Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Do good ideas usually win?

So the last hundred years have been a pretty good one for the triumph of good ideas.  Trade in goods got much freer, apartheid ended in several states, communism is pretty much done for, lots of European states made smart labor market reforms and got government increasingly out of business ownership, Latin America became democratic, the west started regulating pollution, the welfare state, etc.  Great stuff!

It's given me a huge bias towards good ideas, and made me really dislike disingenuous arguments.  When people who hate the welfare state try to get rid of it under the guise of hating deficits, it bothers me.  When people who want far reaching gun control talk like they only support little niggling increases in gun restrictions, it bothers me.  When people who want to legalize marijuana pretend like they care about the hemp industry, I get miffed.  The fact that they talk themselves into sincerely believing these positions doesn't much help, either.  Don't these people know that good ideas win out!?  If they really think their ideas are so great, why not just argue them honestly?!  You may win short term gains by watering ideas down, but ultimately you are weakening your long-term goals by keeping your great arguments and beliefs under a bushel.  If your ideas are right we'll all be better off when you fight for them honestly and win.  If they are wrong we'll all be better off when you argue for them honestly and lose.  Just be honest!

But looking at history, I certainly can't claim good ideas always win out, at least over an acceptable time frame.  "Let's import some black slaves to man our farms" was a pretty terrible idea, but lasted for centuries. "Let's have open borders" was a great idea, but I only know of one country in the modern world that really tried it and we stopped.

So is my bias wrong?  Do good ideas always (or usually) win out, or should I get more comfortable with hypocritical arguments?

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