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Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on Punishing the good · 2021-07-21T02:36:26.307Z · LW · GW

Bob's a hero provided he's paid his meat tax. That's the tax we impose on people who do bad things to animals. The tax makes up for their bad karma. People who pay the tax should be considered absolved of sin - they've bought and paid for their indulgence, fair and square.

Am I a contemptible person because I burnt a gallon of gasoline this morning? What if I paid for it, external costs included? What if I paid a separate CO2 tax? What if I offset the carbon by planting trees? I think not.

Does this viewpoint make me a monster? As Temple Grandin likes to say, "that's the kind of animal we are" (carnivores). Maybe we shouldn't get too morally worked up over acting like homo sapiens. Nobody blames lions for eating antelopes. (Plus, just think of our poor mitochondria; enslaved for life...).

We'd have to physically stop carnivores if cattle had rights - but since cattle can't respect the rights of others, they don't themselves have rights. Sort of like the way we lock up criminals who don't respect the rights of other humans - having proved unable to respect the rights of others, they lose (some of) their own rights.

Cattle are just protected a bit by us humans who impose meat taxes. The cattle don't even get the tax money as compensation (unlike Bruce).

People who pay their way in the world, compensating those they've harmed, aren't monsters and shouldn't be "punished".

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on The homework assignment incentives, and why it's now so extreme · 2021-06-25T17:37:59.406Z · LW · GW

By policing that, I mean if the students don't get the graded homework back in 48 hours, they can complain to administrators and parents, who can pressure the teacher. This assumes the administrators decide to make and enforce the 48 hour rule.

Re coordination, I've seen kids using "group chat" on Facebook or similar. In some schools (good ones) it seems to be de rigueur.

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on ELI12: how do libertarians want wages to work? · 2021-06-25T00:26:18.438Z · LW · GW

Managers are fewer than workers but there are thousands of firms in every country (as well as millions of workers) so in either case we're well into the law of large numbers. There's no practical way for thousands of entities to form stable cartels (without government backing).

If you worry about employers in a city forming a cartel to keep wages low, shouldn't you worry even more about supermarkets doing the same to keep grocery prices high? There are a lot fewer supermarkets than firms that employ workers.

And all other prices are set by dealings between mortal entities.

I don't think there are good reasons to treat worker-employer relations as any different than seller-buyer relations for any other goods or services.

I think you're complicating things needlessly by treating the labor market as different from all other markets - cartels and unions are the same thing. Scabs and those who undermine cartels are the same thing. Price controls are price controls. 

In general price caps (say, rent control) are bad because they cause shortages, blunt incentives to provide more supply and improve quality, and prevent people from buying things at prices they're willing to pay. Price floors (say, minimum wages) are bad because they create gluts (unemployment), reduce incentives to create jobs, and prevent people from selling stuff at prices they're willing to accept (esp. the labor of the least-skilled workers).

In general. There's nothing terribly different about the labor market vs. other markets.

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on ELI12: how do libertarians want wages to work? · 2021-06-24T19:26:44.099Z · LW · GW

Government intervention is generally considered a bad idea (I won't say "not legitimate") because the intervention is usually laws that stop people from making the deals they want to make, which usually is bad for all parties involved - if they didn't think the deal was better than no deal, they wouldn't want to make it.

But I suppose there might be other government interventions that would be OK (for example providing information about competing offers, or offering education, etc.).

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on ELI12: how do libertarians want wages to work? · 2021-06-24T19:08:02.258Z · LW · GW

Lots of other prices are "sticky" like that. It's a psychological thing - nothing special about wages.

The question was about wages, not how to survive. Lots of people who earn wages don't live on them. Lots of people don't sell their labor at all. Children, disabled people, retired people, people in business, etc. don't live on wages. 

How to get enough money to live is an entirely separate question from how "wages work". There are lots of other ways to survive that don't involve wages - making and selling things, telling stories and writing books, gifts from family or friends or charitable organizations, making art, receiving grants, spending money previously saved or invested, welfare payments from governments, etc., etc. (A lot of talk lately about "Universal Basic Income", too.)

