… is from page 30 of the original edition of Walter Lippmann’s sometimes flawed but deeply insightful and still-important 1937 book, The Good Society:
The thinker, as he sits in his study drawing his plans for the direction of society, will do no thinking if his breakfast has not been produced for him by a social process which is beyond his detailed comprehension. He knows that his breakfast depends upon workers on the coffee plantations of Brazil, the citrus groves of Florida, the sugar fields of Cuba, the wheat farms of the Dakotas, the dairies of New York; that it has been assembled by ships, railroads, and trucks,, has been cooked with coal from Pennsylvania in utensils made of aluminum, china, steel, and glass. But the intricacy of one breakfast, if every process that brought it to the table had deliberately to be planned, would be beyond the understanding of any mind. Only because he can count upon an infinitely complex system of working routines can a man eat his breakfast and then think about a new social order.
DBx: Yes! This profound truth has been recognized, and its implications understood, by scholars from at least the time of Adam Smith through Leonard Read, Milton Friedman, Thomas Sowell, Russ Roberts, and even lesser thinkers.
No one who grasps this all-important reality of the unfathomable complexity of the modern market economy can avoid exasperation whenever he or she encounters some professor, pundit, or politician presenting a scheme to improve economic performance by turning over a significant chunk of the responsibility for resource allocation to government officials. I suspect that the exasperation is much like what would be experienced by a competent biologist who encounters a proposal to tweak the human genome in order to produce men and women who can fly like falcons by flapping their feet. While the wondrousness of such an outcome might be indisputable, not only the lunacy, but – worse – the danger, of the scheme are what stand out.