6.26.2009

Central Planners

Alex Epstein has posted an excellent article at Voices for Reason, called Fix It Again, Barack, in which he blasts the Obama administration for the fiasco of the Chrysler/Fiat deal. The main thrust of his argument is summed up in the last paragraph:
...we should look to the far-reaching, destructive effects of government intervention... that undermines productive behavior and rewards unproductive behavior. The solution, for the auto industry and others, is simple: remove the toxic presence of government “planning” and leave the industry free to produce and profit. [bold added, links dropped]
But the reason for my post is something Epstein wrote in his very first sentence of the piece, and it's something that deserves to be examined more closely. He wrote:
One way in which the central planners of the Obama administration easily acquire and exercise the power to dictate how a 300-million-person economy should run is by portraying entire industries as stupid, short-sighted, and in need of “adult supervision.” [bold added]
I think he's used this terminology before, but it really jumped out at me this time because of how powerful and concise the phrase "central planners" is in reference to what Obama is doing.

This one simple phrase has a major significance in its obvious reference to the Soviet and Chinese communist dictatorships and their failed economic policies. With a delightful economy of words, and because of its subtlety and unambiguous implications (because of the near universal understanding of the historic failure of central planning), the use of the phrase clearly identifies the activities of the administration as tragically similar, without taking it too far and weakening the argument. If he called Barack and his administration communist or some other name, it would harm his credibility by seeming to go too far.

Referring to this administration as "The Central Planners" is something that I hope will catch on. I certainly plan on using it in conversation and writing, and I think you should too.

10 comments:

Burgess Laughlin said...

> ". . . the use of the phrase clearly identifies the activities of the administration as tragically similar, without taking it too far and weakening the argument."

You have a valuable insight here. Hyperbole can be a sign of a weak argument -- or an emotionalist author. Rational readers, given the proper premises by the author, can make inferences on their own, and rational writers can rely on them to do so. Ayn Rand makes this point in The Art of Nonfiction, p. 124 (pb, as "Don't #3" in the chapter on style).

P. S. -- If anyone is intrigued by the statist idea of central planning, I recommend (from having read it about 35 years ago) Ludwig von Mises's Socialism, a book which dissects just about every variant of statism you can imagine. If I remember correctly, it is in this book that he exposes the fallacy of central planning.

Caution: Though much more readable than his Human Action, Socialism is best read slowly and steadily, perhaps two or three pages daily. It is 600 pages long. It is invaluable for serious intellectual activists dealing with political/ economic issues.

Doug Reich said...

C.,

http://finance.yahoo.com/family-home/article/107136/The-31-Year-Old-in-Charge-of-Dismantling-G.M.?mod=family-autos

Above is something your readers might be interested. It regards a 31 year old "not quite graduate" of Yale Law who has been a principal figure in the admin's automotive takeover. He has never stepped foot in an auto assembly plant but note that he is praised for the long hours and detailed memo's he writes.

I have a post related to the philosophy of the central planner and some connections to economics, particularly the Austrian argument that it is logically and practically impossible to "plan" an economy.

I believe the whole "central planner" mentality is derived from the pragmatist notion that they can control reality fused with the Platonic notion of the "philosopher king" who can divine truth for the masses.

Brian Fritts said...

I second Burgess Laughlin's recommendation of Mises' Socialism. He destroys the economic arguments for socialism. In addition, while I disagree with Hayek on some issues, I think The Road to Serfdom does an adequate job of debunking the superiority of central planning.

The 31-year old Yale law school drop out always reminds me of the Wet Nurse in Atlas Shrugged, except GM and Chrysler are hardly Rearden Metal.

C. August said...

The 31-year old Yale law school drop out always reminds me of the Wet Nurse in Atlas Shrugged...

And the Wet Nurse eventually saw reason, and was one of the more tragic, Cheryl Taggart-type characters in the novel.

I doubt this wet nurse will turn out as well.

My thanks to you, Burgess and Doug for the comments. I'm glad I'm not the only who sees the excellence of Epstein's turn-of-phrase.

