Slippers and Criticizing Non-Cash Charity

The UK government spends money to buy new slippers for the elderly to try to protect them from slipping and falling.

Giving people free slippers should be voluntary charity rather than taken from tax payers.

But I don’t think it’s a good idea for voluntary charity either.

Why do non-cash charity? The reasonable reason is there are advantages to distributing used items instead of selling them then distributing the sales profits. But in this case they're buying new slippers.

Charities distribute new items, instead of cash, because they know that if they handed the person cash the person would not buy the items being distributed. It’d be easier to hand out cash than slippers, and then people could buy their own slippers (and make a better, more-personalized choice about the size, style, etc). But most of these people would prefer to buy something else other than slippers.

Giving someone something that he values less, instead of something he values more, is an attempt to control his life. It’s paternalism. It’s saying his preferences are wrong and you want to change his life to be more how you think it should be. And it’s not arguing or debating that point, it’s just using the position of power (as the charity with the wealth) to pressure people.

In general, if you want to most help someone according to their values, you give them cash and they buy what they value most highly. Non-cash charities giving out new items are clearly not aiming to maximize how much they help people according to the values of the person receiving the help. They are instead, to some extent, trying to impose their own value systems on the charity recipients.

Charity for slippers and other similar things also creates perverse incentives. It discourages buying slippers. The government will give you new slippers but it won’t give you a Switch, so it encourages you to buy a Switch instead of slippers. And if the next slipper swap is in 3 months, then the government is encouraging you to use your old slippers for 3 months (the exact thing they claim is dangerous) so that you can get free slippers instead of having to pay.

If the government and private charities give enough kinds of specific aid – clothes, food, housing – then they can really encourage some poor people to spend their money “irresponsibly” to get a nice couch, a big TV, etc. The more they spend on the things the government and charities consider important, the less charity they receive, so they are encouraged to get in the habit of buying cigarettes, alcohol and anything else the government would never give them, rather than spending on food and clothes.

PS Here’s some more government involvement with slippers. Some shoe companies put a thin, cheap layer of felt on the bottom of their shoes, which is meant to quickly wear out. Why? Because if the bottom is felt instead of rubber, then it’s a slipper instead of a shoe, which can reduce tariffs from 37.5% to 3%. This is a waste of felt and effort.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Anti-Bias Procedures With Reach

Powerful people make biased decisions all the time. People make rules like “Don’t be influenced by sex, make the decision that is best for the company, e.g. promoting the most qualified person.” These rules are very hard to enforce.

How can you reduce bias? Instead of prohibitions, have people explain their reasoning and have some criteria it should use. And require them to answer a sample of criticisms/counter-arguments, including some chosen randomly and some chosen by adversaries.

This makes it harder to make a decision for sexual reasons. If you do, you still have to write about other reasons. You have to think through the other reasons. And then you have to lie and try to argue a case you know to be false. The more egregious the error (appointing someone really unqualified, say), the harder this lying will be.

Perfect system? Not at all. People will write (or say it in a speech) vague, generic, low-content bullshit about how Lacy exemplifies all the characteristics that official constitute being qualified. So don’t ask him to judge vague things like if someone is smart or hard working, make more of the decision about more measurable factors. Or just suffice it to say that if the audience is gullible then procedures don’t really matter, but if the audience can see through vague bullshitting then the guy is going to struggle with the requirement to address criticism.

If you give someone the leeway to promote anyone whose qualifications round to “qualified” in the eyes of an imprecise, gullible audience then you are not going to get the most qualified candidate promoted very reliably. Too bad. Don’t blame the guy in charge. Give people less leeway for decisions, or make them respond to arguments from more discerning audiences, or stop complaining when they are biased.

There are a million sources of bias. People are wrong to try to tackle the bias problem by focusing on a couple well known sources of bias and trying to suppress those (largely in ways that you can’t judge very objectively, so enforcement ends up being either non-existent or arbitrary/capricious and even more biased than the original problem you were trying to fix, which is especially bad cuz now the stakes are firing people and attacking their reputations, whereas the stakes before were more like someone failing to get a promotion and someone else gets it and the person who gets it is qualified within the error bars of the level of discernment of the audience. The audience is at least like the boss’s boss has to not find the behavior ridiculous, even if none of my proposals are used. And even the CEO is often accountable to the board of directors or investors).

We need anti-bias procedures that have reach/generality, that work on tons of types of bias (even ones we haven’t thought of) at once. Making a rule against sexual favoritism doesn’t do that. Maybe that particular rule is fine and worth having, anyway, given the current cultural situation and history (well, I think maybe that kind of rule was good 50 years ago, but today it’s politicized and being used to ruin a lot of lives that I don’t think merit ruining).

The big picture is we are all alike in our infinite ignorance (as Karl Popper said), we are at the beginning of infinite progress (as David Deutsch said), there are infinitely many ways to make mistakes, and prohibiting a list of known mistakes is a poor tool for addressing this. If you really want to do something about bias, you need procedures that oppose many large categories of bias at the same time. Having people say their reasoning and answer some criticisms makes bias generically more difficult because any bias could be criticized and also it makes it harder for the decision maker to be thoughtless – in order to make a halfway convincing case about why he’s making a good decision (as judged by the publicly desired decision criteria) he has to actually think about what a good decision is supposed to be. People do have some integrity, and lots of people try not to be biased and would change their decision after conscious analysis (and the larger the deviation from the truth, the more people will be unwilling to do it if they’ve actually thought it through and seen that for themselves).

Relying on the critical faculties of the decision maker and the audience may sound like weak enforcement. It is. But there's no way to get strong enforcement or guarantees. If the people involved are too dull to spot blatant errors, then those errors are going to happen. Thinking is always our defense against error. If people shared reasoning and answered criticism, it'd give critical thinking a better opportunity to be effective. It'd improve the status quo where people often hide their reasoning while knowing it'd be difficult for their reasoning to stand up to scrutiny, or don't even think things through since they won't have to share their thought process.

See also: Using Intellectual Processes to Combat Bias

PS These thoughts are partly a comment on Robin Hanson’s tweet asking about a powerful man helping a career of a woman he has sex with.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Paths Forward or Prediction Markets?

In Can Foundational Physics Be Saved?, Robert Hanson proposes prediction markets to evaluate the future impact and value of scientists and research. This is intended to help address cognitive biases and incentive problems (like overhyping the value of one’s own research, and seeking short term popularity with peers, to get funding and jobs).

Markets strike me as too much of a popularity contest where outlier ideas will have low prices. I don’t think letting people bet on things will do a good job of figuring out which are the few positive outliers out of the many mostly-bad outliers. Designing good, objective ways to resolve the bets and pay out the winners will also be very difficult. And historians are often mistaken (in many ways, even more so than the news, which often gets the facts wrong about what happened yesterday), so judging by what future historians will think of today’s scientists is not ideal and can differ from what’s actually true.

So, in line with Paths Forward (including the additional information linked at the bottom like Using Intellectual Processes to Combat Bias), I have a different idea about how to improve science. It is online discussion forums and a culture of answering criticism.

Scientists and research projects should explain what they are doing and why it makes sense, in writing, and anyone in the public should be able to post criticism. Basic standards for discussion tools are listed in footnote [1].

Most readers are reacting by thinking discussions will be low quality and ineffective. There are many cultural norms, discussed in the linked essays and in books, which can improve discussion quality and rationality. But that’s not enough. People can read about how to have a truth-seeking discussion and then still fail badly. There already exist many low quality online discussions. Why, then, will the ubiquitous use of discussion venues help science?

Because of the expectation of answering every criticism received.

This often won’t be done. What’s the enforcement? First we’ll consider the vast majority of cases where a researcher or research project doesn’t get much attention. A few forums will get too many posts to answer, and we’ll address that later. But suppose some obscure scientist receives one criticism on his forum and ignores it. Now what?

Today, if I find a mistake by a scientist, I can write a blog post explaining the issue and arguing my point. Then I can tweet it out, share it on popular discussion forums, and hopefully draw some attention to it. What will people say? Many will try to debate. They will agree or disagree with my criticism. The Paths Forward approach will transform this situation into a different situation:

I write my criticism and post or link it at the discussion forum for the scientist or research project. They ignore me. Then I say to people: “I wrote X criticism and the relevant scientists did not respond.” And no one then debates with me whether my criticism is correct or not. That doesn’t matter. Everyone can clearly see the scientist has violated truth-seeking norms whether my criticism is correct or not. “He did not answer X argument…” is much more objective and clear-cut than “He is wrong because of X argument…”

Norms of having open discussions, where criticism is expected to be answered, would improve the current situation where hardly any criticism is written or answered, and little discussion takes place. And methodological criticisms – that someone did not respond to a criticism – are much easier to evaluate than scientific criticisms.

What if a scientist gives a low quality answer instead of a non-answer? This gives a critic more to work with. He can write a followup criticism. If he does a good job, then it will get progressively harder for the scientist giving a succession of bad answers to avoid saying anything that is wrong and easy for many people to evaluate. It’s hard to keep responding to criticism, including followups, and do it badly, but avoid anything that would noticeably look bad.

And this leads into the other main issue: What if scientists get too many criticisms to address and trying to keep up with them consumes lots of time? This would be an issue for popular scientists, and it could also be an issue when an obscure project gets even just one highly persistent critic. Someone could write dozens of followup criticisms that don’t make much sense. Methods for dealing with these issues are explained in the Paths Forward articles linked earlier, and I’ll go over some main points:

There’s no need to repeat yourself. The more your response to a criticism addresses general principles, the more you can re-use it in response to future inquiries. If people bring up points repetitively, link existing answers (including answers written by other people, which you are willing to take responsibility for just as if you wrote it yourself).

If there is a pattern of error in the criticisms, respond to that pattern itself instead of to each point individually.

If you get a bunch of unique criticisms you’ve never addressed before, you should be happy, even if you suspect the quality isn’t great. You can’t know if they are true without considering what the answers to those criticisms are. It’s a good use of your time to think through new and different criticisms which don’t fall into any pattern you’re already familiar with. That is a thing you can’t have too much of, and which is hard for critics to provide. The world is not full of too many novel criticisms. The vast majority of criticisms are boring because they fit into known patterns, like fallacies, and pointing that out and linking to a text addressing the issue is cheap and easy (and if people did that regularly, it would help spread knowledge of those common fallacies and other patterns of intellectual error, to the point that eventually people would stop making those errors so much).

It’s important, with suspected bad ideas, to either address them individually or address them by connecting them to some kind of general pattern which is addressed (sometimes we criticize types or categories of ideas, e.g. there are criticisms of all ad hominem arguments as a group). Ignoring a suspected bad idea with no answer - no ability to actually say what’s bad about it – is irrational and allows for bias and ignoring important, good criticisms. There is no way to know which criticisms are correct or high quality other than answering them. Circumstantial evidence, like whether the first words of sentences are capitalized, whether it uses slang, or whether the author has over 10,000 fans, are bad ways to judge ideas. Ideas should be judged by their content, not their source.

