Bryan Caplan  

The Ideological Turing Test

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In a Turing Test, a computer tries to pass for human:
A human judge engages in a natural language conversation with one human and one machine, each emulating human responses. All participants are separated from one another. If the judge cannot reliably tell the machine from the human, the machine is said to have passed the test.
In his FiveBooks interview with the Browser, Paul Krugman seems to suggests an analogous test.  According to Krugman, liberals have the ability to simulate conservatives, but conservatives lack the ability to simulate liberals:
[I]f you ask a liberal or a saltwater economist, "What would somebody on the other side of this divide say here? What would their version of it be?" A liberal can do that. A liberal can talk coherently about what the conservative view is because people like me actually do listen. We don't think it's right, but we pay enough attention to see what the other person is trying to get at. The reverse is not true. You try to get someone who is fiercely anti-Keynesian to even explain what a Keynesian economic argument is, they can't do it. They can't get it remotely right. Or if you ask a conservative, "What do liberals want?" You get this bizarre stuff - for example, that liberals want everybody to ride trains, because it makes people more susceptible to collectivism. You just have to look at the realities of the way each side talks and what they know. One side of the picture is open-minded and sceptical. We have views that are different, but they're arrived at through paying attention. The other side has dogmatic views.
It's easy to scoff at Krugman's self-congratulation, but at the meta-level, he's on to something. Mill states it well: "He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that."  If someone can correctly explain a position but continue to disagree with it, that position is less likely to be correct.  And if ability to correctly explain a position leads almost automatically to agreement with it, that position is more likely to be correct.  (See free trade).  It's not a perfect criterion, of course, especially for highly idiosyncratic views.  But the ability to pass ideological Turing tests - to state opposing views as clearly and persuasively as their proponents - is a genuine symptom of objectivity and wisdom.

There are important caveats.  Don Boudreaux wisely observes that we should compare liberal intellectuals to non-liberal intellectuals, and liberal entertainers to non-liberal entertainers, not say Krugman to Beck.  I'd add that we should compare people in the same field: Rand's inability to explain Keynesian economics would be no more telling than Krugman's inability to explain Nozickian political philosophy.  (Of course, if Krugman could correctly explain Nozickian political philosophy, that would be fairly impressive).

With all these caveats in mind, let's return to Krugman's empirical claim.  If we did an apples-to-apples comparison, would liberals really excel on ideological Turing tests? 

If we limit our sample to Ph.D.s from top-10 social science programs, I don't see how Krugman could be right.  You can't get a Ph.D. from Princeton econ without acquiring basic familiarity with market failure arguments and Keynesian macro.  At least you couldn't when I was a student there in the 90s.  In contrast, it's easy to get a Ph.D. from Princeton econ without even learning the key differences between conservatism and libertarianism, much less their main arguments.*  And frankly, it shows.  I've known many liberal Ph.D.s from top-10 social science programs - and even those who know me best can't articulate my views well.

Of course, you could dismiss all these claims as swiftly as most non-liberals dismiss Krugman's.  But the beauty of the notion of the ideological Turing Test is that it's a test.  We don't have to idly speculate about how well adherents of various ideologies understand each other.  We can measure the performance of anyone inclined to boast about his superior insight. 

How?  Here's just one approach.  Put me and five random liberal social science Ph.D.s in a chat room.  Let liberal readers ask questions for an hour, then vote on who isn't really a liberal.  Then put Krugman and five random libertarian social science Ph.D.s in a chat room.  Let libertarian readers ask questions for an hour, then vote on who isn't really a libertarian.  Simple as that.

My challenge: Nail down the logistics, and I'll happily bet money that I fool more voters than Krugman.  Indeed, I'll happily bet that any libertarian with a Ph.D. from a top-10 social science program can fool more voters than Krugman.  We learn his worldview as part of the curriculum.  He learns ours in his spare time - if he chooses to spare it.

Want to prove me wrong?  Set up a rough-and-ready ideological Turing Test.  I'll take it first.  Then invite Krugman to make me eat my words.

* You might protest that libertarianism is far less prevalent than conservatism.  But that's only true for the general population, not the world of ideas.  Prominent libertarian economists and philosophers outnumber prominent conservative economists and philosophers.  Can you name a post-1900 conservative economist as well-known as Milton Friedman, or a post-1900 conservative philosopher as well-known as Robert Nozick?


