Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Progressive Version of the Intelligent Design Fallacy

Julian Sanchez describes what he calls the "progressive version of the intelligent design fallacy" in this post. Here's the excerpt:

This is the progressive version of the intelligent design fallacy—the implicit belief that complex results must be consciously aimed at to be achieved...
The context that it's used in is to attack how opponents of school choice seem to operate on the presumption that central planning is required to produce a good product. I love the concept that Julian has coined, but I don’t love the term he’s given to it. I think it will lead to a lot of confusion and straw man arguments that conflate market-based systems and capitalism with evolution. For example, a commenter attacks Julian's verbiage with this comment:

If you want to make an evolutionary argument, you have to realize that the way evolution by random mutation works is by failure. Trial and error. Lots and lots of error. Millions of kids lives would be ruined, society would collapse, and a new society billions of years from now would have evolved the innate capacity to build properly functioning schools for their multi-tentacled offspring. Or something like that. Anyway, the point is that if you want progress you can find in the newspaper rather than in the fossil record, you need intelligence.

Nevermind the commenter’s conflation of evolution with market-based systems (see this post for my thoughts on that fallacy). What really freaks me out about this guy’s comment is that he seems to be willing to completely ignore the obvious evidence that markets work, and more specifically that people (in their current state of evolutionary existence) function optimally in market-based systems. It won’t take millions of years of evolution for people to adjust to a market-based school system, just as it won’t take millions of years of evolution for people to adjust to a market-based food distribution system (or any other subsystem of the overall capitalist/market-based economy). NEWSFLASH! We already have those systems! A market-based school system isn’t any different!

Yes, you need intelligence, but not from a central planning perspective. You need intelligence (insofar as being able to tell the difference between a failure and a success) at the level of the consumer, or in the case of school choice, the parent. And we already have that! Would anyone ever really suggest that people are so stupid that, without millions more years of evolution, they can’t tell the difference between a success and a failure?

Anyway, to avoid the confusion that Julian’s comment cause in this commenter, as well as to avoid the conflation of evolution (i.e. Social Darwinism) with capitalism, I’d like to suggest a new term to describe this fallacy that many people assume to be true. How about simply, the “central planner fallacy?”

2 Comments:

At 3:47 PM, Blogger Julian said...

I sort of like the "intelligent design fallacy" because it creates a link between this kind of error and one that the folks prone to it are already apt to recognize as a mistake. Anyway, the Hayekian argument for markets really IS evolutionary in a way; I'm not all that worried about bringing around people who're spouting crude confusions like the "social Darwinism" canard anyway.

 
At 9:44 PM, Blogger Christopher Monnier said...

I get the irony in calling it the "intelligent design fallacy," and it's definitely catchy. And I suppose many secular liberals who would favor central planning probably also recognize the fact of evolution (and would be embarrassed to be associated with intelligent design), so pointing out to them that what they support economically is akin to intelligent design could definitely be effective in making people think. I just don't want capitalism to be viewed as being so ruthless to individuals.

 

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