Monday, December 5, 2011

Crooked Timber Liberals - Monopolizing the Facts

The Crooked Timber Liberals posted this new entry...Renouncing the facts in the name of method (Mankiw channels Lukacs).  Here was Chris Bertram's conclusion...
I’ve never had sympathy for what Lukacs says here, and don’t know the context for the Keynes quote. But I’m struck by the way that both Mankiw and Lukacs implicitly endorse the idea that they can just keep on keeping on, whatever happens in the actual world.
What happens in the "actual world"?  Are liberals the only ones who live in the "actual world"?  Here was my comment...
"The problem is thus in no way solved if we can show that all the facts, if they were known to a single mind (as we hypothetically assume them to be given to the observing economist), would uniquely determine the solution; instead we must show how a solution is produced by the interactions of people each of whom possesses only partial knowledge. To assume all the knowledge to be given to a single mind in the same manner in which we assume it to be given to us as the explaining economists is to assume the problem away and to disregard everything that is important and significant in the real world." - Friedrich August Hayek, The Use of Knowledge in Society
Are any of you guys ever going to respond to my challenge that taxpayers should be allowed to directly allocate their individual taxes? Or are you just going to keep on pretending that you have a monopoly on facts? Perhaps you enjoy arguing like blind men touching different parts of an elephant?

Why not genuinely consider what The Devil's Advocate of Public Goods has to say? Why not recognize, respect...or at least tolerate other people's values?
Unlike some of my other comments on the Crooked Timber blog...they didn't have moderation enabled so I managed to post the comment.  It didn't last long though.  When I revisited the entry here's what I saw in place of my comment...
[Crooked Timber comments threads are an opportunity to engage in conversation, not the granting of a soapbox for you to promote your private obsessions. Please go away. CB]
I got shooed away.  Wasn't my comment relevant?  They were talking about "renouncing" facts so I shared Hayek's perspective on who owns the facts.  Then I offered a compromise and suggested political tolerance.

Sure, I'm self-aware enough to recognize that pragmatarianism could certainly qualify as an obsession.  And yes...I can't argue with the fact that I'm promoting my obsession.  But it's obviously not a private obsession...and aren't the Crooked Timber Liberals also promoting their own obsession?  

What was so harmful about my comment that they couldn't just allow other readers to form their own opinions on the relevance of my comment?  Aren't we all quite adept at that?  Do you really want other people to do that for you?  I sure know I don't.

Is it really that bad though to be obsessed with a reasonable compromise?  Pragmatarianism doesn't advocate getting rid of taxes or reducing the scope of government...but not once did the Crooked Timber liberals bother to address my compromise.  Yup...yet another ostrich response to pragmatarianism.


  1. Xero,
    I'm a regular reader of CT. I could be wrong, but I don't think your comment was removed because it was irrelevant. I think they actively discourage commenters from linking to their own blogs, particularly one like yours which is focused on advocating a (very) specific position. Hence, "soapbox."

    You might have quoted Hayek -- and even said a few words about individual taxpayers allocating tax payments toward favored programs -- without linking back here, and in that case your comment would not have been deleted.

    And yes, Crooked Timber liberals might be promoting their own obsession. (Although in their case it's a far more generalised obsession.) So what? It's their blog.

    This presents a practical problem for you. How do you get the word out without sounding like a crank? You need to come up with a more succinct way to present your 'obsession' that explains the basics without sounding cranky or preachy. I know -- I've been touting pragmatarianism (though I never called it that) for about 20 years, and the biggest challenge is making myself understood without sounding like a drunk uncle at Thanksgiving dinner.

    Again, I could be wrong.


  2. JHC! What?! You've been "touting" pragmatarianism for about 20 years? How cool is that. Do you have a blog...or website where you've "touted" it? What have you been calling it? In those 20 years have you figured out how to make yourself understood without "sounding like a drunk uncle at Thanksgiving dinner"?

    Thanks for your feedback on my comment over at the Crooked Timber blog. Personally, obviously I see nothing wrong with linking to your own blog. Readers are well adept at deciding for themselves whether they click on links. Additionally, if the Crooked Timber liberals have a problem with people linking to their own blogs then why don't they just mention this in their comments policy?

    I could be wrong but I think my comment was removed because they disagree with my compromise. Here's another place where I offered my compromise... Opportunity Costs for Thee, But Not for Me. Nobody showed any interest in it...but at least the comment wasn't removed.

