Monday, October 18, 2010

Sullivan on Oakeshott, Hayek, and Popper

Sullivan notes a New York Times article on uncertainty in economics and Jim Manzi's reaction to it. I've just skimmed it, but it seems to cover the same points I've made countless times on here about how hard it is to prove anything in macroeconomics and how hard it is to untangle causality. Then Sullivan writes:

"It is extremely hard to maintain awareness of our own ignorance when trying to make real-world decisions. The article ends with a quote by currently-fashionable behavioral economist Dan Ariely: "If you have a simple problem, you can offer a simple solution. But the economy is a hugely complex problem. So we either simplify the problem and offer a solution, or embrace the complexity and do nothing."

But there is an unconsidered alternative that permits us to constantly recognize our ignorance, yet not be paralyzed: The Open Society. This is the whole point (in my view) of the institutions of representative democracy, limited, law-bound government, and free markets.

We are back to Oakeshott, Hayek and Popper, aren't we?"

My concern with this is that this "alternative" - The Open Society - incorporates both of the options that Ariely lists. "simplify and do something" and "embrace complexity and don't do anything" are both possible under the Open Society. So is "simplify and don't do anything" (I'd argue this is the Tea Party/GOP approach) and "embrace complexity and do something" (my personal approach).

I suppose I just find this interesting from a "uses of Hayek in society"/"who claims the complexity mantle and why" angle. But this really doesn't seem to help matters at all. Where does the movement for fiscal and monetary stimulus come from if not the Open Society? Where does the Tea Party come from if not the Open Society? I think there are some points that the Tea Party makes that threaten American republicanism and constitutionalism, but generally speaking not so much that they can be considered outside of the Open Society.

I alluded to this earlier when I reacted to the way Peter Boettke framed public choice theory: I think a lot of people are making a least common denominator argument and building it up to be some major refutation.


  1. "Where does the movement for fiscal and monetary stimulus come from if not the Open Society?"

    Given that they are the preferred options of a very small number of elites I find this to be a rather odd notion. Of course, there is no "movement for fiscal and monetary stimulus," though there is a movement against these hairbrained and failed ideas - in other words, it is extremely unpopular with the population (as were the disasterous bailouts for that matter). Of course now you see the POTUS trying to spin his rampant unpopularity into something other than disagreement with this policy choices.

    Anyway, one would have to have a clear idea of what Popper meant of an "Open Society" before one could start discussing it.

    Suffice it to say, most of the political class are enemies of an "Open Society." This is partly why I find all the worry and hand wringing and teeth gnashing coming out of the prog-left about the Tea Partiers so incredibly amusing.

  2. Everyone likes to focus on the elites of the other side.

    I have to laugh when career politicians, prime-time pundits, and tenured university professors tell me that my position is an elitist one. Getting lectured to by elitists about the elitism of my position is truly rich.

    The facts are these - each side has elitists aligned with it, and each side has a share of the population aligned with it. And to make matters more complicated, elites from both sides manipulate a more abstract dissatisfaction.

    If you're going to keep pretending that I'm coming from the elitist's corner and you're not, then I'm not sure what else there is to talk about it. Your delusions prevent any serious conversation.

  3. To borrow from someone else:

    Psychoanalyzing one's political opponents is the laziest way of blogging.

    Anyway, again, to claim that there is some "movement" for fiscal or monetary stimulas is laughable - there is only a movement against such, and that movement exists outside the U.S. as well. Happily in the U.S. we have things like open primaries.

  4. Who's psychoanalyzing?

    As for movements do you forget the 2008 election? Do you think they all just disappeared?

    What's absolutely incredible is how fundamentally collectivist the Tea Party movement is - there is no concept that there is a broad, popular movement behind the sorts of things that Obama has done or has promised to do and failed to do. The Tea Party mentality is such a collectivist one - your mentality is such a collectivist one - that whenever anyone has a difference of opinion you have to write it off as "a very small number of elites" to minimize it. You never had this kind of collectivist conceit in the movement that propelled Obama to victory (and the Democrats to control Congress earlier, for that matter). We always recognized that "regular people" aligned on either side - but you simply can't get it through your head that you're not making demands on a few elites. You're making demands on a huge swath of the American public.

    Come to the National Mall on October 30th with me and tell me the people that are opposed to the Tea Party aren't a "movement". Show up on the 30th and tell me we're all elites.

  5. You are. You are doing it a lot lately in fact. You are engaging in off the cuff, armchair psychologizing to describe people you disagree with.

    "As for movements do you forget the 2008 election? Do you think they all just disappeared?"

