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AvatarComments by Brandon Berg*

On “The Socialism of Bernie Sanders

Your first paragraph is not even close to being correct. You're literally off by a factor of 10 or so. Totally eliminating the military would free up enough money to fund about 20% of the new spending Sanders is proposing.

Regarding your second paragraph, I don't want to be a dick about this, but I doubt you've personally looked at the data (as seen above, you're not even vaguely familiar with government spending patterns), and even if you have, I'm even more skeptical that you have the background necessary to interpret it correctly. For one, we don't have 40 years of evidence on low corporate tax rates. Until three years ago, the US had one of the highest corporate tax rates in the OECD. Aside from that, you don't know the growth path the economy would have taken in a counterfactual world where taxes had been where Sanders wants them to be, so you can't tell whether the growth path we've actually seen is higher or lower than that.

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Libertarian here. In principle, I have no objection to governments stepping in to correct legitimate externalities. When you think about it, that's what law enforcement is for. If someone steals my stuff, that imposes a negative externality on me. If someone keeps dumping trash on my lawn, I think it's reasonable to ask the government to intervene there; polluting the commons is like dumping trash on everyone's lawn. I mean, if lawns were air, and trash were also air, but an inferior kind.

I think that the fundamental truth that the non-aggression principle is trying to get at is that negative externalities are bad, and that it's legitimate for government to intervene to prevent those. Uncompensated positive externalities are also bad, hence we get libertarian support for things like IP law. Sometimes I think I should call myself an anti-externalitarian, but nobody knows what that is, so I just stick with libertarian, which is the closest of the major political philosophies. A lot of libertarians get stuck at the non-aggression principle, but most of the thoughtful ones have moved to a position closer to anti-externalitarianism, even if only implicitly.

That said, we live in a fallen world where everything is broken, especially politics, and thus we can't have nice things. The ideal interventions are not the interventions we get in the real world. Instead of a carbon tax, we have income taxes. Some jackass politician is even pushing for a wealth tax now. So I don't want to use the government to try to fix every little market imperfection, just the big ones where any even approximately correct intervention will be an improvement.

Also, there are a lot of leftists who think that "market failure" is an incantation you can recite to magically justify any government intervention you want. It doesn't work that way.

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This is the kind of thing that would really benefit from some numbers. Currently federal spending is a bit over 20% of GDP. Sanders is pushing for new spending that would double that to 40%, a figure not seen since that huge spike in World War II. This is on top of about 15% of GDP going to state and local spending. That's a huge, huge deal.

With no numbers, you can wave your hands and say that it's no big deal that Sanders wants to intervene in the economy because Republicans are already doing so. With numbers, you just can't. The difference is enormous.

Also, I want to dispel the myth that Sanders is just emulating Scandinavian policies. One of the things that makes Scandinavian countries work reasonably well (Not that well! Other than Norway, which is a quasi-petrostate, they're about 15% less wealthy than the United States) despite their bloated welfare states is the fact that they tax capital relatively lightly. Their corporate income tax and personal investment income taxes are a bit higher than the US's, but not by much. Prior to the 2017 tax cuts, they actually had lower corporate income tax rates than the US. Their welfare states are funded by extremely heavy income and consumption taxes on the middle class. Sweden's 51% income tax bracket starts at around $50,000. Not to mention the 25% VAT.

Sanders, by contrast, wants to go full Deliverance on capital. 52% tax on investment income (and maybe Social Security and Medicare on top of that? He's not big on details)! 8% wealth tax! 35% corporate income tax! This is really bad. Not for me, personally. I'm not as rich as Sanders yet, so he doesn't hate me. But capital is the seed corn that fuels growth. Taxing the bejeezus out of capital slows economic growth (and wage growth!) and impoverishes us all in the long run.

Anyway, Sanders is explicitly rejecting a crucial component of what makes Scandinavian economies work. When you do that, you don't get to say you're just trying to be like Scandinavia.

On “Katherine Johnson, RIP

I'm aware that women are underrepresented in certain fields. I'm also aware that feminists really want this to be due to misogyny, despite the evidence pointing to lack of interest being the main cause. But what I said was that I've never heard anyone say that women can't do math. Sounds like you have plenty of examples to point to. Are there any you can link to, or is it a whisper campaign?

I'm on my twentieth year in the software industry, which, according to The Narrative, is the Dudeiest, Broiest, Most Misogynistic Industry There Is™, so I shouldn't have to get out to see it. I have a front-row seat to the Patriarchy five days a week, and I've never once heard that women can't do math, or that they can't program computers. It would be rather silly to claim the latter, given the counterexamples down the hall.

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Whenever someone tells me that women can’t do math

How often does this happen? I've literally never heard anyone say this.

On “From Fox News: Bernie Sanders projected to win Nevada caucuses

Aside from the fact that Carville is explicitly saying there is no conspiracy, it's pretty rich for the Justice (sic) Democrats to be accusing anyone of peddling dangerous conspiracy theories. Their whole ideology is a dangerous conspiracy theory. They also spread a great deal of misinformation.

