Bryan Caplan  

My Beautiful Bubble

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Discussing Charles Murray... Real Austerity...
Unlike many readers of Coming Apart, you don't have to convince me that I live in a Bubble.  I've known it for decades.  In fact, I think my 3-out-of-20 score on the "How Thick Is Your Bubble?" quiz greatly overstates my integration into American society.  I live in a Bubble Within a Bubble. 

You might even call it my Imaginary Charter City.  I'm not just surrounded by Ph.D.s; I'm surrounded by libertarian economics Ph.D.s.  I'm not just unfamiliar with NASCAR; I forget the very existence of professional sports for months at a time.  I don't just watch shows for yuppies; I manage my entertainment to make sure that I never hear a commercial.  In my world, Alex Tabarrok is more important than Barack Obama, Robin Hanson is more important than Paul Krugman, and the late Gary Gygax is more important than Jeremy Lin... whoever that might be.

Unlike most American elites, I don't feel the least bit bad about living in a Bubble.  I share none of their egalitarian or nationalist scruples.  Indeed, I've wanted to live in a Bubble for as long as I can remember.  Since childhood, I've struggled to psychologically and socially wall myself off from "my" society.  At 40, I can fairly say, "Mission accomplished."

Why put so much distance between myself and the outside world?  Because despite my legendary optimism, I find my society unacceptable.  It is dreary, insipid, ugly, boring, wrong, and wicked.  Trying to reform it is largely futile; as the Smiths tell us, "The world won't listen."  Instead, I pursue the strategy that actually works: Making my small corner of the world beautiful in my eyes.  If you ever meet my children or see my office, you'll know what I mean.

I'm hardly autarchic.  I import almost everything I consume from the outside world.  Indeed, I frequently leave the security of my Bubble to walk the earth.  But I do so as a tourist.  Like a truffle pig, I hunt for the best that "my" society has to offer.  I partake.  Then I go back to my Bubble and tell myself, "America's a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there."

Many people will find my attitude repugnant.  They shouldn't.  Yes, I step to the beat of my own drummer.  But I'm not trying to push my lifestyle on others.  I don't pester people who identify with America as it is.  Indeed, I wish outsiders the best of luck.  My only request: If you're not happy with your world, don't try to pop my beautiful Bubble.  Either fix your world, or get to work and make a beautiful Bubble of your own.


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COMMENTS (62 to date)
Steve Sailer writes:

Of course, if there were a big war, it would be nice to be defended by all those dreary American you despise.

And, the irony is, they'd do it, too, just because you are an American.

Pyramid Head writes:

I'm not an American, but I also scored between 0 and 4 on the Bubble test.

And I share most of your feelings toward society (although I'd say I'm more antisocial than you: other than my wife, I've no close friends at all). No professional sports for me, either.

I watch plenty of movies and TV shows, but I get all of them on bittorrent, so no ads for me. My music comes from iTunes, and I spend most of my free time reading books on my Kindle, fiddling with iPad/iPhone, coding or playing with my PS3 or Xbox360.

And just like you, sometimes I've to get out and interact with the broader society which surrounds me. But I'm always eager to leave, and glad when I return to my bubble. Quite a useful metaphor.

William Bruce writes:

"And, the irony is, they'd do it, too, just because you are an American."

In Bryan's defense (no pun intended), his bubble does export more than its own fair share of taxes, at least by his own estimation.

Doesn't it make sense for something as poppable as a pacifistic bubble to pay tribute/bribes/protection money?

Gerald writes:

I would have to say that this is one of the more judgmental and arrogant posts I have encountered. I don't usually react to this type of entry, but if this is what comprises an "elite", then I am certainly glad not to be among that cloistered group. The superior attitude exhibited here is disgusting.

Bob Knaus writes:

Writing to you from my sailboat in the Bahamas, I say "Amen"! As a high school dropout who made some money as a management consultant, I am all in favor of letting people prove themselves as circumstances dictate.

James writes:

I can 100% relate. I took it to the next level, I moved to Singapore.

Marc writes:

Another "amen" here.

Of course, if there were a big war, it would be nice to be defended by all those dreary American you despise.

I have a lot of mutually beneficial arrangements with people who I might despise if I knew them, and vice versa. I don't think this is unusual. I think it's great.

Jeff writes:

When you act so condescending about it, is it really so surprising that people won't listen?

