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Bryan Caplan: December 2009

An Author Archive by Month (56 entries)

Question for Sumner

Finance: stocks, options, etc.
Bryan Caplan
Forbes provokes Sumner to don the robes of hanging judge for the hypocritical right:If Forbes is right, and the markets are made up by a bunch of fools, then why not go with socialism?Here's what I think is really going... MORE

Easterly Contra Galbraith

Central Planning vs. Local Knowledge
Bryan Caplan
Back in the sixties, Galbraith famously argued that East and West were converging.  The East had government central planning.  The West had corporate central planning.  Same difference, right?  In his interview with Arnold and Nick, Bill Easterly begs to differ:[T]he... MORE

An Alibertarian Case for Reproductive Laissez-Faire

Economic Philosophy
Bryan Caplan
Libertarians often highlight "the right to do wrong."  We are often morally obliged to tolerate the wicked and foolish behavior of others.  A quote wrongly attributed to Voltaire beautifully captures the intuition: "I disapprove of what you say, but I... MORE

Another Reason to Get an Econ Ph.D.

Economics of Education
Bryan Caplan
Bruce Charlton says that the hard sciences just aren't fun anymore.  The system now rewards workaholism and subservience a lot more than creativity:Modern science is just too dull an activity to attract, retain or promote many of the most intelligent... MORE

Why Were American Econ Textbooks So Pro-Soviet?

Cross-country Comparisons
Bryan Caplan
When I was in Econ 1, we actually used the infamous 1989 Samuelson text - the one that said, "the Soviet economy is proof that, contrary to what many skeptics had earlier believed, a socialist command economy can function and... MORE

How Big a Spender Was Bush II?

Fiscal Policy
Bryan Caplan
Compared to all presidents, 1952-2008, here's Bush II's record:Measure #1: Annual Change in Total Real Spending: 4.9% - second only to LBJMeasure #2: Annual Change in Total Real Spending, not counting interest on the federal debt: 4.6% - second only... MORE

Deborah Spar's The Baby Business is, by far, the best overview of the cutting-edge technology and sociology of having babies.  If you want to learn about in vitro fertilization, surrogacy, cloning, and international adoption, Spar's book is a one-stop shop. ... MORE

Northian Pessimism in FP2P

Growth: Causal Factors
Bryan Caplan
Doug North has never sounded wiser or clearer than he does in his interview with Arnold and Nick.  North's concluding statement is the highlight for me:I'm moderately pessimistic about the future of the world...What particularly bothers me is that the... MORE

Stephen Kinsella offers an analogy to offend two disjoint movements in one swoop:I would love to see libertarian IP advocates have to live in a world that truly implemented their IP views fully, consistently--it would be like a communist USSR... MORE

FP2P Quip of the Day

Regulation
Bryan Caplan
From Arnold and Nick: "In many poorly governed countries, ordinary businesses are as tenuous as drug-dealing in the United States."... MORE

What Just Happened?

Economics of Health Care
Bryan Caplan
Can someone help me make heads or tails out of this piece on the Senate bill?  Key claims to reconcile:1. Demand for health insurance is going way up:Health insurers get some big presents in the Senate's health overhaul bill --... MORE

Memory Boost

Economics of Health Care
Bryan Caplan
Arnold writes:I know I had another argument with Bryan this year where I had to concede to him, but right now I cannot remember the topic. Selective memory strikes again.I'm happy to help out.  The history of the dispute:1. Arnold... MORE

Respect Me

Family Economics
Bryan Caplan
The official theory of the holidays is that they're a time for families to have a good time together.  Unfortunately, the practice falls far short of the theory.  Many people dread the holidays, because they feel obliged to spend a... MORE

Some Preliminary Political Economy of the Senate Bill

Economics of Health Care
Bryan Caplan
My favorite passage from Ezra Klein's pro-Senate bill blogging:Someone who puts off purchasing coverage and then tries to buy Aetna's plan the first time they collapse unexpectedly will not be sold a plan...Under reform, these people get the chance to... MORE