If you get tons of attention, you ought to be able to get some of your many admiring fans to help you out by acting as your proxies and answering common criticisms for you (primarily by handing out standard links). You can give an issue personal attention when your proxies don’t know the answer. You can also hire proxies if you’re popular/important enough to have money. Getting lots of interest in your work, and having resources to deal with it, generally happen proportionally. Using proxies to speak for you is fine as long as you take responsibility for what they do – if someone does a bad job, either address the issue yourself or fire him, but don’t just let it continue and then claim to be answering criticism through your proxies.

I’m not attempting to present an exact set of rules for people to follow, nor an exact set of instructions for what people should do. Science is a creative process. It requires flexibility and individuality. These are rough guidelines which would improve the situation, not exact steps to make it perfect. These proposals would increase the quantity of discussion and offer some improved ways for interested parties to engage. It offers mechanisms for identifying and correcting errors which offer better clarity and transparency when they are violated. I think the same proposal would improve every intellectual field – philosophy, psychology, history, economics – not just science.

[1] Forums should:

  • allow public access
  • have permalinks for every comment which are expected to still work in 20 years
  • don’t moderate or delete content for being disagreeable (only delete things like doxing, shock porn, and spam bots advertising viagra, not mere flaming, ad hominems, rudeness, or profanity)
  • no restrictive length limits. should be like 100k words, not 10k or 280 characters
  • no time limits after which additional comments are disabled
  • allow links to external sites
  • support nested blockquotes.

These simple standards are egregiously violated by currently popular forums like Twitter, Facebook and Reddit. The violations are intentional, not a technical issue.

Note that people don’t need to run their own forums. Each project can add a new sub-forum on a site that hosts many forums. Technologically, creating thousands of mostly-silent forums can be very cheap and easy. And there can easily be tools to monitor many forums at once and be notified of new posts. This technology pretty much already exists.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (4)

Discussion: Eating Candy

From the Fallible Ideas Discord chatroom:

[1:58 PM] anonymous: i wanna eat but i’m not hungry what should i do?
[1:59 PM] anonymous: what should i do to not want to eat**
[2:01 PM] filthy_inductivist: are you bored?
[2:02 PM] anonymous: no, i’m playing a game and having fun
[2:03 PM] curi: why do you want to eat?
[2:03 PM] anonymous: idk
[2:07 PM] curi: do you want to eat any food or a specific food?
[2:07 PM] anonymous: candy
[2:07 PM] anonymous: cuz it tastes good
[2:08 PM] curi: when you are hungry, do you eat mostly candy or do you eat other things? maybe you should eat less non-candy.
[2:09 PM] anonymous: other things
[2:09 PM] curi: i suggest you make 50% of every meal candy until you don't feel like eating that much candy any more.
[2:09 PM] anonymous: wuhh?
[2:09 PM] curi: just have little portions of the other stuff
[2:09 PM] anonymous: how would that help xD
[2:09 PM] curi: and eat the candy you want
[2:10 PM] curi: you will get tired of candy after a while and not want so much
[2:10 PM] curi: or if you don't, that's ok, you should eat what you want.
[2:10 PM] anonymous: ohh
[2:11 PM] anonymous: ok i’ll try dat for a few days

I think this chat is a good example of a production discussion. It's short and to the point. I didn't need many questions to find out what was going on. I gave actionable advice that I think will actually be useful and used. I made the advice simple enough to be understood, and I also gave a brief explanation of the reasoning. And anonymous did a great job of giving short, clear, direct answers to my questions, which was really helpful. Trying it for a few days is a good idea too – it's worth a try but if they already thought it was a great idea, rather than just something to try, that would be suspicious that they were overestimating how well they understood it.

If none of your discussions look like this, that's a sign something is going wrong. Some can be longer and involve more misunderstandings, but some should be short and successful.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Discussion About Casual Gamers and Game Design, Difficulty, Development and Playtesting

Context: I recently have been playing Vindictus with internetrules.


do you know any of the games suggested in comments there?


no. one game that i thought was kind of like playing vella specifically, is metal gear rising revengeance


o ya i think i saw a vid of that game b4. looks like a too-easy single player game meant to make you feel powerful was my impression.


yeah that seems about right, in harder modes i think its alot harder tho


i’d be surprised if it was actually very hard

i find single player games normally way too easy even if they have 4 difficulty modes and u use hardest


i remember playing it 3 years ago and getting really stuck on some boss fights on the second highest difficulty. i cant really tell exactly how hard it was tho cuz i think i was probably really bad at games back then


sometimes they are hard if you’re playing on console and the controls suck … if you count that


it also has like 1 move which your are suppose to use like 50% of the time called offensive defence, its kind of like a dodge with maybe a second of invuln.

it was a move pretty ez to use and abuse


i played assassin’s creed odyssey on my PC with xbox controller – it was totally designed for controller, not keyboard/mouse, and i think that worked better in general. and seriously 2 of the hardest parts of combat were

1) some awful button mappings u can’t change

2) some glitches where ur move doesn’t hit, i think cuz wolves and certain other animals have broken hitboxes

u get 8 abilities but only 4 at a time and there is a swap button. and the swap button is really really hard to hit during combat. it’s dpad down (while also holding left trigger). you have to either stop moving or use your right hand (which is what i usually did)

it’s really disruptive to gameplay to be trying to hit dpad down with ur right hand while running backwards and hoping nothing attacks u cuz u can’t hit dodge button cuz u moved ur right hand

and ur moving ur hand around to different places while trying to still hit the right buttons

it’s like taking ur hand off the keyboard and back on repeatedly and trying never to typo

always put it back in the right place

also dpads on modern controllers have horrible design

so u often hit the wrong direction b/c it’s not 4 separate buttons

so it’s not really suitable for in-combat use b/c of shitty button quality

i think the xbox one is even worse than the switch pro controller one

u try to hit down but u get left or right a fair amount

so then, pretty often, u switch melee weapons when u wanted to swap abilities

so u get fucked over

so yeah THAT was the hard part

also really hard was changing arrow types

that was on dpad left. even further away

and you have to toggle it multiple times

and you have to watch ur arrow thing to see when u toggle to the ones u want

cuz it’s just going thru a list in order

so u have to look away from combat and hit the like worst button on the controller some specific number of times

and if u hit an extra time u get to keep going to cycle back to the one u want


I really like the dpad on the steam controller, it’s basically just 1 sensor that sees where your pressing, and then it can also feel when you push into it

File Transfer: 56487136803__3AA370CD-DC84-4B56-AD8D-F8A0E4F439CF.jpeg

i guess the joystick could be considerd the dpad as well, it depends how you bind it, theres alot of customization for the controller


no joystick = dstick

dpad specifically means not the stick, the pad, where it’s just 4 directional buttons + diagonals. like original nintendo

except that xbox and switch dpads today are much worse build than original nintendo one

they should just give u 4 small buttons, that is way better

that’s what joycon have

it’s so much better

even if the buttons didn’t suck the assassin’s creed controls would still be terrible tho

b/c seriously how are you supposed to press stuff below ur left thumb during combat? stop using dstick or move right hand? both options suck

it’s so easy to fix

u hold left trigger to bring up the abilities

just let u double tap it to swap abilities

there are lots of other options but yeah the developers are idiots

i literally just didn’t use half my abilities unless it was one of the hardest fights

wasn’t worth the trouble

and the only reason i swapped arrows was for the non-lethal ones. the special arrows for doing dmg were not worth the hassle

and it got super easy after a while on hardest mode


how could they fuck up the controlls that much? dont they have like play testers and stuff?


in short, play testing in the industry is a really bad job where you waste your time

and its mostly used to fix some of the worst bugs

and to try to make up for hiring bad programmers

they basically don’t trust play testers with design decisions or balance

and the higher level ppl in charge of that stuff are idiots in most companies / for most games

like way way way worse than jeff kaplan

who really isn’t that good at balance stuff (actually he’s not in charge of it, but there is someone who is)

there are some special end game bosses

a cyclops and a minotaur

but u can kill them by staying away and shooting arrows

super ez and stupid

and u can basically spam short dodges with no stamina limit and be invincible over 80% of the time

and if any of the dodges happen to actually dodge an attack, u get several seconds of slow motion to counter attack in

during which i think you’re invincible too


how are the people in charge of playtesting idiots?


the balance and design ppl are bad at games

they are casual newbies who probably don’t see the problem with standing still to swap abilities during combat

cuz they are playing on normal and take no dmg anyway

they are like “well i was just using 4 abilities, that is plenty for me, but if ur an advanced player u can swap, so that seems fine”

they don’t realize shit like u have to either repeat ur heal in both sets of 4 (losign a slot) or else u have to be able to switch back really fast

cuz ur heal is fuckign important

it heals u like 60% in a game where a lot of stuff will hit u for 30% of ur life


and do most of the people playing the game not notice cuz they are casual as well?


and as far as playtesting basically the programmers do this:

they write a stupid bug

they don’t notice or test what they wrote themselves

some playtester has to try their code and see it doesn’t work

then they write a quick thoughtless fix and don’t check if it works

and send it back to the playtesters

and sometimes they will keep failing to fix something a dozen times

and make the playtesters check if their fix worked every time

and never check it themselves or figure out wtf they are doing

they just keep trying something and hope it works, and let playtester check it

and sometimes they forget to change anything at all and playtesters still test it again

that happens too

or they spend all day on reddit

but want to pretend to work

so they mark it as they tried to fix it instead of telling their boss they didn’t get to it this week and being asked to come in on saturday

so then the playtester has to test it again cuz the lazy guy lied

or they do shit like

there are 10 bugs

they go thru and fix some

then mark them all done

cuz like, they tried, and they wanna be done now

so some get playtested again with no fix

ppl are like that

the playtesters are low paid and are not valued

no1 cares about wasting their time

no1 thinks they have brains

everyone is like “well they are getting paid to play video games, so lucky”

but they are just repeating boring crap a lot cuz they have bad tools to go straight to the right part to test it

so it takes way too long

and then there are the intermittent issues

where no one knows exactly how to make the bug happen

so sometimes they just have to play for hours, cuz sometimes you get it after 10min and sometimes 6 hours and sometimes 3 days.

