Update: Thanks to everyone for participating. It's been a blast, but I should go now. Special thanks to Michael Tontchev for setting this up. He rules.

I am an economist at George Mason University (GMU) with a PhD from Princeton University, and I'm an advocate of both free immigration and free trade, which align most with the libertarian ideal.

I run a blog at EconLog: http://econlog.econlib.org/authorbcaplan.html#recent

I'm here to answer any questions you might have about my work, my political theory, or my two published books:

  • Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think

  • The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies

A table of contents and a summary of my upcoming book - The Case Against Education - can be found here:





Ask me anything!

Comments: 1121 • Responses: 61  • Date: 

cbhaga01122 karma

What would happen if we began trading with Cuba again?

BryanCaplan316 karma

They'd quickly get a lot richer, and we'd get some very nice vacations. In the longer run, the chance that Communism in Cuba would collapse or collapse into mere rhetoric is high.

ReasonThusLiberty79 karma

Hi Dr. Caplan. I think that many of your EconLog entries are very insightful. If you had to pick your favorite ones (say, top 5), which ones would they be?

BryanCaplan127 karma

"The Magic of Education," "Tough Luck," "The Common-Sense Case for Pacifism," "The Tiger Mother versus Cost-Benefit Analysis," and "Tell Me the Difference Between Jim Crow and Immigration Restrictions."

eliaspowers75 karma

Hi Bryan,

There has been a lot of talk online recently on the merits of a Basic Income Guaranty or Negative Income Tax. I have two questions:

  1. Would you endorse something like a BIG?
  2. Why do you think the idea is so appealing to both libertarians and socialists? Should proponents in each group be worried that the idea appeals to their ideological opponents?

BryanCaplan119 karma

As a replacement for the status quo, maybe. As an addition, no.

Libertarians like it because they think it will be a replacement. Socialists like it because they think it will be an addition.

jtk368 karma

Bryan, What do you think about the viability of Bitcoin as money? If Bitcoin, or some crypto-currency, gets widely adopted as money what do you see as the most important economic ramifications?

BryanCaplan109 karma

It's done 10x better than I expected, but I still don't expect it to be more than a niche financial instrument. It's long been noted that people around the world continue using their national currencies even in the face of 20 or 30% inflation because national currencies are more convenient and focal. Also, I expect regulators to crack down if Bitcoin becomes much of a threat.

But hopefully I'm wrong!

raz4363 karma

Do you feel that the rise of China is beneficial to the interests of the United States?

BryanCaplan96 karma


jscoppe68 karma

Guess you should have asked "and if so, why?"!! ;)

BryanCaplan106 karma

When countries produce cheap stuff to sell us, it is good for us. And rich countries are very rarely militarily aggressive, at least once they've been rich for a full generation.

blacktrance75 karma

rich countries are very rarely militarily aggressive

Is the US a counterexample?

BryanCaplan187 karma

Not really. Most dominant powers throughout history have been far more aggressive. The U.S. today is scared to lose a few thousand soldiers. Why? Because rich people value their livess. Thankfully!

PeaceRequiresAnarchy56 karma

You have written:

Economists' consensus estimate is that open borders would roughly double world GDP, enough to virtually eliminate global poverty (Clemens 2011).

This was huge news to me and I now completely agree with your assessment:

What I can't understand is indifference to the mind-boggling potential benefits of immigration. The knowledge that we're sitting on an ocean of talent should haunt great minds day and night. They should pace around their offices telling themselves, "There's got to be a way to unlock these wasted trillions of dollars of human potential. There's just got to be a way."

My question is: Are there other libertarian policies that would result in similarly-massive benefits as open borders if implemented? If so, what are they?

BryanCaplan68 karma

After open borders, the biggest policy change would be for Third World countries to fully open their doors to international investment. Work by van Reenen and many others shows that multinational corps in the 3rd World are vastly better-run than local firms. If multinationals could freely compete, they would quickly raise productivity. Back of the envelope calculate is that if all firms on earth were managed at multinational levels, global GDP would go up by 25-50%. Most of the benefit, of course, would be in the Third World.

BryanCaplan51 karma

Thanks to everyone for participating. It's been a blast, but I should go now. Special thanks to Michael Tontchev for setting this up. He rules.

artcarden46 karma

Does the signaling model of education ever depress you while you're prepping your classes?

