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[[File:ThePortal-Ep4 TimurKuran-EricWeinstein.png|600px|thumb|right|Eric Weinstein (right) talking with Professor Timur Kuran (left) on episode 4 of The Portal podcast]]
[[File:ThePortal-Ep4 TimurKuran-EricWeinstein.png|600px|thumb|right|Eric Weinstein (right) talking with Professor Timur Kuran (left) on episode 4 of The Portal podcast]]
Revision as of 14:53, 3 July 2020
What if everything we are taught in Economics 101 is not only wrong, but may even be setting us up for populism, dictatorship or revolution? On this episode of The Portal, Eric is joined by renegade economist and professor Timur Kuran whose theory of "Preference Falsification" appears to explain the world-wide surge towards populism, and is now threatening to rewrite the core tenets of modern economics.
What happens when entire societies of individuals lie to themselves and to each other? Does it set the stage for revolutions? If you've wondered what force is sweeping the planet towards a mysterious populism bringing Brexit, Trump and other improbable phenomena out of the shadows, then this your portal to a new economics of black markets in truth, authenticity and hidden desires.
Timur Kuran could well be the most important economist you've never heard of.
Eric Weinstein 0:01 - Timur, you have been accused of many things. Are they true?
Timur Kuran 0:04 - Are they true? Well, depends on what the accusations are.
Eric Weinstein 0:07 - Well, they're pretty, they're pretty extensive. I don't have time to go into them all.
Timur Kuran 0:10 - Okay, well, let me I trust you. We're friends. So yes.
Eric Weinstein 0:21 - Welcome, you found the portal. I'm your host, Eric Weinstein. And today we have something that I think is going to be very interesting for many of you. We are happy to have a guest that I've been looking forward to meeting for quite some time, has been a personal intellectual hero of mine. And he is the gorder family professor of Islamic Studies, a professor of economics and also a professor of political science all at Duke University. So welcome harsh coldness to our esteemed colleague, Dr. Timur Kuran,
Timur Kuran 0:52 - A delight to be here Eric. Thanks for the invitation.
Eric Weinstein 0:55 - So the reason that I've been so eager to have you here is that the this podcast is themed around the idea of escape from a more humdrum existence that is starting to, I think work less and less well for more people. And so we're trying to find ways out of the sort of cognitive traps that we've been held within for quite some time. And I first became aware of your work when I was searching for an explanation of why the field of economics builds such an utterly simplistic model of human preference and belief. And I was led to one book of yours in particular, called private truths and public lies. Hope I have the ordering on that correct
Timur Kuran 1:44 - yes private truths public lies, yes without the 'and',
Eric Weinstein 1:47 - okay, private truths, public lies, which brought an entirely new perspective in the field of economics, which is that of preference falsification, I wondered if you would sort of just Give us a brief introduction to this theory. And then perhaps I'll say a little bit more about why it's so powerful and also so incredibly dangerous to the field.
Timur Kuran 2:09 - So preference falsification is the act of misrepresenting our wants under perceived social pressures. And it aims deliberately at disguising one's motivations and one's dispositions is very common. And sometimes that occurs in very innocent situations. If I go into somebody's home, and they asked me, What do you think of the decor I've selected? I might actually, even though I don't like the decor doesn't suit my taste, I might say to say, Oh, it's wonderful compliments my hosts taste I falsified my preference, but not much harm has come out of it. I've avoided hurting my my hosts feelings. But preference falsification happens in a very, very wide array of settings and some of these settings, it leads to terrible consequences. In the political arena, people are and people, whether they're on the left or what they identify with the with the right or the some somewhere in between. People routinely falsify their political preferences for fear that they will be skewered. If they express exactly what's on their mind. If they say exactly what they want. If they expect suppress the ideas, excuse me, that lie under those those preference preferences. And just to give some examples from our society, immigration is one of these issues. Abortion is another issues. We have a clash of absolutes. You're either pro choice or pro life, and there's nothing in between. And if you take a position in between and offer a more nuanced opinion, that you favor free abortion, let us say in the first trimester, but not later on. You will be accused by both sides there's very little that you will gain and there's A great deal that you may lose. And in today's society, you may lose a lot of friends because the main fault line in American society today is political ideology. There are more people who will object to their son or daughter marrying somebody who holds the wrong idea, who supports the wrong party has the wrong ideology, then will oppose to their son or daughter marrying somebody of a different ethnic group or a different ethnic or different religion. So it can lead what what can happen on issues like this is happening on issues like this is we simply don't come to a resolution.
Eric Weinstein 5:47 - Yeah, so before we started this podcast, the time that we were talking together, I sort of made an unfriendly accusation which is that I think that you have developed a brilliant theory but that you have not actually even understood its full importance. And that part of this has to do with the oddity that sometimes to see what's so dangerous and what's so powerful you actually need curator. So I'm hoping to help by curating a little bit of what I've gotten out of out of your theory and how you've taught me even though we've never met before this week. One of the things I think that's fascinating is that we have a democracy that is stitched together through markets. And when you think about the role of economics in the free market, or even a managed market allows us to each individually direct a larger amount of our action without central direction. And so anything that happens in the economic sphere, like a new theory of preferences, could have absolutely powerful implications because of the role that our understanding of economics plays in underpinning civil society. One of the things that I think that's extremely dangerous about your theory. And one of the reasons I'm attracted to it is is that it is backwards compatible with standard economics. That is, if my private preferences and my public preferences are the same preference, then without loss of generality is we're fond of saying in mathematics, everything that you're bringing to the table is just some unnecessary extra variables because in fact, the two are coincident. However, if my public preferences and my private preferences are different, then while I can recover the old theory from your work, I'm now in some new territory in which I've expanded the field to accommodate new phenomena such as an election that whose result no one sees coming.
Timur Kuran 7:52 - And we've we've broadened the field to accommodate vast inefficiencies that our political system that involves people expressing their political preferences once every four years through a system that involves primaries, nominating conventions, and so on, and ultimately an election, that this system ultimately produces an outcome that reflects people's preferences. When you introduce preference falsification into the picture, when you accept it as something significant, and I would suggest that its significance is, is growing, you open up the possibility that our political system can generate outcomes that very few people want that generate very inefficient outcomes. You open up the possibility that because people are not openly expressing what's on their mind that the system of knowledge development, knowledge production, and knowledge development and therefore solving problems that that gets corrupted.
Eric Weinstein 9:15 - Well, in one of the ways in which I've tried to figure out how to make what you do a little bit more mimetic so that more people start to, to appreciate it. One of the ways I've tried to talk about it with among friends is that you have developed a theory of the black market in the marketplace of ideas, that is underground concepts, underground desires, unmet fears, that can't be discussed in the curated market, managed by institutions. Another way of saying is that this is the economy of silence, or the economy of deception. Do those fit?
Timur Kuran 9:55 - I would prefer economy of deception because people don't say stay silent. We don't have, you know, in our society on most issues, people don't have the luxury to stay silent when they are in an environment consisting mostly of pro-choice. People are mostly pro-life people, they are asked to take a position. So it's not that some people are speaking and other people are silent. If that were the case, we would know well, there there 70% of society is silent. They must not agree with either of the two extreme positions pro life and and when people say things like, but people actually pretend when they're in a group that is primarily or exclusively pro choice or pro life. They sense this. They take that position, that is preference, falsification, and in doing that, they also fail to express or choose not to express the reasons why they find an intermediate position more attractive.
Eric Weinstein 11:08 - Sure.
Timur Kuran 11:08 - And those all of those reasons get subtracted from public discourse. We have a very distorted public discourse on which that is underlying our whole political system.
Eric Weinstein 11:27 - So, I mean, there's so much that's juicy to dig into. I think that there that you may be undervaluing some of the aspects of silence where somebody will say, Well, look, I "I am not a very political person", somebody else might make an admonition "Keep your head down", "stick to your knitting", stay in your lane there all of these ways in which we do favor silence but those of us who have to speak in a professional capacity we're expected to form opinions on these things. We really don't have the luxury usually of staying silent.
Timur Kuran 12:00 - Yeah, I think I will grant this point that there are many issues on which we consciously avoid putting ourselves in positions where we will have to take a position. We
Eric Weinstein 12:15 - We take ourselves out of the game,
Timur Kuran 12:17 - we take ourselves out of the game, but and we're successful in doing that in most contexts. But in going through daily life, we find ourselves in situations in social events or in the workplace, where we have to take a position, everybody's taking a position, there's an issue that is you're sitting around the table and issue is being being discussed. And it has to do with workplace policy on some issue. And you have to take a position and you have to sometimes vote. So your point is well taken that there are there are whole in any person's life there there's there's a pretty broad zone in which you can, you can avoid not taking a position. So yeah,
Eric Weinstein 13:16 - Let's go back through a little bit of just modern history and talk about the times in which preference falsification even though people have often not had the terminology for this theory really came into its own in a way where people were so surprised by a turn of events, that they came to understand that people held preferences that were far different than the preferences that had been assumed to be held and relatively, let's say radical, radically quick shifts in that structure.
Timur Kuran 13:47 - Let me give you an example of from Eastern Europe. communism was remains high inefficient social system inefficient economically, highly repressive also. It was a puzzle to many people that it survived for decades in Eastern Europe. And for a long time, the dominant view was that what kept communism in place for decades in the Soviet satellites in the Soviet Union itself was brute force. And people would give the examples of Prague in 1968, or
Eric Weinstein 14:39 - the show trials
Timur Kuran 14:40 - or hungry, the, the show trials of of Stalin, this is the kind of thing the Gulag. people would talk about, you know, refer to Solzhenitsyn's book, when you actually looked at these societies that were some of them in which there were, there was no gulag and the prison population was smaller than the prison population at the time in the United States as a proportion. Czechoslovakia is a good example. So the wasn't Czechoslovakia wasn't a place that we associate with show trials. Yes, there was we think of 1968 when Soviet tanks came rolling in, but even after that you didn't have major trials, you didn't have huge numbers of people disappearing. So what is it that kept Czechoslovakia communist society, and what kept it a communist society is the people who hated the system, pretended to approve of the system and turned against dissidents, the very few dissidents who had the courage to say, this is a system that is not going to last forever. It's an inefficient system. It hasn't brought us freedom. The state hasn't withered away, it's gotten bigger, it's more important in our in our life, and they would turn against them. What sustained communism all across the Soviet Union and its eastern European satellites was preference falsification. Now what this meant was that the system was extremely unstable. People were falsifying their preferences because other people were doing so. I was even though I was against communism, and you were against communism, we both supported the system because the other was. Now this is a system where if one of us, decides for whatever reason that we're going to call a spade a spade and say this system doesn't work, I don't like it. I go out in the street and I start demonstrating a lot of other people are going to follow. So what happened is, ultimately, the when some demonstrations began, and it happened to be the demonstration started in, in East Germany, these demonstrations started growing every week, more and more people found themselves in themselves the courage to say what they believed and to come out against the regime. The regime itself didn't want to overreact. There were discussions in the Politburo. Some people said we better crack down right now or this is going to get out of hand. Other people said, Well, if we crack down now and some people die that can, the negative effects could be greater their winter is coming pretty soon it will be harder it will be people will be more reluctant to go out in the In the street, let's let this pass let's not overreact. Before they knew it the Berlin Wall was was down and that created a domino effect. Nobody foresaw that. And it's quite significant that among the people who who missed this were the dissidents, the the East European dissidents, who were the only people and I include in this all the top experts, CIA experts, the top academics studying Eastern Europe, almost a little understood what was holding the system together. Václav Havel wrote a book called The Power of the Powerless, and its main message was this society that hates communism holds within it, the power to topple it. Even he missed this even
Eric Weinstein 15:10 - yeah
Timur Kuran 15:38 - he was surprised, even he was surprised When Gorbachev came two weeks before the Czechoslovak revolution, when Gorbachev came to town, a million people came out in Prague to to greet him. They were enthusiastic. They thought change was coming. A New York Times reporter Robert Apple asked asked Václav Havel Is this the revolution that you are predicting is have people discovered that they have the power to topple the regime? And he said, I'm not a dreamer. He said, I'm probably not going to live to see
Eric Weinstein 19:37 - right
Timur Kuran 19:37 - this, this happen. So here's a case of a system built on preference falsification, that was sustained by preference falsification that suddenly collapses when a few people call it out and then you get the
Eric Weinstein 19:59 - the cascade,
Timur Kuran 20:00 - then you get the cascade.
