People have been whining about how I need to update more and I’ve stored up some things I want to yack about during the time that meatspace held me back from making another post, so here goes.
I’d been touting Bryan Caplan’s Myth of the Rational Voter for a while without actually having read the book, but the paperback arrived in the mail a few days ago so now I can do so with good reason. Caplan’s research builds a lot on Scott Althous’ work on “enlightened preferences” which can broadly construed as showing that the more you know the more libertarian you are (Caplan would be motivated to discover that, but Althaus is apparently not a libertarian himself). I could get to self-congratulating and confirmation of my beliefs there, but because I’m so humble and rational I’ll do some double-checking.
Caplan calls the enlightened more “libertarian” but he got that from them being “fiscally conservative and socially liberal”, which I of all people have spent a lot of time denying is necessarily libertarian. Bobos can like low-taxes and free-trade while endorsing smoking bans, trans-fat bans and gun control. Michael Bloomberg is a paradigmatic example. Hopefully Anonymous, the gink whose opinion I respect more than anyone’s save perhaps Robin Hanson’s, has a fairly favorable view of Bloomberg, but I hate him. On the other hand, it should reassure those obsessed with the Stuff White People Like/Brahmin crowd that the enlightened are less supportive of additional government intervention to protect the environment and oppose “equality of results” affirmative action and welfare programs in favor of “equality of opportunity”.
On foreign policy they are both more interventionist AND more dovish. I’m not sure entirely how that works out, but it doesn’t describe me. I’m an extreme non-interventionist but I’ve got bloodthirsty Jacksonian instincts and an indifference to any suffering others go through if it benefits us. I’ve moved closer to doves precisely because I’ve become more anti-interventionist and recognized the costs of war which include antagonizing people, but even if I don’t think we should have entered into or pursued unconditional surrender in WW2 I think it also proves the “violence never solved anything/only begets more violence” trope is wrong and that massive killings and the crushing of the enemy can work. That’s part of the idea behind Edward Luttwak’s piece Give War a Chance. I oppose the U.N and peaceful global meddling like many right-wing populists, and populists are notoriously stupid. I can ascribe some of their beliefs to anti-foreign bias while my own is merely radically decentralist and fearful of the concentration of political power (or cooperation among concentrations) regardless of whether it’s my own or someone else’s, but that anti-elitism (even though I consider myself an elitist hostile to The People) and localism could also signify dimness. I don’t know what the enlightened think about “law’n'order” and don’t myself have a view clearly on one side or the other.
Because Caplan is an economist and focuses on that as opposed to Althaus the political scientist, I’m on less shaky ground with regard to his work on enlightened preferences. As a libertarian I’m completely free of anti-market bias and make-work bias. There are a few areas where Caplan himself disagrees with the enlightened and other economists, such as education, and I agree with him there. Our big point of disagreement is over immigration. This is an obvious area where anti-foreign bias comes to play, and I have no problem ascribing a lot of opposition to immigration as irrational. I favor unilateral free-trade and have no problem with immigrants “stealing jobs” or “lowering wages”, I even approve. I would endorse a Gulf State style guest-worker system, as Lant Pritchett has proposed, as well as expanded meritocratic immigration (brain draining other countries is a clear win for us). My worries about immigration pertain to its long-term effects over generations to our political culture when their descendants attain near-majority status as well as the combination of persistent human capital deficits in a knowledge based economy with a democratic welfare state combined with salient ethnic differences.
The last bias is pessimistic bias, and the most famous opponent of it was libertarian economist Julian Simon. Radical libertarians (especially those affiliated with Austrianism) seem as prone to it as anyone, leading to wrong predictions. Today Billy Beck keeps going on about the “endarkenment” while Vox Days says he’ll be laughing as the world falls apart (and he doesn’t have a bunker like Cleve Blakemore). Like many paleos I’m pretty disgusted with the pervasive idiocy all around us, but I recognize that things still tend to get better over time. I even managed to get Mencius Moldbug to concede that things have improved, though he had to add that considering technological advances they should be far better (I don’t think we should treat technology so exogenously). I’m not completely sold on optimism over the long term though for Darwinian reasons. I’ve mentioned the Return of Patriarchy before and even Robin Hanson has predicted some Malthusian scenarios after the Singularity.
A lot of what’s in the book, including many of Caplan’s papers, I’ve already read. One exception though is Terrorism: The Relevance of the Rational Model. An interesting part is that he says giving bin Laden what he wants would cost us less than nothing. He also suggests retaliating against the family members of suicide bombers. In that paper and many other places in the book he cites Gaetano Mosca’s The Ruling Class from 1939. I guess I’ll have to check it out some time, along with Eric Hoffer’s True Believer.
I’m further into Consilience by E. O. Wilson. A warning to others who might seek it out: steer clear of the Thorndike Large Print version. It is absolutely chock full of massive glaring typos. I’ve never seen any this bad before. The basic theme of the book is the unity of knowledge and how with the modern advance of science we seem closer to achieving that goal. The natural sciences will be rooted in physics and math, the social sciences in the natural sciences (especially biology, neuroscience and psychology) which will in turn subsume the humanities. As someone who doesn’t think there’s any fact of the matter when it comes to aesthetics or ethics, I don’t have his confidence. I am however a fan of scientific imperialism in history and economic imperialism in the social sciences (speaking of which, a sociologist portraying other sociologists as conspiracy theorists compared to economists sparked a massive OrgTheory thread here), as I mentioned here. Mencius Moldbug’s preference for “literary” history and economics just seems willfully ignorant to me. While most of the book is just bursting with Wilson’s childlike love of science, he gets into some downer parts when it comes to lefty academic post-modernism and how the Enlightenment went all wrong with the French Revolution.
Speaking of the perils of the Enlightenment and all the harm the Jacobins did, I just picked up Michael Burleigh’s Earthly Powers: The Clash of Religion and Politics in Europe, from the French Revolution to the Great War. I’ve only read the introduction so far and I’ll hold off the rest until I’ve finished Consilience. If it’s good I’ll have to read the second Volume, titled Sacred Causes, which also covers areas from the Great War to the War on Terror. I’ll likely get to the Bell Curve before that though.
You might notice that I had nothing to say about Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. Dennet’s a fine writer and some of his thought experiments were pretty interesting, but it just didn’t generate the same sort of urge to share a great bit like How the Mind Works did. I thought he was weak in his criticism of Wilson and other socio-biologists commonly called “ultra-Darwinians” as greedy reductionists. I did draw upon the book recently in an Overcoming Bias thread here.