Ignorance Versus Stupidity

By Walter E. Williams

Ignorance Versus Stupidity
Ignorance Versus Stupidity

Ammoland Shooting SportsU.S.A.-(Ammoland.com)- One of the most challenging and important jobs for an economics professor is to teach students how little we know and can possibly know. My longtime friend and colleague Dr. Thomas Sowell says, “It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance.” Nobel laureate Friedrich August von Hayek admonished, “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.” The fact that we have gross ignorance about how the world operates is ignored by the know-it-all elites who seek to control our lives. Let's look at a few examples of the world's complexity.

According to some estimates, there are roughly 100 million traffic signals in the U.S. How many of us would like the U.S. Congress, in the name of public health and safety, to be in charge of their actual operation? Congress or a committee it authorizes would determine the length of time traffic lights stay red, yellow and green and what hours of the day and at what intersections lights flash red or yellow. One can only imagine the mess Congress would create in the 40,000 cities, towns and other incorporated places in the U.S. But managing traffic lights — and getting good results — is a far less complex task than managing the nation's health care system and getting good results, which Congress tries to do.

Here's another task I'd ask whether you would like Congress to control. The average well-stocked supermarket carries 60,000 to 65,000 different items. Walmart carries about 120,000 different items. Let's suppose Congress puts you in total control of getting just one item to a supermarket — say apples. Let's not make it easy by having the help of apple wholesalers. Thus, you would have to figure out all of the inputs necessary to get apples to your local supermarket. Let's look at just a few. You need crates to ship the apples. Count all the inputs necessary to produce crates. There's wood, but you need saws to cut down trees. The saws are made of steel, so iron ore must be mined, and mining equipment is needed. The workers must have shoes. The complete list of inputs to get apples to the market comes to a very large, possibly an unknowable, number. Forgetting any one of them, such as spark plugs, would probably mean no apples at your supermarket.

The beauty of market allocation of goods and services, compared with government fiat, is no one person needs to know all that's necessary to get apples to your supermarket. Free markets, accompanied by free trade, including international free trade, make us richer by economizing on the amount of knowledge or information needed to produce things.

Free markets, accompanied by free trade, including international free trade, make us richer by economizing on the amount of knowledge or information needed to produce things.
Free markets, accompanied by free trade, including international free trade, make us richer by economizing on the amount of knowledge or information needed to produce things.

Think about this morning's breakfast. Let's suppose you and your spouse each had four slices of bacon and two eggs. You had coffee, and your spouse had cocoa. The breakfast might have cost you $22. But what might it have cost you if instead of being dependent upon others, you were independent and produced your own breakfast? What do you know about raising pigs and their subsequent slaughter? Do you know how to cure pork to make bacon? Then there are the eggs, which require knowledge about the care of chickens. What about getting pig and chicken feed? You'd have a big problem with the coffee and cocoa. I doubt whether you could simulate the growing conditions in Brazil and West Africa. One thing that's guaranteed is that your breakfast would be far costlier than in the case where you depended upon the benefits of skills of others that emerge from the division of labor and trade.

The bottom line is that each of us is grossly ignorant about the world in which we live. Nothing's wrong with that ignorance, but we are stupid if we believe that a politician can produce a better life than that which is obtained through peaceable, voluntary exchange with our fellow man anywhere on earth.

Walter E.WilliamsAbout Walter E.Williams

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. Williams is also the author of several books. Among these are The State Against Blacks, later made into a television documentary, America: A Minority Viewpoint, All It Takes Is Guts, South Africa’s War Against Capitalism, More Liberty Means Less Government, Liberty Versus The Tyranny of Socialism, and recently his autobiography, Up From The Projects.

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ldness
ldness
2 years ago

Strange that Ammoland would link to such a sensible article. We know that free markets work, and we know that they are complex. We have seen the spectacular failures of countries like the Soviet Union that tried to suppress them. The problem is that Republicans, backed by large corporations, are strongly opposed to them. Companies at the top of the food chain don’t want to compete in markets, they want to control them; hence the desire to merge into ever-larger units and limit consumer choices. A prime example is our health-care system (pre- and post-Obamacare), where corporate bureaucrats decide which… Read more »

Stevan McCarthy
Stevan McCarthy
2 years ago
Reply to  ldness

Now, that’s stupidity.

gerald serlin
gerald serlin
2 years ago
Reply to  ldness

The competition actually ceased when Medicare came to be. With the onset of Medicare, all medical providers used the Medicare payment rates as their standard for compensation. After Medicare, no self-respecting medical provider would accept less than the Medicare rate, even though Medicare only applied to senior citizens. End of competition.

Wild Bill
Wild Bill
2 years ago

@Dr. Williams, May I suggest that you do one entitled, “Feeling versus Thinking”, next.

Roger
Roger
2 years ago

Whoa Walter … you are asking for the public at large and the pols they elect to have a common sense understanding of life in general, not to mention the free flow of goods and services ina free market system. Big order buddy.

Bud
Bud
2 years ago

Way too much common sense. Politicians can’t handle that.

Ronald Wright
Ronald Wright
2 years ago

There is no difference between a politician who listens to “experts who know nothing, but preach that they do” and a politician who is just plain STUPID. The results are the same; do the same thing and expect a different result!! All these “politicians” took AN OATH OF OFFICE, to protect and defend our constitution’ NOT to DESTROY IT. We need to go back and NULLIFY THE GUN CONTROL ACT OF 1934. That single piece of garbage is what all these attacks on our 2nd Amendment Rights are based on. Get rid of that Law and ALL the laws passed… Read more »

M Reyna
M Reyna
2 years ago

you can’t fix politicians

M Reyna
M Reyna
2 years ago

you can’t fix a politician

M Reyna
M Reyna
2 years ago

You can’t fix a politician

Wild Bill
Wild Bill
2 years ago
Reply to  M Reyna

@MReyna, I could fix a politician, like I fix my dog. We all could fix our politicians, like the community fixes its dogs. And for the same reasons!

hippybiker
hippybiker
2 years ago

“Life is tough. Its even tougher when you’re stupid.”
Michael Marion Morrison

Jim Macklin
Jim Macklin
2 years ago
Reply to  hippybiker

I always thought it was Marion Micheal Morrison. I’ll have to look it up.

Torn
Torn
2 years ago
Reply to  hippybiker

Other wise known as John Wayne!

JoeUSooner
JoeUSooner
2 years ago
Reply to  hippybiker

LOL… he was my favorite movie star. Especially his role in The Quiet Man in 1951.

Jim Macklin
Jim Macklin
2 years ago

There is gross stupidity too. From city hall to Congress they keep proposing “new laws” which if they bothered to do a little research and they’d find it is already old law. But they waste time about their personal feelings. They are proud that they know nothing about firearms and don’t want to learn. Like the judge who couldn’t define pornography but recognized it every time he saw it, these TV reporters, politicians know any gun that is longer than 2 feet is an AK47 and any black gun is an “M1 assault rifle” and handguns come in either silver… Read more »

gerald serlin
gerald serlin
2 years ago
Reply to  Jim Macklin

There should be a law against creating new laws, unless proof is provided that the same subject matter was not already covered by an existing law.

joe martin
joe martin
2 years ago

You can cure ignorance with education, you can treat crazy with medication, but you can’t fix stupid.

Jim
Jim
2 years ago
Reply to  joe martin

I am not sure about the first two without practical experience to back it up.

HLF
HLF
2 years ago
Reply to  joe martin

Stupid can be cured by lead through cranium.

Blackstrap
Blackstrap
2 years ago

Yes I know something,I think.Ignorance can be cured stupidity can`t.