Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

The Social Engineer as Ethical Authoritarian

Posted by M. C. on February 18, 2022

Welcome to what can only be viewed as the new version of “scientific” socialism with its revolutionary vanguard of “ethical” social engineers. Diane Coyle wants to see this happen. And as she ends her article, “the sooner this change happens, the better.” We are living in dangerous times.

by Richard M. Ebeling

Since the start of the coronavirus crisis, advocates of greater government planning and redistribution have used “following the science” as the rhetorical cover to rationalize the growth in political paternalism. Now, however, some of them are coming out of the closet and insisting that economists, for example, must explicitly adopt an authoritarian ethic that requires the end to any free-market society

Diane Coyle is a prominent professor of public policy at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom and has long been on a mission to justify increased government control over social and economic affairs. In the past, she has usually argued her case on pragmatic or utilitarian grounds. That is, markets are inefficient or cannot adapt to changing technologies that modern society needs to more fully organize, including centralized collection of “big data” for better government-guided economic outcomes.

Economists as government policy advisors

But in an opinion piece a while back in the pages of the Financial Times (October 4, 2021), Professor Coyle wrote an article entitled “Change Is Needed in the Next Generation of Economists.” Economists have done important work, she states, in advising and consulting with governments over the collection and use of statistical data and the analysis of public-policy options in terms of likely outcomes. It is for this reason, she explains, that “many economists think of themselves as engineers, or plumbers (as described by Nobel laureate Esther Duflo), or (in Keynes’s famous quote) dentists,” fixing and correcting the problems of society.

Economists’ proposals on how to raise taxes “efficiently,” for example, or how infrastructure investments supposedly would most boost productivity, or what university degrees people should pursue for the best social gain for the education money spent. These have all been important contributions, Professor Coyle claims, in making a better society.

But in spite of how significant and beneficial this has been, there are challenges now facing the world that require economists to go beyond their role as policy technicians. Climate change and the “excessive power of big corporations” make it necessary for economists to now step out of their presumed “value-free” posture of merely analyzing social problems in the seemingly neutral framework of “if this, then that.”

Economists as ethical social engineers

If economists are to assist in the social engineering of society, which they have been already doing for a long time, it’s time for them to understand the “implicit moral framework” behind the grand endeavor to remake a better and sustainable society. Economists need to step out of their own analytical world and “work with (real) engineers, climate scientists, computer scientists or ecologists for an integrated analysis of societal challenges.” After all, she says, “Engineering society is inherently value-laden and economists are part of society.”

Economists need to stop looking at people as “individual maximizers, with fixed preferences uninfluenced by others,” Professor Coyle argues. “The benchmark needs to flip to reflect mutual interactions,” especially in a world with social media and profit-driven advertising. In addition, economists have to think of “markets as ecosystems vulnerable to collapse.” She concludes her article by saying that the sooner economists make this change to an explicit moral framework, the better.

But what, precisely, is this moral framework that Professor Coyle wants economists to more explicitly adopt? I would suggest that it comes out fairly clearly if one teases out the implications from her presented view of the world.

Freedom cannot be trusted, so paternalists are needed

See the rest here

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