Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

January 29, 2007

Milton Friedman vs. The Philosopher Kings

by Doug Mataconis

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.

Related Posts:

Milton Friedman: An Appreciation
Milton Friedman: The Power Of Choice

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  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/2006/11/22/comrades-i-hereby-declare-the-revolution/ Adam Selene

    Have you ever noticed that the “best and brightest”, the philosopher-king, is always the person that champions some way to regulate my life? They don’t envision that some other person would be doing the regulating for their own good. Indeed, when the outcome inevitably occurs, that someone they don’t like is regulating them, they bitterly complain about the person (Republicans and Bill Clinton, Dems and George W. Bush) rather than seeing the philosopher-king approach as the problem.

    Our friend, Leigh Sutherland, in our latest healthcare thread is cut from that mold. The question, of course, is what happens when you don’t have a genius to run the regulations and make sure it all comes out best?

  • http://unrepentantindividual.com/ Brad Warbiany

    Adam,

    There are often “best and brightest” who don’t offer ways to regulate your life. However, the vast unwashed masses, who have been spoonfed the religion of government by the public education system, are the problem. They’re voting for the ones who offer ways to regulate your life. The ones who don’t offer bread and circuses don’t get elected.

  • http://www.dedoc.net De Doc

    Brad: I beg to demur.

    There are the best, the brightest; and then there are the “best and the brightest”. The former know what they know, and what they don’t; that tends to lead to prudent silences. The latter, secure in their self-exaltation, do exactly as Adam suggests.

    Never did have much truck with Plato. Never

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