Exegesis, Public Choice, and the Senate Health Care Bill

Economics of Health Care
Bryan Caplan
When I explain the antitrust laws to my Industrial Organization students, I begin with the Fable of the Martian.  Suppose you're driving 66 miles per hour in a 55 mph zone with a fresh-off-the-spaceship Martian passenger.  No one in sight... MORE

The Ahistoricity of the SIVH

Behavioral Economics and Rationality
Bryan Caplan
The Self-Interested Voter Hypothesis (SIVH) is a poor predictor of political views in the modern U.S.  In his interview in FP2P, Joel Mokyr claims that the SIVH has been a flop for centuries: My forthcoming book is called The Enlightened... MORE

The Myth of Shock Therapy

Cross-country Comparisons
Bryan Caplan
If Russia really had "shock therapy" in the early nineties, how come it didn't move out of the bottom decile of the Economic Freedom of the World index until 2002?  Is moving from the bottom decile to the next-to-bottom decile... MORE

Repugnantly Corrupt Bargains

Economic Philosophy
Bryan Caplan
Even if I favored Obama's move towards socialized medicine, I'd still be repulsed by the bribes and opportunism of the legislation designed to take us there.  I can see the appeal of coercing for a pure cause.  I can't see... MORE

FP2P: Paul Romer Interview Highlights

Books: Reviews and Suggested Readings
Bryan Caplan
Kling and Schulz's interview with Paul Romer sharply raises my already favorable opinion of him.  Highlights (italicized titles mine):No, This Isn't NanotechI'll claim that there's a recipe out there that you could use to just assemble carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen... MORE

Dude, Who Will Shovel My Snow?

Labor Market
Bryan Caplan
In my neighborhood, many households would pay unskilled workers $30/hour or more to shovel snow.  I would, that's for sure.  But no one comes door-to-door offering these services.  The obvious explanation is that (a) teens are the only unskilled workers... MORE

FP2P: The Book Hayek Should Have Written

Books: Reviews and Suggested Readings
Bryan Caplan
I zoomed through Kling-Schulz's From Poverty to Prosperity.  The honest truth: It is the best book I've read all year, and the best book of interviews with economists ever written.  If you're tempted to discount my recommendation because Arnold's my... MORE

Brad Said It

Economic Education
Bryan Caplan
The quote was from DeLong's rave review of The Accidental Theorist.  The next sentence reads:But all these are outweighed by one fact: he is almost always--not always, but almost always--right.Even in 1999, that was a stretch.  By 2009, what non-Democratic... MORE

Who Said It?

Economic Education
Bryan Caplan
"Critics of Paul Krugman call him acerbic and boastful, unfair on the attack and unwilling to make concessions on the defense, certain that he is correct, and always sure that those who disagree are mendacious or foolish (or both). And... MORE

Correcting a Favorite Textbook Author

Macroeconomics
Bryan Caplan
Maybe I'm just misinterpreting this passage, but I feel the need to correct one of my favorite textbook authors.  Alex Tabarrok writes:A fall in wages increases the incentive to hire (call this the substitution effect) but it decreases the income... MORE

The Dining Room Table Responds

Macroeconomics
Bryan Caplan
Penny: He's a really good-looking guy, and I thought he was kind of cheesy at first... Billy: [quietly] Trust your instincts. Penny: But, he turned out to be totally sweet. Sometimes people are layered like that. There's something totally different... MORE

Rejoinder on Hayek

Economic Methods
Bryan Caplan
Many people I know objected to my last post on Hayek.  Arnold jokingly called me a troll.  My colleague Russ Roberts urged me to learn greater patience:Five blog posts, huh? I guess that's something like saying Coase only wrote a... MORE

"No Frills" IVF in Africa

Family Economics
Bryan Caplan
Greg Clark's not gonna like this:Poor and war-torn, Sudan might be the last place you would expect to find an experiment in cutting-edge fertility treatments. But by the end of October, a clinic at the University of Khartoum plans to... MORE

The first surrogate mother contracts outraged the public.  Now, almost no one cares - except the satisfied parties to these mutually advantageous arrangements.  What happened?  Elizabeth Scott of Columbia Law School has a thought-provoking story to tell, with a strong,... MORE

