We all know about persons who are complacent: they gloss over an important flaw in the functioning of something—a human body, a marriage, an economic policy, or a society—and try hard to convince themselves and others that nothing is really wrong. If they advocate any action, once the symptoms of trouble can no longer be ignored, they, typically, will prescribe aspirin when radical surgery is required. What about a term for the opposite fault—that is, a term that would designate a person who forever diagnoses fundamental disorder and prescribes radical cures when the difficulty at hand may well take care of itself in time or only calls for mild intervention? I propose, for want of a more compact term, the “structuralist (or fundamentalist) fallacy,” since those who are affected by this trait always speak of structural problems and the need for fundamental remedies.
Economists have long arrayed themselves into the two camps that are implicit in the two opposite faults just noted: those who are convinced that every departure from equilibrium is likely to be temporary and requires only a bit of clever management (if anything) have long been battling it out with those who are just as certain that such a departure signals a deep malady and perhaps the final crisis of the system. Naturally enough, the former turn out, from time to time, to be complacent, while the latter will on occasion be found to commit the structuralist fallacy. Being rather bored by both ideological camps, I tend to shift from one to the other depending on whom I am talking to. Given the complexity and ambiguity of the real world, a useful function may actually be served by such contrary behavior as I now hope to show by looking at the so-called “crisis of the welfare state.”...
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