Interview: Cabbages and Kings

Part 1 of my new interview with James Miller is now up.

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58 Responses to Interview: Cabbages and Kings

  1. Anonymous says:

    Anyone care to write out a summary?

    • Robert Dole says:

      Greg is “fairly religious” and thinks Scott Alexander is nuts because libertarianism and wordiness.

      • gcochran9 says:

        “because libertarianism and wordiness.”

        not just that.

        • albatross says:

          Scott Alexander isn’t exactly libertarian, is he? He is, however, an extreme outlier on a whole bunch of different axes, so it’s not too likely he’s got great intuitions about what kind of lifestyle or rules or society would work out well for most people. It’s like asking some guy who’s 6’10” and weighs 180 lbs what kind of clothes everyone should wear–you’ll get answers that won’t actually work out so well for most people.

          • gcochran9 says:

            I don’t think that an unusual person has to inevitably be oblivious of his oddity & make mistakes about humanity in general because of it.

            It seems to happen a lot though.

            • albatross says:

              I think it’s extremely common, and actually pretty hard to avoid. Specifically:

              a. I think a lot of the world is designed by and for smart people, in ways that utterly screw over well-intentioned guys with 85 IQs. This happens everywhere from user interface design, to the design of forms for poverty programs, to instructions on medicines. Nobody doing user interface design has an IQ of 85, how ever much it seems like it when you’re using some horribly-designed piece of software.

              b. Freedom from societal restrictions (things like single motherhood being scandalous) works out more-or-less okay for smart people (who mostly don’t have kids out of wedlock unless they’re 42-year old female lawyers hearing their biological clocks ringing), but leads a whole lot of relatively dumb people right off a cliff. The people who pushed the hardest to get rid of those restrictions were from the class of people who weren’t going to be hurt by it very much.

              • teageegeepea says:

                Scott seems to have some awareness of that happening, if only because he’s had patients who aren’t cut out for a system optimized for Scott Alexanders.

              • gcochran9 says:

                If we’re talking reproductive fitness, the current system isn’t optimized for Scott Alexanders.

              • teageegeepea says:

                There was a lot of discussion about whether Less Wrongers can actually predict anything, so it’s worth noting that Scott Alexander has been publicly tracking his predictions (and how much probability he assigned to them). As for whether LW predicted that no WMDs would be discovered in Iraq, it’s a spinoff of Overcoming Bias, which started in November 2006 (Less Wrong itself started in February 2009). Robin Hanson is a big advocate of “prediction markets”, but when his system for aggregating predictions competed in a DoD study the best performer was Philip Tetlock’s system. Of course, Tetlock seems to have gotten a lot more participants. I personally bet that Trump would not be president, and had to pay out.

              • gcochran9 says:

                Hanson apparently thinks that people are just pretending to be drunk. I know better.

              • Anonymous says:

                “Hanson apparently thinks that people are just pretending to be drunk.”

                What’s this about?

              • realist says:

                “in ways that utterly screw over well-intentioned guys with 85 IQs”
                How much more so than if the 85 IQs guys lived in a world with ONLY 85 IQs guys?

              • teageegeepea says:

                The bit about alcohol is here. I doubt the viewpoint there resembles the consensus on alcohol research. Or perhaps once they concede that it impairs cognitive ability, the rest of the behavior might just follow.

    • Here’s mine, but anyone can feel free to yell at me for getting the summary wrong.
      View story at

    • Bensalem says:

      “He got even more listens than my interview with (?)” repeats for several minutes starting around 20 seconds in. Um?

      • Bensalem says:

        Strange. If I skip forward, then back to just in front of that part, it works. If I go back before it, it happens again. Must be my phone.

  2. Ursiform says:

    I get an error when I click.

  3. MawBTS says:

    Sounds ok to me.

    As before, you can download an mp3 version by going here and entering the Soundcloud URL.

  4. Pingback: James Miller interviews Greg Cochran again | Entitled to an Opinion

  5. hronrade says:

    My predictions for Greg’s religion:

    40% Eastern Orthodox (convert obviously)
    50% Some sort of Protestant (leaning toward break-away conservative Anglican or otherwise high-church)
    10% Papist

  6. MawBTS says:

    Suggestion: can the sound levels be balanced better? James is way louder. It’s the (greg cochran) and JAMES MILLER!!! show.

