15: Economics, Law, and the Future with David Friedman

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Will Jarvis

This week on the podcast, we have David Friedman. David holds a PhD in physics from the University of Chicago, he is chiefly known for his scholarly contributions to economics and law. He is the author of five books of non‐​fiction as well as three novels. We discuss the future, legal systems very different from our own, how technology drives progress, and what the future might look like. 

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Hey folks my name is will jarvis along with my dad dr david jarvis we record the podcast narratives narratives is a project exploring stories about progress in what ways are we better off now than in the past are there ways that we are worse off what is the ideal future how do we build it join us as we explore these questions with some of the brightest minds in the world

hey folks today on the podcast we have david friedman david holds a phd in physics from the university of chicago and he’s chiefly known for his scholarly contributions to economics and law he’s the author of five books of non-fiction as well as two novels david how are you doing today up to three novels now whenever green hours is out of date i live without a date i didn’t see the renewal very slowly on a fourth which hasn’t gotten very far yet that is that’s super cool that’s that’s awesome um how does it jump from fiction from non-fiction to fiction ben uh it was fun i’m a much more successful non-fiction author uh there are clearly a number of people in the field who are much better writers than i am uh who i enjoy reading but i think my novels are enough different from anybody else’s that at least for people who share some of my tastes uh they’re worth the the the work of writing and on the whole it’s rather fun fun writing it’s it it’s less straightforward than non-fiction so to speak so that uh it sometimes stalls for you know a long period of time and i i got into it originally as their way of falling asleep i concluded that daydreaming is a poor way of falling asleep because when you’re daydreaming you’re the protagonist of the story you’re imagining and that gets you too closely involved to drift off and it occurred to me that if instead i tried plotting a novel in my head that i would have enough distance and it worked pretty well and so i plotted parts of about several different vaguely related novels and eventually got all of one of them in my head and house rules at the time were that when i put one of the two kids to bed i told that made up and told them three stories it was what i think of his extruded fantasy product very cool i mentioned to my daughter who was i don’t know 10 or 11 or something at that time that i had this novel in my head why you told me that instead so i did and the trouble with telling stories to my daughter was that she remembered them better than i did so i would have these long series of stories with the same characters in them and i would get them into some difficult situation and shoes say but daddy that magic item that they got three months ago that’ll get them out of it so this time every evening when i finished telling the story to becca i went on my computer and wrote an outline of the story i had told and the result was that by the time i finished i had a full outline of the novel and i decided to see how it would work if i wrote it so i wrote the final scene and really liked it and then i spent maybe a month or two writing what ended up as the first draft of my first novel so that was sort of a different story for how a novel got written but it’s it’s a true story and i think an entertaining one that was harold which actually got published commercially by bane after i spent a long time trying to other people to publish it uh it didn’t do very well uh so baine wasn’t interested in another and my i then had two different ideas one of which was a sequel to that novel which i’ve written a little of but have never completed and the other was an entirely different one and i discussed them with my friend werner venja who is a very successful science fiction writer much but again a much better writer than i am and he thought that the new idea sounded much more interesting so on that evidence i wrote it that was my second novel salamander uh which i think i did it i’m not sure i would say i like it better but i think i did a better job on it because i had some practice that one is shortly going to be available as an audio book somebody got in touch with me a while ago and said that he would like to to record it he said he had been reading it to his nieces and they enjoyed it and that surprised me a little because it’s not really aimed at children although i think it’s a book that young people could enjoy and i was a little worried at first that this was kind of some kind of a scam and he wanted me to pay him to record it but no he was perfectly willing to do it in exchange for half of the revenue from the audiobook that cost me nothing i wasn’t planning to do it myself anyway because i didn’t think it would sell very well because the book hasn’t sold all that well he’s now finished doing it it’s at audible and they’re supposed to be checking over it so probably in a couple of weeks salamander will be available as an audiobook my first novel is available as an audiobook read by me but i think this person who had done other audio books really did a better job than i did it was quite interesting sort of some of the things he did with accents which had not really occurred to me uh in order to signal differences among people and similarities among people when they have related accents and things like that so anyway i i have a lot of fun i went over all the chapters to make sure there were no mistakes found a few mistakes and i enjoyed that it was it was quite nice listening to my own words in somebody else’s voice so so that’s been interesting i’ve done audiobooks of almost all my non-fiction those i read myself the only exception i think is my price theory textbook because that’s an econ textbook it’s got a lot of figures in it and you really can’t follow it very well without them uh right and i’ve got a my book hidden order is intended as the equivalent of a price theory textbook for people who want to teach themselves economics so that has some figures and i if you get the audio book you’re supposed to also get a pdf showing the figures but it’s obviously not all that convenient if you’re driving a car you’re not yeah right so so but hopefully most of it i think works without the figures so i think that but most of my other books don’t really depend on that sort of thing so so those ones i did audio books and and they’ve actually done pretty well i was surprised i think i did the first one because

a very nice lady who’s a fan of mine had done a cover for one of my self-published books and she had said that she really thought that machinery or freedom ought to be available as an audiobook so i did that in a sense for her but in fact it sold moderately well and uh it’s an awful lot less work recording a book than writing one so it’s you know what a month or two i suppose so i ended up doing all of them probably uh i’m currently working it occurred to me a while ago that i sort of run out of new ideas to to write books about but it then occurred to me that i had 15 years of ideas in my blog right right so i went through all of my back blog posts sorted them in terms of topic that i think ended up about 20 different topics and i’m now in the process of converting that into one or more books the the i haven’t gotten very far people are sufficiently curious i’ve webbed the drafts of most of what i’ve done so far my fur i’m really thinking of it as sections that is each section is coming out of a bunch of blog posts on some related topic and with a good deal of new writing in the process of course but but but still i’m sort of parasitizing my own password which seemed to be an efficient thing to do since i didn’t know any new new things i wanted to write about uh so that’s that’s my current writing project uh and at this point the section i’m doing is on libertarianism uh with a number of different parts of it uh actually working on a chapter on how to promote libertarianism which came out of a number of related blog posts but i’ve got a lot of other topics that that one of the big sections i think is going to be on the question of how you figure out what’s true because that’s a problem we all face uh i can give point out to lots of examples typically in sort of politically controversial things where anyway as i said so i’m currently working on this and my guess is it there’s probably enough material for two or three books i’ll see but i decided many years ago uh to spend two hours a day seven days a week on writing and the basic reason is that as my life has turned out there isn’t a whole lot i have to do that for the last for for 20 some years i was a half-time full professor at a law school i taught one semester on one semester off because i’m not a lawyer i don’t have the background for teaching the standard courses so i taught some interesting courses they really hired me to get economic analysis of law but then i invented other courses some of which turned into books eventually two or three of them did uh and but but it was too easy to sort of spend all my time eating lotus right doing nothing and i found that i felt stale if i did that and now i’m retired so i have even fewer constraints on it so i committed myself to two hours a day seven days a week working on any writing project i don’t generally count blog posts but anything beyond blog posts counts and i may decide to count a blog post if it’s going to go into the new book that uh i’ve i’m thinking of doing a blog in defense of thomas malthus oh interesting really malthus i think is badly misrepresented by both sides of the population dispute that they don’t really follow what his argument was and it was an ingenious argument i don’t think it was it probably was wrong but what happened since is not really proof that it was wrong because what he was imagining was a rate of population increase essentially at the biological maximum that the figure he gave was a 25-year doubling time and in fact with modern medicine it would be even shorter than that we know that because the amish have traditional birth rates and modern medicine and their population double the time is about 20 years and that’s despite the fact that they lose about 10 percent of the of each generation who don’t stay in the church so maybe a little less than 20 years total but if you actually look at the numbers i was just looking up the numbers for in in the quest of checking this and in the century from 1800 to 1900 i think the population of england goes up something like three or four fold on malthus’s assumptions it would have gone up two four eight 16 times a wow so so we don’t know whether whether they could have fed that number of people all right his basic argument is not there’s going to be a catastrophe his basic argument is things can never get a whole lot better because they were because why are people willing to marry late willing in various ways to give up the pleasures of sex and marriage because it’s expensive to produce children that’s his basic argument is that in a stable society things have to be bad enough for most people so that having as many children as they could have is a serious cost and therefore they don’t they don’t do it and there are problems in that argument in particular he doesn’t seem to have allowed for contraception uh he he’s as far as i can tell he is always assuming that not keeping down the birthrate means having less sex and he’s arguing with some utopians uh condorcet and godwin i think who seem to have very optimistic views congress say thinks that the human lifespan is indefinitely extensible as progress goes on you know make it 100 200 300 maybe it’ll happen i hope it’ll happen but it hasn’t happened yet there’s not much evidence for it so anyway i’ve been rereading the essay on population which is malthuses malthus’s famous work uh and it’s quite quite fun to read uh it’s not stupid uh and so i may be doing a blog post on that and if i do that i may count that as writing because it may be something that i’ll plan to put into the book eventually because i think it’s quite interesting uh anyway but it’s not he isn’t arguing that population brings catastrophe he’s arguing that the potential population growth holds down how good things can be that’s his base and things have gotten a lot better since then but and yet you know we’ve we haven’t been held down but on the other hand they haven’t gotten good enough to meet his requirement and it’s not clear it isn’t clear how much better he would have counted as within the possible range anyway it’s that’s a digression but it’s an example of the sort of thing i like i like having a blog because it means that whenever i have some interesting idea there’s something to do with it right most of the time i’m not going to write a book tomorrow about that idea i’m probably not i’m not teaching classes i might possibly give a talk about it i gave a talk a couple of days ago to a law school group over the internet in which i and it ended up as a new talk that is i tend to have like at any given time like six or eight standard talks i get this one sort of started out as though it could have been one of them and then i realized that in under current circumstances 18th century england was actually quite relevant to current political controversies and so i turned it into a talk about that that was because the there’s this slogan about defunding the police and the people who say that haven’t really thought about what they mean but in the 18th century didn’t have police all right the police are a 19th century invention in england so how did that system work you know how did they solve the problems it raised what issues does it raise in them and that turned out to be an interesting subject which is uh furthermore the that same system had institutions that are relevant to the current controversy of how you control police because one of the current issues is the idea uh of uh immunity the idea which as the court seemed to interpret now says that police are only civilly liable for doing things they don’t have a constitutional right to do if it was entirely obvious to them they didn’t have a constitutional right to do and one of the problems is that that means that until the court has ruled on almost precisely the same issue the policeman can always claim well i you know it wasn’t clear i didn’t know uh in 18th century england uh

