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that exercise is really counter-productive because all it is a question of self-identification of a scholar

Also, one of the interesting things about spread of Austrian Economics in Eastern Europe is the fact that many self-identified Austrians (or at least those who openly defended the major Austrians) did not follow up their proclamations with "Austrian" policy. In other words labels cannot be taken at face value - we have to dig deeper into the content of the ideas held. The problem is concluding that labels therefore have no meaning and serve simply as hooks.

Any economist wishing to chart intellectual history is forced into categorisation, and i'd argue that it's better for this to be made explicit. It seems that people that take a broad view of Austrianism genuinely intend to strike the right balance between information content and intellectual laziness.

Caplan may have read all of the Austrian works, but I don't think he understood them very well. I read his paper on why is isn't an Austrian. I haven't read all Austrian works, but what I have read of Hayek, Mises, Skousen, and Garrison has convinced me that either I don't understand Austrian econ or Caplan doesn't.

And his book on "irrational voters" shows he's not a very deep thinker. His model of how voters determine their economic views is severely flawed. Had he taken the time to study the socialogical research on how ideas are tranmitted through society he wouldn't have invented his simplistic model. Where Caplan sees irrationality, researchers in the field see rational division of labor. Just as voters don't repair their own computers or perform medical operations on themselves, but leave those jobs to the experts, neither do they try to perform complex economic analyses on their own. They rely on experts. If voters don't agree with the majority of economists on particular issues, it's because other experts have done a better job of selling their ideas, not because the voters are irrational. If Caplan's model were correct, no change in public thinking about economic issues could happen at all, yet it's clear than a great deal of change has taken place in the last half-century. How did that happen?

" Where Caplan sees irrationality, researchers in the field see rational division of labor."

... which is why he calls it RATIONAL irrationality. Sheesh.

And where is the evidence that people are relying on experts? Why would you presume that, when there are plenty of other reasons to hold stupid beliefs about economics, especially those based on evolutionary psychology (the other is evil, zero-sum existence, etc.)?

fundamentalist, I think you are miss-reading Caplan's thesis.

Relying on experts to do things like computer repair is perfectly rational, because the owner of the broken computer realizes all the gains from finding a qualified expert. The cost of finding such an expert is lower than the gain he sees from it, so its a rational action.

For an individual, the cost to find a qualified political expert is much higher, while the benefit from voting well is practically nothing. There are tons of political pundits out there, and they all disagree. Unlike computer repairmen, they are not selected by their expertise, but rather by potential voters themselves who themselves have little reason to choose wisely. Voters have almost no incentive to vote well.

The division of labor in political punditry exists, but it gives the consumer what they want and not what we think they should want. Not having any reason to pursue wise or correct political information, the consumer demands services that meet his or her other needs, which are more social than factual.

I agree some of Caplan's critiques of Austrian economists seem a bit off, but I don't think his latest book is at all.

Fundamentalist,

I agree with Dr. Boettke that Caplan is far more Austrian that he pretends NOT to be, but he certainly understands quite a bit about Austrian economics. I too read his "Why I am not an Austrian," and found his argument about probability underwhelming, but his discussion about indifference analysis is not only persuasive, but appears in line with Austrian economist Alfred Schutz.

I think that you should (re)read what Caplan denotes as "Rational Irrationallity." I am sure that Dr. Steve Miller or Dr. Stringham can certainly better articulate this, but "irrationallity" cannot be understood without the modifier "rational." Bear in mind that he conceptualizes "rationally irrationality" as actors "trading off" their wealth and their beliefs. More of one means less of the other. Think of it as demand for irrationality curve.

Hope this helps!

Steve: "... which is why he calls it RATIONAL irrationality. Sheesh."

And how does that make any sense?

Steve: "And where is the evidence that people are relying on experts?"

In in the research on communications. There is plenty of it out there if Caplan wasn't so lazy.

Grant: "For an individual, the cost to find a qualified political expert is much higher, while the benefit from voting well is practically nothing."