On “The Market is Eating Capitalism

Jeff Bezos was somehow able to convince investors that it is good to take profits and reinvest them in the company and new ventures.

I'm not sure where this idea that investors are hostile to reinvesting profits comes from. Reinvestment of profits is strongly favored by the tax code in two ways. First, profits are taxed but expenses and depreciation are not. If a company reinvests its profits, that saves money on corporate income taxes. Hence Amazon's low tax bill. Note that when Bernie Sanders rails at Amazon for their low federal income tax bill, that's because they reinvest their profits, something which tax law is explicitly designed to encourage.

On top of that, investors get taxed for dividends, and they don't get taxed for holding a stock appreciating in value until they sell it. If you're holding Amazon stock and want cash, you can always sell some shares, which is just as good as a dividend. But if you're not selling shares every year, you save on taxes compared to a dividend.

I'm not sure why Walmart investors are pushing for dividends. Maybe it's because they don't believe in the management's plan. Competing against Amazon is pretty risky, even for Walmart. Reinvesting your profits is great if the investments pay off, but it's money down the drain if they don't. Eventually a company has to start paying out dividends; you can't grow forever.

But also I suspect that they attract a different, older, more financially conservative type of investor. If you have a long history of paying dividends regularly, you attract investors who want regular dividends. Amazon has a long history of not paying dividends (or even making profits!), so they attract investors who are looking for growth.

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More or less, yeah. Although note that "expected future dividends" can vary widely from person to person. We can't actually see into the future, so investors are just making educated (or not) guesses. If you're an analyst and the price differs from the NPV of what you expect future dividends to be, the most obvious explanation is that other people have different expectations than you.

To be clear, I'm not saying it's impossible for management to pump up the stock price short term by fooling analysts, just that I hear this story a lot, and it seems unlikely that every other rando on the Internet has it figured out while full-time professional analysts are totally clueless.

On “Getting to Ten Times Better

That seems surprisingly low to me. Making a billion dollars in a single generation is hard, but growing $50 million into a billion over a couple generations seems relatively easy. A priori, I would expect a solid majority of billionaires to have inherited at least $50 million or so.

Also, given the ratio of millionaires to billionaires in the US (about 30,000 to 1), I don't think starting with a million dollars is even close to being analogous to starting on third base. I mean, I've saved up about half a million dollars, and I don't see a clear path to turning that into $500 million in my lifetime. You inherit $100 million, sure, you can just park that in an index fund for 30 years or so. But you have to work pretty hard and pretty smart to turn a million into a billion.

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I think that there are programmers who create ten times as much value as the average programmer, consistently. That may actually be an understatement. As you say, it's not really a matter of performing typical programming tasks ten times faster than a normal competent programmer. From having observed one, I think the key advantages are:

1. Knowing what to work on. He'd go poking around in some graphs on a whim, find some inefficiency, and three days later push out some change that saved the company $100,000 a year. Multiple times.

2. Writing better code. The fewer bugs you have, the less time you spend fixing them. The less time you spend fixing bugs, the more time you have for new feature work.

3. Having a good grasp on software design principles, which means less time spent thinking about how to design a particular feature or component, and reduces maintenance costs in the future.

4. Knowing a lot, which means less time spent looking up information.

Surprisingly, he wasn't very good at all at mental arithmetic. I always assumed that was something that correlated very strongly with programming ability because of working memory requirements.

On “The Market is Eating Capitalism

Anyone else see a comment box at the top of the page? I'm only seeing it on this post.

On “Getting to Ten Times Better

A surprising percentage “self-made millionaires/billionaires” started on third base, as it were.

What percentage?

On “The Market is Eating Capitalism

I'm trying to find a way to express this criticism constructively: This is too broad and not nearly deep enough. You cover a lot of ground, but you don't go deep enough to demonstrate any real understanding of the underlying issues. The result is a piece that reads like you just opened a can of talking points and poured them out onto a page. If you just want to preach to the choir, it's serviceable for that purpose, I guess, but it's not going to convince anyone who isn't already on your side that you have anything interesting to say.

I would recommend picking one or two key points and trying to develop an argument more fully. For example, you talk about short-termism. It would be interesting to explore the literature on short-termism, looking at rigorous definitions to determine whether it's actually increasing, and what kinds of effects it has. Is there a strong consensus, or are these still open questions?

Note that because the value of a stock is the discounted net present value of expected future dividends, it's not obvious a priori that short-term trading actually has much of an effect on management decisions. If management cannibalizes long-term value to deliver short-term value, then that's not going to make the stock price go up unless they can fool the analysts into thinking that the long-term value has increased. Maybe they can fool the analysts, but why should I trust your assessment over that of professional stock analysts?

You say it's easy to connect the dots, but it really isn't. These are complicated issues that a lot of people have spent a lot of time studying very carefully; you can't just intuit out the answers.

You talk about instability in employment, but layoffs and discharges are actually at the lowest level since the BLS started tracking them in December 2000.

