Tyler Cowen’s Secret Blog

by Kieran Healy on July 30, 2007

Tyler Cowen has a “secret” blog and he made a deal with his readers: pre-order my book and I’ll send you the URL. Don’t link to it, and don’t tell anyone. Inevitably, now, we have this request from this guy:

DO YOU KNOW THE URL OF TYLER COWEN’S SECRET BLOG?? IF YES, PLEASE, SEND ITS URL TO CHRIS MASSE. ANONYMITY GUARANTEED. AND I PROMISE I WON’T PUBLISH IT.

YES I KNOW HE’S SHOUTING. I haven’t pre-ordered Tyler’s book, because pre-ordering things is for suckers. Nor have I been in touch with Tyler. So he didn’t send me the link. But I read Tyler’s secret blog, because it is trivially easy to find it using Google. It took me about 90 seconds when I looked for it. So now I have an interesting dilemma.

Why shouldn’t I tell you what the URL is? “Tyler wants to keep it as a prize for those who order his book” you say. But I have made no contract with or promise to Tyler. I didn’t pre-order the book. So telling you wouldn’t violate any deal I’ve made with him. “No, you don’t understand,” you say, “Tyler asked it be kept a secret so that he can offer this deal to others. You shouldn’t tell!” What do you mean shouldn’t? Are you some kind of Kantian? Why do I care what Tyler thinks? And besides, he calls it a secret blog, but it isn’t secret at all! It’s on the goddamn internet! It’s freely locatable via Google. If I were to tell, I wouldn’t be divulging any information that wasn’t already in the public domain. What’s stopping me from telling?

That might sound like a leading question … am I angling for something? Am I trying to blackmail Tyler Cowen? Of course not. But there is a connection here to the hoary old legal problem, going back to Glanville Williams, about why blackmail is illegal. Not extortion, mind, which involves beating someone up—that’s already illegal, and Tyler might be bigger than me. Not acquisition of information by illicit means (e.g., by hacking your computer or opening your mail)—it’s just something I found out. And not breach of pre-existing contractual obligation, either—the illegality of that is easily justified, too. In blackmail, I have discovered some bit of true information that you would prefer not be exposed, but the information is true, it was acquired by honest means, and you have no pre-existing contractual or professional hold over me that prevents me from disseminating it.

Why is it, then, that I am not allowed to ask—just ask, not physically threaten—you for money, in order to keep quiet about the fact that you’re cheating on your wife? You may protest that your reputation will be tarnished and that I am therefore coercing money out of you. But why should I care about your reputation? And if you care about it, why not give me the money? And besides, as libertarians often point out in other settings, what kind of coercion or exploitation is this anyway? Would you be coercing me if you approached me first and offered me money to keep quiet? Of course not. It’s just a transaction. So while people have a very negative reaction to blackmailers, it’s not clear what the legal or rational basis of this reaction is.

There are all kinds of answers in the law, none wholly convincing. But this secret blog business is even more curious than that, because the relevant information is already public, and I don’t want anything from Tyler at all, not even a free copy of his book. (The previous sentence should not be construed as having any self-negating subtext: I really don’t want a copy.) As for the reputational angle, I’m not sure whether Tyler himself even cares all that much about whether his secret blog is revealed, except insofar as his reputation might take a tiny hit because the secret blog is not as interesting as what he writes at Marginal Revolution.

So, why shouldn’t I tell you? “Look, don’t be the kind of asshole that spoils everything,” you say. But I want a good reason, not the kind of reason a regular person or a sociologist might give. Sheer good sportsmanship won’t do. How about re-framing the “Don’t be an asshole” thing into a rational desire to avoid the (irrational! unfounded!) abuse I would probably receive if I did “divulge” it. Who, though, is going to bother to dispense this abuse?

