Emergent Order vs Imposed Order

In my recent post on the law, I had talked a little bit about law as an emergent order.  Commentor Greg G responded:

You have fallen into the trap of simply using the word “emergent” as a compliment for those emergent processes you approve of. Millions of voters select hundreds of thousands of representatives at different levels of government. Different levels of government sometimes make laws that conflict with each other. The elected representatives select many thousand of bureaucrats who participate in determining what the law is. Every single one of these agents has their own decentralized complex set of motives and goals which include calculating to what extent they need to satisfy the desires of the voters.

Greg’s comment deserves a response.

Is the formation of a government an emergent order?  Yes.  If we go with the classically liberal view of government, government was formed in order to protect individual rights in cases where collective action is the least costly action (other theories of government will work in this same manner; we’ll just change the justification.  The only theory that might now work is government by divine right, as that would indicate not an emergent order by human interaction but rather divine intervention).  Government emerged to satisfy certain needs in the same way a firm emerges to satisfy certain needs.

Emergent order arrives peacefully; consensually.

Imposed order, on the other hand, is non-consensual.  It is imposed by force.  Libertarians and classical liberals tend to identify government as the perpetrator of imposed order.  While government is a perpetrator (and perhaps the largest), the problem is not isolated to government alone.  For example, a man who mugs another is imposing order: he is imposing the forcible transfer of goods/currency from one person to another.

When it comes to government, we must be very careful about how we apply classifications.  It’s a complex question, and I’m not sure I understand it fully.  For example, let’s say that, on a constitutional level (that is, when designing the government), the group unanimously agrees that any legislation passed only needs 51% approval.  So, we have an emergent order on how things work.  Using that simple majority, the government makes rules.  Are these rules emergent order or imposed order?  I suspect there is a justice element to the answer.  I also expect there’s a discussion on whether or not the decision-maker is exceeding his mandate.

As with my piece the other day, these are rough ideas which I will need to fill out going forward.  Comments appreciated and encouraged.

33 thoughts on “Emergent Order vs Imposed Order

  1. All government order is imposed order. The issue has to do with who earns the income. With true emergent order, each individual makes his or her own decisions regarding his or her own earnings. With government-imposed order, government decides for the collective how their earnings will be spent.

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          • “Emergent order arrives peacefully; consensually. Imposed order, on the other hand, is non-consensual. It is imposed by force.”

            Jon Murphy, “Emergent Order vs. Imposed Order”, A Force for Good Blog, June 19, 2017

            If someone in the group disagrees, then there is no consent. Thus, force has to be applied to get the person not consenting to go along. That means, by definition, that it is imposed order and not emergent order.

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        • No. Unanimity would be required in governmental systems, otherwise force is required and thus you are back to top down central planning.

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    • Can you get everyone in any group to agree on much of anything?

      Jon, what are the primary characteristics of emergence?

      Here are the ones I am familiar with:

      1. Radical novelty—At each level of complexity, entirely new properties appear

      2. Coherence—A stable system of interactions

      3. Wholeness—Not just the sum of its parts, but also different and irreducible from its parts (humans are more than the composition of lots of cells)

      4. Dynamic—Always in process, continuing to evolve (changes in transportation: walking, horse and buggy, autos, trains, buses, airplanes)

      5. Downward causation—The system shaping the behavior of the parts (roads determine where we drive)

      The phrase “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” captures key aspects of these ideas. Birds flock, sand forms dunes, and individuals create societies. Each of these phrases names a related but distinct system. Each system is composed of, influenced by, but different from its mate: birds and flocks, sand and dunes, individuals and societies.

      As with all change, emergence occurs when disruptions shape the interactions. In emergence, coherence breaks apart; differences surface and re-form in a novel system. The two most frequently cited dynamics:

      a. No one is in charge—No conductor is orchestrating orderly activity (ecosystems, economic systems, activity in a city).

      b. Simple rules engender complex behavior

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      • John Simm,

        That is actually a pretty good list.

        But you should have noted that your “familiarity” with most with it consisted of copying and pasting it and then representing it as your own in a act of plagiarism. When you are quoting someone else’s words you should say so. Being able to put it in your own words will show greater “familiarity.”

