Bryan Caplan  

My Syllabus of Errors

How Toggling Works (I Think)... Inflation Regimes? Where?...
If Brad DeLong himself has a few mistakes to confess, imagine how many I've made!  I discuss quite a few in my intellectual autobiography, but here are my highlights (lowpoints?), in rough chronological order:

1. I used to think Catholicism was true.

2. I used to think Objectivism was true.

3. I used to think Austrian economics was true.

4. I used to think standard public choice explained political failure.

5. When I first heard rumors of another World Trade Center attack on 9/11, I assumed it had been no more successful than the first.

6. Around 2002 or 2003, I bet Tyler Cowen and Robin Hanson that the U.S. would capture or kill Osama bin Laden within 6 months.  When I lost, I made a double-or-nothing bet for another six months, and lost again.

7. I thought the mortgage crisis was comparable to the Enron meltdown: Nothing to worry about unless you'd chosen to pursue a high-risk investment strategy.  (I know I blogged this, but I can't find my exceptionally obtuse post.  Help!)

On #6: I make a lot of bets, and make money doing so.  I was wrong about bin Laden.  But if anything, my mistake is that I'm betting too conservatively.

On #5 and #7: My default position is that alarms are false.  The first few times I hear anything bad, I immediately dismiss the Chicken Littles of the world.  Once every few years, this leads me into error.  But I still think my default is the right one.  If I had $1 for every "major concern" I've correctly dismissed, and paid $1000 for every "major concern" I've incorrectly dismissed, I'd have a nice nest egg.  And despite everything that's happened, my buy-and-hold 100% equity index funds investment strategy has worked well for me overall - and I'm sticking with it.

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COMMENTS (10 to date)
Phil writes:

You were a Catholic? I was under the strong impression that you were ethnically Jewish. I must be confusing you with some other blogger.

Hyena writes:

How recent was 1-4? I think people's youthful indiscretions should be forgiven.

Troy Camplin writes:

Maybe #7 happened because you no longer believe #3

Felix writes:


If I were in charge of the bin Laden search and found him, I'd keep it all on the QT if, by knowing where he is, I could monitor who comes and goes and especially if it gave an edge on monitoring his communications.

bin Laden probably isn't quite as important as keeping nukes out of his glory-seeking boys' hands.

Just a thought. Hey, you might get your money back!

Bob Murphy writes:

Bryan, can you elaborate on #6? E.g. which of the following is closest to your position?

(A) "The US and British have extraordinarily capable intelligence operations. The government isn't good at fixing poverty, but they can sure get a fugitive if they want to."

(B) "This whole invasion thing is going to be a fiasco. I bet US troops are bogged down for decades. I don't even know if bin Laden is still alive, but I bet the coalition forces stage a capture to boost public opinion for an otherwise unpopular occupation."

Monte writes:

It seems to me that you are at least partially indemnified against losses sustained as a result of your prior faith in 2 & 3, as each contain elements of truth.

Kevin Driscoll writes:

Contrary to Dr. Caplan, I used to think that Atheism has a strong argument against God.

I'm no Evangelist and it had nothing to do with church, but 4 years as a philosophy major convinced me that 'Reason' is not superior to 'Faith.' I haven't read Smith's book, but I plan to now that you have mentioned it.

I would say, reconsider your philosophical skepticism about 'Reason,' whether it exits and what it means, and I will reconsider mine. I recommend a thorough reading of David Hume and strong contemplation on The Problem of Induction because at the end of the day, I think that we are all operating on 'Faith.'

Rick Stewart writes:

I do not believe your 1 to 1000 odds would make you money. We know you have incorrectly dismissed two "major concerns," which requires 2001 correct dismissals just to put $1 in your nest egg.

In spite of the 24 hr news cycle, the Chicken Littles don't actually find new "major concerns" more than twice, sometimes thrice, a week. At 2.5 per week times 52 weeks = 130 "major concerns" per year, you need over 15 years to get that dollar.

If, of course, you are including "major concerns" at home, I am willing to recalculate new data, however I suspect that, occasionally, dinner really is ruined, and eating out actually is the only alternative to starvation/family revolt.

John writes:

Those are some interesting arguments for number 2, but ultimately I don't think he can claim his points and still reject the basis for those points.

As soon as you accept the is/ought gap, I don't think you can make moral judgements that aren't fairly arbitrary, as there's no support for anything. At that point it's "feeling" based instead of reason based. It's certainly convenient to be tolerant of other views, but that may or may not be right.

But then, I'm still young in my philosophical journey, so feel free to dismiss my thought process! (Or, if you see something that I'm missing, enlighten me!)

Troy Camplin writes:

Morality has a biological foundation in our origins as a social species. The details of ethical behavior is worked out in the moral spontaneous order as we learn to live with people and learn to rationalize our drives and, in rationalizing, think them through and adjunst using moral reasoning. Moral philosophers act at eminent critics of the spontaneous order, but they necessarily come much after the fact.

That's the moral universe in a nutshell.

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