Bryan Caplan  

Why I'm Not Freaking Out

PRINT
How Castro is Like the Minimum... In Praise of Ineffective Polit...
Until recently, I thought I'd steered clear of what Scott Alexander calls, "the toxoplasma of rage."  Now, sadly, I'm at the point where people are getting angry at me for failing to be properly angry about Trump's election.  This will probably only make them angrier, but in case anyone's genuinely curious, here's my thinking.

1. Policy will be terrible under Trump.  But in my view, policy is always terrible.

2. Policy will probably be even more terrible under Trump than it was under Obama, or would have been under Clinton.  As a champion of open borders, he has given me many reasons to fear he will make U.S. immigration policy even more draconian than it already is.  And as a pacifist, Trump's odd blend of dovish and hawkish statements, combined with his extreme inexperience, make me fear he will murder an unusually large number of innocent people for a U.S. president.

3. But I could be wrong - and not in a cop-out, "I can't be absolutely sure" kind of way.  I think there's a 20% chance Trump will, in the end and overall, be noticeably better than Clinton would have been.
 
4. How can I say such a thing? 

For starters, there are the generic reasons: Presidents promise a lot more than they even try to deliver, the U.S. political system has severe inertia, the world is complex. Furthermore, disasters are very rare, and our ability to forecast them is poor

For Trump, we have more specific doubts: He's a reality t.v. star who adopted most of his political "convictions" quite recently.  If he'd promised to adopt policies I favor, I would not trust such a man fulfill his promises.  So why should I trust him to fulfill his promises to adopt policies I oppose?

5. If you think I'm in denial, I'm open to bets.  Indeed, if you want to change my mind, the mere offer to bet is vastly more persuasive than emoting on me.

6. But how can I be so blase?  To repeat: In my view, policy is always terrible.  So I have to choose between being miserable all the time, or striving to be happy when policy is terrible.  I have long made the latter choice.  I will continue to make this choice even if additional very bad things happen to mankind.

7. How can anyone with my bleak view of the world possibly be happy?  By creating a Bubble - a small corner of the world that works the way I think the whole world should work.  Futile anger has no place in my Bubble, but nobility does.

8. What if very bad things happen to me or my family personally?  Then I'll cope as best I can, taking concrete actions likely to protect my family.  Getting angry about U.S. politics plainly doesn't qualify.

9. But don't I sympathize with the potential victims of Trump's policies - the immigrants he'll deport, the would-be immigrants he'll exclude, the Middle Eastern civilians he'll kill?  Of course I sympathize.  If I could save them, I would.  But I almost certainly can't.  All I can do is hope for the best.




COMMENTS (21 to date)
Philo writes:

"There's a deal of ruin in a country." It's a good bet that the U.S. will survive a Trump Presidency.

Scott Sumner writes:

Very good post. I wrote something not too dissimilar a few days ago:

http://www.themoneyillusion.com/?p=32136

bill writes:

99% chance you are right.
100% chance that I will be better off if I ignore the other 1%.
Thx.

Brandon writes:

Hear, hear!

This reminds me of a recent piece by an economist north of the border: "Everything is going to be fine."

David R. Henderson writes:

Two badly misplaced modifiers in #2. Trump is neither an open borders advocate nor a pacifist.

Khodge writes:

I am not sure of how you are defining policy. Trump can hew to each clear statement made (and not contradicted elsewhere) during his campaign without ever getting a bill passed by congress which would enable said policy.

This is where I see a clear distinction between Trump and Clinton: She may have been able to move her policies through Congress whereas Trump's policy succeeds only to the point that it matches Congress.

Brandon writes:

@Scott,

Hahah! Come to think of it, I remember reading your piece too.

There are probably a lot of libertarianish people out there who are not freaking out over Trump.

On the other hand, here in Austin, my libertarian neighbor sold his house, his business, and his cars when the Donald won the presidency, and promptly moved himself and his small family far away from civilization.

jc writes:
Now, sadly, I'm at the point where people are getting angry at me for failing to be properly angry about Trump's election.

Pretty sure that it's common - almost seems like a law of nature among social actors, real and/or simulated - for people to judge defectors (or violators of sacred social norms) even less harshly than they judge peers who fail to properly punish said defectors.

So yes, you will be judged harshly by many for not judging Trump harshly. And (e.g., Jonathan Haidt's stuff) logic/rationality that supports your argument will only strengthen their convictions and/or their judgment of you.

jc writes:

Btw, there's sometimes a difference b/w discrete logic and bigger-picture, systems-wide logic.

It could be that tribal unity was so important during our formative years as a species that being wrong together was sometimes more important than 1/2 of us being right within a divided tribe. (Free Quote from Game of Thrones: "It is known.")

I can think of plenty of counter-examples, but this may be why sometimes, in the big picture, it's okay if we're all a little wrong. And if it's a silly Savannah Principle artifact, because tribal unity in today's modern landscape simply isn't the life-or-death matter it once was, then...well...at least it helps explain we are the way we are. When stupid and/or bad things are happening around me, sometimes I find comfort in at least understanding why these things are happening. Helps me apply the Serenity prayer a little more effectively. :)

(Analogy. A friend has been married for 40 years. When asked their secret, they say "sometimes you have to be willing to be wrong...even if you're right". They could win this or that argument by supplying irrefutable logic or evidence or by simply winning a war of wills. But their marriage would suffer, and that two-person tribe would eventually splinter because of how they made the other feel, because they cared more about a minor truth than about each other, etc. The logical thing to do was to see the bigger picture and prioritize that, and that meant accepting little picture wrongs.)

