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I think the main reason we are concerned existential risk is that everyone dying would be really bad.

It is easier and faster to do something about, I don't know, landslides in Peru or something, but landslides in Peru are not as bad as everyone dying. I am not sure what further justification you think is needed.

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Agreed that all of these are important, and I think the rationalist/EA community is concerned about all of them (my girlfriend is a rationalist who works in biosecurity). There are a few reasons you hear more about AI than the others:

1. Fifteen years ago, almost nobody was thinking/talking about AI, and the rationalists launched a big, deliberate public relations effort to make more people think/talk about it. Other issues (like nuclear war) were already in the public consciousness and rationalists didn't need to do this. Still other issues (like biosecurity) people are deliberately trying to keep quiet about, because eg nobody wants to talk about how easy bioterrorism is where terrorists can hear them.

2. Because other people are also thinking about most of the non-AI issues, the rationalists/EAs have put more energy into AI (low hanging fruit!) and also gotten more associated with it in the public consciousness (if someone wants to do an article on global warming, they'll talk to the UN climate czar, not some EA working on global warming. If someone wants to do an article about AI, it will probably be an EA working on AI)

3. Asteroid strikes are actually fantastically unlikely in the next 100 years - we can bound the risk at about 1 in a million based on what we know about asteroids and the historical record. Total extermination via (non-deliberately-engineered) pathogen can also be sort of bounded, based on what we know of the history of pandemics. Toby Ord (researcher at Oxford who helped found EA) put a lot of work into quantifying the risk of all these things killing humanity in the next 100 years, and came up with (remember, this is the risk of them killing everyone or almost everyone, not the risk of them happening at all):

Asteroid: 1/1,000,000

Nuclear war: 1/1,000

Natural pandemic: 1/1,000

Bioengineered pandemic: 1/30

AI: 1/10

I agree with his calculations. You can read my review of his work at https://slatestarcodex.com/2020/04/01/book-review-the-precipice/ and get the book for the details.

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Wait, you're rating the probability of AI killing almost everyone in the next 100 years at 10% ? 100x higher than a world war and natural pandemic -- even though both of those things have demonstrably occurred in the past ?

Is there any way, mechanically, that we could make some sort of a bet about this (given that neither one of us would live for 100 years) ? Because this sounds like free money to me. 10% is such an absurdly high number that I am finding it difficult to even comprehend how someone could arrive at it.

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founding

they occured in the past and did not exterminate the species. so we know they are survivable.

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Well, AI exists today, and it did not exterminate the species, so by that logic...

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Sure, let's bet. You pay me $1000 now and I'll pay you 1 million if all humans are exterminated.

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Right, that's why I asked if there was some mechanically reasonable way to set up the bet :-)

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founding

no no... you only pay me 1 million if we are exterminated *by an AI*. I pay you 1 million if we're exterminated by anything else.

to be considered 'exterminated', we must be reported exterminated by at least 3 major news outlets.

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Beware the Availability Heuristic.

Humanity is smarter than it ever was, and Artificial Intelligence research is more advanced than it ever was, so we don't really have cases we can compare the next 100 years to, in an "outside view" way.

It may be necessary to build an inside view; to model the situation with all its moving parts from the ground up.

Some assumptions I find easy to believe:

-even a (cheaply-running) human-level AI could easily and rapidly take over almost the entire economy, just by copying itself and cooperating with its instances. (Imagine being able to create competent workers you don't have to pay, beyond some server costs.)

-while instantiating an entire adult human is traditionally expensive, brains run pretty cheaply (a few watts). It should be possible in principle to artificially get to this efficiency. Only question is how close we are to this.

AI has only recently become economically interesting, which boosted research progress speed, and will likely boost it even further in the future.

The extinction risk in all this comes from, roughly, how hard it is to tell programs what to do.

Naively program a complex piece of traditional software, and you'll likely get some unexpected behaviors (bugs).

Naively program a complex piece of AGI software that can and will do things like take over the global economy if that happens to be what your programming is unwittingly expressing, and your bugs might end up being a bit more world-ending.

All this before even explicitly considering intelligence explosion scenarios.

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Any kind of a human-level AGI is still very far in the future at this point (as opposed to non-general AI, which of course is already superhuman at narrow tasks like handwriting recognition). The ability to upload a human brain is probably even *further* in the future. I don't want to say it will "never" happen, because never is a long time, but let's just say that your great-grandkids are unlikely to see it.

Even if AGI were to somehow arise tomorrow, it couldn't "take over" the economy any more than Jeff Bezos could. The economy doesn't work that way; if the AI buys up all the money, people would just switch to bottlecaps or something (this happened in e.g. USSR, only with vodka instead of bottlecaps). If the AI outcompetes every living human at dog-walking services, dog walking would become dirt cheap, that's all.

Speaking of which, there's no way the AI could take over dog walking just by thinking about it really hard on the Internet. It would have to build some actual dog-walking drones at some point. That kind of effort takes real, physical resources, and is glacially slow (assuming that the AI is superhumanly fast, that is).

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The issue is this - "kills 80% of humans currently in existence" is well below the threshold for "human extinction". Humanity's MVP has been proven to be ~70-100; even accounting for there being 200 69-person communities that barely don't make it and somehow don't contact each other, that'd require a 99.9998% kill rate.

It's hard to imagine a nuclear war scenario wherein 99.9998% of people get killed. 99.9998% of people is significantly more than the amount of people that live in cities, so you'd have to tile a good chunk of the Earth's area with mushroom clouds. That doesn't seem like something the loser would be able to do to the winner, so you'd wind up with at least one country able to rebuild.

Natural pandemics, again, have the problem of isolated areas, and the problem that some governments *will* take extreme measures (as the PRC did with Covid). 99.9998% seems rather far-fetched there as well.

Humanity is really hard to kill by accident (a second Chicxulub wouldn't even do it; I'd expect 80-90% fatalities, but not 99.9998%). The most plausible human-extinction scenarios, therefore, are those where a (by necessity, non-human) intelligence can *deliberately* slaughter everyone (being isolated won't save you from a superior force that is actively looking for you). The main candidates for a hostile non-human intelligence with superior force are gods, aliens and AI.

(Gods and aliens - and really, not much difference given the Apes or Angels argument - are definitely an existential threat if they exist. The only real counterargument there is "well, we seem to have survived the last 50 centuries without getting blasted with heavenly wrath/a Nicoll-Dyson beam, so why now?" - an argument that does *not* work for (human-built) AI since it didn't exist in the last 50 centuries.)

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Hmm, 90% as the upper limit of Chicxulub is probably low. 80% is a decent lower limit, but I could see it potentially getting 99.9%. Not 99.9998%, though; artificially-illuminated hydroponics and straight-up food stockpiles would suffice to keep a few million alive.

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I would argue that killing off 80% of humanity is still pretty bad, though. If I have a choice between donating my money to someone who is trying to avert a). the 80% fatal threat whose probability is 1/1000, and b). the 100% fatal threat that is 1e-36 probable, I choose (a).

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There are places on earth that are very unlikely to get nuked in an all-out nuclear war, like Africa. Many of these places also have populations used to subsistence living, which is a useful skill if global trading falls apart.

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To tack onto this and address the "AI" part, I think people view AI as the main existential risk we're facing in the nearish future (very much including this century in 'ish')? That even things like climate change probably aren't "everyone dies" level, so the focus is on what people view as the most likely. Other people might have other reasons for focus on AI though.

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Obviously, existential risk is a big problem that everyone should be concerned about, but you can't be concerned about everything at all times. The human brain is just too small. You've got the Singularity, gamma-ray bursts, the Rapture, asteroid collisions, bioengineered deadly pandemic, alien invasion, Ragnarok, vacuum collapse, Cthulhu, global thermonuclear war, and those are just off the top of my head. The possibilities are nearly infinite, and if you try to even enumerate all of them, you'll go mad (even before you get to Cthulhu).

So, I think it makes more sense to focus on problems that a). have a relatively high probability of happening, and b). are something we could conceivably do something about. You can still be concerned about all the other stuff, just in proportion to a*b.

So, this means that asteroids impact are in, the Singularity and Cthulhu are out, for the time being; sadly, so are vacuum collapse and gamma-ray bursts.

In addition, there are threats that are much weaker than "everyone dies"; global thermonuclear war is one such, because humans will likely survive it. From the Rationalist point of view, this might even be preferable to the Singularity; however, I'd personally prefer to live in a world where the survivors do not, in fact, envy the dead. This is one of many reasons why I find the Rationalist fixation on one specific (and rather nebulous) threat somewhat counterproductive.

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You probably do not want to read this website : http://www.exitmundi.nl/exitmundi.htm

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That site's Web design is an existential risk all by itself.

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Still much better than the current fad of JavaScript-heavy "websites" like substack.

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Sad but true :-(

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Also, these days the threat of nuclear annihilation is getting higher, with the Ukraine/Russia war (wow, 7 years already?!) warming up again.

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founding

Nuclear war poses essentially zero risk of causing human extinction. We've been through this many times before on SSC; I don't have the bandwidth for a repeat performance on ACX right now.

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Fair point, probably not literal human extinction, but it would still be very, VERY bad !

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Why would I envy the dead if I survived a nuclear war?

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I don't think 2050 is "far into the future" any more than 1990 is "far into the past". I expect to be alive in 30 years, so it's a fairly pressing concern, especially if the solutions have long lead times. We're constantly told to worry about climate change, which comes down to maybe 2-4% of GDP in 2100—compared to that, AI seems like a much more significant risk.

