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Friday, October 7, 2016

Science Needs Markets

Science isn't the only thing that makes the world wonderful.

In “Bill Nye: Leaders Who Are Ignorant of Science Pose Danger to Society” (Oct. 6), The Intellectualist wrote that Bill Nye (“the science guy”) “wants science literacy to be a national priority so that people can understand that the daily magic around them every day – all the technology, medicine, and innovation that makes our lives easier, isn’t some kind of wizardry – it’s cold, hard science.”

It is equally appropriate to understand and praise the magic of decentralized markets that continually coordinate the productive efforts of billions of people.

I’m all for scientific literacy.  But Mr. Nye errs in suggesting that the marvels of modernity result simply from cold, hard science.  These marvels also require free, private-property markets that not only create the prosperity that enables many people to devote their lives to scientific study, but also that unleash and direct the entrepreneurial energies necessary to transform scientific knowledge into actual, useful, and widely available goods and services.

It is indeed appropriate to understand and praise, which Mr. Nye does, the elegant science embedded in the likes of refrigerators, smart phones, and guaranteed overnight package delivery.

But it is equally appropriate to understand and praise, which Mr. Nye does not, the daily magic of decentralized, bourgeois markets that continually coordinate the productive efforts of literally billions of people spread around the globe into a vast and unprecedentedly productive market economy – a market economy that alone ensures that the science that Mr. Nye rightly celebrates is regularly put to use for the benefit of the masses.

As marvelous as weather apps and jetliners are, the global competitive market – guided by prices, profits, and losses – is even more marvelous.  And yet the stupendous achievements of markets are regularly ignored by scientists such as Mr. Nye, who conceitedly but mistakenly presume that their expertise in hard science imparts to them an adequate understanding of the functioning of the economy.  It does not.  And their failure to grasp this fact reveals in them a most unscientific turn of mind.

A version of this article was first published by Cafe Hayek.

  • Donald J. Boudreaux is a senior fellow with the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, a Mercatus Center Board Member, and a professor of economics and former economics-department chair at George Mason University.