Daniel Klein classifies libertarians into challengers and bargainers. (He has a third category, “royalty,” to describe Milton Friedman and Adam Smith, who managed to achieve very high status.) Klein uses as an example of a topic the minimum wage. A challenger is someone who will say that the minimum wage should be abolished, while a bargainer is someone who sill say that the minimum wage should not be raised. Pointer from Tyler Cowen, who Klein pegs as a bargainer (I would agree).
1. I would describe challengers and bargainers in terms of language. Challengers use the language of certainty. “This is what I think, and people who disagree are just wrong.” Bargainers use the language of doubt or compromise. “Here is where my opponents and I agree, and here is where I think they are mistaken.”
2. I am mostly a bargainer. However, when I write posts using challenger language, I get a lot more praise and mention among libertarians. In fact, I have tried to keep myself from being influenced by such reinforcement.
3. You might be able to adapt these linguistic differences to other parts of the political spectrum. For example, I imagine that Paul Krugman evolved into the writer he is because he could not resist the positive reinforcement he received for expressing anger and certainty.
4. I think that Klein’s disctinction explains why I prefer having my own blog. I think it is fair to describe Bryan Caplan as more of a challenger, and when we were both at EconLog our styles clashed.*
5. Klein is never clear on whether the he is drawing an intellectual distinction between bargaining and challenging or whether he is making sociological observations. In fact, most of the talk strikes me as observations about differences between challengers and bargainers in terms of their personalities and social circumstances. For example, he says that the challengers tend to draw cult-like followings. On the other hand, he does say that an individual can make a choice about which stance to adopt, and it may even be possible to adopt different stances in different circumstances. That makes it sound more like an intellectual distinction. Bargainer that I am, I am trying to split the difference between making an intellectual distinction and making a sociological distinction, so that I want to emphasize linguistic differences.
6. I think that one difference, which can be viewed as intellectual but is probably grounded in personality, is that of certainty vs. doubt. The libertarians who Klein classifies as challengers strike me as highly certain. The bargainers have doubts. For example, challengers are quite certain that the world would be a better place with open borders, if drug laws were abolished, and so on. As a bargainer, I think that this is likely to be the case, but I am not so all-fired certain. Since challengers do not give much thought to being wrong, the fact that they are in a minority on an issue never bothers them. When I am in the minority, I question my own position–although I try to question my own position in any event.
7. In terms of what Jeffrey Friedman calls “the libertarian straddle,” challengers rely more on the philosophical a priori case for liberty. Think of Rothbard and the non-aggression principle. Bargainers rely more on the empirical economic case for liberty, which is that societies with more economic liberty tend to be more prosperous.
*This is all hindsight, in that I left EconLog primarily to pursue an ed-tech start-up. That did not go well, although I did learn a lot about how software had changed in the 15 years since I had been out of it.