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Intelligent Government Design?
by Gary M. Galles 1/11/08

The National Academy of Sciences has re-kindled the evolution versus intelligent design discussion.  It has just issued a new report that “intelligent design” (which asks whether there are some aspects of life not explained by evolution, which might best be explained by the existence of an intelligent “designer”) is faith and not science, and therefore should not be taught in science classrooms.

The core of the argument against intelligent design as science is that it is neither proven nor provable.  However, that argument has an important social parallel, particularly in an election year full of campaign promises of government “solutions.”  Is it proven that government, whose only superiority is in using coercion, advances Americans’ “general welfare” by its intrusion in every area of life?  Our founders certainly did not believe that and the Constitution implies nothing of the kind.  If not, should we believe in relying on government to override ever more of our choices?

Gary M. Galles

Mr. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University. [go to Galles index]

Is there sufficient evidence of intelligent government design?  Can we conclude that government policies and programs work so well, with each intricate part fitting together so seamlessly that we should credit their designers with sufficient intelligence to trust still more decisions to them?  And if not, why do we believe in demanding that government “do something” about every problem, old or new, real or imaginary?

Why would we think that moving decisions to government will result in more intelligent arrangements? There is no way a government plan can replicate the market system’s integration and productive use of the vastly different and overlapping knowledge of each of its participants, coordinated without central planners.  As a result, moving decisions to government throws away a great deal of valuable, detailed information that millions of individuals know, leading to less intelligent results. 

This is illustrated by how ineffective government policies involving even simple issues have been.  The apparently simple logic of mandates such as the 55 mile hour speed limit, innumerable safety and other requirements have been undone by the law of unintended consequences, often to the point of having effects opposite to those intended.

The government’s questionable expertise is reinforced by innumerable regulatory hearings.  After expressing thanks for government concern, those who know how the market actually works in that area explain that proposals won’t work as planned because they have left multiple crucial issues out of their considerations.  The minuscule number of demonstrated government “successes” not resulting from  involuntary “contributions” coerced from others offers no more support to intelligent government design. Through markets, people can make use of the highly varied, dispersed information each has, without needing to precisely explain “who, what, when, where, why and how.”  All it takes is revealing their preferences by what they offer to buy or sell in their varying circumstances.  In contrast, for government decision-making, all the knowledge must first be centralized.  A great deal of valuable intelligence (i.e., sources of wealth creation) is unavoidably lost in the process, resulting in governments telling others what to do on the basis of unavoidably inadequate, and not infrequently incorrect, information.   And that fatal error is not rectified by the electoral process, because voters also know little about the relevant issues, much less the details necessary to implement improvements.

When you are spending your own money, you do not delegate important decisions to designers with a long track record of failure.  You do not consider them intelligent enough in the relevant ways to decide for you.  But saying we need the government to do more, on no better evidence, so common during electoral campaigns, is no more sensible.  Intelligent government design is not established, and neither faith in it nor wishful thinking makes it so.  But that has not stopped candidates from “educating” us to the contrary, as they try to bribe their way into office with other people’s money. CRO

copyright 2007 Gary M. Galles



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