[Editor's Note: The following essay was written by Carlo Cordasco as part of BHL's "New Voices" program. Carlo is currently a PhD student in politics at the University of Sheffield, where he is writing his thesis on "Rethinking Spontaneous Order: Norms, Institutions and Legitimacy."]

In a recent post Jason Brennan tries to establish a way to evaluate states of affairs that have a spontaneous origin. Although I am sympathetic with his attempt, I believe we have different ways of approaching the argument about spontaneous order [SO] and social justice.

Here’s how Jason summarizes it:

The distribution of goods, wealth, and opportunities on a free market is not the product of anyone’s intentions or design, but rather is something that emerges from countless individuals making free decisions.

There is no more a “distribution of income” in a free market than there is a “distribution of mates” in our society.

Only the products of human intention can be judged just or unjust.

Therefore, the distribution of goods, wealth, and opportunities on a free market is neither just nor unjust.

In short: the concept of social justice is a category mistake.

On the face of it, it seems like this argument ought to apply not just to social justice but to any norms that emerge from a spontaneous order. But, interestingly, this is not what Hayek thinks:

The fact that all laws arising out of the endeavour to articulate rules of conduct will of necessity possess some desirable properties not necessarily possessed by the commands of a legislator does not mean that in other respects such law may not develop in very undesirable directions, and that when this happens correction by deliberate legislation may not be the only practicable way out. For a variety of reasons the spontaneous process of growth may lead into an impasse from which it cannot extricate itself by its own forces or which it will at least not correct quickly enough. The development of case-law is in some respects a sort of one-way street: when it has already moved a considerable distance in one direction, it often cannot retrace its steps when some implications of earlier decisions are seen to be clearly undesirable. The fact that law that has evolved in this way has certain desirable properties does not prove that it will always be good law or even that some of its rules may not be very bad.

Interestingly, Hayek seems to attribute such bad patterns to differences in bargaining power:

 The necessity of such radical changes of particular rules may be due to various causes. It may be due simply to the recognition that some past development was based on error or that it produced consequences later recognised as unjust. But the most frequent cause is probably that the development of the law has lain in the hands of members of a particular class whose traditional views made them regard as just what could not meet the more general requirements of justice.

This is crucial for two main reasons: first, because, in some sense, Hayek admits that excessively large differences in bargaining power may compromise the spontaneity of an order (which is one of the claims of my PhD thesis), second, because this argument can be easily applicable to the concept of social justice.

Even Hayek thought we could essentially identify suboptimal outcomes. I don’t think this is entirely consistent with much of Hayek’s epistemology, but this is not the kind of issue I would like to discuss now. The point I would like to make here is that whether or not such bad patterns can be identified and corrected (corrections are even more problematic!) this cannot, in itself, justify the claim for social justice. The rejection of social justice is made on the ground that no one is responsible for those outcomes.

In this sense, we need to approach the argument from another perspective if we want to challenge the SO argument on its own grounds.

 

Two Definitions of SO

I find two different definitions of SO in Hayek’s work:

The first definition seems focused on the origin of an order and can be stated as follows:

(a) An order is spontaneous if, and only if, it has been originated by the free interactions of individuals.

Note that, by free interactions, Hayek seems to refer to the concept of negative liberty according to which freedom is defined as the absence of external obstacles in pursuing our own goals.

On the other hand, the second definition is not concerned with the origins of orders and might be summarised as follows:

(b) An order is spontaneous if, and only if, it is able to adapt to new circumstances in a way that allows the use of dispersed knowledge in order to solve co-ordination problems efficiently.

Can a Spontaneous Order be Non-Spontaneous?

There are two obvious ways in which we can interpret the title of this section: can an order, originated by the free interactions of individuals, evolve in an order which is unable to adapt to new circumstances? And, can an order, which is the result of the will of some particular individuals, be able to adapt to new circumstances? I believe the answer to both those questions is positive.

Let me start with the following simple example: suppose that Miriana and Milena are neighbours and isolated from the nearest town. Although they enjoy perfect negative freedom with respect to each other, they decide that they want to devise a way to create enforceable rules and so decide that the oldest member, Milena, will have authority over the group. Miriana thus sacrifices some of her negative freedom in order to improve the quality of her life. The question is: would this be a spontaneous order according to (a)? I believe the answer is positive, since (a) poses no requirements except for the free origin of the order. Hence, Milena shall be able to rule without taking care of Miriana’s goals and expectations. (a), indeed, poses no duties on Milena; specifically, (a), does not imply that Milena should adapt her decision to new circumstances, or that she ought to revoke her power when the circumstances change such that would be preferable to re-discuss how should we assign the right to rule.

This means that (a) may justify any possible institutional arrangements as long as individuals agree to commit to it at t1, including arrangements that manifestly will not be able to adapt to new circumstances. Thus orders that are spontaneous in sense (a) can evolve into orders that are non-spontaneous in sense (b).

