… is from page 192 of UCLA economist William R. Allen’s 1989 collection of the transcripts of his insightful and still-germane radio addresses, The Midnight Economist ; specifically, it’s the opening line of Allen’s September 1987 radio address titled “Poverty and the Minimum Wage”:
Doing nothing can be better public policy than doing something.
DBx: My favorite of all of Richard Epstein’s many excellent books is his 1995 volume, Simple Rules for a Complex World . Bill Allen here offers one such simple rule – indeed, one of the most important and profound of such rules. But do not mistake this simple rule (which is offered for the conduct of government policy) as an argument that nothing be done. Rather, it’s an argument to avoid having the state substitute its centralized, top-down, one-size-fits-all action for the multitude of decentralized, bottom-up, and nuanced actions of the dozens or hundreds or thousands or millions of private individuals, including entrepreneurs, who respond on their own initiative to real-world problems (that is, to real-world opportunities). Saying “Let the market handle it” is to say “let’s have as many interested and informed people as possible work, each in his or her own creative and flexible ways – and each with skin in the game – on problems that arise. “