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.

  • 21 thoughts on “Ignorance Versus Stupidity

    1. 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 doctors you can see and what treatments the doctors can administer. It doesn’t matter whether the state or some large corporation limits your choices and controls your life; in the end, the effect is exactly the same. Obamacare was a necessary band-aid to correct some of the worst abuses of the current system. What we really need is competition at the provider level, something we haven’t had for many years.

      1. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. 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 after that will be made NULL AND VOID. Shall Not Be Infringed!!..

      1. @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!

    4. 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 or black or blue.
      Cowboys look like Roy Rogers and real cops are Columboesque with instant lab results.
      Soon half the people in the USA will have never seen a TV cathode ray picture tube or a dial telephone. People who were alive when ten dollar was worth a dollar are all dead now of old age. The dollar has lost 95% of its purchasing power in my lifetime yet people are worried about taxes and wages and not spending and printing money.
      Stupidity and willful ignorance.

      1. 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.

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

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