With an attitude like that, something tells me the rest of America is probably happier with you in your bubble, also.

I appreciate the apparent underlying motivation in this chosen lifestyle. I think differentiation from 'the herd' is a noble pursuit that demonstrates a degree of clarity and courage seldom seen in a system that prefers (and often demands) conformity.

I also think it is important to recognize that apathy is a luxury provided by the very system you denigrate. It appears that you benefit from the security and bountiful supply of our system, yet participate or offer little in return. Noble though your motivation may be, your approach appears inherently selfish.

I respectfully suggest that the isolation you have chosen is a valuable refuge, but is not a sufficient solution to what disagreements you have with the world around you. After all, this society is ultimately defined by its members, not some external and immovable force. I would posit that your role in this society as a productive contributor, rather than a withdrawn critic, would likely benefit the system, and us all, considerably. The courage to individuate is admirable; even more, the courage to integrate.

David Friedman writes:

As your examples demonstrate, you actually live in several intersecting bubbles. Gary Gygax was not a libertarian economist.

William Bruce writes:

"Gary Gygax was not a libertarian economist."

I hear that he worked on game theory, though...

Jeff writes:

One more thing:

Indeed, I've wanted to live in a Bubble for as long as I can remember. Since childhood, I've struggled to psychologically and socially wall myself off from "my" society. At 40, I can fairly say, "Mission accomplished."

Okay, so you've had a strong urge all your life to segregate yourself from people unlike you. Reconcile this with your support for unfettered immigration. I don't see it.

As a highly educated person with a generous endowment of social capital, you can achieve your own self-segregation relatively easily: working at a University, buying a house in a neighborhood those insufferable proles can't afford to live in, etc.

Other people are not so lucky, but may have the same urge to self segregate that you do. I'd imagine this urge is quite common in all hominid species. In light of this, is it so awful that other people might choose to band together and use the apparatus of government to achieve the same goals of creating their own little bubbles? I know, I know, government is coercion, and therefore you can pat yourself on the back because you've created your little Caplan Compound without resorting to force unlike those unenlightened masses of nincompoops who never read For a New Liberty.

Spare me. If the rest of humanity is so dreary, wicked, and blah blah blah, why give a hoot whether some of them choose to build a fence somewhere and stop others from passing it? If you have no egalitarian impulses, as you claim, then what difference does it make to you that some Haitians or Mexicans or whoever are denied the opportunity to drive a cab or wash dishes in Miami or wherever? Why does it trouble you in the slightest? Why not just say "yeah, that's too bad; they probably should let people migrate freely to take advantage of better economic and social opportunities, but oh well" and then find something more interesting to blog about, like what Robin Hanson said at lunch today or something?

Nick Danger writes:

"therefore you can pat yourself on the back because you've created your little Caplan Compound without resorting to force unlike those unenlightened masses of nincompoops who never read For a New Liberty."

But, no he hasn't. Bryan works for the government. It's our taxes that pay for his bubble.

Hume writes:

Bryan, This is why I think you should be highly suspicious of your own ability to talk about "our" moral intuitions about this or that. Someone in a bubble, influenced at an early age by Ayn Rand, is likely to have different intuitive reactions to all sorts of particular moral situations than people with an integrated and socialized upbringing/outlook.

Will writes:

So when you make arguments about the deservingness of the poor, you are arguing from 0 personal experience?

Do you worry that your complete disconnect from how most people live and make decisions makes your study of economics somewhat ungrounded?

PrometheeFeu writes:

@Jeff:

"Other people are not so lucky, but may have the same urge to self segregate that you do. I'd imagine this urge is quite common in all hominid species. In light of this, is it so awful that other people might choose to band together and use the apparatus of government to achieve the same goals of creating their own little bubbles?"

Yes. If I invite someone in my house or decide to engage in a mutually beneficial exchange with them, it is thoroughly unacceptable for you to interpose yourself (whether personally or using the force of government) in that private transaction and they and I would be well within our rights to defend ourselves from your violent aggression. The fact that the other person was born in a place far away changes nothing.

Xerographica writes:

Heh, I really liked your post! The second time I read it I was listening to My Little Corner of the World by Yo La Tengo.

Your post is like a diorama. It's like the movie Amelie. It's like a terrarium with poison dart frogs and miniature ferns and orchids. If I was a member of an advanced alien civilization then I'd add your diorama to my collection. Your diorama is like what Patri Friedman is trying to do down in Honduras.

