My favourite is: What are the benefits of tobacco smoking on individuals and society? I have never met someone who can overcome their initial incredulity on it.

I just recalled and looked up your comment on Caplan's original (I think) post on ITT: "If you can’t argue the other side about as well as its supporters, you ought not to have too much confidence that your own views are right."

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Huh, I would have thought the main benefits were that nicotine is literally the most potent nootropic that we know of, and that it was basically the only legal over-the-counter appetite and weight suppressant that ever had robust evidence. Those are good at both the individual and aggregate level.

I didn't even think of the social benefits, or addictive transference to other things.

I'm honestly surprised that more people besides Gwern don't actively vape for those benefits, with none of the downsides.

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I’ll chew nicotine gum when reading dense prose. It seems to help with sustained focus more than modafinal.

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Are you responding to me? I do not approve of smoking. But the perfect is he enemy of the good, and people seem to need something to be addicted to

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The benefits of smoking, as I understand them through the literature.

Psycho and psychosocial:

- A communally shared activity similar to sharing of food and alcohol, creating bonds between strangers, and strengthening bonds within familial and friend networks.

- A solitary activity which creates a pause in the daily routine, allowing for decompression, contemplation, relaxation.

- combinations of the above two.

- in many places, the offering and acceptance of cigarettes in social situations denotes status hierarchy and is used in negotiation.


- the banning of smoking in pubs in places like Britain has been shown to create negative economic incentives, leading to reduction in the trade.

- burden on the medical system - especially concerning for government managed medical funding - is overestimated. Most smokers when entering the hospital for smoking related problems die more quickly, comparatively reducing their relative costs, when compared to non-smokers.

Health and physiological:

- a stimulant and and mental and physical performance enhancer

- an appetite suppressant

- inflammation reduction

- suggestions of benefit to digestion

- if used regularly/chronically:

- shown protection against Parkinson's, Tourette's, Alzheimer's, ulcerative colitis

- very well documented as an aid against contracting Covid19

- Additionally the these problems are significantly overplayed by anti-smoking activitists:

- Second hand smoke with harms equal to firsthand smoke (the problem of smoke density alone belies the problem)

- Third hand smoke as a harm (the idea that smoke on clothing and surfaces offgasses and creates health problems)

- A direct connection between smoking and cancer (which tends to ignore genetic and other effects).

- If including vaping, the 2021 panic over vaping deaths in Australia was unrelated to the general delivery technology or nicotine.

- That vaping in general is equivalent to smoking, and that governments and activists actively work to hide this fact. E.g., Thailand recently banned vaping and gear, but still allows smoking.

Much of this has been gleaned from reading Christopher Snowdown over the past couple of decades. He's got a substack at: https://snowdon.substack.com/

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It's a social activity, and note that reduction in tobacco was followed by increases in other addictions. I'm sure if I cared, I could find the data to support this

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an abortion question: If SOMEHOW, tomorrow, humanity suddenly became universally convinced that every joining of a human egg and sperm* was a human, what set of laws would then become most salient for this large set of tiny (and bizarrely-noncommunicative) people? (whether or not there was a visible path to fulfilling those.)

("AU" simulation edition!! ...this is my 4th attempt to formulate this question so I could post it here!)

* and therefore every embryo/fetus beyond that stage of development as well.

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One thing I've wondered about the political Turing test is if it is just a camouflaged IQ test / test that favors those with weird positions. I am not even sure that people who support a position should perforce be expected to know the arguments favoring that position best -- logically, if the position is wrong, we'd expect non-adherents to know the arguments for (and against it) better than adherents; and as an empirical matter, I've often been dissatisfied in debate when some ardent follower of such and such a position fails to make the strongest arguments available.

I suppose the wider point is that the political Turing test construct depends on (express or implied) empirical points that've not seen empirical proof. It is fun, though.

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Yes, people with weird positions are more likely to pass the Political Turing Test, because they're more likely to have encountered the mainstream view. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, but it should remind us not to view passing it as an inherent moral virtue.

