Charles Munger and Predicting Policy Costs

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

I’ve already mentioned that Berkshire Hathaway’s Charles Munger gave a speech at UCSB in 2003 that was chock-full of thought-provoking bits — like this bit on predicting the cost of Medicare:

Extreme economic ignorance was displayed when various experts, including Ph D. economists, forecast the cost of the original Medicare law. They did simple extrapolations of past costs.

Well the cost forecast was off by a factor of more than 1000%. The cost they projected was less than 10% of the cost that happened. Once they put in place all these new incentives, the behavior changed in response to the incentives, and the numbers became quite different from their projection. And medicine invented new and expensive remedies, as it was sure to do. How could a great group of experts make such a silly forecast? Answer: They over simplified to get easy figures, like the rube rounding Pi to 3.2! They chose not to consider effects of effects on effects, and so on.

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