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COMMENTS (72 to date)
Fabio Rojas writes:

"a post-1900 conservative philosopher as well-known as Robert Nozick?"

I don't know about well known among the public, but many academics might consider Carl Schmitt or Oakeshott to be more important than Nozick.

Jim Object writes:

If by conservative you mean "fiscally conservative", I think Rand is better known than either. I would never call her an economist, though.

On all other points, I agree though.

I don't have a PhD yet, but I fit all the other requirements. I'll be the next tier down and still beat him. Or I'll be one of the questioners.

Let me get a team together and see what we can do about getting the test put together.

I'm telling you this though, Krugman won't play. Murphy's challenge has barely hit his radar. This won't either.

Lee Waaks writes:

Caplan is a sure winner. I regret that I have so little money to bet and the fact that Krugman won't take the bait.

Fabio Rojas writes:

Among professors, Schmitt, Strauss, and Oakeshotte are probably considered more important than Nozick, but Nozick is likely more well known among the reading public.

Daniel Shapiro writes:

This is a brilliant post, Bryan.

tim writes:

I don't doubt that many libertarians would score well on such a test but to be taken seriously they need to disassociate themselves from idolizing Rand and her awful texts.

Base your arguments on real world data - not bad novels from the 50s.

Lance writes:

Would Leo Strauss be considered a political conservative?

Jared Rhoads writes:

Rand does not belong in this discussion. She had an ability to discern the philosophical essentials of her opponents positions that was sui generis. Her comparative advantage, intellectually, was to take discussions in subjects like economics to a more fundamental level, not always to engage popular figures on their own turf.

I disagree with Tim's estimate of Atlas Shrugged as a "bad novel."

Ryan Murphy writes:

What about Russell Kirk?

Tony W. writes:

I think Bryan is jumping in front of a bullet that is meant for a different audience. I might be naive about this, but given the bubble that Krugman surrounds himself in, I assume his target is the politician / pundit that carries the conservative flag.
Wherein Bryan selects a situation that is an easy win for his bet, I wonder how the bets would land if the groups were made of politicians and/or pundits?

Say, Limbaugh/Beck/O'Reilly/etc vs. Stewart/Maddow/Maher/etc.?

Or, federal (R) politicians vs. federal (D) politicians?

Maybe pundits from the Sunday shows?

Which "side" can talk their "opponent's" game better?

Peter writes:

Well, the main logistical obstacle is not technical, but getting together the 12 people involved. Getting a dozen top flight academic economists to engage in a potentially embarrassing chat wherein they'll be quizzed on their views and knowledge in a format that does not allow them to use any appeals to their authority, and which potentially results in them being voted as someone unable to convince an audience they're not a fake.

Eugine_Nier writes:

I suspect it will depend on who's judging the test. I suspect a liberal pretending to be a conservative could fool a fellow liberal much more easily then he could fool a conservative, and quite possibly conversely.

Justin writes:

I've read two of Krugman's books- Pop Internationalism and The Accidental Theorist. The funny thing is I remember thinking both were great books aside from from his caricatures of free market economists. If Krugman is serious about this claim I hope he has educated himself more since the 90's. His misunderstanding of libertarian positions puts into question his statements of the other views he attacks in those books, which is a pretty big flaw considering both books focused largely on debunking other people's supposed opinions.

David Friedman writes:

This reminds me of something that actually happened to me in 1964, when I was an undergraduate at Harvard. I was, I think, wearing a Goldwater button, and got into a conversation with a friendly stranger who wanted to know how I could possibly support him.

The conversation ran through a variety of issues, most of which I have long forgotten, but with a consistent pattern. I offered an argument in defense of Golddwater's position. The stranger had clearly never heard that argument and had no immediate rebuttal. Another issue, repeat.

At the end he asked me, in a sort of tentative, not wanting to offend tone, if I was defending the positions as a joke. Pretty clearly, it was the intellectual equivalent of "What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?" How could I be smart and sophisticated enough to make such persuasive sounding arguments for what were obviously incorrect positions, and yet stupid and unsophisticated enough to believe them?

Which gets us back to Bryan (and Mill)'s point. If you can't argue the other side about as well as its supporters, you ought not to have too much confidence that your own views are right.

peter jackson writes:

Krugman? I can name that tune in one note, and I don't even have a college degree.

