Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Bryan Caplan Podcast Thoughts

So HP, I thought I'd share some thoughts on this podcast you recommended.

Wow, these guys are smug.  And I don't think you are ashamed to say that it rubs off on you.  But man, it's tough to take because to me their ideas are so terrible.  It's ignorance combined with arrogance.  A bad combination.

I was struck in the early part with this contrast.  "YOU are the best arbiter of how your money should be spent, YOU are the better judge as opposed to government."  YOU are super smart and we don't want the government to get in your way.  Later we'd learn that people are pretty smart in signing away their right to sue a corporation and agreeing to settle disputes as dictated by corporate sponsored arbiters.  People are really good judges of whether or not they should acquire health insurance.  I guess people are really good at predicting if they might slip and fall somehow, or maybe develop an infection that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to treat.  People are super smart.

But then what do you think about the general population?  What's their general understanding of matters like this?  Yuck, yuck, people are so STOOPID.  OK, so people are really wise when it comes to signing away their rights, balancing risk vs cost, etc.  Generally though people are really stupid when it comes to matters related to this.  In fact Caplan wrote a whole book about how people are stupid.  So let's have a free market where concentrated corporate power on one side comes to terms with individual stupid people on the other without any checks by an entity like a government.  Doesn't that seem like a strange conclusion?

I found it interesting that Rubin subscribes to this myth of the besieged conservative professor on campus, how it's overrun with liberal hordes that must terrorize someone like Caplan, and Caplan had to burst that bubble based on his experiences.  No problems.  In fact economics departments are dominated by conservatives all over the country, not just at George Mason, and it's not much of a problem.  This is part of the side benefit of removing public funding from schools.  It allows right wingers to shower universities with money so they hire the kind of people the corporate world prefers.  Among the conditions of acceptance of money at Florida State from the Koch brothers was:
Teachings must align with the libertarian economic philosophy of Charles Koch, the Charles Koch Foundation would maintain partial control over faculty hiring and the chairman of the school’s economics department—a prominent economic theorist—must stay in place for another three years despite his plans to step down.

It's tough for libertarians to win when the university is publicly funded because if the amount of money coming in doesn't depend on whether the conclusion is what the funder wants to hear the conclusion might as well be based on the evidence.

What do you think of this discussion on policing?  Police departments should be privatized and paid for by the local community.  Rubin asks a good question.  Wouldn't this mean that rich areas, like Beverly Hills, would have a robust police force, even though they have less need for these services, and poorer places will lack police forces even though they need them more?  Caplan's response:  "Well, they just have to make it a priority if they need it and just come up with the money."  This to me is the frustrating thing about libertatarians.  What about the real world?  They do not have the money.  In reality the resources are sent where they are not needed.  Are you concerned?  He doesn't seem to care.  And for me that's a general critique of capitalism.  The resources go where they are not needed.  It's super inefficient.

Or health care.  We're the richest country in the world.  Other first world nations cover all their people with care that the people are generally happy with, and they do it at about half the price.  There was no mention of that fact.  Instead he offers no government support for ordinary poor people.  If they break their leg, tough luck.  Hope charity can help you resolve it.  Rubin asks another great question, but unfortunately when Caplan ignored the question Rubin didn't push him.  Has any place in the real world had charity step in when government help was removed?  Caplan talks a lot but doesn't answer.  He's going to implement a solution that has never worked.  He'd have real people with broken legs and easily treated infections walking around without help and he'd say "tough luck."  Not for him of course with his good salary and benefits, just for the poor.  In the world's richest country where a few crazy rich people have mountains of wealth that they could hardly spend if they tried.  This bizarre lack of empathy is really psychotic.  His priorities are to get tax cuts into the hands of the rich, like the heirs to the Walton fortune.  This is the greater good for him I guess.

