Friedrich  von Hayek (1983) - Evolution and Spontaneous Order

Ladies and gentlemen, in the hope to be able to offer something which will be of interest not only to economists but also to natural scientists generally, I've chosen a problem to discuss, which although derives from my study of economic problems, seems to me to apply in a much wider field. In fact everywhere where the increasing complexity of the phenomena with which we have to deal, forces us to abandon the hope of finding simple explanations of cause and effect. And have to substitute an explanation of the evolution of complex structures. I'd like to speak in this connection of the two problems of spontaneous formation of orders and evolution. Since it is usually an evolution of cases by which alone they can account for, but account to a very limited extent, with the existence of certain types of structures. In this sense I can agree with what Sir John Hicks said yesterday that the degree to which in these sciences we can make predictions is very limited. What I'd like to say in this connection that we are confirmed to pattern predictions to the likelihood of the formation of certain structures. They have never been able to make very special predictions of particular events. And in this sense, as Sir John Hicks indicated, we are scientists of a second order but what we have in common with such an enormous field is a biological theory of evolution, which under strict tests, which Sir John has yesterday suggested, would also not be a science since it is not able to make specific predictions and the same is true in our field. Now, the whole interrelation between the theory of evolution and higher accounts of the existence and formation of complex structure of interaction, has a very complex and paradoxical history. I will allow myself, even if it delays the length of my lecture, to tell you a little about the historical evolution which in itself has had profound effects on our attitude to these phenomena. In recent times the application of evolution to social phenomena has been rather and justifiably discredited when social scientists had to learn from Charles Darwin and developed something known as social Darwinism as if the idea of evolution were originally an idea of the biological sciences. While in fact as a much rathered tradition of evolution in the study of society that can be demonstrated that it was Darwin who borrowed it from the social sciences and not the other way round. There's another deep connection which I want to say a few words. The attitude towards social phenomena particularly higher judgement of various models used is very closely connected with an age old tradition which starts in antiquity with no lesser person than Aristotle, who has given us a wholly a-evolutionary conception of social institution, which through its effect on St. Thomas Aquinas has become the attitude of a large part of Christianity towards everything which amounted to a growing development of civilisation because he had defined as good what was necessary to preserve an existing order without ever asking himself the question how was it ever possible that if all our duty was to provide for the preservation of what is that mankind ever greatly developed. It has even been asserted by a modern economic historian that Aristotle could not have seen the problem of evolution and the problem of the connection of evolution with operating market economy. Because at the time when he lived the market economy, as we call it, which is a result of evolution did not yet exist. On two points I can give you a rather interesting brief evidence, since my assertion that Aristotle did not possess any conception of evolution, which prevented him forever understanding social problems has remarkably been confirmed by the grand latest history of the biological sciences, one of the greatest historians of any modern science which I've recently come across, Ernst Mayr's 'The Growth of Biological Thought'. In which he, to my great satisfaction, since this has been part of my argument for a long time, explicitly argues that the idea that the universe could have a development from an original state of chaos, that higher organism then evolves from lower ones was totally alien to Aristotle's thought. To repeat, Aristotle was opposed to evolution of any kind. Now, that had the profound effect on his views about society which we have inherited from him. The view which I have already suggested that was good which served the preservation of existing institutions. But he never asked himself how in fact in his very lifetime Athens had about doubled in size, a largely increased population had arisen. But he detested the market, as so many intellectuals did. But I will just give you another illustration of how lively the market at the time was. Which comes from a contemporary of Aristotle, one of these writers of comedy of his time from whom only fragments are preserved, but that particular one is especially amusing because Mr. Eubulus, as his name was, with the even then common attitudes of intellectuals to commercial affairs expressed his contempt for the role of the market in a few lines which have been preserved, in which he tells us: figs, salmon, grapes, turnips, pears, apples, sausages, honeycombs, roses, medals, chickpeas, water clocks, metals, lamps, blueberries, laws, impeachments, lawsuits, carts, beastings and the ballot box." Now, that in a society in which the comedians could make themselves fun about the market in such a form clearly the market was most active. Now, why did Aristotle not see it, what effect had it? Well, the fact is that at that time the idea of evolution had hardly yet arisen in any field, except two. The original insight of man and the fact that his institutions have gradually grown, not as a result of intellectual deliberate design, but as a matter of slowly growing tradition existed even then in two fields, law and linguistics. At least the ancient Rome students of law and linguistics were fully aware that these institutions had not been deliberately designed by the human mind but had grown by a process of evolution. And that concept of evolution remained for the next 2.000 years. But in the 18th century things began to change. A new first a remarkable instance at the very beginning of the 18th century, when a man, a Dutch man living in England, called Bernard Mandeville, began to study the formation of institutions and already pointed out four paradigms, or paradigmata as I prefer to call them, of these phenomenon But adding to them morals, money and the market. David Hume was a great figure who took over from Mandeville this idea and created the tradition of Scottish philosophers. And particularly and basically relevant to what I shall be going to say, had the deep insight that human morals are not the design of human reason. An insight of double importance: it followed for him that if human morals were not a design of human reason, it also followed that the reason science did not allow us to judge human morals. You could never derive moral conclusions from purely factual statements. An idea which is nowadays mainly usually ascribed to Max Weber, but was since the time of David Hume was well established. But