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Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 22 of the late Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom‘s important 1990 volume, Governing the Commons:

An assertion that central regulation is necessary tells us nothing about the way a central agency should be constituted, what authority it should have, how the limits on its authority should be maintained, how it will obtain information, or how its agents should be selected, motivated to do their work, and have their performances monitored and rewarded or sanctioned.

Yes.  Calls to empower and entrust government to undertake this or that task are typically done with shocking recklessness.  The presumption behind these calls is that the power that is being called upon is a god-like entity – a miracle-worker – who by assumption and by assumption only not only puts “our” interest ahead of its own, but is also sufficiently informed and wise, and who operates with such an ideal mix of prudence and creativity, that we can be sure that it will improve our lives.

This wholly unscientific – this largely faith-based – manner of regarding the state is not confined to rubes, children, and people who are bewitched by the likes of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.  It is, I am chagrined to say, the manner of regarding the state that is typical among most economists.  Very common today is the economist who swears his or her allegiance to Objective Science (although, I note in passing, most of these oaths are to the false god of scientism and not to actual science as it is appropriate for the study of society) – who boasts of being “data driven” as a means of trumpeting his or her Scientific creds – who sincerely believes that he or she is an immune-to-bias evaluator of “the facts” as these relate to different policy options.  But regardless of the actual scientific merit of such work as it applies to the study of the private economy, far too much of it merely assumes, with a faith that would humble St. Paul, that government can be trusted to exercise power wisely and successfully for the good of all humankind.