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Friday, December 08, 2006

Subtleties seperating civilization from primitivism

The problem that defenders of freedom run up against is that both the emotional and seemingly rational appeal of alternatives seem more compelling.

As the late Milton Friedman explains:

FRIEDMAN: Because the story they tell is a very simple story, easy to sell. If there's something bad, it must be an evil person who's done it. If you want something done, you've got to do it. You've got to have government step in and do it. The story Hayek and I want to tell is a much more sophisticated and complicated story, that somehow or other there exists this subtle system in which, without any individual trying to control it, there is a system under which people in seeking to promote their own interests will also promote the well-being of the country -- Adam Smith's invisible hand.

Now, that's a very sophisticated story. It's hard to understand how you can get a complex interrelated system without anybody controlling it. Moreover, the benefits from government tend to be concentrated; the costs tend to be disbursed. To each farmer, the subsidy he gets from the government means a great deal. To each of a much larger number of consumers, it costs very little. Consequently, those who feed at the trough of government tend to be politically much more powerful than those who provide it with the wherewithal.
The desire to right every perceived wrong in the world is very strong in some people. The law of unintended consequences ends up being like a banana peel when real world tradeoffs are ignored in attempts to remake the social and economic order. Another point made by Milton Friedman is that good things that arise from a free society are simply taken for granted. This is human nature and it is especially easy to do while harboring an ill-conceived notion of how things work.

The most basic ideas of economics such as supply and demand may be simple enough, but even this construct is rejected by some people in practical application. The coordination and discovery aspect of prices and a market order are somehow too mysterious for many to grasp.

The collectivists arguements are based upon false claims and logical errors but for many people the emotional appeal of such ideas is overwhelming. Yet again Dr. Sanity nails it with this post. Be sure to see the other links within...
Not until Adam Smith was it recognized that wealth can grow without limits, but obviously even now people have a hard time wrapping their minds around this idea.

Progressives, he argues, operate under an economic model that is more genetic as opposed to cognitive. They are still functioning with the herd mentality and have yet to embrace modern civilization or individualism, preferring instead to function on an instinctual, rather than a rational level. This is why they find capitalism and market economics so repugnant.

The economic primitivism that is unceasingly promoted by the political left is a remnant of the cave-dwelling days of mankind; an idyllic era of history to which the left desperately yearns to return. The word "Progressive" is thus a simple rhetorical manipulation to diguise the essential backwardness of the left's economc thinking.
One of the difficult tasks for defenders of freedom, also described as the extended order of human cooperation, is to develop explanations of key ideas that are understandable to most people. Hopefully the explanations are good enough to overcome both misconceptions and misguided emotionalism.

1 comment:

Bret said...

Howard wrote: "One of the difficult tasks for defenders of freedom... is to develop explanations of key ideas that are understandable to most people."

That's one of the goals of this blog, isn't it? I'm personally striving to do so with my series on savings.