    Those movements really weren't about either of those things; they were about ending wars overseas, changing the nature of the national security state, getting the government out of our bedrooms and personal decision, etc. They weren't for bailouts, fiscal stimulus, or anything like that. None of those latter three were popular in the 2008 campaign - which ought to be obvious given the original failure to pass TARP. There's a reason why Obama has such an enthusiasm gap - most of what people were enthusiastic about he either abandoned or he simply was sly enough to make it seem as if supported those things.

  6. I'd bracket off TARP - it's sort of the odd duck. I think support is broader than just "elites", but it obviously smells funny to all sorts of people. It wasn't an Obama campaign issue or anything like that - it's just an unusual special case.

    There was considerable support for fiscal stimulus and health reform.

    That's changed over time because people have perceived the stimulus to have failed. How we react to that (in my view, mistaken) perception is another question entirely. But don't tell me a substantial majority of the American public's support for the stimulus was something that a small number of elites forced on you.


    Still strong, actually.

    Why am I psychoanalyzing? You still haven't noted a specific instance.

    You're the one going around telling people that their position is elitist. You seem to be the psychoanalyst.

  8. Do you have any evidence/numbers/facts at all suggesting there isn't broad public support for this?

    You mouth off, provide no evidence whatsoever, and then slink away. It's a habit of yours, Xenophon. It's a very bad habit.

  9. You know I embrace and engage and interact with people on here who disagree strongly with me - the thing is, they actually provide an argument, not a string of insults.

  10. No, elitism isn't a psychological attribute - or not primarily so - it refers to social station and a set of attitudes about the nature of society. Saying someone is paranoid, etc. is describing ascribing psychological attribute to them.

    Actually, Obama did campaign on TARP in September of 2008; though TARP has changed in what it does over time (illustrating that the Fed had no idea what it was doing when it asked for the authority).

    I'll pull out this trusty article and it will explain why I put no faith in any of those polls:

    There is very little evidence that there is support for the failed economic policies of the Obama adminsitration or that there ever has been.

  11. Thought I would pass this on; Paul Cantor (Prof. at UVA) on liberty, economics and literature:

    Speaking of which, libertarians and classical liberals got to celebrate a libertarian winning the Nobel Prize in Literature recently when Mario Vargas Llosa was awarded the prize.

  12. Listening to it now - talk about psychoanalyzing!

    It's interesting, don't get me wrong. I imagine literary critics of any stripe inevitably slip into that.

    Certainly Llosa should be celebrated by libertarians, but it's hard for me to assess how much of a libertarian he is. I know he's cited Mises before, so I suppose there's that - but I haven't come across any ideas of his so far that I don't agree with.

    Do you get the impression that he would be a libertarian in the United States, or does he just appear to be a libertarian because he quotes Mises and has the decidedly authoritarian backdrop of Latin America in the mid to late 20th century? It's an honest question - I don't know him well but I haven't come across anything that's especially libertarian with the exception of the Mises citations.

  13. He uses the word neo-liberal; I don't think the term libertarian has much use in Latin America, but neo-liberal does - and it is a very controversial term to use in Latin America. I'm sure it is part of the reason he had to flee left-wing threats of death in his native country.

    Prof. Cantor is correct of course ... the rewards are so meagre in academia for many professors that it isn't surprising that they bite the hand that feeds them. Of course, sans capitalism such economic opportunities wouldn't exist in the first place. As I always say, capitalism even provides people who hate it the means by which to make a living and even promote their anti-capitalist ideas.

  14. ...Don't want to interrupt what seems to be a lively discussion, but do you think you could find time to do a post on this article, Daniel: ?

  15. Cantor's classic essay on the X-Files:

  16. Definitely, anonymous - I'll try to do that in the next couple days. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I noted it this weekend, but things were too hectic to read it in any detail.

  17. It is a controversial term to use in Latin America - but Clinton is generally considered a neoliberal. I would be considered a neoliberal.

    I'm not trying to detract - the man said some very important things at some very important times, and as far as I can tell he's richly deserving of the prize. It's more a comment on how others are receiving him than it is a comment on him. I guess I again get this sense that some people are taking a common denominator that Llosa shares with a lot of people in the West and making it into an affirmation of their own perspective.

    Then again, if he reads Mises perhaps there's something to the point. I honestly don't know - I just haven't seen anything yet that's especially libertarian, so I was curious.

  18. Neo-liberal in the U.S. means something different than what the term means in the U.S. Anyway, I don't recall Clinton ever writing for Cato or being called a "neo-liberal" - he was a "New Democrat," and those folks are neo-liberal lite at best.

  19. Oh, I forgot to respond to this...

    "Come to the National Mall on October 30th with me and tell me the people that are opposed to the Tea Party aren't a "movement". Show up on the 30th and tell me we're all elites."

    I didn't go to the dumb Tea Party rally, why would I go to John Stewart's equally stupid rally?


All anonymous comments will be deleted. Consistent pseudonyms are fine.