Experience vs. Incompetence

hrc-2Recommend investing the considerable mental energy required to read this Tyler Cowen post, entitled “Are lies better than hypocracy? with special reference to some current events.”  An excerpt:

You are more worried about the hypocrite when you see bigger decisions and announcements down the road than what is being faced now.  You are more worried about the hypocrite when you fear disappointment, and have experienced disappointment repeatedly in the past.  You are more worried about the hypocrite when you fear it is all lies anyway.  Lies, in a way, give you a chance to try out “the liar relationship,” whereas hypocrisy does not.  You thus fear that hypocrisy may lead to a worse outcome down the road or at the very least more anxiety along the way.

But note: for a more institutional and distanced principal-agent relationship, it is often incorrect, and indeed dangerous, to rely on your intuitions from personalized principal-agent problems.

When it comes to how the agent speaks to allies and enemies, you almost always should prefer hypocrisy to bald-faced lies.  The history and practice of diplomacy show this.  Allies and enemies, especially from other cultures, don’t know how to process the lies the way you can process the blatant lies of your children, friends, and spouse.  They will think some of these lies are mere hypocrisy and that can greatly increase uncertainty and maybe lead to open conflict.  North Korea aside, the prevailing international equilibrium is “hypocrisy only,” and those are the signals everyone has decades of experience in reading.



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