Bryan Caplan  

Pleased as Punch

Grades Are So Money... Libertarian Basics...

I must gleefully report that I am one of the winners of the 2005 Thomas S. Szasz Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Cause of Civil Liberties, largely for my article "The Economics of Szasz: Preferences, Constraints, and Mental Illness." The other prize-winner is individualist feminist Joan Kennedy Taylor.

There will be an award ceremony at the Cato Institute on September 21, 6:00-7:30 P.M. The event is open to the public, and a lot of my friends will be coming - probably including some of your favorite bloggers. If you live in the D.C. area, it would be great chance to meet in person.

Hope to see you there!

Update: Please RSVP to Andrea Rich at

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (16 to date)
Chris C. writes:

I have to admit that I wasn't too happy when Arnold took you on as a full-time blogger. But now I know it was a mistake. The quality of the average post has decline considerably. That's not a personal attack, just an observation.

The link you give leads to a picture of Thomas Szasz with Tom Cruise. Have you seen Tom Cruise's performance on the Today show with Matt Lauer and his attack on Brooke Shields? In case you missed the Today Show, here is a link. The Citizen's Commission for Human Rights is a front group for the Church of Scientology. How can you presume to write about mental illness when you don't know the first thing about biology or psychiatry? I don't plan on checking Econlog much in the future.

Todd Kendall writes:

There's only a few Arnold Kling-quality writers in the blogosphere, so it's a little unfair to expect anyone to reach that standard, but a quick review of the 20 posts currently visible on EconLog suggests to me that Caplan is not getting a lot fewer (and, if anything, more) comments per post than AK is, despite the fact that Kling's posts are older (and thus have had more time to attract comments).

Comments may not be a perfect measure of the quality of a post, and maybe looking at the archives would change my conclusions some, but they do measure reader interest.

Bernard Yomtov writes:

As long as Bryan sticks to economics, where he actually knows something, his posts are interesting, if weakened by an utter lack of understanding of the world as it really is.

When he delves into literature, or psychiatry, where he has little or no background, his posts are extremely foolish. Szasz's ideas, for example, have about as much serious scientific support as creationism, but to a devoted Randian I guess they have some appeal.

James writes:

I have encountered, on occasion, the claim that a trait common to many left leaning people is the bitter resentment for the accomplishments of others, often characterized by personal attacks and name calling in lieu of sustained argument. But of course this stereotype couldn't possibly be justified, right?

Chris writes:
I have encountered, on occasion, the claim that a trait common to many left leaning people

I'm not left-leaning. I'm a right-leaning libertarian-leaning individual and that's why I read this site. But I think Bernard has it exactly right.

No one is jealous of Bryan's "accomplishment." I read the Szasz paper and it's pretty ridiculous. Even more importantly, it makes no contribution to the work already done by Szasz. It pretty much says, "I agree with what he said," and adds some Econ 101-style supply and demand curves. Not something to be "pleased as punch" about. It is only because Szasz views are so marginal that someone can win an award for vomiting up such work.

This is not a personal attack. If you want to make some judgment about psychiatry, you need to know something about hard-science, biology--especially neurobiology--and medicine. If it was just stuff on the blog I wouldn't care. Hey, it's free speech. We're all libertarians here, right? But when someone publishes an academic article and publically accepts an award for it, is in fact pleased as punch about it, then I think that deserves a smack-down.

David Thomson writes:

Thomas S. Szasz is a very destructive individual. His work concerning the so-called myth of mental illness has caused an unbelievable amount of harm. Szasz is greatly responsible for the mentally ill walking the streets and not the getting the psychiatric help they so desperate need. The next time you observe a homeless person urinating or defecating in the street---just remember the name of Thomas Szasz. It is his foolish shenanigans which has made it so difficult to address such insane behavior.

I am a neo-conservative and not a radical libertarian. There are times when the government is required to step in when people are indulging in self destructive behavior. This is especially true when their aberrant actions impact negatively on the rest of society.

Steven McMullen writes:

For the record, I have really enjoyed reading Bryan's posts. I don't always agree with him, but he is a very creative academic, who is not afraid to apply his ideas outside the strict field of economics. That is one of the main reaons his posts are great. He makes people think, and makes people upset sometimes, which is every blogger's perogative. Overall he and Arnold compliment each other very well, and the blog is better off as a result.