    Overall it was interesting. James and Greg disagreed a lot, which was good. So many podcasts are long-distance circlejerks.

    James is bearish on the role of government. Greg thinks that a weak state is vulnerable to outside pressures (he gives the example of Mongols, others might be climate change or asteroid impacts).

    There was one part where (I might be misremembering), Greg wanders close to espousing outright monarchism. That was interesting. You don’t see much actual neoreactionism on the internet these days, it’s mostly been supplanted by the alt right, which is in the process of becoming indistinguishable from neoconservatism.

    James takes some umbrage at Greg’s scorn of the LW community. I don’t think Greg identifies too many points where he disagrees with them intellectually, although he does make a sane-sounding argument against Effective Altruism.

    • Pincher Martin says:

      Suggestion: can the sound levels be balanced better? James is way louder. It’s the (greg cochran) and JAMES MILLER!!! show.

      Also, there’s an irritating ring in the background during portions of the podcast.

  7. Anonymous says:

    If embryo selection or CRISPR were to be developed and be available in other countries, banned in America, would people go out of the country to get it? I hear a lot of people saying, “oh of course,” but I don’t think that’s right. I’d do it(assuming it’s safe and all), but I’m different from most people, for one thing, I wouldn’t have anyone to do it with as I’m MGTOW and plan on staying that way. So the question is, would the average man do it, or, more importantly, would the average woman do it? Based on my own experiences with my peer group of educated white people, I’m going to say no, none of them would do it. The thought to do it wouldn’t even occur to them, they are so conformist by nature. People point out that people invest all this money into, say, private schools, wouldn’t they want to invest in something that actually works, but that ignores the social context. Spend 20 grand on private school and you’ll be praised, but go to a foreign country and have the procedure done, you get no bragging rights, indeed, you have a great fear of it being discovered and you being compared to some horrible nazi.

    • albatross says:

      Can we think of parallel cases where parents do things that are intended to help their kids’ long-term success, without getting any social benefit, or perhaps even while paying an extra social cost? If we can find parallel cases, we might be able to get a sense of how likely parents are to do something like illegal genetic modification on their kids.

      First of all, there are lots of fads (“The Mozart Effect”) that are supposed to help your kids be smarter or mentally healthier or whatever, and I think parents often do them. Probably you don’t gain any social status playing Mozart to your kids. (You’re not going to raise their IQs any, either, but hey, at least you’re listening to something pleasant. It could have been worse–what if the fad had been The Ozzy Ozbourne Effect?)

      Second, there are things you can do to help your kids along that don’t pay off in social status like paying for tutoring/cram schools/test prep, or even spending your own time teaching your kids. A fair number of parents I know do this, and I don’t think they (we) reap great social rewards for teaching their kids geometry.

      Third, there’s stuff with a social cost, like getting your kid into some kind of special needs program so they get an IEP and some special accomodations. Where I live, it’s common to do this with kids that are high-achievers. (When I was a kid, high-achievers and special-ed kids were disjoint sets, but that was before ADHD and Aspergers diagnoses became so common–mostly in those days the special ed kids were genuinely kids who couldn’t have graduated from a regular high school for lack of brains.)

      • ursiform says:

        I wouldn’t completely dismiss the Mozart Effect, even if it can’t work miracles.
        I recall an experiment from some years ago. They split cows into groups, played different types of music for them, and tracked milk production. Cows who listened to classical music produced the most. Cows who listened to jazz produced a little less.
        Cows who listened to heavy metal produced well below the control group, although the study authors noted there was some question about that data because it was very hard to force cows into stalls where heavy metal was playing. One poor group of cows did even a bit worse: they were forced to listen to the recorded sound of jackhammers.
        Maybe listening to Mozart doesn’t make kids smarter. But maybe protecting them from other types of music prevents brain damage.

    • masharpe says:

      Stigma might slow adoption in the short term, but if the tech works, some people will still use it.

      Consider: C-section, IVF, ADHD drugs, cosmetic plastic surgery, etc. Is there any case where being perceived as creepy or unnatural permanently blocked biotech adoption?