Eric Weinstein 20:01 - So this is one of the things that I want to dig into, because the cascade effect is really a refinement, as I see it, of the old story of the Emperor's New Clothes where all it takes is one person. But then it's missing the mechanism. It's like Newton's laws, there's no ability to transmit gravity. It's an instantaneous action at a distance. To my way of thinking, the best way of understanding your theory for most people is to understand a motif that is found throughout American cinema. And the motif has a name, I believe inside the business, which is called the slow clap, which is that somebody can't take it anymore. And they give an impassioned speech that nobody's expecting that starts speaking to the unmet beliefs of a large group of people, none of whom have understood that there is a lot of support for this in terms of private preference. That's the first action. Now if I understand your theory correctly, people have private preferences and public preferences, but they have some threshold of alternate support in the group that will be necessary for them to update their public preferences towards their private preferences. And then the most important thing is, is that that crazy speech is followed by some anonymous member of the group who starts the slow clap. And that slow clap becomes oppressive. Because in that group, that person is saying, we all know that what has just been said reflects the group and then the slow clap is joined by a third person and that you watch the cascade visually.
Timur Kuran 21:52 - So the way this is what you're describing is a cascade that involves a large group of people who have different thresholds
Eric Weinstein 22:08 - correct.
Timur Kuran 22:09 - So can imagine that the very first people person in your example, who gives an impassioned speech who's just had enough, at some point, something happens. This person was just boiling with anger against the regime or the system or the policy, whatever it is, was boiling with anger. But knew, has known all along that there's a huge risk to acting on this. But something happens where that person says, I have just had enough. I, I, I'm willing to take the risk of going to prison for 20 years. I'm going to make this speech. I'm just going to say, I can't live with myself. And there are people in society with any given issue. There are people on it Given issue and that, and that person on one particular issue might feel that way, on other issues might might not, then there's somebody else who is also quite impassioned, also boiling with anger, which is a little bit less so. So the person again, to go to your example, the person who follows the impassioned speech, with the slow clap is that next person, the person with the slightly higher threshold, but that's the person who gave the impassioned speech. Awakens that person that that that courage was just enough to tip that person over the threshold. There are other people in the audience who have slightly higher thresholds. It takes two people to call a spade a spade say the Emperor is is naked. Say I'm opposed to this, this policy that person then jumps in, and so forth. What a cascade is a self reinforcing process, where every person who joins the movement, who's who changes his or her preference induces another person tips another person over his or her threshold. And so the system builds on itself. And over a very short time, you go from a condition where nobody is opposing the status quo, to where everybody is now in opposition, and it becomes now it can become dangerous to support the status quo ante, and this is actually something if we go back for a moment to the East European example, I spoke with the famous New York Times reporter Robert Apple, well two weeks after the Czechoslovak revolution the New York Times decided they had written about dissidents for two weeks they'd written lots of stories about dissidents, and about all these people have said, Oh, it was so bad living living a lie. And I'm so now we're going to. Now we're going to start living in truth and so on. It occurred to somebody in the New York Times editorial board. You know, this is a society that was run by communists. There's lots of people who are members of the Communist Party. We should do a story about them, what's happening to them, you know, they've been in power for half a century and they've suddenly overnight they've been pushed out of power. Let's send our best reporter to back to the region to interview them. So, Robert Apple lands in Prague and he starts looking for communists and of course he finds lots of people who have held communist party membership they say oh I'm not a communist and never was a communist. I was I was falsifying my preferences I had no choice I have I have children I had to you know, put them through school I wanted to keep my job I'm not a communist, and he and he wrote back a famous article in The New York Times that I can't, I could not find a communist anywhere. So what of course, this is, this is now preferable solution in reverse, because there are people who were benefiting handsomely from the system.
Eric Weinstein 26:55 - So it's an overshoot,
Timur Kuran 26:56 - this is an overshoot, this is an overshoot, now and now in Czechoslovakia, you did not have a witch hunt against the supporters of the old regime. Of course, the members of the old Politburo were all or most of them were sidelined that the two or three of them managed to repackage them as social democrats and repackage themselves as social democrats and continued in, in politics. Most of the people were were sidelined. There wasn't the witch hunt, but there were other countries in which there was a witch hunt. So it was very, it was and and of course, Czechoslovaks didn't know why what was going to happen there was always a danger that the that the new regime would go after the old communists and try to punish them and punish people who ran the jails and and had important positions in the in the Communist Party. But But it was so because there was a possibility of this danger. Now they pretended that they were all uh all along they were. They were lying. So, events, massive events that changed the course of history, which were unpredicted after the fact they become. One looks at them and one finds it impossible not to understand why they happened. We have the're overdetermined
Eric Weinstein 28:40 - right,
Timur Kuran 28:40 - we have tremendous amount of data showing why showing why the system had to collapse. Yet in reality, to go back to your example, if that one person hadn't made the impassioned speech, this thing could have gone on for more years,
Eric Weinstein 29:01 - well, let's play with this a little bit. One of the things that I find so fascinating about the theory is it also sort of starts to explain how in a society where people's private and public preferences are somewhat aligned. They can go out of alignment very quickly. So I don't know if you've seen the video, for example of Saddam Hussein coming to power at a Ba'ath party meeting in Iraq, which is fascinating.
Timur Kuran 29:28 - I'm not sure I have seen some videos of Saddam Hussein in Ba'ath party meetings. I'm not sure I saw that.
Eric Weinstein 29:35 - you'd remember it
Timur Kuran 29:36 - Maybe, maybe you
Eric Weinstein 29:37 - let me describe it for you, because you'll see the mechanism, the opposite direction
Timur Kuran 29:40 - Yes.
Eric Weinstein 29:42 - So he's sitting there on stage smoking a cigar and he's videoing himself. I think knowing what comes next he says, hey, we've got a special guest today. And a man who I don't know exactly who he was stands up and start speaking and saying I have plotted against saddam and I have co-conspirators in the audience and I'm going to name them now. Well, you see terror take over this auditorium, because there's also cameras, if I recall correctly on stage filming the people. And these names get read and these people are being led out. And then the preference falsification sets in, and you start seeing the private preferences, suppressed and the public preferences going into nonsense territory, and people are saying, Long live our brother saddam, he is the one because they realize that their life is on the line. And according to legend, and I don't know whether this is exactly true. Those who are left at the end are given sidearms to execute those who have been led out to make them complicit in the crime to freeze in the preference falsification or if you like people are now preferring to, to save their lives rather than preferring to explore their politics. So do we see I mean, I'm just trying
Timur Kuran 31:01 - I hadn't seen this video. I've heard just as a little footnote here that in north in North Korea, the Kim's have used the same sort of thing where they actually will say that they're going to name some people in the audience. The latest one where was where a relative of Kim Jong Un was, might have been an uncle or something who was actually led out this was the same sort of thing that happened in that case, I don't think it was somebody from the audience who pulled the trigger but everybody could hear a shot go he was obviously murdered. Everybody could hear that this was instantaneous. If you did if, if Kim decided you had betrayed him you will be put to death.
Eric Weinstein 31:58 - Well, this is what I have. a pet project of mine which I don't think I've ever advanced sufficiently, is what I term the analysis of message violence that there's certain violence that is committed theatrically as a instrument of transmission to induce preference falsification. So this is used by the cartels in Mexico. This used to great effect by the Kims it was used by Saddam Hussein. And with message violence, the idea is to create something so horrific beyond what is necessary to silence someone through murder and death, to communicate to others, the instant necessity of beginning to falsify their preferences. So that a it's a leveraging effect where a small amount of violence results in the maximum amount of preference falsification,
Timur Kuran 32:56 - yes, this does happen and there are plenty of examples. We can Given go back to the show trials of the Soviet Union where every single member, we're stalling got rid of every single member of Lenin's Politburo, all the heroes of the October Revolution and the building of the Soviet Union one by one he got rid of them through through show trials and the fact that such heroes could be executed in such humiliating ways sent of course, a message to the entire society that if this happens to them this could happen to this could happen to any anyone, but I would want to emphasize that preference false question even massive preference falsification can occur even without such theatrics. And if we come back to our own society, jumping from the Soviet Union and Iraq to the United States today, there are many issues on which we do not talk to each other, honestly, which there's a great deal of polarization and people and expressing nuances can get you in great, great trouble. And we cannot point to a single event. We can point to many smaller events, but no single event that has the theatrical acts of Saddam's Saddam's executions or what what the Kim's are doing
Eric Weinstein 34:28 - well, and I'm so glad that we're making this transition. Because as interesting as the historical examples are and the those that are particularly bloody, the best application of this theory, in my opinion, only comes from when we realize that violence can be moved from the physical sphere to the reputational and the economic sphere. So if you think about your reputation as part of what Richard Dawkins might have called our extended phenotype, it's something that you carry around with you. That is necessary for let's say employment. We now worry about reputational violence which can be exacted theatrically, for example, through social media. So the question of what we can say what we can discuss what we can explore has a similar character. If I take the James D'amour situation at Google, this was a particularly you know whether or not you thought his memo was brilliant or a little bit tone deaf. It certainly wasn't an insane exploration of misogyny it was some exploration of differences between men and women at the level of Big Five personality inventories. The idea being that success or failure might have a lot more to do with one's Big Five, let's say hedonic decomposition of our personalities rather than our actual gender. And then if males and females had different hedonic profiles at the level of Big Five personality inventory traits that could explain some of the imbalances. And he was actually, to my mind talking about the fact that if you wanted to have a more equal society of engineers, there are things that you might explore to try to actually better utilize women in the workplace. Now, whether or not you buy into that, or it certainly didn't seem like an insane thing to suggest, and yet, the reputational violence that was exacted on somebody who was told to attend a seminar and asked for feedback seemed to me to be of a piece with this kind of message violence but not at a physical level at a reputational level. Do you think that there's some parallel there?
Timur Kuran 36:46 - Yes, I think the reputational violence can do enormous harm in the society not only can it can it affect your job prospects, your prospects for promotion in the company that you're working for, you can lose a lot of friends, it can affect your prospects in the marriage market. 50 years ago, when people were asked Americans were asked whether they would mind whether their daughter or son married somebody of the opposite party. About 20% said that it would make any difference to them. By contrast, more than half of Americans said that if their son or daughter married somebody of the opposite of a different ethnic group, or have a different religion, this would matter to them and many people said they would not accept the person a different religion, different ethnic group different race into their their family. Those numbers have come way down over the years. By contrast, the numbers regarding ideological differences and party affiliation have gone way up today. So this So, being attacked or coming back to reputational violence, being pigeonholed as a radical Republican, or even as a Republican or being pigeonholed
Eric Weinstein 38:36 - radical is implied
Timur Kuran 38:37 - and radical is implied for many people or
Eric Weinstein 38:39 - same on the Democratic side
Timur Kuran 38:40 - or being pigeon holed as a Democrat even even then
Eric Weinstein 38:44 - now you're a radical leftist
Timur Kuran 38:45 - not even not even not even a progressive democrat just
Eric Weinstein 38:47 - right
Timur Kuran 38:48 - to many people. The all democrats are the same whether you know, the nuances between
Eric Weinstein 38:53 - well the're libtards
Timur Kuran 38:54 - with the progressives and more what we call the way many of us would call more moderate Democrats, there's no such distinctions. They're all on the wrong side. And there are people who do not want to befriend them, who would be completely against their son or daughter marrying a democrat or republican depending on who they are. And you can see why at the Thanksgiving table, the tensions would be enormous, because it would bring them to bring Democrats and Republicans together, even moderate Democrats and Republicans together these days, let alone people on the on the right side of the republican party with the progressive Democrats is a is a recipe for complete disagreement for opening up issues that will expose hatreds Because the two sides no longer talk to each other, because no one accepts the possibility the viability of a middle of some kind of compromise. People don't know how to talk to each other people don't know where their differences begin and where they might actually have some room for, for compromise. And so there's a reason why these days, people feel that if they are pigeon holed, if they say something that then allows others to put them into one of these pigeon holes, political ideological pigeon holes, that their life will be ruined. And so, this is let's go back now to the East European situation. This is similar to what the dis dissidents faced in Czechoslovakia. Yes, dissidents who didn't distance like Václav Havel, who did spend small, short periods in and out of prison, but mostly he was allowed to be a dissident playwright, but he got enormous amount of hate mail. Most people, even people whom he knew from earlier times in his life, would not say hello to him for fear that the friendship would imply that they sympathized with his ideas, they cross to the other side of the road that they saw him coming to so they wouldn't have to confront them. This, so his social circle got got smaller the number of people he could go to ask for for help diminished. So all of this was all of these inconveniences. This is happening right now in the United States. It means that if if you cannot live with somebody of the other party as a close relative of yours, if you cannot talk to the other side because you think they're just beyond the pale, they're subhuman their ideas just are are inhumane. They're just that there's no way you can even begin to consider their validity or consider them as worth discussing as part of a part of a conversation. You're certainly not going to see them as people you can go to in a time of trouble. That is why you would rather live in a neighborhood consisting of republican where everybody's republican and if you're a democrat where everybody's a Democrat, because you like in a time of need and time of emergency, you'd like to be able to go to your neighbors, you'd like to you'd like to have neighbors with whom you can have pleasant chats when you meet them in the street when you're walking your dog and you meet them in the street and not have to ignore them and see them as evil people.
