Benito Mussolini and Franklin D. Roosevelt

I gave two quotes last week and asked who said them. There were a number of answers and two people got both right.

Those who got it right were:

Steve Fritzinger

Steve Horwitz

The first quote was from Mussolini, the second from Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Now here’s why I asked. I hear people say often that the more complex a society, the more we need government to plan. As I wrote in the original post, Hayek argued that the opposite is true. I agree with Hayek.

I had seen the Mussolini quote many times. Indeed, the first place I saw it was at the start of a chapter of The Road to Serfdom. The chapter is titled “The ‘Inevitability’ of Planning.” Even if you don’t read or reread the whole book, I recommend reading that chapter to see Hayek’s argument.

Here’s part of Hayek’s argument:

Far from being appropriate only to comparatively simple conditions, it is the very complexity of the division of labor under modern conditions which makes competition the only method by which such coordination can be adequately brought about.

I hadn’t known of the FDR quote until someone suggested on Facebook that I read FDR’s 2nd inaugural address. That’s where I found the quote.

Postscript:

In researching this, I found someone on the Daily Kos admitting, and being troubled by, FDR’s admiration for Mussolini.

 

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Two 1930s Political Leaders Agree About Complexity

 

Two major political leaders in the 1930s agreed that increasing complexity required bigger government than otherwise. Friedrich Hayek, in his 1944 book, The Road to Serfdom, argued that precisely the opposite is true: The more complex a society, the more difficult it is for government to plan an economy.

Probably more than two leaders believed this. But I found a particularly clear statement of the belief in the words of two leaders.

Here’s one:

We were the first to assert that the more complicated the forms assumed by civilization, the more restricted the freedom of the individual must become.

Here’s the other:

Instinctively we recognized a deeper need—the need to find through government the instrument of our united purpose to solve for the individual the ever-rising problems of a complex civilization.

Without googling, try to guess who the two leaders were and which one said which. You need not share your guesses, although you truly do not google, but simply guess, I would be interested.

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Kuznicki on Liberty

He had me at “hat.”

We can attempt to extrapolate from what we know, but that is very difficult. When we attempt to predict advances that have not yet been made, like the warp drive, that invites disaster. But it’s very tempting to try to do so. The inability of the mind to foresee its own advance is one of the reasons the future will always surprise us.

The other reason is that not all tastes, values, and desires of individual human beings are accessible even to them. That sounds very weird if it’s an unfamiliar concept to you. But I will give you an example that I find especially dramatic. Consider your own face. You probably know things about your face that your own spouse does not know. You probably have very considered opinions about what kind of eyewear looks better or worse, what kind of hat or cosmetics you favor, or what kind of shaving products you prefer. All these things are known to you, but only partially. Sometimes you walk into a store and see a hat that you’ve never seen before and say, “This is perfect! Hey, I did not know that, but this is the one!” And it is this inaccessibility of consumer tastes, values, and preferences that means economic planning is always impossible to do in advance when you want to try to plan for the entire society.

This is from Jason Kuznicki, “The Future History of Liberty,” Cato’s Letter, Fall 2018, Vol. 16, No. 4.

During my staycation, I’m catching up on things in my pile that had gone unread. The whole article is excellent. Kuznicki’s statement up front about the book that did a great deal to make him a libertarian is nicely surprising.

When he used the example of the hat, it immediately worked for me. Not that I’m a hat person that much, although when I play pickle ball I always wear a cap. Rather, I will see a shirt that maybe no one thought I would like–and I love it. My wife is very good at ascertaining my tastes. But even some shirts are ones that she wouldn’t have thought of.

Although truth be told, she hit a home run with her Father’s Day present, a T-shirt that says on the front:

Surely not EVERYONE was Kung-Fu Fighting.

Kuznicki’s piece, especially the quote above, is a nice application of Hayek’s “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” Michael Polanyi’s The Tacit Dimension, and my 7th Pillar of Economic Wisdom.

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