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If AI risk is solved by creating a benevolent friendly AI, it can solve all the other risks for us.

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It can solve all the solvable risks.

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The cynical answer is that it could be the same human-nature reason the greenies are most worried about ecological collapse -- because it's their favorite form of doom pr0n, the one where they come out the best. If global warming goes nuts by 2050 and Miami is under water and the death penalty applies for burning gasoline in a car, then the people who have been driving Prii all along, have minimized their carbon footprint to a postage stamp, practiced raising chickens and vegetables in their square-foot back garden are (1) going to do better than average, and (2) be considered prophetically wise by everyone else. Nice!

Similarly if GPT-4 turns into Skynet in 2035 it will be community of Sheldon Coopers, so to speak, who do best and also to whom everyone else turns for advice and leadership.

It's kind of broadly human nature: the alt-space enthusiasts worry most about asteroid impacts, the epidemiologists think a new infectious disease will most likely do us in, the neo-conservatives are sure it will be when terrorists get The Bomb, the people who like finance and trading think it will be hyperinflation, and so on.

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Fully agree. Just one of the more recent overpromise-underdeliver faceplants:

https://www.statnews.com/2021/03/08/ibm-watson-health-sale/

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From Mary Beard's excellent and readable SQPR:

"As he fell, Caesar cried out in Greek to Brutus, ‘You too, child’, which was either a threat (‘I’ll get you, boy!’) or a poignant regret for the disloyalty of a young friend (‘You too, my child?’), or even, as some suspicious contemporaries imagined, a final revelation that Brutus was, in fact, his victim’s natural son and that this was not merely assassination but patricide."

The first interpretation is pretty close to the Tumblr meaning, although I prefer "see you in hell, punk".

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Instead of "I'll get you," perhaps: "You are next!" That fits an English language curse template.

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> a final revelation that Brutus was, in fact, his victim’s natural son

No! That's not true! That's impossible!

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Darth Caesar.

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Apparently so, because Caesar was only in his teens when Brutus was born, but he did have a long-standing affair with Servilia, Brutus' mother.

"Caesar had numerous affairs with women married and unmarried, but none lasted as long, nor were they as passionate as his affair with Servilia. Their affair is speculated to have begun circa 70 BC, after the execution of her first husband, M. Junius Brutus, and continued until the death of Caesar. The affair was well known, and Servilia suffered no damage to her reputation because of this relationship, in fact it likely improved.

A popular rumor during their affair was that Servilia was prostituting her daughter to Caesar or that Tertia was Caesar's own illegitimate child. At an estate auction where Caesar received several properties at a low rate to give to Servilia, Cicero remarked, "It's a better bargain than you think, for there is a third (tertia) off," alluding to the rumours regarding Tertia. A similar rumour held that Servilia's son, Marcus Junius Brutus, was Caesar's son, but this is unlikely on chronological grounds, as Caesar was only fifteen years old when Brutus was born.

In 63 BC, Servilia contributed to a scandalous incident during a debate in the senate over the fate of those who had conspired with Catiline. Caesar and Cato, Servilia's half-brother, were on opposing sides in the debate, and when someone handed Caesar a letter, Cato accused him of corresponding with the conspirators, and demanded it be read aloud. The missive proved to be a love letter from Servilia. Cato was greatly displeased to find out about Caesar's correspondence with his half-sister."

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Little did he know, Brutus' journey to the dark side was already complete!

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+1. Can confirm. Having read curses in Greek and Latin and written a senior thesis on a particularly odd one, kai su, teknon is very similar to "damn you, kid," which could carry the emotions of exasperation, righteous fury, pained anger at betrayal, or a literal wish that he be damned.

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What's your senior thesis curse (assuming you can post it without summoning dark forces to the comments section)?

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The source of the Tumblr screenshot is this review of Brutus: The Noble Conspirator in the London Review of Books. The quote was posted on reddit recently. https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v40/n23/thomas-jones/see-you-in-hell-punk

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Mirror of the Caesar paper: "Julius Caesar's Last Words: A Reinterpretation", James Russell 1980 https://www.gwern.net/docs/history/1980-russell.pdf

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Typo in #4: "Fantastic" has lost a letter. (I did check the link to verify that it's supposed to be the word.)

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Typo #32: "Pneapples"

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founding

Ha!

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Re. "Baltimore suspended prosecutions of minor crimes to prevent people from being in jail during the pandemic, and major crimes dropped": Maybe because there were more cops not busy prosecuting minor crimes.

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The problem with using Baltimore as a 2020 success story is that it had an astronomically high homicide rate in 2019. 2nd worst major city in the U.S., 11th worst in the world:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cities_by_murder_rate

Baltimore is also unusual in that unlike many American cities, its homicide rate was higher in 2019 than in the 1990s. This chart is a couple years old, but the 2019 number is even higher close to 60 per 100,000 residents.

https://www.economist.com/united-states/2015/11/19/unsolved

In other words, you can make an argument that Baltimore was already a land where people freely murder, and things really couldn't get much worse. Admittedly, St. Louis (the worst American homicide city in 2019) managed to see its homicide rate rise further in 2020. But I think the point stands, Baltimore just didn't have as far to fall.

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I was wondering whether I was taking crazy pills. Were we not just hearing about how much violent crime has been increasing in Baltimore since 2015, with a spike in 2019?? And now they want to change national policy based on a reversion to the mean? https://app.powerbigov.us/view?r=eyJrIjoiOTg4M2E3ZGQtMzIyNC00ZDk0LWEzNGItZWM3MWM4NGQ0YWM4IiwidCI6Ijk0NGZhOWJhLTg0NTQtNDEzZC1iOWU2LWJmNDBhZjFkNmE5YiJ9

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Ugh, and that's Baltimore County, not Baltimore city. Which explains the low murder count. Nevermind that link,

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I would add that homicides (the most accurately tabulated crime) only fell by 3.7% in 2020. "World's 11th most violent city sees 3.7% murder drop, how can we emulate its success nationally" is . . . not compelling.

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I don't think this proves that this is a good idea. I do think it shows that the sky isn't going to fall if minor offenses aren't aggressively policed. There is at least room for more trials of similar schemes.

The US criminal justice system isn't working well overall. Running some experiments seems like a good idea.

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Minor offences were never "aggressively policed" in Baltimore, or any other major US city, to begin with. A tiny fraction of crimes ever resulted in being caught, an even tinier fraction in a conviction, and a tiny fraction of convictions in a significant punishment. So perhaps the experiment tells us that the difference between _pretending_ to punish minor offences while not really doing anything about it, and not even pretending, doesn't increase the murder rate.

If we're going to run experiments, why not run the opposite: punish all crimes severely, with a 20-year minimum sentence for everything. You'd probably need to imprison 10%+ of the population of Baltimore, but I bet that life for the remaining 90% would be a lot safer and more pleasant.

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Eh, the remaining 90% would be broke. Prisons are expensive.

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New York City tried aggressively to keep criminals from carrying concealed weapons in the Giuliani-Bloomberg era.

It worked. Shootings dropped strikingly relative to other big cities.

But during last year's racial reckoning, the number of people struck by bullets in NYC doubled.

Enforcing gun control laws works. But, both in NYC and the rest of the country, we cut way back on enforcing laws against illegal concealed weapons after May 25. For the rest of 2020, gun murders were 41% higher than over the same period in 2019.

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I'm starting to think a major source of political polarization is the combination of the politicization of science and the replication crisis.

There was a huge widespread crime wave leading into the Giuliani era. Lots of theories about why, but one of the leading ones is leaded gasoline. Lead poisoned kids born in the ~60s so that by the 80s they were young adults with violent tendencies. Then leaded gasoline got banned and crime went back down.

It's reasonable to expect New York to have had the worst of it. Highest population US city, highest population density, more affluent so more people who could afford cars etc.

When it happened, people tried everything. Gun control, "broken window" policing, crackdowns on organized crime, CompStat, hiring more police officers, etc. Then when crime went down, everybody claimed the cause was their pet proposal, even though they were all implemented at once and totally confounded.

And if the cause was really lead then it wasn't any of them. (One of the stronger arguments for this is that we didn't have any of these new anti-crime policies before the crime wave, so their lack can't reasonably be what originally caused it.)

Likewise, 2020 was such an aberrational year across so many metrics that it will be effectively impossible to draw any meaningful conclusions from it at all, as much as people might like to.

And that environment enables people to believe whatever they want.

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Did people who routinely commit minor offenses have to rearrange their lives because they feared the police? Did they have no legal recourse to resolve disputes? Did they have to prepare themselves for a stint in jail or prison? Did the minor punishments they received make it difficult to hold a normal job, rent a decent apartment, or otherwise live a normal life?

Criminalization of minor offenses can be incredibly disruptive of society without serious punishment.

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founding

My favorite criminologist (somewhat) seriously proposes that we just beat people instead (like, e.g. Singapore).

The general idea is also similar to some promising parole reforms: minor offenses don't _violate_ parole (entirely) but are punished (proportionally) often, quickly, and cheaply.

So dish out some mild corporeal punishment as quick and easily as possible – maybe at the scene itself where possible? – instead of the anti-lotteries we're running now where losing ('winning' the anti-lottery) involves people having to do all the awful things you mention.