the rarer the bug, the worse it is, the harder to fix

so now imagine the process i was talking about where they keep not fixing it and being lazy and shit

or putting in some code they HOPE will work but didn’t test, and let playtester test it

but with a bug that has a 10% chance to show up per hour you play

so you could play all day, not see it, and have to do it again tomorrow cuz it could easily not be fixed

and you end up having to test and report that bug 10 times before it gets fixed

so you spend 2 weeks on it

that one stupid bug

except it’s not 2 weeks in a row, it’s spread out over time more b/c you keep having to wait for the fixes

programmers often need a few days per fix, even tho they only spend 30min on it, b/c they have other things to do too

so everyone is always task switching. the programmers have 50 bugs to fix and the playtesters have 50 bugs to test

so ppl keep switching what they are working on and forgetting things

which makes everything take MORE total time cuz it’s less effective/effficient, and it spreads things out over time more

so if you spend 2 weeks on a bug, it could be over a period of 3 months

or more

you see hints about how this works with OW

where a bug is put on PTR

and ppl notice it day 1

and wonder how the playtesters missed it

and half they time they DIDNT

they reported it

it just takes months to fix

which is why blizz then releases the PTR to live with the bug still in if it isn’t a MAJOR bug

and then fixes it in the next patch a month after the first PTR goes live, 2 months after the playerbase saw the bug, 3 months after internal testers already reported it

oh and the worst part

ppl re-break things

or break other things that aren’t what they were trying to change

so you get some bug fixed, finally, and then later someone is changing something else and his code effects it and it breaks again

b/c the programmers don’t even know what the code they just wrote will do TO THE WHOLE GAME – it could fuck up some random thing somewhere b/c the code isn’t very well isolated/separated – then basically they are constantly making playtesters replay the whole game to see if anything broke

and the playtesters are bored as fuck and not paying attention and just go through the motions and test specific things on a list they are told to test + play thru the main story and see if something breaks like a quest won’t complete or they get stuck somehow

or some other obvious big issue

ppl are bad at things. it’s not just video game dev. it’s basically almost everyone is bad at almost everything, that’s how the world works. this is not really some horror story compared to other industries. my sister works in fashion and like talks with factories in china and tries to get clothes produced. i don’t really know anything about it but i can just predict, on general principles, that there are huge, ridiculous inefficiencies there too

and ppl being bad at stuff is is why assassin’s creed is super trivally easy on normal mode and easy on nightmare.


and so most programmers are bad, and cause a ton of bugs? how much of a demand is there for actually good programmers? do people realize most programmers are bad?


they tried to make diablo 3 hard on max difficulty btw

that was interesting

they promised it’d be super hard

they said they playtested it, did their best to make it as hard as they could beat

then doubled the hp and dmg of the enemies

so it’d be harder than their own skill level

and on launch it was actually hard. i liked it. fun game. i didn’t think it was as hard as it was supposed to be, but i liked it.

the playerbase complaiend so much that 10 nerf patches later the game was boring and easy

50% of players think they should be playing the hardest stuff that blizz said was for the top 2% of players

and they try it, die, and then complain

cuz they want to think they are good

so blizz has to make the hardest mode easy so everyone can think they are good

assassin’s creed is the same issue

if the hardest mode was hard, lots of ppl would play it, die, and feel bad and get mad

so you can’t put in a hard mode. it cannot exist.

the game company cannot admit there is anyone better than the guy who sucks but beats “hard” mod

there are far more arrogant ppl than skilled ppl to sell to

and so most programmers are bad, and cause a ton of bugs? how much of a demand is there for actually good programmers? do people realize most programmers are bad?

yeah this is well known, it’s why google is paying $300k/year USD or more to thousands of programmers

b/c there are not enuf good programmers and u have to pay a ton to get some

it’s competitive to get them

but the game dev industry decided instead of trying to pay salaries to compete with google, mostly they will just underpay ppl who want to make games

so they get a lot of ppl fresh out of college and they have high turnover, ppl give up and leave


i was talking to a guy in general chat in OW [Overwatch] who was bronze and always blamed his team and matchmaking for him losing, i guess thats the kind of guy who would complain at not being able to finish the hardest difficulty


him and another half of hte population

it’s so many ppl

in general games are actually easy software to make

and are mostly copying the same crap as the last game

so it’s well known how to do it

they aren’t designing any new code that wasn’t in some other game

and they buy the physics engine and the 3d graphics code and shit

they don’t even write that

they just use unity or havoc or whatever


and then you have traditions in making games, which means the game wont be super terrible, and it will actually be marketable?


and then they have software devs who can’t even write decent pathfinding

pathfinding with A* is trivial enough to be like a homework assignment for a college freshman.

and then you get game releases like Pillars of Eternity that can’t fucking do it

and the enemies can barely move

and i’m not joking

guy glitched an end boss on a pillar and shot it to death

just a pillar. no walls on either side

but it couldn’t move directly forward and got stuck

meanwhile in my own game some enemies got stuck trying to go up a narrow path and none of htem would go a small distance around where there was plenty of open space

so they are all just running into each other at a tiny chokepoint instead of going around

and i just mass aoe spell them

and then think to myself

this is stupid, i could have written better AI than this when i was in high school

cuz i guess unity didn’t come with pathfinding included

so they never got it to work decently?

and so some of the fights that are supposed to be hard are actually a joke


i remember you talking about a game where the max party size is 6, and a guy beat the game with just 1 person on hardest difficulty, do you know what game that was?


the balance scaling in that game was awful too

on max difficulty it starts out hard at the beginning, esp while ur learning

and stuff has a ton of hp, dies slow

but at later levels everything was dying so fast i couldn’t really even play with my spells – like low level vindictus today with all ur gear on – that i didn’t finish the game

there are mods for the game made by players. it’s somewhat moddable. so i looked into it and no1 ever made a “give enemies 5x the hp mod”. everyone is so bad they didn’t care? idk

the sequel had a mod to give more enemy hp

but it was only like 50% more hp or something, you couldn’t just type in a number

soloing a 6man party RPG is a LOT of games

that’s common




the only thing making it less common is that a lot more party RPGs, especially recent ones, are 4 characters max instead of 6

just like by default you can solo party RPG games more than 50% of the time

on hardest mode

it tends to just work

in majority of games

also in a ton of games it gets EASIER once you level up some

and the start is actually the hardest part when u do that


i remember you talking about how people who like the game the most, have the easiest time, cuz they do side quests, then main story gets easier cuz higher level


usually the AI is super bad so u can lure enemies 1 at a time

or peak a corner, shoot htem, hide, repeat

stuff like that

also required bosses are usually not super hard b/c they don’t want ppl to get stuck


the GOOD players tend to play more, do more stuff = get more powerful items, more levels, etc = have easier time while being more skilled



im pretty sure that was a problem a ton of people were complaining about with the first southpark game

which if even the casuals complain about it, then its prob waaaay to easy


that game had shitty combat

the point was the south park stuff

jokes, dialog, etc

combat was mario rpg style which is boring

but ya i did max difficulty and beat it in one day np and if i had done more sidequests it’d just have been easier

but i enjoyed the game

cuz i didn’t have the mindset of it being about combat or skill

i just saw it as kinda like watching south park tv show…

what happened with diablo 3 is instructive

the general complaining resulted in everything being easier

but it’s not just that

also specifically everything that killed ppl got complaints

whatever ppl were dying to, they called unfair


i remember when i was playing that game that it was kinda hard cuz the mouse i was using while playing it, had its like rightclick button really fucked up or something, so i couldnt use it to like take less damage when people attacked me or something


so all the hardest things got super extra nerfed so they would be “fair” meaning ppl don’t die to it much

so every difficulty spike got removed from the game

so there was nothing scary in the game anymore

nothing where ur like “oh shit, i gotta be careful with that”

they removed everything that requires changing ur strategy, being defensive, playing safe, etc

like damage reflect is a good example

it was one of the random modifiers that elites could have

they’d roll a few random things


did older games do a better job at difficulty? alot of people talk about how old games were really hard. like Xcom and old school plat formers


and damage reflect was one of the most deadly

it’d turn on and off

and if u attack during reflect u take like 10% of the dmg u dealt

which is a ton, enemies have more hp than players

so ppl were constantly killing themselves

b/c they didn’t check mods b4 attacking, or didn’t pay attention to if reflect was active

or didn’t attack a little then heal then a little more

they just do burst dmg carelessly

so they had to nerf the fuck out of that so it wouldn’t be dangerous anymore

a lot of older games were harder but also ppl were worse at games then

some old games used difficulty to make up for shortness

they could fit way less art on a disk, had worse programming tools, worse computers, etc, so games then were often way shorter and smaller

so they’d make it hard so u don’t finish too fast

or so u spend more quarters in arcade

but also the gamer audience in the past was early adopters

ppl who care about computers and stuff


so the avg player was a lot better, more patient, etc

now it’s more mainstream and the random idiots have a lot more money than the tech ppl

b/c there are way more of them

and if you think shit like diablo 3 or assassin’s creed is bad

it has NOTHING on farmville and candy crush

which are what girls play

who could not play assassin’s creed on easy

who would be hard stuck bronze in OW

and those games are HUGE and bring in a ton of money

it’s also what older ppl play

like my parents could not play diablo 3 no matter how ez it is

but they could candy crush

so the REAL mainstream is shit like candy crush

assassins’ creed is just mainstream OF GAMERS

who are 95% male

and 90% under 40

(i made up the stats but u get the idea)

and who have played games for hundreds of hours before

the mainstream of society is 52% women, a lot of old ppl and a lot of little kids who suck at games b/c they get 1 hour of screen time per week (and esp the little girls are commonly AWFUL cuz they get NO HELP to stop sucking, whereas the little boys will get help from their friends or even parents or other resources to learn to play) … and so on … and they make candy crush and farmville ppl rich and would have a hard time playing any game you or I would even consider

mobile gaming is huge b/c ppl have 5 or 10 minutes to waste here or there, it’s not really even similar to what you think gaming is, or even what xbox players think gaming is.


it seems like turn based games could work as mobile

as like actual hard games that you could play


ppl are impatient and don’t want to strategize, which they find even harder than hitting buttons in real time games

strategy THINKING would be the WORST thing u could put in a game if u want it to be mainstream

that’s probably why the ipad boardgame-like turn based battle games i liked (like battle of the bulge) went out of business


how about for a game that skilled players like in a mobile form?


there are niche games – ones aimed at smaller groups – but even those are generally too easy for me b/c i’m too much of an outlier

like with boardgames, i’m a really strong chess player so i tend to be way too good at boardgames compared to other ppl

cuz skill carries over

and it’s similar with lots of turn based strategy stuff

and the AIs to play with are always so shitty

even tho the knowledge of how to make much much better AIs exists. it’s available. but game companies basically never seem to do it

is it ok with you if i post this conversation online?

i’ll put your name as internetrulez? how should i spell it?


anything is fine for my name

execpt [my real name]


ok but tell me spelling


internetrules no caps



i got in a big argument the other day with a guy who didn’t understand not capitalizing all internet names >>

he was like u always capitalize proper nouns

like the iPhone????????


i remember that in discord



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The Greeks Knew We All Make Mistakes

Quoting from Greek Ways: How The Greeks Created Western Civilization, by Bruce Thornton, ch. 5, p. 117-118, which is quoting Creon's son Haemon from Sophocles' Antigone:

For whoever think that they alone have sense, or have a power of speech or an intelligence that no other has, these people when they are laid open are found to be empty. It is not shameful for a man, even if he is wise, often to learn things and not to resist too much.

