Saturday, November 13, 2010

Time Horizons: Doubt and Certainty

ED Kain posted about doubt and certainty with an except from Will Wilkinson that touched on FLG's favorite hobby horse -- time horizons:
There is a straightforward conflict between expert macroeconomic management and democracy. This ought to be more openly acknowledged and discussed. When elite economists demand more deference to technocratic consensus, they not so subtly demand that (even more) immense political power be ceded to them and their grad-school pals. To become angry that this power has not been granted, that select expert voices do not drown out the crowd, is to lament that in a liberal society other less expert voices are also heard. The gamble of democracy is that this evidently unwarranted equality of influence may deliver suboptimal policy in the short run, but will deliver the most materially and morally satisfactory results in the long run.

Also, FLG thinks he found why he has so much trouble with E.D. Kain. It's that he's a self-described "dispotional conservative," but fears being wrong. Here's an excerpt:
I wrestle endlessly with my political self-definition, because I am a Steppenwolf, because I have a constant desire for certainty, for an ideological home, for all of that – and at the same time, I know that because of who I am I will never be content with any hard lines drawn around myself. Because I am full of doubt and because I don’t want to attain the sort of certainty that I fear might blind me. Of course, this is not necessarily a call for incrementalism either as some commenters read it – I believe in radical change occasionally as well, and am somewhat radical when it comes to civil liberties. I attempt to temper my own radicalism by acknowledging that we are in a democracy, and so we must muddle through.

If you've been following FLG's time horizon's theory, and if you have been reading this blog then you couldn't have fucking missed it, this leads him to the following conclusion about Mr. Kain -- he's concerned about the long run, but any long run prediction can be wrong, and so he trusts in empirical observation, but that only demonstrates what was, not what is or what will be. And so, he wants muddles back and forth worried about the long run and unsatisfied by empirical proof, ultimately too afraid to take a strong stand, infusing his writing with maybes and perhapses and could and shoulds,  because he may be wrong.  (UPDATE:  Although, in fairness, he has gotten better about this.)

FLG, on the other hand, would rather be fantastically wrong about a Long Run, Big Idea than to muddle making only cautious, incremental (and if you pressed FLG, then he'd probably even include "cowardly," although that's hypocritical from a pseudonym) little steps away from what can be definitively proven. The important things cannot and will not ever be proven in any meaningful or even relevant way. When it comes to human affairs, it is far better to proclaim boldly from the summit of a mountain that you honestly believe in than to whisper from atop an anthill that you are 99.999% certain exists.

Just to be clear, and FLG always makes this explanation, he isn't anti-empiricism. Data, experiments, etc are always a good starting point. But facts in and of themselves lead to no conclusions. One must always apply values and beliefs to facts to reach any conclusion.

1 comment:

E.D. Kain said...

Well. Thanks for saying I've gotten better at it, in any case.

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