Obviously, the average voter won't put in the time and effort that a PhD economist will. But that doesn't mean he won't do anything. The media makes the cost of accessing expert opinion virtually zero. And while the $ gains to such info is low, the psychic gains to understanding the world and being about to discuss it are quite high. The benefit of voting is psychic, not financial. Don't forget Maslow's hierarchy. The top stage is important to understanding the world and having an impact on it.

Grant: "Not having any reason to pursue wise or correct political information, the consumer demands services that meet his or her other needs, which are more social than factual."

Where's the research for that? As Maslow demonstrated, the consumer has every reason to pursue correct political information. And people naturally want to understand how things work, why things are the way they are, for personal satisfaction and to discuss ideas with friends and colleagues in an intelligent manner.

Brian: "Bear in mind that he conceptualizes "rationally irrationality" as actors "trading off" their wealth and their beliefs."

"Rational irrationality" is meaningless. I can't believe everyone accepts such as stupid oxymoron. Rock bands in the 70's loved that kind of nonsense--like "iron butterfly." But it has no place in economics. I realize that Caplan postulated a trade-off between wealth and beliefs, but I'm saying his trade-off doesn't exist. The cost of info about economics is next to zero via the media and the psychic benefits quite large. Voters get economic wrong not because of a supposed trade-off that doesn't exist, but because socialists do a better job of selling their point of views.

fundamentalist,

"The media makes the cost of accessing expert opinion virtually zero. And while the $ gains to such info is low, the psychic gains to understanding the world and being about to discuss it are quite high."

The media makes the cost of accessing a pundit virtually zero, but there is no guarantee this pundit is really an expert on the ways political action affects our world and economy. Pundits supply why customers demand.

"Where's the research for that?"

I believe Bryan supplied evidence in his book.

"As Maslow demonstrated, the consumer has every reason to pursue correct political information."

Sure, if it was free. Is holding correct political beliefs less costly than holding beliefs held by social groups an individual wishes to be a part of?

"And people naturally want to understand how things work, why things are the way they are, for personal satisfaction and to discuss ideas with friends and colleagues in an intelligent manner."

Are you trying to say that your average voter is more concerned with truth than social status and holding beliefs that allow him to be more popular and respected? I won't deny there are some people who prefer truth to popularity, but I don't think they are very common, even among PhDs.

"The cost of info about economics is next to zero via the media and the psychic benefits quite large."

Its not anywhere near zero. Its incredibly high. Have you ever read a bill passed by congress and tried to really understand what its effects are? They are hundreds of pages long, and incredibly difficult to understand. The media rarely covers the actual effects of legislation. When was the last time you heard anything about Pigovian taxes, comparative advantage, creative destruction or any other economic term on network news? I never hear them, and I'd bet its because the media has no incentive to deliver truth to people who don't want it.

"Voters get economic wrong not because of a supposed trade-off that doesn't exist, but because socialists do a better job of selling their point of views."

If voters really had incentives to pursue correct information, why would this be an issue?

I do agree with you that "rationally irrational" is a terrible term. "Rational bias" might have been better.

Brian: "I...found his argument about probability underwhelming, but his discussion about indifference analysis is not only persuasive..."

I found all of his points underwhelming. But on the issue of indifference analysis, I can't see understand why Caplan calls it "...a key building block of modern neoclassical theory." When I earned an MA in neoclassical econ, I didn't find it useful or important. But Mises did not deny that people had preferences that we can't know about. He said that such preferences were the domain of psychology, not economics. Economics deal with action. This is typical of the straw men that Caplan builds and then destroys.

Is it really so hard to understand that the word "irrational" means one thing to economists and another to everyone else?

Grant: "Pundits supply why customers demand."

I won't defend the media, because I think they do a poor job. But one thing the public demands is information from experts. The media must supply some kind of expert in order to have credibility.

Grant: "I believe Bryan supplied evidence in his book."

I believe he didn't. Had he done any reading of communications or public relations research, he would have found his model severely lacking. I spent 15 years in PR before getting into economics and I can tell you for a fact that you won't find Caplan's model in any PR/communications research.

