Otto Von Bismarck is supposed to have said that there is a special providence for drunkards, fools, and the United States of America. The people of the United States of America have repudiated that providence, in order to become a normal country. That protection has now been withdrawn.
It is a normal outcome for a presidential election in the Americas, with a constitutional system modeled after that of the United States, to empower an authoritarian strongman. We are, after enjoying more than two hundred years of our special providence, finally experiencing a normal outcome. This is bad news, but it is most likely not catastrophic news.
In my pre-election post, I outlined two main bad things about Trump:
He is a threat to global political stability, might lead to a military conflict between great powers, and slightly increases the chances of a nuclear exchange.
He is a threat to local political stability and might lead to the breakdown of civil order.
These things were real risks, and still are. They are very, very bad in expectation. But they are still fairly improbable. This is very bad news, but to run through the streets panicking would be committing a category error. To the extent that a Trump victory carries tail risk, we have already incurred that cost. We have already lost that measure. The only thing to do is manage the mainline scenarios.
(UPDATE: I basically endorse Paul Christiano's take on managing the tail risk.)
To respond reasonably to a Trump victory, we have to think clearly about the threats posed by a Trump regime, and the opportunities we have to change that.
I'm going to start by explaining why, while both those outcomes are real risks, the system is unlikely to suddenly collapse. Then I will explore what Trump's support means, and what we should do about it. Continue reading →
Anna Salamon, executive director of CFAR (named with permission), recently wrote to me asking for my thoughts on fundraisers using matching donations. (Anna, together with co-writer Steve Rayhawk, has previously written on community norms that promote truth over falsehood.) My response made some general points that I wish were more widely understood:
Pitching matching donations as leverage (e.g. "double your impact") misrepresents the situation by overassigning credit for funds raised.
This sort of dishonesty isn't just bad for your soul, but can actually harm the larger world - not just by eroding trust, but by causing people to misallocate their charity budgets.
"Best practices" for a charity tend to promote this kind of dishonesty, because they're precisely those practices that work no matter what your charity is doing.
If your charity is impact-oriented - if you care about outcomes rather than institutional success - then you should be able to do substantially better than "best practices".
The 2016 US presidential election is likely unusually important, because Trump seems unusually likely to damage global coordination in ways that increase the risk of major wars – and to damage US political norms in ways that are likely to accelerate the decline of discourse and governance.
This is also an election in which the libertarian candidate has been unusually viable because he has any experience at all as a major government figure – despite his apparent lack of interest in the sorts of things a president needs to know about, such as other countries. Many people also want to register a protest vote with Green Party candidate Jill Stein, since they find Hillary Clinton's respectable establishment liberal misconstruals of the true and the good objectionable, and prefer disrespectable anti-establishment left-wing misconstruals of the true and the good.1
Many people agree that Trump is terrible and it would be much less bad if Clinton wins, but some people prefer a third-party candidate and are unwilling to simply back the lesser of two evils. Some people end up favoring a vote for Clinton on net; others favor a third party vote. Both types are distributed over many states.
A protest vote has the same value anywhere. Federal funding also becomes available for any party that gets more than 5% of the popular vote – and it seems like Johnson's share of the vote could pass that threshold. On the other hand, due to the US electoral college system, the cost of forgoing a Clinton vote has very different effect depending on which state you're voting in. In a "safe state" overwhelmingly likely to go to one of the two major candidates, your vote has very little effect on the outcome of the election. But in a "swing state" where the outcome is more in doubt, your vote has a comparatively large effect on the outcome. Scott Aaronson points out that this distinction creates the opportunity for gains from trade, and has been promoting the idea of vote-swapping in order to reconcile these interests. The idea is that one or more Clinton supporters in safe states pledge to vote for a particular third-party candidate, in exchange for a third-party voter pledging to vote for Clinton.
In a one-to-one swap, this keeps third party national percentages the same, but increases the chance the swing state goes for the desired candidate. This is enough to yield gains from trade if both sides share a preference for one major-party candidate over the other. But even if that's not true, a many-to-one swap can still create gains from trade, by increasing both the chance that the desired major-party candidate wins, the third-party candidate's share of the vote total.
One of my friends recently suggested that we can't trust this system not to be gamed by Trump voters. I think that this is mistaken. Continue reading →
This is not about the vaccines thing, which seems overblown – Stein seems basically correct there, that mandated vaccines are good but people have justified distrust in the medical establishment which needs to be addressed.
This is wrong behavior, and it is also normal adult behavior.
It is a scandal that Donald J. Trump, who is probably a serial rapist, and has obviously committed multiple sexual assaults and bragged about them, is not in prison. The scandal is not that some exceptionally bad thing occurred, but that this is apparently the expected, normal outcome. That the women assaulted by Trump apparently believed that they had no legal recourse, that they did not think that this was unacceptable behavior that would be punished as such if they spoke up.
It is not additionally a scandal, given the apparent absence of rule of law in this country, that the Republican party has nominated this criminal for the Presidency of the United States. (The scandal there is that he seems totally uninterested in actually doing the job, and therefore likely to cause an unusually large amount of damage to the current world order, to no purpose. I'll try to write about this before election day.)
It is separately a scandal that it is normal adult behavior to kiss a child who clearly does not want to be kissed by you.
It is not additionally a scandal that the Republican presidential nominee engages in normal adult behavior in public.
If you think that this ought to be scandalous, the place to start is by objecting to it in the cases where you have the social power to change behavior - when you personally witness it. That’s the beginning of the process. The end of the process is that it’s actually scandalous when anyone - bad person or not - sexually assaults a child in public.
This (via Miri) is a piece by Margo, a social worker, talking about how people talk about social work as being unusually hard, and call social workers "saints." Margo doesn't much care for the assumption that social work is unusually hard, and I'm glad I read this, because it will temper the advice I read in this post, suggesting that the universally appreciated response to finding out someone's profession is to say that their job must be hard: Continue reading →