James Hanley writes:

You don't discuss what appears to me to be the most critical danger: not taking a stand against Russia. The Baltics are at great risk. Eastern Europeans are deeply deeply worried.

The liberal order, as imperfect as it is, is increasingly fragile. As much as I hate the thought, it still needs U.S. leadership.

Jared writes:

Bryan,

"3. But I could be wrong - and not in a cop-out, "I can't be absolutely sure" kind of way. I think there's a 20% chance Trump will, in the end and overall, be noticeably better than Clinton would have been."

What odds to you give to him being noticeably worse? Just curious.

Up The Irons writes:

[Comment removed. Please consult our comment policies and check your email for explanation.--Econlib Ed.]

Doug writes:

On the topic of small-p ways that Trump could do good things: let's not forget that, at least 25 years ago, he advocated an end to the drug war and the complete legalization of all drugs.

There's at least a small chance that he actually still does hold this belief in private. An even better chance when you consider he's been playing a character for at least 15 years, and we really don't know what Trump believes.

The Drug War is the most destructive social policy for African-Americans since Jim Crow. If he acts on his one-time convictions and seriously scales back the Drug War, Trump may actually run the most pro-black administration. since Civil Rights.

Hazel Meade writes:

9. But don't I sympathize with the potential victims of Trump's policies - the immigrants he'll deport, the would-be immigrants he'll exclude, the Middle Eastern civilians he'll kill? Of course I sympathize. If I could save them, I would. But I almost certainly can't. All I can do is hope for the best.

Hypothetical. Suppose you have a neighbor who is currently one of the DAPA protected immigrants. She came here as an illegal alien, and later married a US citizen and has two young US citizen children, ages 3 and 5. She can't get legal status because under current law she would have to go back to Guatemala for 2-10 years with no way to know if she would ever be allowed to come home. One day, this woman comes to your door and says "The DHS is coming to take me away, please let me hide in your attic!!!"

What do you do?
A) Hide her in your attic,
B) Turn her over to the cops.

maniel writes:

@Doug
Agree. Add in the minimum wage, a law against working at above-ground jobs for the poorly educated, and you get a powder path to prison. As you point out, many prisoners of (the Drug) War come from minority communities.

HokieCoug writes:

Thanks for an excellent post. I've long agreed - presidents don't have nearly the power to destroy the country as people appear to think.

Every 4 years about half the country cries "we're doomed because X was elected". Miraculously, 4 years later, the country is always roughly the same as it was before.

I was not an Obama fan but must admit the country is still basically functioning well 8 years later. It wasn't "fundamentally transformed" into something else, much less destroyed.

Thaomas writes:

I share the psychological outlook, but with a good bit more unhappiness for the probable fate of the undocumented immigrants who will be deported and refugees who will not be admitted and the folks who will lose or have much less generously subsidized health insurance.

Anon39 writes:

Seems like an easy fix to this problem, although I'm sure there's something I'm not seeing.

A law that says refugees and immigrants can only come if they're sponsored by someone, who then becomes in essence their legal guardian. They're financially and criminally liable for anything that the refugee or immigrant does.

Open borders guys get literally the exact number of immigrants and refugees that they're willing to pay for. And the immigrants and refugees go to the neighborhoods of people that want them.

Win for everyone.

Courtney Santos writes:
"But don't I sympathize with the potential victims of Trump's policies - the immigrants he'll deport, the would-be immigrants he'll exclude, the Middle Eastern civilians he'll kill? Of course I sympathize. If I could save them, I would. But I almost certainly can't. All I can do is hope for the best."

Wow, now there's a Pontius Pilate ending. Especially from a respected academic with a significant internet following which probably includes at least a few DC insiders and elected officials.

How do you get to a place where you have thousands of followers and believe your voice holds no weight? For that matter, all Americans with internet access are at one or two degrees of separation from Trump himself. Of course we can do something. Not by being angry, but by being persuasive.

I believe in you, Professor Caplan. You are a skilled writer and well-positioned to change minds--and your Bubble is permeable. In your Bubble post, you focused on importing goods, but you also export words. Logical, carefully considered words. Powerful words.

Jesse C writes:

I'm surprised at the relatively low amount of concern about Hillary Clinton by libertarians. Granted, Trump's rhetoric is worse on economic points (in some ways). However, HRC has a proven willingness to wield the full power of government as a weapon against those who stand in the way of her quest for power. The same can be said about much of the political left.

Trump might be just as bad, but he's not demonstrated it yet. If he is caught as red-handed as Clinton, he'll be out on his ear. That gives me comfort. Hillary would have only become only more bold in her squashing any opposition as president.

Craig writes:

Bryan, this sounds a lot like applied Stoicism. What are your thoughts on it?

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top