A Tribute to Bryan Caplan

Tomorrow is Bryan Caplan’s last day as a blogger on EconLog. I will sorely miss him.

There’s so much I’ll miss: his clear thinking, his frequent insights, many of which are surprising, and his positive attitude to life.

I could highlight a lot of his blog posts, but then this tribute would turn overly long.

Instead, I’ll highlight two major things that I’ve learned from his blogging.

The first is the importance of the Social Desirability Bias. I’m someone who speaks my mind on pretty much any issue, no matter how much pressure there is not to do so. So it was hard for me to grok why I was so often alone even though people would come up to me at an event, look furtively around, and tell me in low decibels that they basically agreed with what I had just said. Now I do understand: it’s Social Desirability Bias. They are afraid to come out openly and say what they think.

The second is the Ideological Turing Test. Not very many people in economics come up with terms that are widely used. I’m still working for people to refer to the part of the capital gains tax on the inflation component of capital gains as a “tax on phantom gains.” So far no takers. I’ve made only a little progress in getting people to be understood by non-economists when they want to discuss rent seeking. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with rent seeking, if you keep the full economic meaning of “rent.” I want to call it “privilege seeking,” which is more apt.

But Bryan, well before age 50, has introduced the term “Ideological Turing Test” and it is often used. It’s a great term. In that sense, he’s kind of like my mentor Harold Demsetz, who coined the term “Nirvana approach,” which has morphed into the widely used “Nirvana Fallacy.” Good on ya, Bryan bro.

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