12
Mar
13

David Henderson on spontaneous order

Back when I was in first-year grad school or so, I rather mindlessly posted the following quotation on a message board:

“I mistrust all systematizers and avoid them. the will to a system is a lack of integrity.”

(The first error, as I’d have known if I’d been smart enough to read Jim Wendler, was posting on a message board.)  An acquaintance shot back with:

“I mistrust all Nietzsche-quoters and avoid them. the will to quote Nietzsche is a lack of integrity.”

He’s an algebraist, of course, not an analyst, and to my chagrin he was lying about avoiding me.  Frequent visitors will have raised their eyebrows at the idea of me mistrusting systematizers, as I’m rather notorious for it myself — but I do, and that includes my systematizing self.  By way of a for-instance, I’m “systematizing” about nutrient partitioning and muscle vs. adipose insulin sensitivity at the moment, and I’m vividly aware that I’m going to get it almost entirely wrong.  My hope is that I’ll get it wrong in all the ways that don’t matter; my backup when that doesn’t pan out is that I’ll get it wrong in an educational (or at least an entertaining) way.  And maybe it’ll turn into a blog post, but not tonight.

About seven years after the Nietzsche-quoting incident, a friend of mine interrupted our depressingly sober conversation about political economy with an exasperated sigh and challenged me to “fix capitalism”.  I fumbled the opportunity rather badly.

David Henderson didn’t.

I answered that I don’t think I can design an improved system. Why did he think that I thought I could? It’s because he’s stuck in the “man of system” or “design” paradigm. Over the years, various governments have designed a particular system. I criticize the idea that they get to design it. Then [a commenter] assumes that means that I think I should be able to design it.

But I’m not a designer. I’m a person who believes in spontaneous order. That is, I think that people should be free to come up with other systems and I’m willing to predict that they will. As an economist, I could speculate about what they will come up with, but there’s a good chance that my predictions would be wrong. Where [said commenter] and I probably agree is that if I were to design such a system, it would be a disaster.

Fortunately, I don’t need to design a system.

So what do I propose? Letting people come up with their own systems. And my prediction, which I’m fairly sure of, is that they would come up more than one.

kane-slow-clap

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