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        • Greg G,

          Comments to blogs are not formal communication, and therefore, do not require formal citation. I did not represent it as my own as I said “I am familiar with.”

          Look if you want to be a brainless troll, please go somewhere else.

          BTW, a guy who argues against definitions should never worry about following rules that do not apply.

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          • John Simm,

            I’ll go elsewhere the first time Jon asks me to. It’s his blog not yours or mine. For now it’s worth noting he has seen fit to use my ideas, not yours, as the subject of this post that you think I am not fit to comment on.

            As for your idea that using extended unattributed quotes from other people is fine for your blog comments, that reveals a lot about your standards for intellectual honesty. Avoiding plagiarism by going to all the trouble of crediting your “many sources” when using their exact words is just too “formal” for you.

            Good to know.

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            • Greg G.,

              He is simply highlighting your mistake to create a blog post. Kind of like Don Boudreaux does when he has a comment advocating against international trade.

              I see you are still willing to misuse words despite their definitions:

              pla·gia·rize
              [ˈplājəˌrīz]
              VERB
              take (the work or an idea of someone else) and pass it off as one’s own.

              I properly noted that I was “familiar” with those characteristics. Thus, your misuse of the word reveals either your stupidity or willingness to lie. Given your previous comments, I am confident in saying it is both.

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  2. Comments appreciated and encouraged.

    And here they come. 🙂

    Government emerged to satisfy certain needs in the same way a firm emerges to satisfy certain needs.

    Exactly. And both emerge because people act in their own self interest by serving others. Acting as a group provides economies of scale not available to individual actors. But that’s where the similarity seems to end. The firm has little ability to control the entrance of competing firms into the market for its goods and services. Businesses must attract customer dollars. They have no power to force consumers to spend, absent the enlistment of government force, that is.

    OTOH government (that group of people calling themselves government) establishes a monopoly that excludes all other providers, and pretty much determines for itself what, if any, services will be provided, the conditions of that provision, and the price to be paid, which price WILL be paid whether or not an individual customer wants the particular services he is forced to pay for.

    This is in stark contrast to the free market we all know and love (in our dreams) and of which I know both you and I are particularly enthusiastic fanboys.

    Imposed order, whether by government or a mugger, has the same impact on the individual,and the same ethical standing, but we soundly condemn the mugger and sometimes praise government for the same forcible transfer of resources from one person to another. Go figure. This seems especially absurd when we are mugged “for our own good”.

    For example, let’s say that, on a constitutional level (that is, when designing the government), the group unanimously agrees …

    Let me interrupt you here to make sure I understand that by “the group”, you mean every individual who will be subject to the agreement being formed when it is in force. If so, all is well. If not, then government will be imposed on some who may not wish to benefit from membership in the group, and who must be forced to join and pay. This makes all the difference in the world. Is membership in the group being governed voluntary, or coerced? May an individual opt out or resign their membership at a later time? Important questions.

    ” that any legislation passed only needs 51% approval.”

    Majority rule is a dangerous business, obviously, but if people voluntarily agree to be bound by such an arrangement, we can assume they know the danger they are getting into. It’s their choice.

    Using that simple majority, the government makes rules. Are these rules emergent order or imposed order?

    If one’s definition of emergent includes things that come into being because they are planned, then the rules can be called emergent order. Imposed order is that which is not chosen freely by those on whom the order is imposed. I usually think of ’emergent’ in connection with things that come into being without positive direction from above – like pencils,, schools of fish, flocks of birds but Greg G. is right. Emergent can be used to describe other systems as well.

    An interesting question is whether government authority emerges as government develops. IIRC Greg G. will say that it does, that government authority grows to be greater than the authority of the individuals that established the government system. That is, individual government agents, human beings, have greater authority than non-government individuals.

    I will argue the opposite. That government can’t possibly have powers not granted to it by the people who established the government. If I can’t legitimately rob my neighbor and spend his money on support for people who are unemployed, then my agent to whom I grant some of my powers and delegate some tasks can’t either. After all, the people assigned as my agents are only other people like me.