BryanCaplan80 karma

Not at all. Students' apathy is a little depressing, but I always focus on the students who are happy to be in class.

jscoppe42 karma

Welcome to reddit! Know that I'm squealing like a school-girl at a Justin Bieber concert (on the inside).

I'm a regular reader of Econlog and love watching your debates. Myth of the Rational Voter influenced me tremendously. I've been waiting patiently for your magnum opus that will put you in the realm of Rothbard and Friedman regarding anarcho capitalist literature (no pressure). David Friedman is working on his 3rd edition of Machinery, and you're busy writing about having kids. What gives? ;)

Now onto the questions...

  1. What is your best/favorite critique of, or argument against, left anarchism?

  2. Semi-related: are you familiar with the Venus Project and/or the notion of a Resource Based Economy? If so, your thoughts?

  3. What is your position on the legitimacy of IP laws? Are 'digital copies of songs' or 'general ideas for software' or 'specifications for a toaster with a window', etc. property?

Thanks for taking the time to answer my (and all of our) questions!

BryanCaplan46 karma

  1. For the typical left-anarchist, I'd just start with, "Who will take out the garbage?" Or more generally, "What about people who don't want to go along with the collective?"

  2. Unfamiliar.

  3. I see no problem with contracts that forbid sharing. Laws against independent discoverers do seem wrong, though.

Artvandelay130 karma

Hi Bryan. I teach a sophomore Geography class which includes a unit on the globalization of industry and trade. I always make sure to tell my students the positives and negatives of both free trade and fair trade. Obviously free trade is responsible for fueling business in modern society and providing us with many of the luxuries we have today but our curriculum has a focus on "global citizenship" so it is difficult to make arguments for free trade from that angle.

In my quest to provide students with an even-sided argument, I would love if you could bestow some support for free trade as a means to promote international development in ways that fair trade cannot. Obviously free trade provides many jobs, but the idea of paying workers more always seems to supersede that. So if you could explain what free trade would do specifically to help developing countries, or ways in which fair trade fails to do so, I will be sure to include it in my course.

Thank you for your time!

BryanCaplan69 karma

The best short argument for free trade is the parable of the Iowa car crop. http://www.walkerd.people.cofc.edu/Readings/Trade/iowacarcrop.pdf

MichaelTontchev20 karma

Dr. Caplan - what do you think of the usual way welfare economics is taught? That is, do you think that Consumer and Producer surplus calculations for various regulations and policies are legitimate tools to compare policies? Do they rely on interpersonal utility comparisons, or can they successfully aggregate benefits across people?

BryanCaplan32 karma

Welfare economics is usually talk very poorly: constant equivocation between the Pareto standard and the cost-benefit (or Kaldor-Hicks) standards.

I see nothing wrong with looking at Consumer or Producer surplus, as long as you realize that this is just one of many metrics.

I have no problem with doing interpersonal welfare comparisons. I compare people's well-being every day. And if you can't compare one person's happiness to another's, why can you compare your own happiness today to your own happiness yesterday?

Many libertarians use welfare economics to try to short-circuit utilitarianism. I'd rather just criticize utilitarianism.

philosophickle19 karma

What books have influenced you and your career?

BryanCaplan33 karma

Atlas Shrugged, For a New Liberty, Economic Sophisms, The Armchair Economist, The Bell Curve, The Myth of Democratic Failure, The Nurture Assumption, and Modern Times. Mike Huemer's been a massive influence on me, but mostly his articles, especially "Moral Objectivism."

F_R_McCabe19 karma

If given the chance, is there anything you'd do differently if you could re-do the immigration IQ2 debate you were a part of last year?

BryanCaplan30 karma

Yes. I would have asked the host to pre-emptively admonish the audience NOT to vote yes unless they favor unlimited immigration from low-income countries like Haiti. That would have sharply depressed our initial Yes vote, allowing us to beat the point spread.

Also, in all honesty, I should have requested a different partner because Vivek didn't actually agree with the resolution. I don't blame him for losing, but it was distressing.

jscoppe11 karma

I actually had a second question prepared, and a large part of it went like this:

One distressing thing I noticed: it seemed like you and your partner, Vivek Wadhwa, were arguing against each other, that you were not only on different pages, but on different books (of the same genre). You were saying 'let the poor immigrants in', while Vivek was saying 'we can have a min wage so poor immigrants won't come anyway, or we can have regulations that don't actually let them all in so quickly, so forget about them'. I think he was diminishing your arguments in order to strengthen his own.

