Critiques of Radical Markets

I had the chance to meet Glen Weyl a few weeks ago, and I promised him that at some point, if no one had penned a critique of Radical Markets that I deem good enough, I would write one.

But this post is not about that. Here I will just compile the discussion so far. I’ll skip the praise and cut straight to critical reviews, in no particular order. The book was published in April this year, so there should have been enough time for people to engage with the book. In my opinion, the weakest part of the book is the chapter on data labor, followed by the proposals on immigration. The strongest bits, conversely, is the COST (Harberger tax) and quadratic voting chapters.

First we have Arnold Kling, who writes in Unloading on Posner and Weyl who found issue with the data labour chapter, and voices a concern about them [Posner and Weyl] “wanting to back their experimental notions with state power instead of skin-in-the-game”. 

David R. Henderson, writing in Regulation finds the COST proposal the least compelling, and questions that the US economy has been stagnating for most citizens, citing issues with a study used in the book to back that claim. On the COST, and the idea that property is monopoly, he takes issue with the premise, arguing that such a statement is an exaggeration. On the proposal itself, abolishing regular private property and having conditional property, he says the tax rate they propose would be in some cases 100% of the income from that asset (I guess this is not right, because the tax would depend on the turnover ratio, as argued in the book. So a stock would pay very little tax because they are traded often EDIT 12/12/18: Higher turnover would mean higher tax, but Weyl says stocks would be excluded because they are claims on property, and that is already taxed.). He also notices that the authors go as far as endorsing a regime of near-slavery with a tax on human capital, whereby people could be forced to work if someone pays above their reservation price, and finds their defence of this idea -admittedly, this is not a core idea, but it sounds like a logical entailment of the philosophy of the book- weak. There is much more in this one. Elsewherehe says they got their history of antitrust wrong.

Bryan Caplan criticises the immigration proposal. A brief twitter exchange ensued.

Tyler Cowen criticised the COST, on the basis that accounting for complementarity effects may doom the entire scheme. On quadratic voting, he also doesn’t seem very convinced.

Robin Hanson finds, like me, that COST and QV are the strongest bits, and has some minor implementation worries regarding these two proposals, but nothing too major. Here he debates Weyl on redistribution and rhetorics. Weyl has clearly the upper hand in that exchange.

Chris Dillow is almost convinced about the COST, but says that it may be cognitively too demanding to be assessing prices of our own posessions all the time. On QV, he says it doesn’t address the fundamental issues he (Dillow) sees with democracy right now.

David Gordon has a critique up at, one novel point compared to other critiques is that he criticises using efficiency as a yardstick to measure the effectiveness of policies and institutions, and points to the underlying philosophical view that animates the book: what the book calls ‘optimal Buddhism’, or abandoning our preference for owning stuff.

Matthew Klein says the COST would lead to a few ultra-rich owning and renting everything to the rest.

Am I missing anyone?

To me, it seems that engagement has been low so far on the critical side, given the importance of the book. It is one of those books that should have made angry those who are prone to get angry when they read ideas they strongly oppose, yet there is mostly silence. This may be because the book has not reached Piketty-level fame. Perhaps next year, as it get included in the 2018 lists of books to read, it will get more attention. Other possibility is simply that critics have nothing to say: They can’t put together a well thought argument against the ideas in the book.

So it looks like one of those examples that would fit one of the missions of this blog: to probe and dissect important and underdiscussed ideas. As time goes by, the odds that I will write about it will be increasing, so next year, unless someone gets there before me, I’ll be writing a post about the book. I also want to wait because a key part of what I would like to say hinges on an idea Weyl has been toying with recently (on personal identity) that has not written about at length yet, and so I want to allow more time for that to get more concrete.

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2 Responses to Critiques of Radical Markets

  1. Artir says:

    Oh my! Indeed, I read it and thought it was a good one

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