The more stringent and expensive is economic regulation, the greater the returns and incentives for political corruption, no matter what the tipping culture in the country might be.
Whenever we are subjected to a new bout of technocratic regulationism in the name of greater efficiency or moral correctness — whether it stems from bureaucratic self-servingness or ideologues’ delusions of omniscience — it behooves us to remember the sad fate all such initiatives to date, whether they were as large and sweeping as the Russian Revolution, that last great paroxysm of romantic ideology, or merely the dressed up doctrines concocted by powerful interest groups as universal truths, they all aim to fit facts to the Procrustean bed of favored theory and sweep the inconvenient details under the rug. Still, the devil is not merely in the details of such undertakings, but in the very nature of our human ability to closely manage, or even fully understand, phenomena of such complexity as our economy, the planetary climate or even the direction of the arrow of history, all as impossible to predict as next week’s weather.
The sad spectacle of Lance Armstrong’s auto-da-fé serves up a pertinent reminder of the smug hypocrisy with which our media (and our government, as if it had no more pressing issues to be solving) treat the rather natural extension of the top athlete’s drive to win. Never mind that the notion of what is sporting has evolved from turning up one’s nose on the very thought of training — we lionize those who broke that particular taboo — to use of every form of medicine in the service of the quest, from nutrition to psychiatry — but only when they turn to pharmacology that they are paraded through the pillory.
Doping in sports has been an issue for as long as drug use was in general society, and the reason that it despite all efforts to stamp it out it continues and evolves is the same: when a natural market has been established, that means that real needs exist, and when they do, there always is supply.
It is time to recognize that what grownups do to their bodies is no more our business than what they do in their bedrooms and that by driving markets underground we do nothing more than create criminals of those who desire to excel or exit and bring into being vast conspiracies to off them supply.
The New — and old — Keynesian insistence on the reason for the failure of the unprecedentedly large stimulus to kick-start the economic growth engine is reminiscent of the Hebrew prophets’ sermons blaming Jews for their own persecution on the charge of insufficient zealotry, although it is plain to see that it was in fact this excess zealotry that was the proximate cause of the Hebrews’ sufferings. Now these same economists are counseling Europe to go down the same failed path in order to preserve the Euro, never mind the dubiousness of its value to European prosperity and the pain it has already caused.
The fact is that if macroeconomics is to be taken seriously as a science rather than philosophy, to say nothing of its prescriptions being accepted by responsible decision-makers, it must abandon doctrinaire adherence to theories — all theories — that are not proved, or at least well supported, by rigorous empirical evidence. Without such proof, economics will remain indistinguishable from ideology. Keynes, Hayek, Friedman, Marx even, if he is to be included in their number — all were fallible and often wrong, in whole or in part. Politicizing economic-theoretic thought to advance social agendas — whether it be more or less governmental control and regulation over economic factors, trade, inflation, and so on — only undermines the economics as a field of study, much like Stalin’s functionaries attempted to politicize genetics, cybernetics and agronomy.
To insist primacy of theory over observation, to seek out selective facts in support of favored thought while ignoring or attacking contrary evidence, to bully those who point out its inadequacy with argumentum ad verecundiam — particularly when that authority had been a priori deified — are all acts of the pseudo-scientist. Swaddling such naked theory in mathematics does nothing to improve its relationship to measurable outcomes, or make it more a real science.
Moral argument should have no more suasion in the science of economics than it does in geology, or physics, or astronomy. As yet, however, allowing morality and wishful thinking to creep into macroeconomic thought has turned if into philosophy with pretty graphs and nice equations, with scientific rigor still a consummation devoutly to be wish’d.
Once upon a time, before the advent of the “poison pill” and other suchlike measures, the threat of a hostile takeover was a check on self-dealing and plain incompetence of managements — much like the Right of Conquest was in its own day a check on failing government before the advent of the “international community” and its perpetual defense of the status quo, except of course when it is not convenient.