Sunday, February 6, 2011

Hayek vies on the ignorance of society is a refreshing change from the average intellectual read. His acknowledgement, “that our knowledge is far from perfect” brings a nice dose of humility to the table. For the most part I agree with most of the points that Hayek raises, that people are ignorant, perfect knowledge is unattainable, freedom promotes growth. But there was one point in this section where I strongly disagree with Hayek:
"Certainty we cannot achieve in human affairs, and it is for this reason that, to make the best use of what knowledge we have, we must adhere to rules which experience has shown to serve best on the whole, though we do not know what will be the consequences of obeying them in the particular instance."
Although I might agree with Hayek in terms of how attainable certainty is, that is where I stop. This whole concept of adhering to rules merely because they have worked once or twice in the past therefore they must always work chokes the breathe out of change. Hayek points out that even when following familiar “rules” one cannot predict the consequences in any given instance, so my question is why follow “the rules”? If the only thing that is certain is uncertainty why not step outside of the status quo (I use this word cautiously and remind you all I am no economist) and revolutionize instead of doing the same thing over and over again. Adhering to rules scares me because when societies mindlessly follow rules they cease to think for themselves, and when societies cease to think for themselves not only are individual freedoms lost, but an infinite amount of presently unknown possibilities will die away. Think of all the music that would never be if all the worlds’ musicians had chose merely to “adhere to rules”.


  1. Brilliant insight! A "Constitution" of Liberty is in so many ways a contradiction in terms for just that reason.

    Hayek's inner socialist-utilitarian is revealed in that quote also.
    "... rules which experience has shown to serve the best on the whole."

    In medieval times, there were many small groups who left the safety of the feudal kingdoms and chose to live in undesirable regions in order to escape the arbitrary rules of the Kings. Some of these groups prohibited the official recording of any events or ideas in written form because they viewed the inflexible nature of written law as the basis of the tyranny they had just escaped.

    Plato, living at the time of the transition from an oral society to a written one, believed that the very epistemology of society would change once the transition was complete. Words would become more important than the ideas they embody.

    There's a very good essay dismantling the myth of the Rule of Law here:

  2. Perhaps, this is an over simplification, but this is my opinion (which means that it then very well may be wrong :) , as to why having rules or as most economists say “rules of the game” ties into a stable world with greater wealth. This lies in the idea of creating a foundation of trust.

    The world is indeed an uncertain place where no one can really know what will happen tomorrow or the next day (we won’t even get into three days from now because that is just too darn scary!) and this means people lock up and are less likely to cooperate, as no one is aware of the correct status quo. However, if we have steady simple rules it makes it easy for a free market system to work because it creates a level of trust that now exists magically between any random people within a society, this trust enhances the common knowledge while also lowering yucky transaction costs. For example if we have a rule that trade must be voluntary and each partner must follow through with their agreement we can then expect that the faceless stranger will give me the Furby they promised to if I give them the Snuggie that I promised to give them in exchange and if they don’t something is wrong. A world where there are simple steady rules then can promote trade because if we trust each other we will trade with each other.

    I do find your point very interesting and like your post, as this view of “pro-rules” does not seem to follow along with all of Hayek’s central elements in his "philosophy of freedom". I mean the word rule itself is filled with negative connotations because it represents limits, therefore, many would feel that it does not make sense that rules create liberty. I believe that Hayek is not promoting strong tyrannical rules, but clear stable ones.

    In the example used in your post Hayek would not advocate that music should be approved a board who will make sure the artists always sing on key and never say particular words, but he would (I assume) agree with simple unchanging rules like music must make audible noises to be music, so the world can be a little less uncertain. Whether, this makes the world a place one with more or less liberty though, I have no idea (I guess if you think liberty is related to the amount of trust in society then perhaps you may have an outlook on the topic).

  3. First of all I have not ever, nor will I ever, for any price, agree to give up, trade, or in anyway get rid of my Snuggie! Second on the topic of music, there are far to many rules. Who decided that B flat is B flat. I always have argued for instance that if a band was " out of tune" but was still in tune relative to itself there is no problem. For example, imagine a band where every person was playing exactly 1/16 of a note "flat." Is it really out of tune? I don't think so, but since a note is defined as so many vibrations per second there is a technical response to prove me wrong. Again, who decided so many vibrations per second was the correct note and what gave them that authority. Why is one vibration more wrong and one less correct?

  4. Aaron - In answer to your last question, because there is an unsaid law of producing music that is ear-pleasing and worthy of listening to that people will listen to when they need an out. You could listen experimental music like that, but not for fun. Your mind needs smooth rythm just as a game needs rules, else chaos, blundering, and death ensues. And I believe the same applies to the order set in place for rules of trade. The goal is harmony, not necessarily fairness. Otherwise we wouldn't call it competition, and we wouldn't seek different outlets of production to add variety to life.