Announcing Balsa Research

What are the most important policy changes America should make and how can we make them happen?

If we do not address the deep dysfunctions of our government and its policies, we put our democracy and entire civilization at risk. People whose lives are getting worse, who have no hope and cannot envision a future, inevitably turn to authoritarianism. A focus on telling people how terrible and fascist Donald Trump is did not work well in 2016 or 2020 and is not the best way to keep him out of the White House in 2024. It will not help us prosper and overcome political differences. Even if he is kept out in 2024, either we turn things around or things will keep getting worse. 

My new project, together with Moshe Looks and Alyssa Vance, is to chart paths forward to improve federal policy, and lay groundwork to implement those improvements. That means taking into account political feasibility. It means getting the proposals and messaging into the hands of candidates. It means commissioning academic studies quantifying costs and benefits and advance drafting of legislative language. 

Consider the pandemic. Our government’s actions these past two years not only failed to make the pandemic better, they often actively made the pandemic worse while spending trillions. Our response to a potential next pandemic, monkeypox, was similarly botched. 

Some of my most read posts point out clear cases where the government makes things worse, like car seat mandates so bad they serve as contraception, a law that makes it impossible to maintain modern ports in working order for basically no reason, and rules against container stacking that did major damage to our supply chains

A few years ago I would have left such tasks to ‘the adults in the room.’ There are no such adults. Someone has to, and no one else will. If you tell me someone is already on the case and Doing the Thing, this means little. The situation is not ‘handled.’ Elites have lost all credibility.

I also believe that almost all existing organizations nominally dedicated to such purposes face poor incentive structures due to how they are funded and garner attention, and are not testing the hypothesis that the problem could be solved. I will test that hypothesis. 

There is far more hope for improvement than almost anyone realizes. Lobbying when done right is remarkably cheap and effective. Secret congress can be productive. Many marginal improvements are highly valuable, with no substantial downsides and compounding benefits. 

Low-hanging improvement is often as simple as not restricting supply and not subsidizing demand. A sample: Reforming NEPA, the NRC, zoning and the FDA including a right to try for drugs, pandemic preparedness, repealing protectionist policies (Jones Act, Dredge Act, ‘made in America’, etc), ending qualified immunity and civil forfeiture, legalizing marijuana, avoiding 100%+ marginal tax rates, increasing high-skill immigration, fixing student loans, and NGDP level targeting by the Federal Reserve. The civil service and procurement urgently need reform. 

Campaigns bleed tons of value all the time, leaving large room for improvement. Big mistakes made the difference in 2016, almost did in 2020 and are likely again in the future.

We need your help – growing the team, engineering new software, analyzing policy space, finding experts, making connections, commissioning academic studies, drafting laws, writing up results, refining messaging, ultimately lobbying and working with campaigns, and of course raising money. 

If you are interested in hearing more please get in touch at and start the subject line with the most relevant category: policy (include what area if applicable), tech, media, networking, lobbying, campaigning or money, and then tell us about yourself and what interests you, or fill out this Google Doc.

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45 Responses to Announcing Balsa Research

  1. brodix says:

    I think Western civilization is in the interregnum between recognizing government is a public utility and realizing the same about banking.
    As executive and regulatory function, government is the communal central nervous system, while money and banking serve as a form of blood and the circulation system, to distribute value effectively around the community.
    Since banking doesn’t operate under the same levels of oversight, nor have to plan around election cycles, it has gained the upper hand, effectively hollowing out much of government, leaving increasingly inconsequential flunkies, whose main purpose is to create the debt the banks need to function.
    People are linear, goal oriented creatures in a cyclical, circular, feedback generated reality, so while markets need money to circulate, people see it as signal to extract and store. Contrary to economic theory, a medium and a store are not necessarily interchangeable. Blood is a medium, fat is a store. Roads are a medium, parking lots are a store. The hallway is a medium, the hall closet is a store. The average five year old can figure out the difference, but economists are overly educated.
    Money functions as a social contract and accounting device, so to store the asset side of the ledger, a debt has to be generated. The secret sauce of capitalism is public debt backing private wealth.
    As a medium, we own money like we own the section of road we are using, or the air and water flowing through our bodies. it’s not our picture on it, we don’t hold the copyrights and are not responsible for its value, like a personal check.
    This trickle down model is like the heart telling the hands and feet they don’t need so much blood, work harder for what they do get and quit whining.
    The long term problem is that since the government is the decision making function, while banking is about allocating resources, without a viable decision making process, the only motivation banking has, is greed. So it has all the strategic aptitude of bacteria racing across a petri dish. Infinite growth.
    Obviously there is no stopping this dynamic, or you will find yourself demonetized and disowned, so it has to be waited out, before picking up the pieces.
    Given there isn’t the investment potential for everyone to save individually, but we all save for many of the same reasons, the public commons would be a logical solution, but that would require understanding that a healthy society is based on collective responsibility, with rights as reward, but when our modern world was first being imagined, several hundred years ago, the irresponsible were likely to die of starvation, so the debates centered around rights. Now rights are assumed to be universal, while responsibilities are optional. The consequence is the tragedy of the commons.

