• C'est moi

    VP of Marketing & Communications for Rackup, but nothing here reflects what my employer or colleagues think. In fact, they probably think it's all cray-cray.

    Jackie Danicki
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Virginia Postrel really does a sterling job of summing up my worldview, so why should I bother to try to explain it better than she does? Grok this:

It’s human nature to look for ways to improve the world around us, whether that’s coming up with a better computer program or trying a new way to get your kid to eat his vegetables. Progress comes from trial and error, when we’re free to try things and free to reject ideas that don’t work. That makes me optimistic about the future. The problem comes when people either try to stamp out experimentation or try to cram one possibly hare-brained scheme down everyone’s throat.


Everything that works in our lives, from technology to manners to writing techniques, was refined over a long period of time. We don’t know in advance how to do anything, and there’s always room for improvement. Progress is an infinite series. Henry Petroski uses the phrase “form follows failure” to capture this idea. We find improvements by looking at what doesn’t work, trying something we think will be better, and seeing whether in fact it is. Contact lenses took almost 100 years to get right—and they were a pretty crazy idea when they started out. And some things never work: flying cars, for instance, or Kleenex Avert Virucidal Tissues, which terrified customers with that deadly name. You don’t want to stop the process of improvement, and you don’t want to declare any idea a permanent winner.

…My problem is with the assumption that somebody can take a God’s eye view, know everything important, and work out grand plan for everyone. That’s what stasists want to do, with their idea of the “one best way.” There are two competing visions of knowledge. In the book, I talk about them as trees: Stasists see knowledge as a tall, spindly palm tree—one long trunk with a few fronds on top. Dynamists, by contrast, envision knowledge as a spreading elm tree—lots of dispersed knowledge, communicated through complex channels, often at a great distance. We benefit from things other people know that we don’t. And a lot of knowledge is hidden.

This is not an insenstive or reckless way to live:

[P]eople who want to stop change, by giving some decision making body the power to choose a single future for everyone, are in fact making society more brittle. The savings and loan crisis of the 1980s was a direct result of static policy making—trying to dictate exactly what financial institutions should look like and then protect them from change or innovation. That static vision failed, and it cost billions of dollars to recover from. Stasists are being reckless, by taking away the ability to adapt. So, for instance, you find that the U.S. economy is much more resilient than Europe. Yes, people lose their jobs here, but that’s rarely a permanent tragedy. New jobs are being created all the time, and companies are eager to find new workers. Whereas in Europe, it’s simply assumed that nobody is going to take a chance on hiring young people—sky-high unemployment among young workers is a huge problem. Making young people economically irrelevant seems terribly insensitive to me.

Then you have the stasists who absolutely hate the idea of progress, who are determined to keep the world’s peasants yoked behind their water buffalo for all eternity. That’s profoundly inhumane. They dress it up in pretty prose, but what the stasist ideal of “stability” offers is poverty, disease, ignorance, and death.

So stasis is something we should fear. But I also have a positive message—that the dynamist vision is one that celebrates our greatest human capacities, above all the capacity to learn. The world is a turbulent place, with or without human efforts. Dynamism teaches us that we have to be adaptable, innovative, and alert. But that’s what human beings were meant to be. That’s what makes us special.

All of my opinions on politics follow from these beliefs and the worldview they make up.

9 Responses to “Beliefs”

  1. Jackie: I believe, like most libertarians, that dynamism is the long-term key to human development and innovation. At the same time, I’m uncomfortable with the level of deregulation that Virginia Postrel and others have espoused. The current financial debacle cries out for some limited regulation. I don’t know what that regulation will look like, but I was also appalled by the naivete of Greenspan and others who believed that any regulation was harmful. His trust in the market has been shown to be greatly flawed.

    I’m not rejecting your position or Postrel’s. I just thought that Postrel’s case was overstated–written before the great financial debacle. Interestingly, David Brooks of the New York Times, whom I admire even though I don’t usually vote with him at the polls, has argued on numerous occasions for the need for some governmental regulation.

    I believe also that your orientation to learning is certainly right on and key for long term human growth.

