “art” and half from selling utilitarian pots. My Dad’s mainstay were his durable mugs, tankards, and bowls. You could drive a nail in with any of these pieces or they could last you a lifetime if you didn’t fumble them onto some concrete or other unyielding surface. For the first sixteen years of my life every dinner I ate, except when we were on the road to a craft show or fair, came from our own kitchen.
    Here’s over-consumption to me: People willing to go into debt to purchase what they should be producing.
    News flash. This is the current US of A. Walmart is an excellent representative of the modern American Dream: “Hopefully when I wake up I won’t have to pay for any of this.”
    And when I say “pay” I mean understanding exactly what you produce and what it takes to keep you alive. Do you know where your food comes from? Not the store, but where the animal was born and raised? Do you know how many animals are in that burger? Those tacos (and I do love Taco Bell, but I only eat there once a year)? When Eric says that he’s leary of over-consumption I’d hazard a guess that he’d rather see a self-sufficient American society as opposed to one glutted on foreign imports because we don’t produce our own goods, for our own people.
    It’s pretty obvious that by examining the back of the majority of cheap products in Walmart that it is the distribution arm of The People’s Republic of China. Let’s not forget that the planters and hand-made pottery found there was imported from Korea. Excellent pieces, produced en mass for cents to the dollar that my family has to charge because America can’t supply us with cheap “local” goods manufactured in our own country. If we actually produced basic goods we might have a competitive market for hand-made goods instead of a luxury market for hand-made goods.
    We purchase only what we must from Walmart because we wish we could get it from our neighbors. Too bad they never considered making things for themselves. Maybe if people could become more self-sufficient producers instead of consumers we’d have cheaper, higher quality goods made by people that you actually know and the government could subsidize that instead of imports that rely on exploiting lax foreign labor laws.
    Right now a bunch of people would starve without Walmart because over the last few generations they forgot how to make their own food. My personal hope is that some of them will figure out how to take care of themselves and Walmart will become a luxury market, like it should always have been.

  89. “I think a convicted killer Sonny Carson was also menacing the Korean green grocers.
    What was a killer doing leading demonstrations. Hey it’s Brooklyn. You got a problem with that.”

    @batguano:
    That sort of thing goes way back. The honest, hardworking people don’t have time for that sort of thing; they are busy working. Before Carson (1960s) there was H. Rap Brown. He was very famous – until he got locked up for armed robbery.

    You might also remember some demonstrations around 1987 or so. A Korean greengrocer had a dispute with a black woman customer and put his hands on her. It caused quite a stir. The grocery was located about two blocks from where I used to live. Fortunately, I had moved away by then. (Brooklyn was struggling its way through the crack epidemic at the time, and I got tired of hearing gunshots every week.)

  90. @esr
    >much of the West’s intelligentsia willingly betrayed their own civilization and functioned as enablers for the most hideous evil in human history – Communism – and its offspring Naziism. The blight of that great betrayal is on us still.

    Aagh.. it’s happening again… I have never used crack, but I think it would be less time consuming and (if I had a job), cheaper.

    Anyway, I agree. When I went to University (not that I stayed), I was into Ayn Rand, which at least put me against the totalitarians. But almost everyone there (that had any political philosophy) was communist.

    Why is it that as soon as you get to a place of higher learning, everyone is into totalitarianism? Part of it is the “Hey, I know how to save the world!” which I basically fell into as well. But I was only interested in what I thought was correct, I wasn’t actively promoting making all kinds of new laws (or overthrowing society) to force everyone to do what I thought was right.

  91. @Brian Marshall Says:
    >When I said “fashion” I was referring to the idea that if it isn’t the latest thing, it needs to be replaced. When I said “toys”, I was referring to anything that is bought because it is new, and replaced as soon as something newer comes along.

    As I said earlier, it is certainly natural for our Anglo Saxon memetics to shudder at such frivolity, however, one must also recognize there is a very big upside to this type of behavior. Specifically, if people are constantly buying “the new thing” it puts pressure on producers to make new things. It encourages and rewards innovation. To repeat my earlier example, the pressure to buy new cars has been one of the pressures that has enabled the retirement of all our gas guzzlers with much more efficient vehicles.

    Innovation makes us all richer. If we all kept our stuff, there would be no new stuff, and your cell phone would weigh about two pounds, and you couldn’t use it to play any games. Surely the wide availability of Angry Birds is a sign of progress for our civilization? :-)

    > I swear that I wrote my post and used the word vacuous before I read ESR’s post with the phrase “moral vacuity”.

    I’m sure. I’d suggest you try the word “jejune”. It is a very useful word, aside from the fact that no one knows what it means, and everyone things you are pretentious when you use it. But I would like to start a campaign to renew its reputation :-)

  92. > Slashdot used to be mostly libertarians and a few european marxists.

    Slashdot still has many libertarians, but way to many young people that figure that all we need is more laws. I am just more sensitive to the totalitarianism.

  93. > Innovation makes us all richer.

    I totally agree. I deeply appreciate the innovation in computers, for instance. However, it is worth noting, again, that replacing something just because something new is out can entail a waste of talent.

    But this blog started out about philosophy of life, not economics. Some folks, especially us aging geeks, just don’t get into filling our lives with possessions and our time with replacing them just because something new has come out.

    This is, again, going to sound like my goal is to put other people down, but I am going to say it for a very important reason – I think it is funny: “Bright and shiny is for magpies.”

  94. > Innovation makes us all richer.

    I should point out that when I say “I deeply appreciate the innovation in computers,”, I mean that I appreciate that there has been so much innovation that my 5-year old $1100 computer works just fine for me.

  95. Eric, my parents were lower middle class in origin themselves … if they had the thumb on the scale. But my father pulled himself up from not having finished high school to a finish up retired from a city fire department as a battalion chief. They were able to clothe me, feed me and eventually help me get through college with a CS degree that resulted in my ending up with a household income four times theirs. If there was a Walmart when I was a kid, I can literally imagine just how much better our lifestyle would be.

    Nowadays, I often shop at snooty stores (making sure to comment on the snooty each time) but interestingly, the Walmart up the street from me was built about 5 years ago and even at my high level of income, that Walmart made a significant change in my and my wife’s lifestyle when it opened. How? Its pharmacy cut hundreds of dollars out of our medical prescription costs.

    On another blog, someone was sneering at “McDonalds job” and I had a similar reaction. Mainly because a high school friend of mine who started at McDonalds as a cashier when she dropped out of high school used McDonalds’ training programs to work herself up into high levels of McDonalds’ management and some wealth.

    The smug only show their ignorance.

  96. >> I think there’s a deeper cause. Today’s anti-intellectualism is a largely justified reaction to the treason of the intellectuals.

    >Note that I say “justified”, not “correct”; there are a lot of things the various anti-intellectual groups get horribly wrong.

    Not so fast. Errors of the anti-intellectuals do not mean that the intellectual-class doesn’t deserve kicking around for what it has done.

    I’ve found that the anti-intellectuals are, as a whole, far easier to pursuade. Unlike the intellectuals, they can be educated. I’m not happy saying that intellectual-class can’t be reasoned with, but I don’t see much evidence showing that they can. (Their fondness for death camps may be yet another example of projection.)

  97. @don +1. I don’t hate walmart because I’m elitist. I hate walmart because the ones around me suck. I too am willing to spend a little extra and shop a Tarjhee. The aisles are wider, the stuff better organized and the staff friendlier. My walmart, despite being in an upscale area, looks like it’s been hit by a zombie disaster mob every single time.

    The walmart in Orlando sucked a lot less…in as much as it had staff with a clue and checkout moved reasonably well despite being mobbed by disney tourists. So I guess user experience varies.

  98. Brian Marshall Says:
    > “Bright and shiny is for magpies.”
    > I mean that I appreciate that there has been so much innovation that my 5-year old $1100 computer works just fine for me.

    And would the world be a better place were we all to follow your example, and purchase new computers on a 5 year cycle? We flaky magpies are buying stuff so that when you laggards finally get around to purchasing a new computer ten years from now, it will really rock your world.

    Personally, I prefer my computer to have 16GB of RAM rather than 16GB of hard disk.

  99. I will admit I don’t like Wal-Mart. I don’t condemn those who shop there because they don’t have better options convenient. (If Wal-Mart is by a significant margin the closest store of its kind to you, as it is for many, we have no quarrel whatsoever.) I try not to look down on folks who do have better options but shop there anyway. It is, after all, a question of taste and standards, rather than morals. But nevertheless I feel some natural kinship with people who dislike the Wal-Mart experience.

    But the folks who _hate_ Wal-Mart? Uh, no. To them, my only response is “if you don’t think you can trust the average American to make his own decisions about where to shop, why are you so bloody determined to make sure they can all vote?”.

  100. @Jessica Boxer:

    > Personally, I prefer my computer to have 16GB of RAM rather than 16GB of hard disk.

    Yeah, but for me a real milestone happens at 64GB of RAM.

    If I have 64GB of RAM and 2.4TB of disk, that will be a million times more of both kinds of storage than the first computer I owned that I did real work with. (S100 Z80 with 64KB of RAM, and Persci dual 8″ 1.2MB floppies.)

  101. @Jessica Boxer:

    > Personally, I prefer my computer to have 16GB of RAM rather than 16GB of hard disk.

    You ought to try Linux.

    I have a 40 GB hard disk that is only a bit more than half full. I don’t collect music or photos, but the issue is null anyway, diskspace is practically free.

    I have 1 GB of ram and a 2.4 GHz Celeron cpu (just a hair slower than a microwave oven – of course with double-speed ram, stuff happens on the rise and the fall of the clock ticks – I am not actually an expert at this; my last statement might not be correct).

    I went from Fedora 8 (maybe) to 10 to 12 to 14 and each time my computer seemed to get faster. Of course, in Mr. Bill’s neighborhood, it doesn’t work this way.

    I could ask, What do you do with 16 GB of RAM?

    But I am the geek – I do practically everything (other than web and email) from terminal windows – when I am working, I usually have 4 open. I wrote the cutest little double entry book-keeping system that uses 2 text data files that I edit with vi – a chart of accounts and a file of transactions (generally in pairs). I have a handfull of shell scripts to produce the reports I need to do taxes and such.

    I use the Gimp (like photoshop) and can edit multiple screen-shots at once and still use Firefox and do email.

    I probably wouldn’t want a bunch of Open Office apps and instances open all at once while I was doing this, but I use Open Office very rarely – text files are for humans.

    The point is, we are all different and we all want different stuff. I don’t expect others to want what I want. I still maintain, however, that continually replacing possessions just because something newer is available is… I don’t know… a somewhat vacuous personal philosophy. If you like the latest thing, by all means buy it. But if the sole criterion is that it is the latest thing, isn’t there something better to do with one’s money?

  102. > I find lowbrow snobbery more offensive than intellectual snobbery.

    To whom are you referring? If it is me, I may be using a 5-year old computer, but I am bragging about writing a double-entry book-keeping system, but using vi as the user interface. So, I am not trying to be a snob, but I definitely claim to be an intellectual. I just like terminal windows and vi. This post contains 525 characters. I created a .doc document with Open Office containing just this post and it was 10752 bytes and, well, a .doc file.

  103. I’m referring to the people who look down on those who don’t shop at wal-mart and such.

  104. > I’m referring to the people who look down on those who don’t shop at wal-mart and such.

    Oh, OK then… looking down on people who don’t shop at Wal-Mart… I am afraid that this is straining my intellect.

  105. Can we at least put to rest the idea that Wal-Mart is pushing anyone to consume things they don’t want? Wal-Mart doesn’t play the “cool brand” game. They advertise pretty much one thing: low prices.

    I remember how in my youth, you were considered a geek–which was *not* something you wanted to be at that time–if you didn’t wear 501′s every single day. Granted that the button fly did have the advantage of making a There’s Something About Mary type scenario less likely, the main reason people liked those ugly jeans was that everyone watching the same three networks saw, every night on the same shows on primetime, ads in which some entertainer would be singing their stupid song. Nowadays, I can’t even tell you the brand names on my jeans–zipper fly, thank you very much–and they don’t cost forty to fifty bucks a pair. Thank you Wal-Mart for making cheap jeans available.

    Wal-Mart is the *antithesis* of the tyranny of cool.

  106. My father used to say he didn’t shop at WalMart because “it stinks of peasants”. That’s the only honest reason I can think of not to shop there. Why pay more for a jar of pickles? And their Great Value store brand – I know, it even sounds Chinese – is very high quality and hugely inexpensive.

    So I quite often put a clothespin on my nose and go in there and save money.

  107. Will, its not “lowbrow snobbery” to point out your snobbery. And its more than an abuse of the language to try to pretend it is.

  108. I don’t care about their prices, I’m just bothered by them playing the role of morality police.

  109. And with their censorship policy.

    I know they’re not a bookstore, but it sets a very bad precedent.

  110. And I’m bothered that Whole Foods plays the “role of morality police” by refusing to sell me DVD’s of their younger cashiers naked.

  111. With some of the Whole Foods cashiers I’ve seen, if they didn’t play “morality police” in that regard, I’d demand that someone did so! Ughhh.

  112. @Jay Maynard:

    > Persci? Man, you liked to live on the edge, didn’t you?

    They were a bit like sports cars, awesome when they worked, but you did need an oscope to tune them up occasionally.

    The linear voice coil could move all 4 heads (2 heads on each of 2 loaded floppies) from track 0 to track 76 in under a tenth of a second.

    I did a lot of UCSD Pascal, even wrote my own BIOS for the Cromemco, which was much faster than the stock one. I had a label in one of the boot sectors that said what the skew/interleaving was on the disk, and if I didn’t find the signature for the label, it used the “standard” skew and interleaving (I forget exactly what that was, but it was slow), but the disks I used on the Persci I formatted for performance — with 1:1 interleaving (contiguous sectors) and 0 skew for one side of the disk to the other and a skew of 6 sectors from track to track (which meant that track-to-track head movement, including settling time, was under 67 ms).

    The upshot was that it could read a contiguous 30K file anywhere on the disk in under 7/10 second.

    (1/10 second max seek, 1/6 second max latency to first sector, 2 * 1/6 second each for 15 sectors each side, additional seek (if required) of 6/15 sectors * 1/6 second)

  113. Because that’s equivalent to forcing everyone to accept a watered-down censored version of culture Wal-Mart’s been pushing.

  114. @Brian Marshall:

    Personally, I prefer my computer to have 16GB of RAM rather than 16GB of hard disk.

    You ought to try Linux…. I have 1 GB of ram and a 2.4 GHz Celeron cpu…

    I find that statement both os-ist and task/app/load-ist. I happen to use Linux, but I could use either that or Windows to synthesize, place and route my FPGA, just not with only 1 GB of RAM, or a 2.4 GHz Celeron, unless I don’t mind waiting until some time next month.

    As an example, for the XC4VLX160, one of the FPGAs I was compiling a lot 4 years ago, Xilinx recommends 5.8GB of memory when using Linux. Interestingly, their memory recommendations for Windows are smaller.

  115. Will, can you be more specific about this “watered-down censored version of culture Wal-Mart’s been pushing”?

  116. @Brian Marshal:

    On one hand, on SlashDot, it seems more acceptable to express one’s point colorfully using words like fuck, asshat and douchebagery. And some of the sigs are wonderful. The only great one that comes to mind is “If you build a man a fire, he is warm for a night. If you light a man on fire, he is warm for the rest of his life.” and mine, a quote: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro” – HST.

    Mine is “Lately democracy seems to be based on the skybox, the Happy Meal box, the X-box, and the idiot box.”

    But I stopped visiting /. a while back – it just felt too dumb after a while. There’s substantially more nerdity here, so this place is on my short list for blog browsing.

  117. @Will:

    Because that’s equivalent to forcing everyone to accept a watered-down censored version of culture Wal-Mart’s been pushing.

    How (especially in this day and age) does WalMart have the power to “force” any consumer to accept anything?

    Are you referring to this?

    http://www.walmart.com/cp/Music-Content-Policy/547092

    Sorry, but (a) they’re not the government, (b) they clearly tell you when they’ve cut something, and (c) if you have a problem with the content available, maybe you need to take it up with the artists who let WalMart sully their good name with the editing. Maybe they’re not real artists anyway, just hucksters interested in a quick buck.

    Or maybe the artists were scammed by the record company into terrible contracts, thought they were making art that was too good for the people of WalMart, and are pissed that the contract gives their record company enough clout to edit their work down into a form that’s acceptable for WalMart.

    Or, just maybe Adam Maas hit the nail on the head when he said “Of course, said items do sell, and sell well. But it makes things more difficult when you’re looking for the original item without paying HMV prices.”

    I think it’s awesomely brilliant segment-based marketing to be able to extract an extra $10.00 for a $6.00 album from the intellectual snobs who just have to hear the two “fuck!”s in the “unadulterated” version of the recording. (Oh, but if those snobs only knew how recordings were made.)

  118. > As an example, for the XC4VLX160, one of the FPGAs I was compiling a lot 4 years ago, Xilinx recommends 5.8GB of memory

    Of course there are cases where you want or need lots of memory. But to just use Fedora for a general purpose computer, even for development (granted, I like the command line), I am perfectly happy with my 1 GB. I checked Xubuntu – the minimum memory requirements and the largest number they show on the “Get Xubuntu page” is 256 MB.

  119. > I find that statement both os-ist

    Oooh… am I an OS racist? Should I be punished for having a preference? Damn straight I have a preference!

  120. >Mine is “Lately democracy seems to be based on the skybox, the Happy Meal box, the X-box, and the idiot box.”
    re: SlashDot sigs

    I just remembered a truly good one: “The Constitution isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly better than what we have now.”

  121. > Oooh… am I an OS racist? Should I be punished for having a preference? Damn straight I have a preference!

    Actually, I shouldn’t joke. You are promoting one of the most dangerous ideas to freedom that exists today: condemning discrimination by a person. If you think that you don’t discriminate, I suggest that you consult a dictionary.

    It is evil for the government to discriminate on the basis of race, creed, etc. because the government is supposed to treat everyone equally under the law.

    But somewhere along the line, the idea has been twisted to: It is evil for me to be racist – in some cases a tort or a crime. Personally, I think racism is stupid, but I have every right to discriminate in any manner I please – I am not the law.

    This particular issue has done more damage to the concept of rights than anything else that I can think of.

  122. @Brian Marshall:

    You are promoting one of the most dangerous ideas to freedom that exists today:

    Bullshit! For you to say that indicates you don’t understand the power of either language or humor.

    If you think that you don’t discriminate, I suggest that you consult a dictionary.

    Where the fuck did I say I don’t ever discriminate?

  123. > Bullshit! For you to say that indicates you don’t understand the power of either language or humor.
    >Where the fuck did I say I don’t ever discriminate?

    If you were trying to be funny, I take it all back.

    But there are many people who believe that it is morally wrong (as opposed to stupid) for people to be racist, which is to say, descriminating on the basis of race.

    x-ist is a way of saying discriminating on the basis of x, with the implication that it is wrong to do so. This is a very common moral belief that totally twists the concept of a “right”. Like I said, if you were engaging in humor, I take it all back.

  124. > If you think that you don’t discriminate

    Perhaps I should have said “If you don’t think that you dicriminate every waking hour of every day”

  125. >I think there’s a deeper cause. Today’s anti-intellectualism is a largely justified reaction to the treason of the intellectuals.

    If you haven’t read it yet, Thomas Sowell’s new book, Intellectuals and Society is pretty good.

  126. Patrick: I never had the alignment disk, let alone the scope, so I stuck with SA-801Rs like everyone else. I did write my own BIOS, though, back when you pretty much had to. I went through several iterations, finally settling on a Cromemco TU-ART and a Tarbell 1771 controller.

    I always heard the Persci drives were fine – as long as you never moved or bumped them. If you did, it was alignment disk time.

    No UCSD Pascal for me, though. CP/M 2.2 and assembler, and then Turbo Pascal 1.5. Never did C on that box.

  127. There are those who are great folks simply because they piss off the right people. Sarah Palin heads that list for me; Thomas Sowell just got added to it.

  128. Will, you seem to be obsessed with confirming the impression that you are full of opinions that have no actual basis. Opinions that you willingly share not least because of their very lack of value.

  129. @Matt

    “if you don’t think you can trust the average American to make his own decisions about where to shop, why are you so bloody determined to make sure they can all vote?”

    This is what I call The Fundamental Contradiction of the Democratic Nanny State. Somehow, the people who are entirely incompetent to decide for themselves what food to eat, beverages to drink, drugs to imbibe, smoke, inject, etc., what school their children should attend . . . when these very same people too stupid to make decisions for themselves enter a polling place, they are magically transfigured into the Almighty Voter, who is somehow not only competent to judge such matters for himself and his own family, but for everyone.

    Jonathan Edward expressed the contradiction succintly in verse: “He can’t even run his own life; be damned if he’ll run mine, Sunshine!”

  130. Will seems to have a penchant for missing greatness.

    Thomas Sowell is one of the finest thinkers presently walking upon God’s Earth.

    @Brian Marshall – You can feel as wonderful as you like about your linux box, but I’ll have you know that Windows 7 runs better on everything I’ve thrown it at than any other Windows version. Also – Fedora XFCE is stupid fast compared to the latest Gnome Mac-alike desktop. Especially on a Core i5-2520 with 8 GB of RAM.

  131. “And with their censorship policy.”

    Walmart does not censor. They exercise editoral discretion. Here’s the difference. Editorial discretion is deciding not to use your resources to propagate an idea/image/sound/etc. Censorship is threatening force (usually in the form of Men With Badges And Guns, but the badges are optional) against those who would propagate those things you find offensive.

    There is a huge difference between the two, and using the same word to describe them both is intellectually dishonest. If Walmart won’t sell a CD/DVD/BD with certain lyrics, then maybe Target, K-mart, Best Buy, or Amazon will. There are no Walmart Culture Police preventing you from buying the “censored” item from anyone who wants to sell it to you, so it’s not censored.

  132. “Thomas Sowell is one of the finest thinkers presently walking upon God’s Earth.”

    He was able to capture the underlying problem we’re discussing just by naming one of his books The Vision of the Annointed. That plus “White Man’s Burden” really sums it all up.

  133. Censorship by social pressure is still censorship.

    It’s an even bigger problem because Walmart’s the only game in town for a lot of people.

  134. @Will:

    It’s an even bigger problem because Walmart’s the only game in town for a lot of people.

    I think we have a new meme. “The WalMart burden.” Since they are often the only store around, they are henceforth required to carry everything ever made (unless, of course, any of the ancestors of the manufacturer owned slaves or cut down any trees).

  135. I find lowbrow snobbery more offensive than intellectual snobbery.

    “Intellectual snobbery” is an oxymoron. There is, however, a great deal of pseudointellectual snobbery in this country.

  136. way to many young people that figure that all we need is more laws.

    So do way too many old people.

  137. Will: Or they could not move in to the area and drive everyone else out.

    By “everyone else” you must mean “established businesses”, because Walmart et al have no interest in driving out customers. Your unspoken assumption is that established businesses have some property right in their customer base. Let’s mince no words then. You seek to defend what are at best rentiers, at worst slaveholders. Why?

  138. @Punch my Ticket
    “You seek to defend what are at best rentiers, at worst slaveholders. Why?”

    It is a little more complex.

    Walmart is more efficient than the established businesses. So they are cheaper. They also pay less to both personnel and producers. As a result a Walmart in the neighborhood will reduce the number of businesses (both retail and suppliers) and the average pay level. Walmart can do this because they have only a single large store that services people living in a large radius.

    The immediate impact of a Walmart on the neighborhood is that the average pay for low skill jobs will reduce and the shopping streets will be empty. Also, you will have to drive miles to do your shopping. Which means less social life and problems for the elderly.

    Is this bad?

    Buggy whip manufacturers were in the same boat when cars became prevalent. Ideally, people will spend the money they save shopping at Walmart on other things, allowing other businesses to flourish.

    But do we do not live in an ideal world. So, for some neighborhoods, a Walmart will be an angel of death, for others a godsend. I think the people in the former have just a much a right to complain as those in the latter have a cause for celebration.

  139. Winter, this has already been covered. Walmart pays more to its employees, not less. And why should it pay more than it must to its suppliers? Then it wouldn’t have the lowest prices and it would be, a la Will, imposing its will on the poor shoppers who have nowhere else to go to funnel unearned profit to those suppliers . Oh, the humanity!

  140. @Brian Marshall:

    But I am the geek – I do practically everything (other than web and email) from terminal windows – when I am working, I usually have 4 open. I wrote the cutest little double entry book-keeping system that uses 2 text data files that I edit with vi – a chart of accounts and a file of transactions (generally in pairs). I have a handfull of shell scripts to produce the reports I need to do taxes and such.

    Awesome! Is it possible to download a copy of this accounting system? I’m a sucker for cool shell script hacks.

  141. @Patrick Maupin:

    As an example, for the XC4VLX160, one of the FPGAs I was compiling a lot 4 years ago, Xilinx recommends 5.8GB of memory when using Linux. Interestingly, their memory recommendations for Windows are smaller.

    That’s because, IIRC, Xilinx, like many commercial CAD packages that run on *nix these days, is developed on Windows and uses winelib or a commercial variant to do their *nix porting.

  142. @Robert Speirs – It is a waste of time to argue with Winter unless you are actually just trying to reinforce a point to other readers. Go look at any exchange he has been in on this site; he is the epitome of “my mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts.”

  143. Censorship by social pressure is still censorship.

    Sounds like Will just argued in favor of both silenced global warming skeptics and (gulp) young earth creationists.

  144. William B Swift Says:
    > It is a waste of time to argue with Winter

    FWIW, I disagree. I have not often found myself in agreement with Winter, but I find his arguments cogent, interesting, well presented., and even (God help me) occasionally persuasive. I think he has interesting things to say, particularly about Europe, and has frequently shown me up for my ignorance of that motley continent, since I, like too many Americans, think if it as one homogeneous blob. I’m sure he has his moments of irritation and tantrum, but we are all guilty of that occasionally.

    Personally, I like listening to people I disagree with. Echo chambers are good for your ego, but rarely a place to learn and grow.

    Will, on the other hand, has nothing interesting to say. In fact, I’m beginning to think he is a troll.

  145. “Censorship by social pressure is still censorship.”

    No, it simply isn’t.

    “It’s an even bigger problem because Walmart’s the only game in town for a lot of people.

    There are plenty of sales channels for rap songs with obscenity in the lyrics. “Walmart is never the “only” game in any town.

  146. Brian Marshall Says:
    > But somewhere along the line, the idea has been twisted to: It is evil for me to be racist

    I think the word “evil” is often misused, however, for sure, it is a very unfair thing, a bad thing, for you to be racist. That doesn’t mean it should have criminal or civil sanctions. But I assure you, if you spend your time making racist comments, I wouldn’t want to spend any time with you.

    There are many things that are bad that are not illegal. Not flossing your teeth for example. The problem you are identifying I think, is the idea that all wrongs in society should be remedied through the legal system. There are, and always have been, alternative mechanisms society uses to cleanse itself.

    And it is a fact that as more and more of the decisions of our lives are made centrally, and more of the funding of activities in our lives takes a detour through the tax system, the more justification is manifest for these types of sanctions. If the government pays for your dental work, they have a legitimate cause of action for your neglecting your periodontal health.

    Of course, I say this in support of less centralization, not more legal sanctions.

    For sure though, you are right that we all discriminate, in the sense we all make subjective judgements. And the plain fact is stereotyping is the core mechanism of brain function. But rationality demands we exceed our lizard brains too.

  147. First, I make about $8,000 a year. That makes me part of the lower class.
    But just because I am poor doesn’t make me ill-informed.
    Walmart has a terrible labor record: See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Walmart or http://walmartwatch.org/get-the-facts/ and get the facts.
    Walmart is elitist: Let “little, brown people” working for just enough for daily sustenance in foreign countries make our goods for us (rarely enough for saving for, say, a good education for their children).
    Walmart is polluting: See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Walmart or http://walmartwatch.org/get-the-facts/

    EVERYONE SHOPPING AT WALMART IS COMPLICIT. The so-called “developed nations” use the so-called “developing nations” in such a manner that human rights and environmental abuses are compelled to occur. And, mostly, “developed nations” citizens don’t care as long as their stuff is cheap.

    How can people be like this? First, many just don’t know about what goes on. Second, many are already so poor that they have no alternative: the Right has suppressed the middle class over the last thirty years so that wages are at 1970′s levels while prices, for many staples like food, only stay as low as they are (and they are still much higher than they were in the 1970′s) by using “developing nations” citizens in these slave-like ways. Third, many are still waiting for their “American Dream” to come true (like John Steinbeck said “the poor…see themselves as temporarily embarrassed millionaires”) when the reality is like George Carlin quipped “Its called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.”

    I’d say “WAKE UP!” but it’s been said so many times before and yet so few do. But it is still better to light a candle than curse the darkness so…

    W A K E U P !!

  148. @Jessica,

    “Aggressive consumerism has a pretty large upside too.”

    Definitely. However, I think the one actually real issue with the whole overconsumption / consumerism / most toys attitude of this age is really that human attention and valuation are finite resources. Natural resource usage is partially only a secondary issue and partially a red herring. The real problem is simply a culture where too much attention invested into buying toys and earning the money for buying toys diverts attention from other aspects and values of life, when we are afraid to take on a less paying but more satisfying job because we might not afford as many toys, when we are judging people based on how many toys the have, when young people choose what to study not based on what interests them but what is more likely to result in a well-paid job, and so on. Of course a desire for comfort and material goods is perfectly justified and an important aspect of life, the problem is when it begins to displace all other considerations and values. I think this is the real root of the growing anti-consumerist attitudes, the general feeling that other important aspects of life are getting less consideration and attention because of this.

  149. >Personally, I like listening to people I disagree with.

    I agree. My problem with Winter isn’t actually with his arguments. It is that when someone disagrees with him, he just repeats the same claim. Sometimes over and over again in the same thread.

  150. Shenpen, if people think that acquiring luxury goods is the important aspect of their life, why is it anyone’s business to tell them differently?

  151. “My problem with Winter isn’t actually with his arguments. It is that when someone disagrees with him, he just repeats the same claim. Sometimes over and over again in the same thread.”

    Yeah, I tend to do the same thing as Winter does. We share the hope that if we repeat the idea enough times, others will actually see the argument that we are making and understand it. There’s a tendency for people to simply reject contrary views that question their own, without really thinking about them.

    The readers of this blog tend to be libertarian. You have to understand that Winter comes from an entire nation of collectivists. You can’t just dismiss his collectivist ideas; in The Netherlands, collectivism WORKS. It’s them against the sea. Their nation would not exist without it.

  152. > You can’t just dismiss his collectivist ideas; in The Netherlands, collectivism WORKS. It’s them against the sea. Their nation would not exist without it.

    That’s simply not true. The Netherlands’ existence depends on some mechanism to keep out the sea. It does not depend on a welfare state.

  153. @andy Ah…so how does one have this mechanism to keep out the sea on an individualistic basis? Over the long term? Without significant risk of catastrophic failure because of some idiot?

    Equating collectivism with a welfare state is an interesting tactic. The trick is to get folks to agree that welfare=collectivism=totalitarism in the first place. While that equivalence is sometimes true, it’s not always true nor always bad given that the world isn’t just black or white.

    Especially given that the Neatherlands is ranked highly individualistic anyway. That they have this a significant collectivist goal of “not being swallowed by the sea” doesn’t change that except to underline that when push comes to shove survival trumps ideology every time.

  154. Jessica Boxer Says:

    > But somewhere along the line, the idea has been twisted to: It is evil for me to be racist

    >The problem you are identifying I think, is the idea that all wrongs in society should be remedied through the legal system.

    No, this vastly more important and fundamental than that.

    I was just a little kid (in Canada) during the civil rights movement, so maybe some of my non-crucial underlying assumptions are wrong. But…

    Racism is discrimination on the basis of race.

    >we all discriminate, in the sense we all make subjective judgements.

    When I checked Dictionary.com, your definition fits with their first definition, but the second definition is sort of more fundamental:
    “2. to note or observe a difference; distinguish accurately: to discriminate between things.” ie. an objective, not subjective judgment. Discrimination is one of the primary things that brains do…. maybe I am dragging in a side issue, here, but I think that it is bad for people to lose sight of this fact BECAUSE:

    I think that being racist is stupid and highly offensive but it is not evil – everyone has the right to be stupid and offensive. But it is a different story for a government where everyone has the right to expect to be treated equally under the law… actually expecting this might be stupid, but…

    The US is the only country that has ever been founded on the concept of human rights as limitations of the power of government. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”. It almost brings tears to my eyes just reading that in Jefferson’s actual handwriting in Wikipedia. The Bill of Rights is all about limiting the power of government. (Up here in wonderfully free, mellow Canada, we have a constitution, provided by the government, with a “Not Withstanding” clause that allows any particular part of it to be ignored if the government really wants to or anything.)

    Now it is illegal for businesses to discriminate on the basis of race, gender, a variety of things. If they do so, the person subject to the discrimination can sue. The law (in Canada, at least) now says that discrimination of various kinds by people and businesses is a violation of people’s civil rights.

    This is a tragedy. The concept of a civil right has been twisted from limiting the power of government to the government giving privileged status to certain groups. It is common for people to believe (in their ignorance of what the word means) that all forms of discrimination are morally wrong. People will morally challenge anything that looks like discrimination, that looks like choosing one thing as being better than another. I know it looks stupid when I write it out that way, but that is what is going on in many people’s heads.

    The great tragedy is that the whole concept of civil rights has, generally, been lost.. I do have tears in my eyes.. in the US…..

    As a person or business, it is my right to discriminate any way I please. It may be stupid and highly offensive in some cases, but if you don’t like it, don’t deal with me. As I said, I think racism is stupid and highly offensive, but it is a big improvement over civil rights being plums handed out by the government.

  155. @Andy Freeman
    “The Netherlands’ existence depends on some mechanism to keep out the sea. It does not depend on a welfare state.”

    We have absolutely no incentive to experiment in this matter. Experience in our history shows that it the welfare state does work for us. Seeing how the USA fared in keeping water out of New Orleans does not instill any confidence that we should heed the advice of Americans (USA style). Btw, you might not think so, but my countrymen are in the top of the “most happy and content” scale in the world.

    @William B Swift
    “My problem with Winter isn’t actually with his arguments. It is that when someone disagrees with him, he just repeats the same claim. Sometimes over and over again in the same thread.”

    I know. I am working on that.

    The problem is often that we discuss from different contexts, which causes all kinds of misunderstandings. Your initial response to my comment on Walmart gave me the distinct impression you did not read through the end (the wage argument triggered something?). Because the point about the wages was immaterial for my argument. Which was that the opening of a Walmart can be a blessing or a curse for a neighborhood. And the people for whom it is a curse have a legitimate right to complain. Just as we have a right to ignore their complains. The discussion about the Hypermarches (like Carrefour in France) is running here too. Not to contest that having a Walmart is more efficient (ie, cheaper) than what existed before.

    @William B Swift
    “he is the epitome of “my mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts.””

    Hmm. That is not totally honest. To my knowledge, I have never ever contested a fact about the USA, even with the slimmest of “evidence”, because I do not consider myself knowledgeable about the USA. I also have never insisted on facts that I have no reference for, or that I have not witnessed myself.

    I have opinions, and they might not be as fluid as they used to be. That is true. But I do not seem to be in bad company here. It is clear that you will have as little chance of convincing me that “Welfare does not work” (excuse the pun) as I have to convince J. Random Libertarian that it actually does work. Which all has to do with the environment we live in. But like Jessica, I am not here to convince, but to understand.

    @dimpossibility
    “First, I make about $8,000 a year.”

    That is well below the minimum you get in the Netherlands. Even if you have no work and are on permanent welfare.

  156. @ Morgan Greywolf re: tiny Linux script based book-keeping system

    >Awesome! Is it possible to download a copy of this accounting system? I’m a sucker for cool shell script hacks.

    Being based on Linux and at least one of the scripts geared towards Canadian taxes, I never made this an Open Source Project. I just got busy, here, but I will put it up on my homepage this evening (I hope) and post when it is ready..

  157. SPQR,

    “Shenpen, if people think that acquiring luxury goods is the important aspect of their life, why is it anyone’s business to tell them differently?”

    You are approaching dangerous waters with this question given that “to tell” had a wide range of meanings in the political discussions of the last 100-200 years: one end of the spectrum is “to force, to coerce” and the other end of it is “to express opinion, to try to persuade”. In the middle of the spectrum are methods like “exert peer pressure, shame, boycott, exclusion, ridicule”

    So while on one hand there are excellent arguments against the first end of the spectrum (force), there are also excellent arguments against the other extreme end, namely an “autistic economy” where we simply make our own choices and don’t give a rats ass about others choices. While the first end is unethical, the second end goes fundamentally against the concept of man as a social being and frankly I think it is only appropriate of “aspies” which I am trying hard to learn not to be.

