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Quotation of the Day…

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… is from page 73 of the original edition of James M. Buchanan’s and Richard E. Wagner’s important 1977 book, Democracy in Deficit: The Political Legacy of Lord Keynes [2]:

The ultimate danger in such situations as that which we are coming to confront, one that has been confirmed historically all too frequently, is that we will come to see our salvation as residing in the use of power. Power is always sought to promote the good, of course, never the bad. We are being bombarded with increasing intensity with calls for incomes policies, price and wage controls, national planning, and the like. Each of these aims to achieve its objectives by the imposition of new restrictions on the freedom of individuals.

DBx: In many ways we humans are indeed advanced, at least by any realistic standards available to us for comparison. Yet in what domains have we achieved true and large advances? I believe that the answer is this: mostly – only? – in those domains in which we interact with each other peacefully and without one party able to initiate force against the other.

Art is an example. Is it conceivable that George Eliot could have written Middlemarch were she commanded at knife point to do so? That Mark Twain’s genius was uncorked by the threat of being shot had he not produced the likes of Huckleberry Finn? That Dr. Seuss used words and drawings as he did to teach and to entertain because some Secretary of This or That bridled him to do so? That Cézanne’s brilliance with a brush was the product of superintendence by French bureaucrats? That the creation, performance, and spread of the music of Bach, Louis Armstrong, and the Beatles were made possible by state planning and diktats? Not remotely. Art – art that is genuine and worthwhile – is one of the many sweet fruits of commercial society [3].

Or think of these achievements, ones made all the more spectacular because they are – to most of us in the 21st century – so hum-drum routine that apparently serious people write about these marvels as if their creation and provision are ordained by nature: commercial air travel; automobiles; telephony; radio; television; refrigeration; skyscrapers; air-conditioning; antibiotics; contact lenses; music streaming; supermarkets; Wal-Mart, Ikea, and Amazon.com; Google; blueberries in Boston in the bleak winter; Paris fed daily; pencils [4]. All of these magnificent achievements – including their widespread availability (that is, affordability) – are the product of peaceful commerce largely unconstrained by political borders and guided by market prices.

It’s beyond sad that so many people today – all of whom swim in this ocean of material prosperity and globe-spanning voluntary human cooperation – continue to be entranced by the imaginary power of power.

Describe to a second-grader some situation and present it to the child as a intolerable problem – for example, some people have lots more money than other people; people in some countries are much poorer than are people in other countries; people continue to get killed and maimed in automobile accidents, while other people die young from diseases such as cancer and tuberculosis; this group of persons feels slighted by what was said or written by some speaker or blogger. Whatever the problem, the second-grader is likely to propose that it be solved by force: forcefully transfer money from those who have more of it to those who have less of it; order that automobiles be made even safer; seize more resources to be used to cure diseases; command people to be nicer to each other while threatening the not-nice with punishment.

Resort to force is childish and primitive. Not only does it involve no creativity, it hardly taxes the intellect. Only the most primitive parts of our brains are used to devise ‘solutions’ based on force. Those who resort to force see only the immediate in time and place. “Richard is richer than Paul, so we can make Paul richer by seizing much of what belongs to Richard!” Those who resort to force typically do not have hindsight that is 20/20 – for example, they have no idea why Richard is richer than Paul – and have foresight that sees nothing beyond the next moment.

What is often called “Progressivism” – the politics, for example, of Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Andrew Yang, Joe Biden, and Jeremy Corbyn – is, despite the self-flattering fancy of “Progressives,” a politics that emerges directly and almost exclusively from the brain stem and amygdala. A far-more appropriate name would be “Primitivism.” Such people cannot fathom the fact that intentions are not results and that results very often do not reflect intentions. The complexity of society and the economy are lost on them. What they see they suppose is all that exists. And although they often ‘see’ disorder where in fact order reigns, when they do see order they mistakenly suppose that that order is the result of conscious design and implementation.

The politics of most conservatives is no better. They, too, believe that force is a grand tool for fashioning society into the fancied form.

Politics in practice is no more intellectually advanced than the typical school-yard fracas.