I recommend the Greek Ways book.

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Bad Scholarship on VDare

From VDare: 93% Of Democrats Think It's Important That Fewer Whites Be Elected.

The article leads with a chart, which says that 75.1% of Democrats believe that "Whites are favored". The chart repeats later in the article. Problems:

  1. The chart has no source.

  2. The author falsely claimed that he always gives sources. Actually he had to be asked the source on Twitter because he hadn't given it. The source is these CNN exit polls.

  3. To get the chart, the author did math on the CNN exit poll data. He did not show his work.

  4. I checked what math he did by asking him on Twitter, since he didn't document it. His math was wrong. Where he got 75.1%, the correct answer was 75%. He added an extra significant figure to exaggerate how good his data was. He admitted I was right, but thought the matter deserved the comment "lol" rather than saying e.g. "My mistake, I will fix it."

The chart was brought to my attention by khaaan on Twitter, who questioned its sourcing.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (19)


Am I a globalist? I thought I was because I want global free trade, though I never really used the word or cared about it. I want businesses to operate internationally instead of having a bunch of borders hampering commerce. That's part of (classical) liberalism and free trade! I'm not much of a nationalist. I think all human beings are created equal and I want social cooperation to be escalated, via the market mechanisms, to the whole globe.

So I've been uncomfortable when hearing some right wing people say how they are nationalists and the left are evil globalists.

I still think they're partly wrong, but I realized the word "globalist" is ambiguous. Part of what they mean is something that, of course, I do oppose: one global government, one power structure controlling the globe like a much more powerful United Nations.

I am, of course, an individualist which is, in a way, the exact opposite of a globalist.

I think human cooperation and interaction are great – as long as it's free. I want good things, like free market, the internet and educational materials, to have global reach and availability. But I don't want global government or global power. I want power and force to be distributed, decentralized, and no one to have a monopoly. Even the U.S., my favorite country, I wouldn't want to actually rule the world.

I'm still not interested in calling myself a globalist or anti-globalist. Why use the term? I didn't find it useful even before I clearly identified this particular ambiguity.

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Jordan Peterson is a Traitor

Jordan Peterson has signed up with the Creative Arts Agency. CAA is a big lefty media company which represents famous names like Joe Biden, Lady Gaga, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Jennifer Lawrence and David Beckham. Peterson is officially a CAA speaker who you can book on the CAA website. CAA has a "social responsibility" page with the kind of attitude that Jordan Peterson got popular for opposing:

Diversity & Inclusion

More diverse voices, from diverse backgrounds, provide a richer and better experience for audiences worldwide. CAA has long focused on ensuring that historically underrepresented groups within the talent community are assured equal opportunity for success. To this end, we have created events, workshops and conferences to help generate opportunities – and address the challenges – for emerging and established talent; conducted research and reported findings on the correlation between diversity and business success; focused on increasing the diversity of our own client base; and advocated directly with marketplace buyers on the value of diverse voices.

In case you don't know what Peterson used to say about ideas like these, here's an example:

Jordan Peterson - Diversity, Inclusivity & Equity. I'll transcribe the first 16 seconds of the video:

And here are the hallmarks I think of the pathological left. I think that if someone is pushing this quaternity on you then you should be very suspicious of them in every possible way, and you should resist it as much as you possibly can.

On screen you can see a slide with the "quaternity" he's talking about. It reads:

The Unholy Trinity (plus one)

  • Diversity
  • Inclusivity
  • White Privilege

It also has an image labelled "EQUALITY vs EQUITY" with some people (drawn as not much more than stick figures) with their arms raised, and it has a "DIE" bullet point nested under "EQUITY" on the list of 4.

Less than a year ago, Jordan Peterson was a vocal opponent of diversity, inclusivity and equality propaganda. He said to resist it as much as you possibly can. Now he's signed up with a lefty agency with a hallmark diversity and inclusion statement.

Before publicly signing with CAA, Peterson tweeted that:

If confirmed Kavanaugh should step down.

This extreme-left, partisan statement alienated tons of Peterson's fans. The complaints were so vocal that Peterson wrote a long semi-apology, semi-retraction that made excuses.

This all goes to show that Jordan Peterson should not have been invited to the Objectivist Conference. (The link is the video I made analyzing the conference video and arguing that he shouldn't have been invited.)

Previously I had criticized Peterson as an intellectual: for disinterest in addressing criticism, for his new book being lightweight crap full of bullshit appeals to "science", for his mistaken views on antidepressants and for being a second hander. I also liked some of his work and wrote some positive things about him, so it's a shame that he's betrayed his former self that I partly liked. My favorite Jordan Peterson material is his psychology lectures, particularly the analysis of The Lion King and Pinocchio.

Hat tip, Roosh. I found out about the CAA deal from Roosh's podcast. The podcast also gives a good summary of what happened with the Brett Kavanaugh tweet. Roosh says that working for CAA basically means having a handler who tells you some things you can't say, and in return you get to make more money.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (12)

Turgot on Criticism and Parenting

Turgot (1727-81) was a French liberal (free trade, limited government) thinker. William Godwin read and liked him. He commented on criticism and children:

Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, On Some Social Questions, Including the Education of the Young, France, 1751, in The Turgot Collection (emphasis added):

The best advice that can be given to persons living together is to be quite frank with each other in dealing with any serious difference as soon as it appears; this arrests at their source many of the annoyances often proceeding from mere prejudiced dislikes. But this must be done with full sincerity; we must habituate ourselves to criticise, to examine, and to judge others with a perfect impartiality. I do not speak of tempering our criticisms by giving to them some agreeable turns, and of seasoning them with some mixture of praise and tenderness. How difficult this art is! … It is true that, even with the best tact used by us to soften reproaches, there are persons who do not know how to receive them; advice they mistake for scolding, they imagine always to see in him who gives it them an assumption of superiority and authority which repels them. It must be admitted that this is a defect belonging to many givers of advice. I have often met with persons who say in self-defense: “I am so made, and I cannot help it.” These are persons whose self-love embraces even their defects. This bad disposition proceeds, perhaps, from the manner in which we have had advice given us in childhood, always under the form of reproach, of correction, with the tone of authority, often of threatening. Hence a youth when once free from the hands of his masters or his parents places all his happiness in having no longer to give account of his conduct to anyone, and the most friendly advice appears to him an act of domination, a yoke, a continuance of childhood. Ah! why not accustom children to listen to advice with sweetness by our giving it to them without bitterness? Why exercise authority? I would that children really felt that it is from our affection for them that we reprehend them; but how can we make them feel this if we do not express it in our own softness with them? I have no sympathy with Montaigne when he censures the caresses given by mothers to their children. Who can know better than mothers themselves? It is the instinct that Providence has given them. It is the seasoning which reason teaches should be added to instruction in order to give it genial growth. We forget that it is the caresses of a courageous mother that inspire courage, that they are the most powerful medium of opening the young soul to the inlet of all fine and pure feelings.

I have seen parents who taught their children that “nothing is so beautiful as to make people happy.” And I have seen the same rebuff their children when they wish to invite some young friends. These, perhaps, might not be quite suitable, but the parents should be careful not to intimidate the rising sensibility of their children, they should rather encourage it, and should make evident the pain they feel in refusing their children’s request and the necessity there is for refusing it. But only the present moment is thought of. Again, we reproach children for having been foolish in making some generous gift, as if they would not be corrected of that soon enough! … Thus we contract the heart and mind of a child. I wish, too, that we could avoid exciting in them a shyness when doing a good action, and that we did not believe in inducing them to do it by praises. These repel a timid child; they cause him to feel that we are watching him, and they throw him back upon himself. It is the perfection of tact to bestow praise appropriately. We should teach our children to seek out and to seize occasions of being helpful to others, for this is an art which can and ought to be taught. I do not speak of the delicacy to be used with the unfortunate while we relieve them, for which natural benevolence, without some knowledge of the world, is not sufficient. But above all the great point in home education is to preach by example. Morality in the general is well enough known by men, but the particular refinements of virtue are unknown by most persons; thus *the majority of parents, without knowing it and without intending it, give very bad examples to their children….*

I think Turgot is correct that nasty parental criticism alienates children from criticism, and then when they are free adults, they avoid criticism because it reminds them of childhood and feels pressuring (as it was when their parents really did pressure them).

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Rothbard vs. Induction

Murray Rothbard rejects induction! An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought (emphasis added):

This prolific statesman and writer [Francis Bacon], with great fanfare and self-advertisement, in a series of books from the 1600s to the 1620s, set forth a series of injunctions about the proper method of scientific inquiry into the world, including social as well as natural sciences. Essentially, Bacon wrote numerous exhortations to everyone else to engage in detailed factual investigation into all life, all the world, all human history. Francis Bacon was the prophet of primitive and naive empiricism, the guru of fact-grubbing. Look at ‘the facts’, all ‘the facts’, long enough, he opined, and knowledge, including theoretical knowledge, will rise phoenix-like, self-supporting and self-sustained, out of the mountainous heap of data.

Although he talked impressively about surveying in detail all the facts of human knowledge, Bacon himself never came close to fulfilling this monstrous task. Essentially, he was the meta-empiricist, the head coach and cheerleader of fact-grubbing, exhorting other people to gather all the facts and castigating any alternative method of knowledge. He claimed to have invented a new logic, the only correct form of material knowledge – ‘induction’ – by which enormous masses of details could somehow form themselves into general truths.

This sort of ‘accomplishment’ is dubious at best. Not only was it a prolegomenon to knowledge rather than knowledge itself; it was completely wrong about how science has ever done its work. No scientific truths are ever discovered by inchoate fact-digging. The scientist must first have framed hypotheses; in short, the scientist, before gathering and collating facts, must have a pretty good idea of what to look for, and why. Once in a while, social scientists get misled by Baconian notions into thinking that their knowledge is ‘purely factual’, without presuppositions and therefore ‘scientific’, when what this really means is that their presuppositions and assumptions remain hidden from view.

I wonder what, if any of this, Rothbard got from Popper. The book is from 1995, decades after Popper had explained this.

