1. Democrats lie.
2. Republicans screw up.
3. Libertarians have the right idea, but get carried away.
4. There are a few misunderstood geniuses in every age who get important details wrong, but get a few things so stunningly right that they move us forward.
Regular readers know that I am a big fan of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of Fooled By Randomness and The Black Swan. I think he's one of the geniuses in Principle #4. Taleb's blog, Fooled By Randomness contains post after post of counterintuitive ideas. These are so good that I cannot do more than half-a-dozen at a time. There is simply too much that is new, too much "Whoa! I never thought of that possibility."
Taleb dislikes economists, and only agreed to take his new position as Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at NYU Polytechnic on the agreement that no economists would be allowed into the building he works in. Very, very occasionally, he will say something nice about an economist, but usually, he mentions them only to illustrate how consistently wrong they are about, oh, crises like the one we're in now. Such things intrigue me. I know the Econ 101 basics and a few other things, but economists baffle me. I respect Harvard's Greg Mankiw, who used to advise Bush but now criticises him. Like a good conservative, I thought I was supposed to sniff at everything Paul Krugman says, but have been reading conservative economists approving of his Nobel Prize, based on earlier work. I don't know who the hell to believe, so when someone like Taleb comes along and says "ignore all of them, especially the Nobel winners," it seems attractive. What a relief that would be, to be smarter than all the rest of you by knowing nothing. I am reminded of Milo's nightmare in "Bloom County," where he was to be tormented by two economists discussing all night whether the deficit was important. Anything but that.
So I am primed to like what Taleb likes. One of the people that Taleb likes is Arthur DeVany, professor emeritus at UCal- Irvine in Mathematical Behavioral Sciences. DeVany has an equal number of counterintuitive ideas, including stochastic eating and sleeping, evolutionary fitness, and the utter randomness of what movies will be hits.
Digression to set the stage for what follows: Like many conservatives, I have been frustrated by John McCain on the economy lately. What we like about McCain is that on foreign policy he will be firm but not brutal. We know it is in his bones, and if he does something in that area that puzzles us, we will trust him. But on the economy, he does not have conservative principles in his bones. Lord knows what are in his bones there. Does he have bones there? Conservatives don't automatically accept everything that McCain says about the economy, but neither do we automatically reject it. Who knows what the hell he's thinking? And Barney Frank - Barney F-in' Frank, one of the primary people who got us into this mess, I always figure that what he says about the economy, I want the opposite. How bad could that be?
Browsing along in DeVany's discussion of how the idiots in Washington screwed us royally on this financial crisis, and what he thinks should be done, I encounter the following line, in reference to his own very persuasive proposal:
In its basics, this solution is not far removed from a shared appreciation scheme that I think Barney Frank and John McCain have proposed.Well knock me over with a feather.
Go back to my four principles. I have no idea how to fit this in.