Speaking of Honduras...a long time ago I spent a month living on a small island off the coast... Roatan. It had the best gym ever...rusty weights in a bohio that was almost completely surrounded by turquoise water so clear you could see barracudas staring at you while you lifted weights. I wonder if the barracudas ever grew tired of listening to the same Bob Marley CD that the gym owner played over and over and over...

You know what I do these days to stay in shape? I shuffle around the house. All the cool kids are doing it...which makes it pretty funny because I am neither cool nor a kid.

Speaking of cool kids doing cool things...can you do me a favor and have another debate with Peter Boettke? Rather than debating Austrian economics though...it would be pretty awesome if you guys debated pragmatarianism.

ajb writes:

@PrometheeFeu

Nonsense. The constitution gives the right to decide on who is a citizen or immigrant to existing citizens. The fact that you wish to override this lawful consensus is no different from radicals who want to override property rights on the grounds that it was illegitimately stolen from Indians and on the utilitarian grounds that a lot of poor people would be better off if more of your goods were given away.

Caplan similarly wants to pick and choose which property rights of the social contract he likes and which he can choose to ignore. It is not a surprise that this aspergery attitude among libertarians allows their pockets to be metaphorically picked by socially savvy leftists policy makers.

ajb writes:

Caplan's post dovetails nicely with the discussion of Murray. One way to interpret the post 60s counterculture and the way that laws, rules, and norms have changed is that it has permitted the elites to have a great deal of moral flexibility while still living in orderly, prosperous bubbles.
However, these changes drained the social capital of the lower half of the distribution and left them much worse off. In the end what they have effected are rules that favor their lifestyles while making them feel smug in that "everyone" is more "free" to live as they wish and the consequences be damned. In contrast, earlier generations understood that those rules and norms were better for society as a whole and a world with a disintegrating lower /middle class is one that will not long sustain our prosperity no matter how much the elites think they're isolated.

In much the same way, the Euro project is forcing the elites of the North (e.g. Sweden and Germany) to live with the less functional states of Greece, Italy, or Portugal who adopted their welfare systems without their norms.

David Friedman writes:

"Do you worry that your complete disconnect from how most people live and make decisions makes your study of economics somewhat ungrounded?"

I'm not Bryan, but I am an economist, and I will happily confess to being ignorant of how most people live. That, however, doesn't differentiate me from other peopleā€”I would guess that very nearly everyone is ignorant of how at least 80% of the people now alive live, and more than 95% of those who have ever lived. Despite which, human beings, across time and space, have enough features in common to make it possible to construct useful theories about them, including economics. And apply those theories to help us understand things about people very different from ourselves.

Would you argue, similarly, that Newton's theories are obviously irrelevant to the movement of the planets, since they are many millions of miles away and he never got even a mile off of Earth's surface?

PrometheeFeu writes:

@ajb:

The federal constitution is not the end all and be all of all rights. For instance, under the constitution, congress could ban all interstate commerce. But hey, it's in the constitution, so it doesn't violate anybody's rights right?

ajb writes:

Hey fine. Go ahead and change the laws, but enforce them at the moment. Yet that standard is never applied to illegal immigrants whom Caplan routinely approves of.

And frankly none of his utilitarian arguments about the benefits of immigration or the "small" harms to citizens are different from those of redistributionists for property takings. They always claim larger "moral" benefits.

Societies are always about finding compromises for competing, incompatible moral claims. It's a mistake to think live and let live is possible in certain realms.

So yes, his attitude is repugnant. And no, he CAN'T claim he doesn't "pester" other people because he does.

Mike Rappaport writes:

I don't understand the hostility towards Bryan's post. He doesn't like much of America society and culture. I share some of that (but I do like basketball). What is the big deal? Yes, he used some strong words to criticize it -- perhaps they were a bit strong -- but so what. Why is that offensive? Most of the people in American society don't like the stuff that Bryan is in to. Is that offensive?

Wayne writes:

I'm reminded of a quote from a professional video gamer:

Whenever someone tells me that I should get out and see the world, I tap my head and tell them that there is a whole universe in here.

