Monday, April 7, 2014

It's Such a Fine Line Between Stupid and Clever

A common and easy mistake one can make is to rush to judgment on some issue and confuse stupid behavior with corrupt behavior. Either can look the same to an outside observer. The point of view one takes may simply be being shaped by the bias one brings to the situation.

To take two examples, consider Chris Christie in bridgegate and the NCAA in the student-athlete unpaid employee affair. I don't buy that Chris Christie is so dumb and unconnected as to have not known what was going on. And I also don't buy that the NCAA really believes the nonsense it espouses. But maybe that is just my bias against politicians and high-minded cronies. Still, I prefer to think that Christie is playing dumb without option (that is, he doesn't have any option but to play dumb, not that he is dumb and that's his only option) and the NCAA is crazy like a fox.

Yet, false conspiracy theories abound due to the mistake of always assuming smart people must be corrupt because the only other option is that they, smart people, acted dumbly. Maybe Obama really did believe Solyndra was a good investment and that the NSA was just playing Minesweeper ...

Bundled within all this are unintended consequences--innocence from corruption and stupidity. Case in point is what Megan McArdle brought up in her article which I linked to in yesterday's post. There can be perfectly legitimate reasons for things, especially emergent things, that have large and in some cases overwhelming side effects. Side effects that are unintended but look either stupid or cleverly corrupt.