Bryan Caplan  

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The Joy of Market-Clearing Wag... Social Security...

If you're thinking of becoming an academic, be warned: You aren't going to get a lot of positive reinforcement. Most of the time you will simply be ignored. Almost all of the remaining feedback is negative. (Stop by my office, I'll show you my drawer full of rejections).

Given all this, I'm frankly touched by the first paragraph of Donald Wittman's reply to me in the latest issue of Econ Journal Watch:

A common complaint by authors is that their reviewers have misinterpreted what the author has said. This is not my complaint here, because Bryan Caplan has explained my position better than I have.

My thesis, in essence, is that Wittman's defense of democracy is basically on target EXCEPT that he is totally wrong to assume that voters' beliefs about politics and especially economics are on average correct. On the contrary, voters systematically underestimate the benefits of markets, especially labor and international markets. Democracy is a great mechanism for delivering the policies that voters believe are a good idea. Unfortunately, their beliefs are awfully silly.

Despite his complimentary opening, Wittman doesn't concede that I'm right. Dream on. But he gives a lot more ground than I anticipated. As far as I can tell, he drops the rational expectations standard of rationality so central to his work. Instead, he switches to the modest position that "to be rational is to have a downward-sloping demand curve." I don't like to quibble about definitions, but frankly this standard of rationality is pretty vacuous. Even two-year-olds have downward-sloping demand curves. Mine do, anyway. That doesn't make them competent to set economic policy, or even to pick someone to set it for them.

Incidentally, kudos to Dan Klein for founding and editing Econ Journal Watch. Econ journals almost never publish comments these days, much less "think pieces" that critique a whole tradition of thought. Klein has created a "nature preserve" for frank, scholarly, no-holds-barred debate about economics. And from what I hear, articles he publishes get about 1000 times as many readers as the typical journal hit.

Listen up, journal editors. The market for ideas is calling. Will you accept the charges?


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The author at IPcentral Weblog in a related article titled Democracy and Markets writes:
    Economist Bryan Kaplan makes a sobering point: "voters systematically underestimate the benefits of markets, especially labor and international markets. Democracy is a great mechanism for delivering the policies that voters believe are a good idea. Unf... [Tracked on April 4, 2005 9:41 AM]
COMMENTS (4 to date)
David Thomson writes:

“If you're thinking of becoming an academic, be warned: You aren't going to get a lot of positive reinforcement. Most of the time you will simply be ignored.”

Positive reinforcement? You most certainly won’t get much of that. We do not live in a fair world. Most academics employed in the so-called soft sciences, I adamantly argue, should be considered as moronic until proven otherwise. It is unfortunate that the really good ones like Bryan Caplan are surrounded by so much mediocrity. This is also why blogs are so important. Professor Caplan gets an opportunity to share his views with the outside world and prove that he’s not a second rater.

Both Ludwig Von Mises and Frederick Hayek were treated with contempt by the academic establishment of their time---and the silly John Kenneth Galbraith taught at Harvard. What more does one need to know?

HedgeFundGuy writes:

I think rationality as the following: beliefs are consistent and unbiased. Consistency is shown when eventually all democracies vote out the socialists because it doesn't work, so I'm a believer in a consistent populace. Unbiasedness implies bad ideas do not have a theme, or something that would allow someone to condition on the information set and basically tell them exactly how and why they are, truly, wrong. The more competitive the market, the less biasedness there is. The marketplace of ideas is not nearly as competitive as the marketplace of liquid securities, and so I think there's a good amount of bias. This bias leads to arbitrage opportunities by clever professors who wish to explain why conventional wisdom is wrong. ayek is great example. He is not a legend because he was clever, but because he was right when most everyone else was wrong about an important issue, and he knew why.

hedgefundguy writes:

should be "Hayek is a great example..."

Lawrance George Lux writes:

Bryan,
Sounds good on Paper, but how far will Anyone allow in challenge to their set beliefs. I sincerely believe Tax Cuts are damaging to economic performance; can I publish in your Journal? lgl

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