All too many of our confreres tell us that the government, the state, can solve problems for us by simply telling people to go do things. We’ve that Green New Deal of both Richard Murphy and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez for example – just tell the unemployed to go insulate houses and she’ll be right. The Australian experience, when every bodger with a hammer lapped up the cash to ruin houses seems not to have made an impact upon them.
Economics has studied this problem, of course it has, even if at least one of those two is insistent that everything that came before the arrival of the Godhead is both wrong and an irrelevance. The heart of the concept is in David Ricardo’s work on comparative advantage. Things should be done by those who are relatively better at them. That way we employ the varied talents of the species to their best effect and end up richer than if we’d done it the other way around, either forced people to do what they’re bad at or, perhaps, just view everyone as some congealed lump of homogenised labour.
The thing is, when we look at the state allocation of labour we find that we get the second going on – or at least, not the first. This makes us poorer. As this little story about Professor Sir Michael Atiyah, OM, tells us. For those uninitiated into the British system of gongs Professor doesn’t mean the bloke who tots up your college GPA. It’s the top bloke in that field or department at that university, roughly enough. Sir denotes a knighthood and while those are handed out as confetti to civil servants not so much to academics. It is, for example, something that a Nobel Laureate is given as our added gong for that success. OM is very much grander, that’s ascending into the very heavens of the system. The air is so thin up there that mere Peers, Lords, Viscounts and the like, can only gasp at the height reached.
So, Sir Michael, important bloke, top notch academic:
Mathematician sometimes compared to Isaac Newton who won the Fields medal and enhanced our understanding of the universe
It was said of Professor Sir Michael Atiyah, perhaps the most important mathematician of the second half of the 20th century,
So, when the state did have the chance to allocate his labor, what happened?
Atiyah could have postponed his National Service, but, somewhat idealistically, felt committed to it, and joined the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. He thought this would allow him to him use his mathematical skills, perhaps on the new technology of radar, but he ended up becoming a clerk,
Which is all we really need to know about that idea of government, the state, allocating the labour of the country to solving our problems, isn’t it?