Eric Weinstein 43:24 - Well, so this is and I mean it's fascinating to me. So many different ways to go here. I'm trying to figure out what what the best line through is. One thing that I'm fascinated by maybe we'll come back to this is what is the force that makes the middle so difficult to hold that pushes more and more people to towards either being sort of what I've termed troglodytes or dupes. makes it very difficult to to I guess what my model is that you had A-frame roof as the A-frame roof gets more and more peaked. There are a fewer number of Fiddler's who can stay on the a frame roof without falling over to the left or to the right. And so that right now, I think that the skill level needed to inhabit a sensible position is priced out of almost all of our abilities.
Timur Kuran 44:21 - I mean, this is it for what leads you from a position where 50 years ago where we had again, people on the extremes we had people who favored segregation, people favored desegregation. We had we had serious disagreements before, but there were many people in society who held positions had strong opinions but also felt that the people on the other side were humans. Were well meaning,
Eric Weinstein 45:09 - right
Timur Kuran 45:09 - And could be parties to a conversation,
Eric Weinstein 45:13 - right,
Timur Kuran 45:14 - and you could compromise with them. So when you picked up the New York Times after some vote in Congress, 50 years ago, there would be a list of Democrats voting for Democrats voting against Republicans voting for Republicans voting against them. There are lots of people in all four of those groups. And all four of those groups were considered legitimate,
Eric Weinstein 45:37 - right
Timur Kuran 45:37 - Even the people who have voted yes, it considered the people who had voted no in their party. They considered them as legitimate senators or legitimate Congresspeople and they, on some other bill, they cooperated with them. So this was and of course you just mentioned a skill set there's a skill set that went with that the skill set was that you could you and I could disagree on issue A
Eric Weinstein 46:10 - yeah
Timur Kuran 46:10 - and and and debate for days and days and days and why your I could say that your thing is going to lead to disaster along this front and and you could say the same thing about me at the same time at the end of the day, one of us would win the bill would either pass or lose or there would be this would go into some conference who does some kind of compromise. You and I would accept that compromise as legitimate. And so we would we develop the skills. As we did this we develop the skills of compromise the whole political system developed this and society saw this and accepted that people Republicans and Democrats both legitimate representing legitimate sides of legitimate positions on issues subject to screaming, we gradually have moved. It's a cascade,
Eric Weinstein 47:11 - Right.
Timur Kuran 47:11 - that has moved us gradually that has expanded the area an area of absolutes, positions on which we have apps issues on which we have absolute positions, and they're not subject to discussion. And what's happening what has happened in the last few decades is that the number of such issues has grown. As this has happened, we have the the number of issues on which we no longer discuss we just have absolute positions where pro-choice or pro-life we don't discuss. We don't have conferences where we discuss what kind of bringing people from both sides say what kind of compromise, can we
Eric Weinstein 48:01 - will this compromise at a political level, but I think it's also a question about the intellectual basis of our conversation. So let's just take pro-life and pro-choice.
Timur Kuran 48:09 - Yes.
Eric Weinstein 48:11 - I talked about sometimes dining ala carte intellectually, where I can't get my needs met in a low resolution world, anyplace and so I sort of pick and choose which bits of things I need. And I sort of think of this as political flatland that people are trapped in pro-life versus pro-choice. And my real position is a plague on both your houses. I'm not pro-choice. To the extent that I'm willing to call a child four minutes before its birth, fetal tissue, nor my pro-life to the extent that I'm going to call a blastosphere, a baby. Both of those seem patently insane to me. And nowhere do I get to discuss Carnegie stages and embryonic Development, which would be sort of a kind of a more scientific approach to what quality of life is it that we're trying to preserve. And yet I caucus if you will, with the pro-choice community, not because I hold the idea that it's simply a woman's right to choose, because obviously there's something else that's going on inside of the woman. There's the whole miracle of gestation and reproduction. But if people see that I caucus pro choice, then they say, okay, you're willing to sit with somebody who's willing to terminate a third trimester pregnancy frivolously because they're ideologically committed to it. Ergo, you're evil. Ergo, we can no longer be friends. And my key point is, look, I'll drop these people in a heartbeat if you give me some nuanced room in which to maneuver let's talk about the neural tube formation. Let's talk about what we Think of his life is that the emotional connection to seeing something one recognizes is human? Is it the quality of the of the brain? Is it something mystical in ineffable? Are you coming from a religious tradition? The key point is to make it impossible to have a discussion. And, you know, I remember being beaten up on a picket line in a picket line where there was a group that was picketing a, an abortion clinic, and I was demonstrating for the right to keep it open. And I got beat up in Rhode Island on camera. And after this incident, I think I had a chance to talk to the person I thought it hit me with the picket sign. And it turned out that we could come to we couldn't get all the way there. But there was at least a partial rapprochement where we could say, well, I see where you're coming from, I see where you're coming from. Maybe we can understand that you're both motivated by the best interests that we as we perceive them, that has gone away in large measure, because what we've taken or at least this is my understanding is our institutional media and our sense making apparatus and they have become complicit in making the center that is the sensible and analytic center absolutely uninhabitable.
Timur Kuran 51:20 - Yes
Eric Weinstein 51:20 - Does that match your..
Timur Kuran 51:21 - I think this has happened. And I think this has happened in a growing range on a growing range of issues, which is why. Now we go back to New York Times lists of who in which party voted which way, sometimes that list doesn't appear because simply party they say is just a party line vote. And this is a reflection of society, that and it's not that within the Republican Party or within the Democratic Party, you don't have people on whatever the issue is. You don't have people in in the middle. But that if they take if they bring up the nuances, if they try to bring the conversation a little bit toward a compromise, they will get skewered by the people, by their own people or the other side,
Eric Weinstein 52:26 - right
Timur Kuran 52:26 - and the other side will not come to their defense. And in fact, if the other side does come to their defense, that's a terrible signal for them, and they'll be skewered by their own side.
Eric Weinstein 52:37 - What concerns me here, though, is that we are dependent on people of integrity, who risked everything when it was least popular to do it, so that we can sort of hold these people in reserve. So when the madness becomes too great, we can turn to them. Let me just take a couple of examples that matter to me, one of which was the Patriot Act. And then when the Patriot Act was voted in, in the wake of 9-11, and there was this sort of mob hysteria to do something, because something very significant had happened to us. Only one person, only one senator voted against it. And that was Russ Feingold. And so I don't have a clear memory of the other names in the senate at that time, but I will always remember Russ Feingold for the courage to stand alone. a different sort of version of that, I think about as Katharine Hepburn, who is the sort of the most loved of all all Hollywood actresses, I think she had four Academy Awards that she used as doorstops for her bathrooms. Because she didn't seem to give a wit what other people thought of her. And she went and did, if I recall correctly, you know, Connecticut community theater theater during the McCarthy era, because she was just going to wait out the stupidity, the excess and the idiocy of the movement. Whereas, a Humphrey Bogart who or organized an artist's push to fight back against this was immediately cowed by an article in Filmfare magazine if I recall correctly. He said, Well, sorry, he had to write an article saying, Hey, you know, don't call me red you, I'll never do that again. And the great Humphrey Bogart, the tough guy of movies crumbled under this pressure, whereas Katharine Hepburn, his co star, you know, sort of stood tall and waited it out, do we have these hyper individuals, these incredibly disagreeable people in the sense of the agreeable component of the Big Five personality inventory, where we know who they are, and we know to whom we can look in times of crisis?
Timur Kuran 54:46 - Well on particular issues, you will find people who write books that advocate a middle position that I do identify all the nuances that portray both sides as having legitimate goals, they don't necessarily get attention. So they they write a book, whether the issue is abortion or immigration, it takes some kind of middle position, it doesn't get the play in the media
Eric Weinstein 55:27 - right
Timur Kuran 55:27 - that it that a book that takes a very strong position a very absolutist position does so so yes there do on any on any given issue, there are some some people who you can find people who are trying to start a dialogue you can find here their little associations, little nonprofit organizations that are trying to start a dialogue doing so but they just don't. That's not where the what the media pays pays attention to. So effectively, they don't exist. And the the groups that increasingly, the groups that get attention are the groups that pigeonhole people into one side, you're either for us or against us. And the two sides, the two extremes, both of whom are playing this game of you're, you're with us or against us, the're actually reinforcing each other.
Eric Weinstein 56:40 - Yeah, yeah, they're agreed.
Timur Kuran 56:41 - They're completely agreed on that.
Eric Weinstein 56:43 - Yeah,
Timur Kuran 56:43 - that there is no middle position. And having a middle position and having the media pay attention to the people in the middle would hurt them both.
Eric Weinstein 56:52 - Yeah, I don't think it's in the middle. I mean, I really think and for those of you who were watching, rather than listening, I think that there's this very flat, low dimensional plane where these positions live. And what we're calling the middle is not the thing between these. It's in a higher dimensional space that combines these crappy low-resolution moronic positions, and it projects to the middle. But it isn't the middle.
Timur Kuran 57:18 - Absolutely, absolutely. There are many more dimensions that they ... these. It's simply that these simple position, positions hide I completely agree with that. And, and the middle is is often is more complex involves many more dimensions. And these dimensions to go back now to these extreme groups that don't want these dimensions to be brought into the picture. So for the pro life group, the issue is, are you going to terminate the life or not
Eric Weinstein 57:56 - right
Timur Kuran 57:57 - and for the pro choice group is do you Respect a woman's right to choose. And so each one of them for each one of them is just a one dimensional thing. There's a yes, no answer its a yes/no answer. And there's no bring in some other dimension is immediately gets you in trouble.
Eric Weinstein 58:20 - So I want to talk about the specific weirdness of economic theory. Yes. Now, I claim to be an economist, I've never taken a class in economics and partially The reason for that is that I developed a theory with my wife about gauge theoretic economics. And I always thought that if we could get attacked, and somebody could say, well, you're not really an economist, I'd get a chance to defend myself because it dealt with another aspect there. They're the great adjustments to preference theory. preference falsification is yours. Yeah. gauge theoretic changing preferences is ours, Paul Samuelson had one about incoherent preferences. That was he buried in his Nobel acceptance speech,
Timur Kuran 59:05 - which has received very little play in economics
Eric Weinstein 59:07 - almost nothing. He was the one who pointed it.
Timur Kuran 59:09 - Yeah,
Eric Weinstein 59:09 - pointed me to it saying, you know, this idea that we don't actually even have preferences is something I always thought was important. He saw it as the lack of integralability of tangent planes to create indifferent surfaces, for those of you geeks following at home. And all of these theories about what's wrong with our preferences, George Soros has one about beliefs with reflexivity have been really effectively kept out of the mainstream of economic theory. And I find it, I view economic theory is a little bit like it's not quite as totalitarian as North Korea, but it's very similar to certain places in Eastern Europe where there's that what you can explore freely in that what you can't talk about, or at least it was this way until recently. Now, I look at the moment where I think you had your kind of Saddam Hussein moment about what we can and can't discuss. And I trace it in part its funny to even think of it in these terms to Becker and Stigler's paper called De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum. And in it, they hardened the theory of fixed preferences to a dogma by comparing preferences to the Rocky Mountains, and they said on on our interpretation, there's an alternate view of why we can't discuss tastes. And that's because like the Rocky Mountains, they are unchanging over time, and the same to all men. And you know, my jaw dropped as an outsider because I hadn't been indoctrinated when I read this. And I thought that is the single, craziest, idiotic thing that could be said about human beings and their beliefs and preferences. And yet, somehow it became Have a famous paper as opposed to being laughed out of the field.
