Reading Michael Huemer’s paper “In Praise of Passivity” – especially given that I learned of it from my colleague Bryan Caplan – prompts two quick thoughts, neither of which is unique. Each thought is on why we are likely, into the distant future, to continue to suffer the curse of social engineering – to have to endure what I might take to calling “collective treatment by a college of dark-agish economic proctologists.”
First, too many people continue today to cherish their superstitions. These people want to believe that secular salvation is possible. They refuse to accept the reality that reality is not optional. Just as people have forever and to this day fallen prey to peddlers of snake-oil, get-rich-quick schemes, lose-weight-while-you-sleep frauds, and enlarge-your-penis-with-a-pill shysters, people have forever and to this day fallen prey to peddlers of economic salvation. People enjoy believing in the efficacy of grand promises of quick riches through simplistic schemes such as “increase government spending,” “diminish the value of the currency,” “cure the cause of rising prices by using price controls to prevent the symptom of rising prices,” and (always especially popular) “take wealth from the rich and give it to the less-than-rich.”
None of these superstitious ‘cures’ requires much thinking beyond the childish ability to understand that if the promises came true, everyone would be better off save for the Bad Guys whose evil-doings allegedly caused reality to fall short of some imaginable ideal.
Second, just as peddlers of snake oil, Ponzi schemes, sugar tablets labeled ‘diet pill,’ and penis-enlargement treatments do personally profit from their victims’ gullibility, superstitions, and desire to believe that reality can be suspended, so, too, do peddlers of the likes of minimum-wage legislation, Keynesian ‘cures,’ and ‘income redistribution’ profit personally from widespread economic ignorance and too-many people’s desire to have their economic woes, real or imagined, ‘solved’ by god-like miracle workers housed in government offices. History has no shortage of ‘leaders’ who’ve profited (and, to this day, continue to profit) handsomely from selling social-engineering snake oil to the general public.
With so many eager buyers and so many eager sellers, dark-age-ish economic policies will always be with us.