Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on May 21, 2015

in Hubris and humility, Man of System

… is from page 312 of NYU’s great economic-development economist William Easterly’s superb 2006 book, The White Man’s Burden – a book that explores the differences between economic development that is designed and imposed by “Planners” and economic development that is undesigned and generated by “Searchers”; in summary, “Planners” are ‘men-(and-women)-of-system’ who aim to improve whole societies with their consciously constructed plans imposed without competition from on top and, hence, without reliable feedback from the affected parties below; “Searchers” are entrepreneurs, investors, and other individuals who, constrained by the rules of private property, attempt – in competition with each other and without the ability to compel anyone to follow their leads – to improve only those relatively small parts of the economy or society that can be reasonably comprehended by any individual, in large part because their efforts are informed by reliable feedback (original emphasis):

If it were not for the U.S. Army trying to promote economic development [in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq], it would seem presumptuous for me as an economist to comment on military interventions.  Yet even without recent rhetoric [such as from Niall Ferguson about how the Pentagon should spend more resources “making the world safe for capitalism and democracy”], military intervention is too perfect an example of what this book argues you should not do – have the West operate on other societies with virtually no feedback or accountability.  The military is even more insulated from the interests of the poor than aid agencies are.  People don’t give reliable feedback at gunpoint.  Invading soldiers and covert destabilization are not great ways to ascertain local peoples’ interests.  The poor on the receiving end have few votes on whether they want the Americans to save them.  Military interventionists are inherently Planners; armies do not have Searchers.

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