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Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Misunderstanding the Relationship of Spontaneous Order and Planned Order

In the comments section of this post, Bob Murphy writes, "There is clearly a meaning to the phrase 'spontaneous order.' I'm not saying you have to be an anarchist if you like the idea--Hayek himself wasn't an anarchist. But it is an abuse of language to say the state is an example of spontaneous order."

Yes, indeed, to claim the state is a spontaneous order would be stupid. Which is why I never said that, nor anything even very close to that. But Bob's confusion is understandable, given all the ideological baggage that has been heaped upon these concepts, and others may partake of it, so let me explain this at the top level, rather than in the comments.

Set aside for a moment the matter of the state, and let us turn to the firm. The firm is (largely) a planned order. But, 1500 years ago, no one said to himself, "You know, let me invent an economy full of firms!" No the firm is a (largely) planned order that arose spontaneously.

As must have every planned order. The proof of this is easy. If we go back far enough in time, it is clear our simian ancestors were not planning any social order (although they did have social order). Since today there are planned orders, all of them must have either arisen spontaneously (since at one point there was no planning) or arisen from a planned order that arose spontaneously, or arisen from a planned order that arose from a planned order that arose spontaneously, and so on. All planned orders are like floating islands of planning drifting in a sea of spontaneous order. The state is no different: we have just seen that it can't be!

There is no intrinsic problem with planned orders. Problems arise when they try to bite off more planning than they can chew. The Soviet state had eyes far bigger than its stomach: it tried to plan everything, and as a result screwed everything up. The Swiss state pretty much sticks to planning the sort of thing the legal authorities can plan, and seems to do a pretty darned good job of it.

This is not too hard to understand: the issue of planning overreach is not unique to the state. Think of helicopter parents, who try to plan every last detail of their kids lives. Well, you can't. That doesn't mean that from day one you just let your kids do whatever the hell they want: no, you have to recognize of what you can and of what you can't take control, and only try to plan those items where you have a good chance of success.

9 comments:

  1. It's actually pretty simple. If someone has to coerce -- using violence or the threat of violence -- others to participate in this "order", it's not spontaneous, it's enforced.

    So, you're correct that there "is no intrinsic problem with planned orders". The problem arises when the orders are enforced with coercion.

    I'm surprised that neither Murphy nor Knapp made this obvious point.

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    1. "It's actually pretty simple. If someone has to coerce -- using violence or the threat of violence -- others to participate in this "order", it's not spontaneous, it's enforced."

      So private property is an enforrced order, since violence must be used to enforce it?

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    2. I've certainly never claimed violence must be used to enforce property rights because it's not true. Unless by "enforce", you mean "steal" or "claim dominion over" -- the way states, gangs and other assorted criminals acquire property -- but there's nothing orderly about that so I doubt that's the case.

      The concept of property rights came about as a way to settle disputes over scarce resources without violence. John Hasnas has written about the evolution of property rights in pre-Norman England with property rights arising as an alternative to the inconvenience of blood feuds. Of course, it's not just Hasnas. Elinor Ostrom, Bruce Benson and many others have written about how property rights develop.

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    3. Government also evolved as a way to settle disputes without violence, frank.

      I didn't ask how property rights EVOLVED, Frank, I asked how they are ENFORCED.

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    4. ["Government also evolved as a way to settle disputes without violence, frank"]

      No it didn't. Law -- common law, tort, etc. -- evolved and it did so independent of government. Government evolved as a way to legitimize violence. At one time this was done with religion (we're enforcing "the lord's will" on Earth). Now they try to justify their use of violence to settle disputes using the myth that they're enforcing "the people's will".

      ["I didn't ask how property rights EVOLVED, Frank, I asked how they are ENFORCED."]

      And I answered you in the paragraph you skipped (there are only two -- are you trolling me on your own blog?). Is it possible you're asking how property rights are defended from those that would violate them? It seems unlikely that you would confuse "defending" and "enforcing" but the only other possibility that comes to mind is that you have a might-makes-right concept of property rights (the concept of property rights held by states, gangs and other assorted criminals). Sure, violence can be used to DEFEND property rights against those that would violate them (states, gangs and other assorted criminals) but as long as governments are strong enough to ENFORCE their might-makes-right concept of property rights, I would not suggest it (ask Native Americans how that worked out).

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    5. Frank, you don't know what you are talking about: common law WAS government law!

      "Enforcing property rights" and "defending property rights" in ordinary English are synonymous phrases. I have demonstrated that this distinction you are making here is nonsense in many, many posts on this blog. I cannot rehash them all here.

      And I certainly did not delete any paragraphs from your comment! I can only approve or reject them, I have no ability to edit them.

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    6. ["Frank, you don't know what you are talking about: common law WAS government law!"]

      Just because you believe something doesn't make it true. To paraphrase Hasnas, saying common law was created by government is like saying the market was created by economists. Governments have codified much of the common law but government did not create it. Common law is case-generated law. There were periods where common law evolved in government courts but that does not make it "government law".

      ["Enforcing property rights" and "defending property rights" in ordinary English are synonymous phrases."]

      en·force
      Verb:
      Compel observance of or compliance with (a law, rule, or obligation).
      Cause (something) to happen by necessity or force.

      de·fend
      Verb:
      Resist an attack made on (someone or something); protect from harm or danger: "we shall defend our country".
      Speak or write in favor of (an action or person); attempt to justify: "he defended his policy of imposing high taxes".

      I'll repeat this again. They are only "synonymous phrases" if you believe in the might-makes-right concept of property rights (enforcing someone's version of property rights on everyone else). But might doesn't make right so the phrases are not synonymous.

      ["I have demonstrated that this distinction you are making here is nonsense in many, many posts on this blog. I cannot rehash them all here."]

      I'm not interested in reading any arguments as to why might makes right but I would be interested in a link where you refute the various authors who have documented how legal systems developed in societies without monopoly court systems (aka "governments"). That would back up your claim that I don't know what I'm talking about.

      ["And I certainly did not delete any paragraphs from your comment!"]

      No one accused of doing so. In response to your implication that I did not answer your question ("I didn't ask how property rights EVOLVED, Frank, I asked how they are ENFORCED."), I said that "I answered you in the paragraph you skipped". "Skipped" meaning "didn't read" because I did answer your question, you just didn't agree with my answer.

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    7. Common law:

      "In 1154, Henry II became the first Plantagenet king. Among many achievements, Henry institutionalized common law by creating a unified system of law "common" to the country through incorporating and elevating local custom to the national, ending local control and peculiarities, eliminating arbitrary remedies and reinstating a jury system – citizens sworn on oath to investigate reliable criminal accusations and civil claims. The jury reached its verdict through evaluating common local knowledge, not necessarily through the presentation of evidence, a distinguishing factor from today's civil and criminal court systems.

      "Henry II developed the practice of sending judges from his own central court to hear the various disputes throughout the country. His judges would resolve disputes on an ad hoc basis according to what they interpreted the customs to be. The king's judges would then return to London and often discuss their cases and the decisions they made with the other judges."

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      "They are only "synonymous phrases" if you believe in the might-makes-right concept of property rights..."

      Frank, you're being an idiot. You may show yourself to the door now.

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    8. Frank, you seem to have been unable to find the door. It's that x in the corner of the tab where you have my blog open.

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