Market Ecology

I’m finally trying to read all the way through Hayek’s The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism (I had begun reading it years ago, but never completed it).

I know that there’s some controversy about how much of it was written by Hayek himself, and how much was written by W. W. Bartley III, but however the work was divided I’m finding the book rewarding. There are lots of good ideas in it. I was familiar with the major points already, but not with this particular presentation.

I’ve just read the chapter entitled “Our Poisoned Language” in which Hayek complains that many of the words (e.g., Liberal, Society, Social, Capitalism) used to describe aspects of the nature of the extended order have been corrupted to the point where it’s difficult to communicate about the subject because of the ambiguities and erroneous baggage that these words now convey.

One interesting issue is that of “Capitalism” (which, I didn’t know, made its first appearance in 1902). I was under the impression that it was much older and had meant laissez faire economics until recently, but it seems that it’s long been tainted with the notion that it’s just a mechanism for serving the special interests of the few large holders of capital, rather than the mechanism that enables all people to collaborate and prosper. “Market Economy” is somewhat better but, as Hayek notes, being an economy still connotes that it is designed and driven by particular individual plans, rather than the structure of the collaboration of many different economies in which no individuals could possibly know enough to direct it. Hayek has proposed “catallactics” to replace economics and “catallaxy” to be its object of study. But, that hasn’t taken off.

I was thinking about it and it seems to me that maybe something like Market Ecology might work better to describe what we mean (I see from web searches that the term is already in use, and has meanings that are different from what I intend).

The benefit I have in mind is that many on the left already appreciate that natural ecology is not a tool that we should manipulate, but it’s a wonderful system of complex processes and feedback mechanisms, most of which we don’t understand and shouldn’t be so arrogant to think we can easily improve on it by interfering with it. Leave it alone. It works great without a designer or director.

If only they had that much respect for the market system.


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