… is from page 113 of Matt Ridley’s splendid 2015 book, The Evolution of Everything:
It is axiomatic among right-thinking people that there are many things the market cannot provide, and therefore the state must. The sheer magical mysticism inherent in this thought is rarely examined. Because the market cannot do something, why must we assume that the state knows better how to do it?
Indeed. When the case for state action is examined carefully, more often than not one discovers that the conclusion that the state will out-perform the best feasible – or even the actually prevailing – market arrangements is built into the assumptions of that case. For example, the case for state action typically assumes that government officials have more and better information than do private market actors about the countless details that must be known and taken into account if resources are to be allocated as efficiently as possible. This case also typically assumes that government officials act as faithful agents of the public. In almost all real-world situations both of these assumptions are mistaken.