The Significance of Jonathan Gruber

By now most people have heard of MIT professor Jonathan Gruber, one of the so-called architects of Obamacare, and his statements about the stupidity of American voters in connection with healthcare policy (five videos have surfaced so far). Of course, there are those who pretend they don’t know Gruber, such as Nancy Pelosi and President Obama, despite the existence of past video and audio recordings in which both Pelosi and Obama refer to Gruber and his work.

Gruber believes he’s smarter than the average American voter (and perhaps smarter than everyone else in a big room of smart guys). Such arrogance would almost be acceptable if Gruber, for example, were Joe Namath, who could guarantee a Super Bowl win and back it up with a victory. But Gruber is just another central planning hack in the liberals’ vision of Big Government. The central planning that liberals stand for today will not outperform the markets that central control replaces, so liberals could never back up any guarantees to the contrary.

While it is true that human beings are ignorant (not stupid – there is a difference), the liberal conclusion that experts should therefore govern the rest of us does not follow. Rather, according to Nobel Prize winning economist, Friedrich Hayek, it is our ignorance that calls for individual freedom:

The case for individual freedom rests chiefly on the recognition of the inevitable ignorance of all of us concerning a great many of the factors on which the achievement of our ends and welfare depends.

For Hayek, liberty is essential because “we rarely know which of us knows best that we trust the independent and competitive efforts of many to induce the emergence of what we shall want when we see it.” Competition brings greater experimentation, but the benefits of experimentation are canceled out as more of the economy is placed under the central control of experts. As Hayek explains:

It is only when such exclusive rights are conferred on the presumption of superior knowledge of particular individuals or groups that the process ceases to be experimental and beliefs that happen to be prevalent at a given time may become an obstacle to the advancement of knowledge.

Knowledge such as that possessed by experts is indispensable for the advancement of civilization, but the unorganized knowledge of “particular circumstances of time and place,” which is decentralized knowledge that we all possess, is equally important. Hayek points out that the economic problem is “mainly one of rapid adaptation to changes in the particular circumstances of time and place.”

Economies centrally directed by people like Gruber have not fared well over the last century. The difference between market-based economies and centrally planned ones is keenly illustrated in the famous nighttime satellite photo of the Korean Peninsula, showing an illuminated south and a darkened north (see here). And the stagnation experienced by Japan and Western Europe doesn’t bode well for the milder forms of the centrally directed welfare state.

Despite the experience of the last century, liberals refuse to accept the case against economic centralization. Perhaps money from consulting fees (Gruber has earned millions) or advising those who govern the most powerful nation on earth trumps the facts for many liberals. Some liberals may support centralization because they believe that America’s central planners will be the best ever in the whole wide world – the liberals’ mistaken version of American exceptionalism.

Whatever their reasons for calling Americans stupid and ignoring the harm of economies directed by experts, liberals are not impressing anyone with their own intellectual and moral failings. Additionally, Gruber is an ingrate and a boor when he calls voters – who as taxpayers also pay his consulting fees – stupid and his words and views are nothing less than disgraceful.

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