    The US Constitution gives Congress the power to tax – to take money by force from people to fund its operations and to ‘carry into force’ those purposes granted by the enumerated powers, like establishing post roads and post offices.

    But none of the founders, and none of the signers and ratifiers of the Constitution had that power themselves, and there certainly wasn’t unanimous consent of those who would be taxed. Did it emerge somehow from the process of establishing government? I don’t think so.

    Thanks for the soapbox Jon 🙂

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    • Ron,

      You are arguing that government officials cannot possibly have the legitimate moral authority to take any coercive actions as representatives of the state that they would not also have in the absence of the state.

      Now I can’t prove to you that that moral authority does emerge but I can show you why that is a bad argument against. Your argument is an example of The Fallacy of Division. It simply is NOT the case that a complex system cannot have properties that cannot be found in its individual components.

      Emergence is hard enough to think clearly about without tangling it up with political ideology so let me cite a quite innocuous example to show your why you were guilty of The Fallacy of Division.

      Sodium chloride (table salt) is an essential nutrient in reasonable amounts. It is not only healthy but necessary for life in the right amounts. It’s components are simply sodium and chlorine. Both are not nutrients, but in fact poisons in their individual component forms. You wouldn’t conclude that – because sodium and chorine have no nutritional benefits – that sodium chloride couldn’t have nutritional benefits.

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      • Greg

        You are arguing that government officials cannot possibly have the legitimate moral authority to take any coercive actions as representatives of the state that they would not also have in the absence of the state.

        Yes I am. If there is authority in numbers, then any mob, any gang – any group of people has greater moral authority than individuals.

        Would you say that mafia extortionists have moral authority to collect protection money? Can Walmart force me to buy from them? Is it OK for me and five of my friends to take your lunch money? No it isn’t OK. I can’t rob you, I and a friend can’t rob you, I and 10 other people can’t rob you, and I and my 320 million BFFs can’t rob you, even if you are the only dissenter.

        Unless you endorse the position that “might makes right” and that all morality is relative, there must be something more than common agreement and delegation of agency to justify greater moral authority.

        I agree that many properties emerge from groups that aren’t properties of the individual. A baseball team has very different abilities than each individual player possesses. An angry mob may lynch someone, even though each individual member might not take such drastic action on their own.

        I love your salt analogy, and I agree that combinations have properties unlike the individual components, but in that case the individual components, sodium and chlorine are very different things. You wouldn’t say that a lump of sodium has attributes not found in the individual atoms, and you probably wouldn’t claim that salt has some higher moral authority than sodium and chlorine.

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        • Ron,

          >—-“If there is authority in numbers, then any mob, any gang – any group of people has greater moral authority than individuals.”

          That doesn’t follow. One of the principles of emergence is that it is something that happens unexpectedly when you get more of the things being self organized. But it is a non sequitur to say that every time you have more of something you get emergent phenomena. That is only one of several necessary requirements.

          I see different governments as having different levels of moral authority. I think the government of the U.S. has much more legitimate moral authority than the government of North Korea. If that means to you that I think morality is relative then so be it. I think a trained official police officer in a constitutional democracy has more moral authority than a vigilante. That doesn’t mean they might not go wrong.

          >—-“You wouldn’t say that a lump of sodium has attributes not found in the individual atoms, and you probably wouldn’t claim that salt has some higher moral authority than sodium and chlorine.”

          The point is that you would never know those potential attributes were there without the emergence, not that you would deny the potential was there after the fact. And we do agree that moral authority is not an emergent attribute of sodium and chlorine. I trust I don’t really need to point out that different emergent systems have entirely different attributes.

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          • Greg

            . I trust I don’t really need to point out that different emergent systems have entirely different attributes.

            Heh! Of course not, but you do need to explain where the additional moral authority comes from when a group of individuals join together for a common purpose, and grant some of their individual powers to those among them whom they have designated as their agents to act in certain especially if they intend to coerce others who haven’t consented. I don’t see it as one of the things that can emerge from the common effort.

            I see different governments as having different levels of moral authority. I think the government of the U.S. has much more legitimate moral authority than the government of North Korea.

