Bryan Caplan

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Bryan Caplan
Born (1971-04-08) April 8, 1971 (age 47)
Northridge, California
Nationality United States
Field Economics
School or tradition
Public Choice school
Influences David D. Friedman, Michael Huemer, Murray Rothbard, Michael Spence, Julian Simon, Ludwig von Mises[1]
Contributions Rational Irrationality, Ideological Turing Test
Information at IDEAS / RePEc

Bryan Douglas Caplan (born April 8, 1971) is an American economist. Caplan is a professor of economics at George Mason University, research fellow at the Mercatus Center, adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, and blogger for EconLog. He works in public choice theory and is interested in libertarian subjects.[2]

Personal life

Caplan holds a B.A. in economics from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Ph.D. in economics from Princeton University. His thesis is titled "Three essays on the economics of government behavior." He is married with four children, a professor of economics at George Mason University, and resides in Oakton, Virginia.[3]


The Myth of the Rational Voter

The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies, published in 2007, further develops the "rational irrationality" concept from Caplan's earlier academic writing. It draws heavily from the Survey of Americans and Economists on the Economy in making the argument that voters have systematically biased beliefs about many important economic topics. Caplan writes that rational irrationality is an explanation for the failure of democracy.[4][5] The book was reviewed in the popular press, including the Wall Street Journal,[6] the New York Times,[7] and the New Yorker,[8] as well as in academic publications such as the Journal of Libertarian Studies,[9] Public Choice,[10] Libertarian Papers,[11] and The Independent Review.[12] It received a scathing critique by Rupert Read in the European Review.[13]

Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids

Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids is a 2011 book[14][15] arguing that people often work too hard in child-rearing, and as a result, they are scared of the idea of having kids. Caplan's book urged parents to relax with respect to child-rearing. He also argued that as the perceived costs (in terms of child-rearing expense and effort) of having kids fell, it made sense to have more kids based on the basic theory of supply and demand.[16] The book was reviewed in Wall Street Journal.[17] The book was also reviewed by The Guardian,[18] RealClearMarkets[19] and the Washington Times.[20]

The book also led to debates featuring Caplan in the Wall Street Journal[21] and The Guardian.[22] It was also featured in a story on National Public Radio.[23]



Caplan has identified himself as a pacifist on pragmatic grounds and has summarized his "common-sense case for pacifism" using three steps:[24][25]

  1. The immediate costs of war are clearly awful
  2. The long-run benefits of war are highly uncertain
  3. For a war to be morally justified, its long-run benefits have to be substantially larger than its short-run costs

In July 2011, Caplan debated his case for pacifism with Ilya Somin.[26] Sheldon Richman claimed to find Caplan's arguments more convincing in the debate.[27] In a February 2013 LearnLiberty-sponsored debate with Jan Ting at the Students for Liberty conference, Caplan used a slightly different breakdown of the case for pacifism, using four steps instead of three.[28][29]

Caplan's arguments in favor of pacifism have been critiqued by Tyler Cowen on the Marginal Revolution blog[30] and by many others.[25][31]

Open borders

Caplan is a vocal proponent of open borders, submitting that immigration restrictions keep the poor locked in a prison of poverty, limiting both freedom and prosperity.[32] He has made his case in an article for the Cato Journal[33] and numerous other writings on his blog and elsewhere, as well as in talks and debates.[34] A talk titled Immigration restrictions: a solution in search of a problem by Caplan in September 2010 to the GMU Economics Society, sponsored by the Future of Freedom Foundation,[35][36] was praised by David R. Henderson[37] and Jacob Hornberger.[38]

Caplan was cited as one of the leading proponents of the open borders position in an article in The Atlantic by Shaun Raviv.[39] He has also been quoted in other mainstream press pieces on immigration in outlets such as the Huffington Post[40] and Time Magazine.[41]


Caplan is an anarcho-capitalist, citing influences such as Austrian school economist Murray Rothbard and Chicago school economist David D. Friedman, and has written on the feasibility and desirability of a stateless society.[42][43] Caplan identifies closely with Michael Huemer's position on anarcho-capitalism (in addition to sharing other ethical and meta-ethical views with Huemer) and played an important role in promoting Huemer's book The Problem of Political Authority on his blog, EconLog.[44][45][46][47]

