Last week, Professor Bryan Caplan joined us on Reddit for an “Ask Me Anything” conversation as part of the Learn Liberty Reddit AMA Series.
Dr. Caplan is Professor of Economics at George Mason University, and a prolific author and blogger who has appeared on ABC, Fox News, MSNBC, and C-SPAN, and been featured in New York Times,  Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post. He starred in Learn Liberty’s Econ Chronicles series of educational videos, and he recently appeared on The Rubin Report in association with Learn Liberty.
Check out some highlights from the AMA below.


If you could make any of your blog posts required reading for high school students, which would it be?


The Magic of Education:

Demagoguery Explained:

Labor Econ vs. the World:


Using whatever metric you like, which of your many heterodox views would you say garners the strongest negative reaction? Do you find that the manner in which you present your viewpoint–whether you are conciliatory or blunt–is a big factor in provoking a negative reception?


Open borders by a landslide. Unfortunately, when a view is that radical, almost any defense seems blunt. In my experience, keeping a sense of humor helps diffuse negativity. But as usual, that works best if people already know you personally and feel OK about you.


What do you think of the objection to open-borders that says that foreigners could bring their anti-libertarian cultures (such as those from Islamic countries) and eventually outnumber the local population or attain enough of the population to successfully overturn the libertarian status-quo?


Theoretically, this is a clear argument. But empirically, I see very little evidence that this actually happens. The only cases that really concern me are when a single immigrant group with strong identity politics and bad average views quickly become a 30% or more of the population.

I know, of course, that there’s lots of media coverage of anti-libertarian Islamists, but I see this as almost entirely fear-mongering. The terrorism that gets so much attention is, though emotionally horrifying, not a quantitatively big problem.


With respect to open borders, do you think unilateral open borders are presently a viable policy for a smaller base population country such as Canada? Or would it be necessary for them to limit inflows to some level or coordinate with larger countries to prevent being overwhelmed logistically?


As long as immigrants know they can’t sleep in the streets, I think real estate prices and inertia provide all the buffer a smaller country needs. Beverly Hills has open borders with Detroit, but no one’s overwhelming Beverly Hills.

Diaspora dynamics – immigration’s tendency to gradually snowball because immigrants like to cluster around their own group – also greatly mitigates this problem.


First, I just want to say that I’m a big admirer of your work. You’ve been a big influence on my own intellectual journey, thank you.
Here’s my question: given your belief in open borders, what’s the most sound argument you’ve heard in favor of closed borders?


 The best argument against open borders is also the best argument against ANY radical change: The status quo is tolerable, we can’t really know with great confidence how radical changes will ultimately play out, so why risk it? You can reinforce this argument by pointing out that gradual reforms capture most of the benefits of open borders policies without the systemic risk.


I am a former student (GMU Public Finance).
I don’t have a question but I wanted to comment that I love the concept of the Ideological Turing Test and have mentioned it often to friends of varying political persuasions. I consistently find people fail at it so spectacularly, many times because they assign devious motives to their political opponents. For example, many on the left decry libertarians as selfish and uncaring.


Yes, I’m proud of that one, especially since it’s found favor far outside my personal fans.


What do you think are the best ways to market getting rid of Medicare and Social Security? People tend to get the idea that it’s they’re essentially ponzi schemes, but they can’t imagine not having them. Thoughts?


The best way (or least-bad way) is to focus on the foolishness of taxing everyone to help everyone. Means-tested programs at least serve some useful function – helping people who need help. Universal programs don’t. I’d also try to publicize research on how unimportant health care is for life compared to lifestyle choices. Unfortunately, I doubt these arguments will persuade many people; I just don’t have anything better.


What is your opinion on the state of the media in the United States, specifically the mainstream media?
I believe that if the media were impartial in their reporting, Trump might not have fared so well with the election outcome. What do you think?


From the evidence I’ve seen, propaganda works – though not nearly as well as the propagandists would hope. So I’m skeptical of the idea that anti-Trump media helped Trump. It seems a lot simpler to say that in a more diverse media environment, pro-Trump media partly counter-balanced anti-Trump media, rather than to claim that anti-Trump media is negatively persuasive.


What are your thoughts on climate change?


  1. I greet all predictions of disaster with skepticism, for reasons outlined here:

  2. I’m not qualified to directly assess the evidence on climate change, so it all comes down to the trustworthiness of climatologists for me.

  3. Climatologists seem moderately ideologically biased in a left- and green direction to me. But they’re still worth listening to within their areas of expertise.

  4. Most climatologists are NOT experts in cost-benefit analysis or environmental economics, so when they move from physical to social prediction, I don’t take them very seriously.

  5. Alex Epstein’s The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels seems quite good to me, though to repeat, I can’t honestly claim to be able to independently assess the science.

  6. Taking mainstream climatologists predictions as gospel, I think the best approach is to wait and see, avoid doing anything that chokes off growth in the Third World (which has dire risks of its own), and use geoengineering if anything really bad starts to happen.

FuzzyHugMonster (the true scotsman)

What are your thoughts on vegetarianism?


I find vegetarian arguments unconvincing. Human well-being just seems vastly more valuable than non-human animal well-being to me. I had a series of blog posts on insect welfare on this issue. Even strict vegans inevitably kill vast numbers of insects, and they don’t seem to think they’re doing anything wrong.

You could say that’s because insects don’t feel pain, but (a) that seems unlikely to me, and (b) if people did learn that insects feel pain, even ethically scrupulous people wouldn’t change their behavior much.


I love your work and I’m really waiting to passively aggressively give people ‘The Case against Education’.
Can you give us an overview what fields of science you used in your argument and your impression on how good the literature on it is.


I use economics, psychology (especially educational psych), sociology, and education research. As a rule, I try to read by topic, not discipline – to find out what anyone on Earth has figured out about whatever I’m writing about. How good is this research? Quality – and quantity – varies widely. But I won’t say that economists in general do a better job; we’re more methodologically clever, but often less interested in big blatant facts.

I try to sift the piles of evidence for readers, but of course that hinges on my own credibility…


Are you gone write a ‘The Case against Education’ style book on Open Borders? Also, could you give some pointers on the most relevant economics literature for the Open Borders question?


Right now I’m doing a non-fiction graphic novel on this topic, co-authored with Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal’s Zach Weinersmith. Title: All Roads Lead to Open Borders. Despite the entertaining format, I’m still researching it heavily. After I finish, my plan is to write a traditional tome on Poverty: Who To Blame. Immigration restrictions will be one of the three main blameworthy causes of poverty I’ll cover in the book.