by Don Boudreaux on May 29, 2019

in Hubris and humility, Man of System, Myths and Fallacies

Foreign Affairs is not a magazine that I often read. But this morning in the GMU Econ kitchen I saw this issue – the January/February 2019 issue – on the counter (free for anyone to take). I didn’t take it, but I did take a photo of its cover. This cover reveals two of the major fallacies that pollute so much popular thinking.

One fallacy is that society – including human society writ large – must be “run” by someone or by some collection of someones, with the only question being “Which someone or someones?” Overlooked is the reality not only that human society is a spontaneous order, but also that this order will be disrupted for the worse – and perhaps calamitously – by conscious attempts to engineer it as such for the ‘better.’

The second fallacy, seen in the teaser for Elizabeth Warren’s contribution, is that a consciously chosen and enforced policy can be “for all.” Unless Sen. Warren’s proposal is sufficiently general, limited to abstract rules designed to last for the long-haul and that garner near-unanimous agreement, in practice any policy will bestow favors upon some people and inflict disadvantages on others. The typical politician’s move is simply to declare that his or her preferred policy, domestic or foreign, is one that is for “all” people – this declaration coming despite the manifest differences in people’s preferences, expectations, and abilities.


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