Caplan's anarcho-capitalist views were discussed by Brian Doherty in his book Radicals for Capitalism and in Reason magazine.[48] One frequent criticism of Caplan is an accusation that he has engaged in historical revisionism by claiming that anarcho-capitalists have a better claim on the history of anarchist thought than mainstream left-anarchists.[49][50]

Austrian economics

In September 2012, Caplan participated in a Cato Unbound debate along with Steven Horwitz, George Selgin, and Antony Davies on the value of Austrian economics.[51] In his response essay, Caplan reiterated some of his earlier criticisms of Austrian economics and also argued that Austrians' rejection and/or neglect of behavioral economics was puzzling given their philosophy of subjectivism.[52]

Public choice

The bulk of Caplan's academic work is in public economics, especially public choice theory. He has agreed with political economist Donald Wittman that traditional public choice has reached conclusions inconsistent with the canonical assumption of voter rationality; many of his publications examine the effects of relaxing this assumption, an idea Caplan dubbed rational irrationality.[53] In a series of exchanges with Wittman, Caplan defended many of the conclusions of public choice while agreeing that Wittman's criticisms hold under the assumption of voter rationality.[54][55][56][57] Caplan has also done empirical work on public opinion which suggests voters indeed hold systematically biased views about economics.[4][5]

Intellectual honesty

Caplan has written about the problem of preference falsification in the face of social pressure and said that: "I think the wisest course is to turn the other cheek. I will not call anyone else names, express my disappointment in them, or try to shame them."[58][59]

Caplan has called himself a "betting man" and stated that people who make predictions about the future should be willing to make bets about their claims. He has proposed and made a number of bets with others.[60][61][62] He has been critical of the view offered by Tyler Cowen and Noah Smith that financial portfolios are a better test of one's true beliefs than bets.[62][63]

Inspired by a blog post by Paul Krugman, Caplan also proposed the concept of an "Ideological Turing Test" (named by analogy to the Turing test).[64] His blog post inspired a number of tries at the ideological Turing test.[65][66][67][68][69]

Ayn Rand and Objectivism

After having long shed a youthful infatuation with the works of Russian American writer Ayn Rand and her philosophical system of Objectivism, in 2004 Caplan wrote in his essay 'An Intellectual Biography': "I rejected Christianity because I determined that it was, to be blunt, idiotic. I rejected Objectivism and Austrianism, in contrast, as mixtures of deep truths and unfortunate mistakes. Let me begin with the deep truths. The Objectivists were right to insist that reality is objective, human reason able to grasp it, and scepticism without merit. They correctly hold that humans have free will, morality is objective, and the pursuit of self-interest typically morally right."[70]

In his essay, "Atlas Shrugged and Public Choice: The Obvious Parallels", Caplan lauds Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged as making "an important contribution to social science."[71]

In a blog entry posted at the Library of Economics and Liberty website on February 2, 2005 (on the occasion of Ayn Rand's one hundredth birthday), entitled "Join the Party: Why You Should Celebrate Rand's 100th", Caplan asserted that Rand was an excellent novelist, a wise philosopher, and an insightful social scientist.[72]

Other views

In a Cato Unbound piece, Caplan identified himself as a natalist – he believes that more people are good for the world.[73] He identifies himself as a fan of Julian Simon, who was a proponent of the idea that larger populations lead to greater technological progress and a higher standard of living for all.[74][75]

Caplan believes that much of higher education is signaling.[76][77] He is a believer in dualism[78] and in libertarian free will.[79] Caplan also holds the view that twin studies and adoption studies have demonstrated conclusively that parenting style has very little impact on the adult outcomes of children.[80][81]

Caplan has published multiple op-eds as well as a book review in the Wall Street Journal.[82][83][84] He also participated in a live chat with Laura Carroll and Will Wilkinson for the WSJ.[21] Caplan debated "Tiger Mom" Amy Chua in The Guardian in June 2011 regarding the merits of a strict parenting style.[22][85]

