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“Is It Political?”

Summary:
When I mention what I’m writing, my dad often suspiciously asks me, “Is it political?” Here’s how I always want to respond. If by “political,” you mean “emotional, innumerate, dogmatic, tribal, unfair, and dishonest” then the answer is, “Of course not.”  These negative adjectives are a fair description of virtually all popular media – including popular media that agrees with my conclusions.  But where popular media go low, I go high.  If you want to know what good thinking looks like, start with Superforecasting. On the other hand, if by “political” you mean “discusses government and society, and evaluates the desirability of government policies and social practices,” then the answer is, “Of course.”  That’s what I do for a living, after all. In a world where

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When I mention what I’m writing, my dad often suspiciously asks me, “Is it political?”

Here’s how I always want to respond.

If by “political,” you mean “emotional, innumerate, dogmatic, tribal, unfair, and dishonest” then the answer is, “Of course not.”  These negative adjectives are a fair description of virtually all popular media – including popular media that agrees with my conclusions.  But where popular media go low, I go high.  If you want to know what good thinking looks like, start with Superforecasting.

On the other hand, if by “political” you mean “discusses government and society, and evaluates the desirability of government policies and social practices,” then the answer is, “Of course.”  That’s what I do for a living, after all.

In a world where almost all political discourse in the second sense is also political in the first sense, it’s easy to see why people would tend to conflate the two.  Logically, however, they’re two different animals.  And conflating them reinforces this sad intellectual state of affairs.

P.S. I’m debating “A liberal arts education is a waste of time and money,” tomorrow in Spokane, Washington.  If you see me there, please say hi!

Bryan Caplan
Bryan Caplan is Professor of Economics at George Mason University and Senior Scholar at the Mercatus Center. He has published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the American Economic Review, the Economic Journal, the Journal of Law and Economics, and Intelligence, and has appeared on 20/20, FoxNews, and C-SPAN. Bryan Caplan blogs on EconLog.

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