Grant: "Is holding correct political beliefs less costly than holding beliefs held by social groups an individual wishes to be a part of?"

Who determines what is correct? That's why people listen to the news and read magazines and newspapers, to try to determine what is correct. Then they join social groups with whom they share similar ideas about what is correct. Are you trying to say that people just pick a group, for no reason, and then adopt their political views just to fit in? Our society is far too mobile for that.

Grant: "I won't deny there are some people who prefer truth to popularity, but I don't think they are very common, even among PhDs."

Everyone thinks they have the truth. If they thought what they believed wasn't true, they would search for the truth. People don't choose between truth and popularity. They never see that as a choice. One criterion people use for determining the truth of an idea is the number of people who hold it. They also look at the credibility of the expert, and economists don't have the credibility as a used car salesman.

Grant: "Have you ever read a bill passed by congress and tried to really understand what its effects are?"

If your criteria for rationality is that everyone has to do the same work as a PhD economist, then I have no choice but to agree with you. But as I wrote, the public trusts experts and trusts the media to summarize the views of experts. That's a perfectly rational division of labor.

Grant: "When was the last time you heard anything about Pigovian taxes, comparative advantage, creative destruction or any other economic term on network news?"

I hear them all the time, the ideas, that is, not the actual terms. The public expects the media to translate technical terminology into common language, which it does.

Grant: "If voters really had incentives to pursue correct information, why would this be an issue?"

Why do economists who have no excuse, like Paul Krugman and Robert Reich, get it wrong? Do they have no incentives to get it right? Again, you're asking voters to put in the time and effort of a PhD economist, many of whom get the answer wrong, too. The psychic benefits are not worth that cost. But Caplan is wrong that voters get zero benefits from being informed or that the costs of obtaining any information at all is too high. The instinctive cost/benefit analysis that voters perform tells them that what they get from the media is sufficient for the benefits obtained. Using rational division of labor, they allow the experts to do their job and the media to do theirs and supply them with it in common language, just like they trust the butcher to supply them with meat.

I assume that by "rational irrationality" Caplan means that people know they are being irrational but choose to act that way because the costs of learning enough to make a rational decision is too high. Does Caplan offer psychological research to justify that people will knowingly act irrationally? I have seen nothing of the kind in PR research. Regardless of how nutty we may think an idea is, everyone (according to PR research) has a logical rational for it with experts and evidence to back them up.

Caplan is clearly upset that libertarian economists haven't had an impact on public views about economic issues. But the reason for that is not that people choose to be irrational. It's because the socialists outnumber libertarians by 10,000:1. And they present their arguments in a more persuasive way. In addition, most libertarian economists spend all of their time talking to each other while socialists get into the popular media, like motion pictures and television. Libertarians love academic journals; socialist love persuading common people to join them.

Steve: "Is it really so hard to understand that the word "irrational" means one thing to economists and another to everyone else?"

It's not hard. I just haven't had anyone explain to me how the economist definition of rational differs from the common one.

fundamentalist,

"Everyone thinks they have the truth. If they thought what they believed wasn't true, they would search for the truth. People don't choose between truth and popularity. They never see that as a choice. One criterion people use for determining the truth of an idea is the number of people who hold it. They also look at the credibility of the expert, and economists don't have the credibility as a used car salesman."

Why would normal people care about the truth? What incentive do they have to do so? Casual debate and arguments are often just social games people play to make themselves appear intelligent. There is plenty of research showing that people act more rationally under stronger incentives, and that without incentives there is more "herd" behavior (e.g., prediction markets vs. simple opinion polling).

"I assume that by "rational irrationality" Caplan means that people know they are being irrational but choose to act that way because the costs of learning enough to make a rational decision is too high."

No, Caplan means that people (consciously or not) choose irrational policies because they stand to gain socially from doing so. Public choice economics typically asserts what you say: The cost to be informed is too high, so people should remain rationally ignorant. Caplan is saying that the benefits of holding incorrect beliefs is stronger than any gains from being rationally ignorant, so people will rationally choose to hold biased beliefs.

