Saturday, July 13, 2013


Today we salute Goldilocks. Yes, I know she had the nasty habit of breaking into the homes of others—but she was, perhaps, the foremost empiricist among all the fairy tale characters.

She is worthy in a way that too many business moguls and politicians and pundits of a certain bent are not. Ideologues to the nth degree, they offer tautologies as counsel, question-begging as wisdom. “The government must not over-regulate the (fill in the blank) industry,” they spout—and to the unwary such a proclamation might pass as astute political advice. But as the philosopher Julian Baggini, points out, “An adviser can always be right yet not much use.” He goes on to offer a few examples of advice that is right but not of much use: “never buy anything that is too expensive”; “do not marry the wrong person.”

Something that is “too expensive” is beyond a reasonable valuation, and thus just as un-right as “wrong” is, by definition. Baggini slaps the wrists of the Greek wise men who supposedly came up with the injunction on the Temple at Delphi—“Nothing to Excess.” Their advice comes close to being “vacuous,” he says. The difficulty in life is in knowing “how much is too much, not that too much is bad.”

But as Goldilocks showed us, excess lies off to both sides of the ideal. There’s too hard, but also too soft; too hot, but also too cold. In testing the chairs, the bowls of porridge, and the beds, she was eventually able to discover the right level of comfort for sitting and sleeping and the right temperature for ingestion.

Our anti-regulation ideologues, in their proclamations, have no minds for testing. If they did, they would acknowledge that while something “over” is (by definition) bad, so is something “under” (consider plants that are over-watered and those that are under-watered). Under-regulation is just as bad a policy as over-regulation; the issue—as the question-beggers do not wish the public to recognize—is how much regulation is not too much, or not too little—but just right.

See: Julian Baggini, Should You Judge This Book by Its Cover?: 100 Fresh Takes on Familiar Sayings and Quotations