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Pick a Topic: What Should a Cowen-Hanson Debate Be About?

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Who wouldn't want to see Tyler Cowen publicly debate Robin Hanson? Well, aside from the masses? I think they'd both be willing, if they could only pinpoint a good topic. A while back they had an extended blog dialogue (see here, here, and here); can you extract a resolution from it?

Personally, the bottom line of Tyler's latest post reminds me of a debate topic that someone suggested after a recent seminar: "Few major changes in the policies of modern democracies are desirable." Depending on when you ask him, Tyler might deny that he believes this, but in his heart, he does. And no matter when you ask Robin, he'll be ready to argue the contrary.

Other topic suggestions? If Tyler and Robin wind up using your novel suggestion, lunch is on me.


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COMMENTS (14 to date)
Patri Friedman writes:

* Reductionism vs. pluralism
* Whether Tyler should sign up for cryonics

They may not have gotten resolution from their previous debate, but it certainly confirmed why I stopped reading MR, and why I find Robin's ideas so intriguing. Robin's thinking fundamentally makes sense to me, while Tyler's is just foreign. Although perhaps Robin would say that means I should read Tyler to avoid confirmation bias :).

Floccina writes:

Marginal medical care.

Jason Brennan writes:

I'd like to see you two argue about the optimal level (i.e., most instrumentally rational) level of epistemic irrationality.
By instrumental rationality, I mean taking effective means to achieve one's ends.
By epistemic rationality, I mean using reliable thought processes to arrive at truth, etc.
Also, I'd like the debate to include collective rationality (what's rational for us to do) versus individual rationality (what's rational for one to do).

I'd expect Tyler to say that perfect epistemic rationality is not instrumentally rational, whereas Robin would disagree. I'd also expect Tyler to say some intelligent things about how we can use our epistemic irrationality to our advantage, or, at least, how we can learn to deal with the fact we aren't fully rational (epistemically) and make the most of it.

Unit writes:

"Should government overcome its own biases and how."

I think it would be a good thing if bias theory started creeping into the political discourse. Robin and Tyler might agree on several things, but also disagree on some details. In any case, if the debate gets picked up by the media, in 2012 we'll hopefully see a presidential debate where Clinton and Bush (which ones?) throw accusations of various biases at each other's throats.

Kevin writes:

If we're interested in having an intellectually provocative debate, I'll second Jason Brennan.

If we're interested in having a debate interesting to libertarians, then pick any small issue upon which Robin and Tyler disagree and go with that.

If we're interested in appealing to a broader audience then go with either a) some decision theory paradox that is comprehensible, or maybe b) how to best argue for freedom.

Tom Myers writes:

The relevance of the Singularity (and related projections) to currently-desirable government policy.

Fabio Rojas writes:

Robin vs. Tyler debate topic?

- is contrarianism useful?
- how much should you care about your health if technology can fix our problems?
- should we allow cloning for organ harvesting? how about for making more people?

Rue Des Quatre Vents writes:

How about: what determines labor quality?

AO writes:

The wisdom of crowds?

Really anything would be great. Could they get it on c-span? Maybe Current? A Reason online / George Mason sponsored event?

Stan writes:

How about: Who should I, as a person knowledgeable about the problems with democracy and a free market libertarian, vote for?

AO writes:

How about Paul Krugman vs Russ Roberts as well?

Rimfax writes:

The role of social pressure/social punishment in modern economics.

Mason writes:

Topic one; Tyler writes - I see "overcoming laziness" or "overcoming fear" or even "overcoming inadequate love of Sichuan chili peppers" as often a more important problem than "overcoming bias."

Is overcoming bias more important than overcoming other short comings?

Topic two; 3 of Tylers 8 points of disagreement are on technical issues, Tyler admits to being less technical than Hanson (does he?), why does he not concede to superior intellect in this field, as he would to an African mythologist (I assume he knows little about African mythology and wouldn't question an expert)?

Topic three; How much is lost when Hanson reduces topics? Is the lost information worth the gain in simplicity? To what degree can we separate facts and values, is it worth the effort?

And for Mason's Anarchists; How successful would anarchy be? Tyler writes, "I think libertarian anarchy would devolve into either chaos or oppressive mafias." To what degree are oppressive mafias different from what we have? Is it worth the risk?

I had the pleasure of being one of Hanson’s students and I suspect a little bias has crept into the questions.

If a topic of mine is selected I’d forgo lunch to have the debate on Saturday.

Bruce K. Britton writes:

Robin says "...it is fine to disagree about values, but not about facts."
This is a quote from an email from Robin to me.
I'm guessing that Tyler would say that it is also possible legitimately to disagree about facts, as well as about values.

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