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Why is war so popular?

August 14, 2014

One of the historical trends I have noticed in my study of history, is that war is extremely popular.  Far more popular than one would expect given its staggeringly negative consequences.  Popular isn’t even the right word because it understates the level of enthusiasm by orders of magnitude.  There’s no other policy which enjoys the level of support that war does across all cultures and historical time periods.  If you simply had a vote for either peace and prosperity forever, or war and destruction, I think the war option would win, and I don’t know why.

Examples:

Argentina 1982.  A corrupt and unpopular regime is facing a potential uprising.  What’s the solution for rallying the populace?  Is it a great economic reform that will make everyone rich? Land reform? Increased welfare?  NO! Let’s declare war on one of the most powerful countries on the planet.  A war which Argentina had only a slim chance of ever winning.  Basically their only path to victory was if Britain decided it would be too much trouble to bother fighting, but guess what – the calculus is the exact same for Margaret Thatcher!  She gained tremendous popular support when she decided to fight too, despite the fact that it gained the U.K. nothing.  The war was over a handful of tiny island in the Atlantic.  It’s not a real prize and will never affect the lives of anyone either on the mainland in Argentina or the U.K.  But yet the fact that the war happened increased the popularity of both leaders fighting it.

Hama 2014.  Hamas knows that they will never kill a significant number of Israelis.  They simply lack the military hardware to compete with Israel’s modern technology.  The Palestinians know that the only outcome with be basically thousands of them being killed for no gain whatsoever.  And yet, Hamas gains political support for their actions.  It’s one thing to wonder “why does a political party essentially murder its own people?”  It’s another thing to wonder “Why do those people overwhelmingly support being murdered for the sole purpose of advancing that political parties popularity, and then….?????” But if you want to die just so that the people who are responsible for your death are more popular why do other Palestinians like Hama? I just to convey the level of confusion I have on this issue.

United States 2001.  These guys from Yemen, living in Afghanistan blew up some buildings in NY.  Great, let’s attack Iraq!  Bush’s approval rating goes over 90%!  I get trying to kill Osama, cause he’s the guy who organized the attack, but Iraq?

France/Prussia 1870.  Napoleon III is facing popular unrest from republicans and communists, his corrupt regime is running out of money, so what do they do?  Attack Prussia, who then proceed to utterly demolish France’s armies.

If you are a crappy leader and you need a huge burst in popularity, attack someone, anyone.  It doesn’t matter if they never did anything to you, if they will proceed to kick the crap out of your military, literally no other factor matters.  War is so popular that even losing a war will still put you in the black (as long as the victor doesn’t cause a regime change).  Even if your country gets destroyed and an entire generation is wiped out by the fighting, your people will sing songs of your greatness and build huge monuments to you.

A monument to a loser:napoleon's tomb

Challenge to readers: Is there any other policy which has popularity anywhere in the same ballpark as war?

The Mouse that Roared satirizes this phenomenon

I should note that this tendency makes sense as an instinct.  In pre-modern societies, people needed to be able to fight in all or nothing contests or be exterminated.  There was no holding back.  I guess I’m just amazed at how powerful this tendency is.

War Thunder Tiering and Match Making

August 14, 2014

War Thunder has had a problem with match making since I started playing and it has gotten worse since I started.  Currently, the game uses “Battle Ranks” from 1.0 for 1930’s biplanes to around 8 (for Korean War era jets).  Plane’s BR is based partially on performance and partially on average player performance in the plane.  This is problematic because inexperienced players tend to gravitate toward specific planes, which then become undertiered, and planes which are good when using new player tactics (good at head ons and turning) become overtiered.

A perfect storm in the overtiered direction are the Japanese Zeros.  They are iconic planes which have good firepower and turning ability.  In the other direction, you have the P 47s which are difficult to use well, but are unstoppable in the hands of a good pilot. The A6M2, introduced in July 1940 is now tiered 0.7 higher than the P-47, introduced in late 1943.  Indeed, the A6M2 is tiered so high that you can’t get into matches with Hellcats, which historically outperformed the Zero dramatically.

