More Unalloyed Arrogance

by Don Boudreaux on February 28, 2009

in Hubris and humility

Here’s a letter that I sent a few days ago to the Washington Post:

Dear Editor:

Today’s cackling by politicians and pundits about how the auto industry should be restructured, the health-care industry overhauled, and the banking industry reorganized is deafening.  Surely I’m not alone in being horrified that so many people with no experience in these industries – and with no skin in any of these games – fancy
themselves qualified to pontificate about matters on which their knowledge can’t possibly be more than superficial.

This cascade of instructions from the inexperienced calls to mind a passage from Gogol’s Dead Souls: “He talks about everything, touches lightly on everything, he says everything he has filched out of books brightly and picturesquely, but he hasn’t got any of it in his head; and you see afterwards that a talk with a humble merchant who knows nothing but his own business but does know that thoroughly and by experience, is better than all these chatterboxes.”*

Donald J. Boudreaux

* Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls (New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2005 [1842]; trans. by Constance Garnett), p. 178.

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emerson February 28, 2009 at 2:08 pm

Hayek by way of Gogol– a man after my own heart.

Jason O February 28, 2009 at 2:28 pm


It seems that you understand popularity fails to equip man with the intellectual faculty, or expertise, or both, in any area. Although, it is valuable in the Post hoc ergo propter hoc age of public policy.

It appears, at least to me, that the fallacy of Post hoc ergo propter hoc has become more public policy tool for government spending projects and decision analysis in recent months than logically fallacy used to understand false conclusions. I believe this is highlighted nightly in our national news.

Anyway, I appreciate the attempts of you and Russ here at Cafe Hayek to continually inform your readers and the public of these types of fallacies throughout the political culture in American.

Thank you,

Andrew_M_Garland February 28, 2009 at 3:25 pm

The Solution is Simple

This comment by Joe Y is eloquent. An insight into the simplistic view that many intelligent people have of the world. An explanation of why hope and change is so attractive. An evaluation of President Obama's abilities.

[edited, excerpt] The oddest thing about this election, was the continual leitmotif of Obama’s genius, from people that should have known better. People like Obama, of which I know and am related to far too many, are unable to seriously consider that there is any job (oil company CEO, football coach, running the local post office) that they cannot do as well or better than the person currently in the role, should they ever exert the effort to do so. It’s not a matter of faith, as faith requires a conscious effort; rather, it is a prejudice in the true sense of the word.

Like most Ivy leaguers, he’s a smart operator and a dedicated hustler obsessed with accomplishment. Like almost all Harvard men and women, he lacks an aptitude for self-doubt and humility, which people usually, and a bit unfairly, mistake for Harvard arrogance. He is superb at his chosen field; but that field is not being President, it is becoming President.

Andrew_M_Garland February 28, 2009 at 3:35 pm

In addition to the politicians, their expert economic advisors are no more than medicine men dancing around the night fire of the tribe.

Their theories cannot make predictions, and so they are no better than Astrologers in planning what to do. They so easily rearrange the lives of millions because they "must do something".

Macroeconomics 'Experts' Apply Astrology, Not Science

01/30/09 – RealClearMarkets by Frank J. Tipler, Professor of Mathematical Physics at Tulane University.
[edited, excerpt] The inability of macroeconomic theories (about an entire economy) to make accurate predictions means that those economists do not know what they are talking about. Our leaders are being advised by macroeconomists, and they haven’t got a clue where they are leading us. Their actions may lead us out of the current recession, or they may lead us into a depression as bad as the Great Depression.

Wat Dabney February 28, 2009 at 4:49 pm

In turn, I'm reminded of this G. K. Chesterton quotation:
"The weakness of all Utopias is this, that they take the greatest difficulty of man and assume it overcome, and then give an elaborate account of the overcoming of the smaller ones. They first assume that no man will want more than his share, and then are very ingenious in explaining whether his share will be delivered by motor-car or balloon."

Mat Maloney February 28, 2009 at 5:02 pm

Don, you are dead on here, our politicians have some serious audacity to think that they're capable of running these industries in any direction other than straight into the ground. What's even more amusing is to hear them question guys like Bernanke on economic questions that are so basic.

