The stupidity of genius

Not too long ago I wrote a post about free trade and I mentioned something in passing that I think needs some elaboration. I stated that India followed openly socialistic policies designed to produce self-sufficiency in most basic goods and services from the time of its independence until roughly 1990, when it became perfectly clear that the course India had embarked upon was completely unsustainable. A major course correction followed; neo-liberalisation opened up India's markets and unlocked its talent pool, and the resulting economic boom that lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty continues, mostly, to this day.

The reason I bring this up is because of a recent discussion that I took part in, concerning (among other things) different outcomes in global car markets. Korea's car industry is much like India's in many ways- heavily subsidised, protected from international competition, guaranteed many privileges that foreign manufacturers would kill to get. Why, then, is it that the Koreans are capable of producing cars that can go toe-to-toe with American and German manufacturers- and win- in terms of quality, reliability, value-for-money, and enjoyment, while India's car industry for 50 years produced basically the same car that was originally manufactured by Morris Motors, with zero innovation, atrocious quality, little by way of comfort, and at best spotty reliability?

This was debated back and forth for a while, meandering through a variety of topics. There are many reasons why the Koreans succeeded where Indians did not when it comes to manufacturing cars. One of them is, of course, the fact that Korea doesn't have anything like as big a domestic market as India does. For Korean manufacturers, they had to figure out a way to export their products, which is exactly what they did- and they followed more or less the same course that the Japanese had thirty years earlier. When Korean cars first started being exported, they had a reputation for being cheap, horrible little snotboxes that were miserable to drive, built to the lowest common denominator with the cheapest materials available, and designed to fall apart after just a few years- Top Gear actually did a hilarious review on the subject about ten years back. Today, however, the Koreans build cars that can compete openly with any American or German mainstream brand, though they still have a long way to go in the luxury market. Meanwhile the Indians are only just figuring out how to build the same sorts of horrible little deathtraps that the Japanese were exporting in the 1960s.

The main reason for this is that India's elites just never bothered learning from the mistakes of others. At all. Ever. Which is why, throughout that entire debate, I kept coming back to a simple fact of life:
The elites never learn from the mistakes of others, because they keep thinking that they're too smart to be that dumb.
In the most basic terms, this just means that it takes someone very intelligent to believe in something very stupid.

You have to understand something about India's leadership at the time of independence in order to understand the rest of what I'm going to write. The men who led India's push to independence from the British Raj were exceptionally well educated. Men like Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, and indeed most of the top leadership of the subcontinental freedom movement, had studied at the finest universities in the world- which is to say, in Britain- almost to a man. (The father of modern Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, was in fact so thoroughly Anglicised that he didn't speak Urdu or Hindi properly at all; upon announcing the creation of an independent Pakistan by saying, "Pakistan zindabad!", his accent mangled the words so thoroughly that his English-speaking listeners thought he was saying, "Pakistan's in the bag!")

These men were brilliant. They were highly educated. They were extremely well-informed. They had access to resources that almost nobody else in India did at the time. They were well acquainted with the circles of international power.

And to a man, they were all socialists.

Yes, I thought the same thing- "how the hell can smart people constantly be that retarded???"

Socialists love to think that they are cutting-edge, that their ideas are new and radical, and that they have all the answers to all of the old problems. They are, of course, complete morons to think this, because their ideas are in fact very old and no more workable today than they were three thousand years ago when the Spartans were first giving it a try. The socialist distrust of competitive markets, for example, is not new. During feudal times in Western Europe, kings who mistook the creative destruction of free market competition for chaos decided to do away with such disorder by imposing state-backed monopolies on various industries, such as salt and iron and wheat. The result was entirely predictable: prices went up, quality went down, shortages were inevitable.

You would think that any man with a classical Western education would know this (at least, back when the West actually provided a decent education in its universities- which wasn't all that long ago, in fact). Of course, guess what the leadership of India decided to do? It decided to start granting near-monopolies to various businessmen in order to "advance the national interest". So Tata became the "national" tea company, Ambuja became the "national" cement company, Birla became the "national" steel company, and so and so forth ad nauseam.

