Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Jason Brennan lets bad arguments off the hook too easily

He writes:

"If you take enough econ classes, you will eventually learn to describe hypothetical conditions under which destruction could be a net blessing. But, in the real world, it’s pretty crazy for you to think you know that those conditions actually obtain. But if you do think those conditions in fact obtain now, then please explain to me why it would not also be good to have the military bomb a city or two."

Nonsense. I'm not sure there is any good economics argument that would lead someone to expect "a net blessing". Such a claim shouldn't be given this kind of dignity - as far as I know it can't be backed up by any hypothetical conditions worth mentioning. Anyone saying that definitely should be expected to explain why it would not also be good to have the military bomb a city or two.


  1. Sometimes a town will develop a blighted area. There are co-ordination and hold out problems preventing redevelopment. In some cases you have to redevelop the whole area or none of it. In such cases of gridlock a nice big fire (or aerial bombing) might be a net benefit.

    1. This is similar to the leap-frogging point I made, and its the one argument I could consider.

      But I don't see how it's possible to make that argument for the disaster zone of a hurricane. Progress can't be that constrained by coordination issues, can it? If it can, that raises the question - why not bomb everything (evacuating everyone, of course). I don't personally buy the net benefit story.

  2. Strangely, I find myself sympathizing with your exasperation on this issue, Daniel_Kuehn. I just put up a post critiquing the naive "destruction is bad, duh!" arguments, specifically the ones Landsburg has just put up.

    However, it seems I'm giving the Keynesian argument even more credit than you do, since I'm granting that it establishes a case for a hurricane's "net good" (in a sense) when you just don't have the option of providing any intelligent form of stimulus.


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