What it does mean is that people arguing against weird positions should first look into those weird positions and get familiar with the arguments for those positions so they can pass the Political Turing Test. You can't fight weirdness in an intellectually honest way until you know what it is.

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Weird as in oddball, or weird as in western, educated, industrial, rich, and democratic?

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A spiritual world exists, if you think it doesn't.

A spiritual world doesn't exist, f you think it does.

Not political question, but my experience is people tend to be all or nothing with this question.

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Guilty as charged. My best effort to steelman religion is that some people seem to think morality requires a supernatural referee with automatic authority. And I know that various theologians and even philosophers have produced various metaphysical arguments concluding that god exists, although other philosophers find reasons to challenge those arguments.

When I think back on my reasons for giving up on religion (raised as a Protestant) they were probably not my actual reasons, which I now suspect may have been incredulity at the norms against sex outside marriage. In other words, my reasoning seems terrible in retrospect.

But I am stuck. Now that I have only epistemological motives for accepting or rejecting religion, I’m discouraged by the plethora of incompatible choices that other persons have made. Even if I assume there must be some religious truth, there is no way to investigate it reliably. Maybe I need to start my own religion, which assumes that we know almost nothing about any religious truths, but must try to investigate them somehow. I am further discouraged by the suspicion that any replicable evidence is ruled irrelevant, as obviously applying to the physical world, not the spiritual.

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This is really a great comment. It is something I deal with in the aptly named Losing My Religions. https://www.losingmyreligions.net/

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I just looked this up and I agree - Dave, thanks for the excellent comment. Glad I saw it

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Aw thanks. Trade subscriptions?

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I think humility is the answer to these questions. I can't prove anything and no one else can either

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But does humility lead us to nihilistic skepticism? Evan scientists are humble about their theories, admitting that they may be superseded or abandoned if new evidence is found. But is seems the they generally progress toward better understanding. Is there any parallel in religion?

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The Talmud concludes that it would have been better for man had he never been created. But now that he exists, he needs to carefully check what he does to make sure he's doing good things.

Isha Yiras Hashem

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Maybe this's myopia (as a religious person), but if I'm understanding you correctly, there can be a lot of gradations instead of "all or nothing." A lot of people who believe in the existence of a God still reject all or almost all claims of magic, ESP, spiritism, spirits acting in daily life, et cetera.

But then, you're absolutely right that there's a fundamental ontological difference between "God exists" and "nothing spiritual exists," so maybe my attempted elaboration is missing your point.

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I didn't mention G-d, only the concept of a spiritual world.

Is a spiritual world real? What do you think?

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What do you mean by "a spiritual world"? As I interpret it, I'd answer yes, but I think a lot of other religious people would be less clear.

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A world beyond the physical.

A different dimension than the physical world.

I differentiate between people who are atheist, but believe in some version of a world beyond the physical one around us, and people who are atheist and believe what we perceive with our physical body is all there is.

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Someone posted this on Twitter - and I'm ashamed that I can't find it now - but here it goes:

Can you imagine and describe the sort of society you'd be a conservative in, if you are now a liberal? And vice versa of course.

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Thanks for this post.

This is why I mourn the loss of a sane Republican party. With the shitshow that is today's GOP, we can't have a reasonable debate with TFG, Goetz, MTG, etc. And we can't try to figure out reasonable ways to make things better.

The one I struggle with is guns. The US seems clearly so very much worse off than any other developed country.

But I take a lot of positions counter to the standard liberal position in https://www.losingmyreligions.net/ that I am a person without a tribe.

Thanks again for this post. I look forward to the next one, and will promote them both when out.

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Ignore the famous/infamous Republicans and you'll find that a lot more of them are reasonable than you think (or the media likes to share). It's the same in reverse, with Maxine Watters and AOC taking up the lion's share of red tribe media's attention simply because they're goofier or say insane things.

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Mar 1, 2023·edited Mar 1, 2023

OK, I'll have a go at this (without reading any other comments).

What are the major positive effects of climate change?:

Well there are quite a lot, actually:

* It would probably increase available agricultural land on net.

