Jeffrey Friedman, RIP

Jeffrey Friedman.

The distinguished political theorist Jeffrey Friedman handed away out of the blue on December 2, on the far-too-early age of 63. Jeff was best-known for his work on democracy, political information, and libertarianism, and for his position because the editor of Important Evaluate, the extremely profitable interdisciplinary tutorial journal he based in 1987, and edited from then till his dying. Jeff additionally taught at a number of universities across the nation, together with Barnard, Boston College, Dartmouth, the College of Texas, and Harvard (the place, on the time of his passing, he was a visiting scholar on the Committee on Social Research).

One of the best introduction to Jeff’s multifaceted and complicated work is his underrated 2019 e book Energy With out Data: A Critique of Technocracy (Oxford College Press). He additionally authored or edited vital books on the 2008 monetary disaster and rational selection principle (of which he was a forceful critic).

Whereas Jeff was typically thought of a libertarian, or at the least libertarian-adjacent, he largely rejected standard libertarian  political thought. He was equally skeptical of ordinary approaches to democratic principle. Like libertarian (and a few non-libertarian) critics of recent democratic authorities, Jeff argued that widespread voter ignorance was a severe hazard. However, in contrast to them, he claimed that almost all such ignorance was inadvertent “radical” ignorance, quite individually rational conduct (as believed by most economists and different social scientists). He additionally argued that comparable radical ignorance knowledgeable decision-making on public coverage, and standard social scientific evaluation. He thus concluded that markets typically produce higher outcomes than authorities, not due to superior incentives, however as a result of they provide higher alternatives for trial-and-error studying.

The above is a extremely oversimplified abstract that does not actually do justice to Jeff’s extremely refined and nuanced writings. Few different students of our time may equal Jeff’s depth and breadth of information of an unlimited vary of points slicing throughout disciplinary boundaries. For those who actually wish to perceive his work, there isn’t any substitute for studying it!

Whereas Jeff and I wrote on a few of the identical points, and infrequently reached comparable comparatively libertarian conclusions, we differed on many factors. Not like Jeff, I imagine that almost all political ignorance is the truth is rational, and I feel social science usually generates extra highly effective insights than he gave it credit score for. For a abstract of our variations about democracy and public ignorance, see this 2013 symposium about my e book Democracy and Political Ignorance, a piece that certainly benefited from Jeff’s affect, though it makes many factors he strongly disagreed with.

Regardless of our variations—a few of them on points the place he had very sturdy views—Jeff was a useful pal and mentor to me, over a few years. The identical was true of quite a few different youthful students. Means again in 1998, after I was a younger graduate pupil, I revealed my very first article on political ignorance in Important Evaluate—at Jeff’s suggestion. It stays one in all my 4 or 5 most cited works to today—a standing it might not have achieved with out Jeff’s helpful options and his criticisms of my many rookie errors.

Lately, we had comparatively little contact, as my time was taken up by different private {and professional} commitments. That neglect is at the least partially my fault, and definitely is my loss. It didn’t happen to me that so energetic an individual as Jeff would possibly go away us so quickly.

In what’s now a prolonged tutorial profession spanning a number of universities, nations, and continents, I’ve not often, if ever, met anybody who epitomized what it means to be a gentleman and a scholar greater than Jeffrey Friedman. His passing is a horrible loss. I lengthen my condolences to his household, associates, and colleagues.