This is why I don't read Marginal Revolution

Tyler on Robin on Tyler on Robin:

In some ways I think of the whole book as an (attempted) rebuttal to Robin. Robin is the rational constructivist, the logical atomist, the reductionist, and the extreme Darwinian. The Inner Economist is trying to reconcile (modified) economic reasoning and a (modified) version of common sense morality.

But...for the secularist reductionism beckons and seduces. Imagine an intellectual war with Darwin, Fourier, Comte, early Carnap, David Friedman and millenarian Christian eschatology on one side (that's my mental image of how Robin maps into the history of ideas), with bits from Henry Sidgwick, Hayek, Quine, and William James on the other side, yet within the framework of modern microeconomics and with ongoing references to the blogosphere. I am (implicitly) defending gradualism, pluralism, the partial irreduciblity of individual choice, the primacy of civilization, and yes also a certain degree of social artifice.

(see also Robin on Tyler on Robin)

Their exchange in the comments is both amusing and telling as well. As Robin says at one point in the thread: "So the main thing we disagree on, is that I want to be clear on what we disagree on, while you find the labels "reductionist" versus "pluralist" to be plenty precise?"

I stopped reading Marginal Revolution because something about Tyler's writing and ideas just didn't mesh with my interests and view of the world. His libertarianism is not my libertarianism, his cultural interests are not my cultural interests. I couldn't really put my finger on it, but Tyler has hit on at least part of it above. There may someday come a time when the camp with my dad, Darwin, and Robin in it is not my camp, but at this point it's no contest.

Perhaps this means that I should read Tyler's book as part of a search for contrary viewpoints, to avoid confirmation bias. But my strategy, at least so far, is to seek disconfirming ideas from thinkers with whom I share a philosophical common ground. This does limit the range of ideas I am exposed to, but it also greatly increases the likelihood that I will be receptive to these ideas, since they tend to be phrased in "my language" and have demonstrably appealed to people like me. When I read people too different from myself, I find it neither pleasant nor educational - mostly it just results in my writing critical blog posts.

Fortunately, people like me have quite a range of ideas.

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I stopped reading Cowen

I stopped reading Cowen after this:

but I should have done it long before

same wavelength

Patri,I came to the same conclusion about two years ago, right around the time they had this post on <A href="">opportunity costs</A>

With libertarians like them, who needs statists?


Arthur and iceberg,

I don't see how mere disagreement on a single issue is a deal-breaker for reading someone. A lot of libertarians have said at one time or other that would at least put up with the welfare state - M. Friedman, Hayek, Will Wilkinson, Matt Ridley (my favorite author on evolution), many 19th century classical liberals, and (I could be wrong, going from memory here) Julian Sanchez - to name a few. Yet, I see all those people as having my general worldview. For my own part, I see the welfare state as much less unappealing than state control of sectors of the economy. The former is a difference in value judgments, whereas the latter is utterly pointless. Stopping reading someone just because they support a safety net is pretty closed-minded IMO.

Heck, you might as well stop reading this blog. My views definitely don't match up along the libertarian party line.

(And opportunity costs? I don't see how that's a deal breaker either.)

Agreed, my big problem is

Agreed, my big problem is with the inefficiency of the state, not goals like a safety net.

But I still feel quite certain that Tyler does not share my worldview in the way that someone like Bryan Caplan or Robin Hanson does.

Efficiency is always defined

Efficiency is always defined relative to a given goal. You could say that the blietzkrieg (oh a godwin point) was very efficient, sure it was not pareto efficient, but who says we should care about others?

Although efficience is value free, goals are not, you need ethical guidelines. By providing a "safety net" the government essentially steals, which is spontaneously recognized as ethically wrong by a two-year old.

I don't see how mere

I don't see how mere disagreement on a single issue is a deal-breaker for reading someone.

tipping point :D 

It's not only a mere disagreement, it was the marginal mere disagreement


I resist the temptation to

I resist the temptation to believe that Cowen treats his political views like an eccentricity to explain and revel in -- but you have to admit that it would explain a lot. It's libertarianism that doesn't know where it's going and doesn't really care to -- I prefer Hanson's visionary ideals.

I'm not a fan of Tyler's style

A lot of the time, I don't know what he's actually saying. I'll read it over again, and still not get it. Sometimes I just conclude that he's not in fact, saying anything. For example, I still don't know what he's actually saying in the post linked to above. Seriously - does anyone know what he's trying to say?

Also, I think he often takes a contrarian view just to be contrarian. I like contrarian opinions because they make me think. But Tyler seems to revel in taking a contrarian view just to be contrarian. Not my cup of tea.