I think that if I “revealed” the URL, Tyler himself would be indifferent, or bemused (he’s good at bemused). He might say, it had to happen eventually. (He’s already moved onto personalized podcasts as a way to push sales in anticipation of this.) But I think some possibly large number of people who signed up for this agreement would find themselves annoyed at me (assuming they aren’t usually that way already). Not, perhaps, as annoyed as they would be if one of their own—a fellow Seekreteer—broke their promise. But they would be angry at me for ruining the game in which their promise made sense, and in which their shared identity as seekreteers was viable. (Irresponsible people who have quoted excerpts from the secret blog on their own blogs have already been censured by fellow seekreteers.) At least with the seekreteers censuring can take the form “You broke the conditions of the promise you made!” But if a non-player like me did it, they wouldn’t be able to do that, and I would be faced with the entertaining prospect of a bunch of more or less libertarian, more or less economist types shouting at me, a sociologist, and saying “Why did you have to go and spoil it for everyone?!”

And this is the nub of the matter. No-one has told Chris Masse the blog’s address yet. Tyler’s loyal readers really are loyal. “I am heartened by the honesty and cooperativeness of the blog-reading community,” Tyler says. If you ask homo economicus, he will tell you that as a rule loyalty, like preordering, is for suckers. In other circumstances, the kind of people likely to buy books like Discover Your Inner Economist would tell you that, too. They might throw in a bit of eye-rolling on strategy, defection, and self-seeking with guile for your benefit as well. But Tyler Cowen has mobilized a bunch of these people into a secret society; gotten them to police the society via such classically sociological rewards and punishments as social closure, exclusivity and honorific censure; and done so without even having a real secret to give them to keep in the first place. This is why I assign some of Tyler’s stuff in my economic sociology courses. You’ve got to respect the guy.

My secret blog, though, has successfully stayed secret for more than a year now.

{ 3 trackbacks }

Can You Use The Google? « Wintry Smile
07.30.07 at 11:58 am
tyler cowen: thomas edison of the academic blog « orgtheory.net
08.02.07 at 1:52 am
Tyler’s secret blog « Econstudentlog
08.08.07 at 8:35 pm

{ 49 comments }

1

Kenny Easwaran 07.30.07 at 5:48 am

Are you asking about the source of your motivation not to reveal it, or why it would be wrong for you to reveal it? It looks like those questions might be conflated here – because Tyler not wanting you to might make it wrong even though it doesn’t obviously have a connection to your motivation. But of course, once there’s a reason for it to be wrong to reveal, that could explain your motivation, assuming that you want to be a good person.

2

lee b 07.30.07 at 7:28 am

Blackmail is only redistributive, and is arguably not collectively irrational. Sharing secret URLs is collectively irrational because it’d lead to fewer secret blogs.

Even Googling Tyler’s secret blog is bad. It’s a small sin of collective irrationality, like not flushing a public toilet. I’m helping myself to the word bad since an unflushed turd is uncontroversially condemnable. I don’t need Kant for that.

IP is the better analogy. Tyler was asking for a Scout’s Honor version of intellectual property. The fact that he didn’t want to go through the rigmarole of setting up some enforceable IP scheme doesn’t mean he isn’t entitled to the fruits of his labor.

I’ve illegally downloaded a bunch of music before, and I could make an argument similar to yours about how easy it is to Google, how I never made a promise to Sony, etc. But I think none of this handwaving would impress the libertarian/economist type of people you’re talking about. They mostly don’t snigger at those who flush public toilets or buy DVDs.

3

Pinko Punko 07.30.07 at 7:40 am

How secret can a blog be if it allows the search engine robots to crawl all over its secret bits? I denounce this secret blog!

4

nick s 07.30.07 at 8:11 am

I think Kieran is musing on the economics of blackmail, in the spirit of Tyler’s book. And I’d actually be interested in a discussion of this, even though I’m a layman. So, let me try my best here to think about ‘what’s it worth to you?’ in pseudo-economic terms, and see if someone can do something with it. (Daniel? Can we tempt you back from the cargo cultists?)

Person X knows Person Y’s secret. Person Y knows that the secret will eventually come out, but there are certain benefits that accrue from paying up in the short/mid-term. Person X wants to maximise the returns before Person Y fesses up or goes to the authorities. What’s the appropriate formula (discount rate?) to determine the amount to be delivered in unmarked bills in a brown envelope?

Or, alternatively, can Tyler mention that, by the way, he has a much-read ethnic restaurant guide, in the hope of getting his lunch comped at that little Kazakh eaterie that just opened in Langley?