"What would somebody on the other side of this divide say here? What would their version of it be?"

What would they say? What is their version? Being able to parrot your opponents' argument is not the same as understanding that argument, understanding why they hold their position. To understand your opponent's argument you have to understand their premises on their own terms.

Although it's done on the right as well, it is a rare day when I encounter a leftist that "argues" their position in any other than by (1) taking their opponent's argument but tacitly removing their oponents' premises by substituting their own, and (2) mocking the resulting non-sequitur.

As my Cajun friends say, "dat's logic."

yours/

The Man Who Was . . . writes:

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Shane writes:

This blows my mind!

And no reason to stop here. If we could get politicians and journalists and other public figures into such a test it would be intriguing indeed.

By the way, are people here familiar with the Implicit Association Test? It supposedly shows one's implicit prejudices for a range of topics. You can take demo tests run by Harvard here:
https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/demo/selectatest.html

Apparently I have a whole range of unnoticed bigotries: racism, sexism, ageism, even "weightism". I've always wanted to sit preachy politicians and journalists down in front of this test to see what prejudices they conceal.

Perry writes:

I think I'd easily pass the ideological turing test -- I was a socialist before I became a libertarian, and I'd have no trouble articulating the arguments, though I think I'd have trouble *selling* them at this point because I no longer believe in them.

Many (but not remotely all) libertarians I know started on the left so they can presumably do the same. The notion that they couldn't demonstrates that Krugman is completely out of touch with that segment of the ideological spectrum.

Lee Kelly writes:

Perry has a good point. Almost everyone who is a libertarian had to be convinced out of a previous position; they have had first hand experience of what it is like to be a non-libertarian.

In any case, Krugman acts as though everyone who disagress with him makes bad arguments -- they never make good but wrong arguments. That's usually a good indicator of how well someone understands the views of opponents.

The fact is that most highly intelligent people make good arguments most of the time, not just when they happen to be right.

Chris L writes:

This is an outstanding concept. I'd like to see this catch on in many areas of intellectual/political discussion. In particular, I've found that critics of Ayn Rand either badly misstate her views, or else do as the previous commenters have and offer insults only.

Andrew Berman writes:

Research on this very topic actually shows the opposite:

http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/haidt08/haidt08_index.html

Andrew Berman writes:

More directly:
http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=872251

8 writes:

I already have a test, the Fox News test. If you think their news coverage is biased, you do not recognize balanced reporting. Most networks have a slant to the story and the sound bites are like 70/30, the reporter does voice over to tell the viewer what the other side's position is. Fox is usually pretty close to 50/50, letting both sides express their position in their own words.

Have 100 students watch Fox News coverage of an issue and have 100 watch CNN, NBC, CBS, whatever. Then ask them to explain the arguments of both sides.

John Fast writes:

@Jim Object

I don't have a PhD yet, but I fit all the other requirements. I'll be the next tier down and still beat him.
Ditto, although I have an unfair advantage because political ideology is one of my fields. I'll put up $10,000 of my money -- we can say it will be a donation to MoveOn.org, or to some other charity of Krugman's choice that Bryan will beat Krugman. And another $10,000 that I will beat Krugman.
I'm telling you this though, Krugman won't play. Murphy's challenge has barely hit his radar. This won't either.
Hmm, how much would it cost to take out an ad that runs on the webpage with Krugman's column?

Ben writes:

By cutting off the preface to Krugman's claim, "In my experience with these things..." in your block quote, you make his statement bolder than he intends. He's not making a universal claim about all conservatives; he's just noting his perception of some conservatives. It's a misrepresentation, albeit a somewhat subtle one.

Prateek Sanjay writes:

Conservative philosopher James Burnham, who wrote the famous Managerial Revolution, was perhaps as well known as or more well known than Robert Nozick.

Gabe writes:

Ben:
That sounds like witch talk to me. You sure your not a witch?

I'd definitely pay more to watch this than a debate.

Cahal writes:

I think the problem you would get here - on both sides - is that somebody arguing the other sides position does not believe in it so they would naturally sound unconvinced.

I started off with one set of beliefs, but it was my lack of 'gut' conviction that ultimately forced me to change my views. (I won't name which side because that has nothing to do with my point).