criminal prosecution was private right and that that’s actually another question for you at least and in fact there is a case there was a fascinating character by the name of james james i think wilkes who was the person john wilkes he’s the person who john wilkes booth was named after oh well he was he’s also the person who wilkes berry pennsylvania is named after he was a radical journalist politician in 18th century england who in effect fought this long war with the king of england uh and

he affected actually america in a number of different ways that would be another longer story but at one at various points in his career he’s a journalist he’s an outlaw in europe because he’ll be arrested if he’s come back to england he’s a prisoner in the tower he’s elected to parliament and the house refuses to seat him and have the run the election again and he wins again and they refuse to seat him and they run the election a third time and he wins again and they seat the person who comes in second oh my god and he’s later lord mayor of london so very interesting colorful character uh he gets described as the ugliest man in in in england but he claims that various points that in the competition for a woman’s favors he can defeat the handsomest man in england given two hours leave there are different versions of the story so he was sort of a character in lots of different ways but anyway at one point wilkes is in prison in in in in london and his supporters are demonstrating in front of the prison and the authorities get worried about a riot and they call out the troops and the troops open fire on the demonstrators and kill several of them at which point wilkes people

charge the soldiers who fired and the magistrate who gave the order with murder oh wow and the soldiers disappear they sort of vanish we don’t know what happened to them but the magistrate gets tried and he’s acquitted but he doesn’t have to be acquitted this is in a london court and the londoners generally are pro-wilts uh so that’s an interesting approach to the problem of how do you discipline law enforcement by making them subject in the ordinary law and the in our system tort law is privately prosecuted so in principle tort law is an instrument but the current interpretation of immunity makes it a less good instrument than it should be now in 18th century england the problem they in principle is that the king could pardon people so if they had convicted the magistrate the king would probably have pardoned him but at least in theory there was a way around that not a very workable way but there was a legal action that still survived in english law in the 18th century called the indictment called the appeal of felony a felony and the appeal of felony was an entirely private criminal case all right an ordinary criminal case was privately prosecuted but the case was rex v smith the king versus smith it was the king’s case which meant the king could pardon smith if he got convicted an appeal of felony was a private case it was jones v smith and blackstone who’s the great 18th century authority says in commenting on this now at that time more or less obsolete action that if you get a conviction the king can no more pardon the defendant then he can cancel a tort verdict because he’s not a party to the case so there’s a different case where you’ve got two men who commit murder pretty clearly they’re convicted of murder their sister is the mistress of some high some very influential nobleman and apparently because of their influence the king pardons the murderers and some of i think again wilkins uh attempt a appeal a felony against the murderers they they aren’t able to succeed it was blackstone basically says this is an obsolete form it isn’t really workable very much but in on paper at least it still existed so that raises again the whole issue of to what degree you can legally use a legal system to control the people who are enforcing it the one of my my most recent non-fiction books is legal systems very different from ours and i have a long chapter on 18th century england there’s lots as well as lots of others uh turns out another system which like 18th century england has criminal law that’s privately prosecuted is pericle in athens another very famous society but in any case uh the one of the chapters the my legal systems book has two kinds of chapters what i think of is system chapters and thread chapters and the system chapter tries to describe and make sense of some legal system at some time in place there are i think 13 of them covered and a thread chapter tries to take some issue that runs through multiple legal systems and understands it and one of the issues is who guards the guardians how do you enforce legal rules on the people who are enforcing it who are enforcing the rules and this is one of the interesting approaches to solving that problem so anyway so so i ended up doing a talk for some law school students which was about 18th century england from that perspective including the the issue of the appeal of felony and the private prosecution of the magistrate uh you know you think of a imagine in our presence system that it’s the mayor who tells the police to do something in principle he can be charged with murder now of course in principle he can under our system too but the problem is the government has to do the charging there are multiple cases in in in you in the us history where somebody committed what was i think very clearly a criminal act in one case first-degree murder and was never charged with any crime okay the murder case i’m thinking of was back when i was a graduate student at chicago so i was paying attention to it was a black panther shooting that basically a group of chicago policemen come to a apartment at night within which a bunch of black panthers are sleeping including one very influential one who they pretty clearly wanted to get they opened fire through the walls of the apartment they claim that they were fired at first but apparently there’s no evidence to support that and quite a lot of evidence that it wasn’t true they killed two people that’s first degree murder no one is ever charged with a crime that one of the people in the chain of command not them uh is charged with i think basically lying about what happened something like something that sword is acquitted but the survivors sue and they collect a sizable civil judgment from the city state and and county uh governments so that’s a case where the criminal law is impotent because criminal prosecution in our system is by the state uh but civil laws of some use and i guess the the latest case which is much less shocking but still pretty striking is that as you may remember a few years ago the director of national intelligence was asked in in in in congress uh whether the i was nsa or the government in general collected any sort of information on millions or hundreds of millions of americans and he said no and he was lying that that that we we now know and he he has not since denied it that they were collecting not the content of phone calls but the who who called whom information metadata the metadata on most of the population so that was perjury perjury is a criminal act he’s never been charged with perjury so anyway so that that’s a general a general limit of our legal system and what you do about it is not entirely clear you have to worry about that in a privately prosecuted system that you may get people prosecuted by as harassment as it were rather than for a legal case it’s pretty clear if you look at pericles in athens that one of the incentives to prosecute somebody for a crime was that he was a political enemy and you wanted to get him and

there’s an actual case i don’t remember enough for the details of it but where that’s clearly what’s happening another incentive is that in order to have a privately prosecuted system works there’s got to be some incentive to prosecute people all right well in our tort system the incentive is toward damages well but that means you have an incentive to go after deep pockets to sue on some case where if you win you’ll get a lot of money and you’ll probably lose but they’ll settle out of court instead so there are problems with private prosecution as well i mean that’s that’s part of what i i discussed in the in the book and elsewhere but it does have some real advantages as a way of making sure that the government is itself subject to the laws that it makes uh so hold it freeze for just a moment if you can because i’m getting messages and i don’t know what they are and i’d better check just to see that probably uh

