David R. Henderson  

I've Changed My Mind, Part 2

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UPDATE BELOW

In a comment on my April Fool's Post, "I've Changed My Mind," NZ wrote:

You make a joke out of changing your mind, which seems to imply that you don't actually plan to change your mind because you're confident that the views you hold now are absolutely correct, and that this is never going to change. I don't know your biography, but this implies that you never had to change your mind from other beliefs to get to your current ones: if you had, you might be a bit more humble.

I pointed out that it didn't imply that at all. What I didn't point out is that his statement that I never had to change my mind is absurd. We come into this world tabula rasa and so the simple fact of learning changes our minds.

By the way, I don't think it makes sense to "plan to change your mind." If you're planning to change your mind, why plan? Why not just change it? I'm reminded of Obama saying his views on same-sex marriage were evolving. How would he know? If you have a view at one point in time and it's different from a past view, it makes sense to say that your views have evolved. But are evolving? Give me a break.

I promised, though, to mention some issues on which I really have changed my mind. Here are a few.

1. I've gone back and forth about open borders. I didn't think about it much until I had to deal with the Immigration and Naturalization Service in the 1970s. Then I became an open borders believer. It was partly based on the bad treatment I had received from INS and partly on my understanding of economics, specifically free trade, arbitrage, labor markets, etc. Then Milton Friedman's criticism of open borders in a country with a large welfare state gave me pause. Now I'm back to cautious support of open borders, based partly on Bryan Caplan's arguments--not just his but those by others that he haas made me aware of--and arguments by Alex Nowrasteh and Zac Gochenour.

2. I was a strong believer in the Cold War, that is, in the importance of having a strong NATO to offset the Soviet Union. The more I learned in the late 1970s and 1980s from Roy Childs and others, and in the 1990s and 2000s, the more I think that NATO was a mistake.

3. I was a mild supporter of the U.S. government's war on North Vietnam. I started thinking, shortly after moving to the United States in the early 1970s, that that was a huge mistake.

4. In large part due to the fact that I became a libertarian by reading Ayn Rand, I bought her view that we need government for police and courts. The more I read about how badly government does these things, the more strongly I believe that it would be hard for private provision of police and courts to do worse. Now, when I hear John Stossel say, as he often does, that we need government to run these things, I find myself actually wincing.

5. I grew up in English-speaking Canada as someone who thought Winston Churchill was a hero. Bit by bit, as I've learned more, I no longer have that view. Related to that, I think that it was wrong for the British and U.S. governments to ally with one of history's greatest mass murderers, Joseph Stalin.

6. I used to hate the left. I thought that when the Cato Institute started Inquiry magazine, they were selling out to the left. It was my friend, Roy Childs, who wrote me a stern 5-page letter chiding me for my ignorant attacks on Inquiry. After Roy died, I told some friends that I regarded that letter as a love letter because his taking time from a busy life to lay out just how and where I was wrong showed so much love for me. (Unfortunately, the letter burned in my 2007 fire.) I no longer hate the left. Actually, I don't hate anyone. I like some on the left and don't like others. I have allied with the left locally on antiwar issues and have met some really good people on the left.

7. I think the biggest issue I've changed on, and it happened in fits and starts from the late 1970s to now, is foreign policy. It's easy to see why U.S. participation in World War I was a bad idea. The one I believed from a very early age was U.S. and Canadian participation in World War II. I no longer think that was a good idea.

8. One issue I changed my mind on very quickly was how good a president Barack Obama would be. I had some hope for him in early 2008 and thought he masterfully handled Hillary Clinton, making a strong case in the Hollywood debate for not mandating that people buy health insurance. I also was glad to see him argue strongly against Bush's surveillance state. When he broke his word that he would filibuster a 2008 bill and actually voted for it, I knew he was a fraud. Having said that, I still think he's better than McCain would have been.

Those are a few for now.

What I notice in each case is that my views are affected by two things and almost entirely two things: evidence and logical argument.