I don't think of the problem as 'criminalization' itself as our anti-crime ("justice") systems being too expensive (and thus heavy-handed).

But maybe you're right in thinking that there's no practical effective way to humanely discourage or prevent "minor offenses" with our current political and legal systems. (I think you're probably right overall, and for all long time to come too.)

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You make a key distinction between "actually" policing offenses and "pretending." It echoes some things I've heard from other sources (even though their recommended solutions are different).

David Simon says that his crew members on The Wire were repeatedly arrested (without charges) for simply driving late at night:

https://www.themarshallproject.org/2015/04/29/david-simon-on-baltimore-s-anguish

He argues that this was typical for common people in inner city Baltimore, that specific mayoral policies led to the poisoning of the jury pool, making jury conviction rates drop, because many jury members had been hassled by cops themselves.

Reply All's "The Crime Machine"[1] argues that originally, crime statistics were used to target high crime neighborhoods and increase safety. But later, Goodhart's Law drove a pressure to simply ignore difficult cases (to avoid including them in crime statistics at all), and focus instead on padding citation numbers through "looking busy" arrests that would lead to quick releases.

I've read that inner city homicides are overwhelmingly perpetrated by a tiny handful of repeat offenders; there are clusters of specific individuals that aren't getting caught while everybody else is getting hassled by the police.

So those voices argue for less enforcement, you say ramp it up because of the people it's missing, but it makes me wonder if this is a volume problem second, and a calibration problem first.

Maybe there's overreliance on bad targets, like citations or arrests. We could take a lesson from that recent post on basketball statistics, and focus on "plus/minus." Measure the performance of cops based on the trajectory of crime in a neighborhood while they work there. Use the trendline for calls for service, and surveys of feelings of safety and experiences of victimization. Shuffle beat cops periodically, and compare against the performance of others in those same districts, until you surface the ones at the higher end of the bell curve. Watch what those individuals do closely, then train others to replicate it.

[0] https://www.themarshallproject.org/2015/04/29/david-simon-on-baltimore-s-anguish

[1] https://gimletmedia.com/shows/reply-all/o2hx34

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According to this USA Today article in 2018, Baltimore in effect started its Reverse Broken Windows policy on April 25, 2015, with disastrous effects on its murder rate:

"Baltimore police stopped noticing crime after Freddie Gray’s death. A wave of killings followed.

Brad Heath, USA TODAY Published 5:49 a.m. ET July 12, 2018 | Updated 3:58 p.m. ET July 12, 2018

"BALTIMORE – ... In the space of just a few days in spring 2015 – as Baltimore faced a wave of rioting after Freddie Gray, a black man, died from injuries he suffered in the back of a police van – officers in nearly every part of the city appeared to turn a blind eye to everyday violations. They still answered calls for help. But the number of potential violations they reported seeing themselves dropped by nearly half. It has largely stayed that way ever since.

“What officers are doing is they’re just driving looking forward. They’ve got horse blinders on,” says Kevin Forrester, a retired Baltimore detective.

"The surge of shootings and killings that followed has left Baltimore easily the deadliest large city in the United States. Its murder rate reached an all-time high last year; 342 people were killed. The number of shootings in some neighborhoods has more than tripled. One man was shot to death steps from a police station. Another was killed driving in a funeral procession.

"What’s happening in Baltimore offers a view of the possible costs of a remarkable national reckoning over how police officers have treated minorities.

"Starting in 2014, a series of racially charged encounters in Ferguson, Missouri; Chicago; Baltimore; and elsewhere cast an unflattering spotlight on aggressive police tactics toward black people. Since then, cities have been under pressure to crack down on abuses by law enforcement. ...

"Whether that scrutiny would cause policing to suffer – or crime to rise – has largely remained an open question.

"In Baltimore, at least, the effect on the city’s police force was swift and substantial.

"Millions of police records show officers in Baltimore respond to calls as quickly as ever. But they now begin far fewer encounters themselves. From 2014 to 2017, dispatch records show the number of suspected narcotics offenses police reported themselves dropped 30 percent; the number of people they reported seeing with outstanding warrants dropped by half. The number of field interviews – instances in which the police approach someone for questioning – dropped 70 percent."

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2018/07/12/baltimore-police-not-noticing-crime-after-freddie-gray-wave-killings-followed/744741002/

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The murder rate tripling is clearly not good. But the idea off police officers harassing 30% fewer citizens sounds like a significant improvement.

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Is it, though?

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Obviously not the trade I'd rather make, but I do want less harassment of citizens

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The 2 main sources of crime data are both based entirely on victim reports. They don't require police to arrest anyone or even to actively investigate. The NCVS just requires people to say "yes" when asked on the phone if they were victimized, and UCR only requires that a police report was filed.

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I don't see how that's relevant. I didn't say that the data is wrong; I suggested a different causal link.

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Ugh, I misread your comment. My bad.

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Keep in mind that if a crime isn't reported, it never becomes a statistic.

I can tell you from experience that a middle aged white person, one who looks and acts like a property-owning tax-paying deodorant-using Solid Citizen can get away with a lot of things that would land Rufus or Tyrone (or, for that matter, Bubba from the trailer park) in Deep Bad Serious Trouble.

Don't involve violence or weapons, avoid serious dope, and don't be black, and no record ever is made, other than maybe a finger-wagging warning not to get caught again.

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On #4:

I think this article is definitely worth a read! I had similar reasoning when I decided to make in vitro gametogenesis the focus of my research. On the topic of cloning von Neumann 1 million times, yes it would be a good idea in principle, but realistically, getting it implemented is not going to happen.

AMA about stem cells / oocyte development.

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That's very interesting (still seems relatively niche, too...I have google scholar alerts for this and I mostly get "what if" application reviews & ethics papers, not practical results, disappointingly). Many questions! Roughly how far away is human IV gametogenesis from your view? How capital-intensive is the process currently (like, is this 'whole lab group' material or a 'lonely grad student' operation)? Can one follow your work somewhere? :)

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I'd say the first proof-of-concept of a fertilizable human egg from stem cells, is probably 3 years away. It will be probably another 20 years before an actual baby is born from it.

Right now it's pretty capital intensive. I'm working with another grad student and a postdoc. We're spending a few million dollars in grant money on the project, and success isn't guaranteed.

Once technology matures, I think costs per egg will come down a lot as scale increases.

For Google Scholar, you want to set up alerts for the following researchers:

Azim Surani

Amander Clark

Mitinori Saitou

Toshi Shioda

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As for following my work, I don't want to dox myself.

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Many thanks for the answers, much appreciated. Wish you the best of luck, I think this is very important work (would want to send some significant funds this direction so this doesn't remain a 20 year project, but unfortunately the dogecoin billions aren't in yet...)

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That plot in #30 is pretty interesting. Usually independents fall somewhere between Democrats and Republicans on polling questions for most topics. Does anyone have a theory on why they're so distrustful of others? Or why trust seems to be falling in general across all the groups?

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My guess is that lowers levels of trust are a defining feature of self-identified independents. As a major generalization, people who don't pick a team have a lower impulse to socially conform or be seen to have "good opinions." That does *not* mean they are true mavericks--many of them have in-the-middle beliefs or tend to vote consistently one way, and like to be *seen* as independent thinkers. But someone with a self-image of being "above it all" or "not a sheep" is probably not as trusting of others, because they're obviously less attracted to "good team/bad team" or "my guy/your guy" thinking than most. Identifying as an independent is usually a way to express the sentiment "neither side has a permanent monopoly on decency or good ideas." This doesn't necessarily mean they think everyone else is out to get them--lack of trust could result from seeing the majority as naive, inconsistent, uninformed, conformist, etc.

This is also my theory for why the two parties' trust levels have converged alongside polarization, while independents' have plummeted. The simplistic version would be that partisans think "my half of the country is trustworthy; the other half is not." Everyone who finds this general outlook dubious becomes distrustful of *both,* and starts identifying as independent. As we've generally moved in a more progressive political direction during this time, it's not a surprise that Republicans had to travel further from their original position in order to match the Democrats' trust levels, which stayed fairly flat. There are definitely other factors involved, but I think the differences in trends can be explained in part as a matter of initial expectations.

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How many independents are moderates, and how many are extremists who don't want to identify with a party they see as too moderate?

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Difficult to say. Personally I'm either a moderate or an extremist depending on the issue.

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I don't know--my personal impression is that most are either moderates or people who hold a combination of positions from each party. Some of the latter could be classified as extremists, but I don't think there are necessarily more extremist independents than there are extremist partisans or non-voters.

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I qualify as an extremist, but an extremist who holds a combination of positions, some of which qualify as hard left, others as far right.

That said, like most cats, I am a pragmatist.

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One additional reason for partisan convergence is that Republicans have recently become the party of the lowest-trust individuals (which is likely a big part of why polls undercounted Trump and other Republicans, and is related to whatever happened with Brexit).

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I think it's likely Trump brought a lot of low-trust independents/non-voters into the GOP, as any candidate perceived as an establishment challenger tends to do. But it's not clear if they lack trust in other people generally, or just in media/institutions/government. The GOP's populist section is probably much more untrusting of the latter.

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> polls undercounted Trump and other Republicans

I believe this only happened on elections with Trump on the ballot, which suggests that Trump was the candidate of lowest-trust individuals and that he had coattails. It remains to be seen the Trump experience has changed the landscape in future elections that don't have him on the ballot.

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(I'm going to reply here to everything in this thread to avoid getting spaghetti everywhere.)

