Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Quotes of the day

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.--Albert Einstein

Either we can maintain that there’s some flaw in [math and logic] — some way in which it fails to capture the “right” meaning of rationality — or we can conclude that we don’t always make good decisions, and that meditating on our failures can help us make better decisions in the future.--Steve Landsburg

Hayek condemned scientism–the use of the tools of science to give a field such as economics the aura of science without it’s predictive or descriptive power. He didn’t just say this was a waste of time, he said it was dangerous because it led to a false sense of precision and understanding. The way I understand this (and I agree with Hayek) is that the tools of physics–advanced dynamic equations that treat the economy as a planetary body or even a group of planets interacting, is not just wrong, but deeply misleading. ... none have a unified, consistent model that can explain the movements of macroeconomic aggregates. They also are unable to convince people in the other camps nor is it clear that any data or empirical test would lead to ideological or methodological conversions. This is not comforting for those who claim any sort of scientific mantle for macroeconomics. ... Is economics a science because it is like Darwinian biology? Darwinian biology is very different from the physical sciences. Like economics it is a very useful way to organize your thinking about complex phenomena. But it is not a predictive or very precise science or whatever you want to call it. Before seeing any direct fossil evidence, no biologist can tell you how long the giraffe’s neck was ten million years ago. They cannot make accurate backcasts of any precision such as the year that the forerunner of the giraffe began to lengthen its neck through natural selection. It cannot model why the giraffe’s neck isn’t longer. Darwinism, like much of economics, exploits tautological reasoning. If the fossil record is incomplete or shows no change or vast periods or the pace of change is inconsistent with the fossil record, the theory is not discarded but modified with the concept of punctuated equilibrium. Is punctuated equilibrium true? There is no real way of knowing. It is our best hypothesis given very limited data. Is it a science? Sure. But it is a science that is unlike physics.--Russ Roberts

Joseph Schumpeter coined the phrase "creative destruction" to describe the process of churn whereby old companies, technologies, and industries die, to be replaced by new ones. This process has brought us today's prosperity, and is a massive force for good in human history. But it is not without its sadness. You don't have to want to stop the process, to mourn for the real losses it entails.--Megan McArdle

The Medicare program chief actuary predicted last spring that 375,000 would sign up for the new risk pool insurance in 2010. But by the end of November, only 8,000 had done so.--John Goodman

The main thing [Ed Price] wrote, in my mind, is that he believes that the Baseball Hall of Fame’s voting instructions — to choose players based on their “record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team” — demand that he not vote steroid users into the Hall. I think that is a fair interpretation of the Hall of Fame’s charge. I also happen to think that those words are absurdly outdated, and bizarrely vague, and there is absolutely no hint that the Hall of Fame voters have EVER taken them seriously, based on the fact that the very first person voted in was Ty Cobb. But I cannot disagree with Ed for taking the words literally. I think every voter has to make that judgment. ... I think it’s kind of tragic to hear anyone say that. “Innocent until proven guilty” is not simply a standard for a court of law … it is a fundamental right of society. ... some think that a secret ballot is pure because you won’t vote based on public pressure. But I think all that’s kind of a copout. I have been led to believe — and probably will always believe — that some of the Buck O’Neil voting was political and petty and mean-spirited … and it’s a lot easier to be petty and mean-spirited when you don’t have to stand publicly behind your vote. I guess my point is that I believe in light.--Joe Posnanski

The Constitution, curiously enough, always seems to get most convoluted when the wording is most precise. As you know, the First Amendment is fine if the result is "fair" and not too hateful. The Second is dangerous and misunderstood. To support the Tenth is to pine for slavery. The Fifth is vitally important — unless the environmental good is threatened. ... So, because the Constitution has become too complex for many of us to decipher, and thus irrelevant, its time to boil the whole thing down to its troglodytic and/or graceful basics and engage P.J. O'Rourke's rules of governance in a free society:

1. "Mind your own business."

2. "Keep your hands to yourself."--David Harsanyi

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