The Social Machine, Hayek and Politicians

Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek points us to the following gem of a quote by Kevin Williamson:

The people who have an explicit legal obligation to work not on our behalf but on behalf of their shareholders do a pretty good job of giving us what we want; the people who vow to work on our behalf do not. That is a paradox only if you do not think about it too much, and not thinking about it too much is the business that politicians are in.

If capitalism – which is to say, human ingenuity set free to follow its own natural course – is a kind of social machine, then politicians are something like children who take apart complex machines without understanding what they do or how to put them back together. (At their worst, they are simply saboteurs.) When they rail against capitalism, automation, trade, and the like, they resemble nothing so much as those hominids at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey, shrieking hysterically at something that is simply beyond their comprehension.

The thought of F. A. Hayek, who, incidentally, died 25 years ago today, shines through this quote. Hayek’s key insight was the concept of Spontaneous Order. The market system was not designed, it emerged and evolved.  When people traded, prices emerged. And prices contain all the information needed for the system to work.

This delicate social machine is different from an ordinary mechanical one, but you can still throw sand in the gears, which appears to be something politicians can’t stop doing.

The question is: what can be done about that? And this question leads us from Hayek to the topics of Polycentric Law and Competitive Governance, which happen to be main foci of this blog and will be examined in much more detail in future posts.