The second question I aim to answer in this section is: can a spontaneous order (b) arise from coercion? I believe the answer to this question is also positive, since (b) poses no requirements on the origin of orders. Hence, Milena can still impose a decision making procedure which makes the order able to adapt to new circumstances and, thus, spontaneous, according to (b).

Thus, the two definitions of spontaneous order that I find emerging from Hayek’s account are not linked by causal necessity. While Hayek seems to be committed to a view that considers (b) as the obvious result of (a), I argue that (b) is not strictly related to its origin, but rather to the decision making procedure that governs the order. Hence, we can find spontaneous orders (a) which are not able to adapt to new circumstances, and spontaneous orders (b) which are not the result of the free interactions of individuals.

 

The Hayekian Common Law and Free Marked: what kind of SOs are those?

The first conclusion that I would like to draw in this post is that the Hayekian common law is not a spontaneous order according to (a). While this may seem surprising for many Hayekian commentators insisting on the importance of the idea of spontaneity in origin, I believe this conclusion is not hard to draw.

This is due to one main thing: since spontaneous orders (a) can easily evolve in non-spontaneous orders according to (b), (b) needs to be ‘established’.

But, how could we possibly establish (b)? Is it possible to build a spontaneous order?

This may seem a silly claim to make, but it does not seem absurd to me. We know which procedural rules are required in order to have a functioning free market, and we know which procedural rules are necessary in order to have a functioning legal system. This is not even incompatible with Hayek’s epistemological approach within the Sensory Order. We can know the general rules that make possible the self-organisation of a complex system even though we might not be able to predict its outcomes, or to have a ‘detailed’ knowledge of such system. We might not be able to intervene on ‘particular’ rules, or to correct ‘prices’, but we can act on the general framework that allows the functioning of a self-organising system.

 

Responsibility and Social Justice

 If the free market and the common law are not the obvious evolution of (a), (b) might need to be established. There are good reasons to want (b), and there are good reasons to think that (b) requires a good amount of negative freedom. Nonetheless, if (b) needs to be established, and can be established by the human design, we might be responsible for the outcomes of (b) even if we are not able to predict its outcomes. This is because we know how (b) generally works, and that there might be persons in need as a consequence of (b).

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  • Sean II

    I’m not suggesting you don’t have some better textual evidence stashed away somewhere, but this:

    “…the most frequent cause is probably that the development of the law has lain in the hands of members of a particular class whose traditional views made them regard as just what could not meet the more general requirements of justice…”

    …does not describe an inequality in bargaining power. It just describes an inequality in regular, old-fashioned, hit-you-with-a-stick power.

    • Carlo

      Hi Sean,
      yes, you’re right. There are better quotes to highlight this issue. I’ll find and post them. The goal of the post, though, is free standing.

      • Sean II

        Oh, so you’re one of those free-stand posters, like in 8 Mile.

        I feel you.

        • http://socioproctology.blogspot.co.uk/ windwheel

          In my original screen-play (shamelessly ripped off by Scott Silver) the Eminem character was actually Von Mises who was started off as a blue collar, technocratic, Prussian type Economist before he had to move back to Classical Liberalism’s emigre trailer park and like rap with Ayn Rand and dance off with Rothbard.
          Dunno why I just said that.
          Sweet suffering Jesus, could someone just ban me from this site already?!

          • adrianratnapala

            Can you translate that india-von-mises blog post into English? It sounds like an interesting topic, but I haven’t the foggiest idea what the fuck you think you are saying.

          • http://socioproctology.blogspot.co.uk/ windwheel

            I believe, the Austrian School looks like Anglo Saxon Classical Liberalism, in the same manner that the Vienna Circle looks Humean, but actually isn’t anything of the sort.
            The German Historicist approach to Econ justified a pragmatics of Public/private partnership and accorded a comprador role to the Entrepreneurial class.However, this was because Germany had the sort of popular legitimacy that the Habsburg Empire signally lacked. Germans could safely instrumentalize both Capitalist Procedural Legalism and Socialist Intervention without imperiling the National Ethos. This was not true of the Habsburg Empire.
            Von Mises like Bohm Bawerk could have been a pragmatic technocrat but the Empire broke up in a welter of blood and the dynasty’s most loyal supporters, the Jews of Vienna, became the target of a vicious genocide. Karl Kraus, a popular feuilletonist of the period, reflects the febrile atmosphere of those troubled times.
            In my post, I compare India to the Hapsburg Empire. Indian Liberals need to tread cautiously, is all I’m saying.

    • http://socioproctology.blogspot.co.uk/ windwheel

      Not necessarily. Monks belonging to non-violent Religions have no ‘hit you with a stick power’. Mahatma Gandhi, not a monk exactly, had none. Yet he had more bargaining power w.r.t ‘Hindus’ and used it, for example against the ‘Untouchable’ Ambedkar, so as to engross for himself the rent associated with being the Champion of that oppressed section of society. Gandhi kept saying ‘Untouchables are equal to us so long as they do ‘untouchable’ type work AND adopt all our customs and culture and are properly deferential and so on.’
      Gandhi was a nice guy but he thought God would only have created ‘Untouchables’ because discriminated against people really are inferior, morally and intellectually and so on. In other words, God ordained this supposedly ‘spontaneous order’.

