A Stillborn Civilization Bet
By Bryan Caplan
A possible “hardy weed” bet, @bryan_caplan: if 2 or more OECD countries will have their freedom scores fall 10+ points by 2035, I win.
— Garett Jones (@GarettJones) August 21, 2015
@bryan_caplan The (intra-year) EFW sigma is 0.82, the Heritage sigma is 11.3. So -10 Heritage ~ -0.75 EFW. I’d readily take -0.8. (2/2)
— Garett Jones (@GarettJones) August 26, 2015
Frankly, I found Garett’s proposed bet strange on its face. Economic freedom has much to do with Western civilization, but they’re quite distinct. I proposed we instead bet on global per-capita GDP, global absolute poverty rates, global life expectancy, or global violence rates. Since Garett was firm on the metric, I suggested we bet on global average economic freedom scores. (I’d also happily bet on economic freedom for any major region of the world). He didn’t want to take that bet either.
Since I had no strong views on how much OECD members’ economic freedom scores fluctuate, I decided to review the past 42 years of data for all OECD members. On the Fraser scale, about 5 countries changed more than 1 full point during this period. The trend was toward more economic freedom, but the 1970s – when the Fraser scales began – probably had the lowest peacetime economic freedom in the 20th century. While I don’t expect economic freedom to fall in coming decades, aging (combined with our lavish old-age programs) pushes in that direction.
The upshot is that I think I’m fairly likely to lose Garett’s proposed bet, so I’m refusing it.
As far as I can tell, Garett sees this a major concession on my part. I don’t. To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never claimed that rich countries’ economic freedom is unlikely to modestly fall. As long as mankind’s per-capita GDP, absolute poverty, violence, and lifespan continue to noticeably improve, I say Western civilization is thriving.
I’m tempted to say that Garett’s refusal to bet on any of these is a major concession to me, but that’s not fair either. To the best of my knowledge, Garett never claimed that mankind’s per-capita GDP, absolute poverty, violence, and lifespan won’t continue to noticeably improve. The real lesson is that our disagreement here is minor. By ordinary standards, Garett is almost as optimistic as I am.
P.S. Garett and I will be debating some of these issues at Northwood College this November. Stay tuned for details.
P.P.S. I’ll review other proposed civilization bets later this week.