Shane L writes:

This all seems quite in keeping with a libertarian outlook, so I'm surprised by some of the responses. If Bryan is not comfortable with or interested in many of the mainstream cultures of the US then it seems understandable that he would wish to avoid empowering the majority with greater control over his life.

Odder are some socialists who attend contemporary art galleries and the opera, who deride the TV materialism of the masses, yet who claim to represent and understand the working people, "the 99%".

Jody writes:

If there were no public choice issues, then living in a bubble wouldnt matter. But there are. And the ignorance of the masses that the elites that hold or influence the levers of power thus has understandably negative consequences for those outside the bubble.

In other words, as someone who presents himself as a public intellectual, frequently proposing sweeping changes, you should be embarrassed to admit abject ignorance on the subject for which you claim expertise-the public.

Note, I understand how nice and comfortable a bubble can be, but for a person engaged in public policy, living in a tight bubble greatly reduces your practical knowledge of your field of theoretical expertise.

Hugh writes:

What an infelicitous post!

Caplan Castle sounds like the some weird 21st century version of Downton Abbey - just without that many servants.

andy writes:

That's exactly what I thought when I read Murray's book: I live in a bubble and I like it. I will be choosing a wife from people who are similarly educated as me. Should I feel bad about it? I like classical music; people I am playing with are medical doctors, teachers, lawyers, engineers... (we are on a semi-professional level) Should I feel bad about spending a huge amount of time with these people? I'm doing some extreme sports; the people I am in contact with are a lawyer, a physicist, several programmers...should I feel bad about it?
I spend my time with interesting, educated, nice people doing some things that people 'outside of my bubble' won't even understand. It allowed me to experience things that would be impossible without making a 'bubble'; it's extremely easy to spoil a group, if you let in the wrong people.

Time is expensive. Spending time with people outside-of-my-bubble means I will be spending less time doing things that I love. I don't think it is immoral nor arrogant; it's just a choice. It's my time, my life; I think it's arrogant if anyone wants me to give up on these things just - well, just because he thinks I shouldn't live in a bubble.

Steve Sailer writes:

Dr. Caplan's views on immigration differ only marginally from those of the editorial boards of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Barack Obama George W. Bush, John McCain, or Ted Kennedy. We should thank him for making explicit the hostility toward the American citizenry that motivates much of today's conventional wisdom on immigration.

Joe Cushing writes:

NASCAR is an elite sport. Although there are many non-elite people who watch it, one must be elite to participate in it. One must be somewhat elite to participate in any of the motorsports that lead up to being able to participate in NASCAR. Anyone who can afford an economically useless machine that costs 5 figures to buy is elite in world standards. Compare this to the cost of playing basket ball in a neighborhood court. There, all you need is a ball.

Hume writes:

"Anyone who can afford an economically useless machine that costs 5 figures to buy is elite in world standards."

Or they devote most of their income to a "useless machine." Many of my friends who I grew up with spend "way too much" of their income on cars (at least from my standpoint). But I understand what you are saying, NASCAR has high start-up costs.

PrometheeFeu writes:

@ajb:
"Hey fine. Go ahead and change the laws, but enforce them at the moment. Yet that standard is never applied to illegal immigrants whom Caplan routinely approves of.

And frankly none of his utilitarian arguments about the benefits of immigration or the "small" harms to citizens are different from those of redistributionists for property takings. They always claim larger "moral" benefits."

Except Bryan's central point about immigration is not utilitarian. It's moral/ethical/principled. His point it that it is wrong to prevent peaceful people from crossing political boundaries at will. Enforcing unjust laws is an ethical failing while violating them is not. Sure, mildly unjust laws should be enforced until they are changed in order to maintain the rule of law as long as it seems likely that the law will change, but consider the application of this doctrine. For instance, according to your doctrine, when slavery was legal, the right thing to do was to capture escaped slaves and return them to their owner. On a much different level, nowadays, the right thing to do is to raid stores that happen to sell unpasteurized milk. When your friend runs out of their pain pills, you should be arrested for distribution of a controlled substance if you give him a pill from your prescription which you never finished. The right thing to do is to arrest and fine parents who don't want to let the TSA molest their children... And the list goes on and on... Are you really prepare to claim these acts of enforcing the law as it stands to be the right thing to do?

And Bryan's utilitarian points are nothing but arguments he gives to those who say something along the lines of: "Well, you're right, but we can't afford it." It is a response to utilitarians on their own terms, not the crux of his argument.

