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Summit, Protest Did Not Consider Liberty

Summit, Protest Did Not Consider Liberty

From statements made at the World Industry Summit and the subsequent demonstration, it would appear that a prerequisite for membership in the MIT community is a commitment to regulating the lives of others. Thankfully, this is not entirely the case.

Those of us at MIT who stand committed to the principles of liberty and self-government are greatly disturbed by both the summit's direction and the demonstrators' opposition. The most troubling aspect of the summit is that every topic under consideration relates only to government regulation or interference with some aspect of the economy. Not a single session addresses the strongest relationship of all -- that of liberty and economic development. The implication is that the few in government must somehow play an important role in determining the economic decisions made by billions of people worldwide.

The free market is a widely distributed system that gets the right amount of goods and services to the right people. It works with the immediate negative feedback generated by the billions of economic choices made daily. Government intervention uses either no feedback or positive feedback creating strong oscillations of recession and boom. Furthermore, a centralized authority, no matter how bright its members, cannot possibly cope with the magnitude of information necessary for the determination of winners and losers in an economy the size of ours. Only the free market can be trusted to generate the correct decisions.

Even at their best, proposals for government intervention fail to address the moral implications of letting a privileged few make vital economic decisions for several billion. In order to carry out such proposals either funds or regulations will be required. In the case of funding, a government must rely on its citizens' wealth, usually resorting to the forcible seizure of private wealth through taxation. Where new regulations are involved, people are forced to accept the purely economic choices of others or be held in violation of law. In either case the ability of a citizen to make private choices is abrogated.

At MIT, where we are so confident of our own ability to analyze and choose, the temptation is great to prohibit what we see as the flawed decisions of others. However, no person or panel of people is infallible. When those decisions fail, the lives of countless millions could be in jeopardy. The only ethical policy is to leave the decisions to those who must live with the outcome of their choices.

Equally troubling were the statements made by demonstrators in opposition to the summit. Specifically, they cautioned "we must resist the tendency to couple the Institute too closely to the private appropriation of social wealth and human resources." Once again a faulty notion is employed. A free market economy is not concerned with the "appropriation" of wealth or "human resources" but with the "creation" of wealth and the improvement of the human condition. Instead of denouncing the connections between government and business leaders they call for an increase in the number of special interest groups taking part in the regulation including: labor leaders, consumer groups, youth groups and others. It would appear that managing one aspect of the economy does not go far enough. In their view, all aspects must be managed -- in the interest of equality, of course.

Rather than continue down the path of ever increasing intrusiveness, we call for the withdrawal of government from both sides. The history of government is clear. First help the well-connected, then notice that such actions have crushed the less-connected, then attempt to help these "victims" by crushing still others. At each step, of course, the government takes a cut of the power for itself. In the end, the result is always the same; eventually everyone gets crushed and the government has all the power. Rather than an endless series of advocating business then labor, rich then poor, first world then third world, we should strive to make our system treat all equally under the law.

As Thomas Jefferson put it, "A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicity."

Vernon Imrich G

and four others