The Corporate Law Group

Do Nothing

Many people use that as an epithetic noun. “He’s just a ‘do nothing’.” But the more we see, the more we think that may very well be the right answer. Wisdom is in knowing when it is. Because if you get that wrong [i.e., The riverbank is rising but I think we should do nothing] it could be disastrous.

We all have a bias to act. That’s how we got the TSA, the bailouts of AIG and GM, the protection of United Airlines, and the harvesting of everyone’s meta-data. Our “doing something” caused massive wastes of money, groping people at airports, dragging Dr. Dao down the aisles, the “too big to fail” lie, 13 deaths and the 2014 GM recall, and Edward Snowden’s revelations. Who needs it?

Sometimes, “action” has the double negative of using up resources that could be devoted elsewhere, and actually making things worse. But even if the action is neutral it still wastes resources.

Being ultra-clean can cause anti-biotic resistant bugs, and ultra-sensitive kids. Military involvement can radicalize civilians. Market manipulation causes unintended consequences. Student debt guarantees have cause inflation in tuition. The 1970’s energy crisis only ended when then-Czar William Simon gave up, opened up federal energy reserves, and let the gas flow.

Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson focuses on the unintended (harmful) consequences of government action. And Edward Conrad wrote a book titled Unintended Consequences, subtitled “Why Everything You’ve Been Told About the Economy is Wrong,” focusing on the 2008 crisis and bailouts. There are a million other examples of doing nothing being the right answer.

In 2014 Black Swan author Nassim Taleb resolved to “do nothing” all year unless it felt like a hobby. The result was 12 academic papers, finishing a book, 100 aphorisms, 2 Beijing ducks, learning to typeset books as a self-standing publisher, and 4 new investments, all by September that year.

The next time something happens and you are trying to figure out what to do. Try doing nothing. OK, if your basement floods, clean it up. But if action is not immediately needed, do nothing. Eventually, if some response is necessary, it will become clear. If not, great.