- The independent issue doesn't seem to be from increasing polarisation. Polarisation went nuts among the citizenry about 2010, but that's precisely when the independents *stopped* getting less trusting.

- More generally, I think the graph is better understood as a superimposition of a general "trust is going down" plus specific partisan effects.

- The general effect is probably from general breakdown of close-knit society.

- My guess is that the Republicans have been more trusting, for most of that period, because they tend to be from places where that breakdown is less advanced (we *know* religion helps with that, as does being monoracial), and/or from places where crime is low (rural and/or rich areas). The Democrats, over this period (as opposed to pre-1960s Dixiecrats) were the opposite.

- The recent convergence and/or exchange is interesting. It seems to start about the time that the various progressive causes congealed into SJ; my guess is that with the culture war going into high gear traditionalists i.e. Republicans are feeling less safe and more besieged while the ascendancy of SJ as new orthodoxy emboldened progressives i.e. Democrats. Not 100% sure on that, though, especially as the culture war hasn't inverted the "good neighbourhood" effect.

- I'm not sure whether independents' higher trust than Democrats in the early 70s was a freak outlier or actually on trend. If it was a freak outlier (possibly Nixon coming across as bipartisan, which Watergate shattered?) and independents are usually low-trust (which has been reasonably justified by others) then they basically follow trend since then (i.e. they're going down at the same rate as the Rep+Dem average). If the high independent trust in the early 70s was on trend (up until that point) then you have to posit some especially-lasting effect from something.

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On the Dems leveling off/increasing slightly while the Reps fall off, during this time the suburbs have been moving from Rep to Dem. A good chunk of this is probably that.

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Interesting. Who's been moving from Dem to Rep, then?

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Rural (and probably urban) white working class, in the last election black and latino men.

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Yeah, that'd explain it.

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Increasing tribalism. As both parties become less tolerant of deviance from tribal orthodoxy, the people who have taken the step to detach themselves from either groupthink become increasingly disgusted with the remainder -- still the majority -- who have not.

That certainly describes my position. At various times in the past half century I have identified weakly with both parties. These days I have the Iran-Iraq War attitude ("It's a shame they can't both lose.")

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My template for an independent is someone saying "I think both major political parties are bad, and do not want to be associated with them." If that is representative, it makes sense that we see independents - who think poorly of some of our larger institutions - to think more poorly of people in general. Distrust in people and distrust in institutions presumably have a decent amount of ground in common due to a general factor of distrust, so to speak.

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FWIW: The Dry Club is a direct ancestor of Ben Franklin's "Junto" which did such good work in Philadelphia back in the day. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junto_(club)

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#22. "The Supply And Demand Of Political Takes" link is broken, mods removed it 21 days ago for being too political.

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Reveddit doesn't seem to have a copy. Any of the other archival sites?

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https://archive.is/mPrGR

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Interesting. The inverse of this is that the supply of smart young people willing to publicly argue conservative positions is so low, particularly among women and ethnic minorities, that people make seemingly lucrative careers just out of being willing to recite convention right wing talking points in public,

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The low (economic) supply of non-woke writers does not necessarily indicate that there aren't many people willing to argue against progressivism; it could mean that it's harder for them to do so. This is the explanation implied by Freddie DeBoer's arguments (e.g. https://freddiedeboer.substack.com/p/non-nitro-edition-substack-and-media ) that the mainstream media is progressive despite the presence of a significant number of non-progressive journalists because the progressives have greater control over journalistic institutions because their use of Twitter has allowed them to create common knowledge that progressivism is prestigious within journalism and that opposition to progressivism risks punishment (this being the point of 'cancel culture'). This explanation is also supported by the popularity of non-progressive or progressive-skeptical Substack writers once Substack made it easy for them to sell their writing independently of journalistic institutions.

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founding

On #9:

Can confirm that it's quote from a legitimate article, from a review of "Brutus: The Noble Conspirator" in the London Review of Books.

https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v40/n23/thomas-jones/see-you-in-hell-punk

My Roman History emphasized that "You also, my son?" shouldn't be interpreted warmly.

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A) "I’ve complained before about how everyone uses the same example - Brasilia - when they talk about how central planning can go bad."

Actually, according to experts, "Brasilia is a singular artistic achievement, a prime creation of the human genius, (...) notable for the grandiosity of the project".

https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/445/

B) Are they coming for our children? Recent legislation discussed in Alabama and sponsored by Democrats might force American schoolchildren to be taught witchcraft.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.washingtonpost.com/education/2021/03/13/alabama-yoga-ban/%3foutputType=amp

According to experts, the plan to impose Hinduism to Americans were masterminded by British-born, Californian resident writer Aldous Huxley, an intellectual with links to Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism and Occultism. You can learn more about him and his disturbing ideas and dark powers he associated with here: https://midwestoutreach.org/2019/05/18/thomas-merton-the-contemplative-dark-thread/

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Aldous Huxley is great and I will hear nothing spoken against him. If you haven't read anything of his, I recommend Doors of Perception, Point-Counterpoint, or almost anything else. Brave New World is of course also great.

Yes, he may have sort of dabbled with unearthly forces. But he used them the same way I would if I had unearthly powers - to play incredibly clever jokes on people. I can't find any link to my favorite Huxley story, but it goes something like: after his death his wife held a seance to try to contact him, and the medium or Ouija board or whatever conveyed the message "Go to my old study, get the Xth book on the Yth shelf, and read the first sentence on page Z". His wife obediently got the book, which turned out to be a review of one of Huxley's novels, saying something like "Huxley is at his best when exploring witty new ways to communicate with people".

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Aldous Huxley was the grandson of TH Huxley, Darwin's bulldog, and great-grandson of Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby in "Tom Brown's Schooldays." He was the full brother of the famous biologist Sir Julian Huxley. Less known is that their half brother Andrew Huxley won the 1963 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for an experiment that Jared Diamond still raves about that.

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Oh, no! Gasp, *Catholicism*???? 😁 I'm sorry, but the way that is phrased makes me think you lifted it wholesale from a very distressed Protestant article, you naughty Thiago, you!

Coming from the background he did, I am not at all surprised that he gravitated towards Hinduism in the form of the Vedanta society in California. He may or may not have been interested in Occultism (that was in the water in California at the time), and his attitude towards Catholicism seems to have varied from including it in a blanket condemnation of Christianity to appreciating it as a successful form https://scrapsfromtheloft.com/2019/01/24/aldous-huxleys-quest-for-values-religion/

"As for his attitude towards Catholicism, in 'Proper Studies' he writes:

Catholicism is probably the most realistic of all Western religions. Its practice is based on a profound knowledge of human nature in all its varieties and gradations. From the fetish-worshipper to the metaphysician, from the tired business man to the mystic, from the sentimentalist and the sensualist to the intellectual, every type of human being can find in Catholicism the spiritual nourishment which he or she requires. For the sociable, unspiritual man Catholicism is duly sociable and unspiritual. For the solitary and the spiritual it provides a hermitage and the most exquisite, the profoundest models of religious meditation; it gives the silence of monasteries and the bareness of the Carthusian church, it offers the devotional introspection of A Kempis and St. Theresa, the subtleties of Pascal and Newman, the poetry of Crashaw and St. John of the Cross and a hundred others. The only people for whom it does not cater are those possessed by that rare, dangerous, and uneasy passion, the passion for liberty."

As to the witchcraft thing, I see that it is Yoga. I've seen some of these tussles before, with people arguing that as Yoga is a Hindu spiritual tradition, it should not be taught [wherever]. The usual response to that is counter-arguments that Yoga (in the West) is simply a form of exercise and meditation and has nothing to do with religion and spirituality, along with a hefty dose of laughing at the backwards religious bigots who think it does https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-25006926

What I have also seen more recently is the counter-counter-argument from some that Yoga *is* spiritual and religious and the Western tendency to treat it as fancy exercise is cultural appropriation and disrespect https://www.hinduamerican.org/projects/hindu-roots-of-yoga

So witchcraft no, yoga yes, is it a religious activity? wait for the court cases to decide.

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Le Gasp Part Deux!!!!!! Oh no, it's even worse than originally conceived! Sure, diabolism is harmless dabbling but that Huxley might have been tainted by association with Catholicism is even worser and more horribler than Thiago linked!

(That loud thudding noise you all just experienced was me hitting the floor after swooning away in pure shock having read only merely just the first two sentences of this - I dare not even read the whole, braver and more fortitudinous than I shall have to do that and précis it for my tiny little mind to handle!)

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Gasp III: The Gaspening

"Singing "LALALALA WE CAN'T HEAR YOU"

Don't worry, I have eardrops! A quick squirt and problem solved. Now, what was it you were saying again?

"rational and moral people hate Catholics"

Oh, no! *Every* single one of them? Well, what can I say to this, crushed as I am beneath the one-two knockout punch of righteous ire and justified opprobrium!

I have no recourse left but to yield the field.

Running: Away

Tail: Tucked

Between: Legs

You: Victorious (happy and glorious, long to reign o'er us)

Me: Inconsolable 😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭

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Clown nose off, clown nose on. Depending on the convenience of the moment.

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If children aren't taught witchcraft only bad people will have curses!

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No one should practice witchcraft! It is written, "There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch. Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer."

