To Know

Yesterday: God and Man at Yale     Tomorrow: ???

Twitter: @GreatBooksDude

Website: http://goetzeducation.wordpress.com/our-mission/

Books: The Bubble Boys: How Mistaken Educational Ideals and Practices are Causing a Warped Social FabricThe Decline of the Epic?Rules for Writing; essays for Kindle

My friend is still complaining now that the Mets lost the first game.  Nothing is changing.  See?

Today’s post should be brief.  One of my favorite modern classics is Thomas Sowell’s masterpiece of epistemology (the theory of knowledge), Knowledge and Decisions, which delves into the role of bureaucracies in distorting knowledge and simultaneously claiming a nonexistent omniscience.  Sowell, an arch-conservative who has taught at Cornell and UCLA and is currently at the Hoover Institute (at Stanfurd), favors smaller government and stronger accountability, a battle he has consistently fought and lost.  He also ignored my book when I sent it to him, so that it’s fairly obvious why he is not winning political battles, as he feels he is sufficient by himself.  Ditto for the Republican party.

Sowell’s point in this book, though, is marvelous.  He picks up on Hayek’s example of the creation of a pencil, noting how a variety of different people are responsible for the creation of its different parts, and how by letting them all work together–one dealing with wood, one with rubber (for the eraser), and one with lead–we get the best product at the cheapest price, but if a single person were to try to control the whole pencil-making process he would a) slow it down substantially and b) make it more costly, and those added costs would be passed on to consumers.

This is, of course, a standard line of anti-bureaucratic rhetoric.  Sowell’s persistent attacks on bureaucracy follow in its vein.  He goes further to note the kind of people who make up burgeoning bureaucracies, and shows how they remove themselves from contact with the “common man” (so to speak), thus inculcating themselves from any form of criticism and preventing the opportunity for change.

The book is a bit longer–some four hundred pages–but every line demands focus and careful consideration.  It is dense.  I do have one major criticism of it, which is that Sowell steals the arguments of some of his predecessors (likely with their consent but without acknowledging them), and so when you go back and read his predecessors what you find is that he is not as original as he presents himself in the book.  Beyond that, though, it is very much worth reading, and–as one former student of mine to whom I lent it can attest–it can have a huge impact on a developing mind, probably more than it can on one already developed.

On that note, I will be back either tomorrow or Thursday with some new ever-pressing need to post.  Something like that.  Hasta la vista, bebei!

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