right nothing urgent uh one result of uh the covet is doing a whole lot of things at a distance not just this interview but our grocery shopping is all done online or or by instant messages or things of this sort nowadays i’ve uh at the point when the kovid started to look seriously in mid-march i was on a speaking trip in europe oh wow and my younger son uh argued by email that i should quit and come home and my initialism was not to do so but i eventually concluded that he was right i was wrong so i cancelled the last two talks which i one of which i wouldn’t have been able to give as it turns out because the czech republic uh closed its border like a day or so before i was supposed to fly to prague to give a talk uh and flew home and we’ve been quarantining ever since since mid-march so with all almost total quarantine that’s good i’ve been farther than 10 feet from my own property other than in a car only once and that was for some medical things smart smart so so so it’s not clear that you have to but as you probably know the risks depend a whole lot on age that’s right it really does yeah my uh my mom’s a uh ear nose and throat physician and she innovates she’s innovated a few covered patients and you know if you’re overweight or you’re old it seems to be much worse yeah roughly speaking the data may be wrong because apparently the cure the the the the mortality rate is going down as they learn more about it but on the current such figures we’ve got if i get it i’ve got about a five percent chance of dying if you get it you’ve got maybe one chance and a thousand of dying depending on just how old you are and how healthy you are so so it is sensible for me to be careful and for you to be much less careful unless there are old people you’re close to who you don’t transmit to which is why my adult kids who are not at much risk nonetheless been quarantined too smart smart so um so quinn i know you had a few questions is there one you’d like to yeah i had several there’s actually when i forgot to forward ahead of time um