Randy writes:


Read your paper and liked it very much. I've been thinking much the same thing for years - without the economics twist. The psychiatric profession begins with the assumption that "normal" equals "good". To tell someone seeking help that, "if your behavior were closer to normal then your life might be easier", is one thing. To create a catalog of "disorders" is another.

JC writes:
self destructive behavior

So people cannot be allowed to destruct themselves in your view? What is it to you if I wish to destruct myself?

You are right about one thing though David Thomson, Thomas Szasz is indeed a destructive person. He destructs myths and fallacies left right and centre.

Chris - You don't even have to know a hell of a lot about psychiatry to see the chimera of mental illness. Szasz is no Scientologist but there is agreement with them on this one issue.

Bernard Yomtov writes:

I have encountered, on occasion, the claim that a trait common to many left leaning people is the bitter resentment for the accomplishments of others, often characterized by personal attacks and name calling in lieu of sustained argument. But of course this stereotype couldn't possibly be justified, right?

No. It couldn't. There are, of course, plenty of people who are resentful of others' success, but I doubt the tendency follows political lines. If it does, and if criticizing academics for foolishness is a sign of resentment, then I think you will find much more of it on the right than the left.

Am I resentful of Bryan's accomplishments, as you seem to imply? I don't think so. I'm don't even know what they all are, though I know earning a doctorate from Princeton requires hard work and considerable intellect, and I assume he has published some reasonable papers, which is also an accomplishment of note. However, I do have some achievements of my own to be proud of as well.

I don't actually think winning an award connected with Szasz is much of an achievement. Szasz's thinking has pretty well been shown to be wrong. It may not be fair to dismiss him as a crackpot, since his ideas might have had some merit when he developed them, but research into mental illness has long since discredited them. Perhaps Bryan can demonstrate that he is expert in psychiatry, familiar with current research, etc, and that there is scientific, not ideological, support for Szasz.

As far as my further comments go, in the matter of literature i was reacting to a long-ago post of his that sought to declare Ayn Rand a giant of Russian literature. That's ludicrous. As for economics, I do sometimes get the impression of a true believer who has little experience in the world, and whose thinking is so controlled by his ultra-libertarian philosophy that it is difficult for him to understand other points of view.

I concede that I get a little snarky about some of these things from time to time. I try to avoid it but it breaks through. Devout ideologues have that effect on me.

Scott Scheule writes:

If Dr. Caplan finds his way through the rather idiotic commentary above, I will opine that I very much enjoy his posts and do not think any of the criticism above is justified.

From the Museum of Communism writes:

Ideology - that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination... Thanks to ideology, the twentieth century was fated to experience evildoing on a scale calculated in the millions.
Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

Uriah Heep writes:

Chris, I have to admit I felt the same way towards Bryan when I first started reading his posts. But must admit I now look forward to his bizarre posts on a daily basis. He definitely likes to stir the pot... But dear god, I can't imagine taking a class with him. Any of his former/ current students out there care to comment?

Guy Montag writes:

I took a few classes from him, and looked forward to every lecture.

Bryan is capable of looking at the world and mocking the things that don't fit for him - and not caving into the received wisdom. Ever. Think James Gandolfini meets Matt Groening.

He stirs the pot even more in person than on the blog. If you want an idea of what his lectures are like, you may want to check the notes on his website.

On top of that he's a nice guy.

Museum of Communism (Bryan's site) writes:


Thanks for the tip. There's a lecture called Some Modest Proposals which advocates baby selling, the legalization of drugs, and requiring people to pass a test in order to vote. You can check it out here:

jaimito writes:

You people are so mean. No one above congratulated Bryan for the Prize.

Congratulations, Bryan!

Footnote: I dislike Dr. Szasz for my own crooked reasons. Szasz is Hungarian for Saxon and I suspect Dr Szasz is no Saxon. I dislike my compatriots who adopted names like Szasz (Saxon), Toth (Croat), Szekely (Eastern Hungarian), Nemeth (German) and so on.

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