There is a big difference between being unable to solve a problem and engaging in actions that actively make things worse.
Yes – the first thing Biden did in office – literally – was to cancel the Keystone pipeline from Canada. Now he is literally grovelling before a Saudi Prince. Germany’s citizens will freeze in the dark due to a delusional foreign policy on natural gas – and because they’ve shut down functioning nuclear power plants. The MSM are experts at spin – but even the dimmest citizen is going to start connecting dots. Sitting in the cold in the dark with an empty stomach will give them lots of time to think about how they got to that point.
By the time even the dimmest citizen starts to connect the dots, it will be much too late.
All that’s required is that the smartest half of the citizens and realize that “experts” in government generally make things worse by tinkering, and to vote for less and less tinkering.
“There is a great deal of ruin in a nation,” said economist Adam Smith, in 1777. Leftists see this comment as a challenge, and are rushing to see how much ruin they can inflict before the next election. In inflicting damages, particularly inflation, they ensure a majority of the people will see them as incompetent or worse, malevolent.
You are over politicising the argument made, which is about the inevitable fallabillity of trying to micro manage complex modern human societies. You also seem to select one completely contradictory example to make your case: The United States SHOULD construct a fossil fuel pipeline from another nation, but Germany SHOULD NOT have done!
But government/the state has to be seen to be doing something. All government/state action will only ever make things worse, for reasons that we all know. Thus it is inevitable that things can only get worse.
Is that an iron law? Surely it is possible to have a more or less competent state, as seems to be evidenced by a number of current examples; Singapore rather better than, say, Nigeria. Unless you are a complete libertarian and/or anarchist, the states has to perform some functions.
The absence of, say, law and order and policing isn’t a freedom loving paradise, but the rule of gangsters and warlords, as evidenced by those societies where the state has completely failed.
Not least when those concerned seem to always have one eye shamelessly on how they personally can profit from the policies and initiatives they enact.
I would change “actively” to deliberately.
Excellent article. The hubris of most politicians knows no bounds. There are a few, albeit, important, things we should expect government to manage. Defence, rule of law, regulation of utilities and monopolies certainly included. The only politicians to be trusted are those who admit their limitations and who accept that their main job is to help create a society which trusts and enables free people to find their own responsible paths to individual success and fulfilment. A safety net is of course needed for those unable to provide for themselves or their families. However, individual, not State, control and responsibility must be the overriding aim. Otherwise politicians will continue to fail and the poorest and weakest amongst us will remain trapped and continue to suffer. The idea that yet more big Government will solve that sad situation is absurd.
I agree with you 100%. Sadly, however, the ship has long sailed and they have successfully hooked everyone on big government, across the West.
The worst of it all is that our education and welfare systems make it impossible to, in your words, ‘create a society which trusts and enables free people to find their own responsible paths to individual success and fulfilment.’ Again, this is deliberate.
I agree. As the old man sitting by the road replied when asked how to get to Cork “Well, you shouldn’t start from here”.
Undoing the damage done in recent decades will not be easy and will demand great leadership and resolve at all levels. Unfortunately it is very difficult to see where that will come from right now.
Excellent points. However, I feel that government is no longer a function of society: it has become a self-serving, ever-expanding corporatist organism requiring ever-greater funds extracted by ever-fewer (as a proportion of the population) taxpayers. It is a permanent empire within a republic, with vast resources, power, leverage, patronage and ability to coerce. Only a Constitutional Amendment limiting total federal government expenditure to a lowish percentage of GDP can ever hope to reverse the situation.
An elected aristocracy.
And there aren’t any real monopolies except those shielded by Govt license and protection.
I think this explains the many attempts by politicians to control discourse on the internet. The internet never forgets – which is embarrassing for both politicians and ‘experts’ alike. There is a growing contingent of malcontents who routinely save tweets, webpages, etc, simply so they can throw them in the face of their opponents later. So – for example when the definitions of ‘herd immunity’ and ‘vaccine’ were altered by health authorities – they were immediately called out on it. It is just getting harder to memory hole things.
It is just getting harder to memory hole things.
Snopes said this was mostly untrue.
If nations, and human affairs, are too complex and unpredictable for a top-down style of technocratic control, how are we to govern? I suppose a partial answer is to devolve more power and autonomy to local communities and to avoid, at all cost, internationalism and globalization. Of course, that’s not the direction in which we’re currently headed.