            It is certainly more benevolent, but I don’t see greater moral authority unless you believe good intentions and kindlier treatment of those being governed somehow confers moral authority. If that’s the case, a kindly, absolute monarch claiming divine right might have more moral authority than a constitutional democracy that relies on majority rule and more closely represents the will of the people. Perhaps comparing moral authority in this way isn’t useful. Note that I didn’t claim moral equivalence between the governments of the US and NK, only that neither has legitimate authority over people who don’t consent.

            I think a trained official police officer in a constitutional democracy has more moral authority than a vigilante.

            We have been trained since childhood to respect the badge and the uniform. “Officer Friendly” and all that nonsense. He has authority because he says he has it, and because that group calling themselves “The Government” has told him (and us) that he has it. That authority is not emergent or moral in any sense of the words. It is purely authority by fiat, which brings us back to the basic question of government authority in general. This subject would be extremely easy to discuss in a private property setting.

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            • Ron,

              As you know by now, I don’t rely on the emergence argument much to find the justification for the moral authority of constitutional democracies. I start in a different place and evoke emergence for a different reason.

              I start by agreeing with you that, as a general principle, minimizing violence and coercion is the foundational moral principle we should begin with. I don’t think it trumps all other values as automatically as you do but I agree that the burden of proof should be on those justifying acts of coercion like taxation. As you know, I am (and almost everyone else is) more inclined than you are to see cases where that burden is met.

              For me the next step is to look at as much human history as possible and try and see what systems really did minimize violence and coercion and promote human flourishing. I put lot less weight than you do on theory and a lot more on actual real world results.

              Almost any constitutional democracy you want to choose did a better job of that than almost any system where there was something much closer to anarchy. Before the Europeans reached what is today the USA, this land was filled with native American tribes with virtually no central government. In almost every case they were subsistence level economies with pervasive violence. They did trade with each other but they never evolved towards capitalism or your notion of anarcho-capitalism. Traditional societies without central government have historically put much less, not more, value on the individual compared to the group.

              Constitutional democracy hasn’t always been a guarantee that rights would be respected but its absence has almost always been a guarantee they wouldn’t be. There is a reason why we have never seen capitalism evolve in any of the many regions that had little central government. nobody is going to risk a lot of capital without the kind of rule of law and predictability that government brings.

              So then for me, the best results in human history are good enough to find moral authority for these arrangements. For you those results are so far from what you desire, you can’t be satisfied with them.

              If you remember you wanted to press the point that your version of the Fallacy of Division was something like a logical proof that the moral authority I claim for government couldn’t possibly be there. I pointed to emergence as containing that possibility. I don’t think these kinds of value claims are subject to logical proof although specific bad arguments can often be shown to be logically defective.

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              • Ron,

                >—-“It is certainly more benevolent, but I don’t see greater moral authority unless you believe good intentions and kindlier treatment of those being governed somehow confers moral authority. If that’s the case, a kindly, absolute monarch claiming divine right might have more moral authority than a constitutional democracy that relies on majority rule and more closely represents the will of the people.”

                I do think that acting morally confers moral authority and acting immoral reduces it. Do you really see an immoral person and a moral person as having the same moral authority?

                It’s theoretically possible that a wise and kindly absolutely monarch could have more moral authority but there is a reason it has never worked out that way in real life. Power corrupts. Constitutional democracy works better than other systems of government (admittedly a low bar) and better than anarchistic systems (an even lower bar) because it does a better job of limiting the accumulation of power.

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                • Greg

                  I do think that acting morally confers moral authority and acting immoral reduces it. Do you really see an immoral person and a moral person as having the same moral authority?

                  A person? No. That word ‘authority’ is troublesome here. Do I think a person robbing someone in order to feed hungry people has greater moral authority to do so than a person robbing someone to benefit themselves? No. But I do think there are cases at the extreme where the person being robbed might agree that feeding hungry people was the right thing to do in that specific case, and might even offer additional aid himself. The resource owner might not have been available to ask at the time and the imminent threat to life too great. A locked and vacant winter cabin with a store of food comes to mind. This still puts the robber in the debt of his victim, and he has still committed robbery even though no reasonable person would fault him.