Another laughable concept is his idea to pay everyone to take a civics test every year and you get $100.  "How would that be funded?"  He has no idea.  Who would profit from that?  Nobody.  There's nothing preventing that from happening today via charity, but it isn't happening.  This guy is a professor?  I get that he was just saying this is a better way than the current way, but it's interesting to note that on his system this would not happen.

Here's another thing that seems strange to me.  A professor should never call himself an "anarcho-capitalist".  Capitalism is the opposite of anarchy.  As a professor you should know what anarchy is and how it is capitalism's opposite, and how it has been aggressively opposed to capitalism for it's entire history.  It means without hierarchy.  Go to the sweat shops that Caplan probably likes so much and tell the young girls forced to perform sexual favors for the boss how they are the boss's equal and are not the boss's subordinates.  Subordination is hierarchy, not anarchy.

It's a similar story for the world "libertarian".  This was a word that was long identified with leftists.  Now it means someone that somehow sees property rights as some sort of foundational principle, how rich people should continue to acquire wealth from the labor of others.  Rothbard bragged of co-opting the word from leftists.  Businesses are tyrannies.  If you like more power for tyrannical institutions that's fine, but don't call it liberty.  I saw a somewhat good video on this circulating Facebook, here if you missed it.

It's cool that he's a pacifist, but this is another one of those "Who cares about the real world" views.  Capitalism is why we have wars.  Capitalists want access/control of cheap resources and labor.  They do what they can do get access in a peaceful way, but when that fails they will just go to war.  It is property rights that drive war.  So he can be pacifist all he wants, but what he's advocating is the foundation of war in our world.  Did you ever read "Confessions of an Economic Hitman"?  You should, but I know you're busy, so maybe watch this video.  We are at war all over the world because of the needs of the most powerful economic interests in this country, and Caplan wants to strengthen these players.


HispanicPundit said...

Thanks for listening Jon, Caplan has become my favorite living economist - above even Thomas Sowell.

A few comments/clarifications on your post though. Being 'the best arbiter of how ones money should be spent', does not equate to one being "super smart", or even "good". The argument means that, on average, one is better (more efficient)than some bureaucrat far off in Washington giving cookie cutter solutions far removed from the details, nothing more. I also believe this to be generally the case. A large part of liberalism is based on the fact that government bureaucrats are smarter than individuals making their own decisions - in other words, that we consumers are 'stupid' and not as wise as the enlightened bureaucrats.

Regarding healthcare: again, this is a culture thing. Other countries citizens are fine with being told no. US citizens are not. It is the tail end costs that are most important, and it is those costs that other countries simply say no to.

Regarding his more 'extreme' capitalist views, I am not so sure I buy into them. I've read some of Anarcho-capitalism, and while I am not fully convinced, I don't see it as ridiculous and improbable as the non-economist. But honestly, haven't given it as much thought as it deserves.

Anyway, more could be said, but just wanted to touch on these few points. Glad you found the time to listen to it...Caplan is, of course, a personal favorite of mine.

Jon said...

I'm not sure what you mean with the idea that Americans don't like to be told no. In health care everyone is getting told no at some point. I guess Caplan would have a guy with a broken leg at the door without money and you just say no. I mean, Americans already know the answer is no when they lack insurance, so they don't even go to the doctor, and 45K were dying per year (that was pre-Obama Care, I imagine there has been some reduction).

I was just thinking that in the midst of all this discussion about health care Caplan would have brought up the fact that all other first world nations cover everyone for about half the price per person and satisfaction levels are much higher than the US. This seems an obvious argument in favor of government involvement in health care. We are the most subservient to private, corporate dictates (plenty of profit for health care related companies, they write the legislation that affects us) and we end up the most expensive, most dissatisfied population. Isn't the fact that the not for profit approach works better in every instance, isn't that an argument against his position? But he doesn't address it.

Jon said...

Kind of a related point. I think his approach is Catch-22. When you neuter government you create a power vacuum filled by corporations. They don't want a tiny government. So they undermine your original goal. You end up with the US health care system. Plenty of government involvement, it's just serving corporations instead of people.