Admiral Mullen vs. Professor Hayek
By David Henderson
I mentioned briefly in a comment on my own blog post a few weeks ago that there is a Hayekian approach to protecting ourselves from terrorists. I elaborated in an article yesterday that I’ll quote from here:
Friedrich Hayek’s insights on knowledge and information can be used to fight terrorists. The evidence that Hayek is right often stares us in the face, and many politicians – I include the U.S. government’s top-ranking admiral as a politician – ignore this evidence. Worse, on Fareed Zakaria’s latest GPS (Global Public Square) program, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, seriously misstated the facts to make it sound as if centralized intelligence works well when what really worked well was, à la Hayek, decentralized “local knowledge.” Worse yet, Zakaria let Mullen get away with his spinning, specifically regarding the Times Square bomber and the Christmas “underpants bomber.”
Consider terrorism. Notice that in the most celebrated cases in which terrorists were thwarted, people used their “local knowledge.” (I’ll leave aside cases like the recent Portland, Oregon bomber. Here, the FBI used its local knowledge also, but it’s not a clear example because the FBI encouraged the bomber and even provided him with the “bomb.”) United Flight 93 on that horrible September 11; Richard Reid, the shoe bomber; the Christmas “underpants bomber”; and the Times Square bomber are all instances of successful anti-terrorist acts by what Hayek would call “the man on the spot.” Of course, as the relatives of the victims on Flight 93 can attest, the passengers did not save their own lives. But they likely saved the lives of the terrorists’ intended targets in Washington, D.C. Indeed, it’s because local knowledge has worked so well that I’ve long believed that the TSA was, and is, not required.
The article is titled “Adm. Mullen’s Spinning vs. Prof. Hayek’s Insight.” It led to a civil e-mail discussion with an economist on Admiral Mullen’s staff.