I liked the line in Mike Sax's post introducing me as "the alleged Keynesian" :)
Apparently I am also desperate for the approval of Austrians. All I can say is if that's my goal, I think I'm doing it wrong.
The Garden in May
1 hour ago
"Matt Yglesias argues that there is no such thing as a “market distribution” of wealth, because most wealth would not exist without the state. He lists “a few minor exceptions” to the maxim that market solutions are efficient...I think this is a typical misuse of Ostrom's work. The catechismic sequence of argument (from a libertarian's perspective - others think this sequence runs a little differently) in which Ostrom is usually nested goes something like this:
In my view, Matt’s argument is not compelling. Take first his list of “minor exceptions” to the general rule that markets work best. Do we need state intervention to keep air pollution down to acceptable levels? There has never been a completely laissez-faire society that has had dirty air, so it is difficult to say. What we do know from the work of Elinor Ostrom is that we don’t need state intervention in all cases to solve problems associated with water usage or overfishing, which are structurally similar to that of air pollution (i.e., they have high transaction costs). It turns out that the threat of state-sanctioned violence is not the only solution to repeated prisoner’s dilemmas, even when transaction costs are high, either in theory or in practice." (emphasis mine)
"You keep speaking as if evolution is a numbers game in the sense that the genes with the most copies win. I don't think that's quite right. There is no winning evolution or if it is it's that your genes survive. There are many more bacteria in the world than there are humans or sharks but I personally feel that humans should feel pretty good about themselves and sharks oughta feel really good about themselves. I don't think more copies is the right metric (if we have to choose metrics at all)."I was sure he'd disagree on the grounds that I was overstating his point about "winning", but apparently he had no concerns about that part:
"You keep speaking as if evolution is a numbers game in the sense that the genes with the most copies win. "This seems surprisingly wrong to me and weirdly teleological. First, I don't have any particular disagreement with his supposition, although I would note that the brute force method of simply maximizing reproduction can introduce obstacles to survival of the gene too (think about cancer - it does pretty well for itself until it kills its host). But sure, brute force is one way to make more of yourself. That was never really the issue.
Yes. That's what reproductive success aka fitness is. It wins in the sense that its genes become more frequent in the population, with the result that later generations are more like it.
Suppose someone who has the normal inclination to truck and barter also has the objective of maximizing the number of children he produces and rears as productive individuals capable of themselves producing and rearing children, instead of the objective of maximizing his own utility with a reasonably conventional utility function. Further suppose that this objective is hardwired into his genes, so that his descendants are likely to have the same objective.
My claim is that, over time, the number of people with that gene, hence the number who behave that way, will increase. Do you disagree?
You might find it worth actually reading _The Selfish Gene_, which I gather from your earlier comment you haven't done. I may be mistaken, but it sounds as though you have a seriously confused picture of how evolutionary biology works."
“We are survival machines – robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment.”Or:
“Was there to be any end to the gradual improvement in the techniques and artifices used by the replicators to ensure their own continuation in the world? There would be plenty of time for improvement. What weird engines of self-preservation would the millennia bring forth? Four thousand million years on, what was to be the fate of the ancient replicators?Or:
They did not die out, for they are past masters of the survival arts. But do not look for them floating loose in the sea; they gave up that cavalier freedom long ago. Now they swarm in huge colonies, safe inside gigantic lumbering robots, sealed off from the outside world, communicating with it by tortuous indirect routes, manipulating it by remote control.
They are in you and in me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence. They have come a long way, those replicators. Now they go by the name of genes, and we are their survival machines.
“Prediction in a complex world is a chancy business. Every decision that a survival machine takes is a gamble, and it is the business of genes to program brains in advance so that on average they take decisions that pay off. The currency used in the casino of evolution is survival, strictly gene survival"Now I'm just utilizing google here, but I didn't find anything suggesting that Dawkins thinks that you win evolution by making more copies of yourself than anyone else. Repeatedly the concern is with persistence and survival. Indeed in a weird Paul Ehrlich type moment Dawkins gets very worried about human overpopulation and the threat it poses to the survival of the species. That's hardly the sort of view that Friedman is promoting.
"On another subject, you write:I respond:
“It fits my story - I was conservative in high school, was a libertarian that dropped all the stuff I didn't like about conservatism when I moved into college, and as I learned more and more economics I became much less libertarian (some people may become more libertarian, but they probably have different starting points).”
It doesn’t fit mine. I was a classical liberal in high school, became a more extreme libertarian as I thought more about the question and learned more economics.
And I would expect, on average, that learning economics would make people more libertarian. The strongest argument against laissez-faire, although not the best, is the difficulty of seeing how a decentralized system can coordinate production. Understanding that is central to understanding economics, so learning it makes one more, not less, likely to approve of a laissez-faire system.
It’s true that there are more sophisticated economic arguments against laissez-faire, but there are also more sophisticated economic arguments against those arguments, most obviously public choice theory.
