Spontaneous Order for the Hungry

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The above two pictures I took while at Farragut Square in Washington DC today.  To the naked eye, there is nothing remarkable going on in these pictures.  It’s just people ordering food from trucks.  We see this all the time in cities across the world.  What’s so special about this?

The reality is there is nothing special per se, but there is something miraculous: These food trucks appeared to feed the hungry people of Farragut Square, not by diktat but by spontaneous order.  No one in Washington City Hall or Congress said “There will be people at Farragut Square around lunch time.  They will need something to eat.  Dispatch exactly 8 food trucks to the area!”  No, as if guided by some invisible hand, the owners of the food trucks knew where to set up in order to maximize their exposure (and furthermore serve!) the hungry people of DC.  And after the lunch rush, they closed up and went to go serve some other group in another part of the city.

But that is just part of the miracle happening here.  Look at the people.  What do you see?  To the quick observer, it looks chaotic: a bunch of people running around, eating and ordering.  But, if I recorded a video, you’d see it’s very orderly.  People form lines to order their food, and then move to the grassy area or back of the sidewalk to wait for their food.  There are no signs, no police, no instructions of any kind enforcing this.  It is merely the law of the food trucks.  Even I, a newcomer to this culture, could not turn away from this law.  Just as a spontaneous order developed to bring the food trucks to Farragut Square, so did an order emerge with the patrons.  No design necessary.

It is truly amazing to think this came about without any conscience thought, any planner, and yet here it is.

29 thoughts on “Spontaneous Order for the Hungry

  1. The appearance and orderly operation of food trucks is indeed an excellent example of the emergence of spontaneous order.

    Another good example of the emergence of spontaneous order is the the way the world came to be covered with nation states. No world government diktat organized the evolution and emergence of nation states. It was mostly a bottom up process where local governments in many separate areas conquered, consolidated and merged with neighboring local governments while the same thing happened separately in other parts of the world.

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    • Greg

      “adjective: spontaneous

      performed or occurring as a result of a sudden inner impulse or inclination and without premeditation or external stimulus.”

      There may be a better choice of words to describe the emergence of the nation state. “Spontaneous” isn’t the one you’re looking for. Perhaps “imposed order” would better describe the process.

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      • Ron,

        Call it emergent order if you like that adjective better.

        Do you believe that there is some reason that “emergent order” is a term that should only be used for emergent orders that you find desirable?

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        • Greg

          Yes, “emergent” would be better. As long as you mean “emergent” as in “coming into being” or “becoming prominent” which would include planned and intended outcomes, then that word is OK.

          But it shouldn’t be used interchangeably with “spontaneous order” that isn’t planned or intended, and has no obvious control mechanism, such as occurs in a free market, flock of birds, school of fish, or skaters at an ice rink where no one individual or group is in charge, and yet order prevails.

          Obviously political entities conquering and merging with each other impose top down order on the entire newly emergent entity, but that’s highly predictable.and easily seen as direct cause and effect.

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          • Ron,

            Market participants almost always plan or intend particular results for their actions but that doesn’t keep you from recognizing market results as emergent.

            In the same way, millions of voters elect many thousands of politicians to various positions. These politicians hire many thousands more bureaucrats to help run the government. Every one of these individuals has their own personal plans and intentions. The overall results are unpredictable and emergent. Individuals in government almost always fail to “impose” the results they want.

            And yet somehow, the same people who are so quick to object to casual use of the plural pronoun as some failure to see the agency of individuals manage to think of “government” as a monolithic entity. Can’t you see the inconsistency in that?

            Governments of large numbers of people always include many individuals who each have their own motivations and agendas. Regardless of their intentions, the results from the collective interactions of their individual decisions cannot be predicted and are revealed as they emerge. I don’t really care how much spontaneity you see in that but I really must insist there is plenty of unplanned and unintended emergence in it.

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          • Greg

            … manage to think of “government” as a monolithic entity. Can’t you see the inconsistency in that?

            Well yes, that would be very inconsistent, but I’m not sure who you have in mind. As you can see I haven’t used the word “government” on this thread, and as you well know I’m very insistent on attributing all human actions, thoughts, intents, and feelings to individuals, and not to monolithic groups.

