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Quotation of the Day…

… is from pages 65-66 of University of Glasgow Senior Lecturer Craig Smith’s 2020 book, Adam Smith (footnotes deleted; links added):

He [Adam Smith] argues that people’s natural moral responses can be warped by wrong systems developed by philosophers. His particular concern here is religious and political demagogues who, driven by a commitment to their  philosophical system, seek to make reality fit their model. These ‘ignorant quacks and imposters, both civil and religious’, seek to move the multitude to serve their own moral system. Such a man of system is an enemy to every other person who would choose how to act for themselves. Moreover, he will inevitably fail as his systems are only partial and cannot capture the rich diversity of human sentiments. The man of system is a partial spectator on behalf of his own faction and his judgement is not to be trusted.

DBx: True liberalism – the liberalism of Adam Smith – differs from all other political philosophies in this core way: Its proponents have no specific vision for society or the economy. The true liberal understands that the merit of a society is not to be measured by whatever particular ruler, scale, or map he or she – or any other person – has in his or her head. The true liberal accords equal dignity to every individual, and notes that the maximum possible prospect for each person to contribute to whatever details emerge in society is achieved when each and every individual has maximum possible scope to act as he or she chooses. To give to each individual maximum possible scope to act implies that each individual’s scope to act is equal to that of every other individual.

Only in a liberal society is no one compelled by fellow human beings to sacrifice his or her welfare, as he or she judges it, in order to promote the welfare of others. This feature of liberalism is its finest. That liberalism results in degrees of material prosperity impossible under any other system is wonderful. But this material benefit is – in my view, at any rate – icing on the cake.

And so even if, say – and contrary to fact – this or that proposed industrial-policy scheme is guaranteed to make every person in the nation materially wealthier, I would oppose it. And I know that many, and perhaps most, other liberals would join in this opposition. The reason for this opposition is that any industrial-policy scheme necessarily empowers some individuals to arbitrarily override the choices of other individuals. Robert Reich gets to impose his preferences on Deirdre McCloskey – but not vice-versa. Oren Cass and Brink Lindsey have the power to restrict the range of peaceful actions open to Mike Munger and Arnold Kling – but not vice-versa. Julius Krein, Daniel McCarthy, and Elizabeth Warren get to tell Russ Roberts, Bryan Caplan, and Walter Williams what to do – but not vice-versa.

To be clear: Arranging for it to be vice-versa – even if it were possible to conceive what it means for Jones and Smith each simultaneously to have the power to impose his or her preferences on the other – would not solve the problem. No one should have the power to impose his or preferences on anyone else.

Industrial-policy proponents deny the above-stated reality. They’re able to satisfy themselves that the above-stated reality is not reality by lazily assuming that if industrial policy is approved by majority vote, then somehow everyone agrees with it and, thus, no one is imposing his or her preferences on others. This post is not the place to rehearse Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem and public-choice economics, but it is appropriate to point out that all proponents of industrial policy either completely ignore the realities of collective decision-making or brush them aside as minor considerations.