    • TheZvi says:

      Thank you for this comment – it is a real perspective, well written and considered, gives one real things to consider and some good new/uncommon metaphors. More like this (that say different things), even better with more concrete details and even potential marginal improvements.

      I do not agree with its central thesis, however. Banking maximizes profits same as other business maximizes profits. Banks lobby same as others lobby. There is a lot of regulatory capture but banks are not doing especially harmful capture and are not, as far as I can tell, a primary cause of increased debt, and the idea that banks allocate the resources is highly overrated – nor would you want a public allocation instead even if the banks were doing this.

      That is not intended to be a convincing argument or anything, simply marking where I am at, which seems like the appropriate level of response.

      I am curious what, concretely, you would do to fix these issues on the margin.

      • brodix says:

        It isn’t so much banking as a business, as the normal feedback loop of using wealth and power to accumulate more wealth and power can be especially applicable to the banking industry. Having watched much of the local banking and savings and loan industry taken over by the big money center banks over the last several decades, it is becoming effectively monopolized.
        Consider the Federal debt really began with the Depression, so not only was Roosevelt putting unemployed labor back to work, but unemployed capital as well. Then WW2 became history’s biggest employment and industrial policy. Eisenhower warned about the military industrial complex getting too much power the year I was born, 1960.
        What tends to be overlooked is the bond market is several times the size of the stock market.
        We offshored much of our industrial capacity, because finance rules. There are many other industries, healthcare comes to mind, where long term quality isn’t as profitable as short term vulture capitalism prefers.
        I could cover various other aspects, but it’s safe to say, the banking industry really does pull the strings and the politicians hop around.

        That said, I think there are cultural and conceptual issues that go much deeper into the collective psyche, than the bread and butter issues of economics and politics.
        Consider that a spiritual absolute would necessarily be the essence of sentience, from which we rise, not an ideal of wisdom and judgement, from which we fell. The light shining through the film, than the images on it.
        To the Ancients, monotheism equated with monoculture. One people, one rule, one god. Remember democracy and republicanism originated in pantheistic cultures. Which in the Geek and Roman versions basically posited the family as godhead. More multicultural though.
        The Romans adopted and co-opted a monotheistic sect as state religion around the time the Empire was solidifying and remnants of the Republic had started to fade. Basically validating the doctrine of The Big Guy Rules. Divine right of kings, etc.
        When the West went back to more popular forms of government, it required the separation of church and state, essentially culture and civics.
        Yet the West still exists in the long shadow of God. The problem is that ideals are not absolutes. Think of al the various beliefs, ideologies, political movements, etc. and they do often tend toward an assumption of their own infallibility. The current cancel culture wokism presumes to replace the dominant monoculture with it’s own form of monoculture, even though as a coalition of minorities, it would be far more useful to promote actual multiculturalism. Yet that’s not possible, in the Western paradigm.
        Consider that to culture, good and bad tend to be some cosmic conflict between the forces of righteousness and evil, while in nature, it’s the basic biological binary of beneficial and detrimental. The 1/0 of sentience.
        That because it’s the function of a culture to get the entire community synchronized as one larger social organism.
        Though nature is so diverse and so integrated, because everything doesn’t march to the beat of the same drummer. Harmonization, rather than synchronization. Nodes and networks, organisms and ecosystems.
        More yin and yang, than God Almighty.
        Which gets to one of my most contentious issues. Our concept of time.
        As these mobile organisms, this sentient interface our body has with its environment functions as a sequence of perceptions, originally to navigate physical space, but increasingly abstract and conceptual spaces. So our experience of time is as the point of the present, moving past to future. Physics codifies it as measures of duration.
        The reality is that change turns future to past. Tomorrow becomes yesterday, because the earth turns. Duration is the present, as the events rise and fall.
        There is no literal dimension of time, because the past is consumed by the present, to inform and drive it. Causality and conservation of energy. Cause becomes effect.
        Different clocks can run at different rates, simply because they are separate actions. Think metabolism. It seems like there should be some universal Newtonian flow of time, because we do live in these synchronized cultures, using the same languages, rules, measures, etc.
        Energy is conserved, because it manifests this presence, creating time, as well as temperature, pressure, color and sound. Time is frequency, events are amplitude. As presence, the energy goes past to future, because the patterns it’s generating coalesce and dissolve, future to past. Energy drives the wave, while the fluctuations rise and fall.
        So all aspects of time, past, present and future, are a function of the actions of this energy.
        As a measure and effect of action, time is asymmetric, becuase action is inertial. The earth only turns one direction. Entropy is a second order effect and not what is being measured anyway.
        Ideal gas laws correlate volume with temperature and pressure, but we don’t mistake them for aspects of space, even though they are as foundational to our emotions and bodily functions, as sequence is to thought.
        Consciousness also goes past to future, while the perceptions, emotions and thoughts giving it form and structure go future to past. Though it’s the digestive, respiratory and circulatory systems processing the energy and feeding the flame, while the central nervous system sorts the information, signals from the noise. Thus our tendency to structure reality in terms of the known and unknown, order and chaos, rather than energy and form.
        Even though galaxies are energy radiating out, as structure coalesces in.
        Which goes back to the relationship of economics and politics. One the motor and the other steering. Energy and order.
        I could ramble on, but just some ideas of the various ways society is a patchwork and how the current tensions might create fractures, that could be used to totally rearrange it.