            You previously convinced me that the use of collective terms as a form of shorthand to refer to groups was sometimes legitimate – as long as it was clearly understood to be shorthand for “a number of individuals who all share some common characteristic”, and were not acting or thinking as a monolith. We can use the word “women” without implying that all women are identical substitutes for each other. We can use the word “government” as easy shorthand to explain which end of the stick some group of individuals is on.

            I don’t really care how much spontaneity you see in that but I really must insist there is plenty of unplanned and unintended emergence in it.

            If you mean that what emerges is seldom what was planned and intended, then I agree, but I wouldn’t call it “order”.

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          • Ron,

            >—“Well yes, that would be very inconsistent, but I’m not sure who you have in mind.”

            OK, fair enough. Your thinking on this is more clear than many people but I won’t have to look far for an example of the kind of thinking I’m talking about.

            Right below, Greg Webb comments “Government gets involved ONLT TO look like it is actually doing something beneficial when, in reality, it is merely protecting the special interests of cronies of corrupt politicians.” (emphasis added) THAT is the attribution of a single INTENT to an institution composed of a huge number of individuals with different intents.

            As you recognize, it is commonplace and sensible to talk about government as coming to an single policy decision on an issue as an institution. It is something quite different to talk about government as an entity with “only” a single intent or purpose that applies across various issues.

            Of course the view of government expressed there by Greg Webb is especially ironic since he used to be a government regulator doing what he is still still pleased to call “government service.” But that was long before he went through the revolving door to work for the very industry he used to regulate in its interactions with the government. And long before he began to play a Donald Trump defending “libertarian” on the internet.

            >—“If you mean that what emerges is seldom what was planned and intended, then I agree, but I wouldn’t call it “order.”

            As I recall, you were eager enough to call what emerged in the “wild west” a form of proto-an-cap order. Do you really see that as more orderly than modern government in those areas?

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          • Greg

            … but I won’t have to look far for an example of the kind of thinking I’m talking about.

            Examples abound, I agree. I think imprecise language is often used as a cover for incomplete or superficial understanding of the subject at hand, and your example is a good one. I confess to only scanning it briefly and then moving on.

            As I recall, you were eager enough to call what emerged in the “wild west” a form of proto-an-cap order. Do you really see that as more orderly than modern government in those areas?

            What we see emerging in places where “government” doesn’t exist, as in the “Wild West” are social norms and standards that become the basis of law. This form of decentralized governance may have been more effective than agents of a central authority with a monopoly on the use of force acting from a distance. And it was a central authority acting at a distance that eventually assumed power, not anything that emerged locally.

            For example it’s likely that in the wild west a women screaming in an alley because her right to self determination was being violated would likely draw the attention of people within earshot who would quickly put an end to that injustice. Contrast that with today when those who rush to a woman’s aid might find themselves in more trouble than the violator, and we see prudent people using their hand held devices to summon the government police who will arrive in 20 min or so. Which is preferable from the victim’s point of view?

            Consider the bizarre case that a woman found in an alley, raped and strangled, may be considered to have a higher moral standing than the women trying to explain to police how her assailant got those fatal gunshot wounds.

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          • Ron,

            Of course it is true that social norms are a critically important form of governance in all human societies. We agree on that much.

            Like it or not, one of the most pervasive social norms is that we ought to have exactly the type of constitutional representative government that you think shouldn’t exist. And that that representative government should handle national defense, internal policing and judicial functions and be able to pass laws that apply to all citizens. And that that type of rule of law is more just than a system dependent on the whims of vigilantes and the ability of people to hire private police forces.

            What actually happened in your proto-an-cap wild west was that those the much more decentralized governments of those territories petitioned the U.S.A. for admittance usually after overwhelming approval of a referendum on the issue.

            The “bizarre case” cited in your hypothetical is very bizarre indeed. How many, if any, such cases of women being prosecuted for successfully defending themselves against attempted murder and rape can you cite? My guess is something close to zero. Such a woman would be widely praised and celebrated.

            Equally bizarre is your idea that people in the old west were in less danger of violent crime than today. Have you checked out Pinker on this topic yet? Do you have any sources of your own to cite on lower levels of violence then?

