Sunday, November 3, 2013

Field Turing Tests

So you've all heard of Turing tests, but what's probably more important is Field Turing Tests - similar to the distinction between experimental and field tests elsewhere.

A Turing test is useful because it gives you a sense of whether the other person really comprehends what they're arguing with. That's helpful in assessing the quality of the process by which they form arguments, etc.

But it doesn't necessarily mean that they're good interacting with people in the marketplace of ideas. For that, you need a field Turing test. Out in the wild, do people present the ideas they disagree with in a way that would convince someone from the  other side.

This just comes to mind as a result of (what I hope is the end of) a long set of diffuse interactions with Don Boudreaux over monopsony. My concluding thought has been "my God I hope nobody just reads Café Hayek and doesn't read this blog to understand what I think about this issue". There's been some really awful misrepresentation from Don.

I've had similar fears in the last few months about my immigration work - I hope people don't just read stuff at Brookings, ITIF, or from Vivek Wadhwa on our immigration work. If they do they're going to completely miss the point.

The way around that is to be well engaged and a self-promoter of course. I've been in dialogue with people at Brookings and ITIF (Vivek infuriates me too much to talk with, although ITIF has been almost as bad - perhaps that's wrong of me). I've published at EPI, EconLib, and Cato on the issue which I think is very helpful.

But then there are good actors too - people you never have to worry about. David Henderson and Bryan Caplan always represent the other side pretty accurately. Any quibbles with their accounts would be idiosyncratic - not systematic. Bob Murphy is usually great, although I find some of his Krugman posts not just cases I disagree with, but very odd in their reading of Krugman (but we can bracket those off for the sake of this argument). Ryan Murphy and Jonathan Catalan are always great at this among us junior bloggers.

Those are the obvious ones on the libertarian side of things. Cochrane and Williamson are usually quite good on this count too. Horwitz can be OK on more analytical pieces but pretty bad on polemical pieces. This is a huge weak point for Boettke who I think is best read for his brilliant expositions and deep knowledge of his own side. Russ is in the same boat as Don.

Who do you think is especially good at this or especially bad at this on either side?

I think I'm pretty good. I provide accounts of the other side that I know they don't like (for example, the whole point about libertarianism vs. propertarianism and the idea that "liberty movement" is pure euphemism), but I hope I'm clear that this is my take on their position and not the position they are under the impression that they hold. Perhaps making that distinction clear is all that a successful performance in a field Turing test requires.

22 comments:

  1. I think Noah Smith writes with clarity and grace. I think that your writing tends to be a bit too long which makes it easier for people to misunderstand or misrepresent what you are saying.

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  2. To me, Russ always seemed pretty fair about presenting the other side's view. I was kind of let down when he didn't expand on his opinions when he addressed a question to you about supply side effects of stimulus spending, etc. Krugman says things like, "You have a Republican base that truly believes that guaranteed health insurance is the work of the devil." That is close to a lot of arguments I see on Facebook like "Republicans hate poor people." (especially bad). One rule of thumb is that if you think your opponent's view is evil or destructive you are probably constructing a straw man argument. Ex. "Democrats want the terrorists to win." I find some of Bob's post to differ from mine in his understanding of someone's position, but I am probably wrong in most of those cases and overall I am very impressed with his ability to understand opposing views. (especially good). David is extremely cordial and thoughtful.

    I see your monopsony and minimum wage encounter as analogous to the compliment I made on your health care post (which I caught a lot of flack over). I certainly knew that you are not a big "pro-minimum wage increase guy", and viewed your monopsony post in context. Similarly, I think anyone who has read my comments here and on Bob's site knows I'm not a big proponent of subsidies on anything. However, I think those subsidies would cost less if we actually had decent economic incentives in place for the rest of the health care market.

    Overall, I would say that young people tend to be better at seeing multiple perspectives and are better at understanding opposing views.

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    1. One should distinguish arguments from opinions. "Republicans hate poor people" is an opinion and anyone is free to hold or not hold an opinion. It may or may not be conducive to argument, often it turns people off but sometimes shock is necessary to break through, but their justification of their opinion is the argument. One may consider it justified or not, but argument involves discussing the justification, not "Krugman is mean" or "Krugman is partisan". Unfortunately straw man arguments are often used but it isn't a straw man argument to point out they are straw man arguments. it is just calling for better ones, ones rarely gotten around to.

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    2. Krugman is not good about this, it's true. But I don't think he's any worse than Russ or Don. They say that people (including Krugman) are doing things for political reasons and they call them unscientific and ideologues, which is really the worst you get from Krugman. The trouble is there are a lot of firm deontological libertarians out there for whom the "hates poor people" is not accurate, but something along the lines of "couldn't care less what happens to poor people as a result" does.

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    3. Lord, you are missing the point. The point is not whether it is a mean opinion to have. The point is that is entirely unrealistic to believe that is the basis of their world view and therefore any formulation of their perspective is by necessity incorrect. Do you think if you said to a Republican, "God, poor people suck!" that the Republican would be like, "High five on that, buddy!"

