The greatest danger to liberty today comes from the men who are most needed and most powerful in modern government, namely, the efficient expert administrators exclusively concerned with what they regard as the public good. Friedrich August von Hayek
As with many topics, Hayek was spot-on with the above observation. Note the phrase, “...exclusively concerned with what they [emphasis mine] regard as the public good.” In this view, the public's opinions are neither sought nor valued. On occasion, however, reality either invades the ivory tower or its inhabitants run smack into it while venturing outside its confines.
Meet Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of public schools in Washington DC. A self described, “card-carrying, life-long Democrat,” she reflexively sided with teacher's unions and against education voucher programs on the theory that in so doing, she was standing up for workers. That's when reality came calling in the form of parents who desperately wanted their children to have a good education, but who were unable to take their children out of failing schools. How in good conscience could Rhee expect these people to send their children to schools to which she would never send her own children? Rhee described the experience as an “epiphany,” saying:
I was not willing to say to these parents and say to these mothers, ‘You know what? Just give me five years, right? Just take one for the team. Your kid may not learn how to read and write and do math for those five years, but this is what is good for the system.’
Meanwhile, at 30,000 feet in a 737, a Yale professor had occasion to rub elbows with a heretofore nameless, faceless, amorphous statistic otherwise known as a small business owner. But Stephen Carter, a law professor at Yale, took the time to actually listen to a real business owner and in the process got more of an education than he has likely received in quite some time. Asked why he, the owner of a successful small business, wasn't hiring, the gentleman replied, “Because I don’t know how much it will cost. How can I hire new workers today, when I don’t know how much they will cost me tomorrow?” Carter understood, adding, “He’s referring not to wages, but to regulation.” The article is certainly worth reading in its entirety, but the Professor's conclusion is particularly interesting:
As an academic with an interest in policy, I tend to see businesses as abstractions, fitting into a theory or a data set. Most policy makers do the same. We rarely encounter the simple human face of the less- than-giant businesses we constantly extol. And when they refuse to hire, we would often rather go on television and call them greedy than sit and talk to them about their challenges.
Another epiphany, I suppose. It's odd, as Rush pointed out on his show today, that people so imminently credentialed and educated should go through life so bereft of real understanding. Is it possible, I wonder, that they've been educated beyond all reason? Then I look at the constellation of academic stars on Ricochet, among both members and contributors, and the suspicion grows that it's really an ideological divide we're observing rather than an educational one. On one hand we have a philosophy that divides people into groups or “abstractions,” according to race, class, education, income, grievance, ad infinitum, and tries to prod and cajole them to act in accordance with a design not of their own making, but fresh from the craniums of people who fashion themselves as superior and genetically predisposed to order the lives of others. On the other hand, we have a philosophy that believes in individual liberty, individual excellence, and individual accountability, period.
If we can have international and cross-cultural exchanges among students, we can certainly encourage more cross-cultural exchanges among theoreticians and those who labor outside the world of theory. If it is true that a conservative is really a liberal who has been mugged, then by all means, let the sort of reality that gently mugged Ms. Rhee and Professor Carter continue its work.