Saturday, July 15, 2017

Target Rank

I really love Kung Fu Hustle.  In this scene, the main character doesn't want to fight an entire crowd.  He figures his chances of winning are much higher if he fights one-on-one.  Especially if he can choose a weak opponent.  The problem is that he initially underestimates every opponent that he picks.

This scene came to mind today after I read Sarah Skwire's article... MacLean Is Not Interested in a Fair Fight...

Several times a week, I go to my taekwondo school, put on a helmet, a chest protector, shin guards and arm guards, yell loudly, and spar with people who are half my age and sometimes twice my size.

Maybe Skwire would choose to spar with Bruce Lee, but would she choose to fight him?  What about Goliath?  There wasn't a single solder in the Israelite army that chose to fight Goliath.  Everyone could clearly see that he was a beast.  His challenge went unanswered for 40 days.  Then a shepherd named David arrived at the camp to deliver some food.  He accepted Goliath's challenge and beat him.

Maybe every solider in the leftist army is too scared to fight James Buchanan.  If so, there are a few exceptions.  At the top of the list is Nancy MacLean.  But I'm pretty sure that she made the classic error of underestimating her opponent.  Evidently his Nobel prize didn't effectively signal his intellectual strength.

In my previous post, I shared how the Libertarian Party (LP) gave donors the opportunity to use their donations to rank potential convention themes...

$6,327.00 - I’m That Libertarian!
$5,200.00 - Building Bridges, Not Walls
$1,620.00 - Pro Choice on Everything
$1,377.77 - Empowering the Individual
$395.00 - The Power of Principle
$150.00 - Future of Freedom
$135.00 - Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness
$105.00 - Rise of the Libertarians
$75.00 - Free Lives Matter
$42.00 - Be Me, Be Free
$17.76 - Make Taxation Theft Again
$15.42 - Taxation is Theft
$15.00 - Jazzed About Liberty
$15.00 - All of Your Freedoms, All of the Time
$5.00 - Am I Being Detained!
$5.00 - Liberty Here and Now

Should give donors the opportunity to use their donations to rank libertarian thinkers and their ideas?

The idea that taxation is theft seems to be pretty popular.  This is what we can see.  What we could not see was the true social importance of this idea.  Thanks to the LP, we can all now clearly see that this idea isn't very important to society.  How would it compare to the idea of the Invisible Hand?  Unfortunately, the LP didn't include it.

How many leftists have overestimated the social importance of the idea that taxation is theft?  Here's Matt Bruenig attacking this idea in 2012... Income taxes are voluntary.  This fight did not benefit either side.  It was an extremely stupid fight.  It was the equivalent of Don Quixote tilting at windmills.

Here's what Bruenig wrote in a 2015 blog entry...

Every time you attack libertarianism, libertarians respond by saying you haven’t actually attacked libertarianism. You’ve only attacked one libertarian or one perspective, but that’s not the right one to look at it. You are engaging in a straw man argument. And so on. It never ends. You can’t ever deliver a square blow against it because your description of it is never correct, no matter what you say. - Matt Bruenig, #NotAllLibertarians: An Illustration

In a comment I responded...

If you're going to go after Rothbard.... then it's probably a good idea to attack his strongest argument... Football Fans vs Nature Fans... rather than his weakest one. Because, if you don't attack his strongest argument... then it appears that you're incapable of doing so.

Here's a similar comment that I left on Noah Smith's 2012 blog entry...

Show me a single post where Quiggin, Krugman or any other liberal economist has shredded the opportunity cost concept. If they aren't shredding the opportunity cost concept...then they aren't shredding libertarian economics. If they aren't shredding libertarian economics...then what are they shredding? Their own straw men? How is that competent?

John Quiggin responded...

"If they aren't shredding the opportunity cost concept...then they aren't shredding libertarian economics"

You're obviously in the market for my book (in early draft) Economics in Two Lessons, which aims to cover a wide range of public policy issues in two points

1. Opportunity cost is what matters
2. Sometimes market prices reflect opportunity costs and sometimes they don't

If you regard Point 2 as being "libertarian economics", then we are on the same page.

In 2010 Quiggin wrote...


Fourth, while I don’t see much, if any, benefit in engaging with actually existing conservatism, that doesn’t mean that we should ignore conservative, and libertarian, ideas. You don’t have to be an unqualified admirer of writers like Burke, Popper or Hayek to concede that they made valid criticisms of the progressive ideas of their day, and to seek a better way forward. Some examples of the kind of thing I have in mind

Popper’s critique of historicism. After thirty years in which teleological claims of inevitable triumph have been the stock in trade of Fukuyama and his epigones, the left should surely have been cured of such ideas, but their centrality is evident in the very use of terms like “progressive”. It’s important to recognise that beneficial change is not an automatic outcome of “progress”

Burke and his successors on the need for beneficial reform to be “organic”, in the sense that it reflects the actual historical evolution of particular societies, rather than being based on universal truths that are applicable in all times and places

Hayek on the impossibility of comprehensive planning. No planner can possess all relevant information or account for all possible contingencies. We need institutions that respond to local information and that are robust enough to cope with unconsidered possibilities. In some circumstances, but certainly not all, markets fit the bill. - John Quiggin, After the dead horses


The multitude of thinkers on both sides have produced many ideas.  But all these ideas, and their producers, aren't equally important to society.  Their true social importance has to be determined and known in order to facilitate the most beneficial battles.

