Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Road to Hell

I read through Chapter 1 of "The Darwin Economy" the other night scribbling notes about numerous things I disagreed with. I thought his examples were contrived, one-dimensional or irrelevant. He claimed to dismantle the entire libertarian philosophy with three sentences, and he presented claims with very little supporting evidence. However, I recognize the purpose of an introduction is exactly that--to introduce the ideas and framework of the book. Because of that, I am only going to focus on a couple examples that really bothered me and then will hold off on further judgement until Frank expands his arguments. I am genuinely curious as to his justification for some of them and look forward to reading more on his perspective.

Helmets and Hockey

I'll accept his conclusion that wearing helmets is beneficial to all the players and so when competition results in all the players going helmet-less I'll admit this to be an undesirable outcome. However, I am not confident that this scenario would be true for all players and for all leagues everywhere. One-size all solutions rarely work out well for humans and this is one of the problems of government regulations. Those Who Legislate almost never have all the information required to make the proper decisions for all concerned. This is related to the famous ideas of economic calculation as developed by Mises and Hayek and is the reason for the failure of central economic planning.

Now, that's not to say that "planning" in and of itself is bad. It is certainly acceptable, in my opinion, for leagues to mandate helmet requirements if they choose to do so. When left in the hands of private individuals and organizations it becomes a private property issue and is easily resolved.

Expensive Suits

This seems to be the most contrived example (other than the animal ones which I am simply going to ignore). I understand the point he is trying to make, and may even agree that it is a problem in some situations. But, consider suits. Are they really the largest factor in obtaining a job? What about:

  • Confidence
  • Experience and qualifications
  • Political or personal connections
  • Firm handshakes
  • Luck
  • Good posture and good hygiene
Surely all of these play at least some part in a successful interview, with things like connections and job qualifications playing a larger role than the cost of your suit. Also, what about suits that are cheap but look expensive?

Finally, were I to be facetious, I could point out that an "arms race" in expensive suits might be a bad thing for the individuals up for the interview but beneficial to the economy as a whole. It certainly would be a Keynsian style stimulant to the suit industry. And furthermore, it seems likely that purchasing expensive suits would be putting money into the American economy as more expensive suits tend to be made in America while otherwise the money would likely have been spent on cheap Chinese or Vietnamese goods.

My point here in nit-picking apart this example is that I reject his assumption that situations like these where there is the potential for competition to degenerate into an "arms race" that is detrimental to all, doesn't mean that it will necessarily happen. The assumption that the potential for a negative outcome is a justification for government intervention is a bad one from my perspective.

Nuclear Materials

Finally, I want to take a quick look at something he said on page 2 when lamenting all the crucial government programs which were losing funds:

"Funding has been cut for programs to lock down poorly guarded nuclear material in the former Soviet Union."

How could anyone disagree with funding government programs that lock down nuclear material? Surely to do so would be un-American and possibly borderline suicidal. You never know what terrorist organization or country might get their hands on nuclear material.


The road to hell is paved with government intentions.


  1. Sam, with an attitude like that you are never going to get a job.

    I braced myself when he said he was going to dismantle Libertarianism and I am still waiting for it. I too felt he could have done more to develop his main points. Maybe that is what the other 11 chapters will do.

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  3. Garrett. You are already mistaken. I currently work (indirectly) for the government.

  4. I was not actually that dismayed by the first chapter. The author seems knowledgeable and has not displayed too many signs of ideology yet. I'm looking forward to the development of his arguments in future chapters.

    P.S. I have a theory about dramatic titles increasing the likelihood people will read my blog posts. This could be an exciting semester: