In the absence of clearly defined goals, we are forced to concentrate on activity and ultimately become enslaved by it.
I don’t have a source for this. I got the quote from my colleague Greg Powell, who used it in a brown bag about motivating student classroom engagement through questions.†
But I like the quote because it applies to another problem we have in understanding macroeconomics. Bryan Caplan dubbed this the “activist’s fallacy”:
Something must be done; this is something; therefore, this must be done.
I have lost the cite, but Lynne Kiesling paraphrased it as:
Don’t mistake activity for accomplishment.
When we think about macroeconomics — and certainly politicians talk an awful lot about it — what are their goals? No recessions on their watch? Low unemployment rate (how low)? Low inflation rate? Increased spending? Higher real GDP growth rate?
Consider the stimulus package of 2009. It was chock full of activity. But what was the goal? If it was stimulating the economy … it doesn’t seem like it did much (although I’m aware that we don’t have a control for this experiment).
On a different note, this brings me around to Hillary Clinton.
Does it seem like a lot of her supporters extol her activity without referencing many goals that were actually accomplished?
It does to me. Of course, this may be symptomatic of larger Democratic culture:
In 1979, James Fallows recounted why he had left his job as President Jimmy Carter’s chief speechwriter: “Carter believes fifty things, but no one thing. He holds explicit, thorough positions on every issue under the sun, but he has no large view of the relations between them.”
And, of course, coming from me, that observation should in no way be construed as support for Trump.
The first two sections of this are cross-posted from SUU Macroblog, which is required reading for my advanced macroeconomics class.
† Coonradt, Charles A. with Lee Nelson. The Game of Work, Shadow Mountain, 1991, p. 10.