    • Itamar Levy-Or says:

      Politicians are keenly aware of the force multiplying effect of good political timing. This is why we for example see complaints of “politicizing” school shootings. Yet I feel there is still a lot of room to learn how to effectively sieze the moment. Is there a cost to trying to seize less ideal moments, or should you hammer away at every opportunity? How do you measure how effectively you took advantage of an opportunity? ie how good an opportunity were you presented and how much did you achieve relative to the quality of the opportunity. Obviously passing favorable legislation is ideal, but short of that is improved polling/awareness in the short term valuable? How and who do you need to message to? How do we identify more moments to seize? Ryan Petersen was very effective with his twitter thread on container stacking, achieving a material win with a moment that would have otherwise flown under the radar. Could we have better followed up on that victory? Could someone else have achieved a similar result, and how do we make that victory reproducible? Right now we’re seeing a similar situation unfold with the hurricane in Puerto Rico, and the Jones act @scottlincicome has been covering it, and the jones act is now trending on twitter. What can we expect to get out of the situation? What are the odds that the jones act is temporarily suspended (which is currently proposed in congress), what are the odds that it’s permanently suspended? How can we most effectively increase those odds? I’m sure anybody with greater experience in politics finds all this anodyne and obvious, but I really think theres a lot of room for improvement. 538 does a lot of related work on elections, but I think thats a much easier problem given the abundance of polling, and the fact we have regularly scheduled elections.

      • TheZvi says:

        In this case with Jones Act, nothing I think, because everyone’s busy running for re-election and PR doesn’t vote, and groundwork hasn’t been laid yet. I have not jumped on the situation.

        I do think this model of ‘seize the moment’ has a lot in it. A key goal of the whole strategy is to be ready. E.g. if we had better ammo on Jones Act in various ways, we could then take this opportunity rather than waiting for the one next year or the year after. Or for the LNG crisis in the winter in the Northeast. Or…

        Is improved polling valuable? I think basically only if it sticks?

      • brodix says:

        Basically it boils down to personal decisions and opportunity.
        Though sometimes you want to step back and look at the bigger picture, especially when focusing on the details just leaves you spinning wheels.
        The powers that be are very proficient at co-opting the revolution.
        Gnostic Christianity embalmed as the Catholic Church, for example.
        Michael Hudson wrote a good book on how the Ancients dealt with the tension between government and wealth, called, Forgive Them Their Debts.
        Remember Jesus was all peace, love and turn the other check, except when it came to the moneychangers.
        That the powers that be are pushing their model to the point of reductio ad absurdum does seem to offer history’s biggest opportunity.

  2. Zack says:

    Seems like a much needed project in the age of institutional decline, and you might be one of the most qualified people to work on it. To get a general sense of things, I would like to know what kind of improved federal policies would you suggest to address the most controversial and divisive but otherwise important topics. For example, what would be your likely approach towards understanding the social standing and improving the welfare of cis, straight, low-status/nerdy males, given the policies’ domestic and global impact?

    Sorry for bringing up something so specific, but I’m really curious how the project is going to mix with the most inflammatory pain points of the contemporary culture.

    • TheZvi says:

      No need to apologize. Specific details are great, even when they are, as you say, putting one in a tight spot.

      I do not see opportunity in a direct intervention on (most) culture war issues. They suck all the oxygen out of the room and align people into partisan camps, where one side winning means the other side losing.

      Immigration would be the ‘most culture war’ thing where that is not the case, and there is a lot of room to simply be better rather than worse at it.

      I do believe that broadly implementing a strong pro-growth, pro-good-things, pro-living-life agenda would greatly improve matters for the group in question. They win when we make success more about providing value and less about having the right social connections and approvals, which aligns strongly. Improving economic conditions will create a culture that is less hostile, and make it more realistic to get the things such people feel are not achievable. So will turning the tide on Safetyism – I think that all of that ties together. If you face various forms of discrimination, no matter from what direction, things improve a lot when there is enough to go around. A lot of the hostility that does exist is about lashing out because of other things going wrong, and an authoritarian regime would be very bad for such folks and make things far worse, no matter the flavor.

      As for improving one’s (inherently relative) social standing, that requires a cultural shift, which again I believe this would help with on many fronts.

