The Extremer Extremists
By Bryan Caplan
I’m an extremist. I freely admit it. The status quo is deeply immoral, and would remain so even if there were many moderate changes in the right direction. Many EconLog readers presumably think the same, even if they sharply disagree with my diagnosis of what’s deeply immoral about the status quo.
Still, no matter how extreme you are, there are almost always people on “your side” who are even more extreme than you are. Due to myside bias, you probably spend a lot more time attacking those who don’t take your views far enough rather those who take them too far. But the fact that there are people more extreme than you is revealing. You must think there’s some reason why it’s wrong to be any more extreme than you are.
My question: What precisely are those reasons?
The most obvious umbrella responses:
1. Public relations. Views more extreme than your own are counter-productive because they alienate the moderates you need to convince to get better results.
2. Transition costs. While you agree with the extremer extremists about the ultimate goal, they underrate the transition costs of getting from here to there. If we followed their advice, we’d pay a high social cost to modestly slash our “travel time,” so it’s better to go slower.
3. Latent pluralism. Despite your often one-sided rhetoric and disdain for the “other side(s),” they actually make some valid points; they just overstate them. Thus, even if you habitually dismiss the view that statist policies give bad incentives, you might ultimately agree that your policies would provide disturbingly bad incentives if they were pushed further than you advocate. Picture a socialist who opposes a 100% marginal tax rate. Similarly, even if you habitually dismiss the view that laissez-faire is bad for the poor, you might ultimately agree that your policies would be disturbingly bad for the poor if they were pushed further than you advocate. Picture a libertarian who opposes the end of free emergency medical care.
4. Papered-over fundamental differences. Even if you psychologically and sociologically identify with your extremer extremists, you don’t philosophically identify with them. They’re just fellow travelers who fail to grasp the principles that really count. Perhaps you’re a Marxist Palestinian. Most of the time, you act as if you and Islamist Palestinians want the same thing. But you want to create a Middle Eastern USSR, while your Islamist allies want a theocracy.
Others umbrella responses? How about your own answer to your own extremer extremists?