Bryan Caplan  

Say It Loud, Say It Proud

Macro Doubtbook, Installment 6... Still Jackasses...
If you were in marketing, would you take this advice?

1. To "raise the status of intelligence and analytical thinking," don't...
...stand for instrumental rationality, for Science, for attitudes which go beyond traditional religion, for the conquering of limits, for probabilistic reasoning, and for the notion that the subject sees hidden possibilities and resources which more traditional observers do not.
Instead, give to mainstream charity.

2. If you value economics, keep it to yourself:
If you are the economically informed member of your family, or perhaps even an economist, don't flaunt it. Hide its universal nature or widespread applicability. Do not present economic wisdom as a matter of principle or a general way of thinking about life.
3. If you're a libertarian, stop attacking the New Deal and jump on the scare-of-the-week bandwagon:
I would like to restructure classical liberalism, or libertarianism -- whatever we call it -- around these new and very serious threats to liberty. Let's not fight the last battle or the last war. Let's not obsess over all the interventions represented by the New Deal, even though I would agree that most of those policies were bad ideas.
The source of all three pieces of advice is my colleague Tyler Cowen.  Notice the pattern?  In each case, he urges people to whom he's officially sympathetic to abandon their main arguments without argument, and try to curry favor by doing and saying "normal" things. 

Frankly, I can't imagine marketing experts recommending a Cowenian approach.  Instead, they'd tell you the obvious: If you've got good ideas to sell, don't be shy.  Affably explain why you're right and your critics are wrong.  Say it loud and say it proud.  Once you reach market saturation, you might want to mix up your marketing a bit.  But until you're a household name, clearly and boldly make your point.  And remember - there's no point in pandering to those who will never buy your product, anyway.

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COMMENTS (16 to date)
david writes:

Tyler Cowen favors stealthy infiltration.

... isn't he married to a Russian? ;)

Travis writes:

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l4k writes:

I hear Tyler is working on a new book tentatively called "How to Win Statist Friends and Think You are Influencing Policy Makers."

Yancey Ward writes:


That is a bit unfair, but simply hilarious anyway.

Tom P writes:

Tyler is a brilliant and insidious man. He knows no one has the time of day for logic. Rather we believe whatever is presented as high status and can be packaged into an appealing narrative with which we want to affiliate. On this account, by posing as a cultish outsider group libertarians achieve little, and I agree with him on this.

A premise behind Bryan's post is that he knows what a marketing guru would suggest: that he (Bryan) state his views loudly and proudly. But would a marketing guru really ever choose the bearded and nerdy Bryan Caplan as a spokesperson for a product? I think Bryan underestimates the value of appearing high status when promoting particular views and that is why he does not appreciate Tyler's perspective.

Chris Koresko writes:

It occurs to me that economists may not be very good at marketing. After all, that is a whole discipline that people get degrees (including advanced degrees?) in.

If anyone here knows anything about marketing, will you please chime in?

Seriously, even a quick scan of this article in the Financial Times shows how divergent the "mainstream" macroeconomic analysis is from anything being advocated here. You (we?) have a lot of work to do!

Doc Merlin writes:

Being extremist and intensely devoted may lose you friends in academia, but it makes you win in public policy debate.

A great example of this is the gun culture in the US. They have won in public policy incrementally and almost continuously for the last decade by actually being that fanatical. Charlton Heston's "from my cold dead hands" speech and the "come and take it" flags with the rifle on them, all spring to mind as examples.

The civil rights movement is another great example, it gained popularity in large part because of the extreme devotion of its adherents.

Doc Merlin writes:

I should add, by being extreme we make Tyler's views seem much more mainstream. This is the idea behind the Overton window. This is also why animal rights groups found more and more extreme versions of themselves. People like PETA and ALF make the SPCA seem normal and have shifted the public policy debate so that everywhere, animal cruelty is unacceptable.

In short, we need more ancaps out there and more fire breathing Judge Napolitanos to make the Tylers seem moderate by comparison.

David C writes:

"If you were in marketing, would you take this advice?"

Yes on the second two. The first statement is taken out of context.