      I do want to understand these problems better at some point, but this is not about specifically targeting this group.

      • Tzimmes says:

        This is a very thoughtful response – thank you on behalf of many readers, this is exactly what we’re missing so much in the contemporary public discourse.

        One concern I may have is that many things classifiable as culture war issues, unfortunately, seem central to improving lives. Take the controversial but critically important issue of declining fertility rates among the groups who could pass desirable traits, social norms, and interests on to the next generations. Would dealing with the car seat mandates working as contraception (and other problems of a similar caliber) contribute in any meaningful way to that? I’m afraid it won’t, as the proper fix would probably require a mix of major cultural shifts and regulations in family law, and this seems nearly impossible.

        I’m not a trad/reactionary type, and I don’t like imposing my lifestyle preferences on other people, so I wouldn’t advocate for most of such policies. That being said, are you sure that we can solve a lot of fundamental problems through relatively culturally neutral economic and institutional policies? Would they be able to constitute a sufficient replacement for the time-tested heuristics, and handle all the hidden extra costs of an increasing “accumulation of exceptions”? Not a fan of Alex, but at least a part of the following this article offers an interesting and relevant take on things:

  3. Anonymous-backtick says:

    “People whose lives are getting worse, who have no hope and cannot envision a future, inevitably turn to authoritarianism”

    Can you give a definition of authoritarianism that doesn’t describe the regime we have right now?

    • Anonymous-backtick says:

      Anyway, I oppose this project on the grounds that the faster we hit rock bottom, the better. Incremental improvements are not going to get us from hell to not hell.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        Historically, “make hell worse so the damned will try harder to do something about it” has not worked out great.

        • Anonymous-backtick says:

          Nobody has to do anything about it, it’ll crash on its own. Unless some foolish people supply it with just enough competence to keep it limping along.

  4. Nicholas Weininger says:

    What experience does your team have with the work of persuading politicians to adopt policy proposals? Do you have plans to hire others skilled in this work? What’s your theory of change for how that persuasion happens?

    Much as the difficulty in making a startup succeed is famously more about execution than ideation, I’d guess that persuasion is going to be the Hard Problem here. I have every confidence that you can come up with binders full of constructive, positive-sum policy ideas. I have much less a priori confidence about translating those ideas into laws passed or regulations implemented.

  5. "Epicurus" says:

    Societies have spent billions to build water treatment plants to clean the water before people drink it, so that we don’t get cholera constantly.

    The cost of putting air cleaners (HEPA filters or Corsi-Rosenthal boxes) in every room in the country, to clean the air before people breathe it, is far less than the cost of building all those water treatment plants. The small list of businesses, schools, and hopsitals which have actually *done* this have stopped Covid transmission. However, it is a very small list. We know why this works, of course, from physics (aerosol science).

    Masks — and P100 and N95 masks are proven to work because they’re the same filter material as HEPA filters — are not a significant imposition on anyone, any more than wearing pants is an imposition. They understand this in most of East Asia. Worth publicizing the functional respirators and making them available. Worth requiring ***doctors*** to wear them at work in order to call themselves doctors.

    The more information comes out, the clearer it is that getting Covid repeatedly is extremely deadly and disabling, even to those who are vaccinated, and those who want to preserve their brains and hearts should avoid it. I’m not giving you citations because you’re perfectly capable of looking them up, but so far you just choose not to or make up rationalizations to ignore the evidence.

    It’s very interesting that your ideological, unfounded but deeply held, beliefs, which you refuse to update based on data, mean that you have repeatedly failed to evaluate the risks from Covid accurately. It’s a fascinating quasi-religious blind spot you have. I have been following the flood of scientific evidence (not the “popularizers” or talking heads) since Feb 2020, and the evidence has repeatedly been “it’s worse than you thought”, so I’ve updated my beliefs in the correct direction.

    Anyway, if you want to actually push for a reasonable, sane response to the pandemic — since we all know the CDC and WHO did the opposite of anything sane — that’s what to push for. Clean the air before we breathe it like we clean the water before we drink it. I don’t expect you to, because you show signs of a persistent irrational blind spot. But maybe you’ll surprise me.

    • Craken says:

      “Masks…are not a significant imposition on anyone.” I consider children to be anyones, and there is evidence that it’s a significant imposition on them.

      “The more information comes out, the clearer it is that getting Covid repeatedly is extremely deadly and disabling, even to those who are vaccinated…”
      I haven’t seen a good study on the risk of long Covid for people infected twice post-vaccination. Perhaps you can cite such a study. If you cannot, I wonder what you are talking about. Pick the best one you can find, don’t point me to 20.

