Bryan Caplan  

Richman on How to Break the Catch-22

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From Sheldon Richman's review of my book:

Caplan's solution is to "rely more on private choice and the free market." Good idea, though you'd have to get people to vote for that, so I'm not sure how effective that will be. Economic education for the public also would also seem in order. But just straightforward teaching won't be enough, for as Caplan elaborates, people hold fast to their errors through "emotional commitment." "A good teacher could change some minds, but the best teacher in the world would be lucky to convince half," he writes. Dogma dies hard.

At the very least, this implies that the case for liberty must be pressed across the entire cultural front, especially in movies and novels where emotions as well as reason can be appealed to. We must find emotional commitments in the population that are consistent with freedom. Libertarian strategic wisdom may well begin with Jonathan Swift's insight: "It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into."


So what do you think? Could the average intellectual do more for the world by switching from creating new ideas to injecting old ideas into the arts?

Personally, I suspect that even heavy-handed didactic art rarely changes people's minds; they either miss the point, or say "it's just a movie." What do you think?


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COMMENTS (10 to date)
Sheldon Richman writes:

I was thinking of something other than the heavy hand--that can be counterproductive. I confess I was just taking a stab. I have to do something to keep from falling into the abyss of pessimism, if I'm not already there. Your marvelous book hasn't helped. :-)

Christina writes:

People tend to agree with people they like, the ideas are secondary.

jb writes:

No, this is spot on. Use freedom and free markets as critical and meaningful pieces of the plot of creative works. And make sure a bunch of the creative works involve combat and special effects, and the rest involve young adult girls having adventures together.


Why? Because the teenagers who are still forming their moral beliefs will watch/read/listen/play with these creative works, and they will absorb some of the concepts.

When I look back at my own childhood, the impact of Star Wars when I was young, Atlas Shrugged when I was in college, Kurt Vonnegut at various points in between (and after); Aesop's Fables, MASH, The Cosby Show, Dr. Who, various sci fi and fantasy novels (too many to list)... all of these had an impact on my perceptions of the world, and of people's place within it.

That's the time to get people excited about freedom. When they are trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up.

Matt writes:

Think of the arsenal of the left: tv, movies, music, public school.

Frankly, it'd be a good area for conservatives and libertarians to once again collaborate, because neither side has enough media assets to mount a serious challenge. The only thing is to avoid being overtly political. Even conservatives watch the Daily Show, but liberals do not watch anything on Fox News. Many liberals love South Park, even though the creators f-ing hate liberals.

conchis writes:

Bryan, what did you think of Dani Rodrik's response to your book?

TGGP writes:

I've heard that a lot of lefty hippies loved "The Fountainhead" without realizing it was advocating capitalism. I'm not sure it would be better if they actually understood it since Randroids are notoriously messed up, but on the other hand I've made it a point never to read any Rand and it could be she's absolutely right about everything and truly the greatest person who ever lived. I say boo to Richman's approach. If you can't get people to think instead of following their emotions, there's little point. It would be like trying to get the "right" person in charge of a communist dictatorship.

Sheldon Richman writes:

Well, I don't have a good response to "boo." I presented the general idea in the spirit of "let a thousand flowers bloom." I am not in the arts. I work for an economic-education foundation. So I have not given up on rational persuasion. But I appreciate the cold water Bryan has splashed in all our faces. Before his book came out, I had remarked that after 60 years explicit of free-market education for the public in America (FEE and other groups), the minimum wage is still popular. I think that confirms Bryan's thesis.

It sounds to me like you, Bryan, may have bought the idea that the way to get political liberty is to convince 51% of your neighbors to join you in voting for it. But I believe that political liberty, such as it has existed on Earth, has never yet been created in that way, not on any significant scale. As I sketch in my paper, The History of Free Nations, all the free nations which have existed to date on Earth grew spontaneously, without human design for the most part.

Floccina writes:

The solution IMO is personified by Bill Clinton. He always gave me the impression that he knew economics and science but also knew what people wanted to hear. He would say exactly what people wanted to hear for example on trade he ran against NAFTA on education he about talked more money for education and training and that education was the solution to all problems, he talked up global warming too, but as a governor he avoided anything that would cause any major economic harm before he was out of office. He did not sign the Kyoto protocol he did sign NAFTA and did not do too much stupid stuff on education (less than Bush IMO). He did not push too hard for socialized medicine.

Maybe con men are what we need in government.


An interesting idea that is related to this:

Medical spending is up to 17 percent of GDP and rising, at what point do the number of voters working in medicine make it very difficult to socialize medicine, just like the number of voters on Social Security make it very difficult to reform Social Security.

TGGP writes:

I guess I was a bit too flippant in my response, Sheldon. Education doesn't seem to have done much, although on the other hand I don't know how many people have actually read the F.E.E's materials. I can't really think of any feasible way to change public opinion that doesn't want to be changed. Most people seem to have a rather unreflective status-quo bias, so if you can figure out a way to achieve desired policies without requiring their consent and maintain that for a while, they may not immediately overturn them given the chance. Of course, what I have described is basically the what happened to the United States. It didn't last perpetually, but I'd say freedom had a relatively good run and that's got to count for something.

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