Really "how wages work" and "how to get money to survive" are two entirely disconnected subjects. Mixing them together only leads to confusion (and I'm sorry to say, misery).

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on ELI12: how do libertarians want wages to work? · 2021-06-24T18:12:05.860Z · LW · GW

I'm amazed you only have 4 answers so far.

The bog-standard classical (and, yes, "libertarian") answer is that wages work exactly the same as all other prices - prices for candy bars, gasoline, houses, lawn mowing services, plumbers, and milk.

That's to say, supply and demand (sellers and buyers) set prices, same as with everything else. If buyers don't like the price, they shop around some more, settle for a lower-quality "product" that's cheaper, or offer more to get what they want. If sellers don't like what's on offer, they look for another buyer who'll pay more, try to improve the "product", or settle for what buyers are willing to pay.

Generally speaking, price controls (a minimum wage is a price floor on labor) make things worse for pretty much everybody - laws that make mutually-advantageous trades illegal are generally a bad idea. Plenty of countries don't have any minimum wage (last I checked, those included Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden - all pretty decent places to live).

There's a whole academic field dedicated to studying and understanding this called "economics".

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on The homework assignment incentives, and why it's now so extreme · 2021-06-22T16:04:42.960Z · LW · GW

It has been more than 40 years since I personally had to deal with this BS.

The stories I hear from my children confirm what you say.  One result seems to have been students cooperating online to do homework. That seems to be impossible to police. For sure that would have been "cheating" when I was in school, but it seems there is no practical alternative for students who want to get decent grades. Perhaps peer pressure makes students try to contribute to the group effort, which might ensure that most of them learn some of the material. There may be positive effects - students to some extent specialize in doing homework in subjects they find easy, and get extra help on subjects they find hard. That could be a good thing (there's always a tension between exploiting natural talents and being "rounded").

AFAICT this doesn't seem to have reduced the amount students actually learn. But I worry about the effect on standards of probity (but have no evidence that there has in fact been a negative effect so far).

The simplest solution for school administrators might be to insist that teachers grade assignments personally (no outsourcing to students or the Internet) and promptly - within 48 hours of receiving the homework.

The students themselves could police that, and it would naturally place some limits on how much homework the teachers can assign.

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on How can there be a godless moral world ? · 2021-06-21T15:47:51.645Z · LW · GW

"I feel like there is objective truth about why killing is bad, but I don't understand why."

I think I get that. I tried to explain "why" in my answer above. "Why" is because you're built to feel that way. For good, practical reasons.

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on How can there be a godless moral world ? · 2021-06-21T15:08:47.145Z · LW · GW

Your answer is in your own question - "societies that discourage murder will probably fare better than societies that promote it. I don't understand why murder is bad".

Our sense of good and evil is shaped by what helped our ancestors survive in competition with other tribes. Societies with less murder - because of people who abhor murder - fared better, resulting in descendants who also abhor murder (us).

People who didn't abhor murder didn't form societies or formed societies that were less successful, leaving behind few descendants with those instincts. People mixed, societies formed and disbanded. Over time, people who instinctively and culturally abhorred murder relatively flourished, while those who didn't relatively diminished.

That's it - there's nothing more to the story than that. 

All our modern philosophy about good and evil and law is post-hoc justification, regularization, and exploitation of our instinctive disdain for murder (and other evils). Intellectuals among us try to extend our instincts and observations about what makes for successful societies (morals, ethics, law...) in a regular, predictable, and logical way, but have trouble coming up with tight, closed, well-argued positions that don't lead to perceived absurd consequences. Because the universe isn't necessarily compatible with our ideas of justice and morality.

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on Experiments with a random clock · 2021-06-13T19:52:13.707Z · LW · GW

You're an unusual person. I'm glad you found something that works for you. I just learned to relish the "quiet time" that comes from being a few minutes early - use it to rest, meditate, catch up on email, read an article, whatever. Before smartphones (I'm that old) I'd carry a book with me everywhere I went - to have something to read.

