Choosing the Bliss of Wisdom or Ignorance

Recently, two of the presidential candidates, Clinton and McCain, floated the idea of a Federal gas tax holiday. Despite the warnings of some economists that such a move “would be ineffective or even harmful,” Clinton has said:

…she wasn’t taking stock of their opinions and emphasized that this was a short-term fix that would primarily benefit long-distance drivers.

“I’m not going to put my lot in with economists,” Clinton told George Stephanopolous on ABC’s ‘This Week’ after he asked her to name a single economist supporting her plan. “If we actually did it right, if we had a president who used all the tools of the presidency, we would design it in such a way that it would be implemented effectively.” (link)

While I’m not a proponent of swallowing economists’ predictions whole and without thought, the idea that a potential candidate for the presidency would discount any such advice is baffling. Recognizing the limits of one’s knowledge is a sign of wisdom and appears to be one missing from this particular candidate. Money and finances in general seem to be a blind spot for many, regardless of their political aspirations.

Part of this blind spot could be attributed to overconfidence in one’s ability. We pull meaning from random data, looking for patterns that support the decisions we want to make. In the gas tax example, Clinton does this very thing by stating that “the tools of the presidency” will be enough to counter the predictions of multiple economists. If the tools of the presidency are enough to make such an impact, why hasn’t something been done before now to correct all the problems of the nation?

Politics aside, this same principle applies in multiple areas. If everyone was a better-than-average driver, there’d be fewer car accidents. If everyone was a skilled predictor of the markets, there’d be more millionaires. This post is not meant to be pessimistic in the sense of saying that one can’t accomplish something in spite of detractors. Instead, I would challenge those individuals seeking the different path or pushing back against the status quo to embrace the detractors and find ways to disprove rather than ignore. Ignorance, despite its proponents, isn’t always bliss.


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May 2008
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