Making a Virtue Out of Compulsion
By Bryan Caplan
I recently mentioned that if you’re feeling lonely, you should criticize Austrian economics, and you’ll never again lack for human contact. Now Walter Block, Christopher Westley, and Alex Padilla have a hilarious 79-page piece of satire which turns Austrians’ compulsive debating into the hallmark of good science:
[W]henever there is a dispute between two economists, the last one to articulate his opinion shall be deemed the winner of the debate, and thus having had the (more nearly) correct view. So, if there is a series of arguments and counterarguments of the sort A, B, where A publishes first, B replies, and then all is silence, then we conclude that B is correct, and A incorrect. If the format is of the following variety: A, B, A’, where A starts, B disagrees, and then A publishes a rejoinder to B in a second round (A’), and that is the last we hear of this, then it is A’ who has an inner track on the truth, and B who must be consigned to the outer rungs of darkness.
The piece is intended to be a reductio ad absurdum of economists who use consensus to judge truth, instead of actually weighing arguments.
Despite the entertainment value, they’re debating a straw man. If you had asked Sherwin Rosen, the negative inspiration for the Block/Westley/Padilla satire, why he didn’t trust a consensus of astrologers, he would probably have replied, “Because their views are usually wrong.”
In other words, Rosen’s underlying argument for relying on economists’ consensus was something like:
1. The consensus views of economists are usually right (a claim he’d defend directly, if pressed).
2. The consensus of economists believes X (for which he has no direct arguments).
3. Therefore, X is probably true.
Which is a perfectly reasonable argument – though not a reason to dismiss counter-evidence against X.