BryanCaplan24 karma

I strategized with Vivek beforehand. But in between our last conversation and the debate, he read Unz's article and pronounced himself a convert. Frustrating.

Suzie15715 karma

How do you write so much?? Do you have a regular routine in addition to all the work you do for George Mason?

BryanCaplan20 karma

I save a lot of time by blogging stuff I'm already thinking about or talking about at lunch.

FarewellOrwell14 karma

Hey Bryan, great admirer of yours! You once wrote me back on an email, which meant a lot. Thanks.

  • Which under-developed country would you like to see a charter city begin?
  • What do you Michael Huemer quarrel over?
  • How would you rebuttal Noam Chomsky’s statement on libertarianism forming unaccountable private tyranny?

BryanCaplan45 karma

  1. Cambodia. I'd love to see a great capitalist success overshadow the Communist horrors of the Killing Fields.

  2. Vegetarianism. He's sold, I'm not.

  3. I think I'd ask Noam to spell out what qualifies as "private tyranny." I think he tends to lump together everything from the conquistadors' mass murder to WalMart selling cheap stuff.

michaelkeenan14 karma

If I recall correctly, you mentioned that someone criticized you for not blogging more about open borders, since that's one of the biggest freedom violations. You took the criticism seriously and said you should blog more about it.

But other topics - wasteful signaling in education, that good parenting takes less time than widely believed - can have effects on the margin. But open immigration won't happen until the median voter is okay with it, i.e. never, so working on it seems less fruitful than other topics. Open borders seems like one of the many nice things the world can't have, because it'll never be politically feasible.

Do you think open immigration might actually happen, or is your work on the topic just driven by an intellectual impulse to defend a good, under-appreciated policy?

More generally, how strategic are you about actually trying to change the world?

BryanCaplan26 karma

Open borders will come eventually - but only after the gains become small because national incomes aren't too far apart.

Writing about parenting is nice because I really do see concrete improvements in the world. Several people tell me their children exist because I convinced them. I can't help think, "My words create LIFE!"

For any public public issue - immigration, education, minimum wage, whatever, I see the odds of substantially changing policy as miniscule. But I think there's a small chance I ever-so-slightly tip policy in a better direction. Not satisfying, but it's all I've got.

RobustRealist13 karma

Hey Bryan. Suppose your robust, non-reductive form of moral realism turned out to be false. What do you think is next most plausible metaethical position?

BryanCaplan48 karma

Mackie's view: That moral statements are genuine assertions, but they're all false because there are no moral facts.

properal13 karma

Stephen Earl Bennett and Jeffrey have critiqued your rational irrationality theory.

They claim that in order for your theory to be more than just ignorance, you assume voters must know at some level that they are wrong.

They claim that is incoherent:

...one cannot believe that a policy that one considers good on sociotropic grounds (and thus favors) is, in fact, sociotropically bad (such that one considers it to be an irrational “indulgence”).

They accuse you of projecting your own irrationality on to voters. The critique is many pages and has many other criticisms.

I find the criticism to be harsh and not very convincing.

Have you responded to them?

BryanCaplan11 karma

Not that I recall. But since writing MRV, I've discovered more psychological work that makes my story even more intuitive. E.g. here: http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2010/12/bias_assent_and.html

jackson72013 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA!

Do you believe that philosophy plays an important role in economics? For instance, you have promoted Michael Huemer's The Problem of Political Authority. Do the ethical arguments put forward by Huemer have any bearing on your work in or your views regarding economics?

BryanCaplan24 karma

Every economist who gives policy advise is implicitly relying on philosophy. Unfortunately, most economists want to rely on philosophy without really reflecting on it, so they're usually just crude utilitarians (with a heavy bias toward the status quo and democratic fundamentalism).

For my own part, I start with a strong presumption of liberty, but admit that we should override this presumption when the benefits of violating liberty heavily outweigh the costs. (See http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2010/08/how_far_does_th.html) So economics ends up being a vital servant of political philosophy, but nothing more.

bozimmerman12 karma

Dr. Caplan, in MotRV, there were parts that came across as very critical of public choice. Did I misunderstand, or is there even a dichotomy between the questions of whether voters get what they want, or politicians and regulators get what they want?

BryanCaplan32 karma

I am very critical. Many public choice economists just aren't curious about public opinion. They'd rather just assume that voters want what they'd advise, then blame special interests for defying the will of the people. Not good science.