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          • Ron, I hope you are having fun making Greg G look like the idiot he is. It is not very difficult to do since he misuses words like “spontaneous” to pretend that governments are like markets. The following is a perfect example of his inability to think logically:

            “Another good example of the emergence of spontaneous order is the the way the world came to be covered with nation states. NO WORLD GOVERNMENT DIKTAT ORGANIZED THE EVOLUTION AND EMERGENCE OF NATION STATES. It was mostly A BOTTOM UP PROCESS where local GOVERNMENTS in many separate areas CONQUERED, consolidated and merged with NEIGHBORING LOCAL GOVERNMENTS while the same thing happened separately in other parts of the world.” (emphasis mine)

            But, what can you expect from an uneducated bumpkin who reads books of fiction for his “understanding” of economics and politics.

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          • Ron, I particularly loved this inanity of Greg G’s:

            “As I recall, you were eager enough to call what emerged in the “wild west” a form of proto-an-cap order. Do you really see that as more orderly than modern government in those areas?”

            But, of course, Greg G conveniently forgets that socialist governments murdered over a hundred million people in the 20th century alone and impoverished billions more. But, hey, that was way less violent than you “photo-an-cap wild west,” now wasn’t it?

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          • Greg Webb,

            Actually Ron and I were comparing rates of violence in the American territories of the old west before and after statehood in order to shed light on the difference that constitutional democracy made “IN THOSE AREAS.” (emphasis added)

            Ron and I disagree on which form of government was better but we agree on what we were talking about. And we agree that your original comment on this post was a good example of someone misunderstanding the issue here.

            Somehow you managed to conflate that discussion with a comparison of violence in the American territories of the old west and violence in China and Russia under Mao and Stalin. I don’t view the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin or China under Mao as examples of constitutional representative government. Do you?

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          • Greg G.

            What actually happened in your proto-an-cap wild west was that those the much more decentralized governments of those territories petitioned the U.S.A. for admittance usually after overwhelming approval of a referendum on the issue.

            I must point out that the decentralized governments of territories in the US west were not necessarily representative of most people who just happened to live in that vast geography, but were merely inventions of the federal government in Washington, which group of individuals absurdly claimed jurisdiction over vast expanses of land in the West.they had no right to claim, no realistic means of controlling, and no reasonable means of governing.

            Yes, politically ambitious individuals were more than happy to promote their own self interest by pushing for more government and for statehood with themselves in positions of power, but I doubt you can show that an “overwhelming approval of a referendum” included an overwhelming majority of the people in the territory. More likely it was a majority of those relative few who hoped to benefit from more centralized government.

            A referendum? What’s a referendum? On my remote ranch in Arizona territory I have no idea what that even is, and I have no interest in government at any level or joining any organization by whatever name you choose to call it. I am happy to live my own life as I choose and only ask that others do the same and leave me alone. I will associate or not with whomever I please, befriend whomever I please, carry on voluntary and mutually beneficial business with whomever I please – even if those people happen to live in what you call “Mexico”.

            Some people might say (maybe you) that if you don’t join the game you’re offered it’s your own fault and your tough luck when people start showing up with orders from above. I disagree.

            Now we’re at that point where we will disagree over the legitimacy of government in general, and the right of one group of individuals to use force against otherwise peaceful people and then force them to pay for the abuse.

            Have you checked out Pinker on this topic yet?

            I have read part of the Pinker book and found him unpersuasive, repetitive, and too eager to credit the state for imposing peace on the world – through the use of force, naturally. I have, however, read some very critical reviews of his work including this one:

            http://www.fooledbyrandomness.com/violencenobelsymposium.pdf

            Do you have any sources of your own to cite on lower levels of violence then?

            I found this book by Terry Anderson interesting and informative.

            https://books.google.com/books?id=A7727zJQ51IC

            This article:

            https://mises.org/library/not-so-wild-wild-west

            – was expanded into the book.

            I believe a great deal of what we think we know about the Wild West comes to us from dime novels which were intended to titillate and entertain more than to inform, and from reenactments such as Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

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          • Greg G.

            The “bizarre case” cited in your hypothetical is very bizarre indeed. How many, if any, such cases of women being prosecuted for successfully defending themselves against attempted murder and rape can you cite?

            I’m sure I can find some if you insist. Surely you are aware that it’s all too common for people th be prosecuted for gun law violations when they use them in their own homes for self defense.

            Such a woman would be widely praised and celebrated.

            In a sane world, yes, of course. But some of the nonsense I’ve read from the feverish pens of gun control fanatics sounds a whole lot like condemnation of any use of a firearm to take the life of another, including in self defense. A defenseless victim may be considered a martyr, while a non victim’s motives may be questioned. No, it doesn’t make sense.