I see in America a tremendous desire for local control and to be free of the dead hand of Washington where the federal government, whether left wing or right wing, no longer represents the desires of a majority of the people. I can’t, however, square that tendency with the reality of geopolitics where America must remain united and a superpower if it’s to compete on the world stage.
Yes, far more power needs to be devolved, as has been obvious for many decades.
As for the main thrust of the article, I observed around 2004 (the year, funnily enough, that Ormerod’s book was published) that the government (in this case the UK’s egregiously and murderously incompetent New Label government) always achieved precisely the opposite of that which it intended to achieve. I have since noticed that this rule applies to all government or state action, particularly in the West.
“Label”! Was that a Freudian slip to use a technical term?
No, I have referred to ‘New Labour’ as ‘New Label’ ever since the concept of ‘New Labour’ was first gifted to a grateful nation.
Thank you, a most apposite description if I may say so!
New l***a would be more appropriate
Be careful what you wish for. The Blair government set up a devolved Parliament in Wales 20 years ago. We have had a socialist paradise ever since. He effectively set up a one party state.
Our state schools and hospitals are rapidly going Venezuela …. a fact that is masked because in England everyone can see, that they are even worse.
We have a very big swamp to drain .
The problem being that we no longer produce the engineers necessary to drain it.
Firstly, all this all too partisan stuff entirely misses the point of Ormerod’s argument. To say New Labour was ‘murderously incompetent’ shows you to be rather an extremist and completely out of touch with the views of the British people. In what way did it achieve ‘precisely the opposite of what it intended to achieve’? Academy schools perhaps? Tony Blair got re-elected twice, despite the Iraq war (which, lest we forget, the Conservatives were even more gung-ho about). But, natch, never resist the chance to come up with some hyperbolic language! Of course to be fair, it is very evident that you aren’t alone on here. As it happens I’d say the majority of people and informed commentators would view pretty much all those new Labour ministers to be rather more competent (eg David Blunkett) than, say, the second team rabble we’ve had under Johnson, and I have no particular political reason to say that. Perhaps Johnson is a particularly low bar however!
Secondly, people in general rail against things and come come up with airy abstractions and generalisations, and not specific proposals – and are also not known for their consistency. Some power has been devolved to city administrations in the UK – not enough – but those nonetheless get flamed on this forum by you guys as much or as more than central government. As soon as ‘their guys’ if they have any(!) – are not elected, the city governments get trashed.
Dominic Cummings came into prominence in very effectively campaigning against a North East regional assembly. Maybe he was right, maybe he was wrong, but it is difficult to square that with some overriding desire to pass power down to more local level.
Switzerland is the answer to the question you pose.
The ‘Land of William Tell’ is about as good as it gets, and makes the rest of us look like the cretins we so obviously are.
The “Land of Billy Tell” is populated by 8.6 million blue-eyed, culture-sharing blonds. Perhaps the US should de-state and create maybe a hundred Switzerlands.
so true… and no one knows or cares who is PM there
Perhaps we can learn from Switzerland, but we should note that it has a very long sui generis history of small cantons coming together by voluntary association, with a limited federal government. This is very different from the history of almost all other modern western European states of France, the UK, Spain etc. Germany also seems to have an effective federal system (despite its barmy energy policy) and things just do seem to work better there, but that was imposed by the Allies after the war.
Switzerland has also acted as an extremely dubious tax haven for some of the most ill gotten gains in the world, so it hardly has a spotless record.
Yes,lots of small local groups. I’m not clever enough to know how to do it,but it’s the way. It would be messy and a bit inefficient but messy,inefficient lives are the most fun. It would be tricky and difficult. When you have to interact and engage with your neighbours a lot things can get awkward. People would get excluded. I know about this. I’m one of them. It wouldn’t be easy but the best things never are. Worth going for definitely.
But smaller local governments are reduced to begging grants from the federal mammary for everything now. That’s how they lose control.
Are our elites really incompetent? Inequality has increased. Human rights are under threat. A journalist who exposed war crimes is threatened with being buried alive in the US prison system. Censorship is rife. To criticise the transfer of power to non-elected EU Commissioners is denied on the spurious grounds of racism. The right to protest is being withdrawn. The Canadian government freezes the bank accounts of people who question why everyone must be forced to have injections whose long-term side effects are unknown. Our ability to travel is being removed as our elites routinely fly around in private jets. The mistake is to think that they ever cared about us.
As you point out, they are highly competent when it comes to accruing power and riches for themselves. This is now the main purpose of holding office, at any level, across the West. In that sense, the West is no longer any different to pretty much every other society in the history of mankind. We had perhaps a century or so in parts of the West during which holding office was not purely about power and riches. It was nice while it lasted.