    Therefore, while avoiding the first extreme (force), I think men other as social beings owe it to each to comment on each others choices, to try to persuade them if they think their choices are wrong, and even exert non-coercive pressure like peer pressure, ridicule, shaming, exclusion or boycotting if and when they think it is necessary. If you refuse to do so you basically support an autistic conception of the economy without any sort of social cohesion or even a concept of culture as we know it (for culture is a shared set of value judgements maintained by persuasion, ridicule, exclusion etc. )

  158. ESR, Will,

    regarding anti-intellectualism: the problem here is that this word has four different meanings. ESR uses it in the sense of “being against the intellectual class”. A second meaning is being against “too much, too sophisticated intellectual thinking” which actually has two subsets: being pro-common sense (which includes Burkean skeptical conservatism and at some level even parts of Hasyekian libertarianism as an anti-planning attitude, with a focus on “circumstantial knowledge”), and being pro-instinct, pro-emotion, pro-religion or generally “völkisch”, and the fourth meaning is just being stupid and enjoying it.

    I have seen the term anti-intellectualism on Reddit many times and it always meant something along the lines of “they are dumb and want to be so”, which is really just a roundabout way of saying “I am better than them”. This is very different than ESR’s usage, while both usage leaves the second and third meaning untouched.

  159. Sorry, clarification: what I wanted to say is that the two subsets of the second meaning are completely, fundamentally different, one of them is against “speculation” because it is empirically irrational while the second one rejects empirical rationality altogether.

  160. @ Winter

    Of course, given that the New Orleans levee system was a collectivist endeavor (where collectivist in this case is defined as a government institution as opposed to a localized private initiative), it doesn’t give those of us in the US much confidence in the collectivist way either.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orleans_Levee_Board

  161. “First, I make about $8,000 a year.”

    “That is well below the minimum you get in the Netherlands. Even if you have no work and are on permanent welfare.”

    To be entirely fair, not only the general price level seems to be lower over there, the general structure of pricing seems to work differently in America. I am a frequent reader of frugal.reddit.com and I see savings opportunities in American life that are generally unknown in Europe, like extreme couponing, and other options that I can simply not use over here. Take a look at that forum it seems very interesting and exotic too. In Austria it is not at all common that someone puts a used couch for free to the local equivalent of Craigslist, in America it seems to be the case.

  162. >In Austria it is not at all common that someone puts a used couch for free
    >to the local equivalent of Craigslist, in America it seems to be the case.

    Well this is certainly interesting. What do people do with the things they don’t want or can’t use anymore but that are in perfectly serviceable condition? Certainly “free on craigslist” isn’t the only or most popular option around, but I can’t imagine it being an uncommon idea. Do more people send their stuff off to the local Salvation Army equivalent? Or do more people simply ask for payment for such items?

  163. “Censorship by social pressure is still censorship.”

    The failure to distinguish between social pressure and coercive force seems to be fundamental to the leftist mindset. Either that, or the failure to admit such a distinction is a necessary part of defending their position.

    Then again, the Left conflates “society” and “government” all the time, so that weights more toward the former position.

  164. Such distinctions are semantic at their very best. Social pressure and coercive force have the same results: a safe and watered-down culture.

  165. In Austria it is not at all common that someone puts a used couch for free to the local equivalent of Craigslist, in America it seems to be the case.

    And as a result, Murkans are suffering through a bedbug epidemic.

  166. > excellent arguments against the other extreme end, namely an “autistic economy” where we simply make our own choices and don’t give a rats ass about others choices. …goes fundamentally against the concept of man as a social being

    Ya ever heard of “the invisible hand”?

  167. @ Will
    >Such distinctions are semantic at their very best. Social pressure and coercive force have the same results: a safe and watered-down culture.

    Bertrand Russell wrote a book in which this was a major theme – it greatly increased the degree to which I despise him.

    The idea is (metaphorically) obscene – guns and jails are not in any in the same class as product selection policies. Maybe try this: listen to something terribly bland on the radio, then shoot your self in the leg with a .22 – isn’t it… different?

  168. Except they’re both telling me what I can see and read and hear and eventually say and think.

  169. >We have absolutely no incentive to experiment in this matter. Experience in our history shows that it the welfare state does work for us.

    At least as long as your existence is protected by others. Western Europe as a whole has fattened and their morals have rotted under the protection of the US military (and taxpayers) since they were rescued from Nazi Germany in World War Two.

  170. “Such distinctions are semantic at their very best. Social pressure and coercive force have the same results: a safe and watered-down culture.”

    If you can’t distinguish between “I won’t sell your CD in my store” and “if you try to sell that CD anywhere, I’ll have people kill you”, then you’re either a moron or deliberately refusing to make the distinction so that no one will notice when you try to use coercive force to “rectify” a perceived abuse of social pressure.

    “Except they’re both telling me what I can see and read and hear and eventually say and think.”

    No, social pressure is telling you you can’t see/read/hear/buy it on my property/in my store, and censorship says you can’t do it ANYWHERE.

  171. [quote]Except they’re both telling me what I can see and read and hear and eventually say and think.[/quote]

    But only one has the power to deprive you of life, liberty or property for failing to fall in line.

    It’s also worth noting that peer pressure only tells you what you should see, read, hear, say or think. It has no mechanism by which to enforce this.

  172. More than half of the U.S. population believes that the Earth was formed mere thousands of years ago instead of millions or billions of years ago, in a literal seven-day week by a divine being.

    The only other, non-pesthole country of which anything llike this is remotely close to true is Turkey.

    That’s what anti-intellectualism means. Virtually everywhere else in the civilized world, people have accepted the reality that science and reason have revealed. Only in Murka do they try to get bogeyman stories printed in biology textbooks.

  173. @ Will
    > Except they’re both telling me what I can see and read and hear and eventually say and think.

    If they are determining what you can think, your problem isn’t walmart.

  174. Oh, yeah… Even if social pressure produces some results that are identical to what coercive force produces, how you get there matters. Ends do not justify means.

  175. For instance, the result of sexual intercourse could be arrived at via romance or by rape.

    That the latter is coercive damned well matters.

  176. Will – you’re an idiot. You’re posting on a blog, based bob knows where, where you’re freely permitted to spout whatever opinions you like. So the Walmart in your area is going to control your mind and decree what you can say or think? Time to break out the tinfoil hat. You’ve got the whole internet there. I think you’ll be safe.

    You’re the classic example of what esr was talking about. You think everyone else is dumb, that Walmart “drives out competitors” (by, well, competing, and offering stuff people want at a lower price). “It’s A Wonderful Life” was a movie. Get over it.

    Thanks to Jessica and a couple of others who liked my “new white man’s burden” line, but I can’t take credit for it. I think I stole it from Mark Steyn. Dunno where he stole it from.

  177. More than half of the U.S. population believes that the Earth was formed mere thousands of years ago instead of millions or billions of years ago, in a literal seven-day week by a divine being.

    I can find no source for this. The closest I can find is 45%, and is reeeeeeeeaching. Apparently Jeff Read believes 45% is more than half. I suspect a large portion of that 45% would disagree with this. I would have to side with them.

    Meanwhile, Americans, like all other human beings, believe a great many things that I disagree with. Such as in what one can scientifically conclude from polls.

  178. Will’s getting so surreal that I’m going to have to invoke Morgan’s Law: “Any sufficiently advanced troll is indistinguishable from a genuine kook.”

  179. http://walmartwatch.org/get-the-facts/ and get the facts.

    Call me crazy but anytime i see a campaign with the phrase “get the facts” I automatically assume it’s fact-free, content-free and 100% propaganda. That the “facts” delivered will be questionable and unsupported.

  180. >Will’s getting so surreal that I’m going to have to invoke Morgan’s Law: “Any sufficiently advanced troll is indistinguishable from a genuine kook.”

    The sad thing is, Will is not a kook. He’s the exact creature our institutions of higher learning are designed to produce – duckspeaking the aesthetic and moral dogmas of the New Class, supremely confident of his superiority over the sort of vulgar yahoo who’d go to a NASCAR race or praise Robert Heinlein, lacking any sense of history, exactly as shallow as he thinks he is deep.

  181. At least as long as your existence is protected by others. Western Europe as a whole has fattened and their morals have rotted under the protection of the US military (and taxpayers) since they were rescued from Nazi Germany in World War Two.

    I would say that the brits, who essentially lost their empire and the better part of two generations defeating the germans twice, might disagree with your assessment. Frankly, we couldn’t afford to allow a Nazi Europe either so the fact that we were able to fight on European soil vs American soil was a bit of a boon.

    As far as protection from the Soviets go…well that was in our interests too.

  182. >Meanwhile, Americans, like all other human beings, believe a great many things that I disagree with. Such as in what one can scientifically conclude from polls.

    A few years ago Dawkins wrote about a speaking tour in the US. He said that before he went to the US he was worried because of all the things he had read and heard about it. But he wrote that he had been pleasantly surprised that most of the people he talked to were polite and interested.

    Many of the people in the US don’t “believe” in evolution, because they don’t know anything about it except media sound bites. I went to a pretty good, science oriented high school and I don’t remember any discussion of evolution. The biggest problem is that teachers are mostly professional incompetents and cowards who are more interested in sinecures than in actually, you know, teaching.

    And the Fundamentalist and evangelical wackos have too much of the rest of the country and media buffaloed. You hear them getting insulted in the most left wing media regularly, but not in the mainstream, and I don’t think I have ever heard a reasoned critique of atheism, Creationism, or nearly anything else religion related on any mainstream channel. Things may have changed somewhat, since I haven’t watched TV in over a decade. But I am sure I would have read if they had changed very much.

  183. @esr the NASCAR and Heinlein demographics are the same? Who knew? I need to watch more NASCAR I guess. I like racing in general terms but I don’t make much of an effort to watch.

    Frankly Will strikes me as the same sort that equates software “freedom” with real “freedom” and proprietary software with oppression and evil. Duckspeaking the moral dogmas of Free Software and all that. Equating listening to top 40 and shooting yourself with a .22 is about par with some of the inane things I’ve seen posted on groklaw.

  184. But I didn’t equate being forced to listen to watered-down top 40 with shooting myself, you did. I just said coercion by social pressure and coercion by force led to the same results.

  185. Nascar is boring and Heinlein is not a great writer.

    *sigh* lowbrow snobbery.

  186. Someone have an extinguisher handy? We should put Will’s hair out; the friction of the low-flying point seems to have set it on fire.

  187. >@esr the NASCAR and Heinlein demographics are the same?

    Er, they certainly overlap some at the brighter end of the NASCAR crowd, but I didn’t mean to suggest they’re the same.

  188. “I just said coercion by social pressure and coercion by force led to the same results.

    Which was successfully ridiculed.

  189. Did the lot of you people come over from Whiskey’s Place and Vox Popoli or something?

  190. Jeff Read, I find it fascinating that you attack people who believe things that are not so by … showing that you believe things that are not so.

  191. > I just said coercion by social pressure and coercion by force led to the same results.

    Actually, you also said that the distinction between social pressure and coercion was “semantic at best”.

  192. >Jeff Read, I find it fascinating that you attack people who believe things that are not so by … showing that you believe things that are not so.

    Why are you surprised? Jeff Read is the slightly more intelligent and slightly crazier version of Will that happens to hang out here – he’s what happens when the New Class’s plush-toy version of nihilism infects someone who can actually think on the rare occasions that he sees past his fixations. You need to take every factual claim he makes with a heap of salt, bearing in mind that he will constantly bend reality to make everyone like his parents look as stupid and evil as possible.

  193. Here is one of the stranger things. So many will sniff and say they’ve no problem with wal-mart–though they don’t shop there. Then they’ll give ‘reasons’ why they prefer to pay more for an item they can get at wal-mart. And I shake my head.

    A nice flat-screen television isn’t ‘better’ somehow because the store you got it from has nicer decor and higher prices. It’s just more expensive. A waste of money.

    That’s over-consumption. Paying more for something because you can. Why not just burn that money? Potlach.

  194. @ esr
    re: anti-intellectualism

    I read your treason of the intellectuals. which I found very interesting and relevant… except.. what about (from the previous blog):

    Ric Locke Says: Most people have the world neatly sorted into Pratchett’s Four Categories — if you can’t eat it or f* it, and don’t have to run away from it in the short term, it’s a rock.

    I don’t think that these people are directly the result of the treason of the intellectuals – some pick up on some attitudes, but most people don’t want to “hang the intellectuals from the nearest lamp post” – most people would have no idea what you are talking about. That is the problem I am talking about.

    They were schooled by people who were educated in an environment that is supposed to be dominated by intellectuals. I found university to be a horrible place – I left early (that worked out ok for me).

    I haven’t watched TV for about 20 years because I don’t like it anymore but of course a lot of people do and TV can be a more direct conduit from people that should know better to people that don’t care what is better.

    Actually, I guess, “Most people have the world neatly sorted into Pratchett’s Four Categories” has been true for a long time.

    The penalties for being a geek/nerd were fairly bad when I was in school in the 70s, but much worse in the 50s. My 24 year old son told me today that nerds aren’t punched in school today (up here in Calgary, at least) – the penalties for being a geek have never been lower.

    Nerds/Geeks/Wizards – people interested in ideas, are more visible now, but they are still a tiny minority. Is it simply that they have always been a fairly tiny minority and the treason of the intellectuals now makes everyone else feel that it is OK to not care about ideas?

  195. >I don’t think that these people are directly the result of the treason of the intellectuals – some pick up on some attitudes, but most people don’t want to “hang the intellectuals from the nearest lamp post”

    Right. You get “hang the intellectuals” episodes when Four-Categories people are mobilized by sociopaths who are just bright enough to lead them on. Normally it takes disastrous external conditions – like a large-scale economic collapse or a serious defeat in a war – to make enough Four-Categories people vulnerable to the pitch that you can get a violent mass movement rolling.

  196. So Jeff Read combines reflexive anti-Americanism and ignorance to create the perfect troll-emulator.

    And Will takes his faux-superiority to proclaim that white is black. Too bad he won’t see that zebra coming.

    The sad thing is that Jeff and Will are pretty much perfect representations of the American progressive leftist mindset, and they control the Democratic party. Obama’s one of them. Pelosi too.

    And you wonder why we’re in such deep shit?

    We’ve allowed mental midgets to convince themselves that they’re fucking MENSA, and that they ought to be running everything.

  197. So the fact that thinkers are a small minority is just generally the natural state of the world… oh, yeah, I just remembered something – in sustenance level societies, the price of trying out new ideas can be death. This doesn’t apply the same way in our society, but I guess new ideas are a political threat… in any case geeks being a small minority is the natural state of things.

  198. >We’ve allowed mental midgets to convince themselves that they’re fucking MENSA, and that they ought to be running everything.

    That oversimplifies the problem, because either Will nor Jeff are stupid in the normal sense of the word. You’ll model the situation better if you think of them as second- or third-rate intellectuals whose minds have been colonized by something with the ability of a dominant religion to suppress thought outside its approved channels. This is tremendously more damaging than mere mental midgetry.

  199. Quick question: Can somebody refer me to details on “Four-Categories”? Not familiar with that term.

  200. That oversimplifies the problem, because either Will nor Jeff are stupid in the normal sense of the word. You’ll model the situation better if you think of them as second- or third-rate intellectuals whose minds have been colonized by something with the ability of a dominant religion to suppress thought outside its approved channels. This is tremendously more damaging than mere mental midgetry.

    This activates a personal belief about the fundamental, underlying problems of society that I usually have trouble articulating cleanly: In my experience (born in 1984, self-taught hacker-type, undergraduate degrees with honors in physics and computer science), a core necessary component of What’s Wrong is the inability to think clearly, particularly including what constitutes a valid argument and how to evaluate evidence. I’ve long held that the difficulty in learning to program has very little to do with the particulars of languages or libraries and very much to do with the skill to order one’s thoughts coherently; this same skill is necessary for successful work in the more abstract mathematics and the hard sciences. However, outside of courses in math, physics, chemistry, theory-comp, and debate, I believe that American schools successfully avoid addressing the skill of rational thought.

  201. Quick question: Can somebody refer me to details on “Four-Categories”? Not familiar with that term.

    Terry Pratchett, from Equal Rites: “For animals, the entire universe has been neatly divided into things to (a) mate with, (b) eat, (c) run away from, and (d) rocks.”

  202. >However, outside of courses in math, physics, chemistry, theory-comp, and debate, I believe that American schools successfully avoid addressing the skill of rational thought.

    Of course not…and why should they? The schools are not designed to produce thinkers. They’re designed to produce factory workers and cogs in bureaucratic machines.

  203. @Morgan Greywolf
    I wrote the cutest little double entry book-keeping system that uses 2 text data files that I edit with vi – a chart of accounts and a file of transactions (generally in pairs). I have a handfull of shell scripts to produce the reports I need to do taxes and such.
    >Awesome! Is it possible to download a copy of this accounting system? I’m a sucker for cool shell script hacks.

    It will (presumably) be tomorrow (Wednesday). I will post in this blog when it is ready.

  204. @brian If you believe that mental midgets can graduate harvard law cum laude I would hazard that POTUS is much smarter than you.

    For a little while I was concerned that american politics was so polarized that everyone thinks that everyone on some other part of the political spectrum is an idiot. Then I remembered that pretty much this same situation existed in 1789. Only with duels allowed.

    Since this system has been working well enough for over 200 years I stopped worrying about it. That hasn’t stopped me from wondering if it is irony or stupidity that drives folks to deride snobbery while thinking every one else is mental midget.

    As to why we are where we are today, I’m of the opinion that while Lessig is tilting at windmills, he’s right that the root cause of many of our ills isn’t “progressive leftists” or “radical right” but that big money has an excessive influence on american politics and it needs to be trimmed back to a somewhat more reasonable level. Swing the pendulum back a little.

    But so long as normal people are polarized into hating each other that’s not so likely to happen. And that condition is likely to persist given this interesting graphic regarding the control over media by a small number of folks:

    http://frugaldad.com/2011/11/22/media-consolidation-infographic/

    Murdoch and Soros are two sides of the same coin. Left, Right, whatever.

  205. >regarding anti-intellectualism: the problem here is that this word has four different meanings.

    This is correct, and your clarification is excellent. For your first meaning, (“being against the intellectual class”) it might be clearer to refer to “anti-intelligentsianism”, but so few people are aware of the actual meaning and history of the term “intelligentsia” that this would be unlikely to work.

    Hmmm…you know, I think further teasing out these distinctions might be worth a blog post.

  206. @William B Swift Says:
    “>We have absolutely no incentive to experiment in this matter. Experience in our history shows that it the welfare state does work for us.

    At least as long as your existence is protected by others.”

    1 During a hundred years, the Netherlands were the richest and most powerful country in the world. That was when most of the land reclamation was done.

    2. This is utterly irrelevant to this discussion. As there is no way a country with 17 million inhabitants can defend itself effectively against industrial countries with hundreds of millions of inhabitants.

    But this is all uninteresting. What I would find interesting is if all these nay-sayers would explain to me how they think a non-collectivist, libertarian, way for our country would look like.

    Here is the problem:

    Someone has build a dike around a patch of water and dug a canal around it. They pumped out all the water and sold the land+levies+pumps. That entity was the community (local government) or private investors. Fast forward a few generations. There are dikes, canals, and you must keep pumping out the water, as it seeps in from the surrounding higher lands, rivers, and the see.

    How can you put up a non collectivist regime to maintain the dikes and canals, and pump out the water. Currently, the maintenance is governed by a local democratic body which also raises the taxes to pay for it. The options I see is either you pay your share or you leave (your house).

    So, what non-collectivist alternative do you have?

  207. @JonCB:

    > Call me crazy but anytime i see a campaign with the phrase “get the facts” I automatically assume it’s fact-free, content-free and 100% propaganda. That the “facts” delivered will be questionable and unsupported.

    True in a high enough proportion of cases to be, for all practical purposes, a universal rule.
    Also the case for almost any web site named “…watch” (but there are exceptions).

  208. @Jessica Boxer

    Your defense of people who buy things because they’re newer dangerously borders on the “broken windows” school of economic development. I get your general argument though and agree with you that anti-overconsumption is a tell for a dangerous view. The problem with using the term “overconsumption” is that it implies there’s a correct level of consumption. So what is the correct level of consumption? The answer usually given by the person who uses it is, “Whatever I say it is!” Normally this would just lead to intellectual disagreements except we also live in a society where the implicit assumption to incorrect living is followed up with, “There oughta be a law!” And years later after much commotion there usually is a law. For me the term “overconsumption” is a tell of a wannabe dictator. Of course, without the “There oughta be a law!” assumption, it’s just the normal a-ok judgement that human beings do as a matter of course.

    Unfortunately this obscures the fact that consumption is also an economic term that means something different from colloquial use. Our economy is designed with a bias towards consumption as opposed to savings, e.g. low interest rates on loans and savings, differing tax rates on consumption vs savings, etc., etc. When you hear politicians talk about increasing consumption in United States or China, that’s what they’re talking about and it stems from their misunderstanding of Keynesian economics. Theoretically there is a correct level of consumption, but I don’t trust that our understanding of economics has an answer nor do I trust our politicians and their useful idiots in the intelligentsia to make that determination.

    As regards Wal-mart obliterating Main Street shops, I wish I saved news articles for times like these when it’s relevant years later. A study was done that showed that in the long term Main Street is rejuvenated with boutiques. In my opinion that’s more interesting than mom and pop shops that would have ordinarily have sold the same things as Wal-mart at a higher price. Besides why should local business people be granted extra money at the expense of the more numerous consumers. This has the, hopefully unintended, consequence of making the urban poor, who have a hard time with transportation, pay a higher price for their goods than they need to because a lot of big cities prevent big box stores from opening within city limits. If you don’t understand how this works, try buying groceries by taking the bus from the middle of a major city to Wal-mart and back again.

  209. @Jeff

    Although the large numbers of Young-Earth Creationists in the US is certainly WTF worthy, I am somehow not really terrified by this. Yes, at some level it would be logical that critical thinking skills are consistent between various domains of life, so those who fail at it in one thing fail at it in everything. However, in practice, surprisingly, it is not so. People can be very rational in one thing and very irrational in other things. I learned this when I was a teenager and thought dianetics / Scientology might be a good idea and took a few courses. It didn’t take long to realize what a bullshit that is, but the really interesting lesson there was that the same person can be an utter lunatic in one set of things and perfectly rational, pragmatic, efficient, logically thinking, good problem-solving, generally superb organizer in a lot of other things. Many technical aspects of the cult from the typography of their flyers to the sound tech on their courses was pretty much flawless. Which surprised me at first.

    Much later on I understood that this nothing but simple economics. Insofar as decisions are practical and costly, people have a good motivation to be rational. But in all those fields that have pretty much zero practical applications or the costs are born by someone else, there is a strong incentive to just make stuff up, because that is fun and general can have all sorts of feeling good and psychological benefits.

    This means the same person can perfectly switch between lunatic and rational modes depending on whether the given topic is pragmatic and costly for him or not, and this is normal, EXCEPT for those people who at some level identify themselves as scientist, intellectuals, or generally smart folks to whom being irrational even in a non-pragmatic matter would be a shame / ego loss.

  210. We need a better vocabulary for different methods and degrees of restricting information.

    What Walmart does with music isn’t censorship with the force of law behind it, but it does limit access to some music, and if it’s selling bowdlerized versions which aren’t labelled as such, then at least some of its customers don’t know that the original version exists.

    I’ve read accounts by gay people (I think we’re talking about the 1950s or earlier) who would glom onto any clue that someone might be attracted to people of the same sex– such things were almost never mentioned. There was an emphatic cultural blind spot, and most of it wasn’t the result of government threats. What would you call this?

  211. @ esr
    > You’ll model the situation better if you think of them as second- or third-rate intellectuals whose minds have been colonized by something with the ability of a dominant religion to suppress thought outside its approved channels.

    Says the “libertarian” who thinks Sam Harris is too much of a leftist.

  212. from the other side of the atlantic, this conversation is fascinating but difficult to follow.

    In my experience living and working in three different EU countries (UK, Italy, now Germany), over-consumption is associated with the rich and luxury items. I know young girls who buy a new mobiile phone every two months and feel obliged to visit the fashion shop every week, but they are not certainly working or middle-class.

    Similarly, I see the “esthetic snobbery” ESR talks about differently, especially when talking about food and super-markets. From my experience in the UK, I’d say that the whole “bio”, “healthy”, “sustainable” thing (which seems to be huge in the UK) is just an attempt by a country that does not know what real food is to re-learn what a real tomato tastes like. In Italy people know how a tomato should taste, at any market you find cheap tomatoes that taste like they should, and the whole bio-thing never took off.

    Furthermore, another consequence of over-comsumption, if you are not rich, is debt. In italy saving is a deeply engrained habit in families, and not even the pampered generation of the 70′s and 80′s would go into buying really expensive things (cars, houses) through debt. The result is that poor and woking class familes do not over-consume.

  213. @ Federico
    Instead, when children became a consumption good instead of an investment, they started having too few children. This excessively unbalanced intragenerational capital flows and caused the welfare state to start cracking.

  214. @doc merlin

    or maybe the older generations relied too heavily on numerous children as cheap labor for the family business (10, 11, 12 children were not unheard of in Italy until the 60′s included). Besides, that generational change did not crack any welfare system, as Italy has hardly any, but rather the pension system, but that’s not the point isn’t it?

  215. esr:

    That oversimplifies the problem, because either Will nor Jeff are stupid in the normal sense of the word. You’ll model the situation better if you think of them as second- or third-rate intellectuals whose minds have been colonized by something with the ability of a dominant religion to suppress thought outside its approved channels. This is tremendously more damaging than mere mental midgetry.

    Well, I was referring more to the political class in DC as mental midgets, but I don’t think too much of the thought patterns of anyone who allows a High Priest (whether Catholic or Communist or any other religion) to dictate their entire worldview.

    Nigel:

    @brian If you believe that mental midgets can graduate harvard law cum laude I would hazard that POTUS is much smarter than you.

    Nobody knows at what GPA he graduated Harvard Law, that information’s never been released. I’ve graduated Magna Cum with an engineering degree with a minor in math. I’d wager that is more difficult than any law program ever devised.

    Obama is a world-class dolt. Nancy Pelosi is weapons-grade stupid. Harry Reid is at once a hateful bag of spite and thoroughly convinced of his own intellectual superiority. These are the people who brought you the economic collapse of 2006.

    And these people, who are flush with unearned wealth and who wield power without merit, are the ones who would take Wal-Mart away from the very people they claim to represent.

  216. @Christopher Smith:
    Morgan’s Law: “Any sufficiently advanced troll is indistinguishable from a genuine kook.”

    When the hell did I say that? Must be a different Morgan.

  217. One, perhaps oblique, point: Sam Walton hated Main Street merchants. “Official” biographies and histories tend to obscure that point, but I grew up in the same culture Walton inhabited and not really all that far away from his origin, and it was fairly well known. Destroying “local merchants” was never an insidious, unintended side effect of his ambitions. It went a far way to being the point.

    Although I don’t think it was ever articulated just that way, Walton saw/believed that the then-ubiquitous mom&pop stores and the distributor chain that fed them were a rock in the road on the way of extending the benefits of industrialization to everybody. They took the incredibly cheap products of industrialization and marked them up so as to put them on par, price-wise, with the expensive products of handwork and artisan production.

    If you don’t hear, in that, a loud echo of Marx’s thoughts on the subject of those same people, precisely the bourgeoisie he railed about, you aren’t paying attention. Industrial production should provide the benefits of wealth to ever-lower sections of the population (as demarcated by income). It’s the reason I refer to people like Will as “leftoids” — railing against Wal*Mart constitutes a defense of precisely those people Marx himself found most villainous.

    Regards,
    Ric

  218. @Winter:

    The “non collectivist” answer to keeping your feet dry is simple. You can do it the same way you would for example manage the common parts of an apartment building, or a neighborhood. Where I live land in a suburban division often comes with a share in a common parcel, to which is entailed the whole common infrastructure. This way owners can enjoy the shared benefits and be held responsible for shared costs.
    In fact, the Waterschap is organized somewhat that way. Notice how when a new Waterschap board is elected it’s the landowners, and not the citizens that vote…
    Another option, that was also followed in the Netherlands, was for an investment group creating a piece of land leasing the land, in stead of selling it. The lease income partially pays for the pumps…

    And don’t bring up Katrina. 1953 wasn’t pretty either… The Netherlands can be lucky to be in a part of the world with hardly any extreme weather.

  219. Indeed, don’t bring up Katrina. Its effects on New Orleans and Louisiana generally are failures of collectivism, not results of its absence. In particular, compare Louisiana to ALabama and MIssissippi: the latter two states got help because they asked for it quickly. Louisiana’s governor dithered and piddled and diddled around, and the federal government was prohibited by law from sending help until she finally did ask for it. That made giving help a game of catch-up, and that never works in managing a disaster.

  220. >from the other side of the atlantic, this conversation is fascinating but difficult to follow.

    I have lived in Europe and am thus able to certify that Federico’s observations are both correct and astute. That is, (a) in Europe over-consumption is primarily a problem of the rich rather than the working class and lower middle class, (b) “whole foods” never took of because European produce and staple foods taste like…food, and (c) Europeans (or at least Italians) have a higher savings rate and more fear of debt than Americans do.

    Any one of these could be the basis for an essay in itself, but I want to focus on point (a) because it bears out a point that neither Europeans nor American generally understand. That is, that the actual buying power of most Americans technically below the poverty line exceeds that of middle-class Europeans. In one memorable statistical comparison from a few years back, Sweden is Alabama – the consumption patterns of a notably wealthy European country resemble those of one of the U.S.’s poorest rural backwaters.

    The difference is particularly marked in housing; Europeans live in houses and apartments that would be considered tiny and cramped by American standards. But it extends through durable goods, clothing, electronics, cars and nearly everything else. European vegetables may beat hell out of American supermarket produce, but try finding real orange juice there and you’ll get a corrective shock. The range of available products is narrower and quality is much more expensive.

    This goes far to explain Federico’s observations. The American poor overconsume because they can. The European middle class doesn’t overconsume because it can’t.

  221. @Federico: Don’t know if you’ve noticed yet, but many of the commenters here are of the libertarian sort – Jessica Boxer, ESR (he’s anarcho-capitalist to be more accurate), Monster, and myself to name a few. So a lot of our thinking is informed by that. It’s most of why you’ll get different opinions here than a lot of other places.

    In general, overconsumption to a libertarian is nowhere near the same problem it is to a macroeconomist. (Most libertarians tend to be microeconomic in thinking – not because they can’t grasp macro, but rather because they consider thinking that way to be a dangerous conceit.) To a macro, overconsumption is a population buying more material goods than it really should. To a libertarian, overconsumption is… made up worrying. :-) Libertarians don’t even buy in to the notion that overconsumption is a bad thing; moreover, they feel that to presume it is is to presume you know better than someone else how his own money should be spent, and *that’s* the bad thing.

    If I had to buy into the belief that it’s somehow wrong, I’d frame overconsumption as someone buying more than *he* thinks he needs. That’s hard to get a grip on, though, because one thing most libertarians *do* presume is that people generally buy stuff because they think they need it. So that means overconsumption can’t happen by definition.

    It doesn’t matter (to a libertarian) what a person’s reasoning is when buying something. If they need it for their job, for fun, because they have an urge to acquire red things – doesn’t matter. As long as they’re forking their own money (or a loan) for it, the libertarian considers it none of his business.

    The only corner case is if the person is somehow being forced to buy, say, at gunpoint, or while being mind-controlled. Needless to say, these happen so infrequently that they’re not worth talking about, and even if they were, the problem isn’t the consumption, but rather the coercion (“coercion” being a very key catchword with libertarians). There are other forms of forced purchases, however, that libertarians consider *very* prevalent problems – namely, government-enforced purchases. Thou shalt buy health insurance, for example. Government-enforced purchases are the problem libertarians are far more likely to find themselves arguing about with non-libertarians.

    By the way, “mind control” may seem like a silly problem in 2011, but even it can be said to exist in certain forms. Advertising is typically brought up. We don’t spend billions on it for nothing, after all. There’s also things like the high-pressure sales pitch, or the one where they slowly grind you down with presentations until you buy the timeshare, or booth babes. Playing on your moods is arguably worthy of concern.

    Then there’s advertising’s dull older brother, information asymmetry. I’m selling you something you wouldn’t buy if you knew how I made it; that sort of thing.

    I see libertarians often brush away both of these problems as failings of hygiene – people should keep their emotional guard up, and know what they’re buying before they buy it. Some of the sharper libertarians also note that while such economic hygiene may be easy to fix with government intervention – banning some type of predatory selling as a way to combat overconsumption, for example – it doesn’t actually fix the hygiene problem, but rather moves it around. Now, instead of having to worry about whether some guy is selling you something under false pretenses, you now have to worry about whether the government is doing the exact same thing.

  222. >To a libertarian, overconsumption is… made up worrying. :-)

    That’s not completely true. What is true is that libertarians generally view overconsumption as an aesthetic problem with private choices, not as a Grave Social Problem about which Something Must Be Done.

    Otherwise Paul’s observations are pretty much on target.

  223. Define “overconsumption”.

    If you have produced enough value to trade for the goods/services you’re consuming, what is “over” about that?

  224. When I’m in Europe, I make a point of talking with the locals about how they live, just to expand my own horizons. I’m constantly amazed at the size of their homes, as they are surprised that I live in a two-story, three-bedroom, freestanding 135 square meter (1450 square feet, and that doesn’t count the basement) house that we bought for $75K. The same goes for cars; that a car that sells in the US for $25K goes in Paris for US$45K astounds me, as does the fact that it’s considered fairly large.

    I don’t know what it’s like to live there on a day-to-day basis; in particular, I have no grasp of the day-to-day cost of living like I do in, say, Manhattan. Even so, the places I’ve been in Europe strike me as hideously expensive. I have no doubt that I could not live there on my current reduced income.

  225. If you have produced enough value to trade for the goods/services you’re consuming, what is “over” about that?

    See what I mean? :-)

    Heck, if the rich are rich because their income is high, you *want* them to “overconsume” as much as they can. Yachts, luxury homes, fine food, whatever. (A lot of them are typically buying things that increase their income further, anyway – namely, stocks and other business investments. That’s fine; it all helps other people.)

  226. What is true is that libertarians generally view overconsumption as an aesthetic problem with private choices, not as a Grave Social Problem about which Something Must Be Done.

    Thanks for the praise. But what do you mean by “an aesthetic problem with private choices”? Do you mean someone is buying ugly things? Things he doesn’t really consider worthwhile? An endless supply of knick-knacks and other effluvium? Cheap crap that doesn’t gain him anything?

    I doubt you meant buying ugly things. As for the rest, I sort of addressed these in my fourth paragraph – the reason doesn’t matter; if he buys, he needs, period. If buying things to feed one’s hobby is considered worthwhile, then “hobby” could be defined to encompass all of these.

    I’ve known you long enough to believe this isn’t what you’re getting at, but I can’t put my finger on what else it might be.

  227. >Even so, the places I’ve been in Europe strike me as hideously expensive.

    Right. That’s because they are. Your anecdote is borne out by statistics on comparative purchasing power.

    Most Americans don’t get this; they mistakenly believe the European standard of living is much higher than it actually is (e.g. closely comparable to our own). Europeans are a bit less prone to the opposite error because they watch American TV, but even so they often fail to grasp the implications. In particular, they don’t understand how far down the SES scale scale consumption of goods they would consider luxuries actually reaches – they think the American poor are…actually poor.

  228. >Do you mean someone is buying ugly things? Things he doesn’t really consider worthwhile? An endless supply of knick-knacks and other effluvium? Cheap crap that doesn’t gain him anything?

    All of the above.

  229. I forget where I read it, and it’s probably not entirely accurate, but someone wrote that the “poor” in America are still in the top 5% of the richest people in the world.

    Which puts quite a perspective on the sense of entitlement here.

  230. Paul Brinkley Says:
    > Heck, if the rich are rich because their income is high, you *want* them to “overconsume” as much as they can.

    Paul, I’m a little confused. Money is only useful for two things — spending and saving. Saving is really just deferred or indirect spending. (You put your money in a CD, they lend it to me as a mortgage, I buy a house.) When people spend or save there is a big benefit. If I buy a candy bar, the candy bar maker benefits. If I save, then the new homeowner benefits.

