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The Deep-seated Authoritarian Impulse

Summary:
If I were a state education minister I would endeavour to make it a compulsory part of a high school curriculum for students to have at least one field excursion to see with their own eyes a mine – or for that matter an iron smelter, a big factory or an agribusiness. But ideally a mine. I wouldn’t be able to force adults to go and visit anything, but I would happily encourage anyone out there who has never been anywhere close to a coal or a metal ore mine to put it on their travel and activity “to do” list. So writes Arthur Chrenkoff in “Why Everyone Should Visit a Mine,” August 6, 2019. I agree with Mr. Chrenkoff that it would be good if everyone visited some complex place of production that they would otherwise be unfamiliar with. They might get a little whiff

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If I were a state education minister I would endeavour to make it a compulsory part of a high school curriculum for students to have at least one field excursion to see with their own eyes a mine – or for that matter an iron smelter, a big factory or an agribusiness. But ideally a mine. I wouldn’t be able to force adults to go and visit anything, but I would happily encourage anyone out there who has never been anywhere close to a coal or a metal ore mine to put it on their travel and activity “to do” list.

So writes Arthur Chrenkoff in “Why Everyone Should Visit a Mine,” August 6, 2019.

I agree with Mr. Chrenkoff that it would be good if everyone visited some complex place of production that they would otherwise be unfamiliar with. They might get a little whiff of “I, Pencil” and/or start to wonder if markets and businesses are much more complex than they had thought.

And I have a particularly soft spot in my heart for mines, having spent a summer working at an underground nickel mine in northern Manitoba when I was 18. (It was a great coming-of-age experience. I remember my late sister saying, some years ago, that when I came back after that summer that this was the first time she thought of me as a man instead of a boy.)

What I disagree with is making it compulsory.

I’ve noticed that many people who have a good idea jump pretty quickly to a proposal to make it compulsory. That’s what Chrenkoff does and I’ve seen it a lot. When I was the health economist with President Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers, I went to a lot of lunches where a health care expert would give a talk on a health care issue. I remember one time when a speaker said he learned a lot about how disabled people must feel when he had to be in a wheel chair for a week or so. Someone in the audience then spoke up to say she thought it would be a good idea if doctors, as part of their training, were required to be in wheel chairs for a day or two.

Or consider how many people, when they start to understand an academic discipline (I’ve seen it a lot with economics), advocate that everyone be forced to study that discipline.

The authoritarian impulse seems to come easily to many people.

David Henderson
David Henderson is a British economist. He was the Head of the Economics and Statistics Department at the OECD in 1984–1992. Before that he worked as an academic economist in Britain, first at Oxford (Fellow of Lincoln College) and later at University College London (Professor of Economics, 1975–1983); as a British civil servant (first as an Economic Advisor in HM Treasury, and later as Chief Economist in the Ministry of Aviation); and as a staff member of the World Bank (1969–1975). In 1985 he gave the BBC Reith Lectures, which were published in the book Innocence and Design: The Influence of Economic Ideas on Policy (Blackwell, 1986).

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