Blogs > Liberty and Power > A Quick Comment on "Unknown Unknowns"

Aug 8, 2005 1:06 pm

A Quick Comment on "Unknown Unknowns"

While I certainly agree with Arthur's general concerns here, I've never found the Rumsfeld quote about the "unknowns" to be the least bit problematic. It not only makes sense to me, I think he's right. It's a core observation of modern Austrian economics, for example, that there are things we know we don't know and things we don't know we don't know. For example: if I look up a friend's phone number in the phonebook, I know that I don't know his number. However, if while doing so I happen to notice that another friend has a new number that I was unaware of having changed, I have discovered something I didn't know that I didn't know.

Mainstream economics has a lot of answers for how we attack the first - namely, the idea of "search." But it has fewer answers for the second: how do we "discover" that which we don't know we don't know. The Austrian argument is precisely that markets are better at the second than the various alternatives.

Distinguishing between the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns is a very important step in any decision making process, as is thinking about the best methods for making either type of unknown into a known. I have no love for Rumsfeld, but making fun of him for that comment isn't fair. He is making perfect sense.

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