                  The trouble with applying this sliding scale to government actions by government agents is that it can lead to the notion that good intentions are all that matter. Who gets to decide what’s moral and what isn’t when describing robbery? .

                  I do think that acting morally confers moral authority and acting immoral reduces it. Do you really see an immoral person and a moral person as having the same moral authority?

                  It’s theoretically possible that a wise and kindly absolutely monarch could have more moral authority but there is a reason it has never worked out that way in real life. Power corrupts.

                  Exactly! Any power corrupts. An agent will always take more power than has been granted, and serve his own interests first unless he is constrained by market forces that allow his client choices and the ability to fire him on a whim. Then only service to others allow him to

                  Constitutional democracy works better than other systems of government (admittedly a low bar) and better than anarchistic systems (an even lower bar) because it does a better job of limiting the accumulation of power.”

                  “Better” is indeed a low bar. But anarchistic systems offer no power that can be corrupted. All institutions exist through mutual consent (the bowling league) or as competitors on the open market. Choice is good.

                  Yes, a constitutional republic is my top choice among all systems that include a monopoly on the use of force.

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              • Greg

                I had forgotten for a moment that you are a serious consequentialist. 🙂 I won’t say “the ends justifies the means” but it seems to be something very much like that.

                I think your position requires a belief that some people know better than others what is in everyone’s best interest, and it is therefore OK to force people to do things they haven’t chosen to do, and that it’s OK to force those unfortunates to pay for those things they haven’t chosen for themselves. I reject that view. Each individual can almost certainly determine their own best interest, and should be allowed to do so.,

                I start by agreeing with you that, as a general principle, minimizing violence and coercion is the foundational moral principle we should begin with.

                Minimizing coercion is easy.

                … I agree that the burden of proof should be on those justifying acts of coercion like taxation.

                Well, yes, but I’m not sure how it’s possible to justify theft. I know you don’t like it when I equate taxation with theft, but despite the mental gymnastics some people will employ to sugar coat the issue, I don’t see a better definition that doesn’t infantalize the people who are to be taxed, as if they just don’t know what to do for themselves, and need the help of strangers who call themselves “government” to make choices and spend their money for them. Or perhaps some believe that people are just so cold hearted they have no inclination to help others in need, so kind hearted and compassionate government Robin Hoods must ensure the poor get enough to eat.

                As you know, I am (and almost everyone else is) more inclined than you are to see cases where that burden is met.

                If you’re suggest that the markets won’t provide some “public goods” so that it’s necessary to force people to buy those goods, I must will disagree. Who gets to decide? I don’t know of anything people want that isn’t provided by markets or by the generosity and compassion of others..

                How about this for a place to start: Similar to the wording in the Declaration of Independence: Individuals are sovereign, with inalienable natural negative rights to self ownership (determination), life, liberty, and property, and to preserve those rights they form joint ventures (governments) for their common protection and mutual benefit. Assuming that government, as an agent of the people, provides positive benefits to voluntary members, those who chose to forgo those benefits may do so without penalty and without cost.

                For me the next step is to look at as much human history as possible and try and see what systems really did minimize violence and coercion and promote human flourishing.

                The trouble is that those systems that survived are almost always the winners of military conflicts, and we learn history from them, not from the losers.

                A case in point, based on your example of Native Americans: Most of what we know about pre-Columbian civilizations in the Western hemisphere comes to us from the accounts of Spanish, English, and French conquerors of those people after entire societies were decimated by European diseases, and after those who lived had been subjugated by the invaders.

                We now have pretty good archeological evidence that there were complex societies in the New World that rivaled many in Europe and Asia prior to the invasion. There are indications of sophisticated agricultural techniques and advanced irrigation of crops on a large scale, as well as very advanced stonework..

                One fundamental handicap was the lack of useful draft animals such as horses and oxen in the new world prior to the arrival of the Spanish. There were no large animals in the Western hemisphere suitable for the uses to which horses were put in Europe and Asia, therefore no wheeled vehicles suitable for transport. I think this may have had a greater impact on the disparate development of European vs New World civilization than we usually consider.