    Yeah, obviously the Crooked Timber liberals have the right to promote their own obsession...and they have the right to remove any comments they wish for any reasons they wish. Won't get any disagreement from me there! But I certainly have the right to shake my fist at them for filtering out comments that they disagree with.

  3. Xero,
    No, I don't blog about it. Just rant, mainly, when I have an audience.

    I was shocked to see
    earlier this year. It's rare to see the idea aired in a public forum (so, your blog is refreshing too). [Full disclosure: I was 'Mike D' in that brief comment thread (channeling Beastie Boys for some reason)]

    I think there are two ginormous obstacles to transitioning to a pragmatarian scheme:

    1) It would basically neuter both Houses of Congress. By which I mean, the principal function of most reps and senators is to allocate ka-ching. They would fight tooth and nail (and other body parts) to retain that function, which is to say retain that power.

    2) People (Americans anyway) have little confidence in their neighbors' intellect. Polls tend to show that people are very confident about their own levels of information, and very skeptical of other peoples'. So, each person might be happy to decide how to allocate his tax payments, and extremely reluctant to entrust anyone else with that same responsibility.

    I don't see these problems as intractable, just daunting.


  4. JHC, thanks for sharing that article! Woah! Talk about an early Christmas present! It was definitely a much needed and extremely refreshing blast of confirmation bias. Heh

    Ah man, you really should start a blog. Starting one is ridiculously easy and completely free. The hardest part is coming up with a name for your blog.

    The more blogs there are that are either completely or partially dedicated to the subject the more exposure the subject will receive. The more blogs there are on the subject the less I'll feel like a total raving lunatic. The more blogs there are the less daunting the task becomes. Each blog helps get the ball rolling.

    Regarding the ginormous obstacles...your second obstacle is so ginormous that I can't even see around it to make out your first obstacle. In other words...the politician obstacle is a bridge that's so far down the road it's hard to imagine even coming to it.

    By far the most common objection to pragmatarianism is that "important" public goods would be underfunded while "unimportant" public goods would be overfunded. In other words...people feel that the allocation of public goods would be inefficient. In other words...people trust the allocation decisions of congress more than they trust the allocation decisions of the invisible hand.

    Initially I made the argument that there is a strong correlation between education and income/taxes and now I'm focusing on opportunity costs and values.

    Hayek's partial information ties into Bastiat's opportunity cost which ties into Smith's invisible hand which ties into Buddha's idea that we are all just blind men touching different parts of an elephant.

    You might be interested in this extremely fascinating democratic experiment...Americans Select.  The obstacle is kind of similar though...Tyranny of the Majority.

  5. Xero,

    Your idea is simply terrible. The examples are far too abundant to go into but here's just one: How many people will voluntarily fund the IRS?

    You are essentially saying, "This automobile doesn't perform up to my expectations. Therefore, I'd like to saw the driveshaft in half because I think this would improve it's performance."

    Give it up.

    ***Unsolicited advice: read I.F. Stone's 'The Trial of Socrates' It is a brilliant overview of the birth of representative government.

  6. mattski, how many people this Christmas are going to give practical gifts?

    Did you read the article that JHC shared...Your Choice, Your Money? That article was written by a liberal PhD suggesting that allowing taxpayers to directly allocate their taxes would make them feel better about paying taxes and therefore more likely to pay more taxes.

    Imagine if donors to the NRA and donors to PETA were forced to pool their donations and elect representatives to split the pool between both organizations. The donors would obviously not be happy paying for a cause that they did not value. Therefore, it would decrease their willingness to donate and both non-profit organizations would suffer as a result.

  7. Imagine if donors to...

    That's why taxes aren't optional.

    I don't understand your question about practical xmas gifts. But it does have quite a whiff of assumption about it.

  8. mattski...where did I say anything about taxes being optional?

    The point of the practical gifts example was to highlight the fact that we all have different values. Plenty of people recognize the value of practical gifts and there would be plenty of taxpayers that recognized the value of practical public goods.

  9. Arg!

    Here he is totally wrong

    "This is reasonable, but willingness to spend large amounts of money is not a good indication of intensity of preference if some people are very poor and others very rich."


    He is judging the values of other people, which -of course- he will claim that other people judging HIS values would be wrong.

    This is one of the most pervasive problems of people - that they value their judgements so high, they are willing to use whatever violence is necessary on other people to accomplish them..

    .... do not understand that by this very act, they give Right to others to use extreme violence on them to enforce other people's view on them.

    People do not understand Faust at all.