    For sure, money can be spent less than optimally. I can pay a guy to dig a hole, and then pay another guy to fill it in. However, most people are pretty careful to spend their own money pretty carefully. However, when people spend other people’s money they are much less careful. Digging holes and filling them in is the purview of these types of people. A lot of them live in Washington DC. But, a lot of them live in the boardroom of big corporations, usually fat and happy protected by various legislative capture, patents and other legal monopolies.

    Sorry, I made a mistake, there is something else you can do with money. You can also pile it up in the back yard and set it on fire. But most rich people don’t do that.

  231. I’m reminded of an Archer Daniels Midland commercial a few years ago…it ended with a grocer with a European accent of some sort (watered-down German, I think it was) saying “That’ll be $75.14. Here, let me help you. I think I can get this all in one bag.”

  232. K_
    “In fact, the Waterschap is organized somewhat that way. ”

    But everything you suggest is still: You want to live here, you pay the taxes. How is that different from the collectivists, Dutch way of “If you want to live here, you pay the taxes”?

    So, if the Waterschappen (Water boards) are non-collectivist, then neither is the rest of the Netherlands. And the great flood of 1953 came only 8 years after WWII. The parts flooded had been bombed during the end of the war. The first thing the government did after the floods (killing 1000 people) was strengthen the defenses to an unprecedented level. The project took 30 years and the equivalent of 10% of one year’s GDP.

    Contrast this to New Orleans, where the local community was completely unable to prepare their levies for a common storm that had been predicted to appear with a high probability. That was not “collectivism”, that was living in denial.

    In another note, yes, Europe is expensive. High income goes with high prices. Precisely because if people earn a lot, you pay a lot for services.

    And housing is expensive because space is expensive too. Within a radius of 500 km from my home you find London, Paris, Hamburg and a lot of sea. That is a 120 Million people in a triangle with sides less than 500 km. And a lot of industry and traffic. The Netherlands are with Java and eastern China the region with the highest population density in the world. Same for the German Ruhr area, London, Brussels, and Paris. Yes, space IS expensive. You do not complain Silicon valley or New York NY are expensive, do you?

    Still, the US Americans spend a lot. I understand they can do that because they borrow a lot. Around 7% of US GDP was once borrowed from abroad. That is a lot of money. Money the lenders did not spend (and after 2008, they actually lost in the American default).

  233. Actually, yes, I do complain that Silicon Valley and NYC are expensive. That’s one major reason I refuse to live there.

    The places are different, which is why it drives me absolutely screaming bonkers when Europeans try to tell us how to live.

  234. >That is, that the actual buying power of most Americans technically below the poverty line exceeds that of middle-class Europeans.

    Um, how to put it… I am not trolling and not trying to ignite the usual kinds of political debates, but at some level it is unfair not to count medicine, healthcare and college education in it. This is a big can of worms, let’s not open it now… especially that I am too on the free-market side but generally find the American prices of these completely unacceptable so I am kind of torn about it. So just saying that this is missing from the full picture. At the end of the day just everybody wants what they don’t have – half of Reddit wants affordable college and healthcare, I want a free-standing house in Vienna that does not cost like 5 years of my salary…

  235. To echo Jay, for a large majority of Americans, Silicon Valley and NYC (and a handful of other major metros, Chicago, LA etc) are the very definition of expensive and over crowded. Where I live a $785 rents me a two bedroom, 1050 sq ft apartment just inside city limits in the woods on a lake with a fantastic land lord and free parking. By comparison, that same $785 will just barely rent me a studio apartment or a single bedroom in someone else’s apartment in NYC, no parking and I may or may not have space to cook my own food.

    When I went to college, I lived in the international dorm, and by far the most common comment I heard from people over seas was they had no idea just how damn big the US really is. Just like most american’s can’t wrap their head around armies being able to march between countries in Europe, I think most Europeans can’t imagine not being able to drive from one end of your country to the other in less than a day, but most US states are the size of a European country. Life is very different when you have a low population density.

  236. It’s 1200 miles from my house to ESR’s. That’s less than halfway across the country, and that’s the more densely populated half.

    I’m planning to drive to Houston to visit friends and family over Christmas. That’s 1200 miles, too, and it’s pretty much across the short dimension of the US.

    Here to San Francisco would be a three-day backbreaker.

    Can you even drive 1200 miles in a straight line in Europe?

  237. @Jay Maynard
    “Can you even drive 1200 miles in a straight line in Europe?”

    Brest (Bretagne, Fr) to the Ukraine border is around 1200 miles as the crow flies.

    Gibraltar – Amsterdam

    But driving in a straight line would be to stretch the point.

  238. Well, yes, Fairmont to Philadelphia isn’t all that straight a line, but I meant in more or less the same direction. Poking at Google Maps, I find it’s about comparable to driving from Hamburg to Naples. The difference is that that’s across nearly all of Europe, while it’s only across less than half of the US east-to-west.

    Americans live in densities that are simply alien to Europeans. What they consider normal, we consider crowded, often unbearably so. We have abundant space, except in a few places, abundant food, abundant opportunity. That colors our thinking. Our costs of living are quite a bit lower – that $75 bag of groceries would be about $15 here, on average, maybe less – and our standard of living correspondingly higher.

    No, we don’t have the nanny state-supplied health care and the rest. That suits most of us just fine: witness the huge backlash that Obama caused with even something that’s not full-on state-supplied healthcare (yet, though there’s substantial reason to believe that it’s intended to slip it in through the back door by making it impossible to compete with it).

    We don’t want European-style overarching government that takes care of us cradle-tograve, and being told that we’re not a civilized country because we don’t is offensive in the extreme.

  239. @tmoney

    >Well this is certainly interesting. What do people do with the things they don’t want or can’t use anymore but that are in perfectly serviceable condition?

    If they see it as still valuable, they will try to sell it or just hoard it in the cellar for later use in a weekend home. This part is unsurprising I think. If they see it as something in a crappy condition, they consider it’s the government’s job to remove it (unsurprising…) : on certain designated days crappy old furniture is thrown out on the streets and the municipal government removes it, but before that, the local poor pick out stuff they think they can use. In theory. In practice Eastern European gypsy gangs scare away the local poor, haul stuff home, and sell it. Actually I would applaud their business sense and diligency, this generally would be a good thing, except that they can get really violent in claiming all the stuff theirs and guarding it with axes and threats and suchlike. It’s almost a maffia.

    I think the “free if you haul it away” part of Craiglist works in America mostly because people have big enough cars to actually fit a couch in. Small, subtle, but significant difference. If I have to rent a van, I rather buy used stuff than going for freebies, as then it is in a better condition.

  240. @tmoney

    >Life is very different when you have a low population density.

    OK but what does a national average of pop density actually predict? Bicoastal Urban America has a comparable pop density to Western Europe. That’s why they have a very different culture than the red-state or purple-state one and actually in many ways closer to the WE one. I think a national average of pop density predicts / means exactly as much as a global average temperature: next to nothing, it just hides the important local differences. I mean, just logically, the low pop density of red-state and purple-state America also means only a limited number of people enjoy these circumstances (which I envy like hell) and thus they have a limited influence in the economy, in politics, in the stuff that matters. Actually, those people who live in higher pop density areas have a disproportionally higher influence as on one hand in politics they are closer to the seats of power and on the other hand in economics they can engage in a sharper, more specialized division of labor generally generating more wealth. Don’t misunderstand me, I am generally a pro-rural guy, and that’s why I am less than perfectly happy in living in Vienna, Austria, but reality is reality.

  241. Shenpen: Actually, those people who live in higher pop density areas have a disproportionally higher influence as on one hand in politics they are closer to the seats of power and on the other hand in economics they can engage in a sharper, more specialized division of labor generally generating more wealth.

    In some ways. In others, not.
    Our electoral system is such that a single vote in Oklahoma can carry more weight than a single vote from California or Massachusetts.
    We also have 2 senators per state, regardless of the size or population of that state.

  242. Jay Maynard Says:
    > No, we don’t have the nanny state-supplied health care and the rest.

    Just to be clear, we also have nothing resembling a free market in healthcare either. One of the reasons why, as shenpen mentioned, that healthcare is so darned expensive.

    Getting back on topic: the healthcare you are allowed to buy at Walmart is WAY less expensive that the healthcare you are not allowed to buy at Walmart.

  243. > Just to be clear, we also have nothing resembling a free market in healthcare either. One of the reasons why, as shenpen mentioned, that healthcare is so darned expensive.

    Actually, that’s backwards. Healthcare is so expensive because we have nothing resembling a free market.

    There are barriers to enter the field that limit the supply of health care workers, laws including the tax code that have encouraged health insurance to be “provided by the employer” so that most health care spending is third-party, and successive waves of government directly assuming that insurance through Medicare/aid etc. that maps very well to increases in health care prices over the general inflation rate.

    There is a civil law environment that treats a standard of care that was top of the line a few years ago as “malpractice” if some new innovation has come along in the interim, and truly bad science brought into the courtroom to back bizarre theories under which patients who have breast implants have a lower incidence of certain diseases than the population at large, but those implant recpients who contract those diseases somehow “prove” the implants were at fault.

    All of this is government actions distorting the free market.

  244. Jessica: and to expand on your last thought, many Wal-Marts have walk-in clinics right there, too, and the prices seem to be reasonable. The one here in Fairmont is run by the local medical center, itself an affiliate of the Mayo Clinic, so I would assume it provides top-notch, if basic, care.

  245. >We don’t want European-style overarching government that takes care of us cradle-tograve, and being told that we’re not a civilized country because we don’t is offensive in the extreme.

    Of course it is – but out of ten times I see that said on Reddit, eight times it is not a European but a left-liberal American college student. My point is, these things are a political views issue, not a which side of the pond issue.

    Another and important related part is that left-liberal American culture and general Western European culture are only superficial similar – somewhat similar goals but very different motivation. The Americal Left sees the welfare state as a moral issue – empathy, decency et al. The average German or Austrian sees it as a safety issue. The Americal Left sees American system as a too selfish, the average German sees it as too risky. The American Left sees the welfare state as a restoration of social justice, taking from the rich exploiters, giving to the poor exploited. The average German sees it as an insurance for his own personal security, not really as a compassionate, charitable thing for the poor only. The kind of moralistic attitude typical of th American Left resonates well with Scandinavia but not so well with Europe’s “core”.

    This is why there is hope over here yet – the risk-avoidant subset of collectivism can prove to be more easy to bring to see reason as the moralistic subset of it. If the current crisis makes “core” Europeans understand that risk didn’t go away just got collectivized and basically all or nothing was collectively betted on one card seen incorrectly as a super safe choice, things might change. While moralistic collectivism is a lot more problematic issue as it does not really listen to experiences and facts.

  246. @Paul Brinkley
    It doesn’t matter (to a libertarian) what a person’s reasoning is when buying something. If they need it for their job, for fun, because they have an urge to acquire red things – doesn’t matter. As long as they’re forking their own money (or a loan) for it, the libertarian considers it none of his business.

    surely a loan and your own money cannot be the same thing. I also imagine that buying beyond your earnings with a bank’s money, (ie, someone else’s) is not compatible with libertarian principles, especially when you know you will never be able to repay the loan.

  247. @Federico:

    surely a loan and your own money cannot be the same thing. I also imagine that buying beyond your earnings with a bank’s money, (ie, someone else’s) is not compatible with libertarian principles, especially when you know you will never be able to repay the loan.

    And there you’d be wrong. If a bank wants to waste its money on someone who can’t repay, the libertarian doesn’t care. When things are set up so that the government subsequently feels the need to bail out the banks, though, that’s a whole ‘nother story.

  248. >If the current crisis makes “core” Europeans understand that risk didn’t go away just got collectivized and basically all or nothing was collectively betted on one card seen incorrectly as a super safe choice, things might change. While moralistic collectivism is a lot more problematic issue as it does not really listen to experiences and facts.

    This resonates with something Nassem Taleb (the “Black Swan” guy) has been writing about recently: collectivizing financial risk doesn’t make it go away either. What it does is drive risk to where it can’t be seen or reckoned, lengthening the interval between crises but making them far more severe when they occur.

    I think this is right. The creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913 put an end to the roughly once-a-decade pattern of bank panics, but in return we got much larger disruptions like the Great Depression and the crash of 2008.

  249. > Means don’t justify ends either.

    Means produce ends though.

  250. > More than half of the U.S. population believes that the Earth was formed mere thousands of years ago instead of millions or billions of years ago, in a literal seven-day week by a divine being.

    > That’s what anti-intellectualism means.

    And yet, these “stupid” fat, uncultured people out-produce all of the “intellectual” countries.

    And, when things go wrong, no one calls the Dutch. Instead, they ask “when will the Americans arrive”.

    Based on what it actually produces, intellectualism is way over-rated.

  251. > >The Netherlands’ existence depends on some mechanism to keep out the sea. It does not depend on a welfare state.

    > We have absolutely no incentive to experiment in this matter.

    Which means that you have no idea what else might work.

    However, it’s unclear why you think that collectively maintaining dykes implies other collective actions.

    > Experience in our history shows that it the welfare state does work for us.

    Actually, pretty much anything would work for the Dutch, so that’s “work for us” is meaningless. I note that Dutch in the US are more successful than Dutch in the Netherlands, so ….

    Katrina’s levees were collectively maintained. They failed. So much for collectivism as a solution. Or rather, that shows that collectivism doesn’t have first-order effects.

  252. ESR: This resonates with something Nassem Taleb (the “Black Swan” guy) has been writing about recently: collectivizing financial risk doesn’t make it go away either. What it does is drive risk to where it can’t be seen or reckoned, lengthening the interval between crises but making them far more severe when they occur.

    Which is precisely what happened with mortgage securities; except this wasn’t done by the government.
    A non-libertarian would say that better regulation would have prevented this.
    Would your answer be to let the wall street banks burn in their own mistakes and see if something smarter rises up from their ashes?

  253. >Would your answer be to let the wall street banks burn in their own mistakes and see if something smarter rises up from their ashes?

    Er, yes. What Taleb does is destroy the consequential argument for not letting them burn. It’s like managing forest fires; if you stop the small ones, you create the conditions for really big ones. Without Schumpeter’s “creative destruction”, tinder piles up on the forest floor…

    I think I feel a blog post coming on.

  254. @Shenpen
    >but at some level it is unfair not to count medicine, healthcare and college education in it.

    In “Free To Choose”, Rose and Milton Friedman said that they thought that elementary and secondary education should be supported by the state and that there is a great deal of value in public schooling because it provides the common knowledge and attitudes that hold a society together. (This is significant because Friedman could be described as being as “libertarian as possibly makes sense”).

    On the other hand, he was opposed to the government supporting/helping college/university costs because most of the benefit went to the well off, who didn’t need the help, and (I believe) because a non-idiotic post-secondary education increases the amount a person can earn so much, that they should be willing to borrow to do it. It isn’t good for smart people to not go to university just because they can’t get a loan, so he may have supported the government being a lender of last resort.

    @Andy Freeman
    > Actually, pretty much anything would work for the Dutch

    From P.J. O’Rourke from memory: Someone once told Milton Friedman that in Scandinavia, there was no poverty. He replied, “That is interesting, because here in America, amongst Scandinavians, there is no poverty either.

  255. Ken Burnside said, way up there: My big objection to Wal-Mart is how they tend to drive smaller, locally owned businesses under Back when Magic: The Gathering was The New Hotness, game stores would buy boxes of Magic boosters at Wal-Mart because it was cheaper than buying them through distribution…and because if any of their customers knew that they could be had at Wal-Mart, the local game stores would close.

    At one level, I understand that objection.

    At another, more important level, it makes me wonder why anyone wants those local stores?

    I mean, they’re charging more for the same goods, because they’re terribly inefficient (in terms of inventory alone, but in other ways as well).

    What’s good about that? That it’s “local”? That doesn’t make paying more a good idea – and my experience is that tiny local stores aren’t exactly more generous than Wal Mart with benefits and pay, either.

    Who’s winning when we pick a “local” store that’s less efficient? Nobody I care about, versus saving money and time.

    I’ve seen an awful lot (not to pick on Mr. Burnside here; he was a catalyst for this comment, no more) of “buy local!” going around without even an attempt at argument as to why beyond “big corporations!!!!”, which rounds to nothing.

    Are there any arguments for local-qua-local consumption that pass the laugh test from an economic viewpoint? (In the context of mass-produced goods, that is – local production of things that would otherwise have to be imported makes perfect sense, if the transport is more expensive than the relative cost of local production.)

  256. @esr
    >Without Schumpeter’s “creative destruction”, tinder piles up on the forest floor…

    I agree completely, but… unwinding fractional-reserve banking and bank’s off-balance sheet crap, without destroying the country in the process would be no easy task.

    On one hand, ignoring the savings and loan crisis increased the ultimate cost by at least an order of magnitude. On the other hand, if the financial system implodes…. a lot of those Occupy Wall Street folks are not going to like it. It could tear the US apart.

  257. @ Morgan Greywolf re: tiny Linux script based book-keeping system

    >Awesome! Is it possible to download a copy of this accounting system? I’m a sucker for cool shell script hacks.

    OK… deawk – double entry bookkeeping using awk scripts – that was the fastest I have ever put together an Open Source project. I don’t exactly love the name, but at least it is unique on the web. Its webpage is: http://www.agt.net/public/bmarshal/deawk

    It is also available off my home page for anyone who decides later to take a look.

  258. Walmart is the single most efficient distribution system ever created.

    When Katrina hit, a Walmart exec decided to send relief supplies, someone figured out a good mix (x pallets of drinking water, y pallets of blankets, z pallets of thus-and-such diapers, so much of various foodstuffs that don’t require refrigeration…) to fill out a trailer, replicated the “order” and sent a bunch of trucks that arrived in affected communities before FEMA could set up command posts. Their warehouse workers were able to crank out the extra trailer loads without breaking a sweat.

  259. >At one level, I understand that objection.
    >At another, more important level, it makes me wonder why anyone wants those local stores?

    To a degree, it depends on what you’re buying. If you’re just buying the product, of course it makes sense to buy it at the cheapest price possible. On the other hand, if your local store provides other benefits with your purchase (support, advice, training etc) then it might make sense to pay the higher price.

  260. If a bank wants to waste its money on someone who can’t repay, the libertarian doesn’t care. When things are set up so that the government subsequently feels the need to bail out the banks, though, that’s a whole ‘nother story.

    This. And this:

    What Taleb does is destroy the consequential argument for not letting [failed banks] burn. It’s like managing forest fires; if you stop the small ones, you create the conditions for really big ones. Without Schumpeter’s “creative destruction”, tinder piles up on the forest floor…

    So, again, Federico, I don’t know if this trope made it out of American media circles to the point that you saw it, but people made the point that the Tea Party and Occupy movements had some things in common. There was a kernel of truth in it: both movements had an interest in opposing the bailouts for the banks that were vulnerable to the mortgage bubble. The Tea Party could oppose it on free market system grounds (letting risky businesses actually fail, and indicating that early, is the only true limiting factor on business risk); the Occupy movement could oppose it because that would stick it to the rich.

    Free market does NOT mean completely unfettered big business. It only means removal of arbitrary authority-imposed fetters.

    The analogy carries over to other rights popularly claimed by Americans. The right to life means the government isn’t permitted by default to step in and kill you; it does not mean you can sit in the middle of a field and bleat, “feed me”, and be fed. (Well, you can bleat all you like.)

  261. Walmart is the single most efficient distribution system ever created.

    Hmmmm. I wonder, actually. How does Target compare?

    Rob Cockerham conducted an informal experiment a few years ago – he and his buddies built a list of various items sold by both stores, and went price hunting. The difference was mere pennies, if that, on each item, and Walmart wasn’t always the winner. I came away believing it was largely a wash (the dominant factor for any given person ends up being which store is closer).

  262. @The Monster:

    > Walmart is the single most efficient distribution system ever created.

    This. And they don’t require privacy-invading “use our card or we’ll rape you on the price” strategies, either. No, they don’t care what you buy personally — they only care in the aggregate. And this is a good thing, because you might have never bought a pop-tart from them ever before, but you might want a lot of them when a hurricane is coming:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/14/business/yourmoney/14wal.html

  263. I agree completely, but… unwinding fractional-reserve banking and bank’s off-balance sheet crap, without destroying the country in the process would be no easy task.

    As the saying goes, amateurs talk strategy, pros talk logistics. This is one of the more interesting questions to me over the last few years. There are all sorts of distortions of the market I observe from near DC here, but I’m quite sure that if I were dictator for four years, I could do a lot of damage to the country by smashing all the bureaucracy and putting a few million people instantly out of work, even if everyone’s suddenly paying only, say 10% of the taxes they used to.

    I’ve heard at least one person defend Keynesian economics on grounds that it smoothed out the ups and downs of the market cycle. I’ve big reason to believe it postpones a lot of bubbles rather than prevents them, but even I have to wonder whether some visible hand can yield a better result every once in a while. After all, computers didn’t come about by letting brownian motion decide; might we have as many nice things if we only let the market decide? (Atoms aren’t people, so that tears it for me right there, but it’s still an interesting question.)

  264. I owe Jessica Boxer a response:

    Paul Brinkley Says:
    > Heck, if the rich are rich because their income is high, you *want* them to “overconsume” as much as they can.

    Paul, I’m a little confused. Money is only useful for two things — spending and saving. Saving is really just deferred or indirect spending. (You put your money in a CD, they lend it to me as a mortgage, I buy a house.)

    I selected a vague method of saying exactly this; my bad. The rich can buy groceries, cars, etc., or they can “buy” more money later, either via a bank account, or investments in stocks or bonds, etc. – functionally speaking, these are just loans. Either way, you want the rich to take that income and do all they can with it.

    The problem with saying this is that this is exactly what the rich typically already do, driven by no less than good ol’ greed. (It degrades when that greed drives them to cheat to reduce risk on investments, but that’s another story.)

  265. @ Paul Brinkley
    >I have to wonder whether some visible hand can yield a better result every once in a while.

    You gotta watch that “Sure totalitarianism is bad, but in this particular situation…”

    To tell the truth, I didn’t really understand your first paragraph, but there is a point I like to make… A million government workers sending memos to each other and attending important meetings about important meetings is economically equivalent to a million people getting the same income to sit at home.

    Any plan to put vast numbers of government employees out of work will not necessarily harm the economy – they aren’t productive in any meaningful way. Paying them very generous unemployment insurance while they try to find actual productive work doesn’t change anything from a macro-economic perspective and some of them might actually become productive.

    Now, the problem with the total number of jobs that are available is a real problem. But if the number of people generating wealth (as opposed to generating memos/meetings) increases, the number of jobs should go up according to a macro, long-term, big-picture sort of view. Some people might get hungry in a shorter term point of view.

  266. Brian Marshall Says:
    > I agree completely, but… unwinding fractional-reserve banking and bank’s off-balance sheet crap, without destroying the country in the process would be no easy task.

    Actually I don’t agree, the steps to take to fix the currency and banking system (or at least make it better) are pretty simple, though to follow an earlier distinction, simple is not the same as easy, certainly not politically easy.

    In fact, we had a wonderful opportunity to perform a major fix on the banking system just recently, and the morons in Washington decided to bail them out instead. And they did so by massively inflating the currency, and hiding the inflation under a blanket of business terror, where nobody lent and nobody borrowed our of fear of the overburdensome government regulation, (which means that M3 did not inflate at the same rate.)

    If they had done nothing? Talk about cleaning out the chaff! I don’t doubt that we would all be in a much better position (to say nothing or our progeny) had they left well alone. It would have been quite a conflagration no doubt, but fire and destruction are often very cleansing.

    In terms of the Fed, really there are two steps needed — change the requirements on the fed from keeping inflation low and jobs up to simply making the currency predictable. One simple way — simply increase the money supply by exactly 4% a year, every year, regardless of circumstances and do nothing else. Second step — put the FDIC into the private insurance industry, perhaps with some sort of minimum insurance requirement and bold disclosure requirements to qualify your institution under the name “bank”.

    Something else that would be nice, not just for the fed but for all government agencies too — require them to have a public audit according to GAAP ever year, and publish the results to us, the poor public that pays for it all. Ironic that they puff about this with private corporations but don’t do it themselves.

    Would that fix everything? No of course not. Nothing fixes everything. But it would surely be a heck of a lot better.

    (Oh, BTW, I read recently that Gingrich has suggested that the OMB, the guys who predict how much legislation would cost and how much tax revenue it would raise, be replaced by five competing private companies, and that every year the two with the least accurate predictions get fired. I really love this idea.)

  267. @ Jessica Boxer

    OK, I basically totally agree with you. I sort of screwed up. There is no immediate need to unwind the fractional-reserve banking system. The problem is that a liquidity crunch can cause it to unwind even if we don’t want it to and implode the money supply and the financial system. There was apparently a real danger of that happening in 2008 and we keep getting hints that we are still on the brink of it happening at any time.

    >fire and destruction are often very cleansing

    True, sometimes to the point of “scorched earth”.

    Actually, I don’t necessarily believe it would get that bad in the big picture, but if all banks close for even 3 days and then there are limits on withdrawals, it could create massive social unrest – not Occupy Wall Street – looting America.

  268. brian:
    Obama is a world-class dolt. Nancy Pelosi is weapons-grade stupid. Harry Reid is at once a hateful bag of spite and thoroughly convinced of his own intellectual superiority. These are the people who brought you the economic collapse of 2006.

    And these people, who are flush with unearned wealth and who wield power without merit, are the ones who would take Wal-Mart away from the very people they claim to represent.

    Hear, Hear. Funny thing is if you talk to your Wal-Mart shoppers many of them think these bozos are doing the best job that can be done. Part of that is that traditional news and entertainment outlets
    continue to treat every left liberal pronouncement like it was delivered from a burning bush.
    Still it is bemusing, disheartening, etc. I am from a blue state so this crap is our daily gruel.
    Don’t let the Republicans off the hook for the great recession.
    When it comes to war with the left they are always looking for a deferment.

  269. Any plan to put vast numbers of government employees out of work will not necessarily harm the economy – they aren’t productive in any meaningful way. Paying them very generous unemployment insurance while they try to find actual productive work doesn’t change anything from a macro-economic perspective and some of them might actually become productive.

    That’s just it; I don’t think it’s quite that simple. In many cases, they’re doing something important with 5% of their time, and sitting around for the rest. It’s a net gain if you fire them and force them to find something more productive to do, but that 5% is going to fall on the floor unless someone else takes it up, and if you’ve fired all of them…

    Not only that, but – to put it cynically – in some cases, paying people to effectively sit around is also paying them to not riot and loot for lack of jobs. I consider this a relatively weak argument, but it’s nonzero – we *know* cases where this has happened.

    “It would have been quite a conflagration no doubt, but fire and destruction are often very cleansing.” However, some of that fire and destruction results in lives lost. It’s one thing to say it’s better in the long run (and it may even be quite true; lives may be silently lost via the status quo). It’s another thing entirely to hit that switch and watch people get hurt, esp. if it looks like they could have been saved if more care was taken.

  270. BPSouther writes in response to an ESR point about the Fed Reserve and bank panics: “Which is precisely what happened with mortgage securities; except this wasn’t done by the government.

    Not really true, as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac greatly expanded mortgage securitization, including securitization of sub-prime mortgages.

  271. What percentage of subprime mortgages were held by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, broken down by year?

  272. @ESR @Jessica @others,

    Only tangentially related, but a very interesting question / idea IMHO: in the last years researching informal, alternative, off-the-books, gray or black markets, “Système D” became fashionable, it is estimated that actually the majority of the global population works that way. This doesn’t mean working like a normal employee but off the books, although that is part of it too, but as very flexible “micro-entrepreneurs”, enganging in many kinds of small exchanges, I think that’s where the name Système D came from, the very flexible “débrouillard” fixers of Haiti.

    Now, everybody knew informal and gray markets exist, but I think this is fairly surprising that they are actually so widespread. For example they are pretty much the only thing that prevented mass starvation in Russia around 1993 – people often didn’t get paid for six months in a row but they were extremely resourceful of using – illegally, of course – the resources of their workplace like using factory tools to offer private repairs or growing vegs behind the factory and suchlike.

    Now if this informal markets thing works so well, my idea is that it should perhaps change the strategy of libertarians and their sympathizers. Instead of trying to gather democratic majority to try to vote the state into a smaller size – probably not gonna happen – couldn’t rather informal markets somehow be helped, expanded, grown, so that they at the end outcompete the state and make it kind of less relevant? I mean just generally, the obvious strategy of every political movement is to change formal rules. But actually another strategy could be trying to keep the cost of breaking formal rules down. I don’t really know how this could be done, it is just a very vague idea at the moment.

    This occured me because of WM clinics mentioned here (Which surprised me a bit). These are of course legal, but generally if and when regulations push the price of healthcare or any other service high people could try to set up unregulated gray-market off-the-books clinics. The problem is, of course, that in such circumstances lawsuits cannot be used to settle conflicts and thus they tend to settled with violence, see, drug-dealer gangs. This is generally a huge disadvantage of Système D.

  273. >couldn’t rather informal markets somehow be helped, expanded, grown, so that they at the end outcompete the state and make it kind of less relevant?

    This is the “countereconomy” strategy advocated by my sadly deceased friend Samuel Edward Konkin III and associated with the form of anarcho-capitalism labeled “agorism”. So, yes, it’s been considered.

  274. >So, yes [anarcho-capitalism outcompeting the state by expanding black markets], it’s been considered.

    I should add that one of the more plausible scenarios for getting from here to there is that the infrastructure of the state collapses, the equivalents of the débrouillards keep people alive, and the collapse of state legitimacy follows as attempts to reimpose state centralization are then successfully resisted.

    This didn’t happen in Russia because the Russians are…Russians; they have no cultural memory of any prosperity at all except under autocracy. But it is one possible reading of what is going on in Somalia; that the Mogadishu government cannot reimpose control because the equivalents of débrouillards have succeeded and it’s not offering a well-armed population anything that population actually wants or needs.

    This example may become more relevant to First World conditions in the near future. The big-state model is hurtling towards systemic collapse even as we watch – the Eurozone crisis is one indicator, the rising wave of state and local bankruptcies in the U.S. is another. Just as the Soviet bloc ran out of other peoples’ money in the late 1980s, First-World statism is running out of other peoples’ money now. The best deal it can offer in the future is drastically reduced services coupled with a crushing tax burden as governments struggle futilely to get out from under an impossible mountain of debt.

    It’s not yet true that we’re all Somalians now. But it may be soon.

  275. > unwinding fractional-reserve banking

    Can someone explain what is the problem with fractional reserve banking? To my accountant mind it seems OK. You put in a 100 dollar deposit, the bank has 100 on the liability side, and 100 on the asset side as hard cash. When they lend it out, they convert the liquid asset to a less liquid one. When you want to take out your money, they have to liquidate that asset i.e. sell it. If they can only sell it for 95 dollar they have to use 5 dollars from their reserves, that’s what they are for. Naturally if there is a bank run and cannot sell it fast enough or their assets are toxing and can only sell them very cheap, they can run out of reserves and thus there is a big risk. But is there anything inherently wrong with risking borrowed assets? It happens all the time when people rent a car in the winter on icy roads… and FRB does not create money out of thin air – if you spend your 100 dollar deposit the same time the person they lent it to spends it too, and thus it is being spent twice, they have to sell that person’s loan and thus the person or bank who buys that loan has 100 dollars less to spend, so it balances out at the end.

    I know that there are arguments that commercial banks create money out of thin air just like central banks do but I think there is something wrong with these arguments: if they inflate their asset side of the balance sheet by lending out that deposit (liability) multiple times, what do they put on the liability side? The liability side consists of own capital (reserves) and money owed like deposits. If you have 100 dollars own capital and 1000 dollars deposit you cannot lend out more than 1100 unless you take in a loan – the balance sheet would not balance. I mean, literally, giving out a loan debits means posting something to the debit side of a debtor (asset) account, you have to post something to the credit side of some other account. You can credit an asset account (you got less cash) or you can credit a liability account (get more capital). So the fractional part simply means out of that 1100 dollars lent out only 100 is actually yours and the rest lent out on the behalf of the depositors. This is not money creation as far as I am aware. Am I getting something wrong?

  276. >Hear, Hear. Funny thing is if you talk to your Wal-Mart shoppers many of them think these bozos are doing the best job that can be done.

    Never forget the fundamental law of society: “Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.” And that stupidity is magnified in groups, whether businesses or governments.

    (Though usually unattributed, the quote is from Robert Heinlein/Lazarus Long.)

    >What percentage of subprime mortgages were held by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, broken down by year?

    I don’t have the numbers handy, but as I recall it was a fairly small percentage. The problem is that once they started doing it, the pressure on market institutions to do the same, from shareholders, employees who saw an opportunity to increase their bonuses, regulators, and “anti-red-lining” freeloaders alike, increased.

    >Now, everybody knew informal and gray markets exist, but I think this is fairly surprising that they are actually so widespread.

    What Eric said. Also, I remember reading in the mid-1980s that during the high-inflation, high-tax years of the late 1970s and early 1980s, as much as 20% of the US economy had gone “off-the-books”. Volcker and Reagan managing to kill inflation and the Reagan income tax cuts killed off most of this. As far as I can find during most of the 1990s and 2000s the US “alternative” economy was back down into single-digit percentages.

  277. esr Says:
    > I should add that one of the more plausible scenarios for getting from here to there is that the infrastructure of the state collapses,

    Apparently this is already happening in Greece — see this article fromthe New York Times

    What is interesting is that the government is kind of encouraging it. What is also interesting is that they are creating their own kind of currency.

    The problem with the black market is that it is black. Since it is illegal, it means that the transaction costs skyrocket. But the fact that it can still compete tells you something about how burdensome the government is on the legal market.

  278. Shenpen Says:
    > Am I getting something wrong?

    Yes, I’m afraid so. The problem occurs when multiple banks are involved. Lets say I bank at bank A and you bank at bank B.

    I deposit $100 — My balance $100, Bank A reserves $100, your balance $0, Bank B reserves $0
    You borrow from Bank A $90 — My balance $100, Bank A reserves $10, your balance $90, Bank B reserves $90.

    Now you and I both withdraw and spend the money. Total spend $190, from a deposit of $100. Where did the extra $90 come from? It came from the fact that the same money can be used several times. For sure it all balances out in the end, but this is the “money of of thin air” people refer too. Of course in this particular case we can’t both withdraw all our money because the bank doesn’t have sufficient reserves. However, the fractional reserve banking system depends on the fact that most people want to leave their money in the bank most of the time. So truth is, when I withdraw my $100, I’m actually getting Eric’s money who also banks at Bank A, but he doesn’t know, because his account still says $100.

    Roughly speaking the initial $100 is called M1, the $190 is called M3.

    Of course, if everyone wants their money at the same time, then the whole system collapses. This is, as you know, called a run on the bank. Government regulation is in place to prevent this, specifically, the Federal Reserve requires that banks keep a certain amount of their loaned assets in “cash”, often on account at the Fed. Typically, this reserve requirement is about 5%. They also have the FDIC which guarantees deposits. This means that if there is a run on a bank, the federal reserve taxes everyone in the country to pay for sufficient liquidity to allow everyone who asks to get their money. This stealth tax being via devaluing the currency.

    I don’t actually object to FRB, in fact anyone who does really doesn’t need to participate. Nearly all banks provide a non fractional reserve account — it is called a safe deposit box. The problem with FRB is the government runs it. If bank deposits were insured privately then the insurance company would demand appropriate soundness. Customers would demand (or not) quality insurance, just as they do with life insurance and car insurance. The other big problem is that the Fed has an unconstrained ability to inflate M1 at the front by printing money. The client banks of the Fed have limits on how much money they can create, the Fed does not. (This being a typical government mantra — do as I say, not as I do.)

    This second issue lead to the dreadful bailouts that prevented a crash from cleansing the system. And so, instead of a crash and recovery, we have an insipid sickly, just barely breathing economy instead.

    I’d also say that today is not 1930 when these rules went into effect. Most money moves electronically. Cash is no longer king, in fact, these days cash begins rotting the moment you pull it out the ATM.

    In the case of present day America, we also have a situation where the government has dumped gazillions of regulations, most of which are not even known, many are not even written. This have also made a habit of either humiliating CEO’s who make bad business decisions in the pillory of a congressional committee, and also of criminalizing bad business decisions. This means that CEOs and boards of directors have become fearful of the future, and refused to make all but the most conservative of investments and loans. Uncertainty and legal jeopardy tend to have that effect.

    Because of this conservatism, the inflation of M3 off the vastly inflated stocks of M1 has not happened at the same rate because business are not borrowing or investing. This means that there is a relative decrease in this commercial money relative the cash money. Which means that the inflation that usually results from excessive printing of money has been hidden under a blanket of fear. To put it another way, the administration has bought low inflation at the price of low growth. The figure I hear being thrown about is $2 trillion in private capital sitting inactive.