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    4. Daniel, I think the "could care less " crowd is a minority. However, if you were attempting to blend in with that crowd, I don't think using that assumption as a foundation would be very useful. I see the common approach to "understanding" your opponent's view as basically projecting the opposite of your own onto them. For those who view politics as a matter of protecting the oppressed, one would tend to project oppression onto the other. For those who see it as law and order, projecting a hatred of social norms would fit. For those who desire freedom, the projection of the opposite may be the desire to enslave or take away rights. Those are inspired by Arnold Kling's book, the Language of Politics, although I don't remember if he uses the concept of projection. But I find it especially unuseful for people to consider libertarians as far right Republicans.

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    5. "Republicans hate poor people."

      Given things like: the "47%" comment, the state voter id initiatives and the recent votes by Republicans to cut food stamps for the poor and increase subsidies for rich farmers, saying that Republicans "hate" poor people is a reasonable summary of the Republican position.

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  3. At what point do you conclude that someone that misconstrues simply misunderstands, not just your opinion, but the entire subject?

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  4. “Krugman says things like, ‘You have a Republican base that truly believes that guaranteed health insurance is the work of the devil.’ That is close to a lot of arguments I see on Facebook like ‘Republicans hate poor people.’ ”

    It might look so close because Krugman is actually saying that Republicans hate poor people. Krugman is doing this all the time. Just a few days ago Krugman repeated once again that Republicans wage “a war on the poor”. That’s one of his standard lines. For Krugman there are reasonable people - who agree with him. And there are his opponents who must be either irrational, extremist, evil or stupid.

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    1. Krugman is open to data and arguments, but "Krugman is mean" isn't one of them. You can't fight opinions with opinions, you have to actually persuade people these opinions aren't justified, or are justified but you don't give a damn. From what I gather of the anti Krugman crowd, is that it is the latter case as they offer no defense. Republicans maintain the pretense of concern while applauding "let them die in the streets". They would be more honest if they express their concern as letting them die in the streets will result in fewer of them to do so than pretending otherwise.

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  5. "This just comes to mind as a result of (what I hope is the end of) a long set of diffuse interactions with Don Boudreaux over monopsony."

    I followed this discussion very closely and I have to say that I understood the position of Don Boudreaux quite well.

    You are saying that Boudreaux misunderstood your position (which might be true) but in his defence I have to say that your position about monopsony was really hard to understand in the first place.

    From what I read many other readers never fully understood it, too. I certainly never understood it and now you say that Boudreaux might have never understood it, so for me that’s kind of relieving.

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    1. I've been confused by Don's honestly. He's gone back and forth on this perfect competition point (when Manning was suggesting it was wrong he criticized him for it, then he follows up with his own post criticizing perfect competition models). He's not given an answer about how competition is supposed to solve monopsony power from turnover costs or asymmetric information which is really the crux of the question. There are no profits in the turnover cost case, although potentially some in the asymmetric information case. I'm not sure how he explains the positive empirical findings unless he just doesn't believe them. But if he doesn't believe them he hasn't explained why he doesn't believe them.

      It's possible I've been hard to follow - I haven't been explaining all these points from fundamental principles on up. I've assumed a baseline familiarity which may of course not be true for all readers, I just don't have the time to walk through everything.

      DeLong seemed to endorse the post the other day so I'm not sure it's non-sensible.

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  6. I vote the owner of the 'Krugman in Wonderland' blog as being especially bad. Sometimes I read his blog and think that KGB was onto something with this punitive psychiatry stuff.

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  7. Pardon my ignorance, but what is the difference between a "Field Turing Test" and an "Ideological Turing Test"?

    BTW - a small fun fact - were you aware that John Maynard Keynes saw potential in a young Alan Turing and supported Alan Turing in an election to a Fellowship at King's College, University of Cambridge?

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    1. I think he means something you could test in the field, but its still an ideological turing test. Testing it wouod be difficult. For example, if you went to Huffpost and posted comments you thought were liberal, you would probably get more likes from extreme statements that are not necessarily representative of the consensus liberal view.

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  8. Williamson as in Steve Williamson? He identifies as an Obama-supporting liberal Democrat. He just happens to come from a "freshwater" econ background, insisting that New Keynesian analysis is hopelessly deficient and people need to get with "new monetary economics". He just rarely discusses things like, say, healthcare policy where he would agree with Krugman. I think his posts featuring "Right Wing Paul Krugman" are an attempt to show how his disagreement is not about politics.

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    1. When I double-checked my collections on his blog, I found him saying he would vote to re-elect Obama, because he couldn't see himself voting for any of the clowns angling for the GOP nomination. But I don't know if Obama was his preference during the 2008 Democratic primaries, so it might be a bit misleading to call him a "pro-Obama Democrat" when "Democrat" imparts the same information. Sargent & Sims are also freshwater Democrats. Prescott is notably Republican, but Williamson commented on his views (attributing the recession to Obama's taxes and ignoring monetary/financial factors) by calling them "ridiculous".

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