Don't Judge a Scholar By His Deals
By Bryan Caplan
When re-reading my recent critique of Robin Hanson’s “dealism,” I realized that the following could come off as rather harsh:
Robin has spent decades proposing unconventional policy deals. His track record is an abysmal failure.
None of this means, however, that Robin himself is an abysmal failure. I don’t judge a scholar by the deals he manages to push through. I judge him by his discovery of important truths. By this standard, Robin is a great success. His work on betting markets, health economics, and futarchy leaves me in awe. Even his errors are fruitful. The fact that policymakers consistently ignore Robin is their abysmal failure, not his.
By Robin’s own dealist standard, he’s a failure. So am I. So is almost every scholar we admire. Who isn’t a failure? Jonathan Gruber, a leading architect of Romneycare and Obamacare. I take this as a reductio ad absurdum of dealism. It’s far better to discover important truths that never leave the Ivory Tower than propagate errors that take the world by storm.