Saturday , July 21 2018
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I Throw Scott Sumner Under the Bus

Summary:
In a recent EconLog post, Scott writes: You are about to take a bus from Zurich to Milan, right over the Alps. You have three buses to choose from: 1. Bus A is a self-driving machine, fitted with a rear-mounted camera and the latest automatic steering mechanism, designed by noted Swiss engineer Johan Taylor. When the camera sees that the bus has deviated too far to the right of the road, it automatically steers the bus to the left, and vice versa. 2. Bus B is driven by Johanna Yellen, widely regarded as one of Switzerland’s best bus drivers. 3. Bus C is a complicated human/machine hybrid. It has forward looking cameras, that feed road images into a large building, in real time. About 10,000 bus drivers sit at the controls of a simulator, and steer the bus as they

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In a recent EconLog post, Scott writes:

You are about to take a bus from Zurich to Milan, right over the Alps. You have three buses to choose from:

1. Bus A is a self-driving machine, fitted with a rear-mounted camera and the latest automatic steering mechanism, designed by noted Swiss engineer Johan Taylor. When the camera sees that the bus has deviated too far to the right of the road, it automatically steers the bus to the left, and vice versa.

2. Bus B is driven by Johanna Yellen, widely regarded as one of Switzerland’s best bus drivers.

3. Bus C is a complicated human/machine hybrid. It has forward looking cameras, that feed road images into a large building, in real time. About 10,000 bus drivers sit at the controls of a simulator, and steer the bus as they think is appropriate. The average of all of their steering decisions is fed back to the bus in real time, in order to adjust the steering mechanism. To motivate good steering decisions, the 10,000 bus drivers are rewarded according to whether their individual steering decisions would have led, ex post, to a smoother and safer drive than that produced by the consensus.

Which bus would you take?

Put aside your views on monetary policy for a second. The answer to this is CLEARLY (2). We know this is the case, because people routinely take buses all the time. These buses are not self-driven or driven by 10,000 people, but instead by a driver. If people knew, “This particular driver has been rated one of the best in the country,” then they would be even more comfortable with it.

And yet, Scott obviously thinks the right answer here is (3), which corresponds to his monetary proposals. My comment:

I’m being dead serious: Anyone who answered “C” to Scott’s question is having his or her hand forced by prior commitment to NGDP targeting. There’s no way in the world you would get on that kind of bus if it were driving through the Alps. You would first want several years of tests on flat county roads.

And I’m not just quibbling with the analogy. For the exact same reason, you should be very wary of NGDPLT proposals.

For what it’s worth, Scott responded to me: “Bob, i’ve written papers on how the proposal can be tested, and gradually implement to reduce risk of error.”

Robert Murphy
Christian, Austrian economist, and libertarian theorist. Research Prof at Texas Tech and author of *Choice*. Paul Krugman's worst nightmare.

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