David R. Henderson  

Play the Hand You're Dealt

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In response to co-blogger Bryan Caplan's post about being on the Fox News Channel (FNC), one commenter wrote:

The Fox News Network, and Carlson in particular, are basically running propaganda operations for the Trump administration. While regular readers understand that you have many disagreements with Fox show hosts, nonetheless, your interview was used to further their nihilistic propaganda goals.

I wish everyone would boycott Fox, but if they allow you to make your case against immigration restrictions, for example, it would be worth appearing since you're no easy foil.


Note his implicit assumption that every FNC viewer already agrees with Bryan that all subsidies to higher education should be ended. I talk to a lot of FNC viewers and not one of them yet has agreed with Bryan's policy view. They, as much as American viewers in general, seem to have a romantic view of higher education.

But imagine that 90% of FNC viewers already agree with Bryan and 10% don't. I think 90% is way too high, but let's go with that. Imagine there are 1,000,000 viewers of Tucker's show on a typical night. That means Bryan is talking to 100,000 people who don't already agree with him. When does Bryan get a chance to do that? Not often.

Moreover, of the 900,000 people who agree with Bryan, how many can come close to articulating that view point as well as Bryan? Maybe 100 at most? (Probably more like 10.) So that means he can give good intellectual ammo to 890,900 people. If even 1% of them really get it and start to make Bryan's argument, that's 8,909 people who will be going around making his argument.

Something else is interesting about this commenter's view of the world: that people like Bryan have a number of networks trying to get on his dance card. It's just not true. The opportunities we get are few and far between. When we get them, we take them. We play the hands we're dealt.

This reminds me of a discussion I have with a good friend of mine when we see one of our favorite actors in a lousy movie. She will wonder why the actor took that gig rather than being in a good movie. I point out that besides the fact that it's often hard to know in advance what a good movie is, people in the business want to be in the business. If great opportunities aren't coming along, they will choose from the opportunities that present themselves. They play the hands they're dealt.

For an earlier application of "Play the Hand You're Dealt," see this.

UPDATE:
I have a recent example of playing the hand you're dealt that might also be an example of something the commenter thought I should turn down. The woman who runs the local Republican Women's group has asked me to speak for 15 minutes next Thursday on the recent change in the federal tax law. The commenter whom I mentioned above would likely say, "Why speak to the converted?" My answer is that (1) probably not all of them are converted, (2) probably very few of them understand some of the important implications of the tax law, and (3) even the ones who do understand would probably learn more about it and pick up some intellectual ammo. There's also a fourth reason. When I ran into her at the July 4 parade last year, I asked her why I haven't been invited back to speak for the last 2 or 3 years. She answered that I'm not pro-Israel enough and that unless I became pro-Israel, I would never be invited to speak again, except, possibly, to debate a guy who's pro-Israel. So I jumped at this chance to speak on an area of my relative expertise without speaking on an issue (Israel) on which I'm not informed enough.


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CATEGORIES: Economic Philosophy




COMMENTS (8 to date)
john hare writes:

One of the hands I am dealt is that the posts and comments on this blog often don't agree with my understanding of the world. And the comments I sometimes post often don't match the world view of others here. I believe I gain more from following a site that often challenges my understanding (Meaning I disagree) than one that is an echo chamber of my beliefs.

Weir writes:

Bryan laughed when Tucker made the point about undergraduate addicts and student alcoholics. That's my criticism of Bryan's performance.

I mean, Tucker doesn't work at a university. So of course he doesn't understand that the entire point of the college experience is the beer and the molly and the coke. Plus the credential, obviously.

But Bryan should be more patient with people from outside the academy. Within Bryan's own sphere, there's a shared understanding of what college means. But outside the sphere, there are people like Tucker who work in a completely different business, and when you laugh at their naivete and their silly ideal of the student who isn't drunk, that's not how you win allies.

Mark Steyn comes to mind, from the other week. He's had a lot of practice on tv and radio and debating on stage. It's not like Mark himself believes that French and German retirees should spend half their lives on the dole, spending other people's wages. He's just trying to communicate the point (to Jean-Pierre and Fritz) that their generous pensions aren't permament.

Mark's trying to communicate to the ordinary French millionaire, to the ordinary German socialist in his old age, even though these guys aren't on the exact same page as him on every point, that they shouldn't expect to spend other people's money in perpetuity. At some point they might have to dip into their own deep pockets to maintain themselves in the style to which they are accustomed.

WalterCO writes:

Of his Playboy interview years ago, Wm. F. Buckley said that if you want to save souls, you must go to where the sinners are. Not sure that's perfectly applicable here, but I enjoy repeating it.