      • Sean II

        Excuse me, but I’ve seen the Untouchables at least a dozen times. Ben Kingsley wasn’t in that.

        I think you may be confused.

        • http://socioproctology.blogspot.co.uk/ windwheel

          I most definitely am confused, coz the Sun is over the yardarm, and if I’m not confused I’m gonna go to the off license and demand my money back on this bottle of Rum I’m drinking.
          However, I must point out to you that no less an authority than President Obama’s dad’s Boss’s mother took one look at Sean Connery (who had come to Nairobi to play golf or shoot a movie or something back in the Seventies) and declared him to be a ‘dukka wallah’- i.e. a despised South Asian shop-keeper. Ben Kinglsey does have an Indian dad but had to black up to play Gandhi. Sean Connery, though pure White, like a lot of big stars back then, just was better at getting a tan.
          I don’t know why I’ve just said all this. Oh well, tomorrow’s shame spiral will just have to take care of itself.

      • Les Kyle Nearhood

        The dirty secret of Gandhi is that his campaign of non-violence could only work on a decaying democratic empire. It would not have worked so well against Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or Pol Pot.

        • http://socioproctology.blogspot.co.uk/ windwheel

          Gandhi was a ‘loyal seditionist’- he helped keep not just the British Empire, but also the rule of Native Princes (such as those his ancestors served as ‘Diwans’) trundling complacently along. This is not a secret and it is not dirty.
          After all, the Brits were mainly good guys and the Princes, however debauched, were still way less horrible than the Commies.
          What is dirty and kept secret about Gandhi, is that he said things like- ‘Kill your daughter if you think she is in danger of being raped’ and ‘Untouchables are like cattle. They don’t have the capacity to convert to a religion like Christianity or Islam or whatever’ and ‘if a woman has to leave her home to work to earn money then it is inevitable that she will clamour for the vote. Thus, Western Civilization truly is Satanic because it turns women into Prostitutes. The House of Parliament is nothing but a Brothel. Every few years it gives itself up to a new Master- termed Prime Minister.’
          He also said that the weavers could only survive if they used hand spun yarn. His acolyte, Vinobha Bhave, tried the experiment of trying to subsist on the income from hand spinning. He could not do it. Skilled weavers can make good money using machine yarn and in fact, once India became a democracy, that is the concession they received.
          Incidentally, Gandhi was financed by guys who owned Textile Mills and who gained the benefit of Protection (to the lasting harm of the Consumer, not to mention the Economy)
          BTW, Hitler, Pol Pot etc would not have killed Gandhi anymore than Stalin killed Tolstoy’s ‘bum chum’ (in the opinion of his wife) Chertkov. Why? Gandhi told the Jews to kill themselves to spare ‘my friend Herr Hitler’ the expense and botheration of doing so.
          Incidentally, Gandhi would pass the test for being a ‘sufficientarian’ BHL. In India, Lord Acton’s dictum ‘that govt. is best which governs least’ is routinely attributed to the ‘Mahatma’ who, I need hardly say, knew zero about Hinduism or Islam and mainly palled around with
          1) creeping Jesus types
          2) Peter Singer type Vegans
          The problem is that Gandhian type, preference falsification based, degenerate SWF solutions are impossible to distinguish from the kind of thing us guys would be interested in.

        • Sean II
  • http://socioproctology.blogspot.co.uk/ windwheel

    I am delighted to see this piece by a young scholar more especially at a time when ‘cookie cutter’ Academic Credentialism is destroying that part of the Academy of most concern to BHL type old farts (politely referred to as fogeys) like myself.

    However, the sort of non-ergodicity, at the heart of co-evolved complexity, which this young man wishes to investigate, follows more naturally from Ken Boulding not Hayek so, as the Irishman (or Iyerish man) said, ‘if that’s where you want to go, this is the wrong place to start from’

    Not just Boulding, we might invoke Hart’s notion of defeasibility, Gallie’s ‘essentially contested concepts’, and Dworkin’s Judge Hercules (or Habermas etc) to get a more rounded notion of Hayek’s own mise en scene. If we do this, then this author’s distinction between (a) and (b) collapses. ‘Negative freedoms’ don’t come into it because Milena doesn’t have positive freedom, she has a defeasible and ‘essentially contested’ not freedom but deontic obligation. That’s not coercion (itself an essentially contested notion) by a long shot.

    One way for this young scholar to rescue his thesis- which, to my mind, has intrinsic merit- is to look at David Lewis on Conventions in the light of Bondavera Shapley on balanced games as guaranteeing a non empty core. That was the sort of thinking happening back in the Sixties till ’68 happened and everybody either got stoned or spontaneously jumped into the goldfish bowl of a Think-tank under the impression that it was actually a cool koi pond in Southern California.