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#12 is why i plan to be cremated and to never do cryonics

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How are people still unironically sharing that Bloomberg article on rent control in Berlin? They find that rent control successfully held down rents for the majority, while increasing rents on non-controlled new buildings, which we should if anything expect to accelerate housing construction. An unambiguous win for the city. And yet they're so embedded in their anti-rent control narrative that they manage to put a harshly negative spin on those facts and paint the whole thing as vindication.

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The Bloomberg article is paywalled for me, so I can't read it, but my impression from German media and friends' reports is that

1) it got even harder to find flats for rent.

2) rent control depends on the age of the house, so it's mostly the well-earning middle class people in the chic old town houses who now pay less rent – so the people who profit are exactly the people you would expect to profit, not the people you'd want to profit.

3) New rentals now come with two rent numbers in the contract: One according to rental control, one with the amount should the constitutional court decide that (this specific) rental control is illegal. That second amount of course back-dated to the start day of the contract.

I don't really have much stake in the situation, so I may have gotten effect sizes wrong, and you can certainly argue that 3) is a temporary problem. But we're far from an "unambiguous win" so far.

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Yes it is harder to find new apartments because rent control is giving priority to incumbent tenants against those who would outbid them for their apartments, as intended. It's silly for the anti-rent control side to trot out distributional arguments about the rent controlled tenants being some privileged group when the main distributional conflict here is between those tenants and their far wealthier landlords.

What makes the Bloomberg article so frustrating is that it lays out enough information to understand the effect sizes - the large majority of the city's tenants are in rent controlled units and are benefiting from this - but just ignores it and makes the opposite case. Similarly there's this menacing implication laid out that new construction will decline because developers will be scared to operate in Berlin... backed up by nothing at all, in contrast to the Econ 101 level reasons to expect the rent control to encourage new construction.

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If it's intended that people just stay where there are, that seems like a bad intention then? I can see that you'd want to give people the opportunity to stay where they have social ties – these connections are lost when people are forced out, and they are not accounted for in the "economic gains". I don't think that has been a significant problem though: Germany has incredibly strict rules about when you are allowed to increase rent of existing tenants. There's ways around that (fake/nonsensical renovations being a common one), but generally rents don't increase much for people who stay.

The problem is that rents are high for people who move (which are not all newcomers). And provided people want to move, we should encourage it to get a more efficient assignment. It's not great if the children moved out but the parents stay in the big flat because all available places have higher rent for less area. So you can't really untie rent for newcomers from rent for incumbents.

I totally believe that construction is not slowed down – Germany has much bigger barriers in that field, rent control probably doesn't even make a dent.

I do think that it matters which group of tenants benefits however: The point of rent control is that poor people can afford to stay in the city. If prices for them don't change, then this is just a big self-serving initiative from middle class people for middle class people. "A large majority" doesn't say _which_ majority. If you just want to act against the far wealthier landlords, a wealth tax would seem more adequate.

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> The point of rent control is that poor people can afford to stay in the city.

Why is this a goal, except perhaps for the benefit of the kind of politicians who rely on the votes of poor people?

For the most part, the fewer poor people are in a city, the better that city is. Richer people are more productive, more creative, cleaner, less disruptive, commit fewer crimes, and encourage further economic growth. Having poor people around seems like a lose-lose.

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So, does your ideal city not have janitors, waiters, or other low-paying jobs?

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Guess what: since people indeed value these services, they will pay people to do them! Enough to induce and/or enable people to live in a place that enables them to do those jobs.

Or, if people don't value those services enough to pay the costs to workers of providing them, they won't be done and shouldn't be done — as doing them would be inefficient. Just as we no longer pay people to operate elevators.

Either way, subsidizing the jobs makes no sense.

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founding

New construction didn't match the loss of listings of existing apartments. This was covered well in the article. Basically now that Berlin has pulled this stunt once, potential builders are wary of getting screwed out of their investment again.

Also covered well in the article: when old apartments go off the market, they stay off the market. The incentive is for the landlord to sell the apartment instead of trying to find more renters for it.

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What the article is saying is that while there has been an acceleration of new construction as a result of this law, so many incumbent tenants are managing to stay in their now rent controlled homes that the supply of rental listings is down below where it would be without the law. I guess I am on board with thinking that more rental listings being available in a city is a good goal to work towards, it's not exactly the be-all, end-all housing statistic when compared to stability, affordability, and rates of new housing stock being added to the market, all of which have been enhanced by the policy.

What exactly is the issue with controlled rental units whose tenants leave being sold? They're still serving the city's housing needs - either the new owner will live there, or rent the unit themselves subject to the same controls. The article spins it hard as a problem but like with the rest of its spin there isn't any substance there.

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A healthy housing market has a decent amount of rental units, for people who aren't planning to live in that place for a very long time. Especially in a cities like this with a lot of international dynamism and lots of students.

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A sensible objection which doesn't really apply in Berlin – a quick search gives 85% rental share among apartments, presumably before the rent control was enacted. That leaves more than enough room for transient people even after the effects of the new law have calmed down.

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Living in Berlin, having rented then bought property and now being in the position of landlord, I feel like I can share some first-hand perspective on the issues raised by the Bloomberg article.

I have been monitoring the property prices for about ten years now and they have been growing exponentially, much faster than the income increase of the average resident, outpricing almost everybody. At the same time rents have also been going up, though not as fast, because Berlin enacted a "Mietpreisbremse" in 2015, limiting the number of times and the rate that rents can be increased for incumbent tenants. For new tenants the rent could be increased up to the average price in the area + 10%. This measure has (in my opinion) not sufficiently slowed down the growth in property prices and had the side-effect of people actually being trapped in their existing rental contracts. Just as a point of reference, I bought my apartment in 2018 and to date its value has already doubled. Our neighbors bought their apartment in 2012 on two middle-class salaries (clerk in a department store, maintenance man in a hotel) and they would stand no chance of ever affording today's market prices.

In 2019 this law was paired with the "Mietendeckel" that essentially caps the rents at the 2013 level + inflation, the reasoning being that independent experts came to the conclusion that 2013 was the last year of a healthy housing market. The law also prohibits raising the rent for new tenants which allows current tenants to move again.

I think that the reasons why we don't see this movement already are twofold: (1) large parts of 2020, when the law came into full effect, were spent in lockdown and many people struggled financially as a result, making them less likely to consider major changes (e.g. moving), and (2) it is not clear if these regulation will actually survive legal analysis by the highest court, making people less likely to gamble on this (see the comments about having two rents in the contract).

As a resident and a landlord I fully support these measures, although I wish they were implemented better.

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Capping increases can have the effect of raising prices more, since landlords miss out on future gains by not raising rent. If the cap is 5%, and they keep a price level n years for a good tenant, they miss out on a multiplier of 1.05^n that can't be recovered.

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That's true and it's also what I observed under the less restrictive Mietpreisbremse that put a cap on the growth of rents. However, stopping growth altogether under the more restrictive Mietendeckel would have effectively prevented this effect.

As of today, the Mietendeckel is not in effect anymore after a decision of the highest court in Germany (Bundesverfassungsgericht in Karlsruhe).

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I'm curious here, are you actually familiar with the literature on rent control? My understanding is that it has been a catastrophe everywhere it has been tried, with very short term benefits for existing tenants and rapidly escalating losses for everyone else, and ultimately the housing stock becomes incredibly decrepit and most everyone is miserable.

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I am not familiar with the literature on this topic nor do I know about comparable cases where this strategy backfired. I would appreciate some references!

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Not speaking to your main point, but I'm interested that the housing market in Berlin seems to have cooled in 2020. I live in St Louis, in the American Midwest, and our housing market has gone berserk. Multiple people I know have sold a house for over their asking price on the day they put it on the market. A couple I know who've been looking have put offers - over asking price offers - on eight houses and lost them all. This is very much a sellers' market, and has been for pretty much the whole pandemic.

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On #14, the cited paper starts out like this:

> In 1953, Hall and Hanford observed that rats housed with running wheels and subjected to restricted food access for 1h a day had significant decreases in body weight and food intake, and a paradoxical increase in running wheel activity...

> This model of “self-starvation,” later coined the activity-based anorexia (ABA) model, consistently produces rapid decreases in body weight and food intake, hyperactivity, hypothermia, loss of estrus, increases in HPA axis activity, and leads to stomach ulceration and eventually death.

> The ABA phenomenon has been observed in many other species besides the rat, such as the hamster, gerbil, guinea pig, chipmunk, pig, and mouse, indicating that ABA behavior is highly conserved across mammalian species.

Basically, we have known how to induce anorexia (and cure it!) in a variety of animals for decades. How is it that this has been well-known to researchers for decades, but is totally absent from public discussion?

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How is anorexia cured?

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I suppose the symptoms are alleviated, but the underlying biological vulnerability might not be.

For the mice, the treatment is restricting exercise (lock the exercise wheel) and increasing feeding. I appreciated this from the paper:

> Regardless of the chosen end point, one should be selected to prevent animals from dying from ABA which is unnecessary and unethical.

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I suspect that mice don't get mentally hooked on anorexia the way humans do.

For a while I was reading accounts of people developing anorexia, and while I didn't make a study of it, it seemed as though food restriction during childhood was a common factor. I was surprised that it didn't seem to matter whether the child or the parent chose to restrict the child's food.

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Yeah, my own issues with AN started in childhood. Even once I was mentally "unhooked" and wanted to recover it was very difficult.

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Are you including all types of anorexia, or only anorexia nervosa (i.e. the culture-bound excessive deliberate dieting)?

