Sunday, November 22, 2015

Why Is Macro So Hard: Social Desirability Bias (Or Caplan Channels Landsburg)?

In a piece on social desirability bias (our tendency to be in favor of things that sound good, while not actually doing them), Bryan Caplan asserts that Steven Landsburg would say something like this:

X being good is a reason to do a lot of X - not a reason to do more X.

I’m reminded of the reductio ad absurdum in Monty Python’s series of Dennis Moore sketches. Dennis is a highwayman who steal from the rich to give to the poor … until the rich are no longer rich, and the poor are no longer poor.

We see this a lot in things like policy proposals to help senior citizens financially. Except that seniors are the richest age group. But no one wants to make the distinction that helping Grandma a lot is not the same thing as helping Grandma more than we already do. Perhaps we ought to help Grandma a lot, but less than we actually do. It’s kind of ridiculous if you think about it: we’re so biased we can’t actually even ask if Grandma’s doing OK as it is.

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