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World’s biggest bar room

Commenters on many blogs, this one included, often seem to labor under the mistaken notion that they are going to change everyone’s mind. Even leaving aside that on controversial subjects, many comments are mere tired sarcasm and tedious ranting, there are deeper reasons why you will not write The Blog Comment That Changed The World.

The Internet is not Plato’s Academy or Aristotle’s Lyceum; it is more like the world’s biggest bar room. On their stools sit all sorts of characters, from the witty and well informed to the dull and stupid, opining loudly to all around who will listen to them. The other drinkers retort with a like range of ability. Occasionally somebody says something so compelling that it commands general assent, at least until the next round of drinks comes.

On the topics that this blog and many others cover, there is in the background a large body of scholarly writing (I hesitate to call it a literature, given how poorly so many economists write). Sometimes the posts acknowledge it, while other times it is only there implicitly, but it is always there. On the topics I write about, almost always I have read some of the major scholarship and sometimes a lot of minor scholarship. Your blog comment is unlikely to change my mind for the same reason that my blog post is unlikely to change the minds of the scholars whose work I mention, if they are still alive. The intellectual effort that goes into a blog post or comment is small compared to the amount that typically goes into a piece of scholarship. It is perfectly justifiable for somebody who has thought a long time on a subject, especially if he has contributed to its scholarship, not to be swayed from his position by some stray words on a blog. If you say, “Yes, but the logic (or the facts) are on my side,” well then, go write it up in a scholarly form and try to get agreement on it from some experts, not just your personal cheering section.

And while we are still in the bar room, I will share one of my pet peeves with you: commenters who do not use their real names. In certain forums, it is appropriate to protect privacy. I perfectly well understand if you are logged into a medical blog and you do not want the world to know that you have foot fungus, or if you are a Cuban dissident who does not wish to end up in jail for your posts on a political blog. On the Free Banking blog, such considerations do not apply. I heavily discount pseudonymous comments because failing to use one’s real name in this context indicates a lack of intellectual courage. While it is true that, as the saying goes, good wine needs no bush, with so many wines to choose from whose origin is well attested, why should I bother with what experience has too often proved to be merely vinegar?