The Pretense of Knowledge – by Walter Williams


The ultimate constraint that we all face is knowledge — what we know and don’t know. The knowledge problem is pervasive and by no means trivial as hinted at by just a few examples. You’ve purchased a house. Was it the best deal you could have gotten? Was there some other house you could have purchased that 10 years later would not have needed extensive repairs or was in a community with more likeable neighbors and a better environment for your children? What about the person you married? Was there another person who would have made for a more pleasing spouse? Though these are important questions, the most intelligent answer you can give to all of them is: “I don’t know.”

Since you don’t know the answers, who do you think, here on Earth, is likely to know and whom would you like to make these decisions for you — Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, George Bush, a czar appointed by Obama or a committee of Washington bureaucrats? I bet that if these people were to forcibly make housing or marital decisions for us, most would deem it tyranny.

You say, “Williams, Congress is not making such monumental decisions that affect my life.” Try this. You are a 22-year-old healthy person. Instead of spending $3,000 or $4,000 a year for health insurance, you’d prefer investing that money in equipment to start a landscaping business. Which is the best use of that $3,000 or $4,000 a year — purchasing health insurance or starting up a landscaping business — and who should decide that question: Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, George Bush, aczar appointed by Obama or a committee of Washington bureaucrats? How can they possibly know what’s the best use of your earnings, particularly in light of the fact that they have no idea of who you are?

Neither you nor the U.S.

Congress has the complete knowledge to know exactly what’s best for you. The difference is that when individuals make their own trade-offs, say between purchasing health insurance or investing in a business, they make wiser decisions because it is they who personally bear the costs and benefits of those decisions. You say, “Hold it, Williams, we’ve got you now! What if that person gets really sick and doesn’t have health insurance. Society suffers the burden of taking care of him.” To the extent that is a problem, it is not a problem of liberty; it’s a problem of congressionally mandated socialism. Let’s look at it.

It is not society that bears the burden; it is some flesh and blood American worker who finds his earnings taken by Congress to finance the health needs of another person. There is absolutely no moral case, much less constitutional case, for Congress forcibly using one American to serve the purposes of another American, a practice that differs only in degree from slavery, which we all should find morally offensive.

Whether it is health care, education, employment or most other areas of our lives, I ask you: Who has the capacity to master all the complexity to make choices on behalf of others? Each of us possesses only a tiny percentage of the knowledge that would be necessary to make totally informed decisions in our own lives, much less the lives of others. There is only one reason for the forcible transference of decision-making authority over important areas of our private lives to elite decision-makers in Congress and government bureaucracies. Doing so confers control, power, wealth and revenue to society’s elite. What’s in the best interests of individual members of society, such as a person who’d rather launch a landscaping business than purchase a health insurance policy, ranks low on the elite’s list of priorities.

  • thomasgonsalez2

    You can get instant full medical coverage at the lowest price from

  • steveoneil

    The President, members of the Senate and House may be the smartest people on earth, but they all lack wisdom. There is a big difference between being smart and being wise. I would rather have uneducated but wise leaders than smart but unwise leaders. In the case of the 99.5% of the democrats currently in office, they are neither smart nor wise.

  • keithrage

    The Reid/Polosi photo says it all, freshly injected and risen from the grave they stand ready to suck the very life from your soul and country, the american dream turns into a nightmare.

  • poptoy1949

    Reid and Pelosi should be Tarred and Feathered along with all the idiots that continue to support them. Mr Williams this is indeed a great article.

  • CowboyUp

    They can't even balance their budget, they aren't qualified to tell me anything. To think they called President Bush arrogant…

  • davarino

    Thats funny. They look like puppets and the guys behind them are controlling them like ventriloquists. How in the world did these guys get into power. Simply amazing. I cant believe they have much life left in them. I think the American people are starting to see them for what they are, cadavers pieced together from socialists of another era

  • USMCSniper

    Barack Hussein Obama, Comrade Pelosi, Harry Reid, and the Democrats want to destroy the American economy. By destroying the economy they get more power and control. For these socialist it’s all about power and control. Socialist Obama has been President for less than 75 days. With the help of Comrade Pelosi and Reid the socialist Obama has amassed more debt for America than all previous Presidents combined. In conjunction with this drunken spending binge the Federal Reserve has cranked up the printing press and is turning out 100’s billions of dollars.

    Every day the socialists come up with more spending plans. What has all of this spending and proposed spending done for America and the economy? For America it has put our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren so deep in debt they’ll never be able to pay it all off.

