Friday, September 23, 2005

Evolution or central planning.



In Pennsylvania a case will be taken to federal court to test whether creationism-lite (known as intelligent design) can be taught in state schools. An article on MSNBC had this comment: “Proponents argue that the structure of life is too complex to have evolved through natural selection, challenging a core principles of the biological theory launched by Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” in 1859.”

Creationism-lite says that because life is to complex to have evolved there must have been some intelligent being who designed life. The fundamental fallacy is that complexity can only come about by design. That is, by the way, the old socialist argument about economics. i have long contended that the fundamentalists and the Marxists have more in common than they care to admit or acknowledge.

Consider this point made a century and a half ago by Herbert Spencer, the founder of sociology. Spencer said that socialists could not see that the “process of evolution” in man’s economic and social life. No one designed it. No one centrally planned it. Yet there was constant order without the central planner. Spencer put it this way:

“The houses they live in, their furniture, clothes, fuel, food—all are brought into existence by the spontaneous efforts of citizens supplying one another’s wants. ...The roads, the railways, the trains, the telegraphs (this was the late 1800s) are products of combined exertions prompted by desires for profit and maintenance. The villages and towns they pass exhibit the accretions due to private actions. The districts devoted to one or other manufacture have been so devoted by men who were simply seeking incomes to live upon. The enormous distributing organization with its vast warehouses and retail shops lining the streets, carrying everywhere innumerable kinds of commodities has arisen without the planning of any one.”

All this says Spencer is non-governmental. There is no central “creative” force imposing order on chaos. The market economy arose spontaneously. And this is precisely what makes so many people mistrustful of capitalism. Michael Rothschild, author of the under-appreciated book Bionomics, compared market forces to natural forces that are around us every day. He wrote:

“Putting aside the details of genetic variation and natural selection, is it really possible that an unconscious, spontaneous phenomenon could have brought forth a natural world of such awesome diversity, beauty, and balance? We can see it. But it still boggles the mind.
“Oddly enough, the same sense of incredulity underlies the widespread mistrust of free markets. Anyone who thinks carefully about capitalism must ask, How could such a vast and complex system emerge without the benefit of some grand design? Somewhere, somebody must be in charge. How else could, simple, self-interested components coalesce into an immensely complicated, well-coordinated economy? The notion that no one is in control — that economic order spontaneously emerges from the chaotic interaction of millions of individuals and firms — is quite simply, hard to swallow.”

In fact the Soviet defector Arkady Shevchenko said this concept, that somebody must secretly be in charge of capitalism, was ever present in the minds of Soviet officials. He said the Russian officials were baffled by American capitalism. “It puzzles them how a complex and little-regulated society can maintain such a high level of production, efficiency and technological innovation.” The only conclusion they could come to was that “there must be a secret control center somewhere in the United States.”


Now the political Left, ready to dismiss the idea of a divine creative organizing force for the universe, demands that economies be ordered exactly by this centralized principle. Ask them about the rise of nature and they can point out how evolution works. And, no doubt, they are generally correct about this. They can easily grasp the idea that a spontaneous order has emerged all around them. But when asked to accept this principle in economics they sound like the most fervent creationist.

The Creationist will argue that nature could not have evolved as it has. It is too spectacular and incredible to have had an entirely natural birth. They compare nature to a watch and from that false comparison they assume the presence of a Watchmaker. Yet, many of these same individuals support some form of a market economy. The fact that they rarely do so consistently is irrelevant for this debate.

The spectacular nature of a evolving, ever-changing, spontaneous market is something they are willing to accept. Ask them how language came to be and many of them will again point to evolution and spontaneous order. After all no one has centrally planned any of the languages widely used in the world today. Esperanto, one attempt at a planned language, remains an oddity. Language as spoken by all the people’s of the world arose spontaneously. No one planned it. No one designed it. No one manipulated it. But there it is working just fine for billions of people in every nook and cranny of the world.



Ludwig von Mises made exactly the same argument regarding the evolution of money. Money arose spontaneously, directed by the nature of the market. People started out trading goods with one another. But this was inefficient since you had to have precisely what the other person wanted and they had to have precisely what you wanted. Often such trades would be inefficient. For instance you might want a loaf of bread and the baker might want a table. But you didn’t feel comfortable trading one table for one loaf of bread. Yet if you took the 50 loaves of bread you felt fairer you would end up with 49 loaves going to waste.

So people started looking for something that would have specific characteristics that could be used as medium of exchange. The nature of what needed to be accomplished determined the nature of what would eventual become a medium of exchange. First, it had to be desirable. Horse manure was not highly desirable and would not work. Second, it had to be divisible. This was to avoid the problem of trading a table for more bread than you could consume.

Humans used various forms of money. Some even used sea shells but the fact that they were relative plentiful made them problematic. A certain amount of scarcity was needed otherwise unscrupulous individuals would “inflate” the money supply to everyone’s detriment. Gold and silver were eventually the money of choice. Individuals could easily carry it around, it could be coined into small or larger amounts and people desired them. The function that money had to fill eventually determined what was used. I will note that in recent centuries the idea of spontaneous money has been replaced with the concept of centrally planned money — thus the use of paper and all it’s potential and real problems.

