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Bonus Quotation of the Day…

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… is from my colleague Bryan Caplan’s recent EconLog blog post “Progressive/Libertarian: The Alliance That Isn’t” [2] (original emphasis):

The heart of the left isn’t helping the poor, or reducing inequality, or even minority rights.  The heart of the left is being anti-market.  With some honorable exceptions, very few leftists are capable of being excited about deregulation of any kind.  And even the leftists who do get excited about well-targeted deregulation get far more excited about stamping out the hydra-headed evils of market.

DBx: As he so frequently does, Bryan here hits on its head an important nail solidly, cleanly, and with impressive force.

I suspect that the single biggest factor that distinguishes “Progressives” from libertarians and free-market conservatives is the simple fact that “Progressives” do not begin to grasp the reality of spontaneous order.  “Progressives” seem unable to appreciate the reality that productive and complex economic and social orders not only can, but do, emerge unplanned from the countless local decisions of individuals each pursuing his or her own individual plans.  Therefore, “Progressives” naturally adopt a creationist view of society and of the economy: without a conscious and visible (and well-intentioned) guiding hand, society and the economy cannot possibly work very well.  Indeed, it seems that for many (most?) “Progressives,” the idea that a spontaneously ordered economy can work better than one directed consciously from above – or, indeed, that a spontaneously ordered economy can work at all – is so absurd that when “Progressives” encounter people who oppose “Progressive” schemes for regulating the economy, “Progressives” instantly and with great confidence conclude that their opponents are either stupid or, more often, evil cronies for the rich and the powerful.

Conduct an on-going experiment: whenever well-meaning “Progressives” (of which there are very many) propose this government intervention or oppose that policy of reducing government’s role in the economy, ask if these “Progressives'” stated reasons can be understood to be nothing more than a reflection of a failure to understand the power and range of spontaneous-ordering forces in private-property settings.  The answer will almost always be ‘yes.’  Very often, no further explanation for “Progressives'” policy stances is necessary.

“Progressives” simply don’t ‘get’ spontaneous order in human society.  They see a problem and leap to the only conclusion that for them is sensible – namely, that that problem’s only realistic ‘solution’ is that it be directly addressed by government officials.  Indeed, even “Progressives'” frequent misdiagnoses of the results of trade-offs as being “problems” (or “market failures”) reflect a failure to understand spontaneous-ordering processes.  Many phenomena and patterns that “Progressives” assume to be problems – for example, increasing inequality of monetary incomes – are often the benign results of the countless and nuanced individual trade-offs made by individuals.  For “Progressives,” though, these ‘outcomes’ are often assumed to be the consequence of sinister designs.

Bottom line: Bryan is correct.  If your sincere belief is that spontaneous-ordering forces are either fictional or nearly always inferior to the forces of conscious intervention, then those who support free markets must be opposed at every opportunity.  Such opposition is the heart of “Progressivism.”  “Progressives” are no more capable of rejecting a belief in social creation by government than fundamentalist Christians are of rejecting a belief in natural creation by god.  Just as fundamentalist Christians are thus naturally and, given their world-view, understandably hostile to atheism, “Progressives” are naturally and, given their world-view, understandably hostile to libertarianism.

(I don’t here mean to suggest that conservatives’ proposals for government intervention don’t equally reflect an ignorance of spontaneous-ordering forces.)

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