Caplan has been interviewed by the New York Times Economix blog,[86] and the Freakonomics blog.[87][88] He has also guest blogged for Freakonomics.[89] Caplan's book and Freakonomics guest posts were also picked up by the New York Times parenting blog.[90]

Caplan appeared on Fox and Friends where he was interviewed by Gretchen Carlson about his advice on child-rearing and his book Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids.[91][92]


  2. Caplan autobiography
  4. 4.0 4.1 Caplan, Bryan (2006-11-05). "The Myth of the Rational Voter". Cato Unbound. Retrieved 2013-08-17. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Caplan, Bryan (2007-09-26). "The 4 Boneheaded Biases of Stupid Voters". Reason Magazine. Retrieved 2013-09-28. 
  6. Casse, Daniel (2007-07-10). "Casting a Ballot With A Certain Cast of Mind". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2013-09-29. 
  7. Bass, Gary J. (2007-05-27). "Clueless". New York Times. Retrieved 2013-09-29. 
  8. Menand, Louis (2007-07-09). "Fractured Franchise: Are the wrong people voting?". New Yorker. Retrieved 2013-09-29. 
  9. Block, Walter. "The Myth of the Rational Voter (book review)" (PDF). Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 22 (2011), Page 689-718. Retrieved 2013-09-29. 
  10. Lomasky, Loren (June 2008). "Swing and a myth: a review of Caplan’s The Myth of the Rational Voter". Retrieved 2013-09-29. 
  11. Farrand, Stuart (2010). "Critique of Caplan's The Myth of the Rational Voter" (PDF). Libertarian Papers, Vol. 2, Article No. 28. Retrieved 2013-09-29. 
  12. Callahan, Gene (Winter 2009). "The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies (book review)". The Independent Review. Retrieved 2013-09-29. 
  13. Read, Rupert (14 December 2010). "Economist-kings? A Critical Notice on Caplan, The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies". European Review. Cambridge University Press. 19 (01): 119–129. doi:10.1017/S1062798710000426. Caplan’s The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies has been received by rave reviews. These reviews appear to have failed to note that Caplan’s book celebrates the market and denigrates democracy at the very time when markets worldwide have failed and democracies have ridden to the rescue. It thus appears to have been undermined fatally by events that occurred as it was published (and which Caplan artfully omits to mention in the more recent paperback edition). Caplan’s book in fact stands in the long tradition of anti-democratic writings that argue that an elite must rule. An elite of free-market economists. An elite no longer in good odour, since the financial crisis (and the climate crisis) occurred and became starkly evident to all. This Critical Notice also points out that numerous of Caplan’s key claims, such as that individual voters have zero effect on election results, are empirically false. 
  14. "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids (book website)". Retrieved 2013-09-29. 
  15. "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think [Kindle Edition]". Retrieved 2013-09-29. 
  16. "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids (excerpt)". Retrieved 2013-09-29. 
  17. Last, Jonathan (2011-04-16). "Go Ahead, Have Another". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2013-09-29. 
  18. McVeigh, Tracy (2011-05-15). "Parenting guru Bryan Caplan prescribes less fuss – and more fun". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-09-29. 
  19. Tamny, John (2011-08-04). "Book Review: Bryan Caplan's Selfish Reasons To Have More Kids". RealClearMarkets. Retrieved 2013-09-29. 
