Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Simple and Complex Sciences

I would like to propose some new defintions:

Rather than "hard" and "soft" science, as we now use, how about "simple" and "complex" sciences?

Simple = physics and chemistry

Complex = biology, ecology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and economics

This would do a few things. One, it would identify right away what models and mathematics to use. That alone would be great, as we would stop using the wrong kinds of mathematics in fields like economics. Second, it would show how closely related biology actually is to the other complex sciences. Third, it would emphasize complexity rather than imprecise notions like "hard" and "soft," with their negative connotations. In fact, the "soft" sciences are in fact the hardest (most difficult) due to their complexity.

As for the humanities, increasingly philosophy is brought into the complex sciences. My dream is that one day literature will be as well. (Maybe then I will be able to get a job.)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sandefur on Spontaneous Orders, Again

There comes a point where you wonder if the person one (or others) is arguing with is actually paying attention to any of the actual arguments, or if they are simply starting to get to a place where they are defending their position no matter what. After reading Sandefur's latest response, I cannot come to any other conclusion but that he has reached this point. Most of his points have been definitively answered already, especially by Hasnas in his last response. Sandefur still does not recognize the difference between an entity and an environment (putting him in the same camp as the economic planners Hayek was writing against, who equally could not tell the difference). A person does act based on a wide variety of bases, including rational decision-making, for a variety of goals -- but that does not make the person either a constructed or, certainly, a spontaneous order.A corporation can be defined in a similar way, though a corporation is certainly a constructed order. Such entities ad people and corporations (and non-profits, etc.) do have goals, and work toward realizing those goals, but a social system should not have goals imposed on it. This Hayek does make abundantly clear. The reason why is clear, if we understand, for example, what happens in a corporation.

When we work for a corporation, we align our goals with those of the corporation while we're working for that corporation. When we are at home, we do not have to do so any longer. And if we do not want to align our goals with the corporation, we can quit. The corporation, being in direct competition with other corporations, receives the kind of information that allows it to discover new ways of doing things, and new products to make.

When we are a member of a society, entry and exit are not so easy. Especially when we are talking about large nation-states. What is the "goal" of society? That should be a nonsensical question. But there have been people who have tried to construct society as a corporation -- this is the kind of constructivism Hayek is talking about -- and they have thus tried to give society "goals." When they do that, they have to align the society's members' goals with that of the state. Nobody can be allowed to have their own goals, because that can derail the social constructivist's goals. Thus, a constructed society necessarily is coercive, because there will be people who do not want to align their goals with the constructivist's goals. If you have to align your goals with someone else's goals, and have no way to legally escape it, then you are not free. Indeed, you are a slave. And slavery cannot exist in a true spontaneous order. Indeed, once we understand that only in a true spontaneous order that people are free to pursue their own goals as they see fit (so long as they do not involve coercion), do we see that spontaneous orders are the kinds of social systems that are conducive to liberty.

Sandefur objects that spontaneous order is essentially a non-concept because there is no pure example, that there are mixed systems. Indeed, there are mixed systems. They are called complex adaptive systems. But even if we cannot ever make a true spontaneous order, the concept is worth having because it is the model of complete social liberty. One can posit a kind of continuum from constructed social order to spontaneous order. But in that continuum, we also move from slavery to increasing liberty. What Sandefur claims are examples of spontaneous order arising from the interstices of constructed orders is really features of complex adaptive systems. Self-organizing, where possible> Yes. A spontaneous order as Hayek describes it? No.

I get all this from Hayek, with only some clarification from recent work on complex adaptive systems. I honestly don't know why Sandefur cannot seem to see what to me Hayek clearly says about the relationship between liberty and social spontaneous orders.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Solving Our Budget Problems

There are a few things we could do that would solve our budget problems.

1) zero-baseline budgeting, so nobody will be able to call a spending increase a spending decrease just because it was less of an increase than was built into the system.

2) an amendment to the Constitution making it mandatory for all extra-Constitutional laws to have a 10 year sunset. Thus, every law would have to come up for a revote every 10 years. If a law or program is worth having, it's worth passing again.

3) all bills should be stand-alones -- including pork. No more bundling of bills.

4) there should be transparency for all Congressional procedures not involving national security -- nothing should ever be allowed to be done behind closed doors

5) all bills should require at least 1 day per 50 pages between the bill being finished and it being up for a vote,so legislators can read the bills before voting on them -- then a short quiz should be required of each to see if they understood what they read. When 100% of legislators pass the quiz, the bill can come up for a vote. During this time, the bill should be available online.