    The economy with trillions of dollars already spent is in a steep downward spiral. Unemployment is going up each day. Manufacturing is declining daily. The socialists Obama, Reid, and Comrade Pelosi have a new solution every day. It’s simple they come up with another spending plan. More money America doesn’t have.

    There is only one answer to the crazy socialist actions. They want to destroy America. The socialists want to destroy the American economy, they want to destroy democracy and the capitalist society. Socialist Obama, Reid, and comrade Pelosi want to make America socialist.

    To help pay for these stimulus bills and the pork these socialists are selling America to foreigners. Foreigners are buying American property sight unseen. Even worse the Chinese have lent America more than a trillion dollars so far and now China is already starting to tell the socialists what to do.

    The socialists are destroying America. They are eliminating the chance for our children to have a chance at the American dream. The socialists’ bailouts and stimulus bills are destroying this great country. Socialist Obama, Reid, Comrade Pelosi, and the Democrats want to destroy America.

  • rogert

    You are so right. It is nothing short of stunning to realize that the group in that picture are likely the ones determining the future of our once great country. “Once great,” I say because we have fallen incredibly far when the likes of Reid, Pelosi, and Schumer are making dire public policy decisions. Are there any less qualified?

  • Steward_Kane

    Knowledge is a power

  • buckeye68

    The arrogance of too many of our politicians results in their following their agenda and not the wishes of those who elect them. That they could actually be voted out never occurs to them. Too many of us voters may have been inattentive in the past, but no more. These politicians are showing us the damage they will do i order to increase their power and control. Millions of us are now dedicated to lifelong watchfulness and action to preserve and protect American values and freedoms.

  • charlesschmidt

    I am broke and dont have any crreditcards. Yet I ger email from david Horawitz asking for my support on petitions but he wont take my supporting vote unless I have a credit card and make a dontaion. He is missing out on a lot of support from retired seniors. Its real money and I dont have any extra.

  • charlesschmidt

    Pull the trigger or vote them out. The fact that our congress members are almost all millionairs and the fact that they work for the other socialist that stach up their election funds (Trial Lawyers. Keep your guns well oiled.

  • Joy Miles Van Noy

    Mr. Williams cuts to the heart of the health care debate (no pun intended!) We lose sight of what is at stake when we argue over the specifics of what is being offered rather than remembering what it will cost us in terms of our liberties. Principles must always be the basis for any decision affecting public policy. So, is your highest principle liberty? Mine is.

  • hhyde007

    Amen Dr. Williams,
    As I wrote in '121 Reasons to Reject Obama-Reid-PelosiCare':
    It takes private medical decisions out of the hands of patients, families and doctors, and assigns them to Washington bureacrats and committees. The latter are neither wiser nor more caring.
    See the full article at

  • beetyboop

    Ooooo… just look at these botox'd creeps. I have seldom seen faces I would trust less than these. I'd be wary to trust these two to figure my share of the lunch bill. They are definitely in over their foolish heads. God Bless America. We'll need it.

  • KevinStowell

    I'm 57 years old and one of the things I see these days that I find to be incredibly discouraging, not to mention depressing, scary, etc., is the wordplay that continually substitutes for intellectualism or, more simply, thought. It continually amazes me the number of people who begin a sentence with the words: ” I believe in…” as if they're talking about a belief system and when you listen to what it is they “believe in”, you find that it is nothing that could be remotely described as a tenet or belief system of any kind. A good example of this is abortion. When did abortion become a belief system? Another of these pretenses is: “Well, everybody knows… ” Almost invariably, I find that everybody doesn't know what ever the rest of that statement might be. Usually, it's a load of crap to which no sane person would subscribe.

  • libral

    i think the socity should share the burden of the poor people and show solidarity so i suggest the medical cost be divided as follow ( 30% on the sick person , 50% on his company & 20% from fedral money )

  • coyote3

    Try spelling “society” correct to begin with. I “think” a lot of things, but that doesn't make them “legal”.

  • Steven Brady

    Where do you think the “federal” money comes from? Santa Claus? George Soros? It's tax money, my friend, and the DEMs intend to bleed the American people dry to “share the burden of the poor people”.

    And when the poor person can't cough up his 30%, what do you think is going to happen to him?

    Showing “solidarity” is not a proper reason to spend the taxpayer's money. Government should not be in the business of making points at the expense of the economy.

    50% on the company, you say? If a company can't make a profit, it will go out of business (unlike the Federal government, which can merely print some more money). Since over 70% of every person with a job in America works for a small company, what do you think will happen when these companies pack up and move out-of-country?

    Think. That's the way to avoid the traps set for you by the Left.