No. Just No.

by Don Boudreaux on April 22, 2016

in Crony Capitalism, Hayek, Hubris and humility, Man of System

Here’s the headline of a mass e-mail that just arrived in my e-mailbox from an outfit called “Information Technology and Innovation Foundation“:

Think Like an Enterprise: Why Nations Need National Productivity Strategies

No.  Not so.  Wrong.  Completely mistaken.

First: as explained by Adam Smith, Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek, and many other economists, nations are not firms; no nation is an enterprise (or what Hayek called “an organization” as distinct from “an order”).  Unlike a business firm – and contrary to the uninformed bleats of Donald Trump – no nation ought to have as its goal the making of economic profit.  (Indeed, the very idea of a nation ‘having a goal’ or as ‘having goals’ is both ludicrous and impossible.)  Also unlike business firms – and as Paul Krugman famously explained – nations do not compete against each other economically.

Second and even more importantly here: “national productivity strategies” are, practically speaking, strategies or plans imposed by the state.  They are schemes pressed down from on high by politicians and bureaucrats each of whom not only is motivated chiefly by political goals (and, thus, likely to become a crony or a tool for special-interest groups), but who is also distant from – and hence ignorant of – the countless and ever-changing details of economic reality that must be known and taken account if an economy is to have any real prospect of growing.

A country no more needs a “national productivity strategy” than a country needs a “national prepare-evening-meals-for-the-family strategy,” a “national take-the-kids-to-visit-the-grandparents strategy,” or a “national dating-for-singles strategy.”

To hell with any and all such “strategies.”  Government should simply leave people alone so that each individual, governed only by the rules of property and contract and tort and bourgeois civility – and guided by market opportunities and prices – is free to pursue his or her own ends as he or she chooses.  To quote the closing line of Thomas Sowell’s 1980 book, Knowledge and Decisions:

Freedom is … above all, the right of ordinary people to find elbow room for themselves and a refuge from the rampaging presumptions of their “betters.”

Or if you prefer a more musical take, follow the advice of Hank Williams, Sr., and mind your own business.

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