  20. Russell, Nicole (2011-05-04). "Go and Multiply, Without Guilt". Washington Times. Retrieved 2013-09-29. 
  21. 21.0 21.1 "Live Chat: Should You Have More Kids?". The Guardian. 2011-04-14. Retrieved 2015-06-20. 
  22. 22.0 22.1 Saner, Emine (2011-06-11). "Is strict parenting better for children?". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-09-18. 
  23. "'Selfish Reasons' For Parents To Enjoy Having Kids". 2011-04-22. Retrieved 2013-09-29. 
  24. Caplan, Bryan (2010-04-05). "The Common-Sense Case for Pacifism". EconLog. 
  25. 25.0 25.1 "Against Caplan’s Pacifism". 2011-04-25. Retrieved 2013-09-18. 
  26. "Caplan-Somin "Liberty and Foreign Policy" Debate Page". EconLog. 2011-07-15. Retrieved 2013-09-18. 
  27. "Bryan Caplan on Pacifism". 2011-07-19. Retrieved 2013-09-28. 
  28. Caplan, Bryan (2013-02-17). "Pacifism in 4 Easy Steps". EconLog. Retrieved 2013-09-18. 
  29. "Debate: Is War Ever Justified". LearnLiberty. Retrieved 2013-09-18. 
  30. Cowen, Tyler (2011-04-25). "Bryan Caplan defends pacifism". EconLog. Retrieved 2013-09-18. 
  31. Miller, Joshua (2011-04-26). "Caplan's Pacifism". 
  32. Caplan, Bryan. "Caplan on Immigration". EconTalk (hosted by Russ Roberts). 
  33. Caplan, Bryan (Winter 2012). "Why Should We Restrict Immigration" (PDF). Cato Journal. 
  34. "Bryan Caplan". Open Borders: The Case. Retrieved 2013-09-18. 
  35. "Bryan Caplan: Immigration restrictions: a solution in search of a problem". Retrieved 2013-09-29. 
  36. Caplan, Bryan (2010-09-17). "Immigration Restrictions: A Solution in Search of a Problem". EconLog. Retrieved 2013-09-29. 
  37. Henderson, David (2010-09-18). "Caplan On Immigration". EconLog. Retrieved 2013-09-29. 
  38. "The Best Open-Immigration Lecture Ever". 2010-09-17. Retrieved 2013-09-29. 
  39. Raviv, Shaun (2013-04-26). "If People Could Immigrate Anywhere, Would Poverty Be Eliminated?". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2013-09-27. 
  40. Roberson, Steve (2013-03-08). "Immigrants - The Once, and Future, Story of Jobs". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2013-09-28. 
  41. Matthews, Chris (2013-01-30). "The Economics of Immigration: Who Wins, Who Loses and Why". Time Magazine. Retrieved 2013-09-28. 
  42. "Anarchist Theory FAQ Version 5.2". Retrieved 2013-08-17. 
  43. Caplan, Bryan (2013-04-02). "Crazy Equilibria: From Democracy to Anarcho-Capitalism". EconLog. Retrieved 2013-09-24. 
  44. Caplan, Bryan (2012-02-01). "What's So Special About Huemer's New Book?". EconLog. Retrieved 2013-09-18. 
  45. "Huemer's Common-Sense Libertarianism". EconLog. 2013-01-25. Retrieved 2013-09-18. 
  46. Metzger, Perry (2013-03-04). "Huemer’s "The Problem of Political Authority"". Retrieved 2013-09-29. 
  47. PeaceRequiresAnarchy (2013-08-19). ""The Problem of Political Authority" by Professor Michael Huemer". Retrieved 2013-09-29. 
  48. Doherty, Brian (2013-04-03). "Anarcho-Capitalism: So Crazy, It Just Might Work!". Hit and Run (Reason blog). Retrieved 2013-09-28. 
  49. "Replies to Some Errors and Distortions in Bryan Caplan's "Anarchist Theory FAQ" version 5.2". Spunk Library. Retrieved 2013-09-28. 
  50. "Appendix : Anarchism and "anarcho"-capitalism" (PDF). 
  51. "Theory and Practice in the Austrian School". September 2012. Retrieved 2013-09-18. 
  52. Caplan, Bryan (2012-09-07). "Horwitz, Economy, and Empirics". Cato Unbound. Retrieved 2013-09-18. 
  58. "Preference Falsification: A Case Study". 
  59. Dourado, Eli (2010-04-17). "The Myth of the Rational Blogosphere". Retrieved 2013-09-29. 
