A federal trial over a Pennsylvania school that required bringing up the question of “intelligent design” (are there aspects of life not explained by evolution, which might best be explained by the existence of an intelligent “designer”?) has brought the issue to America’s front pages.
The core of the argument against intelligent design is that it deserves no credibility because it is neither proven nor provable. However, that argument has an important social parallel. Is it provable that the government, whose only superiority is in the use of coercion, advances Americans’ “general welfare” by its intrusion in every area of life? If not, should we believe in relying on it to make ever more of our choices for us?
Can we prove that is there sufficient evidence of intelligent government design? Can we conclude that government policies and programs work so well, with each intricate part fitting together so seamlessly that we should credit their designers with sufficient intelligence to trust still more decisions to them? And if not, why do we believe in demanding that government “do something” for every problem, old or new, real or imaginary?
Why would we think that moving decisions to government will result in more intelligent arrangements? There is no way a government planner or plan can replicate the market system’s integration and productive use of the vastly different and overlapping knowledge of each of its participants, coordinated without central planners. Moving decisions to government throws away a great deal of valuable, detailed information millions of individuals know, giving choices to those far less intelligent about essential issues than those betting real money on being correct.
This is illustrated by how ineffective government policies involving even simple issues have been. The apparently simple logic of mandates such as the 55 mile hour speed limit, innumerable safety and other requirements have been undone by the law of unintended (and more importantly, unanticipated) consequences, often to the point of having effects opposite to those intended.
The government’s questionable expertise is reinforced by innumerable regulatory hearings. After boilerplate expressions of thanks for the government’s efforts to help, those who actually know how things work explain that proposals won’t work as planned because they have left multiple crucial issues out of their considerations.
The number of demonstrated government “successes” not really the result of involuntary “contributions” coerced from others offers no more support to intelligent government design. Through markets, people can make use of the highly varied, dispersed information each has, without needing to precisely explain “who, what, when, where, why and how.”
All it takes is revealing their preferences by what they offer to buy or sell in their varying circumstances. In contrast, for government decision-making, all the knowledge must first be centralized. A great deal of valuable intelligence (i.e., sources of wealth creation) is unavoidably lost in the process, resulting in governments telling others what to do on the basis of unavoidably inadequate, and not infrequently incorrect, information.
And that fatal error is not rectified by the electoral process, because voters also know little about the relevant issues, much less the details necessary to implement improvements.
If you were using your own money, you would not give up important decisions to designers with a short track record of success and a long one of failure. You would not consider them intelligent enough in the relevant ways to decide for you. But saying we need to have the government do more, as is so common now, especially in times of crisis, on no better evidence, makes no more sense.
Intelligent government design is not proven. We should not believe it purely on faith. And we should surely not teach such unproven ideas in our schools without far better evidence than has been offered for it.