Bryan Caplan  

Westernization vs. Islamization: My Bet with Jonathan Cast

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My recent "Steelmanning the Iraq War" defends a view I do not hold.  It concludes:
In the darkest days of World War II, Winston Churchill told the British people, "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat."  I admire these sentiments, but I know that our enemy is not yet at the gate.  There is a far worse course than doing nothing: Invading Iraq in anger, then abandoning it in frustration.  But our best option is to excise Muslim tyranny now when it's weak, instead of waiting for this political cancer to spread.
On Twitter, Jonathan Cast argued in earnest for the view that I defended as an intellectual exercise.  When I opined, "The most realistic hope is just gradual Westernization via consumer culture and the Internet. No guarantee, but I'll bet on it," Cast objected: "Bet Europe gets Islamicized before the Middle East gets Westernized."  While neither of us persuaded the other, we managed to hammer out the following bet.

Cast wins if:

1. None of the laws currently on this webpage are repealed (unless they are replaced with a substantively identical or stricter law) before January 1, 2030.

AND

2. At least one of the following countries officially BANS conversion from Islam: UK, Germany, the Netherlands, or Sweden before January 1, 2030.

Otherwise, I win.

The stakes: Cast has pre-paid me $100.  If he wins, I pay him $200 plus twelve years worth of interest at 3%, which comes to $274.

In case of ambiguity (particularly on the "substantively identical or stricter" provision), we've agreed to let noted rationalist Rob Wiblin arbitrate.

Commentary: I'm very confident I'll win on #2.  At this point, I'd give conversion bans less than a 20% probability.  On #1, I assign a 60% probability that Cast is right.  But that's primarily because I think that Westernization will be mostly de facto rather than de jure.  After all, Virginia didn't legalize cohabitation until 2013!




COMMENTS (14 to date)
RPLong writes:

#1 is a very interesting bet, but I'm surprised Cast agreed to betting on #2. That seems highly unlikely to me, especially in a 12-year time span.

The way it's phrased, it looks like Cast wins if both #1 and #2 are true. That's a tough bet to win.

Jonathan S writes:

Agree with @RPLong that the wording is ambiguous.

Is it both 1 and 2 for Cast to win? Or is it either 1 or 2 for cast to win?

1 would seem probable (70%), whereas 2 seems extremely unlikely (

Jonathan S writes:

Somehow, my previous comment got cut...

2 has got to be a less than 1% chance of happening, given the small devout Muslim population in those countries, and the policy needing to be a nationwide ban regarding freedom of religion, which would require a major shift in policy.

Nicholas Weininger writes:

Surprised France isn't on the list of possibilities for #2, given its use as the setting of "Soumission," which describes basically the scenario that would have to happen for you to lose on #2 (an openly, even if "moderately," Islamist party coming to national power in one of the listed countries).

Leo writes:

As a former professional gambler, I'm consistently astonished that Bryan gets action on these bets. There's gotta be a worldwide numeracy problem when a self-described "Linux enthusiast" fires off at Casino Caplan.

Respect to that guy for putting his money where is mouth is, though.

RohanV writes:

I am pretty impressed with the skill Caplan shows in setting the terms of his bets. Look at Cast's orginal formulation:

"Bet Europe gets Islamicized before the Middle East gets Westernized."

This gets translated as:

1. "Middle East gets Westernized" = repeal of an apostasy law in 1 of 23 Islamic country

2. "Europe gets Islamicized" = banning of conversion from Islam in 1 of 4 western countries

Cast only wins if 1 does not happen and 2 does happen. Caplan wins if neither option happens, both options happen, or 1 happens and 2 does not.

That's a pretty clever way for Caplan to aggregate the lion's share of probabilities, while intimating in his writing that "Middle East gets Westernized, and Europe does not get Islamicized" is the realistic outcome.

KevinDC writes:

While I think there's a solid chance that condition 1 will be won by Cast, condition 2 seems wildly unlikely to me. And to be honest, I'm shocked that Caplan seems* to think the odds of condition 2 being met could even approach 20%. I would consider the odds to be well below 1% that a country like Germany or Sweden will criminalize a change of religion. However, this is very much a gut instinct on my part, not a deeply researched opinion, and I'm now curious. To any who think there is anything above a 1% chance of condition 2 being met, what would you recommend I read that makes the strongest case for this possibility?

