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More Enlightement from Adam Smith

Here’s a letter that I sent yesterday to the Times of London:

American conservatives have their own reasons for opposing Barack Obama’s gigantic agenda (“Right’s rage at overbearing Obama,” April 12).  Some of these reasons are more sensible than others.  But I offer here a deeper reason to worry about Mr. Obama’s hyperactivity; it is a reason identified exactly 250 years ago by Adam Smith in his first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments:

“That wisdom which contrived the system of human affections, as well as that of every other part of nature, seems to have judged that the interest of the great society of mankind would be best promoted by directing the principal attention of each individual to that particular portion of it, which was most within the sphere both of his abilities and of his understanding.”*

No person, regardless of I.Q. or office, can possibly possess more than an infinitesimal amount of the knowledge of reality necessary for the successful carrying out of ‘plans’ such as those offered by Mr. Obama.  Society best advances when each of us is free to pursue our own individual goals in our own ways, with government doing no more than protecting each of us from the predations and officious ambitions of others.

It is preposterous to suppose that Mr. Obama (or anyone else) can know enough to oversee the automobile industry and the banking industry, to lead the creation of “green jobs,” to remake medical-care provision, and to do any of the other ambitious tasks on his agenda.  Each of those matters is light years outside of “the sphere both of his abilities and of his understanding.”

Donald J. Boudreaux

* Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 1976 [1759]), p. 375.