Bryan Caplan  

Caplan-Hanson Debate: Now Taking Requests

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Robin Hanson and I have agreed to debate each other before the GMU Econ Society after spring break.  But we can't decide what to debate about.  Robin accordingly suggested that we ask our blog readers for requests.  It needs to be a fun topic where Robin and I moderately disagree; otherwise, the sky's the limit.

So what do you want us to argue about?

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COMMENTS (39 to date)

Why philosophy departments do not seek wisdom.

Blackadder writes:

Best I can tell, the only thing you and Hanson disagree about is disagreement, and even in that case your differences are mild.

David writes:

Bryan says:

"Robin Hanson and I have our fair share of philosophical disagreements."

Thesis: These, or at least some of them, are "honest" disagreements.

paul writes:

how about "is the growth of the state inevitable"

Steve Miller writes:

The singularity?

But that's probably just a disagreement over p values.

Les writes:


dearieme writes:

Only beauty matters.

John Pertz writes:

Education reform?

Isegoria writes:

What manner of government would have the right incentives to nurture economic growth and liberty — without angels in office?

El Presidente writes:

I second Les, if I can watch. Will it be recorded, webcast?

You two should debate, what if anything in this Pravda article will come true?

John Hall writes:

Debate whether or not to use a futures markets for nominal GDP (or CPI or something) as the key determinant of monetary policy (the Scott Sumner proposal).

Or my second topic: bias.

ssendam writes:

Do either of you two know anything about macro? And if not, how do you evaluate conflicting claims by "experts" in macro?

Stephen Schweizer writes:

Why don't you debate about futarchy?

JP writes:

How about:

"Is there such a thing as market failure? If so, when and how often does it occur, and what if anything should be done about it?"

Zac writes:

The topic should be:

Would futarchy be superior to anarchy? - The only problem is that I am not sure that Robin believes this. It is possible that his interest in futarchy is just an interest in alternative social systems which he rightly believes we underinvest in, but not necessarily the "best" form of government (or nongovernment).

I also humbly submit the following, which are more philosophical in nature:

Do humans have free will? - Bryan believes in free will. Robin does not. Tagline: "Is the outcome of this debate predetermined by initial conditions?"

Are some things (i.e. mental phenomena like thoughts, etc) non-physical? - Bryan believes in a dualistic philosophy of mind and further maintains that it supports classical liberalism better than physicalism. (This is actually my first choice, but since these are econ professors at a debate sponsored by the econ club, I suggested the political economy topic above.)

Is libertarianism intrinsically just, or must it be justified on consequentialist grounds? - I know that Robin thinks Bryan is wrong about some matters of libertarian ethics, this is a shot in the dark about what they might debate.

As much as I love and appreciate Bryan and Robin, my biggest fear is that this debate might end up being dry (go figure), but hey, maybe not. I'm still keeping my fingers crossed for the Great Caplan (or Hanson) vs Cowen debate. But this one could be good too (provided one of my topics is chosen).

Eric Crampton writes:

Resolved: Hanson's Futarchy model will not work because of rational irrationality. While the markets would nicely track which policy best will deliver GDP+, explicit voting on the definition of GDP+ will force transparency in areas where politicians currently offer cheap symbols rather than real expensive policies. We'll more efficiently chase a worse goal as politicians will no longer be able to insulate us from the worst of our expressive preferences.

Presumably Caplan pro, Hanson against. This has bothered me about futarchy for a while.

Jayson Virissimo writes:

(1) What is the current state of macroeconomic theory?


(2) Who should we trust to determine macroeconomic policy?

aaron writes:

Should interest or principal payments be tax deductable?

Glaeser makes some arguements for cutting the interest deduction.

John Turner writes:


It looks like Robin already answered your question, and I don’t think Brian would disagree with Robin here.

Arare Litus writes:

Claimed beliefs are irrelevant. e.g. liberatarian professors discount and undercut their claims by their actions (at least those working for publically funded universities), politicians likewise, etc. etc. etc. Essentially everyone claims one set of beliefs, and behaves according to their "real" beliefs. Is this irrelevant? Or crucial?

This strikes at economics, free will/action, psycology, etc. A strong claim would be that the level of discrepancy between claimed belief and action is completely irrelevent, a counter claim is that reducing discrepancy is a moral imperative.

There is a large spectrum for disagreement, and even mild disagreement should have lots of interesting and differing reasons that lead to near same outcome in beliefs. It should therefore be fun and enlightening, irrelevent of degree of difference in belief.

Zac writes:

@Arare- I do like your topic but I wonder what they would disagree on? Who would take which position?