They did care once. They cared from about I estimate 1890 -2010. I blame both them and us for them stopping caring. We stopped voting people with high moral standards of behaviour into office because we thought we no longer respected moral standards of behaviour
If it feels good do it. (Even if you end up in jail or therapy). They found out that no matter how much provision they made for people with special needs it was never enough and either unaffordable or they didn’t want to spend the money on it. No more drug rehab paid for,no more individual teachers for your learning difficulties kid,care in the community is sleeping in a shop doorway. The poor will always be with us,said a Man once,so lock the castle gates and ignore them.
Biden and his experts failed to see what was coming with inflation, but the Federal Reserve has slammed the brakes on the US economy and this will hopefully reduce inflationary pressures.
There is no way on earth that Biden’s experts could have failed to see what was coming with inflation. The Federal Reserve did not ‘slam the breaks on the US economy’. You cannot reduce inflationary pressures with a tighter monetary policy unless they are caused by overproduction that is dependent on a lose money supply. But the problem in the US economy is not overproduction but underproduction. Scarcity, not the Federal Reserve has slammed the breaks on the US economy.
Supply chains are disrupted, which means that producers cannot find components they need to assemble stuff, or not at the price they need to produce goods without raising prices. Energy prices have gone through the roof, which means more things are simply too expensive to make. Industry produces less, which drives up the price of those things that they do make. (Or the producers go bankrupt, priced out of the market altogether.)
I agree with most of your comments, except the one suggesting “you cannot reduce inflationary pressures with a tighter monetary policy ….”.
Whatever the multiple causes are, reducing money supply will generate a downward effect on prices.
Did Biden and his experts fail to see the coming inflation? The problem is that were they to have proclaimed that there was a high probability of inflation growing and persisting they would have encouraged behaviour that would have ensured the truth of such a prophesy. To lie about one’s belief may have been seen to be better than telling the truth and committing the equivalent of shouting fire in a crowded theatre.
Tho if the theatre is on fire and people haven’t noticed, somebody has to draw their attention to it, one way or the other.
Perfectly stated, —the #FED “is” the cause of #BoomBust cycles! & It has not “slammed on” the brakes at all.
The author was doing just fine discussing “complexity” and “complex adaptive systems,” then lapsed into “linear thinking,” like the inept politicians he criticises.
Biden simultaneously reduced fossil fuel supply in as many ways as his staff could think of, while his Federal Reserve bought US Government bonds like they were going out of style. This decreased the supply of goods and increased the supply of money, creating too much money chasing too few goods. Obviously, inflation was the result.
Michael Crichton in his 1990 book Jurassic Park and in the Spielberg film of the same name had a character called Ian Malcolm who was a mathematician and an expert on Chaos Theory. Malcolm predicted the failure of the project on the basis that it was too complicated to control and that something unpredicted would surely go wrong despite all the assurances of the project management that they had thought of everything. Which is straight out of Ormerod’s final dictum quoted in the last paragraph of the article. I know it’s fiction but it’s a good example of how reality can creep up and bite vanity and hubris right on the arse.
It’s a great book too.
“According to the evidence, developed democracies tend to have lower rates of inequality than poor or authoritarian nations — but at the moment, for unknown reasons, inequality is climbing, and governments have no clue how to reverse the trend.”
LOL all I have to say is this is hilarious journalism. For unknown reasons inequality is rising?! No clue?! That’s BS, it’s all about these obvious points:
1: housing and property has become the main source of wealth of the entire world middle class and above classes for the past 50 years. You can’t fuel economies without adequate housing for the majority of the other non-owning people who do the most hard work and energy output, where at every turn they are hampered by lack of space, peace and sanity living in unaffordable, low quality housing and no hope of owning without drastic changes in their lives, like moving away from family or country.
2: governments have continually eroded trust and stability since the 90s, with globalist and liberal agendas which create a commitment lite economy built on short term-ism and people throughput, instead of long term stability and job retention/career development.
3: family integrity and support is eroded in the West, ever since the second world war families have continued to atomize and this essentially feeds in to the above two points, housing is stressed because it isn’t shared or seen as a family affair but each generation must buy a new house before it is even a good idea to do so (even pressured out of their parents’ house before they have savings for a house) and older generations must live on their own or go into retirement home instead of living with younger family, and this isn’t really possible because young people must hop around like frogs for new jobs here and there like in 3, just to break even and told that is just life.
