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Paying the Price for Mistakes

Election season words of wisdom from the interesting Will Wilkinson, via Overcoming Bias:

I say, again and again, that it is an embarrassing non-sequitur to argue that people are “irrational” and then leap to the conclusion that they need benevolent paternal guidance from the state. After all, if people are irrational then voters are irrational, politicians are irrational, bureaucrats are irrational, etc.
… people acting inside government institutions are much less likely to themselves bear the cost of their mistakes, and will therefore likely make more of them. There is no way to wriggle out of the fact that people who win elections are just like the rest of us.
… I don’t doubt that non-terrible policies are sometimes successfully enacted. To doubt that would be a bit like a market skeptic doubting that anyone ever succeeds in buying a candy bar. That would be terrifically dense. What I doubt, very strongly, is that the discovery of “irrationalities” undermines the authority of market institutions more than it undermines the authority of government institutions. Are people more or likely to behave irrationally when voting for their congressman or when buying a sandwich? Do buyers for private organizations sign contracts for $76 screws? Etc.


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