Mixed Martial Arts is easy

Dear Violet,

Recently you asked my opinion as economist. First of course I have to acknowledge that no, in fact, I am not an economist. But that doesn’t feel exactly right. Do you need a PhD to call yourself economist? I would say… probably? I’m sure this guy would say yes, very much yes. But on the other hand, this guy is most certainly an economist, but he wrote this. And this guy is THE economist but he somehow managed to write this.

More on those… later.

But first, there’s this appalling nonsense by Terry Savage in the Sun-Times, which can charitably be described as among the dumbest things ever written by humans. Now, Terry Savage is to the best of my knowledge not an economist and I already feel guilty for included this and would be super-mortified if Daniel Klein or Greg Mankiw or Kartik Athreya ever found this post and thought I was comparing them to her. So here: I’m not. But I don’t think it’s unfair to suggest that because Terry Savage is somehow a business columnist for a major metropolitan daily while being startlingly illiterate about economics, I think it’s safe that my opinion “as an economist” may be reasonably asked or given in these… pages.

I guess I should actually do some light calisthenics then. Now, I know this Savage business is kind of a gimme and further I know it’s pointless to seriously take on her argument (because, as that nice cop told me, I shouldn’t engage crazy people), but… YES YES THERE IS SUCH THING AS FREE LEMONADE insofar as you are being given the lemonade for free. The no-free-lunch truism does mean that there are costs involved (one point for you, Terry!), but those cost don’t mean what she thinks they mean (no more points!). If the children are giving away the lemonade for free, it means two things are going on:

1) The time spent figuring out how much money to charge for the lemonade isn’t worth the gains to be had from charging for it, and

2) The children gain some non-use value from giving away lemonade [confidential to VGB: I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea of non-use value, actually – I mean, isn’t getting off on giving a thing away still essentially using that thing to get off? Non-use just seems like use to me], which is higher than the monetary value you would have them assign to the lemonade. SO JUST TAKE THE DAMN LEMONADE AND WALK AWAY.

In kind of a roundabout way, this also reminds me that this is the best thing about the thing it’s about. It’s about the Dunning-Kruger effect which is, as far as effects go, a hilarious one.; about how people who are really bad at things are too bad at things to know how bad they are at things. Ha ha ha Sarah Palin etc. but the point is that this post is all about how people around the internet don’t really understand it properly and… now I’m sure I’m one of the people he’s talking about.

And that’s the trouble with talking about the DK effect: you end up looking over your shoulder to make sure it isn’t happening to you. This is certainly how I feel when I look through the comments and see David Dunning(!) himself piping in to quibble and I can’t help but think “aren’t they basically agreeing and talking past each other” while my other interior voice says “don’t overestimate your competence, asshole”… but then there’s a genuinely stupid comment about the whole driving ability thing and I’m like “oh come on everybody knows about optimism bias, GET REAL” and boom, I’m no longer afraid I’m the dumbest guy in the room. Which, in its own way is way more dangerous, I guess?

In other words: I’m quite confident that I’m on a better part of the DK curve than a random business columnist, so I suppose I’m comfortable enough offering my opinion as economist. Of course, I’m gonna reflexively and defensively feel the need to state that I am in no way licensed or authorized to practice, um… economics? Although I do wonder what economists would say about barriers to entry like licensure requirements… see, I’m just trying to make the practice more efficient.

Wait, what was the question?


Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Violet G. Beekeeper  On 11 July, 2010 at 12:20 AM

    Ok I am dwelling on a longer response to this, or I might just talk about my feelings again. But in the interim:

    1)Every time I read the name Terry, I assume it’s Terry Eagleton. How awesome would that have been?

    2)Look, I am coming from law. As far as we are concerned, if you call yourself an economist you are one see eg: Richard Posner on the cost/benefit of the large hadron collider NO SERIOUSLY that made him an economist and a physicist and probably a human-sized boson. Also we read the Coase theorem hahahahaha in property law, such as. This is actually my main interest right now is how the eff. can we deal with expertise and non expertise! in the law in a non-shameful way.

    Ok no secretly I want to open up a 15th century medical epistemology boutique firm but that ship sailed for the spice islands.

    3)I actually think this person is clinically insane? Pretty genuinely? If the facts are as represented, this is someone who (a)is actually coming out against kids/lemonade/spontaneous giving (b)is yelling at the kids about this from the car and (c)thinks this is something she can like, talk about with people as an awesome thing she did, and (d)thinks it has something to do with Independence day. The problem was, see, the British were trying to give us lots of lemonade? And we saw through their dirty trick?

    Whatever I am just still really mad at a lot of substitute teachers.

  • Rusty B. Schwartz  On 12 July, 2010 at 8:04 PM

    violet: you touch on a lot of things i am interested in, namely:

    1) what we call ourselves (this should be unsurprising, as it is pretty much what the post was about)

    2) richard posner, insofar as i am not 100% impressed with his work on economics. but not unimpressed either. i am unimpressed by lots of other people (mostly political scientists). on the third hand, i am approaching-100% impressed with a number of people who are (unlike posner), actually economists (and we’re back to #1). no more on posner, lest i give away my exact coordinates.

    3) theoretical physics. FUCK and YES.

    4) insanity and diagnoses thereof. see: yesterday’s this american life: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/385/Pro-Se i had a goddamn driveway moment!


  • By (title known) « Beekeeper & Schwartz on 21 July, 2010 at 1:59 PM

    […] This is good example of the sloppy tendency in conservative/libertarian thinking in economics that assigns unduly qualitative dimensions to essentially quantitative ideas. I suspect that this tendency has something with the prejudices that lead right-leaning laypeople to believe the field is more goodly than it is and left-leaning laypeople to believe the field more evil than it is. I will have more to say about this when I say the thing about Daniel Klein which I have not yet said but have promised to say here. […]

  • By Beekeeper & Schwartz on 3 August, 2010 at 7:47 PM

    […] I can contribute, however, is a bit of economics conjecture (NOT AN ECONOMIST exactly) that might speak to Kennedy and the health care execs. My feeling is that health care execs have […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: