Central planning

In a Complex World, Politicians Have a Simple Demand: More Power

Circumstances change and the world may grow more complicated, but authoritarians never vary from their demand for more power over our lives.

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Fans of a large and intrusive state are fond of arguing that leaving people alone is fine for simple, primitive societies, but that the growing complexity of the modern world requires a strong hand and centralized control. It's a convenient position for authoritarians to take, since it leaves them eternally amassing power unless the rest of us give up on roads and electricity and crawl back into caves to preserve our stone-age liberty. It's also completely backwards. Authoritarianism is actually easier to implement (though no more palatable) in settings where rulers can closely monitor their subjects; larger, complicated societies require decentralized power.

It's a point to remember in a pandemic year that has handed government officials new excuses to expand their authority.

The complexity-requires-control position was clearly stated recently by Harvard Law Professor Adrian Vermeule. He pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1926 Euclid v. Ambler Realty decision upholding zoning as an example of evolving social relations requiring the abandonment of old freedoms.

"As economic and social relations become increasingly interdependent, it becomes ever more obvious that no rights are truly 'individual' and that one person's exercise of rights invariably affects others and society generally," Vermeule wrote. "Applying unchanging principles to new circumstances, the law allows increasing scope for regulation that shapes, constrains, and if necessary overrides individual rights in order to promote the common good."

Vermeule didn't stop there. He suggested that the rationale behind the Euclid decision should apply universallyin particular, to civil liberties.

"Personal rights and liberties are themselves subject to ordination to the common good as well," he insisted. "Our free speech law is in roughly the same obsolete, libertarian condition as the obsolete 19th-century vision of property rights to which Sutherland adverted in Euclid; it must be updated in light of changing circumstances."

The Institute for Justice's Anthony Sanders ably rebuts Vermeule by pointing out that opening the door to zoning damaged cities by allowing centralized one-size-fits-all rules to displace decisions based on individual rights, local conditions, and disparate preferences. "It is precisely because of the complexity of land use that the cookie-cutter approach of Euclidean zoning does not work," he notes.

"The same is true of other areas of society, including the 'civil liberties' that Vermeule calls to be Euclid-ized," Sanders continues. "Human communication is pretty complicated, with its own emergent norms, trajectories, rules, and feedback loops. Subjecting it to further regulation risks doing to the marketplace of ideas what zoning has done to our cities."

This point that Sanders makes isn't new, but it's worth repeating since authoritarians willfully ignore the failures of central planning. In the context of economics, Friedrich A. Hayek famously pointed out that all people have constantly evolving knowledge peculiar to their conditions that can't possibly be shared with central planners in any timely way. "We need decentralization because only thus can we insure that the knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place will be promptly used."

"In a system in which the knowledge of the relevant facts is dispersed among many people, prices can act to coordinate the separate actions of different people," Hayek added.

But even as Adrian Vermeule waves away the failures of economic authoritarianism so he can justify restricting civil liberties, government officials go straight to the well of ignorance with centralized planning for resources needed to battle the pandemic.

In April, as COVID-19 spread across the country, President Trump attacked companies that produced and distributed medical supplies in response to demand rather than political whims. "Today's order is another step in our ongoing fight to prevent hoarding, price gouging, and profiteering by preventing the harmful export of critically needed [personal protective equipment]," Trump huffed as he invoked the Defense Production Act to subject the market to central control.

The president's ultimately victorious political foe, Democrat Joe Biden, thinks that didn't go far enough. He wants to double down on centralized control of the pandemic response. "Trump should immediately task a Supply Commander to take command of the national supply chain for essential equipment, medications, and protective gear," his campaign insisted before the election. "We can no longer leave this to the private sector."

Now anticipating his own term in office, President-elect Biden plans to turn that demand into policy.

It's not just medical supplies, either. Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) propose a top-down mask-wearing requirement on a continent-spanning country of diverse circumstances, preferences and values.

"This bill gives states the resources to encourage mask wearing in public and outdoors, to provide masks to those who need them, and to enforce mask mandates to protect public health," says Blumenthal.

Never mind local knowledge and decentralized decision-making for people as different as the residents of densely packed New York City and those of wide-open rural Montana. The centralizers think they know best for all.

What would the likes of Trump, Biden, Markey, and Blumenthal decide was best for us if they were allowed power that "shapes, constrains, and if necessary overrides individual rights" across the range of human conduct as Adrian Vermeule advocates? We don't have to look far for a hint.

"I wasn't thinking of the Bill of Rights when we did this," New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy sniffed in defense of his pandemic lockdown order back in the spring.

