Knowledge Better Left Unknown

They say that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. About certain things, however, any knowledge at all is dangerous and potentially fatal. One such piece of purported knowledge pertains to the size distribution of income and wealth. This knowledge serves no good purpose; it is wholly unnecessary for defensible government policy or action. It serves only as fuel for economic misunderstanding and demagoguery. It feeds envy and provokes public mischief. If such knowledge were completely unknown, no decent project would be harmed, and a multitude of destructive policies and actions would be rendered more difficult to initiate or carry out.

A lesser but still important problem is that all such purported information is subject to high degrees of conceptual and measurement error, as even a moment’s reflection makes plain and a careful study of the matter amply confirms. Yet people bandy about alleged facts about the distribution of income and wealth as if such data were as precise and reliable as measurements of human height and weight.

(For much more extensive discussions of this subject, see my collection Against Leviathan (2004), especially chapters 1, 3, and 16.)

Save as PDFPrint

Written by 

Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute and Editor at Large of the Institute’s quarterly journal The Independent Review. He received his Ph.D. in economics from Johns Hopkins University, and he has taught at the University of Washington, Lafayette College, Seattle University, the University of Economics, Prague, and George Mason University. He has been a visiting scholar at Oxford University and Stanford University, and a fellow at the Hoover Institution and the National Science Foundation.

Notify of

1 Comment
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Don Duncan
5 years ago

Since the total body of knowledge is all interconnected and infinite, and we are limited, any amount of knowledge we may acquire is very small compared to the total. Therefore all of us know little. But to know anything is to be connected to the infinite body.

If I make a mistake I don’t blame it on what I know, I take responsibility for my failure to integrate or my conjectures.

Since you are an intellectual, I assume you were joking, correct? What is a corollary? Ignorance is bliss. Surely you would not endorse that.