Again, That Curious Task

by Don Boudreaux on September 21, 2011

in Curious Task, Hayek, Hubris and humility, Scientism, Seen and Unseen

Here’s a letter to the Washington Post:

Kathleen Parker’s discussion of two kinds of smarts – “book smarts and street smarts” (“Smart money betting on stupid politicians,” Sept. 18) – calls to mind a vital point made by F.A. Hayek in his 1945 article “The Use of Knowledge in Society“:

“Today it is almost heresy to suggest that scientific knowledge is not the sum of all knowledge.  But a little reflection will show that there is beyond question a body of very important but unorganized knowledge which cannot possibly be called scientific in the sense of knowledge of general rules: the knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place.  It is with respect to this that practically every individual has some advantage over all others because he possesses unique information of which beneficial use might be made, but of which use can be made only if the decisions depending on it are left to him or are made with his active cooperation.”

Too many “Progressives” overestimate the importance of scientific knowledge (“book smarts”) relative to that of “knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place” (“street smarts”) – and too many conservatives commit the opposite error.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux

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{ 36 comments }

Bjartur September 21, 2011 at 10:33 am

“Too many “Progressives” overestimate the importance of scientific knowledge (“book smarts”) relative to that of “knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place” (“street smarts”) – and too many conservatives commit the opposite error.”

True, but I think both liberals and conservatives make the first error more often than the second. And I think overestimating the importance of book smarts is the more dangerous of the two errors.

Invisible Backhand September 21, 2011 at 11:11 am

That’s a pretty broad brush statement. Street smarts tend to come from being poor, and book smarts tend to come from being rich. I couldn’t think of a prominent conservative (Brooks, George Will, Krystol et. al.) that makes me think, ‘street smarts’.

You don’t a PHD in street smarts from a brick and mortar school. You get it from the University of Life, or as we alumni like to call it, Screw U.

Methinks1776 September 21, 2011 at 11:22 am

Clearly, you learned nothing in either.

Invisible Backhand September 21, 2011 at 11:28 am

Shouldn’t you be at work?

Invisible Backhand September 21, 2011 at 11:29 am

saving your firm from bankruptcy? Answer me.

Nevada Doctor September 21, 2011 at 12:26 pm

What is the nature of that superior world to which the worshippers of force sacrifice the world that exists? The mystics of spirit curse matter, they wish to profit by renouncing the earth. The mystics of muscle curse profit they wish men to inherit the earth by renouncing all profit.

Their non-material, non-profit worlds are realms where rivers run with milk and coffee, where wine spurts from rocks at their command, where pastry drops on them from clouds at the price of opening their mouth. On this material, profit-chasing earth, an enormous investment of virtue—of intelligence, integrity, energy, skill—is required to construct a railroad to carry them the distance of one mile; in their non-material, nonprofit world, they travel from planet to planet at the cost of a wish. If an honest person asks them: “How?”—they answer with righteous scorn that a “how” is the concept of vulgar realists; the concept of superior spirits is “Somehow.” On this earth restricted by matter and profit, rewards are achieved by thought; in a world set free of such restrictions rewards are achieved by wishing.

http://www.photobasement.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/backhand.jpg

And that is the whole of their shabby secret. The secret of all their esoteric philosophies, of all their dialectics and super-senses, of their evasive eyes and snarling words, the secret for which they destroy civilization, language, industries and lives, the secret for which they pierce their own eyes and eardrums, grind out their senses, blank out their minds, the purpose for which they dissolve the absolutes of reason, logic, matter, existence, reality—is to erect upon that plastic fog a single holy absolute: their Wish.

Methinks1776 September 21, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Keep begging, irritable bowel. Keep begging.

Gordon Richens September 21, 2011 at 12:56 pm

“That’s a pretty broad brush statement. Street smarts tend to come from being poor, and book smarts tend to come from being rich.”
Nice.

“Screw U.”
Screwed, you need to be more specific: Street smarts comes from doing stuff, not from having stuff done to you.

Invisible Backhand September 21, 2011 at 1:09 pm

You are so terse I can’t tell what you mean, and your other statement is vague.

