Once you grasp its lessons, you can never again be a normal citizen

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2020

Labor economics stands against the world, Bryan Caplan says:

Once you grasp its lessons, you can never again be a normal citizen.

What are these “central tenets of our secular religion” and what’s wrong with them?

Tenet #1: The main reason today’s workers have a decent standard of living is that government passed a bunch of laws protecting them.

Critique: High worker productivity plus competition between employers is the real reason today’s workers have a decent standard of living. In fact, “pro-worker” laws have dire negative side effects for workers, especially unemployment.

Tenet #2: Strict regulation of immigration, especially low-skilled immigration, prevents poverty and inequality.

Critique: Immigration restrictions massively increase the poverty and inequality of the world — and make the average American poorer in the process. Specialization and trade are fountains of wealth, and immigration is just specialization and trade in labor.

Tenet #3: In the modern economy, nothing is more important than education.

Critique: After making obvious corrections for pre-existing ability, completion probability, and such, the return to education is pretty good for strong students, but mediocre or worse for weak students.

Tenet #4: The modern welfare state strikes a wise balance between compassion and efficiency.

Critique: The welfare state primarily helps the old, not the poor — and 19th-century open immigration did far more for the absolutely poor than the welfare state ever has.

Tenet #5: Increasing education levels is good for society.

Critique: Education is mostly signaling; increasing education is a recipe for credential inflation, not prosperity.

Tenet #6: Racial and gender discrimination remains a serious problem, and without government regulation, would still be rampant.

Critique: Unless government requires discrimination, market forces make it a marginal issue at most. Large group differences persist because groups differ largely in productivity.

Tenet #7: Men have treated women poorly throughout history, and it’s only thanks to feminism that anything’s improved.

Critique: While women in the pre-modern era lived hard lives, so did men. The mating market led to poor outcomes for women because men had very little to offer. Economic growth plus competition in labor and mating markets, not feminism, is the main reason women’s lives improved.

Tenet #8: Overpopulation is a terrible social problem.

Critique: The positive externalities of population — especially idea externalities — far outweigh the negative. Reducing population to help the environment is using a sword to kill a mosquito.

Yes, I’m well-aware that most labor economics classes either neglect these points, or strive for “balance.” But as far as I’m concerned, most labor economists just aren’t doing their job. Their lingering faith in our society’s secular religion clouds their judgment — and prevents them from enlightening their students and laying the groundwork for a better future.


  1. KenTucky Headhunter says:

    Since economists generally don’t give a sh!t about individuals, I really don’t give a sh1t what economists have to say about anything.

  2. Required says:

    Read real writers

    Bryan is the typical IYI.

  3. Albion says:

    Hmmm… Quickly off the top:

    Tenet 2: It all depends who you let in. There are immigrants who make no contribution to society (and appear to have little intention of doing so), and in the case of violence, make it poorer in many ways.

    Tenet 5: It all depends what you are teaching. Teaching someone to appreciate street art counts for far less than teaching someone to fix an engine.

    Tenet 7: It all depends how narrow one’s view of history is. Many men for centuries have done awful jobs in order to provide for their women, and families, in order they might not have any more hardships than necessary.

  4. David Foster says:

    I agree with much of this, but….”immigration restrictions make the average American poorer”…you can drown in a river whose *average* depth is six inches. Wide-open immigration helps those whose skills are globally traded, like actors, rock musicians, F500 executives, and some academics; it is harmful to those people (lawn workers, for example) whose trade must be exercised locally and who must compete with an influx of low-priced labor. And when the harm to those people reaches a certain level, it creates dysfunctions which in turn harm the whole society..including those who in the first-level analysis looked to be doing well from the open borders.

    re the effects on education: need to distinguish between levels of education. Basic literacy and math surely makes a huge economic difference…much college and postgraduate education, not so much.

  5. Bob Sykes says:

    Open borders and free trade (the same thing) force First World wages and prices to the world averages. That is Econ 101, which Caplan obviously failed. The average American wage is at least six times the world average. Free trade and open borders have destroyed American industry and immiserated the American working class. The Ruling Class, for whom Caplan shills, has seized all the economic growth of the last 40 years. They have even clawed income away from the working class, whose real incomes have fallen during that time.

