The 'Fatal Conceit' of President Obama and Kathleen Sebelius|
November 23, 2013
I have lined up my Christmas presents this year for President Obama and
Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.
I will send them both a copy of the last book written by one of greatest
economists of the last century, and winner of the Nobel Prize in economics in
1974, F.A. Hayek.
The book is called The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism.
Although the language and discussion of the book is not all that simple, the
basic point is, I think, pretty straightforward. Hayek summed it all up in his
acceptance speech for his Nobel Prize.
He noted the critical importance that we know what we don’t know. Thinking you
know what you don’t and can’t know, the illusion that men can plan, organize,
and control things far beyond their understanding is the “fatal conceit” of
And, Hayek concludes, that knowing what you don’t know, “ought to teach the
student of society a lesson of humility, which should guard him against becoming
an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society — a striving which
makes him not only a tyrant over his fellow, but which may well make him the
destroyer of a civilization which no brain has designed but which has grown from
the free efforts of millions of individuals.”
Take a walk through the mall or the supermarket. Look at the almost infinite
varieties of products in stores and on shelves designed and engineered to meet
the unique tastes and desires of millions of different individuals.
You don’t need a Nobel Prize or a Ph.D. to appreciate that no supreme bureaucrat
with all the power in the world could ever conceive that vast array of products
and decide they should be produced.
This is the product and beauty of freedom. Free people deciding what they want
and living how they want. And free people deciding to take risk, go into
business, and become entrepreneurs and produce and deliver these many varied
This approach — freedom — has produced bounty as has never before been produced
anywhere under any other arrangement.
But the “fatal conceit” is a powerful force. It is a powerful force because
there will always be haughty, arrogant people for whom humility is a challenge
and who are convinced that the world would be better off if they designed it
rather than letting free private individuals run their own lives.
This is totally what the debacle we now confront with the Affordable Care Act —
Obamacare — is about.
Anyone who follows these things and knows just a little bit of history knew from
the day Obama signed this law in 2010 that what is happening today was
Neither Obama nor Sebelius have ever done anything in their lives except work in
one way or another in politics.
Neither has ever run a small business, let alone a big one. Neither has a day of
experience of being an entrepreneur, of taking personal risk and taking a loan
to make a product to serve customers and to meet a payroll.
But both have been supremely confident that they could take over and redesign
one-sixth of a $16 trillion economy.
Nothing is more unique to each individual than his or her personal health
profile and needs. Yet a couple of supreme bureaucrats in Washington have used
their power to decide what kind of health care hundreds of millions of unique
American individual citizens need and how to deliver it.
Can it be any wonder that it is all collapsing?
The only wonders are that there are still those who maintain that this socialist
monstrosity can still work and that so many Americans have been willing to give
up their precious personal freedom and turn their lives over to arrogant,
pretentious, and deeply confused bureaucrats and politicians in Washington.
STAR PARKER, a Washington Examiner columnist, is an author and president of
CURE, Center for Urban Renewal and Education. She can be reached at