in this connection of course he arose a problem, what were our morals really due to? And the conclusion from his principle is not that science has nothing to say about morals at all, but that the questions which we can legitimately ask are limited. A question which we can still ask, which we can demand an answer from science is: What are the morals which we have inherited due to? How came it about that we developed those morals and never others? And secondly, until we connected with it, a second question, which is also a scientific question: What have these morals done to us? What has been the effect of mankind developing this particular kind of morals? As a field in which I as an economist had to pursue these problems where they were of enormous importance is the field of the morals of property, honesty and truth. They are all moral rules which are not the creation of human design, which on the human terms we cannot scientifically say whether they are good or bad, unless we look at them from the point of view of what effect they had on the development of humankind, of the number of humans and of their civilisation. This remains a basic question. At the same time we must be aware that the very tradition of several, or as we usually say private property, is that part of our morals which is the most disputed and disliked. That is due to the fact that politically opposed. And that is due to the fact that it truly is a tradition which is neither natural in the sense that it is innate in our physical makeup, nor artificial in the sense of being deliberately made by human reason, because as the Scottish philosophers of the 18th century so clearly understood, man had never deliberately made his society. Indeed, when we look back at history, we find that these traditions never rationally justified were preserved in a variety of groups or communities, because they were confirmed by supernatural beliefs, not scientific reasons, but beliefs which I think I should respectfully call ceremonial truths. They are not truth in the sense of scientific truths, demonstrable truths. But truth in the sense of making men actually do what was good for them. Good for them in the sense of helping them to maintain even larger numbers of themselves. Yet without being able to give the actual reasons why they ought to do them. Truths would stand between the natural insights, which are innate in us, and the rational insights, which we construct from our reason, what is belonged to the intermediate field of tradition, which is a result of a product of selective evolution, in many ways similar to the selective evolution of which for the first time we got a full theory developed by Charles Darwin and the Darwinian school. But there are fundamental respects different from it. I referred before that it was a great misfortune that the social scientists about a hundred years ago had to borrow the idea of evolution from Charles Darwin. And borrowed with it the particular mechanism which Charles Darwin, or rather the neo-Darwinism later, had provided as an explanation of this process of evolution, which was very different from the mechanism of cultural evolution, as I shall call it. Now, that was a misfortune and quite unnecessary misfortune. Due to the fact that it seems that by that time the social scientists had forgotten what was a much older tradition in their own field. And weren't even aware that Charles Darwin developed his ideas largely by learning of the idea in the other field. I believe recently it has even been shown that the crucial idea came to Darwin's mind in 1838 when he was reading - what book? - The Wealth of Nations of Adam Smith. Which of course was a classical exposition of the Scottish idea of evolution and which seems to have been the decisive influence even on Charles Darwin. Darwin himself admitted that he was influenced by the school, but he usually mentioned Malthus as an influence which he recollected, but his notebooks now show that what he was actually reading at the time seems to have been the Wealth of Nations of Adam Smith. And the result is that this first great success in developing an actual theory of evolution, in the field of biology, made people believe that this example had to be followed. I might just insert here another illustration of my story which I have only recently discovered. But this is perhaps more clearly than anything else confirms my basic assumption that the conception of evolution derives from the study of society and was taken over by the study of nature. I can demonstrate very easily that the term 'genetic', which today is an exclusive term for biological evolution, was actually coined in Germany in the 18th century by men like Herder, Wieland and Schiller, and was used in the quite modern term by Wilhelm von Humboldt, long time before Darwin. The Humboldt passages are so interesting that I can even quote them. Humboldt spoke in 1836 about the fact that the definition of language can only be a genetic one ("nur ein genetisches sein kann") and goes on to argue that the formation of language, successively through many stages, like the origin of national phenomena, is clearly a phenomena evolution. All that was ready in the theory of languages, Yet it had been forgotten, or at least ignored, outside the two classical instances of language, law and I may now add economics including some market and money. And when it was reintroduced by the social Darwinists, all the parts of the explanation of the mechanism were also taken over. So my next task will be clearly to distinguish what the social theories of evolution and the biological theories of evolution have in common and what they do not have in common. I shall begin with the much more important differences, before I turn to the crucial but very confined similarity between the two. The differences are the following, and I'm now concentrating on the account of the mechanism of biological evolution given by neo-Darwinism. Darwin was in some of these points still himself not quite sure, particularly on the first point I shall mention. Cultural evolution depends wholly on the transmission of acquired characteristics exactly what is absolutely excluded from modern biological evolution. If one were to compare cultural evolution with biological evolution and not have to compare it with (???25:30) rather than with Darwinian theory. Number two, the transmission of habits and information from generation to generation in cultural evolution does of course not only pass from the physical ancestor to the physical descendants. But in the sense of cultural evolution, all our predecessors may be our ancestors and all the next generation may be our successors. It's not a process proceeding from physical parent to physical child, but proceeding in a wholly different matter. Thirdly, that perhaps is even more important, the process of cultural evolution undoubtedly rests, not on the selection of individuals, but on the selection of groups. Biologists still dispute, I believe, what role group selection plays in biological evolution. There is no doubt that in cultural evolution group selection was the central problem. It were groups which had developed certain kinds of habits, even certain kinds of complementarities