…what Nigeria needs from its young men and women today is not merely the ‘goodness’ of their hearts and intentions but ‘dealers in second-hand ideas’—people who appreciate original thinking when they see it…
“People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”
“The DOJ alleges that from around September of 2008 to sometime in 2009, all the publishing CEOs would gather in the “private dining rooms of upscale Manhattan restaurants” and talk business — specifically, how to handle Amazon. The most common of these private rooms was called “The Chef’s Wine Cellar,” in a restaurant called Picholene, but some were also held in a restaurant called Alto.”
When it comes to the business of original thinking, what is easily apparent is that the heavy lifting has already been mostly done. As the saying goes, there’s nothing new under the sun.
In case you are wondering, the first quote is from Adam Smith in ‘The Wealth of Nations’, which was published in 1776. He was of course describing the tendency of people in business to want to always gain an advantage against the consumer by limiting choices i.e. raising prices in concert with one another.
The second quote comes from the recent US Dept. of Justice investigation into e-book pricing which named Apple and all the major book publishers as defendants.
What is remarkable from these examples is how spot on Adam Smith was even 236 years ago. Where else would such people meet for ‘merriment and diversion’ if not in a restaurant? And we know from Smith that the last thing on their minds was the quality of the steak they had ordered.
Nigeria is not short of smart young men and women who will perhaps do differently to an extent if they get a chance in government. But what chance do they stand if they enter into government armed with only their ‘brilliance’? If the job of original thinking has already been done, then what stops young Nigerians from arming themselves with such thinking so that they don’t go into government surprised by all the different things that conspire to distract a government from its stated goals?
In my very recent quest for original thinking ammunition, no one has had as much of an influence on me as Professor Thomas Sowell. Having gone to a Nigerian University to study economics for four years and ‘graduated’ with nothing useful learnt (some of our course texts were from the former Soviet Union), reading his magnum opus ‘Basic Economics’ spared my blushes. Today, I will read a blank piece of paper if it’s authored by Professor Sowell. Indeed, one of the things on my bucket list is to get to spend an hour with the now 81-year-old man before he leaves this world. What he does peerlessly is subject any new idea or claim to the full force of history. If you think an idea is ‘new’ and fantastic, let Prof. Sowell remind you some smart aleck, with disastrous results, once tried it out.
I have also recently read the much-heralded ‘Why Nations Fail’ by Darron Acemoglu and James Robinson – the one a Professor of Economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the other Professor of Government at Harvard. This is, in my humble opinion, absolutely compulsory reading for any young person who has even the slightest pretensions of ever wanting to go into government. Our problems are not unique and the path we have taken as a nation is an all too predictable one as Acemoglu and Robinson show with example after example. But even more importantly, they show the paths taken by today’s rich countries and how they were different from those taken by poor countries. The difference between ‘extractive’ political and economic institutions and ‘inclusive’ ones couldn’t be laid barer.
To paraphrase another thinker I greatly respect and admire, Friedrich August von Hayek, what Nigeria needs from its young men and women today is not merely the ‘goodness’ of their hearts and intentions but ‘dealers in second-hand ideas’—people who appreciate original thinking when they see it and are thus able to bolt on these ideas to real life situations that confront them. The market ideas propounded by Adam Smith hold true in Onitsha market as well as Alaba International in Lagos. He’s not called the father of economics for nothing.
If you find yourself in a position of authority lacking original ideas to hold fast to, do not despise knowledge and understanding; mediocrity got us this far as a nation and it sure won’t get us out of this pass.
Finally it must be said that, going into government is absolutely not compulsory. The opportunities to add value in the wider system of voluntary exchange are almost endless as an alternative.
About the author: Feyi is a qualified accountant and currently works in Asset Management in London’s Financial Services industry.
He also likes economic policy, photography and numbers.
Editor’s note: Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.