Hayek III: Free Will and Freedom to Choose

Russell Michaels

Russell is inside his own mind, a comfortable yet silly place. He is also on Twitter.

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30 Responses

  1. Chip Daniels
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    says:

    I’ve criticized my fellow liberals often for having an overly romantic view of spontaneous order, that Bastille moment when The People just all spontaneously rise up and take action without a leader or party or organized group shaping and disciplining the action.

    We saw it with the hippies, or with Occupy or with BLM. We see it in how people love to invoke Rosa Parks as merely a tired woman who suddenly decided that she would refuse to comply, when in actuality she was a highly trained activist in a carefully scripted and planned action.

    The thing is, history has demonstrated repeatedly that nothing is a greater threat to human dignity and freedom than unorganized action and spontaneous order is most often tyranny.Report

    • Russell Michaels in reply to Chip Daniels
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      says:

      It works far more often than it fails.Report

    • Swami in reply to Chip Daniels
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      says:

      Great comment, Chip.

      My take on the issue is that you are perhaps drawing a black and white line on planned vs unplanned action. When it comes to something as large and complex as society, the plans and scripts of a civil rights group are pretty much a clear example of decentralized action as Hayek saw it (I have no idea how Russell sees it). We have myriads of people and groups across 50 states, in one of a hundred plus countries. The actual civil rights legislation was indeed fairly top down. It was planned order.

      I agree that most spontaneous activity will tend to result in chaos, decay and disorder. What order we do get will largely tend to be tyranny. History makes a pretty strong case that this is the case.

      Similarly, virtually all mutations are dysfunctional. Most entrepreneurial ideas are absurd. Most hypotheses are wrong. The power of emergent order is in creating an environment which stimulates novelty in a fairly safe and well contained way, but that also creates systems to select the rare diamond in the tough and then propagate that while letting go of all the trash. Lots of people and organizations had lots of plans and schemes in the pre-civil rights era. A few were good, and were promoted up to state and federal law.Report

  2. Mike Schilling
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    says:

    Gates became a billionaire, not because he’s a unique genius, but because IBM was too short-sighted to buy DOS instead of licensing it. But it’s true that Gates’s real talent is for business, in particular the ability to turn garbage like DOS and WIndows into near-monopolies.

    Likewise:

    https://sports.yahoo.com/news/remember-yahoo-turned-down-1-132805083.html

    Back in 1998, two individuals, Larry Page and Sergei Brin, who were unknown to the technology company offered to sell their little startup to AltaVista for $1 million so they can resume their studies at Stanford.

    That little startup? Google. (Altavista, if the name is unfamiliar, was a search engine built by DEC. It had the most advanced indexing and search technology until you know who came along.)Report

  3. LeeEsq
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    says:

    Free will is largely an illusion according to science. It might be an illusion we need to pretend exists because the alternative is a lot worse. Very few people want to totally live in a society where a self-appointed elite makes each and every decision. At the same time, we shouldn’t pretend that the brain is essentially hackable by images and chemicals when we know better. Some people have more self-discipline than others, but nobody has total self-discipline. It’s like how the law is determined to treat memory as being essentially reliable when scientifically we know it is not. What debates about freedom means is really just how free should people be to make bad decisions.Report

  4. Philip H
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    says:

    Let people decide what they want to do and the world will be chaos, but a spontaneous order will emerge eventually.

    Ah yes, the great libertarian trope. Order emerges. Society will work. Humans can’t fail to ultimately get it right.

    Cr@p. Total Cr@p. History makes it clear, as does economics, surprisingly. Yet libertarians, and a good many economists, soldier on as if its all infallible.

    Even nature is more random then predictable. At least the natural sciences have acknowledged this through the use of statistical confidence intervals and uncertainty discussions – which bedevil managers, policy makers and politicians who all crave ordered certainty.Report

  5. LeeEsq
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    says:

    The entire COVID-19 pandemic provides quite a bit of evidence that spontaneous order is just bull. A good chunk of the online Libertarian world just went into a big head the sand denial regarding the magnitude of the pandemic. They started off semi-reasonably by advocating voluntary mitigation measures but quickly turned to denying the pandemic is happening, downplaying how lethal COVID-19 is, and pushing for heard immunity and not doing anything about it. If we followed spontaneous order, millions more would be dead.Report