On the other hand, some historic matchups would be frustrating to play because they were so lopsided.  Late war U.S. vs Japan and the early stages of Operation Barbarossa spring to mind.  With historic KDRs of 20+, no one would want to fly the losing side.  I would propose having historical matchups, but basing the rewards on the relative difficulty of the planes killed.  Right now, if you shoot down a biplane with a jet, you get the same reward as shooting down another jet.  It might be fun to play P-51s against Me 262s, but only if you got a really good reward for shooting down a jet in a prop.  Similarly, it would be fine to face Bf 109Fs against Russian LaGGs and I-16s so long as the reward rate was good enough.

My proposed system:
At 34% upgraded, planes get +1. At 67% upgraded, planes get +2. Pilots in the top 25% get a flat +1, but an additional 25% reward rate. Pilots in the top 10% get a flat +2 to all their planes, but get an additional 50% reward rate. Currently, good pilots get uptiered into battles against superior planes, but get nothing to compensate them for their troubles. This would encourage people to try their best, but at the same time, even out the matchups a bit. Players should be made aware of their entry into these categories.

1: Reserve Aircraft and the low rank light bombers (Kingfishers, Swordfish, and F1M2). Basically where BR 1.0 is right now.
2: Slightly upgraded biplane versions and basic monoplanes: F2A-1, P 36A Cr42, G 50s, He 112 A, I 15 bis, I 153 (fix the flight model), Gladiators, A5M4, D3A1.
3: Early War: P 36C, F2A-3, PBYs, MC 200, MC 202, He 112 B, Bf 109 E1, Ju 87 B, LaGG 3-11, I 16, BB-1, SB, Hurricane Mk 1, Blenheim, Beaufort, Ki 43, A6M2N, B5N2, Early Ki 45s, H6K4
4: 1940/Battle of Britain era – P36 G, F4F, P 40, SBD, A 20G, Bf 109 E3, Bf 110, Ju 87 D, Ju 88, He 111, Do 217 early models, SM 79, Mig 3, Lagg 3, Su 2, Il-2, Pe 3/Early, Ar-2, Yak 7B, Yak 1B, Hurricane Mk IIB, Spit Mk 1, Spit Mk 2, Beaufigher Mk VI, Wellington Mk 1, A6M2, Ki 61-1 ko and otsu, Late Ki 45s, G4M1
5: Early War: P-39, P 38G, TBF Avenger, F6F, Bf 109 F1 and 2, Fw 190 A-1, Ju 87 Ds and Gs, Yak 9T/K (fix flight model), La 5, Pe-3/Late, Pe 2, IL 2M, IL 4, Typhoon Ia, Spitfire Mk 5, Beaufighter Mk X and 21, Wellington Mk 3 and X, A6M3, Hi 61-1-hei, Ki 102, Ki 49, Maybe a Ki 84 early model.
6: Mid War: P 38 L, P 63, F4U 1a-1d, B 25, PBJ, B 109 F4, G2, Fw 190 A5, Do 217 N, Me 410 early, Hs 129, I-185, Yak 3, La 5F and FN, Spit 9s, Typhoon 1b/L, Mosquitos, Lancaster, Ki 84, A6M5, G5N1
7: Late War: P 51, P 47, B 17, F4U 1c, Bf 109 G10 and K3, Fw 190 A/F8 and D, Me 410 late, Do 217 late models, La 7, Yak 9P-UT, IL 10, Tu 2, Tempest Mk V, Spitfire 16 and LF Mk 9, Late model Lancasters, N1K, G8N1, B7A2
8: Late War Jets and Post war Props: Bearcats, F 82, P 80A, B 29, Me 262, He 162, Ta 152, Me 163, Arado, La 9, La 15, Yak 15, Mig 9, IL 10 (1946), Spitfire Griffon, Meteor F Mk 3, Vampire, Tempest Mk 2, Ki 200
9: Korean Jets: All post 1946 jets.

