Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on April 7, 2019

in Economics, Hubris and humility, Science

… is from page 98 of 1982 Nobel-laureate economist George Stigler’s April 17, 1985, lecture, “My Evolution as an Economist,” in Lives of the Laureates, William Breit & Roger W. Spencer, eds. (3rd ed., 1995):

One thing that [Frank] Knight and [Henry] Simons both succeeded in teaching me, and in fact overtaught, was that great reputation and high office deserve little respect in scientific work. We were told to listen to the argument and look at the evidence, but ignore the position, degrees, and age of the speaker. This studied irreverence toward authority had a special slant: contemporary ideas were to be treated even more skeptically than those of earlier periods…. We were taught by example that Ricardo’s errors and Marshall’s foibles deserved more careful and thorough attention than the nonsense or froth of the day.

DBx: Of course scholarship, research, and creative thinking continue to offer up new and valuable ideas, but novelty itself is too often mistaken for wisdom and relevant insight.

In economics, the wisdom contained in, and the insights that can be gotten from, elementary analyses – especially from supply-and-demand analysis – are not novel, at least not to any competent economist. But this wisdom and these insights are much-needed in the real-world – a world always overflowing with foolish policy proposals that spring from a toxic mixture of economic ignorance and political incentives to pretend that economic reality is optional.

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