between different habits within the same group, which decided the direction of cultural evolution, and in that respect it is fundamentally different from biological evolution. Now, this implies what I shall call number four, perhaps it's already implied, that of course the transmission of cultural evolution is not of innate characteristics, but is all to be learnt in the process of growing up. The contribution of natural evolution to this is a long period of adolescence of man, which gives him a long chance of learning. But what is transmitted in cultural evolution is taught or learnt by imitation. Now, that has produced an immaterial structure of beliefs and opinions, which recently Sir Karl Popper has given the name of World Three. A world of structures which existed, not only because they are known by a multiplicity of people, but yet, in spite of the immaterial character, can be passed on from generation to generation. Finally cultural evolution, because it does not depend on accidental variation and their selection, but on delivered efforts which contribute to it, is infinitely faster than natural evolution can ever be. There is a time of 10,000 or 20,000, or perhaps 40,000 years that modern civilization has grown up, man could have developed all that he has developed by the process of biological evolution is wholly out of the question. In this respect the much greater speed of cultural evolution is decisive. Now, having got here, you will ask: What similarity remains? They are wholly different all together. There are two fundamental similarities between the two, which justify up to a point the application of the same name 'evolution'. The first is that the principle of selection is the same, in biological evolution and in cultural evolution. What is being selected is what contributes to assist man in his multiplication. This assists him in growing in numbers, just as do his physical properties which helps the individuals to survive. So the cultural properties which are being selected are those which helps a group which has adopted it to multiply faster than other groups and transforms (???30:53) gradually to this place and takes the place of Darwinism (???). There's a second close similarity which is very important but generally not understood. And it may even surprise you at first when I mention it. Both biological evolution and cultural evolution do not know any laws of evolution. Laws of evolution in the sense of necessary stages through which the process has to pass. This is a wholly different conception of evolution which asserts since Hegel and Marx and similar thinkers that they have discovered laws or sequences of stages for which the evolution process must pass. There's no justification for such an assertion. Much worse, they are in conflict with the other ideas of evolution. Both biological evolution and cultural evolution consist in a mechanism of adaptation to unknown future events. Now, if there's an adaptation to unknown future events, it's wholly impossible that we should know laws it must follow, because this development is by definition determined by events which we cannot foresee and not know. And that brings me to what ought to have been my simple subject but for which I'm afraid I do not have as much time now as I would like to have. What is the essential subject of the cultural evolution to which I attach such importance? As I indicated before, there are two general characteristics which all civilizations which have survived and expanded have so far possessed and against which all revolutionaries have at all time protested. This is a tradition of several - as I would prefer to call it - private, I prefer to call it several property. And the tradition of the family. I haven't time here to consider any further the tradition of the family. It's a much more difficult problem because I believe there are changes in our factual knowledge which will probably lead to fundamental changes in the tradition of the family. So I confine myself wholly to the proposition of private property, which of course is that tradition against which for 2,000 years all revolutionaries have directed efforts. Nearly all the religious reformers with very few exceptions invented a new religion which abolished several property and usually also the family. But none of these reforms, or none of these revolutionary religions which constantly crop up have ever lasted for more than a hundred years. And I think the most recent one of that type which we also must regard as such religion opposed to property and the family, that of communism, has not yet lasted for its hundred years and I very much doubt that it will reach its hundred years. But all the great religions which have come to expand and to be held by an ever increasing part of the world have these two things in common that they affirmed private property and the family. Not only these monotheistic religions, but also the two or three great eastern religions all agree on these two features. My contention is, it is because they affirmed and preserved those traditions in their groups that these groups were selected for indefinite expansion. Because they made possible some multiplication of the people who obeyed morally restricted by them. Now, such religious support was indispensible. Because if it is true what is my main and starting contention that the morals of private property and use of the family are neither natural in the sense of innate nor rational in the sense of design. It is a great problem why any group should long enough stuck to a habit in order to give the process a chance of it to expand and select only groups which for long periods believed in what I have meant to call symbolic terms. I couldn't remember the word a minute ago. Only traditions which succeeded in making whole to certain symbolic truths would be left to maintain moral rules whose advantages they never understood. It implies the assertion that the institution of private property was never due to the fact that it was a small proportion of a population who could see how private property benefited them, defended their interest. It can only exist in the much larger numbers than those who know that they benefited from private property supported these things. And it was possible only due to religious beliefs which taught it to them. This is what I meant before when I said we owe civilisation who believes which in our modern opinion we no longer regard as true, which are not true in the sense of science, scientific truths, but which nevertheless were a condition for the majority of mankind to submit to moral rules whose functions they did not understand. They could never explain and this indeed to all rational critics appeared very soon to be absurd. Why should people respect private property if this private property seems to benefit only the few people who have it in societies where very soon very much larger numbers are existed than those in the primitive agricultural society still the majority and who owned the instruments of their production. That creates a situation which is historically very interesting. Did mankind really owe its civilisation to beliefs, which in the scientific sense were false beliefs? And further the beliefs