The Wittman-Caplan Debate
By Bryan Caplan
If you attended my debate with Donald Wittman, or wish you could have, here are some additional links, including the full text of my opening statement.
I continue to be surprised by how much Wittman has moved away from the rational expectations assumption that he wielded so vigorously in The Myth of Democratic Failure.
His book relied heavily on the hypothesis I’ve spent years debunking – that non-economists have the same average beliefs as economists. In the debate, Wittman switched to a much lower standard. Now, he’s satisfied if a majority of economists and a majority of non-economists fail to take opposite positions.
Thus, to take a reductio ad absurdum, suppose a survey asks whether destroying all of our food would a “major problem,” “minor problem,” or “not a problem” for the economy. 100% of economists say “major problem.” In contrast, 51% of non-economists say “minor problem,” and the rest say “not a problem.” Wittman would call that an example of agreement, because a majority of both groups admits that the elimination of all food is a problem!
I’m gratified that Wittman has backed away from his original, empirically discredited position. At the same time, however, he seems to have forgotten that his original position was one of the key assumptions he used to defend the efficiency of democracy. He can’t consistently tone down his assumptions without toning down his conclusions.