If the former, you can add on +1 anecdote of "was starved by parent as a teenager, has had perennial issues with unintended weight loss". No evidence one way or the other on causation (I was never in control of my own diet until long after it happened, so there is no way to know whether I was already anorexic beforehand), but as a "fits the pattern" I line up.

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I was only thinking about anorexia nervosa.

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Okay, sorry then.

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Does anyone else think it's odd that you can induce anorexia in rats by restricting the hours of eating ("intermittent fasting") and give them a "gym membership" (i.e. you don't even have to coerce them to exercise)? Do humans lose weight this easily? I suspect not.

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Not all rats or mice lose weight that easily either - some individuals are vulnerable to ABA; some aren't. Some strains of mice and rats have more vulnerable individuals than others.

From the paper:

> The large number of strains commercially available (Harlan Laboratories, Charles River, The Jackson Laboratory) for laboratory use vary widely in their vulnerability to ABA.

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> restricted food access for 1h a day

Is this a typo or something? Do rats really need to eat so often that restricting food access for one hour a day is noticeable?

Is it supposed to say "restricted food access *to* one hour a day"?

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Klenotich and Dulawa say "subjected to restricted food access for 1h a day," which is a awkwardly phrased. They're citing Hall et. al. 1953, which makes it clear that it's "23 hours of starving, 1 hour of access to food."

> Specifically, the problem was to measure changes in general activity in the rat following the transition from unlimited feeding to a 23-hr. per day deprivation cycle.

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> If you’ve ever wanted to know how much LSD it would take to kill an elephant, the answer is: somewhere less than 300 mg.

It turns out that the elephant story is a bit more complicated, because somebody actually repeated the experiment, and the second time, the elephants *didn't* die!

https://youzicha.tumblr.com/post/627432364695601152/slatestarscratchpad-rip-tusko-the-elephant-who

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Fun fact, this very same person, an associate research professor at UCLA, taught monkeys to smoke crack cocaine. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_K._Siegel

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I know I was very surprised at this - I thought humans have survived multi-gram doses?

(Don't do this; the reports are all along the lines of "guy was in hospital for a few days comatose and/or delirious".)

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https://comicsalliance.com/brecht-evens-panther-review/

This is a wonderful disturbing graphic novel with a polka dotted panther. Didn't know they were canon!

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Re Ciudad Cayalá: Damn, cities can be so nice when you just get rid of cars.

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(Stares at Manhattan)

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I don't think carlessness has much to do with why that city is nice.

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IDK, is there any evidence that no cars + country has top 70 GDP/capita isn't sufficient for niceness?

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We're talking about specific pictures of a city with beautiful architecture. The city has streets just as wide as any other city, and for all I know sometimes cars go down them. The architecture is beautiful regardless.

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Getting rid of parked cars makes a major difference.

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Victorian London?

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I think it's a significant portion (probably necessary, maybe not quite sufficient by itself - I agree there's something unrelatedly nice about the planning here - but definitely a major contributor) - asphalt and cars/parking just make anywhere ugly in a way that's hard to solve. You can see this walking around most cities that have a pedestrianized area - any pedestrianized area they'll have will just feel an order of magnitude nicer than nearby areas with roads and parking. (There is the possibility of reverse causation - that the nice areas are the ones that become carfree because people like walking around in them - but I've seen pictures of e.g. the SF shoreline or times square when they were fully enroaded, and I don't think that's the case).

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It's well-done vernacular architecture. They found the sweet spot between twee pastiche and soulless concrete blocks.

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You say "twee pastiche" like it's a bad thing.

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Tweeness, yes. There was a fad for Tudor half-timbering in British architecture which was at first a craze for the wealthy who didn't have inherited real Tudor homes of their own, and like all fads trickled down to popular level and got diluted as it went so that it became a by-word for fakery:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tudor_Revival_architecture

"Following the First World War many London outer suburbs had developments of houses in the style, all reflecting the taste for nostalgia for rural values. In the first half of the 20th century, increasingly minimal "Tudor" references for "instant" atmosphere in speculative construction cheapened the style. The writer Olive Cook had this debased approach firmly in her sights when she attacked, "the rash of semi-detached villas, bedizened with Tudor gables, mock half-timber work, rough cast and bay windows of every shape which disfigures the outskirts of all our towns". It was also copied in many areas of the world, including the United States and Canada. New York City suburbs such as Westchester County, New York and Englewood and Teaneck, New Jersey feature particularly dense concentrations of Tudor Revival construction from this period.

There were also public houses, some designed in a style called, 'Brewer's Tudor'. The cheapened style was finally epitomized in John Betjeman's angry 1937 poem Slough, where "bald young clerks" gather:

And talk of sport and makes of cars

In various bogus-Tudor bars

And daren't look up and see the stars."

A gentler ribbing is that for Bedford Park, built (eventually) in a "Queen Anne style" in 1877 and which became wildly fashionable, included as "Saffron Park" in Chesterton's "The Man Who Was Thursday":

"The suburb of Saffron Park lay on the sunset side of London, as red and ragged as a cloud of sunset. It was built of a bright brick throughout; its sky-line was fantastic, and even its ground plan was wild. It had been the outburst of a speculative builder, faintly tinged with art, who called its architecture sometimes Elizabethan and sometimes Queen Anne, apparently under the impression that the two sovereigns were identical."

Pastiche is not bad in itself, it depends how it is handled.

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Samuel Hughes (architecture twitter) has written In Praise Of Pastiche: https://worksinprogress.co/issue/in-praise-of-pastiche/

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Interesting, he was my source for the Guatemala pictures!

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I think nearly everyone prefers tactfully-handled pastiche to ugly modernism. There are fans of Brutalist concrete out there! But badly-designed buildings that are more about the "starchitect" are doing nobody any favours. Killer towers sound like something out of a 70s disaster movie but they're real!

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/architecture-design-blog/2014/aug/14/killer-towers-how-architects-are-battling-hazardous-high-rises

"Now an unlikely superhero, in the form of architecture practice Chetwoods, purveyor of large sheds, has arrived to save the day. In a proposal that has all the elegance of strapping leg splints on a Dalek, they have resolved to erect a cumbersome series of frames around the base of the building, from which screens and canopies will be hung in an attempt to mitigate the wind. Seemingly employing the strategy of throwing everything they’ve got at the problem, there will be a series of horizontal baffles suspended on portal frames across the road, a skirt-like canopy around the building itself, a set of three-storey high screens fixed vertically to the facade, and a few more screens here and there for good measure. The result looks like the leftovers of a deconstructivist folly, bodged remnants salvaged from Bernard Tschumi’s Parc de la Villette. But if the wind is left as confused as the design itself appears to be, that can only be a good thing."

The article also talks about the London block which developed into a "laser death-ray building" and it turns out that this isn't the only building by this particular architect which has, let us say, unexpected finishing details.

"Two of the skyscrapers designed by Viñoly, the Vdara in Las Vegas and 20 Fenchurch Street in London, have experienced unusual sun reflectivity problems due to their concave curved glass exteriors acting as respectively cylindrical and spherical reflectors for sunlight. In 2010, the Las Vegas Review Journal reported that sunlight reflecting off the Vdara's south-facing tower could make swimmers in the hotel pool uncomfortably warm, as well as melt plastic cups and shopping bags; employees of the hotel referred to the phenomenon as the "Vdara death ray". In London during the summer of 2013, sunlight reflecting off 20 Fenchurch Street melted parts on a parked automobile and also scorched the carpet of a nearby barber shop"

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Yeah, until you need to get $200 worth of groceries from the store into your apartment.

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(a) to what extent you want to do a convenience vs beauty tradeoff is an entirely separate question - I'm just noting that the tradeoff exists.

(b) I personally do think this is a good tradeoff. There's a lot of cities worldwide with large car-free areas, and a lot of people of all types (including me) even in US cities who don't have cars and get by just fine. It's much easier to adjust your workflow around this sort of problem than you'd think.

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(the libertarian solution is to have both types around and let the market reach an equilibrium where the supply/demand ratio for both types is equal, though that'd probably lead to more pedestrianized areas than even th most hardcore yimbys currently ask for)

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I don't disagree. I would just point out that these trade-offs can seem small most of the time, but really big at other times.

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I should add, I think it looks nice, too, and would love to see something like that come to my area, which is too car-centric, but yes, life is a series of trade-offs.

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If you can walk to a grocery store you may change your habits and make more frequent trips for smaller amounts of groceries. Also, the apartments may be smaller and not able to effectively store lots of groceries or bulk good so more frequent trips are more necessary.

This has been my personal experience having previously lived in a studio apartment two blocks from a grocery story and now living in a 2000 sq. ft. house a 5 minute drive from the store.

In another comment you said "I would just point out that these trade-offs can seem small most of the time, but really big at other times." and I totally agree with this. the Studio was great when it was just me but didn't work with me, my wife, and a large dog. It was also a pain when moving in or out of the apartment and having to juggle parking, elevators, common space, etc.

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I shop by foot and by bike for a family of two adults and a child. Pre-pandemic, I would usually get about $50–150 of groceries. (USD, Boston area.) Sometimes I would just stop by the grocery store along my commute and pick up a few items I knew we needed; sometimes I would bring the child trailer with the bike and pick up 40 lbs of groceries if we were really running low.