  6. CVLR says:

    If Bryan Caplan’s thoughts were dangerous to the profits of Global Kapital, would he have attained his position? If he began thinking dangerous thoughts, could he keep it?

    Bryan Caplan, GMU econ prof, NYT bestseller, father of 4, shill.


  7. Harry Jones says:

    Immigration can be very good for the immigrants. Equating free immigration with free trade implies that human beings are mere goods to be imported. But some people don’t mind that.

    Beyond a certain point, freedom is zero sum. This is the point libertarians miss. Every ruling class knows this, and will defend its own freedom by oppressing the competition. So it must be. But let’s at least be honest about it.

  8. Gavin Longmuir says:

    “Immigration restrictions… make the average American poorer in the process.

    Prof. Capian makes some good points — and then says something so totally dumb as this! What is going on in his mind? Or am I wrong in thinking that some of his other points make good sense?

    My guess is that in Capian’s mind, the sentence he wrote means: “makes the average American who graduated from an Ivy League college poorer”. He simply forgets there are Americans who are not part of his very restricted social circle.

    As someone once said: We can have a welfare system or we can have open borders. One or the other. Choose.

  9. Harry Jones says:

    Gavin, there are genuflections people must make, to appease established tribal hypocrisies and to signal belonging. He may not even mean it.

  10. Felix says:

    @Harry Jones “Beyond a certain point, freedom is zero sum”.

    ??? That sounds like hokum. But, maybe your “freedom” is different from mine. I would, for instance, include in my “freedom” the ability to visit Mauritious. Or Iceland. Or Paraguay. Or to be able to eat grapes from Chile when there are none from … where ever grapes come from. I dunno. Nome? :)

    Yeah, if the Universe is finite, and it is, then freedom is zero sum. But for the same reason the universe is finite, I – and this is just me – don’t care about that particular beyond-point.

    Is cooperation loss of freedom? If so, then the history of humanity is of loss of freedom. But that sounds like hokum.

  11. Harry Jones says:

    Felix, the only freedom that means anything is freedom to do what you want. Nobody has any use for the freedom to do something he has no desire to do.

    A great many people want to swing their fists past where others’ noses begin. Will you grant them that freedom? If not, then you are limiting someone’s freedom in a way that he cares about. Don’t expect him to be okay with that.

    Property rights are the freedom to own. Nothing is more zero sum than ownership – except if you want to invite the tragedy of the commons.

  12. Bruce says:

    Establishment flack supports establishment consensus for lower wages through higher immigration.

  13. Bomag says:

    “The positive externalities of population — especially idea externalities — far outweigh the negative.”

    Using the phrase “far outweigh” indicates a shill at work.

    But at least he acknowledges that there are negatives.

  14. CVLR says:

    If Bryan Caplan’s thoughts were dangerous to the profits of Global Kapital, would he have attained his position? If he began thinking dangerous thoughts, could he keep it?

    Bryan Caplan, GMU econ prof, NYT bestseller, father of 4, shill.


    I will unpack this.

    1. I denigrated the promotion mechanism of academia.
    2. I implicated the promotion mechanism as such.
    3. I suggested that the man’s continued social and financial well-being is contingent on his perpetual slavish conformity to the will of a faceless, nameless, ageless leviathan — a, dare I say it, Cthulhu.
    4. I implied likewise for his children.

    It is worth asking: How does a man end up in such a position?

    He has made a series of poor choices, to be sure. No one forced him to take the path that he has taken.

    But he is no less a tragic figure.

    Failed by his elders, failed by the state, failed by his rabbinic elite, failed by his “rabbinic” elite. He played the tournament set before him, and played well. One “win” after another, each “victory” drawing him forward not towards freedom and prosperity but unto an ever more perfect subjection.

    Let us have a moment of silence in honor of a soul lost to myopic heedlessness.

    Truly would the Jews be so much better off had they hewn to the path laid out by the godfather of their foundling state: Adolf Hitler.

  15. Pretty lame.

    I can’t take any economist seriously if they don’t talk about market power. And every single one of these tenets studiously ignores that problem.


    A good point. Economists studiously refuse to give advice to normal people. No wonder you can’t be an ‘normal citizen’ if you study labor economics.

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