Take a Guess
By Bryan Caplan
One of the most frustrating things about non-economists is their reluctance to guess. Latest example: Today at the repair shop.
Mechanic: The freon’s going to leak out unless we replace the compressor.
Me: How fast?
Mechanic: Don’t know.
Me: Could you take a guess?
Mechanic: Nope. Could be tomorrow, could be a year.
You could say that the mechanic doesn’t want to convey a false sense of certainty. But surely I let him off the hook when I asked him to guess, didn’t I? You’d have to have an awfully short fuse to get mad at someone for being wrong after explicitly asking them to guess.
Or maybe people don’t guess because they’re afraid of looking stupid if they’re wrong. Remember Harbaugh‘s skill-signaling model? But this shoe doesn’t fit either. Doesn’t a person who refuses to guess show a lack of confidence in his own skill? If anything, skill signaling should lead people to mislabel their guesses as fact – not stonewall.
Despite my frustration, I have to assume that I’m just a weird customer. In a competitive environment, I have to think that mechanics refuse to guess because refusing to guess is more profitable than guessing. So what gives?
P.S. Even when a mechanic refuses to guess, that doesn’t stop me. My guess was that the freon would last me through the summer, so I told the mechanic to go ahead and put it in. Still, it would have been nice if the expert gave me more information to work with.