Maybe add a tenth category and shove it in with 4-6, which are currently too crowded. I’m not enough of a historian to say exactly where everything should fall, but those categories look about right to me.

Review of “How Asia Works”

August 11, 2014

How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Region, by Joe Studwell

How Asia Works is a great book for anyone interested in actual developmental successes. For all the focus on developmental failures, it’s nice to see a book take a serious look at the best thing to happen to humanity since the Green Revolution. Successes do happen, and by studying them, perhaps we can learn to replicate them.

The book is divided into 4 parts:
1. Farming
2. Industry
3. Banking
4. China

Farming
Feudalism doesn’t work. It doesn’t matter whether you call it imperialism, slavery, or communism, large collectivized farms where individual output and autonomy are disregarded in favor of scale are inefficient. Studwell documents how small scale farming has higher yields than the alternatives across a wide variety of countries and crop types. While large scale farming may have higher per-worker productivity, ultimately it doesn’t matter because land is more scarce in poor countries.

The larger the operation, the more intractable the principle-agent problem is. Without incentive to work hard and invest, farmers don’t. Compounding this problem is the tendency of poor countries to exploit peasants with monosonistic marketing boards to squeeze out rents. Farmers respond to the high effective tax rates with reduced production.

Studwell recommends that countries limit land ownership to 4 hectares per family. Studwell puts together a great case that it provides a solid foundation for peasants to improve their economic situation and provide food stability for the growing country. You want peasants to be rich enough to support themselves and be able to export a bit to provide hard currency for the regime. When agricultural productivity hits a certain level, the children of the current generation of farmers can migrate to the cities and join the industrial economy.

Industry
Perhaps the best metaphor for export promotion industrial policy is an internship. No one expects a college student to make enough money selling their term papers to pay for their college. It is unreasonable to expect poor countries to make competitive profits selling their manufactured goods. The costs of unprofitable firms in the short run are paid back when the workers of those firms learn enough to compete on a global scale.

The primary problem a developing country faces is technology acquisition. There is nothing fundamentally different about the richest and the poorest countries besides the technology they use to produce goods. All of the natural resources which the world has today were on this planet before humans existed. The essential question for development is not “How do we acquire resources?”, but “How can we teach ourselves to produce the way rich countries do?”. This means that policies which are inefficient from a profit perspective are quite useful for development. The benefits which Studwell argues are essential are learning, providing employment, and achieving minimum efficient scale.

Studwell advocates export promotion as the preferred way to develop the scale and skills needed to succeed in the global economy. It is easy to see Krugman’s influence. Studwell’s mental model is all about building scale, connecting workers in large networks of trade, and building comparative advantages in certain fields. One of the assumptions driving this model is that workers and knowledge does not flow freely across political borders.

Step 1: Create a large number of manufacturing firms.
Step 2: Organize the banking sector to lend to them on subsidized terms. Base the size of the subsidy on export success. This is important because it forces firms to produce products of far higher quality than they could get away with selling domestically. Foreign consumers aren’t going to buy garbage, but domestic consumers might not be able to afford any better and/or might be forced to buy from a domestic monopoly. International sales are constrained by international competition.
Step 3: Eliminate underperforming firms. The subsidies allowed firms under the minimum efficient scale to survive, which in turn allows a country to support more firms than it otherwise would be able to, which in turn allows politicians to mercilessly eliminate the underperforming firms. The state is acting in lieu of the competitive market. Because firms know they are competing with other domestic firms, they are less likely to rest on their laurels.

Lenin’s political model can be summarized by “political cronies are replaceable”. The East Asian economic model is “economic cronies” are replicable. Politicians don’t need to get attached to any particular firm. They can start with large number of cronies and eliminate the ones who don’t perform. As long as the subsidies keep flowing, the rats will dance to the tune.

