In principle, people might have responded to accumulating perceptions of government failure by dialing back their expectations of government performance. But in practice, this would have violated the tacit assumption that justifies government’s attempt to solve social and economic problems to begin with: the assumption that modern society is so simple that the solutions to its problems are self-evident.
In the earlier essay, Friedman coined the phrase “epistemological utopianism.” I think we need to come up with a catchier phrase to describe the belief that modern society’s problems are easily solved by people with the right motives. I nominate “oversimplification bias,” but I welcome other suggestions. Provisionally, let me work with that term.
1. Friedman’s thesis is that oversimplification bias leads people to expect government to solve problems that it cannot solve. When the problems persist, distrust in government rises.
2. This leads people to hate those with whom they disagree. After all, if you believe that your side has the solutions, then you must assume that the other side does not want to solve the problems.
3. It also leads people to be arrogant about their own side. If the problems are simple, then our solutions must be correct, and that makes us really superior. (Note: an anti-Bobo Trump supporter can be just as arrogant in this sense as a Bobo elitist.)
4. I am afraid that mainstream economists are often afflicted with oversimplification bias. Reducing the problems of patterns of sustainable specialization and trade to monetary policy. Seeing health care policy in terms of mathematical and statistical models, ignoring all of the cultural baggage that we inherit. etc.