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Boring Predictions Are the Important Ones

August 27th, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Steve Sailer in “The world’s most boring insight, again,” on complaints that economics doesn’t make useful predictions (my boldface):

On August 15, 1971, President Richard Nixon announced a freeze on all wages and prices in America for three months. From the perspective of 2013, this sounds like I’m making it up. But it really happened and was popular at the time. Milton Friedman was the loudest voice predicting it would turn out to be a bad idea (which it did).

My recurrent point is that that the set of possibilities for which people are interested in predictions is a tiny fraction of all possibilities. In the past it seemed like a pretty good idea to freeze all the prices in the country. Today, nobody is interested in the opinions of economists on why that would turn out poorly. That’s not the fault of economists.

People want predictions for situations that are hard to predict. Who will win the tennis tournament? Interesting. Can a woman tennis star beat a male tennis star? No longer interesting. Which question is more important in that the right answer is broadly applicable? The boring one.

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