… is from page 72 of Ben Rogge’s late-1970s speech “What Economists Can and Cannot Do,” as this essay is reprinted in A Maverick’s Defense of Freedom, the 2010 collection of Rogge’s essays that is edited by Dwight Lee:
Moreover, I am persuaded that capitalism can survive in meaningful form only in a society in which most of its members accept on principle a presumption in favor of freedom of choice, personal responsibility, and private property. If each time a proposal is made that contradicts one or more of these principles (say, a requirement that peanuts may be grown on a given piece of land only if that piece of land has been “licensed” for peanut growing), each citizen has to consult his economics textbook to discover the likely long-run effects of such a law on real growth, unemployment among black teenagers, and the survival of the family farm, the cause is as well lost.
Yes. Society is not a thing that has an engineering ‘solution.’ Economics is an indispensable guide to understanding the likely consequences of various policies, and for understanding how order emerges, or not, spontaneously. But economics can no more ‘prove,’ or even show, what is the best set of policies, for economics is not a system of values.