      • greg kai says:

        I have not seen super convincing studies about “long covid” either, but I have enough anecdotal evidence around me to not bother at all. Basically, apart for the first wave, all my friends/colleagues/family who got it had a normal mild viral infection followed by classic recovery, or slighly longer recoveries that could have been “long covid” except they pivoted to more urgent worries like energy price/ukraine war since. So I worry about covid as much as I worry about the flu, i.e. not at all. I guess people usually worrying about flu (rightly so or not) have a different opinion, but to me covid is past news. Except for international travel, were like previous crisis (terrorism) it have a lingering effect of making it a more expensive less pleasant experience…

  6. rylinks says:

    I think there is value in finding overlooked government dysfunction, inspired by the success of the container-stacking intervention. It is very hard for me to see how the laundry list of causes near the end of the post fits with the goal at the start. How does marijuana legalization give people hope and a vision of a future? Qualified immunity causes injustice, but how does ending it help people prosper and overcome political differences?

    Is this organization focused on picking low-hanging fruit to increase prosperity, or will it advocate for a broader list of causes?

    • TheZvi says:

      We plan to have a position on far more than the low hanging fruit, while having a disproportionate focus on the LHF to score wins and build momentum (not only for us, for things in general).

      Legalizing marijuana does not, in and of itself, transform people’s visions of the future. What it does do is provide a concrete example of getting rid of a stupid restriction, and stops having this thing that puts everyone directly at odds with the law and teaches that the law makes no sense, is not your friend, and is not something worthy of respect. When I talk to people in different places, there really is a noted difference in lived experience between the places where it is legal versus where it is not, and that would grow as more similar things had a similar status. Qualified immunity makes the list because it is also a place that causes a lot of people to say ‘well the whole system is non-sensical and unfair and stacked against us and we can’t even fix obviously insane things’ whereas fixing obviously insane things gives hope for fixing others and gives people less to be constantly angry about, etc.

      That doesn’t mean those are the best first targets or biggest prizes. I was striking a balance among a number of factors when choosing out of a giant document.

      • Greg kai says:

        One thing i would concentrate on is simplification of law and administrative tasks. There is absolutist no reason for it to be as complex, non orthogonal and full of corner cases and exceptions. This is partially explained by the evolutionary way laws and regulations are written, partially by the fact that regulatory organs gain power from complexity, but regardless of the origin of the increased complexity, it’s one big source of loss of energy, money and increased legal risks for citizens. For example, the almost systematic needs for lawyers should not be seen as inevitable or even a good thing, it is a sign of the deep failure of the system.
        In principle it seems fixable as the obstacle is wrong incentives instead of theoretical or technical obstacles. It even should be doable progressively…
        But people advertising this long of thing lack traction or even minimal public presence… So i guess the incentive are really really wrong…

  7. Adelaide says:

    1. If you were hypothetically pressured to (and could) put any 10 thought leaders with relevant experience in charge of this project, who would you choose? This is to get a general sense of who is like-minded and already develops/advocates for similar policies.

    2. Are there any steps you plan to take to ensure that this project won’t share the fate of a large portion of the EA community (entryism, intellectual orthodoxy, consensus slowly but steadily shifting towards the progressive left talking points regardless of whether that’s epistemically sound or net positive)?

    Thanks for the answers!

    • TheZvi says:

      1. 10 is a lot and I presume what you’re looking for is more ‘who are kindred spirits?’ than anything else. There aren’t that many thought leaders these days. Off top of my head, ignoring implementation willingness, opportunity cost and so on, of those that do exist generally, if I had to choose I’d be inclined to maybe pick Matthew Yglesias, Scott Lincicome, Alec Stapp and Alex Tabarrok, or something like that? Alec is probably the closest to an existing attempt, with different focus and approaches to a lot of questions.

      2. I very much see the risk of that happening. I have the mazes sequence and the principles from that, and I care pretty deeply about getting things right and will do my best to hire, fire, manage and so on with my eye on the enemy. I am confident Moshe and Alyssa are going to do likewise. I think I have a pretty unique brand that will attract people who appreciate that brand and drive away those who would do entryism – ideally it won’t seem interesting to them, and if that means we don’t scale as much, I’m OK with that. If I find that the progressive left is taking over the thing, I would accept that it was time to move on and take my talents elsewhere, especially if the 2024 danger is over and done with by then.

  8. FakeInternetPerson says:

    Not a regular commenter here so I apologize if I lack context. I’m fairly cynical about politics for standard Bryan Caplan-ish reasons, and while I love the implied set of policies, I’m skeptical of how much could actually get done to further them. I understand from the Slow Boring piece that Congress does pass some legislation, especially out of the public eye, but it wasn’t clear to me that the stuff that did get passed was a technocratic triumph.

    In an effort to clarify the things I’m skeptical about, here it is in list format:

    – As others have said, it’s not clear to me that there is that much space outside of issues the public cares about in the relevant way that keeps progress from happening. Environmental issues (NRC, NEPA), zoning, student loans, regulation on ports (effectively, labor issues and protectionism), immigration, even pandemic preparedness all seem to be the sorts of highly charged issues that prevent policy improvements. I suspect the median voter is either indifferent or perhaps hostile to your goals on these, but you mention these areas as implicitly interesting targets after averring that you are concerned with “political feasibility”. How confident are you that there is enough slack in the relevant areas to make progress? How much progress could you make?