  60. Caplan, Bryan (2009-03-14). "What Does the Betting Norm Tax?". EconLog. Retrieved 2013-09-29. 
  61. Caplan, Bryan (2012-05-05). "The Bettor's Oath". EconLog. Retrieved 2013-01-30. 
  62. 62.0 62.1 Gurri, Adam (2013-07-02). "On Bets and Bullshit (links to posts in blogosphere conversation on bets)". Retrieved 2013-09-29. 
  63. Caplan, Bryan (2013-07-01). "Bets, Portfolios, and Belief Revelation". EconLog. Retrieved 2013-07-05. 
  64. Caplan, Bryan (2011-06-20). "The Ideological Turing Test". EconLog. 
  65. Caplan, Bryan (2011-06-23). "Two Tries at the Ideological Turing Test". EconLog. 
  66. "Religious Turing Test Update". EconLog. 2011-07-07. 
  67. deLong, Brad (2011-06-21). "The Turing Test: Who Can Successfully Explain Robert Nozick?". 
  68. Somin, Ilya (2011-06-23). "Taking the Ideological Turing Test". The Volokh Conspiracy. Retrieved 2013-01-30. 
  69. Libresco, Leah. "Ideological Turing Test Contest". Patheos. 
  70. Block, Walter. I Chose Liberty: Autobiographies of Contemporary Libertarians. Ludwig von Mises Institute. p. 85. ISBN 978-1-61016-270-8. 
  71. Professor Edward W Younkins (1 October 2012). Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged: A Philosophical and Literary Companion. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 223. ISBN 978-1-4094-8528-5. 
  72. Bryan Caplan (February 2, 2005). "Join the Party: Why You Should Celebrate Rand's 100th". Library of Economics and Liberty. Liberty Fund, Inc. Archived from the original on October 20, 2014. The secondary reason, I suspect, is that disappointment with Rand as a human being has led critics (many of them former admirers) to apply unreasonably high standards to her work. 
  73. Caplan, Bryan. "Population, Fertility and Liberty". Cato Unbound. 
  74. "The Julian Simon Club". 
  75. Collins, Jason (2011-05-05). "Would Julian Simon worry?". Retrieved 2013-09-28. 
  76. "The Magic of Education". 
  77. Cowen, Tyler (2013-07-12). "How much of education and earnings variation is signalling? (Bryan Caplan asks)". Marginal Revolution. Retrieved 2013-09-28. 
  78. "Searle". 
  79. "Free will". 
  80. "The Tiger Mother versus Cost-Benefit Analysis". 
  81. Caplan, Bryan (2012-08-13). "Responding to Bryan Caplan". Retrieved 2013-09-28. 
  82. Caplan, Bryan (2010-06-19). "The Breeders' Cup". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2013-09-18. 
  83. Caplan, Bryan (2011-04-11). "Twin Lessons: Have More Kids. Pay Less Attention to Them". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2013-09-18. 
  84. "O Brother, Who Art Thou?". Wall Street Journal. 2012-06-20. Retrieved 2013-09-18. 
  85. Caplan, Bryan (2011-06-11). "Caplan vs. Chua Debate in the Guardian". EconLog. Retrieved 2013-09-18. 
  86. Caplan, Bryan (2011-04-07). "The Case for Having More Kids". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-09-18. 
  87. Dubner, Stephen J. (2012-10-25). "We the Sheeple: A New Freakonomics Podcast". Retrieved 2013-09-18. 
  88. Caplan, Bryan (2011-08-18). "The Worst Mistake I Ever Made: An Economists’ Parenting Quorum". Retrieved 2013-09-18. 
  89. Caplan, Bryan (2011-04-13). "Kids and Costs: A Guest Post on Twins by Bryan Caplan". Freakonomics. Retrieved 2013-09-18. 
  90. Belkin, Lisa (2011-04-12). "An Economist’s Argument for More Children". New York Times (parenting blog). Retrieved 2013-09-18. 
  91. "Bryan Caplan discusses Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids on Fox and Friends". Retrieved 2013-09-18. 
  92. Caplan, Bryan (2011-04-21). "The Nurture of Gretchen Carlson: A Guest Post by Bryan Caplan". Retrieved 2013-09-18. 

External links