Wild Problems

A Guide to the Decisions That Define Us

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

I used to listen to Russ Roberts' Econtalk podcast pretty religiously, back when I listened to podcasts. For a mixture of reasons, I got out of that habit. But I got to know Russ (I call him Russ) as an uncommonly sane and wise voice with persuasive views on a host of topics, not just economics. This book reinforces that impression.

A "wild" problem, in Russ's view, is one that isn't amenable to utilitarian calculus, where we add up the pros and cons, seeing which solution comes out on top. Whether to have children, whether to accept a new job, what sort of hobbies to adopt, etc. His classic example is Charles Darwin's attempt to figure out whether he should marry. Darwin, being kind of a geek even back then, listed arguments for and against, writing them down for posterity to chuckle at. Pluses on the left, minuses on the right. This, Russ argues, was an unsatisfactory decision method. (A number of other historical figures, like Ben Franklin, argued for a similar process.)

Russ urges us to view "wild" problems as posing deeper questions than the utilitarian What will make me happiest? Instead they challenge us to ask: what kind of person am I? What kind of person do I want to be? What are my most important values? At bottom, we're encouraged to make mere "happiness" a secondary factor in decision-making, instead focusing on "flourishing", as it is measured against our unique set of talents and principles.

It's a wise book. I'm at the stage of life where my big life decisions are behind me, so its self-help component is less important in my case. Still, it's valuable advice for life-navigation "even at my age".

If you're looking for a gift idea for high school graduate, I think this would be a better choice than Dr. Seuss's Oh, the Places You'll Go!

Last Modified 2024-01-13 5:01 AM EDT