Sunday, March 21, 2010

Thought of the Day

. Sunday, March 21, 2010

At least it is for me, inspired by reading about sovereign debt on a day when everyone else is concerned with basketball and health care reform:

One's normative political preferences are mostly formed by how strong one thinks the Law of Unintended Consequences is.


For what it's worth, I think the Law is quite strong in most circumstances, but that it often works in multiple directions. If that sounds obtuse, well, it is: it means that I am often not sure whether to support or oppose major policy changes because I honestly have no idea how they'll really turn out. It also means that although I sometimes sound like an Oakeshottian conservative -- “To be conservative, then, is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss.” -- I also think that status quo bias is a killer. A whole lot of persistent injustices would be impossible without it.

It also means that I am distrustful of anyone who claims to know anything about how any policy will work. It makes me think that they are either disingenuous or haven't thought things through very carefully. The greatest and worst developments in human history have come through the abandonment of the status quo and the willingness to experiment. Arguably, none of them could have been anticipated beforehand.

I'm not religious, but one of my favorite verses of the Bible is Genesis 50:20 (NIV): "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives."

Discuss.

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