04 November 2011

Markets and Spontaneous Order

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4 November: Today I went out scavenging for food and useful items, walking my normal route and visiting friends along the way. The river level was down a bit, but high tides in the future may bring it up again, so we cannot relax our guard for threats of more flooding.
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I am amazed at the thriving little markets that have sprung up on any small bits of the streets or sidewalks that are higher and dryer than most. Everything is on offer, whatever is demanded is supplied. Mainly food is sold, but also rubber boots, bottled water and many other things. No one person organized or coordinated these markets, and certainly no government did or even could.
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There is too much information contained in such coordinated activity for any central planners to process. It is a “spontaneous order” that comes about when numerous individuals see opportunities to buy or sell. Each individual uses their own unique knowledge of their needs and strengths to make economic decisions. Given a Rule of Law culture that recognizes and allows free trade amongst equals, such markets are the model of true cooperation.
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Historically, ideas that might be called spontaneous order can be traced to Chuang Tzu, the ancient Chinese Taoist philosopher, but they became embedded in Western culture in the Scottish Enlightenment of the late 18th century. Adam Ferguson, David Hume, Adam Smith and others applied such ideas of freely organizing forms of social activity to the original emergence of language, law, economies, science, etc. Ferguson described it as “the result of human action, but not the execution of any human design.”
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More recently, spontaneous order as an explanation for human coordination has been developed further by the Austrian School of economics – L. von Mises, and, especially, F.A. Hayek. Hayek’s last book, The Fatal Conceit, spells it out concisely.
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People thrive when left freely alone to cooperate. I’m seeing that every time I walk down the street.
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-Zenwind.
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3 comments:

  1. Very glad to see all is improving, just watch out for the tides. By the way, it is November.

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  3. Thanks for the correction about what month it is. It is really difficult to think of it as November; feels more like August. I’m sitting here in swim trunks with a fan blowing on me. If I go out I must tie a sweatband around my head.
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    -Zenwind.

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