Puzzled by Brad's Puzzlement
By Bryan Caplan
The Economist’s Free Exchange:
Trailing the truth | Free exchange | Economist.com: [P]undits are almost never punished for being wildly wrong about something. Nor are they rewarded for being right about something—along with 7,000 other pundits. For journalists, a prediction pays off only if it is both right, and unusual. This gives them an incentive to take unnecessary risks, making somewhat outlandish predictions on the off chance that they will be right. Those pundits who “got Iraq right” or “predicted the tech bubble collapse” are feted with speaking engagements and special television appearances, while those who made sensible-but-dull arguments labour in obscurity…
So to argue in 1998, 1999, and 2000 that the NASDAQ would continue rising was a “sensible-but-dull argument”? So to argue in 2003 that a grossly undermanned occupation of Iraq would go smoothly was a “sensible-but-dull” argument? There is something very wrong here.
I think Free Exchange’s view is that the NASDAQ and Iraq invasion enthusiasts were wrong but usual. The reputational punishment was, accordingly, minimal. The nay-sayers, in contrast, won kudos because their view was right but unusual.
Counter-factually, if the nay-sayers had been an overwhelming majority, their view would have fallen under the heading of right but usual, and their kudos would have been minimal.
And just to complete our tour of logical space, if a view is wrong and unusual, its proponents risk being written off as quacks – though if you’re lucky people just forget.
Bottom line: If you take a usual view, you’re safe whether you’re right or wrong. If you take an unusual view, there’s a big upside if you’re right, and a moderate downside if you’re wrong.
I don’t know whether the Free Exchange position is right but usual, or right but unusual, but I’m pretty sure it’s right.