The mass distribution of human knowledge spawned by the printing press led to the Age of Reason, the American Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and unimaginable technological innovation and prosperity. But it also led to something else, the rise of individualism and the irrelevance of political elites. Of course those who wish to make the rules for everyone else, and harness the force of government to enforce them, can have none of that. As a result, the Age of Reason has been replaced by the Age of Complexity. According to Mark Meckler of the Article V Convention of States,
Today, if you order the Constitution (Centennial Edition, annotated with Supreme Court interpretations) from the government publishing office, for 130 dollars roughly, it is now 2738 pages, and weighs over 10 pounds. Its outrageous, we’re living out of this big fat document. Its not the Constitution most people think we’re living under. That’s for the most part the left’s Constitution. They love that big fat book because it gives government almost unlimited power.
Their rationale is simple, because of the unprecedented choice created by entrepreneurs and technology, life is too complicated for us poor dumb slobs, and we need a massive government bureaucracy loaded with experts to protect us from information overload. To them, the exponential increases in life expectancy, economic productivity, high speed travel, and electronic communication have outgrown the quaint ideals of the Enlightenment.
The Swamp Rats
Also, the Internal Revenue Code for taxation, and the Federal Register for regulation, are tens of thousands of pages long. To enforce them, an intrusive government bureaucracy has been created. Agencies like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been awarded the powers of law maker, judge, and enforcer. This sounds so innocent, after all, who could be against consumer and environmental protection? Due process be damned, and these injustices are protected by media, education, and public policy think tanks who are convinced that central planning is necessary for an anti-concept they call the common good.
A great example is a report issued on February 28th by the Brookings Institution, An Interactive Exploration of the Geography of Prosperity. The article summarizes a study conducted by The Hamilton Project (The Geography of Prosperity). According to the Brookings piece, something amazing has been discovered.
Americans in many ways experience a different economy based on where they live, generating substantial gaps in life outcomes. Poverty rates are three times higher in the poorest 20 percent of counties compared to the top counties.
To arrive at this finding, The Hamilton Project created what they call their Vitality Index by
Using a statistical procedure that can isolate the underlying common factor among these variables, we found that having a high median household income, a low poverty rate, and high life expectancy were the most important indicators of a county’s vitality.
Of course it has to be more complex than that, “Confirmatory Factor Analysis (CFA) entails the estimation of factor loadings and the Vitality Measure in a series of simultaneous equations.” Whew!
The Hamilton Project
It helps to know who wrote this paper. According to The Hamilton Project website, among their 24 contributing authors, one is from the private sector, and all of the others are the usual academic and government elite muckety-mucks. Based on this, its no wonder that “A county’s average level of educational attainment, in terms of high school and college completion, is the strongest predictor of vitality.” Incredibly, human flourishing can only be achieved through their publicly funded schools. To understand how this stunning and self-fulfilling prophecy was derived, consider the premise of The Hamilton Project research,
On critical measures such as household income, poverty, employment rates, and life expectancy, there exist yawning, persistent gaps between the best and worst-performing communities. The evidence-based proposals contained in this volume can help restore the conditions of inclusive growth that make it possible for individuals from any part of the country to benefit from economic opportunity.
In other words, centrally planned equal outcomes everywhere, an ideal they know to be inane. But that’s OK, it’s impossible for individuals to benefit from their own human action. It’s impossible for the human mind to wade through the complexity of life without expert guidance from the hubristic elites whose business it is to distort economic incentives. Or as philosopher Leonard Piekoff describes, they are “modern pragmatists who make a fetish of complexity.”
They try to solve the problem by reverting to the animal level, by narrowing their focus to some isolated concrete, while evading all of the other concretes to which it is connected in reality. They solve the problem of complexity by throwing out vast amounts of relevant information, thereby reducing themselves to helplessness.
Principled Human Action
Because of our capacity for reason, the human mind can accumulate a tremendous amount of information and condense it into abstract concepts – into a form that we can process. Instead of submitting to puppet-masters, and conforming to their one size fits all simplicity, we can easily perform our own simplification. As Piekoff explains,
Man has a conceptual faculty, a faculty of forming principles, which is specifically his weapon for coping with complexity. Yet our leaders, thanks to centuries of bad philosophy, distrust and reject this faculty, and therefore are helpless to lead or to know what to do.
Of course life is complex, but no more complex today than at any other time in human history. The big difference is that where there is capitalism, we no longer fear starvation and violence. While there has been rapid and wonderful change in the human condition, human nature has not changed. There will always be the arrogant and incompetent who wish to rule. To make themselves relevant, public policy think tanks and the administrative state use complexity to peddle their hopelessness. Individuals who live according to principles established by reason can easily see through this, and do just fine.