David Brooks column “Benthan vs Hume” is an excellent exploration of those who believe the role of the government is to have really smart experts micromanage every aspect of our society vs those who believe the role of the government is to outline broad social goals, implement broad incentives around those goals and trust that good solutions will arise from the creativity and innovation engendered by a free society and a free economy.
This is the fundamental debate now playing out regarding the role of government in our society. I explored it here earlier in “Free Markets vs Intervention” and “Favoring Corporate Interests or Free Markets?”.
The debate really reflects a question of respect of the governed by those who seem to actually believe that they and their few elite friends are so much smarter than everyone else that they need to micromanage a nanny state to take care of the rest of us and keep us under control.
Brooks points out the ultimate reason that the “Bethams” that favor elitism will continue to win in Congress. Lobbyists and those they represent depend on government dictates and hand outs which assure predetermined success and reward those who lobby rather than innovate. And congress depends on the lobbyist’s campaign contributions and other favors. It’s a perfectly symbiotic relationship that feeds the huge egos of those arrogant enough to believe that they actually are smarter than the collected inspiration of the free economy which has created the phenomenal wealth and innovation we all enjoy as a society.
In his response to Brooks editorial, “The Doers vs The Thinkers”, David Harsanyi clarifies the difference in world view between the brilliant policy wonks (Mr Hoover) with their academic pedigrees and those with the actual experience of starting businesses, taking risks, making investments, and creating jobs and real value for the world (Jim) – those who control the economy vs those who actually create the economy. Unfortunately he comes to the same conclusion as Brooks – the “Bethans” or “Thinkers” of the world will always continue to win until the entire system collapses from the cumulative weight of their unfounded and counterproductive egotistical ideas. As Harsanyi summarizes before confirming Brooks summary regarding the role of lobbyists:
Yes, this debate pits the theoreticians against the doers, but it is largely a fight between the state and the individual.
So let’s have the debate. But before we do, let’s understand that Mr. Hoover is going to win. Mr. Hoover always wins. He takes no real risk. If he can’t convince us, he has the power to bribe, print money, “compel” citizens, bully and monopolize the process. It’s no more complicated than that.
While Brooks suggests it may be otherwise, it really is a question of crony corporate socialism vs free enterprise. In the end, if we want an innovative society and opportunity for everyone, it doesn’t matter how smart the folks are managing what Brink Lindsey described as the dead hand of government. Until we get the power of arrogant egos and the lobbyists who support them under control, our freedom will continue to erode and our economy will continue to decline.