(And yes, it took me a little longer than Kieran to find the site. But I don’t want to step on his toes.)

5

terence 07.30.07 at 8:23 am

TYLER COWEN’S SECRET BLOG? I’m pretty sure this is it.

6

lenin 07.30.07 at 8:54 am

Hello, terence. I have no connection to this weird misanthrope. I am an entirely separate misanthrope with my own unique wierdness. Who is Tyler Cowen anyway? And who is Tyler Durden? What can be done to stop him?

7

ajay 07.30.07 at 9:08 am

If Tyler Cowen’s not bright enough to know about googleproofing, he doesn’t deserve his right to privacy.

8

Ginger Yellow 07.30.07 at 9:58 am

Why is blackmail illegal? Because politicians make laws.

9

richard 07.30.07 at 10:17 am

This is perhaps the paradigmatic case of how strange the idea of secrecy has become/always been/always been in the US. Does anyone know of any good (anthropological?) literature on the nature of secrecy (what its necessary conditions are, what it actually means, if it has to be collectively-maintained etc)?

This reminds me of the allegedly secret society of freemasons, with their very public halls all over the US, or the purportedly secret Skull and Bones: we call it secret because that adds value, somehow.

10

Sam C 07.30.07 at 10:22 am

Isn’t the answer to both the blackmail question and the secret-blog question the Humean one?: humans just have original passions in favour of some kinds of character, and against other kinds. No-one likes a manipulative bastard (the blackmailer). We have a much more slight dislike of people who don’t play nicely (see our reactions to people who give out spoilers on books we mean to read). Rationality has no authority over what we desire and approve, so it doesn’t matter that there’s no rational or legal basis for objecting to both blackmail and spoiling secrets.

11

cs 07.30.07 at 10:32 am

yeah –

blackmail is illegal, pragmatically speaking, because someone decided that allowing that kind of coercion wasn’t the best thing for making the kind of world they wanted to live in… which makes perfect sense from the perspective of the person making the rules, no? Allowing that kind of coercion as a rule contradicts the process of rule-making insofar as it makes it impossible for the person making the rules to do so as they wish.

Revealing someone else’s secret, no matter how poorly hidden, isn’t generally done because it pisses off the people who are party to the secret – e.g. people sharing a secret perceive themselves as sharing something of value, and revealing the secret robs them of that perception of value(and arguably of the value itself). People see it as a kind of stealing.
Whether or not you care how they value their information is another question entirely. You probably reflexively respect the value they place on their secrets for the exact same reasons you don’t punch them in the face for no reason: otherwise, you would be a dick and would find it very hard to get along in life if you appeared so to others. You could dress this sort of “don’t be the kind of dick who spoils everything” reasoning up and make it pretty, but, really, why bother? Is it not really intellectually compelling yet? Try being a total dick for a couple months and see how compelling it gets – e.g. pragmatically, it’s sufficient reasoning, regardless of whether it’s somehow abstractly logically satisfying.

Were those the kinds of reasons you were looking for?

12

Barry 07.30.07 at 1:02 pm

Lee: “Sharing secret URLs is collectively irrational because it’d lead to fewer secret blogs.”

Which does not justify using ‘irrational’; it assumes that more secret blogs would be better.

Richard: “This reminds me of the allegedly secret society of freemasons, with their very public halls all over the US, or the purportedly secret Skull and Bones: we call it secret because that adds value, somehow.”

I remember seeing a (Time? Newsweek?) cover story on the Navy Seals back in the 1990’s, and thinking ‘America’s most famous secret combat unit!’.

13

robertdfeinman 07.30.07 at 1:41 pm

The BBC devoted a whole program to a discussion of who owns personal information the other day. If information about you is of value then shouldn’t you be able to control the release of it and/or sell it?

For example, when you purchase items in a supermarket and use your affinity card the grocer adds the list of what you bought to your profile. Currently the store thinks they own this information. Should they?

Similarly every search you do on Google is recorded. At a minimum the IP address of the machine used and the usual information about browser, OS, etc. In addition they record the search terms and subsequent clicks made to partner sites. If you are logged on to any of Google’s services (such as gmail) they also correlate this with your identity.