My expectation is consistent with my observation. Most economists are less libertarian than I am but more libertarian than other social scientists. And extreme libertarians in academia, although rare, seem to very often be economists."
I think learning economics would make people value things like spontaneous order more. I find it grating that libertarians identify this so instinctively with libertarianism. Libertarianism and anarchism are examples of quite extreme social engineering in a lot of ways (obviously any given libertarian is going to vary in the extent to which this characterizes them - Hayek, for example, was very good at seeing the risk of things like this).I think it's wrong to think about something like public choice as a theory of why laissez faire works. Public choice is a theory about the behavior of public figures particularly as it relates to problems posed by social welfare theory. Libertarians that like public choice theory make certain public choice arguments, but non-libertarians use other types of public choice arguments (although it's often just called "political economy" in that case).
So I'd say if you came in not appreciating spontaneous order you ought to come out of economic education appreciating it a lot more. But that doesn't seem like quite the same thing as libertarianism to me. I may try to post on this this weekend, because I think the conflation of the two is pervasive.
“Anywhere in the world that social psychologists see women or minorities underrepresented by a factor of two or three, our minds jump to discrimination as the explanation,” said Dr. Haidt, who called himself a longtime liberal turned centrist. “But when we find out that conservatives are underrepresented among us by a factor of more than 100, suddenly everyone finds it quite easy to generate alternate explanations.” - Jonathan Haidt, quoted in this New York Times article.When I read the quote on Friedman's page, I didn't immediately notice his reference to social psychologists and my first reaction was "I disagree with both the premise and the conclusion of this statement". Now that I see he is speaking just of social psychologists, I have to reign that in a little. Perhaps he is right about them - I don't know many social psychologists.
"It's a tough knot to untangle, I think. There are obviously obstacles to a deep understanding of a minority perspective, as you point out. This is DuBois's veil - to bring it back to racial questions that inspired the discussion.I think about these issues with the Murphy/Krugman debate a lot. Krugman unambiguously has the better arguments - absolutely no question. That was clear in the 1930s before either of them were born. But it's equally clear to me that Bob knows Krugman's arguments far better than Krugman knows Bob's arguments, to the extent that Bob could plausibly get the better of him in a debate.
But there's a compounding problem here that minority positions on intellectual questions are often (not always, but often is plenty good enough for these purposes) minority positions because they are simply not defensible positions. A prior evaluation that a position is indefensible then leads to a situation where majority proponents are ill-equipped to argue with the minority position.
There is a difference, in other words, between an opposition being ill-equipped to engage a minority position and the determination that the minority position ought to be given a seat at the table.
Take Marxian economics instead of Goldwater so that there's no particular bias in evaluating the case (and not people who think Marx had some good points and sympathies - I'm meaning the actual architecture of Marxian economics). I think it's reasonable to say that non-Marxian economists are very poorly equipped to dispute Marxian arguments and that in a debate the Marxian could very well run circles around them. This might not have been the case 100 years ago, particularly in certain countries or schools.
But is this a reason to make sure every economics department is well stocked with Marxians? I don't personally think so. We have Marxians in sociology and not in economics for a very good reason today: Marxian economics was concluded to be largely indefensible and Marxian sociology was determined to have much more to it.
Presumably in academia what we want is not a diversity of ideas per se, nor even a collection of the most talented proponents of diverse ideas. What we want is a collection of the most talented proponents of the available set of defensible ideas.
"Since it seems that the supply of talented researchers in any specific area is likely fairly inelastic in the short term, to what extent do you see cash funding (as opposed to supply of talent) as a major constraint to specific scientific research in either the short and medium terms?I don't know if I agree that number three is true, but I really couldn't say. This is something for someone like Paula Stephan - who has spent a lot of time thinking about the economics of labs specifically - to weigh in on.
Even if we believe that this funding will lead to a proportional increase in clean-tech research, I suspect that returns may be quite low since the impacts of this funding would seem to be:
1. Pulling smart people from their private sector efforts into publicly funded research
2. Funding marginal projects by lower quality researchers where returns are likely to be significantly lower than average returns to research funding (which may be quite low already)
3. Increasing the funds available to established, high-status labs and researchers. If a large percentage of a lab’s output is due to the abnormally high human capital of its lead researchers, the binding constraint is their time and mental resources rather than cash so the returns on additional cash would not be very high.
4. Allowing institutions that were already going to fund this sort of research to direct additional funds to other priorities such as undergraduate academics (stem or otherwise), student amenities or other unrelated research initiatives. I suspect much of this logic also applies to donations to “cancer research charities” which I believe may be one of the single least efficient use of charitable dollars.
In general, I am disappointed that neither the right nor the left seems interested in trying to estimate the return to marginal government spending on research (either in aggregate or for specific programs).
The points above lead me to suspect it is quite low in aggregate but I’m open to being convinced otherwise if you think there is good evidence to do so."
Daniel Kuehn is a doctoral candidate and adjunct professor in the Economics Department at American University. He has a master's degree in public policy from George Washington University.