Arnold Kling  

Bryan's Thought Experiment

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Someone claiming to be Bryan writes,


After fifty years of libertarian dominance in academia, we'd be in the same situation. Lots of our least-favorite policies would be drastically scaled back. But we'd seem out of touch for demanding abolition, and spend a lot of time complaining that "No one listens to us."

I am not sure that Bryan would agree. He has this theory of "idea traps," in which bad ideas lead to bad outcomes which lead to populists with more bad ideas, etc. If libertarian ideas are as good as we say they are (think of how well they worked when they were tried in our Constitution), then maybe the economy would do so well that populist schemes would lose support.


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CATEGORIES: Political Economy



COMMENTS (2 to date)
Steve Sailer writes:

Right. For example, the 1996 power company deregulation legislation in California did such wonders for the California economy that libertarians are universally beloved in the Golden State today.

And how about all the advice American economists gave Russia in the 1990s? That worked out wonderfully!

Daniel Lurker writes:

Steve's examples aren't really that representative of deregulation. CA power wasn't really deregulated - it was only partial. Same story with Perestroika.

A better example might be airline deregulation. Who wants to raise prices to guarentee service standards on airlines? My guess is very few. Sure, people rant about how airline service is lacking, but the media never wags their finger and says "It was deregulation, we must never unleash this monster again".

So maybe both Bryan's are right. When libertarian policies emerge and are succesful, the public stops calling for liberal (in the American sense) ways of adressing that particular issue. If somehow in 50 years social security were deregulated and a succesful private system in place, I think the median voters view on that issue would change substantially, and they might be slightly more supportive of, say, school vouchers. In short - the idea trap works at the margin, and there limits to how far the public will go to either extreme. But Bryan (both of him!) would still be ranting about the Gold Standard, no matter how much reform takes place.

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