Bryan Caplan  

Caplan v. Murphy on Paul: Getting to Bet

The Economics of Sanctions on ... Sentences to Ponder on the Eur...
Bob Murphy's confident that Ron Paul will have a lasting political legacy.  I'm not.  He proposed a bet, I counter-offered, and we haggled.  Bob reproduces our haggling with permission.  My offer #1:
Right now there are roughly zero members of Congress that openly call themselves followers of Perot. Maybe a few, but none that I've ever heard of. I'll take your 4:1 odds that in twenty years there are no more than 4 members of Congress (1% of the body) that openly call themselves followers of Paul.
Bob demurs:
This is a hard thing to measure objectively. E.g. suppose we were trying to assess whether Paul Ryan is a "follower of Rand." We could both make a decent case, since there are obvious things saying he is (like handing out her book) but then recently I think he threw her under the bus when trying to appeal to Christians. Politicians aren't going to want to sound like dupes so nobody is going to actually say, "I am a follower of Ron Paul." What if someone says, "I think Ron Paul did the country a great service by raising the issue of Fed secrecy." Do I win or you on that politician?
My suggestion:
The simplest route is just to agree on an arbitrator likely to be alive in 20 years. Brian Doherty is the obvious choice.
Bob's not satisfied with the subjectivity:
[I]f we make it something that is a judgment call, the wager isn't definitive. I mean, suppose Doherty agrees that you won. That won't make a lick of difference to Ron Paul fans; they will say Doherty is an idiot.
My alternative:
How about something like "Within 20 (or even 10) years, the NYT, WSJ, or Washington Post will run two news articles explicitly about 'elected politicians influenced by Ron Paul'"? It's got to be plural - someone newsworthy in addition to Rand Paul.
Bob still finds this too subjective:
I'm just thinking that if I lose, the true fans will say, "It's a conspiracy from the mainstream media."
Bob crowdsourced to his commenters for bet ideas, but isn't too thrilled with their suggestions either:

Well, Bryan was right about one thing. In a part of our email exchange I didn't reproduce, I had asked him to post this stuff on EconLog and he said he wasn't opposed to it, but thought crowd-sourcing wouldn't help. He was right.

(BTW I appreciate the 2 or 3 legitimate suggestions some of you made, it's just that Bryan says he doesn't want to measure mere fandom.)

Can EconLog readers do better?  We're still open to suggestions.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (28 to date)
Jacob AG writes:

I think the problem is that you're looking for an objective indicator for Ron Paul's lasting political influence, but there is none. It's all subjective.

Maybe it would be better if you both just settled for an objective but entirely different bet you can each get on opposite sides of, like "PBS Frontline will make a documentary about the life and/or legacy of Ron Paul within 20 years, assuming X Y and Z."

That's not a very good proxy for Ron Paul's enduring "influence," but it's more or less objective, and maybe you and Bob can get on opposite sides of it, and maybe it's interesting enough to be worth betting on.

Tomorrowist writes:

Perhaps use a third party judge with semi objective criteria.

Pick some topics that Mr. Paul espouses that few others do. If, after a decade or two, any of those policies are enacted and Mr. Paul can credibly cited as an influence, then it's a win for Mr. Murphy.

For example, Mr. Paul was one of the few to oppose our invasion of Iraq. Did subsequent elections produce a government which reversed that decision? Can it be demonstrated that Mr. Paul's arguments were a catalyst to that change?

It is difficult to know just how people arrive at their belief systems. I can only wonder if Ron Paul or Andrew Napolitano will have had a larger influence. Or if that can even be measured.

Doug writes:

Some measure of the number of subscribers to the Ron Paul subreddit. If reddit isn't active in 20 years the bet is null.

Carl C writes:

How about using Google Trends? For example:,+Ronald+Reagan,+Ross+Perot,+Ayn+Rand&ctab=0&geo=us&geor=all&date=2009&sort=1

I use Ronald Reagan as an example of a political figure that has remained influential after his own death. (At least, all Republicans must claim to be influenced by him...)

I choose 2009 because it is a non-election year, and there were no notable events for either figure that would skew the results.

