- Rationalists think that there is a good chance of succeeding without experimentation.
- Empiricists don't.
As a new empiricist (my academic background is pure math and philosophy), I am of course a bit evangelical...and the biggest errors made by the smartest people I read all seem to me to be of the same category: Rationalism.
Hence...a question: Given a new complex product, and no experimentation/iteration, how likely is it that the product succeeds? How likely is it that it is close? My assumption is that the probability is roughly 0%. Given almost as much experimentation as you want...how likely is it that the first prototype you build is roughly good enough? Again...I suggest 0%.
I know that this is true of complex software (more than hello world -- though I once wrote 200 lines to solve a toy problem, compiled it clean and it ran successfully -- once in the 30 years I've been programming.). It is also famously true of Battle plans. It is also true of engineering product development. And it is mostly true of corporate activity (correcting for delusions). I believe this to be true of Artificial Intelligence. And also of government systems.
If I'm right as a hardcore evangelical empiricist, then all the theorizing you wish to do is near-useless until you get on the ground and try a few different things.
Rationalism in government.
Madison and company did an insanely good job. 200 year good run by design, world-leader for at least 100, and growth-driver as well. Wow. The Swiss seem to have a fabulous, 700+ year model as well with magnificent stability, if not the same level of growth-driving. I'm personally fond of Singapore's model, but the country is barely older than I am.
The 1792 French model sucked. The 1921 German attempt at "democracy" failed catastrophically. The 1917 Russian revolution was worse. The Asian Communists were, if anything, even worse (China, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia).
On systems that were stable for >200 years, we're rather shy of examples. Feudalism in Europe? Roman (+/- Holy) empire. Chinese Empire. Islamic Caliphate. The age of absolutism just wasn't that long. And none of these escaped Clark's Malthusian trap for the majority of the people. One is inclined to believe they all encourage stagnation, or at least the bureaucracy that stifles growth. Only stuff left is the David Friedman / Roderick Long unearthings of Celtic and Norse anarchies, some of which appear to have lasted longer than the States so far, but which didn't encourage growth either.
Is empiricism the wrong approach here? Or is someone going to argue that .. yes, it's true of all other complex systems known to man, but in this particular case, there's a better than 25% chance that Big Design, No Testing would succeed for government?