Marginally Less Unreasonable
By Bryan Caplan
In 2008, I said that if the economy tanked, “I still won’t be convinced [that TARP is a good idea], but I’ll be less skeptical than I am now.”
In 2009, after the economy tanked, I said, “I now admit to having underestimated the severity of the threat, and
marginally reduce my skepticism about the effectiveness of the bail-out.”
Two days ago, I said, “I’ve been against bail-outs from the beginning. So should have all
economists. It’s reasonable to debate the merits of contracyclical
monetary policy. It’s not reasonable to debate the merits of rewarding
failure on a grand scale.”
I don’t see a contradiction. While I don’t think it was ever reasonable to debate the merits of TARP, it would have been even less reasonable if, after mass hysteria, nothing much happened.
I guess you could say that it’s contradictory to participate in a debate that I consider “unreasonable.” But that’s a figure of speech. I’d also say that “It’s not reasonable to debate the merits of evolution.” However, if people who ought to know better started to question the merits of evolution, it might be reasonable to answer them.
P.S. Bob ridicules my original 2008 position thusly:
A guy says, “You have a fever? Take my special blend of rat poison as
medicine!” Then the guy takes it and his fever goes up. Bryan says,
“Hmm, my a priori hunch was that rat poison wouldn’t help, but man, it
turns out this guy was on his deathbed after all! I’ll need to
reevaluate my initial skepticism.”
Not bad. But you could write a similarly risible paragraph if the guy got better: “Hmm, my a priori hunch was that rat poison wouldn’t help, but the guy survived! I’ll need to
reevaluate my initial skepticism.” When you’re confident, it’s tempting to think that any outcome buttresses your initial view. But that’s mathematically impossible. If A makes you more confident in X, then not-A must make you less confident in X.
Of course, if you know X with absolute certainty, then neither A nor not-A should change your mind. At the same time, though, you’re then obliged to bet on X at infinite odds. So how about it, Bob? Name any absolutely certain non-tautological claim about the economy, and I’ll be happy to wager a fractional penny against everything you’ll ever own – even if I think you’re almost certainly right.