                Traditional societies without central government have historically put much less, not more, value on the individual compared to the group.

                I’m not sure how we can know that to be true.

                nobody is going to risk a lot of capital without the kind of rule of law and predictability that government brings.

                Two words: ‘Merchant Law’. Prior to the rise of the modern state, merchants carried on trade between distant people with very different cultures, languages, and forms of government. A system of law and customs ’emerged’ organically to facilitate that trade and resolve disputes. No central control was needed.

                So then for me, the best results in human history are good enough to find moral authority for these arrangements.

                Best at what? Many of those “peaceful” and “less violent” systems with central governments included the institution of slavery. That would preclude any pretense of non-violence.

                For you those results are so far from what you desire, you can’t be satisfied with them.

                I’m satisfied with any arrangement among people that is voluntary and uncoerced. Why is coercion necessary again?

                If you remember you wanted to press the point that your version of the Fallacy of Division was something like a logical proof that the moral authority I claim for government couldn’t possibly be there.”

                It doesn’t take much of a division. Can I assign an agent the authority to do things I can’t morally do? Can I and a neighbor assign an agent to do things we can’t morally do? What size group of principals and how many agents are necessary before moral authority emerges?

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    • “Let me interrupt you here to make sure I understand that by “the group”, you mean every individual who will be subject to the agreement being formed when it is in force….”

      Yes. I am using the phrase “constitutional level” as Buchanan and Tullock use it in the Calculus of Consent.

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  3. Emergent processes are all around us, usually unnoticed as such. The concept is sometimes also referred to as the study of self-organizing systems, complexity or complex adaptive systems. Because emergence operates at many levels and in many ways, making generalizations about it is tricky and controversial.

    One generalization that does hold up is that emergent processes display novel properties at more complex levels of organization; properties that could not be predicted from the simpler components. So then chemistry emerges from physics. All chemical processes are consistent with the known laws of physics but many are not predictable from them. In the same sense, biochemistry and then life emerge from chemistry and then consciousness emerges from life.

    There are scientists who study emergence as a general phenomenon. They often study markets because we have a wealth of data on market prices. But they do not regard markets or governments as in any way special cases or exceptions to general principles about emergence. My favorite book on the topic is “Hidden Order” by John Holland. That book dates to 1995. It’s possible better ones are out there now but I think it holds up well and I think it’s fair to say that progress in understanding emergence has been slower than expected than when Holland started doing his research on the topic at the Santa Fe Institute.

    Russ Roberts did an excellent EconTalk podcast on ant colonies as examples of emergent order several years ago. Violence is used within ant colonies to maintain order so you should be careful with generalizations that try to separate emergent versus imposed order Jon.

    I think that the worst possible way to begin to understand this complex subject is to mix it up with any political or economic ideology. That makes it harder, not easier to analyze more clearly and objectively.

    The good news is, you don’t need the concept of emergence to argue for what you believe in. History provides more than enough examples of disastrous results from central economic planing of production and price controls to permit you to make a good argument.

    Hayek was one of the very first to understand the unpredictability of emergent systems. Much later the technical reason for this (sensitive dependence on initial conditions) was understood. Hayek was keen to make the point that central planning fails because that unpredictability leads to unintended consequences (among other reasons). This is a good point but it can cut both ways because the consequences of not intervening can be equally unpredictable.

    It’s much wiser to argue public policy issues based on human history than generalizations about emergence.

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    • I get what you’re saying about not tying up the argument with ideology. I’m trying not to do that. But I am also trying to define these terms and think through them. Doesn’t that require some level of generality?

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      • Jon,

        Sure it requires some level of generality. I’m arguing for thinking in more general terms, not less general. I think it’s not helpful to use the concept of emergence to jump to conclusions about economic and political policy issues.

        Of course you are going to be interested in the application of the concept to the fields you care the most about. That’s only natural. But we should all look to other fields for the real test of generality. We are all least objective about the places these general concepts mix with policy.

