Feature

Editor's Letter: Yielding to uncertainty

Uncertainty stalks the land like a pack of zombies, spooking the housing market, Wall Street, Tiger Woods, even the shortened NFL preseason.

The debt deal is signed, the crisis averted. Soon the sun will break through the “cloud of uncertainty that hangs over our economy,” as President Obama predicted this week. As if, say skeptics on both of his flanks. It’s more likely that the uncertainty created by this partisan battle will roll on, just as our leaders will keep blaming the other side for fearmongering. Months of Tea Party brinksmanship have hobbled job creation, said the president; no, your tax-and-regulate policies are making businesses wary of expanding, said Mitt Romney. This rampant uncertainty has led American corporate leaders to hoard $853 billion, a cash pile they lovingly count like Scrooge McDuck while 25 million Americans search for full-time work. All this uncertainty has become “radioactive,” said Austan Goolsbee, the departing chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, and “you certainly don’t want to give yourself multiple doses in a short period of time.”

Too late for that, I’m afraid. Uncertainty stalks the land like a pack of zombies, spooking the housing market, Wall Street, Tiger Woods, even the shortened NFL preseason. And the problem is, there’s no escape. Uncertainty is baked in to the structure of the universe. In 1927, physicist Werner Heisenberg found that it is impossible to determine both the location and the momentum of a subatomic particle. He called his theory the uncertainty principle, and it confirms what we’ve long intuited: that we have to live without knowing absolutely everything. And perhaps that’s no bad thing. “Without a measureless and perpetual uncertainty,” Winston Churchill once said, “the drama of human life would be destroyed.” To say nothing of politics.   

Robert Love

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