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Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 13 of the late Gerald Gaus’s 2021 book, The Open Society and Its Complexities (footnote deleted):

In different ways, Hayek’s theses reiterate a single point: the diverse, complex, Open Society has evolved to the point where it has outstripped basic human inclinations and capacities. The first thesis argues that it is fundamentally at odds with our deepest moral intuitions; the second that it has outstripped our capacity to understand the function and justification of its constitutive rules; and the third that it has evolved beyond our governance. Because of the first, we are constantly tempted to morally renounce it and, on moralistic grounds, construct barriers to it. Because of the second, our attempts to reflect and reconstruct its rules lead to constant and unrelenting moral conflict; we seek to justify, and so present a series of justificatory schemes and criticisms of its basic moral structure. Yet we do not really understand how it works or what it does for us. And we seek to devise policies to improve its function, yet again we do not have the knowledge to competently do so, hence we are constantly disappointed by the last round of interventions and we blame the last government for its failures and broken promises. Perhaps, as seems to have happened today (as it has in the past), the people begin to distrust all claims to expertise and seek simpler, more intuitive, solutions.

DBx: Yes.

Our minds are not, and will never be, capable of gaining more than a sliver of knowledge of the practical details that are essential for the operation of modern social institutions – including, especially, of the economy that generates modern prosperity. Nor are our minds prone to accept the reality of this limitation. Arrogantly thinking that we know more – or can know more – than we can possibly know, we frequently misinterpret reality; we frequently mistake the results of inescapable trade-offs as being ‘failures’ or ‘imperfections’ that we, with our god-like minds, can and should ‘correct.’

The inevitable real failures of all such hubris-fueled interventions – interventions often endorsed and guided by so-called ‘experts’ – then creates unwarranted distrust of all expertise. Expertise is genuine, but genuine expertise exists only for minuscule sections of reality. Pediatric gastroenterologists are expert in diagnosing and treating the digestive ailments of children; HVAC technicians are expert in installing and repairing HVAC systems; taxi drivers in Tucson are expert in driving passengers to and fro in the greater Tuscon area; vintners in Napa Valley are expert in producing wine from grapes grown in that region; columnists for the Wall Street Journal are expert in writing columns that are enjoyed by readers of that newspaper, while columnists for the Nation are expert in writing pieces that are enjoyed by readers of that magazine; politicians are expert at winning the popularity contests called “elections” and, if they win enough of these contests, become expert also in how to use the legislative process to extract ever-more favors for themselves.

But no one is, or can ever be, expert in redesigning or ‘resetting’ an economy (and, much less, redesigning or resetting the larger society). No one is, or can ever be, expert in repatriating supply-chains webs in ways that actually increase the economic prosperity and security of fellow citizens. No one is, or can ever be, expert in making society more diverse, equitable, and inclusive in a way that actually achieves greater harmony, social cooperation, and justice. No one is, or can ever be, expert in doing any of the many aspirational schemes that daily pour forth from the mouths of professors, pundits, and politicians – mouths attached to brains the ignorance of which is matched only by their arrogance.


Pictured above is Gerry Gaus (1952-2020). He was a brilliant political philosopher.