The Merit of “I Don’t Know”

Libertarians are known for making what, to most people, are “radical” claims based on “radical” beliefs. We have “radical” answers to big questions: Who will build the roads? How will people ever save their own money for retirement? Who will fund space travel? Who will keep food safe? The list of questions goes on and on.

Many of them have fairly simple answers. For example, food companies have an automatic incentive to keep food clean and safe in order to maintain reputation and keep customers alive. A dead customer can’t provide much profit, after all. There would also be opportunity for a savvy entrepreneur to start a business that judges the quality and safety of food.

Yet, some questions can’t be so easily answered — and this isn’t the fault of the libertarian.

Some questions simply can’t be answered with detailed processes about how a specific task will be handled. Nobody can say with certainty exactly how privatized roads would work or how private space travel would come about because such innovations that occur in the free market can seldom be predicted by man.

Could Alexander Graham Bell have predicted the iPhone? Could the Lumiere brothers have predicted DVDs? Could the Wright brothers have predicted fighter jets?

When the libertarian is confronted with questions like “who will build the roads?” answering with “I don’t know” is actually completely valid. Only a framework and general theory of how it may work can be provided, but any specifics cannot be predicted. If they could, then central planning would be feasible, but as history and basic economics shows, it isn’t.

So, whenever a challenge is made to predict what sort of innovation the market will produce, never forget that “I don’t know” is as valid as any other answer.

Content published on the Young Americans for Liberty blog is only representative of the opinions and research of the individual authors. It does not necessarily reflect the views, goals, or membership of YAL. 

Published in

Post a comment