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on Jaan Tallinn's 2020 Philanthropy Overview · 2021-04-27T17:34:38.386Z · LW · GW

Thank you for doing that. I hope the donations have positive effect.

Please don't use "MM" to mean 10^6. The only other people I know who do that are over 90 years old.

The Romans have been gone a long time. The SI prefix for 10^6 is just one M, as in "mega".

Cheers.

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on The Fall of Rome: Why It's Relevant, And Why We're Mistaken · 2021-04-23T16:37:19.286Z · LW · GW

I fear you're beating up a strawman. As Gibbon makes pretty clear (and he's nothing if not the "standard narrative"), Rome rotted from the inside - politically and economically. The barbarians didn't get anywhere until Rome was practically collapsed from internal corruption.

Rome suffered an extreme case of all the standard things that modern economists write about - public choice failures, protectionism, price controls, government-backed trade monopolies, etc., etc. The political system was inherently unstable and tended to dictatorships.

The founders of the United States studied classical history closely, and consciously attempted to create a structure that would resist those failure modes. They succeeded better than they imagined (IMHO most of the American founders would have been shocked to hear the USA made it even 100 years, yet it's sort of still running today...sort of) but of course far from perfectly. They were aware that this is a hard problem never before solved in history (altho Switzerland has done pretty well too).

And, as you hint, lead pipes and lead poisonings didn't help any either. That was just bad luck.

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on What do you think would be the best investment policy for a cryonics trust? · 2021-04-06T19:21:22.090Z · LW · GW

"in order for something to exist, everything must exist, eternally"

Care to explain why? The rest of your comment I understand.

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on The best frequently don't rise to the top · 2021-03-25T15:30:46.138Z · LW · GW

Sigh. To make something work in a competitive world, you need to make it work on all the relevant metrics - at least "good enough" on all of them, and better than the competition on some of them.

Suppose you offer a product that's measured on 4 metrics (imagine: quality, speed, price, size, ease of use, beauty, weight, ...), A, B, C, D.

Some potential customers will weigh some metrics more heavily than others. Some will ignore some metrics completely. But in general you need to do at least 5/10 on all of them and better than that on some of them.

Metric A: 7/10

Metric B: 8/10

Metric C: 2/10

Metric D: 10/10

That's a losing product. It's fantastic on D, but bad on C, and that kills it for most customers. Maybe there are a few people who don't care much about C and will love the product. But not many.

That's what happened to Massimo Bottura (C was production quality). You're the weird customer who doesn't care about C and notices mainly D. 

Probably that's what happened to your startups.

Sorry - it's tough. But that's the reality.

---

Added: Of course the same is true for other competitions, for example mate selection. Happily most people are only looking for a single mate, so it's not that difficult to find somebody who values D a lot, C hardly at all, and also measures well on your own preferred metrics.

It's not that easy for a startup or a YouTuber, who need numbers.

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on Tales From the American Medical System · 2021-03-14T18:38:15.877Z · LW · GW

Very late reply: This was a dermatologist who insisted that I had to have a separate appointment for EACH tiny mole to be removed, instead of removing several in one appointment.

I got a new dermatologist after that.

Some people are just thieves. I agree that it's rare.

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on Blue is Arbitrary · 2021-03-14T17:12:11.806Z · LW · GW

English has different words for those two colors, too, "blue" and "cyan". Also, I don't think "Eurocentric paint" is a thing. Paint is not an idea.

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on How can I protect my bank account from large, surprise withdrawals? · 2021-02-23T00:40:27.870Z · LW · GW

Don't go around handing out blank checks, and you won't have to worry that someone will fill in a huge amount and try to cash it.

Really, that's what the people in Texas did - they explicitly signed up to a deal where the price per kWh could change without limit, and pre-agreed to pay whatever the rate was.

Because in theory on average it would be cheaper.

It's kind of like selling fire insurance - sure, you get this nice steady stream of premiums. But every once in a while, unpredictably, a house burns down and you have to pay for it.