      Needing to travel out of country and pay a lot actually seems like the bigger obstacle, but for sufficiently rich people it wouldn’t be a problem.

      • albatross says:

        Is there any data on how many people travel outside the country to hire a host mother? My impression is that this is a fairly booming business in India.

        How about parents of short kids getting them HGH or something to help them get taller?

    • realist says:

      WTF is “MGTOW”, darn acronymania…

    • Darin says:

      The general public would not, but the rich and powerful, the people who matter and who are above the law, would.

  8. Yudi says:

    I hope part 2 will have more of the book reviews Greg implied he’d give.

  9. Darin says:

    Some questions/comments/nitpicks:

    The Japanese started war once with surprise attack back in 1905, and it worked for them beyond all expectations.
    The Japanese planned to deliver official declaration of war before the attacks started, but screwed up, and badly underestimated the American rage, but to repeat strategy that worked once is not a pinnacle of irrationality.

    Stalin in Monaco – why would concentration camps in Monaco have to be nice? Hard labor, hunger and thirst under blazing Mediterranean sun could be as deadly as gulag beyond the Arctic circle.

    Scott Alexander makes regular predictions (the kind of predictions that are about the future), with pretty good record. Not bad for nut case.

    Will Greg Cochran make similar list of falsifiable predictions?

    • Toddy Cat says:

      The really irritating thing about Scott Alexander, is that he’s sane enough to see the flaws in his ideology, and even explicate them in detail, but then he just sort of shrugs, makes a few easily-dismissed “refutations” of his critique, and then goes back to his moderate-leftist ideology, all the while beating himself up for daring to think such heretical thoughts. He’s kind of a one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind, who’s constantly trying to put his remaining eye out.

      So no, it doesn’t surprise me that Scott can make some decent predictions, he sees the world with a good deal of clarity. But with regard to his belief system, he refuses to act on what he sees.

    • gcochran9 says:

      You have to consider the relative strengths of Japan and the USA. USA was ~10x stronger, industrially, which is what mattered. Technically superior (radar, Manhattan project). Almost entirely self-sufficient in natural resources. Japan was sure to lose, and too crazy to quit, which meant that they would lose after being smashed flat.

      • albatross says:

        Was there any realistic path to a Japanese victory? (I mean, if the dice all came up ones or something–there was never a good chance.) It seems like their only hope was hitting us hard and getting us to sign a peace treaty before we got ramped up for a serious war. But since we ended up beating them while also being heavily committed to the European war at the same time, it’s not too clear what could have made us want peace short of their surrender.

        • NobodyExpectsThe... says:

          I think there was a path for them to win, but it was not on the sea.

          I dont think the soviets had much to spare in the summer of 1942. They had a way of getting an early warning (Richard Sorje), but again, not much to spare anyway.

          If you dont have a shot at winning by yourself, hitchhike to someone else that has.

      • Darin says:

        Was it smart for US keep provoking Japan, to issue demands they knew Japan could never comply to, to demand that Japanese leaders sign their own death warrants? (everyone knew at the time that if Japanese leaders complied even with fraction of American demands, they would be killed).

        The Japanese were ignorant about US, but US at the time knew Japan even less.

        Whatever Roosevelt’s true intentions were, the financial freeze order prompted Japan to carry out what the United States tried to prevent–Japan’s southward expansion. Even worse, as Miller puts it, “in the Japanese eyes the bankruptcy was a lethal threat, an assault on the nation’s very existence” (p. 242). Therefore, the Japanese leadership justified the war as self-defense against the United States, who was trying to strangulate and pauperize Japan. However twisted and misguided the Japanese leadership’s thinking may have been in 1941, my own research suggests that this view prevailed among the majority of government and military leaders in Japan at that time.

        Miller critically points out the fact that prior to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor no agency in the U.S. government analyzed how the financial freeze would affect the Japanese economy and people. Only after the war in the Pacific began did the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) compile a secret 519-page study entirely from prewar information. By utilizing this document Miller retrospectively estimates a probable Japanese economic condition under a freeze in 1942-43. According to Miller, “a reduction of 35-40 percent of customary imports for consumption” in the trade-dependant society in Japan would mean “a rollback of the Japanese standard of living of about 15 to 20 percent.” He best describes the probable living condition in Japan as follows: “an apt comparison might have been to the most poverty-stricken families in the most miserable regions of the United States in the worst depths of the Great Depression, surviving but enduring lives of grim deprivation with little hope of relief” (p. 235).

