Hillary Clinton’s Knowledge Problem

Just trust her. Truly, just trust her: to know precisely how much energy we ought to use, where it should come from, how it should be generated, how we should get from here to there, and the effects that her plan will have on the global — the global! — climate, not just in the near term but decades or a century from now.

If you do this, you will have embraced “science,” “reality,” “truth,” and “innovation,” and, also, “our children.” If you don’t go along, you not only reject all those good things; you are probably also a “denier,” the catch-all epithet for anyone doubtful that the brilliance of Hillary Clinton and her czars know better than the rest of humanity how to manage their energy needs into the future.

Hillary’s campaign seems designed to prove that F.A. Hayek was a prophet.

That brilliant economist spent 50 years explaining, in book after book, that the greatest danger humanity faced, now and always, was a presumption on the part of intellectuals, politicians, and bureaucrats that they know better than the emergent and evolving wisdom of social forces.

This presumption might seem like science but it is really pretense. Civilization arises from, is protected by, and advances through the dispersed knowledge of billions of individual decision makers and the institutions that arise from them.

Hayek called the issue he was investigating the knowledge problem. Society needs to know how to use scarce resources, how to navigate a world of uncertainty, how to form rules that turn struggle into peace. It is a problem solved through freedom alone. No ruler, no scientist, no intellectual can substitute for the evolving process of decentralized decision making and trial and error.

The message is bad news for people like Hillary, who is supposed to embody the ideology called “liberalism” in America. Yet it is anything but liberal. It seems to know only one way forward: more top-down control. That’s a tough sell in times when everything good so obviously comes from anything but government, and, meanwhile, governments are responsible for every failing sector from health to education to foreign wars.

But here’s the problem. People like Hillary Clinton are stuck in an ideological vortex with no way out. Government planning is their thing, and they refuse to recognize its failures. So they press on and on, even to the point of preposterous implausibility, such as the claim that government can know everything that is necessary to know in order to plan the entire energy sector with the aim of managing the climate of the world.

Economist Donald Boudreaux puts matters this way: “why should someone who cannot ensure the proper use of a single private server be trusted with the colossal power necessary to design and to oversee the remaking of a trillion-plus dollar sector of the U.S. economy (a sector, by the way, in which this person has zero experience)?”

With this presumption comes the inevitable hypocrisy.

After unveiling her plan to ration energy use and plaster the country with solar panels, Ms. Clinton boarded a private jet that uses more fuel in one flight hour than I use in a year. “The aircraft, a Dassault model Falcon 900B, burns 347 gallons of fuel per hour,” wrote the muckraker who did a public service in exposing this. “The Trump-esque transportation costs $5,850 per hour to rent, according to the website of Executive Fliteways, the company that owns it.”

Notice how rarely it is mentioned that the US military, with hundreds of bases in over a hundred countries, is the worst single polluter on the planet. If we really believe in human-caused climate change, this might be a good place to start cutting back. But no, there’s not a word about this in any of Hillary’s plans. Government gets to do what it must do. The rest of us are supposed to pay the price, bicycling to work and powering our homes with sunshine and windmills.

When I first read about her energy plan, my response was: Why would any self-interested politician make the need for reduced living standards a centerpiece of her campaign? After all, her speech was made in a setting piled high with bicycles (oddly reminiscent of Mao’s China), while demanding a precise path forward for energy and everything that uses it (oddly reminiscent of Lenin’s first speech after he took control of Russian economic life).

As it turns out, people aren’t that interested. Sure, most people tell pollsters that they favor renewable energy to stop climate change. You have to say that or else risk being denounced as a denier. On the other hand, it seems like very few people really care enough to forgo the benefits of modern life, which is probably what will save civilization itself from plans like hers. Note that days after release, her pompous video only had only 54K views — pathetic given her celebrity and how much money her campaign is spending, but encouraging that nobody seems to put much stock in her plan for our future.

It’s extraordinary how quickly one branch of the political class has leapt from the delicate and ever-changing science of climate monitoring to the absolute certainty that extreme and extremely specific application of government force is the way to deal with it. Writes Max Borders: “The sacralization of climate is being used as a great loophole in the rule of law, an apology for bad science (and even worse economics), and an excuse to do anything and everything to have and keep power.”

The last point is critical. Everything done in the name of public policy in our lifetimes has become a handful of dust, yielding little more than unpayable debts and unworkable programs, and leaving in its wake an apparatus of compulsion and control that robs society of its inherent genius.

What to do? Give up? That’s not an option for these people. Instead, they find a new frontier for their schemes, a new rationale to sustain a failed model of social and economic organization.