    How ironic to hear the administration complain about American companies’ lack of aggressiveness, and unpatriotic lack of investment, when it is these very activities or lack thereof that are hiding the gigantic damage their policies have done! When that $2 trillion comes out from under the mattress there is a hidden inflation bomb waiting for us all.

  279. @Jessica

    >Where did the extra $90 come from? It came from the fact that the same money can be used several times.

    Sorry, no. This is single-entry bookkeeping, let’s think in double-entry terms. First of all the bank cannot lend out more money (create more assets) than deposits (and other foreign capital like taking out a loan from another bank) plus own capital otherwise the balance sheet does not balance. When we both spend the money the bank either has to sell the debt, or take out a loan on its own. In both cases somebody else is not spending money on goods so it balances out.

    Deposit: Debit – Assets (Cash) 100, Credit Liabilities (Deposits) 100
    Credit given: nothing, a credit is not a loan, just a loan limit
    Loan i.e. spending the credit : Debit Assets (Loans given) 100, Credit Assets (Cash) 100
    Depositor spends: Debit Liabilities (Deposits) 100, Credit Assets (Cash) 100
    EXCEPT that the bank does not actually have this cash (depositor spent it), it has to get cash:
    sell the debt: Debit Assets (Cash) 100, Credit Assets (Loans given) or
    borrow and use the debt as collateral: Debit Assets (Cash) 100, Credit Liabilities (Loans taken)

    The system can collapse indeed but not because money way created. It can collapse becase 1) the debt given can be shitty, never paid back, never able to sell it for a good price 2) if everybody wants their money the same time there is no time to sell that debt or there is nobody to sell it to and / or nobody gives a loan.

    So of course it is risky, but risky only in the sense of renting out cars in the winter. Not in the sense of fundamentally fraudulent or “magical” or basically creating fake value and dealing something for nothing. That is the central banks job, to create fake value :-)

    The fix is simple – write contracts so that it is clear that deposits are not cash, it is not promised at all that you can withdraw all your deposit at any time. Sometimes you must wait until the bank sells some of the loans it given to other people. Given that the typical, normal use of money is not to take withdraw it in cash but to pay with it electronically or transfer it, this does not have to inconvenience the customer much – f.e. you pay with PayPal and simply the bank tells the vendor they will have to wait a day or two for the actual transfer. Or the bank can bridge it over with a very short term loan from somewhere else. This actually more or less happens this way. If I use e-banking to transfer money during the night it does not happen automatically but on the next business day and not because the software cannot do it but because bank has to get cash by selling some debt assets.

  280. @Jessica

    Continued: and there is nothing special banksy about all this. I borrow your pen. Ken borrows your pen from me. You want your pen back. I say ugh, wait a minute, I don’t have it right here, and borrow ESR’s pen and give it to you. Suppose it is a pen as fungible as money is so you are OK with getting a different pen back, although slightly upset for the wait time (but on the plus side, you also got a free coffee as an interest on your borrowed pen so it is not really a bad deal despite the wait). Then, either Ken gives your pen back to ESR later (selling the debt) or gives it back to me and I give it back to ESR. Now of course if Ken broke the pen there will be all sorts of problems between us four. Or if ESR didn’t have a pen or did not trust Ken or me enough to lend it. But this is a market problem and contractual problem, not really a fundamental flaw in the system. You can also forbid me contractually from letting others borrow the pen I borrowed from you. In banking this looks like renting a safe in a bank and stuffing cash into it. Perfectly doable, except for the negative rate of interest (inflation, safe rental). Basically if a current account pays interest, even though a bad one, one should not reasonably except that it is as liquid as cash.

    The reason I argue for FRB is because I think it diverts the attention from the real culprit which is fiat money / central banking.

  281. >The reason I argue for FRB is because I think it diverts the attention from the real culprit which is fiat money / central banking.

    Central banking and fiat money are pre-requisite for “successful” fractional reserve banking. The Fed was created, as Eric wrote above:

    The creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913 put an end to the roughly once-a-decade pattern of bank panics, but in return we got much larger disruptions like the Great Depression and the crash of 2008.

    Those “once-a-decade” panics were caused by fractional reserve banking without a central bank and fiat money. Sound banks, that is ones that did not loan out more than they had, did not crash.

  282. >Sound banks, that is ones that did not loan out more than they had, did not crash.

    Balance sheets must balance, hence banks cannot loan (create assets) more than they have in the sense of having = owning + borrowing (deposits being a subset of borrowing) i.e. total assets = total liabilities. 5% reserve does NOT mean a deposit can be loaned out 20 times because after the first loan there is NO account that can be credited as the other side of debiting the Loans Given asset account. 5% reserve simply means if the depositor wants his money and they can only sell the loan they given for 95% of its value they can cough up 5% own money and repay the depositor. If they can only sell it for 85% and / or everybody wants their deposit at the same time and there is nobody to sell the loans to or borrow from, yes it can fail.

    But this kind of failure is not some fundamental flaw, it is just like an agency who borrows cars from people who are afraid to drive in winter, rents them out, and then their customers wreck some cars on the icy roads. There is a problem, yes. But not a fundamental problem a good contract, a healthy market, and a healthy lawsuit system cannot correct. Just a detail-level problem that can be fixed fairly easily.

    This just distracts attention from the real problem: part of the assets loaned out is matched by liabilities owed to the central bank, which created it out of thin air.

  283. > I don’t think it’s quite that simple. In many cases, they’re doing something important with 5% of their time, and sitting around for the rest. It’s a net gain if you fire them and force them to find something more productive to do, but that 5% is going to fall on the floor unless someone else takes it up, and if you’ve fired all of them…

    X% good, (100-X)% nothing is clearly wrong as we know that at least some of what they do is actively destructive/bad.

    So, the reality is X% good, Y% bad, and (100-(X+Y)) % nothing.

    And while that accounting is correct, it isn’t particularly relevant. The relevant accounting is Value(good) – (total cost + Value(bad)) where Value(x) is the cost/benefit of what they do when they aren’t doing nothing.

    BTW – Firing is the correct response to a bureaucrat (or politician) who uses the statue of liberty strategy.

  284. Shenpen Says:
    > Continued: and there is nothing special banksy about all this. I borrow your pen.

    We all have a claim of ownership on the pen, which is to say, we all claim we own a pen. But there is only one pen, so we can’t all own it. Most of the time it is fine. But today we all want to write our Christmas cards, and we can’t all use the pen at the same time. Fractional reserve stationary made three magic pens out of one. But only one of them has any ink.

    > Central banking and fiat money are pre-requisite for “successful” fractional reserve banking.

    Do you consider the current FRB “successful”? I don’t. If the Fed had not taken over this insurance function, technology would have arisen to make our banks much better through consumer choice. However, because of the fed and various other regulatory agencies (and when it comes to banks there are an absolute alphabet soup), it is really difficult to complete in the banking industry unless you can buy lots of expensive influence.

    The banking industry is one of the most regulated industries in America, despite the media’s portrayal of it as some wild west cow town. That regulation does not fix the problem — it has exactly the opposite effect. It provides a veil of protection for the big powerful banks, so that they can do dumb stuff because the cost of entry is so high. How the heck did Bank of America not collapse in a huge heap due to its most dreadful mismanagement? Because, on their asset sheet along with a bunch of toxic mortgages were a couple of senators and a handful of house members.

    And of course with all that regulatory capture is the government payback. Endless surveillance. Know your customer. “Terrorist” reports. Police access to your most private records.

  285. Paul Brinkley Says:
    > It’s another thing entirely to hit that switch and watch people get hurt, esp. if it looks like they could have been saved if more care was taken.

    Sorry, I missed this in the first pass. You concern is so abstract it is hard to answer in any meaningful way. However, realistically what would have happened had the banks not been bailed out isn’t all that hard to predict. Many banks would have folded, their assets would have been scooped up by the better run banks. The people who screwed up the big banks would have lost their jobs. Many people would have lost their homes, and instead of paying mortgages would have to rent instead — perhaps smaller places, perhaps in a worse part of town. Many people who have assets would have bought these defaulted houses, using mortgages from the newly reconstituted banks. They would then have rented them out to people. The release of capital and resources from badly run companies would have allowed it to be used in more productive ways when reallocated after a bankruptcy. The government would have three trillion dollars less in debt. The federal budget would be 2/3 of the present size.

    The recession that would have followed would essentially be caused by the transaction costs of transferring assets from bad users of capital to good users of capital.
    seem to
    It would be ugly. However, when you take off a band aid it might seem to make sense to carefully try to dance around every little hair, slowly releasing the adhesive. However, practice tells us that a good swift yank is the best strategy. It stings a little, but afterward, you can get on with your life.

  286. I am glad Jessica Boxer explained fractional reserve banking rather than I (I was the one that brought up the concept).

    Shenpen Says:
    > Sorry, no. This is single-entry bookkeeping, let’s think in double-entry terms
    and:
    >5% reserve does NOT mean a deposit can be loaned out 20 times

    I am feeling too sleepy and lazy to try to figure out his argument.

    From Jessica: Roughly speaking the initial $100 is called M1, the $190 is called M3.

    Checking Barrons, unadjusted M1 is $2155.2 billion; M2 is $9618.8 and M3 is no longer reported. I may be wrong here, and I may be wrong to use the M1,M2 figures for this argument, but I think banks do create money and not 90% more (Jessica only did once around the deposit/loan block) multiples more – idaknow (in Slashdot terms: I pull a number out of my ass): 5 times, 8 times, 12 times more.

    Can someone attack or defend this idea: in fractional reserve banking, even if it unwinds in an orderly manner, everyone gets 8 or 12 cents on the dollar?

  287. @ Jessica Boxer

    > In the case of present day America, we also have a situation where the government has dumped gazillions of regulations, most of which are not even known, many are not even written.

    This confuses me. What is a regulation that isn’t written?

  288. @ esr
    >The best deal it can offer in the future is drastically reduced services coupled with a crushing tax burden

    Folks are supposed to (snicker) pay income taxes on the “gains” they make while engaging in barter.

    If the infrastructure holds up (and ARPANET and now the Internet were designed to work no matter which particular nodes are down) Craigslist et al. could go a long way towards moderating that “crushing tax burden” as happened in Russia and (new to me) Système D.

    A good million (a really good million) government employees loose their jobs whether it is a good idea or not. The Système D makes it harder to bring the country back together again and the USA (as one distinct two-party entity) is (hyperbole>finito</hyperbole).

    One good thing about Canada is that we just simply do not have the tax base and we have way too much debt to be creating all sorts of off-budget secret agencies all over the world to prop up this guy and torture these guys.

    I am aware that the world economy generates wealth fastest when there is a country that can be the world's police man. But the US, qua police man, is getting too secretive and corrupt (IMHO, of course). Comments?

  289. >This confuses me. What is a regulation that isn’t written?

    Bad.

    It gets worse than that.

    They also created, I believe totally outside the powers granted by the constitution, many, many agencies that can fine you or seize your property with no recourse to trial by jury or appeal. In the US (and probably basically most other countries) Congress creates an agency and gives it the power to make rules and create penalties. This is bad.

  290. TomM Says:
    > This confuses me. What is a regulation that isn’t written?

    I meant a legislative command and authorization for an agency of the government to write regulations which has not yet been completed. An example would be Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill, which calls for lots of regulations, the large majority of which have not yet been written by the various alphabet soup agencies.

  291. >This confuses me. What is a regulation that isn’t written?

    When a country creates “secret police”, the existence of those police is rarely a secret. One of the “secrets is just how much power they have. Now that the US is well down the road towards becoming a police state, you folks have secret laws and police with secret powers.

    Canada is just as bad, in its bland, conforming way. We can no longer say: “Uh, I don’t believe that I have to show you ID while I am just walking down this street.” Or, in any case, what might happen to someone who does this is a secret.

  292. Brian Marshall Says:
    > Checking Barrons, unadjusted M1 is $2155.2 billion; M2 is $9618.8 and M3 is no longer reported. I

    Check the graph in this article.

    Notice the following features:

    * This is a graph of the rate of change, not the absolute amount.
    * In 2008 M1 spiked, which M3 crashed
    * The past couple of years M1 has been growing consistently between 5 and 15%
    * During this same time, M3 has been shrinking, perhaps popping its head into positive territory late this year.
    * During George Bush’s second term, M1 stayed flat, but M3 grew drastically

    Now, in your head roughly approximate the integral of these two rates. The difference is dramatic.

  293. > Now, in your head roughly approximate the integral of these two rates. The difference is dramatic.

    Dramatic money supply inflation in a time of very moderate price inflation. Part of it shows up in the ability for people to get sub-prime mortgages, part as the ability for plain folks to buy new cars for $20 or 30 grand, part… China? Secret agencies? You clearly know a lot more about this than I do.

    So, to ask my question again, if fractional reserve banking does unwind, am I correct in saying that everyone gets 8 or 12 cents on the dollar? Or, they would, but instead, they get either huge money supply inflation, or, more likely, New-Dollars on a 10-to-1 basis? If the bankers aren’t all swinging from street lights?

  294. “Congress creates an agency and gives it the power to make rules and create penalties. This is bad.”

    It is so bad that it needs to be made explicitly unconstitutional (although arguably it already is).

    There’s nothing wrong with Congress asking an agency to recommend legislation, but letting the executive agency tasked with enforcing laws also effectively create laws violates the basic premise of separation of powers.

    Every regulation promulgated by an executive agency that has any force outside of its own employees (XYZ Agency employees must not wear blue ties to the office on Tuesday, and anything left in the break room fridge past 8pm Friday will be thrown out by Consuelo when she cleans it out…) should be submitted to Congress as a bill to be passed and {signed by POTUS|allowed to become law without signature|vetoed but overridden by 2/3 of each chamber} before any court can recognize it as binding upon the general public.

    And if anyone dares complain that it would be too much work for Congress to properly consider that much legislation each session, well DUH. Think how much work it is for us to keep up with it? John Stossel has a cart loaded with boxes of paper his crew wheels into the studio for him to use as a prop whenever he wants to show the sheer volume of regulation created every year by various USGOV agencies. It is literally impossible for an individual to even read all of it, much less understand it well enough to be sure he isn’t violating any of it.

    It needs to be difficult to make laws. The Framers did their best to make it tough, and Congress does everything it can to short-circuit the process. Now we have czars that aren’t approved by the Senate, Executive Orders to do things Congress couldn’t muster the votes to enact into law… We have the antithesis of “a government of laws, not of men”.

  295. Brian Marshall Says:
    > So, to ask my question again, if fractional reserve banking does unwind,

    What does “unwind” mean? FRB isn’t really much of a problem in my opinion. If you don’t like it, keep your money in a safe deposit box.

    The problem is the money supply being artificially inflated. Some people worry about German style hyper inflation, I don’t. German money hyper inflated because their post war debt was denominated in gold. You can’t just print more gold. American debts and obligations are almost all denominated in dollars. You can just print more dollars. Printing more dollars causes inflation (though it can be hidden inflation as is currently the case.) However, it does not cause hyper inflation, which is the result of an exponential feedback loop.

    That is not to say a day or reckoning isn’t coming. It is. But I doubt there will ever be any one hundred trillion US dollar notes.

  296. > It needs to be difficult to make laws. The Framers did their best to make it tough,

    It is just so much easier to slip into totalitarianism bit by bit.

  297. Off-topic comment, but…

    I see some occurrences here of the words “subsidy” or “subsidize”, but focused on employees.

    WalMart and a company with a similar business model (Cabela’s) basically cannot operate without large and continuing tax subsidies. For themselves.

    David Cay Johnston (current column: http://blogs.reuters.com/david-cay-johnston/), has a book explaining this and other subsidies: “Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense and Stick You With The Bill”.

    David Cay Johnston at wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Cay_Johnston

    You can make your own decisions on the matter.

  298. “And if anyone dares complain that it would be too much work for Congress to properly consider that much legislation each session, well DUH.”

    That’s only part of the problem. Congressmen are elected. They don’t want to piss off any voters, so they let the executive agencies make the rules that work against the people. They abdicate their own responsibilities, then complain that the agencies are ‘out of control’.

  299. @LS
    “That’s only part of the problem. Congressmen are elected. They don’t want to piss off any voters, so they let the executive agencies make the rules that work against the people. They abdicate their own responsibilities, then complain that the agencies are ‘out of control’.”

    Not to mention that Congressmen can also pass laws they know are not constitutional but know the Supreme Court will strike down. “See, we tried but that evil Supreme Court wouldn’t let us!”

    There’s a more fundamental problem of diffusion of responsibility. People usually don’t take responsibility for a problem unless they’re the only person around. Think Kitty Genovese and other studies that show that humans and primates are more willing to help someone in need if there’s only a couple people around than if there’s a lot of people. So with Congress, you have a crowd of 535 people. Combine that with the fact that most congressmen view their jobs as a stepping stone to other jobs, you have a situation where no one in Congress has an incentive to take responsibility for problems or to defend it as an institution. It makes you realize, even if you disagree with it, just how courageous Paul Ryan is for putting forward his Road Map.

  300. > you have a situation where no one in Congress has an incentive to take responsibility for problems or to defend it as an institution.

    Plus as Dave Barry has pointed out: You figure that if you were elected, you would try to do the right thing for regular people rather than special interests. The problem is that once you are elected, you don’t see regular people – they have jobs. All your time is taken up by special interests.

    Not always correct in an absolute sense – Dave Barry is a humor writer – his comments are more true than correct.

  301. > The problem is that once you are elected, you don’t see regular people – they have jobs.

    A few years ago the Taxpayer League of Minnesota held a demonstration during a rare Saturday when the legislature was in session. One bewildered representative asked where they all came from and why he’d never seen them at any other protests or demonstration, mots of which happened on weekdays. “We have jobs.” was the reply.

  302. This is totally off-topic, but I would like to suggest that if the US is going to continue to be the world’s policeman for a while, that, if the Australian man is actually lashed 500 times for blasphemy, the US should vaporize Riyadh.

    On one hand, this is why I never intend to leave Canada. On the other hand, if you have nuclear bombs, what a fine use for one of them.

  303. > vaporize Riyadh

    OK, I realize that Saudi Arabia is a US ally (although I am not sure how much that is worth – mostly for logistics/staging reasons?) and I don’t want to see Saudi people hurt, so a warning for sure, but… Doesn’t the civilized world have to put a stop to this sort of thing?

  304. >Do you consider the current FRB “successful”?

    That is one reason I used scare quotes. Though it was successful in ending the “once-a-decade” bank runs, thereby protecting bankers’ jobs. And at increasing the government’s power. “Successful” doesn’t necessarily mean “good”.

  305. Sorry, I am still ranting off-topic here, but as a civilized human being, I feel that this on-topic in relation to any discourse…

    If the FUKING CIA et al still doesn’t get it, this is one of the practical reasons why civilized countries should not engage in torture. The civilized countries must be able to stand on the moral high ground and say: “We don’t do it and you are not going to do it to one of our citizens” or your country (as a political entity, not the people) will cease to exist.

  306. I think most people are just happy to see Australians hurt. I can’t blame them.

  307. @Will: NO, most people rather like the Australians and do NOT want to see them hurt. You are in a *very* small minority of the readers of this blog – probably a minority of one.

  308. Continuing to hijack this blog…

    I say, if they were going to flog (perhaps to death) a thousand Americans, the US would stop it or kill Saudi Arabia as a political entity. I say 500 lashes, that kind of evil, isn’t cumulative, 1 person is the same as a thousand.

    I sneer at people who frequently find a reason to say: those rag-heads, blow ‘em back to the stone age.

    But this is different in kind.

  309. I said warn them. I meant give them advance notice. I guess Saudi Arabian wilderness is deadly, so perhaps vaporizing the capital isn’t the answer, but, as completely as possible erase the government. Attempt to kill no Arabians except anyone in a position to stop the 500 lashes and doesn’t. The 1100 princes are kind of a problem… I was, as usual, engaging in hyperbole, but I mean it about removing the country as a political entity; the Arab people can then try again. We have a different legal system than Europe had in the year 600; it is about time the Saudis do too.

  310. Just let the Arab Revolutions work their magic. Nothing to fear from revolution, after all.

  311. If you are serious, that is interesting – it is the first non-stunned thing I have read from you. I haven’t been following this Arab Spring business very closely – is there a move away from law from the year 600 (or whatever)? In this, however, when a human being is about to be tortured to death, time is ofthe essence. Doesn’t the 101st fleet hang around out there?

  312. It would be costly, but worth it…. Use a tactical nuke in some unpopulated place if that can be done in a way that doesn’t create to much fall-out. Then start using smart bombs, one every two hours or whatever – start removing government buildings from the map. Finally – a really good use for the US Military.

  313. @ Brian Matshall
    > They also created, I believe totally outside the powers granted by the constitution, many, many agencies that can fine you or seize your property with no recourse to trial by jury or appeal. In the US (and probably basically most other countries) Congress creates an agency and gives it the power to make rules and create penalties.

    Not sure bout your “most other countries” bit.

    In Australia we have a reasonably strong system of administrative law which includes in many cases the right to have administrative decisions reviewed. This includes, for example, review of certain migration decisions, social security/welfare decisions and so on. We also have constitutional protection against the compulsory acquisition by government of property without payment.

  314. @Winter: New Orleans wasn’t prepared for a Katrina strength event. But neither is the Netherlands. If something like Katrina were to hit the Netherlands it would be toast.
    When judging how other nations cope with extreme weather events don’t forget that Europe is in the lucky position of not having such extreme weather at all.

  315. “That is, that the actual buying power of most Americans technically below the poverty line exceeds that of middle-class Europeans.”

    I’d like to see some evidence of that. And not anecdotal, like “the poor in the US have insinkerators and the middle classes in Europe don’t”. There is a lot more going on here. For example:

    “The difference is particularly marked in housing; Europeans live in houses and apartments that would be considered tiny and cramped by American standards.”

    There are a lot of reasons for that. One major one is higher land costs. Around where I live you pay around 500000$ for a 700m2 plot. That means that the only cost effective way to use this land is to build apartments. In those parts of the US with a higher population density houses are smaller too.

    Then there are the differences in building standards. You point at Europe and tells us our houses are smaller. We point back and tell you that they aren’t build of cardboard… :-)

  316. OK I think we kind of hit a dead end with FRB, because we don’t think the same framework. Perhaps it worths repeating that that $190 can only be spent at the same time if a third party doesn’t spend $100 (buys the debt or lends against it as a collateral) otherwise the accounts & the balance sheet don’t balance. But really there is no point in just keeping repeating the same stuff so let’s just agree to disagree and at the end of the day fiat money / central banking is a bigger problem anyway.

  317. @Winter

    >Experience in our history shows that it the welfare state does work for us.

    What was so bad with the much more private-based pillar (zuil) system for providing social services, schools, hospitals? (Example: green, white, orange, yellow cross hospitals.)

  318. Brian Marshall Says:
    >If the FUKING CIA et al still doesn’t get it, this is one of the practical reasons why civilized countries should not engage in torture.

    Are you making the claim that had the CIA engaged in “enhanced interrogation techniques” that this man would not be subject to the punishment that he is? After all that has to be the basis of your claim, this is as far as I know the only widely known incident of “torture” by the west in the past 50 years.

    If you believe that, I have to tell you that you are wrong. The punishment meted out to this man is, from the perspective of the judge, required by God himself, written in his holy book. There are few things that the infidels can do or not do to change that measure of morality. God is God, infidels are dogs and pigs. The judge is going to listen to God, no matter how eloquent President Obama might be.

    If you want to rail against something, rail against religion — which includes the principle that a system of morality or justice is not subject to rational examination. We have it here in America. It is why many kids believe the world is 6000 years old, and it is why some people believe that homosexuals should be hung from the nearest lampost, and it is why in some Jewish communities women have no right to divorce their husbands, even if he is beating the crap out of her every night.

    The Bible has far more to do with this punishment than the CIA operations manual.

    It also needs to be said that this man, there for the hajj, so presumably well familiar with the traditions and laws of Sharia and Saudi Arabia, chose to insult the people in a most profound way. No reasonable person would say his punishment was just, however, no reasonable person familiar with the facts would say his punishment was unexpected.

    I’d also say that if you think this injustice is the worst in the world, you are certainly wrong. If you think this injustice is sufficient cause to eliminate the government of Saudi Arabia then you must logically demand that we wipe out the governments of almost every non first world nation.

  319. @Jessica:

    If there is a basis for a non-relativistic moral framework outside of religion (and I believe there is), then the evidence suggests that we have almost certainly breached that with our interrogation techniques. Which means that, as a nation, we have probably reduced our moral authority and stature considerably.

    This is not to suggest that the CIA is the proximate cause of the punishment in Saudi Arabia, just that we’d have a lot more credible story if we weren’t mouthing “do as we say, not as we do.”

  320. Patrick Maupin Says:
    > … then the evidence suggests that we have almost certainly breached that with our interrogation techniques.

    Which evidence? Lets put it plainly: I don’t know if you have children Patrick, but imagine you do, or consider some child you really care about in your life.

    If someone buried her in a hole and she was suffocating to death, and you had the guy who had buried her, would you, or would you not stick an electric cattle prod up his butt until he told you where she was? If you’re too squeamish, give me a call, I’ll do it for you. The CIA were much nicer than that.

    In answer to Will’s earlier question: do the ends justify the means? The answer is yes, occasionally they do.

    > Which means that, as a nation, we have probably reduced our moral authority and stature considerably.

    People worry way too much what other people think of them. As the old Arab saying goes, the dogs bark but the caravan moves on.

    > “do as we say, not as we do.”

    Waterboarding to extract actionable intelligence to prevent plans the waterboardee has created to kill thousands of innocent civilians bears little resemblance to brutal punishment for insulting Muhammad’s pals To suggest such is to reduce the discussion to a farce.

    If you guys want to get your engaged about brutal punishment, consider this: in US men’s prisons today, up to 25% of the male population will be subjected to brutal, systematic gang rape and violence by their fellow prisoners. This is done with the full knowledge of the authorities, and is in fact frequently used as a threat during criminal justice processes. The attitude of many of the American public is that it is “prison justice” and “they deserve it,” that despite the fact that it is mostly the weaker, more redeemable prisoners who are targeted by the most horrible and irredeemable.

    Brian, do you advocate Canada bombing Washington DC?

  321. @Brian Marshall:
    “I was, as usual, engaging in hyperbole, but I mean it about removing the country as a political entity; the Arab people can then try again.”

    The current Saudi government is there because they have the support of the Wahabists. If there is a revolution, the current government goes, but the Wahabists stay. Do you really think that Saudi Arabia should become an Islamic Republic?

  322. @esr:
    “Sweden is Alabama”

    In terms of consumption patterns or whatever, the comparison may well be true. I don’t have the data. Still gave me a chuckle.

    The image most Swedes have of Alabama is of a… slightly backwards place. A little redneck-y around the edges, would be one way to put it. A big swamp, teeming with snaggle-toothed klansmen would be another. Even if it only does extend to consumption patterns, I think the comparison will go down real well. I guess there’s only one way to find out. :)

  323. > We point back and tell you that they aren’t build of cardboard… :-)

    What makes you think that US houses are made of cardboard?

  324. >>The difference is particularly marked in housing; Europeans live in houses and apartments that would be considered tiny and cramped by American standards.

    > There are a lot of reasons for that.

    Yes, there are reasons, but the conclusion, that Americans get more for their housing dollar, does not depend on the particulars for those reasons.

    > Then there are the differences in building standards.

    What makes you think that Euro housing standards are better? For example, US houses do pretty well in earthquakes. What makes you think that Euro houses would do better? (Of course, if earthquakes aren’t an issue, then this doesn’t matter.)

    Yes, US houses don’t do all that well with tornadoes or floods but what makes you think that Euro houses would do better? Oh right – you don’t have tornados.

  325. @Jessica Boxer:

    If someone buried her in a hole and she was suffocating to death, and you had the guy who had buried her, would you, or would you not stick an electric cattle prod up his butt until he told you where she was?

    No problemo, BUT (and this is a big but) I wouldn’t do it unless I KNEW there was a REALLY GOOD CHANCE this was one of the guys who buried her.

    Waterboarding to extract actionable intelligence to prevent plans the waterboardee has created to kill thousands of innocent civilians bears little resemblance to brutal punishment for insulting Muhammad’s pals To suggest such is to reduce the discussion to a farce.

    For reasons good and bad, we’ll probably never know exactly how well waterboarding worked or how many unknowing grunts were waterboarded for no really good reason. But more to the point, we’ll probably also never know how much bad behavior up to, but not including waterboarding, was done. Was Lynndie England working on her own? (Highly unlikely, except for the whole cellphone camera part.) Was the purpose of that sort of behavior to deliberately desensitize our own people to further abuses?

    If you look at the discussion about releases from gitmo, it appears that we may have brutally punished some people really badly for what amounts to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Is that really that much better than what happens when someone insults Mohammed?

    If you guys want to get your engaged about brutal punishment, consider this: in US men’s prisons today, up to 25% of the male population will be subjected to brutal, systematic gang rape and violence by their fellow prisoners. This is done with the full knowledge of the authorities, and is in fact frequently used as a threat during criminal justice processes. The attitude of many of the American public is that it is “prison justice” and “they deserve it,” that despite the fact that it is mostly the weaker, more redeemable prisoners who are targeted by the most horrible and irredeemable.

    OK, so you agree we immorally brutalize our own people (as punishment, not trying to get intelligence), but somehow think we don’t do it to other people?

  326. >Yes, US houses don’t do all that well with tornadoes

    Actually, here in Tornado Alley, our building practices have improved a great deal over the years, and modern buildings do pretty well with tornadoes up through EF-3 or so. A direct hit by an EF-4 or 5 is going to destroy anything above ground level. I find it helpful to point out that Fujita derived his scale based on observing photographs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and correlating the distance from Ground Zero to the level of damage. If you looked at the pictures from Joplin, MO, you’ll see exactly the same kind of devastation. Not only were buildings destroyed down to the ground, every single tree was uprooted over the better part of a mile-wide swath.

    If you want to survive a tornado, build underground, which is cheaper to heat/cool anyway. That won’t do so well for floods, though. If you want to survive floods, build houseboats like Amsterdam is doing.

  327. Patrick Maupin Says:
    > I wouldn’t do it unless I KNEW there was a REALLY GOOD CHANCE this was one of the guys who buried her.

    Of course.

    > For reasons good and bad, we’ll probably never know exactly how well waterboarding worked or how many unknowing grunts were waterboarded for no really good reason.

    All the evidence I have seen says that three guys were waterboarded, all of them top, really, really bad guys. And all of them produced very large quantities of actionable intelligence. Perhaps I have been mislead, but that is the public record as it stands from people who actually know what happened (as opposed to OWS hippies, who think they know what happened, and are also sure what REALLY happened on 9/11.)

    Nonetheless, I am not an advocate the of the process we used. If we are going to do something like this, it should be done in full sunshine, not in some dark hidden room somewhere. The waterboardee should have rights, such as legal and medical representation, and so forth.

    > Was Lynndie England working on her own?

    Donald Rumsfeld has said that this was the worst thing that ever happened on his watch in government, and claimed he tried very hard to resign over it. Conflating this with the waterboarding thing is confusing two entirely different issues. What she did is totally wrong. Consequences should have gone up the chain of command too.

    > it appears that we may have brutally punished some people really badly for what amounts to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Is that really that much better than what happens when someone insults Mohammed?

    I don’t know how to compare, but both are certainly certainly terrible.

    There is a maxim in the law that we should let 9 guilt men go free lest one innocent suffer punishment. I imagine you agree. But what about 99 guilty for 1? Or 9,999 for 1? Is there a point where we take the risk that one innocent be punished to ensure that justice is done? After all, if we simply shut down the criminal justice system then we could guarantee that no innocent be punished, ever.

    However, if we do allow, for example 99 child molesters to walk free, to save the 1 innocently so accused, the consequences, given the high recidivism rate of child molesters would be unbelievably bad. We don’t get to choose the perfect solution, only amongst the feasible ones. Where do you fall on the spectrum? 9 or 9,999?

    > OK, so you agree we immorally brutalize our own people (as punishment, not trying to get intelligence), but somehow think we don’t do it to other people?

    Sorry, I don’t understand your question.

  328. [I]n US men’s prisons today, up to 25% of the male population will be subjected to brutal, systematic gang rape and violence by their fellow prisoners…

    Whence the number? I poked around the Bureau of Justice Statistics website and see they have to do regular reports on the subject of prison rape, but I don’t see that number. The reports I saw deal with yearly numers rather than lifetime incidents so that may be why. I ask in part because I note these prison surveys tend have very low numbers “substantiated” (a slippery term – “he said/she said” without physical evidence will be “substantiated” by some agencies, but I don’t know how it’s treated in these surveys).

  329. “Freedom of speech” in the UK:

    They have filled them this past few days with the story of Emma West, a British woman who, admittedly in salty language, had the audacity to lament her homeland’s demographic transformation in public. Ms. West is in jail as I write, charged with “a racially aggravated public order offence,” though no disorder seems to have ensued. Ms. West’s children have been “placed in care,” which is to say, sent to reeducation camps where they will be taught to hate their mother in between sessions of sex play with the pedophile camp staff. “Being the child of an enemy of the people” was the charge in Stalin’s time.

    John Derbyshire

  330. @ Jessica Boxer

    As usual, I basically totally agree with you. I get worked up, exercise my big mouth and we have some communication problems.

    >Are you making the claim that had the CIA engaged in “enhanced interrogation techniques” that this man would not be subject to the punishment that he is?

    No: I am saying that, over the last 11 years, people have become aware that the US has engaged in what has been called torture (and I realize that stuff like water-boarding is hardly torture at all) therefore the US is not in a position to stand on the moral high ground and say “We don’t do that” and therefore has a weaker position in trying to stop it from happening.

    Of course I could have ranted against Islam, but I took a somewhat different position: a legal system based on what Islam was like in the year 600. What is significant (and to me, surprising) about that is that Islam is the same today as it was in 600. I believe in England in the time of Henry VIII (source: Prince and the Pauper by Clemens), poisoners and/or counterfeiters were slowly lowered into boiling oil. Fortunately, our (England, US, Canada, et al) legal systems have evolved and we no longer do stuff like that.

    > familiar with the traditions and laws of Sharia and Saudi Arabia, chose to insult the people in a most profound way

    Agree but feel 500 lashes is beyond the pale.

    > then you must logically demand that we wipe out the governments of almost every non first world nation.

    Yeah… I have a big mouth and the idea of 500 lashes made me go nuts. On the other hand, if the civilized world agreed that 500 lashes of a citizen of a civilized country is beyond the pale, and stopped this by threat and blowing up emptied government buildings, we might possibly protect such citizens in the future. But, thinking about it now, due to the Islam aspect, blowing up buildings would probably not stop it.

    It is unfortunate for all and my argument that this is happening in Saudi Arabia, one of the most mellow Muslim countries; if it was happening in Libya, realpolitik might implement what my rant was proposing.

    > In answer to Will’s earlier question: do the ends justify the means? The answer is yes, occasionally they do.

    Morally, I strongly disagree. If it was my kid, I personally would do anything to save her. If some nut case tortured and killed my kid, I would want my country to humanely execute the bastard.

    Up until 9/11, the US had at least the reputation of being above torture; I am sure that it isn’t true, but the US went through a lot of history without (getting caught at) resorting to routine (mild) torture.

    > waterboardee has created to kill thousands of innocent civilians

    Part of what got people, including me, so riled up about US (mild) torture is that, apparently, the US was pretty wild and loose about who they grabbed, took to (my pet peeve) what is, I believe, the only country on the globe that it is illegal for US citizens to generally travel to and start working them over; most of them are still there (Guantanamo Bay). Short answer: apparently many who got to Guantanamo were folks just standing around.

    > in US men’s prisons today, up to 25% of the male population will be subjected to brutal, systematic gang rape and violence

    It amazes me that, in an apparently civilized country, this is allowed to happen. To me, as a policy of a government, is almost as bad as the 500 lashes. I think all civilized people should consider it beyond the pale. Obviously I have a variable wrong in my equation, somewhere. I believe it is that the US is a civilized country but a great number of its citizens support horrible violence. I sat at a kitchen table, years ago, up here in mild Canada and listened to some yahoo say that, regardless of what the crime is, he would be glad to be able to cane people. (Sigh…) Civilized countries contain people with horrible morals…

    I don’t know… I do know that the civilized world should stand up behind Australia and try to stop or reduce this.

    Maybe the Saudis will handle this in a wise way. I remember when the world was aghast at a small woman in one of the Muslim countries who was to be lashed/flogged. The country said to the world that it was putting off the decision for a while and then the next day, the woman walked, like, 25 miles, got flogged, and walked 25 miles home; the actual punishment in that case was no where near as bad as the world thought it would be.