* Air conditioning is cheaper than heating

* Cold-related deaths are commoner than heat-related ones.

There are probably more.

What are the main negative effects of having a minimum wage law or increasing the level?:

Mmm. Well there are a lot of theoretical arguments against minimum wages. They ought to increase unemployment for a start. But I don't think there's any reasonable evidence that they actually do do that generally.

And well obviously they make things cost more.

What are the main positive effects of widespread gun ownership?:

I honestly don't believe there are any.

What are or were the negative consequences of regulation of airlines, trucks and rail?:

I'm not sufficiently familiar with the political context (I'm not American, for a start) to have a view or any knowledge.

What are the main negative effects of a tariff?:

Well again, it makes things cost more, which is obviously bad in itself. Generally I'm not keen on tarrifs, though (though I wouldn't oppose them unilaterally), so I'm not sure if this counts as a ITT

What are the main negative effects of affirmative action in academic admissions?:

Like you, I'm opposed to affirmative action, so I shan't weight in.

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The unemployment effect isn't on workers in general but on minimum wage workers; since they are now more expensive, fewer of them are hired. Only about 2% of the U.S. labor force consists of minimum wage workers, so the effect on the national unemployment rate of even quite a large increase in their unemployment rate is invisibly small, lost in the noise.

Missing that distinction is a good example of failing to understand one side of the argument.

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I think your response is a counter-example of what David is trying to do with the post. e.g., "What are the main positive effects of widespread gun ownership?: I honestly don't believe there are any." isn't representing the side which you'd argue against. Self and community protection, sport, and hunting are all benefits of some kind. You could argue, depending on your measurement and math, that the net benefit is negative, but not that there are no benefits.

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Mar 5, 2023·edited Mar 5, 2023

The gun question was the one I had most trouble with. Yes, I <i>know</i> the most common arguments in favor of widespread gun ownership, and I can quote them, which is a sort of minimal way to "pass the test", but <i>I don't believe that they're objectively true</i>, so I can't make those arguments with a straight face. For all the other questions, I can come up with arguments that seem to me sufficiently fact-based to be worth weighing against arguments on "my" side.

RCooper mentions "self and community protection, sport, and hunting." Of these, the "common arguments" that occurred to me are self and community protection, the ones I have a hard time believing as objectively true. At best, those arguments consider the benefit of having a gun in an extremely rare, dramatic situation and ignore the cost of having it the other 99.9999% of the time, because humans pay attention to dramatic situations and overestimate extremely low probabilities.

I actually hadn't thought of "sport and hunting" as answers to the question, perhaps because they're benefits <i>to the individual</i> of <i>that individual's</i> gun ownership, with no obvious benefit to anybody else. But if we're to add up benefits over a population, an activity (like meditation or baseball) that hypothetically benefitted its participants without substantial harm to anybody else would be a net win, so those are arguments I can reasonably weigh.

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I think perhaps the problem re: recreational benefits is that the question was "what are the benefits of widespread gun ownership" and not "what are downsides of restrictions on gun ownership". The former question doesn't sound like it includes individual recreational benefits.

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That is how I initially read the question, but from a libertarian perspective (which David can address much better than I), any benefit to individuals _is_ a benefit to society (albeit perhaps not net). If gun ownership benefits the owner by a fixed amount, then twice as much gun ownership benefits twice as many individuals and therefore provides twice the benefit to society. Of course, that benefit would still need to be weighed against its costs to other individuals (regardless of whether they own guns).

I happen to think those costs far outweigh the benefits, both safety and recreational, and that the costs are superlinear in the number of gun owners, so 50% gun ownership is more than twice as bad as 25% gun ownership, but the question was "what are the benefits?", not "what are the costs?"

Interestingly, if the benefits really are linear in the number of gun owners, while the costs are superlinear, it suggests that there's a nonzero place where the graphs cross, which would be an optimal level of gun ownership. But if the benefits are mostly to the owner while the costs are mostly to the public, we're in a classic tragedy-of-the-commons situation, and independent individual choices will put us well to the right of the optimal level.