        Now I expect Ron will be jumping up and down at this point wanting to point out that this means I don’t get to attribute the moral authority for the establishment of government to emergence. I readily admit this is the weak point in my argument. We can almost never account of the unpredictable aspects of emergence so it’s a bit too convenient to say that’s the place this authority resides.

        Most people will have a strong intuition that if a State Trooper gives you a ticket for speeding that should normally carry more moral authority than some random vigilante motorist trying to impose a penalty on you because he doesn’t like your driving. I think the latter would result in a lot more disputes, violence and coercion than the former. So I really prefer to base my judgment on history and my understanding of human nature than on the emergence argument which is a strong intuition I have that I cannot prove.

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        • Greg G.,

          “I’m arguing for thinking in more general terms, not less general.”

          Yes, you often do, which is why you are often wrong. This is a new area of study, which means specifics, definitions, and characteristics are very important.

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        • Greg G-

          In this particular post, I am trying to avoid discussion of policy (although, given the context of this post and the blog it is contained therein, I can certainly see how one might read it as support/opposition for a given policy). Is there something I said here that violated that?

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          • Jon,

            Almost every time I’ve ever seen a libertarian invoke emergent order it was to make the point that – when it comes to political and economic policy – emergent is good and policies they don’t like are characterized as messing up the emergence. I think that distinction is an artificial one and I see a lot more of these results as emergence even if it’s not the kind that brings good results. I think the harder you look for a clear line the more you will see that it’s not there to be found. I realize that unanimous agreement on majority rule is a first attempt but you will never actually see that in real life in really large groups.

            Hayek certainly wrote as though favoring his idea of emergence was a reliable guide to policy decisions and Don Boudreaux and Russ Roberts often make this argument. I know they are big influences on you. You set this up as a dichotomy between emergent order (good) and imposed order (bad). I think the policy implications of the post are implicit, not explicit, but still pretty obvious.

            I am inclined to see most forms of government as emergent. That doesn’t necessarily mean I like them. Even oppressive governments usually rely on countless actors operating at many levels. These actors all have their own complex mix of motives. The results are still unpredictable and emergent even when they are bad – as they often are with more authoritarian systems.

            There is no shortage of other good arguments to make in favor of the policies you favor. Hayek was brilliant on the ability of market prices to convey and harness decentralized information in the economy that cannot be revealed in other ways. Now I know that part does describe emergence but the good thing about it isn’t that we can label it as emergent. The good thing about it is the harnessing of productive power and decentralized information. That’s the part that should be emphasized.

            Sometimes market forces have bad emergent results like pollution or exploitation of certain people. I don’t blame emergence for the bad results and I don’t credit it for the good ones.

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            • Your characterization of my thoughts on the matter are correct. Positively, I do think emergent order is preferable to imposed order, with rare exceptions. But this particular post, ignoring the context of everything else, I am trying to make normative.

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            • Greg

              Almost every time I’ve ever seen a libertarian invoke emergent order it was to make the point that – when it comes to political and economic policy – emergent is good and policies they don’t like are characterized as messing up the emergence.

              You are right, and I’m probably as guilty of this as anyone. I will try to avoid it in the future. I think we see emergent order in the market, flocks of birds, schools of fish and ice skaters on a pond as good things, and tend to believe all emergence is good.

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            • Examples, please?

              I usually hear it for folks who assume that only good stuff happens when someone is in charge and don’t seem to notice all the things that occur without a leader.

              Even Hayek described how sets of norms that emerge that govern or guide the way people interact don’t always work out and ‘good’ wasn’t even really didn’t have much meaning. Rather, some sets of norms resulted in the growth and persistence of populations that operated under those norms and some didn’t.

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  4. Jon Murphy,

    “For example, let’s say that, on a constitutional level (that is, when designing the government), the group unanimously agrees that any legislation passed only needs 51% approval. So, we have an emergent order on how things work. Using that simple majority, the government makes rules. Are these rules emergent order or imposed order? I suspect there is a justice element to the answer. I also expect there’s a discussion on whether or not the decision-maker is exceeding his mandate.”

    It seems to me that Hayek’s distinction between law and legislation comes into play here.

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