The net result? India's economy went down the crapper for forty years, sustained only by its massive domestic market and no small amount of Soviet help. Why, by the way, did India turn to the Soviets for help and emulate their five-year plans and their disastrous economic policies? Because at the end of WWII, the socialists of Nehru's circle decided that they wanted nothing to do with what they perceived to be an imperialist, exploitative Western model of economic planning. (There are legitimate reasons for feeling this way; India during the British Raj was taken for a real ride, much of its national wealth was stripped by the British. The point that such fire-eating Indians keep forgetting is that the British also gave India the entire basis for its national infrastructure- an infrastructure that has sustained the country ever since.)

You understand, I am sure, the irony in the idea that the Soviet Union somehow was not exploitative, manipulative, and openly imperialistic.

The personalities of the men involved were very important too. There was a good book published a while back called The Elephant Paradigm by the former head of Procter & Gamble India, in which the author pointed out that every time someone started talking to Nehru about liberalised economic policies, the man would simply stop listening. He thought he, with his big Cambridge-educated brain, knew better than millions of his fellow citizens what was best for each of them individually. This conceit is common to every socialist I've ever seen; it transcends borders and boundaries, and it is exactly the same disease that afflicts the busybody American government, at every level. This absurd belief that central planning is somehow capable of effectively organising an entire economy has never withstood the test of reality, and the reason it keeps failing is that no one man or organisation, no matter how brilliant or well-intentioned, can possibly keep up with the sheer volume of information required to manage an economy like that.

And what of that information, as well? Whenever they fail- as they inevitably do- the elites keep complaining that they didn't know enough, that the next time they will do better. Yet it was well-known in the 1930s and 1940s that the Soviet economy was failing. Walter Duranty's propaganda pieces in the New York Times about the wealth and prosperity of the Soviet Union were exposed, repeatedly, as the lies and fictions that they really were- the man still won a Pullitzer Prize, which the Times has never disavowed. It was well known as early as 1925 that the Soviet economy's attempt at full socialisation had completely failed, resulting in the need for Lenin to institute the New Economic Plan, which restored a certain amount of free market incentives to people. It was well known in the 1900s that the first American colony in Jamestown failed completely because it operated on socialist principles of communal work and sharing, yet the same ideas were tried repeatedly around the world. After J. M. Brury published his economic analyses of the reasons behind the fall of the Roman Empire, the socialist origins of the Crisis of the Second Century were known to anyone with a classical education in history- which most of India's leadership had, by the way. It has been well-known for over two thousand years that Sparta was organised along openly communist lines, with an openly militaristic society designed specifically to stay on a permanent war footing, and yet the exact same mistakes that toppled the Spartan empire after its dramatic victory in the Peloponnesian War are being repeated right here in the United States today.

Why is it, then, that the elites never seem to learn from their mistakes? It always comes back to this conceit that they hold, that they are just too smart to be so stupid as to repeat them, that this time is different. Of course, history does not repeat, but it very often rhymes, and the elites who keep making the mistake of closing their ears to avoid listening to those rhymes are inevitably condemned to repeat the mistakes of their predecessors. Their credentials and their knowledge are always shown to be lacking right when they really matter.

Tom Kratman made a similar point (after a similar series of meanderings) in his afterword to Tuloriad several years back:
Did religion poison those Christian sailors, rowers, and Marines at Lepanto? No; it was not poison to them, but the elixir of strength that gathered them and enabled them to prevail against a religion that was poisonous to them and their way of life. And isn't that odd, too? That such a bright man as Hitchens should claim religion poisons "everything," when the plain historical record, just limiting ourselves for the moment to Lepanto—something a bright man ought to know about—shows that this is not the case? 
Hmmm. Perhaps "bright" doesn't mean, after all, what "brights" want it to mean.

Theft of the word "bright," while it doesn't quite rise to the level of linguistic matricide (the malicious murder of one's mother tongue), so common in PC circles, is still an exercise in intellectual dishonesty. It's hardly the only one. For example, it is often claimed that there's not a shred of evidence for the existence of God. This is simple nonsense; there's lots of evidence, some of it weaker and some of it stronger. Some of it is highly questionable and other portions very hard to explain away. (And one of our favorite bits revolves around just when and how Pius V knew that the battle of Lepanto had been won, at the time it had been won, and in the absence of long-range communications. Look it up. Really.)
Trust not in the wisdom of those who believe themselves to be your betters, whether in the government, the media, the education establishment, or anywhere else. Trust instead in your own mind, your own knowledge, and the wisdom and strength of the Almighty. Ultimately, those are the only things you can rely upon in this world- not the half-assed stupidity of genius.


  1. This one's probably more on point:


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