European conversions from paganism to Christianity were, except in the earliest days of the religion, largely elite-driven affairs. Peasants, unable to read the Bible and unconcerned about getting along with foreign Princes, often resisted it, and it would take several generations before the remnants of paganism were stamped out. I’m sure the rulers of those societies could have noticed around the time that was happening that suddenly the peasants were being more rebellious, questioning their teachings when they had previously accepted them without complaint.

It’s been claimed that the public, today, is revolting, supposedly due to technology. A simpler explanation is that elites adopted a form of radical egalitarianism that the people have not yet embraced. If people were becoming more rebellious as a rule, you’d expect to see it in areas other than voting behavior, such as in the workplace. But you don’t.


A Conspiracy Theory

Mutually Assured Destruction relies on a second-strike capacity, that is, even if one nuclear power launches a pre-emptive strike on the other, the targeted nation must be able to respond with a nuclear strike on its own. To not have this capacity would be to invite a pre-emptive strike. But there is the ever present danger of a intentional launch by some crazy. One solution is to prevent any launch without presidential or high military approval with a “permissive action link.”(PAL) But this weakens second-strike capacity, as it makes a “decapitation strike” more likely to succeed.

America and the Soviet Union both nevertheless equipped their weapons with PALs. And it’s here that we get to the conspiracy. I’m not saying I think this happened, just that, unlike most conspiracies, it is plausible. There’s already a debate about whether certain elements in the military ever decided that PALs were a bad idea and thus disobeyed the order to enable them:

For nearly a decade, an awkward debate has raged about the U.S. military’s nuclear force: Did top Air Force officials really choose “00000000” as a code that could enable the launch of a nuclear missile? Ten years later, in a document obtained by Foreign Policy, the U.S. military told Congress that it never happened. But is the Pentagon telling the truth?

Bruce Blair, a nuclear security expert and former launch officer , says no. Blair, now a scholar and author at Princeton University, first raised the idea in a piece published in 2004. He accused the Air Force of circumventing President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 order to install extra security codes to safeguard against accidental or unauthorized launch by putting them in place, but making them painfully simple to the missile launch officers who manned underground bunkers. Doing so, Blair said, effectively eliminated the codes’ usefulness.

The U.S. military says that’s not the case. A new wave of media coverage sparked by online media outlets last year prompted the House Armed Services Committee to ask about the issue, and the military responded by insisting “00000000” was never used.

My suggestion is that maybe the generals never “disobeyed” anyone at all. Maybe it was the policy of the government to say that PALs were equipped, but to never actually equip them except in a few specific scenarios.(Such as tactical nukes where there was a fear of enemy capture, as in the American nukes in Germany.) The code really was “00000000,” but this wasn’t defiance of the President, he knew of and approved of the policy. Why go through the trouble? Creating the perception that PALs are enabled will improve the security of nuclear weapons, while somebody in the missile silo has to know the truth, the large majority of the operators can be led to believe the PALs are enabled and thus that it would not be worth trying to force a launch of the weapon. It’s also possible that this policy was agreed upon with the Soviet Union. You see, while the U.S. government would want to create the perception among those close to the weapons that the policy exists, it would certainly not want the Soviet Union to believe this, as it would lead them to believe that a first-strike decapitation attempt would be more likely to succeed. The Soviets, too, would have the incentive. So it’s possible that both met sometime in the 1960s, the Cuban missile scare hanging over their heads, and agreed on a plan to mislead their populations.

My email to David Cole

Firstoff, I fully agree with the main argument of your recent article, “Twilight of the God Emperor,” that the alt-right has been a dumpster fire. But I would like to address a point you made in the article, the head-scratching about why it is that Trump supporters are warming to socialism. As a former Trump supporter who has been warming to Left-wing economics, here’s my take.

