This Week on Free Will: Jonathan Haidt

This week on Free Will, I talk with moral psychology big shot Jonathan Haidt about … the psychology of morality! This was fun because I’m a huge Haidt fan. Here’s my unpublished essay written for Reason on why Democrats should pay more attention to Haidt and less to guys like Lakoff.

Interestingly, I think Jon and I have a pretty fundamental disagreement about the implications of his theory. I think it actually helps to vindicate the authority of secular liberal morality, and, together with social indicators data, gives us reason to push for a more thoroughgoingly liberal culture. Jon thinks it helps us see what’s valuable in conservative moralities, and that we need a sort of balanced moral ecosystem of different kinds of moralities. Sadly, this all came up at the end, and we didn’t get to dig in as much as I’d have liked. But this subject interests me so much I think I want to write a book about it.

Geoffrey Sayre-McCord on Free Will

That’s “appearing on” not “talking about”. This week on Free Will, I chat with philosopher Geoffrey Sayre-McCord about the nature of metaethics in general and moral realism in particular. Since metaethics was, at one point, my academic specialty (I went into the Ph.D. program at Maryland with a mind to work on the nature of moral concepts), I really, really enjoyed this chat. I hope to have Geoff back on to talk about issues of naturalism and evolutionary thinking in moral philosophy.

Me Me Media

Oh no! I’ve fallen behind in self-promotional blogging! If you missed last week’s episode of Free Will, I talked with Jeremy Lott about his new book The Warm Bucket Brigade: The Story of the American Vice-Presidency. This week, I chat with the estimable Kerry Howley about Obama, patriotism, and prostitution, among other things.

This morning on Marketplace, I argued that it’s misguided to blame the last Fed chief, or this one, for our woes:

The problem here isn’t that the guy in charge isn’t smart enough. The problem is that there’s a guy in charge at all. We’ve put a central planner at the beating heart of our market system, but we’ve known for decades that central planners rarely have the information they need, or the incentive to use it correctly.

If it all goes wrong for Bernanke, just remember: the problem isn’t the quarterback. It’s the rules of the game.

I’m off to the heart of the heartland for a few days, so blogging may or may not be light.

This Week on Free Will: Stephen Marglin

In today’s Free Will at Bloggingheads TV, I talk with Stephen Marglin, the Walter S. Barker Professor of Economics at Harvard University, about his new book The Dismal Science: How Thinking Like an Economist Undermines Community.

I expected to hate this book, but I didn’t. Instead I found it thoughtful and stimulating, if ultimately flawed. I agreed with Marglin much more than I was expecting. It’s just that, unlike him, I don’t think the Amish are a very good moral model for anyone, and don’t think there is much worth lamenting when those kinds of communities are undermined by markets. I agree with Marglin that the transition from institutions of personal to impersonal exchange is radically transformative of community and personal identity. However, I’m willing to go to the mat for the idea that the gains in wealth, longevity, individual autonomy and creativity overwhelmingly swamps the loss of “thick” identities and tribal “meaning”. I think we’re “designed” to crave those things, however, so the cosmopolitan liberal utopia necessarily leaves us with a residue of regret. We will always be tempted to wreck Eden in a search of Eden. Thinking like an economist is inhuman and the bulwark against our ruin.

Also, Marglin’s left-communitarianism confused me. He was able to give no examples of the progressive, inclusive Gemeinschaft. I think there’s a good reason for that, and that’s reason enough not to try for it.

Misbehavioral Economics

I have unforgivably neglected to link to yesterday’s episode of Free Will featuring a discussion with Dan Ariely, the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Behavioral Economics, about his new book Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions. I really enjoyed talking to Dan, who is incredibly creative in experimental design. It is good fun reading about the experiments, but I found Dan frustratingly naive about the implications of many of his findings, as I vented here.

I’m pretty sure Dan is guilty of the the fallacy of asymmetrical idealization, and I think he falls victim to a number of confusions common among behavioral economists that are inevitable when you completely destroy the formal neoclassical economic model of rationality but insist on using it as a benchmark of rationality anyway. (I discuss this at greater length here.) But like I told Dan in the diavlog, I’m totally on board with the project of finding out how we actually do make decisions, which is obviously of the first importance. His extremely valuable work is clearly at the cutting edge of that effort, and Predictably Irrational is well worth reading, if only to get a good sense of some important (and perplexing) recent findings.