Thursday, June 23, 2011

Steve Horwitz on Excellence

Here is an excellent piece by Steve Horwitz on excellence.

One of the claims I have actually heard against the market is that it doesn't reward excellence. As Horwitz observes, this is simply not true. In the market it is up to the individual to discover his or her own excellence, whether they are born with it or need to develop it -- or, more likely, both. Outside of the market, you have to rely on others to discover and help you develop your excellence. Such top-down discovery methods are going to overlook the vast majority of people and their talents.

Why were there so many more poets during and after the Renaissance than before? It was because the Guttenberg press democratized publishing and, thus, writing. Prior to the Renaissance, you had to have a patron to be able to write poetry. Copies had to be made by scribes, which was a time-consuming, costly process. All of this had to be supported by rich patrons. But once the printing press was invented, more and more people could write and get their works copied at much lower costs. Thus, the number of poets blossomed. Sure, the number of scribes decreased dramatically. But which would you prefer: a culture full of great scribes, or a culture full of great poets? It is clear which the market chose. Creative talent was chosen over mechanical skill. Calligraphy now mostly survives as a hobby and a craft.

Of course, Horwitz makes a point that it is not just the artists (or great sports figures) who demonstrate excellence. A gardener who takes pride in the fact that the grass is even across the lawn and the edges are trimmed to perfection demonstrates excellence -- and will likely be rewarded for it. A trucker who drives safely and gets everything he ships there on time or early demonstrates excellence. A teacher who gets her students to learn and does not destroy the love for learning of those who came in loving to learn, and who teaches those who don't care about learning to love to learn demonstrates excellence. It is the market which rewards excellence. We hear complaints about teachers and not short order cooks precisely because if the later consistently do a horrible job, they will get fired, while in our government-controlled schools, nothing bad will happen at all. Thus, excellence is not rewarded, but undermined. The results are predictable.
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