TheTrueMilo12 karma

Doctor Caplan! I'm a huge fan of you and your work. I find your writings and lectures to be incredibly thought-provoking, especially your lectures on immigration and education. I was also looking forward to your appearance on Intelligence Squared, but was incredibly disappointed that it devolved into a 3-on-1 debate.

Anyway, my question for you is this: Of the many issues brought up against immigration, you have given convincing counterarguments indicating that they, if not wrong, can at least be more humanely addressed than simply closing the border. One argument I hear often, but have not (to date) heard your thoughts on, is that immigrants commit more crime and thus should be kept out to keep crime from spiraling out of control. Is this true, and if it is, is there a more humane way to address it than simply keeping people out?

Thanks very much Dr. Caplan!

PS: Any idea when your book on (or should I say against) education will be out?

BryanCaplan23 karma

Standard social science is that immigrants have LOWER crime rates than natives. http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2007/07/mea_culpa_how_i.html There are some concerns about 2nd-generation Hispanic crime, but even that is only modestly above the native rate (by 20-40% or so).

If immigrants did have high crime rates, some cheaper/more humane remedies would include:

  1. Bonding. You have to post some money to immigrate, to ensure that you can compensate any victims if you happen to commit a crime.

  2. Profiling. Letting in only women and men over 30.

  3. Vouching. Only letting in people if someone here will vouch for their good character (and make themselves liable for your bad behavior, if any).

jackmcgr11 karma

Hey Mr. Caplan,

Do you think Israel should open their borders?

Thanks, Jack

BryanCaplan26 karma

Yes. But I wouldn't strongly object if they excluded people with violent criminal records or denied new-comers the vote. (Same goes for countries other than Israel, too).

Gpolitics13 karma

You know what they say.

"Diversity is good, diversity is a strength, diversity is what makes the middle east so peaceful!"

BryanCaplan51 karma

The Middle East really could use a lot more diversity. One religion gives you totalitarianism. Two gives you civil strife. A hundred gives you peace. (With apologies to Voltaire).

window511 karma

With the drought in Southern California is it possible the state is over populated? Meaning we have to halt immigration into the south west?

BryanCaplan40 karma

No. Just raise the price of water!

tehsage10 karma

Hi Bryan. I listened to a lecture you gave at ISFLC last year and had a great time. I've referenced many of your essays whenever I've found myself in a political discussion with someone.

I wanted to ask you something unrelated to politics, though :)

What are some of your favorite bands?

BryanCaplan28 karma

At heart I'm a 18th & 19th-century German opera guy. Wagner's my #1, Bach's my #2. But by the normal definition of "bands," I'd say Bad Religion, Tsunami Bomb, tATu, P!nk, and No Doubt. I'm also a big fan of world music, especially the Rough Guide series.

michaelkeenan10 karma

(Apologies for this probably not being in the core topics you want to talk about.)

You once blogged about cryonics. You bite so many bullets; I and some friends of mine were surprised that you don't bite this one.

Do you think that you are the specific atoms that currently comprise your brain? It seems to me this can't be right, because those atoms are expunged and replaced frequently through normal cell processes. It shouldn't matter if abnormal processes cause isomorphic changes. A hypothetical engineer might be able to transplant a single neuron with a tiny implantable machine that behaves the same way, and you would continue as you were. Or two neurons, or half your neurons, or all of them. One by one, if you want, and you'd never know the moment you "died".

It seems that you aren't "the atoms that currently comprise Bryan Caplan"; rather, you are "the way that atoms behave when they're Bryan Caplan-shaped".

So if it were possible to preserve that information and recreate a brain (whether made of cells as we know them, or some other substrate), wouldn't that preserve you? Similar to when you're unconscious, and some of the matter in your brain changes, but you're still you when you wake up?

I think the confusing thing from your conversation with Hanson was his phrasing, "it all depends on what you choose to define as you." You don't get to choose; "you-ness" might be unintuitive, but not arbitrary.

BryanCaplan13 karma

I don't think I'm specific atoms. I think I'm a continuous mental entity. I can survive gradual atomic replacement but not instant atomic replacement.

An exact replica would be just that - a replica. I'd love to meet him, but he wouldn't be me.

jtk32 karma

Why in principle couldn't your mental processes continue along two separate platforms? If a copy was made of you while you slept, wouldn't the replica have an equal claim to continuous mental states?

BryanCaplan8 karma

If he's in a different body, it doesn't seem continuous to me.

Continuity_organizer9 karma

Hello Dr. Caplan, I'm a fan of your work, my question is the following:

How do you reconcile anarcho-capitalism with the fact that successful market outcomes are almost always proceeded by a successful government enforcement of property rights?

In other words, how can markets emerge in the real world absent of a defined power structure?

BryanCaplan17 karma

Black markets clearly show that markets can and do emerge without (and in defiance of) government.

But why does successful government enforcement come first? Largely because government is a monopoly. Whether it does a good or a bad job, it still bans competition. So the only places that have solid property rights have government-enforced rights.

Also see this: http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2005/12/anarchocapitali.html

moonstrux8 karma

Hi Dr. Caplan.

Will you be at the ISFLC this year?

Do you believe Bitcoin will stabilize and become a legitimate currency anytime soon? While it has the perceived value necessary of a currency, it's fluctuations prevent it from storing value, something necessary of a unit of exchange.

BryanCaplan6 karma

I will be at ISFLC on Sat. On Bitcoin, see prior question.

vapidnoises8 karma

What arguments would you give against cynically manipulating the political system rather than trying to reform or undermine it?

BryanCaplan12 karma

In many cases, I think cynical manipulation is moral and wise. If you're filling out your income tax, I'd advise you to just game the system to pay as little as possible.

But when cynical manipulation involves treating other people unjustly, I advise against it. The argument? Nothing better than "You shouldn't act unjustly, this is unjust, so don't do it."

whatAREyedoing7 karma

Professor Caplan, do you feel that the libertarian movement's love affair with Austrian economics is doing a disservice to the goals it fights for? That is, that since the Austrian school is viewed with derision in mainstream circles, Libertarianism's other philosophical arguments are tainted by association?

BryanCaplan23 karma

Maybe. But Austrianism also inspires a lot of enthusiasm from the base, so it's hard to say. My main argument against Austrianism is that it's false, not that it's bad publicity.

ThisIsMeYoRightHere7 karma

What RPG games would you recommend to someone without any previous exposure to RPG games? What's the best group dynamic for a beginner to start?

BryanCaplan7 karma

I've tempted to say Pandemonium. It's very rules light, and has a great mechanic - past lives - for getting people to truly role-play.

I'm also of course a fan of my True20 House Rules. I can teach the rules to newbies in 10 minutes, yet they have high re-play value. http://econfaculty.gmu.edu/bcaplan/True20_House_Rules.pdf

soapjackal6 karma

Thanks Caplan

Why are open borders helpful for high wage natives?

BryanCaplan14 karma

High-wage natives have already borne the brunt of a lot of foreign competition. But truly open borders would bring in a lot of lower-skilled workers who produce the goods that high-wage natives consume.

Rena_226 karma

Big fan here! A personal question: from your experience, how to make the best of a phD? What are the most important skills developed in your phD that turn out to be essential? I'm doing a master in economics and planning for a phD.Thank you!!!

BryanCaplan17 karma

Coursework is greatly overrated. Instead, focus on (a) finding research topics you're passionate about, and (b) meeting and impressing researchers who share your passion. Robin Hanson advises students to read to journals, then pick their favorite one or two topics. It's kind of like hanging out at the medical school, then marrying for love.

IndoorGardener6 karma

Do you have an idea what portion of economists are friendly towards immigration? (even if not total open borders) whats a good source for it? And who's the anti George Borjas? (besides you)

BryanCaplan10 karma

The vast majority of economists favor liberalization of immigration. See e.g. MRV for some numbers. Michael Clemens is the anti Borjas: http://www.cgdev.org/expert/michael-clemens

properal5 karma

Do you have a written version of the arguments from your Rethinking the Night Watchman State lecture?

OrangeBat5 karma

Dr. Caplan, I've read that you're somewhat of an "open borders" person when it comes to immigration. Can I then assume that you'd welcome all of these newcomers into your own neighborhood? It only seems fair. Also, why would you be okay with all of these immigrants driving down wages?

BryanCaplan28 karma

I welcome anyone who pays rent or buys a house. Most of my neighbors are immigrants, actually.

I don't agree that immigrations "drive down wages" in general. They drive down wages for workers with very similar skills, but drive up wages for workers who consume their products.

jln_nlj5 karma

Do you have plans for adding to the Museum of Communism?

BryanCaplan7 karma

Probably not. At this stage in my career, I could imagine writing a book on Communism. But a web museum is more of a grad student project.

