Spontaneous Underpinnings of Spontaneous Order

by Don Boudreaux on April 15, 2014

in Complexity & Emergence, Law, Myths and Fallacies

I just ran across this 22-year-old essay by Albert Loan on spontaneous order.  I was in law school when I first read this essay.  I enthusiastically recommended it to several of my classmates.  Sadly, most did not understand Bert’s point, for it challenges directly what is perhaps the strongest implicit presumption of most legal scholars and law students today – namely, that law must be designed and enforced by a sovereign.

Alas, I’d forgotten about Bert’s superb essay until, quite by chance, I ran across it just now while doing a google search.  I recommend it highly.  Here’s his conclusion:

Voluntary institutions such as surety and assurance embody norms of reciprocity, trust, honesty, fellowship, and thrift without which no stable social order is possible. The evidence shows that when these norms are articulated and expressed through voluntary action, they are enhanced and strengthened to everyone’s benefit. Attempts to mimic the invisible-hand process that has generated them will not only fail; they will actively undermine and destroy these norms. Theory and empirical research combine to suggest four things: first, that such norms and institutions are needed for the successful functioning of any society; second, that the more complex the social order, the greater the need for them; third, that such institutions may appear spontaneously but cannot be deliberately created; finally, that much state action will undermine or destroy these norms and institutions, with potentially catastrophic effect.

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