Its really just another facet of the standard "knowledge is a public good" argument. Good government is, therefore, also a public good, which calls into question the assumption that government can and should provide public goods.

We all agree democracies choose bad policies. Caplan is offering a model that explains why, instead of just asserting it away as some superiority of socialism arguments.

Weighing and acting on perceived costs and benefits is a peculiarly economic definition of rationality. Another economic definition might be taking action to achieve one's own goals, and of course we treat the goals as given. Either definition plausibly applies to the public's beliefs about economics. Therefore, "rational." But for most people "rational" simply means not being biased, or in other words being objective. Also under the conventional definition of rationality one's ends/goals are subject to judgement. Most people would have no qualms about telling you that your dream of building the world's largest billiard table is irrational. The economist takes your goal as given.

The argument is that voters are rational in the economic sense, but irrational in the conventional sense. The are biased, stupid, and far from objective -- but (expected) utility-maximizing.

Steve - don't you think that's a problem with Caplan's model? The fact that he uses "rational" in an instrumental sense, but "irrational" in an epistemic sense. It's really a theory of (instrumentally) rational (epistemic) irrationality, which is the same thing as purposeful yet biased, which is the position of Mises/Bastiat. Caplan's making a semantic alteration to appeal to prevailing debate, and adding empirical foundations - but what's not Austrian about it?

Grant: “Why would normal people care about the truth?”
Because their human.
Grant: “There is plenty of research showing that people act more rationally under stronger incentives, and that without incentives there is more "herd" behavior (e.g., prediction markets vs. simple opinion polling).”
Herd behavior is not rational or irrational. It depends upon the circumstances and the premises. There seems to be a general attitude that in any given situation, there is only one rational response to a particular stimulus. But that’s not true. Take for example what is considered a historical event of supreme irrationality—witch hunts. I saw a brief story on the news yesterday that some Chinese burned a home for elderly people because they believed that those elderly people had been practicing witchcraft and caused the recent earthquakes. To a westerner, that seems irrational. But rationality is a break in logical thinking. The difference between the westerner and the Chinese who burned the home is not logical ability, but premises. Westerners assume that witchcraft has no power; some Chinese assume it has great power. Those Chinese who assume witchcraft has great power would be irrational in ignoring its practice. But if those same Chinese received information proving that witchcraft had no power and they continued to believe in its power, then they might be considered irrational. The problem is with the premises and ignorance, not with rationality.
Grant: “Caplan is saying that the benefits of holding incorrect beliefs is stronger than any gains from being rationally ignorant, so people will rationally choose to hold biased beliefs.”
I don’t see any significant difference between what I wrote and what you wrote about Caplan’s model. I disagree that Caplan has any evidence that people act that way. The evidence I have seen from PR research says just the opposite. If Caplan has other research that supports his model, I would love to see it.
Grant: “Caplan is offering a model that explains why, instead of just asserting it away as some superiority of socialism arguments.”
And I’m saying that research in communications and public relations proves Caplan’s model to be wrong. And I never wrote that socialists have superior arguments. They clearly don’t. I wrote that socialists are better at selling their position to the public, mainly because libertarians don’t try to reach public audiences; academic approval appears more important to libertarians. I can guarantee you that the damage to economic thinking on the part of voters by Paul Krugman writing in the NY Times will outweigh anything Austrian economists write on web sites or academic journals. Being in the NY Times gives him enormous credibility with the public, not to mention the fact that he reaches millions of people who never read web sites like this or economic journals.
Steve: “The argument is that voters are rational in the economic sense, but irrational in the conventional sense. The are biased, stupid, and far from objective -- but (expected) utility-maximizing.”
That sounds reasonable. So you think Caplan is saying that voters are economically rational but not rational in the popular sense? That brings up another problem I have with Caplan’s thesis: Caplan seems to think that no biases exist in economists. I say that because he contrasts economists with voters; economists are rational, voters irrational, in the sense that they are biased. Voters are biased because they hold to mercantile or socialist ideas. But then how do you explain why so many economists, politicians, college professors, and journalists are mercantilists and socialists? It would seem to me that they are more irrational than the average voter because they know better but still cling to their biases. Caplan writes that the majority of the members of the AEA are more free market-oriented than the average voter. They are, but they’re a long, long ways from being libertarian. Why aren’t they libertarian? Because they cling to their biases even though they know better. So by Caplan’s definition, members of the AEA are more irrational than the public; they are biased when they know better. The public is biased because they have accepted the arguments of experts they trusted in to give them the truth, many of whom are members of the AEA.
History invalidates Caplan’s argument, too. If Caplan were correct, no change in public attitudes toward economic issues could possibly happen; yet it has. US citizens were far more socialistic in the 1930’s than they are today. In fact, they were more socialistic in the 1960’s. Caplan needs to come up with a model to explain how public opinion changes over time that squares with his model of the irrational voter who ignores new evidence and clings to biases. He’s going to have a hard time doing that because communications and PR research have been at it for decades and have well-established models of how that public opinion changes, and they don’t agree with Caplan.

