George Mason University

News at Mason

Mason Professor Submits to Reddit ‘Ask Me Anything’

February 12, 2014

By Buzz McClain

Bryan Caplan

Bryan Caplan

“I am Bryan Caplan, economist and professor at George Mason University and advocate of free immigration and free trade. AMA!” 

Fans of the social news and entertainment site Reddit recognize the declaration, indicating that an “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) session has begun. Earlier this month, it was Caplan’s turn to field questions from the bulletin board site’s thousands of “redditors,” who can be voracious, vicious and vindictive, depending on the notoriety of the person answering the questions.

As it happened, they went easy on the author of “The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies” and “Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent Is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think.” Caplan’s session generated 1,145 comments in a wide-ranging conversation that veered from trade with Cuba to open borders to Bitcoin to role-playing games (he likes “Pandemonium” for beginners). “They were good questions,” says Caplan, who is also senior scholar at the Mercatus Center at Mason.) “You could tell they had read a lot of what I had written and had looked at my blog.”

The Q&A session was not on a “subReddit” for economists, it was on the general Reddit AMA page and open to all who stumbled upon it. Caplan had about a month to market the opportunity to his colleagues and students via his social media outlets, including his 7,592 Twitter followers (he follows a mere six) and his 3,021 Facebook fans.

The AMA came about because the entrepreneurial Caplan mentioned on Facebook that “if someone made this easy, I’d be happy to do it.” It took Michael Tontchev, “a tech-savvy friend” in Russia, of all places, to step in and set it up. And easy it was for the economist: “I said exactly what I think, and I said this is what I base it on, and we went from there,” Caplan says.

Caplan says he most likely will do another AMA in a few months. The only thing he’d change is the introduction “to focus on topics I’m interested in at the moment.”