“U” in this context means “University”, just like the Egyptian state university in Cairo is informally called Farouk U.

Economic Freedom September 21, 2011 at 5:39 pm

Street smarts tend to come from being poor, and book smarts tend to come from being rich.

Moron.

“Street smarts” tend to come from experience and learning to trust one’s later conclusions and judgments based on it.

“Book smarts” tend to come from being in school and accepting at face value the conclusions of authority figures like professors.

None of this has anything whatsoever to do with rich or poor.

You’re even dumber than I thought if you believe this is a “class” issue.

Invisible Backhand September 21, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Poor kids can’t buy their way out of experience the way rich kids can. George W. Bush for example. Since the standard of proof was ‘anything whatsoever’, I just won the point.

Moron.

Methinks1776 September 21, 2011 at 6:23 pm

I sometimes wonder if you really can be as stupid as you appear. It seems the answer is “yes”. You are awesomely stupid and you outdo yourself by also being incredibly boring. I mean, at least Muirdiot is a great show. You’re like lint.

Economic Freedom September 21, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Poor kids can’t buy their way out of experience the way rich kids can.

Phew!! For a second there I was afraid you were going to say something like “Rich kids have access to so many more experiences than poor kids.” I’m glad you don’t agree with that statement.

George W. Bush for example.

George W. Bush what, for example? You’re a twit. You think that simply by dropping buzz-words — “George W. Bush!!! Vietnam!! Corporate jets!!!” — you’re making a point. You have no point (except the dull one at the top of your head) and you have no arguments.

Since the standard of proof was ‘anything whatsoever’, I just won the point.

Standard of proof of what? What are you talking about? You’re a legend in your own mind, and like everyone on the left, a self-involved moral narcissist.

Greg Webb September 22, 2011 at 10:15 pm

I can’t think of a prominent statist (I.e., progressive, liberal, social democrat, socialist, national socialist, fascist, international socialist, communist, etc.) that has any kind of smarts. In fact, there is only one type of statist – stupid.

indianajim September 21, 2011 at 10:41 am

Kathleen Parker is no F.A. Hayek; she is more like a blind squirrel that occasionally finds an acorn.

Methinks1776 September 21, 2011 at 11:25 am

Law of large numbers is a wonderful thing.

indianajim September 21, 2011 at 2:14 pm

L I K E D !

Josh September 21, 2011 at 10:45 am

“This is not class warfare, it’s math.” – Some street smarts from the President on the proposed tax increses on capital gains and dividends.

Ken September 21, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Josh,

Obama has yet to demonstrate smarts of any kind. A tax increase on capital gains and dividends results in less investment, which leads to less wealth.

Regards,
Ken

Economic Freedom September 21, 2011 at 5:40 pm

A tax increase on capital gains and dividends results in less investment, which leads to less wealth.

Which also leads to less employment.

Invisible Backhand September 21, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Don’t listen to Ken, Josh. RegardsKen is a known liar:

http://i.imgur.com/Ds1CJ.png

Ken September 21, 2011 at 10:08 pm

IB,

Again, I said not lies there or anywhere else. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s a lie.

Do you have anything substantive to say or do you just want to throw a temper tantrum?

Regards,
Ken

vikingvista September 23, 2011 at 3:50 am

Here’s some math for him:

delta(tax) + delta(private economy) + delta(incentive to produce) = 0

Bret September 21, 2011 at 11:23 am

That Hayek quote perhaps deserves a spot in your quote of the day feature (which I really like, by the way).

SweetLiberty September 21, 2011 at 11:30 am

It is noteworthy that Democrats tend to think that government can solve most problems, while Republicans prefer the thought that individuals unencumbered by meddlesome government do the better job. – Kathleen Parker

Is this not the core difference between socialism and capitalism? I think more Americans would be against Democrats knowing the abysmal track record of socialism throughout history if they were honest and came out as the Socialist party.

Josh September 21, 2011 at 11:42 am

Lets see China in 20 years

SweetLiberty September 21, 2011 at 12:29 pm

This is from an extreme lefty website…

“…Beijing keeps proclaiming its system is socialist, all the signs are that it isn’t. China and Socialism seeks to answer this difficult question. Hart-Landsberg and Burkett provide the unreserved answer that China today is already capitalist — that social policies are dictated by private-profit making rather than by human need.”

