Half-assed wishful thinking

Don Boudreaux and Bryan Caplan want you to know that their criteria for the circumstances in which their ideological opponents should forfeit employment are slightly narrower than those of the mainstream.

Behold, the courage of mainstream libertarianism!  From, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” to “I still don’t think you should be allowed to conduct research, but I would have terminated your employment for slightly different things you said” in a few generations.

I can’t think of any opinions that should disqualify someone from being employed by a willing employer.  Who’s the libertarian now, bitches?

Here’s the nut of their “argument” (I hesitate to use that word without quotes, since we’re discussing who should get fired from their job for their factually-based opinions):

I would add only – as a matter of emphasis – to Bryan’s take that a researcher who argues that immigration policy would be improved by screening out low-I.Q. immigrants is a researcher who doesn’t understand the principle of comparative advantage.

One of the more useful general principles that I learned studying economics is analyze argument by using extreme cases.

For example, does the principle of comparative advantage dictate that immigration of few million people in a persistent vegetative state would improve overall well-being/wealth of society.  There are two potential answers: 1) “no,” in which case Boudreaux’s argument is wrong; or 2) “yes,” in which case the principle of comparative advantage is wrong.

The answer, of course, is “no.”  Comparative advantage only works when certain assumptions are met.  (For example, it won’t necessarily work in societies in which everyone is disabled and people use food stamps to buy bomb-building supplies).

(Note, I mean no offense to people in persistent vegetative states nor do I mean to compare them to any non-vegetative human beings, the point is to consider the extreme case to evaluate the argument – a difficult point for minds in the PC-era to grasp though hardly one that is composed of complex logic).

What the good professors are doing, is engaging in wishful thinking.  In their ideal societies, the conditions in which comparative advantage works, would be met.  Alas, our society is not such a society.  In the end, all they’re doing is wishing we had a different society.  Oddly though, given that they’re wishing for something, they’ve picked a very strange wish.

Why not just wish that everyone was super smart, super productive and super lucky?  That scenario is no less likely the total re-ordering of society.


26 Responses to Half-assed wishful thinking

  1. RadishMag says:

    world government & open borders in the name of “basic human rights” — libertarianism, as well as conservatism, needs to curl up in a ball and die

  2. Anonymous says:

    You can’t blame Caplan for not having a clue how the either human beings or the world actually works. Even if he didn’t have asperger’s syndrome, he lives in a taxpayer funded bubble.

    By the way, there is a semi-famous Cato “scholar” who literally does have asperger’s syndrome.

    • spandrell says:

      There’s no way Caplan doesn’t have Aspergers. Look at him speak.

      • josh says:

        I’ve met Caplan. I don’t think he has Aspergers. He’s obviously very concerned with what people thin of him. His fashion choices, his opinions, his mannerisms are attempts to make other people think he’s better than they are, “more free” than they are, and that he is morally superior to them.

      • asdf says:

        People don’t really think he has Aspergers. If he had clinical aspergers he couldn’t hold a job. What they mean is he is extremely abnormal yet functional, and that abnormality is like aspergers.

      • Bill says:

        It’s very common among economists, this aspie-ish thing. Krugman has it, too, for example.

  3. “analyze argument by using extreme cases”

    Yes – in this case you could also call it a reductio ad absurdum – but it is a valid argument either way, and it completely demolishes the ‘libertarian’ argument.

    I find it disturbing that having had this argument explained to him, BC either cannot understand it or will not acknowledge it (I know for certain he has had it explained to him).

    It ought to be quite simple and straightforward, really. It is this kind of thing which makes me more confident that ”g’ has indeed declined by a lot over the past century.

  4. asdf says:

    What the good professors are doing, is engaging in status signaling.


    I think we are past the point of just thinking these people are well intentioned aspies. They are dangerous and evil men destroying their country for status points and professorial sinecures. Trying to destroy the careers of others is just a part of it.

    These are not people you can change with argument. These are not people that will ever tune it down in the name of free speech. They are existential enemies to our way of life that can only be defeated by destroying them utterly.

    • josh says:

      I agree with what you say, but would emphasize that these people aren’t just *willing* to destroy, but actually *want* to destroy. Status points don’t come just from talking points, but from actual internalization. If Bryan Caplan didn’t actually believe that it was good for a college professor to wear sandals to seminars, he would be a mere poseur (which is minus infinity status points).

      • VXXC says:

        Elites that wish the destruction of their own country and people and will go to almost any lengths to accomplish their destruction.

        I do not find them in History except here and now. Has anyone else? More curious then thinking for an instant there’s any answer in understanding psychopaths. Understanding them has never been the solution.

