My Turn: An Economic Police State

Wriston, Walter B.

1975

THE AGONY OF CHOOSING

Centralized planning would come to the inevitable conclusion that it would be more efficient to allocate scarce resources on a national level by mandating university curriculums in a standardized fashion. It would soon become clear that if we had a standard history book, it could omit the fact that loss of economic liberty is always accompanied by the loss of individual liberty—this too would save money, time and thought. Paper could be conserved by leaving out, for example, Mussolini's boast that "we were the first to assert that the more complicated the forms assumed by civilization, the more restricted the freedom of the individual must become." The planners to whom the Congress would inevitably delegate the "planning" would find out without too much work that having only one television network would not only conserve energy, but would save the citizen from the agony of choosing which channel to watch. Those who advocate central planning always believe that they are smarter than the marketplace, and naturally that it is they themselves who will wind up in control of our country.

The collision course between centralized economic planning and personal liberty is inevitable because, in the end, government allocation of economic resources requires force. Dictatorship is the most effective way of applying force against the populace. Today we have advocates of the managed economy talking of "planned freedom"' and the Initiative Committee for National Economic Planning speaks euphemistically of "plenary power" and about obtaining a "mandate." If proponents of centralized planning came out bluntly and said they were building an economic police state, their cause would never get off the ground. The application of force, once centralized planning is in motion, is foreordained because no plan that contains thousands of parts can possibly be agreed upon by a majority of the people.

Last fall, at the economic summit, it was made obvious to all the world that experts do not agree. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the American Congress knows that it would be impossible to get a majority vote on every item in the American economy that would have to be allocated, priced and assigned priority. National economic planning would be delegated to bureaucrats who like all regulators, would then require arbitrary power to enforce each decision. Since, by definition, the elements of the plan cannot represent the will of the majority, it then follows that the people must be taught to understand that the will of the planner is for their own good. You must fasten your seat belt whether you want to or not. The law will prove ineffective if it does not have public support, in the same way that the seat-belt-buzzer law proved ineffective, or that the prohibition against drinking liquor proved to be a constitutional disaster.