Friday, August 30, 2013

The Base of the Pyramid

It's pretty easy to live day to day in the heady atmosphere of the commanding heights with not so much as a second thought to what lies beneath. All the vigorous machinery of commerce and history that delivers commonplace treasures onto our desks, across our shoulders, into our bellies, these are the vasty artifacts that slumber unseen but for the tiny bit of elephant we actually graze blindly in our daily labors. Leonard Read's classic essay stands as a fine example of what it might look like if we took the blinkers off for a short moment to gaze unprotected into the fiery heart of the web of production, to ponder the deceptively simple power of something as mundane as a number preceded by a printers' mark for currency. And even then, prices are still but a proxy for what is, distilled, a gossamer global phlogiston of minds in their capacity as thinking, agreeing, calculating, and yes, even loving meat machines.

It is valiant, necessary, worthwhile to judge the outcomes seen in the commanding heights and decry profound unfairness, intolerable injustice, to rail against outrageous fortunes. Circumspection serves us best when we consider that policy tends to affect the stones at the base of the pyramid, meddling directly with vital price signals, clutching to the unaccountable hope that the intervention will eradicate the despair witnessed on the capstone.

Circumspection isn't sexy. It doesn't make the news, it doesn't get pageviews. Bombast, pulpit-pounding, fire, brimstone, confrontation, these are the elements of attention. Caution, prudence, restraint, these are the elements of being on the receiving end of a trifling yawn. 

It's compelling to say, "that ain't euvoluntary pool, let's fix it." It's drab as dishwater to say, "that might not be such a great idea." Thinking deeply about problems and having a light touch never put anyone in the history books. More's the pity.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?