i’ve read quite a lot of your uh discussions with other people online sometimes about contentious topics and something sort of stood out to me over time i’m not sure i can get exactly specified you seem to be really good at knowing how much charity to extend like if i when i talk with people if i assume what they’re saying makes sense and they’re not making any mistakes i can always find an interpretation but that usually when they are making mistakes it doesn’t end up being a productive discussion i’ve never felt like you were being unfeared to someone straw man and comforter do you know anything about how you do that i mean how you decide when you think i do i don’t think i do i think i had the enormous advantage of being brought up by my parents and therefore being used to thinking of sort of honest rational argument is the normal thing and everything else is so that in there there are disadvantages of that that is to say at various points i’ve been sort of shocked and surprised when it became clear at least to me that somebody was not honest uh one of one of the chapters that i’ve more or less finished at this point is mainly about uh another prominent libertarian intellectual who as far as i can tell did not care very much whether the arguments you offered were true or not as long as they reached what he thought was a true conclusion and i find that sort of disturbing um but no i think i think most of the i really don’t know that there’s an awful lot of this stuff you do by feel and my working assumption of the people i’m arguing with are honest uh and i think that’s the right working assumption to make and usually if they aren’t you’ll figure it out uh but i’m trying to think because i’m not sure that i can remember very many interactions on slate narcotics or anywhere else where i where i didn’t end up with that that is where there were times when i concluded that somebody was not very smart uh or one possibility always is the person is being perfectly rational but he has different priors than i do and that you know if i think about for example one of my favorite people on slate star codex is plumber and plumber i think has a badly distorted view of the world and he has a badly distorted view of the world at least in part because he grew up in a particular area he spent all of his life in that area in particular sort of niches as it were and he therefore naturally enough generalizes from what things are like in his part of the bay area to the rest of the world and that generalization is not very accurate but he’s obviously uh i think it’s pretty obvious he’s intelligent he reads a lot he’s an honest man he’s a nice guy you know i like interacting online i’d like to i’ve you know tried to persuade him to come down for to to have dinner with us at the point where we didn’t have coven and so far he was never never willing to do that uh so and that’s part of part of what’s nice about slave star codex is that you’ve got such a range of people and most of them i mean i can’t i’m sure there must have been a couple of people on slave star codex who at some point i concluded were dishonest but but certainly very very few uh and there are more people who i conclude just aren’t following an argument uh and then there are ones who i i think are i think i’ve even persuaded a few people to the extent i think at least on the climate issue that some people have gone from obviously warming is a terrible threat to i’m not really sure whether warming is a terrible threat or not which i think is yes i at one point i had the occasion um in office hours not in class so it changes a little to quote your uh two different definitions of climate science denial to a college professor of mine and she appreciated that yeah one of them deny that warming is happening and the other denied the implications of how bad it’s likely to be and they’re in opposite political camps yeah yes but but but in general i mean that that’s on the other hand i should say uh some years ago uh my younger son persuaded me that the custom of giving up something for lent was a useful custom and so that year i gave up arguing climate issues on facebook for lent and i’ve never gone back and which is part of the part of the point of the custom of course and part of the reason was that i realized thinking about it that i had met almost nobody in a couple of years of arguing on facebook who was worth arguing with because i think there were maybe two people or three people in that time and that almost everybody on both sides of the argument did not understand what the greenhouse effect was that that became there was a particular discussion where where i think i had pointed out a youtube uh video which purports to show a kid i don’t know maybe high school maybe even young high school kid doing an experiment that proves the greenhouse effect and it only works to understand what the greenhouse effect is it’s due to a misreading of it and i should say that one of the sponsors of this video is the cleveland museum of science which i think is pretty shameful uh but and i’ve seen different versions along this line this was a particular one but as far as i could tell in the discussion almost nobody in that discussion on either side of the argument actually understood it that that everybody thought of the greenhouse effect as a blanket but of course a blanket keeps things both cold and warm right if you wrap ice cubes in a blanket that they didn’t realize that the critical thing was selective transparency the fact that co2 and water vapor are more transparent to the short wavelength light coming in from the sun then to the long wavelength light rating up for radiating up from the earth and that gives you a higher equilibrium temperature well the experiment all the experiment was showing was that a soda jar full of co2 absorbed more heat more light more warmed up faster when you’ve shown a light on it than a soda jar filled with ordinary air that desires to the two liter soda bottle i think they were using that doesn’t tell you whether selective transparency and therefore it doesn’t tell you if it’s a greenhouse event so that was a case where i really did conclude that most of the people on the argument on either side didn’t understand the issues and we’re doing it mainly for the pleasure of insulting each other and i regard that as a base pleasure and one that i do my best not to indulge in and i’d rather not engage in arguments where that’s what people are doing but an awful lot of what’s happening is that but on facebook in general i sometimes find people who seem to be honest people uh who who disagree with me uh i was having a reasonably civil exchange with one lady uh on the question of this current hunter biden issue that’s been getting a good deal of attention and her view essentially was that it was obviously russian disinformation and my view was well that’s not an impossible explanation but there’s no way of being sure it was and i’m not sure if i got i may have gotten through to her that is to not to persuade her that she’s wrong but for swearing she shouldn’t be so confident that she’s right since we don’t actually know uh but uh that’s now i should say one of the reasons i know a fair amount about that case i mentioned data secrets locks which is i think somebody’s referring to it is the refugee forum for people from slate star codex uh and that was one of the long threads and one of the nice things as is often the case in slate star codex you have people on both sides of the argument so you can this is back before slate star codex i concluded that one of the nice things about usenet was that at least one of the groups i was on there was at least one intelligent and uh and civil conservative such that on any conservative versus liberal argument you could be pretty sure you had seen the best case for the conservative side because he would give it to you uh and i think there were people on the other side of whom the same was true it says a long time ago i remember that particular case striking me and that’s very nice because it means you don’t have to do all of the work of searching on everything for yourself and similarly in slate star codex isn’t always true but as a general rule and i think even on on data secrets locks the odds are pretty good that you will see the best arguments or most of the best arguments for each side is an issue and then you can evaluate them yourself rather than and and much of the time you know somebody says something i’m not sure if it’s true i don’t have to look it up i just wait and someone on the other side will point out if there’s a clear reason to think it’s not true exactly the same thing i’ve uh explained it to my mother who had seen enough of it to believe me about it i had a moment with that same college professor where i realized i couldn’t explain i was way more confident than i should have been because i had read to the end of the thread and there were a thousand comments on that thread and if it had been wrong someone will point it out yes yeah yeah no that’s you know you there are no certain methods uh that and i think i was saying i think i think one of the sizable sections of the book i’m working on will be on how you figure out what’s true and sort of the argument i’ve been making along for a long time which is not the same as this point is that the skill that we need and are not trained to have is the skill of evaluating sources of information on internal evidence uh so to take a simple example the very fact that that woman was certain that her interpretation was right is a reason not to believe her uh because it rarely you know there are cases where you can be certain there are some things i’m pretty sure of but it’s a general rule that’s not the right response to a complicated world uh but more generally one of the virtues of the internet is that it’s an unfiltered medium which means that if you’re not grain dead you realize that the fact that someone says something on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true and you then have to train yourself to say well given that i’m rarely going to do enough research to check what he’s saying to what extent by how he’s saying it can i figure out whether i should take him seriously and is this somebody who clearly is claims a conclusion and only discusses our the arguments for that conclusion then you shouldn’t take him seriously because there are always arguments you know there wouldn’t be any disagreements of an argument on the other side so you want to see somebody where the best argument you can think of against his position he discusses he may or may not convince you that sounds like it’s probably an honest person with regard to media i should say uh i concluded years ago that huffington post is better than most because it clearly has a bias but there were a couple of cases where you had a situation where that bias was relevant and they were telling the truth that that the one i one i remember there was quite a while back i had a series of blog posts where i was basically defending republican candidates who were less nutty than they were claimed to be and one of them was a little bit nutty anyway but still not as funny as claimed and one of them was somebody who the standard story that was being told was that he rejected the separation of church and state and yeah i went up on the huffington post and they had a video of the talk he gave in which was the basis for that claim it was clear and i think they made it pretty clear as i remember the in the story that he wasn’t saying that he was saying that he thought that separation of church and state was misinterpreted that it was interpreted as the stronger constraint a lot of people not that it wasn’t there and i forgot what the other one was but i think there was at least one other case where the same thing was true and uh i should say i actually knew ariane f huffington long long before she was arya wellington uh her she was ariana stasinopoulos if i remember correctly she’s greek and there was a mole i don’t know if you know what the montpelier in society is but it’s an old organization of classical liberals and i was at a mall paler in meeting god 40 years ago or something like that maybe more than that in i think scotland somewhere in britain and she was one of the people there and she was a attractive somewhat flirtatious obviously bright woman she was essentially what a conservative feminist maybe uh she wrote a book which i think is still available somewhere on on online called huh it’s the something woman i don’t even remember the title but it’d be interesting because i don’t know how well it fits your current views but but anyway so that may be probably interested in huffington post because this is what this person had turned into uh which was interesting uh but but in any case the the the general skill and and there’s a sense in which our standard education anti-teaches it to some extent it’s not not entirely true in college but if you think about the whole k through 12 context the normal situation is you have two sources of information the textbook and the teacher and you’re supposed to believe them yes that’s a crazy way of learning to to make any sense out of the world and and so from that something an idea i have a long time ago i’ve never done it i don’t know about the position to do it would be to have a course probably at the high school level where you pick some controversial issue and it could be whether or not you believe in evolution assuming you were in an area where a significant number of people didn’t which would be a requirement and you then have two teachers one on each side of the issue and two classes and halfway through the quarter you switch teachers and you set up some easy context in which people from the two classes can argue with each other uh because i think that uh knowing whether evolution is true really isn’t very important unless you’re in one some particular field where it matters but knowing how to figure out whether it’s true knowing how to how to make arguments and understanding which is a very useful skill and my impression is that human beings perhaps especially kids like to argue that’s right and when you’ve got a position you want to argue for that gives you sort of an incentive to look stuff up and to think stuff and so forth and so on so so it just struck me that that you know when people talk about whether or not evolution should be a an issue in the classroom it would be a very useful issue it was actually used so that people would be arguing with each other instead of just saying well this is the truth you should believe it you know if you’re going to say that you pretty much have to go with evolution but if you want to understand the ideas you want to try to figure out what’s wrong with your arguments against evolution that’s right the so anyway let’s see you would want to talk about future developments of which uh i have one book on that subject which is called future imperfect that’s right and the title is a pun because future imperfect and grammar is the tense which means happening over a period of time in the future and the but of course i the future is going to be imperfect that is to say part of the point of the book is that are likely to be major changes it is very hard to predict what they’re going to be and the changes could have both good and bad effects uh and i have a chapter at the end sort of one’s first instinct should be that the effects will be good because what do the changes consist of they consist of us learning how to do more things right but then there are circumstances in which people learning how to do more things has bad effects because it may mean that it’s easier to do bad things and it’s harder to stop doing bad things uh so anyway so i have so that’s really the the i guess if there’s a theme and i cover lots and lots of different topics there uh and i guess probably the one i’m most interested in and got involved in first are the implications of encryption uh this is as you may know reason has just done a four-part video thing on the cypherpunks and stuff related to that and that was my world in a sense i was on the cypherpunk mailing list for a while i wasn’t really very active in that but i’ve been writing about that set of issues that far back and in fact i think my book machinery or freedom was on the cipherpunk recommended reading list and i interacted a bit with tim may who was one of the main people there uh and i like the way i like to put it is that he stole some ideas from me and then he reprocessed them and then i stole the back of the reprocessed version which is the way stuff’s supposed to work but but it’s clear that the technologies we have have the potential to give you a world with a level of privacy humans have never known because you can use public key encryption to set things up in such a way that anybody in the world can send a message to anybody else in the world that nobody but the intended recipient can read you all you have to do is to have an adequate way have everybody have a public key private key pair and have some way of finding out what people’s public key is and once you know that you can then do it so that gives you a very high level of privacy the you can in principle have anonymous digital cash although we don’t have it yet the the bitcoin is not anonymous uh there are as you may know a couple of projects for anonymous uh digital currencies uh my impression is that the people doing them don’t really believe they can make it absolutely anonymous but they can make it very hard to figure out who is spending who is giving what money to whom and so uh the uh there there’s an older system for anonymous digital currency uh by david chow which is what i actually wrote about because i was writing this stuff well before bitcoin existed and the problem with that is it requires an issuing bank and issuing bank has to be in some place sufficiently reputable so that you trust it not to walk off with the money and places sufficiently reputable generally have governments which don’t want anonymous digital currency to come into existence right so that’s why xiaomi and currency never never happened although mathematically it certainly is is i think better than any of the of the other options but anyway you can set up a situation where you can make uh where you can be have a reputation without telling anybody where you exit what your real name is or where you live where you can engage in commercial activities online and keep it secret whether that’ll all happen is not at all clear because you you need to set up the relevant infrastructure lots of governments don’t want you to do it uh the nsa figured out this stuff probably even earlier than i did i’m not sure but certainly very early and i’ve been trying to block the development of the kind of crypto anarchy that tim was was arguing for but nonetheless that’s one possible future and it’s got downsides as well as upsides in future imperfect i have my business plan for murder incorporated which takes advantage of these technologies to sell the service of killing people and as far as i know that is one of the possibilities implicit in those technologies uh other important technologies the one of most interested me at the moment is slowing stopping or reversing aging that i’m 75 judging by my parents i’ve got about another 20 years i’m really lucky 25 years i’d like a lot more than that i’ve still got lots of interesting things to do so i’m hoping uh that we find enough we make enough progress so that i’m still alive when it becomes possible to reverse the effects of aging that’s sort of the ideal alive and and and elect mentally functional uh yeah david are you are you bullish or on that right at this point it’s tough for me to evaluate the uh the answer is i’m bullish on it’s happening in time for my kids gotcha i think it could happen in time for me there’s a lot of uncertainty these things but the odds are against unfortunately and once in a while i see something that looks like a positive sign and then i feel maybe maybe i am going to make it after all i actually had there there’s a company pretty reputable company that sells a supplement that i take and they a while ago started offering you a genetic test of biomarkers of aging interesting so i did it and they claim that i’m 10 years younger than i ought to be now i don’t know if that’s due to their supplement or if that’s just because i happen to be lucky in the genetic lottery and i also don’t know if it’s true because it might well be that the biomarkers are not a perfect measure and then maybe this is a case where you know it’s like heating the house by putting a match under the thermostat right i do that thermometer doesn’t work very well but in any case uh so i have hopes but but i’m not i’m not and you know my parents and at least one uncle lived very long that did very well in terms of current things but anyway but but but the interesting intellectual question aside from the fact that i would like it that problem to be solved and i think the odds are pretty good for both of you uh the interesting question is what would the world be like with that right so i spent some time trying to imagine that world and there are a bunch of different issues there’s one issue is if you’re going to live for an unlimited length of time what do you do do you sort of strategy a is you make enough money to retire for retirement on by say 65 and you then live a life of leisure forever and that version doesn’t attract me very much because in fact i can live a life of leisure now and i don’t choose to right i’d rather spend i i i like having a lot of leisure uh but i also like having spending some time writing books and giving talks and stuff of that sort uh another possible you just keep doing the same things forever uh right there’s there’s somebody has a science fiction story somewhere where you have somebody who by some natural genetic accident is immortal and he’s like 2 000 years old or something and someone asks him you know you know why aren’t you rich why didn’t you just you know save some money early on because yeah you know people like me i’m he’s sort of an ordinary i think he maybe he’s a neanderthal or something but he sort of sort of comes across as sort of a reasonable working-class kind of guy you don’t save money you know you just uh and of course that you as people pointed out i think on site star codex and elsewhere if you really want that life you can get it now that is safe you choose to earn as much money as possible and spend as little money as possible uh you could probably retire it i don’t know 45 50. surprisingly fast very few people choose to do that that’s right and the benefits are longer if you’re you then get to be retired for 200 years but but it’s still the same same kind of issue but a different question is suppose you’re going to keep working do you keep doing the same thing all right then it’s sort of a little tempting to say well you know being an economist was a lot of fun but maybe i should be a novelist instead you know one of my reactions i when i read a book by somebody who’s much better than i am is to wonder could i be that good if i had started if you know if my main intellectual my son is an aspiring novelist and he’s a better better novelist than i am i think uh if i had been in his situation if if from say age 18 or something my main interest was writing fiction and learning as much as i could about writing fiction he thinks about it much more than i do uh could i be as good as somebody like cj cherry who was the particular person i was reading and thinking that she’s one of my favorite science fiction writers i don’t know but with an extra couple of hundred years it would be tempting to try and similar for other fields computer programming for example i did some programming a long time ago i wrote three different programs for teaching economics to go with my price theory textbook and it was fun it’s clear that sort of computer programming is an inherently enjoyable and rewarding activity that people like building machines if you build a physical machine 98 of your effort is getting things to fit together is the mechanic the the fact that that stuff doesn’t do what you tell it to well a computer program it always does what you tell it to now you still have to spend a lot of time what you tell it to to do and you still have bugs and so forth but in a certain sense it’s the ideal world if you like building stuff and i’ve thought about it you know i’ve considered i have a bunch of ideas for computer programs that i haven’t written for teaching economics uh well if i had an extra century or so maybe i would go back learn one or two of the modern languages which would itself be rather fun i think uh and then try writing some things in them that would be an interesting activity maybe i could you know people write all sorts of things for cell phones now which are relatively simple and maybe i could think up sort of some really neat game uh that not the kind of game that depends on huge amounts of input of artistic and stuff for that but the kind of game tetris is the famous example where you have one simple idea and you implement that idea and people find it a lot of fun that would be a tempting thing to do and you know i may still do it but i think on the whole i’m inclined to spend my time on what i know how to do which is writing a non-fiction of a certain sort so anyway so that’s an interesting issue uh a different issue and one which is very important for predicting the future is would you want to keep having kids right suppose