It's fine to do that if you're an insurance company and have many customers, so you can figure out how many houses you can expect t- statistically - to burn down each month. AND you buy reinsurance (it's a thing) in case you're unlucky and all your customers houses burn down at once.

But it's dumb to just sell ONE insurance policy, hoping your customer's house won't burn down, if you can't afford to pay for it.

Don't do that. 

Auto-pay is fine for things where the amounts are reasonably predicable - your cable bill, say. Not for things that might vary a lot.

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on What does flow feel like for "mental activities"? · 2021-02-05T19:27:35.625Z · LW · GW

For me, it's being completely focused on a task. To the extent that the task occupies all of my short-term memory, leaving nothing for anything else distracting. 

This is, I think, why it's annoying to be disturbed while in the flow state. The whole house of cards falls down when a disturbance occurs (example: the phone rings) while in flow - something necessarily gets tossed out of short-term memory to accommodate the interruption. 

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on Is there an academic consensus around Rent Control? · 2021-01-22T17:39:07.801Z · LW · GW

Even for a fairness argument, it seems hard to justify the rent subsidy (the difference between market rent and controlled rents) coming out of the pockets of landlords, vs. the public treasury.

Why pick on landlords?

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on Efficiency Wages: A Double-Edged Sword · 2021-01-11T16:09:46.102Z · LW · GW

Yes. This is an argument for paying legislators nothing. New Hampshire has the second largest legislature on the the planet. The pay for members of the NH House of Representatives is $100/year, plus mileage. (it's not a full-time job). 

New Hampshire is a pretty well-run place.

And for paying bureaucrats, esp. senior ones, more. Far more. In Singapore the PM is paid $3M/year, cabinet ministers $2.5M/year (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cabinet_of_Singapore). Lower level bureaucrats are paid like corporate managers with similar scale of responsibility (they don't have large numbers of these people, but the ones they do have are very competent).

Singapore is a pretty well run-place.

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on The Rise and Fall of American Growth: A summary · 2020-10-06T15:14:37.327Z · LW · GW

See https://www.amazon.com/Where-My-Flying-Car-Memoir-ebook/dp/B07F6SD34R (Where is my Flying Car?, J. Storrs Hall) on this - I find his take on it dead-on.

Hall says growth in energy use per capita flatlined, and that happened mostly because established industries rigged the system to keep themselves on top, and stifled new technologies in a snarl of red tape and regulation. (For the greater good, of course. </snark>)

I think about half of Gordon's policy RXs are wise, the other half deeply unwise. To the extent public policy has anything to do with growth (a lot, I think) it seems pretty clear US policy circa 1930 (just before the New Deal) worked a lot better than US policy circa 1970.

Whatever pain reverting to public policy circa 1930 would entail seems to be outweighed by the vast increase in per-capita wealth. Several studies have estimated per capita GDP at 3x to 4x what it is today, if the earlier policies had been kept in place.

Comment by dave-lindbergh on [deleted post] 2020-09-25T19:51:13.434Z

Every policy proposal needs to be compared to the status quo and not to some utopian ideal.

It seems likely that a well-designed UBI would be vastly more efficient than our existing hodgepodge of welfare and other subsidies for the poor. It would eliminate the overhead of figuring out who should receive them and limiting fraud, and eliminate the disincentives to productivity that we have in place now. Neither is a small gain.

A UBI might also go some way toward settling our vast political bifurcation, by making people feel the world is a bit more "fair".

An increase in entrepreneurial activity would be nice, but doesn't drive the case for UBI.

Highly recommended: https://www.amazon.com/Our-Hands-Replace-Welfare-State/dp/1442260718/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=in+our+hands&qid=1601063375&s=books&sr=1-1 

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on Should it be a research paper or a blog post? · 2020-09-24T14:35:13.047Z · LW · GW

If that's true, the field is broken.

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on Should some variant of longtermism identify as a religion? · 2020-09-11T16:59:22.560Z · LW · GW

Religion is symbiotic to humans - that's how it has persisted for millennia, despite being factually mistaken about many important things. Some of us get along fine without it, but we seem to be a minority.

