Of Markets and Ideas
By Arnold Kling
I would like to make a couple of points about Bryan’s post.
(A) Bryan says,
Leftist professors promote leftist policies, leftist policies are largely contrary to libertarianism, and are therefore socially harmful.
…The broader lesson is that libertarian reformers – or at least consequential libertarian reformers like Miron – have to believe that the market for ideas is somehow inefficient. If it isn’t, what are they complaining about?
What I think Bryan is arguing is that if the market for ideas is working properly, then ideas that are harmful to people ought to be driven out. Or perhaps he is suggesting that one should believe something like that if one is a consequentialist.
This is getting into philosophical nits, but I think one should strive to believe what is true. In a perfect market for ideas, falsehoods would be driven out. Falsity and social harm are presumed to be highly correlated, but the correlation need not be perfect.
Leftist ideas prevail on campus for reasons that Bryan develops in his forthoming book, Myth of the Rational Voter (MRV).
1. some ideas are false–e.g., a belief that raising the minimum wage will reduce poverty and inequality;
2. the false ideas cost little to the individual, because an individual vote does not matter, so there is no feedback loop to reward rational voting or punish irrational voting.
3. the false ideas benefit the individual, because the individual feels righteous.
4. the false ideas’ collective cost can be high, because they can lead to bad policies, such as protectionism.
(With point 3, I may be stretching beyond the scope of MRV)
The market failure is that individuals are not as motivated to correct political errors as they are to correct economic errors (i.e., errors of personal economic decision-making in consumption or business).
I think that an MRV perspective on academic leftism is to say that notwithstanding the mission of academicians to seek truth, politically they have no more motivation to be rational than anyone else. I suspect that in some ways academics are even more strongly motivated to hold irrational statist beliefs than are many non-academics. Of course, Bryan will tell you that intelligent people generally tend to score better on tests of knowledge of economics, but I think it’s easy to pass an economics quiz on supply and demand and turn around and vote for a politician who promises to go after price-gougers, as if the law of supply and demand did not exist.
UPDATE–For more MRV-type analysis, see Ron Bailey’s latest column. [end of update, original post continues:]
(B) In a comment on Bryan’s post, John T. Kennedy writes:
Doesn’t saying you are a consequentialist libertarian mean you are not a libertarian when consequences argue against libertarian policy?
Why bring libertarianism into it at all? Why not just say you’re a consequentialist?
And of course this still begs the question: By what standard are consequences to be judged?
I would say that I lean consequentialist, and I lean libertarian, and for judging the consequences of actions I lean utilitarian. But I am not willing to follow any idea that leads me off a philosophical cliff, so to speak. I seek Rawls’ “reflective equilibrium,” which I believe to be unattainable. Instead, as another famous philosopher, Reverend Jesse Jackson put it, “God is not finished with me yet.