An interesting exercise, partaken in by Cowen, Caplan, and Murphy...
... and now Kuehn:
1. I am an optimist about constitutional democracy. Everyone knows the pit-falls of democratic governance and likes to harp on them, but constitutional democracy has performed remarkably well. Most constitutional democracy pessimists lament the absence of their preferred constitutional order, which to me seems to completely miss the point of constitutional democracy. Constitutional democracy is strong where it exists and every decade it is making inroads elsewhere.
2. I am an optimist about what Bryan Caplan calls “overall political culture”. Nationalism, tribalism, racism, and sexism are on the decline. These changes reveal frictions and spark conflicts with resistant tribalists but that’s because they are reacting to a move towards cosmopolitanism. Caplan also laments “social democracy”. I see social democracy as a necessary consequence of constitutional democracy and growth. As we get richer we want to sacrifice efficiency for the socialization of goods. If we want this, we ought to be free to obtain this democratically. I am not a European social democrat, but I recognize these choices as choices that we should have the freedom of making if we have the luxury of making. What drives my optimism on this point is that socialization today usually doesn’t come with the dew-eyed innocence that it did one hundred years ago – we are much more cognizant of the trade-offs, and we should be free to make those trade-offs.
3. I am optimistic about growth. Short-term fluctuations are important because they cause a great deal of hardship, but we have every reason to expect secular, continual growth. The only threat to economic growth is that we won’t want to consume anymore or that we won’t have anything else to invest in. We seem to be insatiable on the former, and always seem driven to expand our horizons. On the latter, the record suggests that technological innovation will make sure the door to new investments are always open. Demography, human nature, and science will ensure continued growth.
4. I am optimistic about markets. The superiority of free markets over planned economies is a given. It will increasingly be the case in the future that any allocation not performed by markets will be conducted outside of markets because free men and women chose to do things that way. This will be the case for many allocative decisions, nevertheless we are unlikely to have our demand for the efficiency that markets can provide satiated. Markets have a bright future.
5. I am optimistic about broad acknowledgement of externalities (at least on some level). The decreased tribalism I noted on point #2 will contribute to an increased recognition of the impact of our decisions more broadly, outside the particular party or narrow tribe that we may be transacting or consulting with. Markets will become more efficient by the increased recognition of these externalized costs.
6. I am pessimistic about climate change. I think we could converge on doing something, but even if tomorrow we had a sea change in public opinion and an increased precision in climate science (neither of which are likely), it’s unclear how much we could really do. My expectation is that I will die in a world that is considerably warmer (unless I’m lucky enough to die on Mars), but…
7. I am an optimist about human adaptation. This means that I think we’ll be living in a warmer world (with the dramatic changes that would entail), and inevitably we will adapt to that world. Certain populations will suffer, but hopefully we will have the wealth and will to help them, and the technology to provide a comfortable existence for ourselves.
8. I’m an optimist about global government. I hope we have one before I die, and I imagine we will.
9. I’m a guarded optimist about war. I’m guessing warfare will decline as we globalize, however as supranational institutions develop there’s always the chance of friction.
10. I’m a pessimist about inter-stellar colonization. The technology seems too far off. If we manage it, it will be a truly unpredictable breakthrough.
11. I’m an optimist about inter-planetary colonization. I expect to see a thriving, albeit small permanent human settlement on Mars before I die, probably some bases on the moon, substantial mining of the asteroid belt, and lots and lots of robots flying around everywhere.
12. I am an optimist about people. People are basically good, and most of the conflict that comes up in our lives comes through misunderstandings, uncharitable interpretations, or reactions to perceived threats. People are basically good and as we have a greater opportunity to interact with people not like us, they’ll realize this. Civility will thrive and differing points of view will synthesize.
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