Kling-Schulz: An Immediate Delight

Books: Reviews and Suggested Readings
Bryan Caplan
Arnold and Nick's From Poverty to Prosperity is an immediate delight.  I'm only on page 4, and I'm already cracking up.  Here is economic wit:Sixty years ago, a social studies teacher looking for a movie that would motivate students to... MORE

A Manager's Perspective on Health Insurance

Economics of Health Care
Bryan Caplan
A while back, I wrote:Yes, health insurance is bundled with jobs.  But markets bundle lots of products, and I see no evidence that this bundling undermines reputational incentives in the least.  Think about a typical restaurant.  It bundles many kinds... MORE

Paul Krugman repeats his argument that wage cuts are an individually rational but socially destructive way to reduce unemployment.  His motive: To quash a politically impossible effort to cut the minimum wage.  Paul does address the real balance effect, but... MORE

Life Extension and the Economy

Labor Market
Bryan Caplan
One of Robin's most brilliant posts concludes:The standard views of techies about what techs will be feasible might be wrong, and the standard views of economists of how to forecast tech consequences might be wrong.  And it is fine for... MORE

Does the Public Get This Right?

Economics of Health Care
Bryan Caplan
There is one question in the Roper-AP survey where I wonder if the American public is more perceptive than pro-Obama economists.  The question: "If the government makes these changes to health insurance [i.e., extending coverage], would that probably cause you... MORE

Hail Victor Fuchs

Economics of Health Care
Bryan Caplan
One of my favorite passages in The Myth of the Rational Voter argues that economists should often support markets even when they aren't working very well.  Why?  Because in the real world, government habitually make genuine market failures worse in... MORE

Double-Digit Inflation Bet With Bob Murphy

Macroeconomics
Bryan Caplan
I'm a sucker for a good Simpsons reference.  Here's a great one from Bob Murphy:It may smack of paranoid conspiracy theories to some readers, but as the principal in the Simpsons said when the students overheard him predicting that they... MORE

Philosophy and Rational Irrationality

Behavioral Economics and Rationality
Bryan Caplan
Now that Robin knows what philosophers think, he likes them more.  I recently received a thoughtful email from Ph.D. philosophy student Matthew Skene that makes the opposite case.  Here's the full message, reprinted with permission. My name is Matt Skene,... MORE

One Take on Strauss's Craziness

Economic Philosophy
Bryan Caplan
If you think Rothbard was harsh on Hayek in Rothbard vs. the Philosophers, here's what he has to say about Leo Strauss's Thoughts on Machiavelli:First, something should be said about the manner, the texture, the methodology of this book, which... MORE

Two Takes on Hayek's Flabbiness

Austrian Economics
Bryan Caplan
I've long since lost all patience with Hayek.  His original, true ideas could have been five good blog posts, his errors and bizarre obsessions are numerous, and his writing style insults every person who ever tried to write a decent... MORE

Billion Dollar Bribe

Politics and Economics
Bryan Caplan
Suppose you had a billion dollars to spend in Washington to advance liberty.  What's the biggest libertarian policy reform your billion could buy?  How precisely should you spread your money around?Remember: Many obvious strategies would lead to bad publicity and... MORE

How Wise Is Repugnance?

Economic Philosophy
Bryan Caplan
I finally read that instant classic of bioethics, Leon Kass' "The Wisdom of Repugnance."  While its proximate goal is to urge a ban on human cloning, Kass advances a much more general ethical position:[R]epugnance is the emotional expression of deep... MORE

Today Tyler pointed me to the PhilPapers Surveys, the most fascinating opinion poll I've seen in years.  Not only does it survey philosophers' views on thirty classic and modern controversies; it meta-surveys philosophers' views on philosophers' typical views! The PhilPapers... MORE

If I'd known about this section on "The Delusion of Overrating the Happiness of Our Ancestors" in Thomas Macaulay's History of England (1848), it definitely would have made it into The Myth of the Rational Voter:[I]n spite of evidence, many... MORE

What is Maturity - and Who's Got It?

