Walter E. Williams

The idea that even the brightest person or group of bright people, much less the U.S. Congress, can wisely manage an economy has to be the height of arrogance and conceit. Why? It is impossible for anyone to possess the knowledge that would be necessary for such an undertaking. At the risk of boring you, let's go through a small example that proves such knowledge is impossible.

Imagine you are trying to understand a system consisting of six elements. That means there would be 30, or n(n-1), possible relationships between these elements. Now suppose each element can be characterized by being either on or off. That means the number of possible relationships among those elements grows to the number 2 raised to the 30th power; that's well over a billion possible relationships among those six elements.

Our economic system consists of billions of different elements that include members of our population, businesses, schools, parcels of land and homes. A list of possible relationships defies imagination and even more so if we include international relationships. Miraculously, there is a tendency for all of these relationships to operate smoothly without congressional meddling. Let's think about it.

The average well-stocked supermarket carries over 60,000 different items. Because those items are so routinely available to us, the fact that it is a near miracle goes unnoticed and unappreciated. Take just one of those items -- canned tuna. Pretend that Congress appoints you tuna czar; that's not totally out of the picture in light of the fact that Congress has recently proposed a car czar for our auto industry. My question to you as tuna czar is: Can you identify and tell us how to organize all of the inputs necessary to get tuna out of the sea and into a supermarket? The most obvious inputs are fishermen, ships, nets, canning factories and trucks. But how do you organize the inputs necessary to build a ship, to provide the fuel, and what about the compass? The trucks need tires, seats and windshields. It is not a stretch of the imagination to suggest that millions of inputs and people cooperate with one another to get canned tuna to your supermarket.


Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
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