I can think of no better words of rebuke but the closing of Hayek’s Nobel speech in 1974:

If man is not to do more harm than good in his efforts to improve the social order, he will have to learn that in this, as in all other fields where essential complexity of an organized kind prevails, he cannot acquire the full knowledge which would make mastery of the events possible.

He will therefore have to use what knowledge he can achieve, not to shape the results as the craftsman shapes his handiwork, but rather to cultivate a growth by providing the appropriate environment, in the manner in which the gardener does this for his plants.

There is danger in the exuberant feeling of ever growing power which the advance of the physical sciences has engendered and which tempts man to try, “dizzy with success”, to use a characteristic phrase of early communism, to subject not only our natural but also our human environment to the control of a human will.

The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson of humility which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society — a striving which makes him not only a tyrant over his fellows, but which may well make him the destroyer of a civilization which no brain has designed but which has grown from the free efforts of millions of individuals.

Yes, it surely ought to.

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Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey A. Tucker is Founder and President of the Brownstone Institute. He is also Senior Economics Columnist for Epoch Times, author of 10 books, including Liberty or Lockdown, and thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press. He speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.

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14 comments

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  • Hillary manifests a truism that applies to all of us: “As the island of our knowledge grows, the shoreline of our ignorance increases.” In her case exponentially.

    What is sadly true of Hillary is true of all politicians. They all have a plan to do things that require the use of force, coercion and violence, if for no other reason–and there will always be thousands of other “good” reasons–than to collect the taxes on which their “rule” of law”depends. Given the barbaric condition of society when monarchs ruled others, the “rule of law” may arguably have served some purpose, but no more. It is now the primary source and cause of most if not–indirectly–all of the violence in the world today.

    The idea of using violent means to suppress violence is insane. What is has done is spread violence everywhere by institutionalizing it, honing it with sophisticated technology, and allowing so-called “leaders” to use it as an example for all to see and imitate. No one with half a brain would dispute the fact that violence begets only violence and cannot serve to suppress it.

    Our society uses violence to fight interminable wars, to enforce laws beyond numbers, to punish law breakers, to slaughter innocent children in the womb, and collect sufficient taxes to modernize our nuclear arsenal so that on the anniversaries of the two most heinous crimes against humanity in all of history–Hiroshima and Nagasaki–the U.S. is prepared to do it again. (In Japan we instantly fried 140,000 innocent people in a mere fraction of the time it took the Nazis to incinerate an equivalent number of Jews.) “Oh when will they (we) ever learn, oh when will they (we) ever learn?”

    • Thanks for expanding on the OP by giving some examples of how public policy, etc., actually played out in our history. Ugh!

  • Hillary manifests a truism that applies to all of us: “As the island of our knowledge grows, the shoreline of our ignorance increases.” In her case exponentially.

    What is sadly true of Hillary is true of all politicians. They all have a plan to do things that require the use of force, coercion and violence, if for no other reason–and there will always be thousands of other “good” reasons–than to collect the taxes on which their “rule” of law”depends. Given the barbaric condition of society when monarchs ruled others, the “rule of law” may arguably have served some purpose, but no more. It is now the primary source and cause of most if not–indirectly–all of the violence in the world today.

    The idea of using violent means to suppress violence is insane. What is has done is spread violence everywhere by institutionalizing it, honing it with sophisticated technology, and allowing so-called “leaders” to use it as an example for all to see and imitate. No one with half a brain would dispute the fact that violence begets only violence and cannot serve to suppress it.

    Our society uses violence to fight interminable wars, to enforce laws beyond numbers, to punish law breakers, to slaughter innocent children in the womb, and collect sufficient taxes to modernize our nuclear arsenal so that on the anniversaries of the two most heinous crimes against humanity in all of history–Hiroshima and Nagasaki–the U.S. is prepared to do it again. (In Japan we instantly fried 140,000 innocent people in a mere fraction of the time it took the Nazis to incinerate an equivalent number of Jews.) “Oh when will they (we) ever learn, oh when will they (we) ever learn?”

    • Thanks for expanding on the OP by giving some examples of how public policy, etc., actually played out in our history. Ugh!

  • Most especially I want to viscerally and intellectually learn and embody Jeffrey Tucker’s ideas on–

    https://tucker.liberty.me/marginal-steps-toward-a-better-life/

    and his latest Beautiful Anarchy article–

    Here

    –and see if I can do better for myself.

    This and my first post in an attempt to answer: How can I get out of using the “denier” approach of blame and punishment at home or on a project to get myself or others into line?

    AND how can I choose to get into play and learning mode on a daily basis?

    Watch “How do we get good in Giraffe? Marshall Rosenberg” on

    https://youtu.be/Y7GvxcwuqoM

    And what learnable actionable context–for me–does this have with these articles by Jeffrey Tucker?