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Eli Goldratt Screencasts

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Rothbard's Bad Scholarship on Godwin and Popper

I know some bad things about Murray Rothbard (like his view that abortion is justified by the property rights of the mother against a trespasser, his belief that children are property and that parents are not obligated to feed their children, his attack on Objectivism, and his anti-semitism). But I've seen some merit in his work on economics, and I've begun reading his book An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought. I mostly like it so far, but one must be careful not to trust everything. A particularly interesting part, to me, was the discussion of Aristotle, which I thought was good. It was a lot like what Objectivists say about Aristotle. I don't know how much this is because of Rothbard's knowledge of Objectivism, and how much it's a standard non-Objectivist view. Reading about Aristotle on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Encyclopaedia Britannica, or Wikipedia is rather different than the Objectivist or Rothbardian interpretation. I tried to google for material on Aristotle similar to the Objectivist view, and found this page ... but I checked and the authors are Objectivists.

Here are some new Rothbard errors I've discovered (italics in quotes are added by me, unless noted):

The continual progress, onward-and-upward approach was demolished for me, and should have been for everyone, by Thomas Kuhn's famed Structure of Scientific Revolutions.[5] [italics in original]

See the replies to Kuhn by Karl Popper and by David Deutsch. (Deutsch's writing on this subject is more accessible and more general, so it's what I'd recommend first if you're interested.)

Related to Kuhn (a critic of Popper) is Rothbard's completely false hostility to Popper in The Present State of Austrian Economics:

For my purposes, I am ignoring the allegedly wide gulf between the earlier positivists with their “verifiability” criterion and the Popperites and their emphasis on “falsifiability.” For those far outside the logical empiricist camp, this dispute has more of the appearance of a family feud than of a fundamental split in epistemology. The only point of interest here is that the Popperites are more nihilistic and therefore even less satisfactory than the original positivists, who at least are allowed to “verify” rather than merely “not falsify.”

Popper is not a positivist, nor similar to one. This is totally ignorant, yet he writes about it professionally (rather than being aware of his ignorance and leaving this matter to others).

Going back to An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought, I searched it for discussion of Godwin and Burke, who are thinkers where I could readily judge the quality of Rothbard's work, offhand, from my own expertise. Burke isn't mentioned at all, which is an error in a detailed book which gives attention to many lesser known figures. (Burke is fairly well known in general, but not for his comments on economics, even though he made many of them.) Rothbard did very extensive research for this book, but somehow omitted Burke. An example of Burke's relevance, from an 1800 biography of Burke, which has been quoted in many more recent books:

[Adam] Smith, [Burke] said, told him, after they had conversed on subjects of political economy, that he was the only man, who, without communication, thought on these topics exactly as he did.

Adam Smith is a major focus of Rothbard's attention, so Burke was worth discussing at least a little.

Rothbard's treatment of Godwin was much worse. He brings up Godwin briefly in relation to Malthus and makes egregious errors:

In his Utopian belief in the perfectibility of man

The "perfectibility" of man is not a Utopian belief, it means that man can be improved without limit (without reaching an end to progress), not that man can or will reach perfection. The improvement includes both improvement of ideas and of technology. This is a major theme of Deutsch's The Beginning of Infinity, which is titled for this theme and includes Godwin in the bibliography.

William Godwin, on the other hand, was the world's first anarcho-communist, or rather, voluntary anarcho-communist. For Godwin, while a bitter critic of the coercive state, was an equally hostile critic of private property.

That's just not what Godwin says in his material on property in Political Justice.

Godwin believed, not that private property should be expropriated by force, but that individuals, fully using their reason, should voluntarily and altruistically divest themselves of all private property to any passer-by.

Rothbard doesn't provide any quote or citation for this false claim. I will, nevertheless, offer some quotes from Political Justice to refute it, from book 8 (of 8), Of Property.

Of property there are three degrees.

The first and simplest degree is that of my permanent right in those things the use of which being attributed to me, a greater sum of benefit or pleasure will result than could have arisen from their being otherwise appropriated. It is of no consequence, in this case, how I came into possession of them, the only necessary conditions being their superior usefulness to me, and that my title to them is such as is generally acquiesced in by the community in which I live. Every man is unjust who conducts himself in such a manner respecting these things as to infringe, in any degree, upon my power of using them, at the time when the using them will be of real importance to me.

It has already appeared[1] that one of the most essential of the rights of man is my right to the forbearance of others; not merely that they shall refrain from every thing that may, by direct consequence, affect my life, or the possession of my powers, but that they shall refrain from usurping upon my understanding, and shall leave me a certain equal sphere for the exercise of my private judgement. This is necessary because it is possible for them to be wrong, as well as for me to be so, because the exercise of the understanding is essential to the improvement of man, and because the pain and interruption I suffer are as real, when they infringe, in my conception only, upon what is of importance to me, as if the infringement had been, in the utmost degree, palpable. Hence it follows that no man may, in ordinary cases, make use of my apartment, furniture or garments, or of my food, in the way of barter or loan, without having first obtained my consent.

The second degree of property is the empire to which every man is entitled over the produce of his own industry, even that part of it the use of which ought not to be appropriated to himself.

Godwin didn't think people should give away their property to random people, he thought they should have property rights but sometimes, due to rational argument, give some property, as a gift, to someone who had a better use for it. I think trade should be emphasized over gifts and that Godwin wasn't a great economist, but Godwin did support private property and the free market, and was an individualist.

It is not easy to say whether misery or absurdity would be most conspicuous in a plan which should invite every man to seize upon everything he conceived himself to want.... We have already shown,[3] and shall have occasion to show more at large,[4] how pernicious the consequences would be if government were to take the whole permanently into their hands, and dispense to every man his daily bread.

Note the anti-communism.

The idea of property, or permanent empire, in those things which ought to be applied to our personal use, and still more in the produce of our industry, unavoidably suggests the idea of some species of law or practice by which it is guaranteed. Without this, property could not exist. Yet we have endeavoured to show that the maintenance of these two kinds of property is highly beneficial.

Godwin supports the protection of property.

For, let it be observed that, not only no well informed community will interfere with the quantity of any man's industry, or the disposal of its produce, but the members of every such well informed community will exert themselves to turn aside the purpose of any man who shall be inclined, to dictate to, or restrain, his neighbour in this respect.

No one should interfere with anyone's property rights, and people who try to should be stopped.

The most destructive of all excesses is that where one man shall dictate to another, or undertake to compel him to do, or refrain from doing, anything (except, as was before stated, in cases of the most indispensable urgency) otherwise than with his own consent. Hence it follows that the distribution of wealth in every community must be left to depend upon the sentiments of the individuals of that community.

What more does Rothbard want from property rights than that men use their minds in order to use their property in the way they see fit? If Godwin had his way, the result would be a capitalist dream, not a communist society.

But, if reason prove insufficient for this fundamental purpose, other means must doubtless be employed.[9] It is better that one man should suffer than that the community should be destroyed. General security is one of those indispensable preliminaries without which nothing, good or excellent can be accomplished. It is therefore right that property, with all its inequalities, such as it is sanctioned by the general sense of the members of any state, and so long as that sanction continues unvaried should be defended, if need be, by means of coercion.

Godwin, an early anarchist of sorts, who hated violence, was still willing to recommend that the government use violence in defense of property rights, even for unjust types of property that were in existence at the time (think of feudalism and serfdom kinda stuff), let alone for property rights to the product of one's industry.

The arguments however that may be offered, in favour of the protection given to inheritance and testamentary bequest, are more forcible than might at first be imagined.

Godwin defends inheritance of property, too.

The first idea of property then is a deduction from the right of private judgement; the first object of government is the preservation of this right. Without permitting to every man, to a considerable degree, the exercise of his own discretion, there can be no independence, no improvement, no virtue and no happiness. This is a privilege in the highest degree sacred; for its maintenance, no exertions and sacrifices can be too great. Thus deep is the foundation of the doctrine of property. It is, in the last resort, the palladium of all that ought to be dear to us, and must never be approached but with awe and veneration.

The view of property as being implied from the right of private judgment is the best and most correct view of the matter. Godwin is a great liberal thinker, who Rothbard doesn't appreciate. Godwin is, in this respect, more (classical) liberal than Rothbard, and closer to Objectivism which also emphasizes reason in its defense of man's rights. (Objectivism says men have one fundamental right, the right to life, and this implies "the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being". Property rights are the implementation of this.)

And let me repeat what that last sentence says, in more modern words (palladium means source of protection, safety or preservation): Property rights should always be approached with awe and veneration, because property rights are what protect everything good. Rothbard majorly failed at scholarship.

[Godwin] was, after all, not a scholar of population theory, and he had no immediately effective reply. It took Godwin all of two decades to study the problem thoroughly and come to an effective refutation of his nemesis. In On Population (1820), Godwin came to the cogent and sensible conclusion that population growth is not a bogey, because over the decades the food supply would increase and the birth rate would fall. Science and technology, along with rational limitation of birth, would solve the problem. ["On Population" is in italics in the original]

This falsehood about Godwin needing 20 years to figure out a reply to Malthus is refuted in Godwin's book, Of Population (Rothbard got the title wrong), in the preface:

I believed, that the Essay on Population, like other erroneous and exaggerated representations of things, would soon find its own level.

In this I have been hitherto disappointed. ... Finding therefore, that whatever arguments have been produced against it by others, it still holds on its prosperous career, and has not long since appeared in the impressive array of a Fifth Edition, I cannot be contented to go out of the world, without attempting to put into a permanent form what has occurred to me on the subject. I was sometimes idle enough to suppose, that I had done my part, in producing the book that had given occasion to Mr. Malthus's Essay, and that I might safely leave the comparatively easy task, as it seemed, of demolishing the "Principle of Population," to some one of the men who have risen to maturity since I produced my most considerable performance. But I can refrain no longer. "I will also answer my part; I likewise will shew my opinion: for I am full of matter; and the spirit within me constraineth me."

Godwin didn't reply immediately because he thought he'd done enough by writing Political Justice, and that someone else could handle the much easier task of refuting Malthus' bad ideas. This had nothing to do with Godwin needing 20 years of thought or research. Godwin underestimated how influential Malthus would turn out to be, and overestimated the ability of other thinkers to address the issue.

I will keep reading Rothbard anyway. I don't think there's a superior alternative, and I do think he's better about other thinkers that he researched more, especially when their focus is more on economics (Rothbard doesn't adquately understand Godwin's thinking about reason).

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comment (1)

1921 Capitalism/Socialism Debate

I comment on Debate Between E. R. A. Seligman, Affirmative, and Scott Nearing Negative (1921) (free ePub and PDF downloads are available from the gear menu at the top right). This was recommend by Mises in Liberalism: In the Classical Tradition (in the appendix "On the Literature of Liberalism").

The debate topic is That Capitalism has more to offer to the workers of the United States than has Socialism.

The format the debaters each speak three times: to explain their position, a rebuttal, and short closing remarks. The moderator gives a brief introduction first. My comments were written as I read through it, without knowing what's said later.