Mahesh Paolini-Subramanya writes:

I could be mistaken here, but Krugman's usual target for this argument is *not* the liberal/conservative divide, but the freshwater/saltwater divide. And in that vein, it isn't all that difficult to discover that most of the freshwater economists of the last two decades or so have virtually no idea of anything even remotely Keynsian....

Michael Drew writes:

Of course, the other thing you could have done with this post in order to refute Krugman would have simply been to correctly explain Keynesianism. But you didn't.

Bill writes:
Of course, the other thing you could have done with this post in order to refute Krugman would have simply been to correctly explain Keynesianism. But you didn't.

I think you missed the point of the post. It wasn't about explaining Krugman's position. It was about setting up an ideological test - a test you just failed because I now know where you stand on the debate.

Dan Dostal writes:

Bryan, this is a sad post. I'm not sure you understand what a Turing test is (it isn't an AI test), you misrepresent Krugman's statement, and your comments section is atrocious. The experiment would be interesting, and I wouldn't be surprised anyway it goes. It's not valid though as it would be completely reliant on the state of mind of you and Krugman the day of the test. Which of course means it is not a Turing test, as it's not logics. It would be rhetoric that fails you or Krugman. Your test would either require educated people that would be looking to spot you or Kruman, or people who are looking for talking points and probably do not understand either side.

Christopher Schimke writes:
Among professors, Schmitt, Strauss, and Oakeshotte are probably considered more important than Nozick, but Nozick is likely more well known among the reading public.

Professors of what?

William H. Stoddard writes:

An interesting relevant case is the Scots science fiction writer Ken MacLeod. He is, avowedly, a Trotskyite who votes Labour. But he has libertarian characters in his novels who don't merely support libertarianism, but argue for it in a convincingly libertarian manner. The Libertarian Futurist Society has selected two of his novels, The Stone Canal and Learning the World, for its annual Prometheus Award, and nominated others.

I'm particularly fond on one of his novels that portrays a future centrally planned socialist society that has a solid gold statue of Ludwig von Mises in its capital. . . .

I have read other fiction by nonlibertarians who get every version of libertarianism they write about hopelessly wrong. Conversely, Heinlein's discussion of Marxist economics in Starship Troopers gets Marxism hopelessly wrong. Writing from a viewpoint you don't share is nontrivial.

Costard writes:

In a test answer follows question. Krugman already knows the answer, and merely hypothesizes the test that will "prove" it.

But a liberal is very naturally going to be critical of a game played in his own court - ie a conservative pretending to a liberal position. Whereas to a group of people who hold similarly caricatured views of conservatives - liberals - their own ideological ambidexterity will seem manifest. To put it another way: in Krugman's world of straw men, can there be any question of his intellectual and moral superiority?

Right Wing-nut writes:

We need a more efficient way to ignore "Bush needs a housing bubble" Krugman.

Liberals pride themselves on their (faux) intellectualism. They make it a source of pride that they have considered all possibilities (they don't). The next stage in this puffery is to claim that they have fully considered the arguments on all sides of issues. Sometimes they actually construct straw men. Sometimes.

There is no need to engage every idea that comes down the pike with equal seriousness. If someone shows me a proof that one equals five, I don't have to find where they divided by zero. I know that the result is wrong so the argument is flawed. It is only take such an argument seriously if I have some sort of personal stake in the mental stake of the adherent.

Once you've read enough communism to recognize its premise that capital is fraud, there is no reason to continue. Once you've observed the repeatedly fraudulent data being put forward by the global warming alarmists, you can safely ignore them.

One who uses an intellectual spoon might admire his effort in constructing the road to serfdom, but I will remain happily ignorant of those details while driving a highway to liberty.

David C writes:

"You might protest that libertarianism is far less prevalent than conservatism. But that's only true for the general population, not the world of ideas. Prominent libertarian economists and philosophers outnumber prominent conservative economists and philosophers." - Caplan

Since you're ignoring the importance of pop culture, I'm assuming the liberal and libertarian readers you'll be relying on for this test will all have PhD's in the social sciences, correct? In that case, if you and Krugman answered the questions honestly, I doubt anybody would mistake you for a liberal or Krugman for a libertarian. Any error rate would be far too low to be of any significance.

Ben writes:

What a great idea!