In fact, this would go a long way to solving most of our problems whose source lies in our legislatures and in legislation.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

On Hasnas' Response to Sandefur's Response to Hasnas

Hasnas does an excellent job responding to Sandefur. Especially in his clarifying the distinction between a spontaneous and a constructed order. His observations have clarified for me that Sandefur seems to think that a spontaneous order must be made up of spontaneous orders to be a spontaneous order -- which makes as much sense as saying that environments must be made of environments to be environments. Not complex orders are spontaneous orders.

There is one thing I disagree with Hasnas -- and that is where he is in agreement with Sandefur -- which is on the issue of the evolution of morals.

As Marc Hauser has demonstrated in "Moral Minds," morals evolved. Frans de Waal talks about ethics among apes in "Good Natured," showing the origins of many of our own morals. So certainly morals evolved. Now, at this biological level, with morals as instincts, that evolution is slow enough to work as a stationary set of grounded moral principles. But it is a set that will likely not make either Hasnas nor Sandefur happy. Nevertheless, such instincts are sufficiently complex -- and often have their own paradoxical opposites -- that they set the groundwork for what Hayek partially (in)correctly understood as the origins of morals, and how they evolved: at the level of culture, tradition, and spontaneous order. Let me give an example.

In our original, tribal state, it is good to love one's tribe and to hate anyone not in one's tribe. Those who thought otherwise about other tribes ended up with spears through their bodies by those who practiced this. However, humans are also xenophilic -- this is likely a result of the kind of outbreeding we see in chimpanzees today, where the females leave their troupe when they become sexually mature, to join another troupe -- which helps prevent inbreeding. So humans are naturally xenophobic and xenophilic. As we developed larger and larger social groups, from small settlements to cities to empires and nation-states, our xenophilic tendencies were more adaptive than were our xenophobic tendencies. Along with this came our morals -- it is not ethical to murder, rape, and steal from one's family and tribe, and those morals were expanded along with the expansion of who we considered to be in our tribe. Those who consider all the world to be in their tribe thus have a hard time stomaching wars of any kind. This kind of expansion of morals is spontaneous, and was not legislated by anyone. Constructed legislation has in fact more often stood in the way of this natural evolution than is has helped. More typically, as I noted before, it follows society to where society has already gotten.

Now, as our morals evolve in this spontaneous fashion, another thing begins to emerge: moral reasoning. This is what we see in Plato and Aristotle, who begin to reason about the morals already present. And to critique them. Hasnas argues that moral reasoning comes first. It does not. It is a recent addition. A welcome one (sometimes), but a fairly recent one. It can only emerge out of the moral spontaneous order. Which is itself rooted in (and cannot become untethered from) our moral instincts.

On Sandefur's Response to Klein

WIth this response by Sandefur, I think I am getting what it is he is missing in his critique of Hayek's spontaneous order theory (in a response to my last posting, Sandefur argued he was not attacking spontaneous order as a concept, only Hayek's conception of it -- though again this response would seem to suggest otherwise). Actually, he is missing two things.

The first thing Sandefur is missing is the fact that Hayek does in fact defend a particular kind of rationality -- the Scottish enlightenment version of rationality, vs. constructivist rationality. Hayek does not reject rationality, as Sandefur suggests, only the constructivist version that arose on the Continent and which led to socialist ideology. If Reason is all-powerful, then those who have Reason should rightly rule and should use that Reason to construct a rational society and economy. This is what Hayek is critiquing. If one has a correct understanding of reason, one will know that one cannot construct a socialist utopia. More, such a rationality will be useful in making proper critiques, in making suggestions, in arguing one's position. Nowhere does Hayek argue that one should not argue one's point, including against tradition. One must also recognize that in challenging tradition, one puts oneself in a precarious position. One has to prove oneself -- and in doing so, one may meet with tragic consequences (this is the story of every work of tragedy). But in doing so, one brings the rest of society in after you.

The incremental changes Hayek suggests are like making a blaze to explore unknown territory. If you want to explore unknown territory, you have to make a mark on the edge of known territory before you venture out. If you want to keep exploring, you make another blaze -- within sight of the old one. Thus, you don't get lost. And new territory is discovered. The constructivist, on the other hand, just runs out ahead, not bothering to make a blaze, unconcerned about the territory he las left behind (it is such a terribly place anyway -- and what is out there, in the unknown, now, that is what's exciting!). The result? He gets lost. When one is in the savannah, jungle, or desert, this means certain death. The same is true of those societies that try to construct something completely different, ignoring tradition, ignoring what works. The constructivist, seeking to make something completely new, ignoring what is, places himself in much danger of getting lost, of getting killed -- or, in the case of a society, getting everyone lost, and killing many of one's citizens. Running ahead without consideration of where you came from, and you become food to predators, get stuck in mud or quicksand, etc. But if you make a blze, and are able to keep in sight of known territory, you can learn of the dangers and avoid them. And you can always find your way back home.