It would be great to have something honest to fill the niche taken by religion, including community, moral guidance, and making people feel better about their lives. I would be willing to donate some money toward the project.

Most religions involve an afterlife - without that the "religion niche" may not be filled. One truthful way to offer this might be to talk about quantum immortality - if the MWI is correct and we can only experience worlds in which we survive, then subjectively (only!) we may each perceive ourselves to be immortal. Cryonics is another option here.

Ideas about destiny and duty seem to play important roles in religions. I suggest something along the lines of "spreading the light of life and intelligence thruout the universe". Frank Tipler has written a lot about this - mostly nonsense in my opinion, but we could take his vision of the Omega Point not as inevitable, but as a goal we (intelligence in the universe) have a duty to accomplish.

That seems to fit pretty well with long-termism, however defined. We could take it as our project realize Tipler's dream - to colonize the universe with intelligence, to make the universe an ever-better place to live.

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on The principle of no non-Apologies · 2020-05-29T01:13:49.060Z · LW · GW

"I'm sorry" is often used as an expression of sympathy - no relation to any apology.

Them: "My mom got cancer"

You: "I'm so sorry!"

(sorry for them, not sorry for anything you did)

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on Book Review: Narconomics · 2020-05-04T17:43:05.536Z · LW · GW

To the degree that that cocaine business (like any honest business) creates value, there's some truth in that. But most of the value is in the high that the customers get when they consume it - it doesn't create much *economic* value. Except to whatever extent the cocaine makes users more productive (it's a stimulant, as is caffeine).

But the "subsidy" mostly comes from other inner-city residents - for the most part, they're the customers (obviously some outsiders come into town to buy, but I suspect that's a small fraction of the business). So it's a zero-sum transaction within the inner city, except (as said) for the hedons of pleasure experienced by the end-users.

I think the costs of the drug war (fear, crime, overdoses, toxic side-effects of adulterants, incarceration, destroyed families, etc. - all of which overwhelmingly fall on inner-city poor people) far exceed any "subsidy" to the inner city.

I suspect a stronger argument could be made that the drug war is a key element of the institutional structures that keep the underclass down. Supposedly (from those who were there) Nixon's War on Drugs was intended to make life harder for blacks: https://www.forbes.com/sites/eriksherman/2016/03/23/nixons-drug-war-an-excuse-to-lock-up-blacks-and-protesters-continues/#5feee3f542c8 https://www.drugpolicy.org/press-release/2016/03/top-adviser-richard-nixon-admitted-war-drugs-was-policy-tool-go-after-anti https://www.vox.com/2016/3/29/11325750/nixon-war-on-drugs https://www.cnn.com/2016/03/23/politics/john-ehrlichman-richard-nixon-drug-war-blacks-hippie/index.html

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on Book Review: Narconomics · 2020-05-03T16:46:06.400Z · LW · GW

Cocaine is a stimulant, so wouldn't that make users *more* productive?

And if it were legal, it would be cheap, so no "crimes to get their next hit". Despite heavy taxation, the (significant) social harm from alcohol and tobacco doesn't come from crime.

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on COVID-19 - a good or bad time for extended travel? · 2020-02-29T16:36:51.075Z · LW · GW

Life is risk. Go.

Just be prepared - financially and in terms of other commitments - to be delayed by quarantine, etc.

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on Terms & literature for purposely lossy communication · 2020-01-23T17:09:31.407Z · LW · GW

"partial information"

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on If giving unsolicited feedback was a social norm, what feedback would you often give? · 2019-12-04T17:35:36.939Z · LW · GW

"You are spending more money than you can afford.

This will result in unnecessary stress and misery in your life.

You will be happier in the long run if you reduce your standard of living to a level that's easily sustainable for you and put the remainder of your money into a substantial financial buffer for yourself."

