America is out of control
Jim Manzi’s new book is a powerful indictment of political central planning

Rob Green/Bergman Group

Article Highlights

  • Relevant issue is why social scientists have not demanded more of it themselves

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  • What I think this talk misses is that this potential 'American decline' has already happened

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  • United States can thrive in this new world, but it is unlikely to do so without a significant change in direction

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Editor’s note: Jim Manzi is the author of “Uncontrolled: the Surprising Payoff of Trial-and-Error for Business, Politics, and Society.” He is the founder and chairman of Applied Predictive Technologies, a global provider of predictive analytics software. Manzi is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor at National Review. He recently discussed his book with THE AMERICAN Editor-in-Chief Nick Schulz.

"The political process in Washington seems disconnected from reality. In Washington, it's always 1945." -- Nick Schulz

Nick Schulz: You come to the policy and political world from an atypical background – you were a software engineer and corporate strategy consultant and worked at AT&T labs. How did that experience come to shape your approach to public policy and politics?

Jim Manzi: We are all, to some extent, the prisoners of our experience. Like everyone, my experiences have surely created numerous biases to which, by definition, I am blind. But I have drawn some conscious lessons from my various jobs. Mostly, I suppose they relate to humility about how much harder it is to get anything done out there in the world than it seems like it ought to be when you read about it in a book or discuss it in a conference room.

A good example is that I think that most mainstream economists radically underestimate the importance in any business of what in another context Carl von Clausewitz called "friction." Headquarters rarely knows what is going on in the field; people in frontline positions have little idea of the big picture, and react to local conditions as best they can; entrepreneurs are mostly making it up as they go, and so on. Economists are of course aware of this issue conceptually, but their attempts to incorporate it into their models of the firm and the economy are inadequate in the extreme. As compared to mainstream economic doctrine, therefore, I believe that uncertainty plays a far bigger role in real world decision-making, that quantitative models of the economy are less useful as guides to action, and that trial-and-error learning as embodied in existing institutions and practices is more important.

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Nick Schulz the DeWitt Wallace Fellow at AEI and editor-in-chief of American.com.

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