which men very much disliked? Because I can't really not very much doubt and if this thesis is true, mankind was civilized by a process which it intensely disliked. They're being made to submit to rules which it neither could understand nor liked. But I believe that this is perfectly true. And I believe I can claim that before the birth of the science of economics, before the 18th century began to explain why the market society could arise only on the basis of institution of private property, it would have been impossible for mankind to ever to multiply as much as it did. And equally it was only in the 18th century, a century David Hume, Adam Smith and his contemporaries did clearly see that the mechanism of selection was that groups were selected which thanks to the institution of private property were able to multiply faster than others. This is of course a criteria which again has become very unpopular, which only the economists and only some of the economists understand. At the present time the general attitude is to think that the multiplication of mankind is a great misfortune, that nothing we have to fear more than the too rapid multiplication of mankind, and we are constantly painted the horror of a society in the near future, which will be a society of standing room only. There are several things to be said about this. I must abbreviate it, or this could be a subject of another interesting lecture. The first is, as a fear of an increase of population leading to impoverishment is wholly unfounded and it has never in history yet happened, that an increase of population lead to people becoming poor. The contrary impression is due to the fact that the concept of poor and rich is mentioned in terms of averages and not in terms of individuals. It is true that economic progress based on the private property and the division of labour leads to a faster increase of the poor than of the rich. With the result that average incomes may indeed fall as a result of the population. But nobody need to have to become poorer for this reason. It only means that the poor have increased more than the rich. Therefore the average is pulled down but nobody has been pulled down as the result of this development. The explanation of this, both of the actual fact and the mistake which derives largely from Malthus, is that with an increase of population human labour must also be subject of decreasing returns. That would be true in a world like the one in which Malthus was largely thinking, where human labour was uniform and nearly all people were working in agriculture. And in such a society indeed an increase of population would lead to the reduction of the product per unit of labour. But the great benefit of an increase of population, he said it makes possible a constant differentiation of human activities. An increase in the quantity of men is not an increase in the number of one factor of production. It's a constant growth of new additional and different factors of production which in collaboration can produce much more. It seems indeed that in a way the increase of population, where it leads to an increase in civilization, brings increasing rather than decreasing returns. Let me repeat, there is no evidence that ever in history an increase of population has led to the real impoverishment of the existing population. There are two or three special cases which I must mention. It has of course happened that when other circumstances destroyed the source of income which made an increase in population possible, great poverty resulted. The classic case of course being Ireland in the 19th century, which on the potato had increased its population to something near four times what it had been before. And when the potato disease struck, removed the source of the income and led to the result that this great increased population could no longer be nourished. Another case which one must consider separately, and that I think ought to give us cause to serious reflection, that there are instances and we are now creating instances, when increase of local population is due not to an increase of that population to produce more, but to foreign help. And that instances probably there will never be space or food for a larger home produced population in these places. I can give you an instance, a much quoted instance of the region immediately south of the Sahara, the so-called Sahel regions, which are clearly not able now to feed their population, and which we are exerted to help to feed. With the result of course that, because there are further increases of population, which will be our responsibility, because for all one knows, they will never have the opportunity in their own region to produce enough. I think that raises extremely serious problems for our present policy of help to some underdeveloped countries. Now, all these changes of course are aspects, are attitude to policy in a great many ways. But the crucial one is still a one towards the necessity and essential condition of the institution of several property, and particularly several property in the means of production as an indispensible instrument of preserving the present population of the mankind. Half the mankind, at least officially, we are told, believes in the opposite. Believes that it is by abolishment of the institution of several property that we not only can still maintain the present population, but that we can provide for it better than we did. Now, if what I'm saying is right, if it is true that I can only hint at, that several property is the indispensible basis of the utilisation of widely dispersed knowledge on which a market economy rests, it means that the opposite view, chiefly represented by communism, would lead not to an improvement of the population, but probably bring it about something like half the present population of the world would die. We have of course very significant illustrations of this. Quite a number of countries who are great exporters of food, so long as they were operated on a market economy, not only Russia, but also Argentina and others, are already no longer able themselves to maintain their own population, which is has not increased a great deal, nothing like as much as the population in the West. But the final conclusion is therefore what seems to be a political conclusion. A conclusion about the consequences of two alternative ethical systems to which the two halves of the world now adhere. If it is true that we can maintain even the present population of the world, only by relying on the whole system of market economy resting on the several properties and the instrument of production. And then this abolition would lead to something like a large proportion of mankind dying of hunger. That would seem an undesirable result, even if the scientists are not allowed to call it undesirable. But I can say the result which most people would not desire if they knew it. And it allows the conclusion which I'm afraid I will draw, even at the risk of totally discrediting this Laureates meeting of scientists here, that the contrary view, which believes that we can do better in maintaining the present population of the world by abolishing several property is well meant but very foolish. Thank you.

