David R. Henderson  

Consistency and IQ

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Do Labels and Good-versus-Evil... I Doubt the Business Model...

Bryan Caplan's latest post is a great response to some assertions made by Will Wilkinson and Tyler Cowen.

When Michael Kinsley was writing regularly for The New Republic during the first Bush administration, he was brilliant. He usually attacked Bush and made cogent arguments. I found myself agreeing with him a large % of the time. But here's how I put it to a friend after Clinton had been president for about a year: when Clinton became president, Michael Kinsley's IQ fell by about 20 points. Michael became a hack.

Of course, I don't mean that his IQ literally fell 20 points, as, I suspect, Will and Tyler don't mean their IQ claims literally. What I think we all mean is that certain biases get in the way of clear thinking. So my addition to Bryan's point is this: I would much rather someone simply judge a policy, by whatever criteria, as long as the person maintains those criteria rather than changing them depending on whether the advocate of the policy has a Rep or a Dem after his name.

So, for example, if it was evil for Bush Jr. to lock people up without a trial, it's just as evil for Obama to do so. If it's evil for Obama to extend socialized medicine to higher-income people than had previously been the case, it's just as evil for Bush Jr. to have extended socialized medicine to prescription drugs. In many of these cases, I might think that the word "evil" is over-used, but it's still better to use it generally as one's evaluation of a policy than to use it selectively depending on who is advocating or implementing the policy. I'm advocating simple consistency in making judgments, as I have long done. Our debates would be a lot better if everyone followed the standard I'm advocating.

UPDATE:
After writing this, I went back and looked at the comments on Bryan's post more carefully. Evan had already written essentially what I said.


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COMMENTS (3 to date)
Ken B writes:

In fairness to Cowen he did not say your IQ drops 10 points. He said you should imagine that when you find yourself telling a good vs evil account, as a way of reminding yourself it probably ain't quite so. I suspect had Kinsley done this, and then asked, just how am I deciding who is evil, he might have saved some of those lost IQ points.

I thought Cowen's talk was excellent.

liberty writes:

"So, for example, if it was evil for Bush Jr. to lock people up without a trial, it's just as evil for Obama to do so. If it's evil for Obama to extend socialized medicine to higher-income people than had previously been the case, it's just as evil for Bush Jr. to have extended socialized medicine to prescription drugs."

FYI, your second example simply isn't true. Regardless of how much one loves or hates Bush or Obama, the two policies you mentioned are not the same, and one might be "good" and the other "evil", or what have you. For example, say I believed that only low-income people should get certain kinds of medical/insurance help, but believed that the government should pay for prescription coverage for all people (perhaps it can then purchase the prescription drugs cheaper this way, perhaps because ongoing medication coverage is special in some way, etc).

I agree with the rest, but I think that example is bad - reasonable people might think one policy is good and the other bad, since they are in fact different. FYI, for all those people who make the mistake of thinking this means I am defending Bush: I was against Medicaid Part D at the time, and have no love for any of Bush's policies. Unfortunately one cannot say what one really thinks about these things without being shouted down as a lover/hater of one party or politician. Perhaps it isn't that people's IQs fall when they discuss politics, perhaps its that emotions rise and then people say stupid things because they don't want to be hated or ridiculed (for being on the "wrong" side) - or left out (so they want to bash someone to earn points among those on their side). This is more a tribal ceremony than true stupidity.

Evan writes:
UPDATE: After writing this, I went back and looked at the comments on Bryan's post more carefully. Evan had already written essentially what I said.
Thanks so much for the shout out! :)
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