Thursday, March 13, 2014

Euvoluntary Failure

Is failure euvoluntary? Megan McArdle thinks so. Or at least she argues that it should be.

I tend to agree. Failure triggers ex post regret if you let it. Particularly if you've sunk quite a bit of cost. And don't let economists fool you: sunk costs are relevant, if only psychologically. This is good and useful when it encourages sensible prudence. Prudent risk-taking is a crucial component of human progress.

But regret aversion can be unduly paralyzing. When it's driven by worries about social status or from Viagra Culture*, the terminus of dysfunctional regret aversion is stagnation.

And even though individuals have little control over how others elect to perceive them, they can muster enough courage to disregard the little voice in their head that tells them to cling desperately to an ephemeral relative social ranking.

Failure is useful when it encourages prudence. Graceful failure is useful when it does not throttle vital risk-taking. Be extremely wary when supporting institutions that are unable to clearly and accurately tell the difference.

*Revolting Cocks, Viagra Culture (Cocked and Loaded):

Every day, my thoughts are consumed by winning

I must win and everything I do I must win

my car must win
my money must win
my hair must win
my kids must win
my weiner must win
my wife must win
my mistress must win
my trip to the bunny ranch must win

I must win in business
I must win when I mow the lawn
if I do not win I am not control
so I must win
again and again
I don't need more but I must have it
more more
when the game gets old I must win
I must win
everyone else must lose
because I must win
we have met the weapon of mass destruction
and it is us

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?