Timur Kuran 1:01:03 - Well, there was here's again an example of a theory that is foundational to discipline that gets falsified. I think his first name was Richard Richard Herrnstein. You would does the name ring a bell at ah Harvard was Richard or Robert, remember but anyway Herrnstein, he developed a theory that explained a phenomenon that that Becker swept under the rug which is that an addicts heroin addicts preferences,
Eric Weinstein 1:01:51 - hyperbolic discounting
Timur Kuran 1:01:52 - do change through hyperbolic discounting so there are many addicts who after they've taken their fix want to, they understand now that the panic attack is gone away. And they understand that this heroin addiction is ruining their life and they very sincerely want to give it up. They very sincerely want not to take more heroin.
Eric Weinstein 1:02:31 - Right?
Timur Kuran 1:02:32 - But a few hours pass and they need their body starts
Eric Weinstein 1:02:40 - jonesing
Timur Kuran 1:02:40 - they they start craving
Eric Weinstein 1:02:42 - Yeah,
Timur Kuran 1:02:43 - heroin again, they need a new fix. And they get to the point where their preferences change to let me have one more
Eric Weinstein 1:02:53 - I'll quit afterwards,
Timur Kuran 1:02:55 - and I'll quit afterwards. I am prepared to quit now. A few hours ago they were prepared To put immediately, now they're willing to quit. But after I get my next fix, and this thing can go on again again, so you have inter-temporally inconsistent preferences. So this is another problem with the, with the economics discipline. But economics is not immune to the forces that we've been talking about,
Eric Weinstein 1:03:30 - well,
Timur Kuran 1:03:30 - there is preference falsification. In the economics discipline, there are certain fundamentals of the discipline and if you challenge them, as a young person, you're never going to get a job.
Eric Weinstein 1:03:49 - right.
Timur Kuran 1:03:50 - And if you and if you challenge them before you get tenure, you're not going to get a job. But if you develop a reputation to get tenure, you have to develop a certain reputation. And that has involved adhering to the conventions of the discipline. Theoretically, you could after you got tenure, you could switch. But the costs then are huge because you've developed a certain there's a lot of reputational capital you have.
Eric Weinstein 1:04:23 - And we're watching a lot of prominent economists sort of change their position without announcing that they used to be, in effect working for a nonsensical theory, or at least quieting themselves. I was astounded by Paul Krugman's column, or maybe as a blog post called a protectionist moment where he starts talking about the scam of the elites forever freer trade, where I associated that with sort of the intellectual force of Jagdish Bhagwati. And some of these theorists who clearly were sort of pursuing political position where, you know, in the case of like free trade, there, there are two separate phenomenon, you can say that something would parado improve the society if everyone is made either as well off as they are today or better off. And then there's this other kind of more technical version of this called Kaldor Hicks improvement, which is that if we were to tax winners to pay losers, then everyone would be parado improved. And I've noticed this very interesting thing about economists, where they have two voices they have the voice that they have to use in the seminar room, because there's nowhere to hide from the fact that a lot of these public pronouncements are absolute nonsense. And then the claim is, is that oh, well, when we're in our seminar voice, and then maybe this was Danny Rodricks phraseology, I can't remember whose it was. But then when we speak publicly, we're allowed to say something that is actually different. It's not the same thing in two different voices. It's an idea that there's an exoteric and an esoteric way of expression, which is a sort of Straussian theory and the esoteric is reserved for one's colleagues. But we're actually allowed to lie to the public to help the fortunes of the politicians we favor when we're speaking publicly What the hell is going on?
Timur Kuran 1:06:22 - So there there's some people who have achieved a certain stature in the profession. And yet they feel there's certain things that are wrong about the profession or that they can't say within the profession, they develop a second persona, which is their op-ed personality
Eric Weinstein 1:06:44 - the're policy entrepreneurs
Timur Kuran 1:06:45 - and the're, but the're, the're the'er policy entrepreneurs and as public intellectuals, they're much more critical of the discipline than they are within the discipline or they have decided that there really isn't a possibility of changing the discipline. But there's certain points that have to be made. And they're going to make them anyway and they're going to make them in a much less technical way. And there's there's a third a charitable interpretation. I think this does apply to some of my colleagues, I would say, they believe that the, the the core principles of economics, even if they're not true, even if they don't give you a reflection of the real economy, they lead to useful correct thinking that they're very useful for disciplining your way of thinking, thinking as an economist and they represent, they give you a good base model, which you can tweak
Eric Weinstein 1:08:07 - right
Timur Kuran 1:08:07 - to, to bring in reality. So I have had some people say to some people who for years did not take my work on preference falsification seriously, who have now come to the position that this is a useful extension of economics. And they've said, you know, you did use standard economic tools of utility maximization.
Eric Weinstein 1:08:42 - Yes.
Timur Kuran 1:08:43 - In order to get to this point. And there is
Eric Weinstein 1:08:49 - that's why you're so dangerous
Timur Kuran 1:08:50 - there is a, there is a point to that. Yeah, but there's a point to that.
Eric Weinstein 1:08:53 - The problem is, is that that's why it's actually intellectual kryptonite. So, because your theory can be accommodated within the standard theory,
Timur Kuran 1:09:01 - yes.
Eric Weinstein 1:09:03 - The question is well, okay,
Timur Kuran 1:09:05 - a version of it.
Eric Weinstein 1:09:06 - Yeah, well, I I think I could do a pretty decent job of shoehorning it into this sort of Samuelson neoclassical perspective. The problem is it's a ready made upgrade to the existing theory in which nothing is lost, but new degrees of freedom are gained. And that could have an absolutely unpredictable effect on the entire field because it's at the level of the substrate.
Timur Kuran 1:09:31 - But the the big danger is that so many propositions involving efficiency, that if you let the system
Eric Weinstein 1:09:41 - and revealed preferences
Timur Kuran 1:09:42 - you left and and the the principle of revealed preferences that that that actions reveal people's people's preferences that goes out the window, and many efficient properties if if that if you allow people to to interact with each other, you're going to get efficient political solutions you're going to get efficient solutions in in the market. My way of thinking leads you to multiple equilibria. And one equilibrium can be preferable to another.
Eric Weinstein 1:10:26 - So this is one of the great dangers for economists as high priests, which is if there are multiple ways in which a market can evolve. Therefore, you can't say that the market finds the optimum because you can't say which of these things actually was the optimum.
Timur Kuran 1:10:41 - And there's a danger to political economy, which is that the political system what the political system generates, is not whether you have elections or not, and whether you have a secret ballot or not, is is not necessarily efficient. Because if you in a system where people are are not cannot speak freely. Many ideas are stuck underground, they're not being expressed. People are when people are going through the primary process. They're not thinking of all the options. They're not thinking of all the dimensions. They're thinking in a single dimension. And so they're not coming up with the with candidates who hold the best positions, whatever your values are, or a set of coherence is something we haven't talked about is the coherence of various policies. one of the things that can get you in great trouble is if you say, within the Republican party or the Democratic Party, look this policy on this policy I'm with you on this other policy I'm also with you and on this other third policy I'm also with you, but the three policies you cannot put them. You can't we don't have the resources to accomplish all
Eric Weinstein 1:12:14 - drug interactions between ideas
Timur Kuran 1:12:16 - what are your what are your and some of these policies undermine others these are not necessarily consistent with one another. So in the eh with these these parties or coalitions these coalitions have certain objectives
Eric Weinstein 1:12:33 - right
Timur Kuran 1:12:34 - they are they are deliberately keeping quiet about the contradictions.
Eric Weinstein 1:12:44 - Well, I think
Timur Kuran 1:12:45 - among these Among these,
Eric Weinstein 1:12:46 - I think there's some contradictions that we legitimately even lies I talk about load bearing fictions.
Timur Kuran 1:12:52 - Yes.
Eric Weinstein 1:12:53 - We have to have some number of load bearing fictions in any society because you can't actually just do everything in broad daylight and hope that every everything that we want can be harmonized, some people are gonna have to accept that there are trade offs. Who can't intellectually accept that there are trade offs, and they will require load bearing fictions, for example, we do, we do convict innocent people using our system of justice. And there's nothing magical about 12 people on a jury being able to decide what actually happened. But if we don't have some kind of mysticism around the wisdom of a jury of our peers, we won't be able to mete out almost any justice at all. So I don't think that we can hope for a sort of child's vision of an honest society. But what I find really impressive is the rent seeking aspect of keeping it so expensive to investigate something that it's impossible. So you talked about a system of selective pressures where if you raise certain questions, you won't be employed and therefore through survive directed survivor bias. There's nobody at the top of a profession who will speak about something openly and in public. One of the things I've been curious about it, my wife has a concept that she's talked about called economics squared. The econ economics of economists. So economists are famous for training their lens on everyone else, except for themselves. They'll talk about what are the economics of a physician in trying to figure out how to allocate scarce organs, very upsetting things. And the culture of economics for those who don't know, is that economists don't blink when they talk about things that are incredibly upsetting. That this is they're part of a technocratic class who considers emotions to be beneath them. The one place that I can find where they cannot actually have an honest conversation in general, is if you say, let's talk about the economics of being a macroeconomist. You know, if you're so good at understanding the economy, you should be able to trade in the market which is relatively complete because there are instruments of every kind to place any bet. Why are you asking for a grant? Because obviously, if you're any good, you should be, you should be rich, not because if you're so smart, why aren't you rich works in general, but you happen to be concerned about the one thing where that would be the proof of concept. Can economic squared be born?
Timur Kuran 1:15:24 - Well, this is I mean, asking, I cannot imagine being in a department meeting where somebody asked this question and says, Why don't we base our hiring on of say macroeconomists on how well they've done in a market? or I, I think they would be immediately left out. I don't think it would ever make it onto the agenda. I think the institutional pressures against applying such a criteria are too great because economists also believe, most academic economists, that they have come into an institution where the primary goal is seeking the truth. They've given up possibly more lucrative careers, and they should not be there for judged on the basis of how well they do.
Eric Weinstein 1:16:43 - I'm not saying only trading. Maybe you could ask the question, for example, does being an expert witness as an economist?
Timur Kuran 1:16:50 - Yes,
Eric Weinstein 1:16:50 - for one side or the other influence the objectivity of your judgment? You could ask the question does the prestige of being invited to Jackson's Hole affect the quality of discussion? Because people don't want to be excommunicated from the priestly class, you could ask the question of whether or not the secret Harvard jobs market meeting which is a particular problem for me, actually serves the interests of economics or serves the interests of the higher ups in the,
Timur Kuran 1:17:27 - in the profession,
Eric Weinstein 1:17:27 - in the profession by being a direct interference in the free trade of ideas, all of the really fun questions that economic economists would ask in a heartbeat about anyone else they refuse to ask about themselves. So it's quite a bit more pointed than just asking for trading prowess among macroeconomists. You've the profession and this isn't against you, the profession has trained it's magnifying glass on everyone else. When do we start doing the economics of economists?
Timur Kuran 1:17:59 - You know, again, I think there are a few people here and there who publish in journals that very few people read who have done this sort of thing. There have been studies of the economics profession Mirowski Philip Mirowski
Eric Weinstein 1:18:27 - More Heat than Light,
Timur Kuran 1:18:28 - More Heat than Light I think might be was he he has done some work along these lines.
Eric Weinstein 1:18:37 - Economics is failed physics.
Timur Kuran 1:18:39 - Yeah. But the people doing this are not people at the top of the profession
Eric Weinstein 1:18:47 - as perceived
Timur Kuran 1:18:48 - as as perceived as perceived by the departments that get take the first picks when the junior job market opens are considered in the rankings in the US News and World Report rankings are considered the top departments to get a PhD from and so on. Based on on that ranking people who are at the top are not among those asking the question. So again as with other issues, which were very polarized, other issues on which there are taboos
Eric Weinstein 1:19:36 - right
Timur Kuran 1:19:36 - areas that quest questions that involve or that raise questions that nobody can really or that bring to mind questions that nobody can really ask at least in polite, in polite the company. As in those cases here, the questions the contradictions you're raising have been noticed. There are people who have written they just don't get attention. They don't again..
Eric Weinstein 1:20:10 - but but, to me like it's like saying, you know who is the greater wrestler? Gorgeous George who wrestled in part of the professional wrestling arena where everything is fixed. Or Khabib Nurmagomedov, who wrestled inside of the UFC? Who's an unbelievable grappler. Well, I don't think that Nurmagomedov has ever achieved what has been achieved inside of the WWE. When everything's scripted you can do things that are so much more fantastic than anybody outside. And yet, what we've been trying to do in part is to ask the question, why can't we smuggle legitimate economic kryptonite into the economics profession so that it can grow into a real field, if I think about the favorite example is imagine that you've got alchemy and chemistry in the same department, or you've got astrology and astronomy in the same department, the great opportunities to get rid of the astrologists and get rid of the alchemists,
Timur Kuran 1:21:15 - right
Eric Weinstein 1:21:15 - Because it's not that all of economics is nonsense, but so many of the perceived top players in the field are actually acting as professional wrestlers, that it's time for the revolution that I would imagine. Your theory actually predicts. It's so ripe and so many of us who are mathematically inclined look at the kind of the history of mathematical intimidation. And when you think this is mathematically intimdating, you guys aren't even that good at math.
