Ralph Benko of thewebstersdictionary.com wrote a provocative piece in Forbes this week that shows some principles of political realities which too often are forgotten by both the left and the right.
Here are the two principles we at THE FREEDOMIST believe both the Left and the Right should keep in mind, be they leaders, activists, or participatory spectators:
1. Your adversaries are almost never completely wrong, are almost never completely evil, or ‘misguided’. While the tactic of being unequivocal and unwavering about the ‘wrong’, ‘evil’ or ‘misguided’ aspects of your adversary is an effective way to clearly define your adversary in a political battle (see Alinksy), it does not speak to the full reality of human nature. When coming to the table to actually work out political differences, even ideological ones, it would help our leaders, and even our rank-and-file members of the political battleground to keep this principle in mind. It is almost never ‘all or nothing’.
2. The collected intelligence of a people will surpass the brilliance of one individual- This principle should be written in stone for any would-be leader in any capacity. For conservatives, it helps to remember this principle lest you develop an elitist narrative focused on the ‘enlightened’ political operatives that have the time, resources, and luxury to focus their awfully big brains in ‘directing’ the little people to political action (like the politicos still trying to rule the Tea Party movement from a small room occupied by a few ‘enlightened’ Washington Elites). For progressives it is an earth-shattering principle that goes against the hopes and dreams of true ideological progressives who believe in the social engineering power of gifted, well-educated elites to plan the ever-progressing lives of the hoi poloi, always moving towards progressive utopia, a world of efficiency and fairness where everyone is an enthusiastic member of the collective that follows the wise engineering plans of the big-brained thinkers thousands of miles away from their homes, their farms, their schools, etc.
But Ralph says it better than we do:
Financier George Soros has contributed $50 million to the Institute for New Economic Thinking. Its work reached an inflection point last weekend when hundreds of the economic policy elite gathered in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. Bretton Woods is where the world leaders met and constituted a post-war world monetary order. This choice reflected the aspiration to bring order out of what clearly is monetary policy anarchy.
It is easy to disparage Soros for grandiosity. In The Alchemy of Finance, he wrote: “To put it bluntly, I fancied myself as some kind of god or an economic reformer like Keynes…. As I made my way in the world, reality came close enough to my fantasy to allow me to admit my secret, at least to myself.”
But disparagement is cheap. Whatever passionate opposition some of Soros’s prescriptions have drawn, including from this writer, he generously contributed billions of dollars to helping the people of Eastern Europe make the successful transition from totalitarian communism to free markets and democracy.
There is poignancy to a man who fancies himself as “some kind of god” in a world where godlike management of the world so demonstrably fails. While the gods congregate in New Olympuses like Davos the real action has returned to … us mortals.
The Institute for New Economic Thinking presents itself as befuddled. In its “Why INET?” it states, “Regulators are fallible and market participants frequently fall below the standard of being perfectly rational.”
It seems to come as some kind of revelation to the godlike that to err is human. Where, then to turn? Early reports from Bretton Woods II seem to indicate a kind of intellectual paralysis.
Even the candid reports of some in attendance, such as the young, restless (and good looking) economist Tiago Mata, hints at paralysis:
“…every time I hear the words “history repeats”, I blurt out Marx (Karl not Groucho):
Hegel says somewhere that all great historic facts and personages recur twice. He forgot to add: “Once as tragedy, and again as farce.”
“… Lack of sleep and high altitude are pressing me to a brutish mood, a Hunter Thompson fiendishness, fear and loathing state of mind. And I start howling for tragedy.”
It took courage for Mata to indict, if only implicitly, Bretton Woods II as farce and to Soros’s real credit courage to give her space to do so.
Early reports suggest that the most commonly recurring authority there cited is Lord Keynes. Notwithstanding elite obliviousness there is a growing consensus around a new way of looking at things. The evidence is that this new way holds great promise. This new way begins to dawn among certain elite thinkers while manifesting with we rank-and-file populace in the Tea Party Patriots and MoveOn.org (which was never materially funded by George Soros and, in its culture, represents an antithesis of elitism).
Rather than State-controlled or Big Business-controlled economies … why not look to the people? On February 7, 2000, The New Yorker’s John Cassidy wrote in a piece both brilliantly insightful and rigorously honest, “The Price Prophet,” that “It is hardly an exaggeration to refer to the twentieth century as the Hayek century.”
Not Keynes. Hayek.
Cassidy encapsulates the core insight of Hayek as follows. “This view of capitalism as a spontaneous information-processing machine—a ‘telecommunications system’ was how Hayek referred to it—was one of the great insights of the century. It may have been implicit in the work of some previous economists, notably Adam Smith, but Hayek was the first to spell it out. Even left-wing economists, who regarded capitalism primarily as a system of social exploitation, were eventually forced to concede the acuity of Hayek’s analysis….”
James Surowiecki presents a similar thesis. Surowiecki wrote a best seller entitled The Wisdom of Crowds. It’s a populist classic. It is populist not in the “torch and pitchfork” sense. It is populist in presenting evidence of the truth of the old maxim that “All of us are smarter than any of us.”
Surowiecki summarizes a lot of experiments in what is known as “group intelligence.” These show that collectively we are much more likely to get things right than even the smartest among us consistently do. Probably the most iconic of these experiments is the “jelly bean jar.”
“A classic demonstration of group intelligence is the jelly-beans-in-the-jar experiment, in which invariably the group’s estimate is superior to the vast majority of the individual guesses. When finance professor Jack Treynor ran the experiment in his class with a jar that held 850 beans, the group estimate was 871. Only one of the fifty-six people in the class made a better guess. …
“[T]he group’s guess will not be better than that of every single person in the group each time. In many (perhaps most) cases, there will be a few people who do better than the group. … But there is no evidence in these studies that certain people consistently outperform the group.”
The call to rediscover Hayek anew in no way disparages Lord Keynes. Keynes, upon reading The Road to Serfdom, wrote to Hayek: “In my opinion it is a grand book … Morally and philosophically I find myself in agreement with virtually the whole of it: and not only in agreement with it, but in deeply moved agreement.” After Keynes’s death, Hayek wrote, “He was the one really great man I ever knew, and for whom I had unbounded admiration.”
Their friendship, and dispute, recently went viral with an award-winning rap anthem entitled Fear the Boom and Bust created by John Papola and Russ Roberts.
Keynes wrote: “Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.“ Keynes, himself no Keynesian, would be dismayed to discover himself to be the defunct economist enslaving practical men.
In search of fruitful new directions we need look no further than Hayek and, of course, his colleague Mises. Mr. Soros: It is the twilight of the gods.
Notwithstanding Tiago Mata’s howl it need not be tragic. Embrace the possibility that we mere mortals, not gods, are fit to direct our own destiny.
Inscribed in the Statue of Liberty: “Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame… A mighty woman with a torch, whose fame is the imprisoned lightning, and her name is Mother of Exiles.” Mr. Soros, meet your mother, America, and your siblings, the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”