Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Are Most People too Dumb to Think Like Economists?

That’s what one study shows, and what Pat Deneen denies. (Click on Pat’s NYT link for the study.) Actually, Pat doesn’t deny the inability of most people to think like economists. It’s just that economists aren’t as smart as they think they are. Once again, Dr. Pat is somewhat too promiscuous in his anti-capitalist moralism, but he’s always worth our attention.

Discussions - 13 Comments

If, Pat or anyone else considered, for a moment, that the past forty years of enforced dumbing down of all educational systems in America, would certainly make it appear that voters are not as "smart" as economists. However, I think the truth is that economists are dumb, dumber than forty years ago and when an American/voter learns this small fact, they proceed to educate themselves and become smarter than economists, professors, journalists and certainly, politicians!!! Also, keep in mind that the MSM has certainly brainwashed the viewing public for over forty years and that includes economists.
Nuff said.

This is terrific stuff on the theoretical myopia of economists. Caplan and Althaus satirize themselves. On the other hand, Dr. Pat overstates the tacit wisdom of even the middle class hoi polloi. While I happily concede that normal human beings see more things in their philosophy than Chicago School Economists, he seems to attribute to Americans a greenish and dovish sophistication they often lack. Might they be better than he thinks in sometimes seeing that economic growth is not a bad thing and that dying to preserve one's way of life is noble, while at the same time longing for the sort of democracy Dr. Pat and I would celebrate.

What I find really strange about Caplan's argument is that, by his own brand of reasoning, it wouldn't apply to any time in American history before the Progressive Era. After all, economic crises were nothing new, but voters continued to elect politicians from both parties who were essentially laissez-faire in their economics. Does that mean that voters became more rationally ignorant in the 20th century?

The hubris of these libertarian economists! Deneen is correct...they almost parody themselves.

As a Burkean (or perhaps neo-Burkean?), I do not suffer from frustrations with the electorate (as much). An organic/emergent view of human life suggests that history should be our guide in determining the "right" course...what is tried-and-true, what is consistent with fallen man...these are the arbiters of what is and is not "rational" (I think it's called 'wisdom'). For instance, was it rational for the Britons to import Saxon warriors? I'm sure many of them thought so, and I'm sure they had their version of utility theory, but now we know the long-term consequences of their short-sightedness. Put simply, the inevitability of unintended consequences and emergent ordering belie the confidence of "scholars" such as Caplan. The fact that he is being lionized by some noted libertarians doesn't surprise me in the least (and goes far in explaining why I would never be a libertarian). They clearly worship at the Goddess of Reason's shrine, but Athena's more my kind of girl.

Thanks, as always, to Dr. Peter for showing the love. These are great and provocative comments. To Robert Jeffrey, my confidence in the hoi polloi may be a bit of wishful thinking, and I'd concede that the citizenry are often implicated in lots of activities the outcomes of which they otherwise disapprove (e.g., buying the cheapest goods tends to get you lots of illegal immigrants, or driving Hummers tends to burn up lots of oil and make the stuff more expensive, or moving away from family and friends and community to the McMansion in the suburbs tends to make you all the more dependent on Government handouts when hard times come, as Tocqueville observed a long time ago), but at least their often underarticulated frustration at many of these consequences suggests that they are not ready to accept that all aspects of a wholly free market should be accepted as an unmitigated good. As such, I would agree that they are not anti-economic growth, but they recognize that growth cannot be the only goal of an economy. Growth needs to be tempered by other non-growth oriented considerations - such as family and community, for starters.

I agree too that they rightly protect the American way of life, but here again we need to be clearer about what that means. Are we willing to pay any price and bear any burden to ensure inexpensive oil? Maybe, but a recent poll suggested that people are not willing to pay higher gas taxes in the abstract except when such higher taxes are framed as part of a national security policy to untangle us from Middle Eastern dictators. This is not pacifism, but good old fashioned independent-minded republicanism, something I'd think and hope the good people here would recognize and support. I don't think this issue is simply reducible to being "greenish" or "dovish" anymore. Read some recent work of Andrew Bacevich - who lost his son recently in Iraq - for the realist, conservative view on these matters.

And to Peter, if I'm "promiscuously anti-capitalist," it was an excess perhaps provoked by a reading of such free-market ideologues as Caplan. I'm in favor of free markets within polities (not vice versa), emphasis on the plural - "markets." I'm a critic of "The Market," as any good conservative - mistrustful of monoliths of any sort - ought rightly to be.

Nicely put, Patrick.

Patrick Deneen, very well stated and I take back what I said, considering that I agree with everything you so beautifully say. By the way, my students to a man say they would pay higher prices on goods to reduce illegal immigration and dependence on middle eastern oil. I believe them, and maintained this against some naysayer recently on another thread. "Free markets within politics." Amen.

So, am I sensing a resurgence of Buchananism here? (Something I would welcome -- sans his crazy foreign policy.)

If there is, I'm outta here.

Well, John, you keep denying the label "libertarian," but that's exactly the kind of comment I would expect from a person of the "L" persuasion. Beside his foreign policy views (e.g., anti-Israel, anti-war, some say racist), what is it that you would object to?

I don't like it when a man without children tells us that we're facing demographic collapse because we're not having enough children. Doesn't that make him, in your words, a "parasite"?

Beside his foreign policy views (e.g., anti-Israel, anti-war, some say racist), what is it that you would object to?

That's a lot of important stuff.

John, I don't know about his family life. Was being childless a choice? For many it is not...and his point about demography is correct. Do you deny the numbers? Am I going to have to engage in another "correction session?"

Dear Moby...that stuff is crazy stuff. I don't accept it, and neither should other thinking people. But his economic and internal political ideas are fairly independent of his views on international affairs.

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