To "win" a debate you aren't supposed to tip your opponent to the arguments you'll use. But to promote a more productive conversation, that is exactly what you might do. So in this post I'll lay out my basic (rather technical) argument for tonight's debate. I've
Re: what grounds are there for weighing everyone equally?
If you are dealing with a democratic organisation, or one where the members like the American Declaration of Independence, or go in for political correctness, that assumption might be useful.
It seems to me that there are other cases where it is not such a useful assumption. Ignoring the views of the old is common: they will be dead soon anyway - so their opinions don't matter. Ignoring the views of the young is common: they are too inexperienced to know better - and so on.
In some circles, idea that "everyone is equal" is considered to be politically-correct nonsense - and if you are offering economic advice to groups of such folks, "efficiency" seems unlikely to be a good selling point.
Does efficiency measures not assume that valuations are meaningfully comparible? Is this true for any "interesting" issue? Also, couldn't one say that if you really (and strongly) believed this (efficiency over liberty) Robin, that you would not enter into a debate format, but mearly take a poll at the begining, sum the results, and say "that is the winning idea here?", "I win" or (more paradoxically) "I lose" (repeat in case of tie until summed indifference is broken?). Doesn't debate assume a liberty perspective?
what grounds are there for weighing everyone equally? People don't like to compromise with groups who are too dissimilar from themselves. Combined with robin's comment that people shouldnt be expected to understand the decisions of the experts, this would seem to create a situation where people are being told to do something they don't want to do and not being given an intelligible explanation. The resulting friction should figure into calculation no?
Re: better for whom? - Robin's definition of "efficiency" answers that with: "everyone, equally weighted".
how do you monitor the arguments for and against liberty as a heuristic?
I meant that it is easier monitor whether whether a simple heuristic is implemented than to monitor whether complicated arguments are implemented. Also, assessing the arguments for a heuristic is a one-time cost, while checking that new arguments are not trojan horses is an on-going cost.
Economists should continue to offer better advice than a simple heuristic can offer, and eventually prove ourselves worthy of being followed.
That completely ignores the public choice issues: better for whom?
@Robin Hanson: All, Sen's example as he stated it didn't make clear why the parties could not make a mutually beneficial deal; so it is only a good example if you assume a barrier to such deals. But I don't understand the obsession with it here;
The obsession isn't with Sen's example; the obsession is with why people give it any attention in the first place, since it's so useless and so misleading as to be wrong. It amounts to saying:
1) Two arbitrary rankings can be different.2) If you call one of them "liberty", despite this being the opposite of what everyone means by the term, then liberty is bad.
And Sen isn't saying that there's a barrier to these potential deals; he's saying the deals violate liberty!
Hint to Sen: If your position requires that waiving rights is the same as violating those rights, you made a mistake somewhere.
No other large community of expert advisers has anywhere near the economists' deserved reputation for consistently suggesting win-win deals.
Heh -- exactly who says this? Maybe I read the wrong sites or interact with the wrong people, but I rarely find anyone outside of econ giving considering economists "highly" (not that the converse is true, just that where is the "data" for this presumed reputation, cause I don't see it).
The more that economists agree, and the further from politically charged topics, the more your can trust their advice.
HEH, to write this sentence in the current financial crisis is very amusing. Perhaps you ought to ask your colleagues on the religion of deregulation and what happened with that. It didn't seem that there was much disagreement on this topic until things blew up.
As Phil mentioned -- Taleb and many others seems to think very lowly of economics in general -- so I find it puzzling you think economists have a good rap -- cause I've never see anything to suggest that.
I think there are two seperate arguments here: One is which ideas in economics have value? The second is can and will politics use the value of economics to increase welfare?
Economics influences market processes (perhaps more than it influences political ones?). Trusting a liberty heuristic or trusting some economists doesn't seem to be mutually exclusive choice to me (especially since economics is a smorgasbord of ideas).
