Monday, March 15, 2010

The "People Are Idiots" Explanation Isn't Good Enough

I think I've found my new favorite economics quote, by George Stigler:

Mistakes are indeed made by the best of men and the best of nations, but after a century are we not entitled to question whether these "mistakes" produce only unintended results? Alternatively stated, a theory that says that a large set of persistent policies are mistaken is profoundly anti-intellectual unless it is joined with a theory of mistakes. It is the most vacuous of "explanatory" principles to dismiss inexplicable phenomena as mistakes--everything under the sun can be disposed of with this label, without yielding an atom of understanding.
I learned of this quote from JC Bradbury's "The Baseball Economist," in a section where he discusses why there have been essentially no left-handed catchers in the major leagues for the past century.