Published on:

Only possible in a market economy

Don Boudreaux has a lovely essay in the Christian Science Monitor
(interest declaration: he mentions my book) in which he makes the
point people often miss about markets, that they encourage
diversity rather than one-size-fits-all solutions:

Contrast the multitude of different
market-generated and voluntarily adopted ideas with the ideas of
progressives – for example, progressives’ idea that
government must regulate the
content of foods.

Each of us can decide how much we
value, say,
juicy burgers and
double-dark chocolate ice cream compared to how much we value a
trim waistline and longer life expectancy. And each of us values
these benefits differently. The dietary choices that I make for
myself are right for me, but I cannot know if they are right for
anyone else. Progressives, in contrast, falsely assume there’s a
single correct metric, for the whole country, that determines for
everyone how to trade off the satisfaction of eating
tasty but fatty foods
for the benefit of being healthier.

It’s in this way that progressives’
ideas are indeed big and bold – for these ideas are about how
millions of other individuals should live their lives. In practice,
these are ideas about how one group of people (the politically
successful) should engineer everyone else’s contracts, social
relations, diets, and even moral sentiments.

I never cease to be astonished by the paternalist instincts of
most bien-pensant intellectuals on things like diet. This word
`progressive’ is problematic, though. I insist I am a progressive:
I think progress is a good thing, socially as well as economically.
But to most it seems to mean getting the state to do things. We’ve
been trying that since the Bronze Age and it keeps ending in
tyranny and stagnation.

By Matt Ridley | Tagged:  rational-optimist