i regard having produced children as a very strong very definite positive in my life the largest negative i think for me about being quarantined due to covid is that i have not interacted with my granddaughter who’s about one year old i’m over one year old for a fair number of months and i actually did some calculations quite recently to figure out what was the risk of having her and her parents over given that they are not quarantining nearly as tightly as we are right and so i did some calculations with fairly elaborate which is also fun doing that kind of counting sort of back at the envelope calculations and i concluded that the chance of any given instant that one of his parents was contagious was about one in ten thousand and i then said well all right suppose they come over and the adults wear masks and we stay six feet apart uh the my my granddaughter is not gonna wear a mask and i don’t not gonna stay six feet away from her because part of the whole point of it i want to hug her and interact with her but the chance of catching it under those circumstances is pretty low it’s surely well under 1 in 10 maybe even 100 if i catch it my chance of dying is well under one in ten so i figured so i then worked out the numbers and i concluded that the life expectancy cost me of having them visit is probably a little under a second and that’s a price i’m willing to pay we haven’t scheduled it yet but they will in fact be coming over to visit sometime in the next couple of weeks uh but going back then the question is suppose my wife was again fertile and suppose i was reasonably sure that my sperm was not defective which it may well be by this age because you have various mutations in such grief again or don’t even need to do it by the old technology clone do a clone or do some other you know if if we’ve solved 18 we’ve made a lot of other progress in biology so suppose i could produce children again would i do it well my case doesn’t matter very much but if most people would that that one of the things people worry about when you talk about

