“A bet is a tax on bullshit”

Or so says Alex Tabarrok, an economics professor at George Mason University and one of our intellectual role models. (We are revisiting Alex’s previous post on bets and beliefs, given that earlier this week we offered to bet on the outcome of the upcoming Hobby Lobby case–see our blog post immediately below for details. You can also read more of Alex’s thoughts on the relation between bets and beliefs here.)

In summary, here is the core of Alex’s argument (note that when Alex wrote these words he was defending Nate Silver’s willingness to bet on the outcome of the 2012 election) —

A properly structured bet is the most credible guarantor of rigorous disinterest. In order to prove his point, Silver is not required to take the Obama side of the bet! At the odds implied by his model (currently between 3 and 4 to 1) Silver should be willing to take either side of a modest bet. Indeed, we could hold a coin toss, heads Silver takes the Obama side, tails he takes Romney.

In fact, the NYTimes should require that Silver, and other pundits, bet their beliefs. Furthermore, to remove any possibility of manipulation, the NYTimes should escrow a portion of Silver’s salary in a blind trust bet. In other words, the NYTimes should bet a portion of Silver’s salary, at the odds implied by Silver’s model, randomly choosing which side of the bet to take, only revealing to Silver the bet and its outcome after the election is over. A blind trust bet creates incentives for Silver to be disinterested in the outcome but very interested in the accuracy of the forecast.

Overall, I am for betting because I am against bullshit. Bullshit is polluting our discourse and drowning the facts. A bet costs the bullshitter more than the non-bullshitter so the willingness to bet signals honest belief. A bet is a tax on bullshit; and it is a just tax, tribute paid by the bullshitters to those with genuine knowledge.

(As an aside, please note that Nate Silver, another of our intellectual heroes and author of The Signal and the Noise, used to write for the New York Times. He has since left The Times and is now working with ESPN.)

Furthermore, notice that Alex’s argument has direct application to legal discourse and legal commentary generally as well. Shouldn’t law professors and even legal commentators on TV be required to bet their beliefs? What do you think? Would law professors and other public intellectuals be more reasonable and intellectually honest if they had to bet on their beliefs?

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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2 Responses to “A bet is a tax on bullshit”

  1. Mr Bean says:

    But won’t bets discourage people from speaking and offering alternative points of view?

  2. Pingback: A tax on bullsh*t | ClearCreek Partners

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