… is from page 198 of the 2014 collection, The Market and Other Orders (Bruce Caldwell, ed.), of some of F.A. Hayek’s essays on spontaneous-ordering forces; specifically, it’s from Hayek’s deep 1955 article “Degrees of Explanation,” which first appeared in the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science:
We can never exclude the possibility that even the best accredited [scientific] law may cease to hold under conditions for which it has not yet been tested. But while this possibility always exists, its likelihood in the case of a well-confirmed hypothesis is so small that we often discard it in practice. The conditions which we can draw from a combination of well-established hypotheses will therefore be valuable though we may not be in a position to test them.
DBx: An application of this insight involves the law of demand, which says that as the cost that a person experiences of engaging in some activity changes, that person’s frequency of engaging in that activity will change in the opposite direction. For example, if the cost to employers of employing workers rises, employers will hire fewer hours of work than otherwise.
No law in the social sciences is as firmly established as is the law of demand. But as with all scientific laws, observation of the law of demand in action requires that a number of ceteris paribus conditions hold in reality. And the more complex the reality, the greater are the number of such conditions, many of which – especially in the social sciences – are themselves not observable or measurable.
Thus, when researchers claim to find empirical evidence that hikes in minimum wages have no negative effects on the employment opportunities open to low-skilled workers, enormous skepticism of such claims is demanded by science. Such skepticism is not, contrary to what a pseudo-scientific stance suggests, unscientific. Such skepticism is demanded by science, in the same way that science demands skepticism of someone who claims to have uncovered empirical evidence that rocks on a part of Jupiter’s moon Europa levitate.