Young Economics.

Overcoming Bias

with 4 comments

(Tip of the Hat to Overcoming Bias, an okay blog.)

The purpose of this post is to start a discussion of bias.  I believe that we are all biased.  This isn’t necessarily bad; bias can probably be a useful heuristic device and it also has emotional benefits, so we shouldn’t be too biased against bias.  However, it’s important to know what our biases are.

I often find myself saying something like “I am not a libertarian, but I have a strong predisposition against ‘big ideas’ to engineer certain social or economic outcomes through the exercise of central authority.”  I think that policymakers are not smart enough to get anything but the simplest things right except by chance, and that they have few incentives to choose optimal policies even if they were smart enough.

I have no principled opposition to the reasonable exercise of the coercive power of the state, however.  I therefore endorse state interventions to address some problems – those for which the costs of inaction are very large and the policy solutions are relatively simple.  Global warming is an example.

A problem is that I sometimes get lazy or emotional when considering a policy-relevant proposition, and I mindlessly respond like an extreme libertarian.*  My intuitions – my gut responses – are the same as those that a radical libertarian would have. I like to think that I can, over the long run, balance these intuitions with reason.**  However, it is more likely than not that my opinions are systematically biased toward a libertarian position.  I think it’s best to be upfront about this.

How about others?  What are your biases?  If you say that you have none, I will probably not believe you because I am biased against objectivity.

* When I refer to libertarianism, I mean a Hayekian epistemic brand of pseudo-libertarianism.  Other types – Chicago-style efficiency libertarianism, or natural rights-based libertarianism – have less appeal to me.

** I guess this is problematic because on some level, all knowledge claims are founded on intuition.  Whether intuition can be ‘good enough’ for those knowledge claims to count as knowledge is a big question that has made people’s brains ache for thousands of years.


Written by Alex

March 18, 2009 at 12:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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4 Responses

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  1. like anyone else, I have been always trying to “overcome bias”. yet, recently I always have this feeling that we need to promote biases in order to overcome biases. first, I am this kind of person believe that people can never turn into a saint, someone presumably unbiased. no, not possible even being close. base on this assumption, which may be false, this world is obviously lack of dimensions biases. limited relevent bias sourses are religions, nations, color, culture… we always have this habit to generalize things we experienced and teach to our fellow men, so call education. this progress presumably pushes our society forward. yet, for various reason, only “big ideas” are put in the market. when the demand for all variety biases faces the oligopoly bias manufacturers, too little to be produced and too high the price to be paid. Imagine grow up in a school, where you hang out with kids from every religion from the world. after 20 years trying to convince each other whose God is the true God, or whether there exists a God, you might be able to realize that people are essentially different. more importantly, you might be able to see that you don’t have to break into each other’s house to enforce your religion or idiology on the others. most importantly, you might be able to realize it is ok to hang out and have some beer in your basement with your buddies even you guys have different biases.


    March 19, 2009 at 5:43 pm

  2. My bias is thinking I’m correct. It’s the worse kind.


    March 21, 2009 at 5:23 pm

  3. I have a bias that I’m not willing to give up. My bias is a belief that people behave with pure and morally sound intentions.

    Alex asked me earlier if I was planning to comment on this post, and when I told him this bias he said “that is a dangerous bias to hold”. I won’t debate that fact, but is it not more dangerous to hold a belief on the opposite side of the spectrum? ie. that people are most likely acting in their own self interest with little remorse for others.

    Before going further, I’ll see what you all have to say about it…


    March 22, 2009 at 12:02 pm

  4. isn’t “belief that people behave with pure and morally sound intentions” also an “own self interest”? some people like money, some like good looking, some like fancy house, some like power, some like public service… and we work hard to persuit a fashion of life that make ourselves feels good. i always see this as the way how society function. well, when the like-ness turn into obsession, it mite cause damage on others. but we are really looking at a general equilibrium here, not a partial one, if majority get hurt from your happiness persuiting behavior, some one will come in kick your ass. interpretting helping and caring as a self-serving behavor has offended serveral buddies of mine before, so better stop here before someone show up and kick my ass^^


    March 22, 2009 at 5:14 pm

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