Mike writes:

Why to go prof...in spite of what you say ("Many educators sooth their consciences by insisting that "I teach my students how to think, not what to think.") you're promoting thought. Keep it up.

Tom West writes:

But I'm not trying to push my lifestyle on others.

I support Bryan's right to live in a bubble. I also support his right to push his preferred policies onto others by simple persuasion (I do as well).

However, I find it a little hard to reconcile the sentiment expressed above with the "economists opinions should carry more weight" and the anti-democratic paradigms that play steadily through his posts.

Bryan is explicitly willing to use authority rather than simple presentation of his views to try to pop the bubble of the majority of Americans.

At that point, I feel he has lost the moral authority to ask others not to 'pop his bubble'.

Faze writes:

Good, gentle soul. God bless him. I don't hear Bryan saying everyone should live like him. He's just saying, "This is how I live. You may go about your business as you please."

Jeff writes:
I don't understand the hostility towards Bryan's post. He doesn't like much of America society and culture. I share some of that (but I do like basketball). What is the big deal? Yes, he used some strong words to criticize it -- perhaps they were a bit strong -- but so what.

It seems obvious to me that everybody constructs a bubble to some degree, or at least would like to if circumstances permitted. Bryan is hardly unique in this regard. Perhaps what is unique is the thickness of his bubble, assuming he paints an accurate picture.

There are two ways to look at a person who takes careful steps to insulate themselves from interaction with people unlike them:

1. People unlike that person are all boring, wicked, insipid, or whatever other adjectives you care to throw in, and so insulating one's self from these people is rational in order to avoid the unpleasant physical or emotional responses that might be triggered by the behavior of these others.

2. This person simply lacks the necessary social agility or skillset to comfortably interact with people different from himself.

Bryan is flattering himself that his behavior is all #1. Has he even considered #2?

The whiff of hypocrisy isn't doing him any favors, either. He posted his "me at my most convincing" essay on immigration not long ago, in which he supposed (lamely, I thought) that you can tell diversity is great because property values are higher in Los Angeles than in, say, Seattle. Now he brags about how his social/professional circle is made up almost solely of libertarians with Ph.D.s in economics, and how wonderful it is that he's able to avoid everyone else. Well, now.

Someone here is full of crap, and it's either the Bryan Caplan of two weeks ago or the Bryan Caplan of today.

Jacob writes:

You won't get any disapproval from me at finding and enjoying your own idea of the Good Life. But this may explain why you want to flood my country with third world immigrants until I am surrounded by people making the global median wage - you expect you will be able to maintain your good life in your bubble as the rest of us suffer, particularly the city dwellers.

ChrisG writes:

So avoiding bad beer is considered a shortcoming? Having worked white and blue collar I can say one thing for sure: that "quiz" does not pass the the sniff test.

Mercer writes:

Caplan loves having hordes of low skilled immigrants come to the US because he can avoid having any contact with them. People who can not avoid dealing them and complain about it he considers immoral.

PrometheeFeu writes:

@Jacob:

First, Bryan has pointed out on multiple occasions that the specific fear you mention is unfounded. Bubble or no bubble, the vast majority of us will be made better off by freer immigration. Why don't you listen to Bryan's interview with Russ Roberts where Bryan points out that your fears are unfounded and even if they aren't, there are more humane and appropriate ways to provide you with relief than keeping/kicking people out of the country. http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2010/10/caplan_on_immig.html

Also, your use of language is confusing you. It is not "your country" in the same way that the car you own is "your car" or that the house you own is "your house." It is "your country" in the same way that the person you spend time with is "your friend" or that the place your were born in is "your hometown" or that a song you enjoy with your wife is "your song". It is a thing to which you are related in a particular way. That does not grant you any legitimate power to exclude others from it.

Mark Bahner writes:
I'm not Bryan, but I am an economist, and I will happily confess to being ignorant of how most people live.

I was reading a Reason magazine interview today (probably months out of date...I get so many magazines I can't keep up). It was of Penn Jillette. He said that he's a libertarian because he doesn't know anything about anyone else.

He also made the comment that, from listening to Hillary Clinton, he thought she was genuinely caring. It's just that she truly thought she knew what was best for everyone else. Great points!