"Steve - don't you think that's a problem with Caplan's model? The fact that he uses "rational" in an instrumental sense, but "irrational" in an epistemic sense. It's really a theory of (instrumentally) rational (epistemic) irrationality, which is the same thing as purposeful yet biased, which is the position of Mises/Bastiat. Caplan's making a semantic alteration to appeal to prevailing debate, and adding empirical foundations - but what's not Austrian about it?"

Anthony, I agree with you and Pete that Bryan is more Austrian than he is willing to admit. I would even accept Pete's claim that Bryan's work is "fundamentally Hayekian." Bryan does often point to Mises and Bastiat as major influences on his thinking about Political Economy generally and economic beliefs specifically. He just argues that Hayek was not part of that group.

I like the phrase, "purposeful yet biased." That's as good a description of the human mind as any.

"That brings up another problem I have with Caplan’s thesis: Caplan seems to think that no biases exist in economists."

I don't think he says any such thing, and he certainly doesn't ignore the possiblity -- he specifically tests some of the hypotheses for why economists would be biased (self-interest, job security, ideology).

As for how public opinion has changed over time, I think you're reading the Caplan argument too strongly. He is not saying that people NEVER change their beliefs, even when presented with evidence that they are wrong. He is merely saying that they are quite stubborn when the costs of holding X belief are low. Cognitive dissonance, what your friends believe, and even what the experts believe has *some* influence, but it is small and slow.

There's more discussion to be had here, but now I think it's on the right track; the question of highly-educated socialists, and general intellectual hostility to markets needs to be dealt with. I'm trying to do my part in exploring the connections between ideology and economic belief, IQ and economic belief, whether there's a difference when it comes to normative vs. positive beliefs, whether the same patterns (effects of education, gender, IQ, ideology, income, etc.) can be observed for political beliefs in general, beyond economic questions, etc. et. Much of it is co-authored with Bryan, so I think it's fair to say that he recognizes his work presents as many new questions as it answers.

Steve: " He is merely saying that they are quite stubborn when the costs of holding X belief are low. Cognitive dissonance, what your friends believe, and even what the experts believe has *some* influence, but it is small and slow."

Then why does it change? At some point, the costs of believing a falsehood has to overcome the benefits or else no change would occur. How does that happen?

Caplan makes a very big deal of the difference between voters being ignorant and being irrational. He rejects the idea that voters are just ignorant and insists that voters are irrational. PR research, I think would argue that neither is quite accurate. Voters tend to be well-informed on most issues. If anything, voters have too much information. There is quite a lot of research on how the public is overwhelmed with information and how they filter it. The cause of voters arriving at wrong conclusions about economic issues is that they are overwhelmed with socialist and quasi-socialist propaganda and rarely get libertarian information. Some of that has to do with the role of gatekeepers that the media play.

Steve: "I'm trying to do my part in exploring the connections between ideology and economic belief..."

