Personal Reflection: Three Things I Changed My Mind on in the Past Year

Seth Carter

1.) One can listen to and enjoy mumble rap without endorsing either its subject matter or its, let’s say, ‘unique’ take on artistry in the genre.

I won’t speak much on this, but I have come to terms with some (not all or most) of the mumble rap sub-genre being enjoyable for me in spite of my reservations. I may take a 19th century British artistic philosophy of aestheticism to heart on this one. Not every piece of art has to have deep meaning, themes, or even a great deal of thought, skill, or effort behind it. I’m just enjoying a nice beat with lyrics that aren’t hard at all to sing or speak along to. Life goes on and I’m less prejudiced, so my apologies to any purists, as I do see where you’re coming from.

2.) Mathematical economics is useful. Just not to the extent that I had believed.

Though I had often been warned about the odd combination of necessity and strict limitations of mathematical economics for understanding the field, what this meant in practice was much less clear to me until this year. I had previously viewed mathematical economic theory as a body of work for discovering all sorts of exciting and profound new conclusions on human behavior. Today, I hold more of a view that mathematical methods in theory are most valuable for establishing consistency and precision in language for expressing economic modeling, rather than being proper scientific endeavors in and of themselves.

I’ve become aware that many important economic facts and processes are not currently, or perhaps even possibly, reducible to mathematical description and that over-reliance on math in the field can lead to problems in how economists systematically determine “reasonable assumptions.” What assumptions are taken over time by the profession to be “reasonable” starting points for research appear to be biased as things stand toward those assumptions that lead to better mathematical tractability. I believe using these properties as a dominant guide for the profession increases the problem of economics having “blind spots” that are under-investigated. Just because perfect information, for example, as an assumption is often a useful status quo does not mean we ought to divert ourselves away from all the realistic economic questions that come from the profound and even essential violation of this assumption for more fully understanding economic activity.

Furthermore, there appears to be a lot of fanciful, redundant, or tautological economic theory out there that has the utmost mathematical rigor, but still seems more like creative hobby rather than profound economic truth. I suspect that the inflation of academia in general combined with how much more grandly developed mathematics as a field happens to be relative to the development of empirical methods for economics has led to a situation in which many academic economists have been incentivized to push mathematical theory far beyond the quantity where marginal benefit equals marginal cost for progress in economics as a whole. Perhaps a number of formal constructions in economic theory, as sophisticated and impressive as they may often be, are deserving of increased scrutiny in the decision to pursue them. In the interest of humility, it may still be assuming too much to argue that many efforts of this sort ought to be redirected towards alternative and seemingly highly fruitful pursuits in areas such as experimental simulation, market design, and econometrics to name a few specializations exploding with demonstrated and potential benefits. However, I do not believe it is out of line to suggest that such a shift merits greater consideration as a standard for further enhancing the reputation and societal contribution of the profession. This is certainly not to say that much or most of the body of mathematical economic theory isn’t incredibly useful for modeling or insight, but only that there is an unfortunate pool of research that is abstracted and drawn out to the point of losing the power of explanation.

In all fairness, of course, field such as econometrics are hard and include very different kinds of work endeavors. Thus, it would make less sense to argue for pressure shifting overall focus of the profession should many scholars simply be less inclined or expecting of benefits from emphasis on alternative fields. Even so, I believe we have a responsibility in economics to highlight and address our systematic and potentially suboptimal tendencies as a whole, even if no one individual or even group should be held at fault.

With awareness and honesty, we may just yet find the virtue of well-roundedness in the dismal science.

3.) Recognizing institutional racism

This one is less of a view change per se and more of a much needed expansion. Prior to a year ago, I would have recognized if asked that institutional racism exists and is a problem, but I would have known very little of what I was talking about in part because investigating the phenomenon made me uncomfortable and I didn’t feel that I had much to offer to the conversation. Today, I see far more facets of how pervasive racism remains in American society in both attitudes and the country’s institutions. I furthermore see the necessity in engaging in conversation and advocacy rather than simple agreement.

In regards to being Libertarian and recognizing these problems, it’s all too clear that the Libertarian community is shamefully divided at worst, and often sadly hesitant at best when it comes to addressing racial justice. This is painfully in spite of the fact that our entire philosophy is predicated on respecting the liberty and rights of all individuals. The community does not do or say enough, and we must talk about it. Though we often, for better and worse, do not seek to put race at the forefront of our thinking, the mere fact that many can intellectually choose to cerebrally avoid or dismiss racial issues with ease and without direct personal relation may inadvertently appear to the public and academia as an exercise in privilege from our white male dominated political philosophy. Worse still, this tendency alienates us from the communities that have had and continue to have their liberties disproportionately violated. If various groups view Libertarians with skepticism or dismiss us as “diet far-right” we may have little to reasonably blame outside our own structural problems and tendencies.

All of that said, I see reason for optimism. The elements of the Libertarian community finding their common ground in 2020 with efforts such as ending qualified immunity and reducing the power of policing institutions in the United States was a promising step of cooperation and advocacy with typically distinct movements such as Black Lives Matter. Though Libertarians are strongly at odds with the BLM movement leadership’s dominant philosophy of Marxism, it brings me hope that many from both movements were willing to set aside these differences in support of common and invaluable aims for the time being. Moving forward, I believe continuing to find common ground and demonstrating how we believe Libertarian approaches and ideals can benefit and actively solve many of the problems facing marginalized groups is the best way to enhance our reputation and increase awareness and support for our philosophy. Far-Left ideology may sometimes dominate in many of the communities and circles we wish to reach out to, but it’s important to remember the historical reasons for why this is. In the case of many African American communities, the Left was there throughout history offering support when Libertarians were nowhere to be found. Titanic historical intellectuals and activists throughout African American history benefited from and found inspiration in socialism to make their changes. W.E.B. Dubois, Malcolm X, and Asa Phillip Randolph among many others stand as testament to the success of the Left in at least ostensibly opposing injustice while many other groups and ideologies fell short. We ought to regret that Libertarianism and its advocates were not actively offering as strong support or solution in engaging many of their struggles.

Overall, making a leap towards communication and dialogue, even if we start with small steps, just may give us the opportunities for redemption and new relationships that we so desperately need. Beginning by often better understanding black history and perspectives diversely with the disposition to listen, understand, and respect before advocating for ourselves is perhaps the most important lesson Libertarians in general can hope to learn. If we accomplish it while maintaining our integrity, I smile on our prospects for success and betterment.

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