It is also scary though, because it shows how completely clueless and inept most of the people in congress are in respect to economics. I think they listen to keynesians because that school calls for more government interference and government power, which again, is frightening.

Crusader February 28, 2009 at 7:15 pm

Of course muirduck usually make the following unreasoned points:

capitalist "experts" got us into this mess, therefore we must trust non-capitalists to get us out of it.

Dan Murray February 28, 2009 at 7:34 pm

I couldn't agree more…….

Greg Ransom February 28, 2009 at 7:41 pm

Great quote.

MU789 February 28, 2009 at 9:18 pm

But he ran a successful campaign that beat Hillary and McCain.

Isn't that just like running 20% of our economy?

SheetWise March 1, 2009 at 12:55 am

Reading this, I have a song running through my head. I had to look it up.

I'm not sure I'm adding a lot to this discussion — but I'm guessing that many of you will get the connection. They have no chance of success — but, they wish that they could be Richard Cory.

Gil March 1, 2009 at 2:38 am

How does a CEO run a business then? Should they run a business at all? Do they actually do anything either? Do the workers and manager do the actual work and the CEO gets the credit? How can a CEO necessarily 'plan'?

Murlai March 1, 2009 at 9:31 am

Of course muirduck usually make the following unreasoned points:

capitalist "experts" got us into this mess, therefore we must trust non-capitalists to get us out of it.

Crusader, slow down. Aren't you supposed to wait for him to spew his mendacities before you criticise him? Its no fun otherwise.

PS If you've stuck a flux capacitor on a delorean, I want in on it too.

T. Thornton March 1, 2009 at 1:47 pm

Matt Damon will hate that I used his words from "Good Will Hunting" – but it seems appropriate in this case:

Clark is stunned.

WILL(cont'd): Look, don't try to pass yourself off as some kind of an intellect at the expense of my friend just to impress these girls.

Clark is lost now, searching for a graceful exit, any exit.

WILL (cont'd): The sad thing is, in about 50 years you might start doin' some thinkin' on your own and by then you'll realize there are only two certainties in life.

CLARK: Yeah? What're those?

WILL: One, don't do that. Two– you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on an education you coulda' picked up for a dollar fifty in late charges at the Public Library.
Will catches Skylar's eye.

CLARK: But I will have a degree, and you'll be serving my kids fries at a drive through on our way to a skiing trip.

WILL (smiles): Maybe. But at least I won't be a prick. (beat) And if you got a problem with that, I guess we can step outside and deal with it that way.

Too bad we cannot step outside and settle this debate. Hopefully, people will begin to realize these high cost educated bureaucrats do not have an original idea and they are just winging it.

Crusader March 1, 2009 at 2:47 pm

I know what Muirduck will say before he even thinks it.

brotio March 1, 2009 at 5:19 pm

I know what Muirduck will say before he even thinks it.

That's quite the compliment there, Crusader. Asserting that Mierduck thinks. :P

save_the_rustbelt March 1, 2009 at 6:03 pm

from the Detroit News today:

Where are the car guys on U.S. auto task force?

It's bad enough that few of the White House auto task force members drive American cars. But the bigger concern is that task force members have little background in the auto industry, and the group seems staffed with people who may be out of touch with industry realities. – 03/01/2009

Phil March 2, 2009 at 1:55 am

No one reads Hayek anymore do they? It really is sad…. I am a Christian, and the fundamental truth to my existence is that I am far (far!!) from perfect, in knowledge and wisdom. Given my own limitations, and those of all my brothers and sisters in the nation, isnt it logical to presume that the knowledge and wisdom of those closest to the market is much greater than those who would reside, say in D.C.??? This seems so obvious that it boggles my mind how anyone can think anything different. I simply do not understand it….

Crusader March 2, 2009 at 5:38 pm

That's quite the compliment there, Crusader. Asserting that Mierduck thinks. :P

Posted by: brotio | Mar 1, 2009 5:19:32 PM

Heh heh. Good one. Heh. *snort*

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