Correctly determining the social importance of thinkers and their ideas obviously must involve society.  This is because no planner, or committee, can have all the relevant information about the social importance of anything.  The larger the group, the more information it will have, and the closer it will get to determining the true social importance of ideas/individuals.

The question is... should social importance be determined by voting or spending?

Reddit is based entirely on voting.  We can go to the libertarian group and sort the ideas/individuals by votes.  My verdict is that lots of libertarians will vote for stupid things.  Why not?  It doesn't cost them anything to do so.  Bringing (opportunity) cost into the equation is the only way to maximize intelligence.  Libertarians will fully utilize their brains when, and only when, they are given the opportunity to divide their limited dollars among the unlimited libertarian ideas/individuals.

The market works because consumers decide how to divide their limited dollars among their unlimited desires.  The LP used the market to rank its potential convention themes.  The donors decided how to divide their limited dollars among the different themes.

FEE should give donors the opportunity to decide how to divide their limited dollars among the unlimited libertarians ideas/individuals.  How donors divide their dollars between Buchanan and Rothbard would signal how they want leftists to divide their forces between the two economists.  This would minimize the chances of unintentionally attacking strawmen.  We would all know the social importance of Rothbard and his ideas.  So if Bruenig attacked the least important idea, it's not like he could claim ignorance of importance.

In my blog entry about Evonomics I mentioned that leftists are the first to love the fact that Thomas Piketty's book was a bestseller.  They believe that this provides conclusive evidence that his ideas about inequality are very important to society.  So they might accept the validity of ideas/individuals being ranked by donors.

It's rather fascinating to compare the two ranking systems.  Both systems are markets... but they are different types of markets.  With the book market, the consumers are purchasing the book.  Doing so doesn't necessarily mean that they believe that its ideas are important.  But with the bee market, the consumers wouldn't purchase the book.  Instead, they'd spend their money to help determine the social importance of its ideas.  Doing so would obviously mean that they believe that the ideas are important.

Deirdre McCloskey read Piketty's book.  She might have purchased it.  If she did, her purchase clearly doesn't count as an endorsement of his ideas.  She strongly disagrees with his ideas.  This means that she wouldn't make a donation to help improve their social standing.

So as far as determining the true social importance of ideas/individuals... the bee market would be far more trustworthy than the book market.

I suppose "bee market" probably isn't the best term.  I'm not referring to the buying and selling of bees.  The context should have made that obvious.  But without the proper context, the term "bee market" might cause a bit of confusion.  Then again, just how much discussion is there about the buying and selling of bees anyways?

Just in case you haven't read my post about Evonomics, I use the term "bee market" because bees spend their precious calories in order to signal the importance/profitability/value/relevance of flower patches.  The longer and harder a bee dances, the more calories it burns, the more important the flower patch.  The bees don't buy a valuable flower patch.  They spend their calories to help direct more attention to it.  It's essentially crowdfunded advertising.

The efficient allocation of society's attention depends on knowing the social importance of things.  Right now we don't really know the true social importance of Buchanan and his ideas.  We know that he produced many books and even more papers.  We know that he won a Nobel prize.  But we certainly have no idea how society would divide its donations between all the Nobel prize winners.  Therefore, we don't know the true social importance of Buchanan and his ideas.

From my perspective, MacLean made quite a few mistakes.  But her target choice was not one of them.  Buchanan is an intellectual beast.  Right now it's pretty much her versus him.  It's a one-on-one fight.  Should it be?  I don't think so.  I think it should be a many-on-one fight.  All the liberals in the world should attack Buchanan.  It's a numbers game.  The more liberals that attack him, the greater the chances that the modern day equivalent of a shepherd will use the intellectual equivalent of a slingshot to defeat him.

However, it's entirely possible that my perspective is wrong.  Maybe I'm overestimating Buchanan's importance.  This is why it's so important to correctly determine his social importance.  FEE should give libertarians the opportunity to do so.  Will Quiggin want to participate?  Well I'm not sure if he'd want to donate to FEE.  What's the left equivalent of FEE?  Jacobin?

To be honest, I don't necessarily see Jacobin creating a market anytime soon.  I'd guess that Crooked Timber would do so way before Jacobin.  I was actually rather surprised by what Henry Farrell and Steven Teles wrote about MacLean.  My impression of Farrell is him being way more leftist.  Perhaps he was really balanced by Teles?

The LP already created a market to rank some ideas.  It was an ephemeral market... but I think it's a given that other libertarian organizations will start to create bee markets.  Hopefully they'll do so sooner rather than later.  When they do so, pro-market resources will be far more efficiently allocated.  Leftists will finally appreciate what markets are good for.  Then again, it's entirely possible that I'm overestimating the importance of markets.

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