I hope you'll get with someone in public relations and look at the models that field has developed of how people decide issues. Advertising has some very good research too. Frankly, I'm a little tired of economists doing amateur psychology. Just because you have a PhD in economics doesn't mean you know anything about psychology or how ideas move through society. And it seems senseless to ignore all of the research in fields that specialize in those subjects.

"Voters tend to be well-informed on most issues."

Based on my understanding of polysci research, this is flat-out wrong. You'd better give some cites to put up against all the evidence political scientists have provided, starting with Converse (1964).

Just a further point: I base my claims on research from economics, political science, and empirical psychology. I don't assume anything, I go to those sources. I must admit that PR research is not something I've looked at. But I can't imagine how any valid research in that field could contradict the overwhelming empirical findings we have in the social sciences.

fundamentalist,

I would just read the book. I think we are getting hung up on different definitions of "rational", "irrational" and (the worst of all) "rational irrationality". Bryan is definitely guilty of using some terrible terms, IMO.

I agree that herd behavior isn't necessarily irrational (and probably usually isn't). I think its individually rational behavior that often leads to bad results for everyone (such as witch-hunts, or poorly-informed voters).

I'm really not sure how theories in PR relate? Could you be more specific in which theory invalidates Bryan's thesis? I have my doubts that it even relates, since PR is about gaming public thought to one's own advantage, not trying to explain whether or not public thought reaches rational conclusions.

Steve: "Based on my understanding of polysci research, this is flat-out wrong."

What does polysci research say about the reason that socialists remain socialists? Are they ignorant of the claims of capitalists? I don't think so. They are informed about them and have rejected them for a variety of reasons.

From what I remember of communications models from my years in PR, and that was a long time ago, people create a “world view” or a paradigm that organizes and makes sense of the world for them. Because we are overwhelmed with data, we use a lot of filters to decide which data is important. The paradigm itself is one of those filters. Paradigms are absolutely essential for humans to function. We can’t re-evaluate everything we know about everything every day before every decision. Our brains would lock up. Paradigms simplify the task of decision making. If we learn new information that contradicts our paradigm, we tend to ignore it. But if that paradigm is constantly assaulted with contradictory information, it will break down and we will rebuild a new paradigm that contains the new information.

In addition to the paradigm we already have, new information is filtered according to the credibility of the source, its direct impact on us personally, and the emotional impact of the information. The public gives the highest credibility to medical doctors and university professors; journalists come in a close second.

In the US, the problem with voter opinions on economic issues is that voters are overwhelmed with socialist nonsense from people with very high credibility—especially college professors and journalists. Can you name a libertarian journalist? John Stausel is the only one I know of. While economics professors are less socialist, most professors in the humanities and social sciences are very socialistic and promote socialism enthusiastically. It would be nice if people would weight the opinions of economics professors more than those of humanities professors, but they don’t. In fact, economics is held in low esteem by most people.

So how do you change the paradigms on economics in most people’s heads? 1) Talk about issues that have emotional appeal. The trade deficit doesn’t. People losing jobs does. Capital accumulation doesn’t; poverty does. GDP doesn’t; jobs do. 2) Be in the marketplace of today--television. Libertarians are very print-oriented, publishing books, journals and web sites. Voters are visually oriented. They watch TV. Socialists know that, which is why they’re everywhere on TV. 3) Get to young people when they are forming their initial paradigms. The younger the person, the more quickly they rebuild their paradigms. Most young people read Charles Dickens in school and that has more of an impact on their economics paradigm than Adam Smith could ever have. 4) Get influential people on your side. We need to win over the top news people, actors, and college professors in the social sciences and humanities. These are opinion leaders. Win them over and the rest of the country will follow.

fundamentalist, I think you just re-worded Caplan's argument ;) Paradigms are costly to re-evaluate. People need incentives to re-evaluate their paradigms and world-views. I would be very surprised if many people found that "knowing the truth" would be enough of an incentive on a topic as disconnected from daily life as politics (or religion, for that matter).

Keep in mind that for our purposes, the average individual has absolutely no effect on politics whatsoever.

You're a long, long way from your original criticisms of Caplan now.