    Short, short story: the phrase “500 lashes” makes me go nuts

  331. Joseph W. Says:
    > Whence the number?

    Sorry, I don’t remember, and I’m too lazy to look. The argument holds regardless of the exact number. The way I wrote it it looks like I am saying an incident happens to 25% of the population on every given day. I didn’t mean that, I meant that 25% are subjected to such abuse during their prison stay. Though there are many that are subjected to it systematically and daily.

    >“he said/she said”

    This would be “he said/ he said”, and it is plainly the case that the vast majority of incidents are unreported for reasons that should be pretty obvious.

  332. Brian Marshall Says:
    >Agree but feel 500 lashes is beyond the pale.

    Of course it is! It is utterly outrageous. But my point was that if you jump in a tank of hungry sharks and you get bitten, it really sucks, but it is not particularly surprising. If you think that Saudi Arabia is “one of the more mellow Muslim countries”, I must respectfully disagree. Externally it is perhaps not very aggressive, internally it is probably the most repressive. In this sense it is almost the exact opposite if Iran.

    > Morally, I strongly disagree [that the ends occasionally justifies the means]

    Please refer to my comment to Patrick about let nine guilty go free lest one innocent suffer punishment.

    > Part of what got people, including me, so riled up about US (mild) torture is that, apparently, the US was pretty wild and loose about who they grabbed,

    I think this is more myth than reality. No doubt some bystanders got caught up, but the large majority were combatants. But of course, any error in these matters has terribly unjust consequences, and I certainly don’t justify or accept any errors the military made here. I think part of the cause was a lack of Arabic language skills in the military, which of course loops back to Eric’s previous thread.

    > I believe, the only country on the globe that it is illegal for US citizens to generally travel to and start working them over; most of them are still there (Guantanamo Bay). Short answer: apparently many who got to Guantanamo were folks just standing around.

    I think the US relations with Cuba are stupid and counterproductive. I think the prisoners should not have been hidden away in some dark hole, though perhaps legal realities made it necessary. However, Guantanamo Bay Naval Base is sovereign US territory, as are all our military facilities overseas.

    > I don’t know… I do know that the civilized world should stand up behind Australia and try to stop or reduce this.

    I agree, and I suspect that he will not receive the full punishment. But, there are no guarantees.

  333. (header>
    @ Jessica Boxer

    As usual, I basically totally agree with you.

    re: Saudi mellowness

    I defer to your greater knowledge.

    > But what about 99 guilty for 1?

    I disagree with what you are suggesting, at least at the 99 to 1 level… I always thought that that was the number… It is a simple short principle about how moral the US legal system is (until a guy goes to a US hard-core prison). It is a moral tough one… The news (pimps) certainly made it look like the US would just round up folks who were just standing around.

    > I think the US relations with Cuba are stupid and counterproductive.

    Quote (remembered) from Dave Barry: CIA (motto: “Proudly overthrowing Cuba since 1961″)…

  334. There are clearly a huge (possibly infinite) number of ways to define morality. A personal skill, the degree of isomorphism between a persons actions and thoughts and a specific code of conduct, a set of enforceable rules, the justness of those rules… Obviously the term has too many meanings to discuss clearly without defining your term first.

    I submit that when we are discussing different societies and the relative merits of their laws and penalties, the core of morality is really pragmatism and justice. Should a particular action be a concern that warrants force or even violence? If so, what is the most effective and least costly way to manage instances of this particular action?

    If someone is conspiring to kill people, this is quite obviously a concern that warrants force and or violence.

    As far as torture is concerned, we need to assess the costs and benefits. Torture has truly incredible mind warping powers both for the subject and the interrogator. Furthermore there is no guarantee that any information retrieved from the subject of torture will be accurate. However, in the hands of a skilled interrogator, torture can be used to confirm information from other sources and if the subject is never sure what the interrogator actually knows, it can be used to fill in gaps.

    It seems like the ancillary costs of most forms of torture are simply too high. Some of these include scary legal precedents like the destruction of the Fifth Amendment and punishment before a trial. If some incident irises in which methodical mutilation, intimidation and other physical abuse is necessary to achieve some greater good, then someone might accede and others might laud them for it, but it sure as hell shouldn’t be business as usual.

    All that having been said, water boarding foreigners doesn’t have many of these costs. It causes no lasting physiological damage and is much less likely to cause severe emotional trauma. The fact that so many celebrities have volunteered to be water boarded speaks to how scary a proposition it really is. I can’t remember ever hearing about someone who volunteered to have their shoulder dislocated and their face pushed into fresh shit as a publicity stunt.

    As far as prisons are concerned, they are incredibly expensive and ludicrously ineffective. Corporal punishment, financial restitution and execution are far cheaper and far more humane options.

  335. >There is a maxim in the law that we should let 9 guilt men go free lest one innocent suffer punishment. I imagine you agree. But what about 99 guilty for 1? Or 9,999 for 1? Is there a point where we take the risk that one innocent be punished to ensure that justice is done?

    I find it extremely difficult to answer that sort of question, so I won’t even try.
    But here’s something that maybe makes it even more difficult.

    If that 1 person, in whatever ratio, is you, or someone you care about, do you just shrug and go oh well, that’s how it goes ? Or would you make a big ruckus about your fundamental rights being trampled on by men with badges and guns ?

    Or, making it less personal : the right to due process, the assumption on innocence, the maxim that it’s better to let 9 guilty go free lest one innocent suffer punishment. habeas corpus, … these are all concepts developed to protect people from the whims of their rulers. They’re the foundations democracies are built on. Reducing them from universal human rights to nice to have but disposable if they get in the way makes them pretty meaningless in that respect.

    Besides that, do you really trust your government enough to let them decide in what cases mild torture, regular torture, or other “enhancements” can be applied in the interrogation of (possibly innocent ) people ?

  336. @ Vaspasian

    Once you start weighing torture against costs and benefits… You might be the one to be tortured.

    There isn’t a nice, neat way of deciding what is and what isn’t torture. But civilized countries should not engage in it even if it is useful. Torture is IMHO evil. And if you torture, you have no moral high ground from which to condemn other torture.

    And, as you point out, there is that darn constitution. The US used to be a country that didn’t torture people as a matter of policy (and get caught… CIA partaking of “The Great Game” probably did). It is specifically prohibited by the Constitution. You want to argue costs and benefits?

    From Jessica Boxer:
    >If someone buried her [daughter] in a hole and she was suffocating to death, and you had the guy who had buried her, would you, or would you not stick an electric cattle prod up his butt until he told you where she was?

    This is a rather far-fetched example. I would suggest that in real life the times when torture would be genuinely useful and in any way morally acceptable are extremely rare and on a person to person basis (as in Jessica’s example) when every second counts.

    If the government does it as a matter of policy, that government is evil.

  337. kn Says:
    > If that 1 person, in whatever ratio, is you, or someone you care about, do you just shrug and go oh well, that’s how it goes ?

    No shrugging from me, lots of ruckus from me.

    Now, right back at you kn: what would you do if your kid was murdered by a guy, who escaped prison even though he was obviously guilty but released on a legal technicality? That’d piss me off too.

    There is no perfect choice, only a selection of feasible choices.

    > these are all concepts developed to protect people from the whims of their rulers.

    I don’t remember advocating eliminating these protections from arbitrary government power. On the contrary. As I have said a couple of times, if we are to do these things, we need to do them out in the open, with judicial controls.

    After all, we do really bad things to people already. We put them in very nasty prisons for the rest of their lives. We take all their property. We deprive them of their right to vote, or drive, or keep their children. The government can already do really bad things, but we compensate for that by having a bill or rights, a judicial process, and a constitution. Of course a lot of it is pretty messed up, but then the problem is not pouring water on people’s faces, it is more broad due processes.

    > Besides that, do you really trust your government enough to let them decide in what cases mild torture, regular torture, or other “enhancements” can be applied in the interrogation

    Do you trust them enough to be empowered to take away your children, if they think you are neglectful? Do you trust them enough to take away all your property, your liberty, even your life? I don’t trust the government at all, but the reality is that if we are to have a criminal justice system we need to give it some really nasty powers, and then we need to chain it down with civil rights, due process, regular elections competing interests and sunlight to attempt to keep them honest.

  338. Brian Marshall Says:
    > Once you start weighing torture against costs and benefits… You might be the one to be tortured.

    But the same can be said of any punishment or interrogation technique the government might impose.

    > There isn’t a nice, neat way of deciding what is and what isn’t torture. But civilized countries should not engage in it even if it is useful.

    So you can’t define it, but we shouldn’t do it? How does that work?

    During her interrogation by Italian police Amanda Knox was question for fifteen hours without a break, even though she was picked up in the middle of the night. She was sleep deprived, refused permission to use the bathroom, and only received limited nutrition. Was she tortured? She claims her confession was taken under duress. Are the Italian police no different than the Spanish Inquisition?

    (BTW, I have no opinion on her guilt or innocence, not being particularly familiar with the case.)

    > Torture is IMHO evil. And if you torture, you have no moral high ground from which to condemn other torture.

    Can I also say that, because the USA puts people in prison that it has no right to complain about the detention of political prisoners? If the putative torture is judged legitimate in the USA, but illegitimate in Saudi Arabia, why do we not have the “moral high ground”.

    And, as I said, the “moral high ground” is greatly over-rated. People do what they want, not what the United States tells them to do. “The moral high ground” is all about puffing pompous politicians, not about anything substantial or real. All these high minded international treaties we sign? We and our allies are the only ones who actually follow through on their provisions. Just about every country in the world is a signatory to the UN Convention against Torture. Based on that, are you of the opinion that it has made the world a place of less torture?

    From Jessica Boxer:
    >This is a rather far-fetched example. I would suggest that in real life the times when torture would be genuinely useful and in any way morally acceptable are extremely rare

    I don’t think it is far fetched at all, in fact I think it is probably not uncommon. However, the police are not allowed to do it, so they don’t. In terms of the war, the best information I have is that we have applied waterboarding to three people in the past ten years out of tens of thousands of detainees of various kinds. I think that would indeed qualify as “extremely rare.”

  339. @Jessica Boxer:

    OK, so you agree we immorally brutalize our own people (as punishment, not trying to get intelligence), but somehow think we don’t do it to other people?

    Sorry, I don’t understand your question.

    I mentioned interrogation as a specific instance of our government possibly being immoral. You zeroed in with even more specificity on waterboarding, and then said there was no moral equivalence of that (given who we think we know was waterboarded and what we think we gained from that) against what goes on in Saudi Arabia. I think a lot of what was done at both Abu Ghraib and Gitmo probably rose to the level of torture, and was nominally done in the name of intelligence gathering, but in the main, no such intelligence was actually being gathered.

    You later mentioned things like what goes on in American prisons. This is bad. What we did to “enemy combatants” who weren’t really enemy combatants was arguably worse — they didn’t even have a trial.

    and sunlight to attempt to keep them honest.

    I think this is the crux of my complaint. If I don’t know what has been done in my name, how can I possibly know how immoral it is?

  340. Patrick Maupin Says:
    > I think a lot of what was done at both Abu Ghraib and Gitmo probably rose to the level of torture, and was nominally done in the name of intelligence gathering, but in the main, no such intelligence was actually being gathered.

    Abu Graib and Gitmo are two very different places. What happened in Abu Graib was a disgrace of the highest order. As far as I remember, it was sadism arising from the tedium of war, but I don’t deny the possibility that it went higher than the bottom rung of the ladder. (And regardless of whether it did, the supervisors are responsible for their charges.)

    In terms of Gitmo, what I have heard from people wiser than me does not agree with your assessment, but you are obviously entitled to your opinion.

    >I think this is the crux of my complaint. If I don’t know what has been done in my name, how can I possibly know how immoral it is?

    Right, and it is a complaint that I fully share.

  341. @esr

    I said: There isn’t a nice, neat way of deciding what is and what isn’t torture.

    All I meant was that it is frequently obvious due to the amount of pain involved but there will always be edge cases where a person could argue either way, so there are problems making laws about it. The constitution just says “cruel (and unusual) punishment” (which ignores torture for the purpose of gaining information.

    From your “On being against torture”:
    > If you have a test for irreversible psychological trauma that you believe, then you have resolved most of the definitional problems around torture. I don’t think we’re very far from this. The neurology of phobia and trauma is becoming tolerably well understood, with observations of measurable changes in the amygdala and hippocampus.

    I agree with what you are trying to do and I generally like your definition, but in practice…

    I wasn’t aware of the “measurable changes in the amygdala and hippocampus”. This may work, but in situations where we want to use the word torture, tests for these changes are (I assume) rarely performed.

    When this was being debated in Canada (after 9/11), someone suggested using a sterile needle under a finger nail. I wouldn’t hesitate to call this torture because of the degree of pain involved. Ditto with electrical wiring attached to genitalia. I imagine that these cause psychological trauma at the time and afterwards, but what about after a year or 5 years or 10 years? You are saying that neurological tests can answer the question. But these tests are rarely performed and, in any case, can only be performed after the “torture”.

    When these neurological tests are not performed, we have to fall back on our estimates of the amount of pain involved, don’t we?

  342. @ Jessica Boxer

    I am going to have to make this fast (I imagine that you won’t mind).

    I said> Once you start weighing torture against costs and benefits… You might be the one to be tortured.

    > But the same can be said of any punishment or interrogation technique the government might impose.

    Yeah, but I believe torture is evil, beyond the pale, cost/benefit analysis doesn’t change this (my opinion).

    Me> There isn’t a nice, neat way of deciding what is and what isn’t torture.

    All I meant was that, being beyond the pale, we (as civilized countries as a policy) shouldn’t do it but I recognize that there will be edge cases where people will legitimately argue whether something is torture or not.

    When I said your example was far-fetched, I meant rare – parents rarely have their hands on someone who has just buried their live child. If they did, then, as individuals you do whatever you have to do to save your child.

    I am not even sure exactly what waterboarding is and whether I would call it torture or not.

    I totally agree with esr and Thomas Paine:
    >I am against torture because it is a horrible crime against its victims, and because it corrupts the people and institutions that use it. We must all oppose torture, if only for Thomas Paine’s reason: “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”

    When I talk about the “moral high ground” I am thinking, if the US considered it beyond the pale, and it was, say, Libya that was doing it to US citizens, the US could feel that they had the moral right to start blowing up Libya until Libya stopped doing it to US citizens.

    I realize I am leaving a bunch of holes, like Libyan citizens and Canadian citizens.

  343. > Once you start weighing torture against costs and benefits… You might be the one to be tortured.

    > Yeah, but I believe torture is evil, beyond the pale, cost/benefit analysis doesn’t change this (my opinion).

    That’s nice, but the US’ refusal to use torture (however defined) has absolutely no effect on whether other countries use torture.

    In other words, “You might be the one to be tortured” is true regardless of whether one weighs torture against costs and benefits.

  344. @Brian Marshall

    “[commentary on torture snipped] It is specifically prohibited by the Constitution.”

    According to Supreme Court precedent, the Constitution does not prohibit the federal government from doing anything to non-U.S. citizens nor does it prohibit the federal government from doing anything outside of the United States. So no, the Constitution does not prohibit the federal government can rape, torture, commit genocide, etc.,etc. as long as it is done outside of U.S. territory to non-U.S. citizens.The fact that it doesn’t do these things because of policy decided by Congress and the President.

    “There isn’t a nice, neat way of deciding what is and what isn’t torture. But civilized countries should not engage in it even if it is useful.”

    I would be careful about using the term “civilized.” Technically it just means that the object lives in cities or act as if they lived in cities. Barbarians were anyone who lived outside of cities. The idea that “civilized” society is also humane and polite says more about the bias of city dwellers than anything else. When the scope of a nation or civilization went beyond the scope of a city, the geographic boundary for what areas are civilized also expanded, but the term itself is still just a way to say, “Our society is better than all those barbarians out -there-.” There is no working definition for the term “civilized” and hence has no useful role in argument except as a rhetorical device to imply, without any further justification, that a certain society is superior to all others.

    “And if you torture, you have no moral high ground from which to condemn other torture.”

    This type of moral equivalence is dangerous. Think of locking people up in a room and not allow them any social contact as a means of punishment. Since humans require social contact, this can be considered torture. If you do this, you can of course criticize other people for doing the same thing based upon their motives, upon their application of the punishment, and upon the scope of whom they choose to use this punishment.

    Now this doesn’t mean that I agree that we should torture people willy nilly. Merely that I enjoy your comments enough to point out some problems I found in your arguments.

  345. If the US considered it beyond the pale, and the rest of the world knew that the US was going to start blowing up the government of any country that used torture against US citizens, it might protect some US citizens.

    In such a scenario, I would feel that the US had the right to defend its citizens. On the other hand, if the US uses torture as policy, i don’t feel that they would have the same moral right to use bombs to defend its citizens. All my talk about “moral highground” is for the purpose of the US deciding what it has the right to do. I agree other countries don’t care about what the US sees as their moral high ground; they might care about being bombed if they torture US citizens.

  346. > No: I am saying that, over the last 11 years, people have become aware that the US has engaged in what has been called torture (and I realize that stuff like water-boarding is hardly torture at all) therefore the US is not in a position to stand on the moral high ground and say “We don’t do that” and therefore has a weaker position in trying to stop it from happening.

    Is there any reason to believe that the world actually works this way?

    I’m pretty sure that most nations almost act in their self-perceived best interests, regardless of any “example” by the US or some other country. (The US occasionally doesn’t, and usually ends up paying dearly.)

  347. >Is there any reason to believe that the world actually works this way?

    I expressed myself poorly; see the previous post.

    Moral high ground is for the US to decide what is right for it to do.
    Bombs help other nations understand not to torture US citizens.

  348. > I realize that stuff like water-boarding is hardly torture at all

    That would be news to the war crimes tribunals who hanged Japanese soldiers for doing it to Allied POWs.

  349. >So no, the Constitution does not prohibit the federal government can rape, torture, commit genocide, etc.,etc. as long as it is done outside of U.S. territory to non-U.S. citizens

    Yes it does, and the failure of the supreme court to enforce it doesn’t change the plain language of the eighth amendment. The bill of rights, being part of the Constitution, is part of the document which grants the United States government its very existence, and it is binding upon that government everywhere its officials, employees, or agents may be in the world.

  350. Some Guy Says:
    > That would be news to the war crimes tribunals who hanged Japanese soldiers for doing it to Allied POWs.

    What the Japanese did bears only a passing resemblance to what the CIA did both in purpose and technique.

    >Yes it does, … doesn’t change the plain language of the eighth amendment.

    I agree, however, the plain language of the eighth amendment does not prohibit what the CIA did either. The best case can perhaps be made from the 4th and 5th, and in both cases it is not at all clear that they prohibit it either.

    Although I share your concerns about the constitution, it seems to me that the “War on Terror” has brought far more egregious and serious violations of the constitution than these alleged ones. For example, I’m not allowed to fly on a plane unless I go on the TSA strip show, or have someone grab me between the legs.

  351. @Some Guy

    The plain meaning of the 8th amendment refers to criminal procedures for U.S. citizens within U.S. borders.The Constitution’s language does not make any sense when applied to non-U.S. citizens nor for federal government action outside of U.S. borders. It especially doesn’t make any sense given the meaning of the language at the time the U.S. Constitution was written. If you could point to where in the Constitution it states the Bill of Rights applies to non-U.S citizens or to U.S. actions outside of its borders, I’m more than willing to reconsider.

  352. I love how people make the argument that somehow what we do to prisoners is going to influence how our prisoners are treated.

    How come that never works in reverse? I mean, how come we aren’t beheading Al Qaeda on TV?

    Moral equivalence is bullshit. We will do what we need to do to make you stop fucking with us. If you don’t like having ladies’ panties on your head, then stop knocking our buildings down and lighting our people on fire.

  353. Sorry, I had a typo, I meant that the best case can be made from the 5th and 6th, not the 4th and 5th.

  354. @ Jessica Boxer
    “Sorry, I had a typo, I meant that the best case can be made from the 5th and 6th, not the 4th and 5th.”

    I would go even further and say that even those amendments have no bearing on CIA’s interrogation techniques. The Constitution, understood at the time it was written, is a compact among citizens of the United States (however citizen is defined), state governments, and the federal government. If all parties do not fall into that category, then the Constitution has no bearing. That’s why court decisions on Gitmo was based on the relationship between Congress and the President. CIA’s interrogation techniques were specifically done to non-U.S. citizens on non-U.S. soil.

    If the U.S. does not rape, torture, commit genocide, pillage, or call your mother a dirty name to non-U.S. citizens, it is not because of the Constitution. It’s because Congress and the President have set policies against it.

  355. The Constitution, understood at the time it was written, is a compact among citizens of the United States (however citizen is defined), state governments, and the federal government. If all parties do not fall into that category, then the Constitution has no bearing.

    So you were there? Because others who have actually, you know, studied the history of the thing, like, disagree. You should probably set them straight.

    http://www.constitution.org/cmt/law_of_nations.htm

    If the U.S. does not rape, torture, commit genocide, pillage, or call your mother a dirty name to non-U.S. citizens, it is not because of the Constitution. It’s because Congress and the President have set policies against it.

    Congress certainly has the power to declare war on any country it chooses. But that partly gets back to “in the sunshine” — for that to happen, everybody would know.

    But the Constitution explicitly allows the US to take action to help uphold the “law of nations,” not to circumvent it.

    http://scholarship.law.duke.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1058.&context=dlj

    http://yalelawjournal.org/images/pdfs/457.pdf

  356. @brian:

    I love how people make the argument that somehow what we do to prisoners is going to influence how our prisoners are treated.
    How come that never works in reverse? I mean, how come we aren’t beheading Al Qaeda on TV?

    Assume we beheaded Richard Reid on TV. Do you really believe that England would be happy with that, or would that damage our relations with them? Is it at all possible that beheading a British subject (no matter how bad) on TV could lead to trouble for American tourists in the England or the EU?

  357. In short, as much consistency as we can muster in not treating non-citizens worse than citizens is a good thing, morally, ethically, practically, and legally.

  358. @Patrick Maupin

    Interesting reads. The link to the Duke Law site does not work.

    “So you were there? Because others who have actually, you know, studied the history of the thing, like, disagree. You should probably set them straight.”

    No one alive was there. All we can go on is the literature written at the time the Constitution was written. Appeal to authority does not make a valid argument, but I appreciate the links.

    Article I Section 8 Clause 10 says Congress shall have the power “To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations”

    How Congress uses that power , if it uses it, is up to Congress. Again, I don’t advocate that the federal government engage in heinous acts, but your links merely reinforces the point that the Bill of Rights has no bearing on how the U.S. treats non-U.S. citizens. In fact it’s completely up to Congress on how it decides to “define and punish…Offenses against the Law of Nations.” According to the Yale Law Journal link you provided, this clause has never really been used until recently when the Supreme Court started to limit Congress’ use of the Commerce Clause.

  359. @Patrick Maupin

    Oops, looks like we cross posted. I see the correct link to the Duke Law Journal. I’m reading that now.

  360. > the point that the Bill of Rights has no bearing on how the U.S. treats non-U.S. citizens.

    Is this true? I have always thougt, and heard the position taken, that when the Constitution says “the people” or “no person”, it refers to all people, not just US citizens.

    Does this mean that as a Canadian, if I were to vistit the US, I would not be protected by the Constitution in relation to, say, the Fifth Amendment’s protections against double jepardy, being compelled to testify against myself, the right of due process, etc.?

  361. Yes, Brian, you would be so protected. The exceptions that have been carved out are peripheral ones – like stating that the Constitution does not protect persons in Mexico being apprehended by US law enforcement.

  362. Some Guy writes: “That would be news to the war crimes tribunals who hanged Japanese soldiers for doing it to Allied POWs.

    A misrepresentation of the case actually.

  363. The plain meaning of the 8th amendment refers to criminal procedures for U.S. citizens within U.S. borders.

    The amendment does not state any such limitation. Try again.

  364. the plain language of the eighth amendment does not prohibit what the CIA did either.

    Those actions are prohibited by ordinary criminal statutes and international treaties against kidnapping, assault, false imprisonment, etc.

  365. Yes, there are reasons, but the conclusion, that Americans get more for their housing dollar, does not depend on the particulars for those reasons.”

    But is the conclusion correct?
    The cost of the house is composed of the price of the land plus the cost of building the house on it. If land is more expensive the house will be more expensive. That does not mean you get less for your housing dollar, as you get more valuable land for it…

    BTW, if we’re going to have such amounts of topic drift on this forum, shouldn’t we have threaded comments :-)

  366. @SPQR

    “Yes, Brian, you would be so protected. The exceptions that have been carved out are peripheral ones – like stating that the Constitution does not protect persons in Mexico being apprehended by US law enforcement.”

    Sorry about not being clear. The peripheral case was exactly what I had in mind. I’ve been fascinated by this issue ever since the mid ’90s when I read about the FBI nabbing someone in a foreign country for robbing a bank in West Chester, PA. The term used in court cases regarding legal residents who are non-citizens within the United States is “territorial jurisdiction” of the United States. That is the limitations to the federal government apply to the United States’ territorial jurisdiction.

    To be precise, I should state my case as saying that the the constitutional rights people talk about apply if you’re a U.S. citizen or a person who is legally within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S. If you’re in the U.S. illegally, my understanding is that the federal government can just toss you out without the same due process used in criminal procedures.

    The peripheral case is not always a minor issue though. Think of it this way. Would constitutional rights, i.e. the Bill of Rights, apply to German or Japanese citizens within U.S. military occupied parts of Germany or Japan during World War II? Doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t act with decency, but we should also be careful about declaring something unconstitutional. Otherwise we’re not able to raise the alarm when constitutional rights really are infringed.

  367. @Some Guy

    “The amendment does not state any such limitation. Try again.”

    Well the 8th amendment states:

    Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

    It’s short and sweet. It’s plainly referring to prohibitions on punishment in criminal cases. So, when you’re

    “Those actions are prohibited by ordinary criminal statutes and international treaties against kidnapping, assault, false imprisonment, etc.”

    Since,

    criminal statutes = rules created by Congress to govern criminal procedures

    and

    international treaties = agreements signed by the President and approved with the advice and consent of the Senate

    covers my point that it’s -not- the constitutional protections in the Bill of Rights that prevents the federal government from behaving badly towards non-U.S. citizens on non-U.S. soil. The reason I used the examples of rape, torture, genocide, calling your mother a bad name, etc., etc. was to drive home that the Constitution can allow bad things to happen if we’re not careful. Misusing the “It’s unconstitutional!” argument is dangerous because it makes it harder to actually fix the weaknesses in the constitutional order.

  368. I shop at Walmart occasionally. I have never understood people that hated other people or disapproved of them because of perfectly innocent economic choices they make – where they shop, what kind of car they drive. WTF?

    Where should I be shopping, exactly? (Or is it that I shouldn’t be shopping for these things, and be content with what others imagine my station in life should be?)

    As for Walmart outcompeting other businesses, I don’t really have a good answer for that: Walmart has something pretty powerful going for it – when you need a particular type of common item, Walmart has it, almost all the time. That is a tremendous simplification in decisionmaking when you are short on time.

    Do you need ten plastic bins/drawers to organize a cheap apartment on a TA salary? Walmart has it. If you don’t know who else might have it, or would have to hunt around for another store, that increases the “cost” of going there from a decision-time perspective. If plastic-bins-R-us also sells tons of plastic bins at reasonable prices, they lose out – you know where the Wal-mart is, you don’t necessarily know where Plastic-bins-R-us is, because you haven’t been looking for plastic bins until just this moment.

    As a grad student, one of the things I almost never have is *time*. I count my waking hours most weeks. I don’t have time to find what I need in a dozen different stores. (Most of what I need is food, and so I do most of my shopping at Krogers, but Walmart has made themselves the “default” store for a large variety of other common products people look for).

    As for “loud” and “tacky”:

    Most of the people who say this describe Target as their alternative of choice. Last time I checked, Target had a bright red candy-cane color scheme. How on earth is that not “loud”? I also live in a gigantic city. You’re not going to find a store that isn’t overcrowded, no matter who runs it or what it sells. I get a little creeped out about the comments complaining about other people trying to use the same store as you (how dare they?), with all their snot-nosed brats in tow (how dare they reproduce? What?). I’m an introvert. I really, *really*, like personal space, but I also understand that these businesses stay in business because they attract more than myself as a customer. I also understand that there are umpty-bump-million other people in town all looking for other stuff and going about their business, not out to try to offend my aesthetics.

    Does anyone have alternatives to Walmart? That are significantly different in any way? If you do, great. That expands my range of choices. If not, what are you complaining about?

  369. Some Guy Says:
    >Those actions are prohibited by ordinary criminal statutes and international treaties against kidnapping, assault, false imprisonment, etc.

    The great thing about the constitution is that ordinary folks like me can actually read and understand it. The items you enumerate above are way too complex for my simple mind — you have to be a professional lawyer specializing in that type of law. Opinion of these professionals seems divided on the legality of the various putative violations.

    I think the USSC insisting on habeus corpus and a speedy trial is a good thing. However, you seem to imply that these people should be treated as normal criminals. That is just plain silly. These people were captured overseas in a war zone, as illegal combatants. At no time in history have we or any other nation treated people in such a state the same way we treat ordinary criminal defendants. Traditionally, these people are immediately put up against a wall and shot.

  370. Brian Marshall Says:
    > Does this mean that as a Canadian, if I were to vistit the US, I would not be protected by the Constitution

    No, the 14th amendment says, in part:

    No State shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

    So you should be good. Try Chicago during the summer time. It is beautiful, and has a lot of fun things to do. (Don’t come now — way too much snow.)

  371. > The cost of the house is composed of the price of the land plus the cost of building the house on it. If land is more expensive the house will be more expensive. That does not mean you get less for your housing dollar, as you get more valuable land for it…

    We’re talking costs, not benefits.

    A tiny house in Europe (or urban US) costs more than a larger house in “not-urban” US. For folks who value living in Europe (or urban US), this might be a good deal, but that’s because of the value of the location, not the value of the housing.

  372. Sleep deprivation.

    I still need to finish reading Torture and Democracy, but one of the points was that institutions which use torture get sloppy about normal forensics. The book is generally about the evolution of no-marks torture. I got bogged down in the section about the development and spread of torture by electricity, but the geekier among you may find it of interest.

    One of the things torture is used for is getting names of more people to torture.

    I don’t know about all of you, but my memory for time, place, and people is shaky at best, and falls apart if I’m stressed or tired. I don’t think this is that unusual.

    As I recall, the talk show hosts who agreed to be waterboarded agreed it was torture.

    I think the moral high ground matters, especially for the US– if we don’t torture, we can demonstrate that you don’t need to use it in order to be a major power.

    Eric, you posted recently about the ill effects of being on the road, and you weren’t in the hands of your enemies. One of the benign methods of abuse is not letting anything in the prisoners life be scheduled.

  373. I think the moral high ground matters, especially for the US– if we don’t torture, we can demonstrate that you don’t need to use it in order to be a major power.

    That’s only relevant if we’re dealing with enemies who share our western moral system.

    We aren’t. Japan did horrible things to US POWs, and we never reciprocated. Ditto China and North Korea. So do the pan-Arab Islamists we find ourselves troubled with now.

    We can’t influence them precisely because they have their minds made up that anything they do is cool. So if we have to rough a couple of them up to get actionable intelligence, I don’t have a problem with it. And defining torture to mean “anything that would make an American J-school grad uncomfortable” is a bad idea regardless.

    If putting a wet towel on someone’s head gets him to give up the name of a cell leader in the US which we then use to disrupt active plots against us, I don’t see the problem.

    There’s a big difference between that and hooking up electrodes to a guy’s nuts so that the torturer can get his jollies.

    As to the hypothetical “what if your daughter…” I always refer people to the Vic Mackey method from The Shield.

  374. > If the US considered it beyond the pale, and the rest of the world knew that the US was going to start blowing up the government of any country that used torture against US citizens, it might protect some US citizens.

    In such a scenario, I would feel that the US had the right to defend its citizens. On the other hand, if the US uses torture as policy, i don’t feel that they would have the same moral right to use bombs to defend its citizens. All my talk about “moral highground” is for the purpose of the US deciding what it has the right to do. I agree other countries don’t care about what the US sees as their moral high ground; they might care about being bombed if they torture US citizens.<

    While this could work if we elected Genghis khan and some of his favorite men as our president and congress, the US just isnt fond of employing epic genocidal violence in our present day. We may fight for annihilation on the field, but we are obsessed with the idea that war should be a just endeavour that is not aimed at the weak. If the US gov. did drop bombs on such countries as offended us we would swiftly find ourselves in an (n+1)-way war that we had no hope of prosicuting.

    Our only other option would be the Genghis khan route, killing as many people as possible with the maximum swiftness: nuclear carpet bombings, flaming pyramids of human heads, civilian casualties as high as we could possibly manage… If we did all that, if we fought genocidal conflicts where we won simply because there were no people left to oppose us, others would definitely be more polite, but I would hesitate to say we had achieved any moral superiority.

    NOTE: I am not suggesting that the Mongols had nuclear weapons, just that their methods in war were not tempered by any notions of civility or proper conduct towards those who had invoked their ire. See the seige of Baghdad in 1258 AD. Compare with the seige of Baghdad in 2003 AD.

  375. @Joe Presley:

    Sorry about not being clear. The peripheral case was exactly what I had in mind. I’ve been fascinated by this issue ever since the mid ’90s when I read about the FBI nabbing someone in a foreign country for robbing a bank in West Chester, PA. The term used in court cases regarding legal residents who are non-citizens within the United States is “territorial jurisdiction” of the United States. That is the limitations to the federal government apply to the United States’ territorial jurisdiction.

    When the government tracks down a fugitive who committed a crime inside the US outside the borders and apprehends him using the same sorts of techniques that would be legal inside the borders, the fugitive is not being treated worse than a citizen. There is a good case to be made that the US should not violate the sovereignty of a foreign nation (and that such violation might be, in and of itself unconstitutional), but that violation of an exterior nation’s sovereignty doesn’t at all affect whether or not we have violated the rights granted to the fugitive by our own constitution.

    To be precise, I should state my case as saying that the the constitutional rights people talk about apply if you’re a U.S. citizen or a person who is legally within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S. If you’re in the U.S. illegally, my understanding is that the federal government can just toss you out without the same due process used in criminal procedures.

    Although the government is currently engaged in some deportation abuses, these are arguably quite illegal. How can a coercive deportation be legal unless the executive branch has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to the judicial branch that the deportee was in the country illegally? In fact, when ICE starts getting too big for their britches, all sorts of problems start happening:

    http://articles.sfgate.com/2009-07-27/news/17218849_1_judy-rabinovitz-immigration-laws-illegal-immigrant
    http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2009/08/30/917007/nc-native-wrongly-deported-to.html
    http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2011/11/16/suit-by-wrongly-deported-us-citizen-goes-forward/

    The peripheral case is not always a minor issue though. Think of it this way. Would constitutional rights, i.e. the Bill of Rights, apply to German or Japanese citizens within U.S. military occupied parts of Germany or Japan during World War II?

    The constitution allows congress to suspend habeas corpus when necessary. And as Jessica points out, war zones are different than “normal” (which, unfortunately, seems to be why we are continually at war with Oceania drugs terrorists). But people (and judges in particular) seem to grow tired of this, so sometimes the right thing happens — just pray that the government doesn’t appeal marginal cases all the way to the current Supremes, who never met a government department or corporation they didn’t like.

    In general, as at least one of the links I provided points out, to the extent the actual Constitution is silent on our ability to conduct affairs outside the borders, it is partly because the kinds of affairs that were conducted outside the borders in the past were quite limited, and partly because the constitution relies on references to the “Laws of Nations” as guiding principles.

    Doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t act with decency, but we should also be careful about declaring something unconstitutional. Otherwise we’re not able to raise the alarm when constitutional rights really are infringed.

    Things should be declared unconstitutional when they are. If something that isn’t constitutional needs to be, or something that is constitutional needs not to be, then we should amend the constitution. We have a process for that.

  376. @brian:

    Japan did horrible things to US POWs, and we never reciprocated. Ditto China and North Korea. So do the pan-Arab Islamists we find ourselves troubled with now.

    You’re really good at undermining your own arguments. Look at our relationships with, e.g. Japan and Viet Nam now. Hell, look at the rest of the world’s relationship with Germany now.

    Then go back and look at the rest of the world’s relationship with Germany after WWI.

    Then look back through history and try to figure out if there is any difference in the way those people were treated. By us. At the time.

    You act like kindness is always a sucker’s game. (This is a common mindset among libertarians, not because libertarianism demands it, but because people who think that way are attracted to libertarianism.) But it’s not true.

