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Kuznicki on Liberty

Summary:
We can attempt to extrapolate from what we know, but that is very difficult. When we attempt to predict advances that have not yet been made, like the warp drive, that invites disaster. But it’s very tempting to try to do so. The inability of the mind to foresee its own advance is one of the reasons the future will always surprise us. The other reason is that not all tastes, values, and desires of individual human beings are accessible even to them. That sounds very weird if it’s an unfamiliar concept to you. But I will give you an example that I find especially dramatic. Consider your own face. You probably know things about your face that your own spouse does not know. You probably have very considered opinions about what kind of eyewear looks better or worse, what kind of hat or

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We can attempt to extrapolate from what we know, but that is very difficult. When we attempt to predict advances that have not yet been made, like the warp drive, that invites disaster. But it’s very tempting to try to do so. The inability of the mind to foresee its own advance is one of the reasons the future will always surprise us.

The other reason is that not all tastes, values, and desires of individual human beings are accessible even to them. That sounds very weird if it’s an unfamiliar concept to you. But I will give you an example that I find especially dramatic. Consider your own face. You probably know things about your face that your own spouse does not know. You probably have very considered opinions about what kind of eyewear looks better or worse, what kind of hat or cosmetics you favor, or what kind of shaving products you prefer. All these things are known to you, but only partially. Sometimes you walk into a store and see a hat that you’ve never seen before and say, “This is perfect! Hey, I did not know that, but this is the one!” And it is this inaccessibility of consumer tastes, values, and preferences that means economic planning is always impossible to do in advance when you want to try to plan for the entire society.

This is from Jason Kuznicki, “The Future History of Liberty,” Cato’s Letter, Fall 2018, Vol. 16, No. 4.

During my staycation, I’m catching up on things in my pile that had gone unread. The whole article is excellent. Kuznicki’s statement up front about the book that did a great deal to make him a libertarian is nicely surprising.

When he used the example of the hat, it immediately worked for me. Not that I’m a hat person that much, although when I play pickle ball I always wear a cap. Rather, I will see a shirt that maybe no one thought I would like–and I love it. My wife is very good at ascertaining my tastes. But even some shirts are ones that she wouldn’t have thought of.

Although truth be told, she hit a home run with her Father’s Day present, a T-shirt that says on the front:

Surely not EVERYONE was Kung-Fu Fighting.

Kuznicki’s piece, especially the quote above, is a nice application of Hayek’s “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” Michael Polanyi’s The Tacit Dimension, and my 7th Pillar of Economic Wisdom.

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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