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On Efficiency (tbray.org)
49 points by zdw on June 20, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 18 comments



"It's complicated"

For some reason, I'm very comforted when other people reach that conclusion about big questions. I think it's because I was much more certain about what was right when I was younger. The more I learn, the more I'm able to definitively say ideas I used to hold are wrong (or incomplete), but I've got nothing to replace them with. What's wrong has become clearer, but what's right has become foggier, nebulous, a many headed beast with a whole bunch of curves and caveats.

My increasing lack of certainty is more than a little unsettling sometimes. I think it's reassuring to hear that other people are going through it as well.


I agree, but coming to the conclusion that you don't have all the answers shouldn't mean inaction. Inhumane treatment of animals, brutal working conditions, and environmental damage are moral problems we should be addressing as a species.


Agree completely.


I feel the same as parent.

I am often in the weird position where I say "I don't know enough" or "I understand some of it but I might miss the whole picture because it's a complex or complicated subject" and others are like "yes, it's complicated but I think that X is right" and I can tell they haven't really understand how complicated things really are.

Sometimes I refrain myself from speaking when I know enough of a subject to say that I don't know enough about it to have a relevant opinion so that people don't get the wrong idea (which would be "he doesn't know anything about it").


To me it seems a coup out. This may be due to my age, but I have very little respect for wishywashy feel-good conclusions (it is complicated? Great then I don't have to do anything about it, or accept that it is the way things are).

And I am not saying you should feel bad about the world either. Just that it is complicated is not an acceptable answer.


I know different people can take away different feelings, but for me, it's complicated is the opposite of a cop-out. It means you have to keep on working at it. In my experience, the people who believe they have answers to everything are generally the ones who are taking feel-good shortcuts.


I think "it's complicated" merely acknowledges the absence of a simple solution.

Solutions are better, but there can be value in observation. We wouldn't want everyone who observes a problem to keep quiet prior to knowing the solution; someone better suited to solve the problem may benefit from the formulation.


> It sucks that they’re built in factories in South China that have to rig anti-suicide nets on their buildings.

I don't know about the other statements, but the suicide rates at those factories are actually lower than the nationwide suicide rate in China. It's easy to come up with pithy one liners about the working conditions in third world sweatshops, but the actual picture is a bit more nuanced than that.


" the suicide rates at those factories are actually lower than the nationwide suicide rate in China"

China is a large and complex country. Forty-nine percent of the population is rural [1] and are not going to be working in the factories that make our toys. So I'm not sure what its possible to conclude from a nationwide average suicide rate in such a population.

It might make more sense to compare the suicide rate with that for all industrial workers in China, but I can't find such statistics.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urbanization_in_the_Peoples_Rep...


> Forty-nine percent of the population is rural [1] and are not going to be working in the factories that make our toys.

Actually, the vast majority of factory workers come from rural areas, where economic opportunities are essentially non-existent compared to the jobs offered by the likes of Foxconn.


I'm aware that people migrate from rural areas to work in the factories for a while before returning. But for the duration of their stay they form part of the 51% urban population and are subject to different stressors than the rural population.

I'm not saying that the urban/factory-working population will necessarily be more prone to commit suicide. Suicide in the rural population in India, for instance, is a major problem due to the ready availability of agricultural chemicals.

All I was trying to say was that using the average suicide rate may be misleading when the population is so diverse, and urbanisation is concentrated in certain areas.


> All I was trying to say was that using the average suicide rate may be misleading when the population is so diverse, and urbanisation is concentrated in certain areas.

OK then, let's separate out the rural and urban suicide rates in China. Turns out that the rural suicide rate is 3 times higher than the urban suicide rate[0]. And this is mirrored in the reduction in the suicide rate when rural Chinese go to work at mega-factories like those run by Foxconn.

0: http://www.freakonomics.com/2011/09/09/chinas-suicide-rate-a...

> Suicide in the rural population in India, for instance, is a major problem due to the ready availability of agricultural chemicals.

Actually, it has nothing to do with the presence of agricultural chemicals. There are a million ways of killing onself, and suicide occurred in India long before agricultural "chemicals" had been invented.

It's a common misconception that Indian farmer suicides are a result of the presence of multinational agricultural giants like Monsanto. However, if you look at the data (which I can't find right now, but it's probably available online), you'll see that Indian farmer suicides occur in spurts, usually when something happens that kills their crop (drought, bug infestation, etc.). The use of agricultural chemicals is just a misguided attempt on the part of the farmers to show the "cause" of their misfortunes. The real problem is the temperamental nature of Indian agriculture, which is unfortunately a much more complex target than big bad multinationals and thus conveniently ignored.

Another common misconception is that the sales of genetically modified crops have driven Indian farmer suicides. However, the last spike in suicides was in the late 90s, several years before Monsanto began selling GM crops in India.


You appear to be attributing opinions to me that I don't necessarily hold.

_ALL_ I was saying was that its misleading to compare suicide rates in Chinese electronics factories with the average rate for the whole of China. Thats all.

I wasn't saying that the factories/corporations making westerns electronics are "bad" or that they are driving their workers to suicide. Thats not an opinion that I hold. But if someone wanted to demonstrate or disprove such links then they would compare the suicide rate in those factories with that in all Chinese electronics factories, and not China as a whole.

I'm glad that the urban suicide rate is lower than for rural areas. As China urbanises this will mean fewer suicides. Progress.

As for as Indian farmers - you are right, I should have written "partly due to the ready availability of agricultural chemicals". I do think, though, that it will be obvious to most people that not all suicides among Indian farms are by chemical poisoning. I didn't mention GM or Monsanto or "big bad multinationals", and I'm really not sure why you did.

Feel free to reply, but this thread has gone OT and I've said all I want to say on the subject. Thanks!


So, you're saying that it's complicated?


Plus it makes no sense. If they really hated it that much, they could simply quit (the Chineese government may be commies but they do not like slavery), so why commit suicide?


> Chineese government may be commies

Yet another common misconception. The Chinese government has not been anything more than nominally communist since the days of Mao. The current Chinese government can be described as a single-party pro-business authoritarian regime with occasional streaks of socialism for the sole purpose of maintaining control. Cornerstones of communist regimes, such as widespread income redistribution and a state-controlled economy, are entirely absent in modern China.


I suspect that they commit suicide for the same reason that anyone does. As another commenter pointed out, the suicide rate among Foxconn workers is similar to the rate for the Chinese populace in general, which probably tracks pretty well with the rate of depression. Not all seriously depressed people will commit suicide, but people who are depressed are more likely to commit suicide if they are under especially acute stress and don't have a good support system to help them deal with their current bout of stress and depression.

Rural people who come to the big city to work in harsh conditions away from their families probably meet those two criteria especially well. They're overworked and lonely, and even though they're probably better fed, better paid, and maybe even better rested then they were home on the farm, psychologically they're under more pressure, and there really isn't anyone to keep an eye on them. So they have a day where the harsh conditions or pressures seem too much, and they jump off the building. And once the first person did it, people with a predisposition to suicide have that option hanging there in the back of their mind, and eventually do the same thing.





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