The what-pisses-you-off heuristic

This post by Robin, in which he is annoyed that an organization of interior designers has persuaded state legislatures to license their profession (such as it is), and which he is also annoyed that his fellow economists don’t make more of a fuss about such regulations, reminds me of a principle that I heard once (I don’t remember where) that you can really understand someone’s deeper ideology by looking at what pisses him or her off.

As Robin himself notes, the licensing of florists, funeral directors, and interior designers is not a big deal–certainly nothing on the order of the problems caused by overfishing, say, or by various trade and migration restrictions, or even the (arguably) large problems caused by policies such as the mortgage tax deduction which reduce people’s ability to move.

Nonetheless, Robin writes of economists’ disinclination to fight the licensing battle that it “saddens me more than I can say.” I don’t doubt his sincerity. but what’s most interesting to me here is to think about why this bothers him so much.

P.S. I certainly don’t mean this to be a personal criticism of Robin in any way. I certainly have my own things that piss me off for no particular reason, ranging from socks lying around on the floor–they’re not a practical obstacle so why does the messiness bother me so much–to misinterpretations (as I see them) of Bayesian statistics–things that are probably lower on the scale of importance than the net welfare loss caused by economists not fighting the licensing of florists.

There are so many things to be pissed off about, that the choice of what we decide to let bother us can perhaps be revealing.

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