The Corner

Learning from Failure

Megan McArdle’s new book, The Upside of Down, is out this week, and I just can’t recommend it enough. 

We conservatives value markets and like to argue that they make for far better means of obtaining and applying knowledge than the a priori certitudes of technocratic know-it-alls. But we are not always ready to contend with what that commitment to decentralized, dispersed, trial-and-error learning really means: It means lots and lots of errors, and lots and lots of failures, and it requires us to constantly keep in mind that these errors and failures are what make success possible. 

That sort of humility doesn’t come easy, especially if you’re the person doing the failing. It requires great champions who will help us see the virtue of humble open-mindedness and the value of learning from calamity, grueling and difficult though it always is. I think McArdle’s wonderful book puts her high on the list of such champions. Her easy command of the intricacies of our complicated economy make her especially well suited to the task in our own time, and her talent for storytelling, disarming humor, and keen eye for just the right detail to make a key point would serve readers well at any time. You should read this book. 

Yuval Levin is the director of social, cultural, and constitutional studies at the American Enterprise Institute and the editor of National Affairs.

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