4: the information and digital economy is inherently unequal because so many people lack information economy skills that change in a matter of years, even within years themselves, of course younger generations may buck this current trend in that inequality but new forms of such an economy will evolve and create new ever more complex financial and informational niches to delve into
5: politicians have deliberately ushered in ever more socialist and authoritarian policies since the 90s, conservative or liberal governments mind you, and is again a direct result of my points 2 and 4; that such a diverse and overlapping global economy and society is impossible to control and the possibilities of terrorism, sedition, rebellion, encryption, corruption and on are more undetectable than ever and the powers that be thus think the approach is to squash everyone with illiberal spying and bureaucracy instead of accept that the game is over, you either have freedom in a liberal world order, or you don’t. You can’t liberalise the world and then secretly record and probe all of it simultaneously, it is a recipe for mistrust and disunity and the little person suffers when it is stifling expensive to move around and do basic things within that system in a visa heavy, vaccine mandate and lockdown loaded world, that suits the already rich obviously. Just look at the UK with their visa jumping path for the rich £15,000 for a visa tomorrow but everyone else waits months. It’s that obvious sir.
I could go on of course it’s simply not for unknown reasons, that’s trite.
I recall listening to the radio in the 1970s,1980s,even 1990s I think. Again and again would pop up a news item. America is wanting to sign a trade treaty with…..name any country. It will open up this country to Free Trade and this previously poor but stable country where the people are quite content will be able to sell shed loads of their woven craft work and vegetable harvest into the American market and this become rich and live in nice houses to a First World standard. Well,yes it does mean America can dump all their excess production in that country’s market at rock bottom price and destroy their economy,but that’s a danger of Free Trade,and it hardly ever happens. I always thought that it didn’t sound like a good deal to me but they’d always have experts on hand to explain how tariffs were bad and how Free Trade brought the world together,and taught it to sing….. So I found it funny when Mr Trump started advocating Trade barriers and they voted for it having seen the downside of Free Trade once China beat them at their own game!
Is that just a slip of the pen about the state, unlike the free market, being able to ‘…deliver full unemployment…’? Quite a few states seem to have tried this, I do admit.
The one that springs to mind was Russia in the late 60s when I lived in Moscow – every single person had a job of some sort, even if a shared one, or a useless one.
Sounds rather like Whitehall or any of the British state, the difference being that the Russians were probably not allowed to WFH.
And a Russian once told me the standing joke was, “They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work.”
‘advised by experts who had access to vast data sets unavailable to the public’.
Why oh why do I feel a little bit underwhelmed everytime an ‘expert’ starts pontificating.
One crucial difference between the US and the UK is that in America, no matter who is in power, the efficiency of The Fed, The State Department, and The Treasury tends to be unhindered. We now appear to have a left politicised civil service, plus senior financial civil servants who are simply not of the US caliber to hold the hands of innumerate politicians.
Leviathan is the cause of all our ills and it must be slayed…
“One rationale behind this expansion was that, unlike an untamed free market, the state could deliver full unemployment.” So many non-jobs and editors sleeping on the job.
Excellent essay thanks – but many were aware that if you print money, inflation must follow – so where is the complexity with that particular issue ?? OR if a country allows a lot of immigration without enough houses or infrastructure or commonality – things will get difficult ETC ETC ETC Many govt decisions are just plain stupidity (or politically craven) vs too complex to figure out etc
actually the change in capital markets, electronics and derivatives, and instant pricing and trading had brought us a long way from the simplistic Weimar analogy: We now have high employment, downwards pressure on wages, downwards pressure on pricing where consumers have a choice, and upwards pressure on pricing, as in commodities, where consumers have no choice, and supply/ pricing are controlled, by manipulated ” markets”.
Interesting article, but it could have done with explaining why different lessons are to be learned from the public sector and the private sector in this context. It is true that failure is the norm in the private sector at the level of the individual company, but that is actually one of the key strengths of the market system: it weeds out failure and makes room for new experiments. And it is important to note that the experiments in question are not merely individuals seeking profit, but enterprises seeking to find new ways of delivering what we all want and need in chaotically changing social and economic landscapes.
So in the private sector, failure is a healthy process that makes room for success and improvement. In the public sector, conversely, the general rule is that nobody pays any price for being wrong except the taxpayer and the voter – ie nobody who ever makes the decisions. That is why large governments do not work, and why democracies must go through periodic bouts of crisis as the political debt of iterative failures with no consequences to the decision makers grows ever larger.