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          • Greg G., and Ron was making your look very bad…..well actually, you were making yourself look very bad. Ron has the valid argument. There are so many things wrong with what you wrote, but I will address a few of them:

            1. The US is a “CONSTITUTIONAL REPUBLIC,” not a constitutional democracy. (emphasis added).

            2. The Constitution did not affect violent criminals “IN THOSE AREAS” or, for that matter, in other areas or even today. (emphasis added). See the violent crime in Chicago today. The Constitution as no effect. The cause of the crime back then and today is that there are bad people who choose a life of crime and restrictions of what can be done to imprison or kill off such violent criminals.

            3. I find it hilarious how you always know what others, including Ron, are thinking. You don’t. You just like to pretend that you do. That is a logical fallacy.

            4. You have, on many occasions, argued for bigger government, however, you always curiously refuse the accept the reality of the bad it has done. Facts just never fit with your narrative. The reason we limited government power IS to minimize the risk of government murdering millions and impoverishing billions. (emphasis added). Most realize that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely whether that power is wielded by a socialist dictator or a representative assembly. Do you?

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          • Greg Webb,

            >—” The US is a “CONSTITUTIONAL REPUBLIC,” not a constitutional democracy.”

            Why do you think a constitutional republic can’t be a constitutional democracy?

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          • >—“Greg G, why do you think a constitutional democracy is the same as a Constitutional Republic?”

            Because our constitutional democracy meets this dictionary definition:

            re·pub·lic
            rəˈpəblik/
            noun
            a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch.
            archaic
            a group with a certain equality between its members.

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          • Greg G, you provided the definition of a “republic,” not a “CONSTITUTIONAL REPUBLIC.” (emphasis added). And, of course, you also forgot to provide a definition of a constitutional democracy. I found one for you; however, I do not think you will agree with it given your previous statements:

            constitutional democracy
            noun
            a system of government based on popular sovereignty in which the structures, powers, AND LIMITS OF GOVERNMENT are set forth in a constitution.

            Yet, the founders did not use the word “democracy” anywhere in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution – two of the founding documents of the United States. Article IV, Section 4 of the Constitution guarantees “to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.” And, “Republic” is the correct word to use. Please see the Pledge of Allegiance and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

            John Adams captured the essence of the difference between a Republic and a democracy when he said, “You have rights antecedent to all earthly governments; rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws; rights derived from the Great Legislator of the Universe.” Nothing in the Constitution suggests that government is a grantor of rights. Instead, government is supposed to be a protector of rights.

            The founders understood that government was the greatest threat to liberty, which explains why the founders used negative phrases against Congress throughout the Constitution such as: shall not abridge, infringe, deny, disparage, and shall not be violated, nor be denied. In a Constitutional Republic, there is rule of law. All citizens, including government officials, are accountable to the same laws. Government power is limited and decentralized through a system of checks and balances. Government intervenes in civil society to protect its citizens against force and fraud but does not intervene in the cases of peaceable, voluntary exchange.

            In a democracy, however, the majority rules either directly or through its elected representatives. As in a monarchy, the law is whatever the government determines it to be. Laws do not represent reason. They represent power. The restraint is upon the individual instead of government. Unlike that envisioned under a Constitutional Republic, rights are seen as privileges and permissions that are granted by government and can be rescinded by government.

            Here are a few more quotes supporting my view:

            – James Madison, in Federalist Paper No. 10: In a pure democracy, “there is nothing to check the inducement to sacrifice the weaker party or the obnoxious individual.”

            – At the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Edmund Randolph said, ” … that in tracing these evils to their origin every man had found it in the turbulence and follies of democracy.”

            – John Adams said, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

            – Chief Justice John Marshall observed, “Between a balanced republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos.”

            In a word or two, the founders knew that a democracy would lead to the same kind of tyranny the colonies suffered under King George III. That is why the founders created a Constitutional Republic.

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          • Greg Webb,

            Yes, it’s true that most of the founders thought democracy was a bad thing. They much preferred the kind of republic where only white male landowners could vote and a man could own as many slaves as he could buy.

            The Constitution that they wrote wasn’t all that democratic. Even though it was intended to define limits on government’s power, it was intended to INCREASE the amount of power wielded by the federal government. The reason for writing the Constitution in the first place was that the Articles of Confederation had come to be viewed as a failure since they created a federal government that had too little power to be effective. Those opposed to the Constitutional were the libertarians of their day and almost succeeded in defeating it on the grounds that the founders shouldn’t have been trying to increase federal power.