Full article (for those that can stomach it) here: http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/31674

So, many socialists complain that China is “directed by private-profit making” – yet will take the credit if China grows successfully over the next 20 years? You guys win no matter what!

Methinks1776 September 21, 2011 at 12:41 pm

that social policies are dictated by private-profit making rather than by human need.

Useful idiots. Human need dictates which capitalist will make a profit and which will fail.

Socialist policies are dictated by the whim of a ruling elite and its lust for power, never by human need.

Invisible Backhand September 21, 2011 at 1:10 pm

So Cuba produces so many doctors because that makes the ruling elite powerful?

and the nuance twisting begins in 3..2..1..

SweetLiberty September 21, 2011 at 3:00 pm

IB,

Define “so many” and why you think these doctors are “produced” by Cuba.

Nevada Doctor September 21, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Would you agree…
China has declared an emergency and is operating as a capitalist economy.
America has declared an emergency and is operating as a socialist economy.

EG September 21, 2011 at 11:42 am

I agree that too many “conservatives” make the opposite mistake as well. Doesn’t one derive from the other (ie “scientific” smarts derives from “street” smarts). And isn’t one only valid if it can be applied to the other (ie “scientific” smarts have to work in the “street” for them to be “smarts”)

I thought that was the whole point of the scientific method.

Anotherphil September 21, 2011 at 12:45 pm

I agree that too many “conservatives” make the opposite mistake as well.

Who?

EG September 21, 2011 at 2:05 pm

All the “conservatives” and “libertarians” who have a knee-jerk reaction to anyone with a university degree and answer with “college is overrated! Its a bubble!” etc etc. (without, of course, addressing the issue that given person may have brought up). I’m not speaking of anyone in particular…but its a common undertone

Anotherphil September 21, 2011 at 12:41 pm

The ancient Greeks made a similar distinction “episteme” (book learning, knowing what) and “techne” (experiential learning, know how).
Progressivism, or more appropriately statism is largely a creature of the academy and outside a few economics and engineering departments, the modern academy is giant ball of intellectual hubris, and the more vacant and contrived the department (think any “” studies” department) the more insular and pedantic that department is.
Of course, this is no accident. The academy is a creature of government, through a variety initial endowments and a variety of explicit and implicit subsidies. If a being knows or believes its (continued) existence is wholly dependent on something else, it likely worships that being as a deity. That’s why the creed of there is no god, there’s only the state dominates the academy. Any conventional religion would impede

There is no entity more acutely aware of the existence of its creator and benefactor than the academic elite. Of course, government is a false god, its existence is dependent on others. Hence we have the academy contributing intellectual devices and the government contributing the cruder powers of the state to exact fealty from the rest of us. The symbiosis is reinforced by the interchange of the members of the bureaucracy and the professoriate.
I’m really tired of the progressive religion. Its precepts are more vacant and demanding than any conventional theistic religion, whether than be 17th century Puritanism or modern Wahhabist Islam.

Bruce September 21, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Don,
I don’t know if I agree with your final statement. I would draw the division along the lines of “theoretical” (book smart) and “practical” (street smart) to make my case. My experience has been that progressives sometimes create theoretical “knowledge” that conforms to their preformed hypotheses. Their deference to “book smarts” then prompts them to offer this up as irrefutable scientific fact when it is anything but. Examples would be some of the “science” behind global warming like the now refuted “hockey stick” or the Krueger and Card study that purported to show that an increase in minimum wage had no adverse impact on employment. Conservatives have a noticable disdain for “book smarts” of this type especially when it is in conflict with empirical evidence. This is best illustrated by Ronald Reagan’s quote that “an economist is someone who sees something that works in practice and wonders whether it would work in theory.” I think it’s easier to make an “error” by deferring too much to the theoretical (“we should take the advice of Harvard grads if we want to fix Social Security”) than to the practical (“we should listen to the people who designed the Chilean retirement system if we want to fix Social Security”).

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