    The whole point about co-evolved complexity is that it has an evolutionary component which means it is virtually ergodic. Yet, for non-degenerate evolutionarily stable solutions, co-evolved complexity means that there are ‘rubber bands’ attaching trade histories to the core. Why and how this happens is empirically very interesting.

    Brennan said ‘the concept of Social Justice is a category mistake’- it might well be, but of what sort?

    I argued in my comment on his original post ‘this does not reflect current Economic thinking- actually it was out of date even when I was a student in the late Seventies.
    1) There is a distribution of income/ distribution of wives etc, arising from spontaneous interaction, which is algorithmically verifiable to be efficient or known to be ‘second best’ though this is generally not effectively computable
    2) Only that which is effectively computable can be rated ‘substantively just’ or ‘substantively unjust’ because otherwise we don’t know (ed. for the purpose of constructing the Lyapunov function) the computably enumerable reals in the neighborhood- either that or the concept of just does not give rise to a well ordered set of states of the world.
    In other words, we can say ‘this state of Society must be unjust because of such and such preference revelation failure or concurrency problem etc. But we don’t know what state is better because that’s not effectively computable. Still, I’ll just shoot my mouth off, coz there’s a market for this sort of thing and I’m getting paid or I’m paying you to listen to me.
    3) The distribution of anything may indeed be substantively just or unjust or efficient or inefficient. Everything depends on whether the Mechanism Design problem is tractable and that’s an empirical question depending on what Maths/Computing power we have.

    The problem with the language analogy is that we don’t know the fitness landscape in advance. Having high time-preference may have survival value. It may not. There is no way to know. Essentially, evolution is about co-evolved complexity. But that means there are massive hysteresis effects which can have survival value and we meddle with them at our peril.

    I may add that the Seventeenth Century Dutch technologist and math maven, Simon Stevin thought his own language was the best for intellectual pursuits because he reckoned a lot of high concepts had monosyllabic expression in Dutch. This argument is also used to explain how come East Asian origin people are better at Maths (when I was a kid, their language was supposed to be the cause of their inability to do Pure Math!)
    I mention this because nobody, even me, isn’t stupid most of the time. Philosophy is a displacement activity.

  • martinbrock

    (a) An order is spontaneous if, and only if, it has been originated [exclusively] by the free interactions of individuals.

    No order is ever spontaneous by this definition. Just as Jason imagines income distributed exclusively by a free market, ignoring the powerful role of forcibly imposed entitlement to monopoly rents in actual markets, (a) imagines an order involving free (voluntary) interactions exclusively, interactions in which no individual threatens to harm another for violating particular rules (like statutes or an evolving common law).

    Imaginary orders that have never existed might aid comprehension of existing orders in some reductionistic analysis, but I doubt the utility of these imaginary orders without careful, explicit accounting for the entitlements omitted from their description, and I see few signs of this accounting either in Jason’s analysis or in Carlo’s. Carlo seems to be addressing the issue at some level, but he refers to monopoly rents only through abstractions, so the intersection with Jason’s analysis of income distribution is not clear.

    It’s not like monopoly rents are an insignificant factor in existing markets. They are highly significant. A decade or so ago, last time I calculated the statistic, the total value of all Treasury securities roughly equaled the value of all shares of the S&P 500 companies, and the value of the S&P 500 companies was then roughly eighty percent of the value of all publicly traded companies in the U.S.

    Furthermore, while Treasury securities are essentially pure entitlement to monopoly rent (simply entitlement to tax revenue), the S&P 500 is at best a poor proxy for income free of monopoly rents. All corporations hold entitlement to monopoly rents, and some S&P 500 corporations, like Lockheed-Martin, are practically government agencies receiving practically all of their revenue from taxation.

    (b) An order is spontaneous if, and only if, it is able to adapt to new circumstances in a way that allows the use of dispersed knowledge in order to solve co-ordination problems efficiently.

    Carlo makes an interesting distinction here, but I’m not sure why he limits the use of dispersed knowledge to the solution of co-ordination problems or precisely what he means by co-ordination problems in this context. May dispersed knowledge only solve the problem of an organization of resources failing to optimize the economic productivity of the resources? May people not use dispersed knowledge to pursue other ends?

    The question is: would this be a spontaneous order according to (a)?

    I suppose it would be a spontaneous order until Milena makes rules with consequences that other members of the community do not accept, because they imagine other rules with different consequences better satisfying their preferences, whereupon the order remains spontaneous only insofar as the community members are reasonably free to exit the community governed by Milena’s rules and established a new community organized otherwise, either using unclaimed resources or using resources from the existing community, ruled by Milena for any members choosing to remain.

    A closed system, with no meaningful opportunity freely to exit, in which Milena’s rules are inviolable regardless of their consequences, cannot be a spontaneous order in my way of thinking. An order is spontaneous only if individuals may exit any established organization and only if a sufficient number of individuals may reorganize themselves and other resources, under other rules.

    • http://socioproctology.blogspot.co.uk/ windwheel

      Another way of looking at (b) is to say ‘can hysteresis effects ever instantiate S.O?’