Chris writes:

I hope this doesn't seem troll-ish, but I wonder what the limiting principle to "play the hand you're dealt" is.

I could imagine somebody defending one-time use of federal authority (contra usual pro-state/local priors) as playing the hand you're dealt.

I have seen numerous arguments in defense of boycotts--freedom of association--as playing the hand you're dealt (even if viewed dubiously from a more market-centered perspective).

There's an entire strategic approach to attaining classical liberal goals (Rothbard-Rockwell-Paul) that may be defended as playing the hand you're dealt.

I have no objection to the actual example of Bryan Caplan appearing on Tucker Carlson's show. Nor do I mean to attribute bad faith to Mr. Henderson. Just taking up for keeping means, not just ends, in mind.

Maniel writes:

Prof. Henderson,
Two comments: first, regarding “playing the hand…” Sound advice, no doubt. Prof. Caplan’s defense of his message before adversary and supporter alike is a practical approach to getting his message “out there,” obtaining feedback, sharpening his delivery, and encouraging listeners to strengthen or revise their own positions.
Second, regarding the message itself. Drawing on earlier posts, because I attended engineering schools (within major universities), I respectfully submit that it lacks nuance. We engineering students were channeled by our school curricula, challenged by our professors, worked when the “social science” students were on break, and were rewarded by industry for having paid our dues.
I must admit that the culture that we adopted was tempered by our relationship with the parallel universe (outside fortress engineering, and math, chem, physics, computer technology, biology, etc.). One coed, advertising in a school rag that she might be available to the right kind of guy, ended her post with these words: “no engineers.”

Tom Jackson writes:

I enjoyed this post.

And it's not as if there's a huge libertarian cable news network out there with millions of viewers that Bryan should be appearing on instead. Fox News may be sub optimal, but so is CNN, MSNBC, RT and any other cable news outlet. If Bryan gets a chance to appear on any of them, amen.

We should remember that at least some of the people who happen to be watching Fox or MSNBC may not be locked in to the network's ideology, and may be willing to listen to another viewpoint. Maybe they just happen to be watching what's on at a friend's house, or in a business.

And aren't there lots of libertarians who are former conservatives and libertarians? Shouldn't we welcome opportunities to find converts?

David R Henderson writes:

@Weir,
But Bryan should be more patient with people from outside the academy. Within Bryan's own sphere, there's a shared understanding of what college means. But outside the sphere, there are people like Tucker who work in a completely different business, and when you laugh at their naivete and their silly ideal of the student who isn't drunk, that's not how you win allies.
I think the evidence is somewhat against you in this particular case. Tucker gave Bryan a warm welcome throughout. I also thought Bryan did a great job of not falling into a trap I might have fallen into: going with the special-interest explanation of the push for subsidies. Bryan pointed out that almost everyone favors high government subsidies to higher education.
@chris,
I hope this doesn't seem troll-ish, but I wonder what the limiting principle to "play the hand you're dealt" is.
Your hope is justified: it doesn’t seem trollish, to me at least.
I don’t know the answer to your question.
@maniel,
We engineering students were channeled by our school curricula, challenged by our professors, worked when the “social science” students were on break, and were rewarded by industry for having paid our dues.
That’s great.
One coed, advertising in a school rag that she might be available to the right kind of guy, ended her post with these words: “no engineers.”
LOL.

David R Henderson writes:

@Tom Jackson,
I enjoyed this post.
Thank you.
And it's not as if there's a huge libertarian cable news network out there with millions of viewers that Bryan should be appearing on instead. Fox News may be sub optimal, but so is CNN, MSNBC, RT and any other cable news outlet. If Bryan gets a chance to appear on any of them, amen.
Exactly.
We should remember that at least some of the people who happen to be watching Fox or MSNBC may not be locked in to the network's ideology, and may be willing to listen to another viewpoint. Maybe they just happen to be watching what's on at a friend's house, or in a business.
True. That’s how I found out about Fox in the mid to late 1990s. My wife had been surfing the channels and it happened to be on when I got home. There was a man on who was being hassled by O’Reilly but had a pleasant demeanor. I asked my wife who it was and she said it was a Congressman named Ron Paul. I knew of him, and in fact had appeared as a speaker with him in 1982 on Capitol Hill, where I had a much less positive view. He had become a nicer person. That’s when I started watching FNC fairly regularly. I think it’s gone downhill since about the middle of last decade.
And aren't there lots of libertarians who are former conservatives and libertarians? Shouldn't we welcome opportunities to find converts?
Well said.

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