The one upside to unintended down-time for an injury: time on my hands to re-visit – and learn new things from – a couple of old-favorite books. In this case, Paul Johnson’s wonderful A History of The Jews (1987, Harper & Row), and my pick for the best non-fiction, non-scientific, non arts-centered book of the 20th century, F.A. Hayek’s The Road To Serfdom (original text 1944, The University of Chicago). Eureka moment: finally perceived the connection between Johnson’s observation that the very existence of a state (i.e, a government) tends to corrupt, and Hayek’s fundamental theorem that the state can never be as efficient a driver of an economy as the markets.
Johnson’s observation (at pp 57 and 58 of the Harper Perennial 1958 edition) is that the early Israelites, though they had their kings and other leaders, resisted the bestowal of too much power upon them – and resisted (with permanent effect as it turned out, until the establishment of the modern State of Israel after WW II) the establishment of a more formal state with geographic borders. “On the other hand, if kingship and state became permanent, their inevitable characteristics and needs would encroach upon the religion, and worship of Yahweh would succumb to internal corruption. The dilemma was unresolved throughout the First and Second Commonwealths; it remains unresolved in Israel today.” (emphasis added). That is a terse and rather cryptic foreshadowing of the modern truism that the very existence of government invites corruption, as the governed, having granted powers to their governors, are inevitably tempted to offer bribes and kickbacks as inducements to grant – or as rewards for the granting of – favors in the exercise of that power. Power corrupts, absolute power, . . . and so on.
Hayek, of course, has written a thousand brilliant variations around the fundamental theme that no government, no central plan, no matter how smart and informed, can ever be as effective and efficient a processor and organizer of pertinent information as free markets; even the smartest government is always playing catch-up, as its best plans are virtually stillborn at utterance, because of government’s inability to assemble and process as much of the extant data as markets perpetually reflect and refresh, and because any modest utility is instantly rendered obsolete by the birth of new data. Not to mention that the governors, by the very nature and scope of the jobs (and even apart from political bias and ideology), can never be as smart and well-informed as the actual economic players in a free market.
Back to the Eureka moment: thus there are two reasons why the whole Marxist, Socialist, Fascist, Collectivist, Progressive, Leftist, Obama-ist model of substituting governmental planning and non-essential regulation for free and lightly-regulated markets is doomed to fail. Government is inherently, unavoidably, both corrupt and stupid; the more government, the more the corruption and stupidity.