The danger of making policy based on assumption
By George J. Stigler – The denunciation of American complacency, however, is not my purpose, at least not my explicit purpose. I admire the humane and generous sympathies of our society—sympathies that extend to the uneducated and the uncultured and the unenterprising and even the immoral as well as to the educated and the cultured and the enterprising and the moral.
We are a people remarkably agreed on our basic goals, and they are goals which are thoroughly admirable even to one, like myself, who thinks one or two less fashionable goals deserve equal popularity.
Fortunately, our agreement on basic goals does not preclude disagreement on the way best to approach these goals. If the right economic policies were so obvious as to defy responsible criticism, this would be an intolerably dull world. In fact, I believe that each generation has an inescapable obligation to leave difficult problems for the next generation to solve—not only to spare that next generation boredom but also to give it an opportunity for greatness. The legacy of unsolved problems which my generation is bequeathing to the next generation, I may say, seems adequate and even sumptuous.
It is not wholly correct to say that we are agreed upon what we want but are not agreed upon how to achieve it. When we get to specific goals, we shall find that our agreement does not always extend to orders of importance. For example, some people are willing to preserve personal freedom of choice for consumers even if the choice is exercised very unwisely in some cases, and others will be more concerned with (say) the health of consumers which these unwise choices may impair. Nevertheless, it is roughly true that we know where to go.
We do not know how to get there. This is my fundamental thesis: we do not know how to achieve a given end. more>
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