The great experiment

The questioning and cautious medical authority during this period is an interesting contrast to the more confident and opinionated economic commentary.

In the first case, a profession trained to observe the behavior of a complex system – the human body – a vastness of interconnected parts, incompletely understood, individually or in combination, the actions and reactions of which as a result must be tested and retested to arrive at some semblance of probabilistic knowledge, even with millions of different bodies to enrich the data sets.

In the second case, the study of a form that’s equally complex and difficult to “know,” made up of similarly vast interconnected pieces, some individually understood but not completely, and as a whole not really known at all but at best estimated, right or wrong, and thus far usually wrong, if we were to be honest.

First, do no harm is an operative reminder presumably engrained in the first noted profession, a prescriptive and action oriented group brought up on consequence and extreme responsibility. In fairness to the second group, it’s for the most part been a spectator class, even as money is made or lost on the basis of its assorted contemplations. For, as a whole, the large economic body and its sidekick the financial market goes on, and usually grows, bigger than any one philosophy or indicator, regardless of the ups and downs of vastly numbered individual components. So the analyst is off the hook, for the most part, at the macro level and with a diverse portfolio of positions.

The coming period will be an opportunity for the maturation of economic analysis, prescription, and consequence. Unlike the centuries of evolution that have brought us to this point – a time of gradual transitions and layered add-ons or subtractions, even as the pace accelerated or when so-called revolutions happened – the current instance is a first, I think, where the entire global system is shut down for an extended time, and then relaunched.

The rebirth, as it were, will be an experiment that hasn’t yet been seen, at least not by the class of modern and increasingly sophisticated students of the field. The extent to which the great restart is embraced with curiosity, care and open minds will be a great reward.

WSJ