Power is not something that you take. Power is something that you have.

Arnold Kling writes

In an actual business, you are not given a demand curve and a cost function; instead, you grope. The internal alignment of an organization cannot be taken for granted; instead, a lot of time and effort goes into just trying to keep people focused on common goals. Day-to-day life in a organization is a soap opera, with individuals and departments often working at cross-purposes. No one, including the CEO, has full knowledge or control.

When I came to think of every organization is a dysfunctional family, it affected my mental model of markets and government. I don’t assume that organizational units know what they are doing. Instead, I ask: what institutional pressures exist that ensure that more effective units survive and less effective units disappear? That in turn leads me to be relatively pessimistic about government as an institution, because I see the tools of voice (elections and representative democracy) as less effective than the tools of exit (consumer choice, leading to profit and loss).

MIT’s contribution to producing technocrats was what it did not teach. It did not teach humility. It did not teach that the world is too complex for technocrats to control.

There is a lot here that I agree with, but I want to push back against the sentiment I suspect underlies the last sentence, in particular.

One cannot not govern. This is true on a meta-physical level. On a more practical level I would point out that even Lassize-Faire must be enforced at the point of a gun.

Violence exists. The government must chose how when and where to suppress violence and when to execute it. Even the choice to never suppress and never to execute is a choice with some set of real consequences.

As such the question is always: what is my best guess at the best use of my power. Humility proper plays no role in the question. You could believe yourself a fool. It does not make the question any less pressing or your decision any less consequential.

If you chose Laizze-Faire and you must chose, then you do so with the belief – well informed or not – that this is the best policy. If you are an idiot and you know you are an idiot then you do this knowing that this may very well be an idiotic choice. But, you must make some choice nonetheless.

To ground this a bit more, the choice of a free society over a totalitarian society is in no way a more humble choice on the part of the leadership.

In both cases your action or inaction will lead to some world. You must believe that this world is better than the world that would have arisen with a different action or inaction. The case for not acting cannot be that it is more humble, for it presumes consequences just as real as acting.

It must be that to not act is better.

Moreover, this is an argument that is not common sense in the cases we often bring up. That to refrain from restricting trade in goods is better than to restrict trade is not a common sense notion.

Therefore, not only is it not less humble on some fundamental, it is not even likely to be advocated by humble people. To think the masses are wrong and you are right requires a fair bit of arrogance.

Lastly, one cannot escape this even by rejecting patterned outcomes altogether. Here you are simply moving the problem to a meta-consequential level. However, you still must say that I believe that this theory of the good is superior to its alternatives, knowing that this choice has real consequences. Either the good will be enacted or it will not.

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