I think your read of what’s going on is a good step to resolving this disagreement. My guess is that I see myself as steelmanning Caplan. I also weakly suspect Caplan would agree with my steelman.
Let’s look at his third example he gives in this post because I think it’s his strongest. My summary + steelman of it is the following:
There is an obvious reason why we’d expect labor market regulations to have disemployment effects. Namely, if employers are forced to follow the regulation, they have an incentive not to hire people. And yet, strangely, some claim that these disemployment effects are empirically very small.
Typically, those who favor labor market regulation, and cite these empirical findings, don’t seem to really grok how weird the empirical results are. They don’t, for example, assert that we should be very cautious and skeptical of the face-value results. Instead, when people argue for labor market regulations, they mostly treat the empirical results to be an afterthought, rather than a bizarre coincidence that favors their pre-determined policy prescription.
We can explain what’s going on here by appealing to one of two broad hypotheses: (1) perhaps there really are very small disemployment effects from regulation, and people who argue for labor market regulations are right to lack a mood skeptical of the empirical findings, or (2) there are actually substantial disemployment effects, and the cited empirical findings are a result of cherry-picking or bad research methodologies. The reason why people lack a mood skeptical of those results is because they aren’t very interested in getting to the bottom of the matter. They’d rather just advocate for their policy first, and find results to back it up later.
The likelihood of explanation (1) is weakened by the inherent implausibility in the empirical claim. It’s actually pretty obvious that we’d see disemployment effects, and smart people should recognize its obviousness, so the fact that people don’t seem interested in it is evidence that explanation (2) is correct.
Note that my summary here is similar to my example above about people who believe in collapse. People who believe in collapse but aren’t interested in preparing for it, seem more interested in the view for other reasons than its correctness. They’re more interested in professing belief in it, almost like an afterthought, perhaps as a vehicle for an entirely different psychological agenda.
I think that Caplan’s begging the question on that one. The issue at stake in that debate is partly the economic ideas. His acceptance of those ideas established his prior on the effects of labor market regulation, which in turn is what makes it, in his view, a “missing mood” to be unsurprised if those effects were not something to be taken seriously.
So a lack of that mood only indicates a disagreement about those economic ideas, and the values that go with them, which is the real issue at stake. Missing the mood is just a sign of the epistemic and moral disagreement, rather than a sign of who holds the correct position, or the strength of the convictions of each side in the debate.
The obviousness claim, the ad hominem assertion that “smart people” should agree with him by default, is just cheap, poor argumentation. And I think that the “missing mood” heuristic is a rhetorical trick about on the same level. Note that I am not accusing you of any of this, because I recognize that you’re steelmanning Caplan here. But I guess I do not see this as a successful steelman, but rather an illustration that even an attempt to steelman this heuristic results in an unconvincing outcome. I think the attempt is valuable though.