    – If a key goal of this project is to reduce the likelihood of Trump winning in 2024, do you think it’s feasible to make significant policy headway in time to improve standards of living in the interim in a way that shifts outcomes? Every step in that causal chain seems to bear some uncertainty.

    – What’s your theory of why bad policy exists in the first place? Given that theory, how does the approach you’re articulating here navigate the factors that caused policy to be bad? You seem to believe that politics has a lot of inefficiency of various kinds — in campaigns, in policy areas, etc. But lots of smart people seem somewhat invested in these outcomes. Is it not more reasonable to assume that current policy is the equilibrium that balances voter preferences and ignorance, the interest of politicians, the influence of lobbying groups/special interests, etc.?

    – How worried are you that this is going to be the scenario where some smart, rational person takes an interest in politics, looks into how it works, and immediately kills themselves at the sheer horror?

    – Can you add abolishing the TSA to the to-do list? Pretty please?

    • TheZvi says:

      – It is always interesting to note both ‘the median voter does not care’ and ‘this is too highly charged to ever do anything about.’ The median voter cares about the impacts of the choices we make, is my model, and does not know or care about the wonky details of how it happened. Which is totally fair.

      – The timeline is a tight squeeze, but yes. It certainly still could be done, and some decisions Biden has made will have a real impact by then in both directions. Doing it from our position that fast, likely not going to get too far that fast. Yet one still has to be in position to tell a positive vision to win, and explain how that works, and also fully killing the problem may well require winning more times in a row, in which case actually helping becomes non-optional.

      – The basic theory is grounded in public choice and also in there being no adults and in no one anywhere to a first approximation being good at their jobs and especially at things that aren’t the core competency of that job. I used to have a similar model where everything was an efficient delicate balance. Now I simply don’t.

      – Kill ourselves in sheer horror? Nope. Decide it can’t be done and abandon the project? I mean, maybe, and that seems acceptable as a risk.

      – Yes we can elevate the TSA to the main list, by popular demand.

  9. truth777 says:

    And yet… there is nothing obvious about many of your solutions.

    Pandemic preparedness – in all likelihood, our most recent pandemic was likely released from a lab, how does one prevent pandemic preparedness from turning into an authoritarian regimen of lockdowns, masking, imprisonment in homes and cities a la Shanghai, Australia? Power corrupts.

    Repeal ‘made in America’ – so further destroy any manufacturing capacity in the western hemisphere which has been clearly proven to be a terrible idea in our current wave of ‘logistical challenges’ and Clash of Civilizations theory clearly being proven correct over the utopian End of History. What do we do when we need to make artillery shells when China, Russia, et al decide to make war on us?

    End of qualified immunity – further eroding the ability of police to keep black criminals from turning every urban area in the country into an inhospitable wasteland.

    Legalizing marijuana – ~10% of pregnant women smoke marijuana, which has been proven to cause cognitive decline, similar cognitive decline in teenagers, worsening psychosis in those prone to it, etc. if anything we need a real war on drugs, not a fake war on drugs where every law enforcement agency is making money but nothing is ever done about the endless supply coming over our borders thanks to mexican cartels and chinese gangs in Canada.

    Increasing high skill immigration – We have a lot of work to do on immigration, namely stopping low skilled, low human capital immigration, but sure, let’s import another elite to continue to replace white americans… after a few decades of open borders, the U.S. is such a picture of cooperation and mutual respect that we should continue this great project.

    I think your intentions are noble, but you misunderstand the baseness of human nature, of the selfishness & greed that predominates. There will be war, famine, plague, fascism, poverty, and more. Our orbital bones have evolved to take a punch, our bodies to store fat during famine, politicians are universally acknowledged as psychopaths – they don’t come from nowhere, they’ve been selected for by evolution.

    Malthusian catastrophe is our destiny. We have proven ourselves incapable of being good stewards of the Earth, we’ve reproduced like rats, and we’re all going to die. At its peak, rome had 1.5 million inhabitants. Shortly thereafter, a few 10s of thousand.

    Buy food, buy guns, get out of the cities. That’s all I have to say to anybody.

  10. Jonathan says:

    As someone who generally agrees with almost all policies this blog advocates, I am surprised by the statement that ending qualified immunity is a desirable goal. Until now I was sure the opposite is the case.
    A recurring theme here is that government agencies are too risk averse. They prefer avoiding a big and salient risk, even at the cost of causing much more harm, as long as the harm is distributed and hard to attribute. Imagine how much worse that would become if government officials were also exposed to personal lawsuits!
    What am I missing here?

