by Alex Castellanos
Issue 217– December 12, 2012
The world, Sir Isaac Newton supposedly told us, is a clock. Understand the laws of physics, conceive a design, assemble the cogs and gears, and wind it up. The world works because simple, linear forces determine simple, linear behaviors.
Similarly, we were led to believe, societies and economies needed design, or they would not run. The alternative, we were told, was chaos. Many of our best and brightest stepped up, over the years, to design the society that would save us. All we needed was single-payer health care, a factory-like public-school system, and that patent-medicine solution to every social problem, the five-point government program.
This thinking continues into the present. President Obama’s economic-recovery package, for example, was based on an over-simplified, Keynesian cooking recipe of aggregate inputs and outputs. He holds the establishment view that the only factors that count are the ones Washington can measure. Damn the interests of distant individuals and their ability to adapt and work around Washington’s schemes. Ignore the inevitable, unintended consequences of high-handed establishment planning. The public-sector lords of design know better. Let Washington build a big, simple vending machine and put in a trillion dollars’ worth of quarters at the top. Jobs, energy, or health care will come out at the bottom.
Unfortunately, you and I are not cogs and gears, and our relationships, rich in connections and complexity, are not at all simple or linear. The end of the industrial age means that everything in our economic ecosystem is woven together in a delicate web composed of relationships. We are all tied together in ways Washington can’t see, much less manage. Yet our governing intellectual establishment still lives in its old, clocklike, Newtonian universe — even as their giant clocks break down and the age of the machine gives way to the era of the organism and the network.
Friedrich Hayek, in his 1974 Nobel acceptance speech titled “The Pretence of Knowledge,” urged us to cultivate, not manufacture, social progress.
“If man is not to do more harm than good in his efforts to improve the social order,” said Hayek, “he will have to learn that in this, as in all other fields where essential complexity of an organized kind prevails, he cannot acquire the full knowledge which would make mastery of the events possible. He will therefore have to use what knowledge he can achieve, not to shape the results as the craftsman shapes his handiwork, but rather to cultivate a growth by providing the appropriate environment, in the manner in which the gardener does this for his plants.”
The Founder’s faith in liberty and in the American people’s God-given capacity to govern themselves has produced the best-governed and most successful country in history. Our ideas have enabled 4 percent of the world’s people to create 25 percent of the world’s wealth and prosperity. Compassionate capitalism has become the world’s greatest source of good, lifting billions from poverty and becoming the glue that holds together free, civilized nations.
Our beliefs have an unequalled track record. Now we must explain that our principles are not yesterday’s notions. We must make clear they remain the best way to meet our country’s current challenges and lead us to a new era of American progress and prosperity.
In fields ranging from biology to physics and from sociology to mathematics, we see the non-linear emergence of structure, micro-motives generating macro-behavior. We see simple, bottom-up behavior producing and managing complex organization that cannot be otherwise created, understood or managed.
The more complex the world becomes, the better it is to manage it bottom-up and organically. Conservatives and Republicans who believe in individual freedom don’t support anarchy. We support a modern, natural, intellectually superior alternative to outdated, artificial, top-down, command government. Populist empowerment of individuals to govern their own lives isn’t an old idea. It’s cool. It actually is what is next.
Much as Bill Clinton helped New Democrats emerge from the old, and the Reagan generation arose from our founding generation of Goldwater Republicans, the time has come for a new generation of Republicans to step up and lead. We should be new Republicans.
A new Republican is actually, well, new. He believes the outmoded, top-down mechanisms of the industrial age cannot keep up in a communications society marked by escalating velocity and complexity. Limiting ourselves to the paralyzingly slow, inflexible instruments of one-size-fits-all public-sector solutions, he believes, is primitive.
Government programs are poured cement. Their crushing, inflexible weight is a burden in an age that requires adaptation and originality. Old, top-down, industrial-age schemes, still popular in Washington, excel at enforcing discipline and uniformity, but not at achieving growth or innovation. Assembly lines produce cars, not miraculous cures. Armies march, they don’t invent the iPhone or eBay. The soul-crushing conformity of the factory, which has characterized government, is an archaic governing model in a new and complex society. Even the best of intentions can’t lend a wooly mammoth agility or train it for a new century’s ballet.
This is our moment to speak and to introduce ourselves to the world.
Alex Castellanos is one of the Republican Party’s best known and most successful media consultants and strategists and is part of CNN’s “Best Political Team on Television.”