Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Make the World Easier to Understand

I think Bryan Caplan has a great idea here: Find intuitive explanations of complicated or technical concepts, so that more people can understand them. After all, you may enjoy feeling superior to your uneducated neighbors, but as voters they are setting policy for the community you live in.

Here's an example from the comments on Bryan's blog (my rephrasing):

Technical concept - Raising the minimum wage will increase unemployment for minimum wage earners.

Intuitive explanation - If I like bananas, but the government says that the grocery store has to charge $3 per banana, then I'm going to buy fewer bananas.Similarly, if I'm McDonald's and I want to hire cashiers, but the government says I have to pay them $20/hour, then I'm not going to hire as many cashiers (or open as many restaurants because they won't be as profitable).

I bet YOU can improve on this example.


  1. I can't improve on this example, because I am one of those who could sorely benefit from this kind of explanation. I love that you strip the idea of its emotional weight and simply lay forth the concept so clearly.

    After all, using your example, why do people want to raise the minimum wage? To make life better for people. Out of fairness. Something along those lines, which sounds good and makes people feel good to think it.

    But if you realize that it's going to have the opposite effect, in simple terms, without appealing to the emotional argument, it frees the concept from the idea that one side is kind and the other is cruel, and one can see what the effect would actually be. And then responding to THAT emotionally is fine, so long as you truly understand it.

    This is exactly the kind of public discussion we uneducated masses need!

  2. Jenn,

    Thanks! I really think so too. I think that most people have really good intentions, and want to be generous and kind to the people around them. But as you point out, we need to strip out some of that emotion and take a hard look at what policies will actually give the result that people want.