  377. Nancy Lebovitz Says:
    > One of the things torture is used for is getting names of more people to torture.

    Which is really, really bad if the goal is to find witches to burn at the stake. It isn’t so bad if the goal is to find people who want to plant nuclear bombs in the downtown areas of cities.

    > I don’t know about all of you, but my memory for time, place, and people is shaky at best,
    > and falls apart if I’m stressed or tired. I don’t think this is that unusual.

    But this is an argument against the effectiveness of torture. However, the public data I have seen is that the CIA’s efforts were very successful, yielding lots of useful data. Apparently they have put systems in place to handle these problems.

    > As I recall, the talk show hosts who agreed to be waterboarded agreed it was torture.

    But yet none of them are in hospital dealing with PTSD. And all of them continue to maintain their extremely high stress talk show host jobs? One wonders if they are using a pretty loose definition of torture?

    > Eric, you posted recently about the ill effects of being on the road, and you weren’t in the
    > hands of your enemies. One of the benign methods of abuse is not letting anything in
    > the prisoners life be scheduled.

    So now not keeping to a predictable schedule is torture? My programmers never keep to schedule, and I always joked that it was torture trying to get a delivery date. Apparently, I was being more literal than I had thought!

  378. “The constitution allows congress to suspend habeas corpus when necessary.”

    Oh no it f’ing doesn’t.

    “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.”

    Pretty damned far from simply “when necessary”

    That said, given the nature of the mission of Islamic terrorism, I think an argument for the suspension of habeas corpus – strictly within the context of combating said terrorism – can be made.

  379. @Jessica Boxer:

    As I recall, the talk show hosts who agreed to be waterboarded agreed it was torture.

    But yet none of them are in hospital dealing with PTSD. And all of them continue to maintain their extremely high stress talk show host jobs? One wonders if they are using a pretty loose definition of torture?

    Surely, you can imagine that they can imagine that, if they were prisoners, and knew that this would happen to them over and over again, at any time, at the whim of their captors, it would be much worse… (At least, I can imagine you imagining that :-)

    But turn it around. I know there are some wussy commentators out there who claim that waterboarding isn’t torture who haven’t undergone it. Are there any people who have undergone it who claim that it isn’t?

    Of course, if I take your argument at face value, I might have to assume that John McCain was never tortured, either. After all, he’s a senator! Arguably a not very good one, but nonetheless, high-functioning enough to get the job.

  380. @Dan:

    >> The constitution allows congress to suspend habeas corpus when necessary.

    > Oh no it f’ing doesn’t.

    Oh, yes it does.

    > “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.”

    You’ve apparently been brainwashed to misunderstand the definition of necessary. It’s a pretty common affliction, but stick around here and you might get the help you need. You could always start at the dictionary. You might even look up “required” while you’re at it.

  381. “I think the moral high ground matters, especially for the US”

    I think the ‘moral high ground’ is a decadent pantomime. One that may get people needlessly killed. Some may argue that it already has.

    I view torture in the abstract – the use of force, control and domination to bend the will. Some people may only require slight discomfort, maybe a slap or two, before they start to sing. Others will literally eat a bullet before saying a word. Therefore I think there is a sophisticated scale of torture required to manipulate the enemy, from grunts up to hardened jihadis.

    I don’t consider torture as inherently evil. It is a means to an end, much like killing. The rationale behind it is what colors it with morality. Torturing someone to reveal the cliched timebomb – good. Torturing someone by videotaping them being brutalized and thrown off buildings, so you can watch them later in your palace surrounded by booze, drugs and hookers – evil. Is the torture being done to accomplish a righteous goal, or is it only pornographic sadism?

    It always makes me wince when public figures get all indignant and declare “The United States of America does not torture!!!” I wince even harder when others use the euphemism “enhanced interrogation” – get over it….the US uses a varied torture toolkit. Celebrate such diversity.

    I approve of our use of various torture techniques, but would always emphasize maintaining a constant focus on veracity. Extract some info, then verify verify verify. If they’re bullshitting us, the feedback loop should tighten, and the prisoner should be made highly aware of our ability to uncover their lies and make their lives increasingly uncomfortable. We, in turn, should refine our ability to know when to call it a day.

  382. Re: all posts quoting things I said about 500 lashes, morals, bombs, waterboarding:

    As I said at the end of my huge post, ‘short short story: the phrase “500 lashes” makes me go nuts’

    @ esr
    I like your definition of torture less as I have thought about it more.
    The “cut out the eyes under anesthesia” would be a horrible situation, but I don’t know that I would consider it to be torture. Having the definition generally hinge on permanent (usually psychological) trauma… torture is about mind-blowing amounts of pain. OK, mind-blowing sounds a lot like “permanent psychological trauma” but I think the essence of torture is the degree (magnitude and time) of pain, not whether the trauma is permanent.

    My posts get saner as I go along. Perhaps the one real point I want to make:
    Brian’s Law: Beyond the pale doesn’t scale – that is what beyond the pale means.

    500 lashes for one person is pretty much morally equivalent to 500 lashes for a thousand – it is beyond the pale either way.

    Re: Australian in Saudi Arabia: presumably the guy massively insulted their religion or god or something – ast I heard, we don’t know what the guy said. Hypothetically, you take “Oh, my God, he did what?” and put the word “fucking” in the worst place in that sentence – 500 lashes is still beyond the pale – the civilized world should do more than “strongly encourage” and tut-tut about this. I am not sure what.

  383. @ Jessica

    Me>Does this mean that as a Canadian, if I were to visit the US, I would not be protected by the Constitution

    Joe Presley> “Yes, Brian, you would be so protected. The exceptions that have been carved out are peripheral ones – like stating that the Constitution does not protect persons in Mexico being apprehended by US law enforcement.”

    You said:
    No, the 14th amendment says, in part:
    No State shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

    Your answer is a lot more reassuring than that of Joe Presley – does US law enforcement have jurisdiction in Mexico?

    So, the Bill of Rights applies to everyone on US soil, but not everyone in the world…. I guess I am personally OK with that.

    Lots of posts ago, you said that Gitmo is a US military base on US sovereign ground, so… Oh, Gitmo is on US soil but not in a US State AND (one of my pet peeves) in the only country US citizens can’t generally visit – as you have also noted, this isn’t how civilized countries should behave.

    Chicago… Most of what I know about Chicago comes from
    * the horror of the King, sorry, the Mayor and the police conspiring to surround and club people in the 1968 Democratic convention, and,
    * the movie “8 mile”, that I watched with my son when he was 20ish, a surprisingly good movie, considering its subject (hip-hop) – I think the first movie I have watched in about 15 years.

    I am willing to believe that Chicago is more pleasant than these two points indicate… I see that Richard J. Daley is gone… but his son went on to be the longest serving mayor. This Kennedys/Daleys/Clintons/Bushs business seems to me to be a sign of political rot.

    Chicago… It is a long way from Calgary…

    Calgary has a few interesting features:
    * Chinooks: westerly winds go up over the mountains, dump their moisture and after the last real mountain range, fall down, compress and heat up – it went up to +9 C / 48 F yesterday (3000 ft above sea level).
    * the prit-near world famous Calgary Stampede, which is most interesting in that it is fairly world famous
    * during big sporting events, win or lose, there is essentially never any violence

    I admit that I have wondered where you live… AGHHhhhhh this is another social website, like SlashDot…

    Eh-hemm… there is a great photo of me on the website of my latest scheme: http://www.agt.net/public/bmarshal/bcplacer/services.htm

  384. Patrick, it doesn’t say “necessary” at all. Read the actual words.

    *Rebellion* or *Invasion*

    Even then, only when the public safety *may* require it. Admittedly, that’s a subjective judgement call.

    Nevertheless, the Constitution does not simply grant Congress the power to suspend habeas corpus whenever “necessary”. Even a generous reading of your interpretation does not withstand the meaning of the actual text.

    And please, bucko, can the lightweight snark. I’m not the right audience ;)

  385. @Dan:

    > Patrick, it doesn’t say “necessary” at all. Read the actual words

    > And please, bucko, can the lightweight snark.

    Same to you. I did read the words. Did you read the dictionary?

    Nevertheless, the Constitution does not simply grant Congress the power to suspend habeas corpus whenever “necessary”. Even a generous reading of your interpretation does not withstand the meaning of the actual text.

    WTF? I said “necessary.” Where did I provide an interpretation of that? Don’t project your lame interpretation of “necessary” onto me, “Bucko.”

  386. @Patrick

    You said: “The constitution allows congress to suspend habeas corpus when necessary.”

    …which is apparently your interpretation of the actual words in the Constitution: ““The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.”

    Your interpretation is incorrect. It is grossly beyond the constraint of the clear wording of the clause. Congress cannot simply suspend habeas corpus whenever it considers it “necessary” – the context of such a suspension is limited to “Rebellion” or “Invasion”…that’s it.

    As an aside, ESR’s earlier post about the warning signs of junk science reminded me of other warning signs….like when you can tell someone is on loose footing in an argument. Using the condescending “read a dictionary” deflection technique is one such sign.

  387. By the way…

    From Walmart (hallowed be thy name) to Torture in 400 comments? Man I love this blog ;)

  388. @Dan:

    Your interpretation is incorrect. It is grossly beyond the constraint of the clear wording of the clause. Congress cannot simply suspend habeas corpus whenever it considers it “necessary” – the context of such a suspension is limited to “Rebellion” or “Invasion”…that’s it.

    “Considers it necessary” != “necessary”

    That’s why you need the dictionary. The first definition of “necessary” is “required”, and Congress can certainly suspend habeas corpus when an insurrection requires it.

    I’m not interested in your (or anybody’s) mis-reading “necessary” as “convenient.” If I had meant “convenient” I would have written “convenient.”

    As an aside, ESR’s earlier post about the warning signs of junk science reminded me of other warning signs….like when you can tell someone is on loose footing in an argument. Using the condescending “read a dictionary” deflection technique is one such sign.

    No, arguing that words don’t mean what they commonly do; that the definition of “necessary” is “pretty damned far” from “when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it” is one such sign. Another is using the term “bucko.”

  389. Patrick, I think part of the mismatch comes from the fact that in constitutional law, “necessary” has become synonymous with “expedient”—most especially in the phrase “necessary and proper”, which isn’t called the Elastic Clause for nothing.

  390. Patrick Maupin Says:
    > Surely, you can imagine that they can imagine that, if they were prisoners,

    Yup, I can imagine, however, we have now moved from the realm of “talk show host talks from personal experience” to “talk show host speculates”, which is rather a different place.

    > Are there any people who have undergone it who claim that it isn’t?

    Yes, I believe so, I remember seeing it on TV. However, all this stuff went down a long time ago, so I don’t recall a name. However, nobody who has undergone waterboarding compared it favorably with a root canal.

    > I might have to assume that John McCain was never tortured,

    One does not get a limp or loose the ability to raise one’s arms from waterboarding.

  391. Brian Marshall Says:
    > Chicago… Most of what I know about Chicago comes from

    What an insult!!! How could you forget Al Capone? Actually I’m a transplant, but, if you are interested in architecture, Chicago is a mecca, both for its spectacular downtown (much less crass than Manhattan), and of course the Frank Lloyd Wright connection.

    (This comment brought to you by the Chicago Tourist board.)

    > Calgary has a few interesting features:

    Never been, are cowboy boots and hat a requirement? I have been to Lake Louise. It is beautiful.

    > AGHHhhhhh this is another social website, like SlashDot…

    5’5″, 120lbs, love long walks on the beach, skiing, and french cuisine — especially their fries.

    :-)

  392. @Jessica Boxer:

    Yup, I can imagine, however, we have now moved from the realm of “talk show host talks from personal experience” to “talk show host speculates”, which is rather a different place.

    There’s a huge difference between someone who has been subjected to ‘x’ speculating about how much of ‘x’ someone can take and whether it might be damaging, and someone who has not been subjected to ‘x’ speculating about the same thing.

    Yes, I believe so, I remember seeing it on TV. However, all this stuff went down a long time ago, so I don’t recall a name. However, nobody who has undergone waterboarding compared it favorably with a root canal.

    I don’t remember it that way. I do remember Sean Hannity suggesting that he was going to do it, and then backing out after Olbermann said he’d donate to charity.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/05/24/olbermann-on-mancow-water_n_207161.html
    http://thinkprogress.org/media/2009/05/27/42540/hannity-mancow-waterboarding/

    One does not get a limp or loose the ability to raise one’s arms from waterboarding.

    Actually, that’s not necessarily true. People being waterboarded have broken bones against the restrainjts. But that’s not my point. You were arguing that waterboarding isn’t torture, because these journalists still function, and I gave a counterexample of a person who pretty much everybody agrees was tortured, who still functions.

  393. @Christopher Smith:

    > “necessary and proper”, which isn’t called the Elastic Clause for nothing.

    That’s a good point, but I’m not a constitutional lawyer, and your point only reinforces why I felt compelled to explain that I’m not pulling a Humpty-Dumpty — that the way I’m using the word is, in fact, the main dictionary definition, and is the ordinary way any non-lawyer outside the Beltway would use it.

  394. Jessica Boxer Says:
    >What an insult!!! How could you forget Al Capone?

    Ah, yes. Al Capone. The mobster that even some of the mob thought was a bit extreme.

    > Calgary has a few interesting features:

    >Never been, are cowboy boots and hat a requirement? I have been to Lake Louise. It is beautiful.

    I have never worn cowboy boots and hat but many people do during Stampede Week. Lake Louise is one of the world’s beautiful places.

    The Stampede thing is kind of interesting. P.J. O’Rourke’s book “EAT THE RICH”, in the chapter on Shanghai, writes:

    “In some ways, Shanghai is the familiar, homogenized world city. The restaurant at my hotel was decorated with a “Stampede ’97″ theme. The waitresses were dressed in denim hot pants, checked shirts, boots, and stetsons – the world’s only five-foot cowgirls who bow when you order a cold one. A mechanical bull had been installed across from the salad bar. One inebriated Japanese businessman got on it. And right off again. Yah-hoo.”

    That is all he said about it. This in a book written by an American, primarily for educated Americans. Why is the Stampede so famous? The rodeo is famous, as rodeos go, but many Calgarians (including me) aren’t interested. And, like every city’s “week”, it has a midway, a grandstand show and some pretty good fireworks (some years). (sarcasm>Wow</sarcasm). I wander around the midway to watch the people some years (but it has been years). Rio has Carnival. New Orleans has Mardi Gras. And then the Stampede is the next most famous? It is a fun tradition. I guess the famous rodeo is unusual enough… I don't know.

    Calgary has no real slums and extremely low levels of violence for a city of a million people. It does have cameras at many intersections placed to look down into front windshields. Those, I do not like. On the other hand, a major terrorism incident in Calgary would make Middle East oil more valuable.

    > AGHHhhhhh this is another social website, like SlashDot…

    >5’5?, 120lbs, love long walks on the beach, skiing, and french cuisine — especially their fries.

    5’7″, 175lbs but working on it, love long walks along the river, haven’t done french cuisine for a long time – except the fries.

    :-)

  395. Patrick Maupin Says:
    > There’s a huge difference between someone who has been subjected to ‘x’…

    Throughout this thread I had shied away from the word “torture” and rather referred to the specific methods involved. The word “torture” is a rhetorical club. Without a tightly agreed upon definition of what it is, we can’t way what is and isn’t. Eric made an attempt in the blog post he cited, but, as I commented on that article, it isn’t all that tight, IMHO.

    So arguing about what is and isn’t torture, or what journalists who have bravely endured would assert is not all that helpful, since we don’t agree what the word means. Which is why I said they were using a loose definition of torture. And this whole thing is a map territory issue.

    Lets not say “the USA should not torture” since nobody apparently agrees what that means. Lets rather have a serious argument about what limits we should place on interrogation techniques. Lets put the word torture aside, because we don’t have a common definition. Otherwise we are just talking in circles.

    I come back to my example — cattle prod justified or not? To me the only reasonable answer is “justified”, and if that is the line, then a bucket of water falls well within it. “Daughter buried in a hole, got the guy who did it,” makes for the simplest case, and there is a long and fuzzy tail of caveats and qualifications, so I don’t suggest that it is easy at all. However, you have to examine the ends of the line, to see where the middle is.

    However, as I have said several times, such measures certainly need to be carefully overseen, and most importantly desperately need the full light of day. It is far too short a walk from the waterboarding table to the secret police’s headquarters to not be at our very most skeptical and diligent.

    > I gave a counterexample of a person who pretty much everybody agrees was tortured, who still functions.

    I’m sorry, I missed your point entirely. However, I think you will find that he had a long journey to get to his current point. The journalists went back to work the next day.

  396. Jessica Boxer Says:
    >Lets not say “the USA should not torture” since nobody apparently agrees what that means.
    and
    >cattle prod justified or not? To me the only reasonable answer is “justified”

    I would say justified only in cases like you specified: live daughter buried and suffocating. Person to person when seconds count to save your child, sure. As a tool of police. I say NO.

    Perhaps we can all agree that, as a tool of police and intel agencies, unless seconds count to save lives or someone being tortured, if the prisoner is screaming in agony, it is over the line.

  397. @Jessica Boxer:

    I think we are mostly in agreement about the big picture.

    So arguing about what is and isn’t torture, or what journalists who have bravely endured would assert is not all that helpful, since we don’t agree what the word means. Which is why I said they were using a loose definition of torture. And this whole thing is a map territory issue.

    Lets not say “the USA should not torture” since nobody apparently agrees what that means. Lets rather have a serious argument about what limits we should place on interrogation techniques. Lets put the word torture aside, because we don’t have a common definition. Otherwise we are just talking in circles.

    The point is, for the most part, as a society, we DO agree on what that word means, e.g. “that which is so heinous we don’t go there.” Exhibit A is TPTB simultaneously saying that “we don’t torture” and “waterboarding isn’t torture.” So if you draw a line, the line is named “torture.” Arguing what is and isn’t torture is arguing where the line goes. Yes, it’s a loaded word, and you may be right that we should remove it from the discussion about where the line goes, but so far, that’s the word for the line.

    come back to my example — cattle prod justified or not? To me the only reasonable answer is “justified”, and if that is the line, then a bucket of water falls well within it.

    As an aside, I’ve been up close and personal with cattle prods and electric fences, and I’d much rather have that done to me than what you dismiss as a “bucket of water.” If you up the ante to be a Taser, that might be a different story.

  398. (Hit send too soon)

    > However, I think you will find that [McCain] had a long journey to get to his current point.

    I’m not arguing that in the slightest. OTOH, if he were just “tortured” for a couple of minutes before being rescued, he probably would have gone to work the next day…

  399. @Patrick

    Firstly, you discredit yourself for cheaply attempting to imply that I don’t know the common meaning of the word “necessary”. Of course I do. I flicked the term “bucko” at you in response to that…in much the same way as I might have used “pal”, “buddy” or “fella”. I don’t think that counts as a ‘warning sign’ like your use of the “read a dictionary” gambit. Not that it matters much.

    My argument with you has never been over the meaning of this word, but over *your* statement that Congress can suspend habeas corpus when necessary.

    It cannot. The Constitution clearly does not provide any such open authorization.

    It can only suspend habeas corpus – when required (substitute “necessary” if you must) for public safety – within the specific contexts of “Rebellion” or “Invasion”. These are the actual words of the Constitution, something you seem painfully willing to avoid acknowledging. The failure of your expressed interpretation, is to omit this constraint. Your original statement, that I objected to, is categorically incorrect.

    Also, the words of the Constitution do not necessarily mean what we may commonly understand them to mean. They mean precisely what the people that penned them understood them to mean. I believe this view of Constitutional interpretation is called “Originalism”

  400. Jessica Boxer Says:
    >I’ve been up close and personal with cattle prods

    Oh, wait. There is a big difference in a cattle prod on the ass and a cattle prod up the ass.

  401. Actually, as I read the Introduction and the Table of Contents in the Wikipedia article about the Calgary Stampede, there is a lot more to it, both for Calgarians and the million visitors it attracts. There are a whole lot of different ways to have fun and, even though drinking is a significant part of it, there is essentially no violence.

    Some folks argue about the violence to animals. I say, hey, this festival is about real life (mostly in the past)- sometimes in real life (mostly in the past), animals get hurt. It is unfortunate, but it isn’t Calgary’s fault.

  402. Brian Marshall Says:
    >Jessica Boxer Says:
    > >I’ve been up close and personal with cattle prods

    Just to be clear, it was Patrick who said this. I have absolutely no experience with cattle prods and will happily defer to Patrick’s greater experience.

  403. @Dan:

    My argument with you has never been over the meaning of this word

    Maybe. More anon.

    but over *your* statement that Congress can suspend habeas corpus when necessary.
    It cannot.

    Yes, it can.

    The Constitution clearly does not provide any such open authorization.

    The Constitution explains under what conditions it might be necessary. Unless you’re one of those revisionists who thinks that you have to be in some sort of formal militia to own a gun, this ought to be pretty obvious. Government is expected to function normally unless government itself is under seige.

    It can only suspend habeas corpus – when required (substitute “necessary” if you must) for public safety – within the specific contexts of “Rebellion” or “Invasion”. These are the actual words of the Constitution, something you seem painfully willing to avoid acknowledging. The failure of your expressed interpretation, is to omit this constraint.

    Where did I not acknowledge “rebellion” or “invasion”? I quite happily acknowledge those words. But it would be nice if you would acknowledge that someone could hold the considered opinion that, in fact, absent rebellion or invasion, there is no good reason to suspend habeas corpus, e.g. that it could not possibly be necessary. As Christopher Smith points out, in some cases, it might be expedient but that is not at all the same thing.

    Your original statement, that I objected to, is categorically incorrect.

    You go on believing that; I’ll keep referring you to the dictionary. Seriously. We apparently agree on what the restrictions on Congress are. We can only possibly disagree about either (a) the definition of “necessary”, or (b) whether it would be possible for suspension to be necessary absent rebellion or invasion. Given that you so vehemently disagreed that congress has the right to suspend habeas corpus absent those extenuating circumstances, I assumed (perhaps wrongly) that you would concur that it could never be necessary in other situations, which is why I referred you to the dictionary.

    If I assumed wrongly, and you really think that it might be necessary for Congress to suspend habeas corpus in other circumstances than rebellion or insurrection, then if and when those other circumstances occur you should pray that Congress will do the right thing and act in a manner that you consider to be unconstitutional. But if I assumed correctly that you think that there could never be a good reason for suspension absent rebellion or insurrection, then our only possible disagreement can be over the meaning of the word “necessary”, so I seriously urge you again to acquaint yourself with its normal definition.

    Also, the words of the Constitution do not necessarily mean what we may commonly understand them to mean. They mean precisely what the people that penned them understood them to mean. I believe this view of Constitutional interpretation is called “Originalism”

    And some people who have studied the Constitution think that it doesn’t actually guarantee the right to habeas corpus; just that whatever such rights exist can only be suspended in case of insurrection or rebellion. To start with, it wasn’t even considered that this guarantee was binding on state governments.

  404. @Jessica:

    Well, I must admit I don’t have any experience with a cattle prod administered internally, I am fairly certain that the average cattle prod will not produce nearly the current that the average taser does, just by watching what happens on videos when people get tased.

    In terms of voltage, different cattle prods produce voltages between around 2KV and 9KV. It is my understanding that tasers start at 50KV and some can exceed 1MV.

    The point of a cattle prod is to gently persuade the cow to move in a direction you want it to go. The point of a taser is to make a human stop moving (ancillary twitching aside).

  405. Patrick Maupin Says:
    > In terms of voltage, different cattle prods produce voltages between around 2KV and 9KV. It is my understanding that tasers start at 50KV and some can exceed 1MV.

    Patric, you have a disturbing amount of information about the application of electricity to human flesh.

    :-)

  406. Christopher Smith> “Terry Pratchett, from Equal Rites: “For animals, the entire universe has been neatly divided into things to (a) mate with, (b) eat, (c) run away from, and (d) rocks.””

    Oh, sorry, I’m more familiar with the redneck version:
    “If you can’t shoot it, eat it, or screw it, what good is it?” :^)

  407. @Jessica:

    > Patric, you have a disturbing amount of information about the application of electricity to human flesh.

    Between working on my grandfather’s farm (and doing lots of electric fence maintenance) and working with electricity most of my adult life, I have a healthy appreciation for what electricity can do, both to flesh, and to equipment.

    Many years ago, when I was doing development on tiny embedded modems (for credit card POS devices, settop boxes, faxmodems, etc.), we naturally had to meet FCC-style regulatory requirements around the world. We had fun stuff for creating simulated lightning strikes, etc.

    But one of the apps guys confused me when he was talking about how hard this one Brazilian regulatory requirement was. The conversation went something like this (note, I don’t remember the actual time duration, so I’m just going to say two minutes):

    Jeff: “It’s a difficult test. We have to sustain a 600V power-cross (surge) for 2 minutes.”

    Me: “What’s difficult about that? The modem will automatically go on-hook. We can handle that kind of voltage in the high impedance state, no problemo.”

    Jeff: “We’re not allowed to go on-hook. In fact, that’s why I need your help — the customer needs code to force it to stay off-hook.”

    Me: “WTF!!?! What kind of test is that??!? There’s no way the modem will survive that!”

    Jeff: “The test is to make sure that any fire or explosion is completely contained within the subsystem.”

  408. # Patrick Maupin Says:
    > But one of the apps guys confused me when he was talking about how hard this one Brazilian regulatory requirement was.
    > …
    > Jeff: “The test is to make sure that any fire or explosion is completely contained within the subsystem.”

    Lets hope that we don’t ship and Chevy Volts down to Rio.

  409. @Jessica:

    Meh. Cars probably aren’t as well regulated as telecom. After all, in one case people die, but in the other, monopoly-owned infrastructure is damaged!

  410. Walmart seems uniquely American in many ways. Does anybody have any thoughts on how Walmart would function in a country like India, if allowed to set up their business here?

    I ask because at the moment there is a huge protest against Walmart in India by a large majority of traders and local businesses, voiced vociferously by politicians cutting across political lines. Thus the FDI plan is currently on hold:

    http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2101718,00.html

  411. hari Says:
    >I ask because at the moment there is a huge protest against Walmart in India by a large majority of traders and local businesses, voiced vociferously by politicians

    This is one of the classic problems with democracy, a highly interested minority can readily overwhelm a less interested majority, being retailers and shoppers respectively.

  412. > Walmart seems uniquely American in many ways.

    It seems to work pretty much the same in Canada.

    Of course, Canada is American in many ways – proximity, economic ties and American TV/music have a lot to do with this.

  413. @Brian Marshall:

    Canadian Tire is uniquely Canadian. Been awhile since I was in one, but my recollection is that it was like a unique mixture of Western Auto and K-Mart, coupled with a WalMart gas pump and the penchant of Best Buy or Fry’s to treat you like a criminal as you exited the store, and with its own currency that I, like Zeno, could never get rid of.

  414. >Canadian Tire is uniquely Canadian

    Canadians seem to really like it. Good service, prices, selection and a pleasant atmosphere.

    >treat you like a criminal as you exited the store

    Here in Calgary, there is no asking to inspect stuff and receipts as you leave the store; that does happen at CostCo (at which I never shop).

    If you want to get rid of Canadian Tire Money, you use it to get a discount on your next purchase at Canadian Tire. It is a loyalty program that does not track or record anything about its customers; I like that.

  415. As I said, CostCo asks to inspect your purchases and receipt as you leave. If I ever go back, I may suggest that if they want to inspect my property, they should find a cop with a warrant. CostCo is an American company…

    I hate to ask this – I like Americans generally and I have developed an interest in one in particular (although I don’t know her marital status (I am divorced) – but if you were treated like a criminal as you left a Canadian Tire, was it one right near the border? A Canadian tire that gets a lot of people that are not in to shop for themselves, but, rather, doing some cross-border wholesale buying?

    I should point out that I recently changed my homepage URL – it was homepage.htm since 1999, but I just realized that since no one links to my homepage itself, I can change it to the better index.htm . In any case, clicking on my name will take anyone to it, in case they want my Open Source bookkeeping system or email address or anything.

    :-)

  416. You also need to remember that Costco is a private club. It has membership fees, an ID card, terms of service… Among other things, members agree to have their purchases and receipts checked as they leave, as a deterrence to shoplifting. Keeps certain types of people out of the store, and keeps prices down.

    I fail to see the problem with people entering into voluntary associations, that have certain requirements, in order to enjoy other benefits.

  417. @hari

    I don’t know how Wal-mart would affect India since there are a lot of second and third order effects, and I’m not sure how India differs from the parts of the United States I’m familiar with. It’s interesting you mention that traders and local businesses are against Wal-mart in India. One of the things not mentioned in the 400+ comments is that in the United States when Wal-mart enters a new area the dominant regional businesses actively oppose it behind the scenes, e.g. using zoning regulations to prevent Wal-mart to move in. These dominant regional businesses are -not- the mom-and-pop stores that people glorify and envision. For example, Giant Eagle the dominant supermarket chain in the western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio area would oppose the opening of a Walmart in a new community. I like Giant Eagle, but it’s not the same as buying groceries from the truck the nice Hispanic family owns. I don’t know how else to describe it, but when you peak beneath the surface of local politics in the United States it’s usually a few wealthy folks colluding with the local politicians to keep the money flowing by limiting competition through zoning and other regulations.

    You should read
    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505143_162-46240103/the-myth-of-the-walmart-effect/?tag=bnetdomain

    for information on how Wal-mart has changed the character of local businesses. The take away is that if you don’t compete with Wal-mart and if you’re located near Wal-mart you thrive. If you sell the same goods and services as Wal-mart or are not near Wal-mart, then you won’t do well.

  418. I don’t consider torture as inherently evil.

    People like you are why we have the eighth amendment.

  419. > the penchant of Best Buy or Fry’s to treat you like a criminal as you exited the store

    I usually thank the Fry’s door person as I walk past. They’ve never objected or asked me to stop, whether I’m leaving with a cart full of stuff or a bad.

  420. > if the prisoner is screaming in agony, it is over the line.

    How do you know why they’re screaming? For example, if I know that that’s the rule, I’m going to scream in agony at the drop of a hat.

  421. >How do you know why they’re screaming? For example, if I know that that’s the rule, I’m going to scream in agony at the drop of a hat.

    Indeed, witness any of the multitudes of videos online of (alleged) criminals being hit with a taser. Now I’m not saying a taser jolt is a fun experience (it’s in fact designed to not be fun, hence the use of it) but the people screaming and moaning and carrying on for minutes after the taser has been shut off, acting as if someone just forcefully removed a body part … it’s pure act.

  422. So, here is a question on this: apparently one of the techniques used by the CIA to obtain cooperation was the use of female interrogators. The fact that these guys are a bunch of misogynistic dicks meant that it was EXTREMELY uncomfortable for them to be dominated by women.

    Does that count as torture?

    I believe they went a step further and the female interrogators put their hands in their (own) pants and brought out a red substance which they claimed was menstrual blood. Being utterly freaked out by this perfectly natural bodily function, this was torment for the subjects, especially when it was wiped on their faces, and they were not allowed to wash it off. Supposedly the substance was actually just red ink.

    Does that count as torture?

    Allegedly the women also wore tight revealing clothing, short skirts and so forth, and acted provocatively to get the men turned on, in violation of their ridiculously anti nature views on sexuality, even though there was no touching involved. Again, tormenting the men’s mind to tempting thoughts that violated their religious beliefs.

    Does that count as torture?

    The CIA was accused of though it never actually happened, but if one of the male interrogators had got out a Koran, and in front of the prisoners had urinated on their holy book.

    Does that count as torture?

    I think if most of the folks on this blog were subjected to this, it would not phase them at all, though I guess the blood thing might be gross. None of you would consider these things actual torture though. Are you torturing me if I claim you are torturing me?

  423. @ Jessica Boxer
    > Does that count as torture?

    Clearly, “torture” is a subset of “torment”.

    Neurological tests of permanent psychological trauma performed after the fact are not going to be done in the cases where we would want them to be done. Plus, “after the fact” isn’t ideal in a working definition.

    Do we have any working definition better than “cruel and unusual” ( which clearly also has its flaws)?

  424. @Jessica Boxer

    This is one of the classic problems with democracy, a highly interested minority can readily overwhelm a less interested majority, being retailers and shoppers respectively.

    Don’t we know it!! The government had to back down because of the protests that paralyzed parliament and the traders who took to the streets.

    @Joe Presley,

    Thanks. I think there are pros and cons to Walmart-like megastores, but I think the point was, the issue is highly political because every politician in India (and across the world I guess) wants to project him/herself as a champion of the underdog. This seems to be the basic problem.

    Also even now, India is far more socialistic in nature than we care to admit. The Nehruvian-Socialism continues to play a role, especially with the ruling Congress party, though our PM is far more in favour of free market economy principles. We were forced to move to a free market approach after the crisis in 1991, but we never embraced capitalism wholeheartedly as a country.

  425. @Brian Marshall:

    > If you want to get rid of Canadian Tire Money, you use it to get a discount on your next purchase at Canadian Tire.

    No, it’s not that easy, because they just give you more… I understand it’s a smaller discount now, but it used to be that if you spent $10.00 of Canadian Tire money, you’d get $0.50 back, and then you spend that and get $0.02 back, etc. Of course, you never just spend Canadian Tire money; you add cash too, so you really can’t get rid of the stuff…

    > Here in Calgary, there is no asking to inspect stuff and receipts as you leave the store; that does happen at CostCo (at which I never shop).

    This was in Toronto, almost 20 years ago, and was before the usual mandatory inspections at other places; I was more referring to the stupid little gates they had where you could walk in one side of the store, but had to exit like cattle on the other side. Hmmm, maybe Ikea would have been a better comparison…

    > If I ever go back [to CostCo], I may suggest that if they want to inspect my property, they should find a cop with a warrant.

    At Best Buy, once at Christmas after waiting in line 30 minutes to check out, I went out the door (which was only maybe 10 feet from the register I had checked out at). It beeped. So I thought, fine, I’ll let them go through my bag. But the girl doing that was extremely slow; kept going over the same things over and over. After about 6 or 7 minutes, I told her “look, you’ve got another two minutes; then I’m leaving with or without the stuff — I don’t care — Best Buy and Visa can sort it out later.” I don’t remember exactly what she said to me, but it disturbed one of the steady stream of (non-beeping) customers filing out past me enough that they actually turned around and went to get the manager and told him that this girl was harrassing me. When the manager showed up, I told him the same thing I had told the girl, and asked if the girl’s job was actual loss prevention, or merely harrassing the odd customer. He apologized profusely and waved me out.

    That was probably 15 years ago. My considered policy, ever since then is that if I beep leaving a store, I’m just going to keep walking and let them make the next move, but I haven’t had the opportunity yet to see what happens.

    @Andy Freeman:

    > I usually thank the Fry’s door person as I walk past. They’ve never objected or asked me to stop, whether I’m leaving with a cart full of stuff or a bad.

    At Fry’s here in Austin, they always want to look in your bag and mark your receipt. They’re usually pretty quick about it, though. But one time, when I bought a relatively high value item, for some reason they didn’t let me take the item from the checkout to the exit — they hand-carried it behind the counter because some supervisor had to OK it. This took a long time, which pissed me off, so I went out the exit, right back in the entrance, and very noisily returned it for a refund — if they were that ambivalent about selling it to me, I’d just do them a favor and let them keep the damn thing.

    Another pet security peeve relates to the self-checkout places. At Home Depot, when they first put them in, they were useless, and I would always go to a cashier. Now, they work pretty darn good. At Lowe’s, they still want you to put stuff in the baggage checkout area so the computer can check the weight. After a delay, it will ask you if you want to not dump it in the checkout area. You click yes, rinse and repeat. But after 3 or for times, it decides you’re pulling a fast one and says to wait for the attendant.

    So I won’t be using the express checkout at Lowe’s any time soon again, either, and to express my disgust I just left my cart there and walked out (again making enough noise that they realized I was unhappy with their process.)

    I don’t know how effective this is at changing store behavior, but it makes me feel better. I probably walk out of a store with an unfinished transaction at least once every 3 or 4 years or so.

  426. @Jessica Boxer:

    Does [interrogation by women] count as torture?

    I doubt it, although brain scans might show that it really is. You have to remember that these guys aren’t run-of-the-mill misogynistic dicks — they’ve been thoroughly brainwashed into thinking it’s the only right way to live. You also have to remember that for most guys in that society, life isn’t a piece of cake either — it’s not just women that have it bad. Nonetheless, the mere use of female interrogators is manipulation targeted at their higher brain levels, unlike waterboarding — which might even distress one of these crack cocaine babies with only a brain stem.

