Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on May 24, 2013

in Complexity & Emergence, Hayek, Hubris and humility, Man of System

… is from page 116 of Thomas Cahill’s splendid 1998 volume, The Gifts of the Jews; Cahill here is discussing the lessons of the Egyptian Pharaoh’s hubris as portrayed in the book of Exodus:

The comedy of the narrative lies in ironic juxtaposition: Pharaoh, supposedly all-powerful, understands nothing.  It would not be too much to say that this narrative asserts that power (because it is a feckless attempt to usurp God’s dominion) makes you stupid, blinding you to your true situation – and absolute power makes you absolutely stupid.

Cahill’s (or Exodus’s author’s) point is quite Hayekian: centralization of power and decision-making authority causes the countless bits of local knowledge and information about important details – details necessary for peaceful, successful, and productive social arrangements and interactions – to be overlooked; ignored.  It cause knowledge and information about those details to be wasted or, worse, often never discovered by anyone in the first place.  The consequence of this reliance (whether this reliance be forced on, or is demanded by, the general population) is stupid public policies.  And this stupidity is utterly unavoidable as long as the centralization of decision-making authority continues.  This stupidity can be avoided neither by the good intentions of the power-holders nor by changing the process by which those holders of centralized power are chosen.

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