I suspect people with minority views have a natural advantage at this kind of test, since minorities naturally learn majority views by being surrounded by the majority culture, in this case, liberal academia. To give a more extreme example, I'm positive I, being an American Jew, could pretend to be Christian far more effectively than any of my Christian friends could pretend to be Jewish.

Of course, this minority advantage ought to be minimal when dealing with experts who make their living by making arguments, such as Messrs. Caplan and Krugman.

libert writes:

Right Wing-nut said,

"I know that the result is wrong so the argument is flawed. It is only take such an argument seriously if I have some sort of personal stake in the mental stake of the adherent...Once you've read enough communism to recognize its premise that capital is fraud, there is no reason to continue."

This is not how truth-seeking should work. Just because you intuitively think a conclusion is wrong, it doesn't mean that it is in fact wrong.

I used to be a hardcore liberal. Back then, I rejected conservatism and libertarianism for the exact reason you cite: it was obviously wrong, so why give any consideration to the supporting argument? It was only when I abandoned your method of intellectual inquiry (or lack thereof) that I changed my views.

r.d. writes:

Arguably there are several conservative philosophers as famous as or more famous than Nozick: http://redonkulusblog.blogspot.com/

Hans Gruber writes:

How about this quote from Paul Krugman himself:

"Some have asked if there aren’t conservative sites I read regularly. Well, no. I will read anything I’ve been informed about that’s either interesting or revealing; but I don’t know of any economics or politics sites on that side that regularly provide analysis or information I need to take seriously. I know we’re supposed to pretend that both sides always have a point; but the truth is that most of the time they don’t. The parties are not equally irresponsible; Rachel Maddow isn’t Glenn Beck; and a conservative blog, almost by definition, is a blog written by someone who chooses not to notice that asymmetry. And life is short …"

How can he know what the other side is saying if he openly admits to avoiding their viewpoint?

TrueNorth writes:

I suspect that Krugman is right, but not for the reasons he gives. The fact is that neo-classical ("fresh water") theories are tighter theories than Keynesian theories are. Often it is the case that the story a Keynesian market interventionist is trying to tell is a murky one, involving beliefs that aren't pinned down by any economic theory. To the Chicago/Minnesota/Penn guy, that's just loose thinking, unworthy of one's time. Neo-classical theory, on the other hand, is often a special case of Keynesian theory.

Mike R writes:

Krugman has already admitted some things that suggest he would not know the other side's arguments (although perhaps he is talking about news people rather than theorists). He admitted he does not read conservative sites. He wrote:

Some have asked if there aren’t conservative sites I read regularly. Well, no. I will read anything I’ve been informed about that’s either interesting or revealing; but I don’t know of any economics or politics sites on that side that regularly provide analysis or information I need to take seriously. I know we’re supposed to pretend that both sides always have a point; but the truth is that most of the time they don’t. The parties are not equally irresponsible; Rachel Maddow isn’t Glenn Beck; and a conservative blog, almost by definition, is a blog written by someone who chooses not to notice that asymmetry. And life is short …

See http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/08/other-stuff-i-read/#

This is pretty disqualifying.

[comment edited slightly for clarity--quote indention added--Econlib Ed.]

Miguel Madeira writes:

Google entries for Robert Nozick: 535.000
Google entries for Russell Kirk: 6.230.000
Google entries for Allan Bloom (can be considered a conservative, I think): 957.000

libfree writes:

Leaving the idea of winning this test aside, who would do well on it? On the liberal side, I think Krugman and Delong would do poorly. I think Ryan Avent would do well.

Brandon Berg writes:

It's worse than that. My expectations have been lowered to the point where I'm surprised if an allegedly informed critic of libertarianism can demonstrate a rudimentary understanding of what libertarianism is. Not the arguments for it, just the basic policy positions.

Dr. Friedman:
At the end he asked me, in a sort of tentative, not wanting to offend tone, if I was defending the positions as a joke. Pretty clearly, it was the intellectual equivalent of "What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?"

You mean he wanted to have intellectual sex with you?

Douglas Knight writes:

Miguel Madeira,

but if you use quotes, Nozick beats Kirk and Bloom is first by a small edge.

http://www.google.com/search?q=%22Robert+Nozick%22
http://www.google.com/search?q=%22Russell+Kirk%22
href=http://www.google.com/search?q=%22Allan+Bloom%22

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sven svenson writes:

Okay smart guy, then please explain the Keynesian viewpoint to us. If you can't, then Krugman really is on to something.

