How little we know about what we imagine we can design

May 11th, 2011

The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. Similarly, the more I do, the more I realize what I cannot do. This reminds me of F.A. Hayek’s classic quote from The Fatal Conceit:

“The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”

This principle applies equally to law as it does to economics.

Those with visions of grandeur think they can solve every problem in the world; but most of the time, those visions are limited to the imagination, and not reality.

I prefer to keep my machinations focused on a limited area, and try to do what I need to do without negatively impacting anyone else. This keeps my designs narrowly tailored, and avoids the unintended consequences all-too-often attending visions of grandeur.

Update: I reflected a bit more on this topic and wanted to add this.

Structuring an economy is not like making a macaroni picture for your mom on her birthday–the thought alone, doesn’t count. Rather, when dealing with individual’s life, liberty, and property, more than a beneficent purposes is needed. Caution, and a recognition of the pretense of knowledge is necessary. I quote from Hayek’s Nobel lecture, the Pretense of Knowledge:

On the other hand, the economists are at this moment called upon to say how to extricate the free world from the serious threat of accelerating inflation which, it must be admitted, has been brought about by policies which the majority of economists recommended and even urged governments to pursue. We have indeed at the moment little cause for pride: as a profession we have made a mess of things.