Now I can understand why some people are not able to comprehend the idea of spontaneous order. In spite of it surrounding them on a daily basis. Everyone knows that in most of the world farmers grow what they want, in quantities that they themselves determine. They sell it at prices they find acceptable or stop producing. Other random individuals purchase those products and market them in various ways to various people. Again no one dictates to them who sells what vegetable at what time in what location. No one issues orders to consumers laying out their purchases for the week. There is virtually no effort to co-ordinate the distribution of food. Yet in every market economy food is everywhere and very, very few people ever go without.

Other nations have tried to impose a creative order by organizing food production for the “sake of the people.” They put “people before profits”. They certainly ended up with a system where there were no profits. But they also ended up with nations where there was no food. It happened repeatedly in the Soviet Union and under Mao in China. And it is happening today in African nations where agriculture is rarely left to market forces and where marketing boards and central plans proliferate.




Darwin explained how natural orders evolve. Such order is not unusual at all, as some creationists want us to believe, but entirely expected. Ayn Rand once made the point to Phil Donahue that a “disorderly universe” would be impossible. In fact the orderly aspect of nature is not a proof for a Watchmaker at all. If there were a case to made from nature for the presence of a Divine Creator then it would be the existence of a disorderly, chaotic, contradictory universe. The only kind of universe that could have evolved was an orderly one. Order is what we expect when a central planner is not playing his game with people.

The idea that markets and societies can evolve spontaneously makes perfect sense to me. Ideas that work are copied by others while ideas that are failures are neglected. In fact bad ideas must always be promoted at the point of a gun in one sense or another. Now what is bad or good is simply determined by what is consistent or inconsistent with reality. Markets work because they are consistent with reality. Central planning fails because it isn’t.

This simple, yet profound, concept is enough for me. It explains why markets work. It explains how language evolved. It explains why individuals, each seeking their own good, are required to work with one another in co-operation. It explains why certain moralities lead to good things and other moralities lead to bad things. It tells me that the universe is understandable without having a central planner in the sky or in the capitol.

Now I assume that any advocate of the market should understand spontaneous order. But I am baffled by why any such individuals need a Creator to explain everything else. And I’m equally baffled when I see advocates of evolution demanding centralized planning for economies as a whole. Certainly the evolutionary principle is satisfactory in explaining both the natural order and the natural economic order.


The theologically minded who argue for “intelligent design” are in war with a major premise of the free society. Freedom means the absence of a central planner. If one can not have order and a complex society without “intelligent design” then one can not have freedom. If a complex universe needs an intelligent designer then a complex society and complex economy would need one as well. At it’s core these people, by attacking the concept of spontaneous or evolved order, are attacking the concept of spontaneous or free markets.

8 Comments:

Blogger TS said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

September 23, 2005

 
Blogger Alfred Noll said...

I'm sorry, but this makes me wish once again that I'd started saving a list of all-time great examples of someone sounding intellectual (or at least giving it a good try), and yet actually not making any sense at all. Oh well, perhaps nothing will top the newspaper article by a professor of evolution who was obviously confused about the Cambrian Explosion, the Permian-Triassic extinction event, and the attitude of creationists to the Cambrian Explosion.

This comes pretty close. First of all, it starts out with the common misconception that the ID argument is simply that the universe is "too complex" not to have been designed. It's not about degree of complexity, it's the existence of a kind of complexity that never arises without the involvement of intelligence.

Well, not to pick on every point, the core argument -- that things like the free market illustrate how evolution can produce complexity -- is fatally flawed. And not original, but that's a long sidetrack. Obviously, money didn't come into existence without intelligent input, and the same goes for free trade (treaties, agreements, etc), the stockmarket, etc.

Thus, the blogger must appeal to there not being any specific plan for every aspect, no central body governing every transaction. A fine attempt to make an end-run around the obvious problem.

However, money isn't complex at all (and it is the product of intelligent choices, as the blog itself clearly indicates, e.g. "So people started looking for something that would have specific characteristics"), and the economic systems of trade that have grown up around it aren't complex in the same way that living things are. And don't discount the effects of intelligent (and more-or-less central)governmental regulations even in free republics.

Now, what is really intriguing is the societal conjunctions the blogger points out, that communism/central governments have tended to support evolutionism while some of the strongest free market countries have the larger and more active creation/ID movements.

Maybe this isn't so counter-intuitive as the blogger seems to think. One might see the logic in thinking that, if the economy evolved into existence "without" intelligent guidance through the actions of animals with overblown brains (people), then we should be able to firmly control the next step of its evolution for even better results. On the other hand, if you see society as the result of the collective intelligence of beings created in the image of God (people), then you're more likely to think they only need a bit of shepherding.

September 23, 2005

 
Blogger ur32212451 said...

