If You Ever Start Thinking You’re Smart,

..stop by a site called Edge.  Now those are some smart people.  Recently, one of them, a guy named Sendhil Mullainathan (name like that, you’re gonna be smart) talked about what he called the “Irony of Poverty.”  It’s basically this:

On the one hand, lack of slack tells us the poor must make higher quality decisions because they don’t have slack to help buffer them with things. But even though they have to supply higher quality decisions, they’re in a worse position to supply them because they’re depleted. That is the ultimate irony of poverty. You’re getting cut twice. You are in an environment where the decisions have to be better, but you’re in an environment that by the very nature of that makes it harder for you apply better decisions.

And this, to continue the discussion of the previous post, describes one of the things that Caroline Kennedy and Michael Bennet and all those like them do not know.  They do not know what it’s really like to make high quality decisions in a low quality environment, one which affords you no “slack,” no room for error.  The Kennedys and Bennets of this world always have slack, and plenty of it.  Sure, they make mistakes but unless they make a real whopper –double-cross a drug cartel, give all their money to somebody with a name like Made-Off, something of that order– they’re probably gonna land on their feet, shake off the damage, and repair to their summer home on Martha’s Vineyard or someplace to lick away any wounds. 

In other words they don’t really know what it’s like to make a seriously serious mistake.  Consequently they sometimes have trouble admitting or even recognizing that they’ve made any mistakes at all.  This, of course, is a criticism that’s been leveled, not unfairly, at George W. Bush.  Varifrank got a strong whiff of it when reading Barack Obama’s books. It’s an old post, but very memorable.  Read it and then: if you ever start thinking you’re smart…


One response to “If You Ever Start Thinking You’re Smart,

  1. I’m a little behind with your blog, and a chronological neurosis prevents me from skipping ahead so here I am back in January. You mentioned going in for a job application a few months ago but have you been through an interview lately? What do you answer to the question, “What is your biggest failure?” I guess the common question is usually, “What is your biggest weakness?” To that I answer something to do with keeping up with paperwork or grading or sometimes overcommitting to activities. But, biggest failure??? I don’t know what I would answer to that. What about you?

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