Monday, August 25, 2008

Hayek and the Seminoles

You know, one of my musical passions is to listen to Country music, as odd as that sounds to most "city dwellers". Among my favorite tunes ranks "Seminole Wind" from John Anderson which is best played in quiet and reflective situations.

Of course, I can't help trying to sense any libertarian tendency whatever I do, and so it happened that I noticed this particular line in John Anderson's song:
Progress came and took its toll
And in the name of flood control
They made their plans and they drained the land
Now the glades are goin' dry
In other words, the regular Seminole Indian Joe had been living in soaking wet swamps for all his life, just as his parents and grandparents most likely had. At some point in time, when living in swamps had become unimaginable for average whites, some well-intentioned people with governing powers probably decided it was best to drain the home swamps of the Seminoles so they didn't have to live in fear of floods anymore, and besides it'd sure look like a nice gesture to their suburban constituency.

This, of course, forced the Seminole people to abandon their traditional way of life, and guess what they did instead:
In 1979, the Seminoles opened the first casino on Indian land, ushering in what has become a multibillion-dollar industry operated by numerous tribes nationwide.
And with gambling most likely came all the other side-effects which plague Indian reservations today such as alcoholism or an alarmingly high rate of family breakups.

So, one may ask, was the decision to forcibly change the native peoples' way of life really a sensible step? Or was it just assumed to be helpful, but turned out to be ruinous? This is what F.A. Hayek coined "presumption of knowledge", the hubris of central planners which makes them believe they can judge all the individual results of their one-man (or one-committee) resolution well enough to know it's "good for the community".

Those responsible for the swamp drains probably didn't foresee how people with completely different world views and approaches to life would react to a sudden change in their environment. They didn't get together and said "Well guys, the party's over, let's industrialize", but are now stuck between the ways of their ancestors and shady business schemers whose projects have (illegitimately) been banned outside of native territory and who now make use of the debilitated Indians, as these folks are probably glad about anyone offering any kind of work.

But that's what happened. And that's what is going to happen over and over again as long as we allow individuals with limited knowledge to make decisions that would require a vastly superior overlook. Several measures of improving a planner's overlook have been proposed, including the use of equations, the consulting of various "experts" or planning by majority vote, but all of these merely attempt to conceal the limited abilities of planning individuals when it comes to regulating whole markets, that is huge aggregates of mutually beneficial trades and transactions as well as unplannable price signals.

Indian wisdom still teaches us a lot today, and so does the recent history of the natives. As well as country music, or so it seems.

No comments: