Caplan-Hanson Debate Tuesday

This Tuesday I’ll debate Bryan Caplan at GMU on “Liberty vs. Efficiency”:

We don’t actually disagree that much; basically we both like debates but couldn’t find anyone else to debate us.  So we looked for something we sorta disagree on, and will at least have fun discussing it.  Hey, I’ll be happy if Bryan changes my mind.

The topic, as I see it, is the relative value/importance for economists of pushing “liberty,” i.e., a policy of minimal government interference, and “efficiency,” a standard policy evaluation metric that attempts to neutrally weigh policy consequences for different people.  The “debate” will be recorded, and I’ll post a link when I can.

Added 12Apr:  Bryan responds here.

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  • By efficiency, do you mean a Singerian preference-satisfaction utility, where we try to maximize fulfillment of society’s net wants, while minimizing most of our net aversions?
    I suppose liberty is generally best at doing that, unless we take the “nudge” approach, in which people aren’t necessarily doing what they truly want to be doing. And even if we only included explicitly stated preferences, I wonder if if liberty would always be preferable.
    It also depends on how you score things. If you guarantee that every citizen were allowed a minimum number of “preference points,” this would prevent tyranny of the satisfied majority. In other words, you would not only have to insure that net satisfaction is maximized, but that the standard deviation is relatively small.
    I’d debate you about whether or not medicine helps people! Ticket from Cali required….
    (jk- I loathe public speaking).

  • Stewart

    In welfare economics, there are three basic forms government intervention can take to improve market outcomes.

    1) Monopoly Busting
    2) Subsidize Public Goods
    3) Tax/Subsidize Externalities.

    Would it be correct to assume that Professor Hanson will be advocating something along the lines of the above three?

  • #3 is the only one without a trivial answer. It is not obvious that a free market working exclusively through contracts could take all externalities into account without forcing regular citizens to sue for damages on a regular basis.

  • Robert

    Who took that photo? It’s hilarious.

    – R

  • Grant


    Coase believed that markets take transaction costs into account when providing public goods. Some people believe this is a feature, not a bug (yes I know this is kind of off-topic, but I found the aforementioned paper fascinating, and wonder why more economists don’t seem to embrace its position).

  • adina, economic efficiency focuses on preference satisfaction, but is not exactly “Singerian.”

    Stewart and nazgul, there really is a lot more to economics than your summaries contain. We do spend years studying this stuff.

  • if the conclusions also took years to encapsulate there wouldn’t be much point.

  • and thank you for the link Grant.

  • vroman

    liberty = efficiency

  • Stewart

    Although my list was simplistic it’s point was to highlight some standard areas where coercion through taxation or regulation is argued as a welfare improvement. One area that I neglected was Macro-economic stabilization policy where some sort of fiscal or monetary policy is used to smooth the business cycle. Although it could be argued that is a public good.

    If the fight is to be between liberty and efficiency, it would appear that Professor Hanson would have to be arguing some form of market failure theory, otherwise one wouldn’t have to trade off one against the other.

  • After seeing that picture, I have two questions: what’s the input sequence to make Robin perform a Hadouken? And will the debate involve Fatality moves?

  • Kevin Dick

    Robin, are you really a lefty? Also, keep your right up or Bryan will smash your nose in with his jab. But don’t worry, he’s pre-retracting his right so you should have no trouble landing a quick left cross. Yes, these are all metaphors for debating ploys.

  • Where can I find the recorded debate?