Timur Kuran 1:21:45 - You know, this, this may actually happen through the young generation. And it might actually took a couple of generations one huge change that has happened in the economics profession.
Eric Weinstein 1:21:59 - Data
Timur Kuran 1:21:59 Since, exactly, since Becker and Stigler road Augusta was known as Disputandum,
Eric Weinstein 1:22:07 - yeah,
Timur Kuran 1:22:07 - that was, I believe 1977 Yeah. Since they wrote that the most prestigious field within economics, which used to be economic theory, has lost prestige, the best economists now go into data heavy area, and they are driven by empirics. And often the theory follows the empirical work that they do if there's a theory at all and
Eric Weinstein 1:22:45 - sometimes with like deep learning you don't even know what the theory is
Timur Kuran 1:22:48 - you don't even know what the theory is and they start with so much data that they they just start analyzing it from some some corner of the the issue and then hope to come to and that leads in the very, very best of those works, then generate new theories. So where now the empirical parts of the profession are driving the theoretical
and the theory and the theory and the theory. The the old theorists who were trained as theorists never to touch and to look down on people who worked with the with the data, look down on on them, many of them are retiring. They are being replaced by theorists who are who are getting accustomed to operating in departments where the bigwigs
Eric Weinstein 1:24:00 - Are the data cowboys
Timur Kuran 1:24:02 -
are the data cow cowboys, and this is going to have some effect on the theory because the empiricists that I talked to in the economics profession now, consider a lot of the theory a waste of time, a lot of it highly. Highly misleading.
Eric Weinstein 1:24:27 - Yes,
Timur Kuran 1:24:28 - some of it far too abstract and, and irrelevant and that the the theory taught to the first year graduate students and even going before that to undergraduates and master students, that this has to change. Nobody yet though, has come up with the equivalent of Paul Samuelson's first edition of economics
Eric Weinstein 1:25:01 - Well, this is
Timur Kuran 1:25:01 - where he where he wrote where he
Eric Weinstein 1:25:04 - a framework a extensensible framework for which it almost any question that can be posed can be posed within the framework
Timur Kuran 1:25:12 - within the framework. And and it was and it was, and and within a few years, all major departments were using either Paul Samuelson's textbook or textbooks written according to the same template following you know, basically offering the same thing at a somewhat higher level somewhat lower lower level, but basically and that is that has come down to the present. There have been a few attempts to bring in behavioral economics for example, the're the're textbooks are not quite popular people like Bob Frank, Daniel Kahneman have of course introduced new ideas about, concerning behavior and how people how people think. And they've been attempts to bring some of these ideas into textbooks, but they don't define the mainstream yet.
Eric Weinstein 1:26:23 - Well, this is, this is the thing that I think people don't realize about economics, which is I could make a decent argument that our two greatest theories or two greatest intellectual theories that we've ever come up with, would be Darwinian selection in the in the realm of biology, and which I think has flaws and what I would call geometric dynamics, which covers both the modern understanding of the standard model and general relativity and what's weird is is that economics if you think about it is a decision to make a continuation of selection by other means, which is to come up with an as if physics to mediate selective pressures between apes, which is us, and it's the only place I know where there's a meaningful interaction be possible between our two greatest ideas. So for me, the really interesting part of economics is that it is the one place where our greatest ideas might even touch and reproduce. The problem I have what the profession is, is that the fear of what could happen if we started to do real economics has locked out the kind of innovative spirit which requires both much more detailed knowledge of selection as per Kahneman and Tversky, and much greater understanding of mathematics. It's not that you guys have used too much mathematics it's that you're not good enough and you're not advanced enough in mathematics, lots of people have master's degrees, very few of PhDs and very few of those are trained in the few subjects that would reveal market markets to be truly geometric, which is a revolution that happened between geometry and physics in the mid 70s, or for the Standard Model, or the teens for Einstein's theory of relativity. You guys are next. And it's a question of people holding back the possibility for genuine innovation. So this is a place where I've been hoping the preference falsification would actually lead to the cascade effect that we began this podcast talking about.
Timur Kuran 1:28:37 - Well, this is I'm not sure that actually don't think that this is going to happen through people who have who are currently falsifying their preferences to agree with the direction you go,
Eric Weinstein 1:28:57 - right.
Timur Kuran 1:28:58 - And then they become, disguising their preferences, they the chairman of the major department, then they suddenly suddenly redirect hiring and the department changes. I don't think it's going to happen that way. I think it will happen through the emergence of new departments and smaller departments, lesser known departments that
Eric Weinstein 1:29:27 - George Mason
Timur Kuran 1:29:28 - that decides, so George Mason is has
Eric Weinstein 1:29:32 - a particular direction,
Timur Kuran 1:29:33 - a particular direction, something and there were some brilliant people. Buchanan, Tullock, Vernon Smith joined them later on who had problems with the direction that economics was going with what it implied for political science for political markets. And they were they were pushed out of the mainstream of the profession. They just decided to form their own department. They, they, of course, they all congregated at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Then when they decided Virginia Polytechnic Institute decided crazily, I think that they'd rather have a mainstream department. They just packed up and left and George Mason jumped at the opportunity. So this can happen that that is the model that I think that there will be a group of people, some of them young. In fact, probably many of them young young enough that they still have, can
Eric Weinstein 1:30:38 - energy and creativity,
Timur Kuran 1:30:39 - energy and creativity and think of think of developing their ideas for several decades. Who Who, and there's some university with with a with a visionary president and some entrepreneur who gives a big grant to establish a new department and you get 10-15 people collect somewhere. That is, I think the what will happen to shake up the the economics, the the profession and shake up in particular, the theoretical
Eric Weinstein 1:31:21 - Yeah,
Timur Kuran 1:31:21 - core of the discipline. I think the empirical parts of it Yeah, I think are just being shaken up daily true through the data coming in and through the, the very interesting results and findings that are that are coming up as people are developing huge sort of new datasets.
Eric Weinstein 1:31:46 - Like if you think about natural experiments, you happen to have a flood that you could never actually, you know, ask for because it would kill people and it would destroy crops. But once you have such a thing, you look at the peculiar thing that happened as a control experiment. So I do see that there's some hope the concern that I have is that the theory is going to get thrown over because it was handed to the wrong group of theorists, and that the right group of theorists is not going to be allowed in who could actually change the theory.
Timur Kuran 1:32:14 - Well, this is this is in a sense, the George Mason people have would have never been allowed in, Buchanan and his group, he did win a Nobel Prize. He did. He has, he's actually been more influential outside the United States in mainstream economics departments than
Eric Weinstein 1:32:35 - on the blog
Timur Kuran 1:32:35 - than in the than in the United States. But there are, they did create a self sustaining-group,
Eric Weinstein 1:32:46 - right.
Timur Kuran 1:32:46 - And they've generated enough PhD students who have gone to departments generally departments that are not in the top 20-30 maybe not, usually not Not in the top top 50 and they're doing work that continues the Buchanan tradition. This is the way it may start. But just because the that Buchanan's experiment didn't result in the quote unquote, conquering of major departments doesn't mean that the next one that the that that takes on the core theory, which Buchanan didn't do
Eric Weinstein 1:33:31 - right
Timur Kuran 1:33:32 - Buchanan dealt with the political implications of political markets. And he objected to, to applying the competitive economics model without some modifications to political markets that there were certain inefficiencies that people were overlooking. This was his problem
Eric Weinstein 1:34:01 - Yeah, but I am talking about something much more fundamental
Timur Kuran 1:34:03 - He wasn't challenging the fundamentals. And if you look at the, the the basic economics that is taught at George Mason, it doesn't challenge the core,
Eric Weinstein 1:34:14 - no
Timur Kuran 1:34:14 - ideas of the
Eric Weinstein 1:34:15 - well this is the thing that I want those of us who are trying to upend the core to actually go into open intellectual combat with the stalwarts, who are defending the core, from updating and if the core is so fantastic, they should welcome it, I don't see that happening. Let's switch gears slightly.
Timur Kuran 1:34:33 - Yes,
Eric Weinstein 1:34:34 - you grew up in one of my favorite places on earth. Many people may not know this, I guess I don't know if we mentioned it at the beginning Turkey. And you grew up in a very interesting context that I was learning more about, which is that you happen to be very aligned with the sort of governing ethos of Turkey, which was unlike any other Muslim majority country. The world so far as I could tell, and you came to understand that the preferences of others were being falsified even though your preferences were very much in line with the country, given what we've been seeing with the AK Parti and Erdogan and all the changes in Turkey, can you take us through a little bit of your evolution as a as an observer as to what exactly happened to change turkey so radically so quickly.
Timur Kuran 1:35:30 - So for the listeners, the watchers, perhaps a minute or two on Turkish history is would be useful. Turkey was the center of the Ottoman Empire, which where the law of the land was Islamic law in the 19th century a growing group intellectuals started seeing Islam as the source of the Empire's problems and the Empire was falling apart. And the problem turned into an existential issue as a major components in in Europe were taken away and in World War One, when the Empire's survival was at stake and the danger the Europeans would just colonize what was left of the Empire was becoming more acute by the day. These intellectuals were, many of them were in, in the military. They fought for the Empire and then for Turkey's independence after Turkey was on the losing side in World War One
Eric Weinstein 1:37:20 - very touch and go situation
Timur Kuran 1:37:21 - and the most of the most of what is modern day Turkey was occupied by Western powers divided among them. They fought to gain back these territories and they won and they won the Turkey's war of independence and
Eric Weinstein 1:37:44 - created an unbelievable opportunity that was actually seized.
Timur Kuran 1:37:48 - Exactly. It gave them they it made them heroes and the leading hero was Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who had fought the British in Gallipoloi, you had to put together a coalition to to defeat the Italians, the Greeks, the British, the French, the Russians. And he was a hero, and he sensed he and the people around him, there were many other heroes around him, sensed that they had a huge amount of political capital, to modernize the country and to do something that was unthinkable until that point
Eric Weinstein 1:38:38 - Can we talk about how crazy these reforms were,
Timur Kuran 1:38:40 - which was, one of them was to abrogate Islamic law and replace Islamic law with secular laws, legal systems borrowed from the Western adapted to Turkish society. Abolish the caliphate and send the Caliph packing and one by one introduced a series of reforms
Eric Weinstein 1:39:17 - change the language
Timur Kuran 1:39:18 - inspired change that will change
Eric Weinstein 1:39:21 - the orthography
Timur Kuran 1:39:22 - change the script which was the Arabic script
Eric Weinstein 1:39:26 - to Latin
Timur Kuran 1:39:27 - and explicitly openly make westernization a goal of the society
Eric Weinstein 1:39:36 - outlaw traditional dress
Timur Kuran 1:39:37 - outlaw traditionally
Eric Weinstein 1:39:39 - polygomy
Timur Kuran 1:39:40 - dress, outlaw polygamy give women the right to vote long before several other countries including Switzerland have given women their right right to vote, rewrite history and of course, the this involved introducting their own myths. Now, we could go on and on
Eric Weinstein 1:40:04 - well just
Timur Kuran 1:40:05 - describing these the the reforms. It was, it was
Eric Weinstein 1:40:12 - unthinkable
Timur Kuran 1:40:13 - unthinkable cultural revolution. And of course, the all the economic institutions are changing at the same time the political institutions are changing. The country's sense of identity replaces a religious identity with a national identity. So nationalism, so people are to call themselves Turks, not Muslims, and being a Turk takes precedent over being being a Muslim. Religious marriages have to be civil, involves civil ceremonies, religious ceremonies have carried no legal weight at all.
