Friday, November 11, 2011

The Fatal Conceit

A new website has got me thinking again, about why I do this blog, and why I believe, two apparently very different topics, are so intertwined. The idea that links politics and religion together for me, is called "spontaneous order." One of my fellow bloggers is far more learned than I on the topic, you can find him at Interdisciplinary World down there to the right on my blog list. I've written about this before, and you will see why it comes up again.
Spontaneous order is essentially order that seems to arise out of chaos. Why? Because there are unseen "rules or laws" that create the order. The rules were not made up by anyone, they are just characteristics of the nature of matter and energy, the way the universe works. Humans have discovered a lot of these rules with a tool called science. There are many subdivisions of science now, and we know a lot of the rules.
One of the book covers seen above, is Darwin's Origin of Species. Its in this book that he outlines what he thinks are the rules that govern speciation in nature which he calls natural selection. Natural selection is part of the mechanism of Evolution. Of course Evolution conflicts with a great many religious beliefs which brings me back to the first paragraph, and part of the reason for this blog. Generally I tolerate religious belief because it can be compartmentalized sufficiently so as to not interfere with other people's actions. When it starts to interfere, becoming "pushy" and smothering, I push back. One of the positive results of the new world of "political correctness" that we now inhabit, is that people realize that their particular religion is not necessarily everyone's. So my own children did not sing "yes Jesus loves me" in "public" school, like I once did. Chalk one up for freedom from religion.
Darwin did not know about the genetic reasons for evolution, he did not know about shifting allele frequencies or anything at that level of complexity or below, so he really did not discover the "rules," he inferred the rules. We are still discovering all the rules in biology. The important thing for me, is that the rules are discoverable, not mystical, not under the control of a deity. No deity is required, evolution is spontaneous and orderly.
The other book cover, Hayek's book, is related. If you look up spontaneous order, you will see written that many classical liberals (that's politics folks), like Hayek, believe that markets are governed most efficiently without being governed. The rules that govern markets and human behaviour - the science of economics - work best spontaneously without the tinkering of an intelligent designer.
In evolution, the idea of an intelligent designer is common among religious folk, the undiscoverable, unseen, and unknowable deity, is the designer. In economics, because it is a science peculiar to humans (and no other creatures on Earth), many believe there needs to be a designer, a tinkerer, someone to make it more efficient, because people are smart. Right? Unfortunately this is where the conflict occurs. Economics cannot be compartmentalized, in fact it pervades every aspect of one's life in a civil society. Instead of being left to a deity, economics has become by default the purview of government. My children are not free to interact with others in a spontaneous economic order as they should, they, and all of us are manipulated. We all sing to the tune "the government is here for the common good." The disagreement is whose common good? That is what Hayek's Fatal Conceit is about, people who think they know better.
The video below comes from a new website: Libertarianism. It references spontaneous order, and its delivered by an excellent writer David Boaz. If you need a refresher or a new insight, watch.        



  1. There are a few problems with your analogy.

    First, evolution and ecology are not all that stable. A lot of research shows that ecosystems are not in homeostatic equilibria; they are, at best, in "dynamic" equilibria, with wide swings in populations in very short times.

    More importantly, just because a system can be self-organized doesn't mean that self-organization is optimal. Although it is definitely true that ecosystems are self-organizing, human beings have been "engineering" ecosystems for thousands of years. Perhaps you have heard of "agriculture"?

    Finally, economies have always been managed. Even "laissez faire" capitalism completely collapsed beginning in the 1850s with the rise of the large trusts. Any group or class that attains substantial power in a laissez faire economy will manage the economy for their own benefit, not only because they can, but because they must.

    The question is not whether an economy can be managed; we can no more have an unmanaged economy than we can have an unmanaged political system. The question is who will manage the economy, and to what ends. It's fine if you you have a particular candidate class to manage the economy, and it's fine if that class includes you (it would be pretty stupid if it did not). But you're fooling your readers and perhaps yourself to insist that the economy should not be managed at all.

    1. Larry, it is precisely because economies are dynamic that they can only be managed through a set of abstract rules rather than dictated outcomes. this is the essence of Hayek's point. Optimal self organization depends on the set of rules in effect. In that sense, and in that sense only, can an economy be "managed". Further, Hayek argues that the proper set of abstract rules is discovered as much as designed. The degree to which the resulting spontaneous order results in prosperity is the measure of viability of the rule set. History has demonstrated that free markets are far superior to centrally planned or heavily regulated economies.

  2. Paragraph 1.
    Homeostasis is not a prerequisite of spontaneous order. In fact evolution does not really proceed under homeostatic conditions, at least not noticeably. So I agree dynamic equilibrium, is the usual.
    Paragraph 2.
    Actually if the system is "self-organized" and works, it is by its very nature optimal for all components. A biological ecosystem will function quite well for a long time, but always changing conditions (succession) so that certain components are no longer suitable in that system, and either move or disappear. Once tinkering starts to "optimize conditions" they become always LESS optimal.
    I would not consider agriculture an ecosystem, not even close. It is engineered to operate for the engineer, or intelligent designer. I don't see why it is relevant here. It works to provide for the engineer, but often a significant cost in other areas.
    Paragraph 3.
    Not always managed and when it does happen often to different degrees. The evidence is clear, economies that are least managed, where economic freedom is greatest, produce the greatest wealth and best living conditions for ALL humans in the system.
    The purpose of government is to protect individuals against those that seek to tinker with the system. I reality, governments are in cahoots with the crony capitalists/statists/communists whatever. Its governments that must be restrained. The system will adjust to correct distortions.
    Paragraph 4.
    My point, of course is no one should "manage" the economy.
    And you are like the theist that believes that the intricate design of the universe, implies a designer. It is you that needs to check your real beliefs.

  3. First, thanks for the link! :-)

    Now, self-organization neither requires homeostasis nor equilibrium. In fact, self-organization takes place in far from equilibrium states. Self-organization creates robust, creative network processes that can withstand a great deal of interference before they collapse entirely. Of course, we never know when that collapse will occur. Best not to tempt fate.

    Agriculture is a monoculture, and thus homogeneous. It is anything but an ecosystem, which is heterogeneous and self-organizing. Agriculture is in fact a good example of what socialists want to do to people: force them into homogeneous rows according to the designs of a central person, who forces them to do his bidding. Of course, we have learned that monocultures are problematic because a disease can wipe the entire crop out.

    The fact that we stupidly interfere with the economy is no argument against the self-organizing economy. That's a logical fallacy.

    I recommend my Diaphysics, in which I discuss the nature of self-organization.


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