Thursday, May 29, 2008

Experts...who needs them?

William Easterly says Hayek got it right:
Where are the experts who guessed in advance that an obscure Indian company making edible oils would become a $10bn-plus company (Wipro) providing information technology services and call centres? Or that a lossmaking Brazilian state enterprise (Embraer) would go on to capture a lot of the world market for regional jets after being privatised? Or that South Korean entrepreneurs would create a carmaker (Hyundai) with greater market value than General Motors or Ford? Or that a schoolteacher named Dong Ying Hong, formerly earning $9 a month in Datang, China, would become a millionaire making socks?

What to do in a world of such unpredictability? There are some general principles and they do not require experts. Another Nobel laureate gave the crucial insight a long time ago – the answer is freedom for multitudinous individuals to figure out their own answers. Friedrich Hayek said: “Liberty is essential to leave room for the unforeseeable and unpredictable; we want it because we have learned to expect from it the opportunity of realising many of our aims. It is because every individual knows so little and ... because we rarely know which of us knows best that we trust the independent and competitive efforts of many to induce the emergence of what we shall want when we see it.”

The evidence for this vision is not found in those baffling fluctuations of growth rates, it is in the levels of development attained in the long run. Confirming Hayek, systems that give more liberty to individuals – featuring both more economic and political freedoms – are associated with much less poverty. The evidence for this comes from both history (for example old, despotic, poor Europe compared with modern, free, rich Europe) and cross-country comparisons (for example South Korea compared with North Korea, former West Germany compared with East, New Zealand compared with Zimbabwe). This alternative paradigm has a much smaller role for experts, because experts cannot direct or impose freedom from the top down (or else it would not be freedom).

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