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Who Views Ordinary People With Contempt?

Here’s a comment, in full, from “Jim” on this recent EconLog post by my colleague Bryan Caplan:

This blog [EconLog] is interesting as illustrating the contempt with which the American elite view the common American people.

I’ll not here join the discussion over the appropriateness of Bryan’s use of ADHD to motivate his post.  What interests me far more is Jim’s total misunderstanding of the general message consistently delivered by Bryan (and David Henderson, Scott Sumner, and their guest bloggers) at EconLog.

In fact, Bryan and his fellow EconLog bloggers consistently fight against “the American elite” who “view the common American people” with contempt.  Those who hold the common American people in contempt are those who believe that government must superintend or direct ordinary people’s decisions – those who, for example, are convinced that ordinary people are too incompetent, too uninformed, too unintelligent, or too uncreative to find better jobs so that the only means of getting these people raises is for government to enact minimum-wage diktats.  Bryan and his EconLog colleagues have a long and consistent record of trusting decisions made by individuals and of defending those decisions against officious do-gooders (and opportunistic rent-seekers) who demand that government constrain, override, tax, subsidize, or otherwise alter those decisions.

What Bryan and his fellow bloggers also point out, however, is that collectively made decisions – including voting – are unreliable both as guides to reveal what people really desire and as a means of deciding on actual courses of action.  What Bryan and his fellow bloggers distrust is a particular means of making decisions and not the people who participate in making those decisions.  The same person – “ordinary” or elite – who can and should be trusted to make wise decisions for himself or herself when choosing privately and when spending his or her own money is led by the poor incentives of the decision-making structure to make poor decisions when choosing collectively.

Put differently, by consistently defending freedom and by calling for collective decisions to be as few as possible (so that private decisions are as many as possible), Bryan and his fellow bloggers display their hearty and heartfelt confidence in the ability of ordinary people each to run his or her life as he or she sees fit rather than as how elites fancy those individuals’ lives ought to be run.  Those who hold ordinary people in contempt are those who endorse an active role for the state, for it is those people – and not scholars such as Bryan and his fellow EconLog bloggers – who insist that ordinary people must be attended to and herded (and sometimes slaughtered) as if they are sheep rather than left free to lead their lives as each of them chooses.  And, it must be added, Bryan and his fellow EconLog bloggers understand also that to treat people like sheep is to attract and energize wolves.