Economic Nonsense: 26. People lack the knowledge and ability to serve their own interests


There is an implicit assumption behind this claim that someone else does have the knowledge and ability to serve people's interests better than they can do so themselves. This is dubious, to say the least. People know more about their own character, about their circumstances and priorities and the things that they value. They also care more, for the most part, than others do. It is true that people are sometimes ignorant of such things as the consequences of their lifestyle choices, but information is freely available in the media. Scarcely a day passes without news items about the various types of food we eat or the benefits of moderate exercise. In newspapers and on TV, radio and the internet, there are stories about diet and drinking, smoking and exercise. People can pay attention to this information if they wish.

Even on more complicated issues such as pensions land life assurance, there is help available from commentators explaining the different options and giving advice. No-one is on their own on such matters because assistance and explanation are freely available from widespread sources.

Sometimes people make choices for short-term gratification at the expense of greater gain in the longer term. In a free country they are allowed to do this. It is possible that some people lack the willpower to sacrifice present comfort for future rewards. This does not give anyone else the authority to take the decisions out of their hands.

Middle class people have notably longer time horizons than their working class counterparts, meaning they are more ready to do things now that will benefit them in the future. They have different priorities, but nothing in this gives them the right to impose their priorities on others. When people make their own decisions about what they do, they are acting as adults, free to take actions and to accept the consequences they bring. When others take those decisions for them and impose their own priorities, they are treating people as children unable to look after themselves.