Under Perverse Institutions, It Takes “Canny Outlaws” to Do What Is Right

Practical Wisdom is a hard book to categorize. It is part philosophy, and one of the co-authors is an academic philosopher. But most of the book consists of often fascinating, concrete examples. The examples are usually of perverse institutions and policies that create incentives and constraints that reward those who do bad and punish those who do good. The authors’ main lesson is that we all should become stoical “canny outlaws” by finding crafty ways to do what is right, while trying to avoid or survive the perverse incentives and constraints.
Maybe–for me the main lesson is that we all should get busy reforming the institutions and policies. But whether their lesson or my lesson is the best lesson, their book is still filled with many great examples that are worth pondering.
In the next few weeks, I will be quoting several of the more useful, or thought-provoking passages.

The book discussed, is:
Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.

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