Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Higher Ignorance

It is quite normal to hear people- not in the corner of the saloon bar, but on some public forum, presented to the public by the government or the media as an expert in whatever material is being discussed, people with academic titles or professional prestige- making, in all seriousness, suggestions that show they do not have the faintest idea how government, societies or individual human beings actually function. Often it is about the operation of economic activity, about which people make the most spectacularly wrong assumptions, failing utterly to understand what trade is, and what a market is, and what can and, most importantly, cannot be done to them. Particularly, if you stop people trading, they starve. That means you and me, not Microsoft, or Big Pharma, or the chairman of Citigroup. We know this is true not because some elaborate theoretical edifice has been constructed which says it must be so, but because that little experiment has been tried and is still being tried in many parts of the world- nearly all of them at one time or another- and the results are unambiguous. It takes a particularly staggering kind of, obtuseness, or evil-minded stupidity, to fail to notice the murder, starvation, repression, poverty and general misery of hundreds of millions of people, but a lot of people manage it.

And why do they think Bill Gates founded Microsoft? It wasn’t so could have communication of a scale and comfort unimaginable only twenty years ago; it was so he could get stinking rich. But if he hadn’t been able to get stinking rich you would not now be reading this. That is the simple truth. The way to make a thousand people better off is not to stop one of them from getting filthy rich. What got us all of these comforts we like to think we have a right to be given for nothing was greed, someone else’s greed. And if you don’t like it you can go back to living in a cave, or shrug your shoulders and get on with life. What you cannot do is propose that we define the laws of nature, the absolute truths of man and the universe, to be other than what they are. It doesn’t work. The universe is not listening. But a lot of mediocre intellects make a good living by making sure not too many people notice this.

This chap says things like this quite regularly. He does it rather better than me, too, partly because he can stick to the point.

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