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Keith Ellis
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It's nice to know that when the folk-Austrian cranks appear on a virtual world website they prove themselves to be at least as unwittingly ignorant and full-on crankish as they regularly do at their more usual haunts. What continually both fascinates me and weirdly pushes my buttons is this distinctive cluster of personality traits displayed by Objectivists, Randroids, folk-Austrians, and goldbugs. It's a completely unearned intellectual hubris. For example, the only thing that many Objectivists have ever read about epistemology is Rand, who was laughably incompetent as a philosopher, and yet they confidently assert that they've comprehended the most important truths of the cosmos, not knowing that half their arguments are demolished by throw-away comments by Socrates in a dialogue, not to mention every major philosopher who followed. Similarly, the folk-Austrians entire economic "competency", such as it were, arises from half-understood readings of and results in assertions such as those above that actual Austrian-school economists, already far in the fringe themselves, would laugh at. But these pronouncements are loudly and hotly proclaimed, along with asserting that any and all counter-arguments or disagreements are ignorant. Just to take one tiny example: Castronova writes as in the real world, mild inflation makes people happiest. This is an empirically falsifiable assertion about real people in the real world. It's not, to be sure, an assertion about the economic utility of inflation, or whether inflation is objectively "good" or "bad". It's merely a statement about how people report their sense of economic well-being under mildly inflationary conditions versus the alternatives. And, as it happens, there is a tremendous amount of actual research on this issue. And, as it happens, people are, collectively, indeed happiest about their economic situation under mild inflation. Does that mean that they're materially better off? No. Does it mean that mild inflation is in the long-run economically most productive relative to the alternatives? Again, no. It doesn't say one way or the other anything about these things. But the perpetual sophomores above can't differentiate between a mere assertion about people's self-reported happiness and their absolutist theories about how the world "really" works. They know that inflation is always and everywhere "bad" and thus although there's absolutely no reason to believe that people couldn't be mistaken about what's best for them, the assertion that people like (gasp!) mild inflation is so prima facie theoretically offensive that it's denied purely on the basis of a misapplication of theory and not on the basis of any relevant empiricism (which, if they had bothered, they'd find supports Castronova and not themselves). This sort of thinking and behavior is emblematic of the frothing nutcase. They have theories of which the theories are their own; theories which they have. Dinosaurs are skinny at one end, fat in the middle, and skinny at the other end. Oh, so impressive! In the wider sense, these cranks are of a piece with the global warming deniers, the creationists, the people who can't stand relativity, the people who can't stand the uncountability of the real numbers, and the people who think Cantor's Diagonal Method is all wrong. Seriously...take a random sampling of the comments made by each of these groups and just tell me they don't have some striking similarities. One thing they have in common is a disdain for consensus expert opinion and favoring instead the theories of a hard-pressed, heroic group of rugged intellectuals who struggle valiantly for Truth with a capital T in opposition the mediocrities who mass against them, spreading falsehoods as part of a nefarious coherent plan to Ruin the World, especially for those who are heroically minded. Yes, there's a reason you can scratch one of these cranks at random and it's relatively likely you'll find someone who thinks of themselves as Howard Roark. In any case, for those who are merely interested in an academic view of virtual worlds and social gaming in general, and who don't know about and don't care about macroeconomics and central banking, all you really need to do is look for someone using the words "fiat currency" the same way a cop would use the words "heroin supply" and you know you can safely ignore everything else such a person writes as almost entirely full of crap.
Toggle Commented Jul 22, 2011 on Bitcoin at Terra Nova