Pursuit of Truthiness

my gut tells me I know economics

Archive for July 2009

Returns to Like-Mindedness and Diversity

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I’m spending this week at a seminar put on by the Institute for Humane Studies, which involves people listening to lectures on lots of topics from a libertarian perspective and drinking free beer.  It is odd being in a place where most people around me also love to talk about economics and libertarianism, since the vast majority of Americans are not libertarians or economics majors.  But is this newfound consensus a good thing?

In some ways its great; conversations can flow at a much higher level when you can presume that most participants have taken the same classes and read the same books.  There aren’t many other places people laugh at my “how many Austrian economists does it take to screw in a light bulb?” jokes.

On the other hand, there is the potential for “groupthink”, the lack of imagination and the lazy arguments that are so easy to succumb to when there is no real live person to represent opposing views.  So a diversity of opinion can be good just to keep everyone on their intellectual best behavior.

But there can be a greater benefit to diversity than merely avoiding groupthink.  Sometimes the interplay between varying ideas allows great progress to be made; there can be an intellectual division of labor and specialization.  Richard Feynman said that other physicists thought him a math genius, but in reality he was not better at math than them, he just had a different approach; and though their approaches may be equally good on the whole, they would only come to him with problems to which their approach had failed.  There’s no reason this can’t apply in economics, or even to some extent in political philosophy.

Another way of thinking about this is the diminishing marginal returns of a political philosophy; perhaps a conservative could come here and argue libertarians out of the worst 10% of their ideas, or vice-versa in the real political world if a minority of libertarians can keep the worst 10% of the ruling party’s ideas from becoming policy.

Written by James Bailey

July 12, 2009 at 5:51 pm

4th of July Ideas- Celebrate with Style

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Here are some ideas I’ve come up with.  I look forward to hearing some others from you.

1) Tea Party (the drinking kind)- Throw a tea party.  But instead of tea, serve coffee with a dash of Kentucky bourbon.  And instead of crumpets, use deep-fried apple pies.  Then watch an appropriate movie like 1776, the Patriot, or Red Dawn.

2) Tea Party (the ship-attacking kind)- What is the modern equivalent of highly taxed tea in British ships?  I would say supertankers filled with oil from OPEC countries.  We don’t need their oil!  Take over a ship and dump its oil in the harbor! (ok, perhaps we should find a more water-soluble product to feel oppressed by)

3) Down with the Brits!- Take over your nearest British consulate or embassy, then present the British government with a document detailing their “long train of  abuses” and a list of your demands.  If you’re feeling really ambitious, kidnap the royal family instead.

4) Fight for our Freedom- on a more serious note, the real restrictions on our freedoms nowadays don’t come from the British or from foreign enemies; they come from ourselves and our government.  The 4th is a great day to work to protect existing liberties and regain new ones.  Donate your time or money to a liberty-enhancing think tank, legal foundation, political action committee, or other NGO (say, Wikileaks).  If this constructive approach to enhancing liberty sounds too boring or difficult, you can simply celebrate in classic style by breaking some oppressive laws- like those against fireworks and marijuana!

Happy 4th to all however you celebrate.  I spend much of the year thinking about how the country could be better but its nice to think every once in a while about how good things already are.

Written by James Bailey

July 4, 2009 at 8:51 pm