Dan Weber writes:

But he has libertarian characters in his novels who don't merely support libertarianism, but argue for it in a convincingly libertarian manner

Carl Sagan's Cosmos is pretty good in this regard. He's an atheist but his theist characters are very multi-dimensional.

I think I could pretend to be either a liberal or conservative economist pretty easily. In either case I'll just need lots of "you don't understand"s, "the point I've been trying to make"s, and "looking at history it's obvious to see that"s.

Michael writes:

Sadly, Bryan reveals in this post that he really has no clue as to what Krugman is talking about. For example, on April 3, 2010 Krugman writes:

"One thing I really liked about the Alesina, [Glaeser, and Sacerdote] paper is that it gives a good hearing to both sides of the debate about whether it’s a good choice (Glaeser, at least, is fairly conservative, but also very fair-minded)."

SheetWise writes:
Okay smart guy, then please explain the Keynesian viewpoint to us.

Government is good, market is bad. The end.

Richard writes:

Here's an analogy for why Krugman and others won't take this bet:

Serious biologists don't engage with creationists, not from the fear of losing but because they just don't want to expend the energy to get to know the other side's point of view in that kind of detail.

dsquared writes:

You can't get a Ph.D. from Princeton econ without acquiring basic familiarity with market failure arguments and Keynesian macro. At least you couldn't when I was a student there in the 90s.

Princeton is very definitely a "saltwater" university in Paul Krugman's terminology, and since he is actually a professor there himself, he is unlikely to be confused about what is and isn't taught there!

Cletis writes:

Just one comment to perhaps deflate the self-congratulations among all the libertarians who know their &#$*. Krugman's 'conservative' opposition is rarely libertarian. The garden-variety conservative does NOT hold libertarian views. They hold supply-side views.

Dan Weber writes:

Okay smart guy, then please explain the Keynesian viewpoint to us.

This isn't indicative, and it's why Caplan proposed something like a Turing test.

Otherwise the script goes like this:

Me: You don't understand X.
You: Yes I do. It's _______________.
Me: WRONG!

Troy Camplin writes:

I have a Ph.D. in the humanities from UT-Dallas, and I will kick Krugman's butt in that challenge, whether on economics or political philosophy.

David Krych writes:

I think Bryan you would not be qualified to take the test for the freshwater side-- after all, you have a Ph.D. from Princeton econ. You studied saltwater economics and yet came to freshwater views. More power to you (and my associated Bayesian beliefs have been updated accordingly). However, Krugman's point I believe was directed more toward people who study at freshwater schools-- that they are never exposed to saltwater views. If anything the fact that you came to your views despite attending Princeton would seem to illustrate his point.

Krugman's point would be better tested by taking a graduate of Chicago (or Minnesota) econ vs. a graduate of Princeton (or MIT) econ and doing the same procedure.

Max writes:

Would you consider challenging Brad Delong? He already responded to your post via his blog. If he is as smart as he thinks he is, he should be willing to take the bet.

Can anyone tell me why liberals such as Krugman who claim to be Rawlsian only consider American borders in their Rawlsian arguments?

sven svenson writes:
Government is good, market is bad. The end.

Ergo, Krugman advocates total communism. Yep. I think you just failed the turing test, robot.

--------

Dan, I don't care what the script is, I just want to see him honestly try.

Jim Glass writes:

I think Krugman and Delong would do poorly

As to DeLong, no doubt about it.

mac writes:

Krugman shows himself for the bully he is. He would prefer to go to the park and find some kid in short pants so he can push him in the mud, instead of picking a fight with a peer. A shining refutation of Krugman's hypothesis is Naomi Klein; Left-wing icon who failed in representing the economics she attacked in her book "Shock Doctrine".

And another thing, wasn't it the great researcher Krugman who jumped on his computer within 30 minutes of Rep. Giffords' shooting to claim Laughner was some political right-wing hack? Talk about finely tuned listening skills hearing only what one wants to hear.

Brian Macker writes:

Krugman is convinced he understands Austrian economics and he doesn't. He thinks it is a "hangover theory". I don't trust him as a judge of his own competence at knowing what others think because he got that so wrong.

