If we start from the (painfully obvious) fact that no one can know everything about how the world works, we must also admit, no matter how scary, that neither can a politician.
But don’t worry, the world will not suddenly come crushing down on you if you allow this to be true, because it has always been true. And the thing that saved us from politicians’ ill-informed attempts at planning things for us was – well, us. The people. Our actions. Our efforts to make a living, to improve our life situation, to prosper. We are the economy. Our actions are the economy. We are part of that “market” we so love to hate and blame.
Not one entity can know everything there is to know, but we are all the most knowledgeable about our own business. That doesn’t mean we know everything about our business. That does not mean we are always right. It just means that no one knows more and no one can know more.
Does that mean that it is all optimal? Of course not. Does it mean that it couldn’t benefit from coordination at the very least? Of course it would. But it doesn’t mean there is anyone with the knowledge to do so. There still in’t anyone who has all the information necessary, remember? That is where we started.
And planning is even more impossible than coordination – not to mention way too ambitious to the point of self-interested power grabbing. Why would anyone even try to do the gargantuan task of arranging things? And for whose benefit? Why would it be yours?
And I can’t press this enough, there isn’t anyone with enough information to plan. And there can’t be. Don’t overestimate data. It can oppress, but it cannot serve. Planning is be definition simplistic and doesn’t care for any one of us. And the thing that threatens our dealings the most is someone who feels confident enough to interfere – even though confidence is always reversely correlated with knowledge. It is easy to be confident when you don’t even know what you don’t know, or when you adopted simplistic explanations that make the solution look obvious.
Central planning is simplistic by definition – and we will all end up suffering in grayness because of it.
We all want inflatable gods hovering above us and know everything. So we made politicians. But they still don’t know enough. Not even if they truly want the best for you, they can’t get it done.
This crisis pointed it out. Just think about how much money has been sent for decades – and yet they only thing politicians could supposedly have done for us, the thing we couldn’t do ourselves, was epidemiological preparedness. Globally, not every tribe for itself. And what have they done? That is exactly for expectations of central planning compare to its reality.
If we just take the supply chain and how politicians broke it in their ill-conceived effort to crack down on people (because they don’t know how to crack down on a virus) we can see how an entity with limited information but unlimited power can get us starve faster than any natural disaster ever could. If it were up to central planning we would have food rationed in the first week of the lockdown and those toothbrushes and peanut butter would never be essential enough as long as people are dying. And they would.
In the meantime, there is enough of us to get multiple things done at the same time. People can produce and deliver toothbrushes while other people are saving lives – and neither has to know the other’s job. And a politician doesn’t have to know everyone’s job. And doesn’t know it.
The same thing we see in fast fashion supply chains also stands for immigrant workers harvesting crops. If done by locals, half the crop would be destroyed due to incompetence and unwillingness to break our necks to save that berry. Trade union fuss would be made and people wouldn’t comprehend how they are supposed to work 20-hour days in a morning chill with wet hands as well as the midday heat with the sun on their back – all in the same clothes and with only 3×15 minute breaks for toilet and food.
We have never really grown out of enslaving others for our own comfort as the way to run the economy, only the definition of slavery got more slippery: Is it still slavery if you get a penny and may legally choose to not work? Is it still slavery if you are technically paid but taxed by the state at 50%? 70%? 99%? Is it still restriction on the freedom of movement if you are allowed out – you are just not allowed into another country? Is it still slavery if you have grown up into it and it only pays enough to keep you in working condition? What if it pays less than the price of keeping you workable? At which point does it stop being a mutually voluntary interaction?
For now, international arbitrage of wages and living standards have saved us from most of the unpleasant questions onshore. By the time first world workplace standards would be enforced on agriculture, we would all be out of pocket at the grocery store and unable to buy that much in the first place. With 8-hour days and workplace comfort measures that protect your back and mental health that bunch of asparagus would suddenly cost four times more. And there would be much less people to afford them.
Maybe, of course, these jobs should not even exist in the first place and machines should do the backbreaking work for us. And maybe they will. The shock made enterprises recalculate the price of human labor vs a machine and suddenly the expensive harvesting machines look cheap compared to leaving the crops on the land and going bankrupt – just because a politician didn’t know how to catch a virus – leaving next year without any crop to harvest.
In the end, food and clothes will become more expensive. And so will cars and houses and your morning coffee. It will only be mitigated by how much of human labor can be replaced by machines.* But at least we will learn to appreciate things again and the supply chains will get sturdier to withstand political attempts to help. That’s the best-case scenario. The worst one is that they keep planning.
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*And if UBI will get introduced, we will be far too busy killing each other over who should get how much to care about fashion, anyway. Fashion will probably be even outlawed by our overlords, who are the only clear winners of any damage they cause, and who will outlaw things that are too complex for them to plan – until they figure it out. Which will never happen because they don’t have to. They can just rule over the ruins because they can. If you think your employer who pays your salary has too much power over you – even though you can sue him at the state – think how much power the state will have if it will “pay” for your upkeep. If you think an employer can make unacceptable conditions in exchange for your salary – think about what the state can ask for in exchange for free money? Mine asks for babies and living with the same person forever in the same place, regardless of how it works out for you. Think about that politician you hate and fear. He will be in charge of the state who pays your basic income and make the rules. How is that any better?