      I think the motivation for (b) is that hysteresis effects create repugnancy markets- ‘the dead hand of capital/ the stare decisis bound law/qwerty type effects dictating how living beings act. (Vide http://socioproctology.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/true-blood-hysteresis-and-repugnancy.html)

      Actually, as Hayek well understood, hysteresis in S.O is not information dissipative, but to so to speak dams up ‘capacitance diversity’ on epigenetic canalisation. However, he was not alone. Boulding, the Quaker, is another way to approach this same thing for BHL.

      BTW solutions of Co-ordination problems are NP and have no effectively computable or enumerable representation. As Boulding suggested many years ago, Evolution is going to conserve pluritropic preferences in this respect. Dynamic efficiency always dominates Pareto. But Pareto’s own ‘residues and derivations’ can be understood as ‘rubber bands’ constraining co-evolved trajectories in a way that BHL would like.
      To my mind, David Lewis/ Stalnaker et al, took the wrong turn after ’68 (indeed the whole of Academia did, coz suddenly and (for Anglo Saxon countries) unprecedently (if you ignore Cromwell), STUDENTS became a Political Class and so you have strategic preference falsification from then on.

      Nothing wrong in that. It’s just the pointy heads should have come clean and admitted that their meta-preferences were ontologically dysphoric and not ‘Presentist’ at all. One consequence is that you have people as diverse as Hilary Putnam and Roberto Unger and Lee Smolin and (given time) Graham Priest’s acolytes talking our kind of Liberally co-evolved talk but walking a Fascist random walk.

      One reason for BHL to embrace ontological dysphoria (i.e. the notion that one is living in the wrong Universe- like Hilary Swank living in the wrong gendered body) is that, then, you can have a class of truth-makers which let our hearts bleed but don’t tear our bodies apart for yoked to teams of horses galloping in opposite directions. Vide http://socioproctology.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/jain-monks-and-dworkins-morons.html
      p.s- why has nobody banned me from this site yet? Is it coz I’z black?

  • Enzo Rossi

    Carlo, interesting post. I’ve just one observation. Your (b) version of the spontaneous order strikes me as unattractive for many libertarians, especially those of a Nozickean, moralistic bend. Nozick wants to reject distributive justice on moral grounds, and that’s why he introduces the historical account of just entitlements. But your definition of (b) is not historical, as it focuses on a virtue of the order, not on how the order came about. So this suggests that the moralistic, entitlement-based justification of inequality favoured by Nozick is out of your picture. Arguments for free markets need to rest on more Hayekian grounds, broadly to do with efficiency. Are you comfortable with this result? And if so, why the talk of responsibility? Responsibility grounds entitlements, but if the SO is justified on efficiency grounds you don’t need moral responsibility and it may even be counterproductive for the purposes of your argument.

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      Would not it require all? A justification on consequentialist grounds but also upon moral grounds. And, where it exists, a justification on traditional (historical) grounds?

      • Enzo Rossi

        No, my point was that the efficiency-based justification is at odds with the historical/responsibility-based one.

    • Carlo

      Enzo!! Glad to read your comment! I have a new facebook account ’cause the other was hacked, and haven’t added you yet. Will do it in a minute.
      Yes, this is definitely not appealing for deontic libertarians. I consider myself a pluralist, which practically means that negative liberty is not the only thing worth protecting (with side-constraints, for instance) or maximising. There is tons of other stuff that I do consider valuable, and the market is a way to achieve them. I do think there is some non-instrumental value in voluntary choice and this makes me prefer (b) when it derives from (a), but if it doesn’t it’s not a big deal. After all, the important thing is to have (b) rather than its origin.
      Why responsibility? The problem of justifying the SO on efficiency grounds is that, unless you are talking about pareto-efficiency, it might not be acceptable to everyone (to be honest, even pareto-superiority is problematic). This is because someone can be better off in a non-spontaneous order, than in a spontaneous one. I am not saying we should compensate those people, but we just need to recognise that some people might be in need because of the way in which the SO distributes resources. The fact that we have good reasons (utilitarian reasons) to endorse the free market and to implement the procedural rules that we need in order to have it, makes us responsible for its outcomes. Such responsibility is less burdening than the one of a planner, since we are not able to predict the particular outcomes, but we can generally predict that someone is going to be in need because of that way of distributing resources.
      Essentially, I believe that what we owe to each other is to make enforceable decisions acceptable to everyone (with the constraint of reasonableness, of course). Recognising that someone might be in need because of the SO is, I believe, a necessary step in order to make it acceptable to everyone. Again, I am not arguing we should compensate those people, since our responsibility is way less than the one of a planner. Nonetheless, if we want to make the SO acceptable to everyone we should consider a sufficientarian solution.

  • Motivated Cognition

    Can you professional philosophers please stop conflating “unjust” with “any undesirable properties?” Thanks.

  • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

    “(a) An order is spontaneous if, and only if, it has been originated by the free interactions of individuals.”

