Government For the Benefit of the Knaves

Kakistocracy translated means government by the worst or as James Russell Lowell defines it, a “government for the benefit of knaves at the cost of fools.”

Today, those holding the highest offices tend to be venal, abusive, and incompetent in their official conduct, and at times heinous in their personal lives.  And the masses that foolishly elevated such people to power have paid dearly for it in lost liberty and falling living standards.

The foolish man displays what Will Durant called “the ready omniscience of the uninformed.” F. A. Hayek called it “the fatal conceit.” It’s the mistake of thinking that we have the knowledge to shape society for the better, to direct the economy, to forcibly order people’s lives. And that we have the knowledge not just to do those things, but to do them well.

Yet the nature of politics, both for voters and for state agents, encourages just this sort of thinking. Too many seek to realize their virtues through the state. Thus, while the state grew initially from viciousness, from criminals wanting more power, it continues to grow via foolishness – good people doing a bad job of doing good.

Rational ignorance means voters have no incentive to vote well. Public choice economics teaches us that lawmakers are often swayed by concerns unrelated to doing good. And the distance all this decision making takes from the effects of those decisions means bad policies continue for far too long and get worse as they’re taken over by groups with interest unrelated to the policy’s original goals.

Skepticism finds its source in thinking that a person must not be very wise if he thinks he can run other people’s lives better than they can. Distaste for power grows from watching the imperiousness of politicians and the officious meddling of bureaucrats. And a deep caring for others as beings worthy of respect leads us to reject calls to override their judgements with the opinions of majorities or elites.

Very nearly everything the state does is either vicious or foolish, which is why the state so often appears as a cudgel wielded by clowns. So, we have good reason to be skeptical of its claims to virtue and wisdom and its pleas for more power

Government’s very nature attracts the vicious, corrupts the virtuous, and encourages foolish decisions so, it is essential that we should limit its power as much as possible.

Everyone has a right to be stupid, but some abuse the privilege. Our liberty is under siege, as is our livelihoods, and in some cases, our very lives. 

Source: Are We Living Under a Kakistocracy: Government by the Worst? By Dan Sanchez, Foundation for Economic Education; Why the Government is so Often Vicious and Foolish,

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