Ideas not Diktats

My post yesterday on central planning has an important implication, one which I suspect some of you, dear readers, may not like: free markets will not be advanced through the ballot box.  Voting is, generally speaking, an exercise in futility.  It’s not just because the odds of your vote changing anything is virtually zero, for from a cost-benefit viewpoint voting is irrational.  It’s that, without a change in culture, no free market legislation will survive long term.

Take, for example, this article written in EconLog today by Emily Skarbek.  She tells us the story of Richard Nixon’s price controls in the 70’s.  Nixon knows the costs of price controls.  Knowledge of the politician is not in question here.  But he goes ahead with the scheme anyway for “pragmatic” reasons (to use his term).  Nixon knew if he took a stand and refused price controls, his political career would be in danger, so he submitted to the general culture, despite his principles and knowledge of price controls.  If he had refused, he may have lost the following election and the controls implemented anyway.

That is why I, along with so many of my laissez-faire brethren, focus our attention on changing the climate of ideas rather than effect ballot-box changes.  Any effort at the ballot-box is doomed to fail until the general culture changes to become more freedom friendly.  Liberty cannot be sustained when imposed top-down; it must be grown bottom-up.

3 thoughts on “Ideas not Diktats

  1. Agreed! Voting is not the way to change the world. Education is. But, it will be incredibly difficult to educate everyone in economics. And, I think that, like Nixon, many people know better, but, also like Nixon, pursue their own self interest. I think this is true of all politicians, including Donald J. Trump.


  2. Indeed, and the war over ideas is absolutely essential, because there is a substantial part of the population that has an ingrained fear that the free market means ungoverned human passions, not much better that animals, running wild and destroying one another.

    To pull from Deirdre McCloskey’s Bourgeois Equality. “In [Adam] Smith’s time, and now again in the regulatory state, few believed that a masterless society would be possible. The haunting fear of governing elites supported by worried citizens stirred up by an anti-trade clerisy was then, as it still is, that ordinary people would do bad things if left alone. Unless overawed by the threat of state violence in police or planning or regulation, ordinary people, especially the lower classes, will spurn priests, stop paying their rents and taxes, not save enough for old age, kill each other, not buy enough insurance, speak against the government, appear with hair uncovered, refuse military service, drink to excess, commit unnatural acts, use naughty words, chew gum, smoke marihuana – committing in sum, as Bill Murray put it in Ghostbusters, ‘human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria.’ A progressive or a conservative program of heavy regulation is a first-night-in-Ferguson-Missouri notion of keeping order. It is the justification of all tyranny, hard or soft. ‘Women will go wild if not confined,’ the chieftain says, and then insists on burqas and honor killings.”


    • “. . . there is a substantial part of the population that has an ingrained fear that the free market means ungoverned human passions, not much better that animals, running wild and destroying one another.”

      That is the narrative that both progressives and conservatives use to persuade people of the need for government. And, to an extent, it is true. A very small minority would use violence to get their way, which is why government limited to providing police, courts, and national defense is necessary. It is all the other stuff that government does that it should not be doing. But, that is how political elites buy the support and votes of special interest groups.


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