Eric Weinstein 1:40:56 - So the reason I'm so animated about this, this is almost like communistic level reforms, but in a in a different idiom
Timur Kuran 1:41:04 - in a different idiom and done by people who had who were genuinely supported by large segments of society now this is not to say that there was no reaction now this is where we come to
Eric Weinstein 1:41:23 - yeah
Timur Kuran 1:41:23 - preference falsification and the bubble that I lived and so on we'll we'll we'll get to this. So, there are of course, people who are illiterate to have no contact with the with the West, who are very religious, they're suddenly being told by their leaders that they don't have a religious identity, the're now Turks what unites everybody is Turkishness not religion that they and the Christian and Jewish minorities are equal not only before the law but also morally. And they're all they're all Turkish, there to accept this. The education is completely secularized. their religion is no longer being taught that's if you learn religion in the family, that's fine. That's your business just don't but the regime is telling you don't make that public. And increasingly, this new regime is radicalizing itself. So this is building now you have a self sustaining, self reinforcing system of secularization, where people are trying to outbid themselves outbid each other in being secular in public
Eric Weinstein 1:42:54 - how, how much toward Western modernity
Timur Kuran 1:42:56 - how much how Western, you can look in your dress.
Eric Weinstein 1:43:00 - Right
Timur Kuran 1:43:00 - How Western you can be in the way you interpret history, how Western you can be in not being Muslim. So people start falsifying their preferences in the direction of being secular. So people who are actually personally religious turn religion into a private matter. They do not fast in public or at least in ways that are noticeable. So during Ramadan, but Islam allows you if you if you miss a day during Ramadan, you can, you can for whatever reason, because you're traveling you can you can substitute for it and it gives you a lot of freedom to do that. So people would, there were people and we find this through memoirs we know about this through memoirs that were published posthumously, because they couldn't express themselves they couldn't say this is happening this is this was happening among top level among some people who were among Atatürk's closest associates who were religious, but who could not have a religious persona.
Eric Weinstein 1:44:15 - So while the West is cheering for turkeys modernization, and lots of this is positive, we start sewing this sort of weird undercurrent where people who are genuinely religious are being repressed.
Timur Kuran 1:44:30 - People who are genuinely genuinely religious are being repressed and people who are appearing religious and public are denied jobs are denied promotion opportunities. This Is Not Happening explicitly. There are no rules that in any government agency or in any major corporation, that if You are religious and if you are using prayer beads you know when you're sitting at the at the meeting and giving people a sense that you're using that that that you're religious, that this is going to hurt you. But it's well understood by everybody that if you want to advance in the society now you have to appear irreligious, this is generating a lot of resentment. And there's also there is there is a void that the nationalist mythology creates that it's not satisfying to people it doesn't emotionally doesn't resonate with some people who want to want some religion. So you have a lot of religious we might call religious preference falsification and eventually turkey becomes after a period of uh secularists we can only call dictatorship or autocracy, maybe benevolent dictatorship eventually becomes a multiparty democracy. And as you would expect in a democracy, politicians aspiring politicians notice the existence of a constituency of a privately religious constituency that would like to be freer in publicizing its religiosity, and would like to avoid discrimination there they're facing.
Eric Weinstein 1:46:40 - So before we get to that one component, I just want to check to see that my understanding is correct as an outsider, is that a weird thing for Westerners to understand is that secularism and supposed modernity is guaranteed not by the democracy but by the army.
Timur Kuran 1:46:59 - Yes, so so army follow this is happening. The army has a special position in Turkish society and it owes that to its enormous victories following World War One and the fact that the practically all the leading modernizers were trained in military schools. So the army is considered the protector of the it's part of the checks and balances of the system. That if the system goes off track, the military has a right to intervene to step in and knock some heads of the politicians and push out the people have caused trouble and restart the system. And this is in fact, so you do start getting political parties with the military in the background you do start getting political parties that start catering to the needs and desires and visions of the pious people, the privately religious, some of them also publicly religious, but some of them publicly, irreligious people, and these parties start advancing and they start gradually altering the discourse and things that were unthinkable to say in during Ataturk's lifetime or the lifetime of the next president, İnönü, starts being said publicly and gradually the support of these parties grow. The military intervenes several times when it sees that the that secularism is being challenged too dangerously from their perspective they intervene for a few years the secularists remain dominant but then
Eric Weinstein 1:49:16 - the horse keeps coming back
Timur Kuran 1:49:17 - the horse keeps coming back and every time it comes back in, it's even stronger. So we get through this this process we come to the Erdogan era, Erdogan forms Erdogan with when the number of other people belongs to a very what, what is even today a very extreme Islamist party that that's where its roots are a party that favors that Islamic common market and and reducing contacts with the West dramatically returned to many old cultural forms, and so on. But are the one sensed that they could never come to power? If they maintain those extreme positions. that yes, they had a core constituency of 10-12%. But they couldn't grow much beyond that. But if they advocated greater religious freedoms, without threatening the secularists and others, that they could actually have a winning majority.
Eric Weinstein 1:50:48 - So do some good and maybe even fool some secularists.
Timur Kuran 1:50:50 - And so he formed a new party, which is the AK parti. AK is the acronym AK means white in Turkish was very clever. A clever acronym clever name for a party. The real name is Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, Justice and Development Party and the development was to was to reassure the business elite that they were so committed to development and justice could mean many things to the different groups but to his core constituency and meant we would get religious freedoms. And so when he first came to power, he gave the impression that he was going to expand the freedoms of the of the pious masses.
Eric Weinstein 1:51:57 - Yes.
Timur Kuran 1:51:58 - Without taking away the freedoms of the secularists
Eric Weinstein 1:52:02 - Now.
Timur Kuran 1:52:03 - Yeah, yes.
Eric Weinstein 1:52:04 - At this point I became very mystified because I was watching it from here, and there was this phrase that was invariant in American news, the mildly Islamist stock party. And I kept hearing that and I wanted to get the wax out of my ears. What do you mean mildly Islamist?
Timur Kuran 1:52:22 - so mildly Islamist was it it was never a good choice of terminology.
Eric Weinstein 1:52:31 - Right.
Timur Kuran 1:52:32 - But what they meant was that this was a party that had certain Islamist goals. It pursued those, but without
Eric Weinstein 1:52:43 - in moderation
Timur Kuran 1:52:43 - really in in mod in moderation and without doing damage to the rest of society. And this is precisely what Erdogan did and it was in fact under his watch in his first few years. as prime minister, that Turkey formally applied to join the European Union. And this was something of the party he came from the extreme party this was one of their
Eric Weinstein 1:53:13 - anathema
Timur Kuran 1:53:14 - absolutely anathema to to them. They wanted not only not to join the the common market they wanted to reduce trade with them, they their their party platform said that they would do most of their trade with the with the Arab world and the Muslim world now what exactly they would be buying from the Arab world and where they would get their machinery and this and that this was
Eric Weinstein 1:53:35 - who knows
Timur Kuran 1:53:36 - it, who knows this was one of those things that nobody could be getting back to getting back to, you know, truncated public discourse within that milieu. You never asked this question. You know how this was gonna work out.
Eric Weinstein 1:53:48 - You were as a secular Turk from the western part of the country that's very, very modern. did not see this sort of welling up of preference falsification particularly concentrated in eastern in the Anatolian region.
Timur Kuran 1:54:04 - I didn't I didn't growing up growing up in Istanbul and growing up in a family that been that was part of this westernization movement. my paternal grandfather fought in the Ottoman army and then in the Turkish War of Independence. During that that process while he was taken prisoner by the by the British and spent spent some time as an officer as a British prisoner, came to appreciate the the strengths of Western society he used that time to try to understand why the British war had stronger armies than than the Turks. tried to understand what it is that made them invent weapons that the Turks had not where several centuries before this wasn't the case. And he became became convinced that Atatürk and the people around him who want to westernize turkey make Turkey, anchor Turkey in the West, they were 100% right. after he, After the war of independence, he resigned from the army became a contractor worked for the government for the rest of his life supported the supported Atatürk's party, the people's Republican Party, was to the end of his life, a committed westernizeer as was my father, as we're all my close relatives. I didn't I grew up in a milieu where people didn't falsify their preferences. People were truthful, the people supported the government supported the government supported the direction
Eric Weinstein 1:56:10 - they were
Timur Kuran 1:56:10 - of the country because they approved of this
Eric Weinstein 1:56:13 - and it was a, what they didn't know was that in part, it was a bubble.
Timur Kuran 1:56:18 - But they didn't know was that it was a bubble and what they didn't appreciate, of course, they did appreciate that there were these that the were that there was resistance and there were in during the decades from the 1920s to the 1970s 80s, there had been minor rebellions. In parts of eastern Turkey, it was understood that there were people who objected to the country's direction, but it was also understood that they lived in poor parts of the country. They represented it was the interpretation was They represent the past, as Turkey gets more and more educated, they will fade into the past. The next generation will not will not support them. So this is a transitory problem. So it's not that I didn't understand that there were people who objected to the objective direction of the country, and that when they migrated to Istanbul, they brought some of those ideas with them. There were people in poor communities and Istanbul's in the in the shanty towns, who pretended when they worked for major corporations or worked for the post office of the government. They actually supported the the country's direction, but they actually didn't do it. This much I understood but I but I thought that this was a this was a minor transitory phenomenon. This was not something deeply felt by large numbers of people that could actually change the trajectory of the country. This is something that I missed. And there's a lesson in this, that for if I may, just for a moment, jump back
Eric Weinstein 1:58:23 - to the United States
Timur Kuran 1:58:24 - earlier, jump back to the United States, in the bubbles that we have here in our left bub bubbles on the left and bubbles on the on the right we have people who are talking to each other and just don't realize how many people there are, who don't agree with them and who have very good reasons of their own for thinking differently about certain issues.
Eric Weinstein 1:58:58 - if you take it in the US the Anatolia would be analogized to the middle of the country in sub
Timur Kuran 1:59:05 - flyover states.
Eric Weinstein 1:59:06 - Yeah. Well, I never used that term because I just detest it. But yes,
Timur Kuran 1:59:09 - so
Eric Weinstein 1:59:09 - no, no no
Timur Kuran 1:59:10 - but it. But it is I mean, it means something to to
Eric Weinstein 1:59:13 - to coastal elites and then the
Timur Kuran 1:59:15 - the coastal
Eric Weinstein 1:59:15 - coastal elites is how the the middle of the country demonizes the edges.
Timur Kuran 1:59:19 - Yeah,
Eric Weinstein 1:59:19 - but but more than anything, you know, it's not until you start seeing the headscarves coming out of a BMW, that you realize that your picture is in some sense, not an accurate one that people are quite well to do, that they are coming at this from a cultural perspective that you may not understand. And that
Timur Kuran 1:59:41 - well this is where the word the whole were preference falsification starts starts coming in at various levels, because now the the religious, the genuinely religious people start gaining political power
Eric Weinstein 1:59:56 - right
Timur Kuran 1:59:56 - and of course, with that political power comes government contracts. Comes a reduction in the various regulations that prevented you from getting rich. So, there are a lot of people who are rich, who are culturally conserve who are culturally conservative, that become rich,
Eric Weinstein 2:00:15 - right.
Timur Kuran 2:00:16 - And so then you start seeing they start buying BMWs and they start, start, you know, and you start seeing people wearing head carves in BMWs you driving BMWs you start seeing increasingly elegant headscarves. Whereas Initially, the party that that that built up this this movement, and it promoted a version of Islam that involve modesty
Eric Weinstein 2:00:46 - cloth coat republicans would be an it
Timur Kuran 2:00:48 - yeah, modesty and they wouldn't you know, they wouldn't be flaunting their wealth and so on. Well, we get to a point gradually, where is where those who get rich start spending the money and increasingly expensive cars extremely a more and more expensive headscarves and you get to the point where flash forward to the to the present where you have a president who's living in the largest Presidential Palace in the world 1100 rooms he has something like 15-20 I forget the exact number private private planes flaunts his his luxury all the all the the his the lead members of the government and people close to them all drive cars or have cars driven for them by chauffeurs that are what's what's that?
Eric Weinstein 2:01:49 - Can we discuss this?
Timur Kuran 2:01:50 - Well this is something that in Turkey is difficult to discuss. If you discuss it didn't get you in, in trouble. anything involving that the president's finances are he spends his money or how his consumption is over the top can get you in trouble. There are many journalists who are in jail at the moment for for saying this, but you get this not here we get into another form of preference falsification within the AK parti movement. Now these religious, the the people who wanted to publicize do want wanted to advance religious freedoms, we jumped over one phase which I should come back to now which is that Erdogan as he's as he provides, expands religious freedoms. initially, he doesn't take away any freedoms from the secularists. He doesn't reduce their opportunities to drink if they want to drink. He doesn't try to close down restaurants during Ramadan if you're not religious, and you want to have lunch during Ramadan, fine. That was Erdogan during his first few years. But during this time he is gradually chipping away at the checks and balances of the system. And the thing, ultimately that he needs to get rid of is this the power of the military to essentially remove a government this was something that was in the Constitution.
