Bryan Caplan  

Ed Stringham Won Us $25,000!

Social Security and Global War... McFadden on the Prescription D...
It's a very ancient saying,
But a true and honest thought,
That if you become a teacher,
By your pupils you'll be taught.
              --The King and I

I've long nagged my students to enter essay contests. So I'm especially pleased to report that my former student, Prof. Ed Stringham of San Jose State, seems to have taken my advice to heart.

Ed subtly brought our co-authored essay, "Mises, Bastiat, Public Opinion, and Public Choice: What's Wrong With Democracy?" to the attention of the right people. Lo and behold, we were nominated for a 2006 Templeton Enterprise Award. And at last night's awards dinner, we were delighted to hear that we'd won First Prize and $25,000.

In terms of marginal productivity, Ed deserves the whole prize. I had no idea the prize existed, so no Ed, no prize. Thankfully, Ed is too loyal a student to accept anything more than half the prize plus a $1 finder's fee.

So what's the deal with this article? Long story short: I've spent a lot of time criticizing Mises and other Austrian economists. But I don't hate Mises. I love Mises. He has been one of the primary inspirations for my whole research program on democracy, voter irrationality, and political failure.

For Mises, as for me, democracies adopt bad policies because most people are irrationally committed to systematically mistaken economic (and other) beliefs, and politicians have to heed public opinion to get elected. It's a simple but powerful model, and, despite Mises' reputation as an "anti-empiricist," Ed and I argue that modern research shows that the facts are on his side.

My current plan is to ramp up my pro-contest propaganda. During all these years of nagging students to enter essay contests, it never occured to me that I might get a cut of the prize money. Thanks for listening, Ed!

P.S. Here's the press release.

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TRACKBACKS (9 to date)
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The author at Club for Growth in a related article titled Winning $25,000 writes:
    Bryan Caplan, an economics professor at George Mason University, details how he won half of the $25,000 grand prize in an essay contest with San Jose State economics professor Ed Stringham. It's a fun story.... [Tracked on February 15, 2007 8:55 AM]
The author at Acton Institute PowerBlog in a related article titled Dr. Kevin Schmiesing receives 2006 Templeton Enterprise Award writes:
    Dr. Kevin SchmiesingActon Institute research fellow Dr. Kevin Schmiesing recently received a Templeton Enterprise Award from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. The 2nd place award in the articles category recognized Dr. Schmiesing’s piece, “Another [Tracked on February 16, 2007 11:29 AM]
The author at What Would You Say If You Weren't Afraid? in a related article titled Public Opinion, Bastiat and Mises writes:
    Bryan Caplan posts about the $25K prize he and a colleague won for an essay on two of my favorites, Bastiat and Mises. [Tracked on February 18, 2007 8:44 PM]
COMMENTS (12 to date)
Daniel Lurker writes:


Dennis Mangan writes:

Nice job!

Caliban Darklock writes:

You look so much dorkier in color!

(I should probably label this "compliment" to avoid confusion. It's an economics blog. Dorkness is a status symbol.)

Timothy writes:

Congratulations, Bryan! I hope you buy something awesome with your cut.

David J. Crouch writes:

Sincere congratulations are in order!

However with regards to your critique of Mises, Rothbard et al. While these giants of economic thought were subject to error it seems they were able to understand a few key concepts that have alluded many other economists from the more dominant schools of economic thought. To whit...

No matter how brilliant the math may the end the math is unable, by itself, to fully justify any economic policy. Good economics is not determined or even driven by the application of increasingly complex algorithms.

Good economics can never be associated with initiating the use of force or fraud.

Good economics always has a valid moral component because good economics is a result of human action.

All the best for your future.

Nathan Smith writes:

I'm not qualified to comment on whether your claim that "in the usual public choice view, the voters are right but ignored; in the Mises-Bastiat view, the voters are wrong, but heeded" is a fair summary of the contending schools of thought.

But I do think that both of these positions overstate the completeness of voters' opinions in general. Many issues are too technical for voters to understand the question. Voters' opinions are also sometimes susceptible to be influenced by leaders: American wars, for example, tend to get automatic majority support (though not always of course).

And voters might have opposite opinions on the same issue if it is framed differently. "If you talk about giving people credit," said one of my professors, "they're usually for it. If you talk about putting people into debt, they're usually against it."

Barkley Rosser writes:


eric writes:

I hope you wear your medal around the office for a week (like my 5-yr old son does after he gets his medal for completing soccer season).

Tibor Machan writes:

Maybe democracies are flawed but also unavoidable, unless one wants some version of elitism (monarchy, one party rule, etc.). Certianly to get a constitution approved, even one that then limits democracy for the future, one requires the support of most of the politically active people. This suggests that what is most important for a sound constitutional system is education, the effective promulgation of good ideas. Barring that, what else could do the job?

Sheldon Richman writes:

Congratulations to both of you! Well deserved, I'm sure. I'll read the paper soon.

Snark writes:

Congrats, Prof. Caplan!

Given the dearth of economic understanding demonstrated by those of us you’ve characterized as irrational voters and the presumed policy consequences we’ve visited upon our democracy through our collective reasoning, I can think of no more noble gesture than donating your share of the prize to an organization created for the purpose of educating people in matters of public choice (your raison d'être, The Foundation for Economic Education).

Show us how much you care…

Bruce K. Britton writes:

Bryan Caplan and Ed Stringham need to consider a middle ground between the naive public choice view (the interests are in control) and what they propose as the sophisticated public choice view -- the Mises-Bastiat view ( the public is in control and stupid), namely:

Politicians are sometimes idealistic enough to wish hard issues would not come up just before an election, because then the politicians are forced to act crazy in order to get elected, rather they would prefer to have hard issues come up just after an election, or long enough before an election, so they can do sensible things (not what the stupid public would have them do, nor what the interests would have them do, but what would be the actual best choice for public policy).

In Arlington, Virginia a case of this kind recently came up, where a member of the County Board asked a committee to not have their process end in the September before a November election, because it would force the politicians to 'get crazy' (his words), but rather to have it end sooner, so it would be far enough from an election to not have an effect on it.

You have to realize that a lot of these politicians are volunteers, essentially, and are in it to do the best they can.

If you want details on this case, which is ongoing at the moment, let me know.

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