The second thing Sandefur is missing -- and one really cannot fault him for missing this -- is the fact that Hayek, being an Austrian, was culturally in many ways a German. German philosophy was obsessed with the Greeks, and both groups of philosophers believed the world was made of "physis" and "nomos". "Physis" is the natural world, and included all non-human nature. "Nomos" was essentially human culture and tradition. Many Greeks believed that the best society was one in which "nomos" mapped well onto "physis," meaning that the ideal society was a reflection of nature in its deepest tendencies. Indeed, Hayek does use the term "nomos." I would argue that Hayek understood the naturally-occurring, bottom-up spontaneous order as being the social equivalent of the self-organizing systems found in nature (he knew Bertalanffy and certainly knew of his work on biology and general systems theory). Hayek understood the brain to be a self-organizing system, and he thought the best society would be one that most resembled these natural processes. This is a normative thing if you understand the relationship between "physis" and "nomos" as the ancient Greeks and their German followers/imitators did. A constructed order would not be a "nomos," but a "techne," which is not a product of "physis" and does not resemble "physis," thus making it inappropriate as a model of society. If you understand that constructed orders are "techne," while spontaneous orders are "nomos," you begin to understand the real differences between the two. A "techne" is a human construct -- a "nomos" is not, but is rather something which emerges out of voluntary human interactions. A pencil is a "techne" just as much as a corporation is a "techne". Neither are the appropriate models for society.

If you combine both observations, I think it becomes clearer where Hayek is coming from with his concept of spontaneous order. It is not non-rational, and there is a place for the proper kind of rationality within it. In my Fund for the Study of Spontaneous Orders conference paper, I argue that within each spontaneous order there is a rationality that arises that is relevant to that order, but may be inappropriate for critiquing other orders. Thus, we may in fact have a plurality of rationalities. Does that mean that there is not one rationality to rule them all? Of course not. But I think we need to learn as much as we can about these many rationalities first to learn what they all have in common. Then we may end up having that rationality Sandefur seems to think we already have that will be able to be used to judge from "outside" -- not that we can, in reality, ever get outside of the system we are in. All critiques are always from the inside, meaning we don't know what the outcome will be. We can always only hope for the best.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hayek and Spontaneous Order at Cato Unbound

following posting is in response to a series of articles discussing the nature of Friedrich von Hayek’s theory of spontaneous order at Cato Unbound. The first article is Four Problems with Spontaneous Order by Timothy Sandefur, with responses by John Hasnas, Daniel Klein, and Bruce Caldwell (the last of whom I met at a Hayek conference this past summer), and then a response to them by Sandefur. I’m going to make comments on each, in order. I am very much in disagreement with Sandefur, but I think some of the defenses of Hayek fall a bit short, which I’ll be taking up. Those who number their points, I’m numbering along with them.


1) The main problem that I see with Sandefur’s argument is that he doesn’t seem to know the difference between a spontaneous order and an organization. If you don’t understand this distinction, of course you think the difference is merely a matter of distance. He is mistaking lions for the savannah ecosystem in which they live. A lion is an entity with goals. An environment or ecosystem cannot have goals – any more than can a spontaneous order, which is a kind of human social ecosystem. His examples of micro- and macroevolution fails because evolution happens at the level of organisms/entities and, as already noted, a spontaneous order is more akin to an environment or ecosystem.

Now when it comes to law, one can argue that law as a whole should have never been considered a spontaneous order by Hayek precisely because it is constructed in legislation. One can nevertheless conclude that social norms of behavior are a spontaneous order. The fact that a spontaneous order can be co-opted and turned into a constructed order is no argument against the existence of spontaneous orders as distinct from constructed orders.

2) In spontaneous orders, we have naturally emerging bonds being made and broken between agents/entities. This results in maximum information flow, as occurs when we have a scale-free network. Interference in that process forces the maintenance of bonds that would have otherwise broken or the breaking or even prevention of making bonds that would have otherwise existed. The result is a rigid hierarchy. These bonds are not as concrete as Sandefur’s example.

