In an essay on Plato, the German philosopher Josef Pieper suggests that for Plato “the natural habitat of truth is conversation. Truth is enacted in dialogue, in discussion, in discourse: in other words, in language and the word.”
Russ Roberts is not a philosopher but an economist, as the many listeners to his extremely popular podcast Econtalk can attest. But he strives, I think, to enact truth in dialogue. He is not afraid to proclaim his own opinion, but seeks to understand as best as he can the opinion of those he’s talking with. And he’s also reticent to proclaim that he knows things that he doesn’t actually know, as this recent post on his blog reveals:
A journalist once asked me how many jobs NAFTA had created or destroyed. I told him I had no reliable idea. Certainly jobs had been lost when factories closed and moved to Mexico but other jobs had been gained because Americans now had more resources and increased their demand for products that would not be easy to identify. Why not? Because thousands and thousands of jobs are created every month and it is very difficult, perhaps impossible to know which ones are related to NAFTA allow
ing Americans to buy less expensive goods from Mexico. I also told him that I believed that trade neither destroyed nor created jobs on net. It’s main impact was to change the kinds of jobs and what they paid.
The journalist got annoyed. “You’re a professional economist. You’re ducking my question.” I disagreed. I am answering your question, I told him. You just don’t like the answer.
Nor is Russ afraid to change his mind, or admit how his previous views have been rendered uncertain. That’s the story behind his essay Gambling With Other People’s Money, an essay he wrote in 2010 about the financial crisis of 2008. Ten years on from those events, he’s written a new introduction to the essay. We discuss the financial crisis, how far one’s mind can be changed without rejecting everything you previously believed, and intellectual humility–among other things.
For Further Investigation
The Sachs Saga: