A reader writes:
You have remarked favorably on the quality of commentary over at Marginal Revolution (aside from immigration). Let me modestly disagree. MR is entertaining and Cowen/Tabarrok are smart guys. However, they suffer from the common place flaw of smart people; assuming that intelligence alone, entitles you to discuss topics outside of your areas of real expertise.
Let me offer two examples. MR has coveted the CAPM (Capital Asset Pricing Model) and Insider Trading of late. In both cases their input was weak. I am not an expert on either subject. However, I have seen far more erudite discussions of both topics. They came across as lightweights.
A careful review of many of their posts would probably demonstrate that this is a recurring pattern. If you know a lot about any particular subject, Cowen/Tabarrok don't look impressive. I am not really trying to pick on these two guys. I have followed other blogs with similar flaws. For example, Becker/Posner are very bright guys. However, they frequently write about subjects (energy policy) that they know almost nothing about. Instead they attempt to contrive expertise by extrapolating general principles. This is intellectually dangerous at best.
Okay, but the same criticism applies to me, too. I mean, what do I know about the hidden ethnic structure of the Turkish elite, to focus on my recent obsession?
Like libertarians such as Cowen, Tabarrok, Becker, and Posner, I too extrapolate from general principles, but I focus on a simple insight that is underexploited in today's intellectual marketplace, unlike free market economics, which has plenty of practitioners. My market niche idea is:
Just as economists have gotten lots of valid mileage out of the concept "Incentives matter," perhaps half of what I write is linked to "Family matters." Of course, I define "family" broadly, not just in the sense of nuclear family that Americans think most about, but covering topics ranging from DNA, heredity, acculturation, extended families, nepotism, and up through race and nation. I don't claim to know how family will always matter, just that many topics will turn out to have an overlooked family angle, if I research it diligently enough.
So, maybe that's the difference between me and the economists: they use general principles as shortcuts to opinions, while I us my two-word worldview as a Geiger counter to help me figure out where to dig.