    For example I sometimes do things I would not have done if I knew when I posted this what I have since learned from myself or Jeffrey perhaps I would have done it more clearly? I enjoy making mistakes unless I blame myself. Lol

    If I mourn and see the need that did not get met I can learn from this. Wolf or Jackal types try to be perfect. Giraffe types like myself and Jeffrey and bloggers here for the most part probably try on the “margin” to become “step” by “step” progressively less stupid or even using such pejorative?

    I join Jeffrey and ask rhetorically? Are the people who are running around running other peoples lives open to learning or do they just keep using more and more force in an **impulsive way**? Are they peace officers and non violent or voluntarist communication concierges? I.E. Matt Dillon and Ron Paul types or are they the sheriff of Nottingham and Hillary and their men?

    Giraffes know that life is progressive learning.

    The people in Institutions of coercion and punishment and domination are not becoming less stupid are they?

    They are not learning. They think they are superior. They use power over tactics. How could this not be?
    Watch “Nonviolent Communication Part 1 Marshall Rosenberg” on YouTube

    https://youtu.be/-dpk5Z7GIFs

    “Marshall B. Rosenberg – How do you talk to yourself about making mistakes” and providing an environ much like a gardener instead of a denier dominatrix?

    https://youtu.be/iibgCYQTXCs

    Thank you Jeffrey for providing ideas and a community to share what is alive in me and what supports me in progressing my life by incrementally improvement and prototyping without enslaving myself or others!

    Cheers AtlasAikido

    https://disqus.com/by/atlasaikido/

    • Hi AA,

      I have a little story that your questions reminded me of. Two of my kids sleep with a light on. I was afraid of the dark too when I was young. I was going to remind one of them that she left it on this morning (she had also closed her door), but thought about it for a while first. What would make her not leave it on? If she hadn’t turned it on in the first place. How did I lose that fear of the dark? This line of questioning led me down a very instructive path.

      I actually did lose my fear of the dark, and it was based heavily on rationality. I believe most people here understand that when we take the time to think about an issue about which we feel one way but see the rationality behind another way, the longer we ponder, the closer the rationality gets to the emotion. I remembered waking up in the dark when I was young, wishing the light were on, but being too tired to do the work of turning it on. So I went back to sleep. This happened many times, but I think it was just this morning when I figured out that it is an example of this pondering that solves problems.

      The idea is that fear motivates us as a last resort effort to prevent death or (from evolution’s perspective), damage that decreases the likelihood of having kids. But it is a last resort – because we have such massive frontal cortices, which do analysis and… pondering. So if the fear doesn’t fill you with adrenaline (for example, if you’re just too tired), then it isn’t really a justified fear. Fatigue made me let it go every time I woke up in the dark and was too tired to turn the light on.

      So I texted both my kids this morning to ask if they’d ever been too tired to turn the light back on when they woke in the middle of the night and it was off. Yes, both had. So I suggested that if they let that kick around in their head for a while, it might kill off that fear.

      Your questions reminded me of that story because one of the most helpful things in our efforts to be giraffes is time. This also explains why I like email so much better than telephone conversations. There’s a quote from Victor Frankel – something like “Between stimulus and response is a space, and in that space is freedom.” I got that from Brett Veinotte of the “School Sucks Project” which I highly recommend.

  • Most especially I want to viscerally and intellectually learn and embody Jeffrey Tucker’s ideas on–

    https://tucker.liberty.me/marginal-steps-toward-a-better-life/

    and his latest Beautiful Anarchy article–

    Here

    –and see if I can do better for myself.

    This and my first post in an attempt to answer: How can I get out of using the “denier” approach of blame and punishment at home or on a project to get myself or others into line?

    AND how can I choose to get into play and learning mode on a daily basis?

    Watch “How do we get good in Giraffe? Marshall Rosenberg” on

    https://youtu.be/Y7GvxcwuqoM

    And what learnable actionable context–for me–does this have with these articles by Jeffrey Tucker?

    For example I sometimes do things I would not have done if I knew when I posted this what I have since learned from myself or Jeffrey perhaps I would have done it more clearly? I enjoy making mistakes unless I blame myself. Lol

    If I mourn and see the need that did not get met I can learn from this. Wolf or Jackal types try to be perfect. Giraffe types like myself and Jeffrey and bloggers here for the most part probably try on the “margin” to become “step” by “step” progressively less stupid or even using such pejorative?