Of course, he wasn'tto the centralizers, such constraints are inconvenient and obsolete. Circumstances change and the world may grow more complicated, but authoritarians never vary from their demand for more power over our lives.

NEXT: The U.K. Approves COVID-19 Vaccine While the U.S. FDA Dawdles

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  1. There are no treasures of American journalism at reason, just liars owned by rich businesspeople.

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  2. Well, crap, I just saw where Walter Williams died. I think that makes this year officially the suckiest year on record. RIP to a good and wise man.

    1. WW was the best substitute host Rush Limbaugh ever had.

      1. He was ok. Steyn is better.

        1. At least you can finally admit to getting your marching orders from talk radio.

          1. So broken. Your bae biden called for unity.

            1. You’ve got like three lines, and I’m broken? You read like a broken record.

              1. You are broken. A complete disaster. We want to keep our freedoms from being infringed while you shill for the slavers.

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              2. And you rely almost exclusively on hyperbole and strawman. Yes, you’re broken. Many people point this out to you.

                1. And many more think I’m froody like Ford Prefect, so stick it.

                  1. Nobody does. Not even your retarded nurse friend. Youre insufferable. Most likely developed over years of alcoholism.

                    1. Do you get off on this? Seriously. Do you get pleasure from trying to be a mean asshole? Are you trying to impress someone? What do you get from this?

                    2. I asked him about his home life a few days ago; never got a response.

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          2. Sarcasmic is a Joe Biden ass eater. Through and through.

            1. I like a good rump roast but I’m not into cannibalism, thanks for the invitation to dinner though. I’m gonna have to pass.

              1. So Jeffrey Dahmer has his mother over for dinner.

                “Jeffrey, I don’t like your friends” says she.

                “That’s ok Mom, try the salad.”

        2. I rank Steyn 3rd. Williams and Sowell tag-teaming for Black History month may have been the single best EIB broadcast I listened to.

          1. Williams by far was the best.

      2. Mark Steyn gets that award hands down. But WW was also a great host and very insightful. I loved when he was guest host. It’s kind of apples and oranges to compare them anyway since they had different talents that the brought to the golden microphone.

    2. THAT is sad news. I’ve read that man and appreciated him for years now. He is a rare treasure.

      I loved his measured and steady approach to “issues”, and his fearlessness in wading into “black matters” and telling it like it is. HE could pull that off because he hs black. NO one can accuse HIM of being racist because he’d be his frist victim.

      He will be missed.

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  3. “I wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights when we did this,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy sniffed in defense of his pandemic lockdown order back in the spring.

    Perhaps prison sentences will help focus policy makers in the future

  4. I mean no shit right. After pumping up Biden now you’re against the deep state. Good luck with that.

  5. I will not comply with a national mask mandate. It is that simple.

    1. I don’t have a problem wearing a mask — over my M1911. (I fully support encouraging folks to wear masks in stores and such, and I do so, myself.
      But mandates? Nope.)

  6. Nobody has a problem that can’t be solved by government, therefore, government can solve all problems. QED.

    -progtard

    1. Government is the cause of most problems.

  7. well well look who stumbled onto the Elite Class

  8. El Oh Fucking El.

    The news doesn’t like it when the news is the news.

  9. So Reason stopped advocating libertarianism for the past four years (because its funder/editors and writers suffered from and promoted Trump Derangement Syndrome), campaigned for Biden for the past eight months, and is now trying to pretend it is libertarian once again.

    Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

  10. So reason is going to follow the rest of the d.c. media and pretend the special prosecutor announcement didn’t occur?

    1. It’s time we put this story behind us…

      Wait, what story?

    2. I’m guessing Reason will write something, and likely they will oppose the special prosecutor because, if memory serves, they don’t like the idea of a government bureaucrat with even more power and less accountability than usual. And when they do, we’ll see the usual suspects who defend the special prosecutor because he’s doing something of which they approve just like they decried Mueller for doing something of which they do not approve. When Reason is pissing off everyone, that’s when I hit the “donate” button because I figure they are doing something right.

    3. You mean the announcement that prevents Trump from declassifying any information concerning Crossfire Hurricane?

      1. I was born in a crossfire hurricane.

  11. Die, Reason.

    1. If you want to hurt Reason, stop showing up. They make money on your clicks.

      1. The left leaning here really do seem to want a bubble to hide in. Weird.

  12. It can all be fixed with a one sentence 28th amendment, “Government shall not initiate force.”

    1. You’ll have to redefine government, because by definition government is the people who initiate force without consequence.

      1. Really? Webster’s defines it as “the body of persons that constitutes the governing authority of a political unit or organization”. No mention of HOW it does the governing. Please cite your source that REQUIRES government to initiate force.

