Andrew Carnegie wrote his own epitaph which read, “Here Lies a Man Who Knew How to Enlist in His Service Better Men Than Himself.” He was a captain of American industry and his wealth is “estimated at anywhere from US$75 billion to US$297.8 billion adjusted for the late 2000s.” [Reference.] Clearly the man was no slouch when it came to creating wealth and his epitaph reveals an essential truth about the world — that specialization matters.
The world, as we know it, has myriad problems. The problems that are the most important are ones that are also universal and recur in time and space. That’s a wonderful thing because it means that many extremely capable people have pondered them for decades — centuries even — and have figured out some sort of solutions. Perhaps they have not worked out the final solutions but have still made some headway in the direction of a solution. That means that we don’t have to start from scratch in our own case. We can build on what others have already created.
Economic growth and development has held the attention of some absolutely brilliant people for at least a couple of centuries. For instance, Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations” was published in 1776. Others have walked quite far along the way he showed, and have over the years established new directions and pushed the frontiers of our understanding of the nature and causes of the wealth of nations. We have at our fingertips an immense treasure of collective wisdom and insight into how we can solve our own problems.
Development is a complex topic because the world is complex. The world is complex because it is heterogeneous. If it were homogeneous temporally and spatially, the problem of development would not have been complicated. The specifics of the location in time and place does not allow for a general one-size-fits-all kind of solution. But useful generalizations still exist and our job is to understand how to adopt and adapt them to the specifics of our case. This is why we need specialists.
We are forever indebted to specialists. Just look around our everyday lives and we will notice specialization everywhere. Everything that I use was made by people who specialize in making them. The food, the clothes, the electronics, the infrastructure, the books, the . . . you name it, it was done by a specialist. Adam Smith called it the division of labor.
No one can be equally good at everything. The greatest unintended harm comes from people who believe that they are good at things that they basically suck at. Let’s say Mr G is good at getting people organized and mobilized. But because of his success in that, he thinks that he is the cat’s meow when it comes to formulating economic policy. But in truth, he absolutely sucks at it. I think it is because success goes to one’s head and soon enough the person gets trapped in the illusion that he knows it all. It’s a problem of a bit too much and a bit too little ego.
Too much ego in the sense that the person is blind to his own limitations. A bit too little ego because if one was supremely confident, then admitting that one does not know it all does not endanger one’s self-worth. Only those who are confident of their own knowledge can freely seek and confidently accept what they don’t know. They are the ones who hire others more intelligent than themselves.
India’s disastrous journey down the immiserizing road to socialist heaven was initiated by one who did not know his own limitations. Analytical and empirical evidence abounded which showed that socialism is a sure formula for ensuring poverty. One just had to be smart enough to ask for directions, and scores of people who specialized in the subject would have been happy to help. In fact, some of them, like Milton Friedman, even came to India to give freely of their hard-earned expertise. India itself had home-grown wisdom, and wise men and women. Unfortunately, India was destined to be led into poverty and irrelevance.
It’s not too late. India needs competent leaders who, first of all, truly care about India’s prosperity, and second of all, understand that they need good counsel from intelligent people who have specialized in working out the solutions. How can we help? By demanding competent leaders. Vote wisely because that is our only hope of rescuing India — and ourselves.