The Systematic Errors of the Man (and Woman) of System

I found this article by Don Boudreaux on July 12, 2017

in Adam Smith, Health, Man of System

In my latest Pittsburgh Tribune-Review column I join Adam Smith in denouncing the man (and woman) “of system”‘s pretensions and as well as that arrogant person’s unflattering view of ordinary people.  A slice:

In short, the “man of system” forgets that ordinary people are active, reasoning, creative individuals. They generally do not need government prodding to take actions that improve their lives. When they are so prodded, it is almost always to press them to take actions they would prefer to avoid. Conflict thus arises between ordinary people and those men (and women) “of system” who arrogantly fancy that they’re entitled to order others about.

Consider today’s brouhaha over repealing parts of ObamaCare, whose fans treat the typical American as a mindless, inert blob. If this American loses government health-insurance funding, he’s believed to have no ability or wish to find private insurance. And private insurers are believed to be so uninterested in his business that they refuse to make him attractive offers. The “man of system,” therefore, concludes that all individuals removed from Medicaid rolls are doomed to live the rest of their days not only without health insurance, but without health care itself. It’s a short step from there to the accusation that those who wish to scale back government’s role in the health-care market are little better than homicidal maniacs.

Of course, real people are not mindless, inert chess pieces whose only principle of motion is government’s guiding hand — or, more accurately, kicking foot. The awful irony, alas, is that when government treats people like witless chess pieces, too many of them do eventually lose the ability to think and act for themselves.

Professor Boudreaux’ full Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Article

A Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith (free PDF)

It continues to amaze me, the abject arrogance of many today who consider thinkers of prior generation invalid for today’s issues on the premise they couldn’t understand modern society. Our gadgets today may vastly exceed what they may have imagined possible. However, when one reads paragraphs such as these written many years ago, it cannot but expose the modern arrogance of presumption they we are so much smarter that our predecessors.

“The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false.” –Paul Johnson

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