    • Motoconomist in reply to LeeEsq
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      says:

      This.Report

    • Russell Michaels in reply to LeeEsq
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      says:

      You don’t know what spontaneous order is.Report

      • Douglas Hayden in reply to Russell Michaels
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        says:

        The people being fed up enough with the chaos that they’ll put a strongman in power to re-establish order by any means necessary?Report

      • Philip H in reply to Russell Michaels
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        says:

        I’ve read several summaries of it. And I gotta say its a great concept that has absolutely no basis in real life. The necessity of predicating EVERYTHING on individual actions is where it fails, in as much as humans aren’t rational, and common good rarely arises from individual actions. in other words rarely, if ever, does self interest lead to social well being or orderly constructs. Markets don’t actually dispersed individual decisions or actors. Thats a schema that has to be imposed, and markets have never been up to that imposition.

        And Lee’s case in point about the Covid response is actually a great example of this failure. Self interest has not prompted the vast majority of the Right, much the vast majority of the libertarian right, to avail themselves of the mechanisms that would stamp out Covid. There is a vast amount of anti-societal good being peddled from there, in the misguided name of “freedom” and “Liberty.” Contra my own governor, people are not being reasonable, they are not informing themselves and making informed decisions, and they are not choosing to protect the vulnerable.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Russell Michaels
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        says:

        Spontaneous order has the same problems as communism or theocracy. The system only works if either everybody believes in it sincerely and/or you can force conformity to the system. There will always be people who disagree with any system and will propose alternatives that are entirely contradictory. Perpetual Hayekianism is an illusion, not possible.Report

        • Chip Daniels in reply to LeeEsq
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          says:

          “We are all individuals!
          Who will nevertheless somehow simultaneously arrive at the same decision in unison!”Report

          • Simulacrum in reply to Chip Daniels
            Ignored
            says:

            I say my can of soup is worth $50. You say it’s worth $10. No sale.
            If you say it’s worth more than I say it’s worth, we make a sale.
            This does not require simultaneous arrival at the same decision in unison.

            Spontaneous order is merely the result of creating rules that make an interesting game. Market Ladies are one result of “spontaneous order.” — you spent most of the game trying to get the Market Ladies to do what you wanted.Report

        • Chris in reply to LeeEsq
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          says:

          In fairness to Hayek, his concept of spontaneous order, while you would not know it from these posts, has little to do with what people believe. He sees spontaneous order as a fact of the world, not merely of human groups but of basic physical systems, so that even planned orders are spontaneous orders in a sense. It is more of a metaphysical claim than a sociological or psychological one, though he obviously believes it has normative implications for how we govern society.

          Obviously we could quibble with his metaphysical claim, but Hayek is no different in his metaphysical positions than the 19th century positivists (and I guess 20th century positivists, though he differs from them greatly in other ways).Report

  6. Marchmaine
    Ignored
    says:

    Eh, freedom has always been a sucker’s game. What is Hayek’s Theory of Will?Report

  7. Swami
    Ignored
    says:

    “Practically speaking, your system must leave free will alone to have any chance to succeed. Let people decide what they want to do and the world will be chaos, but a spontaneous order will emerge eventually.”

    I am not really sure what you are suggesting or arguing for or against.

    Like several other comments, above, I believe that if we just allow people to decide what they want to do, we will get a lot of chaos and exploitation. I am fairly certain Hayek would agree too.

    My take on Hayek is that he argued for the value of bottoms up, decentralized, emergent order. The type of order which is exhibited in language, evolution (and life itself), social insect colonies, much of technology, much of culture, and markets (what he calls “catallaxy “).

    However, part of the emergent order is itself the rules, conventions, mores and protocols that we need to follow to restrain exploitation and free riding. These need to be discovered via a system of trial and error, which is intrinsically emergent and at least partially decentralized. But some of these discovered rules clearly limit freedom and choice (you are not free to rape my children or take property which conventions determine as mine).

    I believe that the value of the spontaneous order argument isn’t that it is the only way to get order and design. It is that we are intrinsically blind to this way of thinking. We tend to default to top down thinking and design, and to ignore the obvious defects of imposed order.

    There are benefits in both approaches, and drawbacks. Sometimes the best systems and institutions are a blend of both. And a top down system can be designed specifically to encourage, stimulate and reward bottoms up problem solving and order.Report

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