eliminating aging is what happens to the population and i think that people vastly exaggerate population problems but there is some population at which it’s a problem so if you just assume that people stop dying or die much much less often but don’t keep having children that is to say each per each family each person has one set of children and then they’ve done that that was a lot of work we can play with the grandchildren instead then you just get a linear increase in population and my guess is that technological progress can handle that for quite a long time right uh on the other hand if the response is well it was really neat having children let’s do it again then you get an exponential increase and i’m not sure that that we could could put up successfully with that kind of future so so that’s one of the issues uh and but there are others uh just before we move on so what do you think how does this interplay with uh and what do you think about secular stagnation you know peter thiel um ross douthit the you know since the 70s how much do you think that plays into these things and yeah there are a couple of different issues here one of them is the argument of stagnation on the grounds that we’ve picked all the low-hanging fruit and i think that’s not very likely i can see enough technologies where if things went well they could produce enormous benefits right and artificial intelligence is one of them nanotechnology is one of them biotech uh is is another and there are undoubtedly others that i’m not i’m not thinking of so i think that that’s that’s probably not the case on the other hand i think that our particular culture that is the us at present and maybe the us and western europe is running into a sort of a clogging of the arteries problem and there’s a discussion i think maybe by oliver williams that i’m not sure quite a long time ago about why germany and japan did so well after world war ii and the argument is that you have a society which over time accumulates a lot of friction that you have interest groups the interest groups don’t want to lose out so they make more and more restrictive rules these rules prevent other things from happening and you sort of get locked into the way you’re now doing things that if you lose a war on the scale in which germany or japan loses it most of that gets destroyed you’re starting out with something like a blank slate so from that standpoint we may be in that situation we may be in a situation where making a lot of progress is going to get harder and harder due to what are essentially political changes and at the moment the political situation is looking pretty grim i don’t see any plausible outcome of the election that’s going to happen that i’m going to like the least bad outcome i think is that one party gets the white house and the other party keeps at least one house of congress because that limits the amount of damage that can be done and to some extent it’s sort of looking long-term grim in two different senses one of them is increasing partisanship across the board and the other is that there really is no longer a political party that is even theoretically in favor of the free market right for a long time the republicans were theoretically in favor of it although when they got in power they tended not to act that way very much but at this point the the republicans they now are not in favor of free market and the democrats aren’t in favor of the free market so it looks as though maybe the sort of classical liberalism had a very long running time it it was sort of a very important uh ideology for 150 years maybe but it may have run out of steam now for not because it was wrong but for the sort of reasons why religions change over time as it were i find locism a slightly scary fundamentalist religion that i may be exaggerating it made you know new things often look looks both scarier and more more alive more yeah i don’t think mark twain i think estimated that by i think 1920 the christian scientists would have a majority of congress he was extrapolating their early growth rate uh and i suspect part of my worries about locism along the same line of extrapolating too far uh mark twain also has a wonderful put down of extrapolation where he he uh it’s i think in cornbone opinions is one of his essays and he’s talking about the mississippi river that the mississippi river according to him has been shrinking and the reason it’s been shrinking is that you have loops and eventually you cut off the loop so and he then says well you know we can we we have the numbers for how much has shrunk in the last such such a number of years well just apply a little bit of science and we conclude that back in the early something or others thing the mississippi river was 9 000 miles long and stuck out over the gulf of mexico like a fishing pool whereas by about march 17th of the year 2090 i’m making this up i don’t remember what the actual dates are the mississippi river will be down to 12 miles long and new orleans and cairo illinois will be getting together under one mayor and board of aldermen it’s not an exact quote but that’s paper the point of it so he’s having some fun with the risks of extrapolation twain is really pretty good on that sort of thing but anyway but but i’m not terribly optimistic about my country at this point uh though i may be right on the other hand it’s a big world so it may well be that things will gradually sort of grind to stasis in the us and maybe in parts of western europe but maybe czechia or maybe india may i mean one of the things that i’ve been thinking for quite a while quite a while is going to be interesting about this century is watching the other old civilizations come back online that there is a sense in which since what maybe the 18th century maybe a little before that european civilization has been really all that mattered very much right and the first break in that was japan the first clear change in that situation was the battle of toshiba straits when japan and russia weren’t getting along very well russia took their baltic fleet and sailed it halfway around the world to get it to the other end of of of eurasia and the japanese sunk it yeah and that’s a point at which suddenly a non-european country looks as though it matters again right and then uh more recently south korea taiwan hong kong uh joined as it were that that that group so you have another uh different uh civilization coming online and i am hoping that uh i hope the islamic civilization might and so far it’s not looking very good but maybe it will uh but i think there’s a safety chance that india will uh india has not done very well for itself in the 20th century unfortunately but i think things may be improving gradually and there may well be places i don’t know anything about i mean i don’t know what’s happening in all the countries in africa say so i wouldn’t be surprised if what we have happening is that what has been the leading civilization is gradually going into stasis but other things pick up on that that’s my hope i’ve been saying a long time ago that one of the nice things about china is that it’s different enough from the us so it will block different things and it’s powerful enough so the u.s can’t make it block things we want locked and so since on the whole i would provide in favor of technological progress i recognize that that’s a risky gamble they can have bad consequences but on the whole i think it’s a good thing and therefore and if you think about things like aging research there are a lot of old people in the world they control a lot of resources a lot of political power and most of them don’t want to die so i think it’s going to be very very hard despite people’s concern about population it’s going to be very hard to uniformly block aging research right maybe it’ll come out of china that’s all right i don’t care as long as i get it where it comes from uh yeah and and similarly for other things i mean similarly for nanotech similarly for biotech and so forth so anyway so i guess i’m moderately pessimistic about the us at the moment and again if i wasn’t old i would be somewhat tempted to move uh it looks as though there are two other countries where i could claim citizenship if i wanted to israel of course because even on the narrow definition i’m jewish since my mother and her mother were ethnically jewish neither i nor my parents believed in the religion although presumably my grandmother did uh probably both of my grandmothers uh and it turns out uh my son discovered that the current position of hungary is that if you have an ancestor and i’m not sure exactly what restrictions are who was in what was then hungary which includes a good deal of the austro-hungarian empire including the parts of what’s now the ukraine that my uh paternal ancestors came from i think it’s the maternal it might have been the maternal anyway my son claims that he is with with help of a friend in in i think in ukraine has checked and that we could claim hungarian uh citizenship i’m not sure i particularly want to claim hungarian citizenship but again given that i’m not too optimistic about the us at the moment there would be something to be said and certainly i’m not very happy with california california seems to be very badly around state but i’ve got a nice house i’ve got an orchard full of fruit trees that i spent 25 years planting one of them is a persimmon tree which is just heavily loaded with persimmons at the moment which is really beautiful site so i’m pretty reluctant to move at this point but that’s partly because of limited you know it capital investments depend on how long a time you’ve got to collect on them right so so dave so dave you’re also um interested in in medievalism and i i wanted to get your perspective on you know what are some things the lay people don’t understand about medieval life that would surprise them that it’s not really life but i suppose the biggest mistake is assuming that medieval kings were absolute monarchs that absolute monarchy is really a post-medieval invention and that the the figure i remember seeing somewhere is that at some early date the levy of normandy the number of knights that the duke of normandy could call out was larger the levee of france really all right normandy was part of france but the duke of normandy owed the king of france a certain number of nights that wasn’t the same as the number of knights that owed service to him so that in general i think the way i like to think of feudalism is that it’s a system where the key resource is controlled far enough down so that the person at the top is a coalition leader rather than an absolute ruler and i think that applies to lots of systems other than the middle ages as far as i can tell the urban machine urban political machines in the us say around 1900 were really futile that makes sense critical resource was votes the votes were controlled by local leadership and therefore the boss was not really an absolute monarch he was the head of a coalition of local you know ward bosses and such and he had to please them if he wanted to stay in power and i suspect that same pattern exists in a number of other contexts but other than that let’s see there are a bunch of sort of things people believe at the middle ages that are pretty clearly nonsense uh i guess the one i that most annoys me given my interests is the idea that medieval food was over spiced to hide the taste of rotten meat and that’s complete nonsense to begin with people who say that have never done any cooking for medieval recipes and they therefore don’t realize that with rare exceptions we don’t know how much spice they put in the medieval recipes and there are exceptions but as a general rule medieval recipes do not include quantities temperatures or times interesting verbal description you put in some of this you do this to it kind of thing it’s the kind of description if you actually cook a lot and somebody said i really like that spaghetti sauce how did you make it you just probably wouldn’t say two pounds of this and a teaspoon of this all right uh so it’s that kind of recipe and they’re the islamic sources are a little better in that respect they sometimes do give you the information but the the my sort of standard story is there is a book called two 15th century cookery books which was put together and i think about 1890 as a from a couple of medieval manuscripts and the introduction to that book comments about the strong stomachs of our ancestors as demonstrated by the cinnamon soup on page such and such and you look at page section section it’s not a recipe it’s a menu so what he took as evidence of the strong stomachs was that somebody would put cinnamon in soup and that tells you more about 19th century english cooking than it does about 15th century english cooking that’s right uh so so but of course it’s also the case that that it would be absolutely stupid to use spices to hide the taste of rotten meat for two different reasons first spices are expensive and meat is cheap all right the meat is produced locally the spices are brought from from india roughly depending which spice but for long distance some of them farther than that and the second is that a cook who gets his employer sick is not going to last very long right so so that i guess that would be an example a different one is the idea that medieval armor was so heavy interesting people couldn’t move in it that you had to be hoisted onto your horse with a crane and stuff like that and insofar as there’s any truth to that it’s not medieval what’s true is that late tilting armor at a point when tilting was a sport not warfare sometimes not all the joints were articulated so you couldn’t walk any you just put onto your horse but as far as what people actually fought in uh a squire is supposed to demonstrate how good he is by pole vaulting onto onto his horse at some point i don’t think anybody could do it but you you really and you know i’ve done lots of uh medieval stuff with other people and their people can you know run around and full plate with no particular difficulty the sort of standard weight is about 40 pounds which is less than a world war one or world war ii soldier was carrying and it’s spread over your body so it’s easier to carry than a backpack so that sort of set of ideas uh what else i think the idea that medial surfs were tied to the land is at least dubious depending a lot on when and where you you you look uh do no who is it remember who there’s a very prominent french medievalist no law not not alive for a long time uh who wrote french rural society i think and he has a comment that isn’t not until some fairly late date like the 14th century or 15th century does he see any legal references to search being tied to the land and my my theory and this is really not based on evidence but more on economics is that what’s going on is that preventing collecting collecting from your serfs more than what would be the market rent on land is hard because once you do that the serfs have an incentive to run away and other lords have an incentive to accept them right all right you’re talking about a situation where the effect of government is like 10 miles across you’re depending on where you are but the royal governments don’t have very much power it’s the local lord uh and what what my reason for thinking this is what’s going on is that when you get uh a the the black death coming in in the mid 14th century what’s the effect of the black death it doesn’t kill land it only kills people so that means that land suddenly becomes much less valuable and labor more valuable and what do we observe we observe there’s suddenly a problem of runaway surfs why is there a problem with one way surfs because the terms of of of the contract between the lord and the serf are not continually negotiated those are traditional rules they’re not easily changed so if i’m right as of 1300 the uh amount that a serf paid his lord was about what the land would have rented for the land surf because the lord is controlling the land already he’s a landlord on other things by 1400 that same rate is well above that and now you start having runaway surfs and now you have lord trying to go to the royal authorities to get rules against service running away so that’s my reading of what happened that’s not really coming from my medievalism so much as my economic stuff and i’m not sure i’m right about it but i think it’s a plausible interpretation of the available history what what else can i think about uh well i mean the the i guess two historical errors neither of which are made by anybody reasonably well educated one of them is the belief that people in the middle ages believed in a flat earth uh in fact there may have been people who did there probably some people now who did but the orthodox position what what any educated person would have been taught was ptolemaic astronomy and ptolemaic astronomy has a spherical earth surrounded by a set of nested crystalline spheres we know they’re crystalline as we can see through them with the moon and the planets embedded in them because you’ve got this problem they can they can do astronomy they observe that the the moon is going around well how can the moon go around they haven’t nobody’s figured out gravity yet newton hasn’t been born so obviously not obviously but not unreasonable conjecture is there is something it goes around it’s roughly circles so something spherical the moon is embedded in it and it goes around and similarly for other things so it was it was not a correct theory but it wasn’t an absurd theory and connected with this particular is the idea that columbus was the guy who believed in science and it was all the people who argued with him who didn’t believe in science that’s exactly backwards that everybody essentially knew the world was round everybody except columbus knew how big around it was that the argument was that given they had reasonable estimates of the diameter of the earth back in classical antiquity somebody did a very clever experiment in which you measure the size of the earth and they got it we don’t know there did some with some disagreement about units but at least roughly right they knew about how wide eurasia was all right people had been across china not exactly you can subtract well think for a moment about what columbus claimed he was doing he wasn’t going to the new world he was going to india suppose that the american continent hadn’t been there what do you think would happen to columbus’s expedition the pacific is old he barely made it to the new world and the pacific is a whole lot wider than the atlantic that’s right they would have died he would have died you know somewhere around chicago i suppose chicago had been there maybe probably earlier than that uh so he what columbus had done was to fudge up the num both of the numbers in such a way that he could convince himself not presumably his patrons that he could actually get there uh now it’s possible that he actually knew the new nor the that the new world was there that is that he may there’s various arguments have been made suggesting that there was evidence from fishermen who had made it to the cod fisheries area just east of of canada uh and very and of course we know that the norse had made it to the new world he might conceivably have picked up something about about that experiment so maybe he knew he was just lying uh in order to get somebody to fund him uh but at least so far as you can tell in terms of his position he was the anti-science one and the his critics for the science ones so that’s one of the sort of irritating bits of historical misinformation you get and i’m sure there are lots of other scientists i would have to think more about about what those are but uh my working assumption is that people in all times have been about equally smart and we have some advantages we know a good deal more than people in the past but you shouldn’t base your assumption on the assumption that all of them are idiots because it’s not very likely right and going along with that do you think governance is in general better or about the same as it was say the medieval period or overtime yeah that’s a hard question the fraction of the national income collected by the government is much higher than most past societies right but that’s because i think that’s because at our level of government consumption the population would have died of starvation until i think that is basically uh output went up a whole lot in the last few hundred years and it therefore became possible for the government to seize more and the rest of us still to survive but beyond that