    I join Jeffrey and ask rhetorically? Are the people who are running around running other peoples lives open to learning or do they just keep using more and more force in an **impulsive way**? Are they peace officers and non violent or voluntarist communication concierges? I.E. Matt Dillon and Ron Paul types or are they the sheriff of Nottingham and Hillary and their men?

    Giraffes know that life is progressive learning.

    The people in Institutions of coercion and punishment and domination are not becoming less stupid are they?

    They are not learning. They think they are superior. They use power over tactics. How could this not be?
    Watch “Nonviolent Communication Part 1 Marshall Rosenberg” on YouTube

    https://youtu.be/-dpk5Z7GIFs

    “Marshall B. Rosenberg – How do you talk to yourself about making mistakes” and providing an environ much like a gardener instead of a denier dominatrix?

    https://youtu.be/iibgCYQTXCs

    Thank you Jeffrey for providing ideas and a community to share what is alive in me and what supports me in progressing my life by incrementally improvement and prototyping without enslaving myself or others!

    Cheers AtlasAikido

    https://disqus.com/by/atlasaikido/

    • Hi AA,

      I have a little story that your questions reminded me of. Two of my kids sleep with a light on. I was afraid of the dark too when I was young. I was going to remind one of them that she left it on this morning (she had also closed her door), but thought about it for a while first. What would make her not leave it on? If she hadn’t turned it on in the first place. How did I lose that fear of the dark? This line of questioning led me down a very instructive path.

      I actually did lose my fear of the dark, and it was based heavily on rationality. I believe most people here understand that when we take the time to think about an issue about which we feel one way but see the rationality behind another way, the longer we ponder, the closer the rationality gets to the emotion. I remembered waking up in the dark when I was young, wishing the light were on, but being too tired to do the work of turning it on. So I went back to sleep. This happened many times, but I think it was just this morning when I figured out that it is an example of this pondering that solves problems.

      The idea is that fear motivates us as a last resort effort to prevent death or (from evolution’s perspective), damage that decreases the likelihood of having kids. But it is a last resort – because we have such massive frontal cortices, which do analysis and… pondering. So if the fear doesn’t fill you with adrenaline (for example, if you’re just too tired), then it isn’t really a justified fear. Fatigue made me let it go every time I woke up in the dark and was too tired to turn the light on.

      So I texted both my kids this morning to ask if they’d ever been too tired to turn the light back on when they woke in the middle of the night and it was off. Yes, both had. So I suggested that if they let that kick around in their head for a while, it might kill off that fear.

      Your questions reminded me of that story because one of the most helpful things in our efforts to be giraffes is time. This also explains why I like email so much better than telephone conversations. There’s a quote from Victor Frankel – something like “Between stimulus and response is a space, and in that space is freedom.” I got that from Brett Veinotte of the “School Sucks Project” which I highly recommend.

  • The good news for people like Hillary is that far too many people, as Ayn Rand liked to say, are willing to abdicate their responsibility to do their own thinking. They’d rather hand over the reins of power to someone who makes big promises and hope that they can actually pull it off. I hope Americans will see through the twinkle dust this time and refuse to pay the cost.

  • The good news for people like Hillary is that far too many people, as Ayn Rand liked to say, are willing to abdicate their responsibility to do their own thinking. They’d rather hand over the reins of power to someone who makes big promises and hope that they can actually pull it off. I hope Americans will see through the twinkle dust this time and refuse to pay the cost.

  • The only part of this article that I didn’t like so much was “Note that days after release, her pompous video only had only 54K views — pathetic…” Certainly, it is a good sign, as you wrote, but it feels so much like an attack – snarky, mean-spirited, … – that I’d prefer it be stated in a way that lets the reader see the good sign (or bad sign, if the reader is in Ms. Clinton’s thrall) without the emotional appeal. Something like “She released a video filled with pomp that actually encouraged me. Despite her celebrity and how much money her campaign is spending, with only 54k views in two weeks, nobody seems to put much stock in her plan for our future.”

    I got first comment on that video! I wonder if it will get deleted. I directed people to this article :-). Kind of weird how no one who watched had anything to say.

  • The only part of this article that I didn’t like so much was “Note that days after release, her pompous video only had only 54K views — pathetic…” Certainly, it is a good sign, as you wrote, but it feels so much like an attack – snarky, mean-spirited, … – that I’d prefer it be stated in a way that lets the reader see the good sign (or bad sign, if the reader is in Ms. Clinton’s thrall) without the emotional appeal. Something like “She released a video filled with pomp that actually encouraged me. Despite her celebrity and how much money her campaign is spending, with only 54k views in two weeks, nobody seems to put much stock in her plan for our future.”

    I got first comment on that video! I wonder if it will get deleted. I directed people to this article :-). Kind of weird how no one who watched had anything to say.

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