  2. Dan, the current economic climate is a crisis of regulatory statism, not a crisis of capitalism or free markets. More crisis-causing regulation is not the answer.

  3. Jackie: Maybe. But defining all regulation as crisis-causing is a big stretch. And inevitably, regulation is always behind the curve. That’s the nature of the beast, and we’ll have to live with that.

  4. Dan, I’d love to know about even one piece of existing or proposed legislation that would have done a bit of good.

  5. Jackie: Methinks I smell profound anti-government attitudes, so let’s step out of the current malaise and the current century or two.

    In 1862 the Morrill act established the Land grant college system, much to the profound resistance of the dominant business culture. In effect, it regulated the use of land in every state of the union.

    In 1890, the second Morrill act established a similar opportunity for African Americans, resulting in Black colleges in the South.

    Out of those activities, the federal gov legislated — you can consider it a regulation–educational opportunity for the great unwashed herd. It has shown itself to be a unique and profound to American and international life.

  6. Dan, I guess I thought my anti-government stance was pretty obvious. I’m sorry you had to smell it!

    As for your examples…I thought we were talking about the economic crisis we’re in.

  7. “In 1862 the Morrill act established the Land grant college system, much to the profound resistance of the dominant business culture. In effect, it regulated the use of land in every state of the union.”

    And you think this is a self evident *good* thing??? Why?

    “In 1890, the second Morrill act established a similar opportunity for African Americans, resulting in Black colleges in the South.”

    So? Are you saying there were no other possible ways black people getting an education could have come about or direct state action was even unarguably the best way? Seems like a case of Bastiat’s “that which is seen versus that which is not seen” http://www.econlib.org/library/Bastiat/basEss1.html

    Moreover the fact black people in the American south did not have access to education was a consequence (and later a legacy) of state action to begin with, namely slavery, something shamefully enshrined in law and enforced in courts. Regress most problems and you will find the action of the state at its core.

  8. A person claiming to be a libertarian who opposes deregulation is like a liberal who opposes emancipation: a hypocrite and a liar.

    If slavery isn’t a form of state regulation, what is it? If slavery isn’t enforced by state legislation, how is it?

    A person claiming to be a libertarian who writes “Methinks I smell profound anti-government attitudes” and doesn’t approve, is like a carnivore that can’t stand the sight of meat: a hypocrite and a liar.

    When I smell anti-government attitudes, I smell victory in the morning.

    A person claiming to be a libertarian who claims not to reject Virginia Postrel’s notion of dynamism, but actually rejects it, is like the atheist who claims to be an agnostic: a hypocrite and a liar.

    I’m assuming the guy actually has read Brian Micklethwait’s “Why I call Myself a Free-market Anarchist and Why I Am One,” http://www.libertarian.co.uk/lapubs/polin/polin067.pdf but maybe he just liked the sound of the word “libertarian” and decided to call himself one. Shame he didn’t call himself “dandelion fluff” or “dishwasher,” or to quote Monty Python “gorn.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gwXJsWHupg

    Dan Erwin claims to be a libertarian, but he is in fact, not. I suspect he has no objective moral values at all, is scared of people who don’t depend on the state for everything, including self-defense, and that he thinks the solution to excessive debt is to borrow more and spend faster. He’s probably “scared” of someone like Sarah Palin, or Virginia Postrel.

    I bet he never eats in a restaurant full of black people, never travels in a bus full of black people, would never send his kids to a school full of black people, but he feels their pain. How big of him!

    As for the statist regulatory beast he wants us to live with. I want to batter it to death with a club made from a living bureaucrat’s thighbone.

    But, hey, why can’t we just get along? Because some people won’t respect the rights of life, liberty and property of others. That’s the difference between having a plurality of opinions, which is fine, and claiming the right to own another person’s mind, body and possessions, in the name of some alleged greater good.

    To be a libertarian is to argue that leaving another person’s mind, body or possessions alone, is the greater good.

  9. Obviously, in my profound political naivete and unworldliness, I have stumbled into the wrong world. Enfeebled by old age, and becoming ever more fearful of mugging, murder or assassination, I’ll chicken out of this conversation.

    Best, to you all.

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