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Mencken on Merchants of Idiotic Ideas

Last night, driving back from teaching my wonderful Principles of Microeconomics students, I heard on a DC radio station an interview with an aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi approvingly repeat Pres. Obama’s insistence that, once those Americans who now oppose Obamacare actually get that care, they’ll grow to love it.

This outcome is unlikely – or, rather, it would be unlikely if all the problems with collective decision-making (as identified by public-choice economics) didn’t distort political perceptions.

As H.L. Mencken observed

The kind of man who demands that government enforce his ideas is always the kind whose ideas are idiotic.*

Being sensible, sensible ideas seldom must be imposed by force.  Sometimes sensible ideas are adopted gradually, as practices with widespread advantages displace less-advantageous practices and become part of customary behavior.  Sometimes sensible ideas are adopted consciously and quickly, through the art of persuasion or the rigors of scientific demonstration.

In contrast, idiotic ideas have nothing going for them.  Most people who voluntarily adopt idiotic ideas in their private lives soon abandon them if these ideas hamper their ability to thrive in the real world.  The only way to implement an idiotic idea widely and surely is through force – which is the root of Obamacare.


*p. 622 of A Mencken Chrestomathy