If a worthy student wanted to take up the project, I'd be happy to discuss it.

effyoucancer4 karma

How can free trade be beneficial to a countries job market? Free trade has historically fucked the Canadian job market. How is it different in the US?

BryanCaplan14 karma

Canadian unemployment has been low for a long time. It's been rich for a long time. Why is it so clear that free trade has been anything but good for Canada?

properal4 karma

Do you think investing in private companies that provide services that are traditionally provided by government is an effective strategy for bringing about anarcho-capitalism?

BryanCaplan5 karma

No, but it is an effective strategy for moving the world in an anarcho-capitalist direction.

phantom_ranger4 karma

Thanks for joining us Dr. Caplan, great to see a fellow libertarian on here. You're an inspiration to us all.

As a person with a loved family member who has high functioning Aspergers, I was curious where you identified on the autism spectrum?

BryanCaplan9 karma

I asked all my FB friends. About half say I'm not autistic at all, and half say I'm moderate. I'd split the difference.

RudeFrenchCanadian3 karma

Are patents and copyrights (a.k.a state granted monopoly) the main cause of wealth inequality?

BryanCaplan10 karma

No way. Intellectual property is only a few % of GDP.

blacktrance3 karma

You've written that you're a moral intuitionist. Given that people have different intuitions, doesn't this collapse into relativism? If you have libertarian intuitions and someone else doesn't, what can you say to convince him if he bites the bullet and says that beating people up is acceptable if it's done to (for example) reduce inequality?

BryanCaplan7 karma

People have different intuitions about non-moral topics, too. E.g. the age of the universe. Does that mean there is no fact of the matter about how old the universe really is?

On any issue, moral or non-moral, the right response to conflicting intuitions is to repeatedly back up to less controversial questions until you find some common ground.

Aneirin3 karma

Professor Caplan,

I know in the past, you have posted on EconLog about making intuitive arguments for propositions that are often not intuitive.

What sorts of intuitive, quick arguments would you recommend making about "democratic fundamentalism" (excessive faith in the policies supported by voters in democratic systems)? I know one has to do with voters not having incentives to make good decisions, but are there any others?

Thanks for doing this AMA, and I will continue to take interest in your blog posts and future work!

BryanCaplan5 karma

In Mike Huemer's The Problem of Political Authority, he has a great hypothetical about voting over who pays a restaurant bill. If everyone else at dinner voted for you to pay the whole thing, would you be obligated to obey?

AWildFuckOffAppeared3 karma

What advice would you give to parents, especially new ones?

BryanCaplan9 karma

For new parents: Ferberize your baby! Don't turn yourself into a zombie for two years because you won't let your baby cry for ten minutes. Also, safety-proof your home to the point where you don't have to watch your baby constantly.

General advice: Relax and ignore peer pressure.

IAmABearAMAA3 karma

Hi Bryan.

Why did you decide to do an AMA during the Ham/Nye creationism debate when everyone's attention is on the insanity in Kentucky?

OK, that isn't my question. My question is do you see any possible path to a world with open borders? If so, what path?

BryanCaplan9 karma

Probable path: As country's incomes converse, free migration will gradually cease to seem like a big deal. See the EU. Once two country's per capita GDP's are in the 2:1 zone, opening borders lead to little permanent migration but a lot of convenience. That can and has been sold to voters.

Economically, this is a big let-down, because the biggest gains come when country's incomes are highly UNequal. But late is better than never.

JoocyDeadlifts3 karma

I'd love to hear a bit about your approach to teaching graduate econ. In particular, I'm interested in your thoughts on the proper role of math in econ grad programs.

Big fan of your work in general, keep it up.

BryanCaplan7 karma

My first rule: I only teach math I plan to test. Otherwise, students suffer for no reason.

Overall, I try to expose grad students to standard mainstream stuff, give them some perspective on why it's overrated, then move to the research frontier.

Faceh2 karma

Do you think the relative unpopularity of economic liberty (laissez faire) as a policy is due to people's lack of knowledge or some predilection in favor of tangible, sold 'plans' over the unpredictability of freedom? Or neither or some mix of both?

I mean I see such broad support for raising minimum wage, for universal healthcare, for increasing financial regulation. Most people don't seem to have honestly considered the implications of those policies beyond the plan as its presented. And if you're against these sort of things, one accusation is that you have no plan to replace their proposal, ergo we can't leave these things to chance and must choose SOME plan, even if its a horrible, inefficient and wasteful one. It frustrates me that people think the absence of government action is chaos.