First, I was struck by your description of the Tea Party as “effective.” It might be effective relative to Richard Spencer & Co., but that’s a very low bar. All it can really say accomplishments-wise is that, in the string of Republican victories which occurred after 2010, it stopped Obama from implementing even more socialist policies. More than anything it was wedded to stopping Obamacare, which is still here. And it couldn’t even come up with a plan to repeal Obamacare, what was proposed in 2017 was in essence a renaming of Obamacare, instead of subsidies for plans paid to the insurance companies, it would give tax credits to people which could only be used to buy insurance plans. Medicaid expansion and the requirement to cover pre-existing conditions would have been retained, at least in theory. It might be able to claim the Trump tax cut as a victory, though without any spending cuts it is merely a shift in the tax burden from the present into the future.

You then make an argument common among conservatives and libertarians, that socialism will be dysgenic:

So by all means, rightists, grow that welfare state and get more babies from folks who can’t afford to have ’em! And when you’re robbed and stabbed in an alley by one of those kids sixteen years from now, as you lay dying you can comfort yourself with the knowledge that paying for your murderer’s upbringing at least helped to “soak the rich.”

But is that narrative really true? There is a crude way to measure this by looking at the test scores of children and then comparing them with the number of siblings they have. If duller pupils report more siblings, it means that dull families are having more kids. Anatoly Karlin did this with the PISA test, and found that this is true almost everywhere, but the magnitude of it differs, and America is worse than most of Europe. Some of the “best” countries in this measure are the Nordic social democracies.

Why is this? Part of it, I think, is that when you have a barebones welfare state like the US does, a poor woman can only get the benefits if she has kids. In Europe, where everyone who is poor gets the benefits, there is less of an incentive to have kids to get them. Furthermore, socialists will unlike libertarians and conservatives be willing to provide subsidized abortion and birth control to members of the underclass. Perhaps as an alternative you’d rather have no welfare state and pre-sexual revolution morality, but the conservative movement isn’t going to accomplish the former and long ago gave up on the latter. That’s why I support a policy of what Peter Frost calls “tactical liberalism” as the only realistic alternative.

Thoughts on the Yang Gang Part 1: Should We Eat The Seed Corn?

A twelve hour workday seems unthinkable for moderns, but in the 19th century, it was often the demand of the labor movements. Gradually the demand started going down and down, until it reached forty circa 1950, and hasn’t budged since. However, when you look at actual hours worked per worker and remove women from the analysis, you’ll see that hours actually worked have indeed gone down since 1950. If I had to give just a single explanation for the decline in hours worked and labor force participation since 1950, I’d say that it’s for the same reason working hours declined before 1950. People generally do not like work, and when they are rich enough to avoid it, many will.

Yang is running on a platform of blaming automation for this decline. I don’t buy it. It’s entirely possible that automation might cause problems in the future, but there’s little evidence it’s occurring now. Yang claims that people today are less likely to say “I’m unemployed” if they can’t find a job and this explains why the supposed automation problem doesn’t show up in the unemployment data. But I’ve never heard a good reason why they do this. Occam’s razor is that the data says what it says.

What about the UBI? Can America afford it? Contrary to what some think, America could easily afford a 12K a year basic income if taxes as a percentage of GDP were raised to the European level. What would be the effect of this mass increase in taxation? I can’t say I know for sure. But consider this: Americans are much richer than Europeans or Japanese. This becomes clear when you look at virtually any measure of wealth. For certain measures, you hear the excuse that Europeans consume less for “cultural” reasons. But is it believable that Europeans own fewer cars and have fewer rooms per dwelling and are less likely to own dishwashers or microwaves and eat out more and spend less on toys for their children, ect., all for “cultural” reasons? If they make the same incomes and yet consume less, they must have much more in savings, but on that measure, too, they have less. American’s economy is, for one reason or another, much more productive than considering that fact it makes you wonder if it’s really a good idea to blow a whole in it by radically increasing its tax burden, starving it of investment.

But not many people actually know that America’s economy is much more productive than Europe’s. One of the defining beliefs of the Blue Tribe is that Europe has a “higher standard of living” than America despite all the numbers saying not really. So they don’t see the best performing economic machine in the world, they see a broken machine that they know how to “fix.” And the Red Tribe? They are closer to reality, but even as they may say that America has the world’s highest standard of living, many don’t really feel like it. There’s a sense of malaise in America quite unrelated to the true economic conditions, one in which radical solutions to an imaginary problem can become prominent. It is a cultural malaise more than anything. Perhaps the real problem, and solution, then, can be found in the culture?