Personally I prefer a topic where the disagreement is stark. Robin calls Bryan the "sharpest thinker he has ever known" and Bryan says "No one is smarter than Robin Hanson" - its going to be quite friendly by default.

Alex J. writes:

I second Eric Crampton.

John Maxwell writes:


David Jinkins writes:

I second Cryonics as the best topic. Robin passionately believes in it, and you, Bryan, have mentioned that you think the chance of "you" being revived (and not a "copy of you" whatever that means) is very small.

Another possible topic is optimal number of children. Although I am not sure what Robin thinks about this, I believe your view is quite different from the mainstream. According to Robin's work, then, you must know something that other people don't or have different priors for some reason.

Both of these topics are important for young people deciding what to do with their lives. Will we blog readers have access to the final debate?

Jayson Virissimo writes:

David Junkins,
If I remember correctly, Robin Hanson believes that the chances of being revived are very small too, but that it is worth it because the payoff is so big.

Isak writes:

Any or all of the following questions:

Will the Stimulus Bill produce a stimulus?
How do you measure that a stimulus worked?

If there is a good type of stimulus which works, and a bad type which doesn't, then what are the examples.

If the stimulus is taken out of future earnings by borrowing, is that later negative effect figured into the measurement of the stimulus?

Does "stimulus" mean a greater effect than just the temporary increase in purchases? Is there an increase in wealth that exceeds what is spent (the stimulus multiplier)? How is that measured?

If there is a stimulus multiplier, what is the mechanism of the multiplier? Is that deemed to be a result of the Keynesian spending and re-spending equation?

Subprime loans produced a large stimulus to the economy, supporting building and increased consumption. Was that a good or bad stimulus?

If the failure to repay those loans cancelled the stimulus effect, should we risk the faiure to repay current borrowings, cancelling any stimulus effect and leaving us poorer in the future? Is that a risk we should take?

Stuart Armstrong writes:

Status. Is it possible to measure the importance of status to people without confusing with other factors? Here I'm talking about the absolute importance of status, not the marginal importance.

scineram writes:

Free will all the way.

EclectEcon writes:

What should the market for adoptable infants (and others?) look like? Who should be expected to bear what risks, and what should be the role of govt in the event of contract breach?

Nick writes:

Rothbard is miles better than Mises. Mises is miles better than Hayek (Friedrich Von, not Salma).

Carl The EconGuy writes:

What Jason Virissimo said, but expanded:

1. Since modern macroeconomic theory has proved itself completely irrelevant in explaining the causes and nature of the current economic slowdown, what's missing and how should it be modeled? Is it time to scrap the modern SDGE paradigm for how macro is to be conducted?

2. Why is simple keynesianism still resorted to when the modern institutional environment in money, finance, taxes, regulations, and internationalization is so vastly different from '30s?

3. Why is everyone panicking about a Great Depression after a one-year recession of significant but historically not unique magnitude?

ngoldschlag writes:

Could you find something about health care to debate about?

Floccina writes:

Teaching evolution in schools. Hanson seems to believe that the tax payers should have the right to choose what their children are taught, you might think significantly different on that.


Education and healthcare even though you mostly agree you must disagree on soem points.

RL writes:

Government: Threat or Menace...

You could each choose a side.

tom writes:

Freedom questions:

1. What would you do if it was legal that you do not now do?

2. Why do you not cheat on your taxes? Would you if you were confident you could get away with it and that you would face a minimal penalty even if caught?

3. If you had a good job offer from a university in Singapore for you and a group of Mason people to develop an entire department there, would you be interested in leaving the US?

4. If you believe that there is a small group of people whose skills are highly useful today and a large group of people whose skills are not useful or are minimally useful, what do you think would be a wise way to 'take care of' the second group? Do you think they should be able to vote? Do you think they should be allowed to have more children than they can be expected to support financially?

5. You believe in free migration. But you live in a country with social programs that place a lot of the risk of immigrants' failure on non-immigrants through social programs that you probably do not believe should exist for immigrants or non-immigrants. If you accept that the programs will not go away and will continue to apply for immigrants, do you still favor open immigration to the US?

Grant writes:

Bryan is an anarchist, while Robin doesn't seem to take a clear position. I'd like to see anarchy vs. state-supported futarchy debated.

Of course, anarchy might well include futarchistic systems, but they'd come about in a different manner than a state's futarchy.

David Jinkins writes:


Right, Robin thinks the chances of revival are "small", but large enough to justify being frozen because of the huge payoff. For Robin, "small" is about 5%, which many would consider quite large:

Bryan previously mentioned that he thinks the chances of revival are VERY VERY small (one in a billion):

I consider this a serious difference of opinion.

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