The Pretentiousness of Central Planning

United States Capitol Building, Washington, D.C. Aerial
A free economy is incomprehensibly complex: it is a massive, entangled, incredible web of intertwined individual action, preference, choice, and value—a system willed by no one, controlled by no single person, and improving the situation of all whom it touches.

Adam Smith called the force that holds this web together (and directs its movement) the Invisible Hand: it begins when individuals work through the capitalist system for their own betterment, yet unintentionally benefit the whole of the market through their voluntary mutually beneficial exchanges.

In a display of arrogance nearly as astonishing as the marvels of the economy, advocates of big government are certain that this system can and ought to be conquered and managed via state-owned cubicles.

If “pride goes before a fall” were a law of economics, explaining central planning’s universal, consistent shortcomings would be effortless.

Advocates of big government are certain that a bureaucratic elite—operating on glorified progress reports, news bulletins, and caffeine—can arbitrate the correct balance and relationship between the trillions of variables involved in each economic transaction.

For big government and its inevitable bureaucracy to function properly, it must be staffed by godlike central planners capable of deciding whether a citizen deserves an extra pair of socks, a teenager ought to go to college, or if an industry is important enough to warrant a new facility.

Big government handcuffs Smith’s Invisible Hand and tries to lead the market where it “ought” to go with words on paper and guns to back them up.

If you count on an efficient economy under a government-run system, you count on central planners’ ability to judge the effect of every ultimatum they issue and understand each individual’s perception of value, profit, and loss. Economic calculation in a socialist or interventionist system is impossible.

In the end, the only way to forcibly control an economy and still enjoy any degree of efficiency is to become omniscient—to get inside people’s heads, to put numerical monetary value on things that can’t be quantifiably valued, to understand complex relationships between goods and services, to know everything that individuals can understand about their own situations, and to know how the sum of this information works together.

Big government’s explicit assumption that central planners have a right to micromanage your existence (and that they’d be better at it than you are) makes it easy to see one of the state’s many loathsome attributes: pretentiousness.


Originally published on

About Rachel Clark

Rachel hoards office supplies, has 12.5 hours of Bach on her iPod, and occasionally forgets her own name. Other than that she's a normal person who likes to write.
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