        “hey are dangerous and evil men destroying their country for status points and professorial sinecures.”

        Indeed. I don’t care why at all, just that they do.

        We must go to any lengths to destroy them.

      • asdf says:


        There have always been people that sell out their country for personal gain, but the volume of self hating people is quite high these days.

  5. a researcher who argues that immigration policy would be improved by screening out low-I.Q. immigrants is a researcher who doesn’t understand the principle of comparative advantage.

    Without focusing specifically on America’s immigration debate, there are a number of problems with arguments from comparative advantage.

    1. Kaldor-Hicks efficiency isn’t the only measure of commonwealth
    2. Structural adjustment costs
    3. International mobility of capital (wasn’t significant in Ricardo’s day)
    4. Realpolitik
    5. Structuralist economists, who take note of extra-market considerations and phenomena that change in lock step with economic liberalisation, are often more realistic than neoclassicists. See here, for example.

    In the case of immigration to modern America, #4 dominates everything. However, I don’t count immigration among the things that Reactionaries need think about too much, because in terms of what is within our power to do, it’s pretty orthogonal to a realistic program for long-term change (i.e. based around Exit and p2p law).

    I suppose the best reply to Caplan is that in principle I’d prefer employers to employ who they like, but the world doesn’t work according to principles, and as long as Exit is tiny I’m unlikely to get too enthusiastic about Entry.

  6. So I made my first blog post. It mentions our friend Caplan. If your going to comment, then comment there.


    What is a good life?

    That’s a pretty big question, but I’ll tell you what it means to me. Virtue. A good life is a virtuous life. Virtue can be a hard thing to define, but a lot of us have some general idea of what it is. I mostly judge people based on their virtue.

    In the modern world we have this way of assigning virtue based on results. If you make a lot of money you must have been virtuous. If your fat you must not be virtuous. And there is some truth to this. However, I think most of us who accept HBD by now understand that the vast majority of objective life outcomes are the result of some combination of genes and SES background of your family. If your born smart your going to have an above average income. if your born dumb you aren’t. For the most part.

    There are two ends to this. The end that has always interested me the most is for smart people. A lot of smart people assume they are virtuous simply because they are smart. This is especially common when one is young and less reflective in life. I’ll quote Razib, who was probably similar to me at that age.


    When I was 5 years old and starting kindergarten my command of English was rather weak, and my mother explained to me that Americans were a very smart people. By the end of the year I was excelling. Throughout my elementary school years I frankly had a smugness about me, because I accepted what my parents told me, that academic outcome is a function of the virtue of effort. And I had quite a bit of virtue if the results were any gauge.”

    Of course some people continue that attitude on well into adulthood. Generally, I hate these people. Hate a strong term, but their smug manner is just so off putting you want to punch them in the face. These people are mostly on the “left”, but there are some on the “right” (left and right liberal really, but whatever). Like a lot of “dark enlightenment” people I think this stems from the fact that I’ve actually been around average or lower IQ people growing up. My parents were working class, so I actually know something about the working class and feel sympathy for them. When, because I was born with much higher IQ then my parents, I joined “polite society” I was struck by what a bunch of smug unreflective assholes they were.

    That’s the main thing I hope HBD eliminates. Being overly proud of your genes. There is no virtue in genes. I’m not saying that people with good genes don’t ever make virtuous decisions, but I just find something like a college grad looking down on a non college grad silly for the most part. After all, college is mostly this picture that Spandrell titled “Human Capital in the Making”.

    I think for the vast majority of people their tombstone will read something like this:

    Given his genetic gifts and SES background he managed to achieve a life outcome within +/- 1SD of what could be expected. He maximized pleasurable brain chemical releases as best he could (mostly through food and sex) while minimizing displeasure (mostly by avoiding physical or mental drudgery). He is survived by 0-2 children that will do the same.”

    This tombstone would work equally well for the right and left sides of the bell curve. So why the superiority (I get it, mating displays and all, but I’m just so tired of all that)?

    I’ve always found the working class to be the most virtuous people I know. Some would question this. Aren’t they fatter? Don’t they have more pre-marital sex? Etc. However, I think that given the genetic and financial resources available to them they do a pretty good job. Most of the sins that the left half commit are sins of the flesh. They are overwhelmed by hyper stimuli of the modern era. Yesterday I used some black pepper in my meal. A few hundred years ago black pepper would have required Magellan to travel around the world and have most of his crew die trying to bring it back from the spice islands. A person who brought back a container of it the size of what’s in my kitchen would have been a rich man. Today I just go to the grocery store. Given that availability of these hyper stimuli the result isn’t a surprise. I can understand and forgive sins of the flesh. I think virtue for the left half of the bell curve mostly resides in resisting sins of the flesh, and a good society would be one that helps them to do that through all sorts of institutions and norms (like the church used to do).