UPDATE:
I just remembered one other change in my thinking. I became a libertarian at age 17 and part of libertarianism is believing in the right to own guns. Intellectually, I was there. Emotionally, I was not. I had grown up in Canada and had picked up my father's intense fear of guns. But my emotions about it changed after I got more information. Specifically, I read Don Kates, ed., Handgun Control: The Liberal Skeptics Speak Out.


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CATEGORIES: Economic Philosophy



COMMENTS (27 to date)
stubydoo writes:

What was the promised filibuster?

Curtis L. writes:

Your views on epistemology are less than sound. Might want to leave that to the philosophers.

Matt Skene writes:

As an epistemologist, I'd have to agree with Curtis. People's opinions on political issues not only can be, but usually should be evolving. Politics is complicated. An overall political opinion is usually based on a large number of underlying empirical and moral beliefs in a variety of areas. Normally, when someone changes their mind this is a process that takes time. First, they start to question their current opinions on at least some of the underlying issues, and they reach a state of uncertainty about those issues and about their overall opinion as a result. Then they look into the issues more fully and try to understand the implications of these changes for their overall view. During this process, their opinion is evolving. Some aspects of it are changing, and they are at a point where the overall effect is uncertain.

Not only do views evolve, in politics they should be constantly evolving. Among the underlying considerations for any large political issue, there are almost always issues where people who are at least as smart as you and often far more informed and skilled at evaluating data in the relevant area disagree with each other about the correct answer to an underlying question. This should cause you to be very hesitant to have any opinion on this issue. Unless you can be reasonably certain that the remaining considerations decisively point in one direction irrespective of the answer to that question, having much certainty about one's conclusion is likely to be irrational. Since one of the underlying issues in any political issue will be a proper evaluation of the comparative importance of certain ethical concerns, and since ethicists rarely agree about how to properly balance these concerns, it is very unlikely that there will be more than a handful of political issues that shouldn't be subject to uncertainty and potential revision. If you really want your opinions to be a result of a rational evaluation of the evidence, nearly all of your political opinions should be tentative and should be evolving constantly as you acquire more evidence.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

Any real evaluation of the evidence is also a process. You don't just read one study and form an opinion. You've got to look at a lot of stuff, and the center of gravity of evidence shifts gradually. You have a sense at first something might be different from what you originally thought, but if you're really evaluating the evidence that takes time. And then when you've got conflicting evidence you have to sort out why the answers are different and what implications that has.

Two areas where evidence has substantially changed my views on an issue are the minimum wage and Austrian business cycle theory. The former was a process of several years (and it's still evolving although I feel like I have a better grasp of what I think). I used to believe the econ 101 story that the minimum wage obviously reduced employment. In my first labor class when we actually read the literature on it that got disrupted fairly quickly, but I've been refining it ever since and reading a lot more - particularly over the last six months or so. The one corner of that that I'm still "evolving" on is getting a grasp of the other margins of adjustment. I don't have a strong opinion on which (if any) of those margins are significant. There's some evidence but it's not as voluminous or rigorous as the evidence on employment effects.

On ABCT the process of evolution took about nine months as I was working through the literature. In the middle of it I knew my views were changing but I honestly hadn't committed to a new take on it yet.

Alexander Severns writes:

David, can you explain why you think it was a bad idea for the US and Canada to get involved in WW2? Thats a hard view for me to sympathize with, even being a libertarian myself.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Alexander Severns,
David, can you explain why you think it was a bad idea for the US and Canada to get involved in WW2? Thats a hard view for me to sympathize with, even being a libertarian myself.
I can, but not in a short space. If you want to read something quick, although it’s something that, given its terseness, will not answer all your questions, read the chapters on foreign policy in David Friedman’s The Machinery of Freedom.

John Goodman writes:

When I have time I will get you to change your mind again on # 4.

Also Churchill's sin was not a temporary alliance with Stalin. It was fire bombing civilians.

David R. Henderson writes:

@John Goodman,
On #4, could you start the process by recommending something for me to read?
On Churchill, we agree on the fire-bombing sin. So you’re saying that the alliance with Stalin doesn’t present problems for you?

