GIOVANNI BIRINDELLI, 7.2.2021
In a recent article, Daniel Hannan defended the right of politicians to change their mind (and the kind/amount of coercion they apply to individuals) on the grounds of new empirical evidence: “When the facts change, I change my mind … If that is true of experts, it is true, too, of politicians”.
Even though this position sounds lovely, it ignores a fundamental difference between natural and social sciences.
“When the facts change, I change my mind” describes an approach which, to some extent, is scientific in the filed of natural sciences, but which is unscientific in the field of social sciences and therefore also in that of politics. Therefore, the second sentence (“If that is true of experts, it is true, too, of politicians”) is just wrong and actually extremely dangerous.
There is no “changing fact” that can change the objective truth that aggression (say rape, to take an easy example) is unjust. The fact that aggression is unjust cannot be established ex post on the grounds of “changing facts” but only ex ante on the grounds of a priori, logical reasoning.
To assume that the politicians should behave like natural scientists (and therefore that they should change their minds – and the kind/amount of coercion they apply to individuals – when the facts change) implies that they have absolute power over the individuals; that they are not limited by the natural laws of freedom. It implies that they can violate freedom in any way they please and even being justified in doing so. Of course, this perfectly describes the current situation of politics in general (not only in the UK). However, this doesn’t make it less wrong and dangerous.
In a free society, there are clear, objective limits to the coercive action which can be legitimately used by some on others. These limits are given by the non-aggression principle (the only rule of just conduct which is logically compatible with the principle of equality before the law and therefore, in this sense, which is natural). These limits do not depend on fact discovery: they depend only on logical deduction. If you make them depend on fact discovery, you ignore the laws of freedom and give political coercion unlimited powers.
It is not by accident that the phrase “when facts change, I change my mind” was attributed to John Maynard Keynes: the so-called economist who understood the least about economics and the acceptance of whose views has given the politicians the excuse to expand government and government money (and therefore to reduce freedom and relative prosperity) beyond any foreseeable limit. The laws of economics do not change when facts change: you will never buy more quantity of a product/service if, other conditions being equal, its price was higher (law of demand). What you buy of course can change, but that does not concern economics because its object of study are general laws of human action (its “structure” so to speak), not their particular purposes (not its “content”). If you artificially expand money and credit (and at the same time you legally forbid the free market in the money sector), other conditions being equal you make individuals poorer and produce unavoidable cyclical, systemic crises. No empirical evidence or “changing fact” can invalidate this logically deduced, objective truth. Keynes did not understand this fact because, like today “macroeconomists” or “econometricians”, he did not understand what economics is.
As much as the current political and monetary structure implies it, human individuals are not viruses.