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

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”     Adam Smith

January 2, 2009

You should want what I want

by Quincy

…or “The Basic Fallacy of all Leftist Economics”

The political left throughout the world loves to proclaim its eternal devotion to diversity. They like diverse schools, diverse workplaces, diverse TV shows, diverse music, and on and on. It turns out, though, that this love of diversity is only skin deep. That is, the skin of the faces of the people they see as diverse. When it comes to economic choices, the left invariably believes that choices can and should be made by the intelligent elite for the good of everyone.

How could a group so concerned with diversity believe that the intelligent elite should make economic decisions for millions of people with diverse wants and needs? It’s a good question. Let’s start with looking at the left’s claim to being a reality-based ideology. Here’s Ron Suskind revealing the term for the first time:

The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism.

“Enlightenment principles and empiricism,” did you hear that? The reality-based community believes that solutions can be arrived at through these principles alone. They ignore a key idea, though:

Logic can only produce a true conclusion when all the premises are known and true.

Most economic and social problems the government tries to solve are so complex they cannot be understood by a single person in their entirety. Therefore, a community of reality-based thinkers who propose solutions based “only on their judicious study of discernible reality” are not reality-based at all.

The problem is that the left, when making economic decisions in reality-based mode, never has complete information. Yet, from their perspective, they understand the problem completely. How? They fill in the missing information by assuming all people should want the same things.

This assumption manifests a couple of ways. The first is the simple, unthinking way in which a person reflexively assumes that other people wants what he wants. This bears a striking resemblance to the way we teach children to be sympathetic to others. We ask them, “How would you like that if someone did it to you?” Slipping into this mode of thought when trying to understand an economic problem is forgivable, as it simply a sign of immature thought.

The second manifestation, though, is unforgivable. It is the idea that all people should want a certain thing, even if their personal needs and desires are different. To someone in this mindset, wanting something different than what should be wanted is a sign of inferiority that can’t be tolerated. This idea is at the heart of leftist policy.

Look at the list of things banned because you shouldn’t want them (from reason.tv):

Now, the left tries to cover these bans with appeals to the public good or health and safety, but really they just don’t want you to have cigarettes, trans fats, internet poker, bacon dogs, incandescent light bulbs, aluminum baseball bats, etc. because they think you shouldn’t want them in the first place.

It works the other direction, too. The left thinks that everyone wants certain things from their health insurance, and so mandates them with the force of law. Thanks, but being a single guy, I really don’t want to pay for an OB/GYN benefit. Too bad, I should want it, therefore I get it no matter what.

It’s the same thing with prescription drugs. There’s only one valid risk-reward calculation in this country, the FDA’s. It doesn’t matter if a person is dying of cancer and is willing to take a chance most would find unreasonable. The left has determined that you should only take the chances they think are good for you, therefore all you can do is die.

The truth is we all have different wants and needs based on our situation in life and our personal preferences and that it is impossible for government decision makers to know these. An ideology that truly respects diversity would be in favor of free markets where diverse people can have their diverse needs met to their satisfaction. Instead, when confronted with this real diversity, all the leftist can say is, “you should want what I want.”

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6 Comments

  1. Terrific post, but you might want to correct the second to the last paragraph. In fact, the FDA does care if someone is dying of cancer or other life-threatening conditions and has a system called Investigational New Drugs for experimental drugs, including emergency use:
    http://www.fda.gov/cder/Regulatory/applications/ind_page_1.htm

    Comment by Sandy — January 2, 2009 @ 9:06 pm
  2. Excellent post.

    When speaking with my left-leaning friends, they often profess what I assume to be an authentic concern for the downtrodden and “exploited”. When I ask what they recommend to address their concerns, they invariably respond with a list of what we should do, what we should prohibit, and what we can allow. This demonstrates to me the kind of collective thinking that fuels the perspective you write about. “We” always ends up being defined as their perception of a monolithic bloc of same-thinking countrymen.

    “We” have enough resources to feed the “poor” and treat the sick. We = everyone who will obviously make the same decisions as I would. Resources = personal effort and property created by anyone and everyone which may be rightfully seized in service to those decisions.

    In order to implement corrective measures to what they see as inequities, deviations, over-achievement, and inability, they inevitably look to government-sponsored coercive remedies. “We” will make them make the right choices.

    I find it interesting that my friends who express the most concern for the downtrodden seem to have the least respect for any personal, non-violent choices that the object of their beneficence might make – particularly if the choice isn’t what the benefactor would choose.

    Comment by Akston — January 2, 2009 @ 9:41 pm
  3. It works the other direction, too. The left thinks that everyone wants certain things from their health insurance, and so mandates them with the force of law. Thanks, but being a single guy, I really don’t want to pay for an OB/GYN benefit. Too bad, I should want it, therefore I get it no matter what.

    Well, that’s not exactly what they’re claiming. They’re not saying you should want it. They’re saying that you, as a young healthy single guy, shouldn’t be risk-pooled with only other young healthy single guys because that makes it harder for high-risk people to get the coverage at low rates you would qualify for.

    Simply put, insurance is risk-pooling. They don’t think you should want OB/GYN coverage, they just think you should pay for it. After all, it’s not fair that a uterus-free person like yourself should get a “free pass” and not pay your “fair share” for your fellow [wo]man’s healthcare.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — January 2, 2009 @ 9:50 pm
  4. Sandy –

    I won’t correct the second to last paragraph because there’s nothing to correct. The existence of the program you cite does nothing to change the fact that a person is not allowed to be more tolerant of risk than the FDA.

    If one applies for an emergency exception because he’s dying and it’s denied, the only legal option he has is to die. He is banned by the law from using his own judgment. The point stands.

    Brad –

    The OB/GYN thing was an indirect (perhaps too indirect) slam on the shallow nature of this mindset. I get the whole insurance thing quite well since I’ve spent two years designing and testing underwriting software, but the reality is that it reflects the idea that all people want a certain kind of health insurance.

    My personal preference for health insurance is presently illegal. It’s what I call a pay-per-incident plan. Something happens to one’s health, and he gets a lump-sum payment based on the cost of treatment. That’s my preference, but since the government says I should want something else, I’m stuck with what they allow.

    Comment by Quincy — January 3, 2009 @ 12:26 am
  5. Quincy and Akston,

    The left doesn’t have a monopoly on that kind of thinking (of what “we” should do, or that “you should want what I want”). A lot on the right – especially the religious right – suffer from the same malady, such as when they are decreeing that “we” should mandate via constitutional amendment that marriage is between a man and a woman, or that “we” should require prayer in schools.

    Just wanted to point out its not a failing limited to just one side of the spectrum…it just takes a different form.

    Comment by SC — January 7, 2009 @ 9:08 pm
  6. SC –

    In other areas of life, right-wingers are just as bad, or worse. This post was largely confined to economics, and the title is the core of what makes leftist economics fail time and again.

    Also, it’s worth noting that many social conservatives (especially of the “compassionate” sort) are economic leftists. Bush, Buchanan, and Schwarzenegger, for starters.

    Comment by Quincy — January 7, 2009 @ 11:04 pm

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