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Barack Obama's Fatal Conceit


I, like many others, made light of the President’s recent shocking display of economic ignorance. In an interview on NBC’s TODAY, the President claimed that productivity, the source of our prosperity, is really a “structural issue” holding back the job creating benefits of his policies.

Hogwash, obviously. But what came later in the interview was perhaps even more disturbing (the transcript at the link wasn’t completely accurate so I cleaned it up):

[T]here are some structural issues with our economy, where a lot of businesses have learned to become much more efficient with a lot fewer workers. You see it when you go to a bank and you use an ATM; You don’t go to a bank teller. Or you go to the airport and you’re using a kiosk instead of checking in at the gate. So all these things have created changes in the economy and what we have to do now, and that’s what this job counsel is all about, is identifying where the jobs of the future are going to be, how do we make sure that there’s a match between what people are getting trained for and the jobs that exist, how do we make sure that capital is flowing into those places with the greatest opportunity.

Obama’s fundamental problem – his fatal conceit, if you will – is that he thinks we need him and his jobs counsel to figure out what the jobs of the future are going to be. We no more need this today than it was necessary for past leaders to identify the jobs of today. This is a task for the private sector, and one which only its vast network of dispersed information and decentralized decision-making is capable of determining.

What does Barack Obama know about the technologies of today, much less the future? Why does he imagine he can direct capital and resources to the right place better than investors? When has history ever shown politicians capable of doing so?

As F.A. Hayek wrote in The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism, “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.” Barack Obama is clearly too enamored with his own intelligence to recognize how little he knows – or that any one individual or group of individuals could possibly know – about where the next economic breakthroughs will emerge, or where future resources will need to be deployed. Who even 20 years ago possibly could have imagined the range of technological innovation from which we benefit today, and the subsequent new jobs and roles it has created in the economy? There is no such person, which proves the impossibility of Obama’s desired model of central planning.


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