    • TheZvi says:

      I do find it a good note that in general I would want to make us less litigious rather than more. We do need some form of protection and I don’t think there has been enough discussion about the right replacement, but it seems very clear that QI as currently implemented is far too broad to the point where it protects obviously terrible actors in ways that damage public trust. We could follow the principle of absolute immunity for public officials – where unless they commit a criminal act they’re completely safe on the job – yet I presume it is clear the consequences of that would be bad, which means we are talking price.

    • magic9mushroom says:

      Hmm, I’d thought this was about Imbler v. Pachtman and prosecutorial immunity, since that’s the one I’ve heard people cross about, but technically that’s absolute rather than qualified immunity.

      • TheZvi says:

        I haven’t been hearing about that issue, and I am not convinced there is anything to usefully do there – it needs to be OK to sometimes go after innocent people, which does them quite a ton of damage.

        • magic9mushroom says:

          Going after innocent people happens, sure. The problem I’ve heard people complaining about is actual illegal conduct – hiding exculpatory evidence, knowingly presenting fraudulent evidence, and knowingly presenting perjuring witnesses.

          The problem here is that a) they’re immune from civil liability via Imbler, b) while Imbler doesn’t immunise against criminal liability, *a criminal trial requires a prosecutor to indict* and prosecutors don’t like prosecuting other prosecutors. So there’s a dead spot where corrupt behaviour is largely immune from sanction.

          I’m taking this largely from Kozinski’s 2015 “Criminal Law 2.0”; might be out of date, might not, though WP doesn’t say Imbler got overruled.

          If it’s not something you want to take on, sure; just explaining what I meant.

  11. Purplehermann says:

    “put our democracy and entire civilization at risk.”
    Aha, so most importantly we need democracy. Secondly, if the *entire* civilization is at risk, that’s also an issue.

    “People whose lives are getting worse, who have no hope and cannot envision a future, inevitably turn to authoritarianism.”
    Oh no! The horror!!! Better stop putting people in this situation or there might be authoritarianism in our future! Because clearly, the true evil is the ‘authoritarianism’ – not the “People whose lives are getting worse, who have no hope and cannot envision a future”.

    If this reflects your values, I hope you fail to have any effect at all.

    If it does not, then you believe the people who would want to work with you hold these values.
    In which case I hope you are incorrect.

    If these are not your values, my above paragraph is correct about your beliefs, and your beliefs are correct, I hope you suck up as much of their time and energy as possible, and manage to keep actual effects to doing good things.

  12. JustAnotherScientist says:

    I am most interested in federal procurement, as a DoD scientist (increasingly manager, sadly) who deals with a lot of unnecessary heartache when trying to buy simple supplies. I have heard a quote at work, possibly apocryphal, attributed to Navy admiral in the Pacific: “China is not the enemy — The FAR is the enemy.” The FAR is the Federal Acquisition Regulation, a byzantine tome of thousands of pages of rules for how to properly buy things.

    The advantage of the FAR is that I think we do a really good job at preventing little guys from swaying purchases or contracts to the company owned by their brother– garden variety corruption and fraud. The down side is that the structure ossifies and makes it impossible to buy a wrench. When I first started work I was dumbstruck at how impossible it was to buy a wrench (or any small piece of equipment or material). McMaster or Amazon have billion dollar businesses to get you stuff next day, yet it took 6+ weeks to get my wrench. If we found a secretary who was a credit card holder (btw the government is still inordinately proud of having Government Credit Cards to “streamline” purchases), they were invariably so overworked with the paperwork for each credit card purchase that it took them weeks to get around to it. The same paperwork was such a pain in the ass that no one wanted to get a credit card if they could avoid it (the poor secretaries couldn’t avoid it). Since no end user in their right mind would ever suffer through the training and reporting burden, the ratio of credit card holders to users wanting to buy stuff is of order 100:1, leaving the CC holders to regularly hit their monthly credit limit a few weeks into each month. Instead of a CC order we could go through a central purchasing department, but they were even slower and more backlogged because on addition to random wrench orders they also had to deal with the bigger contracts which had far more rules. Suffice to say, as Tyler Cowen would put it, you can solve for the equilibrium — people look for, and find, ways around these road blocks.

    Nevertheless, that was my first experience with federal purchasing– 6 weeks to get anything bought, even as small as a wrench, because even once I had funding I wasn’t trusted to spend it, and the folks who were trusted with a CC are so overworked by the paperwork that they can’t keep up and hate the process. Meanwhile we try to do good R&D with with taxpayer dollars while incurring standing army costs of >$1k/day/person in salary and overhead waiting to satisfy rules for tiny pieces of equipment.

    Here’s my concrete suggestion: the FAR has a “micro purchase threshold”, now set at $10,000, which is supposed to reduce this burden. After all, 99% of all purchases (not expense dollar total, but individual purchase events) are under this threshold, so it makes sense to focus compliance efforts on the more rare big fish and save manpower. Yet there are still a number of burdens placed on the micro purchases, especially checking required sources of supply.

