Milton Friedman vs. The Philosopher Kings
Arnold Kling has a piece at TCS Daily about the two different approaches that exist to dealing with problems that arise in the world:
One solution, that might be traced to the expression “philosopher-king” associated with Plato, is to hand the reins of government to the best and the brightest. Since the late 19th-century, the Progressive Movement in American politics has championed this approach. The Progressive vision, which DeLong embraces, is to channel brains and technical know-how through government in order to improve people’s lives. One hundred years ago, they sought to prohibit alcohol. Today, they are going after trans fats. One hundred years ago, they favored eugenics, based on the then-new science of evolution. Today, they embrace anti-growth economic policies, based on the contemporary science of happiness. Indeed, we get headlines like ‘Tories promise to make happiness a priority‘.
The other way to avoid having our lives run by idiots is to limit the power that others have over us. This is the approach that was embedded in our Constitution, before it was eviscerated by the Progressives. It is the approach for which Milton Friedman was a passionate advocate.
Friedman’s insight is that a market limits the power that others have over us; conversely, limiting the power that others have over us allows us to have markets. Friedman argued that no matter how wise the officials of government may be, market competition does a better job of protecting us from idiots.
It scarcely matters which side of the politcal aisle you look at. Today, both Republicans and Democrats both clearly identify more with the idea of the philospher-king than they do with the idea that the market, made up as it is of the choices of millions of people acting in their own self-interest does a far better job of allocating resources and reaching the best result possible than any philosopher king could ever hope to do.