Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Doubting Brooks

In his column today, David Brooks trumpets epistemological uncertainty in government decision-making:

Up until recently, people in the financial world bathed in the warm glow of their own self-approval. Hubris in that world always takes the same form: The geniuses there come to believe that they have mastered risk. The future is an algorithm and they’ve cracked the code.

Over the past year, the bonfire of overconfidence has shifted to Washington. Since the masters of finance have been exposed as idiots, the masters of government have concluded (somewhat illogically) that they must be really smart.

Overconfidence in government also has a characteristic form: that of highly rational Olympians who attempt to stand above problems and solve them in a finely tuned and impartial manner. In moments of government overconfidence, officials come to see society not as a dynamic and complex organism, but as a machine, which can be rebuilt. In such moments, governance and engineering merge into one.

If I do become a highly rational Olympian, hopefully I'll be able to maintain some level of humility . . . .

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