Moderator's Introduction

The (self-proclaimed) moderate moderator says:

the then Governor of the State [of New York], Alfred Smith, solemnly proposed no less than nine ultra-radical or Socialistic laws, including such things as the ownership, development and operation of all water powers by the state, maternity insurance, the municipal operation of all public utilities, the taking over of the medical and nursing professions to the extent of supply ing doctors and nurses to rural communities now destitute of such aid, the declaration that production and distribution of milk are a public utility subject to the control of the State in all details, and State-owned and operated grain elevators in three cities, precisely after the manner of the Nonpartisan League plans in North Dakota. I have long thought that "Al" Smith was a wonderful man, but I do not know of anything in his career that is more wonderful than the fact that he got away with these proposals without even being denounced as a Socialist by the New York Times. Of course, he did not get what he asked, but the point is that if the Governor of North Dakota were to come out tomorrow and demand these things, the New York Times would shriek with anger and declare that Bolshevising of America was at hand.

I thought it was interesting how different the NYT was then, at least by reputation (he's saying the NYT did not complain about radical socialism, in this case, but he expected them to, in general). It's also notable what sorts of socialist policies were being proposed in the US around 1920.

Al Smith was governor of New York four times, and was the Democrat candidate for president in 1928. Wikipedia says that when he badly lost the presidential election, he carried the Deep South (that's notable in terms of how the electoral map has changed). To think Al Smith "was a wonderful man", while knowing he had made such proposals, is clear partisan bias from this moderator who claims to be a moderate supporter of capitalism.

All of which, I think, proves my case that the Socialistic experiment in greater or less degree is going to be undertaken by the world. In the ardent hope that it may produce a better world than we have been living in, my plea today is, as I have said, not for Socialism, but for a careful examination of this and all other proposals for the betterment of the race which is so badly off, that, for all we know, civilization may not recover from the shock of this war. [emphasis added]

People today don’t take seriously how bad and destructive the world wars were, especially WWI.

The moderator then quotes the (self-proclaimed) conservative, individualist, anti-socialist Hammond Lamont, who thinks debate over socialism may help educate the populace, even though it’s a mistaken idea, as he says debate over free silver coinage did. He's confident in reason winning out in debate. He adds:

For one thing, Socialism is eminently a peace movement; it is steadily opposed to militarism; and it will thus help us to see more clearly the silliness of the huge naval and military expenditures in which we seem bound to rival the groaning nations of Europe.

Foolish! Socialism has so much blood on its hands, and its consequences were always foreseeable. Mises published Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth (which refutes socialism) in 1920, long before Stalin, Mao, etc. And how can a movement be peaceful when its goal is to take huge amounts of property (all property used in economic production) from its current owners?

Capitalist Argument

The pro-capitalism guy, Seligman, goes first. Notes on what he says:

  • Capitalism is private, individual ownership of the means of production (mainly machines).
  • Socialism has many varieties. Their theme is group ownership of the means of production.
  • The attitudes of capitalist people vary, but the capitalist system itself is progressive. (He thinks even slavery and serfdom were "progressive" institutions because they were different at later times than earlier times. I disagree.)
  • We must analyze what wealth each system produces, not just how much it distributes to workers.
  • Marx said that under capitalism the rich get richer while the poor get poorer, but factually this is incorrect and both groups have gotten richer. Important socialists recognized Marx was wrong about this.
  • Marx thought that capital accumulation caused periodic, worsening crises, but he was wrong. The economic panics of 1818, 1837, 1857 and 1873 got progressively worse, but then the ones in 1884, 1894, and 1907 got progressively less bad.
  • Marx thought the most developed capitalist country is where socialism would come, but it came in Russia not USA, so he was mistaken.

What are the achievements of capitalism?

  • The accumulation of wealth, regardless of owner, has made the worker's life better, e.g. by providing him with railway transportation (including trolleys for commuting to work), libraries and museums.
  • Diversification of consumption: bread from North Dakota wheat; meat from the Western US states or Argentina; tea from Cathay; sugar from Cuba or the Far East; tobacco from Sumatra or the Orient; leather shoes from Siberian, Russian or South American hides; wool from Australia; soap from Africa; Pittsburg iron for commuter trolleys, refined from ore from Western states.
  • Capitalism brought real democracy. The greeks had sham democracy because they had slaves. England was an aristocracy, not a democracy, in 1776. In 1800, New York was run by great families just like in England. [This point is short and I don't think it's explained well.]
  • Liberty of movement, as against serfs bound to the soil.
  • Capitalism is the source of education and science. Our public schools are flawed but still amazing compared to human history. The Greeks and Arabs had some science, but capitalism brought us modern science because "the modern business man in order to succeed must know the secrets of nature. He must secure the proof and in order to get the proof he must employ and utilize those forms of organized investigation which we call science."

Weaknesses of capitalism?

Because capitalism is progressive, the weaknesses are being reformed.

A weakness is "unfair competition between businesses and human beings". As explanation, he names Jay Gould and Jim Fiske, who have robber baron reputations today, who he says would be unthinkable today (in 1921). He says the Interstate Commerce Commission is regulating the issue of financial instruments related to railroads and "such things" will be impossible in the future. He concludes this point with:

What President Roosevelt did, among all his many accomplishments, was to so change certain forms of unfair competition as to make them more difficult. Society under modern capitalism, is gradually rendering competition more and more fair.

[It's hard for me to evaluate this without knowing about Gould or Fiske in particular. Some alleged robber barons were great men, but some really were bad. I also don't know enough about 1920's politics to know what sorts of "unfair competition" are being talked about here.]

Second weakness: some unjust privileges and monopolies exist, but when recognized they are counteracted, e.g. by the "trade commission" [presumably government regulation].

In the third place, I should say that modern capitalism does result in exaggerated fortunes. The development of a leisure class has its bad sides at a time when everyone ought to be working.

Ugh, the pro-capitalism guy, recommended by Mises, is so much worse than Mises. He dislikes wealth inequality instead of being more like Mises' student, George Reisman, who wrote: How The 1 Percent Provides The Standard Of Living Of The 99 Percent. (It's only 99¢ and 14 pages.) Continuing the same quote:

A generation ago, I wrote a book on Progressive Taxation and I was attacked on all sides by the reactionary and the standpatter on the ground that I was preaching confiscation. Nowadays, everyone, the capitalist like the others, not only believer in, but argues for, progressive taxation. We have today gone further in this country than in any other—perhaps as some of us think even too far—with a system that takes up to 69-73 per cent of a man's income and in some cases even more. Progressive taxation is a sign of what modern capitalism is doing to restrict some of its own evils.

My question at this point is why did Mises recommend this debate, when the supposed advocate of capitalism is such an awful traitor to capitalism? Mises wrote:

Also instructive is the record of the public debate held in New York on January 23, 1921, between E. R. A. Seligmann and Scott Nearing on the topic: “That capitalism has more to offer to the workers of the United States than has socialism.

You can learn something from this, sure (from the socialist as well, by seeing what he's like – especially because the equivocations considered necessary were different 100 years ago, so he openly says some things that socialists don't admit today). But it's so sad that Mises didn't have better things to recommend than this ignorant compromiser. If anyone would have known where to find better materials, it would have been Mises, so I'm concerned that they don't exist. (He did recommend other things as part of the literature of liberalism, for people who want to learn more, but this debate made the list, beating out everything not listed.)

Seligman goes on with further counter productive comments about working hours, then about wages:

Wages are by no means what they ought to be. Wages are certainly far less than they should be. But wages have been growing during the last hundred years indubitably, and starting In Australia, going on to England, and now proceeding in this country, we have the great minimum-wage movement which is gradually improving those conditions.

He says capitalism is making this better – including with minimum wage movements (which he apparently doesn't realize are anticapitalist price controls which make everyone less wealthy and especially hurt the poorer and less skilled workers). But his view of the matter is awful compared to Mises himself or Mises' student, George Reisman, as explained in Reisman's Marxism/Socialism, A Sociopathic Philosophy Conceived In Gross Error And Ignorance, Culminating In Economic Chaos, Enslavement, Terror, And Mass Murder: A Contribution To Its Death and my 10 educational videos covering that book.

Seligman goes on to praise government unemployment insurance, which he thinks will improve the capitalist problem that workers fear losing their jobs, and then he states his acceptance of the very nasty belief that working with machines is less enjoyable than previous non-industrial work. His defense, here, is that socialism will need machines too, and that capitalism shouldn't be blamed for the problems of machines, and that we're increasing leisure hours which make up for industrial work being unpleasant.

Seligman says despite his reservations about capitalism, he rejects socialism because:

  • Paying everyone equally, instead of paying for efficient production, results in less production. (He says even in Russia they had to have bonuses for good workers, and gave up on the equal pay that Lenin preached.)
  • Ricardo (who Mises praises) wrote fallacies (which aren't specified). But, somehow related to that, industrial leaders are rare and are valuable to society, and capitalism handles that better. Socialism would remove the incentive to be an industrial leader, or even to try to produce a little more than your neighbor, and it'd also limit the risks that industrial leaders would take to try to make a profit. Seligman says that under socialism people couldn't "afford" to take those risks, but doesn't explain why. I guess, from the word "afford", that he has in mind that socialism wouldn't let some businessmen get rich enough that they could afford to lose a lot of money without ruining their lives.
  • Various (unspecified) socialists have admitted their system would restrict freedom.

Socialist Argument

The moderator introduces and praises Nearing, the socialist debater, but did not introduce or praise Seligman previously. This is biased and unfair. Nearing apparently went to court to defend his free speech rights to argue for socialist ideas, even during war time (World War I).

Nearing agrees about what capitalism and socialism are. Note the mention of no private profits:

He [Seligman] has defined capitalism as that form of industrial organization where the means of production, primarily the machines, are in the control of private individuals. He has defined socialism as the control of capital in the hands of the group and under it there shall be no room for private rent, interest or profit. [emphasis added, and FYI Nearing means economic rent, he's not saying that you couldn't charge rent for an apartment]

I appreciate the clarity from Nearing, even though he's mistaken, and he continues with more clarity:

I want to try to demonstrate to you that under capitalism the worker has to accept, first, intermittent starvation, second, slavery and third, war.…

… Under the present system of society, a little group of people own resources, machines, capital, all of the machinery upon which forty million workers depend for their living. That is, the capitalist owns the job. The capitalist owns the job without which the worker dies of starvation. The worker therefore must go to the capitalist and ask for permission to work.

I would say the businessman created the job which allowed forty million workers to be born and fed, and they wouldn't be alive without the businessman. Without businessmen who saved wealth and invested it in machines, there'd be far fewer people. A low-technology society with large numbers of self-employed persons (mostly farmers) can only feed so many people on a given area of land (who are slaves to Nature – they must work or Nature will starve them to death). The reason there are more workers than can have their own land to farm, or otherwise be self-employed, is because capitalism enabled them to be alive at all. The reason most workers seem bound to seek jobs is because those jobs are the only reason they can be alive at all. They should be grateful for the jobs which gave them life, and that they live in a society where they can improve their life situation, where capitalism has provided upward mobility through many means other than military success.