I hope you'll all use it. I think it will serve our cause well.

Richard said...

Hmm, yes I like it. I will place that in my vocabulary next to "government schools". Unfortunately I don't remember where I picked that up, but both are useful for calling a spade a spade.

Jason said...

Speaking of Epstein, he always presents extremely insightful arguments against government meddling in the economy, but he, like all of ARI (Ayn Rand Institute), seems to focus on politics/economics and productivity/profits, and treats philosophy and morality as an afterthought. My first thoughts of the organization that represented Ayn Rand was that it's primary focus would be applying, developing, and correcting any errors no matter how minor in Objectivism. When I first came across ARI, I was disappointed to find it:
1- Accept every single word Ayn Rand wrote without even attempting to seriously analyze her works
2- Focus so much on politics and economics, as opposed to philosophy

I wonder what others think about ARI's mission and approach to promoting reason, selfishness, and individual rights (among other things).

Jon said...

RE: Jason

I have recently been introduced to Ayn Rand's work and ARI. From my naive point of view, ARI is doing exactly what they should be doing: delivering the message. Had ARI been so heavy on the side of philosophy, I doubt I would have been drawn in. To me, they seem to be hitting hard with the moral message, especially Yaron Brook (on PJTV, Glenn Beck, GOP speech, etc.). They also do it without a pompous and abrasive attitude that usually accompany such intellectual discussions. And I would think whatever heavy lifting is needed will come in time, since what is the point of further developing a philosophy if no one even knows it exists or cares to explore it? I know for me, I definitely now want to explore the philosophy itself instead of the political and economic side of things.

Burgess Laughlin said...

Anyone who claims Ayn Rand's philosophy, Objectivism, contains errors should act objectively by specifying at least a few examples. The examples should include exact citations to the writings she published.

C. August said...

Thanks Burgess and Jon for reminding me through your comments that Jason's thoughts need to be addressed.

Ignoring the mention of possible "errors no matter how minor in Objectivism" I think the crux of Jason's comment had to do with the perceived political focus of ARI as opposed to a more academic fleshing out of ideas spawned by Objectivism (like taking next steps in the topic of concept formation based on Rand's work).

Basically, Jason -- and please correct me if I'm wrong -- objects to ARI's perceived focus on furthering liberty and knowledge of Objectivism in the public realm (politics, policy, economics) instead of focusing on academic work on philosophy inspired by Objectivism.

I think this criticism hinges on two mistaken ideas: one, that ARI is not also simultaneously working on philosophy by fostering the expansion of academic study of Objectivism, and two, that a political/economic focus has no value.

One: ARI, at the same time it is focused "outward," and as Jon said, bringing up the ideas of egoism, reason and individual rights in contexts that normally never go that deep (mainstream blogs, cable news, op-eds), ARI has multiple programs designed to spark interest in young people (essay contests, free books for classrooms, etc.) as well as expanding the formal study and teaching of Objectivism in the universities. Witness the grants to many universities to study Atlas Shrugged, and people like Eric Daniels (Clemson) and Tara Smith (U. Texas-Austin) and their expanding programs. I can't think of a better way to sow the seeds of change than by disseminating the ideas to minds who are more willing to see reason. (also, I almost forgot to mention the OAC... look it up)

Two: Liberty is being attacked at an accelerating pace, by the Left and Right alike. While we work to build a new intellectual base with the right ideas, we have a pressing need to halt the growth of statism. On top of that, there are signs currently that many otherwise docile people are waking up to the life and death issues that the varieties of altruist/collectivist/mystic political philosophies create. They may not be able to see the deeper ties, but they can tell something is wrong, and getting the individual rights message out to venues like the tea parties has a good chance of bearing some fruit.

So, the battle is being waged on multiple fronts. Jason, I hope my comment has given you some new information to check out. I respect that you're thinking critically about this, and I hope you seek out more information before making your judgments.

Jason said...

My response was too long to fit in the comment box so I posted it to my blog:
thoughtsofanegoist.blogspot.com

For anyone who cares to read it...