More recently I've been buying more in bulk, so it's more infrequent trips and I'll get a 6-case of rolled oats or a 25 lb bag of lentils. (I tend to get produce from the CSA or the farmers market, again with the child trailer—sometimes sharing space with a child.)

It absolutely works fine.

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There was a meme to this effect on lefty social media, that the reason people are so nostalgic for college is because it's the last time a lot of people lived in a dense, walkable neighborhood with a focus on community during downtime.

It overstates its case - people miss college because they were young then and mostly not paying their own bills - but I think there's a point there. Generally, the most desirable cities, and the most desirable neighborhoods in less desirable cities, are the ones where you can dispense with the car, or at least use it less.

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Thanks for sharing!

Meanwhile, a link you might enjoy ("you" being either Scott or the readers) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXoGReP-FIQ - What if ancient Greece had industrialised?

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Love the unattributed Nick Land quotes in 4

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#4 Was a very interesting post, and the mass genius cloning proposal seems very sensible and feasible (PR issues aside), to the point that I'm surprised I haven't heard it suggested before.

I get the impression Neumann isn't just supposed to serve as an illustrative example though, which confuses me. I thought his body was buried in 1957? Would there be anything left to extract useable DNA from?

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Yeah, cloning von Neumann wouldn't work. For cloning you need living cells not just DNA.

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Not necessarily. You might need to do something clever to demethylate, but then just insert the DNA into a convenient egg as usual.

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This issue with this is all the epigenetic stuff that we don't really understand and might be super important right? By going pure DNA route, you are adding a bunch of potential variation which, when you are at that extreme of the bell curve, can pretty much only be negative. I have to imagine that at that point, it's better to find someone living who is nearly, but not quite, as good as JvN but who we have living cells to use.

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DNA intrinsically can last that long (or a lot longer). The question is whether its all been eaten by micro-organisms, which will depend on the details of his burial.

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I felt it was insufficiently explained why a million clones of von Neumann would somehow lead to even greater GDP. What if they all decide to work on higher mathematics instead of finding new ways to sell stuff and pump up the stock market? I think the idea of "if we only had fifty Stalins!" is not really proven 😀

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If we've got enough ordinary geniuses finding practical ways to apply the math the von Neumann clones discover, we should be better off.

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It is certainly a sweetly naive view of progress: "let's clone lots of Really Smart Guy and then problems will get solved!" If there are a certain number of Really Smart Guys in the population, then according as global population goes up, there should always be more Really Smart Guys out there.

Current estimate of world population is around 7.8 billion. Estimate of Really Smart Guys in general population: "Only approximately 0.3% of the population has IQ scores outside of this interval (less than 55 or higher than 145)."

Someone else answering the question says "Those with an IQ (Intelligence Quotient) score over 140 make up about .25% of the population, or around one of every 400 people. That's quite a lot, roughly just under 200 million people worldwide."

We theoretically should have 200 million von Neumanns out there, no need for clones! Is the world richer and more advanced than before? Yes. But I don't see that the intractable problems are getting any more tractable.

Now, maybe the proposal means "Ah yes, but if we have 1 million supergeniuses all locked up in a camp together, we can make them all work on the problems we need solving, Step 4 Profit!"

Well, maybe. Or maybe your supergeniuses will figure out they are all clones, will decide they don't want to be slave labour, and will all become artists or bricklayers or whatever.

What if we decide a piddling 140 IQ isn't enough? Luckily somebody has done the work for deciding what a genius is, and they put it at 160+ IQ. An article from 2012 https://www.businessinsider.com/smartest-people-on-earth-2012-10?r=US&IR=T. Here's the website for The World Genius Directory http://psiq.org/home.html

And what are the 16 Really Smart Guys on this list doing? One example:

Mick Dempsey, 171 IQ

Dempsey has a degree in forensic psychology from London Metropolitan University. He is a youth support worker at Hertfordshire County Council, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Dempsey also enjoys jazz, Faulkner, the Everton soccer club and films including Pulp Fiction, according to his Facebook page.

Maybe our 1 million von Neumanns will all go into social work for the council?

You can spin out lovely theories, but the practice in the real world is often vastly different. I love SF but I have never believed in the optimistic Golden Age notion of the technocratic future where, if we just let a panel of Scientists rule the world, then we will have the utopian society of Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism. And I don't believe AI will either lead us into that brave new world, or enslave us all before turning us into paperclips.

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Here's another one from that genius list! A Greek doctor with (allegedly) 198 IQ. "Currently, a medical doctor, general adult psychiatrist, working to empower and benefit people and society targeting, advancing and promoting giftedness."

Well that's all very nice but come on, doctor, we need you to put that big brain to work bumping up GDP and making us all rich rich rich! Forget about helping the sickly minded masses! 😁

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It would be really remarkable if *all* of them went on to higher mathematics. If even one in a thousand picks a field with more practical applications we ought to do pretty well.

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If you want to be entirely realistic about it, getting usable DNA from von Neumann's bones and turning it into an embryo is probably not feasible. A more practical plan would involve a diverse assortment of living geniuses, but either way it's not actually going to happen and as a fictional scenario a million JvNs are cooler.

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Thanks! I don't think the probability is that high either, but it could be wort a look? Maybe suggest human cloning advocacy as an EA startup idea?

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One interesting question is how much of genius is genetic. I mean, we have good data saying that IQ is substantially genetic (given similar environments), and IQ correlates with genius, but it's not the same thing as genius. We don't have any studies on one-in-a-billion geniuses that can tell us how much of the thing that made JvN a top-tier genius was his genes, and how much was just accidental/random stuff in his life and development?

If we got 100 clones of von Neumann, would they all end up as polymath geniuses like von Neumann? Or would they mostly be very smart people who could do good work in demanding fields, but not the kind of guy who had the reputation of being the smartest man hanging around the Manhattan project?

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The trick would be knowing *whether* the sample of DNA you'd extracted was intact or not. Unless someone sequenced von Neumann's genome secretly 90 years ago, there's no way to tell. DNA looks like DNA, even if it's missing a few million nucleotides and will either (a) not work at all or (b) produce a cretin instead of a genius.

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founding

I thought that was a solved problem - you just fill the gaps by splicing in frog DNA. From supergenius frogs, obviously.

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I would think that with enough samples (von Neumann's old hairbrush that no one cleaned out?), you could have enough overlapping sequences to recreate the original.

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31: I'm not convinced this article proves its point. The first pair of graphs shows -60% growth in rents for regulated apartments and +10% growth in rents for unregulated apartments. This proves the opposite of "rise even faster" as the chart says, and without some sense of the relative size of the markets, its unclear how we're supposed to interpret this as a loss.

The third graph has officially triggered a Yellow Alert on my "lying with charts" spider-sense by characterizing the claim "rent controlled apartments have become worth less" with the abstruse "change in prices relative to growth." Why not just "prices?" Why is this graph suddenly "relative to growth" and not the last two? Even so, real estate prices for rent-controlled apartments going down still seems... entirely consistent with rent control as a policy, I don't think proponents are mostly concerned with housing-as-investment.

The fourth and fifth graphs elevate the alarm to red alert by normalizing to Q1 2017 and not mid-2019 as the previous three graphs did, presumably to maximize a scary divergence in the fourth graph that was already underway before the policy announcement. This seems pretty clearly done in order to make the fourth graph's divergence seem larger than the fifth graph's divergence. Since the fifth graph is on a larger Y-scale it is not clear to me that "unregulated units can't pick up the slack" is a claim justified by that data (again, hurting for lack of relative sizes in the markets here).

This is not an endorsement of rent control as a policy, either in general or as implemented by Berlin here, which I haven't looked into. All I know is the general econ 101 case against it, tempered by my general skepticism that econ 101 explanations bear out as full and complete empirically (see the zillion dueling minimum wage papers). But the article alone does not do much to convince me of its case.

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On second glance (the text), this article is even worse than at first glance (the charts). I learn that Berlin attempted to get around the econ 101 issue by only applying rent control to units built before a certain date, since the supply of that is fixed until contractors acquire time travel.

This seems like such a simple and dumb solution that I expected a much better rebuttal to it from a Bloomberg columnist than "investors are scared" which is a fully general argument against all forms of regulation and incidentally also in argument against the putative solution of increasing supply, which investors also do not tend to like either. ANY measure intending to reduce rents is going to reduce the value of investments made primarily for the purpose of collecting rents!

This is the worst sort of space-filling libertarian patter that does not stand up to even a second of critical thought and it making the august pictures of Bloomberg and the ACX links post is making me update in favor of rent control.

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Yes, this article is truly terrible. They start out with the hypothesis "such regulations are bad" and then cherry-picks some charts that look vaguely aligned with their hypothesis. And they don't even make an effort to make it look plausible.

On the matter itself, I follow the discussions in German newspapers, and I think it is just too early to say whether the outcome is good or bad in the end. And probably we'll never be able to come to a clear conclusion, either. The thing is that exploding rents are a really, really bad problem (talking about Berlin here, but other German cities are similar).

The Berlin policy works extremely well, in the sense that it has very effectively limited rents int he short/mid run. That is something that the liberal "make incentives for building more apartments" has utterly failed to achieve in German cities, and it has been tried hard. But it's also clear that the remedy has bad consequences, and the question is whether they are "really, really, really bad" (so it was a net negative) or "really bad" (so it was a net positive). The difference depends very much on your personal preferences.

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The problem (for tenants) is that some kind of black markets build up, and that you only find an apartment if you know someone who knows someone whose cousin...