If equality under the law is good and the increase of wealth and knowledge are good (meaning, the more rapid the increase, the better), then spontaneous orders are superior to constructed orders. This kind of equality (under the law) is necessary for the creation of a spontaneous order, which in turns increases wealth and knowledge. I suppose if one does not think that more wealth and knowledge are good. Then one would not see spontaneous orders as good, but even dictators pretend to what at least more wealth (though the consistent outcomes of attempts at constructed orders making less wealth, indeed, decreasing wealth, suggests otherwise for current defenders of such systems). A spontaneous order is therefore good because it is good for and good at producing wealth and knowledge. What people do with that wealth and knowledge is outside the realm of the spontaneous order proper, and therefore one should not criticize the spontaneous order for creating these things agents within the system misuse. One should keep one’s criticisms for the agents themselves. Thus, spontaneous orders in this sense are amoral, being ateleological.

3) Sandefur has a point when it comes to Hayek on morals, law, and legislation, but spontaneous orders can be rescued from Hayek’s own arguments of social constructivism with the recognition that humans do have instincts, including moral instincts (see Marc Hauser’s Moral Minds that lay a foundation for behavior and for judgment. More, humans have paradoxical drives that spontaneous orders can emphasize or play down, depending on the order. Sandefur also misses the point that different systems have their own internal logics and, therefore, different criteria for rational behavior. Hayek is warning against importing the rules form one spontaneous order into another just as much as he warns against arbitrary rules. More, the system should be judged by the outcome of the system, not by how some particular elements in the system are doing. This also answers his first paragraph of his response paper.

4) Sandefur does not seem to understand what really happened with his contrary examples. In the case of segregation, laws were on the books in the states to prevent social evolution. Tradition is not stagnant and unchanging, as anthropologist Victor Turner discovered. Our society, by the 1960’s, had evolved to a point where the people themselves as a whole wanted legislative change. The laws in the South were designed to prevent natural interactions from occurring, whether in the economy, socially, etc. The law changed after society did. The fact that the federal laws overturned state and local laws is no argument that the change didn’t begin as a spontaneous order, even if it did end in legislation. This kind of legislation always follows social change – it never leads it. The same is true of his other example, Lawrence v. Texas. Attitudes toward homosexuality had changed so much by then that the laws had to catch up with the prevailing morals. The presence of those who resist any such change is no argument against spontaneous order. In fact, to insist that tradition as Hayek understood it means stagnation is to ignore the fact that spontaneous orders are by definition dynamic. Tradition for Hayek is a touchstone helping keep the system stable – it is not ossification of the system (making it no longer a system). The judges’ behavior in Lawrence v. Texas was rational within the system that had evolved by the time of the decision. It would not have been considered – or considered rational – a hundred years earlier. But the evolution that led to that decision was bottom-up.


1) Hasnas is generally correct in his defense of the idea of spontaneous orders, but he also leaves out the issue of teleology. Organizations are teleological – they have a goal, a purpose. Spontaneous orders are non-teleological – they do not have a goal. When a leader says, “We need to pass X to create more jobs in the economy,” that leader is treating the economy as a teleological organization. Stalin’s infamous five-year plans did the same thing. On the other hand, a leader who says, “We need to pass X so companies will be more productive and make greater profits,” is not thinking of the economy as a made order, but as a spontaneous order in which there are made orders that will react in different ways to the proposed change. That may increase general employment – or it may not. But the rule change does not address the spontaneous order as such, only the elements within it and their interactions.

2) Hasnas does an excellent job refuting Sandefur’s second point, to which I have nothing more to add than what I said above in my initial response.

3 & 4) Hashas is generally correct that Hayek’s judicial and moral philosophizing has much to be desired – however, I think he does lend short shrift to the idea of spontaneous order in these realms. As I argued above, Hayek mistakenly decouples the spontaneous orders from our evolved instincts, and this includes our morals. There is room for ethics to evolve while being rooted in moral instincts. Just as much, moral reasoning evolves in such a system, making us able to critique and criticize. Still, we remain tethered to our evolved morality. We need all three: moral instincts, evolving tradition, and moral reasoning.


I think Klein gets to be a bit too cute with his idea of Hayek’s “code” – “custom” is not necessarily “liberal principle” (in fact, almost by definition, customs are not liberal in principle, but conservative in fact), “competition” is really economic competition, not freedom per se (though freedom of interaction does allow for and is a necessary foundation for true competition), and “the market” is by definition free of interference. He is correct, however, in identifying “spontaneous” with “free,” as one cannot be spontaneous without the freedom to do so.