*I say he "seems to think" it approaches 20% based on the fact that while he puts the odds at below 20%, he doesn't specify how far below, and if he's using 20% as his ceiling I assume he doesn't think it's too far removed from those odds.

Dan Hill writes:

Bryan's steelmanning describes the goal of the invasion as "to bring human rights and democracy to Iraq." Cast defends this goal - though not stated explicitly in his tweet, a reasonable assumption is that he believes the goal is not only worthy, but is still achievable.

Yet he says he will "Bet Europe gets Islamicized before the Middle East gets Westernized." A bet which he's willing to back with real money.

Aren't human rights and democracy fundamentally western values? How does Iraq adopt these without moving quite a way toward being Westernized?

Kevin G writes:

Seems strange to bet on laws on the books. These types of things often wither away /despite/ the laws on the books.

Joseph Teicher writes:

These bets are just a minor way for Caplan to monetize his fame. Cast wins because he spent $100 to get some attention and then if he actually wins the bet he'll probably get a lot of attention. Caplan wins because he got some money. If I were Caplan I wouldn't have done it for less than $5K, but I guess we don't whether he got an additonal sweetener or not.

Justin writes:

That's a terrible bet for Cast.

Does anyone really think that one of those four European nations is going to ban conversions from Islam specifically in less than twelve years, even if Cast is completely right?

I'm surprised given how specific that is and how short the time frame that Cast didn't get to apply that standard to the entire EU at the very least (and that's still a bad bet).

I think it's much more likely that the government gradually stops prosecuting murders of apostates from Islam, and the law itself would only be changed decades later.

Is killing of apostates even legal in all Islamic countries? I wouldn't be surprised (though I'm too lazy to check) if it's illegal in places like Turkey, which are quite Islamic.

Al writes:

I think Cast made a bad bet. He would have a fair chance of winning on #1, but I am very doubtful about #2 in this time frame. I would say the chances are less than 1%. Much higher with a 20 or 30 year time frame.

Jonathan Cast writes:

Let me give some explicit probabilities on #1:

RBL = Repeal of blasphemy / apostasy laws in at least one Middle Eastern country

Probability of RBL conditional on the kind of military action I favor: 100%

Probability of RBL conditional on no western military action, or the kind of military action we actually saw in the Iraq war, or see in Syra now: very small, probably < 20%

Probability of the kind of military action I favor, conditional on conservative commentators / agitators (left vague here, but think Rush Limbaugh or Ben Shapiro) defending the Iraq war, making the case Bryan outlined, and arguing that we should have done more in Iraq, not less: > 50%

Probability of the kind of military action I favor, conditional on conservative commentators renouncing the Iraq war, arguing that it was a mistake, and criticizing any military action in Syria: effectively 0

So, probability of RBL conditional on conservatives adopting Bryan's steelman argument: > 50%

Probability of RBL conditional on conservatives renouncing the Iraq war: < 20%

So conservatives adopting a robust defense of the Iraq war would, in my estimation, have a net expected value of at least <value of RBL> * 0.3, which is substantial. That was the argument I tried to make in response to Bryan's tweet.

Now, probability that conservatives actually will embrace the Iraq war, or at least adopt the right position on Syria: < 10%. (Leading to an unconditional probability of RBL of < ~ 25%).

As far as Europe goes: criticism of Islam is already illegal in the United Kingdom, which (as I understand it) would qualify it for that Library of Congress page if western liberals weren't in denial about it. The question - and I think it's an empirical question - is how far that is from an outright ban, and whether 11 1/2 years is a reasonable time frame for 'inclusivity' (and Sharia law) to rise to that point. Given the speed with which gay marriage went from 'that's impossible, nobody's demanding that, it'll never happen' to 'you bigot, how dare you reject gay marriage', I don't think it's safe to bet long on the time until apostasy from Islam is also banned.

Tom S writes:

Hi Johnathan,

I'd like to offer you the same bet as Bryan. How about $1000 ? Rob Wiblin can vouch that I am trustworthy.

my email if you're interested: tmksitt at gmail

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