The job of marketing is to make a single change to an individual's habits. If an advertising agency wants to sell a soft drink, they don't tell teenagers they should wear slacks instead of ripped jeans. If they try to make too many changes to a person's beliefs at once, then they just alienate the listener.

mobile writes:

Once you reach market saturation ...

... quickly try to locate a wormhole into another universe, as the heat death of this one will be just around the corner.

agnostic writes:

People don't form their set of beliefs by starting from first principles and building up a coherent system. They mostly go whichever way everyone else is. That's why it's so easy to identify a zeitgeist.

Sadly for revolutionaries, one person or even a cadre cannot wage war against a zeitgeist. You can only spread what is spreadable. Advertisers must slavishly cater to their audience's belief set, desires, etc. The "big man theory" of advertising is wrong.

So if bottom-up, local interactions change in a way that shifts public opinion in favor of your view, you can convert a good number of people. Till then you have to bide your time. Ultimately it probably makes little difference what tone you take -- if the wind isn't blowing that way, no change in tone or approach will affect that fact, and when the wind does blow that way, you won't have to push people strongly anyway.

In general, intellectuals vastly over-rate their ability to affect the zeitgeist. The prima facie plausible cases typically end up with the intellectual elucidating a process that was already underway on the ground, Wealth of Nations being a good example.

tom writes:


Tyler never talks to Matt or Ezra this way. Why to Bryan and Robin?

These exchanges remind me of Tyler's absurd and very late interest in the health care bill(s). I think he's just a lot more interested than you guys are in the people who he thinks are going to win power so he's very careful to engage them while also telling what you need to in order to engage them.

tom writes:

From Tyler's review of the new Prohibition book in Business Week:

If you want to legalize or decriminalize other drugs, you need to think through more than the liberty-based arguments for individual choice and the economic arguments against black markets. You also need to consider whether drug dealers and users will ever achieve enough social respectability to support a change in regime.
(italics added)

Tyler doesn't think Bryan and Robin have the necessary social respectability. (Tyros Matt and Ezra do.) But Tyler wants to help libertarians understand how to act the way Tyler does in order to get it.

I don't think Tyler was on JournoList; he would have disclosed it by now. But I wouldn't be stunned if he was. And I wouldn't be stunned if he got his NYT job by acting as he advises others to act, through hearty recommendations from JournoListers.

ajb writes:

I spoke to a marketing guy who also does work for elections. He laughed at Bryan's claim. He said marketers would never bring up points that strongly induce a person's negatives to go up. Cloning and freezing are so negative in many people's minds that it would be rational for them to bring up the issues ONLY if there were no other issues Caplan and Hanson cared about.

Perry writes:

If Tyler is right, and that's the way to win, I want to lose.

I'm with Bryan. The point is not to twist the mob to follow us for 15 minutes, only to have them then turn on us or otherwise follow some other person who can twist them to his will but is a better bullshit artist. The point is to fix things -- to get a society that truly values things that are good, that instinctively goes in the right direction.

Remember, the point here is not to get power for its own sake. Most of us, I think, already understand how, if we had no scruples, to do that. The point is to actually win, and winning doesn't mean winning for ten minutes, it means winning for the long term, which means that demagoguery will get us nowhere. If you live by demagoguery, you will eventually die when someone better at it arrives.

If the best you can do is win over the mob for brief times, then we've already lost, and it is time for those of us who want to think rationally to leave for the seasteads.

Michael Strong writes:

Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman were the two most influential free market voices in the 20th century; and neither pretended to be more moderate than they were.

See my "Be the Solution: How Entrepreneurs and Conscious Capitalists Can Solve All the World's Problems" for another approach which is, on the one hand, warm and friendly to many leftist concerns (as I honestly am) but which is, at the end of the day, more or less consistent with an anarcho-capitalist perspective.

And yet it was favorably reviewed by The Mother Earth News, was listed as one of the ten best books on Fast Company blogger Lewis Perkins' "Semantics of Sustainability" blog, was treated respectfully at Freakonomics, and was described as possibly one of the most important books in the last 100 years at the Going Primal website, none of which could remotely be described as "right wing." At the same time Arnold Kling here liked it as did Gene Epstein, the Austrian economics editor at Barron's.

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