The recent revelations that the NSA wiretap program also includes data mining should give people pause. It is a short step from searching for “bad guys” to treating opponents as “bad guys”. An examination of history will show that this is an inevitable result of an uncontrolled police sector. You can go back to the secret police during the time of the Czars or the KGB, Stasi and even the FBI under Hoover.

This never ends well. The admin is now making proposals to have freelance snitches. In the USSR this led to such pleasant outcomes as children turning in their parents.

14

F. Blair 07.30.07 at 1:52 pm

Kieran, I don’t know why you think pre-ordering is “for suckers.” At least with regard to Amazon, it’s often (I would say generally) the rational thing to do if you’re planning to buy something. With DVDs, for instance, pre-ordering locks in a low price that often gets raised after the product is actually released, and if Amazon lowers the price after your order they’ll charge you that price when the product ships. And Amazon does not — and this is the important part — charge your credit card until the product actually ships. So you aren’t giving them an interest-free loan when you pre-order. You’re just guaranteeing yourself what’s usually an optimal price. Why is this for suckers?

15

Ginger Yellow 07.30.07 at 2:13 pm

Incidentally, by revealing the blog’s existence and the fact that it can be easily Googled, are you not (as good as) revealing the URL? The harm’s already done, no?

16

SG 07.30.07 at 2:16 pm

lee b, all the libertarians I have ever read on the intertubes not only snigger at those who flush public toilets – they snigger at public toilets. So nyah to their silly little world and secret blogs.

17

T 07.30.07 at 3:11 pm

WikiPedia has outed it anyway.

18

rea 07.30.07 at 3:31 pm

I’m no fun, I guess, but it isn’t blackmail unless the threat is to accuse someone of a crime, or to injure the person or property of another, or his family. Threatening to reveal a blog URL doesn’t qualify.

19

Rich B. 07.30.07 at 3:45 pm

Rea, where are you getting your definition?

The Platonic ideal of blackmail has always been “Give me money or I will reveal your marital infidelity.”

20

Dan Simon 07.30.07 at 4:19 pm

Here’s my problem: Tyler Cowen is an idiot. I don’t want to read anything by him, secret or otherwise. Everything I’ve ever read by him has simply appalled me with its stunning fatuity. (He once wrote something so unbelievably stupid–search for “shoplifted”–that I felt compelled to contact him and correct him, just to preserve my sanity. It took a couple of emails before he finally conceded–search for “shoplifting”.)

Of course, I do my best not to read any of his drivel. But because many other people, including some whose writings I enjoy, are under the inexplicable illusion that Cowen isn’t an idiot, they read his garbage, and even quote him from time to time, and before I know it I’m stuck reading yet another of that moron’s deeply boneheaded “insights”. I would therefore gladly pay good money for him to keep everything he writes, not just his stupid bonus blog, secret.

Now someone could probably write a piece of client software to filter all his crap out of my browser. The problem is that if he wanted to, he could most likely figure out a way around any such filter. What’s needed instead is some kind of market mechanism whereby I could join up with the millions of people out there who surely recognize that merely glancing at Cowen’s scribblings destroys brain cells, and pay him to keep Marginal Masturbation and all the rest of his imbicility away from the vulnerable public. But as far as I know, no such mechanism exists. Do any of you armchair economists out there have any ideas?

21

c.l. ball 07.30.07 at 4:36 pm

Masse offers anonymity but fails to open his blog up to anonymous posts which would guarantee that, odd? Maybe Masse is TC’s enforcer.

By the way, it’s not worth the pre-order:

http://ragandbonebuffet.blogspot.com

It took me longer than 90 seconds, though, and I found it only because someone quoted from it making the quote searchable.

22

lee b 07.30.07 at 5:10 pm

@ Barry, 13

Lee: “Sharing secret URLs is collectively irrational because it’d lead to fewer secret blogs.”

Which does not justify using ‘irrational’; it assumes that more secret blogs would be better.

More secret blogs are better than less secret blogs, ceteris paribus. But I guess I should have written, “Sharing secret URLs is collectively irrational because it’d lead to fewer blogs.”