Should we even look? There is an attitude among many conservatives, libertarians, and economically moderate liberals that we shouldn’t as economic utility is all that matters. But I’m sure when it comes to individual happiness, the tune they sing will be different. On an individual level, they say “money can’t buy happiness” but on a societal level they will say “society has mo’ money, why isn’t it happy? Must be irrationality.” I am not saying this. It really is true that, for example, divorce rates are much higher than they used to be, and I don’t think the rise was inevitable. But an economic solutions ultimately can’t fix a non-economic problem.

Nevertheless, I do intend to vote for Andrew Yang. Part 2 will try to explain why.

Self-driving cars as a test of Luddite-predictions

When great technological advances are predicted, they are often paired with predictions of neo-Luddism. As I wrote in my book Posthumanity(See pg 75-77), I don’t anticipate much of it, for the reason that we haven’t seen much of it so far.

We can see this in the reaction to self-driving cars. I’m an optimist on self-driving cars, although I was skeptical of the likelihood they would arrive as soon as certain boosters said they would. When Waymo announced they would have a self-driving taxi without a backup driver by the end of 2018, I predicted it wouldn’t happen and made a bet with Scott Alexander about it, which I won.

Why didn’t Waymo go through with it? It wasn’t because of the law. Currently, fully driverless cars are legal in 4 states, and most states allow them with a backup driver.


Now, there’s still plenty of time for the Luddite-predictors to be right on this issue, maybe states will crack down once they stop being cool theoretical technology and actually start threatening people’s jobs. Still, the state deeming them safe before the company deems them safe is not what you’d have expected them to predict.

Should Blackmail be Legalized?

Robin Hanson says yes. My arguments against:

1. While the elites will be targeted disproportionately, they won’t be the sole targets by any means. There’s a large class of Americans with no money, a lot of time on their hands, and a love of drama, for whom someone making 100K a year is “rich.” This would incentivize people to simply avoid at all costs those poorer than them, which isn’t usually considered a good thing.

2. Who said the information being used to blackmail is actually true and a norm violation actually occurred? Of course, spreading provably false information would still be illegal under libel laws, and presumably the threat of doing so would be illegal as well. But what if the info is false but not provably false? What if it’s a he said, she said situation? This wouldn’t be much of a problem if you had a rational populace and a media which didn’t publish a major fake news story every week. Ha ha.

3. This would cause violence and general unpleasant behavior, as the victims lash out against their blackmailers and anyone seen as being connected to them. Robin pointed out that this is true of gossip itself, so why not ban that? But there are many instances where spreading gossip is clearly morally just, such as if a friend is about to marry someone you know has cheated on their spouse. Making it illegal only when it’s financially motivated keeps the clearly “noble” instances of gossip protected.

4. If we consider a norm violation so bad that we need to incentivize people to go after it, why not just make it illegal and have the police and prosecutors do that work? Robin points out that there are many norms that are hard to enforce via law. Why are they hard to enforce? Because they are hard to prove, which makes them especially vulnerable to false claims. If you don’t want it to be illegal, allowing it to be blackmail-able certainly won’t make its’ banning less likely. Maybe in rationalist-world, but in the real world with real human nature, mob action against something will just strengthen people’s perception that it’s immoral (since beliefs about what is morally acceptable are more than anything based on what other people are perceived to think is morally acceptable) and deserving of formal legal sanction.

5. What if the demand of the blackmailer is for sex? If you decide that, in that case, it should be illegal, you’d have to explain why it’s “like rape” to demand sex or else X but “not like rape” to demand 100,000$ or else X. Our society would have no problem saying “that’s different, m’kay,” but it would certainly damage the “rationalist” case for the policy if you conceded this exception.

I am certainly sympathetic to the goal of exposing the hypocrisy of the elites. But the way to do that is to simply do it because it’s the right thing to do, not because you’re getting paid for it. Revolutions aren’t made by mercenaries.