i’m not sure there’s a simple answer let me give you one one bit of evidence that we’re worse off and that’s from adam smith adam smith has a long discussion of possible forms of taxation and one of the forms of taxation that he discusses is an income tax and he says that that’s not one of the that’s not a viable option that’s not doable why isn’t it doable why in order to have a tax on either income or wealth you would have to have an inquiry into the private affairs of individuals not only once but renewed every year and no free people would put up with that all right so that’s the respect of which things have gotten worse in terms of our standards and he he isn’t arguing against taxing he’s just saying that’s not one of the practical options uh and he therefore concludes if you really had such a tax it would really depend on what the people imposing the tax whether they liked you or not uh not on what your income really was because they couldn’t possibly know what your income or your wealth really he’s considering both of those really was uh so in that respect things have gotten gotten worse but in other respects they’ve clearly gotten better uh that uh and a lot but many of the changes i think are really ultimately driven by technology not by not by ideology that if you think about the status of women that the fact that people sort of ignore is that until modern times one profession uh required nearly half the population right profession of producing and rearing kids which was a job the producing part had to be done by women because men can’t bear children and nursing had to be done by women and given they were doing that it wasn’t surprising if they had most of the rest of the job now it’s true in past societies which were much poorer than ours women also did a good deal of work of other sorts but it tended to be household production kind of work so that gave you a sexual division of labor which was really built into the biology and what ended that was the combination of sharply lowering uh infant mortality rates with the result you only had to produce two kids if you wanted two kids instead of six or whatever the numbers were back then and moving a lot of what had been household production out of the house as a result of things like washing machines and you know a whole bunch of technological improvements which raised the division of labor made things a lot cheaper and meant that that it was no longer a full-time job to be a mother and housewife that freed up a whole bunch of labor that eventually results in women being lawyers and lots of other things and we think of that as progress and it certainly was progress from the standpoint of those women who would rather be a lawyer than a housewife but it’s not really progress for intellectual reasons i think the intellectual arguments come second they’re secondary to the technology the technological ones uh but but no i mean i would have said that size of government is worse in the modern world uh other things there are certainly respects in which in which we are freer than people of many times in the past we have pretty complete freedom of religion for example which you certainly did not have consistently in the past

the we have obviously a good deal of sexual freedom which most past societies had less of so things are better in some ways uh i’m not a big fan of democracy i don’t think there are any good ways of running governments uh probably the least bad system is benevolent dictatorship but the problem is you can’t count on having a benevolent incompetent dictator there’s lee kuan yew and then there’s then who else maybe oliver cromwell yeah that’s true cromwell that is i think probably cromwell was a better ruler than the rulers before after him as far as i can tell he was confident as far as i can tell uh but but yeah uh yeah no there is a historical novel by mary renault who was really one of the very good early historical novelists writing almost entirely about ancient greece and this novel is called the praise singer and the protagonist is a professional poet he is a professional poet one of whose poems has in fact survived that’s all we really know about the real character and the poem that has survived is the epitaph uh at thermopylae uh stranger if you come to sparta tell that here obedient to the law we felt uh but he’s the protagonist of the fiction and the fiction is partly about tyranny because tyranny to the ancient greeks was not a negative term a tyrant was a popular dictator good or bad and in the course of that book you see three different tyrannies and the first one is a greek island and the tyrant is competent but not particularly benevolent but it’s clear that for him to live sort of the to live high off the hog his island has to prosper so he’s got stuff to grab and the result is that when he when he gets killed things collapse things go sharply downhill the second one is athens and it’s athens at a point when athens is the de facto ruler of athens is a man called i think priscilla stratus if i remember correctly who at least as renault tells the story had been the younger lover of solon who who gave the athenian laws and as he explains to the protagonist who was a friend of his