    I don’t think that is right. As I understand it (please excuse me not looking up what Hayek says here and there), a spontaneous order is one that evolves out of the interactions of individuals even though none of the individuals intended it to arise. It is the unintended by-product of intentional actions that had other goals. It seems that any contract would count as a spontaneous order according to (a). Further, I don’t think it is necessary that the interactions of the individuals should be free in any libertarian sense. Interactions within a feudal society could generate an order that people comply with even though none of them designed it.

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      True, and indeed one could say that our modern Western Culture emerged in just that way (at least until the French Revolution).

    • Carlo

      If what you assert is correct, there is no point in the whole argument about spontaneous order. If incentives are badly aligned, then interactions would lead to suboptimal outcomes. If so, there is no point in preferring a decentralised way of solving disputes or in the price system. Libertarians always make the example of how crony capitalism changes our incentives and leads us to bad outcomes.
      Anyway, the spontaneous order is often defined as a state of affair in which everyone is free to pursue his own goals on the basis of his own knowledge.

      • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

        I don’t really understand this comment. You seem to be assuming that a spontaneous order is one that is just, as if the fact that it arose spontaneously makes it just. That assumption is false; and Hayek does not make it. Hayek’s view is evolutionary, which is NOT to say that he thinks that what evolves is inherently just. Different communities evolve spontaneously in different ways: they develop different cultural norms. But some of these norms are better than others in the sense that they better enable the community which abides by them to thrive. Over time, the worse norms die out because the populations of the communities which have them decline (migration or low reproduction) or because they start to imitate the norms of the more successful communities. But even the spontaneously evolved norms of the most successful community may be open to improvement by deliberate intervention.

        It follows from the above that a spontaneous order is not necessarily one in which individuals recognise each other’s negative liberty (but if they don’t, Hayek thinks that the spontaneous order so evolved will be a sub-optimal one).

        It is implicit in the above that Hayek is not a cultural relativist or an advocate of the view that whatever evolves is just. He compares evolved social orders and rates them as better or worse in terms of how they contribute to the flourishing of their communities. A (largely) free-market order, Hayek contends, is better than its rivals in that sense. Although I do not think that Hayek ever puts the point in quite the following way, we could say that each society has its own theory of justice, which is extractable from its social norms, but the correct theory of justice is the one that, if people generally adhere to it, will best contribute to human flourishing (he gets close to saying this on pp.66-67 of ‘The Constitution of Liberty’).

        Your (a) is definitely wrong. A spontaneous order is contrasted with a designed order. But a designed order would satisfy (a) if people freely agreed to institute it. Take a look at Hayek’s ‘The Errors of Constructivism’ or any of ‘The Constituition of Liberty,’ ‘The Fatal Conceit,’ ‘Rules, Perception and Intelligibility,’ ‘Law, Legislation and Liberty,’ etc.

        • Carlo

          Hi Danny,
          Thank you for your reply. I think that on the one hand we have an evolutionary and descriptive account of how the evolution of rules and set of rules work. On the other hand we have normative claim on the differences between nomos and thesis. Nomos is the law that arises from the free interactions of individuals, while thesis comes out from the will of the legislator. I agree with you that it is not matter of just or unjust rules, but of better and worse states of affair. In this sense he makes a normative claim by saying that nomos is better than thesis, and that CL is better than legislation in bringing out those outcomes. Is it so because the common law works as the price system. It embeds local knowledge, etc. My point is that he argues that rules emerging from the free interactions of people are better than rules emerging from constrained actions. The price-system, for instance, works as a coordination device when there’s no planner that interferes with prices.
          He thinks, indeed, that rules emerging from his idealised version of the common law tend to be good in bringing out those outcomes.
          Having said that: how do we implement the procedural rules needed to have the common law? Are those rules arising from the free interactions of individuals?
          The goal of this post was to show that it is likely that the procedural rules of the common law do not arise spontaneously. Now, since they don’t we should implement them.

          • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

            Hi Carlo,

            I still disagree. You say:

            “Nomos is the law that arises from the free interactions of individuals”

            The term ‘nomos,’ as Hayek acknowledges, comes from the ancient Greeks, who used it to refer to their inherited, evolved laws. Those laws deemed forcibly-imposed slavery legitimate, so they did not arise from the free interactions of individuals in the ‘negative liberty’ sense of free.

            Hayek seems to use ‘nomos’ in (at least) two senses. First to refer to spontaneously evolved rules of justice; second to refer to the BEST spontaneously evolved rules of justice (private property, freedom of contract, individual liberty, etc). I had not been reflectively aware of this before. To say anything more illuminating about it, I would need to study the various relevant passages in his works, which I do not at the moment have time to do (there are loads of them). However, in the first sense, a spontaneous order (or nomos) need not have arisen from the interactions of free individuals and it need not recognise equal individual liberty; but, in the second sense, the (best) spontantaneous order is that which recognises equal individual liberty.

            You say: “I agree with you that it is not matter of just or unjust rules, but of better and worse states of affair.”

            I think you misunderstand me there. There may be any number of evolved systems of rules of justice; but the system which is best is that which is (really) just. Alternatively: each nomos is (or contains) a theory of justice; but at most one of the conflicting theories is true.