My assumption is that the general level of interest people have in a political figure is proportional to their level of influence.

roo writes:

This has probably already been suggested but if the hangup is subjectivity in determining whether or not a congressmen are followers of Ron Paul then one could just make some criteria for examining the voting record of those congressmen. Do they oppose all foreign military interventions? Do they oppose all spending and tax increases? Do they oppose all domestic subsidies and trade barriers? Do they support the legalization of all drugs? etc.

Ron Paul's voting record is so distinctive that it shouldn't be hard at all to spot followers.

Frederick Davies writes:

Have you considered simply asking the guys then? Just send them a letter including the question "Who influenced you most in becoming a Member of Congress?" As this is inherently a subjective bet, the only objective way is to ask those who it is subjective about.


Daniel Kuehn writes:

re: "For example, Mr. Paul was one of the few to oppose our invasion of Iraq. Did subsequent elections produce a government which reversed that decision? Can it be demonstrated that Mr. Paul's arguments were a catalyst to that change?"

Considering the sitting president also opposed our invasion of Iraq and has presumably only gradually left because leaving immediately would be terrible for the safety of the Iraqis, I'm not sure this is a very clean measure, to say the least!

Jody writes:

# of sitting politicians endorsed by the liberty caucus

Francis Boyle writes:

If you're limiting yourself to political influence in the federal government, why not use DW-Nominate scores of post-Paul politicians? Ron Paul occupies a unique place in this way.

Joe Marier writes:

What about determining the policy implications of continued Ron Paul influence and betting on that?

J Storrs Hall writes:

I'd say that anyone with a lasting political (or intellectual) legacy would continue to be mentioned in books after their retirement from active life. So if Google N-grams or the equivalent is around in 20 years, you can do something like this:

MG writes:

Track citations to Ron Paul in the Congressional record debates (could be positive or negative) in both House and Senate (OK, you can exclude Rand Paul's) against a benchmark. The benchmark issue is tricky. It could be Paul cit against Paul cit. (over time); or in twenty years, Paul cit against an average of sample unsuccessful Predsidential candidates from the 2000's; Paul cit against average of congressmen with similar or different legialative tenures.

MikeM writes:

I think the best you can do is say "in twenty years we will revisit the issue and together count on Paul's influence to be apparent enough to agree on a winner." This still isn't perfect because Bob may have some small, enduring piece of political thought that's become mainstream or we might elect a libertarian president but he may be different enough from Paul that Bryan can claim is different enough that his election was in independent event. Regardless the bet will have to be made in good faith and with someone willing to make concessions.

Chip Smith writes:

Every year members of Congress and aspiring pols write books, and some of them make the NYT bestseller list. Simply review a random sample of these in 20 years and add up the references to "Ron Paul." To come up with a baseline, you could look for references to, say, "Reagan," "Goldwater," "Thatcher," "Perot," etc. in today's comparable bestsellers to establish the term frequency that tracks objective influence.

Collin writes:

Maybe, take a smaller approach and outline ~10 issues and judge whether they the country has moved libertarian over the next ten years. Agree upfront on the ten issues (drug, immigration, lower military spending, less foreign troops, censorship, federal spending, decrease licensing, etc.) I don't think there will be a revolution here as most population is relatively good shape but Ron Paul's popularity with young people indicates long term potential. (Ross Perot was most popular with Reagan Democrats which were not the younger people in 1992.) Overall, I think the country is left center on social issue and right center on economic issues.

I avoid Rand Paul as a measurement as I think long term he becomes more Republican as time passes. Secondly a lot of libertarian might be implemented on the state level.


Wallace Forman writes:

Major party presidential candidates (winning their party's candidacy, or within the top X places) endorse him in their pre-election biographies. A certain number within a certain time frame.

Steve Z writes:

Contact Tim Groseclose, and get him to decide, based on the political affinity scores he has created. Alternatively, just use his methodology.

Jason writes:

Just use the standard that 4 congressmen were members of on or before 2012.

Joe Cushing writes:

There is a strong chance that those newspapers won't be around in 10 to 20 years.