Eric Weinstein 2:02:34 - Now I'm going to make a parallel here that I wanted to see whether you're going to go or you won't.
Timur Kuran 2:03:43 - Yes,
Eric Weinstein 2:03:43 - in some ways. I view the military in Turkey as having played a role similar to the sense making apparatus in our universities and our newspapers as the guarantee the sort of meta guarantors of a stable democracy and that my serious concern about the United States is that we are headed down a path that we cannot imagine actually ends in literal dictatorship of some as yet unknown form, as we lose the thing that eroded that dictatorial impulse so that what I see is I see our newspapers our universities our political parties, this institutional class that was supposed to be, quite honestly somewhat elite and somewhat above the fray, increasingly become this completely untrustworthy, weakened version and where Erdogan was weakening the military was the guarantor of secularism, which was in the process of overreaching. Our situation is that our sense making apparatus is weakening itself because its economics is starting to crumble.
Timur Kuran 2:04:55 - I think that there are parallels would be when we come back to this and maybe finished the the the Turkish case. So what Erdogan does, I think it's important for readers and watchers to understand this. He disarms the secularists and makes many secularisms, divides the secularists. And people peels off enough of them by making them feel that he will perfect Turkish democracy by getting rid of the role of the military by pushing the military out of politics through a referendum by actually changing the Constitution. And you need that do you need the country vote on a new
Eric Weinstein 2:05:42 - so having a military to guarantee a democracy a secular democracy was always a little bit of a kind of a dirty solution?
Timur Kuran 2:05:48 - It was it was a dirty solution.It was something that didn't any and Erodgan would always say this. This is not being Western. I mean, this was Erdogan being trying to trying to sell his try to trying to remove this check on his power by appearing Western. And he convinced enough secular
Eric Weinstein 2:06:10 - genius,
Timur Kuran 2:06:11 - enough secular people's the referendum passed by, I think 50 and a half to 49 and a half or something got through this and the margin, the 5% margin that he needed came from secularist and I have many friends who voted for him, saying, He is Erdogan we hate to say this, but he is the one bringing true Western democracy. You cannot have a democracy have you ever heard, point show me one European country where the military has the power that it has in Turkey. Yes, the problems with Erdogan we'll deal with that within democracy. And but let's get, this is our opportunity
Eric Weinstein 2:06:59 - This is, in the US context, I find that both Trump and AOC are telling me some of the things that have an inexorable logic that no one will say, and I'm watching my friends peeled off in both directions towards Trump and AOC. And I keep sort of saying, Don't you see what's coming next in both of those situations, but there's something about this kind of appeal to it. It's almost kind of a self hating nature of the secular that or maybe that would be more in the case of AOC. And this is sort of appeal to oh well we'll just let Trump in to do enough mischief to shake things up. And I keep thinking that that these entreaties are clearly going to go to super dangerous places, which I can't convince either side.
Timur Kuran 2:07:52 - Well, the parallel was the parallel here is that Edrogan was taking removing one of the checks and balances in Turkish democracy and preventing it from from going in any direction towards in any ideological direction towards dictatorship,
Eric Weinstein 2:08:17 - right.
Timur Kuran 2:08:18 - He was removing he he removed this without putting in place some other checks and balances
Eric Weinstein 2:08:26 - perfectly said
Timur Kuran 2:08:27 - now so here's the parallel with the United States we have right now two extreme groups that hate each other that consider the other side inhuman and who are willing to suspend all sorts of democratic or all sorts of democratic checks and balances to defeat the other side. Trump is doing this and AOC would like to do this as well. And there are various things that are happening in society that are the equivalent of of that. And they're leading us toward a dictatorship of one kind or another.
Eric Weinstein 2:09:14 - Well, and there are very few people who are willing to say I can see this problem. Both of these are saying things that resonate with me. Both of them are presenting dangers and there's no place to go to say, hey, our problem is our is our extremists in our and our exploitative entrepreneurs who are seeing the turmoil in the country and offering us these solutions. Because what I see is I see bravery and courage on the extremes and cowardice in the middle. And there is no kind of a courageous person moderate perspective that says, what are we talking about giving up all of this great stuff that defined our country so quickly. at the first sign of trouble,
Timur Kuran 2:10:02 - yes. And yes, we don't have and within American politics today, the hope is that within the Democratic Party, there will be some moderate candidate who will say what you have just said and defend, compromising with the other side and defend moderate solutions, admit openly the complexity of various issues and start a conversation on how we prioritize solving these, these problems. What's happening is that all of the candidates are afraid of crossing in the case of the Democratic Party AOC and the people around her and so they are not saying the things that could actually form a counter coalition. And the the party is being driven to an extreme. And the people at the extreme, including AOC, and her her squad, they are think of many of Trumps supporters in the same way that ardent Trump supporters think of AOC
Eric Weinstein 2:11:32 - and there's an interval way in which I agree with both of their verdicts about the other in thst the extremes of trumpism and the extremes of this sort of, you know, Justice Based Thinking that throws out civil society. I have to say that I understand the fear of closed borders of open borders of people just saying such dumb stuff. With no adults anywhere in sight,
Timur Kuran 2:12:03 - and nobody pointing out the implications, laying out all the implications of any of these, whether it's whether it's completely closed borders having no immigration or,
Eric Weinstein 2:12:19 - which would never happen or totally open borders which can't ever hapen
Timur Kuran 2:12:23 - which can which can can never happen. And there are and most americans believe in a policy package somewhere in between
Eric Weinstein 2:12:37 - well,
Timur Kuran 2:12:37 - that involves that involves some immigration
Eric Weinstein 2:12:40 - right.
Timur Kuran 2:12:41 - With restricted with restrictions with certain certain rules. They're not for closed borders or open borders
so you cannot be a xenophilic
Eric Weinstein 2:12:55 - well, so so I've been trying to figure out there's a game that gets played by demographers who are trying to help a candidate get elected, which is can we identify a sector of the economy that nobody's found yet that can be swayed? So soccer moms was an example of one of these sort of Democrat. Demographic discoveries. Another one was the exurb. So you had rural you had suburban but nobody noticed that before. You got to sorry. Before you got to urban from rural there was the exurb between rural and suburban and that had a voting bloc. To me one of the largest voting blocks, which is there for anybody. I talked about this all the time. And it's it's amazing to watch people falsify that it even exists. I call it xenophilic restrictionism. People who are fascinated by other cultures, they've got foreign friends. They're interested in having immigrants as being a vital part of our society, but they're not coked up on this sort of beautiful, nonsensical dream at the base of the Statue of Liberty, which somehow has this mystical old on a immigration expansionism. now of course, immigration expansionism is a weapon for transfer of wealth among Americans. That is, if you can selectively open borders and increase certain groups share the pie George Borjas has showed mechanisms by which you can transfer wealth you claiming to take a tiny little bit of efficiency called Harberger triangle. But what you're really trying to do is transfer a giant amount of wealth, which we might call the Borjas rectangle from American labor to American capital. Now, you can't have that conversation about the misuse of immigration as a tool of transfer, because our media will instantly set upon you and say, well, the only reason you're talking about restricting immigration is your hatred of foreigners and you can't disguise it form me
Timur Kuran 2:14:35 - restrictionist so that that cannot exist by definition it cannot exist
Eric Weinstein 2:14:54 - right of course, because in so this I introduced this thing called the four quadrant model and the idea DIA's is that the media in particular enforces a narrative that all restrictionism 100% essentially, is motivated by fear of foreigners. And then you get to fear of brown people and fear people who are not like us or people with accents. And it is the largest dumbest lie.
Timur Kuran 2:15:22 - That is a huge lie. And even you could minorities talk about brown people and black people. Many of them would be among the people hurt by open borders
Eric Weinstein 2:15:37 - well,
Timur Kuran 2:15:37 - because they would lose, they would lose jobs. You would get cheaper labor from
Eric Weinstein 2:15:43 - Doesn't anybody know any immigrants? Does anybody know any brown people, but the idea that it's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. It's like some white person's crazy idea of what restrictionism is about, it has to do with pushing out labor supply curves. It's it's,
Timur Kuran 2:16:09 - this is
Eric Weinstein 2:16:11 - or diluting the vote,
Timur Kuran 2:16:12 - this should be part of the discussion part of an intelligent discussion that we can have. And reasonable people could can agree can disagree on what the optimal trade off is,
Eric Weinstein 2:16:27 - right
Timur Kuran 2:16:28 - And ultimately, reasonable people who disagree can come to a compromise. You're not going to get 100% of what you're looking for. You're not going to get 100% of what you're going to come somewhere in the middle, we're going to have a national policy. And that's a national policy that can have some dynamism to it every four years. We can talk about it again, we can move the needle a little bit depending on where we really this is the way we can do it. But we have massive massive preference falsification on this simply because people are afraid of being called xenophobes. That's, that's
Eric Weinstein 2:17:03 - you want to know how crazy
Timur Kuran 2:17:04 - and we have massive knowledge falsification which goes along with this. People cannot because you're afraid of being of being put in the wrong box in terms of your preferences of whether you're a xenophile or a xenophobe, you don't. You don't say things that should be obvious to everybody that there are going to be major effects on the labor market that are not going to be distributed evenly. There are going to be some there are going to be perhaps a major owners of big factories are going to gain a lot from the falling wage rates and a lot of people living in the inner cities are going to be hurt by by this, this is something you cannot say because you'll be labeled
Eric Weinstein 2:17:59 - I've already realized something
Timur Kuran 2:18:00 - Yes.
Eric Weinstein 2:18:01 - You want to know how crazy this is? I use the phrase doesn't anybody know any brown people? Doesn't anybody know any foreigners? I'm going to be excoriated for that because I didn't say don't any white people know. It's like, even when I'm speaking glibly,
Timur Kuran 2:18:13 - yes.
Eric Weinstein 2:18:14 - Like the cost of any stupid aspect of phraseology is this ridiculous drumming up by the people who want us not to talk about this which I think is for economic reasons, I think people are, who are in control are terrified that they will come. They will encounter the idea that in general, Americans are pro-immigration and want it at lower levels. We're open to foreigners, we think it's a vibrant part of our society. But we're not stupid. We understand that if you have free health care for all free education for all, you know, nearly limitless opportunity to cross borders. You cannot do all of these things. We don't want our votes diluted. There's no ability to have the conversation. And so a lot of what the portal is about is we've got to break out of this enforced conversation of morons, to some place where we can actually potentially get enough resolution to say, oh, here's what I'm really at about, I don't think we should be blocked to the, you know, the most dynamic people coming from overseas. We need some ability to admit refugees look at the people who've been, you know, at death's door and we've saved it's an important part of revitalizing the country, we have to be able to talk with specificity. And what I see is a media that doesn't have any interest in this long form kind of interaction, simply because it's trying to enforce low resolution speech.
Timur Kuran 2:19:50 - And that low resolution speech involves to put it in concrete terms. If you want restrictions on immigration you're for cages. Well, most Americans are not for caging children either. They they're appalled by that. They would like more orderly forms of restrictions, more humane form of forms of restrictions. But we cannot get to that point. If we cannot have if reasonable people cannot have conversations, which are going to involve some disagreement if they cannot have conversations that are probed by the media, so that the underlying assumptions are identified
Eric Weinstein 2:20:40 - without the gotchas
Timur Kuran 2:20:41 - without the gotchas the underlying assumptions are underlying they are identified. The trade offs are brought out, the knowledge on on which people's preferences are based. Those are scrutinized. There are many myths about what the composition of immigration is. So that we actually are we can we can we can get rid of some of our myths and start talking about these issues on the basis of facts. Some facts,
Eric Weinstein 2:21:21 - so what is it
Timur Kuran 2:21:22 - We cannot we cannot do this, if we can't speak freely
Eric Weinstein 2:21:28 - Well, so, and the thing that I don't understand is the universities. So you're, you're sitting there, Duke, you're part of this archipelago of higher education as a major node on it. What the heck happened that our universities became places where you can't explore ideas as opposed to the citadels in which one can? Or am I wrong about that?
