Magazine article Regulation

Two Invisible Hands

Magazine article Regulation

Two Invisible Hands

Article excerpt

The conservative movement in the United States is suffering from a deep intellectual inconsistency in its beliefs. Free market conservatives (such as myself) believe that markets can effectively coordinate economic activity with no central direction. It is a truism to point out that the amount of such coordination needed in the modern world economy is immense. Think of me writing this essay on a computer and then sending it to Regulation's editors over the Internet, and then you reading it on a magazine printed on paper and delivered by truck. Literally, millions of people all over the world have been involved in this set of activities. Virtually none of them know each other, and no one has coordinated the process. Every day there are billions of such unplanned and undirected activities.

The beauty and the power of the market, first pointed out by Adam Smith, is that it can coordinate such massively complex activities with no central planning. This is the famous "invisible hand." Conservatives believe that this coordination is powerful and provides innumerable benefits to individuals in society.

But while conservatives accept the invisible hand of the market, many reject the equally powerful invisible hand of biological evolution. The notion of "intelligent design," which received much attention late last year from many conservatives (including, unfortunately, President Bush), is the exact antithesis of the notion of the invisible hand. Intelligent design is the notion that life, and particularly intelligent life, is too complex to be the product of anything but a centrally orchestrated process. But it is inconsistent to reject evolution because of the complexity of living things and at the same time to accept the unplanned complexity of the market.

ECONOMIC NATURAL SELECTION Such inconsistency may cost conservatives dearly. …

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