Besides, the businessmen compete for workers. Wages are set by supply and demand. Workers need jobs, sure, but businesses also need workers. The buyers of labor compete with each other, in the market, just as the sellers of labor do. Nearing is ignorant of how supply and demand set prices. This is covered in Reisman's Marxism/Socialism book linked above (which refutes Marx's iron law of wages), and my videos on it, and in detail in my educational discussion teaching Andy why minimum wage is bad and how the free market determines wages, and of course in the books of Mises and in Reisman's Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics.

I hope Seligman has a decent rebuttal to this point. He should at least know how supply and demand set the price of labor, I hope.

Nearing continues with details rather than arguing further his claims that workers ask permission to work instead of negotiating. He says the 1918 tax returns showed that only 14 families in 1000 had $10,000+/yr income, which he says isn't very much money. Then he says it's only 4 in 1000 – I think the 4 or the 14 must be a transcription error in the book, not Nearing's fault. He says he unfortunately couldn't get statistics for how much wealth people own, just the income numbers. Nearing says that because a handful of people own the "railroads, the banks, manufactories, mining and other establishments", the workers are slaves. He says that 26% of school children are underfed, while some document that isn't available says that businessmen made hundreds or thousands of percent profit in one year (1917). And he keeps saying Marxist things (refuted by Mises and Reisman) about how the worker has to produce his bread and also produce a surplus profit for the capitalist who doesn't labor for it.

Nearing also says that businessman accumulated too much surplus from the workers, and they wanted to "burn" it and "dispose of it", and World War I gave them a chance to dispose of surplus wealth, and exports gave them a chance, and now without those chances they are firing workers. He doesn't explain this nonsense, he's basically just ranting. Here's a part that's meant to be more of an argument than the smears about WWI:

I got a report from the New York State Industrial Commission this week: 643,000 men and women out of work in New York State. What have they done? Why, they cannot have work. But what have they done? Why, they have produced too much. They have created too great a surplus. They must wait to produce more until this surplus is consumed. Can they consume it? No! Because they did not receive enough wages to buy it back.

But that isn't how economics works. You don't get fired for producing too much. I'd refute it in more detail, but he (so far) doesn't give detail about why he thinks this. Nearing continues with the barrage of claims, including more statistics and factoids, rather than trying to explain reasoning about how he thinks economics works. He's a demagogue, riling up the audience and getting applause and laughter (which are repeatedly mentioned in the text in parentheses). He reminds me of Roman demagogues like Publius Clodius Pulcher, and the role of the mob in Roman life.

Nearing says what socialists want is to own things like coal mines themselves, rather than be poor in the richest country ever to exist, and he wants everything priced with no surplus/profit. But he says he doesn't want to stress that, he wants to focus on the essential issue: accusing capitalism of being a system of slavery.

The employing class owns the Press, the economic power centering in the banks, schools, pulpit, press, movie screen, all the power of wide-spread propaganda now. "When we have something to sell to the American people, we know how to sell it." Slavery—going to the boss and asking for the privilege of a job;—slavery—sending your child to school and having him pumped full of virulent propaganda in favor of the present system (Great applause). Slavery in every phase of life all tied up under this one banker's control. Is it true that no man is good enough to rule another man without that man's consent?

My take: Nearing has complaints about society, some correct, some incorrect. People find his speeches appealing because they agree with some of his complaints. He doesn't know anything about economics (and neither does his audience). Socialism would only make things much worse (giving one employer, the group in charge of the means of production, a monopoly. Today, if one employer doesn't like you, you can find a job elsewhere. A monopoly on all the jobs, as socialism proposes, would only make the employment situation worse.) But I'll have to see what he says when he gets to talking about socialism instead of just criticizing his current society (without paying attention to which thing she doesn't like are due to capitalism, and which have other causes).

The employing class owns the Press, the economic power centering in the banks, schools, pulpit, press, movie screen, all the power of wide-spread propaganda now. "When we have something to sell to the American people, we know how to sell it." Slavery—going to the boss and asking for the privilege of a job;—slavery—sending your child to school and having him pumped full of virulent propaganda in favor of the present system (Great applause). Slavery in every phase of life all tied up under this one banker's control. Is it true that no man is good enough to rule another man without that man's consent?

If you want ownership, then save money and start buying businesses – as a big group, if you wish. People are free to do that. They choose not to – then some of them (the socialists) want to take businesses by force.

People may assume this is unrealistic, but let's glance at the numbers:

The U.S. Stock Market Is Now Worth $30 Trillion (Jan 2018)

Moreover, the run-up in value since President Donald Trump was elected is some $6.6 trillion, in just about 14 months. That’s half the entire gain seen under the eight years under President Barack Obama.

So it was $23.4 trillion 14 months ago, and around $10.2 trillion 8 years before that.

Now let's look at total US salaries: 16.5 trillion for 2017 – people get paid the whole value of the stock market in 2 years (and it was more like 1 year back in 2009). Yeah people have to pay taxes and living expenses and stuff, but basically the workers could buy all the stocks in under a generation if they really wanted to – without any of the violence of a socialist revolution. If workers saved 10% of their salary, then currently they could buy all the stocks in around 20 years – not counting any dividends they'd get from owning some of the stocks partway through. Workers as a whole don't do this because they each individually think they're better off buying other things rather than having more ownership of capital – though plenty of workers already do have investments which sum to a large total. (I don't trust this number at all, but Time reported last year that the bottom 90% of the population, in terms of wealth, already own 16% of the stocks. Time's spin was that the rich control everything, but I think 16% ownership is a lot more than the Marxist narrative assumes, which treats the figure as 0%. And I think 10% is a rather large portion of the population to consider the rulers instead of the workers. If the elite capitalists are just the top 1%, then the workers already own 62% of the stock – according to an NPR article with an anti-rich-people narrative, which also mentions that the majority of Americans own stock.)

I didn't research these numbers much because I don't expect them to be super accurate, but I think they're loosely in the right ballpark. If you deny it, I challenge you to find some reasonable numbers that lead to a dramatically different conclusion.

In 1914 Great Britain had a highway to the sea. Germany wanted it. A pistol shot sounds in Central Europe and ten million men go to their graves to decide that Great Britain shall hold Bagdad and that Germany shall pay what she can. (Applause.).

Factually, that is not what happened. See Omnipotent Government by Mises. (The book is more about WWII, not WWI, but it goes back and traces historical events starting well before WWI.) Nearing goes on to incorrectly claim that Germany and Russia (and the rest) were capitalist states in 1914, which needed a "capitalist War" to use up surplus wealth that they wouldn't let workers have. Really? World War I and the Triumph of Illiberal Ideology:

I will discuss only one general problem that helped fuel the catastrophe: the ideological shift that occurred in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries away from the liberal philosophy of laissez-faire and laissez-passer and toward autarky, protectionism, nationalism, and imperialism. Mises, himself a veteran of the First World War, identified these latter ideologies as joint causes of numerous conflicts. Furthermore, he repeatedly warned that war is a necessary outcome of abandoning economic freedom, which is inextricably tied to the spirit of liberalism and its philosophy of peace:


By and large, these are the kinds of international conflicts that developed in the decades prior to 1914. As relative free trade declined and imperialism flourished, a culture of militarism swept Western Europe, triggering a race to accumulate military assets and materiel on a previously unknown scale. By the outbreak of the conflict, every major belligerent except Britain had also adopted conscription so as to ensure an abundant supply of human as well as physical resources. Such policies could only end in disaster. [emphasis added]

The decline of free trade is not capitalism. Mises' book, Omnipotent Government, explains much more about this.

Oh, that was the end of Nearing's remarks. He never actually got around to giving any positive explanation of how socialism would work (as he said he would when he began). Pathetic! Here’s how he opened:

I do not see capitalism in so rosy a light as does Professor Seligman and I want to try to explain to you in the brief time that I have why not, and what the socialists propose to put in its place

But he didn’t talk about what he wanted to put in place of capitalism.

Capitalist Rebuttal

Mr. Nearing said that he wanted Socialism in order that no surplus shall be produced. That is my objection to Socialism. (Applause). The World has progressed in civilization only because every generation did not consume all that it produced, but that it laid by a surplus. (Applause).

That’s a pretty good start on answering the socialist. I like it as debating rhetoric. It’s not very good as a rational explanation that’ll actually educate the audience, though.

How long would the shareholders of the United States Steel Corporation [live] if that were all they had to live on—how Iong would they continue to enjoy their luxuries if the workmen all stopped work permanently? (Applause). Does the workman need the job giver any more than the job giver needs the workman?

No mention of supply and demand, but at least it’s an answer that brings up the mutual benefits of the employee/employer relationship – employees hire people because they benefit from doing so, and they are worse off if they don’t hire workers.

One point in which Mr. Nearing did not meet me at all, but which I trust he will meet in his rebuttal is this: that while we may be entirely favorable to the aspirations and the hopes and the desires of the great mass of the working population, he must prove that forces are not at work under capitalism which will meet and realize those hopes and those aspirations.

That’s a good point, yes. Nearing didn’t address the ways by which capitalism can improve the current situation, and the ways by which he thinks socialism can, and do a comparative analysis. (He didn’t even try to analyze how socialism could improve the situation, let alone try to point out limits to improvement under capitalism.)

Seligman then shares some recent factual information about Russia in order to give some examples about whether socialism improves or harms liberty. First, in the Petrograd government printing office, workers were made to work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, with no lenience for women, and a policy of compulsory overtime had recently begun. Here’s his second and third examples:

I have extracts from The Metallurgist, an organ of the metallurgical workers. "At our factory, absolute submission to the administration of the plant has been established. No arguments or interference with its orders on the part of the workers are tolerated. At our factory, failure to report for work without permission is punishable by forfeiture of extra food. The same punishment is meted out for refusal to do compulsory overtime work. For being late on the job, two days food are deducted." And here comes the resolution of all the Petrograd workers on September 5th, as a result of the liberty of Socialism: "We feel as if we were hard labor convicts where everything has been subject to iron rules. We have become lost as human beings and have been turned into slaves." There is your socialistic liberty. (Great applause).

This much was known about Russian socialism, in the US, in 1921, and was quoted by professors in public debates. So much for the later excuses, during the cold war, by the dupes of Russia, who believed Soviet propaganda about the working conditions there.

The next example was about how Russian socialism deals with strikers: they arrest strikers and send them to forced labor camps or shoot them. The last example is horrifying:

the report of the President of the Petrograd Commune to a delegation from the workers of a certain city who complained of being starved and not getting enough to eat. "Yes, we do admit," he says, "that the food allowance is insufficient, but at the same time we also know full well—this has been taught by real life—that as long as the worker or plain citizen is busy obtaining food he takes no interest in politics. Just give the workingman enough to eat today and you will hear him cry tomorrow for civic liberties. Our object," says the socialistic government "is to keep the workers just from dying; and that is what we are doing."

