Drezner on Alan Wolfe's Incomptence

Alan Wolfe's prolix review essay of Bruno Frey and Dan Ariely's recent books had a few nice insights, but my overwhelming judgment was that he simply doesn't know enough about the subject to write a competent review. Dan Drezner picks up on a couple of Wolfe's forehead-slappers. In a nuthsell, Wolfe thinks Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek are “marginal and somewhat bizarre thinkers,” which betrays either stunning ignorance or an appalling lack of judgment. And he seems to think Steve Levitt is a behavioral economist, when in fact Levitt is an old-school Chicago rat choice guy good at fancy statistics who is very skeptical of behavioral economics. Dan's got it right when he says “Whoever assigns and edits Alan Wolfe at The New Republic should really be taken out to the back of the woodshed today.”
I haven't read Frey's book yet, but, setting aside my more critical approach to the data, I expect to like it a great deal. Frey is one of the only social scientists working in the happiness field who fully grasps the great 20th century developments in constitutional political economy and institutional economics. Most of his papers have an agreeable institutionalist view that is keenly aware of the fallacy of thinking about a politics of happiness as a politics of centralized scientific administration. Indeed, decentralization is a theme of Frey's work, and I'm looking forward to his book.
On the other hand, I found Dan Ariely's book to be a jocular disaster. Here's what I said about it on Free Exchange way back in February. I'm glad to see Herb Gintis, one of my favorite thinkers in psychologically-informed economics, had a similar reaction:

Ariely is a creative experimenter with zero capacity to deal with economic theory. By accepting the behavioral paradigm (“people are not logical, they are psychological”), he makes it in principle impossible to explain his experimental results.

What does it tell you when the big-ideas review essays in prestige publications are completely blown away by free Amazon reviews? I wonder what Wolfe's per-word rate was? Gintis does a hell of a lot better for free. Sooner or later everyone in the know will realize they're supposed to be paying attention to Herb Gintis' Amazon reviews (among other things), and that the back of TNR just doesn't matter all that much.

[Thanks to James Chalmers for the pointer.]

11 Replies to “Drezner on Alan Wolfe's Incomptence”

  1. Well, I’m not that pleased: On day three, Obama issued a memorandum allowing to fund abortions not only in the US, but all around the world with taxpayers’ money – a move we libertarians should oppose.
    As for Guantanamo: It’s overdue to shut it down – as John McCain, Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee would have done as well had they won the election, representing three important wings in the Republican Party – so that’s hardly a partisan issue. And we should never forget that it was the Clinton administration that ran an extralegal detention camp on Guantanamo:
    “Clinton’s Guantanamo: How the Democratic president set the stage for a land without law.
    We sometimes forget that during the Clinton presidency, the United States ran an extralegal detention camp on Guantanamo—and went to federal court to defend its right to do so… Guantanamo under Clinton produced its own share of suffering and abuses—and perhaps most important for today, the court decision that shut it down was eventually wiped off the books, thanks to legal maneuvers by the Clinton Justice Department…
    [Clinton’s] record on Guantanamo was an ugly one. Despite signals on the campaign trail that he intended to shut down the camp, Clinton changed his mind. As a result, the refugees remained, even after he assumed office, in leaky barracks with poor sanitation, surrounded by razor wire and guard towers. They responded with a hunger strike, and after raucous protests against their confinement, a number were thrown in the naval brig as if they were criminals… Worse still, federal authorities refused to release the sickest Haitians, even though military physicians on Guantanamo lacked the means to treat them.
    The Clinton White House justified this atrocious conduct in terms that sound strikingly familiar today. Justice Department attorneys maintained that foreigners held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay have absolutely no legal rights, whether under the Constitution, federal statutes, or international law. According to this logic, the Clinton White House was free to treat the detainees however it pleased…”

  2. (HTML correction:)
    Well, I’m not that pleased: On day three, Obama issued a memorandum allowing to fund abortions not only in the US, but all around the world with taxpayers’ money – a move we libertarians should oppose.
    As for Guantanamo: It’s overdue to shut it down – as John McCain, Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee would have done as well had they won the election, representing three important wings in the Republican Party – so that’s hardly a partisan issue. And we should never forget that it was the Clinton administration that ran an extralegal detention camp on Guantanamo:
    “Clinton’s Guantanamo: How the Democratic president set the stage for a land without law.
    We sometimes forget that during the Clinton presidency, the United States ran an extralegal detention camp on Guantanamo—and went to federal court to defend its right to do so… Guantanamo under Clinton produced its own share of suffering and abuses—and perhaps most important for today, the court decision that shut it down was eventually wiped off the books, thanks to legal maneuvers by the Clinton Justice Department…
    [Clinton’s] record on Guantanamo was an ugly one. Despite signals on the campaign trail that he intended to shut down the camp, Clinton changed his mind. As a result, the refugees remained, even after he assumed office, in leaky barracks with poor sanitation, surrounded by razor wire and guard towers. They responded with a hunger strike, and after raucous protests against their confinement, a number were thrown in the naval brig as if they were criminals… Worse still, federal authorities refused to release the sickest Haitians, even though military physicians on Guantanamo lacked the means to treat them.
    The Clinton White House justified this atrocious conduct in terms that sound strikingly familiar today. Justice Department attorneys maintained that foreigners held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay have absolutely no legal rights, whether under the Constitution, federal statutes, or international law. According to this logic, the Clinton White House was free to treat the detainees however it pleased…”
    http://www.slate.com/id/2132979/?nav=ais

    1. Why should libertarians be any more opposed to funding family planning overseas than they should to foreign aid in general?
      What does Clinton’s policy towards Gitmo have to do with Obama’s?

      1. On so-called “family planning”: Because libertarians are primarily about defense of the individual, and the pro-abortion order extends foreign aid to the attack of pre-born persons, thus making it more evil than foreign aid in its common, odious form. Libertarians are inconsistent when they look the other way when the state attacks certain classes of human beings it decides are undesirable.
        On Gitmo: You’re right. Nothing.

      2. Individual human? Individual ape? Individual fetus? Individual dog?
        Most libertarians are pro “born humans”, some are pro the other three too. To me, the well-being of the other three is important but they do not have human rights. Fetus is the least human of them.
        It is important, that the limit of humanity is strict. To me, birth and fertilization seem to be the best alternatives, learning to speak would be a limit too easily twisted. My choice is the birth.
        Some apes understand so much that they perhaps should, to some extent, be treated, as having limited human rights.
        Anyway, the definition of a libertarian does not imply “pro life” or “pro choice” (unless you fix a certain definition of “human”, but most libertarians would not agree with your definition).

  3. I hope that Barack Obama nationalizes our health care system so that everyone can receive free/ or next to free medical care. I shouldn’t have to move to Canada to get free health care. Everyone should watch the movie “sicko” to get a better idea of what is going on. It’s about time we as American’s clean out the elitist garbage this country seems to thrive on.

  4. In response to your inquery about check # 34228 that has not been cashed. I do not have the original check. Please stop payment and reissue the check. Thank you

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