The Invisible Hand spurs development through the virtuous circle of specialization, learning by doing, and gains from trade. …William Easterly (2013). The Tyranny of Experts. Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor, p 254-255
(T)hese basic problems of economics are neglected in development today, starting with the idea beloved by Bill Gates, Jim Yong Kim, and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals: setting goals and then finding evidence-based ways to reach them.
This is not the way the “association of problem-solvers” solves problems. The decentralized system finds the cheapest solutions to problems, through market and democratic feedback from individuals. Which problems get solved – which goals get met – are among the many choices that emerge from this decentralized system. The problems that get solved are those where individuals perceive the highest benefits relative to the costs. In my household, the Millennium Development Goal on ratio of educational television to junk entertainment watched is not met. However, our Millennium Development Goal of a nonzero supply of toilet paper is always met.
William Vogt and Norman Borlaug are among the few who have some glimpse then [in 1946] of the magnitude of the tests that face our species today, as we mover ever closer to 2050, when the world will hold 10 billion souls. But our understanding of how to resolve them differs, as do their view on their causes.Charles C. Mann (2018). The Wizard and the Prophet, p 19.
Vogt sees the city [Mexico] reaching across the dry lake bed to engulf the last fields and streams and says: Hold it back! We cannot let our species overwhelm the natural systems on which we all depend! Borlaug sees the pitiful scrim of wheat and maize on the tract of land and says: How can we give people a better chance to thrive? Vogt wants to protect the land; Borlaug wants to equip its occupants.
Which is correct?
The world is gradually awakening to the fact of its own improvability. Political economy is no longer the “dismal science”, teaching that starvation wages are inevitable from the Malthusian growth of population, but is now seriously and hopefully grappling with the problems of abolition of poverty.Irving Fisher (1925). Our Unstable Dollar and the So-Called Business Cycle.
The by-product of individuals acting predictably in accordance with their economic interests was therefore not an uneasy balance, but a strong web of interdependent relationships. Thus it was expected that expansion of domestic trade would create more cohesive communities while foreign trade would help avoid wars between them.Albert Hirschman (1977). The Passions and the Interests. Political Arguments for Capitalism before its Triumph, p 51-52.
Since power needs the latent presence of chaos as a source of legitimacy, then chaos itself is legitimized and, ironically, may even be celebrated. When Russia actively pursues the destabilization of countries such as Ukraine, this is partially in order to appeal to a rather crude hierarchy of power, between those states that can create order within their borders and those that fail at this basic task. … (S)ince disorder is created from Moscow, order can only be re-stablished from Moscow.Bruno Maçães (2018). The Dawn of Eurasia. On the Trail of the New World Order, p 195
The model for relations between Brussels and Moscow adopted soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union seemed to assume that Russia would gradually converge towards European norms and values. It did not happen. For the Russian leadership the Europeanization of Russia had a very different meaning: the creation of a ‘common European home’, to be built anew and with equal contributions from both sides. …Bruno Maçães (2018). The Dawn of Eurasia. On the Trail of the New World Order, p 193-194
Russia does not want to replace the liberal world order with a world without rules, but it does believe that such a world is the natural state of mankind and, therefore, that chaos is only to be avoided by the creative exercise of power by a strong sovereign. This is the case for international affairs no less than for domestic politics.
We have now run over the three fundamental laws of nature, that of the stability of possession, of its transference by consent, and of the performance of promises. ’Tis on the strict observance of those three laws, that the peace and security of human society entirely depend; nor is there any possibility of establishing a good correspondence among men, where these are neglected.David Hume (1739). A Treatise of Human Nature, Book III, Part II, Section VI
If you want to combat error, critique your in-group. You speak their language and they trust you, so you might persuade someone.Bryan Caplan (2022). Twitter
If you want to raise your status, critique your out-group. They won’t listen, but your in-group will love it.
The world is not so governed from above that private and social interest always coincide. It is not so managed here below that in practice they coincide. It is not a correct deduction from the Principles of Economics that enlightened self-interest always operates in the public interest. Nor is it true that self-interest generally is enlightened; more often individuals acting separately to promote their own ends are too ignorant or too weak to attain even these. Experience does not show that individuals, when they make up a social unit, are always less clear-sighted than when they act separately.John Maynard Keynes (1926). The End of Laissez-Faire.
Don’t trust people who want to tell everyone for free that they know the “right” technology mix for the future. If they really knew, they could make a fortune. Why would they give away that knowledge to everyone else for free?Bruno Prior (2022). When market failure attracts rent-seekers, Institute of Economic Affiars blog
Our society will always remain an unstable and explosive compound as long as political power is vested in the masses and economic power in the classes. In the end one of these powers will rule. Either the plutocracy will buy up the democracy or the democracy will vote away the plutocracy. In the meantime the corrupt politician will thrive as a concealed broker between the two.Irving Fisher (1919). Economists in Public Service: Annual Address of the President, American Economic Review
The desire to put mankind into the saddle is the mainspring of most economic study.Alfred Marshall (1903). Speech to the Cambridge University Senate.
For most economic decisions, people do still make better choices when the stakes are higher — but this isn’t a universal principle. Are you so sure, for example, that decisions about who to marry are made more rationally than those about which TV show to watch? Maybe they are, but it’s not entirely obvious.Tyler Cowen (2021). Covid Showed That We’re Bad at Big Decisions. Bloomberg.
Effective Altruists know that before you can make the world a better place, you must first figure out how to make the world a better place. This in turn requires you to prioritize the world’s problems – and calmly assess how much human action can remedy each of them. Social justice activists imagine that these questions are easy – and as a result their movement has become one of the world’s major problems. Probably like the twentieth-worst problem on Earth, but still.Brian Caplan (2021). The Good Group
If the market is genuinely perceived as an open-ended nondetermined evolutionary process in which the essential driving force is human choice, any insinuation, however subtle of a ‘telos’ [goal] toward which this process can be predicted to move must be inherently misleading.James Buchanan and Viktor Vanberg (1991). The Market as a Creative Process, Economics And Philosophy, 7, p 180