Banking
I thought this was the weakest part of the book. I get the need to subsidize exports in their infant state. I’m not sure the banking sector needs to be structured around it. Studwell does make the highly under-recognized point that debt and inflation are totally overblown threats to development. The IMF (which I have long considered to be incompetent and self-serving), advocate policies which help creditors, not which help the country. They pretend like those interests are one in the same, but they are not. Inflation is bad. Defaulting is bad. Neither, however, is the end of the world and relative to remaining poor, they are totally insignificant. 15% inflation is fine. Seriously. I know all the critiques of inflation, from neo-Classical to Austrian, but the bottom line is that countries can grow with relatively high inflation so long as it doesn’t become hyperinflation.

Studwell sometimes conflates corrupt banking with deregulated banking. The worst example is Indonesia, where he references a banking sector that lent to political cronies so they could throw amazing parties. There are situations where a bank would lend for short run profits rather than long term growth, fine, but don’t conflate that with lending to the dictator’s brother who just spends it all on cocaine and prostitutes. That’s not “free market banking”. To be fair, real free market banking is astonishingly rare, even in the developed world, but that fact speaks volumes about how unimportant finance is to growth.

China
This chapter is an overview about how the rest of the book applies to China. If you’re interested, buy the book; I’m not going to summarize it. The most interesting aspect was Studwell’s discussion of the transition from export promotion learning policies to free market efficiency policies. When a country is poor, you want to protect and promote industry so your workers gain the skills they need to succeed, even if it costs you in terms of consumption and competitiveness. When a country is rich, you want to maximize efficiency because trade protection just slows you down. Your workers are already at the technological frontier, so export promotion doesn’t gain you anything. One difficulty policymakers face is transitioning from one to the other.

Any subsidy creates rents, and therefore interest groups, who can get quite powerful. Subsidies persist well past their usefulness. In the U.S., some examples include sugar, automobiles, and airlines. In Japan, Studwell gives the example of rice farmers who are among the most subsidized workers on the planet. Clearly, the Japanese don’t need any more help growing rice in 2014. They’ve been at the technological forefront for 30 years. However, efficiency promotion policies are not conducive to learning. Infant firms are cut down quickly by international competition before workers can learn the skills they need to succeed. Even when countries do foreign direct investment, which most economic studies show help growth, the host firm is often very jealous and protective of their production techniques. In any event, it’s better to be a corrupt middle income country than a poor country, so perhaps it better just to export promote and worry about efficiency when you come to that stage of development.

Critiques
I think Studwell fails to take Public Choice and the New Institutional school seriously enough. He lives in a world where great leaders can accomplish great things. Where leaders fail, it is because they have the wrong ideological lens to look at the world, not that they are brutal kleptocratic dictators bent on retaining as much personal power as possible.

I’m pretty squarely in the “institutional forces” camp, although it is refreshing to hear from the other side. Ideas do have an impact on the world. I think the best lesson of China is that you can be a brutal dictator, have economic growth, and still retain power and an incredibly luxurious lifestyle. If you’re a dictator, development is nice, so long as you can remain in power. If the cost of development is regime change, it’s not worth it. Park Chung-hee may have helped Korean development, but at the end of the day, he was killed by his own cronies. Development is often the antithesis of stability.

No good free market counterexamples. It’s one thing to say free market doesn’t develop as quickly as export promotion. It’s quite another to find a free market country that didn’t develop quickly. Most examples of free market development are 150 years old, and are long since rich today, so it’s kind of hard to compare. Ahh well. If the technique develops a country in two decades, it’s really hard to argue with.

Avoiding rent seeking politics is difficult. It’s hard to eliminate underperforming firms. It’s hard to get rid of unnecessary subsidies. It’s hard to redirect payments to cronies toward industrial development. Just because you have the road map doesn’t mean driving somewhere is easy. I think Studwell understands all this, it’s just a bit underemphasized.

No mention of India. Perhaps it’s out of scope. Compared to East Asia, India went straight from import substitution toward free market policies (note I say toward, not to). They are developing very quickly. I think Studwell could justly say that India could use more heavy industry and infrastructure spending, so his model is still better.

Overall, this is a really good book, well deserving of the praise it has gotten.

Warframe Best Weapon Builds

August 11, 2014

Current with Update 14.1.

Weapon builds vary due to the Nightmare mods and differences between the power level of various weapon mods. Faction builds only change because of the primary weaknesses of that faction.

Rifle Build:
Base Damage (Serration)
Multishot (Split Chamber)
1st Elemental
– End unpotatoed build -
3 more elemental mods
Speed Trigger
Bane

For crit builds replace one elemental and Speed Trigger with Point Strike and Vital Sense.

Shotgun Build:
Base Damage
1 Elemental
Blaze
– End unpotatoed build -
Multishot
1 Elemental
Cleanse
Ammo Stock
Shotgun Spazz

No shotguns use a crit build.

Pistol Build
Base Damage (Hornet Strike)
Multishot (Barrel Diffusion)
1 Elemental
– End unpotatoed build -
Lethal Torrent
2 Elementals
Expel
Ice Storm

No pistols use a crit build.

Melee build
Base Damage (Pressure Point)
Attack Speed (Fury)
1 Elemental
– End unpotatoed build -
Spoiled Strike
2 more Elementals
Killing Blow (for channeling builds only)
Focus Energy (channeling builds)
Smite

For crit builds – Use Berzerker, True Steel, Organ Shatter instead of channeling mods and 1 elemental.

Grineer: Use Radiation (Heat + Electricity) for Heavies, Viral (Cold + Toxin) for light units, 3rd Elemental: Cold
Corpus: Magnetic (Cold + electricity), 3rd elemental: Heat
Infested: Corrostive (Toxin + Electricity), 3rd elemental: Heat
Void: Corrosive(Toxin + Electricity), 3rd Elemental: Cold

If you have more than 3 elemental slots, you can use a status dual mod to avoid getting an elemental combo which works against the target enemy type.

Assorted Links

August 8, 2014

1. Oral Rehydration Therapy

2. Sky Prawns.

3. On Russia.

4. US launches airstrikes and airlifts to aid Kurds being attacked by ISIS in northern Iraq (perhaps soon to be Kurdistan)

Assorted Links

August 1, 2014

1. Cocoa bean farmers taste chocolate for the first time.

2. Tyler Cowen talks sense about inequality. If you want to talk about poverty, talk about poverty. How jealous you are of Bill Gates isn’t an interesting economics question.

3. On Political Kayfabe.

4. Employment by state 1990-2013. I’m amazed that manufacuring employment was so high as recently as 1990. I guess I just thought that robotic led manufacturing was less of a recent development.

Warframe Mirage Build Guide

July 29, 2014

2014-08-26_00001

Mirage is a fast, fragile, offensive frame, whose powers are themed around illusion and disco.

Aura: Energy Siphon

Powers: All of her powers are decent, although slight of hand is a bit gimmicky. Hall of Mirrors is probably the best since it combines both offense and defense.

Polarities: D and V. Redirection and Intensify, as most of Mirage’s powers are improved by power strength.

Corrupted/Nightmare Mods: Constitution is good because she is so fragile and all of her abilities are improved by additional duration. Fortitude would also help avoid getting knocked down and recovering your shields quickly. Vigor will improve her survivability. Narrow minded would be nice if you don’t use her ult.

Other Mods: Streamline (efficiency), and durability mods are your best options after the mods listed above. She’s fast enough that you don’t need a Rush mod. If you have extra slots, Continuity would be ok too.

My Other Guides:
Beginner’s Guide
Warframe Comparison
Ash Build Guide
Banshee Build Guide
Ember Guide
Excalibur Guide
Frost Guide
Hydroid Guide
Loki Guide
Mag Guide
Mirage Guide
Nekros Guide
Nova Guide
Nyx Guide
Oberon Guide
Saryn Guide
Trinity Guide
Valkyr Guide
Vauban Guide
Volt Guide
Zephyr Guide

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