Past a certain point, you might think it’s right to reveal the secret blog. I want to live in a world where prescription drugs pass into generic production, after all.

23

lee b 07.30.07 at 5:45 pm

Since you’re hosting comments like #22, I’ll go ahead and throw in a link to the new Simpsons Movie. You can download it here without paying for it. And hey, don’t feel bad: I’m sure no one here agrees with Rupert Murdoch’s politics either.

That’s the spirit, right?

24

c.l. ball 07.30.07 at 6:06 pm

You can download [the New Simpson’s movie] here without paying for it.

Or you could sneak in the exit door of the cinema. That way you don’t have to steal a computer and broadband internet access.

By the way, Tyler Cowen’s BoA account number is 854-3440903 and the PIN is 5937. His first pet’s name was Scruffy. It’s all on his secret blog.

25

rea 07.30.07 at 6:06 pm

Rea, where are you getting your definition?

The Platonic ideal of blackmail has always been “Give me money or I will reveal your marital infidelity.”

I’m getting the dfinition from the criminal law of the jurisdiction in which I practice law(Michigan).

Keep in mind that until relatively recently, marital infidelity was at least technically a crime in most US jurisdictions . . .

26

rea 07.30.07 at 6:07 pm

html failure–the second paragraph of my post at 6:06 was part of the quote . . .

27

Rich B. 07.30.07 at 6:40 pm

Pennsylvania’s (and I suspect most states’) blackmail statute is somewhat broader:

18 Pa.C.S. 3923:

(a) OFFENSE DEFINED. –A person is guilty of theft if he intentionally obtains or withholds property of another by threatening to:

(1) commit another criminal offense;

(2) accuse anyone of a criminal offense;

(3) expose any secret tending to subject any person to hatred, contempt or ridicule;

. . .

I could go on, but (3) is pretty much broad enough to include most generally understandings of “blackmail.” I guess it would only apply to the Secret Blog if the contents would expose Tyler to ridicule . . .

28

harry 07.30.07 at 8:19 pm

29

notsneaky 07.30.07 at 8:29 pm

Another interesting question regarding the economics of blackmail is the credibility problem; how can you be sure that once you pay up your secret won’t be revealed anyway or the blackmailer won’t come back for more cash (the staple of all mystery murder stories involving blackmail).

Anyway, maybe the answer is, if you’re being blackmailed, to agree on a monthly (or whatever) payment – like an extortion fee to the mob – rather than a one time payment. That way if the blackmailer wants the cash flow to continue they’ll keep quiet. But I’m not sure that a renegotiation proof contract exists in many cases (probably needs something like different discount rates).

It’s also the Bargaining Problem since it usually involves 0 value to blackmailer (they don’t get nothing for just revealing a secret) and a positive value to you. So a rational blackmailer should accept 1$ to keep quiet since other wise they get nothing (of course that’s not the only equilibrium)

30

vassilis 07.30.07 at 8:58 pm

I’m glad I found the secret blog through this post but the truth is when I tried my skills at Google, I failed.

Could anyone who managed to find it by using Google give any tips, like his succesful keywords?

31

Izzy 07.30.07 at 9:27 pm

“Could anyone who managed to find it by using Google give any tips, like his succesful keywords?”

He links to his book on Amazon using his own referral code on the “secret” blog.

32

agum 07.30.07 at 9:30 pm

I did not know that Cowen was an XTC fan.

Not my favorite compilation of theirs, in any case, although it does include “Mermaid Smiled.”

33

dzman49 07.30.07 at 9:39 pm

Sheesh! Tyler should password-protect his “secret” blog if he seriously wants to restrict access to it. What a maroon!

34

lee b 07.30.07 at 10:44 pm

If Mr. Healy and others around these parts don’t care for libertarian politics, that’s fine. But it’s tacky to hint that Tyler’s politics make him deserving of having his informal-IP taken and then provide a forum for people to post the link.

Suppose Tyler had put a link to the secret blog on Marginal Revolution and just asked nicely for only those who’ve bought the book to read the blog. What then? All of this talk of the economy of blackmail laws, promise-making, etc. is silly and unrelated.