    What the lower classes don’t engage much in, but the upper classes are rife in, are sins of the soul. People on the right half of the bell curve just have such ugly souls most of the time. I think pride is a big part of it, and I think that pride stems from pride in ones genes. For the right half of the bell curve virtue seems to rest in resisting sins of the soul. They are doing a shitty job of it these days. My hope is that HBD is damaging enough to their pride that they examine their souls. Given all the genetic gifts they have the bar for virtue is so much higher. Good genes should be seen as a challenge, not a head start.

    So after all that I’m going to be a bit of a curmudgeon. I’ve been beating up on the right half a lot here, so I will say my piece on the left half. I’m a fan of the proles, but I’m not a fan of the lumpenproletariat (the underclass). Funny thing about Marxism even they had a class below the working class that they considered “parasites”.

    Here is a pretty typical experience with the lumpen that I’m sure many have had to deal with if they spend any time around them. I was riding my bike through a neighborhood on the way home. The neighborhood had beautiful new houses and was located in a great location. However, some race hustlers had raised a fuss over gentrification and got the houses made section 8 eligible. As such the area was entirely lumpen, with most of them sitting on stoops doing nothing. As I rode through I could even see the deterioration of the houses in the year since they moved in. At one point a lumpen on one of the stoops screamed, “I want that bike”. He chased after me. Soon he was joined by a dozen screaming lumpen chasing after me. Some tried to grab me and pull me off the bike. A few grasped the edges of my clothing and I had to smack them away as I peddled for my life. If they had gotten me off the bike who knows what would have happened to me.

    Those lumpen didn’t even seem human. They were more like orcs or some other evil sub-human species. And its not like this is an isolated incident, you see lumpen acting nuts all the time in a big city. They just can’t function in civilization. Places like Detroit are examples of what happens when the lumpen take over.

    The big dividing line in HBD is over the lumpen. The fact is that most people are increasingly having to deal with more and more out of control lumpen in their lives. Policies pushed by “polite society” like immigration, section 8, etc all increase the terror that the lumpen can inflict on average people. Then those same “polite society” people go and form bubbles to isolate themselves from the lumpen.


    Of course as a priestly caste that has all day long to ponder, such people come up with all sorts of abstract (and faulty) reasoning for their policies. Usually they try to justify it as somehow having sympathy for the lumpen, even though the actions they take in their personal life show they despise them and wouldn’t lift a finger to help them.

    What is clear to me is that the priestly caste mostly wants to increase its status versus competitors. The priestly caste is OBSESSED with status. Its the sin of the soul that makes them so deplorable. Functional average IQ white people are competitors. The priestly castes additional disposable income in this age of abundance doesn’t really differentiate them that much. The only way their additional income could really lead to strong status differentials is if it granted separation from the lumpen while middle incomes did not. And that’s exactly what we get. Caplan is being sure to signal that he isn’t afraid of the lumpen because he will never have to deal with them. However, those middle Americans are concerned. Their concern shows how vulnerable and low status they are. The lumpen don’t even come into the equation. Caplan doesn’t give a damn about them, the theoretical sympathy in his abstract theories are only that. He only wants to use them as a weapon to signal his own status and lower the status of his closest competitors. Add in some direct subsidies from capital for helping to author the ideas that lead to policies that push down wages and the Caplan position is no surprise. He is a terrible man, in a better world he lined up against a wall and shot. That may seem extreme, but remember that I judge people harsher based on their gifts. For Caplan to be playing status games and terrorizing his countrymen when he has so many natural gifts certainly makes him reprehensible. How many positive things could he have done in life and instead he is what he is.

    All of this may seem that I have no sympathy for the lumpen. Didn’t I say you can’t be blamed for your own genes? True, and I don’t blame the lumpen. However, they are what they are. They are a danger to society. And if we are to be merciful to them it seems obvious we should start with the three simplest things that would make that mercy easier.

    1) Keep their numbers down so they are less of a burden (less immigration, given that most immigrants are lumpen)

    2) Keep them segregated so they do less damage (no section 8, etc).

    3) Consider that maybe paternalistic social policies that aided those on the borderline of being lumpen weren’t all that bad as they reduced the number of lumpen.

    These seem like obvious solutions. The only thing preventing from being implemented is status signaling by prideful and selfish priestly caste representatives on the right half of the bell curve. If they don’t give this up then one day the lumpen problem with be so big that we can’t afford mercy. It’s one thing to send a welfare check to support a small and isolated group of lumpen, its another when they take over your society.

