Economic Nonsense: 36. It is important to ensure that the finest minds are directing the economy


This commits the Platonist fallacy of supposing that the problem is to find the wisest, noblest rulers.  The assumption behind it is that we will come out best if only the right people end up in charge.  In "The Open Society and its Enemies," Karl Popper exposes the fallacy.  The problem is that that whatever method we choose to select our rulers, those rulers can easily be corrupted in office.  The temptations of power are all too obvious.

If we did manage to have the finest minds in charge of the economy, the odds are high that they would direct it to serve ends they approved of, rather than the ends that ordinary people would freely choose if they had the opportunity.  

But there is a deeper fallacy.  It is that any minds, no matter how fine, can have sufficient information and act quickly enough to direct the economy.  The economy is changing from micro-second to micro-second as choices are made, decisions reached and actions taken.  These all input into the flow of information conveyed by prices and deals.  The economy is not like a vehicle that can be controlled by accelerators, brakes and steering wheel.  It is more like a living organism in its complexity and its ability to adapt to changing circumstances.  The odds are that if the finest minds were to direct the economy, they would direct it badly. 

Popper's answer was not to ask, "How can we choose or train the best rulers," but to ask instead, "How can we so organize political institutions that bad or incompetent rulers can be prevented from doing too much damage?”  His answer was that you need a means of rejecting the bad, rather than selecting the good.  In the economic sphere this happens without the direction of the finest minds.  Products that do not cut it with consumers are counted out, along with the firms that market them.  Capital is redeployed to the newer, smarter people who can satisfy customers.  It is a continuous process by which the less competent is weeded out in favour of the more competent.

If we did have the finest minds trying to direct the economy, the chances are that they would contrive to stop this happening, or at the very least, interfere with it in ways that made it less effective.