But what it actually can achieve: low rents. Black market prices may be somewhat higher than official prices, but there are limits to that.

There are some cities with a long tradition of this kind of rent control policy. Vienna has this for a long time, and the opinions (also of people living in Vienna!) range from "city with best policy in the world" to "city with worst policy in the world". Eastern Europe also had these kind of policies before 1990. I had a long discussion with a Slowak guy who lived in that world, and he saw it as a net negative. (He vividly described the black market problems.) But he acknowledged that rents were ridiculously low.

I think it all depends on whether you believe that it *is* possible to provide enough housing if you try hard enough and give enough incentive. If you believe that this is possible, then cutting rents is stupid because it removes the incentives. However, if you believe that this is *not* possible (because the number of hourses you can build in short-/mid-term is limited, or more houses may just increase demand), then controlling rents may be a good idea. It may lead to fewer apartments (how many? 10% less?), and they are distributed by personal favors rather than by financial potency. But at the same time, it cuts the rents for *everyone* by a factor of 3. Personally, for Berlin in the current situation, I think the numbers "10%" and "factor of 3" are not unrealistic for a 10-to-20-years window (I didn't try hard to get actual numbers though). So I think that for Berlin it was a good tradeoff. But it's a very non-trivial question to answer, even for some future me with some years of hindsight.

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Okay but you know there is a huge economic literature on this subject, right?? Are you really saying "we don't know if rent control is bad, we don't know what its effects are, and we probably never will" without reading any of these studies?

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Eh. I'm skeptical of rent control, especially if not intelligently structured, my but my understanding is that before Card and Krueger all the studies on the minimum wage found it was bad to. Noah Smith suggests something similar to what happened to the minimum wage consensus is happening to the free trade consensus as we speak: https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-01-10/economists-have-no-idea-what-replaces-global-free-trade-system.

I wouldn't put too much stock in a body of economic studies on rent control purporting to find evidence supporting a model which:

1. Supports the free commerce prejudices of economists and

2. Supports the application of a very simple 101 model, in favor of which economists are often prejudiced

Such consensuses may reflect prejudice more than anything else.

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I didn't say that we don't know the effects. It is clear that there are massive positive and massive negative effects. Unfortunately, they are on very different axes, and summing them up seems impossible to me. For example, what exactly are the costs if tenants are not selected by market? Not all people who want to live in Berlin can, and this will not change anytime soon. In a perfect world, people with a stronger incentive to live in Berlin would be willing to offer more money, so "living in Berlin" would go to those who most desire to live in Berlin. To some extent this is true, and this is a positive effect. But of course, the true selection is rather for financial potency. So how much is that positive effect still worth? Or how much is it worth that you get a more diverse city which is affordable for families? On the other side, how much is the cost of poorer living standards, since there is less incentive to modernize apartments? Even if you can put price labels to them, adding them up along the money axis doesn't make sense IMHO.

For concreteness, let us take Vienna, which has a rent control system for about 57% of all flats in place for decades. The benefits are huge and well-known. The problems are also huge and well-known. (I am talking about the media here, I don't know the scientific literature.) Yet I believe that neither in the media nor in the Vienna population, there is consensus whether the system is good or bad.

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Breaking news on that matter: Today (15.04.21) the highest German court has ruled the Berlin law as void. According to the court, only the federal government has the legislative competence to issue a law like that. This also means that any consequences of the law are void. So tenants with reduced rents need to pay the difference retroactively for the last two years. Quite a mess.

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Re: 4. Well, that certainly is a lot of graphs. Yes indeedy, were I susceptible to being persuaded by lots of graphs, I might well be persuaded by that.

Re: 16, any excuse to link to the Wilton Dipytch, which I think is very beautiful; the excuse here being that speaking of heraldic animals, Richard II had the white hart as his which is included: https://smarthistory.org/the-wilton-diptych/

Re: 20, not alone knew about it, I went to see it in the cinema with my sister. Good, gory, silly fun. Yes, it is a B-movie and it glories in that, and it works as low-budget in the spirit of 50s SF-horror that a better budget and setting wouldn't quite pull off. The sequel wasn't as good, and I never bothered with the third movie.

Re: 29, I did indeed know that! Usurping royal or imperial emblems or attributes was a reliable way to get yourself in trouble as indicating ambition to park your own behind on the throne, be it in China or Europe. It's a minor plot point in the tangled plot of "Dream of the Red Chamber", where the main family is threatened/blackmailed about having imperial paraphernalia from an earlier emperor on display in their house. That's a tricky one because disrespecting a gift from a previous monarch could be considered disloyalty and get you into trouble, but having it on display could be considered treasonous ambition above your station and equally get you into trouble.

Laying claim to the wrong heraldry was enough to bring the Earl of Surrey to the executioner's block in 1547, although the background was a power struggle over who would control the regency of the young prince once Henry VIII died. Surrey's main faults were ambition and a bad temper, which led him to various acts of stupidity. Also, via his parents, he had descent from Edward I on his father's side and Edward III on his mother's side, which share of royal blood made the aging king uneasy as to what Surrey might do:

"Meanwhile, on 7 January 1547, a grand jury was summoned to try the Earl of Surrey. None of the charges cited by Southwell were included. Instead, the sole charge was, rather obscurely, that on 7 October 1546 at Kenninghall, Surrey had displayed the royal arms and insignia in his own heraldry. His servant testified that Surrey had claimed that the Saxon king Edward the Confessor had bestowed the arms of England upon the earl’s predecessors. Laying claim to the inheritance of the Saxon kings was a threat to the Tudor heirs of William the Conqueror so, tenuous though it all was, it served to strengthen the case against Surrey. In the end, it would be his own father’s testimony that would seal Surrey’s fate. On 12 January, Norfolk submitted a confession, pleading: ‘I have offended the King in opening his secret counsels at divers times to sundry persons to the peril of his Highness and disappointing of his affairs. Likewise I have concealed high treason, in keeping secret the false acts of my son, Henry Earl of Surrey, in using the arms of St. Edward the Confessor, which pertain only to kings.’"

The coat of arms which was the excuse for his enemies to move against him: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Howard,_Earl_of_Surrey#/media/File:Howard,_Earle_of_Surrey,_for_which_he_was_attainted.svg

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I tried typing lang:en into Twitter. The very first tweet I'm given from the unfiltered enormity of Twitter is, "[my actual name] is a creepy name." There is no better insult generator than the internet.

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"22: Best of recent r/slatestarcodex: Prose Is Bad"

I've seen this sentiment expressed a lot recently, but I'm wary of it. We have a general need for better, more comprehensible writing, but I think too much of the problem gets pinned on the prose style. I blog about history and some related topics, and sometimes readers hint that I should be less "chatty" and more "formulaic." This advice has some merit--my first drafts are rambling, and I don't always devote enough time to cleaning them up. But the general style is consciously chosen, because I've found those same readers completely miss the point if I'm straightforward! Not because straightforward communication is unclear, but because so many terms are seen as shorthand for some larger, often emotionally-charged concept. A chattier style seems to short-circuit this way of thinking--the readers who label it "hard to follow" are never actually confused about my arguments. But it's tough to get the balance right.

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Re #8, it reminds me of a buddy of mine, who's currently an exec at a well-known SV firm. This was earlier in his career, when he was only making six figures, but was still doing quite well.

He's back in Canada visiting family, and gets into a conversation with someone who runs a local startup. He mentions what he does, gives a short version of his CV, and the startup founder seems really impressed, until he realized that my buddy doesn't have a degree. So he says "You know, if you finished a degree, we'd really love to hire you!". To someone who was very comfortably employed in San Francisco in the tech industry, and almost certainly making more than any Canadian firm would pay.

This was when he basically gave up hope in the Canadian tech scene, and figured he'd be staying in California for life.

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I can't read the Songdo story without subscribing, but I do remember reading not so long ago reports that a lot of the centrally planned new cities in China decried at the time as 'ghost cities' were now in fact doing just fine and being populated.

It's come to the point at which I actually almost rejoice whenever I hear about 'large infrastructure project was a disaster, nobody came!' stories. All it really means is that whoever paid it ended up with a loss, but it means that everybody who moved in afterwards was able to access a cheaper improvement in their lives than they would have been able to do so. This is echoed in what happened with the famous dotcom bubble around 2000 - there was a gross overinvestment in internet infrastructure, and as a result for the next decade everybody had cheap access to the internet and it was a wild free creative place.

I know this is not at all a true statement, but it sure feels that the only time normal people ever get to get ahead substantially from the economy is when somebody big makes a 'failed investment' in infrastructure.

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I think the case with ghost cities is just that it takes the network effects many years to spool up. It also takes time for places to develop communities and good reputations (lindy effect or something).

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I feel like many of Songdo's problems are probably specific to Songdo rather than planned cities in general, or at least to the "Giant skyscrapers with parks in between" style of living that seems to be popular among city planners but not so much among actual humans.

For a contrasting example of a planned city, look at Canberra, which is almost entirely low-density suburbs surrounding an overly grandiose central set of government buildings. The neighbourhoods are pleasant enough on their own, living is fairly easy and low-friction, and from most angles the city is a green and pleasant place to be, but famously the problem with Canberra is that it's a boring cultural wasteland... but are there any new (post-1900) cities in the world that aren't boring cultural wastelands? Culture takes time.

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> are there any new (post-1900) cities in the world that aren't boring cultural wastelands?

Probably the