    There are explicit carve outs for products made by the Federal Prison Industry, products made by disabled groups (I’m looking at you, Blind Industries and Services of Maryland) and a few other categories that get implemented as “before you can buy this stuff off Amazon, you have to check the terrible websites of several other vendors to make sure they don’t sell your wrench.”
    This takes time, because anything more than zero rules means There a is A Form, and A Person Who Audits The Forms, and you were just trying to buy a wrench, or a power supply, or a computer, or restock the fasteners, and you have 20 other things to do. You then sign the form saying “yes I checked”, and document the results of your searches (yes I’ve seen people saving screenshots and explaining why any items that came up weren’t quite the right one). You can now click buy, on penalty of needing to personally reimburse the government if an audit says you were bad. Which the training definitely emphasizes / scares you about. Oh, and don’t bother trying to use a govt FedEx acct for overnight shipping without submitting a form DD1149.

    Sorry if that was long. TL;DR is: Lobby to remove required sources of supply, and indeed any other extraneous garbage, from the Federal Acquisition Regulations’ micro purchase threshold rules. There is large delta from zero rules to one rule, requiring oversight and compliance checking, and at some level it just isn’t worth it. I would also settle for creating an “Anything Goes” threshold at an even lower amount, as the purchase distribution is bottom heavy so the paperwork burden would still be reduced. Also trying the thresholds to inflation would be nice. I’ll try to follow up with a specific section heading in the FAR.

    I hope this is sufficiently concrete to help someone, somewhere move the needle on these types of hurdles.

    • TheZvi says:

      Nice. This is very much the kind of detailed thing I want to understand better, and where we could potentially get a lot of value out of fixing things. If you can give me your contact info (you can DM me on Twitter or PM me on LW for privacy) I’d love to talk more.

    • brodix says:

      This is a good example of where a binary approach is necessary. Systems evolve upward, but order flows downward. Top down, versus bottom up.
      Why state and local governments are a necessary compliment to a federal government. Push responsibility down to where it is most effective and acknowledge there will be a constant fluctuation between the two elements/sides of the coin. Learn both networks and nodes feed off each other and generate each other.
      Life is a dance, not a race.
      It’s all educational.

    • Anonymous-backtick says:

      TLDR is Bill the Galactic Hero was not an exaggeration and we should all be a little more confident that the good guys are going to win WWIII.

  13. Ninety-Three says:

    “I also believe that almost all existing organizations… are not testing the hypothesis that the problem could be solved. I will test that hypothesis.”

    I recognize this as an idea that crops up often in the ratsphere: “We can outperform the rest of the world because we will be Actually Trying, which literally no one else is doing.” This always seems like an insanely bold claim, what’s your reason for believing that you alone will escape whatever pervasive factor makes everyone else suck?

    • brodix says:

      We are linear, goal oriented organisms in a cyclical, circular, reciprocal, feedback generated reality and are rapidly reaching the edge of the petri dish.
      That tactile ability to swing from branch to branch was transferred to throwing sticks and here we are, a million years later, still being egged on by the loudest to throw more sticks.
      Armageddon seems a lot closer than any thinking outside the box.

  14. Pingback: Covid 9/29/22: The Jones Act Waver | Don't Worry About the Vase

  15. brodix says:

    Just checking to see if this thread is still open. My response to FreddieY has been stuck in moderation for a few days and there don’t seem to be any other posts.
    It this goes through, I do have some essays up on medium; John Brodix Merryman Jr.

    • brodix says:


      Thanks for the feedback. I do seem to be outside the mainstream, but a lot of it is due to circumstances. School and I were never on good terms, so much of it is living in the horse racing and adjacent farming business, where I tended to identify with the horses, more than the people. So I tend to see life as constant reality checks and try avoiding too much bs. Of which there seems to be lots. The more layers I find to peel, there more there seem to be.
      Given I only really internet in the evenings, for entertainment, I don’t do a lot of writing, though I have posted a bit on medium.

    • TheZvi says:

      All pending posts should now be out of moderation, sorry about that. If there’s anything else let me know.

      • brodix says:

        No problem. Safe to say, some of my ideas are not that popular in some of the more establishment oriented forums, so I tend to avoid any confrontations outside of the purely theoretical.
        Just trying to seed ideas into the grassroots. As I’ve told my daughter since she was a kid, my generation is going to blow up the world and yours will have to put it back together again.

  16. brodix says:

    Well, that went through, so see if the original post got stuck, because of the links;


    Thanks for the feedback. I do seem to be outside the mainstream, but a lot of it is due to circumstances. School and I were never on good terms, so much of it is living in the horse racing and adjacent farming business, where I tended to identify with the horses, more than the people. So I tend to see life as constant reality checks and try avoiding too much bs. Of which there seems to be lots. The more layers I find to peel, there more there seem to be.
    Given I only really internet in the evenings, for entertainment, I don’t do a lot of writing, though I have posted a bit on medium. Here are some of the more recent ones;
    View at

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