    > Allegedly the women also wore tight revealing clothing, short skirts and so forth, and acted provocatively to get the men turned on,

    They did that in my high school too! And let me tell you, it scarred me for life! That’s pure torture for sure, especially if they don’t give the prisoners enough privacy to, uh, recover from the experience…

  427. @Patrick Maupin,

    I would have raised cain if I had been treated in such a way. I would have forced them to call the police and forced them to explain their stance to the police in front of all the other customers.

    Not sure if that would be feasible in the US. Would the police cart you off to the station for creating a public nuisance or chide the shop manager for making too much fuss over nothing?

  428. > Patrick Maupin

    Re: separate entrances and exits, little gates

    I took offence when it (separate exits) started happening here, but stores make it really easy to just flow into the store; they want a little more control over people leaving – they want them to pay, so it does make a sort of sense.

    Re: Canadian Tire Money
    > No, it’s not that easy, because they just give you more…

    (sarcasm>
    I can certainly understand how frustrating it must be.. they just won’t stop giving you money!
    </sarcasm)

  429. Totally Off Topic – Soliciting comments…

    I am going to install some software that likes Fedora 16 so I am going to try the Fedora 16 XFCE spin.

    I know esr is off Fedora due partly to problems with update dependency problems. I had a similar problem (I think) a few months ago… I added some application then removed it, and it removed something other stuff needed and (with a simple system and good backups) it was simplest to just rebuild my system. Not something a person wants to happen very often. However, I rarely remove software once I have done an install and set things up, and I do like Fedora, so…

    Comments?

  430. Patrick Maupin Says:
    > I doubt it, although brain scans might show that it really is.

    If we set aside your personal torment that the head cheerleader blew you off in school :-) do you believe that all these are acceptable interrogation techniques?

  431. @hari:

    I would have raised cain if I had been treated in such a way. I would have forced them to call the police and forced them to explain their stance to the police in front of all the other customers.

    But I voluntarily handed over my bag to the girl. There was no forcible detainment. It’s only a civil matter at that point, not a matter for the police.

    That’s why my new policy involves just leaving and letting them try to detain me if they feel it’s worthwhile. Although it is my understanding that some stores make this difficult by surrounding you so that it’s impossible to leave without touching (e.g assaulting) somebody. (And that usually when that happens, the police never do anything about the false imprisonment, although sometimes there are some juicy court settlements.)

  432. @Patrick Maupin

    But I voluntarily handed over my bag to the girl. There was no forcible detainment. It’s only a civil matter at that point, not a matter for the police.

    Yes, it both the gift and the curse of law-abiding citizens that our instinctive reaction is to do the “right” thing. Sometimes it works to our advantage; on other occasions some petty-minded official uses it as a way of harrassment.

    In India, we haven’t got those mega-stores yet and I don’t think it would be possible for shop-attendants, even in the larger stores, to use aggressive tactics regularly. The inherent class divide makes it hard for socially lower standing people to confront people of obvious higher social position and/or wealth.

    Though of course, if the person involved is in an official capacity the situation is different. And airports etc are a different story.

  433. @Jessica:

    > do you believe that all these are acceptable interrogation techniques?

    I thought I made it clear that I doubt that techniques designed to distress the higher levels of the brain qualify. That would include everything you described, except perhaps the fake blood (not sure about that). Again, you have to remember that most of these guys were completely brainwashed before we got hold of them, so that might cause stress at a lower level.

    I’ve heard about an interesting experiment where you can have a lit cigarette, blow a little smoke in someone’s face, then press a small ice cube against their back. They think it’s the cigarette because the neurons can’t distinguish. In a similar vein, you might convince someone you were smearing them with disfiguring battery acid. If their background is warped enough, either menstrual or pig’s blood might have a similar mental effect on them.

    So, if the only criterion for torture is physical damage, none of these things are torture. If nightmares 20 years from now are a problem, any of these things might be able to qualify as torture, but it would be highly dependent on the actual individual response, and probably unlikely in most cases. But certainly, repeated waterboarding, as I’ve heard it described, will badly affect just about anybody.

  434. @Brian Marshall:

    I added some application then removed it, and it removed something other stuff needed and (with a simple system and good backups) it was simplest to just rebuild my system.

    I actually had Ubuntu 10.4 LTS decide to remove a bunch of “unneeded” dependencies (including the kernel) when I removed one package, rendering the computer unbootable, so it’s not just a possibility under Fedora/RPM.

  435. @Jessica:

    I wasn’t clear.

    s/I thought I made it clear that I doubt that techniques designed to distress the higher levels of the brain qualify. /I thought I made it clear that I doubt that techniques designed to distress the higher levels of the brain qualify AS TORTURE/

    In other words, I think they probably are “acceptable” interrogation techniques, although it’s hard to imagine that peeing on a Koran in front of someone would be particularly efficacious, no matter how badly he had been brainwashed.

  436. Right. I have taken a look at the Fedora 16 XFCE spin on Live CD and I like it. I burnt 2 copies) of the Live CD.. I have taken 2 backups and unpacked one to verify that it is readable. And, of course, I still have my Fedora 14 CDs.

    I am going to install Fedora 16 XFCE to replace Fedora 14 Gnome.

    From the rest of the world’s point of view, I will be out of action for hopefully about a day.. (From my pont of view, I will be pretty active).

  437. Jessica Boxer & Patrick Maupin (don’t want to snub anyone, but don’t want a list ether.)

    I’ve been reading your point and counter point for a few days now and it got me thinking about a case I read about a few years ago. A man sends his daughters to a church camp where they encounter a psychologist who puts them under hypnosis and records vivid accounts of satanic sexual abuse that had previously been unremembered. The man confesses after a lengthy interrogation involving some of his friends and his pastor. He is later exonerated because medical examiners found his daughter had a complete hymen despite accusations of repeated gang rapes and the sacrifice of a premature infant she had given birth too. The man committed suicide anyway because he was still convinced of his guilt.

    When I attempted to find a reference to confirm my recollection of this case I failed but I did find reference to thousands of similar cases in the late eighties and early nineties, each apparently revolving around the recovery of repressed memories in therapy and lengthy interrogations by law enforcement.

    As far as what I have read, nothing done during the course of these interrogations was torture according to the UN’s definition. However, when I read the posts about displays of simulated blasphemies, I couldn’t help but see a common thread. False confessions and even irreparable physical damage can result from manipulating a persons higher brain functions and this can be done in a remarkably short period of time by well meaning interrogators with an entirely hands off approach.

    We can erode personal liberty, provide false positives and cause severe damage to individuals in interrogations without using severe pain. Suddenly I don’t know what a reasonable stance on torture would even look like.

    http://www.rickross.com/reference/satanism/satanism12.html

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thurston_county_ritual_abuse_case

    http://open.salon.com/blog/zoe_fitzgerald_carter/2010/10/19/memories_lies_and_sex_abuse_a_cautionary_tale

  438. > But certainly, repeated waterboarding, as I’ve heard it described, will badly affect just about anybody.

    Killing someone is an even more reliable way of affecting them, yet ….

    If we’re judging torture by long-term effects, we can easily arrange so there are no long-term effects by eliminating the long-term.

  439. Re: whether constitution applies to foreigners acting outside the country.

    Another (somewhat related) issue is the Englishman who operated a website in his home country (I think it was gambling) and was arrested for it when he took a trip to the US.

    @Vaspasian:
    A big issue in those cases was the mindset of the prosecution. They were fundamentalist Christians who believed that Satan was working evil in their dominions, and they were determined to root it out. You should read about the Salem witch trials of the late 17th century. You’ll find that it’s the same thing, all over again.

    When the children were interrogated, they weren’t really tortured, but all who do this should be aware that children are very suggestable, and will readily make up a story, once they think that they know what the grownups want to hear.

    Even adults are suggestable, and too often, under hypnosis or hard questioning, make up stories about abuse that never happened. The worst cases of this concern so-called ‘repressed memories’. We think that it’s logical that a person would suppress such memories, so as to get on with their life, but it is generally NOT TRUE. When people are suffer such abuse, they would like to do that, but they CAN’T. Their memory of the abuse remains vivid. They don’t forget what was done to them.

  440. @LS:

    Another (somewhat related) issue is the Englishman who operated a website in his home country (I think it was gambling) and was arrested for it when he took a trip to the US.

    Yes, he was flying from England to Costa Rica, and his plane stopped in Dallas. Big oopsie.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Carruthers

    I think this prosecution was stupid and moronic of our government on multiple levels, not least of which has to do with how US citizens can be expected to be treated by other governments when they go abroad. Having said that, was inside the US, and the company he worked for had taken money from people inside the US contrary to US law, and he certainly wasn’t treated any worse than a US citizen would have been treated by the US government under identical situations, so it’s not clear that any special constitutional issues related to foreigners are raised here.

  441. @ LS

    Agreed, these people were in the throws of mass hysteria over a mass satanic conspiracy which produced no physical evidence of its existence. However, imagine how a similar thing could happen in a situation where people are in the throws of mass hysteria over a mass Islamic conspiracy that produces tons of physical evidence of its existence.

    We know that the various instances of Islamic violence are not connected by any overarching hierarchy or coordinated effort. We also know that the techniques employed by jihadists are as varied as the resources available to them. This means that it is virtually impossible to rule out the possibility of a person’s involvement.

    Is it not therefore possible for interrogators to convince Muslims and themselves that they had planned things they had not previously been planning? How would the interrogators know if they had? Would it matter?

  442. Patrick Maupin Says:
    > Yes, he was flying from England to Costa Rica, and his plane stopped in Dallas. Big oopsie.
    > http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Carruthers

    I’d never heard of this case before. I am absolutely outraged. I’m a big defender of America, but this plays right into the stereotypes that non Americans have. It’s bad enough that Americans are prosecuted for pastime that only harms themselves, but that a foreigner on foreign soil, running a web site on foreign soil… Like I say, I am outraged.

    It never ceases to amaze me the spectacular hypocrisy of our government tightly regulating Las Vegas to generous odds, assuming you have the political connections to get a license, whilst at the same time they run the most regressive, unfair gambling schemes in the world, in the form of the state lotteries. Do as I say, not as I do.

    Here in Illinois there is a big gambling bill running through our congress. It is the quintessential political horse trading and favor buying writ large. They don’t even have the decency to hide it anymore. The resemblance to the mob is hard to miss. Let there be no doubt, the complete and total deregulation of gambling, with appropriate fraud limits is the solution. It might be a tax on stupidity, but at least the stupid voluntarily enter into the compact.

  443. @Patrick Maupin

    The cases mentioned, domain site seizure and arrest of an Englishman on American soil, have nothing to do with regards to whether Constitutional rights as listed in the Amendments to the U.S. Constitution are afforded to non-U.S. citizens outside of U.S. jurisdiction. Any restraint shown is due to Congressional and Presidential policy.

  444. And to be clear, because the Constitution allows it doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do.

  445. @Vaspasian:

    You raise a good point. Memory is inherently unreliable. But torture produces good results. At least that’s what the torturers tell us, and we shouldn’t question them too carefully, because, well, they certainly know how to inflict pain, and they have other skills, like disappearing people.

    @Jessica Boxer:

    > I’d never heard of this case before. I am absolutely outraged.

    Yeah, me too, but it’s been 5 years now, so the rage has worn off a bit. I guess it wasn’t torture (at least for me) :-)

    @Andy Freeman:

    > If we’re judging torture by long-term effects, we can easily arrange so there are no long-term effects by eliminating the long-term.

    Very droll, but it’s my understanding that waterboarding has short term effects, as well.

  446. Anyone interested in reading about how constitutional amendments operate in various types of U.S. jurisdiction, e.g. unincorporated U.S. territories, foreign countries, Puerto Rico, etc. should read United States v. Verdugo-Uquidez http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?navby=CASE&court=US&vol=494&page=259 . It goes into what is meant by “person”, “the people”, etc. as well as how those terms apply to the usually cited Constitutional Amendments that govern criminal trials.

  447. @Joe Presley:

    > The cases mentioned, domain site seizure and arrest of an Englishman on American soil, have nothing to do with regards to whether Constitutional rights…

    > And to be clear, because the Constitution allows it doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do.

    Just curious — do you think you’re stating anything here that I didn’t?

  448. @Joe Presley:

    Actually, I didn’t read your statement carefully enough. I’m not sure I agree on the domain seizure. I think that implicates First Amendment rights. But as I mentioned, it is being litigated now.

  449. @Patrick Maupin

    I couldn’t be sure about the domain site seizure since the whois lists the INS as the owner of the domain. My understanding is that .org domains generally reside within the U.S. In any case the government’s argument is that the activities took place in New York.

  450. @Don: regarding your experience of “…crappy service…” at WalMart vis a vis Target, they are two different types of stores. I never understand why people vilify WalMart.

    We shop in both, for different types of items. We’re fortunate that both are within a couple of miles of us, along with other chains like Lowe’s, Kohl’s, Barnes & Noble and many others

    I think we should all be thankful and prayerful that our retail and all business establishments do their best to remain profitable and provide good value for their customers and jobs for their employees.

    It is looking more and more like SEARS may disappear soon into bankruptcy. The venture capitalist who purchased KMart has done a terrible job of managing the SEARS “brand”. It will be a sad day if and when SEARS disappears, but life will go on.

  451. Pingback: Why I love Walmart despite never shopping there « A Moral Outrage

  452. Pingback: Instapundit » Blog Archive » ERIC S. RAYMOND: Why I love Walmart despite never shopping there. “I find that, as little as I lik…

  453. “To the people who use Walmart and belong there,”

    You utter snob.

    I am upper middle class, college educated, skinny, own jewelry and fur, drive a Mercedes, proud mom of a purebred dog and know how to squeeze a nickle.

    I earned it and I continue to do so. Believe it or not, my life IS simple. I take care of my family, take care of our (self-employed) business, take care of a child in need and am a good neighbor. I am on my knees daily to ask G-d to care for all of us – including the snobs.

    I belong in Walmart. I’m there at least once a month for something or other. I love the vibrancy. I love seeing (and meeting) people from all over the world. On one excursion I encountered a Bhuddist monk (bald, saffron robe) having an argument with his (apparently) sister over the best toaster oven. They turned to me. Which is easier to clean? Oh, good point. On another, in back pain, doubled over my cart, a young Muslim woman put her arms around me to hold me up and led me to what I needed. I have become friends with one of the door greeters, a young man with Down’s syndrome. With great pleasure, we share the recent exploits of our dogs.

    Walmart is in a way, the Ellis Island of this time. I belong there.

  454. I shop there every few weeks to pick up whatever they carry cheap I use on a regular basis. I too am amazed at how people get worked up over Wal-Mart. It’s a freakin’ retail store, not a political party. Shop there or don’t shop there. To even have an opinion beyond yes or no is self-possessed and pseudo-everything you can ascribe to it. I’m reminded of the late 90s when people created websites for bands they hated. How childish was that? Very.

  455. Pingback: Why Tim Tebow Terrifies – UPDATED « The Anchoress

  456. The people who complain about Wal Mart are what we on the right often call “Useful Idiots.”

    The left hates Wal Mart because lower prices allow those who don’t make much money to stretch their dollars. This has the effect of making poor people richer. The left hates anything that improves the lives of the poor. They LOVE things that pretend to help, but either do nothing or make things worse, especially when they expand the intrusive and destructive power of government and empower the left. But things that actually help they hate. Poor people who are happy are of no use to the left because they are harder to manipulate into voting for Communists and other factions within the Democratic party.

    The left also hates Wal Mart because the company has successfully fought off labor unions for decades. This cuts off a crucial stream of income for the Democratic party in the form of union dues. This also makes it far more difficult, if not impossible, to strong-arm the company with the threat of labor disputes. All of this lowers costs for Wal Mart, allowing them to charge less, which plays back into making life better for the poor.

    There are of course other equally mendacious reasons the left hates Wal Mart, but these are the two that come to mind immediately.

    Your average Wal Mart basher doesn’t understand any of this, at least not consciously. In fact they don’t really understand what it is that they are saying. They follow the script they are given and complain about “overconsumption” and emote other equally nonsensical sentiments not because they are actually thinking things through, but because doing so makes them feel good and reinforces their membership in the leftist tribe.

    The left cannot honestly state their objections to companies like Wal Mart, so they come up with evasive and often almost incomprehensible excuses and public arguments. They have found that the faux arguments that are long on emotion and short on logic tend to work best. Opponents who attempt to refute the arguments are stymied because they make no sense in the first place, and any who actually manage to overcome this can be beat back with ranting and raving.

    This is why I go out of my way to shop at Wal Mart.

  457. crypticguise Says:
    >It is looking more and more like SEARS may disappear soon into bankruptcy. The venture capitalist who purchased KMart has done a terrible job of managing the SEARS “brand”. It will be a sad day if and when SEARS disappears, but life will go on.

    I don’t agree. I think it will be a great day. The magic of the market will punish the dreadful management of both companies. Their assets will go on the auction block (including the brands), and be bought at a fair market price, and reused and revived by people who know what the heck they are doing. If only the same had happened in our banking system we would all be much better off today.

    There are some ugly transaction costs for sure, no doubt people will loose their jobs, creditors will loose their money, but renewal is necessary for growth. The market thrives on the destruction of the inefficient and poorly run. Competition requires both winners and losers.

  458. If you don’t like Wal-Mart, don’t shop there. If you don’t have any alternative, then be glad that Wal-Mart is there. If you think Wal-Mart is evil because its low prices will drive out Mom/Pop stores, then pay more to shop at Mom/Pop stores. Show me what you prefer, don’t tell me what I prefer. It’s all very simple.

  459. Sometimes I shop at Walmart. Their office supplies are much cheaper than the Office Big Box stores- and their OTC drugs are the cheapest.

    Those who loathe Walmart do the same amount of shopping as the Great Unwashed at Walmart. They just drop a whole lot more money on organics at Whole Foods or Restoration Hardware baubles.

    Walmart is the biggest seller of toys in America. Do the chattering classes really want to deprive working class/poor kids of toys? bah Humbug!

  460. Pingback: Why I love Walmart despite [rarely] shopping there | Paul M. Jones

  461. Jeff Read Says:
    “…Walmart is a French invention — a hypermarché whose business model is derived pretty much verbatim from the French prototypes like Carrefour. ”

    Although that’s pretty funny, I’m not sure that’s correct. I just read a business history book and the original Walmart was created in 1962 and was a direct copy of the 5-and-Dime stores that had existed in the US for decades. Mr. Walton had worked at those stores and he based Walmart directly on them. The main differences from older 5-and-dimes were: establish a personal connection via the greeter; adhere to a strict 30% markup (which is why Walmart has weird prices); computerize the inventory control (they were early innovators here); stock incentives for employees; build the stores on the major car transportation routes, which often are not downtown.

  462. Except they’re both telling me what I can see and read and hear and eventually say and think.

    The irony of being told this by someone named “Will” is just killing me…

  463. Ken Burnside – 12/04/11 0314 (what were you doing that late/early…)

    quote (I still contend that if you think you’ve got yourself a woman worth sticking by, doing date night at Blaine’s Farm & Fleet is the acid test. It’s like the bastard offspring of a Wal-Mart, an Ace Hardware Store and a Sears shop…and now you folks have this mental image of three large buildings humping each other and setting off siesmographs…but I digress. If she can’t find something in there that makes her go “Oh, coooool!”, it’s time to release her back into the dating pool because she’s gonna be miserable once she figures out who you are.) end quote

    God Bless your soul! Blaine’s Farm and Fleet… date test, indeed.

    I grew up in suburban Denver, never saw a Wal-Mart until doing rotations in Kansas during residency – met a girl from SW KS…26 years later here we are. Wal-Mart was the prelim and follow on after AF exchange stores, and now work a driver and 7 iron from one in rural TX – stop by daily, it seems. I love the variety of folks, from young struggling families to the retired gentry; all types and many cultures out here on the prairie.

    The question for Ken is – how did we (specifically men) ever shop prior to cell phone and the texting of shopping lists???

  464. @ Patrick Maupin

    >Yes, he was flying from England to Costa Rica, and his plane stopped in Dallas. Big oopsie … wasn’t treated any worse than a US citizen would have been treated by the US government under identical situations

    From the Wikipedia link:

    Carruthers is only charged with count one, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) charge

    This RICO business make me really queasy, although I admit I don’t know much about it.

    If he broke a law, why wasn’t he charged with breaking the law? And the RICO seizure business… The man is probably lucky that he didn’t have any substantial personal assets in the US – presumably at least some of them are the result of his being an officer of a corporation deemed to be a “Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization”. If he had a house in the US, the US government could just have it as I (sorta) understand it.

  465. Are you kidding? I love shopping at Walmart, where I can save money AND annoy liberals at the same time!

  466. “To the people who use Walmart and belong there [...]”

    What sort of people “belong” at Walmart? I shop there every so often. Am I allowed in the Apple Store or should I stay where I belong? Likewise, consider the idea that one should not snark at the poor and middle classes because it’s “unseemly.” Unseemly or not, if snark is what you feel, then you should snark away. Own it. Just consider if the snark is justified. Nothing wrong with snarking at poor people stupidly buying more than they can afford. But I don’t think shopping at Walmart is stupid as such. It depends on what you buy, how much buy, not where you buy it.

  467. >What sort of people “belong” at Walmart?

    People who are comfortable with the Walmart aesthetic. I’m not. It’s a class difference, and I don’t mean that in a judgmental way so please try not to project on me about it. If it will make you feel better, just think of me as the sort of bohemian preppie who dresses from the L.L. Bean catalog and has opinions about garlic presses and buys stuff from anthropology museums – that’s an oversimplification of about half my background, but it’s the right kind of oversimplification for this thread.

    >But I don’t think shopping at Walmart is stupid as such.

    I don’t either. It matches the income and the taste of a lot of people. I don’t happen to be one of them.

  468. >I love shopping at Walmart, where I can save money AND annoy liberals at the same time!

    Admittedly, annoying snotty bicoastal left-liberals is good cheap entertainment. In my case, possibly a better draw than the price break.

  469. @esr
    >bohemian preppie who dresses from the L.L. Bean catalog and has opinions about garlic presses and buys stuff from anthropology museums

    Let’s not forget guns. Other than the live/dead issue, do you feel that there is a bit of overlap with Hunter S. Thompson?

  470. >Other than the live/dead issue, do you feel that there is a bit of overlap with Hunter S. Thompson?

    That case could be made.

  471. @esr

    > That case could be made.

    Yeah… now that I think about it, HST’s concept of Gozo Journalism, which never did work exactly as he conceived it (no one can do and write “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” simultaneously), nevertheless could be viewed as journalism hacking.

  472. bohemian preppie who dresses from the L.L. Bean catalog and has opinions about garlic presses and buys stuff from anthropology museums

    Wait … I thought that line was in the thread about envisioning Will … j/k Eric ;-)

  473. @Brian Marshall:

    If he broke a law, why wasn’t he charged with breaking the law? And the RICO seizure business… The man is probably lucky that he didn’t have any substantial personal assets in the US – presumably at least some of them are the result of his being an officer of a corporation deemed to be a “Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization”. If he had a house in the US, the US government could just have it as I (sorta) understand it.

    I don’t know all the details of the prosecution of the case, but…

    Unfortunately due to mandatory minimum sentencing, federal judges often can’t say “you’re guilty of x, but it wasn’t too bad so I’ll only give you 2 years.” Apparently, Carruthers cooperated with the prosecution, so they probably wanted to reduce his sentence but still wanted to give him something, so they probably chose the offense with the “correct” length of punishment.

  474. @esr:

    > Admittedly, annoying snotty bicoastal left-liberals is good cheap entertainment. In my case, possibly a better draw than the price break.

    But, you can’t do that at the WalMart.

    No, the right thing to do is to go help a friend pick out a gun at the WalMart, then go have lunch at a place where the yuppie target audience hangs out. Be sure and display the WalMart bag prominently, draw the gun out of it and loudly discuss the care and feeding of the weapon. Extra points for partially dismantling it, prominently spreading the WalMart bag to keep gun oil off the table and food particles out of the weapon.

  475. Walmart has an aesthetic? Unless your aesthetic is to be as bland as possible.

    I can see why you like it, it’s just like pretty much every bad Campbellian novel.

  476. >I can see why you like it, it’s just like pretty much every bad Campbellian novel.

    You are descending into ever more Stygian depths of cluelessness. I don’t like the Walmarts aesthetic. But unlike…some…people I recognize that my tastes and habits are not the laws of nature.

  477. >Extra points for partially dismantling it, prominently spreading the WalMart bag to keep gun oil off the table and food particles out of the weapon.

    I bow three times before a master.

  478. >Wait … I thought that line was in the thread about envisioning Will … j/k Eric ;-)

    Your humor has a grain of truth in it. Will may not be an upper-middle-class boho/preppy kid born with the silver spoon of entitlement in his mouth, but he displays many of the characteristic prejudices. That’s sort of where I come from (it’s actually more complicated than that); the difference is that I didn’t let it soften my brain.

  479. @esr
    “Your humor has a grain of truth in it. Will may not be an upper-middle-class boho/preppy kid born with the silver spoon of entitlement in his mouth, but he displays many of the characteristic prejudices. ”

    To paraphrase the misattributed Steinbeck quote, poor liberals in America just consider themselves temporarily embarrassed dictators. That’s why they work against their own interests.

  480. Who ever dies with the most toys is …. wait for it…… dead.

  481. Poor people should support culture warriors and corporatists?

    “Entitlement” and “pretentious,” the two words one can use to make me take them much less seriously.

  482. @Will

    “Poor people should support culture warriors and corporatists?”

    You kind of missed an underlying point of ESR’s post, which is that the statists -are- culture warriors and corporatists with a pretentious sense of entitlement. Which is why I phrased the comment the way I did. It’s a mirror for the type smugness about the poor displayed by the left.”Why oh why won’t those poor white people vote for their interests! Oh, because they’ve been duped by evil rich people. Oh, don’t look at the money behind our organizations or the money that we have. It’s ok because we fight for the little guy by boycotting Wal-mart. “

  483. > The question for Ken is – how did we (specifically men) ever shop prior to cell phone and the texting of shopping lists???

    I still shop without a phone or texting.

    I’m almost always happy with what I come home with and if “someone” thinks that that isn’t likely to be good enough, she goes herself.

    Another rule – stay in trouble. The benefit to getting out of trouble and being out of trouble is less than the cost of the transition from not-trouble to trouble.

  484. >You kind of missed an underlying point of ESR’s post, which is that the statists -are- culture warriors and corporatists with a pretentious sense of entitlement.

    That is correct.

  485. Have you ever seen peopleofwalmart.com? It’s explains why I also love Walmart with out actually going in either! =] I have always liked Target more then Walmart. It just seems that everything is more organized and it is generally cleaner. For those reasons, Target is my choice but for cheapest, go for Walmart.

  486. Are there any K-Mart’s left? Woolworth’s is long gone as are several names I can’t even remember that I used to know. There has always been a place for stores that discount deeply, that purchase in bulk, and other things that Wal-Mart does.

    It’s just that Wal-Mart does it better than anyone else and has been so successful that they have gazilions of stores.

    All the angst from the left is manufactured. They just cannot stand success and the effrontery of a for-profit entity helping people. You see, that’s their job.

  487. Pingback: LIVE AT FIVE – 12.14.11 : The Other McCain

  488. ESR,

    >I should add that one of the more plausible scenarios for getting from here to there is that the infrastructure of the state collapses

    I don’t really see how debt denominated in own currency could cause such a collapse. It can be printed away and as long as it is denominated in own currency that does not lead to Weimar-style hyperinflation (as their main problem was that the reparations to be paid were not denominated in Reichsmarks). Sure that leads to all sorts of problems but not really to that big ones that could cause a systemic collapse. Am I missing something?

  489. >I don’t really see how debt denominated in own currency could cause such a collapse.

    Right now the U.S. government only covers about a third of its annual operating funds from taxes (might be more now – I think the last I saw figures was in 2010). The rest is borrowing. If the bond markets bail on T-bills the government will be unable to pay people to do stuff, whether there’s hyperinflation or not.

  490. @esr

    ” If the bond markets bail on T-bills the government will be unable to pay people to do stuff, whether there’s hyperinflation or not.”

    I thought that was why the Fed bought U.S. government debt after 2008. The policy was explained as a way to keep long term mortgage rates down, but isn’t that just another way of saying that no one else wanted to buy the debt at the rate the U.S. government wanted to pay? I admit I may be missing something. Too many cups for the shell game.

  491. >isn’t that just another way of saying that no one else wanted to buy the debt at the rate the U.S. government wanted to pay?

    Yes. One reading of events is that the T-bond market has already effectively collapsed and QE (quantitative easing) is just printing funny money to paper over that fact. If that’s true, there’s going to be hell to pay very shortly. A leading indicator would be OPEC nations refusing to accept payment for oil in dollars – but that may be deferred for a while by the fact that the euro is in terminal crisis.

  492. @esr, SPQR:

    Aw, shucks.

    Horrifying the elite comes naturally for me. It’s enjoying it that took me a couple of decades to learn!

  493. If that’s true, there’s going to be hell to pay very shortly. A leading indicator would be OPEC nations refusing to accept payment for oil in dollars – but that may be deferred for a while by the fact that the euro is in terminal crisis.

    It is, and there will.

    And to your point, even the OPEC nations see the writing on the wall – the Euro is dead. The only other currency that could take over as a world-wide reserve currency is the Pound, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.

    Besides, if OPEC stops taking the dollar, then pretty much their only customer is China.

  494. A few thoughts:

    (1) I’m a divorced middle class academic with a daughter in college to which the ex ain’t contributing. I’m not poor but money is tight. I shop at Walmart because things cost less there and that allows me to have some room in the budget for books and music. I don’t have enough money to invest heavily in toys if I wanted to, even at Walmart, and I suspect that that is even truer for poorer people.

    (2) If anyone has the right and even the need for a few toys, wouldn’t it be people who live with daily stress over making ends meet? If Walmart makes it possible to a poor little girl to have a Hello-Kitty lunchbox, good for them, I say.

    (3) “Overconsumption” comes from some combination of the old deadly sins of greed and gluttony. If more stuff is available, these vices have more scope. Capitalist societies look greedy and gluttonous because they offer unprecedented opportunities for acquisition and consumption. Walmart doesn’t cause anyone to be greedy and gluttonous; it just offers opportunities to the greed and gluttony that are typically latent in the human heart. The founding fathers knew that one of the challenges to a free commercial society would be cultivating self-discipline and good sense in the people; they were also wise enough to know that government can’t do a heck of a lot about that.

    (4) The alternative to the opportunities capitalism offers to greed and gluttony is just less opportunity all round.

    (5) If a private firm wants to have a “green policy” then they have a perfect right to do so. They can’t make you buy green stuff, and consumers have the perfect right go elsewhere. Like Walmart, a private firm will eventually have to respond if lots of consumers feel that way. On the other hand, the government can make you buy stupid light bulbs and the people who issue the decree are well-insulated from your dissatisfaction.

    (6) Where I live, one of our prominent local bleeding heart liberals ran an independent bookstore and whined and moaned in the media when Books-a-Million opened up down the street. Never mind that his selection was lousy and his nasty employees treated a request for a special order like you'd passed gas in public. Darn it, we owed it to him to pay more and get less because he was local and so very, very righteous. Objections to capitalism usually come down to protecting a privileged class — or deciding that a class should be privileged.

  495. I’ll add my plaudits for Patrick Maupin’s genius. My only quibble would be that one should use a handgun for best liberal-irritating effect, as well as not infringing on the space of the adjacent tables, and I thought Wal-Mart was out of that business.

    I can’t see Eric in a Wal-Mart. Not even to buy bulk items to take to an SF con’s con suite. But he’s no Brie-eating, Chardonnay-swilling bicoastal liberal, either. This aesthetic of his confuses many, probably intentionally.

    And ESR will never be HST, simply because he refuses to partake of mind-altering drugs (and can’t drink alcohol anyway).

  496. Oh, and one other thought as I consider Patrick’s brilliance: finding a safe direction to point the weapon in while taking it down in the middle of a restaurant might be a bit of a challenge.

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  498. I do most of my shopping at Wal Mart. It’s a one-stop shop. Wal Mart has a halfway decent selection of hardware (for homes and projects) and most sell groceries. Prices are good. Great store if you are looking for no-frills types home merchandise or need hardware. We buy all of our pantry-grocery items there. As far as meat & produce, we go somewhere else. Other than that, the Wal Marts around here are pretty decent. Cluttered, yes. But if you’re looking for something practical, Wal Mart is the obvious choice.

    I also go to Target, but that would mainly be for inexpensive clothing or for pink or orange cookware or whatever my wife likes. Target is a great store and they’ve got groceries too, but prices aren’t that great.

    Of course I end up going to the local hardware store for any real hardware needs. If you can’t find it at Target, Home Depot, Menards, Lowes or Wal Mart, go to your local hardware store and their it is and you don’t have to buy a box of 100, you can just buy what you need.

    As far as people at the stores – people are people.

    There are the well-to-do shoppers dressed and made up to go shopping at a chain store, pushing their cart around and knocking items off the shelf and not picking them up as they not making eye contact with the lower castes while their unruly children run wild 40 feet ahead eating items that haven’t been paid for yet and then there’s the dressed-down people who are screaming at their kids using words like “ain’t” and they’re also knocking stuff of the shelves and not picking up. The bottom line is that these people don’t understand that they’re sharing space with other people and that you need to give those around you a little courtesy.

    You can put a silk hat on a pig and call him a gentleman, but he’s still a pig.

  499. Rumors have it that any OPEC country not trading oil in dollars gets invaded. Sadam starting up an oil market in other currencies was said to be one of the leading reasons Iraq was invaded.

    Nonsense. Money, like oil, is fungible.

  500. @Jay Maynard
    “But he’s no Brie-eating, Chardonnay-swilling”

    Brie is nice, at least the real product, not the sterilized blobs the USA imports. I like the stronger cheeses even more, Camembert. But then, I live a few hours drive from the place they make the stuff.

    Chardonnay seems to be good too, if you like wine.

  501. Winter: That bit about Iraq being invaded because it was about to stop trading in dollars for oil is left-wing propaganda at its vilest.

  502. Slashdot sigs? None of import that I can recall.

    Grits.

    Blinded by Grits. Piping hot and fresh in the pants.

    Nothing else quite like it!

  503. SkipKent,

    Meh, it was that damn stone Natalie Portman that kept getting in the way for me…

  504. Joe Bageant’s Poor White and Pissed is worth linking to again:

    http://www.joebageant.com/joe/2005/02/poor_white_and_.html

    Eric is right in that limousine liberals aren’t doing America’s poor any favors. But — then again — neither is Wal-Mart, or any of the other big companies, by taking the bottom out of the asking price for a man’s labor. One of the eye-openers in this essay is a revelation of how much of America’s “entrepreneurs” are working-class folks doing shit jobs on a contract basis — because no one wants to give them the benefits required of full-time employees.

    Glimmer of hope on the horizon: The Occupy movement is perhaps a start at responding to Bageant’s call to ORGANIZE! It’s the grass-roots movement that the rethugs hoped we’d think their psyop, Tea Party, was.

  505. I can’t see Eric in a Wal-Mart. Not even to buy bulk items to take to an SF con’s con suite.

    Maybe not, but I can see him at Costco, where you gotta pay for the privilege of getting a discount. :)

  506. “And to your point, even the OPEC nations see the writing on the wall – the Euro is dead. The only other currency that could take over as a world-wide reserve currency is the Pound, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.”

    “Besides, if OPEC stops taking the dollar, then pretty much their only customer is China.”

    @Brian: Now, put those two thoughts together. You forgot the renminbi. Their economy is hitting a rough patch now, but they’ll survive it. China will need that oil; they will see to it that their currency will stay good.

  507. >This aesthetic of his confuses many, probably intentionally.

    It might confuse me if I weren’t me. It’s not intentional, though. It’s the result of my peculiar upbringing. One parent upper middle class from California, that’s the bohemian/preppy side. The other from Depression-era poverty in a Pennsylvania mining town, which is why I can blend in at a gun-and-knife show. Then they raised me among a lot of expats and hypereducates and millionaires and I went to an Ivy League school as a gifted student.

  508. Eric, you blend in at a gun and knife show because you’re a geek who likes guns and sharp pointy things. This is a feature.

  509. @Jay: Eric, you blend in at a gun and knife show because you’re a geek who likes guns and sharp pointy things. This is a feature.

    Yes, he’s a tool-user. Gun geeks tend to be knife geeks, watch geeks, flashlight geeks, etc etc.

    And to go back a little, yes Patrick is brilliant unfortunately he’s almost certain to be committing a Rule 2 violation. Even if he doesn’t sweep anyone, keeps the muzzle pointed at the wall the whole time, unless the wall is built well enough to be a solid backstop it’s still a Rule 4 violation.

  510. >Eric, you blend in at a gun and knife show because you’re a geek who likes guns and sharp pointy things.