Friedrich von Hayek (1983)

Evolution and Spontaneous Order

Friedrich von Hayek (1983)

Evolution and Spontaneous Order

Comment

Friedrich von Hayek received The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences to the Memory of Alfred Nobel together with Gunnar Myrdal in 1974. It was an interesting combination of two ideological opponents, von Hayek representing classical liberalism and free-market capitalism and Myrdal a much more socialist view on economic questions. It is reported that Myrdal did not appreciate having von Hayek as a co-recipient, which might be a reason that Myrdal didn’t give his Prize lecture together with von Hayek, but only several months later. At the Nobel banquet in 1974, von Hayek gave a speech in which he voiced his doubts about the still relatively new prize in economic sciences. One reason, he said, is that a recipient of the prize “is even made to feel it a public duty to pronounce on problems to which one may not have devoted special attention”. But in Lindau 1983, in his lecture originally entitled “Entwicklung und spontane Ordnung”, von Hayek brings up questions that he had given much thought and also written extensively about. We know that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is accepted by most natural scientists. It describes how biological systems spontaneously tend to evolve towards more rational construction and behaviour by the mechanism of natural selection. But is a similar spontaneous evolution taking place in areas of social construction and cultural behaviour? Friedrich von Hayek argues that this is the case. He underlines the complexity of the social systems and gives an historic overview reaching all the way back to Aristotle. Since von Hayek not only was an economist but also a well renowned political philosopher, every word in his lecture seems to be of importance. But one has to concentrate hard, since he delivers the lecture in English with a rather strong accent.

Anders Bárány

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