We’re frequently reminded how great the markets are doing, yet the gig economy continues to grow as people desperately attempt to supplement their incomes in increasingly unstable times.

This would be another good candidate for a more thorough exploration. The "gig economy" may be growing because the term is used almost exclusively for task-oriented work obtained through cell phone apps, which is a new technology. But people have always done odd jobs and freelance work. Is the "gig economy" still growing if we take a more expansive, technology-agnostic view of what that actually means? Let's see some receipts. As a quick sanity check, let's take a look at full time employment as a percentage of the labor force. There's some cyclical variation, but it looks like the long-term trend for the last 45 years is basically flat.

The mass media are...not doing a great job of keeping us informed. I routinely find major errors of fact and analysis, even in prestigious media outlets. You need to do your homework, not just take the narrative they feed you and repackage it.

On “Thursday Throughput: Leap Year Edition

People like to point out that most computer programmers were women when it was regarded as secretarial work.

Men have been the majority of programmers since long before programming started paying really well. I'd be interested in seeing the statistics for earlier, but this has never been true in the microcomputer era.

It's possible that in the very early years of mainframe computing, women were overrepresented among programmers while men worked on the hardware, but this would have been a very small number of people.

Journalists have been waging a smear campaign against the tech industry for about a decade now, one prong of which is trying to push a narrative about white men (because Asians don't exist) driving women out of the tech industry.

All the evidence points to the low representation of women being driven by lack of interest rather than sexism. Notably, in the US, women peaked as a share of CS majors (37%) back in 1983; the idea that either society in general or CS departments or the software industry in particular has become more sexist since then is dubious, to say the least. Female (and black and Hispanic) representation in the software industry is about what you'd expect given the demographics of the pipeline.

On “About Last Night: Democratic Debate Live From Las Vegas

Quinnipiac's latest poll (Feb. 10) had Sanders as fourth most popular second choice, behind Biden, Warren, and Buttigieg. Obviously a lot has changed since then, but mostly just non-Sanders candidates taking votes from each other.

I'd always been mentally spotting Sanders Warren's votes, but after seeing this I think that was too generous.

https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=3655

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You can't steal it! I'm giving it to the world.

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I don't get this hate for Bloomberg spending his own money on his campaign. Bernie Sanders is trying to buy the election with $50 trillion of taxpayer money. What's wrong with Bloomberg spending a bit of his own?

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On second thought, this is totally on topic.

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Off-topic, but this tagline for OT really speaks to me:

THE SITE FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE JUST LIKE "OK SRSLY WTF?"

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I don't want either of them to be president, but I really want to watch Trump debate Sanders.

On “Wednesday Writs: Silkwood Showers and Plutonium Flowers Edition

Yeah, but then they go to those other states and vote for politicians who promise to enact the same policies that ruined California. Better to keep them concentrated in one place.

On “Dawkins Sticks His Foot In It…Again

Some people really hate to acknowledge trade-offs. Something can't be bad but have some good results. If something is bad, it must be utterly incapable of producing any good results. No cloud has a silver lining.

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That would produce results faster, but it's problematic because they haven't actually committed any crimes, which means we don't have the easy justification we have for sterilizing the actual criminals. So no. But the trade-off here is that people will be murdered. Not by this particular Billy or Betty, but multiplied it by 100,000, and you have some corpses showing up that wouldn't otherwise have.

The bloodline of Twitter trash must be purged without exception, though.

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Hated in the Nation, but unironically.

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Another reason is that humans are exposed to very different environments, so most of trait variation is not due to genetic factors but to differences in environment.

For many traits, including cognitive ability, this is simply wrong. Twin studies in developed countries, including the US, typically find that 70-80% of variation in adult IQ is attributable to genetics, with most of the remainder attributable to nonshared environment (seemingly random stuff we can't control or explain, not stuff like parental income).

It's also worth nothing that, despite the name, eugenics works just as well for traits transmitted via shared environment as it does for traits transmitted genetically. If criminals tend to have children who commit crimes, it doesn't matter in the least whether that's genetic or environmental—if we reduce the fertility of convicted criminals, there will be less crime in the next generation.

With a recessive disease it may be possible to eliminate cases of the disease from the population using a combination of carrier testing, prenatal screening and selective termination. However this is not eugenics because the variants are still present in the population.

This could also be done to reduce the frequency of recessive alleles, although at this point it's probably not worth it. It's worth noting, also, that there are some dominant genetic diseases, like Huntington disease and most forms of familial ALS. If you know that you have Huntington disease and you choose to have a child without PGS, you are a garbage human being and you deserve to die of Huntington disease.

He's correct that the biggest logistical problem is that humans have very long generation times. Genetic engineering would render eugenics obsolete before it had a chance to bear fruit.

I still think we should sterilize people convicted of violent felonies, though. We don't need violent criminals dropping the kids off at the gene pool, so to speak.

Also anyone who's ever participated in a Twitter mob. Just one generation of that was more than enough.

*Comment archive for non-registered commenters assembled by email address as provided.