            You say: “My point is that he argues that rules emerging from the free interactions of people are better than rules emerging from constrained actions.”

            That may or may not be so. But there is another point which your (a) glosses over. We may institute a set of rules for a system, which rules are therefore designed and not spontaneous even though they result from our free interactions; for example, we might freely get together and jointly agree the rules for a club. But when people start acting according to those rules, their interactions may lead to the evolution of other rules which no one designed and which further regulate the behaviour of the people in the club. In that case there would be a spontaneous order within, and arising out of, the designed order. Hayek notes this point explicitly (LLL, V1, pp. 45-46)

            You ask: “how do we implement the procedural rules needed to have the common law?”

            I have no idea what that question means.

          • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

            Hi Carlo,

            I still disagree. You say:

            “Nomos is the law that arises from the free interactions of individuals”

            The term ‘nomos,’ as Hayek acknowledges, comes from the ancient Greeks, who used it to refer to their inherited, evolved laws. Those laws deemed forcibly-imposed slavery legitimate, so they did not arise from the free interactions of individuals in the ‘negative liberty’ sense of free.

            Hayek seems to use ‘nomos’ in (at least) two senses. First to refer to spontaneously evolved rules of justice; second to refer to the BEST spontaneously evolved rules of justice (private property, freedom of contract, individual liberty, etc). I had not been reflectively aware of this before. To say anything more illuminating about it, I would need to study the various relevant passages in his works, which I do not at the moment have time to do (there are loads of them). However, in the first sense, a spontaneous order (or nomos) need not have arisen from the interactions of free individuals and it need not recognise equal individual liberty; but, in the second sense, the (best) spontantaneous order is that which recognises equal individual liberty.

            You say: “I agree with you that it is not matter of just or unjust rules, but of better and worse states of affair.”

            I think you misunderstand me there. There may be any number of evolved systems of rules of justice; but the system which is best is that which is (really) just. Alternatively: each nomos is (or contains) a theory of justice; but at most one of the conflicting theories is true.

            You say: “My point is that he argues that rules emerging from the free interactions of people are better than rules emerging from constrained actions.”

            That may or may not be so. But there is another point which your (a) glosses over. We may institute a set of rules for a system, which rules are therefore designed and not spontaneous even though they result from our free interactions; for example, we might freely get together and jointly agree the rules for a club. But when people start acting according to those rules, their interactions may lead to the evolution of other rules which no one designed and which further regulate the behaviour of the people in the club. In that case there would be a spontaneous order within, and arising out of, the designed order. Hayek notes this point explicitly (LLL, V1, pp. 45-46)

            You ask: “how do we implement the procedural rules needed to have the common law?”

            I have no idea what that question means.

          • Carlo

            Hi Danny,
            Thank you again for your reply.
            Yes, I agree that the descriptive and normative account in Hayek’s thought can be easily confused. I don’t how many times I have read LLLL and I am still confused.
            Anyway, I do think that we should introduce a sharp distinction between procedural and particular rules (I am sorry I didn’t have the time and space to include it within the blogpost). Procedural rules are the ones that guide judges’ conducts.
            For instance, Hayek says that the task of the judge is not to maximise the payoffs of a given dispute, but to protect the legitimate expectations. Procedural rules are the ones that determine, at large, the conduct of the judge by indicating whether to prefer past resolutions over current practices.
            Particular rules are the ones that are needed in order to solve disputes.
            While procedural rules are or may be the result of human design, particular rules are
            not.
            I believe that this distinction is similar to HLA Hart’s distinction between primary and secondary rules.
            Now, I think that in order to have (b), we need some procedural rules. For instance, we need property rights in order to have a functioning free market. If we change the procedural rules than we might end up into non (b).

          • Carlo

            I think that a designed order can be spontaneous as long as its particular rules are the result of human actions rather than human design, just like prices in a free market. The all point of the post was to say: i do think that (b) is the valuable definition. (B), though, may not arise spontaneously. The spontaneity of an order depends on its procedural rules and the procedural rules i am looking for may not arise from the free interactions of individual. In this sense, to protect negative freedom does not necessarily lead to a spontaneous order.
            it might be the case that procedural rules need to be designed, and i belive they might.
            Now, since we may need to implement (b) and we are able to predict the general outcomes of (b), i believe there is a room for social justice (see my reply to Enzo on this). Sorry for the grammar, but I am on a train going to Manchester airport, from a terrible android phone :) Plus, my english is quite bad.

  • Les Kyle Nearhood

    Spontaneous Order means that I respect such things as the evolution of common law. Not because it always leads to an optimum settlement, but because it has withstood the test of time. .
    .
    This is the biggest problem with the left, the longing for change and the disdain of tradition.

    • j r

      Sure, but it’s also the problem with the right, the disdain for change and elevation of tradition above and beyond the justification for any particular tradition.

      Slavery, persecution of homosexuals, the Drug War, these are all things that can be said to have withstood the test of time.