Everything this blogger mentions was brought into existence by intelligent design, not by one central planner, but by individuals using their intelligence for personal self advancement or for charity. Railroad engines, tracks, and cars come into existence by intelligent design. Improvements to railroad engines, cars, and tracks came about by intelligent designers seeking to lower the costs and maximize the profits of shipping goods and passengers by rail. The location of railroad stations were chosen by intelligent design to pick up 'Supply' and drop it off at locations of 'Demand' in a manner that would maximize a railroad company's profits. Intelligently designed safety controls were introduced to avoid costly losses caused by accidents.

We can repeat the above for every example this blogger used. When we see a loaf of bread or a well crafted piece of furniture, we know that both are evidence of Intelligent Design. The blogger failed to perceive this fact. He also failed to understand the the system of bartering. One does not buy a piece of furniture by giving 50 loaves of bread all at once to the maker of the furniture. He who makes the bread would give one loaf of bread each week for fifty weeks. In Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mocking Bird", the lawyer Atticus Finch was paid by the poor farmer by several monthly deliveries of food from his farm.

The blogger's conclusion is that the entire railroad system is analogous to evolution in that there was no central planner, i.e. no single all powerful and all Knowing Intelligent Being (i.e. God), but rather each part and each improvement (i.e. variation and selection) was composed 'spontaneously' by independant individuals guided by self interest (e.g. the selfish gene).

However, the blogger totally misses the obvious. All of his examples are examples of intelligent design. Any intelligent human, seeing a railroad, a train, a loaf of bread, or a piece of furniture, perceives that these things are evidence of intelligent design and not of evolutionary processes. There was nothing spontaneous at all about their coming into existence. They were the result of much intelligent thought and know how (i.e. the product of intelligent design by an intelligent designer or designers.). The bloggers' and Spencers' misuse of the word 'spontaneous' mis-lead them in their arguments. They also set up a false premise by limiting the choice to "Evolution or Central Planning", mistakenly equating "Central Planning" to "Intelligent Design", and the individual intelligent planning of many individuals to "Evolution".

Darwinian Evolution is not the product of individual, intelligent, understanding minds that place boundary conditions on matter, energy, and the laws of physics to bring about 'well thought out' intelligently designed products such as bread, a piece of furniture, a "Pullman Rairoad Car", or a biological creature, but rather, according to materialistic Darwinist, all creatures, extant or extinct, must have come into existence by a long series of beneficial, mindless, non-intelligent random biological mutations acting strictly within the laws of physics and chance.

September 24, 2005

 
Blogger Ventspleen said...

So then answer this question smarties...who designed the designer....? If God exists who/what created him/it?.Or do you belive in a causless first cause?

September 24, 2005

 
Blogger Alfred Noll said...

Are comments on comments allowed? I'd just like to answer this question.

Ah, ventspleen (how's living with that clever nickname going, btw?), fine question -- an oldie but goodie, eh?

Let me put it this way: EVERYbody believes in an uncaused first cause of some sort. Think about it: if ever at some point there were ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, then nothing would ever be. Even some quantum fluctuation in the vacuum requires some sort of pre-existing space and ("laws" of) physics.

The universe as we know it certainly hasn't been around eternally. What caused the Big Bang is either considered outside the realm of science (or even outside the realm of valid questions), or answered with rather fantastic possibilities, for example that it was the latest bubble formed on a sea of infinite universes.

So, IMHO, there's not much difference in believing in God as the uncaused first cause, or making up a story of some "natural" pre-"Universe" cause, or an infinite series of causes, much like the old "it's turtles all the way down!"

September 24, 2005

 
Blogger Ventspleen said...

So then...if we are going to say how things should be and what we should do we must start at the only starting point we can....reality...existance exists!As natural beings we are by definition denied knowledge of the "supernatural" ie:the unknowable (to us).So while we can speculate about God and other smoke and mirrors until we can breach the barrier between the knowable and the "unknowable"(thus making it part of the knowable)we must deal with what we can deal with which is reality and the facts that it produces and we can't avoid if we wish to live and prosper...mmmm?

September 25, 2005

 
Blogger Mike said...

Sorry to resurrect a really, really old post. I can't resist enlightening the random Google drop-by on the origin of money.

alfred noll said:

Obviously, money didn't come into existence without intelligent input

This is obviously someone who is way too used to our Federal Reserve Notes (or whatever fiat money you use) to understand what money really is.

Money evolves naturally from a barter economy. In such an economy, if I produce vegetables and need a chair, I have to find someone who produces chairs. What if none of my neighbors do? My harvest is going to rot soon.

What I must do is find something a neighbor has that everybody wants on a pretty regular basis, say, salt, and trade my vegetables for some salt. Then I can keep the salt around until I happen upon a chair maker.

Over time, the system evolves such that only one or two commodities are used in this "special" way (storing value for later trading). These commodities are money.

(Salt was in fact used as money at times)

Peruse http://www.mises.org/ sometime. You will be enlightened.

January 26, 2010

 
Blogger GodlessZone said...

Mike: I am aware of the topic, of course, based on what I said. I do agree with you and would happily point people to FEE.or or even LFB.org for information on economics. These two are good sources for information on the topic in question.

January 26, 2010

 

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