Overconfidence & the Trouble with Garrison Keillor

I have this mental metric when it comes to articles about overconfidence: I count how many paragraphs it takes before the author mentions Garrison Keillor’s now-cliched Lake Wobegon, where everyone is above average. If Lake Wobegon pops up in the first three paragraphs then the piece is almost certainly not worth reading — it has already descended into cliche. If it pops up later, well, it really depends on the context, but let’s just say that a concluding paragraph with some wiseass mention is just as bad as mentioning Wobegon at the outset.
All of this came to mind while reading a new paper on overconfidence in The Economic Journal. The piece is a nifty one on overconfidence, with an interesting experimental design that shows people’s degree of overconfidence is correlated with the amount of money at stake. Mo’ money, mo’ overconfidence.
So, how long does it take before Keillor’s Wobegon shows up? The second page of references at the tail end of the document. The almost-omission made me feel warm and tingly all over.


  1. Did you catch the article about hypomania and entrepreneurs last week? http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FA0712F735580C718EDDAA0894DD404482
    For an entrepreneur to dedicate years of his life towards highly risky pursuits, he needs to have a firm understanding of his market advantages. He is constantly playing to his strengths (familiar), whereas corporations are defending their weaknesses (unfamiliar). It just crossed my mind that hypomania could be described as prolonged exposure to overconfidence.

  2. Brent Buckner says:

    Wow, you mentioned Lake Wobegon in the *first* paragraph of your entry! :-)