Thursday, September 19, 2019

Analogy To go With "There Is No System."

 Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind  describes the control of the will over the impulses with a fascinating analogy.  We think of our desires and impulses as akin to a spirited horse that needs to be broken to be made useful.  It takes effort, skill, perseverance. Literature has used this metaphor for self-control for centuries.  This is very similar to how politicians and others in government talk about the economy. Yes, it’s wild sometimes and has a mind of its own, and it can throw you or hurt you.  But with a skilled hand it can be brought under control and made to act as it should, becoming useful for all of us. That’s what governors and especially presidents run on.  They are that strong hand. 
Haidt continues his analogy about the human personality to say that the example of the horse is entirely inadequate. We are far more like the elephant and rider.  The rider does have some influence.  Skill matters and can influence the elephant to better decisions and more usefulness. Bur far more than the horse, the elephant goes where it will and can only gradually be brought under – well, not control, exactly, but some direction and purpose. I submit that we can extend the analogy to the economy in much the same way. Presidents, Congress, even presidents and congress together do not control the economy as a skilled dressage rider controls a horse. They probably do not even exercise the control of the elephant's mahout over the economy, but we can give them the benefit of the doubt on that, I suppose. It is at least much closer to the reality.  The economy is a huge, surprising thing which frequently breaks its chain, and in that time can be destructive.

In terms of controlling an economy, we know some things that usually help.  We know some things we should not do.  Okay, some of us know things we should not do.  The knowledge is apparently not universal.  Nor is it entirely consistent.  We know at least some likely effects of raising the minimum wage, but sometimes locally and temporarily, it doesn’t much matter.  Norway could pass a fairly high minimum wage law to little effect, as even the worst jobs there pay about $25/hr. Sometimes there is no dip in jobs, only a delay in the growth for a bit when the minimum is raised. (Sucks to be the invisible people who didn’t have new jobs open up for them during the delay, but they are, as I noted, invisible, so you can’t send them a card.) We should leave things alone, except when we shouldn’t.  The elephant is more likely to let us know when we were wrong than when we were right.

No actual horses or elephants were harmed in the writing of this post.


GraniteDad said...

A great analogy. With economic policy, I think we know a lot more about what is a bad idea then we do what is a good idea. Leaving things alone is a pretty good strategy overall. Trying to get too involved in controlling things from above causes issues.

Sam L. said...

I thank you for not harming and elephants or horses. They might retaliate, if you did.
Wouldn't want you to be hurt.