To err is human; so is the failure to admit it

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A NEWSPAPER cannot publish for 174 years without some mistakes. This one has made its share. We thought Britain was safe in the European exchange-rate mechanism just weeks before it crashed out; we opined, in 1997, that Indonesia was well placed to avoid financial crisis; we noted in 1999 that oil, at $10 per barrel, might well reach $5, almost perfectly timing the bottom of the market; and in 2003 we supported the invasion of Iraq. For individuals, like publications, errors are painful—particularly now, when the digital evidence of failure is both accessible and indelible. But they are also inevitable. The trick, then, is to err well: to recognise mistakes and learn from them. Worryingly, humanity may be getting worse at owning up to its goofs.

Few enjoy the feeling of being caught out in an error. But real trouble starts when the desire to avoid a reckoning leads to a refusal to grapple with contrary evidence. Economists often assume that people are rational. Faced with a new fact,…Continue reading

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