    You’re slightly missing the point. It’s one thing to like those, and another to not come off as an alien of the “why’s he slumming here” variety.

  511. @LS – I didn’t forget the renminbi, I ignored it.

    China is fucked, they just don’t know it yet. They are building entire empty cities just to keep unemployment from dropping. When they can’t do that any more, they are going to be hit with civil unrest that will make Tianenmen look like a picnic.

  512. I dont normally shop at Walmart, but have occasionally, usually when they were the only place I could find that had what I wanted. For example, they were the only ones to carry the new jackie Evancho Christmass album, and they were the only ones where I could get a new twistoflex watchband I had to have when the old band broke, and they even had a competant person there to install the new band on the watch.

    Yes, Walmart has mostly cheap junk from China, but if you cant afford anything, then cheap junk from China is a lot better than nothing. For most lower income people, Walmart has allowed them to have at least a semblance of a middle class lifestyle, without spending themselves broke, and for that I applaud them. I also agree that most of the rich that rail against consumerism, seem to consume plenty themselves.

  513. > Prices are good.

    I rarely shop at Wal-Mart because the one close to me tends to be loud, dirty and have few cashiers with long lines.

    A couple of years ago, I wanted a soap dish – you know, a simple plastic soap dish with narrow ridges or something to keep the soap off the bottom. I thought “This is something I can buy from Wal-Mart.” Wrong. All they seem to have are (I can’t remember what they called them) bathroom fashion systems of coordinated soap dish, cup and… something else – I can’t remember. There were a variety, some in fake stone, with prices like $12.95. No $1.19 plastic soap dishes.

    I told my son about this, and he said “For something like that, you go to the Dollar Store.” Of course, he was right. There are stores like that scattered around, frequently in space that has been vacated in strip malls, that sell most of their merchandise for a couple of dollars or less.

    I don’t go into Dollar Stores very often, but when you want some plastic thing that should cost a buck or less, they are the place to go.

  514. To those still intent on comparing Walmart to Target, I still say it pays to be at least somewhat scientific.

    Meanwhile – Walmart doesn’t just let people have a semblance of a middle class lifestyle; it also lets people who otherwise couldn’t, put the money they saved to other uses, such as retirement, or saving for an actual middle class lifestyle (them or their kids), or, heaven forbid, business, which eventually could lead to an upper class lifestyle.

    The point is not that they all would do this; it is sufficient to show that it makes it more likely than if there were no Walmart (or Target). Furthermore, if more people are attaining middle class this way, it correlates as well with an increase in their own productivity, which lowers prices for everyone still further. One could be the poorest person in this scenario and still be living quite comfortably – on a $20k/year salary. The money amount doesn’t matter; its purchasing power does.

  515. richard40 Says:
    > Yes, Walmart has mostly cheap junk from China,

    I don’t agree with that at all. I don’t doubt they have some cheap junk from China, but they also have many nice things, some made in China, some made elsewhere.

  516. Reading this thread has opened my eyes about what I really hate about communism.

    Walmart-bashers have some common theme that is inherently a reflection of the evil communist ideology that demonizes the aspirations of a modest but wealth-accumulating, growing, aspiring middle class.

    Going by ESR’s comments and also comments of a few of the Walmart bashers, the thought process of ideological Walmart bashing (and other kinds of thinking that is inherently opposed to wealth-accumulation or resource consumption by middle class) appears to me as follows:

    “I am rich and wealthy, and privileged. I don’t know why but I am inherently uncomfortable with the idea that all people can be allowed to accumulate a lot of personal wealth through hard work. How is that even possible or sustainable? Won’t it lead to a depletion of resources of this planet? Yet, I cannot give up all this wealth myself – practising what I preach is unthinkable. So I must do something about all this rampant consumerism and resource-hungry peons. Anything that allows peons to consume goods and resources cheaply is bad for the economy and the planet. Therefore the likes of Walmart are evil.”

    It seems that the real hatred of any kind of mechanism that allows the middle class to enjoy its purchasing power, saving power or wealth accumulating power is inherently communist. As people may have observed before, “liberal” is just another term for wolf-in-sheep’s clothing armchair communist.

  517. A clarification of my understanding of the term “liberal” from American perspective: it just seems a modern day, whitewashed communist ideology to me.

    If somebody can clarify, I would be grateful.

  518. > but they also have many nice things, some made in China, some made elsewhere.

    I agree. And we shouldn’t forget the story from the last century when people used to talk about getting “cheap junk from Japan”. In many cases, China is beyond the “cheap junk” stage. Their exports can provide good value for the dollar (for a variety of good and not so good reasons).

  519. @esr: You’re slightly missing the point. It’s one thing to like those, and another to not come off as an alien of the “why’s he slumming here” variety.

    Actually I think there’s a serious point there that you’re missing, or at least not making. And that is, that the only thing you really have to do to be accepted at a gun or knife show is to act like you want to be there. Act unironic. No sneering, mocking or condescension.

  520. Reading my own comments it seems like stating the obvious, but you must remember that I am an outsider in this discussion and I have no idea of American society except through news and other media sources.

    I think the above comment is a reflection of my own feelings against the present Manmohan Singh Government which seems to take a perverse pleasure in burdening, taxing and asking painful sacrifices of the growing, honest, hard working aspiring middle class families in the name of long-term economic growth.

    The very thought of the rich and privileged trying to impose arbitrary limits on wealth accumulation by taxation, legislation and other means makes my blood boil.

  521. Greg: exactly. The kinds of folks who populate gun and knife shows are the ones who will accept anyone at all, no matter what SES or other irrelevancies may apply, as long as you generally agree that gun and knife shows are good things. They’ll even accept a Brie-eating, Chardonnay-swilling bicoastal liberal as long as they don’t walk around mumbling about the “gun show loophole”. If you think gun control is hitting your target, you’re their kinda person.

  522. Hell, some gun lovers *like* brie and chardonnay.

    @hari: I have quite a few American liberal friends. They do community theater, vote Democrat or Green Party, and will post articles to their LiveJournals and Facebooks and Google+s that celebrate liberal successes and point out conservative failures. (Much like Jay Maynard does for the opposite side.)

    To be fair to them, they’re not all brie and chardonnay. Most of them aren’t wealthy at all. A few of them describe themselves as socialist. I’m not sure they all make the distinction between socialism and communism. They might avoid the latter term because they know it draws a lot of suspicious, contemptuous glares in America, given its role in the Cold War. But I’m just speculating as to what they think about that.

    However, it’s important to note the ways in which they consider American liberalism to be a positive thing, because that tells you where their drive is coming from. I suspect I’m on firmer ground by saying that most of them side with the American liberals and with the socialists out of a desire to share. They have a vision of the world (not just America) as potentially a utopia, where people love each other, and freely share of what they have with their fellows. They seem comfortable in a village environment, where everyone knows each other, or can trust each other as if they know them. No one is considered a self-made man; everyone needs the help of others to survive, and is grateful for it. And everyone is expected to pitch in in a crisis, if they can. They don’t see socialism as the brother of the Evil Thing The Soviets Did, but rather as a simple, idyllic way of life.

    How this leads to a mindset of enforced sharing (an oxymoron to my mind) and the other negativities is a source of mildly perverse fascination to me, but I continue to scrutinize it because I want to understand it. For various reasons, I’ve never had much opportunity to confront any of them about why sharing that is induced by the government – for example, single payer health insurance funded by taxes – is still intuitively appealing as sharing to them; there’s always a miasma of various other arguments to cut through first, and time is limited.

    Then again, when we’re at that level of philosophical debate, American liberals have at least one thing in common with minarchist view that is popular in this forum: both have cultural mores that aren’t unreasonable, whose enforcement they feel comfortable entrusting to an agreed-upon authority. Liberals want enforced sharing and community; minarchists want enforced property ownership; both want enforced taboos against initiated violence. I’m skeptical that it’s as simple as a disagreement on fundamental philosophies, but more study is required.

    In the case of Walmart, many of them fear that the big store has taken away all of the retailing there is available to do in a given community, forcing people to be wage slaves who would otherwise be running their own small stores. They (I guess) see this literally as an infringement on the rights of people to run their own businesses as they see fit, sort of in the same way that many conservatives see gay marriage as an infringement on the way they wish to regard marriage. They see law as the easiest response to that, which is okay since the lawmakers are supposed to be trustworthy members of the village…

  523. @Jay: Indeed.

    There’s something else that I feel I should point out- the whole idea that going to a gun show is “slumming” has embedded in it a whole slew of class and cultural assumptions that are not only wrong, but offensive (and misleading, GIGO).

    Outside the Blue Bubbles(tm), intelligent, educated white collar professionals often LIKE GUNS. People you run into at gun shows are often as intelligent and well-educated as you (no matter who you are) they’re just not wearing their work clothes. The myth that only inbred toothless bubbas in bib overalls go to gun shows is just that, a myth, and a nasty vicious manipulative one. It’s a *narrative*, with a purpose.

  524. They seem comfortable in a village environment, where everyone knows each other, or can trust each other as if they know them. No one is considered a self-made man; everyone needs the help of others to survive, and is grateful for it.

    Close. So very close. Just s/village/tribal/, as in pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer society.

    Ric Locke has kicked this idea around a few times on his blog, and I am convinced it’s central to the divide between the Left and the rest of us. I think our evolution has fallen behind our revolutions.

    To hunter-gatherers, there is only so much Stuff available in any given place. God(s) provide fruit that can be eaten, and game that can be taken, in just so much quantity. If one person has a conspicuously-large amount of Stuff, it means that Stuff is not available to anyone else. The conspicuous consumer is robbing everyone else of Stuff. You have more Stuff than I do; gimme some Stuff. Property is Theft. The idea that there are ways to vastly increase the quantity and quality of Stuff simply doesn’t enter into this mindset.

    Agriculture allows food production that can support roughly 30x the population of hunting and gathering, but it requires a new way of thinking about things. First of all, people have to start thinking in longer terms than “all the fruit/game is picked clean here; we need to go somewhere there’s more food” and do long-range planning. Plowing, planting, tending crops is a substantial investment. If just anyone can then “gather” the crops, there’s no incentive for the person who does those preliminary steps that makes the bounty possible.

    So you have to recognize the individual property rights of the farmer who did all that work. The Code of Hammurabi, one of the earliest written legal codes, set forth what those rights, as did the Ten Commandments and the rest of Mosaic Law, and every successful civilization’s legal codes since. The person who makes something owns it (subject of course to the King’s divine authority to take a share), and has the legal right to decide when and how it will be used/consumed. Productive people can then trade value for value, each having more value (by his own reckoning) than he had before the trade. The principle of Comparative Advantage means that when people are free to trade thus, everyone will gain.

    This social and legal framework is like “software” in that it is not hard-coded into our DNA. It has to be explicitly taught to children so they grow up respecting the rights of others so thoroughly that only a tiny minority of them would steal. But if the intellectual leaders of a community not only fail to consistently enforce these moral principles, but actively oppose them, you’ll have huge swathes of people who don’t really agree to the “social contract”, and effectively are at war with the people who do. There aren’t enough prisons and mental institutions to hold all of the people who are dangerous to the civilized people.

    Tor those whose intellects are (often deliberately) arrested at the hunting/gathering tribal level (which has been around long enough for a lot of it to be in our firmware), the idea of individual property rights simply does not enter into their thinking. The fact that others are eating more food is simply wrong and must be stopped. If they have any intellectual appreciation of how agriculture, industry, and free markets work, their instinctual conviction of the wrongness of all this consumption will lead them to opposing the very institutions that make it possible for so many people to consume so much, and become part of the sneering pseudo-intellectual sophist class, dedicated to demolishing all of the moral principles upon which modern civilization depends. The hard-core enviros say as much. They want something like 95-99% of the world population to die off so that our species will stop making Gaia cry.

    And another point Ric (rightly) loves to beat the “anti-capitalists” with is that agriculture requires that you set aside from each harvest the seed corn for the next year’s crop, or you’ll starve next year. The name for goods/services that are produced/performed not for consumption, but for use to create more goods/services, is “capital”. When the OWS morons rail against capitalism, the logical end they seem to be seeking is that we won’t have any seed corn anymore, no work done to make plows instead of picking fruit or hunting game (which they also seem to despise as well, so figure on eating a LOT of fruits/vegetables if you’re going to be Vogons).

  525. Oh, right. The pre-agricultural mindset does allow for one way to get more Stuff. If the God(s) that provide(s) Stuff for us can be appeased, we might all be able to share in the bounty. So they’re on board with the occasional human sacrifice to that end. And even if it doesn’t produce any more Stuff, those of us who aren’t sacrificed get a bit bigger shares.

  526. Been out of civilization for a bit – lots of great writing on this blog since I’ve been back. Figured I’d toss in my $0.02 on this one.

    Call me a tech-snob or anti-social, or whatever, but I do the vast, vast majority of my shopping on Amazon. Everything – gadgets, tech, toys, movies, music, PT gear, clothes, diving equipment, toiletries, supplements, you name it, I get it there. Even a good chunk of grocery items. For $79 bucks a year, I get free two-day shipping on most things. $3.99 if I want something tomorrow. That pays for itself in two weeks (for me). There is also fierce price competition as Amazon has a seller program. Often translates to decent savings. A day of waiting for something or $3.99 to get it tomorrow makes economic sense for me – I am a busy guy and find myself all over the world sometimes – I end up saving in driving time, gas, stress and aggravation, and shopping time. But the real savings are in my most precious resource – time itself.

    I don’t shop at Wal-Mart (unless the ammo deals are compelling) for the same reasons Mr. Raymond does not, but I love the idea and institution of Wal-Mart, also for the same reasons.

    That said, I have a bit of a bohemian outlook. Fine food and liquor makes the times I’m not in the mud and blood so much more satisfying. My perishables tend to come from local farms (grass-fed lamb and beef, fruits, vegetables, micro-brews, etc.) and surprisingly enough, the prices for those are often competitive with the local foodstores.

    Everything else I buy that I can’t get on Amazon is worth the trips & lines – quality weapons, liquor, healthy animal products, aero-equipment, etc.

    I’m tossing out the Amazon ref because most of the comparisons I’ve seen in this comm thread are Wal-Mart vs. Target. Some of us savage tech-heads have other alternatives though.

    Aside and not much related – one of the most pleasant shopping and living experiences (EXPERIENCE itself, not economic/political analysis) I’ve ever had was during my time in Villefranche, France. That’d be an individual experience though. Ignoring the general political persuasions of folks there, the people and environment provided for a nice recharge – I throw this out there because it seems that Villefranche would be a liberal’s paradise, though I say it belongs more to bohemians and libertarians.

  527. @Paul Brinkley:

    Then again, when we’re at that level of philosophical debate, American liberals have at least one thing in common with minarchist view that is popular in this forum: both have cultural mores that aren’t unreasonable, whose enforcement they feel comfortable entrusting to an agreed-upon authority. Liberals want enforced sharing and community; minarchists want enforced property ownership; both want enforced taboos against initiated violence. I’m skeptical that it’s as simple as a disagreement on fundamental philosophies, but more study is required.

    I think it’s a matter of degree. 98% of the population wants both some enforced property ownership and some enforced sharing (in the form of taxation and government-owned infrastructure). This is probably a simplification, but I think most people’s view of government is that it exists to reduce risk. The risk of invasion, the risk of theft, the risk of drinking bad water or buying melamine contaminated milk, the risk of working a lifetime and dying in the street, the risk of being assaulted and left for dead and not being treated because your insurance card was stolen, etc.

    But it’s extremely difficult to have a sensible discussion about which risks the government should cover, how well the government should cover those risks, and how we allocate the costs of covering the risks, because on the one side you have people who think the government should cover all risks at 100%, and on the other side, you have people who think the government shouldn’t cover any risks at all. Those are just the people who can putatively think. Then you have the ones who don’t want to pay any taxes and but don’t want their medicare/social security touched. Of course, nobody likes to be taxed — certainly not more than their “fair share,” the definition of which can never be made in a way that will achieve anywhere near 100% agreement.

    The problem is exacerbated by the compromises that are made in the name of the partisans, that don’t really seem to help anybody except the lobbyists’ employers.

    Personally, I view government as a necessary evil. But the wider debate seems to be driven by shrill people who consider it an unnecessary evil on one side, and a necessary unalloyed good on the other side.

    @The Monster:

    To hunter-gatherers, there is only so much Stuff available in any given place.

    I think it’s interesting you give agriculture as a counter example to this. Arguably, it’s only one step up the (ahem) foodchain, as to an agriculturalist, there’s only so much arable land in one place…

  528. > Money, like oil, is fungible.

    Oil is fungible, at the global level, because the US wants it to be.

    The US could decide that oil doesn’t leave the Americas and the US navy could make that stick.

    If it did, “troubles” in the middle east wouldn’t affect the US oil supply.

  529. > And that is, that the only thing you really have to do to be accepted at a gun or knife show is to act like you want to be there. Act unironic. No sneering, mocking or condescension.

    Actually, that strategy works pretty much everywhere. It takes a special kind of stupid to go to a gun show, not behave that way, and blame the gun show folks for the result.

    http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/the_peril_of_smart_politicians_Hh74dtNxYtTdZhgHkID3NK#ixzz1g93Rw5Lb

    Or, as has been blamed on Orwell “some ideas are so stupid only an intellectual can believe them.”

  530. So you have to recognize the individual property rights of the farmer who did all that work. The Code of Hammurabi, one of the earliest written legal codes, set forth what those rights, as did the Ten Commandments and the rest of Mosaic Law, and every successful civilization’s legal codes since. The person who makes something owns it (subject of course to the King’s divine authority to take a share), and has the legal right to decide when and how it will be used/consumed. Productive people can then trade value for value, each having more value (by his own reckoning) than he had before the trade. The principle of Comparative Advantage means that when people are free to trade thus, everyone will gain.

    You oversimplify the agricultural case. Specifically, you didn’t account for feudal developments wherein the owner of the land wasn’t the one who worked it; working the land is what serfs are for. Which transitioned directly into the industrial era, in which the owner of the means of production wasn’t the one who made stuff; making stuff is what the working class are for. This is a natural consequence of free trade, as acquisition tends to follow a power-law distribution: the more stuff you have, the more stuff you can trade for. The working class are “free” in the freedom-to-starve sense popularized by the band Rage Against the Machine; they can choose between working for the industrialist-noble class for a pittance or not being able to put food on the table. But they cannot afford the legal paperwork necessary to start a business, let alone their own means of production (machines, shop space, etc.). Some might be able to afford to make stuff at handicraft scales, but they cannot compete with cheap mass-produced stuff at Wal-Mart. They are, effectively, still serfs, bound to their employers. Now in post-industrial Murka even the opportunity to make stuff for the Man has dried up, with nothing but the occasional McJob and call-center-flunkie position to replace it. The libertardian fuckwit response is “well, they should innovate their way out of that mess” but anyone who says that obviously hasn’t had their l33t startup hax0r brain short-circuited by their growling belly (or the cries of their children). The biggest category of “stuff” we produce is ethereal-stuff, mind-stuff. Which is why Android tablets are contraband in many countries and Congress is getting ready to pass a law that will permanently break the liberals’ greatest gift to the common man: the internet. (Make no mistake: Al Gore didn’t invent it, but he pushed a bill dedicating federal money to it and many of its actual inventors, like Vint Cerf, are friends of his.) Because the 1% is used to owning the means of production and won’t let it go, even if ideas are now the means of production.

    Marx predicted that the wheels would fall off capitalism when the owners of the means of production, having acquired so much for themselves and left nothing for their brethren, find that they don’t have customers anymore because no one can afford to buy the stuff their factories pump out in mass quantities. He was easy for conservatives and classical liberals to argue with back in the 19th and 20th centuries, when it was still a hypothetical future thing that hadn’t come to pass yet. It’s a lot harder to argue with history. In a few decades we will all be Marxists, because Marx’s hypthetical future is in the process of becoming recorded history.

  531. Specifically, you didn’t account for feudal developments wherein the owner of the land wasn’t the one who worked it

    You’ve obviously never read the Code of Hammurabi. The farmer didn’t own the land, but the Code established a minimum share he got, and the land owner got a certain share, etc.

    I think it’s interesting you give agriculture as a counter example to this. Arguably, it’s only one step up the (ahem) foodchain, as to an agriculturalist, there’s only so much arable land in one place…

    That’s because agriculture represents a huge improvement in how much food land can produce over hunt/gather, and the relationship between the work the farmer does and the existence of More Stuff is pretty hard to miss. Not that Jeff Read and Will won’t do their best to miss it.

  532. Well, I’ve heard it here first; Marx and “Rage Against the Machine” are apparently the vanguard of a utopian collectivist future just over the horizon, perhaps like a global version of that island paradise, Cuba.

    When it happens, I wonder where we will all escape to, in our boats made out of fifty year-old exploding Chevy Volts? Perhaps China will complete their capitalism project by then, and we will flee to Beijing.

  533. Jeff:

    But they cannot afford the legal paperwork necessary to start a business, let alone their own means of production (machines, shop space, etc.).

    Which is why Android tablets are contraband in many countries

    the liberals’ greatest gift to the common man: the internet.

    It’s been a long, long time since I read so much concentrated st00pid in one post.

    As for the paperwork and the machinery to start a business, I’d refer you to my roommate’s father, who did exactly that when Reagan’s tax cuts gave the economy a boost – and lifted himself out of poverty by his bootstraps. He became a successful small plastics manufacturer. You know, just like the liberals claim people can’t do. Experiences like that will never be trumped by left-wing rhetoric of the kind you’re spewing.

    In a few decades we will all be Marxists, because Marx’s hypthetical future is in the process of becoming recorded history.

    But I didn’t know until now I was trying to make sense of a dedicated Marxist who cannot, pretty much by definition, make sense.

    Whether we become Marxists or not will be determined largely by whether the Marxist Left continues its grip on the levers of power in this country.

  534. @Grantham RE: When it happens, I wonder where we will all escape to, in our boats made out of fifty year-old exploding Chevy Volts? Perhaps China will complete their capitalism project by then, and we will flee to Beijing.

    Interesting things happening in China these days: Why is Bill Gates selling nuclear tech to China?

  535. “Interesting things happening in China these days: Why is Bill Gates selling nuclear tech to China?”

    The article itself explains why he’s doing it. I hope that BG realizes that the Chinese will take the technology and push him out when they no longer need him.

  536. But they cannot afford the legal paperwork necessary to start a business

    because the self-appointed Defenders of the Exploited have erected such a Byzantine minefield of legal hassles. It never occurs to the critics of capitalism that a government powerful enough to right the perceived wrongs of the free market is also powerful enough to inflict some wrong of its own, and that the Evil Businessmen™ they hope to constrain with the mighty beast they have conjured have a powerful incentive to capture the regulatory apparatus and turn the beast into the instrument of explotation. Only after the fact do they whine about “co-option”, before they gear up for another round of New Improved Reform™: “THIS time we’ll do it right!”

    This is a classic example of capitalism being blamed for problems caused by the very state intervention in the economy that the blame intends to justify. Each time Bad Things™ happen, and legislators Do Something™, it creates the conditions for more Bad Things™ to happen.

    Lather, rinse, repeat.

  537. @LS, RE: The article itself explains why he’s doing it.

    Yes, I used the text for the link because it was the title of the article.

    I hope that BG realizes that the Chinese will take the technology and push him out when they no longer need him.

    Sure – anyone dealing with China should do some serious studying on their culture and history-to-present (from a business/acquisition perspective at the very least). Gates is a smart guy, but who knows. Even a temporary cash cow can be turned into other things, but I’m burned out and don’t feel like speculating on things tonight.

  538. >Each time Bad Things™ happen, and legislators Do Something™, it creates the conditions for more Bad Things™ to happen.

    >Lather, rinse, repeat.

    Lather, rinse, OWS, repeat

  539. >It’s been a long, long time since I read so much concentrated st00pid in one post.

    Oh, Jeff has been stupider than that before. Not often, and not recently, but he definitely has the capability.

    Jeff is a morbidly fascinating study in how someone capable of thinking can operate inside an ideological delusion so total that he might as well not be capable of thinking at all most of the time. You normally see this kind of thing only in people deep inside chiliastic religions – the comparison that often comes to my mind is a hacker I know slightly who’s an extreme fundamentalist Christian. The object of fixation is different but the rhetoric is eerily similar.

  540. @Jay Maynard:

    Whether we become Marxists or not will be determined largely by whether the Marxist Left continues its grip on the levers of power in this country.

    I don’t actually think the Marxist Left has a “firm” grip on the levers of power. They are allowed to occasionally touch a lever, as are even the tea partiers. No, the levers are pulled by the mercantilists who have no real ideology, but who are very good at reading the direction of the shifting political winds, and tacking to cozy up to the correct party du jour.

  541. But they cannot afford the legal paperwork necessary to start a business, …

    The government – led by people who think like you Jeff – have made starting a business in many areas quite burdensome. But a simple entrepreneurial idea that does not require employees, a store front or selling food/liquor/tobacco can be started with $100 in most of the more free of the 50 states.

  542. from Jeff Read:

    ” Because the 1% is used to owning the means of production and won’t let it go, even if ideas are now the means of production.”

    Amazing how easily you can just substitute the word “Jews” for “1%” and get the same anti-semitic propaganda that has existed for centuries. It’s not limited to the means of production. During medieval times, that propaganda was also used by the elites to convince citizens it’s good to steal wealth from a minority. Just reason #51 to suspect the left are really little dictators wannabes. Sorry but the anti-1% rhetoric makes my blood boil because the people making that type of argument should be ashamed of themselves. I have more respect for the Klan because at least they’re honest about their plans.

  543. “It’s not limited to the means of production” Sorry I meant to take that out. I was going to point out similarities to accusations of poisoning wells and murdering children, but decided to take that portion of my comment out. But look at the frakking debate and the assumption that corporations manipulate our government to start wars and you’ll see where I was going.

  544. Jessica
    The magic of the market will punish the dreadful management of both companies.

    Pity that magic was not allowed to clean up the mess that is now Government Motors.
    Bigger pity that magic will never be allowed to clean up the mess that is Government.

  545. @batguano:
    That’s because the 1% that is used to owning the means of regulation won’t let it go, even if experience is now the means of regulation.

    >.>

  546. It costs $50-$75 to start a company in Connecticut. For me it was $5 to the town for the DBA registration, $50 to the State for a Sales and Use Tax license, and that’s about it. I’m an LLC.

    I’m a programmer and network/system admin at large, so the “means of production” were part of my original equipment, so to speak. Total overhead? As close to nil as makes no odds.

    Jeff Read has worked in a cube farm all his life, quietly seething with rage over how he let himself lose control, and rather than blame the guy in the mirror every morning, he blames “the 1%” because they can’t tell him otherwise.

  547. @brian:

    It costs $50-$75 to start a company in Connecticut. For me it was $5 to the town for the DBA registration, $50 to the State for a Sales and Use Tax license, and that’s about it. I’m an LLC.

    To be fair, I don’t think those are the paperwork costs under discussion. But also to be fair, whenever I have a few dollars and want to help out the issue with the paperwork costs under discussion, I donate a bit to the “libertardian” Institute for Justice…

  548. > Marx predicted that the wheels would fall off capitalism when the owners of the means of production, having acquired so much for themselves and left nothing for their brethren, find that they don’t have customers anymore because no one can afford to buy the stuff their factories pump out in mass quantities. …. It’s a lot harder to argue with history.

    Marxists don’t seem to have any problem ignoring history. None of their predictions have come to pass, neither the ones about capitalism nor the ones about the consequences of Marxism.

    > In a few decades we will all be Marxists, because Marx’s hypthetical future is in the process of becoming recorded history.

    Oh really? Poor people in the US have more stuff than ever before. (In fact, we just had a long discussion about how the real objection to Walmart is that it lets poor people have things that some rich people feel that the poor shouldn’t have.) How is that consistent with “Marx’s hypthetical future is in the process of becoming recorded history.”

  549. > Marxists don’t seem to have any problem ignoring history. None of their predictions have come to pass,

    I noticed that Jeff Read was also one of the climate change “true believers” on the Junk Science thread. Perhaps there is a a cognitive connection there regarding botched predictions and falsification? I’m not even sure the Marxists think Marxism is going to pan out anymore. It’s more of a costume party for extremely slow-witted corporatists, these days. They don’t read Marx. They don’t read anything, they carve the human experience into vaguely defined interest groups and functions, neither of which they understand or even think they need to (some “panel of experts” will figure out how everyone gets fed).

    Also, they listen to “Rage Against the Machine”, as Jeff Read noted above. Unfortunately for them, “the Machine” (Sony Music Entertainment), signs the Rage’s paychecks, and a bunch of yacht-owning capitalists keeps the Rage party going day and night. Stupid is not the word for such people. They are deeply confused about reality and perhaps psychologically broken in some way.

    Meanwhile, I hope they build the Walmart up in Harlem, here in NYC. The people who live there could really use the jobs and the cheap goods.

  550. RE: Marxists, consumer culture, libertarianism, et al:

    This conversation thread has reminded me of a conversation I was having a few days ago with a friend of mine – we had both just re-read Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and Huxley’s “Brave New World” on our flights back. The discussion itself was on competing views (various -isms and -ists, and their social implications, particularly for the future of our species or what it will mean to be “human” in the coming decades) and we were both marveling at how some of Orwell’s and Huxley’s thoughts have panned out in actuality.

    The most striking observation we had was that our society actually seems to be moving toward a strange composition of the worst of their thinking – dystopian statist control through perfect-society distractionist (consumerist?) mechanisms…

    Also and off-subject, but because this is a way appropriate blog to say this: Rest easy, Christopher Hitchens. It is a sad day, the world has lost a great and irreplaceable mind.

  551. esr Says:
    > Jeff is a morbidly fascinating study…

    Interesting: personally, I find Jeff absolutely fascinating. I rarely agree with him, but there are few people who comment here that have made me think more than him. Personally, I think this place would be much less interesting and enjoyable without his input.

    The more I read this thread, the more I’m thinking of getting a mobile home. I’m not bohemian, I care not one whit about garlic presses, and I find disagreement enthralling.

    (BTW, welcome back WCC, I missed your perspective. Love your TV show — dang there is the redneck in me coming out again. I guess you can take the girl out of Georgia, but you can’t take Georgia out of the girl.)

  552. @Jessica Boxer

    Thanks, there Georgia girl, glad to be back – had a couple of guys in my last training evolution that were from Georgia – not to overly generalize, but interesting guys, real solid. Been to Georgia quite a few times, mostly to Warner Robbins Air Force Base, which I despise, but did enjoy Savannah quite a bit.

    Just to clarify, I am not actually a bohemian – I just share an appreciation of some aspects of that outlook. I enjoy the freedom and some of the “vices.” But for myself, (in some ways perhaps similar to you), I am as at home in the swamps, the jungles, under the sea, or in the arctic, saddled up and good to go, as I am in Manhattan or Paris. I hate the goddamn desert though. In my own time I will often disappear into the woods and mountains or on the sea for days (weeks if I’m lucky), though I am equally at home in a dark room with a zillion computers of various types going and Firefly reruns playing in the background.

    Like you, I enjoy a good disagreement, but it has to be intelligent. I cannot abide a non-sequitor, a red-herring, appeals to authority, or emotionally-reactive provocative techniques. “What are the facts? Again and again and again – what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what “the stars fortell”, avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable “verdict of history” – what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!”, eh?

    Not sure what you mean by my “TV show” – you may well have seen me on TV – I know the last three training evolutions I was at were filmed by TV crews and we wore forced to grant them goddamn individual interviews, but I am unaware of what show or news outlet they actually represented…

  553. Also, they listen to “Rage Against the Machine”, as Jeff Read noted above. Unfortunately for them, “the Machine” (Sony Music Entertainment), signs the Rage’s paychecks, and a bunch of yacht-owning capitalists keeps the Rage party going day and night. Stupid is not the word for such people. They are deeply confused about reality and perhaps psychologically broken in some way.

    Kinda like fucking for virginity, isn’t it. They say it’s their form of culture jamming — that in a capitalist society, there’s nothing inherently wrong with using the capitalist apparatus if it means you can spread the revolutionary message far and wide. Fine, okay, I can dig that. But if I got to pick Tom Morello’s brain, I’d ask him where he stands on this SOPA bullshit. Then I’ll know which side his bread is buttered on — whether his “revolutionary message” is more dear to him or the paycheck he collects from it. I mean if Justin fucking Bieber can turn the YouTube samizdat culture to his advantage (and largely by accident at that), then why can’t Rage?

    I don’t care much for Rage’s music. There’s hardly a 90s American rock act I do care for. I find that following Eric’s tastes in guitar music has proven fruitful, if not his taste in political philosophy.

  554. Off-topic again, but, hey, this thread has taken on a life of its own…

    I recently upgraded from Fedora 14 (Gnome 2) to Fedora 16 XFCE (to avoid the insane Gnome 3) and I am happy.

    I was horrified last night to discover that the “Print Screen” button doesn’t work, but I discovered that I can take a screen-shot in the Gimp, and since I always use the Gimp to crop screen-shots anyway, all is well.

  555. > They say it’s their form of culture jamming — that in a capitalist society, there’s nothing inherently wrong with using the capitalist apparatus if it means you can spread the revolutionary message far and wide.

    Oh, I’m sure they do say that. It’s an uproariously funny, Kafkaesque update of Saul Alinsky’s “Any Means Necessary” credos, requiring that the receivers of this viral messaging be too moronic to notice the paradox. I suppose that makes Rage’s customers the Useful Idiots of Useful Idiots. Protest singers of the 60′s and early 70′s had a similar dilemma, but they mostly resolved it by never, ever discussing it or coming down with a case of extreme “not giving a shit”-itus in the 80′s, when they all sold their music rights to help advertisers sell cars and designer jeans.

    Of course the unintentional comedy becomes much grander today with flash mobs like the “Occupy” movement. My favorite image so far is that of Ben Cohen from “Ben & Jerry’s” dishing out ice cream to the soi disant “99%” down in Zucotti Park. Cohen, of course, is merely a corporate mascot like the AFLAC duck these days, since Ben & Jerry’s was acquired by Unilever back in 2000 for $326 million. That was a drop in the bucket for Unilever, a $60 billion multinational giant specializing in precisely the kind of “unecessary” consumer goods (shower gels, hair care, hygiene products, etc) that the Marxists are always ranting against. The levels of irony are spiraling and Escher-esque, when you you take a whiff of the park, and realize how many of the Occupiers themselves could have used a dose of some of Unilever’s other offerings. Again, any political philosophy that requires its adherents to be too stupid to notice the vast and obvious hypocrisies of its purveyors is doomed to fail. Stupid people just can’t run the world. Not well, at least.

    The kids in Zuccotti will grow up one day, and will probably realize that Marxism is as clueless and cringe-worthy as Rage Against the Machine, and many of the other foolhardy things they embraced in their youth. The step after that is to realize that its soft-hearted brother, socialism, is on the cusp of failing even more spectacularly, as can be seen in the current Eurozone crisis. Eventually, you run out of other people’s money to spend.

  556. WCC Says:
    > Thanks, there Georgia girl, glad to be back

    I actually left when I was eight years old, so my claim is tentative at best :-)

    > Just to clarify, I am not actually a bohemian

    Actually I was referring to ESR, not you. I never really thought of you as such. More like Will from Red Jacket firearms (which I commented on about you here a while ago, and was the TV show I was referring to.)

    I doubt you care much for garlic presses, and I doubt you suffer fools gladly.

    >(in some ways perhaps similar to you), I am as at home in the swamps, the jungles, under the sea,

    Not me, too many bugs and mud for my liking. But I like people. I particularly like regular salt of the earth people. I appreciate the gun, tottin’ NASCAR watchin’ football going type of folks, because they are a lot more real than the pretentious fops and poseur popinjays I encounter amongst the more sophisticates. FWIW, the fops and popinjays can be fun to hang out with too, but it is like the icing on a cake: too much makes you nauseous.

    Oh, and BTW, they’re not called “jungles” and “swamps” any more WCC, they are called “rainforests” and “wetlands.” Try to keep up :-)

    > what are the facts, and to how many decimal places?

    Mostly, yes, but humans are more complicated that can readily be measured with math. Which is to say there is more to debate than “just the facts ma’am.”

  557. Whereas I believe that, eventually, we might just be completely measurable with math. Which bodes ill for the part of me that would like to refute predeterminism, but there you go. If I’m not sure, I’m not sure, and there’s no way around that without knowing more, and since it’s not my specialty, that means sitting around and waiting for the specialists.

    As for liberals – I seem to be more charitable than some of you. Maybe not always. I sometimes feel as unsympathetic as Ric Locke seems to in some of his writing. But at other times, I genuinely want to understand how the liberal point of view can make sense to some people.