Bryan Caplan: Anti-Democracy Pioneer

I’ve always wondered why bloggers on the alt-right, such as Steve and others, seem to show a mild deference to the GMU (George Mason University) school of economists, linking to and commenting on the blog posts of Tyler Cowen and Bryan Caplan. These economists tend to be free-market neoliberal pragmatists/utilitarians, not cultural conservatives, but the interestingly these economists are also quite skeptical of democracy and the ‘rational voter’ , in agreement with the neo-reaction/alt right.

For example, Bryan Caplan, one of the early pioneers of the recent anti-democracy movement, in his critically acclaimed 2007 book The Myth of the Rational Voter challenges the notion that voters are reasonable people that society can trust to make laws

His book disabuses liberals voters’ misconceptions of economics, such as:

Make-work bias

Liberal voters assume that work for the sake of work is always good, ignoring the possible good that comes from structural unemployment, such as more productivity and new technologies. Full employment is not only impossible to achieve, but would be bad for the economy, since it would cause stagnation. The left wants more overpaid, redundant jobs that produce little economic value relative to their pay. Republicans and neoliberals understand that job loss is a necessary and unavoidable part of the evolution of the economy.

The left also wants more regulation, and then they complain that there are not enough good jobs, oblivious to the fact their policies are a contributing factor.

Anti-foreign bias

Caplan, along with the GMU school of bloggers and Ycompbinator’s Paul Graham, argue that free trade and immigration are good for the economy. I’ve argued repeatedly that in a free market, such as America, we shouldn’t limit our labor options, which hurts our competitiveness and stunts innovation. China is not our enemy, and they have much to more to lose by engaging in a trade war than they could ever stand to gain. It’s this economic symbiosis between China and America that keeps goods cheap and inflation low.

Pessimistic bias

The left wants the world to be doomed so that they can rebuild society to their egalitarian image, similar to the Russian Revolution, French Revolution, The Great Depression, and other examples of economic and social upheaval. The left would rather have the economy fail so the the rich lose money so that everyone is equally poor, than a society that rewards people for their economic contributions, even if that means some people will be richer than others. The left, in their want of failure and crisis, consistently underestimate the efficacy of policy makers and the resiliency free market. For example, by being bearish and negative on the economy going as far back as 2009, fanning the flames crisis for every non-event like Greece, insisting that the consumer is ‘maxed out’ despite the consumer always pulling though, spreading fears over web 2.0 being bubble, predicting over and over to no avail that housing and stock prices will crash, that profits & earnings will fall, that the fed is doing a bad job, that the economy is weak because not enough people can find jobs, that wealth inequality will doom the economy, that student loans are bubble, and on and on, the left’s shrill cries for crisis always ignored.

The left wanted the 2008 financial problem and the election of Obama to usher a post-America era, but the opposite happened: America only solidified its economic power with the best performing currency, the strongest stock market, and high inflation-adjusted GDP growth. In 2013 liberals like Krugman and midget Robert Reich spread doom and gloom about the sequester, despite the fact that the sequester was Obama’s fault for his refusal to compromise with Republicans over entitlement spending cuts. The economy and stock market brushed it off like it was nothing, so the left couldn’t blame the Republicans for the crisis that never came.

The left pretends to care about the health of the economy, yet they advocate policy that is bad for it.

Then you have doom and gloomer liberals, like Robert Shiller, Shiff and Roubini, who call everything a bubble and have been wrong about everything since 2009, as shown below:

Anti-market bias

The left blames corporations, rich people, the government, the fed, student loan companies, colleges, employers – everyone and everything but biological factors such as IQ. Sometimes in an economic recovery not everyone can participate. Social Darwinism 2.0 means those who are cognitively unfit may be left out, or have to wait longer than usual. People are falling behind because of low IQs in an economy that increasingly rewards intellect, not because of ‘greedy’ rich people. The solution, according to the left, is to do away with the free market, spreading all the wealth from the most successful to the least.

From Wikipedia:

Sometimes, however, it is virtually costless for the individual person to hold on to their preconceived beliefs, and people like those beliefs. Rational irrationality simply states that when it is cheap to believe something (even when it is wrong) it is rational to believe it. They refuse to retrace their logic and seriously ask themselves if what they believe is true. For some people, thinking hurts and they will avoid it if they can. This often appears in politics. Caplan argues that, “Since delusional political beliefs are free, the voter consumes until he reaches his ‘satiation point,’ believing whatever makes him feel best. When a person puts on his voting hat, he does not have to give up practical efficacy in exchange for self-image, because he has no practical efficacy to give up in the first place.”[9]

This is similar to the naturalistic fallacy – that just because something feels good (seeing the banks fail, rich people lose money, stocks crash, etc) doesn’t mean it’s good. Since 2008 or so, doom and gloom is trendy; views such as mine, while correct, are of the minority and tend to be ignored. Individuals don’t bear the consequences of bad voting habits and delusional beliefs – it’s spread out over millions of people, but if millions of people vote this way, it adds up.

Caplan, however, emphasizes that democratic failure exists and places the blame for it squarely on the general public. He makes special emphasis that politicians are often caught between a rock and a hard place: thanks to advisors, they know what policies would be generally beneficial, but they also know that those policies are not what people want. Thus they are balancing good economic policy (so they do not get voted out of office because of slow growth) and bad economic policy (so they do not get voted out of office because of unpopular policies).[citation needed]

Agree..the banks bailouts, for example, were a necessity despite being politically unpopular. George W. Bush, Paulson, Geithner, and Bernanke deserve praise for doing a good job, rising to the occasion when so many expected (and wanted) them to fail. TARP, which everyone hated, had the highest ROI of any government program, while social security, which everyone loves, is an economic drain.

Democracy means that people vote for what feels good, not for what is best for the common good (utilitarianism). More funding for high-IQ kids, for example, is a good policy, but everyone would rather just keep pouring water in the muddy well that is special education and other ineffective programs.

Also Caplanm, like Summers, Pinkers, Adam Davidson, Steve Levitt, and others of the Chicago and George Mason school of economics, probably subscribes to an HBD-centric view of the world in contrast to welfare liberals, who deny HBD as it pertains to intelligence and socioeconomic outcomes. As everyone knows, Larry Summers got into hot water with the left in 2005 for stating what everyone otherwise suspected to be true but were too afraid to say: women tend to lag at math and science due to cognitive differences at the ‘high end’, meaning that while man and women both have a mean IQ of 100, women have a smaller variance of IQ scores, resulting in fewer genius scores necessary to succeed at STEM.

Caplan is also skeptical of parenting as a means of changing behavior, which aligns with the HBD-centric views of the alt-right. The left wants to believe that helicopter parenting, universal pre-k, and wealth redistribution can turn dull kids into super-achievers, but biology suggest otherwise.

But beyond a shared ambivalence towards democracy and egalitarianism, as well as belief in some elements of HBD, neo-reaction and Caplan (along with the rest of the neoliberal left and neoconservative right) otherwise seem to have little in common.