My Response to Scott Sumner
By David Henderson
I’m still scratching my head at co-blogger Scott Sumner’s recent post titled “You’re not special.” It seems like a combination of extreme subjectivism, denial of subjectivism, putting his thumb on the obvious, and argument from authority.
Scott writes, “There’s no objective reason to view your or my political views as being superior to those of any other person.”
“Any other person” includes a lot of people. I assume he would apply it to those who are dead also. So Scott is saying that there is no objective reason to prefer the views of someone who believes in liberty to those of Stalin, Hitler, Mao, or Mussolini. He would also have to say that there is no objective reason to prefer his views or my views to those of people who defended slavery.
Maybe it’s all in the word “objective.” Maybe Scott would say that murder isn’t objectively wrong.
Denial of Subjectivism
But Scott doesn’t stick with subjectivism. He writes:
The hope is that if all economists research their issues, and report their conclusions, then society will consider all of these arguments and enact good public policies. Not all the time, but at least more often than not. And when you look at North Korea or Afghanistan, there’s reason to believe the developed countries have done many things right.
But if our views are not superior to anyone else’s, then we can’t know what “good public policies” are. And what would we learn by looking at North Korea or Afghanistan that would tell us that we’ve done many things right? Now I happen to believe that Scott’s making a good argument here. But the person who shouldn’t believe he’s making a good argument is –Scott. If no one’s views are superior to anyone else’s views, then he can’t make a judgment that what’s happening here is superior to what’s happening in North Korea of Afghanistan.
Thumb on the Obvious
Scott writes, “there is no objective reason for me to assume that just because I inhabit Scott Sumner’s body, my ideas are somehow special.” I agree with him here. Who wouldn’t? That’s obvious. Ideas don’t get special because of the particular body with the head on top from which they come.
Argument from Authority
When I debate issues like immigration, I find that some commenters want to argue that admitting lots of this or that sort of immigrant will lead to bigger government. The implicit assumption is that since the commenter and I both think big government is bad, then admitting those immigrants is a bad idea. I wonder if they realize how arrogant they are being? Their view of the optimal cultural make up of America in 2116 is a country with the same economic views as they have. Not the economic views of Paul Krugman. Not the economic views of Joe Stiglitz. (Both Nobel Prize winners). Rather the views of the commenter.
The only reason I can think of for his mentioning Krugman and Stiglitz is that he is arguing from authority. They won Nobel prizes and, therefore, their views on issues that have little or nothing to do with the research that won them the Nobel prizes are to be taken more seriously than those of others.
But go back to the “Extreme Subjectivism” heading and you’ll see that Scott thinks that there is no reason to prefer their views to anyone else’s.
I don’t know what category to put this last under, but I do disagree with Scott about leaders. He writes, “When the aliens say take me to your leader, they don’t mean you.” Maybe they don’t mean me, but I mean me. I don’t see anyone but me as being my leader. And I don’t see me as being Scott’s or your leader.