35

richard 07.30.07 at 11:15 pm

lee @ 35: I don’t think anyone’s suggested Tyler’s politics make him deserving of having his informal-IP taken – as I understand it, Kieran was merely pointing out the irony of appealing (apparently successfully) to libertarians’ sense of community and gifted social responsibility (when that seems to fly in the face of their avowed theories).

As for providing a forum, is that tacky? Or is it free speech? Is it incumbent on Kieran, or someone else at CT, to censor all comments before they’re made public expecially for this post, in order to provide support for Cowan? I refer you to the text of Kieran’s post, above, and also to any of Cory Doctorow’s many rants on linking policies (but I’m not going to google them for you).

36

c.l. ball 07.31.07 at 12:16 am

He is not having informal IP taken — if I scrawl a poem onto my house’s exterior wall making it viewable from the public street and sidewalk, and say on my blog: “if you buy my book, I’ll tell you where my house is so you can read my poem” how are others taking my IP if they say on their blog, “Ball lives at 666 Dingleberry Lane and the poem sucks”?

Anyone who passes by my house could read the poem, and anyone running through blogger randomly could read his blog. There’s a reason Sony does not post audio files on the web and say “Send us a check and we’ll email you the URL.”

37

Righteous Bubba 07.31.07 at 1:04 am

But I want a good reason

Santa is fun. Spilling the beans about Santa lessens the fun.

38

notsneaky 07.31.07 at 1:17 am

libertarians’ sense of community and gifted social responsibility (when that seems to fly in the face of their avowed theories).

Huh?

39

lee b 07.31.07 at 2:07 am

richard @ 36: Maybe I’ve approached this the wrong way; I’ll try a different tack.

Economists and libertarians of Tyler’s stripe do not commend to people the pursuit of narrow self-interest. Rather, they often try for parsimony’s sake to explain a situation in terms only of individuals’ prudence.

Understandably, non-economists are rankled when they catch wind of a theory about rational crime or whatever. It seems like economists are calling law-abiding citizens “suckers.” That sort of seeming implication is what motivated this post, I take it.

But if I’m more cynical than most about others’ motivations, that doesn’t make it incumbent on me to give you a selfish reason to play nice.

Yes, I see there’s a small irony in a cynic betting on the good will of his readers, but it’s only a small one. The thrust of this post and some of the comments is that libertarians are normally selfish people, so it’s surprising they’d go along with the secrecy. Also, if they are defying our simplistic characterizations, let’s spoil their fun by acting like what we take them to be: jerks.

40

kb. 07.31.07 at 2:38 am

To Vassel at 31:

I found it on my first attempt with the following words: “tyrone”, “marginal”, “secret” and “blog”. Just dumb luck that it came up as the third link.

41

Frank 07.31.07 at 2:52 am

Please, please, please – let’s kill the expression “pre-order”.

It’s in the nature of ordering that it’s done before the event (screening, publication, etc). How on earth do you “post-order”? The pre is totally redundant.

Stop it, NOW.

42

garymar 07.31.07 at 2:58 am

My blog is so secret, it’s not even on the Internet. I write it in a little book, and keep it under my mattress. Try finding the URL for that. No comments allowed, either.

Actually, it’s not even under the mattress. I don’t want you googling my mattress. It’s somewhere else.

43

Nathan 07.31.07 at 4:49 am

“Blackmail is such an ugly word.”

“What? I’m not blackmailing anybody.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m about to blackmail you, so I thought I’d bring it up.”

P.S.
But because many other people, including some whose writings I enjoy, are under the inexplicable illusion that Cowen isn’t an idiot…

That is my feeling about Jane Galt in a nutshell. I’m assuming it’s possible people only link to and talk about the stupid things she says, and I’m missing out on a wealth of brilliance… but I kinda doubt it.

44

Katherine 07.31.07 at 10:20 am

So, why shouldn’t I tell you? “Look, don’t be the kind of asshole that spoils everything,” you say. But I want a good reason, not the kind of reason a regular person or a sociologist might give.