Caplan's whole point is that the public isn't *merely* ignorant, but biased as well; you seem to agree. Your claim is that the explanation is socialist propaganda, which certainly doesn't help, but in my view that doesn't form new anti-market bias so much as appeal to existing bias. I certainly think that Lou Dobbs, most college professors outside of hard science, business, and economics, Dickens, movies like Wall Street, etc. etc. don't help and probably make things worse. But when you invoke "emotional appeal" that is what I am talking about -- our tendency as humans toward tribalism and zero-sum thinking.

In other words, based on your last post, I don't see where we necessarily disagree anymore, except that you insist that people know better, and I would insist that for most people that is just empirically false. Most people know close to nothing about economics, their biases in a sense make it less than nothing.

Grant: "I think you just re-worded Caplan's argument ;) Paradigms are costly to re-evaluate. People need incentives to re-evaluate their paradigms and world-views."

That's not Caplan's point. Caplan argues that people are irrational for not re-evaluating their paradigms every time they get new information. But people are perfectly rational in not doing so until the contradictions reach a threshhold. We would be a total mess if we acted the way Caplan thinks we should.

Grant: "Keep in mind that for our purposes, the average individual has absolutely no effect on politics whatsoever."

So why do people vote?

Steve: "Caplan's whole point is that the public isn't *merely* ignorant, but biased as well; you seem to agree."

No, I don't agree. You can use the word biased if you want, but it doesn't have quite the same meaning as paradigm. Paradigms are logical constructs. Biases are by definition irrational. You're assuming irrationality instead of demonstrating it. Rejecting new information that doesn't fit a paradigm is perfectly rational.

Steve: "In other words, based on your last post, I don't see where we necessarily disagree anymore, except that you insist that people know better, and I would insist that for most people that is just empirically false."

I disagree that the process of paradigm construction and evaluation is irrational, in either the "economic" sense or the common sense. It's perfectly rational. The public may not have the same amount of information as a PhD economist, but it has enough information to decide the important issues. They just reject what little free market info they get, partly because free market economists are poor communicators.

This may seem like splitting hairs, but it's not. Caplan used his irrational voter model to argue for an institution like the supreme court for economists to decide policy. That's a very dangerous idea.

Steve: "Most people know close to nothing about economics, their biases in a sense make it less than nothing."

Compared to whom? No, they don't know as much as professional economists, but they get a huge amount of economic data and theory on a daily basis from the media. Besides, I know a lot of economists who know close to nothing about economics.

Steve: "But when you invoke "emotional appeal" that is what I am talking about -- our tendency as humans toward tribalism and zero-sum thinking."

Emotional appeal and tribalism are not even close to the same thing. Emotion is one of the filtering tools that people use to deal with being overwhelmed with too much data. It's perfectly rational. Not only rational, but absolutely necessary for survival. The greatest emotions are triggered by events related to life and death. That filter helps us pay attention to events and ideas that are most important to us and ignore those least related to survival.

I searched for Caplan's article on the EconLib web site in which he argued for an independent institution like the supreme court composed of randomly selected economists from the AEA to set economic policy. I couldn't find it but remember it well. He seems to forget that we have such an institution in the Federal Reserve. This idea resulted directly from his contention that voters are irrational, not ignorant. If irrational, then no amount of facts or persuasion will change their minds; they can't or won't reason. Caplan can't argue that more information or better persuasion would change the minds of people, because that would only work with rational minds. It's impossible to change the minds of irrational people because you can't reason with them.

But if you can't reason with people and no amount of evidence or reasoning will change their minds, how have the American people changed their minds over the past six decades on socialism?

""It is useless to argue with mystics and seers. They base their assertions on intuition and are not prepared to submit them to rational examination"

The words of Mises

Somewhat OT, but related to The Political Economist.

Sudha Shenoy has passed away and TPE has written up an eulogy.

http://thepoliticaleconomist.blogspot.com/2008/06/sudha-shenoy-1943-2008.html

I visited this blog first time and found it very interesting and informative.. Keep up the good work thanks..

Tomorrow is an other day!@

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