≡ Menu

A Non Sequitur

Just last week, David Brooks described many successful politicians (such as Eliot Spitzer) thusly: "their sensitivity synapses are still performing at preschool levels" and they "have an almost limitless capacity for self-pity."  Not a pretty picture of people in power.

But reading Brooks’s latest column (in yesterday’s edition of the New Orleans Times-Picayune), I discover that Brooks — with disquieting inconsistency — nevertheless trusts these emotional and ethical dwarves with power to regulate persons’ private choices.  I sent this letter in response.

David Brooks notes that "behavioral economists demonstrate every day [that] human beings are powerfully and unconsciously influenced by … ideas and assumptions" that cause them sometimss to make systematic mistakes ("Not a good time to trust the market," March 20).  True.  But Mr. Brooks himself mistakenly draws the conclusion that this fact justifies government regulation.

The undeniable truth that each of us frequently makes foolish decisions does not justify overriding our freedoms, especially if (as is likely) the same "powerful and unconscious ideas and assumptions" that cause us to err when acting privately will cause us to err when acting politically — and will cause also those persons in political office to err when exercising their power.

For all of their insights, behavioral economists have never demonstrated that political power cures its holders of any of the cognitive ailments that afflict the general lot of humankind.

Donald J. Boudreaux