Thursday, May 3, 2018

These two tweets by Robin Hanson prompted a bit of a flashback recalling a thread from the early days of the blog.

The first was a reaction to this recent Slate piece ("George Mason University's Robin Hanson might be America’s creepiest economist.").

You'll notice that Hanson's take on the problem here in no way lies with him but rather with the overly emotional non-economists in the audience who let their biases prevent them from thinking logically and clearly.

He later followed with this.

Putting aside the misrepresentation of the criticism (and that's a pretty big concession), these ideas aren't really in tension. It's entirely possible for one topic to be more important and another more sensitive, or for one topic being more sensitive under certain circumstances or (and this is the major one) for an issue to have more than one component. In this case, the sexual aspect is clearly secondary to the question of consent and self-determination (meaning that Hanson is abandoning his own libertarian principles in order to argue these points).

All of which got me to thinking about this.

Freakonomics: disagreeing about why we disagree

On today's Marketplace, Steve Levitt explains why he thinks many people see the world differently than he does:
One of the easiest ways to differentiate an economist from almost anyone else in society is to test them with repugnant ideas. Because economists, either by birth or by training, have their mind open, or skewed in just such a way that instead of thinking about whether something is right or wrong, they think about it in terms of whether it's efficient, whether it makes sense. And many of the things that are most repugnant are the things which are indeed quite efficient, but for other reasons -- subtle reasons, sometimes, reasons that are hard for people to understand -- are completely and utterly unacceptable.
There are few thoughts more comforting than the idea that the people who disagree with you are overly emotional and are not thinking things through. We've all told ourselves something along these lines from time to time.

But can economists really make special claim to "whether [ideas] makes sense"? Particularly a Chicago School economist who has shown a strong inclination toward the kind of idealized models that have great aesthetic appeal but mixed track records? (This is the same intellectual movement that gave us rational addiction.)

When I disagree with Dr. Levitt, it's for one of the following reasons:

I question his analyses;

I question his assumptions;

I question the validity of his models.

Steve Levitt is a smart guy who has interesting ideas, but a number of intelligent, clear-headed individuals often disagree with him. Some of them are even economists.

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