Economics and Culture
Bryan Caplan
Like most interesting words, "maturity" is hard to define.  The most literal definition is just "how much you act like an adult."  But since adult behavior varies widely, and we often call some adults "immature," that's not very helpful.  As... MORE

Higher Education: The End Is Not Nigh

Economics of Education
Bryan Caplan
Five years ago, I laughed at Alex Tabarrok for worrying that online instruction would put traditional colleges - and traditional professors like us - out of business.  He's still worried:[U]niversities will move to a superstar market for teachers in which... MORE

Questions for a Dissertation Defense

Economics of Health Care
Bryan Caplan
Tomorrow morning, Robin Hanson is chairing a very interesting dissertation defense:One part finds that US firms that self-insure, thereby avoiding many health insurance regulations, spend 18-25% more per employee on medicine...The take-away:For those who think med is great, this seems... MORE

Question for Recalculationists, Round 3

Macroeconomics
Bryan Caplan
Unless I've unfairly overlooked someone, it looks like no recalculationist answered my original question - namely, "By what percentage do real GDP and employment fall if nominal GDP unexpectedly declines by 5%?"  Arnold comes the closest.In this example, I would... MORE

Question for Recalculationists, Round 2

Macroeconomics
Bryan Caplan
Arnold answers my question with another question:[W]hy does nominal GDP suddenly fall by 5 percent?Let's keep it simple: The public freaks out for no good reason and responds by trying to increase cash balances, and the Fed doesn't accomodate.... MORE

Question for Recalculationists

Macroeconomics
Bryan Caplan
Suppose that the modern U.S. economy faced no out-of-the-ordinary recalculation problems.   By what percentage do real GDP and employment fall if nominal GDP unexpectedly declines by 5%?P.S. If you're wondering why I'm asking...... MORE

The Point of Stitches

Books: Reviews and Suggested Readings
Bryan Caplan
Tyler says that David Small's graphic novel Stitches is "professionally done but pointless."  I say it's an eloquent illustration of one of the most important exceptions to the behavioral genetic conclusion that parents have little long-run effect on their kids. ... MORE

So Bad It's Good

Economic History
Bryan Caplan
A single sentence in the Durants' The Age of Napoleon makes me wonder whether I can trust a word they write on economic policy:In the laissez-faire economy, producers, distributors, and consumers labored to mulct one another, or to evade the... MORE

The Ethics of Giving Machiavellian Advice

Economic Philosophy
Bryan Caplan
A British reporter just gave me the following hypothetical: Suppose a politician wanted to cynically take advantage of voter irrationality to gain their support for costly measures to fight global warming.  What would his most effective strategies be?One of my... MORE

The Public Choice of the Ancient Hebrews

Politics and Economics
Bryan Caplan
I just finished Richard Friedman's Who Wrote the Bible?  It's a classic popularization of the Documentary Hypothesis, which claims that the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) is actually a medley of four earlier sources called J (the... MORE

How Arthur Lupia Changed My Mind

Behavioral Economics and Rationality
Bryan Caplan
Today the renowned political scientist Arthur Lupia visited GMU.  His mission: Attack the quality of academic research on voter competence.  His arguments changed my mind, but in the opposite of the intended direction.  Given Lupia's intelligence, expertise, and effort, his... MORE

What Does Selfishness Require of Us?

Economic Philosophy
Bryan Caplan
I often wish the people around me were more selfish - or at least better at being selfish.  I know how to deal with rational, self-interested actors.  They're really quite charming.  If I want them to change their behavior, I... MORE

Obvious Stuff I Agree With

Economic Philosophy
Bryan Caplan
1. Nationalism is evil:One big problem with nationalism is that it is a leading cause of mass murder. Fascism and Nazism were, of course, extreme forms of nationalism and the mass murders Nazi and fascist regimes committed were justified on... MORE

Questions I'm Going to Ask John Nye

Economic History
Bryan Caplan
My colleague John Nye specializes in French economic history.  Other than his job market talk, though, I can't say that he's done much to bring me up to speed in this field.  Since I have much to learn, I'm taking... MORE

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