Why is the regular person/sociologist reason not a good one? It might not be rational, in a step-by-step kind of way, but I’m going to put my irrational, emotional hat on and say that the kind of person who spoils secrets and surprises is an arse. So don’t be an arse.

45

McG 07.31.07 at 2:11 pm

Please, please, please – let’s kill the expression “pre-order”.

It’s in the nature of ordering that it’s done before the event (screening, publication, etc). How on earth do you “post-order”? The pre is totally redundant.

The “totally” in “totally redundant” is totally unnecessary.

Anyway, “pre-order” is essenitially short for “pre-release order.” We need some word to distinguish ordering a book that hasn’t been released from one which has. I think “pre-order” has served us well.

46

Lewis 07.31.07 at 2:18 pm

People, Tyler Cowen isn’t stupid, and everyone here knows that perfectly well. Stupid people don’t get their dissertations directed by Thomas Schelling, for instance.

He IS so committed to ideological propositions that fit what we laughingly call the real world rather badly that he often needs to engage in contorted logic, to put it mildly. My own breaking point came while reading his arguement against taxing income from capital. He (and other right-wingers, such as Mankiw) have convinced themselves that this will result in so much new capital formation, which will raise the marginal product of labor so much, which will raise the income of labor so much, that wage-earners will be better off if this is done.

The facts that taxes on capital income have not been lower in a long time, while the rate of capital formation is also at a low and wages are stagnant (except at the very top, of course), fails to impress him. He is still sure that eventually the new capital will “kick in” (his phrase) and everything will be great.

About the time the bugs are worked out of communism and Russia becomes a proletarian paradise, IMHO. That’s the great thing about the long run; it means never having to say you’re sorry.

47

Dan Simon 07.31.07 at 8:26 pm

People, Tyler Cowen isn’t stupid, and everyone here knows that perfectly well. Stupid people don’t get their dissertations directed by Thomas Schelling, for instance.

Who am I going to believe, after all–Thomas Schelling, or my own lyin’ eyes?

By far the stupidest person I’ve ever met had a PhD. in mathematics from MIT. Appeals to authority are as useless in defense of someone’s intelligence as in defense of any other claim.

He IS so committed to ideological propositions that fit what we laughingly call the real world rather badly that he often needs to engage in contorted logic, to put it mildly.

It takes much, much more to be truly, monumentally stupid than just being dogmatic and wrong. Lots of reasonably smart people are blinded by dogma–take the folks here at Crooked Timber, for instance. (Well, maybe not Farrell and Quiggin, but the rest of them seem bright enough, overall, whatever their other flaws.)

No, to be truly and demonstrably stupid, one must shed the alibi of dogma, and embrace moronic assertions without partisan favor. The dumbest things I’ve ever seen Cowen say weren’t libertarian cant at all, but rather random musings that revealed him to be a man with the mind of a very average twelve-year-old, whose parents have told him a few times too often that he really is a very, very clever boy.

48

ModalHubby 08.03.07 at 12:08 am

Dan Simon said,

The dumbest things I’ve ever seen Cowen say weren’t libertarian cant at all, but rather random musings that revealed him to be a man with the mind of a very average twelve-year-old…

Judging someone’s intelligence based on the dumbest things you hear them say seems like a terrible idea to me.

The lowest order statistic of many observations drawn from a distribution with high variance is very, very low indeed. I would be, personally, THRILLED if the dumbest thing I ever said paralleled the accomplishments of a very average twelve-year-old whose parents had overpraised him! If we’re to be judged on our dumbest sayings, those of us who say more will be judged dumber, on average, than those of us who say less. How’s that for corrupting the original meaning of “dumb”?

P.S. I’ll back Tyler Cowen against Dan Simon in a chess match, any day of the week.

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Dan Simon 08.03.07 at 5:29 am

Judging someone’s intelligence based on the dumbest things you hear them say seems like a terrible idea to me.

The problem is, the smartest things I’ve ever read by Cowen were libertarian cant. From there, it just gets worse.

P.S. I’ll back Tyler Cowen against Dan Simon in a chess match, any day of the week.

Me, too. Then again, there are computers that I’d back against Tyler Cowen. Neither of these points says much for or against my point that (at least when not playing chess) he’s an idiot.

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