Switzerland World Economic Forum

From The National Review, Davos’s Destructive Elites-“None of us is as dumb as all of usby Kevin D. Williamson

Conservatives are generally inclined to make a moral case for limited government: that transfers are corrupting, that taxes should be collected only to the extent that they are essential, that regulation is a necessary evil and that as such it should be kept to a minimum. That is generally true and persuasive, but the more important argument is the problem of ignorance. Even if Congress were populated exclusively by saintly super-geniuses, there is only so much that 535 human beings can know and understand. The more that decision-making is centralized in political agencies, or even in elites outside of formal government, the more intensively those decisions will be distorted by ignorance. This is true of market-oriented institutions, too, in the sense that big businesses make big mistakes. One of the lessons of the 2007 financial crisis is that the guys who run the banks do not actually know that much about how banks work, even if they know 100 times what the banking regulators know. Free markets offer a critical, if imperfect and partial, corrective to that in the form of financial losses and business failures, which is why things like cars and computers consistently improve while schools and welfare programs don’t. Big markets with lots of competing buyers and sellers are the biggest thinking machines we have, offering the broadest epistemic horizon that our species has figured out how to achieve.

There is a deep philosophical challenge for progressives in that: Progressives say that they want inclusive social decision-making, but the most radically inclusive process we have for social decision-making is the thing that they generally distrust and often hate: capitalism — or, as our left-leaning friends so often put it, “unfettered” capitalism. And who should decide what sort of fetters are applied to whom? The view from Davos is, unsurprisingly: the people at Davos.

The hypocrisy and material self-indulgence on display at Davos may rankle, but the deeper problem is the unspoken assumption that the sort of people who gather in Davos are the sort of people who have the answers to social problems. Historically speaking, there is little evidence to support that proposition. And that is why conventions like that in Davos end up being so frequently counterproductive. When elites get together to talk about the big issues, the discussion consists mostly of very similar people asking themselves what people like them can do. The answer is: A whole lot less than you think.

print