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Quotation of the Day…

… is from pages 106-107 of GMU law professor Ilya Somin’s newly published (2020) book, Free to Move: Foot Voting, Migration, and Political Freedom:

Consistent libertarians should be the last to accept any argument implying that governments should have the same sort of authority over their territory as private property owners have over their houses or clubs. Any such theory would authorize the state to trample all of the rights libertarians hold dear.

DBx: Yes. A nation is not a house. A nation is not a household or a family. A nation is not a club. A nation is not a private business. A nation is not an organization. A nation is an order.

Enormous amounts of misunderstanding would be avoided if Hayek’s distinction between organizations and orders were better known and reflected upon. People who understand this distinction realize that a nation has no preferences – and cannot possibly have preferences – akin to the preferences had and acted upon by a person or a household. Unlike a person and an organization, a nation has no purpose or purposes in the sense of a set of goals that it pursues.

Likewise, while a person, a household, a club, a business, and a government each has a budget, a nation and an economy do not. Unlike a person and an organization, a nation cannot enter into contracts, it cannot borrow money, it cannot lend money, it cannot be indebted, it cannot owe anything. A nation and an economy do not and cannot possibly earn money or spend money. An economy does not allocate resources, although within a well-functioning economy individuals – sometimes individually and sometimes acting in groups – each makes resource-allocation decisions in ways that are informed, mostly through market prices, by the knowledge and preferences of others.

If more people understood the distinction between order and organization more people would comprehend the deep danger of thinking of the state as an agency to carry out “the will of the people.”

What portion of economic misunderstanding and ideological disagreement stems from the failure to grasp the distinction between order and organization? My sense is that this portion is huge. The distinction isn’t very difficult to grasp. Anyone who understands that, say, language is useful yet undesigned is well on his or her way toward grasping this distinction. But the great majority of economic and policy commentary is offered on the unstated presumption that all good order in human affairs must be consciously designed and carefully superintended.

Very many political and ideological disputes are disputes merely over which particular conscious minds will carry out this designing and superintending. Classical liberals (including those who call themselves “conservative”) and libertarians are the only people who understand that among the most vital challenges humans confront is not to choose or to stumble upon the most appropriate persons to design and superintend social order. This challenge, instead, is to protect humankind from the hubris and errors of such designers and superintendents in order (!) to maintain as much space as possible for the spontaneous emergence of genuine economic and social order.


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