Damon Linker, the writer who believes that the State is the Measure of All Things Great, has declared that the concept of what F.A. Hayek called the “spontaneous order,” is a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea.” This is how Linker describes the concept:
Simply stated, the idea holds that when groups of individuals are left alone, without government oversight or regulation, they will spontaneously form a social and economic order that is superior in organization, efficiency, and the conveyance of information than an order arranged from the top down through centralized planning.
This view, declares Linker, is ” utter fiction. A fairy tale.”
So, what is the proof that Hayek and others were wrong?
President Obama got a lot of flack during his 2012 campaign for re-election for saying that wealthy business owners “didn’t build that” all by themselves, but his point was indisputable. The president mentioned the internet, roads and bridges, firefighting, and other public works that make it possible for the market economy to function and thrive. He could have said far more. How about the culture of general law-abidingness that we call the rule of law? The Federal Reserve’s regulation of the money supply? An independent judiciary for the settlement of civil disputes? Law enforcement at local, state, and federal levels that fights violent crime, fraud, corruption, monopolistic business practices, and a host of other behaviors that would otherwise scuttle the working of markets? And on and on and on.
Please understand that Linker does not elaborate on any of these points, just that he accepts his statements as pure and unvarnished truth and that they are self-evident. The only problem is that none of what he says is self-evident, and there is plenty of proof on the other side to show that these things he cites as being the true creator of social order are not what they say they are.
North Korea has all of the things Linker claims are the real source of prosperity, yet the country is dirt poor. For that matter, we can look at Venezuela, where the social order is falling apart. On the home front, I bet the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri, do not see the police as holding a society together, and anyone who has been involved in the American court systems on local and federal levels can attest to a corrupt and unjust system.
And the Fed being a source of stability? When the Fed has touched off speculative bubbles and has steered the U.S. economy into numerous boom-and-bust cycles? Or that the government “protects” markets? How does government do that? Instead, it promotes Crony Capitalism which undermines the free market system and steers resources away from higher-valued uses toward uses that promote the interests of the political classes.
Unfortunately, Linker does not stop with giving bad examples of government as the Source of Prosperity and Freedom. He then presents some examples of what supposedly were “spontaneous orders,” those being Iraq and Libya.
But there is one situation where it’s possible to see genuine spontaneity in action: when an established political order is overthrown. Now it just so happens that within the past decade or so the United States has, in effect, run two experiments — one in Iraq, the other in Libya — to test whether the theory of spontaneous order works out as the libertarian tradition would predict.
In both cases, spontaneity brought the opposite of order. It produced anarchy and civil war, mass death and human suffering.
How does one begin here? In both cases, the governments of these countries were overthrown by U.S. armed forces or groups supported and funded by the U.S. Government. Furthermore, after using violent means to kill indiscriminately, destroy property, and sever links of established communication and trade between individuals, no libertarian or anyone else with even a cursory knowledge of political economy, would not expect a happy, prosperous order to emerge from a vicious military invasion and subsequent occupation.
By claiming that the destruction of Iraq and Libya actually were done in the name of a Hayekian “spontaneous order,” Linker demonstrates his own ignorance of Hayek and of political economy in general. And by insisting that state control (the more the better, I suppose) is the real source of freedom and prosperity, then how does he explain North Korea? And should he and his statist followers claim that North Korea is irrelevant to the discussion, then I think we can add that Iraq and Libya would fall into that irrelevant category, too.