Some Thoughts About Polygenic Scores

Since everything seems to be heritable, in principle you could construct polygenic scores to measure any human trait. But there are a couple of problems, one is the very large sample size, the other is the problem of measuring certain traits. How do you measure “honesty?” Loyalty? Conscientiousness? Personality tests are vulnerable to social desirability bias and self deception. Even if you have an ironclad test, the large sample size required means it can be very costly to take such a sample. This is one reason polygenic scores for educational attainment work better than polygenic scores for IQ itself, it is easier to just ask people about educational attainment than it is to give >100,000 people an IQ test.

Because of this, it will be easier to construct polygenic scores for demographic variables. Has anyone tried to construct a polygenic score for divorce? I’m sure the data to do so is out there. Polygenic scores for self-reported alcohol consumption have been constructed. What about for one’s risk of ever getting arrested? On this, people could lie, but one could work with a background check company to determine the true records. Or what about a polygenic score for one’s credit score? The IRBs aren’t going to like some of these studies, you can be sure of that.

To measure things like honesty, one can imagine all kinds of clever experiments. Bring test subjects into a room where they will “find” a “missing” wallet. But the problem with this is that at least some of the test subjects will see through such trickery, thus reducing the test to one of IQ and familiarity with research practices. It’s easier to manipulate children, however, and, through the school system, easier to get a representative sample.(The IRBs are an ever present headache, though.) One can imagine things like the marshmallow test, used to construct polygenic scores, which are then measured against the performance of adults. If your hypothesis is that the marshmallow test will correlate with income because of genetic factors, there will be no more need to wait decades for the original test subjects to grow up to put this to the test.

Would it work? Maybe or maybe not.(The original marshmallow test didn’t work.) It’s not obvious that someone’s behavior as a child in a test environment will correlate much with their behavior in the real world as an adult. But if these studies prove unimpressive, or the IRBs stymie efforts to do them, academic fraudsters and trolls could just make up fake polygenic scores. There will be known variants which have greater weight in the polygenic scores for income or educational attainment than they do for intelligence, thus it will be known that they cause higher income or educational attainment through some trait other than intelligence as measured by IQ tests. Maybe it’s honesty, maybe it’s popularity, maybe it’s how hardworking one is. Academic fraudsters could simply take these “mystery variants” and pretend that they were “discovered” by their clever experiment, with some variants which affect neither IQ nor income thrown in to make it look believable. Trolls could “anonymously” release such “research” with the claim that it is being suppressed. They would be especially likely to get away with it if they claimed the scores were constructed using unethical (and thus hard to reproduce) experiments. For instance, they could say they or some other anonymous person did a test where children in a classroom where asked to rate the popularity of other children they know, with the resulting scores used to construct polygenic scores for popularity which predict income for adults. No IRB would approve of a replication of such an experiment.

A limiting factor here, however, will be the sample size required for such experiments. It is believable that someone secretly did an experiment on 100 children, but not on 10,000 if that is how many scientists believe will be needed to create polygenic scores for such a trait. Thus, it will depend on to what extent the algorithms will improve. If a high sample size is needed, the trolls will take to claiming the fake polygenic scores are the products of experiments in foreign countries, particularly those known to be hostile to or inaccessible by foreign media. One will wonder how much the conspiracy theorists will become interested in this subject. I could imagine claims that North Korea has factored some weird polygenic score into its Songbun system. But on the whole they won’t be very interested in it, as it will be too technical for their target audience.

Once they are created and widely known to society, trolls will use polygenic scores to harass people by leaking their scores. These scores won’t really be that meaningful on an individual level, with only weak predictive power. An IQ test will probably always work better than a polygenic IQ score in predicting real-world intellectual achievement, as it will account for the unshared environmental variance in intelligence. But that won’t really be the point. Suppose there’s a politician or celebrity you think is an idiot or dishonest or whatever. You can’t force them to take an IQ test, but you could acquire a swab of their saliva, test it, and then release the polygenic score. Or you could not do it, but claim that you did. When a couple gets married and you strongly suspect they are going to eventually get divorced,(such as, to pick a random example, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle) you could gleefully release the couple’s combined polygenic score for divorce risk. Of course, like most methods of trolling, this only works to the extent that the targets decide to be offended by the trolls’ actions. But you can count on the fact that many will be offended.