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Every Sensible Person Understands the Reason for Rules; Too Few People Understand that Rules are Not Synonymous with Government Dictates

Here’s a letter that I sent a couple of weeks ago to a CNN on-air personality:

16 March 2009

Mr. Rick Sanchez, Host, CNN NewsRoom

Dear Mr. Sanchez:

Re your interview today with economics students at Georgia State University: when a young man said that he is skeptical of government regulation and that he values individual liberty, you derisively accused him of believing that the economy would work well “without any rules.”

The smug assurance of your accusation reveals your gross misunderstanding of the case for free markets.  That case is not that rules are unnecessary.  Rather, it’s that rules written by politicians and enforced by bureaucrats generally work much less well than do rules that emerge decentrally – rules that evolve from the voluntary interactions and successes and mistakes of individuals each pursuing his or her own goals without being herded by a central authority – rules that are enforced by competition and by the exercise of personal responsibility and that, when sufficiently important, become formalized in case law declared by courts.

The distinction between what you think of as rules and the kinds of rules that permeate successful market economies is perhaps subtle.  But it’s also real and important.  You should try to grasp it.

Donald J. Boudreaux