I'm alot the same way. I'm a libertarian mostly because I don't feel right forcing other people to live their lives a certain way. And it really annoys me--especially on things like medical marijuana and pain medication--that people who have absolutely no idea about other peoples' problems think that they have the right to tell those other people how to live.

Mark Bahner writes:
Why put so much distance between myself and the outside world? Because despite my legendary optimism, I find my society unacceptable. It is dreary, insipid, ugly, boring, wrong, and wicked.

And yet, the outside world is arguably the best it's ever been.

I scored a 3, and all three were just coincidences. One of them was that I rode on Trailways ("The Sleasiet Travel on Earth") and Greyhound ("Running Late") one summer close to 40 years ago.

My guess (I'm too lazy to look it up) would be that the year that the number of passenger-miles peaked on Trailways and Greyhound would probably be somewhere between the late 1950s and mid-1960s. And the thing is, both buslines were *segregated* during that time. So it's not like the days when Trailways and Greyhound were important means of travel are the "good ol' days"...except through foggy memories.

Mark Bahner writes:

Hi,

Of course, saying I'm too lazy to look something up is an admission of weakness. I'm not weak, just in a bubble.

Intercity bus travel as a percentage of all intercity public travel peaked in 1950, according to this neat table and figure.

What a cool world. Couldn't have done this 15 years ago.

Bubble popper writes:

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Izzy Campos writes:

Great post professor Caplan, not sure if you'll get the chance to dig your way to my post but I wanted to let you know that we have more in common than a liking to "TMNT."

0-4 /20, thanks for the link!

Cheers,
Izzy

Steve Sailer writes:

Bryan's commentaries on immigration are of about the same value as if he wrote sports commentaries saying, "I never pay attention to basketball, but I think the Knicks should trade Jason Lin right now while his novelty value is high and get the ball back into the hands of Carmelo Anthony. Trust me, I have a doctorate in economics, so I know more about basketball than people who pay attention to basketball do."

Evan writes:

@Steve Sailer

Dr. Caplan's views on immigration differ only marginally from those of the editorial boards of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Barack Obama George W. Bush, John McCain, or Ted Kennedy. We should thank him for making explicit the hostility toward the American citizenry that motivates much of today's conventional wisdom on immigration.
I think Bryan has made it abundantly clear that his prime motivation is compassion for the innocent victims of immigration restriction. Remember when he said "My heart does bleed for people born in poor countries who come here to better their condition with hard work." Also, his attitude seems less hostile to mainstream America and more "bored with it."

I honestly don't think any mainstream supporters of immigration are primarily motivated by hostility to average Americans. I think you're making a common error of reasoning in political discussion that, stated in bullet points, comes out like this:
1. I believe Policy X will have awful effects.
2. This seems obvious to me, so it must be obvious to the advocates of Policy X as well.
3. Therefore proponents of Policy X must be sadistic maniacs who want to hurt the people that I believe Policy X will harm.

This is why leftists think that libertarians and conservatives oppose the welfare state because we enjoy hurting poor people, and why leftists think conservatives must love war since they advocate being prepared for it. The flaw in that logic is, of course, point 2. The proponent of Policy X probably does not think it obvious at all that Policy X will have awful effects.

Don't make this mistake. If you do you're no better than all those leftists who believe anyone who's against immigration must be racist.

Seth writes:

When I waited tables in high school and college, I was "scared straight" into building my bubble. I didn't want to wind up like the folks I worked with.

However, I often think we rely too much on our bubbles and aren't apt to give proper credit for the influences folks outside our bubbles have on us.

Costard writes:

"Of course, if there were a big war, it would be nice to be defended by all those dreary American you despise.

And, the irony is, they'd do it, too, just because you are an American."

Is this the irony? Or is it that the America to be defended was in fact colonized, to great extent, by people who also found society "insipid, ugly...wicked"? Some of whom still in exist in segregated communities, and are in fact exempt from the selective service. In any event I imagine that Bryan would not be in favor of a big war, so what exactly are you accusing him of?

On the other hand it does seem strange that someone would stake out a position, engage in public debate, and try to effect change in the world -- and then disavow all sympathy with or concern for that world. If Bryan wishes to be a monk then perhaps he should take a vow of silence. There's an inconsistency here that speaks of ego rather than wisdom.

Jeff writes:
Remember when he said "My heart does bleed for people born in poor countries who come here to better their condition with hard work."

