John Stossel

You are our Ruler. An entrepreneur tells you he wants to create something he calls a "skating rink." Young and old will strap blades to their feet and speed through an oval arena, weaving patterns as moods strike them.

You'd probably say, "We need regulation -- skating stoplights, speed limits, turn signals -- and a rink director to police the skaters. You can't expect skaters to navigate the rink on their own."

And yet they do. They spontaneously create their own order.

At last month's State of the Union, President Obama said America needs more passenger trains. How does he know? For years, politicians promised that more of us will want to commute by train, but it doesn't happen. People like their cars. Some subsidized trains cost so much per commuter that it would be cheaper to buy them taxi rides.

The grand schemes of the politicians fail and fail again.

By contrast, the private sector, despite harassment from government, gives us better stuff for less money -- without central planning. It's called a spontaneous order.

Lawrence Reed, of the Foundation for Economic Education, explains it this way:

"Spontaneous order is what happens when you leave people alone -- when entrepreneurs ... see the desires of people ... and then provide for them.

"They respond to market signals, to prices. Prices tell them what's needed and how urgently and where. And it's infinitely better and more productive than relying on a handful of elites in some distant bureaucracy."

This idea is not intuitive. Good things will happen if we leave people alone? Some of us are stupid -- Obama and his advisers are smart. It's intuitive to think they should make decisions for the wider group.

"No," Reed responded. "In a market society, the bits of information that are needed to make things work -- to result in the production of things that people want -- are interspersed throughout the economy. What brings them together are forces of supply and demand, of changing prices."

Prices are information.

The personal-computer revolution is a great example of spontaneous order.

"No politician, no bureaucrat, no central planner, no academic sat behind a desk before that happened, before Silicon Valley emerged and planned it," Reed added. "It happened because of private entrepreneurs responding to market opportunities. And one of the great virtues of that is if they don't get it right, they lose their shirts. The market sends a signal to do something else. When politicians get it wrong, you and I pay the price.

John Stossel

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at > To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at ©Creators Syndicate