Hubris to the Power of Dunning-Kruger

From a recent article :

“It has infrequently been commented upon that the secular political ideologies dominating post-Enlightenment Western political thought have all been intrinsically incredible, even absurd by the standards of common sense, when they have not been sinister and also unachievable—notions of utopian worker paradises, “perpetual” revolutions, Nordic rule of the world with extermination of the racially unfit, perfectly harmonious economic realms of self-correcting markets and perpetual growth, a reordered Islamic civilization, global rule by the most powerful with oppression of the rest—thus redirecting man’s efforts to the exploitation of his most backward and cruel energies.”

The list of secular political ideologies goes on and on it seems to me : governments managing the economy, managing large segments of society and behaviors, guiding the education of an entire society, guiding the process of science, guiding the future of the world’s climate, …

All of it Hubris to The Power of Dunning-Kruger, tasks far beyond the capabilities of human minds because of the nature of nature, combined with the long persistence of the attempts despite very perverse, negative outcomes, a long series of doubling-down on policy bets executed by people with no grasp of their own limits.

You would expect such examples to be rare. They would each be celebrated in the world of politics and management as one of those terribly obvious things that nobody in their right mind could blunder themselves into even if their eyes were closed, so the result had to be, well, unfortunate for the poor sod who led them.

But instead, those tasks are built into the political genome and their perpetuators prosper. The huge failures grind on generation after generation, and cause the crash of government after government and impoverish country after country.

For examples, the more intense the efforts to manage an economy, the worse the economy. One would think that standard pattern would be pounded into people’s head in every political science and history class, but there have been few such progressions that ended before the economy crashed and pulled the political system down with it.  How can the dismal record of the economics profession’s predictions and policy prescriptions NOT be the subject of the first chapter of every economics textbook? Your interpretation of the rest of that textbook would be very different if you were to first know of those failures.  Instead, failures ignored and forgotten, the profession of economics prospers and manages ever-more of our economy.

Likewise, the more reforms done to ‘the education system’ and the more centralization, the lower the proportion of high school graduates and the lower the test scores and other measures of educational excellence. That dynamic leaves the poorest the worst off, the exact opposite of the reason our Progressives claim their policies are needed. Nevertheless, educational reform is at the top of every politician’s agenda and Congress continues to hold triumphs as each new reform bill is passed.

Foreign policy is the same contradiction between claims and results.   We employ the advanced military in history with both of the most powerful air forces in the world, yet lose wars against guys with AK-47s and home-made IEDs. Those wars were in aid of a foreign policy in that has produced results opposite the claimed goals 100% of the time. Not a single one of the neocon’s predictions in foreign affairs over the last 25 years have proved correct, instead the whole ME becomes war, so very many innocents die. The policies continue with speeches praising the humanitarian aims they embody and periodic celebrations of victory.

Medicine, ever-rising costs in an ever-more dysfunctional system.  Work programs for the many classes of unemployed, programs for women business owners, …

All of these examples rely upon predictions : ‘when X, do Y, then Z will happen”.  They rest on claims to be able to control future events within the complexity of the reality we live within.

All of us know we can’t be sure about anything tomorrow, that however deep the rut our lives run in, ‘things come up’.   ‘Things come up’ in every single area of our lives often enough that we spend a lot of time adjusting — that is the source of the overload most of us experience.  Rational people have a Plan B for anything important, and know they can’t depend on that either. People who do well in life work hard at creating opportunities for themselves a step at a time.  They don’t bet everything on winning the lottery, nor on a contingent series going well, because reality does’t work that way.

“Prediction is very difficult, especially with respect to the future”, a folk-wisdom well-grounded in computational complexity, properties of complex adaptive systems, and mathematical chaos.  Thus, Black Swans everywhere, and those dominate our lives.

We know that economists, etc, can’t predict with any precision, or they would make their fortunes investing in the stock market and starting businesses rather than textbooks and consulting.

Logically, if you can’t see any future with precision, how can you guide yourself to a desired future?

Large-scale planning can’t work.  Cheap local experiments and information sharing reliably produce local wins that can grow to large-scale successes.  No other strategy can do that because nature.

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