(Also, he thinks Lost is high art. He loses his culture critic badge right there.)

OTOH, Robin Hanson makes razor-sharp arguments, skewers conventional wisdom with his skepticism, and makes his opponents back their positions with data. Overcoming Bias is probably the best blog in the blogosphere, one place where, though I'm a regular reader, feel like I have nothing meaningful to contribute in the comments. (A lot of our readers feel the same way about this blog.)

This is why I read Marginal Revolution

1) Much of interest there every day. The entries tend to be mercifully brief and link-rich. This quality is one of the reasons I check Instapundit most every day, too.

2) For those who are down on Tyler Cowen, don't forget Alex Tabarrok blogs there too.


I'm not one for blogs, but I

I'm not one for blogs, but I do enjoy Cowen. He addresses a wide range of topics and has something interesting to say on all of them. That being said, I'm not sure what he said in that post either--I imagine I'd have to read his book to really find out. Hanson has a crisper style, though I imagine I side with Cowen more on substantive issues: I'm suspicious of reductionism.

Indeed, I prefer Cowen to Tabarrok, or Cafe Hayek, where all I seem to read is the libertarian party line--which, though I agree with it, makes for unchallenging reading.

Circling back

I'm suspicious of reductionism.

But the response to this that has already been voiced and that I and I think some other people find valid is not, "reductionism is cool," but:

"So the main thing we disagree on, is that I want to be clear on
what we disagree on, while you find the labels "reductionist" versus
"pluralist" to be plenty precise?

I think the way to move the discussion forward is not to repeat the claim that people are having trouble even making sense of, but answering the challenge to successfully communicate a critique that can actually be understood.

You're right that my

You're right that my statement isn't likely to advance the debate: I'm merely sketching where I probably stand, given that the terms are rough.

I have a feeling we'll have to read the book to actually understand Cowen's critique--I haven't understood it from the discussion thus far.

I think that Tyler is

I think that Tyler is personally a lot more liberta anti-stat liberal than he lets on in writing. I think he is very aware of different personas within himself, e.g. public v. private, Tyler v. Tyrone, and so on. So I agree with Scott that he may view these as eccentricities worth studying - in fact, his advocacy of self-experimentation ala Seth Roberts seems like a flat-out admission of it.

Robin, I have a hard time trying to figure out where he is headed. Or perhaps how he intends to get there. I think he may be more intentionally contrarian even than Tyler, but in a focused way (yes, for the purpose of overcoming bias).

I find both enjoyable for exactly the reason Scott points out: they are very challenging. Cafe Hayek could do with more intentional contrarianism. If you agree that your opponents are not insane, evil, or stupid, then you must conclude that they have some valid points. What are they? How do you address them? If you prefer to dismiss or ignore them, well of course we're never going to convince the voting populace that a police state is okay so long as the right clique is running the show.

"we're never going to

"we're never going to convince the voting populace that a police state is okay so long as the right clique is running the show"

Yikes, that should read "the voting populace ***that believes*** that a police state is okay ..."

I'm surprised nobody objected - perhaps this is the forum for libertarians who are okay with a well-managed police state? 8~)



"Robin is the rational

"Robin is the rational constructivist, the logical atomist, the reductionist, and the extreme Darwinian."

I know this guy is trying to say SOMETHING, but what that something is eludes me.

Quality Comments Here

Patri, you manage to get a very high average quality of comments here - I'm impressed. I should disclose that while I tend to be libertarian on specific policies, I don't accept any libertarian moral axioms; I'm more like your dad in being a standard welfare-maximizing consequential economist.

You don't accept any

You don't accept any libertarian moral axiom? Think of moral axioms as physical pain, sure it's just "information" but you cannot ignore it. You may very well say there are no moral axiom, no ethic, but you will still be pissed if someone steals the beer from your fridge and you will still be mad if someone tortures your children. This is the human nature, you cannot ignore it.

You're just saying that

You're just saying that because most of the comments are dissing your opponent.

Is Friedman a utilitarian? I rather thought he just believes utilitarian discussion is more fruitful--but from various Usenet postings my guess is deep down he's just as heartless as the rest of us.


DF on objectivism

While the grounds for belief in physical objective reality--more precisely, in an objective reality reasonably close to what our senses report--are not as strong as they might at first seem, they are, in my view strong enough. The grounds for belief in a normative objective reality are not, in my view, enormously weaker.

That's not exactly relevant.

That's not exactly relevant. One could just as easily be a utilitarian moral realist as a libertarian moral realist.