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AvatarComments by Brandon Berg*

On “Biden Picks Kamala Harris

According to this, she's the fourth most left-wing Senator. I really wish the Democrats would try to do better than meeting the bare-minimum requirements for being the lesser evil in comparison to Trump.

On “Joker’s Wild: Reconsidering My Criticism of Joker

The media were afraid it would advocate the kind of violence they don't approve of. Instead it advocated the kind of violence they approve of.

On “The Crimson Letter

Liberals, on the other hand, were all about challenging the status quo and asking the hard, even at times disturbing questions that polite people just wanted to ignore. No longer. Now liberals are like “do as I say because this is how it should be and don’t ask questions why”

Well, that's one way of looking at it. Another is that liberalism is what it's always been, and the Woke Inquisitors have turned their back on it.

On “We Deserve Donald Trump

It's true that reality has a liberal bias, but a lot of people incorrectly believe that this means that reality has a left-wing bias. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's fiction that has a left-wing bias. Reality has a specifically neoliberal bias.

On “On Not Wanting to Rest Content

I'm kind of busy right now and don't have time to explain why you should be ashamed to have made this comment, so I'll give you ten hours or so to redeem yourself by writing a self-rebuttal before I go to town on it.


As I have pointed out again and again---with data, not anecdotes cherry-picked by narrative-driven journalists---the racialized story you're telling here is pure fantasy.

The rate of police killings per 100k arrests is roughly constant across races. The primary demographic risk factor for being killed by police is sex: Men of any race are several times more likely to be killed by police than are women of any race, even when controlling for arrests. In raw per-capita terms (not accounting for arrests) white men are killed by the police at nearly ten times the rate at which black women are.

If you get arrested, I recommend that you be on your best behavior, because your skin color won't do a thing to protect you, and your sex is actively working against you.

On “Downvote: Spotify’s Assault on Artists

We already did that experiment. Digital album and single sales predated streaming services by a decade, and they're still around. Artists and labels are still opting in to the buffet model, presumably because it makes them more money.


I really hate the whole “I’m going to become the gatekeeper between you and something so I that I can sell your eyeballs to advertisers” thing.

I've never used Spotify, but my experience has been that paid music streaming services do not have ads. I've used Google Music (now YouTube Music), Apple, Zune, and also a couple of Japanese services, and I've never seen ads.


By the way, "$0.00348 cents" is hard to interpret. It should be either "$0.00348" or "0.348 cents."


Do established artists get a bigger chunk of album/streaming revenues? That is, if you're a nobody, the studio is taking a chance on you, and they don't have to offer you much. Once you've proven that you can sell records, you should be able to negotiate a better deal.

That's how it seems like it should work in theory, anyway. I don't know much about the practice.


If you take an intro economics class, you'll learn that under certain conditions welfare is optimized when price is equal to marginal cost (the cost of making one additional unit). The reasoning for this is fairly straightforward: If price is above marginal cost, then there are mutually beneficial transactions that could be happening that aren't. If price is below marginal cost, then making an additional unit costs more than it's worth, and value is being destroyed. P = MC is the sweet spot.

This logic breaks down when fixed costs are high. Music is almost all fixed costs. It costs a lot to write, produce, and record the first copy of a song, but virtually nothing to make a digital copy. In a competitive market, price would be driven down to or near marginal cost. Great for consumers in the short term, but it means there's no money in making new music. So we have IP law. Now if you write a song, you get a legal monopoly on making copies of that song, and you can set the price above marginal cost.

That solves the fixed cost problem. But it creates a new problem. If I'm willing to pay only $5 to listen to an album, but the copyright holder has decided that $10 is the profit-maximizing cost, then I don't get to listen to the album, and the copyright holder doesn't get my $5.

Subscription services are actually a really good solution to this problem. Consumers get to listen to whatever we want to after paying a fixed monthly cost to cover the artists' fixed costs. After paying a fixed monthly fee, my cost to listen to a new song or album is roughly equal to marginal cost, i.e. 0. But the fixed costs can still be covered by the monthly fee.

In theory, at least. Maybe the monthly fee isn't enough to actually cover the fixed costs of producing music. I wouldn't mind paying $15-20/month instead of $10, with the extra money going to producers (in fact I already am because I subscribe to two services). I think the average music consumer bought fewer than one album per month in the old days, and digital distribution is a lot cheaper than physical distribution, so that should be more than enough to replace album revenues.