Timur Kuran 2:21:52 - This is this is has been a slow process and I think it has to do with Well, meaning it started with well meaning policies to help integrate groups that had been excluded
Eric Weinstein 2:22:08 - they'd been insular
Timur Kuran 2:22:09 - the the universities had been insular, the universities had had explicitly excluded certain certain groups, for example, African Americans. And when you bring in groups that have been excluded from the university system, you bring them in there are going to be some adjustment problems. And I think it was I think there were some well meaning people who wanted to help them, help them adjust and started special special programs that and these involved were called third world in the university that I went to college that I went to was called the Third World center or there were African American centers or something. So these centerss these were again, created to give these these groups in this case African Americans a place where they could share their their grievances where they could where they could talk to each other to talk to each other. They were not meant to be closed to others who wanted to communicate with them who wanted to help them them integrate. Gradually they turned into activist centers, they and they started pushing universities in the direction of making special efforts hiring African American professors bringing African Americans minorities into the administration and so on. All this was also initially motivated by, driven by well meaning people that there were that you had administration's and departments that were in fact genuinely racist that had histories of racism that had over that had overlooked very talented African Americans. But it got to but eventually starting from from from there it started taking on unrealistic dimensions and when I'll give you an example I'm right now a professor at Duke. Duke was one of one of the first universities If not, if not the first university to the to have a plan put in its long term plan or a 10 year plan that every department in the university would have at least one African American Professor on its its faculty this was a policy put in place well before I got there in the 1980s. It was not feasible because in some professions there were very few African American professors who could teach at, at a research universities and the competition for them because what was happening at Duke was happening at other universities as well. The competition for them was very fierce. So given the numbers, some places no matter how hard they tried, some places were not going to make their make their targets. Well, this was then interpreted as not as a consequence of low numbers and the over-ambitiousness of the the initial plan, that's something that could be accomplished in in over a longer time period couldn't be accomplished say in in 10 years, instead of being interpreted in that manner. It was attributed to racism. And it got to the point where the the policies that were being proposed to to reduce the imbalances, the racial imbalance in the faculty in the student body or the policies that were being being proposed at opposing them started putting you in danger.
Eric Weinstein 2:26:59 - Sure.
Timur Kuran 2:27:00 - and that you could be, you could be attacked as racist that shut down conversation. Now this is one thing that I've given you one example. Because it's it's the one that I've that I've studied the struggle in universities over affirmative action, but it has happened in other areas as well. Other groups have used the same strategy to shut down discourse on cultural issues and to to to have universities build all sorts of new units designed to help particular identity constituencies,
Eric Weinstein 2:27:56 - right. But so I'm actually quite quite interested in divided in my own mind about this. What I don't understand is why it is that we can't frame these problems in ways that contain both explanations about human bigger bigotry, unfairness and misogyny, racism, let's have that as a component and then let's have non-oppression based explanations. And let's try to figure out what percentage of things are due to both. And what everyone seems to do is that they either want to exclude one or the other from consideration, so that we can't figure out the mixture now I, I, you know, became a mathematician. I went through Penn, Harvard, MIT in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I think it's the case that at the time I was in each of those departments. There was not a single female full professor on the faculty. Now, I have no idea what that is. It's, there's so many fine female mathematicians in the world. And I could, I could, you know, certainly reel off five or 10 that everyone would agree, or first rate mathematicians off the top of my head, but there is a wild imbalance in the field. And I am convinced that there's a component of this that has to do with men have erected mathematics in the way that men are most comfortable with, because there have been so few women in the field. And I'm also reasonably convinced that there's some asymmetry, maybe not an intellectual ability, but certainly in interest in spending one's life negotiating a world mostly of symbols. So I have no idea how to call it but I don't think that either component of that vector in two dimensions which is oppression based explanations and non-oppression based explanations, I don't think either component would be zero.
Timur Kuran 2:30:05 - It's ultimately an empirical issue.
Eric Weinstein 2:30:07 - One would imagine
Timur Kuran 2:30:08 - and the way with with these with as with every empirical issue, we need to collect data, and we need to approach the issues. The way scientists
Eric Weinstein 2:30:20 - but we're not allowed to set up the problem.
Timur Kuran 2:30:22 - We're not allowed to set up the problem. We're not allowed to pose the question. And this is, this is the big, big danger. This is where we become where the situation we find ourselves in is analogous to the situation of the Soviet bloc.
Eric Weinstein 2:30:45 - Yeah,
Timur Kuran 2:30:46 - where you could not ask the question of why. East German Ladas were so so inferior to West German Mercedes and various other West German cars VW s for instance
Eric Weinstein 2:31:05 - right
Timur Kuran 2:31:06 - You could not ask this question. You could not even after you started, you could start, you could pick up television stations in West Germany and see how incredibly different the lifestyles of workers there were that in the so called worker's paradise where the proletariat was in power in that society in East Germany, workers at a much lower standard of living than in West Germany. The Turks who had to had been brought into West Germany were living much better than the East German workers. You could not for one thing you could not point that out. But secondly, you could not ask the question. Why? What does it Where did we go wrong? It wasn't that the will wasn't there Marx and Engels and the other theoreticians and Lenin had had certain ideas and a certain sense of how the society worked. And I believe that they, they sincerely passionately believed that, in fact, they could create the utopia they had in mind. They were, there were certain very critical elements of human nature that they didn't appreciate. But if the East Germans have been allowed to ask these questions, and put these issues, to empirical tests, and so on, they would have come up with the answers and they could have actually made the transition without a revolution.
Eric Weinstein 2:32:42 Timur, I could talk to you forever. So I think what we're going to do is we've been at this for a little while, and with a question that's been much on my mind having to do with, in my case, wanting potentially to retake the White House and for the democrats in an honorable way, which I don't think will happen. I'm not particularly close to the Democratic Party. In fact, it's been driving me crazy, but it is where I grew up. And then I would love to invite you back at anytime you'd like to continue the discussion, but the theory that really has captivated me is how to figure out the appeal of Trump and I have, in part come up with this idea of the checksum theory of politics. Now, checksum has to do with you're receiving a binary, let's say, as a computer program, and you want to know whether it's been corrupted. And so there's some very quick check without having to be able to see the program to know whether or not the program has been has been corrupted on its way to you. The three things that I've settled on which allow me to know that the Democratic Party and its media organs are lying, have to do with a belief that immigration is more or less a pure positive and that anybody who wants it restricted can only do so out of xenophobia, a belief that trade and globalization is a simply positive force that should be expected to lift all boats and the belief that there is zero connection between terror and Islam, no matter how many people cry Allahu Akbar at the end of a killing spree. Now, that is not to say that there's no aspect of white terrorism, as it's not to say that there's no aspect of trade that is positive. Surely it is. And that's not to say that immigration doesn't carry positive benefits. I think we've extolled several of them in the course of our conversation, but it's the simplicity and the violent ferocity with which these things are defended, which have caused large numbers of Americans to say I don't know what this is, but it's like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. No one could possibly believe anything is simplistic, stupid, and as threatening as what you've created and it's driving people in droves to embrace anyone who will say otherwise. Am I wrong?
Timur Kuran 2:34:55 - No, I think there's the there's a lot that makes a tremendous amount of sense. And I want to really say what you said in a different way and explain the reasons that I think Trump came to power. vast numbers of people, including diehard Trump supporters, think that he's not the type of person they'd like to have over for dinner. There's not the like, they're they not theirs he's not the type of person they would like to go into business with. He's not a trustworthy person. He's not a moral person. He's not for the millions of evangelicals who voted for him, not the not somebody who gets close to representing Christian values. But there's one thing that distinguishes Trump among all
Eric Weinstein 2:36:13 - said the Muslim to the Jew
Timur Kuran 2:36:14 - politicians. What's that?
Eric Weinstein 2:36:16 - Said the Muslim to the Jew
Timur Kuran 2:36:18 - there's one thing that that Trump demonstrated that no politician, Democratic or Republican, who came close to being a candidate. It's a characteristic that he had. And that is the the ability to take on the sacred cows of both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. And it's important and it's important.
Eric Weinstein 2:36:54 - Yeah.
Timur Kuran 2:36:54 - And it's something that he he demonstrated as a Soon as he announced his candidacy, he started insulting various groups of society's. Or some of them are groups that do not have like Muslims, like Hispanics we call de called all of them rapists all 11 million Hispanic immigrants, he said they're all rapists. And
Eric Weinstein 2:37:21 - did he
Timur Kuran 2:37:23 - I thought that was
Eric Weinstein 2:37:24 - well,
Timur Kuran 2:37:24 - early on, early on,
Eric Weinstein 2:37:26 - I worry i don't think that he did he played around with a lot of things that could be parsed one way or the other. But
Timur Kuran 2:37:33 - so
Eric Weinstein 2:37:33 - continue on
Timur Kuran 2:37:33 - anyway, anyway, he said some very awful things about the about immigrants. Maybe I've
Eric Weinstein 2:37:39 - he was playing with fire,
Timur Kuran 2:37:40 - he was playing with fire. He certainly said awful things about Muslims. Now they're voting power energy. Those were the initial groups that he targeted. could say me, well, maybe this is something that a smart politician a populist politician might do. They don't have much voting power. But then he started taking on groups insulting groups and accusing groups of certain groups of doing horrible things, groups that had significant voting power. Some of them were primarily democratic voting groups. So you could say, well, that makes sense because that's going to energize the Republican base. There are people in the Republican Party don't like these other other groups. That makes sense. But then he started insulting and demeaning and humiliating groups in the Republican Party, major groups in the Republican Party, and that included the one that sticks in my mind is the veterans. He insulted John Mccain, who was somebody was an icon not even for Republicans, including Republicans who didn't vote for him and when he ran for president in the primary, but just also somebody highly respected by Democrats, and he accused McCain of being a failure because he had been it gotten arrested and he preferred soldiers who didn't get arrested and so on, this is something that insulted so many, so many veterans. Now, after this happened, his poll numbers went up after he said this, generally, but also among Republicans, and even among veterans, and this was just absolutely stunning to me. And it to me, it said, people are looking for a game changer. And what they're looking for is somebody who can take on the vested interests in Washington, and somebody who is who can be so open in criticizing criticizing groups that are so important to the republican coalition will be fearless against anyone and if there's anyone who's going to shake up the system, it's going to be Trump. And I think that is one source of his, his strength. And I think that going forwards whether he's going to succeed in the next election is going to depend on whether people believe that he is in fact that that attitude has generated something for them, whether he's actually he's actually taken measures against immigrants, that that for for the people who voted for Trump For this reason, because he would shake up the system whether this proves that he will stay on that path, and this is what the country needs. What the country needs more of to move forward.
Eric Weinstein 2:41:10 - You know, just listening to this reminds me that the phrase out of control has two separate meanings. The Democrats see him as out of control in the sense of a destructive force that threatens every everything around around him. The Republicans who who support him and maybe even some Democrats who support him. Or let's say this Trump supporters and Trump detractors, Trump detractors see him as out of control in the sense that he's a danger to everything. Trump supporters see him as outside of control. And therefore, he can weirdly be trusted because clearly nothing is holding him back. He's not he has no paymaster somewhere because nobody could act like this if they were part of the institutional makeup of the country and I wonder if that's really what divides us.
Timur Kuran 2:42:05 - And this is I think what is dividing us strike now and the people who feel that he's just destroying so many things that are valuable to them are willing to intensely hate him. And that hatred is now driving them toward politicians who are willing to suspend various civil liberties that are central to the American system or have been central to the American system, because getting rid of Trump is more important than anything else. And and Trump insofar as Trump is is not that the the, the sort of trumpism will not be gone after Trump is no longer president insofar as these People who hate the establishment and hate the various vested interests insofar as they're there, they're going to continue to pose a problem politically, they're going to continue to be a political force somehow. And the Trump well the group that you label the Trump detractors, we might call them the Trump Trump haters. Many of them would like to suspend various liberties, various checks and balances to get rid of this clear and present danger. That is one way we can get to a dictatorship. Another way is, of course, allowing Trump to pursue some of his agenda. That's another way to
Eric Weinstein 2:42:27 - twin paths to dictatorship.
Timur Kuran 2:43:58 And again, we get back to To this issue of the tremendous need that the society has for the people who are falsifying preferences in one way or another, who see the complexity of the issues, to come out of the closet and to find a leader of their own, who is going to have the charisma.
Eric Weinstein 2:44:25 - Yeah,
Timur Kuran 2:44:25 - that is going to out Trump Trump and out a AOC AOC this what we’re lacking
Eric Weinstein 2:44:33 - Well, maybe maybe we find such a person inshallah,
Timur Kuran 2:44:38 - I hope so inshallah.
Eric Weinstein 2:44:40 - Okay, well, you've been through the portal with Dr. Timur Kuran of Duke University. Thanks for listening or watching and we'll see you next time.