An Interview With Bryan Caplan on ‘Labor Econ Versus the World’

George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan discusses his new book on labor economics.

[Editor’s Note: Bryan Caplan’s latest book Labor Econ Versus the World covers a broad array of subjects, including labor market, the effects of immigration, education, and government regulation. (Read a review of the book here.)

Greek economic journalist Chris Loukas recently interviewed Caplan, a professor of economics at George Mason University. Below is an edited version of their interview. There conversation has been edited for clarity.]

Loukas: In the back of the book you say that many of the opinions in these essays are "unfashionable." Did this characteristic of the book ever make you doubt about publishing it or was it a motivating force?

Caplan: Motivating! I only write books on controversial topics, on the theory that my conventional views are already well-defended.

L: You often criticize your fellow labor economists. How have those people reacted to your criticisms? Has any labor economist responded to the book?

C: The main reply I’ve heard over the years is just that it’s more complicated. Strictly speaking, that’s true, but since most people have never ever heard the simple story, I’m glad to share it. My main issue with labor economists is that they treat basic labor economics as if it’s too obvious to deserve publicity. But it’s not obvious to most people, especially when the results are emotionally unappealing.

L: Your book disproves many popular misconceptions about labor economics. Have you received emails by students telling you that they changed their views because of you? How does that make you feel?

C: Over the years, I have received quite a few such emails, though more often people want to argue. Either way, I’m glad to get students’ attention.

L: A thing I noticed while reading the book is a very light resemblance to Walter Block's Defending the Undefendable. Do you think your book is similar to Block's in any way?

C: I hadn’t thought of it, but yes. Someone once called Block’s book “Drano for clogged minds,” and I’d be happy to partake in this slogan. Just understanding that what looks like a “bad job” to many people is still a big step up for someone else is a big deal.

L: Labor Econ Versus the World tries to abolish some of the popular myths in labor economics. Have you ever thought of writing a textbook for undergraduate students in order to provide better foundations for labor economics?

C: Yes, but I think the market would be too thin. Plus the textbook authors I know say the endless revisions every two or three years consume their lives.

L: In the announcement for your book in EconLib, you said that you are publishing eight volumes with essays you have published as blog posts in the past, and this was only the first volume. When should we expect the next volumes to be published and what are their subjects going to be?

C: The next book is How Evil Are Politicians: Essays on Demagoguery. Expect it by May! Other books will come out every three to four months after that.