            The USA became a true representative constitution democracy much later when slavery was outlawed and blacks and women were given the right to vote. This was done through the process of Constitutional Amendment. The result is a country that is now a constitutional democratic republic even though it didn’t start that way. I’m surprised you didn’t know this.

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          • Greg G said, “Yes, it’s true that most of the founders thought democracy was a bad thing. They much preferred the kind of republic where only white male landowners could vote and a man could own as many slaves as he could buy.”

            False. You slander the founders because your view has no merit. That is known as an ad hominem logical fallacy. See the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

            “The Constitution that they wrote wasn’t all that democratic.”

            It was not meant to be pure democracy. Other countries experimented with democracy in the past and failed. The founders knew their history and rejected the type of democracy that you advocate because they knew the history of the tyranny of the majority. See the French Revolution.

            “Even though it was intended to define limits on government’s power, it was intended to INCREASE the amount of power wielded by the federal government.”

            Yep, in order to be able to repel predatory European nations, but NOT to give the government unlimited power for it, the elected representatives, or temporary majorities to infringe on the natural rights of individual citizens.

            “Those opposed to the Constitutional were the libertarians of their day and almost succeeded in defeating it on the grounds that the founders shouldn’t have been trying to increase federal power.”

            Nope. Those “libertarians” as you called them were the founders that remembered the tyranny of the King and Parliament, and did not wish to see their own new government with too much power. Their opponents were also founders and Americans Revolutionaries who thought, and promised, that the Constitution did not give the new federal government too much power. They felt it gave the government just enough power to ward off the predatory European powers. See The Federalists Papers and The Anti-federalist Papers.

            “The USA became a true representative constitution democracy much later when slavery was outlawed and blacks and women were given the right to vote.”

            Nope. The United States remains a Constitutional Republic with safeguards to limit the power of the federal government including federalism, the separation of powers, etc. As the new nation grew, it came to fulfill its promise of liberty as enshrined in the Declaration of Independence by eliminating slavery that had been practiced for thousands of years by governments throughout the world that had no limits on their power. Such was the same growth that occurred when the US threw off the last vestiges of historical government control and the limitation of the rights of women and other minorities who often have little to no protection under authoritarian or tyranny of the majority type governments.

            “The result is a country that is now a constitutional democratic republic . . . ”

            Ah, I see you are reverting back to form with the term “democratic republic.” Communists and former communists love that term because it sounds nice and hides the ugly reality of what type of oppressive government they really want:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_republic

            I am not surprised that you knew how “democratic republic” is used.

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          • Greg G.

            Yes, it’s true that most of the founders thought democracy was a bad thing. They much preferred the kind of republic where only white male landowners could vote and a man could own as many slaves as he could buy.

            Be careful of attributing any particular view to “The Founders”, as they individually held widely divergent views, as evidenced by the great deal of debate and discussion required to produce and finalize what is a fairly simple document – at least by today’s standards. And of course the final version they stuck us with provides no guidelines on voter eligibility by individuals, that being left for each state.to determine.

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          • Greg Webb,

            It’s easy to see why Trump has so much appeal for you. You both have the same contempt for the democratic process.

            Greg H,

            Good point about the founders disagreeing on a lot. As for the Constitution they “stuck us with” I’m not complaining about that. I think it was a great effort and a big step in the right direction at the time.

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          • Greg G said, “It’s easy to see why Trump has so much appeal for you. You both have the same contempt for the democratic process.”

            Another logical fallacy. You do that a lot because your view has no merit. Trump is for bigger government just like you are. The founders, who you also are contemptuous of, were for limiting the power of government. I agree with the founders. North Korea has the “democratic republic” that you so desire. Take Trump and Hillary with you.

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          • Greg H, thanks for pointing out Greg G’s incorrect view that the founders wanted a “republic where only while male landowners could vote and a man could own as many slaves as he could buy.” The Constitution does not limit voter eligibility as you so correctly noted. But, do not blame Greg G for his ignorance.

            The founders held divergent views as you noted. But, they agreed that government power is dangerous and must be limited.

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  2. Spontaneous order exists all around us. Government gets involved only to look like it is actually doing something beneficial when, in reality, it is merely protecting the special interests of cronies of corrupt politicians.

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