Everywhere I turn I see a theme: decentralized, unplanned order is superior to rigid top-down plans.
Popular economist Nassim Talib’s new book, Antifragile is about, “Things that gain from disorder”. Historian James C. Scott’s latest book is called, Two Cheers for Anarchism. A few years back I read a pop-business book called, The Starfish and the Spider, about the “Unstoppable power of leaderless organizations.” Then there’s this discussion of the 2004 book, Sync, on, “The emerging science of spontaneous order.”
What do these have in common? None of the authors describe themselves as libertarians, and only some of them reference F.A. Hayek or other libertarian thinkers who are known for the idea of spontaneous order. This is exciting.
At first I noticed this trend and thought it was interesting how Hayek’s ideas are so fundamental that they are being explored in all disciplines by all kinds of thinkers. But really, it goes back to Adam Smith (who doubtless drew on ideas from many others before him). One of Smith’s core insights was that individuals pursuing their own interests unwittingly produce a broader order that benefits all. It seems simple. Yet this observation is so deep and rich with explanatory power that we might easily overlook it’s staggering implications. Hayek’s work, among others, extended this insight and asked more questions about why and how unplanned order is superior to top-down dictates.
Today we see not only an extension of this idea in theory, but widespread application. Websites like Wikipedia were founded on this insight. User-generated content and the network based framework of the web are live experiments in decentralized order. The self-policing of blogs and forums and the customers reviews on Amazon and Yelp put the idea to test for all to see. It’s increasingly difficult to be unaware of the “invisible hand”; it’s becoming more visible every day.
Many who are tapping the power of this insight don’t necessarily extend it to society at large. As I said, most of the works referenced above are not full-fledged calls for libertarianism. Still, the power of decentralization, the clunkiness of monopolistic bureaucracy, and the beauty of the unknown and emergent are more understood than ever. Understanding breeds acceptance.
Seeing is believing. So is doing. A generation that believes in the power of voluntary cooperation because they take part in it every day is no less valuable than one that reads libertarian theory. The future is open, unknown, and bright.