        • gcochran9 says:

          There’s a fairly common way of looking at things in which the bad guys are not at fault because they’re bad guys, born that way, and thus can’t help it. Well, we can’t help it either, so the hell with them. I don’t think we had to respect Japan’s innate need to fuck everybody in China to death. As for feeling sorry for Japanese poverty as a possible result of their vicious national policy – average incomes of American families dropped 40% from 1929 to 1932. Would we have been justified in sneaking attacking the gnomes of Zurich or whatever?

          Now on the practical side, it is well worth trying to understand how other people tick, even though understanding everything means forgiving nothing. It could be that it would have been more practical to let US re-armament roar on for a while before telling the Nips where to head in.

  10. G.M. says:


  11. Jamesjw says:

    Interesting idea that spending on things like antibiotics could be considered as essential infrastructure, I suspect the point about drug companies’ lack of incentive to develop new antibiotics also applies to treatments for chronic diseases, such as asthma, which provide a steady stream of revenue with treatments which are effective but require continual dosing. If the only companies with the resources to develop a potential cure are already making a mint out of chronic treatment, then not much is going to happen.

    • US says:

      “I suspect the point about drug companies’ lack of incentive to develop new antibiotics also applies to treatments for chronic diseases”

      I’m assuming you refer to the fact that the companies involved will tend to focus on treatment modalities which will provide long-term steady cash-flows, rather than curative treatment modalities; if so, this point is for what it’s worth openly acknowledged in some parts of the health economics literature (and some people who work in the pharma industry will also in my experience acknowledge it quite openly if the topic is brought up – at least if the person with whom they’re speaking is their brother, rather than a journalist…).

      • Jamesjw says:

        Exactly. Sounds like a problem.

        • albatross says:

          Would Solvadi be a useful example or counterexample? On the positive side, they actually came up with a drug that cures the disease (Hep C) instead of treating it as a chronic illness with constant monthly doses forever (the ideal situation for a drug company, at least as long as the patent lasts). On the negative side, it costs a sh-tload of money, and I gather there are political difficulties in charging $80k+ for a course of treatment.

  12. anon says:

    Nice shout out to University of Waterloo. Why do you know about it, I thought it was only prestigious for CS/Software engineering?

  13. El Bow says:

    Re: KT and Permian extinctions caused by intelligence, it’s been proposed before:

    It’s a pretty entertaining well of nuttiness.

  14. El Bow says:

    So, on the topic of foreign policy in the Middle East, what do you think the chances are that the recent sarin attack in Khan Sheikhun was carried out by the Syrian government are?

  15. Aidan Kehoe says:

    Two comments on a long and interesting conversation:

    • My suspicion is that the current strength of social justice warrior viewpoints¹ in public life, and more dramatically, in those entering university, is the ultimate result of primary and secondary teachers having been mostly female for than two generations now. Women are very conservative, when it comes to ‘it just is’ questions—note that they are more religious in almost every society, and as I understand it no conservative government in Britain since about 1920 would have been elected without female emancipation—and it’s plausible that it would take this long for the background tolerance of people having other opinions established by their predecessors to wear off.

    • New antibiotics; a further complication is that anything genuinely novel, with a new mechanism of action, is going to be held in reserve by doctors for probably thirty years, well beyond the patent expiration, for those cases unresponsive to other drugs. We basically have drugs to treat most things now, we’re not yet at the point where anything new will be deployed in huge volumes. So a drug company will earn money from the occasional patient in intensive care. So little to no opportunity for high volumes of sales. And for someone very sick, they’re competing against, as you mention, chloramphenicol, which costs almost nothing (it’s still being manufactured in volume for topical use in ophthalmology), so they can’t price it like they price the we-will-add-one-miserable-month-to-your-life-in-metastatic-small-cell-carcinoma drugs.

    ¹ I think “political correctness” is unclear, given its history of use by actual communists with very different viewpoints, as you also allude to.

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