It's important to note that subscription streaming didn't kill albums; piracy did. Subscription streaming services didn't really get started until around 2010, by which time music industry revenues had fallen to $8 billion from a high of $21.5 billion in 2000 (both figures in 2017 dollars). Subscription services are bringing revenues up again, from $7 billion in 2015 to $11 billion last year.

I'm also skeptical of the idea that streaming is uniquely bad for content producers. I'm not 100% confident of this, but some quick Google research suggests that Spotify pays out a bit over 50% of its revenue to labels and artists, who got a bit less than half of the revenue from retail album sales. So they're getting a slightly larger share of a somewhat smaller pie. Payouts to artists are down because total revenues are down, not because streaming service are taking a much bigger cut than the retail distribution chains did. By the way, Spotify has never made a profit.

How much did content producers get per play under the retail album system? $15 per album, about 40% going to producers, so $6 per album. If the average consumer listened to an album 20 times, and an album has 15 tracks, that's 300 plays per album, or about 2 cents per play. That's more than 0.35 cents, but I would guess that that's misleading due to the high number of plays from users of streaming services. A lot of people will just stream music all day, which was less common with CDs due to the need to change CDs, or to carry them with you when going out.

I found some stats which claim that Spotify users in the US play music for an average of 2:20 per day. At four minutes per song, that's 35 songs per day, or a bit over 1,000 per month. At $5/user per month (50% cut of a monthly $10 fee), that's 0.5 cents, which roughly corresponds to the 0.35-cent figure you gave. If you account for student discount, free samples, cheaper subscriptions in other regions, that seems close enough.

I think the "you don't own it" angle is overblown. I know I don't own it. I'm paying $10/month to listen to any album I want, because that allows me to listen to a much wider variety of music than I would be able to buy outright for $10/month. I know exactly what I'm getting, and it's a better value for me than the old model. I have over a thousand CDs. That cost me about $15,000, or 125 years' of streaming subscriptions. If the streaming service I'm using now shuts down tomorrow, I lose nothing. I can just subscribe to another service. But even if the whole industry gets killed for some reason, I will still have gotten exactly what I paid for, which is N months of listening to whatever I want to, whenever I want to.

I know what I'm paying for, I'm getting it, and I'm happy with it. Really, I'm not getting cheated.

Also, you know when someone calls someone else a "cuck," it tells you very little about the person being so described, and quite a bit about the person using the word, none of it good? "Bootlicker" is the left-wing equivalent. It's really not a good look.

On “Harsh Your Mellow Monday: Your Premise Is Bad Edition

Takes guts to run an editorial advocating the reelection of Trump after seeing what the woke-offs at the NYT did when Bennet ran Tom Cotton's editorial.

On “Linky Friday: Last Day of July, or the 153th Day of March, Depending

LF1: as Thursday’s report of a 33% drop in second-quarter gross domestic product confirmed – it came after “a very big downdraft.

No, this is not correct. 32.9% is the annualized quarterly growth rate, which means that Q2 GDP was 9.5% less than Q1 GDP. If there were four consecutive quarters (one year) of -9.5% GDP growth, that would total to a 32.9% decline for the whole year. That's what's meant by annualized growth---it's what the growth would be if it the rate of growth in the last quarter were sustained over a full year.

So the actual decline was 9.5%, not 33%. This isn't good, but it was more or less expected. The government literally paid people not to work, and paid businesses not to operate. The unemployment rate jumped over 10 percentage points, and many of the people who kept their jobs were (and some still are) operating at reduced capacity. We knew back in March that something like this was going to happen, which is why the stock market crashed then and not now.

On “Spain Debates UBI-type Program Amid Covid-19

NIMBY-driven housing inflation seems to be a problem in many different countries. Not only is this not a uniquely American problem, but I don't think it's even especially bad in the US.

I would be surprised if there were any country where homeowners aren't at least a bit unhappy at the devaluation of an asset that constitutes more than 100% of their net worth.


Note that the requirement to be seeking work or in training makes this more like an expanded unemployment program than an actual basic income.

On “What is Democracy’s Selling Proposition with Respect to China?

My main worry is the declining standard of living relative to “unfree” nations like China will make their model more attractive

Obligatory reminder that on a per-capita basis, adjusted for purchasing power parity, China has, by the most favorable reckoning, nearly caught up with Mexico.