As a followup, how do you convince people to put their faith in free markets and free people without promising some specific plan or specific outcome? Saying "the free market will fix it" doesn't seem satisfying to most people.

BryanCaplan8 karma

I think sheer disgust at markets and wealth-seeking is more important. People are very willing to live without a plan when government is in charge. In fact, they often prefer just letting govt do "whatever it thinks best." Related: http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2010/06/the_seen_the_un.html

earthshiptrooper2 karma

Given that we do not live in a pure service economy, do you think the conclusions from "Distributive Justice in A Pure Service Economy" are applicable to distributive justice in our world? Many moral theories can lead to gruesome conclusions in fantastical settings, is that a good reason to reject them?

BryanCaplan4 karma

Not exactly "applicable." But definitely illustrative. The point of the hypothetical is to show that the taxation=slavery view is more plausible than most people want to admit.

inquilinekea2 karma

Do you think that "too much" education is a reason behind declining birth rates among the educated? (and do you hope to increase the impact of your pro-natalism by writing "The Case Against Education"?)

What do you think about the Singularity?

What do you think of Peter Thiel? How about his "20 under 20" program?

Do you think Coursera/Udacity will finally provide an alternative to traditional education for social signalling?

What do you also think about the future of work? Do you think that machines will replace human labor, and do you think that there are good things that could come out of that?

BryanCaplan4 karma

  1. "Too much" education interacted with the widespread embrace of high-sacrifice parenting among the well-educated.

  2. Highly unlikely. It mostly just seems like wishful thinking and paranoia.

  3. Machines will keep replacing some labor. But wants really are unlimited, and labor-capital substitution is easy. Just look at the tasks performed by people in the Third World that are performed by machines in the First.

BlackCaaaaat2 karma

Hello Dr. Caplan. I've got to admit, I haven't read your book 'Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids' but I think that your parenting philosophy is similar to mine. How do you think today's over-protected and over-stimulated kids are going to fare in adulthood? It just doesn't feel like kids are left to be kids any more - and a mother is considered 'selfish' if she doesn't want to provide an endless stream of activities, craft, reading, and general entertainment. It's exhausting. I can definitely see why people are put off by having more kids - do you also think that it's the high-expectations put on parents (especially mothers) that puts people off having bigger families?

BryanCaplan5 karma

I think today's kids will still turn out fine. See http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2010/01/implausible_wim.html. The problem is just that kids and parents are missing out on a lot of fun. And I definitely think that high expectations deter large families - it's one of my main theses in SRtHMK.

RudeFrenchCanadian2 karma

Was the American Civil War mostly about slavery?

BryanCaplan8 karma

Yes, but in a weird way. Moderate Southerners correctly believed that slavery was safer in the Union that out. Southern secessionists, in contrast, falsely believe that Republicans had a serious intention to end slavery. In fact, Republicans were only willing to pay a modest cost to end slavery in a timely manner. (Lincoln even offered to support an amendment protecting slavery in perpetuity). By the time the South fell, the cost of ending slavery was temporarily very low, so Republicans seized the chance.

AndAgain12 karma

Vivek posted on your blog that he would agree to debate you on immigration. Is this debate going to happen?

BryanCaplan4 karma

News to me.

aids_junkie1 karma

I see you enjoy the book "The Myth of Democratic Failure".Why was it so influential to you?

BryanCaplan3 karma

Before I read it, I was largely an orthodox Public Choice guy. Wittman convinced me that orthodox Public Choice greatly overstated its claims - and led me to search out a lot of relevant empirics, too.

legendretransform1 karma

Is there still a viable argument for the minimum wage? To the best of my understand, Card and Kreuger has been thoroughly refuted by Neumark and Wascher; in fact, practically every one of the major papers that purports to show a zero or small positive effect of a higher min. wage has been replicated and refued by Neumark and Wascher.

There is the work by Dube, Lester, and Reich. What do you think of that? I have heard it is relatively poor and easily refued.

What do you think of the allegations of publication bias favoring "interesting" and consequently anti-status quo, pro-minimum wage papers?

BryanCaplan4 karma

It's tempting to think that pro-minimum wage work is shoddy and anti--minimum wage work is awesome. But in my experience, the correlation between quality and answer is low. Opponents of the minimum wage should focus more on the sheer implausibility of the view that raising the minimum wage doesn't hurt employment. See here: