Churchill observed “America will always do the right thing… but only after exhausting all other possibilities.” He could have deduced this from Katz’s Law which is that “Men and nations will act rationally when other possibilities have been exhausted.”
We can treat this as a cynical statement about our weakness and our tendency to always fall for the easy, but wrong, alternative. However it is also tells us something about the demands of rationality. If it is true – don’t despair – think things through, make safe experiments, argue things out.
We are all prone to this weakness – we all want the quick and easy win – we resent the unintended and unforeseen consequence. So we need to develop some better habits to help us see things from different perspectives.
Herodotus says that the Persians used to review their plans both while they were drunk and while they were sober. Only if they thought the plan was good when drunk and sober would they commit to it.
The problem we face today in developing good public policies is not that we are often wrong. Our biggest problem is that we are so frightened of being seen to be wrong that we will never learn how to be right – we will never exhaust any of those other possibilities. We are stuck with what we’ve got and we have to make it seem right despite all evidence to the contrary.