Tag Archives: EconTalk

Just Do Something

During a 2010 episode of EconTalk, author Nassim Taleb and host Russ Roberts talked about an observable bias toward action rather than inaction in the face of crisis, even if the available data is incomplete or inappropriate (from the transcript: “always better to do something rather than do nothing.  We have had that bias for acts of commission, not acts of omission.  Very hard for people to say we don’t know what works so we’ll just do nothing.”).  Taleb made a specific reference to ancient medicine, where “doing something” was more likely to cause harm than healing.

Behavioral economists and psychologists likely have the specific answer, but a philosophical source suggests this may be both Western and relatively recent.  In a 2008 Philosophy Bites interview discussing Machiavelli, Quentin Skinner notes that one of Machiavelli’s later letters states and The Prince advises action above all – “it is always better to have acted, and regret it, than not to have acted, and regret it.”  The virtuoso is one who exercises virtue, a manly quality, and the leader must always demonstrate manliness.

Is this bias toward action universal, like status quo bias?  Or is it a late Western introduction from Machiavelli (or Italian culture)?