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Mar 2, 2023·edited Mar 2, 2023

Yes, I know- I acknowledge that that's a failure on that question. For the record I feel much more strongly that climate change is a serious problem (where I *can* make arguments for the other side), than that strong restrictions on gun ownership are good (where I really have no idea where my opponents are coming from).

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I'd like to see you argue <i>for</i>

- effective government action to reduce inequality

- effective government action against monopolies and monopsonies

- strict (and enforced) truth-in-advertising laws

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The arguments for the first are pretty obvious. Declining marginal utility of income implies that transfers from rich to poor are likely to increase happiness. The public good problem implies that even if the richer people preferred the results of redistribution, it wouldn't happen voluntarily.

For a less obvious argument, coming out of reading Naomi Novik's Scholomance books, large inequalities of wealth and power have a corrupting effect on people, make the rich think only they matter, make the poor into craven hangers on.

For your second there is the standard price theory argument about deadweight cost plus Tullock's rent seeking argument about the dissipation of monopoly profits in the process of competing to become the monopoly.

For the third there is the obvious argument that people can act in their own interest better with better information.

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“ large inequalities of wealth and power have a corrupting effect on people,”

Egalitarians tend to emphasize the wealth inequalities. If they worried about power more, I would feel more sympathetic.

Large scale sharing creates a dilemma though, as formal equality of power in a large group makes it vulnerable to informal accumulations of power, e.g. demagoguery and gatekeeping from smoke-filled rooms.

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I don't know -- I see lots of "egalitarians" arguing that one reason for redistributing wealth is to reduce the disproportionate political influence of billionaires and huge corporations.

Political and economic power are mutually attractive (if you have one you can get the other), so you can't have a broad and even distribution of one without a broad and even distribution of the other. The US tried to distribute political but not economic power, and ended up with billionaires buying politicians, who mostly disregard the concerns of ordinary people. China and Russia tried to distribute economic but not political power, and ended up with party bosses hogging all the material goods while ordinary people starved.

But as you suggest, power _will_ accumulate somewhere, even if it's formally equal.

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"For a less obvious argument, coming out of reading Naomi Novik's Scholomance books, large inequalities of wealth and power have a corrupting effect on people, make the rich think only they matter, make the poor into craven hangers on."

For real world societies, the examples of both Mexico (influenced by Catholicism) and Thailand (influenced by Theravada Buddhism) both show extensive corruption of position and power. If I had to guess, the stratification is the foundational reason both countries are much poorer than less culturally and legislatively restricted places/countries.

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“The public good problem implies that even if the richer people preferred the results of redistribution, it wouldn't happen voluntarily.”

That overstates it a bit, doesn’t it? Better to say, The public good problem implies that even if the richer people preferred the results of redistribution, the market alone would not supply the optimal amount. After all, both in the ancient world, and in the present, some voluntary redistribution/charity happens.

Or maybe it understates it? The public good problem implies that even if the richer people preferred the results of redistribution, optimal redistribution is not really possible. Is X too much or not enough? All the public good analysis claims it that in some cases goods will be underproduced by the market. Once there is a $1 subsidy, it has nothing to tell us.

So if that is a steelman, it seems a bit rusty.

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Good point. Maybe you should just ask him to steelman effective government, though that seems to be an empirical (though still contentious) question.

To argue for reduction of inequality, you would have to make inequality operational, which none of its opponents ever does. Wealth, income, and consumption seem to come closest to what they have in mind, but you have to pick one and give up on the others.

Maybe just arrack the feeling of unjustified inequality, and leave it at that. If people feel more equal, they are more likely to be cooperative, at least in some ways. They are less likely to start riots or rebellions, more likely to feel like the social institutions they deal with respect them.

But I still don’t understand the rhetorical appeal of equality, as opposed to fighting poverty or giving ordinary people more of a say in their immediate lives. An optimist could pretend that is what equality really refers to, perhaps. I guess that makes me a pessimist.

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Feb 28, 2023·edited Feb 28, 2023

It also depends on what you mean by inequality. Sweden is quite equal in some ways, Pol Pot created a Cambodia quite equal in others.

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