China is a large country, but it is not particularly wealthy. Meanwhile, the liberal Han-majority economies (Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong) have caught up with or surpassed all but the richest European countries.


I'm less concerned about restrictions on actual hate speech than about the biased and exceedingly poor judgment of the would-be censors. True hate speech has little redeeming social value, but much of what gets smeared as hate speech has quite a bit.


The US of WWII featured a president that agonized over whether it was moral to send a targeted strike to shoot down Admiral Yamamoto after they received intel about where and when such a flight would be.

Honestly, this strikes me as monstrous. I mean, I'm sure Yamamoto was a swell guy, but I bet a lot of the rank and file men were, too. Targeted assassination is hands-down the most moral way to end a war, because you're only killing one or a few people, instead of however many lower-ranked soldiers you'd have to kill to have the same strategic effect. To worry more about killing one general than about starting a battle that will kill hundreds or thousands is to say that the general's life has orders of magnitude more worth than the mooks.


Although, as in the old Soviet joke, there's always the risk that your Chinese interlocutor will respond 中国人也可以尽情批评特朗普总统了!


I get that a point that many westerners have trouble understanding is going to be lost on many Chinese people as well, but it's important to point out here that the US is not restricting speech. Nothing the BLM protestors are saying is not being said in newspapers and on social media every day, and nobody is being arrested or fined for that. The newspapers are not being shut down. Police forces in the US are trying to stop riots, not speech. Reasonable content-neutral time, place, and manner restrictions have long been ruled Constitutional—for good reason—and "no rioting" is about as uncontroversial as such restrictions come.

I'm told that some police officers are overstepping their bounds and arresting or hassling protestors who are not actually rioting. Given that left-wing protestors have a history of not being entirely honest about this kind of thing, I'm skeptical of any given specific claim, but I suppose some of them must be true. So that's bad. But you can still say whatever you want.

That's not what's happening in China. China is putting restrictions on pure speech. They're arresting publishers, booksellers, and bloggers. Their concern is not just with keeping the peace, but with making sure the official narrative goes unchallenged (come to think of it, that sounds familiar).

Maybe one way to illustrate this is to draw attention to the things the media says about the current administration. That would never fly in China.

On “Making a Difference: How To Communicate About Using Masks for COVID

Right, but my understanding is that the primary value of surgical masks is preventing the virus from being exhaled, not from being inhaled. P95 masks form a tight seal and filter incoming air, but surgical masks let all kinds of air in. So if most of the benefit of a surgical mask is filtering exhaled air, then the value of covering the nose depends on the extent to which nasal shedding of the virus occurs in a- or presymptomatic patients.


A couple weeks ago, you said that James Damore had a "public swing towards the alt-right" after he got fired. I was disappointed, because the memo had seemed pretty reasonable, and not at all what an actual bigot would write. Long story short: I read through his entire Twitter history, and was unable to find even one tweet consistent with your claim, or any corroboration elsewhere. All I found were some weaselly media stories trying to tie him to the alt-right because the alt-right had a field day with his story.

What was your basis for this claim?


I still think ventilation is more important than sunlight. That says sunlight reduced the half-life of aerosolized viruses to 90 seconds. That's plenty of time for one person to exhale and another to inhale. What you need is for air not to go out one person's mouth and right into another person's nose, which is why ventilation is more important.


How bad is a mouth-only mask, really? My understanding, which may be out of date, is that masks don't actually do a great job of protecting you, but will stop you from spreading the virus if you gave it.

It is also my understanding that the virus is mostly spread by saliva droplets, which are emitted at a much higher rate when speaking. Sneezing is going to be an issue, obviously, but sneezing is not a symptom of COVID-19. Is the virus shed in significant amounts through normal nasal exhalation? Is covering only the mouth providing 50% of the protection? 75%? 90+? Maybe it's enough when riding a bus with open windows. And the bus should definitely have the windows open, because ventilation is key.

On “Barbarians at the Gate: Credentialism and Loving Gatekeeping, Under Certain Circumstances…

Black people have lower educational attainment than white people. This contributes to the racial wage gap. I wonder how receptive the wokerati would be to the idea that credentialism is racist. Can we make this a meme?

I think this might have legs. We need a catchy slogan.

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