Andrew_FL writes:

If the alliance with Stalin is what bothers you most I don't think you know how Churchill himself felt about it.

Let me put it this way. If Churchill had been President of the United States and FDR Prime Minister-after VE day, anyway-There's a strong possibility the people behind the Iron Curtain would have been liberated.

Who coined the term after all?

Also,the alliance with Stalin was complicated by the fact that a lot of high level people in both Britain and the USA--Philby, Blunt, Hiss, White et al--were secretly aiding Stalin. Absent those traitors, Eastern Europe would have had a better chance at freedom.

Michael writes:

With all of your comments on foreign policy, I thought I would put forward this question: On Wednesday's Charlie Rose, General McMaster said that nation-states go to war for fear, honor, or interests - how do these three rationalizations fit into your view of war?

Daublin writes:

In addition to fire bombings and Stalin, don't forget the bloodlust for the Japanese. U.S. behavior on the Pacific front is harder to defend than in Europe.

Japan made a play for some naval territory that is not really American territory to begin with. The U.S. then escalated it into an existential threat on their whole country.

NZ writes:

Just to clarify, I didn't say you should plan to change your mind. My comment was more about your tone, which to me came across as "It would be hilariously absurd if I changed my mind because my current views are so obviously correct." Like I said, I think the experience of having changed one's mind in the past ought to make one more humble about their convictions in the present.

Anyway, thanks for posting. As I expected, this was very interesting.

I'm still not sure I saw any truly dramatic changes, though. How many of your changes meet these two criteria:

1. The change concerns a central, important issue and is not simply a change in degree of belief, but a fundamental change about the issue itself and what side of it you're on.

2. Your old belief wasn't just something you grew up with, but was something you decided for yourself, put a lot of thought into, and spent time articulating.

For example, I used to be pro-choice; I used to be quite a militant atheist; I used to be a supporter of gay marriage--actually I wanted the government to get out of the marriage business altogether. I had carefully articulated my reasons for holding all these views, and I had spent time debating them with people who disagreed, overcoming their objections, and so on.

I am now against legalizing abortion; I now think it's best for atheists to, if they can't find God and religion themselves, at least closet themselves and show outward support for religion (preferably some form of Christianity or Judaism); I now believe the government should stay in the marriage business and not recognize same-sex couples as married. I have carefully articulated my reasons for holding these views as well, and I have spent time debating them with people who disagree, etc.

This doesn't mean I think my current views are just as likely to be wrong as my old ones were, it just means I probably won't be treating the act of changing my mind as something silly that would make a very good April Fool's joke.

Jay writes:

@Daublin

How is bombing Hawaii existential?

David R. Henderson writes:

@NZ,
Just to clarify, I didn't say you should plan to change your mind.
Actually, you did. But I accept that this is your indirect way of admitting that you didn’t exactly say what you meant to say.
Anyway, thanks for posting. As I expected, this was very interesting.
You’re welcome.
I'm still not sure I saw any truly dramatic changes, though. How many of your changes meet these two criteria:
Arguably four: 1, 4, 5, and 6.
it just means I probably won't be treating the act of changing my mind as something silly that would make a very good April Fool's joke.
My own view, although I don’t know you at all and so could be totally wrong, is that this shows an absence of an optimal sense of humor on your part. I’ve noted already that I don’t treat changing my mind as an April Fool’s joke. That was actually the point of this post. These were all cases where I changed my mind in important ways.

Bill Evers writes:

That's Don Kates -- the attorney and scholar on the 2nd Amendment.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Bill Evers,
That's Don Kates -- the attorney and scholar on the 2nd Amendment.
Right you are. Thanks. Correction made.

NZ writes:

I see where the confusion is. I wrote,

"You make a joke out of changing your mind, which seems to imply that you don't actually plan to change your mind because you're confident that the views you hold now are absolutely correct, and that this is never going to change."
My intended emphasis was on the apparent reason why you don't plan on changing your mind, but you interpreted it as being on the fact that you don't plan on changing it. So you're right, I probably could have worded that more clearly.

