Thursday, February 08, 2007

You wanna bet?

Jonah Goldberg is one of these frothing-at-the-mouth conservatives that are so much fun to ridicule. He shares similar traits to the frothing-at-the-mouth Lefties who are so much fun to ridicule.

Two years ago Jonah opened his mouth, he is paid for that, and made some predictions. I quote:

Let's make a bet. I predict that Iraq won't have a civil war, that it will have a viable constitution, and that a majority of Iraqis and Americans will, in two years time, agree that the war was worth it. I'll bet $1,000 (which I can hardly spare right now).
It must be rather embarrassing to be so far off the mark. Iraq is having a civil war though the Bushites refuse to see it -- for the same reason they can’t see the evidence for evolution. Nothing that contradicts what they decided is true can possibly exist so therefore it does not exist because they are never wrong.

There is no viable constitution but a document that enshrines as Islamic theocratic state where all law is judged by Islamic teaching. Of course Dinesh D’Souza would argue that is a good thing and indicative of the new alliance between the lunatic Religious Right and Islam.

And he said the majority of Iraqis and Americans will all agree that the war was worth it. That’s two more predictions he got wrong. He made four predictions in that little statement and didn’t get a single one of them right. At that rate he should be offered a job in the White House pretty soon.

What is funny is that Goldberg made these predictions after patting himself on the back saying, “my judgement is superior”. Not so superior today is it. But then in reality it never was.

However, I like this idea. I think both Left-wing and Right-wing pundits like Goldberg should periodically be required (not literally required by force but by convention) to place bets consistent with the claims they are making.

For instance the Right should be required to quantifiably lay out what they suspect will happen with gay marriage. So in Massachusetts they would say that two years after gay marriage heterosexual marriage will be harmed in X ways. They kept saying it would happen but never told us how. Today they would be paying out on those bets since they were wrong in spades.

Or remember those welfare reforms put through by Clinton. The Left was livid with the reforms and claimed some rather specific evils would result including starving children and such. It didn’t happen. In fact the opposite of their claims was closer to the truth.

I do remember one famous wager between the prescient Julian Simon and the doomsayer Paul Ehrlich. Ehrlich had latched onto the environmentalist doomsday fad of the day--the environmentalists change doomsday scenarios like Paris changes fashion. Ehrlich was saying that we were “running out” of..., we out of about everything. That was once the big claim of the environmentalists.

Simon suggested that Ehrlich pick any ten resources he though were in danger of depletion. They would then calculate how much $1000 would buy of each resource. Ten years later they would come back and recalculate things. If a resource is being depleted the price goes up -- it is basic economics that environmentalists once accepted as factual. So if the amount of resource Q previously purchased for $1000 was now worth $1200 it was becoming more scarce and Ehrlich would be right on that resource. The difference between the prices would be paid by the loser to the winner. In that case Simon would pay Ehrlich $200. If the price were actually lower, something Ehrlich though impossible, which is why he called this a sucker bet, then he would pay the difference between the price of 10 years earlier and the current price to Simon.

They both agreed it would be adjusted for inflation so they were using a steady value currency. In the end Ehrlich was wrong on all ten resources he picked as most likely to be in danger of depletion. In economic terms all the resources became more plentiful. And Ehrlich paid Simon and then denounced his own bet as meaningless.

I find it interesting that environmentalists have since abandoned the quantifiable relatively short-term disasters of the past for very long-term disasters a century off in the future. They completely abandoned the “depletion” arguments they were making about resources (with the possible exception of “peak oil” issues) and instead latching on to whether or not the ocean will rise X inches or Y inches by the year 2100 -- a year when none of them will be around to pay off a wager.

I would love to see wagering as informal policy. President Bush should pay out of his own pocket when he makes a pronouncement that is wrong, false, a lie, or distorted. Okay, he would soon go through his own salary and everything he owned but he ought to do it. For instance he claims the feds will balance the budget (which was balanced when he took office) within a few years. It won’t happen. When it doesn’t Bush should have to pay out.

He should have had to wager on the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. When he passed his asinine No Child Left Behind program he should have been required to list the concrete results we would see in five years time and list the fine he would pay if it didn’t happen.

In fact maybe all legislation that is purported to achieve some result should have a section where the proponents of the legislation state how much money they will donate to a charity if the legislation does not perform as they claim it will within a specified period of time and that time should be short term enough that they are alive to pay out when proven wrong -- which is what will happen with most legislation.

Letting the proponent of the bill list the fine he will donate is perfect. It allows us to know how seriously the politician takes his own proposals. If Congressman Bleedingheart proposes a foreign aid bill to eradicate poverty in the Zimbabwe, for instance, he would specify very precise, quantifiable changes we will see within so many years as a result of his proposal. If he thinks his bill is guaranteed to achieve these results he might be willing to wager his entire Congressional pay on the matter. If instead he wagers $100 you can tell he doesn’t believe his own bull. Ditto for Congressman Hardass and his bill to win the war on drugs.

I would guess that we’d get a lot less legislation that way.

Photo: the floating head is Jonah "I'll bet ya" Goldberg.