The Vodnoy Paradox
By David Henderson
When I was a child and young adult, my optometrist was Dr. Bernard Vodnoy. I remember his energy, curiosity, and exuberance. He had contracted polio a few months before the vaccine was available, and he was confined to a wheelchair—except it did not seem like confinement. He had rigged ramps through his office and the speed with which he moved with his wheelchair left the impression that it was his version of a skateboard. He was entrepreneurial in attitude and action, founding a small firm to make visual therapy equipment.
I remember him being conventionally liberal, wanting the government to protect us from a host of evils. But I also remember one conversation in which he became quite animated about the ignorance and stupidity of government regulations related to optometry.
Government regulations sound plausible in areas where we know little and have thought less. But usually those who know an area well can tell us of the unexpected harmful consequences of seemingly plausible and well-intentioned regulations. As a result, the same person often advocates government regulations in areas in which they are ignorant and opposes them in areas where they have knowledge. I call this the “Vodnoy Paradox.”
This is from Arthur M. Diamond, Jr., Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism, forthcoming in 2019 from Oxford University Press. Art asked me to read his manuscript and give a blurb for his book, which I was pleased to do. He tells story after story about various entrepreneurial successes—and failures—and had me saying after many of them, “I didn’t know that.”
I’ve seen the Vodnoy Paradox over and over in my adult life. Now I have a name for it.
Incidentally, what I hadn’t known is that we have someone in common early in our intellectual lives. Art credits the late Ben Rogge, an economics professor at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, for turning him on to Schumpeter. Rogge was the first speaker the University of Winnipeg Libertarian Club had after I joined. He came in February 1969.