Thursday, August 03, 2006


Is Spontaneous Order always best?

Upon returning home from work yesterday, I noticed that the DOT was painting arrows denoting the turn and straight lanes where my street meets St. Mary's Street (a rather busy street at certain times). My first reaction was to be thrilled! I often wait in traffic at that very light.

Upon reflection, I realized that most people (local residents, for eaxmple) already knew the pattern - the arrows would be completely useless to them. The new arrows will only help the few who rarely travel my street.

I started wondering - can we really improve on the Spontaneous Order? At what cost? Are there instances where Spontaneous Order is insufficient?

Well, I'm not sure I would discount the benefit to "new" people so quickly. If that "new" person happens to be driving an ambulance to your house, then road arrows and street signs could mean a lot to both of you.

But I don't think there's any reason that road arrows and street signs wouldn't "emerge" from a decentrally planned traffic system.

In that sense, they could be part of the "spontaneous order".
Spontaneous Order could very well include sensor-based signal lights, so in effect there would be no central planning -- simply traffic flow 'directing' traffic.

In theory, central planning could be more efficient than the Spontaneous Order of markets. I just have never seen it in practice.
What do you mean by "efficient"?

That is left up to the imagination of the reader.

An interesting question. A similar question could be asked of the master of "spontaneous order". Take it away Hayek!

"The marvel is that in a case like that of a scarcity of one raw material, without an order being issued, without more than perhaps a handful of people knowing the cause, tens of thousands of people whose identity could not be ascertained by months of investigation, are made to use the material or its products more sparingly; i.e., they move in the right direction."

What is the "right" direction?
To clarify, that paragraph is refering to how prices direct people's behavior in the "right" direction.
In the case of traffic, I think the efficiency question is fairly simple to answer. Efficiency means that each person gets to his intended location in the fastest and safest way possible. Given, of course, that there are tradeoffs between fast and safe.)

In other areas, it's more difficult to identify efficiency, or "the right direction."
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