Ted Levy writes:

One of the problems of "objective measures" like decreased spending at the federal level or closure of some programs (CPB, sugar subsidies, etc.) is that we're BANKRUPT, and, as Herbert Stein's aphorism nicely notes, at some point this has to stop, whether Ron Paul ever existed or not.

Having said this, I *do* think it would show Ron Paul's influence if there was "a significant" (how to define) move to close/defund entire cabinet level departments that developed in the next decade, pushed primarily by freshmen Congressmen

Andres Rivero writes:

In 20 years both of you will forget this bet even took place.

John Hall writes:

How about you do a factor analysis of congressional votes and test the distance of future congresspeople to Ron Paul?

Alex Tabarrok writes:

If Rand Paul becomes President, Bryan loses.


Saturos writes:

Why not just track the number of books that mention him 20 years from now? Not exactly "political influence" in terms of followers, but more objective.

Eric Rall writes:

Select multiple objective proxies and determine the bet on whether at least a certain number are satisfied.

Some possibilities, including those alread mentioned:

1. Select some policy ideas currently favored by Ron Paul but which are considered out of the mainstream, and count how many become law in the next 20 years. E.g. abolishing the Federal Reserve system, ending peacetime overseas military deployments, abolishing the income tax without replacing it with a consumption tax.

2. Same as #1, but count endorsement in a major-party platform rather than passage into law.

3. Benchmarks for membership and operating budget of selected Paul-affiliated political organizations, such as the Campaign for Liberty.

Kevin Driscoll writes:

Given that none of Ron Paul's policy objectives are likely to be accomplished, even in part, over the next 20 years I think the only possible (somewhat) objective measure is by bills introduced into congress. Simply measuring libertarianism doesn't answer the question; I don't think. After all, Ron Paul isn't the only one.

Ron Paul has amassed a record of introducing legislation that will never get passed, every year. I'd say you need to track similar bills. Since Paul is explicit about what he wants, it shouldn't be too difficult to decide if a bill is 'similar' or not. Since it's part of his philosophy, I'd say if a congressman doesn't follow suit, then Ron Paul wasn't all that big an influence.

papa_libertarian writes:

How about this? Construct a list of Ron Paul's major policy proposals. I'll suggest a starting point - you two dicker over the details. If in 20 years, there is substantive change on an agreed-upon number of those issues, the Liberty team wins; otherwise, not.

1) an in-depth, no holds barred audit of the Fed.
2) competitive currencies
3) significantly scaling back the "global supercop" role of America's military.
4) ending the War on Drugs, at least for marijuana.
5) substantial reductions in federal spending - half of Ron Paul's $1 trillion proposal would qualify, for example. A budget which is in surplus (according to GAAP) would count as a pure win.
6) ending the five departments (Education, Commerce, etc ) -- or at least pruning them by 70% or more. New Zealand, as it happens, radically pruned their Department of Education, replacing it with a Ministry with severely limited scope.
7) End the Fed!

Justin Amash, by the way, would probably describe himself as "influenced by Ron Paul", and his voting seems to support that.

Many local candidates are touting their support of Ron Paul; some are already in state legislatures. NC's Glenn Bradley comes to mind, for instance.

I myself am not sure whether there will be lasting changes. Both Goldwater and Reagan said similar things, and many of today's politicians invoke them, but the federal government is massive and highly resistant to change; the tendency is to grow. Nevertheless, I am optimistic because many of these principles are gaining wider public attention. The grassroots will be clamoring for change, and the politicians will reluctantly follow.

I find the unremarked-upon steady growth of home education, for example, to be far more interesting than the tides of politics. There are now 80,000 home-schooled children in North Carolina alone, no thanks to the government. A recent story about the youngest girl to qualify for the National Spelling Bee reported that her parents were advised to home-school by the headmaster of a private school for the gifted because she was far too smart for the school. That marks a very significant cultural change.

IPLawyer writes:

Search for speeches by winning senate candidates in the 2032 election. Count the number of positive references to Ron Paul. Even if in response to negative references to Ron Paul.

Seems like that would be a good measure of his lasting legacy.

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