Friday, October 9, 2009

Beyond Theory

In this recent op-ed David Brooks contrasts Bentham, an arrogant central planner, with Hume, a humbler fellow who prefers decentralized, market-based solutions to problems.

I agree that there are two kinds of people in the world, but I don't divide them this way: my two groups are pragmatists and ideologues. One group works from the evidence to the solution; the other works from the solution to the evidence.

At this point in history, we can safely say that we know these things for sure: pure, unfettered markets do not work and central command economies do not work. The ideal is somewhere in the middle; we need to sort out when it is the right time to to intervene and regulate, and when we need to let the market do its magic. Who do we trust to do that? Who can look at the evidence dispassionately, and make decisions based on facts instead of predilections?

If I know nothing else about them, I'll go with the person who doesn't enter the room trumpeting his principles.

In Angels in America, Tony Kushner has the world's oldest living Bolshevik plaintively ask "how are we to proceed without theory?" That same question seems to be stirring in the hearts of many conservatives today.