All, Sen's example as he stated it didn't make clear why the parties could not make a mutually beneficial deal; so it is only a good example if you assume a barrier to such deals. But I don't understand the obsession with it here; economists have a long list of standard "market failure" examples where liberty and efficiency conflict.
Johnicholas, leaving something messy out does increase value estimate errors, but doesn't obviously allow particular people to identify the sign of the error about them. So they can still expect to benefit from following such advice.
Unnamed, the point is to approach a Pareto improvement; only dollar weights and transfers can do that.
Douglas, how do you monitor the arguments for and against liberty as a heuristic? Economists should continue to offer better advice than a simple heuristic can offer, and eventually prove ourselves worthy of being followed.
nazgulnarsil, I am arguing that expertise that takes decades to acquire has value; you should not be expected to understand exactly how such experts calculate everything.
That wikipedia page is on Sen's paradox is excellent. I'd thought the paradox arose in a world where transactions could not occur (i.e., the opposite of a "Coasian" world), but I suppose a narrower definition of liberty like Silas points out has the same effect in this scenario. Either way it doesn't seem to be a real critique of the liberty heuristic (any more than a world without transaction costs is a critique of mixed markets).
nazgul, that was my thought as well. However, this could just mean that liberty is the most efficient policy.
I think Silas is right. I'm looking at the paradox as discussed at the Wikipedia page.
As written, Bob will not spontaneously go to the chick flick, and Alice will not go unless Bob goes also, but each prefers both going to neither. Alice can guilt-trip Bob into going by saying "I'll only go if you go also" without applying actual coercion.
Incidentally, with MYOB preferences this sort of thing seldom if ever happens. Bob doesn't want to go to the chick flick himself, but he wants Alice to go so badly that he would rather both go than neither. WTF? Alice wants to go, but she wants Bob to go with her so badly she would rather neither go than both go alone. Seriously, WTFF?
governments can solve real and important coordination problems.
I don't understand how the efficiency of a government solution can be measured. prices emerge from competing uses for resources.
Mine is a simplistic (and thus probably incorrect) understanding, but I would think that the Prisoner's Dilemma is a classic example of a case where both parties would be better off if they were less free. (Unless, that is, the utility of liberty exceeds that of the gain from moving to a higher payoff outcome.)
@michael webster: Sen constructed a little tinker toy example to show that the concept "socially preferable" was incoherent if it had to allow both optimality and respect liberty.
Yes, and I have shown this to be in error because "liberty" is input into the model as "you have this right and you may not waive it", rather than how normal people would interpret liberty, "you have this right and you may waive it if you wish."
It is not simply an example which shows that the valuation of outcomes based on optimality or liberty is different.
Well good, because it doesn't even do that, for the reason I gave above.
I am simply trying to locate Hanson's concerns within social choice theory.
And I'm simply trying to point out that the premise of your question, "Sen, ... produced a simple two agent problem in which although coordination was efficient, it would violate the liberties of each agent to achieve it." is at best misleading, because it considers the waiver of a right by its holder to be a violation of liberty, which neither Hanson nor Caplin believe.
Hanson is arguing a side of debate, that is is socially preferable to use efficiency rather than liberty as a measure of policy considerations.
Sen constructed a little tinker toy example to show that the concept "socially preferable" was incoherent if it had to allow both optimality and respect liberty. It is not simply an example which shows that the valuation of outcomes based on optimality or liberty is different.
There are a number of responses to Sen's proof, one being that it has nothing to do with the "real" issue that Hanson is debating. I am simply trying to locate Hanson's concerns within social choice theory.
But in my role as economic adviser
Advice is Not about Policy. This whole argument makes the big assumption that your advice is actually desired and followed, rather than selectively attended. The appeal of the liberty heuristic to me is the public choice argument that its simplicity makes it easy to monitor. It is also hard to corrupt, as Silas says, although, in practice, economists are never made dictators, so they are never corrupted in a self-serving way, but in a patron-serving way.