THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 380, August 13, 2006
"When you let people do whatever they want, you get Woodstock.
When you let governments do whatever they want, you get Auschwitz."
Self-Esteem and Hubris
Credit The Libertarian Enterprise
Last week I wrote about individualism, inspired by the commentary of The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek, as opposed to the centralized planning culture of statists. Those of us who are libertarians are necessarily individualists, simply because we do not believe that having some people force others to do things against their will is a good idea, much less a moral one.
So why is it that some people feel that this is the proper way to run things? From my observations and reading, I think it is because these particular (and warped) people have too much unwarranted self-esteem. I know that the whole concept of self-esteem has become something of a cult in the United States in recent years, as well as in other parts of the Western world. It's nice to feel good about yourself, if you have earned that feeling. But it does not follow that someone can be made to feel good artificially by undeservedly raising that person's self-esteem. It is an artificial and short-lived high; as soon as the person realizes that his self-esteem was not self-earned, he feels worse than before.
This has been noted before, and often. But the flip side of this equation is that the person who was trying to instill the artificial self-esteem in the person who had done nothing to earn it will also feel the frustration! All that effort for naught! What to do?
Well, an individualist would examine his or her assumptions and actions, then make revisions to each and try something else. But not our planner-type person. He is secure in his "inner knowledge" that he is so intelligent and educated, so inspired and visionary, that his plan just had to be the right one; something must have interfered with it. Either there was insufficient funding, or the people carrying out the plan were less than competent, or the person on the receiving end of the plan was being obstinate. Or (cue the dramatic music) there was interference by evil people (fill in the "group" of your choice) that were sabotaging his efforts.
(Much of this idea was expounded at length, and quite well, in The Vision of the Anointed by Thomas Sowell. However, while he hit the pathology of the "anointed" type spot on, he focused exclusively on the leftist variety of this type. I aver that the right wing has plenty of "anointed" that want to bless us great unwashed with their learned wisdom and moral rectitude. Pfah! To all of them.)
So, if these planner-types think so much of themselves, why is it that they feel the need to push others around? In some cases, they seem, from their public statements, to feel a duty to help those less well-endowed than they to better run their lives. Even if they truly felt that way, though, they do not have the right to forcibly interfere with other people's lives. (If someone voluntarily asks for such help, that's okay. Even Tony Robbins and his ilk need to make a living.) The other main reason I have observed for wanting wield the power to plan things is that some of these people have a vision for the group, from the local school board to the United States (or even the United Nations), and that vision Must Be Realized!
Well, is that so bad? Don't libertarians have a vision? Don't we all, each in our own ways, work for a society free from initiated force? Of course, that is the point. We use reason, debate, cajolery, example, and a thousand other means of trying to convince non-libertarians of the virtue of our position in this regard. The planners don't bother to ask for agreement or consensus, much less Unanimous Consent. (Or, at least, not more than once, to show their reasonableness. <Sarcasm>) They like to use phrases such as, "leaders lead." They like to pretend that their intelligence and education exempt them from accountability, as when their planning results in brown spots downwind of the fan.
Actually, many of these people are quite intelligent. The problem seems to stem from their lack of perspective, humility or whatever. They actually seem to believe that they are so smart that they can create plans that take into account all the variables of human behavior (which they seem not to understand at all) and economics (ditto). They mostly seem uncomfortable with math, often throwing around extemporaneous figures and statistics which, upon independent review, turn out to be in error or downright impossible. Experience with this sort of planning has given us the Law of Unintended Consequences, as the people being planned upon alter their behavior to take advantage of the new rules. Results like this do not sit well with the planners, as we sheep are supposed to allow ourselves to be herded along by the wise and kindly shepherds. So they promulgate even more plans and rules, which are more and more oppressive. Again, the question is why?
Well, hubris is certainly part of the explanation. Their self-esteem is so high that they believe themselves capable of any task to which they apply their superior intellect. But along with this, some research seems to indicate that there is a connection between inflated self-esteem and some forms of bullying and related violent behavior (see [this link]). While most of the planner types do not engage in overtly, personally violent behavior, their insistence that the rest of us follow their plans under threat of prosecution or persecution (sometimes hard to distinguish in today's "legal" environment) seems a lot like bullying to me. In other words, they delegate the initiation of force to people like the amoral thugs mentioned last week that rise to the top of "planning" organizations when those with scruples quit rather than perform some task they balk at executing.
It is hubris to think one can assess, in an accurate and timely manner, all the variables that generally take (at least) thousands of people, acting in a market economy, to successfully cope with. To put oneself above people with years or decades of experience, who are on-site in many different places with different situations, is the height of folly. Planning in this sense is like predicting where an individual snowflake leaving a cloud will touch land. Yet there are many people, despite many examples of past failures, who believe they can! Some things, like raising the minimum wage, are mostly politics, and not really planning in this sense. But changing the tax laws, or election laws, or "regulating" the economy and expecting to be able to predict the results (using static, not dynamic, modeling) is insane. And probably stupid and evil, too.
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