      • Les Kyle Nearhood

        Only if you are straining to belabor a point. My point was not that change is never needed, only that the left often embraces change for
        changes sake. The right has a different problem. Even when they concede that change is needed they are often incapable of any but gradual change. This is in the nature of the two ideologies. But In my estimation it makes the left more dangerous.
        When I consider spontaneous order I think that gradual change often works a lot better than radical change. (although there are some times in which a radical change must be necessary)

        • Michael Philip

          very good point. “tradition” is an umbrella for a lot of things, some good and some very bad and its not a matter of blind acceptance (conservatives) or blind rejection (leftists) but a validation, in reason, of what is good, bad and optional. gradual change is good but sometimes radical change is necessary

  • Matthew DeCarlo

    As other commenters have posted, I don’t think that (a) is achievable, given that history and culture impact the ability of a person to be free from coercion. However, (b) is the foundation for BHL reforms of public assistance programs, including the basic income as well as the more public choice-y Cash and Counseling Medicaid program.

  • murali284

    Thus, the two definitions of spontaneous order that I find emerging from Hayek’s account are not linked by causal necessity.

    No, you can only establish that they are not linked by logical necessity. Causal linkage requires empirical investigation.

    Hence, we can find spontaneous orders (a) which are not able to adapt to new circumstances, and spontaneous orders (b) which are not the result of the free interactions of individuals

    I don’t think disproving causal necessity really establishes anything either. While establishing causal necessity would be awesome, all Hayek needs is that spontaneous orders (a) tend very often to result in spontaneous orders (b).

    Merely finding counter examples is insufficient, you have to assess the frequency of the counter examples relative to the examples.

    since spontaneous orders (a) can easily evolve in non-spontaneous orders according to (b), (b) needs to be ‘established’.
    You have not shown that it can easily evolve, only that it can evolve.
    While it is possible to non spontaneously(a) establish spontaneous orders (b) and that it may even be good to do so when a spontaneous order (a) is non-spontaneous (b) it does not follow that it is likely that any given spontaneous order (b) has been non spontaneously (a) established.

    • Carlo

      Hi Murali, thank you for your reply.
      Yes, good point. It is about logical necessity rather than causal necessity. I meant logical but I wrote causal. I did not mean to say that any a evolve into non b. I am working on some mixed motive games to show that, but haven’t achieved anything yet.

      • murali284

        The latter would be awesome.

    • Carlo

      There is some literature on this, though: Bob Sugden and Cristina Bicchieri

  • John

    I keep seeing all this jawboning about including “social justice”, but the things I do not see are:

    1. What is the EXACT definition of that.

    2. What is the EXACT plan.

    3. How is that different from theft and redistrubition of wealth by neo-socialists.

  • TracyW

    I don’t find your example of Milena and Miriana convincing. The number of cases where two isolated people have made such an agreement in history must be extremely low, humans typically live in bigger groups. And if you add more people to the example then the likelihood of all the people consenting to such an agreement falls to trivial levels. (Not to mention that people are perfectly capable of changing their minds and breaking promises).
    It seems entirely plausible that Hayek was writing about real world societies of the sort that the vast majority of people live in, not the full possible mathematical set.

  • TracyW

    Your arguments about definition (a) only work if Hayek regarded the development from the free interactions of individuals as not merely being necessary but also as being sufficient. (For the difference: to be a bachelor it is necessary to be male, but there are plenty of men who are not bachelors).

  • TracyW

    On the point of whether a so can be b) without also being a), I’m doubtful by your assertion.
    Can Milena really impose a decision-making procedure that “allows the use of dispersed knowledge in order to solve co-ordination problems efficiently” without in effect ordering Miriana to be free at least on those coordination problems?

    The two person isolated society of course is very far removed from the society we live in. What is a coordination problem or dispersed knowledge look like if there’s only two people? About the closest I can come is if Milena and Miriana have to be put out of communication for some reason in a position of uncertainty. Say Milena sends Miriana to a remote field to deal with a flock of sheep, knowing nothing about the situation there. So Miriana doesn’t know until she gets there if it’s best to leave the sheep in the remote field, bring them back to the house, or slaughter them to end the spread of disease (is this remotely sensible a scenario? I don’t know). Milena orders Miriana to do what’s reasonable, adding that as the field is a long distance away coming back for instructions isn’t reasonable as by the time Miriana has gone to and fro the situation will probably have changed again and the instructions be out of date. What Miriana will wind up doing depends on Miriana’s goals and expectations. Miriana might guess at what Milena’s goals and expectations are but she can’t know exactly what Milena would want if Milena knew the full facts of the sheep’s situation. So Miriana is forced to be free, at least on this occasion.

  • TracyW

    We know which procedural rules are required in order to have a functioning free market, and we know which procedural rules are necessary in order to have a functioning legal system.

    Do we? Have you built functioning free markets and legal systems from scratch? That’s the proper test for such a claim.
    (Note much behavioural economics work involves people who are familiar with the same culture, often people who have grown up in it, so they are likely bringing unstated norms to bear.)

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