Wanted: Counterexamples to Klein's "Forsaken Liberty Syndrome"
By Bryan Caplan
When my favorite economists change, I usually think they change for the worse. Dan Klein is a glowing exception. I’ve always liked his work. But in recent years (see e.g. here, here, and here) Dan’s metamorphosized from very good to truly great. The latest example: his “The Forsaken-Liberty Syndrome: Looking at Published Judgments to Say Whether Economists Reach a Conclusion.”
At first blush, this paper is just a cool meta-analysis of Econ Journal Watch‘s series, “Do Economists Reach a Conclusion?” Klein argues that when economists publicly “go on the record,” they offer better answers than they would in an anonymous survey:
[O]n-record scholarly judgments remain a special way to target knowledge and responsibility. When an economist steps forward to publish a judgment on a policy issue, he does so because he thinks he has something to add, and he attaches his name to the statement. He opens himself up to challenge. Such circumstances usually impel greater care. Moreover, the self-sorting means that the on-record economists are not a random sample of economists at large. All this is not meant to suggest that stepping forward and going on the record means getting it right, only that judgment emerging from that combination is generally better than judgment solicited by others and rendered in seclusion and anonymity.
In this paper, the question that really ends up being the one that matters is this: How strong are the forces that impel an economist to step forward and publish a judgment that is more pro-liberalization than he really believes? I do not claim that such forces are entirely nonexistent, but I think they are small enough in relation to the healthy incentives to justify the approach pursued here.
After carefully reviewing the fascinating evidence, Klein concludes that on-record judgments are indeed noticeably much more pro-liberalization. Then he bends over backwards to make his argument persuasive to skeptics – and to advance the cause of human knowledge:
It would be natural for a skeptic to object as follows: “We know that the researchers involved in DERAC are staunch believers in the free market. Even if we grant the findings of the studies provided, what about the studies not provided? What about cases in which it would be found that on-record economists are less pro-liberalization than at-large economists? We cannot count on you to turn those up for us.”
The ad hominem is sound and proper, and the logic is flawless. There may well be cases in which on-record economists show a consensus in favor of some intervention, while the at large economists are less favorable to the intervention.
My own suspicion is that there are no such cases. It would be very interesting to query economists of various ideological stripes about whether they might postulate any such cases, or whether they agree that such cases are probably an empty set. Would any economist dispute my suspicion? (emphasis mine)
We should take up Dan’s challenge. Would you dispute his suspicion? If so, how? Please show your work. If we’re lucky, Dan will join the discussion in the comments.