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Thinking about the “fallacy of asymmetric idealization,” it occurred to me that it would be interesting to give personality, IQ, and heuristics and biases tests to high ranking U.S. bureaucrats and, better, Congresspersons. Would we discover that these are people who are especially good at decisions?
Well, no. We wouldn't. But it would be nice to know that, wouldn't it? And, anyway, this isn't the important thing. The important thing is the institutional structure—the incentives. What would be really interesting is a set of experiments that compared extremely intelligent people playing games that mimicked the incentives within bureacracies and in politics, versus below average people playing games that mimicked the incentives of well-designed market mechanisms. I think I know how this would turn out, too. But it would be useful to have experimental confirmation that no matter how smart and well-informed the bureacrats are, the quality of their decisions in the aggregate when acting in reponse to the incentives of political institutions is not in general likely to equal those of much simpler folk acting within good market institutions.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center