He can think that if he likes; it certainly is not an ignoble sentiment. Quite the opposite. I just want to see him square it with statements he made above like:

I find my society unacceptable. It is dreary, insipid, ugly, boring, wrong, and wicked.
America's a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there.

In other words, he thinks very little of American society and most Americans, but he has a great deal of sympathy for those who want to become a part of the society he despises. Or, alternatively, he cares greatly for the plight of immigrants, but the children of those immigrants, on the other hand, born and raised here as native citizens, to hell with them. They just become more of those ugly Americans he dislikes so much and tries desperately to avoid. See the contradiction here? If he actively dislikes most Americans and their society/culture, why is he so obsessed with the ability of non-Americans to move here and become a part of it?

I guess in Bryan's defense he could tell a story about subjective value. "Well, I think it sucks, but other people seem to think it's pretty cool, so they should be able to partake if they want to." That's fair enough, but it still doesn't explain his heart "bleeding" for those that are denied the opportunity. Again, why does it matter so much to him? I understand he's a dogmatic libertarian, so perhaps he reflexively feels some measure of sympathy for people who have some core liberty denied to them, but he should consider that in all likelihood, the Cubans, Asians, Eastern Europeans, etc, that are trying to get here probably aren't going to remind him of the late Murray Rothbard, and if the shoe were on the other foot, with millions of Americans trying to make their way to Havana or Shanghai or wherever, governments in those places would likely put up the same roadblocks that the U.S. has, and with popular consent, too.

Shane L writes:

Surely one of the good things about any liberal society is that one doesn't have to engage and conform with its dominant cultures. One has the choice to opt out or form smaller subcultures so long as no laws are broken.

So I don't really see any contradiction in what Bryan is saying here. He can love and value being in the US because it means he doesn't have to love everything about American culture, he is free to pick and choose.

Mark Crankshaw writes:

I think the criticism of Bryan and his view is entirely unjustified, from my point of view. Of course I would since I view "American society" in much the same way-- I find "American society" alien, repugnant and repulsive.

I see a nationalist strain to this discussion (as in "American" society). Although I was born an American, and currently live here, I fail to see why I should have any deeper connection with "Americans" than with any other people. I have lived in other countries and did not feel part of their "society"-- I was merely a visitor or outsider no matter how long I lived there-- and I feel no different here.

What exactly is it about "Americans" that should make me feel inherently closer to them than say, Canadians or Brits? Language-- no, millions of Americans don't even speak passable English. Race or ethnicity--absolutely not. Religion-- I'm an atheist while most Americans stridently are not. I love sports yet my favorite by far is football (or as my "fellow Americans" would say "soccer"). My interests are not "mainstream" and a lot of what passes as "mainstream" American culture I find off putting or unappealing.

So, in the end, the only thing that makes me an "American" is that I am currently a tax-slave of the American Imperial Government. That may change.

I thought one of the major draws of an urban conglomerate (such as the one Bryan and I share, Washington DC) is that one can more likely find individuals with similar intellectual interests and still maintain perfect anonymity and isolation from those you wish not to interact with. It's not because I (and I assume Bryan) can not interact with people who don't share similar values, interests, or ability (and who would want to?) but that we do have the ability to effortlessly and costlessly avoid those in favor of others who do share our values, interests, and ability.

Mark Bahner writes:
...and if the shoe were on the other foot, with millions of Americans trying to make their way to Havana or Shanghai or wherever, governments in those places would likely put up the same roadblocks that the U.S. has, and with popular consent, too.

One thing that absolutely baffles me: why in the world does the U.S. (or any country) keep out the best and brightest of other countries?

There are plenty of top-notch students and business people from China and India (not to mention Mexico, South America, and around the world) who want to get into the U.S. Why in the world does the U.S. government keep them out? And why in the world does the public (seemingly at least) support this?

Why don't we have unlimited immigration for, say, the top 1 percent of science and engineering students from any country? Or for anyone who has, say, founded a company and has a net worth of more than $500,000?

Nick Danger writes:

@Evan: "I think Bryan has made it abundantly clear that his prime motivation is compassion for the innocent victims of immigration restriction."

I think you mean to say "Bryan has repeatedly CLAIMED that his prime motivation is compassion for the innocent victims of immigration restriction."

Given his admitted disgust with most other people, I see no reason we should believe him.

