Ten Points on the Wrong Side of History
By Bryan Caplan
In the last few weeks, several critics have told me things like: “History will not be kind,” “History will judge you,” and “You are on the wrong side of history.” My initial reaction is sheer puzzlement. If my critics can’t persuade me with the evidence they currently possess, do they really think they can persuade me with evidence they claim they’re going to acquire in the future? One carefully-tailored bet would be worth a thousand of their Cassandra cries.
My considered reaction, though, is more elaborate.
1. “History,” an abstract object, never thinks or says anything. So if these claims are meaningful, they’re about historians.
2. The underlying assumption of these warnings is: What historians think in a century is a very strong predictor of what’s actually true.
3. This is a reasonable claim for narrow factual matters. The passage of time doesn’t just give historians more opportunities to collect evidence. It also cools their emotions. This is why I’d far rather read history than news.
4. For the Big Picture, however, historians’ consensus is questionable at best. Most obviously, their liberal bias is overwhelming, with over 30 Democrats for every Republican at top U.S. history departments. And while you could argue reverse causation, you can’t argue it with a straight face. The vast majority of historians were very liberal years before they began seriously studying history.
5. When I actually look at historians’ Big Pictures, they’re even worse than their liberal bias suggests. Economic illiteracy is rampant. Social Desirability Bias rules the day. And moral relativism reigns supreme.
6. Historians take little notice of me today, and I expect future historians will do the same.
7. If current or future historians did notice me, they would probably assess me negatively, because my Big Picture starkly diverges from their Big Picture.
8. But since I disrespect historians’ judgments on such matters, why would I care?
9. If my critics really wanted to get my attention, they would predict that I myself will eventually revise my views.
10. I’m happy to bet against such claims, though admittedly my critics have to trust my honesty for such bets to work.