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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.

– Frederick Hayek, The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism

4 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Sometimes, I like to think that Computable Model Theory could point to a mathematical basis for “demonstrat[ing] to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design”. Despite the name, it has little to do with computer simulations currently used for predicting large systems (and usually failing). Instead, it’s a mathematically rigorous basis for determining what you can and cannot conclude about systems described by sets of assertions.

    The reason it would demonstrate “how little they really know” is that just about any system whose description includes an assertion in the form “There exists something that has this property… ” ends up being at least as complicated to compute as the Halting Set. In other words, it’s beyond our current ability to compute, and it’s a fair bet it always will be.

    As much as I like this idea, though, I have to temper my optimism: One of the people whose work is fundamental to this field is Noam Chomsky.

  • The Sanity Inspector

    That sounds like sometime Nassim Nicholas Taleb might say.

  • Paul Marks

    A good point by Hayek – but like his hero David Hume, Hayek overstates the point.

    Many things ARE consciously designed – and if they are not understood they decay and fall apart. Many things do NOT just appear by evolution – they are CHOSEN and they are MAINTAINED, and if they are not chosen and not maintained they do not come to be – or they decay and go. Many things have to be understood and defended out of the knowledge of what they are – “that is just the way we do things here” will not withstand the storms of time.

    The “Great Divide” is not, as Hayek would have claimed, between what is designed and what is evolved – the Great Divide is between what is VOLUNTARILY chosen and what is IMPOSED BY FORCE.

  • Nullius in Verba

    Many different things are designed, both good and bad. But we can only tell the difference between the good ones and the bad ones if we let the ones to survive be the ones volunarily chosen, rather than imposed by forced. ‘Good’ is defined by what people want.

    Evolution is still the mechanism by which we sort the good designs from the bad. Voluntary choice means our definition of the ‘fittest’ takes account of everyone’s needs and desires, not just those of the designer, or an elite who know what is best for us.

    Hayek’s point was that individually we simply don’t have the information to know what is a good design and what is a bad one. Good for who? How do you weigh the competing preferences and needs of billions of people? His point was not really about whether or not people can design, but about whether designers can accurately judge the results.