Robin's Wishful Thinking
By Bryan Caplan
I usually think of my colleague Robin Hanson as a hard-headed, “just-the-facts-ma’am” kind of guy. But here’s just the latest example I’ve found of Robin’s wishful thinking:
In our culture we are supposed to oppose ordinary bloody war,
preferring peace when possible there. But we do not generalize this
lesson much to other sorts of conflicts. We celebrate those who take
sides and win far more than we do peacemakers and compromisers. But
the principle is the same; every side can expect to get more of what it
wants from compromise deals than from all out conflict.
My question: What makes Robin think that “every side can expect to get more” from compromise than conflict? Doesn’t anyone have a comparative advantage in conflict? And all it takes to get a conflict is one willing combatant, no?
Maybe Robin is hiding behind the word “expect.” But I’ll reply, “Doesn’t anyone expect to have a comparative advantage in conflict?” Maybe he’s hiding behind the word “side” – individuals may gain, but not entire factions. But can’t we just view trouble-makers as being “on their own side”?
Robin’s problem, in my view, is that he is needlessly trying to be “all things to all men.” But it’s not possible. Even the promotion of peace and compromise invites conflict with the practioners of war and total victory. Despite Robin’s hopes, he can’t be neutral. No one can. Instead of vainly trying to be neutral, why not just try to be right?