While reading an article by Todd Henderson on corporate law theory (77 Geo. Wash. L. Rev. 708), I unexpectedly encountered a nice summary of what I take to be the basic difference between liberals and conservatives:
According to Thomas Sowell, many of our modern policy debates boil down to a question of one's view of the capacity of the human mind and the institutions it develops to solve problems. [FN59] It is a debate about experts versus markets. [FN60] In one camp, we find those who believe that optimal social policy is something that can be discovered by experts based on an analysis of data and argument. The problem with schools or health care or crime policy, [FN61] they say, is that the right people aren't in charge, or we don't have enough money to implement the right solutions, or we just need more research on the questions to determine the correct approach. The right answers, the socially optimal answers, are there for the getting. Those holding this vision--what Sowell calls the “unconstrained vision”--believe there are solutions to policy problems that are discernable from the reason and logic of smart people. They believe in experts. Sowell describes the “unconstrained vision” as follows: “the conviction that foolish or immoral choices explain the evils of the world--and that wiser or more moral and humane social policies are the solution.” [FN62] The French Revolution and the Administrative State are manifestations of the unconstrained vision. So too are the arguments of Ronald Dworkin, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Thorstein Veblen, and Franklin Roosevelt.
In the other camp, we find those who believe that social problems are not comprehensible by the human mind and that no amount of conferences, policy papers, or deep thinking will find solutions for them. [FN63] There are no solutions, just tradeoffs. Sowell describes the “constrained vision” as seeing “the evils of the world as deriving from the limited and unhappy choices available, given the inherent moral and intellectual limitations of human beings.” [FN64] The constrained vision sees natural processes, like competition in free markets, as a superior way of revealing socially efficient answers to policy questions. Unlike those subscribing to the unconstrained vision who believe in solutions passed down by experts, the constrained vision “rel[ies] on the systemic characteristics of certain social processes such as moral traditions, the marketplace, or families.” [FN65] They believe in the “wisdom of crowds” and evolutionary processes. [FN66] Perhaps the most succinct summary of the constrained vision is Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes's aphorism that “[t]he life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience.” [FN67] The American Revolution and faith in Adam Smith's “invisible hand” are manifestations of the constrained vision. So too are the arguments of Edmund Burke, F.A. Hayek, and Ronald Reagan.
Count me among the latter both when it comes to corporate law and the world at large. Unfortunately, at the moment, the rule by expert crowd seems to be winning in both spheres.