Bryan Caplan  

Economics vs. Philosophy: What's Scarce, and How It's Rationed

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Reflection #1 inspired by the Social Philosophy and Policy conference:

In academic economics, the ultimate scarce good is the right to write pieces in plain English for top journals. We ration it by putting economists famous for their mathematical and statistical publications at the top of the queue.

In academic philosophy, the ultimate scarce good is the right to make big claims without argument, as in "It's obvious," "That's daft," and "You're crazy." They ration it by reserving this right for philosophers famous for their complex philosophical arguments. Profs and grad students alike confirmed my suspicion that a low-status philosopher who usurped this right would suffer swift rebuke from his professional community.

Unintended consequence: Conferences for elite philosophers have a surprisingly high ratio of ex cathedra pronouncements to arguments.


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COMMENTS (2 to date)
PrestoPundit writes:

And here's how to become a famous philosopher:

Come up with powerfully clever arguments using premises accepted by most all academic philosophers for an obviously untrue, daft, or just plain crazy conclusion. David Lewis is a modern example. Bishop Berkeley perhaps the ultimate champion of the genre.

Don't try this unless you've come out of a top 5 philosophy department and have yourself an appointment at another top 5 school. The ability to propose this sort of argument is, actually, a good even more scarce than the one you mention.

Robin Hanson writes:

I'll agree these goods are scares and are rationed as you say. The question is how high is their price? That is, among the many rewards offered to "top" people, how large does this good loom in their overall compensation package?

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