Why Not Give Them Spoons?

Economics is a topic that seems particularly susceptible to ideologically-driven emotions overtaking reason.

With that in mind, the Assume a Can Opener category is supplemented with illustrations of seemingly logical propositions which, upon further examination, fall short. They demonstrate the need for critical thinking, and highlight those who count it among their achievements.

This one gives opportunity to recognize Milton Friedman, a great mind in 20th century political/economic thought.

[O]ne is reminded of an incident in an Asian country where Milton Friedman upon arrival to a public works program finds that workers are using only shovels and not any earth-moving equipment. Upon questioning about this lack of use of heavy equipment, Friedman is told that this was a public works program and the aim is to employ as many workers as possible. Friedman then quips, “why not give them spoons to dig?”

Source: World Bank

[ The story has been recounted in somewhat different variations, but with the same punch line, in a wide range of publications, from the WSJ to the Huffington Post. PBS Nightly Business Report described it as possibly apocryphal. I looked for an authoritative source but was unable to find it, so chose a version to my liking. No matter the origins, it is insightful. ]

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