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Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 118 of the 1981 Liberty Fund edition of Herbert Spencer’s 1884 tract, The Man Versus the State:

Yet difficult as he [the modern politician] finds it to deal with humanity in detail, he is confident in his ability to deal with embodied humanity.  Citizens, not one-thousandth of whom he knows, not one-hundreth of whom he ever saw, and the great mass of whom belong to classes having habits and modes of thought of which he has but dim notions, he feels sure will act in ways he foresees, and fulfill ends he wishes.  Is there not a marvelous incongruity between premises and conclusion?

This point – to me one as obvious as it is damning of the pretensions of politicians, pundits, preachers, and professors – is largely ignored by the general public.  The same person who would never trust an optometrist to repair her car’s transmission, or trust an automobile mechanic to prescribe contact lenses to correct her myopia, routinely trusts strangers who specialize in winning popularity contests called “elections” to interfere into her and her neighbors’ lives in many intimate and expansive ways.

And then, when a skeptic of the pretensions of politicians (and of their entourages) suggests that these politicians (and their entourages) address the problems they diagnose, not with government force, but by themselves risking only their own money and effort toward correcting the alleged problems, the response is one of utter dismissal.  “Ha!  We don’t know anything about actually running actual businesses.  We have no experience at hiring and managing workers.  We haven’t the training or business connections or professional demeanor to, say, profitably employ the low-skilled workers who we nevertheless assure you are currently underpaid.  We have no ability, say, to persuade private investors to risk their funds on alternative-energy projects that we nevertheless assure you will be amazingly profitable.  We have no practical abilities at all!  Yet because we’ve won the most recent election, or because we’ve earned PhDs and read and write lots of books and academic-journal articles and know what a chi-square test is, we are uniquely qualified to force people to act in ways that we prescribe but which we, on our own, would never dare undertake.  We are paid to rule, not to risk; we are paid to demand of others, not to do of ourselves.”

The fact that such people continue to be called “Progressive,” continue to be considered to be unusually humane and (amazingly) empathetic, and continue to be taken seriously baffles me to no end.