Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on September 5, 2012

in Economics

… is from pages 12-13 of Frank Knight’s pioneering, profound, and still-important 1921 book, Risk, Uncertainty, and Profit:

Finally, it makes vastly more difference practically whether we disseminate correct ideas among the people at large in the field of human relations than is the case with mechanical problems.  For good or ill, we are committed to the policy of democratic control in the former case, and are not likely to resort to it in the latter.  As far as material results are concerned, it is relatively unimportant whether people generally believe in their hearts that energy can be manufactured or that a cannon ball will sink part of the way to the bottom of the ocean and remain suspended, or any other fundamental misconception.  We have here at least established the tradition that knowledge and training count and have persuaded the ignorant to defer to the judgment of the informed.  In the field of natural science the masses can and will gladly take and use and construct appliances in regard to whose scientific basis they are as ignorant as they are indifferent.  It is usually possible to demonstrate such things on a moderate scale, and literally to knock men down with “results.”  In the field of social science, however, fortunately or unfortunately, these things are not true.  Our whole established tradition tends to the view that “Tom, Dick, and Harry” know as much about it as any “highbrow”; the ignorant will not in general defer to the opinion of the informed, and in the absence of voluntary deference it is usually impossible to give an objective demonstration.  If our social science is to yield fruits in an improved quality of human life, it must for the most part be “sold” to the masses first.  The necessity of making its literature not merely accurate and convincing, but as nearly “fool-proof ” as possible, is therefore manifest.

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