Joshua Lyle writes:

@Nick Danger

Disgust with American society is not quite the same as disgust with Americans. For instance, I am disgusted American society for the vile war on drugs it perpetuates precisely because of my compassion for the Americans (et al) it harms. Thus, if you aren't disgusted by American society's terrible war as I am, I would have as much reason to suspect that you despise the Americans that suffer for it as you have of suspecting Bryan of the same.

SFG writes:

Gary Gygax wrote a game where players had to cooperate to survive, as none of the character classes were able to effectively rob the dungeon on their own. He did so by heavy-handedly making several rules that didn't fit traditional sword-and-sorcery fantasy (fire-and-forget magic, all healing magic coming from priests)...as well as lots of rules that didn't actually make any sense. The Dungeon Master was expected to carefully calibrate challenges to the abilities of the players in order to keep things interesting.

I'd say D&D was an example of Byzantine Big Government...and it spawned the multimillion-dollar industry that is the MMORPG, and influenced nerd culture heavily.

So while fondness for the works of Mr. Gygax may be common among the geek set, I don't think his work truly argues for libertarianism. ;)

flenser writes:

I'm not just surrounded by Ph.D.s; I'm surrounded by libertarian economics Ph.D.s.


I think I speak for most of the people who live outside the bubble of libertarian economics Ph.D.s. in saying "If you'd leave us alone, we'd leave you alone".

But you don't. In fact it seems that the entire purpose of life for libertarian economics Ph.D.s. is to try to change the world into one they would like - to try to make the whole world one big bubble in which everybody (or all politicians at least) thinks like a libertarian economist.

When it comes to missionary zeal, you guys make the religious organizations seem pathetically lazy and ineffectual.

Nothing would make me happier than for all the libertarian economics Ph.D.s to have their own private bubble. Let me propose that we set up a fund to purchase Easter Island for this very purpose. You people can go live there and do what you like, and the rest of us will be free from you as well. It's a win-win scenario.

Mitchell Young writes:

So I looked up George Mason University, and lo and behold it is a public university. That means those dreary Americans are supporting this author, who I understand is a professor at said institution, not vice versa.

And somehow I think that the guys who contribute to our ability to pretty much kick anyone's butt around the world do a lot more to enable our (deficit) consumption of Chinese made electronics and Saudi produced oil than taxpayer funded academics.

gina writes:

More than likely kids didn't like him in his youth or, like Woody Allen characters who fear the unknown, he has always suffered from low aggression, a fate not kind to males.

Tony J writes:

Sounds like the utopian bubble that was Galt's Gulch in "Atlas Shugged" or perhaps even Superman's Fortress of Solitude :) Everybody needs the sanctuary of escapism.

Joshua Lyle writes:

SFG, you sound utterly unfamiliar with D&D as it was actually played by Gygax and the Lake Geneva players.

For one, the bulk of the adventuring was done by solo characters, once they had advanced to moderate levels (and that was only so as to blunt the swinginess of the random numbers; accounts overwhelmingly point to the success of these adventures being due to player skill, not character ability), simply because they were outliers from the other players in terms of inclination and time for play.

For another, the early days were almost entirely characterized by status-quo world building, in which the world with all of its hazards and treasures is created with no regard for the ability of the characters that will go adventuring in it, save for the basic conventions of deeper levels and rougher terrain often having even more dangerous monsters than the often overwhelming odds faced in the upper levels of dungeons and the open country near cities. This is a game in which a handful of roughly-equipped desperate cads on the make could run into 300 bandits, in a fortified position, as a random encounter a day's walk from home; no amount of tactical cooperation can win an encounter like that by main force in a fair fight, so the emphasis was on how to avoid such a fight by various entrepreneurial means.

DMR writes:

Bryan's entitled to create a bubble. No problem there. We all do to an extent.

The problems with this post are
1. It reveals Bryan to be misanthropic.

2. As others have noted, it's a taxpayer-funded bubble, paid for by the unwashed masses that give Bryan the shivers. This seems, at best, a case of ingratitude, or at worst, cynical exploitation.

3. Since he is admitting to hostility to American culture, it's causing many readers to wonder if that hostility is, in part, motivating other stances that are supposedly based on impasssionate, logical reasoning. For instance, they're wondering is he subconsciously discounting utility for Americans of immigration policy compared to utility for immigrants, because he doesn't like Americans.

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