Weissman Interview with Robin Hanson
By David Henderson
My favorite part:
Jordan Weissman: Isn’t the simplest explanation [for the fact that people treat the idea of sex redistribution different from the way they treat wealth redistribution] that money’s really important and you can’t live without it?
Robin Hanson: We live in a rich society.
Weissman: Not everybody is rich, though. That’s the whole point.
Hanson: They’re still rich compared to most people who ever lived in history. Compared to the median person in history, almost everyone in our society is rich. And so, the threat of not [DRH note: it’s clear from context that the “not” should not be there] dying if you don’t have enough money is really a pretty minor threat for the vast majority of people in rich societies.
Weissman: Is that the standard we really want to judge by now? Not dying?
Hanson: Well that’s the one you mentioned!
Weissman: I want to move on
This is from Jordan Weissman, “An Interview With Robin Hanson, the Sex Redistribution Professor,” Slate, May 4, 2018. The title is misleading, by the way: Robin doesn’t actually advocate sex redistribution.
If you want to know what this is all about, here is the thumbnail version. George Mason University economics professor Robin Hanson, as is his wont, used a grisly news hook about the recent murders in Toronto to raise the issue about why most people treat sex redistribution as something not to be done but treat wealth distribution as something plausible and probably desirable.
Weissman responded with a hatchet job titled “Is Robin Hanson America’s Creepiest Economist?” Slate, April 29. This isn’t exactly in conformity with Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, which says that “any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word ‘no’.” But it’s close. When Weissman finally gets to the answer to his question, at the end of a long article, he writes, “So is Robin Hanson America’s creepiest economist? I’m not saying he is. But it is certainly a striking question.” (italics in original)
Robin fought back the way Robin fights back–by analyzing language and even going so far as to say that economics should be creepy. [For the record, I part company with him here, even though I think the original issue he raised was and is a good one.] I doubt that that alone would have caused Weissman to respond by interviewing Robin. I think what made the difference was a piece by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat in which Douthat showed that he, unlike Weissman, had actually read Robin’s post carefully.
Econlib published a Feature Article a few years ago by Dwight Lee that addressed a related issue. It’s “Should Government Reduce Inequality in Life Spans?” Econlib Feature Article, January 5, 2009. By the way, it’s completely compliant with Betteridge’s Law.