Blame It on Gerald Dworkin for Blaming It on Ayn Rand

My apologies to Brian Leiter for crediting him for the guilt-by-free-association “Blame it on Ayn Rand” post that appeared on his blog. It was written by a different professional philosopher, Gerald Dworkin, who has replied on Leiter’s blog with some interesting dictionary reading. Leiter does think the “point in the original post was apt,” so perhaps he deserves partial credit.

Both Dworkin and Leiter are very interested in the fact that I left grad school in philosophy, but neither has anything intelligent to say in defense of Dworkin’s risible claim about the roots of the financial crisis — a causal claim that has nothing much to do with philosophy. Leiter adds with his typical threatening charm that I am incompetent to interview philosophers on Bloggingheads TV. It’s interesting that none of the philosophers I have interviewed have given any indication of my incompetence, and clearly that can’t be because philosophers are especially gracious as a class. If either Dworkin or Leiter would like to appear on Free Will and discuss Ayn Rand, the causes of the collapse of the financial system, or any other topic, I would be delighted to have them on. If I fail to keep up competently with either of these genuinely accomplished scholars, they will be able to expose my failings in real time. I really mean this. Here is the invitation… Prof. Leiter, Prof. Dworkin: I would very much like to have a civil discussion with each of you on a set of topics of your choosing. But I would especially like to explore your thoughts on the role of ideology as a cause of the financial crisis.

New on Free Will: Polluting the Polls with Jason Brennan

The election’s coming up! So all public-minded folk should register to vote and get ready to hit the polls, right? Well, maybe not.

In this week’s Free Will, I chat with my friend, Brown philosopher Jason Brennan, about his forthcoming paper, “Polluting the Polls: When Citizens Should Not Vote” [rtf]. His argument is simple and compelling. (This is my indelicate reconstruction, mind you.) People should be public-spirited, and act with the common good in mind. When enough people vote badly–from ignorance or bias, for example–the result is often bad policy. The quality of policy matters to the public good. Higher-quality democratic decisions, and better policy, can be secured if bad voters choose to abstain. Because the personal cost of not voting badly is so low, a public-spirited person shouldn’t do it. And it seems that a lot of people are quite likely to vote badly. So there are many people who, if they care about the common good, ought to choose not to vote.

I completely agree with Jason. (He may not agree with where I’d go from there, however.) I think that many voter participation initiatives promote pretty straightforwardly immoral behavior. That’s not because I think that the state or democracy is illegitimate. It’s just that people shouldn’t do things that help make the world worse when the cost of not doing it is practically zero.

Here’s how I explain the intensity of media propaganda about voter participation in cynical political economy terms. There are more Americans inclined to vote Democrat than Republican. But the poorer and younger Democratic-leaning voters are also least likely to show up at the polls. Therefore, promoting the idea that it is a civic/moral imperative to vote disproportionately benefits the Democratic party by getting higher levels of participation from the poorer and younger voters, at whom much of the marketing blitz is focused. And, of course, the American media establishment overwhelmingly favors the Democratic Party. However, higher levels of voting from these groups pretty much ensures greater electoral pollution. Were most Americans Republican-leaning instead of Democratic-leaning, but the media was exactly the same, I predict we’d see an outpouring of sympathy for positions like Brennan’s from intellectuals and media elites. But, as it is, it’s in the electoral interests of Democrats to scream “disenfranchisement!” any time someone correctly notes that, far from delegitimizing an election, very low voter turnout can improve the quality of democratic choice.

With Josh Knobe on Empiricism in Philosophy and Social Science

In this week’s Free Will, I chat with Bloggingheads TV’s resident experimental philosopher, Joshua Knobe, about getting out of the armchair and doing philosophy and economics using more direct empirical methods. Among other things, we talk about people’s intuitions about free will and responsibility, the “reverse experience machine,” and other fascinating subjects.

Up next on Free Will: Saul Smilansky on his incredibly stimulating new book Ten Moral Paradoxes.

Here’s Josh and I talking about the experience machine. Sorry about the bad sound on my end. (First diavlog ever from Marshalltown, and I forgot a decent microphone!)


Sorry so quiet! I’ve been busy doing things. You know how it is. Here is the latest Free Will, in which I talk with Jesse Prinz, whose book The Emotional Construction of Morals is awesome. Here is today’s Marketplace commentary, in which I note that T. Boone Pickens is trying to use the public’s anti-foreign bias and bottomless ignorance to help rig the regulatory structure in his favor. I think of it as the Swift Boat Veterans for windmills project. (Some of the commenters seem not to realize that this kind of mixed environmentalist/energy independence play is exactly how we got the now locked-in subsidies for ethanol they so vigorously decry. Also, I am an idiot for thinking that people will buy things, and producers will produce them, when the price is right.)

I’ll be off next week to Michigan for a Liberty Fund conference on Adam Smith. And then I’m moving to Iowa City with Kerry, where she will start work on her MFA in creative nonfiction while I will do exactly the same thing [as I am doing now, i.e., working for Cato], but from a different place. We will be so far from the Orange Line. Expect puppy-blogging.

New on Free Will: Bruce Caldwell on Hayek

This week, I talk with Bruce Caldwell, author of Hayek’s Challenge, a wonderfully lucid, comprehensive, and penetrating account of the development of Hayek’s economic and methodological ideas. Hayek is one of my enthusiasms, so I had a great time talking to Bruce, who knows as much about Hayek as anyone.

Also, maybe some of my Austrian-leaning readers can help out the BHTV commenters in their discussion of economic planning.

New on Free Will: Award-Winning Journalist Kerry Howley!

On Saturday, after several disastrous attempts, Kerry and I suceeded (sort of) in recording a new diavlog. We talk mainly about her latest Reason cover on fertility panics, but also about the tyranny of old people, and scrapbooking. Botched ending makes it special!

I’m insanely recording three this week. They are: Robin Hanson on Hansonism, Bruce Caldwell on Hayek, and Jim Holt on jokes. What would you like me to ask them?