Recently, progressive political commentator Kyle Kulinski, who runs the popular Secular Talks channel on YouTube, was roasted on Twitter for not recognizing farm fields from the air. Conservatives had a field day – pun intended – with Kulinski’s ignorance. The incident illustrates in a humorous way one of the most critical results from economics: Division of labor makes central planning impossible due to systemic ignorance.
By leftist standards, Kulinski is moderate. Nevertheless, he did support Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for president in 2016 and co-founded Justice Democrats, which is the organization that got Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) elected in 2018. Not surprisingly, he wants to expand the government, increase taxes, and further regulate the market.
On a recent flight, he tweeted a picture of gridded farm fields, commenting that “I have no idea how/ why it looks like this.”
This is land by the Colorado, Kansas border from a plane. Pretty cool. I have no idea how/ why it looks like this pic.twitter.com/QLi7T4ye9u
— Secular Talk (@KyleKulinski) November 2, 2019
His ignorance received many chiding comments about progressive urban elitists who are so culturally isolated that they cannot even recognize a farm from the air.
The criticism is somewhat unfair because no-one can know everything. The classic essay I, Pencil by the founder of Foundation for Economic Freedom, Leonard E. Read, made this point eloquently. In his parable, he shows that even something as simple as a pencil requires so much specialization and cooperation between millions of people across the globe that no single human being has the knowledge to make it.
This marvelous complexity is the result of the division of labor, specialization, and free trade. Even the smartest and most knowledgeable individuals in the world can only ever know a minuscule fraction of what the free market masters in aggregate.
The giants of economics, such as Ludwig von Mises, proved the futility of central planning. Under communism, no market mechanism for calculating prices existed, and this resulted in the gross misallocation of resources. The self-organization of the free market does a superior job in coordinating the plans of billions of people across the planet.
Trying to micro-manage and regulate the market or pick winners and losers almost inevitably result in disaster. A recent example of this is the Solyndra scandal under President Barack Obama. His administration decided that solar power was the future and that Solyndra was the lodestar to lead us all to the glorious future. The company received a $535 million U.S. Department of Energy loan guarantee but filed for bankruptcy in 2011.
Feature, not a Bug
We can use Kulinski’s blunder to create a visual metaphor for this type of error. Imagine a central planner flying high above the economy, and when she looks down, she doesn’t even recognize basic facts about a business field, much like Kulinski didn’t recognize a farm field.
This ignorance is not a bug, but a feature of the free market. Division of labor and specialization allows us collectively to know and do far more than anyone of us can know individually. That is one of the salient features of capitalism.
Sadly, progressives have failed to acquire this fundamental lesson from Economics 101, and so they march on toward the dream of a perfectly planned and regulated economy, not realizing that they will only leave destruction and ruin in their wake.
Let us hope that the host of Secular Talks will learn from his blunder and acquire some humility about his ability to understand, predict, and control the economy.
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