Of course, today, right now, socialism is destroying Venezuela, and we have all sorts of news available online which is full of horrifying examples, and still many people don’t notice or care, and find socialist ideas appealing. These old examples shouldn’t make much difference to any educated modern reader who knows anything about Venezuela or the USSR or many other examples.

Seligman says, factoring in the purchasing power of money, and using the data from Nearing’s own book, the wages of workers under US capitalism went up from $147 in 1850 to $401 in 1910, which shows capitalism is progressive.

When Mr. James J. Hill, the great Empire builder, built one of the trans-continental railroads which have brought about the cheapening of products and the diversification of consumption of which I spoke, did he not contribute to production? When Mr. McCormick invented and finally utilized the reaper and the thresher and the mower, which have revolutionized the work of the farmer and the whole life of the community and built up a fortune, did he not contribute to production? When Mr. Westinghouse invented the air brake and finally reaped a fortune by utilizing it in the uttermost parts of the world, did he not contribute to production? And when our friend Mr. Ford with whose general philosophy perhaps I am not in entire accord, (laughter) when he brought down the price of automobiles, the automobiles that are used by the workmen all over this country in going to and from their daily work (hearty laughter)— I passed by a factory the other day and found that there were 550 automobiles. They did not happen to be all Ford automobiles— and I stepped in and said: "To whom do they belong?" And I was told: "Each one of these belongs to a workman in this factory. They come every morning and go back every evening." Now then, could those fortunate workmen say that Mr. Ford has been able to heap up his millions by simply taking them, niching them, stealing them, from the men in his employ?

Nice examples of how businessmen contributed to production instead of just exploiting workers.

I do not deny that there is robbery. I do not deny that there are bad people as well as good people, but I do say that the essence of the capitalist system today, that the essence of profits today, of legitimate profits is not theft but service and that people in the long run cannot under modern conditions, in the long run and under normal conditions make great profits unless they really do service for their community. [emphasis added]

Pretty good as a debating statement. But he didn’t do much to educate the audience and teach them any economics.

Socialist Rebuttal

Nearing denies credit for the Industrial Revolution to capitalism. He says it happened under capitalism, but the causes were machines and technology, and he suggests we would have seen the same advances under socialism. Nearing is kinda ranting again, then says something I found interesting:

In the early days of capitalism any man could get a job by going out to the frontier and taking a farm. The frontier is gone. Capital is required in large quantities. If you want to open a successful business, it needs tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Only a few can start in business. Most of us must remain workers. The old factory was a little two-by-four concern. The modern factory employs you with a thousand or five thousand others.

That factory enables five thousand people to be alive. The frontier enabled some increase in population, and as it filled up we needed factories in order for more people to live.

He sees people living in less than ideal circumstances and fails to see that capitalism has enabled them to live at all.

After some storytelling about visiting Europe, and some quotes of a Seligman article about WWI, and some other non-arguments, Nearing says:

Professor Seligman wants to know what I think of Lenin and Trotsky. Now I will tell him if I can (Laughter), and in a word. I think that when the history of this period comes to be written that there is not a man nor a woman in this hall this afternoon whose name will stand that high (indicating) with the names of Lenin and Trotsky in this period (Great applause). There are not two braver men in the world today, men who have stood up in the face of great opposition and steadily have worked for the end in which they believe. Do I agree with their theories? With some of them I agree, and with some of them I don't. You could not agree with both Lenin and Trotsky because they don't agree with one another (Laughter and applause). But just as I regard the Russian revolution as the greatest event in history since 1676, just as I regard it as the epoch-making event, the dividing line between capitalism and socialism, so I regard these two men as two of those whose names will go down as having played mighty roles in that page—the great page of our modern history.

Well, at least he admitted it clearly.

Nearing’s answer to poor conditions in Russia (the five examples from Seligman) is to blame it on civil war, blockades, hostile trade policies, and Western aggression (contrary to the desires of the workers of Europe who, he tells us based on a visit, approve of Russian socialism and want it for themselves and are unwilling to fight against Russia).

But in Russia they have taken over the resources, they have taken over transportation, machinery, they have taken over the factories, the community owns the means of its own livelihood. And they have appointed a Supreme Council of National Economy, and they are going to organize the nation as an economic unit on economic lines. It is the first time in history that it has ever been attempted. If it does not succeed in Russia it will succeed somewhere else, maybe here

He was wrong. And he didn’t do economic analysis to reach his conclusion. He seemed totally ignorant of supply and demand, and of the writings of the (classical) liberals (especially the economic writings).

Capitalist Closing Remarks

“He who shall not work, neither shall he eat”—a noble sentiment.

Ugh, that’s nasty, not noble. What if he worked in the past and saved? What if she has a husband or parent who works? What counts as work? Is writing philosophy “work” or does everyone have to do manual labor? If intellectual work counts, who gets to be an intellectual and who will be forced to do manual labor by threat of starvation?

It’s bullying to threaten people with starvation if they don’t do things you consider “legitimate” work for them to be doing. I don’t take offense when nature presents us with the possibility of starvation, naturally, but I do take offense when humans make starvation a political threat.

Socialism [in Russia in 1921] is bringing about a situation, the most horrible, the most frightful, the most hideous that the world has ever seen—the disappearance of culture, the disappearance of cities, the disappearance of civilization, and the rapid progression of universal starvation among the workers themselves. That is socialism in practice.

He was right, but many others didn’t figure that out until over 50 years later.

Seligman points out 3 ways Nearing didn’t address the arguments, then gives 7 ideas for social reform. I list them and briefly give my evaluation as liberal or illiberal.

  1. “equality of opportunity through increase of education and the disappearance of unjust privileges” – liberal, as long as it isn’t government education.
  2. “the raising of the level of competition by law and public opinion” – laws to interfere with the market, and try to somehow increase competition (by making people compete? by subsidies?) are illiberal.
  3. “increasing the participation in industry through what is called industrial democracy and what is rapidly going on under representative government today” – the Wikipedia article on “industrial democracy” is “Part of a series on Libertarian socialism”. It’s hostile to the property rights of business owners, which is illiberal.
  4. “diminution of the instability of employment through the application of the principle of insurance which we have already applied to accidents and which we are beginning to apply elsewhere” – this would be liberal, except he already said he wanted government unemployment insurance, which makes it illiberal
  5. “conservation of national resources in order to prevent the waste which is responsible for much of the present-day trouble” – how is this to be accomplished? By government conservation programs or laws? Vague but sounds illiberal because it seems to envision a “national” authority that controls the use of resources in the nation.
  6. “social control of potential monopoly which has been proceeding apace and which has even reached unheard of lengths in some modern countries” – antitrust laws are illiberal, see Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal chapters 3 and 4.
  7. “the resumption for the community of swollen and unduly large fortunes through the use of taxation which must go, however, only to that point of not stifling and killing the spirit of enterprise which socialism would bring about” – this is shameful. He wants to go after the rich and take their money. Illiberal.

The guy on the liberal side of the debate advocated 6 illiberal things out of 7 ideas. No wonder liberalism’s influence in world events continues to diminish.

Socialism is a beautiful theory

Said the man opposing socialism in a debate, despite knowing that socialism takes away people’s freedom and starves them.

Capitalism can’t win debates with advocates like this. Yes, Seligman had better arguments. But Seligman admitted weaknesses of capitalism and looked to compromise (even preemptively, before Nearing’s first word), while the socialist Nearing gave no ground and made no concessions. (Nearing didn’t even talk about what socialism is or how it would work, let alone any weaknesses of it. He only went on the attack and pointed out flaws in the current world, some true and some false, and blamed them all on capitalism without analysis of their actual causes.)

You aren’t going to persuade people to oppose socialism by calling it beautiful and then saying that your own system may have a lot of flaws but has reformed some and can be reformed more in the future. Seligman wasn’t actually willing to make a principled defense of capitalism.

I maintain, ladies and gentlemen, that socialism is not practicable

And if it were practicable, would it be beautiful? Is the difference between Seligman and a socialist simply that Selgiman is a pessimist who thinks there can be no solution to make socialism practicable, while the socialist is an optimist who seeks to find a solution?

Seligman says socialism is not desirable because it will lead to tyranny or, if not that, at least inefficient production. These arguments won’t convince people – they will still want to find a solution to socialism which keeps the parts they like about it while avoiding tyranny or major reductions in production.

Seligman goes on to say socialism is idealistic, but we have to be moderate, practical, and conservatively build on tradition. Why doesn’t he know how wonderful and idealistic liberalism is?

Socialist Closing Remarks

Nearing says economic panics got progressively worse because the number of business panics increased. An audience member corrects him, saying he should consider proportions (100 out of 200 businesses failing is worse than 200 out of 5000, even though 100 failures is fewer than 200 failures). Nearing grants the point but then moves on without any attempt at valid comparisons.

Nearing says Russia’s problems are due to war, not socialism. Europe still hasn’t recovered from WWI, including in non-socialist countries. This isn’t an honest answer to Seligman, who didn’t just say conditions in Russia were economically poor, but also gave examples of Russian authorities stamping down on liberty. Nearing asks people to wait 20 years (until 1941), and see how the socialist countries do, before passing judgment.

Really, however, the issue between Professor Seligman and myself is very simple. He don't think the people can handle their own economic affairs, and I do (Laughter).

This is pretty much meaningless since Nearing never explained what system he’s proposing. It sounds like Nearing doesn’t want central planners handling everyone’s economic affairs, but then what does he want? And capitalism does have people handle their own economic affairs – under capitalism, individuals are free to decide what to buy and what to sell, and at what prices.

Nearing ends with idealism. He says even if Russia fails he’ll be glad they tried, and that scientists always have failures but keep trying anyway. And, finally, to close, he smears Seligman as favoring “plutocracy”.

My Conclusions

The debate is instructive if you read it as Ayn Rand would have, by seeing how the compromiser cannot win despite having all the facts and logic on his side. It’s a good example of how capitalism lost the public debate, despite being true, because its own advocates didn’t understand it and thought socialism was beautiful but impractical. You don’t win hearts and minds by saying, “Their idea is ideal, but settle for my idea because it’s more pragmatic.” Even if people agree that current socialist approaches are flawed, they’ll react by wanting to fix that, not by giving up on dreaming of a better world.

The arguments that can beat socialism are the ones that explain how it consists of nothing but the violent destruction of an ideal, moral system. It is capitalism, not socialism, which is a rational system that serves the masses and uses their brains in economic planning, is fair, offers liberty, offers hope of peace and prosperity, and can create a better world. (If that interests you, read some of the links above, particularly books by Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand, and George Reisman.)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)