Saturday, September 15, 2012

Further research, please

It's hard to have a policy discussion without alluding to Bruce Yandle's Bootleggers and Baptists.  When the true believers find common cause with the rapacious, what can be done?  In modern times, the former are often "green" while the latter, as always, are shameless.

But that is not the whole story.  Don Boudreaux , in today's WSJ, describes the problem of adding hubris to the mix:
A market economy is indescribably vast and complex—its success depends on so many intricate, changing details all somehow being made to work smoothly together that the "facts" that are essential to its thriving cannot be catalogued with anywhere near the completeness that can be achieved by a 21st-century scientist studying and cataloging the "facts" that enable sparrows to fly. A sparrow is complex compared, say, to a limestone rock. Compared to the modern market economy, however, a sparrow is extremely simple. ...

Awareness of these facts, and of knowledge of workable options of how to respond to them, are key to the growth and continued success of any market economy. These facts are dealt with successfully only in market economies and only to the extent that individuals on the spot are free to respond to these facts as they, individually, see fit.

Yet no observer or planner or regulator can see and catalog all these highly specific facts. The facts—each of which must be dealt with—are far too numerous at any moment for an observing scientist to catalog even if that moment were to be frozen for decades. ...

Nevertheless, too many people, including politicians, continue to believe that because they can observe a handful of bulky facts about the economy, they can thereby know enough to intervene into that economy in ways that will improve its operation. That belief, though, is hubris. It's very much like believing that you'll fly if you simply strap on a pair of wings and commence to flapping madly.
If that's not bad enough, in the same paper, there is this, cited and summarized by David DiSalvo:
Psychopaths and successful U.S. presidents may share some common psychosocial territory.
Both possess "fearless dominance," a trait of swagger or extreme confidence that may contribute either to criminality and violence or to successful leadership, a new study suggests. The analysis drew upon personality assessments of 42 presidents through George W. Bush, compiled by Steven Rubenzer and Thomas Faschingbauer for their book "Personality, Character and Leadership in the White House."
More than 100 experts, including biographers, journalists and scholars who are established authorities on one or more U.S. presidents, evaluated their target presidents using standardized psychological measures of personality, intelligence and behavior.

Theodore Roosevelt ranked highest in fearless dominance, followed by John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Rutherford Hayes, Zachary Taylor, Bill Clinton, Martin Van Buren, Andrew Jackson and George W. Bush.
Scott O. Lilienfeld and five other authors, "Fearless Dominance and the U.S. Presidency," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (September)
Bootleggers, Baptists, the hubristic and the psychopathic?  How do you face down that line-up?  All good science ends with the call for further research.  That would be putting it mildly.