His argument falls a bit short when he discusses what Hayek means by order. Certainly he “get it,” but he doesn’t go far enough in explaining what is meant. Critics of the market argue that the market is too “disorderly” and that the government is needed to make it “orderly.” The kind of order they mean, of course, is regular order – the kind of order found in crystals. Hayek argues for a kind of order that lies between “order” and “disorder,” one which creates patterns (of behavior in the case of spontaneous orders) that are not rigidly ordered, but not random, either. A good visual example is the self-organizing fields of rocks in Antarctica.


Caldwell is good to point out we need some historical context. That always helps us to understand what we are reading. However, we need to do better than “I know it when I see it.” That is what we’re trying to do at the Fund for Spontaneous Orders at the conferences and at Studies in Emergent Order.

Sandefur II

In his response, Sandefur continues in his error of thinking a corporation is a spontaneous order, which it clearly is not (nor did Hayek ever claim them to be). In fact, the core of his error in thinking is is not recognizing this difference. A spontaneous order is made up of various agents and organizations, each of which is behaving in a purposeful manner – but these interactions result in a spontaneous order with no goal or purpose. He essentially argues that, because lions are in an ecosystem, and because they interact with various other elements in an ecosystem, one cannot therefore distinguish between a lion and its ecosystem! Both may be complex adaptive systems (CAS), but they are different kinds of CAS’s. A spontaneous order is a very different kind of CAS than is an organization. The fact that both are CAS’s does not mean spontaneous orders cannot be distinguished from other CAS’s. This is essentially the logical error of “All lions are cats,” therefore “All cats are lions.” To Sandefur, house cats are really lions because both are cats.

His example of nationalized health care as appearing to not be a constructed order fails miserably because, apparently, for him, only one person can be involved in construction. There must be a goal in constructing a building, but does that mean only one (or a small group) is involved> Hardly. One could make a list as long as his of people necessary to construct a building – and a building could never arise through spontaneous order. Spontaneous orders just don’t order that way. Many people are coordinating to a common purpose to create a teleological system in nationalized health care. That makes it a constructed order. Next, it is imposed from the top-down. That “top” may be fairly large, but in the end it is a top-down construction. Just because a few bones are thrown to the hoi polloi to settle them down doesn’t mean a bottom-up process was used or in play.

His example of Wal-Mart fails because he fails to recognize that in a corporation, there is a hierarchy. There may be local centers of decision-making, but such a system is not truly decentralized, let alone scale-free. And there is not freedom of entry and exit. Those are decisions made by someone. I can’t just go open up a Wal-Mart because I decided to one day. A spontaneous order has these features; Wal-Mart does not.

In the end, Sandefur cannot even seem to understand the difference between a bottom-up social reformer who tries to persuade people and a top-down social reformer who uses the power of the state to impose his vision on everyone, whether they like it or not, whether it maps well onto human nature of not. The former is part of the spontaneous order; the latter destroys it. If Sandefur cannot understand that basic distinction, of course he cannot see the difference between spontaneous and constructed orders – nor can he tell the difference between freedom and dictatorship.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Spontaneous Orders and Literature

For those who like some reality in their literary studies, I offer you Literature and the Economics of Liberty: Spontaneous Order in Culture, Paul Cantor and Stephen Cox, eds. Naturally, I would have loved to have had a piece in this collection, but I was busy writing my own contribution to the field at the same time that Cantor and Cox were preparing this for publication. Nevertheless, Paul Cantor was kind enough to send me his introductory essay, which I was able to use in my own paper I presented at the Fund for Spontaneous Orders conference Dec. 5. That piece, after revisions, should appear in Studies in Emergent Order early next year.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Neither Path Nor Way to a Noble Peace

He stands upon the fjord, saying, "Peace."
He's granted adulations for the core
The sheep all think he has. He'll have their fleece
While wielding still the rusty blades of war.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


For several decades now, the postmodernists have been warning us that science is inherently biased and ideological. Well, I suppose when they made that claim, they didn't expect the bias would be clearly exposed as coming from the Left and global warming claims. Looks like postmodernism has come around to biting its own tail, poisoning itself.

I think most scientists were and are and will remain unbiased in their work. However, I also think that postmodernists gave many scientists the green light to become biased and to promote ideological science. Most of the objections to evolutionary psychology and sociobiology fall into that category, as has been the promotion of anthropogenic climate change. This isn't to say that humans don't affect the climate or pollute -- we do, as does every other organism on earth, now or ever. But this scandal has shown that there are people out there willing to put ideology before reality (not a shock -- it just shouldn't happen in science). The big problem here is that this scandal is a huge black eye to science as a whole. Especially those sciences, like biology (or climatology), that are necessarily ambiguous due to the complexity of the things being studied. When a real problem comes about, people are going to be less likely to listen, and then we might have a real problem on our hands.