… is from page 405 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ed.), of some of F.A. Hayek’s essays on spontaneous-ordering forces; specifically, it’s from Hayek’s previously unpublished lecture at the University of Virginia titled “Economics and Technology,” which is the third of four lectures that Hayek delivered in UVA’s Newcomb Hall during the Spring 1961 semester; the title of this lecture series by Hayek is “A New Look at Economic Theory”:
Quite a different situation arises, however, when we have to choose between different methods of achieving the same product. There technology really provides no criterion for selecting one of them as better than the others.
The technologist probably will still sometimes regard one solution as more elegant or beautiful than another, but that does not mean that it serves human ends any better.
DBx: Science informs us of options and of some of the likely consequences of choosing option A rather than option B or option C or option N. Science cannot, however, inform us of which option we should choose. Neither society in general nor the economy more specifically is an engineering project.
For society, there is no “economic problem” to be “solved.” There are instead a multitude of individual economic desires – wishes, goals, plans – that can be met more fully or less fully. Fulfillment of these desires, wishes, goals, plans – call them what you will; I’ll call them plans – can be promoted better or worse by the prevailing economic system. An economy improves if a greater number of these plans are fulfilled; an economy worsens if fewer such plans are fulfilled. But there is, at least in a free society, no single and overarching plan that the actions of society’s members can be said, or should be said, to promote.