In my first post in this series I discussed the empirical, rational, and subjectivist approaches to problem solving. The recent tax debate has highlighted these different approaches and their pitfalls. The Democrats argue that there is no empirical evidence that tax cuts for the rich stimulate the economy. The Republicans make various “rational” arguments that cutting taxes “across the board” will lead to increased spending by everyone (the rich included), and will thus stimulate the economy. Up in Alaska, Sarah Palin takes the extreme Subjectivist approach — a sprightly gung-ho attitude is what this country needs to get us out of the doldrums.
Obama leans towards empiricism. What evidence do we have for taking a particular course? What has worked in the past? In some ways this is a thoughtful and intelligent approach to decision making. In other ways it’s driving forwards while looking out the rear window. Patterns that we perceive in looking at past events may or may not show up in the future. The “empirical fool” thinks “This has happened before, so it will likely happen again.” Well, maybe. But if the system is ruled by chaos and flux, probably not.