Arguably four: 1, 4, 5, and 6.

"Arguably".

My own view, although I don’t know you at all and so could be totally wrong, is that this shows an absence of an optimal sense of humor on your part.

I'm actually a cutup who doesn't get offended by hardly anything, but it's hard, especially online, to say "Your joke wasn't funny" without coming off as humorless and Aspergery. I knew that going in, but I tried to mitigate it by keeping a good-natured tone and focusing on the substance of the topic.

Anyway, thanks again for the follow-up post, I do appreciate it. It's always fun to see how people have changed their minds.

I hope you're already planning something bigger for next April Fool's Day.

bobroberts17e1 writes:

@NZ

At the risk of going off topic, what evidence made you change your mind on those issues? I'm just curious because as you said, that's a fundamental change.

Arthur_500 writes:
Then Milton Friedman's criticism of open borders in a country with a large welfare state gave me pause. Now I'm back to cautious support of open borders, based partly on Bryan Caplan's arguments--not just his but those by others that he haas made me aware of--and arguments by Alex Nowrasteh and Zac Gochenour.

Open Borders seems fine until government steps in and starts giving out benefits. I may be upset that my tax dollars are paying for your benefit but I am irate when my tax dollars are paying for someone who isn't supposed to be here.
It seems the biggest problem about open borders is the government.

On this note I remember when they used to teach that the US is a melting pot. People from all over the world melting into society and bringing their cultures, foods, etc into the mix.
Today we are told it is all about separation - diversity. All I can think of is the old adage, "Divide and Conquer."

David R. Henderson writes:

@NZ,
Thanks. By the way, whenever I see your initials, I think “New Zealand.” Any connection?

NZ writes:
At the risk of going off topic, what evidence made you change your mind on those issues?
Yeah, it would get us off topic, and would require a lot of space for me to fully articulate, so this probably isn't the right venue.

For now I'll just say a lot of these changes happened soon after two things happened: 1) I fully acknowledged the tribal, non-rational ways in which most people are wired, and 2) I got married and started seeing society in terms of the family rather than the individual.

I'm almost tempted to say it wasn't new evidence, but a new perspective.

NZ writes:

@David Henderson:

By the way, whenever I see your initials, I think “New Zealand.” Any connection?

Hah, I used to want to live there (I don't anymore), but other than that no.

Not the first time I've been asked though!

Shayne Cook writes:

David:

Just curious - and not challenging your beliefs ...

Have the recent events of Ukraine/Crimea at all modified your opinions regards your point number 2?

David R. Henderson writes:

@Shayne Cook,
Just curious - and not challenging your beliefs ...
I understand, but it’s also fine if you challenge my beliefs.
Have the recent events of Ukraine/Crimea at all modified your opinions regards your point number 2?
No, for three main reasons:
1. My belief was never premised on the idea that the heads of the Russian government were good guys. It was premised on the idea that they weren’t much of a threat to us.
2. When NATO started expanding and surrounding Russia under Clinton, I thought then that that was a mistake: it was a bad idea to poke the Russian bear. I thought that NATO should have disbanded.
3. From Napoleon through to the end of WWII, the Russians wanted a buffer because they saw what happened when they didn’t have one. They lost approximately 1/6 of their population in WWII. That would be like the U.S. losing 50 million people. So it was understandable (which doesn’t mean it was right) for the Russian government to want to keep a buffer.

Mark V Anderson writes:

On the discussion between NZ and David Henderson:
I too thought some of Henderson's comments in his April 1 post were a big smug, especially when he added the "even though's," most of whom I thought were pretty irrelevant to the point. But it didn't rise to the level of annoyance that I would have responded in the first place.

The fact that you thought Obama might be a good president reflects so poorly on your judgement that I cannot imagine I'll ever again seriously consider your opinion to be of any value. Mind you, I might change my mind.

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