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September 01, 2005


Backword Dave

Mebbe I'm wrong, but I think I detect a contradiction here. I don't much support central planning, but more because I think central planners are no good on what people want (and wants are very hard to articulate) than because I think that they can't grasp the state of the nation.

I have problems with:

It was a Keynesian, Douglas Jay (father of the ridiculous Peter), who said: “the man in Whitehall knows best.”

Partly because I don't see the relevance of his progeny (and I can't at the moment recall who Peter Jay is -- is he related by marriage to Callaghan?) and because I do believe that “the man in Whitehall knows best” when we're talking about the likelihood of hurricanes or grain supply next year. Some people are better informed and therefore know better. As a reader and admirer of Daniel Kahneman you must know that having access to some statistics is not enough. For Woody Guthrie's formula to work, we'd need a much better media. (This isn't a recent media problem -- Citizen Kane is about media distortion.)

Indeed, having praised the "wisdom of crowds" you then ask (I paraphrase) "why is the [crowd] so ignorant of the good ideas they could adopt?"

Access to good ideas and the right kind of information is all-important. And I don't see the internet improving matters.

Paddy Carter

Experience has shown the failings of Keynesian economics, and should they ever be put in the practise I suspect experience would show the failings of your good leftist economic ideas too. I don't see how you can hold the latter above the former, when the latter is still only on the drawing board.

Not so long ago you put up a post asking whether the left had any decent ideas, and while some commentators came up with some decent ideas, I don't recall any of them being especially "leftish". James Hamilton's essay is marvelous, but a concern with housing, health etc. - generally speaking, a concern with the everyday welfare of the less well off - might be laudible, and who knows perhaps it is at the end of the day what defines the left, but it is not an economic or social philosophy, set of policies, or whatnot - it's a end, not a means. It says nothing about how to maximise the welfare of those with whom the left is concerned - the answer to that question may well be so-called right-wing social & economic theories (I'm not saying it is). Surely what the left so desperately needs is some means - it's got plenty of ends.

It's not an orgininal observation that the old left and right battle lines are useless, but I'm buggered if I know what being left means any more, and I fear it's nothing more than Klien&Co.


If you fancy contributing to the same essay series as James, give me a shout or leave a comment on the site. You don't have to be a Labour supporter, just well-intentioned. More info here:



If you aren't sure whether Hayek was right about the impossibility of central planning, you need to read Don Lavoie's _Rivalry and Central Planning_. After reading that book, you'll understand it's "case closed" on this matter.

(Case closed, that is, unless socialism is your personal religion, immune to reason, evidence or argument -- which is sadly so often the case.)

Robert Schwartz

Equality? The left is interested in equality? I don't think you understand. The left was never interested in equality. Orwell sussed it out. Some pigs are more equal than other pigs.

Equality was only a tactic, a critique of the bourgeoisie who claimed to have abolished hereditary nobility, but who disdained distributional justice as a meaningless errand into the wilderness, because they knew that redistribution would doom their quest to accumulate capital and create the new industrial world.

What the left really wanted was communism, and they knew, just as Plato did, that the only way that a communist society would ever come into being or survive would be if it had Platonic Guardians a/k/a Philosopher Kings or the Vanguard of the Proletariat.

Of course in the real world, the Guardians become the Nomenklatura, and unlike the bourgeoisie, who have no title to their position other than money, they become a closed order more sealed to the outside than any feudal hierarchy ever was.

And this is why they have no ideas. Their one real idea, that they born with whips and spurs so that they should ride the rest of us who were born with saddles and halters, has proved as vain as the divine right of kings. All the left has left is the gall-bitter knowledge of defeat and a purblind hatred of the Jews and the United States.

So now they sit around and plot to turn the world over to the islamo-nazi enemies of all bourgeois and western values. They say to themselves: "If I cannot have it, let them rot in Hell under our worst nightmare."

Remittance Man

The unfortunate fact is that the standard of intellectual debate on the left has declined appallingly.

Whether this is because Keynes's ideas came to dominate leftist thinking I do not know. But the truth is that the great philosophical debate of the late 19th and early 20th centuries has been replaced by something little better than psuedo-intellectual posturing today.

Sadly this lack of thought is common on the right as well, but at least conservatism doesn't claim to have been founded from the principles of a particular philosophy in the way socialism does.


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