Best... Compliment... Ever
By Bryan Caplan
If you’re thinking of becoming an academic, be warned: You aren’t going to get a lot of positive reinforcement. Most of the time you will simply be ignored. Almost all of the remaining feedback is negative. (Stop by my office, I’ll show you my drawer full of rejections).
A common complaint by authors is that their reviewers have misinterpreted what the author has said. This is not my complaint here, because Bryan Caplan has explained my position better than I have.
My thesis, in essence, is that Wittman’s defense of democracy is basically on target EXCEPT that he is totally wrong to assume that voters’ beliefs about politics and especially economics are on average correct. On the contrary, voters systematically underestimate the benefits of markets, especially labor and international markets. Democracy is a great mechanism for delivering the policies that voters believe are a good idea. Unfortunately, their beliefs are awfully silly.
Despite his complimentary opening, Wittman doesn’t concede that I’m right. Dream on. But he gives a lot more ground than I anticipated. As far as I can tell, he drops the rational expectations standard of rationality so central to his work. Instead, he switches to the modest position that “to be rational is to have a downward-sloping demand curve.” I don’t like to quibble about definitions, but frankly this standard of rationality is pretty vacuous. Even two-year-olds have downward-sloping demand curves. Mine do, anyway. That doesn’t make them competent to set economic policy, or even to pick someone to set it for them.
Incidentally, kudos to Dan Klein for founding and editing Econ Journal Watch. Econ journals almost never publish comments these days, much less “think pieces” that critique a whole tradition of thought. Klein has created a “nature preserve” for frank, scholarly, no-holds-barred debate about economics. And from what I hear, articles he publishes get about 1000 times as many readers as the typical journal hit.
Listen up, journal editors. The market for ideas is calling. Will you accept the charges?