  7. Allan says:

    I have read Bryan Caplan’s item several times over
    and it still is not clear what he is saying

    What opinion should society shun?

    Is it that in a just world researchers would be fired for etc?


    is it that below average IQs should be denied human rights etc?

    The two readings are diametrically opposite
    though I suppose it is the latter
    even though the logical interpretation would be the former.

    Anyway since Bryan Caplan is unable to express himself
    even as clearly as my 12 year old son
    I would not waste my time reading anything more by him.
    Clearly he is not very bright.

  8. Handle says:

    The problem isn’t just low IQ.

    More than half the country is in double-digits now, and, for generations, plenty of them were decent, hardworking, family-raising, law-abiding people you’d feel happy to have as neighbors or watch your children. 60 years ago, you’d probably feel perfectly safe and content living in a number of immigrant neighborhoods and their first generation Americans kids.

    But, like Coming Apart showed, that’s no longer true. Like Sailer says when he quotes Amis’ Lucky Jim, there are now no end to ways that nasty things are nastier than nice things. And that’s increasingly true for the descendants of assimilated average-IQ’ers.

    The bottom line here is trust. I don’t trust Libertarians to even advocate for taking serious approaches to fixing the problems we have with certain communities, so why should I trust their optimism about importing more of them?

    • Bill says:

      This is a good point. It’s not low Mexican IQ simpliciter which is the problem. In fact, the first generation immigrants are fine (other than bidding wages down of course)—they tend to be married, employed, and law-abiding in addition to un-bright. It’s their children who are a problem. Because their children are fully exposed to our diseased culture and because their children don’t have the intellectual or cultural resources to get that they are being infected with a deadly disease.

      I was sitting next to an apparently liberal lady at hockey practice the other day. She was explaining to me that she and her husband were making significant sacrifices so that her daughter could spend more time playing hockey. She further explained that playing hockey (and traveling to and fro and etc) was a better way for her daughter to spend her time than using instagram and stuff like that. Cue the Chris Rock routine. Oh, and not too many Mexicans at the rink. Lots of whites and NE Asians, though.

      Libertarians like Caplan like the disease, though.

  9. Jeff says:

    The people in a persistant vegetative state simply don’t have a comparative advantage. Boudreaux is still wrong, of course, but not because of anything to do with the principle he cited.

    • RS says:

      I agree. Horses is a better argument which I have seen given. The Western world used to make free exchanges with hundred-millions of horses (coerced on their side, free on ours). Food/shelter/upkeep in exchange for labor. I always thought in my heart of hearts that they were hopeless both mathematically and verbally, but they presented some comparative as well as some absolute advantages. They still have some, but not as much as before, and since it’s not currently worth their upkeep, plus the legal liabilities they present, plus their liability to injure you or damage things, we 98% stopped trading with them.

      Anyway, it is better to just explain the situation directly. Employers long ago stopped making money-for-work trades with a considerable segment of the population, whose comparative advantages are rather small, and weigh less than subsistence wages + the theft/damage/legal liabilities and general headache they present. As any bright child could readily understand with a few minutes’ instruction.

      • Scharlach says:

        It’s not low Mexican IQ simpliciter which is the problem.

        Good points from both you and Handle. I’d add that low-IQ immigration in the past wasn’t a big deal because there was more work for low-IQ immigrants. (And once that work seemed to be drying up, we put a stopper on the immigration in 1924).

        Today, unless you’re coming to America with a certain high-IQ skill set, you’re going to struggle . . . just like low-IQ white Americans are struggling. Welcome to the knowledge economy.

        And to your point about our “diseased culture,” I think the problem is that the decadence of the rich has for decades been broadcast and placed front-and-center for everyone to watch and long after. In the past, peasants were vaguely aware that people were living better than them somewhere else; today, everyone spends hours watching other people live better than them on TV. And because these rich and famous are not divine monarchs or noble aristocrats but new-moneyed vulgarians, the peasants watching them always end up thinking, “Now why can’t I live like that? It’s not fair.”

        And it’s all downhill from there.

  10. Lenior says:

    The Communists also though they were morally superior, and that anyone who disagreed with them were deserving of punishment. How does history see them now?

    • spandrell says:

      As noble idealists ?

    • asdf says:

      The (all people and groups throughout history) also though they were morally superior, and that anyone who disagreed with them were deserving of punishment. How does history see them now?

      Answer: They succeeded or failed to varying degrees based on how close they got to the truth.

  11. […] ‘Half-assed wishful thinking’ and ‘Dark arguments on immigration’ (Foseti) […]

  12. […] ‘Half-assed wishful thinking’ and ‘Dark arguments on immigration’ (Foseti) […]

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