        1. Cite your source?

          No law has any meaning without a gun to back it up. If you want to arrest somebody for bank robbery, you can’t do that without a gun. If you want to tax the locals to fund the local elementary school, you can’t collect those taxes without a gun.

          The foundation of government rests on the initiation of force.

          1. Arresting a bank robber is the retaliatory use of force so you’ve proven my point.

            1. Who got robbed, the bank or the government? It’s only retaliatory when the victim uses force.

      2. Good thing your bae won then. No way would he ever expand the use of that force.

    2. No good, because “initiate” can always be couched in such a way that the other party did it first. These simple formulas depend on much more specification of what a just state of affairs is, such that every use of force to get away from that is unjustified, while every use of force to go directly toward it is justified.

      Like for instance determining whose property something is, and then if two or more parties are each trying to pull it away from the other, that’s going to be how one determines which one is “initiating” force. And ownership can always be determined as different from the way you think it should be.

  13. Government should get smaller (as a percentage of the economy at least) as society gets more technologically advanced. Government has a few basic functions, that should get cheaper on a per-capita basis as technology advances. And technology should and does give us whole new industries in which government should have zero involvement.

    1. It has ONE function, to defend liberty.

      1. The only active function is growing itself like most organizations.

        1. Which could be stopped simply by prohibiting it from initiating force.

  14. “Unless the rest of us give up on roads and electricity and crawl back into caves”

    Don’t forget bringing back “Clean Coal”, that’s the conservative way!

    1. That’s the whole point of the Green Raw Deal, to set society back at least 3 centuries so the Earth supports fewer people.

      1. See Georgia Guidestones.

    2. “…Don’t forget bringing back “Clean Coal”, that’s the conservative way!…”

      Crawling on your knees in the dark is the proggy way, lefty shit.

  15. So you support the more authoritarian of the two primary candidates through putative victory only to feign you believe authoritarianism is bad in the aftermath? Is Biden’s history an enigma to you, did you never look at his or his parties positions on…everything? Fuck you you lying authoritarian asshat. Why should I ever believe another word you write.

  16. While I appreciate the sentiment in this article it highlights one of my main objections to libertarian philosophies. We live in a first world country with lots of people who we have lots of interactions with and depended upon. Many people who become infected with Covid19 will have few symptoms but some will not and these are stressing the healthcare system. We should not have a mask mandate but when health care professional tell people we need you to wear masks because we can not handle this level of infection we need to listen. We have centralized planning because when we try to let people take care things in a decentralized manner they often don’t work. We end up not having the level of need but the level of the lowest common denominator.

    So if you don’t want government rules then you have to step up and do the right things when they are asked of you. Period.

    1. when we try to let people take care things in a decentralized manner they often don’t work

      Who’s this ‘we’ doing the ‘letting?’

      So if you don’t want government rules then you have to step up and do the right things when they are asked of you

      And how does government decide which experts are right and which experts need to be silenced in the name of Public Safety?

      1. The idea of governments possessing a fraction of the basic intelligence necessary to decide good science from bad science need only be a dream if you keep insisting that government be as shitty as possible so that your little theory is proved right.

        1. Wel Tony, let’s see you do your part. A lot of disease is spread by people like you fucking each other in their assholes. So you must sacrifice your indiscriminate sodomy for the sake of collective rights.

          1. Don’t tell me, tell Ronald Reagan.

            The reason you people are so terrible is because you are in a cult of shit.

        2. “The idea of governments possessing a fraction of the basic intelligence necessary to decide good science from bad science need only be a dream if you keep insisting that government be as shitty as possible so that your little theory is proved right.”

          The assumption that assertions from lefty shits have some connection to reality has yet to be shown, lefty shit.

    2. “when we try to let people take care things in a decentralized manner they often don’t work.”

      WTF are you talking about? Centralized planning fails more often than decentralized, which is much more flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances. That’s why Communism was a failure.

      1. If your familiar with American History you know that the original government was organized under the Article of Confederation which lasted less than 10 years before our government was reorganized to have a stronger central government under the Constitution.
        Some things can be decentralized some can’t, the wise nation knows the difference.

        1. If you are familiar with world history, you’d know the universal failure of central planning, but I’m sure you hope the right people can be elected, right?
          Very few things ‘can’t be decentralized’ and we passed that threshold about the time Lincoln instituted the income tax.

        2. BTW, lefty shit, I notice your inability to address my calling you on your lefty bullshit.
          Is that because you are incapable of dealing with someone calling you on your lefty bullshit, or simply because you are a lefty bullshitter and hope no one will notice your inability to support your lefty bullshit, lefty bullshitter?

