Like a Biologist Asking ‘Who Runs Evolution?’

by Don Boudreaux on March 10, 2011

in Hubris and humility, Man of System, Politics

Here’s a comment that I submitted to Paul Krugman’s blog:

You [Paul Krugman] are appropriately disgusted at Newt Gingrich’s excuse that his patriotic devotion to his work on behalf of America is what prompted him to leave his first wife and also his second wife.

Then, with Gingrich in mind, you ask “How did people like this end up running America?”

This is a very strange question to be asked by an economist – someone who should especially understand that countries aren’t “run” by politicians or by any other so-called “leaders.”  Any remotely successful country (or society or economy) operates overwhelmingly without central direction.  No one is in charge or could possibly be in charge.  This insight, of course, comes from ECON 101.

Who directed you to write this blog post?  Speaker Boehner?  I’m guessing not; you wrote it of your own accord.  Ditto for your decision to study economics.  Princeton’s and the NYT‘s decisions to hire you – and your decision to work for them – are similarly the products of private considerations, negotiations, and actions rather than the consequence of orders handed down from the state.

Now you’ll likely respond that I’m reading your comment too literally; you mean – not run “America” – just run the government.  But if this is what you mean, why are you among today’s leading voices calling for ever-more government power to “run” the country?  Even if it were possible that incorruptible saints could somehow “run” a country better than do the spontaneous forces of the market and of civil society, the fact that highly flawed human beings such as Newt Gingrich (and too many others to name) routinely rise to positions of great authority in government should cause you to pause from your incessant campaign to transfer more and more decision-making power from individuals to government.

Perhaps you should re-read Mary Shelley’s most-famous novel.

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