after solon made the law everybody was in favor of everything but one thing everybody wanted someone part of the law changed to favor him solon said they can’t make me change the law if i’m not here and he left they keep his law i see to that who could have given them laws they would like less well so he’s been kept honest by the memory of his dead lover it’s really quite a neat scene and he’s confident and he does a good job of finding happens he dies and he’s succeeded by his sons and for a while things run on sword armor momentum but the sons are not the kind of person the father was and it slides downhill so i think reynolds view i suspect was that the best system of government was benevolent tyranny provided you happen to have the good luck to have a good tyrant but you couldn’t count on having them so i don’t think there are any particularly good systems uh and you know feudalism had some attractions it was decentralized enough so that to some extent that the lords are competing with each other and to some extent if one lord does badly people are going to flow out to another on the other hand people are a good deal less mobile than we are so so that was a limited kind of constraint and so anyway i guess i wouldn’t really say that governance is better or worse and you’d have to look at particular examples if you look at my book legal systems very different you at least see a bunch of different patterns right and those include some stateless systems and right the other extreme they include imperial china which was a very strong state for a very long time so the system lasted about two thousand years with occasional interruptions when a dynasty collapsed until it got replaced by another dynasty and that’s a very interesting system to try to make sense of it part of the fun of the book really is is first figuring out what happened and then figuring out why why what is the reason what’s the internal logic that makes the rules what they are uh so that furries take one example from imperial china which is one of my favorite points to look at uh one of the the stories we tell about oppressive regimes is that they try to compel children to betray their parents in imperial china to accuse your father of a crime of which your father was guilty was a criminal offense by you it was illegal to betray your parents why and the answer i think is that at least by the late empire they are ruling a population of several hundred million people and they’re doing with a small elite of scholarly of scholar officials and how do you do it you subcontract the job and the who do you subcontractor to well one of the main authority structures or subcontracting to is the extended family so you don’t want to do anything that will reduce the authority of the people at the top of the extended family over the people below them because they’re the ones who are going to really make you behave from your standpoint and there are various features of the law if you look at them all of which seem to be to fit the pattern that they are trying to design it to maintain that structure as an effect a substitute for so that those to reduce the amount that has to be done by the governmental structure so that would be one example of something which is sort of intriguing but there were lots of the book was a lot of fun i it was a course i taught every other year for i don’t know 10 or 15 years on legal systems very different from ours and in the course of that time i accumulated more and more stuff and my students did papers so i got stuff from them and the last year i taught it my class would mostly consisted of saudi arabian llm students saudi arabia is pretty much the closest thing to actual islamic law that still survives there’s a lot of talk about sharia and islamic law but it isn’t really islamic law we know a good deal about what the traditional system was and saudis is at least partly that although it’s also got elements from modern legal systems so i had primary sources in my classroom and that was great fun discovered some things about isla there was at least one point where my secondary sources from a good authority said something that apparently was not true oh wow because it said that the following institution used to exist but long ago vanished and my students said oh no no no the reason my last name is such and such is because that identifies which of these groups i’m in these were clustered groups that had some common uh legal obligation for each other so to speak uh so anyway so that was quite interesting uh the one of the students almost all of them were male but there was one at least one woman whose mother was a law professor a saudi law professor and i had long talks with her she was really very interesting and again trying to see how that system works for example uh in saudi arabia colleges are either for men or for women and they take it seriously a college for women has no males inside the building oh wow if if a if they need to have a male professors teach class it’s done over closed circuit television uh furthermore in that system there is no no officially at least there is no socializing between unmarried men and women that a restaurant will have a place for men a place for women and a place for couples uh one result of that is that if her brother wanted a bride it would be up to his mother and sister to find one for him wow because he would he couldn’t he’s not he’s not interacting with with the potential women now they also have a system where you are basically marrying within your kinship group so the number of candidates wouldn’t have been very large my guess from what she said was that if her brother wanted a bride there would be only 10 or 12 potential women who were within that group of the right age and single and then presumably her mother and his mother and sister would get to know them and decide who was a likely candidate uh sort of related experience a long long time ago long before i knew this stuff i ended up flying from bombay to sydney next to a woman where i got into a conversation with in the airport who was from southern india she was flying to join her husband who was a doctor in australia and it had been an arranged marriage arranged by their parents and she was not a primitive person she was an educated intelligent woman who found our way of doing things just as weird as i found her way of doing things and you know it was clear that it was a viable set of institutions as it happened my marriage had broken up my first marriage and her marriage was going strong so when our small sampler system worked better than ours did it was clear that she could have vetoed that is to say that the parents select the person and then they meet and have a chance to interact enough to see if they’ll get along but normally they do and that’s that’s the way you do it and that was really interesting sort of seeing in in the flesh as it were something that we are tend to reject as well they just do that because they’re primitive stupid people and that’s not the case anyway so the world is a very interesting place this is one of the reasons i’d like to last another few centuries definitely and and i had one more question i will ask quinn if he has another one uh so cryonics are you interested at all not significantly seriously very possibly i should be uh but so far i haven’t been since i don’t think i’m very likely to die in the near future it hasn’t felt like an urgent issue but i’ve got at least one friend who has urged me to do it he may well be correct uh makes sense the i think the odds of it working are not very high but the odds of the alternative working are even lower exactly now i should say i’m not absolutely certain that there isn’t any life after death that’s my guess but i think one of the mistakes that a lot of people especially a lot of atheists make is to assume we understand consciousness and we don’t understand consciousness i mean it’s all very well to say yes i’m software running on the hardware of my brain but how come software is looking out as it went how come there is actually a ghost in the machine as somebody put it and the answer is i don’t know and you know it’s still my best guess and i just understand how it is that software can be like that but maybe there’s an immaterial soul and you know maybe god really exists i think you i don’t think one should be as confident of these things as most most people who share my general view view are now partly that’s because i have encountered mostly in writing some very bright people who clearly believe in stuff that seems like a fantasy to me right gk chester and c.s lewis would be two obvious examples uh but it’s partly just because it seems to me that i have a you know i i have explanations of sizable parts of the world much more than people did a few hundred years ago there are lots of things i don’t understand and uh anyway so any other questions quinn do you have a a parting shot i don’t think so i’m i’m really thankful i got the chance to talk to you i’ve learned a lot from reading your blog and reading your comments on slate star codex and uh good let us hope that we get slight star codex back in the not too distant yes i’m going to check out the the new thing i haven’t opened in or i typed into google so i wouldn’t forget where it was yeah i’ve been missing that it’s not as good without scott and we don’t have all of the good people deshock has not showed up or maybe she showed up briefly but she’s not there currently plumber is there and and participating in a fair number of the sort of what i think of as the core group or star are there and hopefully more will drift in but hopefully we’ll get scott back at some point and then we can go back to yeah codex instead that’s right even better all right well this was fun i enjoyed it i like talking as you can see yeah well well thank you david and where should people find you um where should they buy your books um yeah anything else like to mention sure uh to begin with you can my website is daviddfriedman.com that’s easy to remember you have to have the extra d if i had applied for the url a few months earlier i could have gotten without it somebody beat me to it and you have to know that friedman is spelled i-e-d-m-a-n that particular name has six different spellings that i know about uh and mine is one of the more common maybe the most common one uh beyond that that has a link to my blog my blog is called ideas and it got a lot less active some years ago due to slate star codex because why should i put something on my blog when i could discuss it with more interesting people by putting on science.codex it got much more active again after slave psychotics shut down slowed down a little bit because of uh locks showing up as an alternative but i have been posting stuff and i probably will be posting again with it next next week other than that if you go to my website i think you find a list of i think all of my books are are listed there they’re all available by amazon uh my most of my nonfiction was commercially published however my most recent one i self-published i think self-publishing is great it’s a lot less trouble and that’s legal systems very different from ours and the third edition of machinery i self-published after we couldn’t reach agreement with the publisher the second edition uh some of my books you can read for free online and again if you go to my webpage you will find the links that i tend to web a late draft so people can read that if they want to that’s true of legal systems it’s true of i think almost all except hidden order where my publisher wouldn’t let me do it and my fiction i don’t none of it can be read for free on well actually harold my first novel vain has a free library and i haven’t checked but you might well be able to read it there if you want to listen to it i have my recordings of it linked to my webpage so you can do that for free if you like you can also get it as an audio book from audible uh which is probably an easier way of doing it but require you to spend some money uh my second novel salamander is going to be available as an audio book very shortly all of my stuff is available on amazon that’s one of the great things about amazon now that one of the ways in which the world’s gotten better in my lifetime is that i can self-publish a book i there is nothing a publisher does that i need i’ve got an editor in-house my daughter is a freelance online editor i have friends who have been willing to design covers for me and have done very nice covers for me i think the best cover machinery ever got was when i got by putting up a contest on my blog and it ended up with a really nice cover and my more recent covers have been done by a very nice lady russian immigrant one of the ways in which we have profited from that who i gather likes my stuff and it’s quite good at doing the kind of cover where i think she’s not doing any artwork herself she’s got a huge sources of pictures and she arranges them to make pleasant effects and that’s that works quite well uh and amazon means that i don’t have to get into bookstores all i got to do is put something on amazon and anybody who wants it can read it i can find it can buy it so that’s one of the ways in which things have improved a lot and i no longer have to worry about publishers the my legal systems i i tried i think maybe three or four of the top academic publishers several of which had published books of mine before none of them was interested in it so i just self-published it uh so it’s a shame it’s an excellent book so those are those are the places to to find it amazon if you want to buy books uh i think all of my books are available as kindles and they’re generally cheapest kindles so i write mostly to get people to read my stuff not mainly as an income source most of my books are now available as audio books uh my third novel is not my third novel is the sequel to the second one so you should probably read the second one first anyway and see if you like it second one has no connection to the first at all uh my my first novel was marketed by bane as a fantasy but it isn’t really a fantasy what it really is historical novel with made up history so there’s no magic there are no elves or dwarves but there are societies that never really existed based loosely on real societies there is a map which doesn’t correspond to any part of the real world and so forth second novel is an actual fantasy it was quite a lot of fun it’s a fantasy with scientific magic it’s a fantasy where the setting is largely at a college for training homages and it’s happening about 50 years after the magical equivalent of newton after the person who changed who started she took the large steps towards changing magic from a craft to a science and that change is gradually working your way through and part of the fun of that book from my end was trying to create the illusion for the reader that there was a real science there all right it isn’t really there if you went down three layers there’s nothing there but i’ve got the top couple of layers as it were of a science uh inspired in various ways by features of quantum mechanics as it turns out so i got some benefit out of my physics uh and i think i do a pretty believable job there of describing such a thing letting it constrain what happens in the plot it’s not like you can do everything a fire homage is more like a match than a blowtorch uh and that constrains things quite a lot and so forth that was a lot of fun and then i did a sequel to that one called brothers which is the same setting a couple of years later but is i guess more politics and less less about the the magic and such uh and i think salamander is probably better than brothers but it’s hard it’s hard it’s hard for me to evaluate my own stuff uh but i enjoyed both of them and brothers the the the line on the cover which is a actually a a icelandic line only in translation is there is the back of a brotherless man so insofar as there’s a theme it’s the way in which personal relationships stabilize unstable political situations that’s an oversimplification but you’ve got in that book uh i guess three sets of brothers in one case brother by mutual adoption they’re actually cousins uh and one brother-sister pair where the fact that the members of the payer trust each other has a large effect on what happens in the story as it were so that’s that that i that i didn’t go in with that one of the things i’ve discovered is that uh no plot survives contact with the characters uh so that’s where the story went i had a different idea which is becomes a fairly minor part of the of of the book when i started writing the book uh but that’s what it really ended up being about that’s great awesome all right well anyway this was fun i hope people who see it will want to read my books and will enjoy them bye-bye thanks david well that’s our show for today i’m will jarvis and i’m will’s dad join us next week for more narratives

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