        3. If you knew American history you would know that half the men starved to death when all the property of Massachusetts colony was held in common and crops were planned centrally.

    3. I most often agree with you.

      Just one of my pet things.

      There is no first, fifth or second world. Unless you follow the DC multiverse.

    4. “…We should not have a mask mandate but when health care professional tell people we need you to wear masks because we can not handle this level of infection we need to listen…”

      It isn’t coercion – coercion, right you pathetic shit?

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  18. Ever more power over our lives, and ever less responsibility for their screw-ups. Strange, isn’t it, or is it?

  19. By the way, GA is going to lose at least 1 R senate seat.
    Welcome to The New Normal USSA, comrades. Your faith in The System will be appropriately rewarded.

    1. I bet the Dems steal both seats because the Reps are feckless cucks.

      1. I bet the Dems steal both seats because they got away with it once…they are emboldened now…

        1. Time to initiate some force against the democrat party.

  20. “I wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights when we did this,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy sniffed in defense of his pandemic lockdown order back in the spring.

    Was he thinking of the Bill of Rights as he swore his oath to uphold, protect, defend the ENTURE Constitution? If not, he is a perjuror Felony perjuror.

    SOMEONE with some spine should arrect and indict him for felony perjury.

    NOT only that, but he also fails to uphold the constitutional Separation of Powers. HE is not the legislature, yet he “makes” laws then enforces them himself via his minions. ANY proclamatioin, or edict he utters is nothing more than a junkard dog barking at the wind. same with every other governor and mayor across this land who does the same.

  21. It seems to me that much of Sullim’s article avoids the central problem of governing. It is often the case that the interests of the community conflict with the interests of some individuals. That is unavoidable. An appropriate balancing of costs and benefits is essential. What is required is an honest accounting of the costs and benefits of a given policy. There needs to be clear benchmarks of what constitutes success and failure. The professor is right when he says, “As economic and social relations become increasingly interdependent, it becomes ever more obvious that no rights are truly ‘individual’ and that one person’s exercise of rights invariably affects others and society generally,” The trick in deciding whether a given policy is wise, is an honest, clear–eyed look at the results. Zoning is a perfect example. Have the long-term results been positive or negative? I think they have been negative. But the inability of some people to accept the possibility that direct, hands on management might, in spite of being formulated by intelligent, well intentioned people, may yield results that are inferior to what would have occurred through the interactions of individuals.

  22. “…The professor is right when he says, “As economic and social relations become increasingly interdependent, it becomes ever more obvious that no rights are truly ‘individual’ and that one person’s exercise of rights invariably affects others and society generally,”…”

    Fuck off, slaver.

  23. “Gavin Newsom Says California Will Stay On Lockdown Until Scientists Discover Cure For Death”
    https://babylonbee.com/news/gavin-newsom-says-counties-must-stay-on-lockdown-until-death-is-eradicated

    Satire is (perhaps) still possible.

  24. Maybe we should define “authoritarian” less gratuitously than we might usually, given Il Douchey over there trying to do an actual coup.

    1. I’m surprised you have such harsh words for Biden.

    2. Yeah:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKe8SvpJiH8
      Get fucked with a running, rusty chainsaw, shitstain.

  25. “The great masses of men, though theoretically free, are seen to submit supinely to oppression and exploitation of a hundred abhorrent sorts. Have they no means of resistance? Obviously they have. The worst tyrant, even under democratic plutocracy, has but one throat to slit. The moment the majority decided to overthrow him he would be overthrown. But the majority lacks the resolution; it cannot imagine taking the risks.” ~ H. L. Mencken (1926). “Notes on Democracy,” p. 50, Alfred A. Knopf

    1. The Secret Service will escort him out, don’t worry.

  26. “Harvard Law professor”. Is there any greater pox on this earth and our freedoms than this? Eat flaming death, every one of them!

    1. Yes. He looks like a pox.

      Hey libertarians, do you wish to be associated with fascist anti-intellectualism?

  27. In other news water is wet. It is the nature of government to expand. Bureaucrats will always say they don’t have enough money and people. Size is the measurement of power.

  28. The desire for power, control and security is in direct proportion to the amount of fear you harvest from inside your mind. Power is the grandest illusion as it takes the complete surrendering of those whom you wish to control. In the end, no matter how much fake power you think you have, it all ends when you die. It’s sad that so many of the people attracted to government have severe inner power-control-security issues. They cannot find a peaceful inner balance in the real world and therefore believe they can become tyrannical government control freaks and by controlling everyone and everything, that they are themselves immune to any disasters or discomforts. Sorry mister government control freak, I refuse to comply.

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  29. Maybe you should let sullum know.

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