And it is important to note that governments do not merely restrict themselves to making a pig’s ear of emergent challenges, they also go to the trouble of inventing problems for which no easy solution is known to exist purely so as to expand their own power and size. Net Zero is a classic example of this, but the Covid pandemic response is also a recent fiasco worth mentioning in this context, as is the entire institutional landscape of wokery in all its forms.
Well put. And bigger government will magnify the severity of bad policy, causing damage that the private sector would be incapable of.
Solutions to problems cause new problems.
The article supports the notion that the best government does the least to attempt to manage complexity. Society needs rules, no doubt, but the fewer the better. Aside from starting over we are all at a loss for how to mend our governments.
“We seem to live in an age of failure.”
This is, by far, the best standard of living that the mass of humanity has ever experienced. And it keeps getting better.
No thanks to modern bloatocratic governments, though.
Speaking in UK terms maybe if we stopped electing stupid people into office because they don’t intimidate our sense of our own competence. ie they are even stupider than us so they make US feel smart. When I think back to the days of Tony Benn,Micheal Heseltine,Dennis Healey and others,lots of others. These were people,sorry I’ve only named men,I mean I’ll add Shirley Williams and Barbara Castle,they could go on the radio and answer difficult questions,often with acerbic sharpness(Barbara Castle) or funny wit,without losing gravitas. They could summon up the data,actually say numbers and percentages on whatever issue. They didn’t waffle,I’m sorry I don’t have that with me,I’ll ask my civil servant and get back to you on that. I mean Enoch Powell,yes he made THAT speech and put paid to a stellar career for ever. I’ve read the background of the circumstances that led to that speech and he misinterpreted some things,but that’s not my point. He was a formidable intellect. He was an intellectual. We don’t have people of that level of mental brilliance in Parliament anymore. I didn’t vote for this lot. I’ve never voted Tory in my life. I certainly never voted for M.Thatcher just because she was female. I never bought that “,,I’m a housewife” shtick.
What an absolute crock of shit!
The choice of ancient Greece to foil the points written here is an interesting one. I prefer to frame it as a kind of pseudo-Faustian dynamic. We live in an age in which Faust’s unbridled thirst for knowledge is less than a fairy tale. The dream of absolute and complete knowledge was killed, at the tip of Max Planck’s pen. The distinction between a deterministic universe and an open one is a moot point when causality hides behind probability.
Interestingly, the myth of absolute knowledge — and arguably, even accurate knowledge — is one that persists in the public sphere. Most of us have agreed that Professors Soandso McGee and Whosit A. Gaine at the Princevard Academy of Technology et al. have knowledge and expertise such that their academically-informed opinions on unknowably chaotic structures like economics, politics, government, might pass for knowledge, if we can just squint our eyes at the precisely correct angle of attack from far enough away. The problem, then, becomes a matter of with which expert your socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds align most closely, and then: of falling back on the same anachronistic, vestigial tribal impulses which have driven our species long past their utility. If only our guy were powerful, he would use the knowledge to accomplish the thing.
This is, of course, fallacious. I’m of the opinion that most people have no clue what they’re doing. I have no clue what I’m doing, or what I’m talking about as I type this. I’m completely unqualified to have these opinions, if qualification is even a relevant concept. Maybe there are shades of grey, true. But there exist many, many, many unsolved issues, affecting each and every one of us on this planet, whose solutions are unknowable except in retrospect.
It’s a queer kind of inflection point at which we find ourselves in the modern world. Viewed under a certain light, the problem isn’t one of furthering our knowledge of the systems at play, as much as it is one of rebelling in futility against the notion that this knowledge is, most likely, completely impossible. It reminds me of Nietzsche’s madman and the death of God. God’s death, he held, was unheard by the masses. We went about our business as if God were still alive. I don’t think he was right. I think God was still alive — determinism, knowability, that puerile and naïve notion that the universe’s secrets were just there to be discovered by us — and was merely in the process of dying. I think we are, just now, finally starting to hear the echoes of his corpse hitting the ground.
Are we sure they even care if they fail? Don’t they get to keep their millions, their connections, their owed favors? If something concentrates power and money to them and their friends, but fails politically, what did they really lose? If they’re protected from prosecution, and their private dealings covered, are they really losers? If it’s all only about winning all the time politically, then yes they failed, but what if it’s more than that?
“Will we escape our age of failure?”
Yes. What a stupid question. Next article…
Not that stupid a question but you made me laugh.