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on A letter on optimism about human progress · 2019-12-04T17:22:44.322Z · LW · GW

@waveman:

a) Yes, it is, but that's the point of it. And the viewpoint seems self-justified to me.

b) The article makes no claim that "progress" is continuous or smooth or monotonically increasing, or that it doesn't suffer setbacks. The point is that *in spite* of setbacks, civilization has experienced net progress and there appears to be reason to expect that to continue - in the long run.

c) Yes, but there's a feedback loop at work. The more that problems create pain for people, the more people focus resources and attention on finding solutions for those problems.

d) Again, yes, we depend on cheap energy. There seem to be lots of other ways to obtain that other than burning fossil fuels - nuclear power is the most obvious solution, tho there are others. And, again, there's a feedback loop at work - as energy prices increase, that will create incentives to find cheaper sources.

e) "Rapid enough" is a function of attention, capital, and effort invested into solving problems. As we work harder to solve problems, our rate of progress at solving those problems increases.

Of course there are existential risks - most of them involve very short-term catastrophes that may happen too rapidly for people to adapt and respond to. It's urgent that we think about preventing them. The fact that we're here talking about it is a good sign.

But people - and civilization in general - aren't passive victims of vast historical forces. They act and influence outcomes.

In the words of Karl Popper, "Optimism is a duty. The future is open. It is not predetermined. No one can predict it, except by chance. We all contribute to determining it by what we do. We are all equally responsible for its success. "

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on Doing things in a populated world · 2019-11-01T22:50:13.781Z · LW · GW

You should read Richard Epstien's _Takings_ https://www.amazon.com/Takings-Private-Property-Eminent-Domain/dp/0674867297

It's all about this. He makes a lot of insightful points - we could be improving things far more than we do now, if only we could pay the losers to stop opposing the changes.

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on Rent Needs to Decrease · 2019-10-11T17:10:30.638Z · LW · GW

I'd think that at some point before now, the super-high profits to be made from renting apartments would create political pressure to allow building more housing - after all, developers want to get more of that lovely profit.

But, it seems, no.

Same thing (even worse) has happened in the Bay Area - insane rents, yet no political will to permit building more housing.

Seems strange.

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on How to navigate through contradictory (health/fitness) advice? · 2019-08-05T23:25:13.403Z · LW · GW

We are evolved animals. Set your expectations reasonably. Don't expect miracle cures, esp. if you're past the usual age of reproduction. Be skeptical of those promising miracle cures.

Esp. as we get older, there are lots of things we need to learn to live with, and suffer with. Embrace mild ameliorations, like ibuprofen and (small doses of!!) opiates.

Our bodies are reasonably well adapted to the kinds of things our ancestors in the state of nature had to do on a daily basis. Try to do more of those (lots of mild exercises like walking, some occasional strenuous exercise, very exceptional extreme physical efforts) and less of the modern unnatural stuff we do a lot of (sitting and staring at computer screens, eating sugar).

Be skeptical of programmes that tell you to diverge too much from the ancestral behavior patterns.

Be skeptical of fads and "breakthrus".

Appreciate that if one approach were obviously and clearly better than the others, this would likely be pretty clear to everyone by now.

Since that isn't the case, don't expect too much. There is probably no one approach that is a whole lot better than the others (tho some may be far worse than the median).

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on In physical eschatology, is Aestivation a sound strategy? · 2019-06-18T01:41:10.802Z · LW · GW

With all due respect to the first set of authors, I wouldn't argue with Charles Bennett on the subject of thermodynamics. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF02084158

Comment by Dave Lindbergh (dave-lindbergh) on Tales From the American Medical System · 2019-05-10T02:40:44.219Z · LW · GW

I've been thru this same thing with doctors.

One, after being pressed with "why?" repeatedly, fessed up.

They get paid for each office visit. The way they make money is to force patients to visit the office periodically, on pain of having necessary prescriptions cut off.

I'm not talking about narcotics or controlled substances here. (For those, the DEA really does force the MDs to see the patient in person for each prescription.)

You have a greedy doctor. He thinks he's only cheating the insurance company (cheating by demanding needless office visits) but of course everybody pays for that. And your time is worth something, surely.

My advice: Get another doctor.