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Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Chastened Planner

I review Douglass C. North's Understanding the Process of Economic Change for The University Bookman:

"Douglass C. North’s new book represents a watershed in the social engineering consciousness. North, who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1993, is a social engineer made humbler through the hard experience of the repeated failures of social engineering to improve the economic performance of developing countries. North recognizes that the abstract, mathematical models that developmental economists typically have used are inadequate representations of complex, messy social realities. He acknowledges the importance of hard-to-quantify factors such as belief systems and customs in shaping economic outcomes. He understands that any individual possesses only a tiny fraction of the knowledge that market processes manages to pool from every market participant’s knowledge, and that this relative individual ignorance holds of social planners just as much as of the economic agents they hope to direct.

"However, North’s humility, while encouraging, never reaches so deep that he asks if social engineering itself might be a bad idea..."

Read the rest.

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