J Mann writes:

If you follow the links, Krugman's comment is based on the following bit by George Will. (I've included a paragraph that Krugman doesn't, but it's part of the Will argument that Krugman finds bizarre.)

Forever seeking Archimedean levers for prying the world in directions they prefer, progressives say they embrace high-speed rail for many reasons—to improve the climate, increase competitiveness, enhance national security, reduce congestion, and rationalize land use. The length of the list of reasons, and the flimsiness of each, points to this conclusion: the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.

To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they—unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted—are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.

I'm not sure if this supports Krugman's point. As the first half of the first quoted paragraph shows, Will has listened well enough to summarize the articulated arguments in support of high speed rail.

I'm not sure that Krugman really gets the second paragraph. At bottom, I think that a lot of high speed rail planners really think that people are using automobiles to make the "wrong" choices, and that they should be "nudged" back to the right choices. They shouldn't live in sprawl in their current numbers, but instead, more of them should live in concentrated urban environments with walkable common areas. They shouldn't drive such large vehicles. They shouldn't value acceleration, performance, or safety that can be accomplished through weight as highly as they do. They shouldn't live in McMansions, and they shouldn't have families as large as they do.

There's a chicken-egg problem -- if progressives want to make train riding easier and car commuting harder because they think that people are currently making the wrong choices, are they opposed to individualism or just to this particular instance?

(Also, some progressives would argue that the situation is already unfairly nudging the situation towards cars, but I suspect Will is familiar with that argument and not convinced.)

Hypocee writes:

1. Ayn Rand.
2. Ayn Rand.

Any more stupid questions?

Hazel Meade writes:

I am about to finish my PhD in an interdisciplinary engineering and science program, and will happily volunteer to simulate a liberal.

It isn't just social scientists who learn the liberal worldview as part of the curriculum. We're all trained in the liberal worldview through the media, throughout society. Everyone learns libertarianism in their spare time.

Charlie writes:

If you limit it to macroeconomics, I would take the other side of the bet.

If you put macroeconomists from Minnesota, Chicago and Rochester and compared them to MIT, Harvard and Yale. I don't think the former could answer questions about new Keynesian economics nearly as well as the latter could answer questions about Neo-classical macro and RBC theory.

Jeff writes:

I like how self-congratulatory you people are about not being all self-congratulatory like that terrible Krugman. Humblebragging at its finest.

kris writes:

I'm a total amateur so I may be way off on this but can you assume the two sides are equivalent? The libertarian viewpoint is more simple/focused/defined, from what I've read. The liberal side seems to have a lot more options and so is always going to be more difficult to predict right?

I think the real issue here is that both sides have very complex ideas that take forever to explain, and the other side has to paraphrase.

There's an old saying that if you're not liberal at twenty, you have no heart... and if you're not conservative at forty, you have no brain.

And when you turn that around, it means that when you oversimplify a liberal position, it sounds brainless... and when you oversimplify a conservative one, it sounds heartless.

Liberals would like better economies of scale on transportation for all kinds of good reasons, and because of that they encourage people to make more and better use of public transportation both for the reasons given AND to signal governments that more and better public transportation is necessary.

In short, they want us all to ride trains.

Sounds kind of stupid when you put it that way, doesn't it?

Meanwhile, conservatives think feeding, clothing, and sheltering the homeless is something that was traditionally done by churches and other religious or humanitarian organisations; if they are not doing this anymore, and the government needs to do it instead, then these groups no longer deserve tax-exempt status.

In short, they want to tax all the churches.

Sounds kind of evil when you put it that way, doesn't it?

It's not that either side doesn't understand the other. It's that both sides spend far more time and effort on explaining their own side, because it is in their own self-interest for the other side not to look so good.

In short, it's basic economics. :D

tribsantos writes:

I am afraid that the ideological turing test could have the opposite effect: the parties with the best arguments on their side would fail more to pass as people from the other side than the reverse.
Good arguments are simple. If you ask an atheist why he doesn't believ in god, he can reply simply: there's no good evidence of his existence. And that should be enough. He could be a justified atheist without knowing anything else about religion than that there's no good evidence of god's existence.
Bad arguments, however, can be absurdly complicated, and memorized only by the most fervent follower of an ideology.
Surely a good argument should convince rational people of the correctness of a given ideology, but one of the most prominent characteristics of ideologies is the way they can put rational considerations aside.

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