Thursday, February 10, 2005

The declining role of authority

Alternative Medicine
Home Schooling
Sarbanes Oxley
Dan Rather’s demise as a “journalist” and revelation as a partisan screed

What do all those things have in common? A decline in the authority of things which we believed to be self-evident as recently as five years ago. In each instance there is an increase of the primacy of the individual decision maker – should corporate accountants or their big firms have control over the probity of financial statements – No longer. Should doctors control the flow of information about your health – No more. Should the school bureaucracy have control over the education of your children – No. Can people establish reliable markets for all sorts of detritus – Sure. Did Dan Rather have an authoritative and independent view of events – not if you perpetuate lies and distortions the blogosphere won’t allow it.

The risk of this change is obvious – the individual no longer can rely on the authority that once determined a lot of how we do things. There may be lots of times when authority structures help provide what Hayek called simplifications of society. In his classic essay he suggested that one of the indicators of advances in society was the increasing number of decisions that could be made without thinking. But some of those authority structures abused their status. Technology has allowed us to intervene to make those grants of authority more transitory. Create a system which disrespects the role of creators of intellectual property and no matter whether you have the law on your side or not – you will lose that right.

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