Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fewer Ideas, More Wisdom Please

As a follow-up to this post where I lament our inability to reach back into history and choose what worked then for application today, because, after all, our modern problems are generally the same as were our problems in bygone eras, I point you to an almost off-hand but very trenchant observation by Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek. Yes indeed liberalism is practically brimming over with ideas, but as Don points out, nearly all of them entail how a certain small minority of people want the majority of people to live their lives. This of course is the natural essence of modern liberalism, a comprehensive desire to engineer society based on utopian visions. It is also a result of the "publish or perish" incentive system that has taken over and ruled the higher education industry for decades now. The incentive system in academia drives scholars to write/say just about anything as mere production is valued over quality. After all, much of what has merit is known, so to be original one has to strive and more often than not the striving leads scholars into the outlandish; and, because these scholars are putatively "experts" (b/c they are "credentialed but not educated" as Glenn Reynolds would say) the outlandish becomes a viable "idea." Thus the profusion of ideas on the left/liberal side of the political spectrum, much of them utter nonsense. Thus the focus on the presence or quantity of ideas is a flawed barometer for assessing policy vibrancy. What we need is not ideas but ideas that work, and most of the time we'd be better off calling upon historians than with the supposed visionaries that our society seems to seek out for adulation.


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