Monday, October 10, 2011

Quote of the day

I think when you are doing research, you are confronted with a body of evidence where there are some questions where the honest answer is just, "I don't know."  
That's an extremely unpopular answer, among just about everybody. Nobody wants to be told, "We've got this great development expert. Aren't you glad you all came out tonight for me to tell you I don't know what the answer is? Isn't that really edifying and enriching?" I've had a lot of difficult raising funding for the "I Don't Know Foundation."  
But I don't know, actually, to point straight to individual rights—this is what I came to, in my own intellectual journey—I realized that we had tried very hard to figure out what were the recipes for prosperity, so that we could just tell the government to do X, Y, and Z, and prosperity would follow. 
The truth is, that enterprise largely failed. And economists cannot give that kind of recipe for some kind of top-down comprehensive plan that will bring prosperity. So, you really do have to say, "I don't know." 
How does that point to individual rights? If the experts at the top don't know how to design the policy, you want a system that can handle that. You can handle that with a system in which everyone at the bottom has the right to solve their own problems, with their own knowledge.
Easterly is the rare expert who readily acknowledges his own limitations (a refreshing contrast to our president, who thinks he knows everything). What he is basically expressing here is summation of the knowledge problem and a need to empower individuals, rather than top-down government enterprises, to discover the path to prosperity. The many know more than the few.

Easterly's books The Elusive Quest for Growth and The White Man's Burden are highly recommended.

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