The essential question

by Russ Roberts on March 6, 2012

in Complexity & Emergence, Hayek

Arnold Kling writing about Jim Manzi’s book, Uncontrolled:

I think that the real benefit of Manzi’s book will be in the way it reinforces Hayekian conservatism*. Manzi and Hayek would say that the emergent order of society includes both embedded wisdom and embedded error. That is, people have developed habits, norms, and formal institutions, many of which promote the general welfare but some of which do not.

The application of social science to public policy is an attempt to use conscious knowledge to replace embedded error. What I call Hayekian conservatism is the view that social scientists know so little that these attempts are more likely to undermine embedded wisdom than to correct embedded error. Therefore, policy ought to be cautious.

(*Hayek famously wrote that “I am not a conservative.” However, one interpretation of that statement is that he was referring to European conservatism, meaning preserving a certain hierarchical order. I would say that a cautious approach to implementing top-down policy change is both Hayekian and conservative.)

Very well said.

The world is an imperfect place. The essential question is when do attempts to perfect it bring it closer to perfection and when do they push it further away. Trying to perfect it isn’t enough.

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