Posts Tagged ‘spontaneous order’

Ban the Traffic Light?

August 11, 2012

by Gene Callahan

Joseph Fetz’s blog alerted me to an interesting video comparing the same intersection in New Zealand on a day when its traffic light was out versus the next day with the light back in operation. The video certainly illustrates the fact that people’s ability to achieve spontaneous order can be greater than one might suspect at first: many people would guess that the day without the light would be chaotic by comparison to the one with it, but traffic actually seems to flow better with the light off. Read the rest of this entry »

Spontaneous or Planned: A Sharp Dichotomy, or a Gradient?

July 18, 2012

by Gene Callahan

I am writing a solicited comment for Dan Klein’s new book, Knowledge and Coordination: A Liberal Interpretation, for the journal Studies in Emergent Order. This is an especially interesting task for me, as Klein’s topic is obviously vital to my preliminary work on social cycles. And Dan is always an intelligent and engaging writer, so this should be a fun project. I find it helpful, in the interest of getting a paper done, to blog my thoughts as I go along, so here we go:

The first thing of importance I have noted is Klein, at least in the opening chapter, seems to posit a sharp dichotomy between spontaneous orders and planned orders. He uses the example of roller skaters in a rink: either they are each skating purely as they wish, or their movements are entirely planned by a “wise” planner. (This may well be modified by Klein later, but even if so, I have seen others treat this topic as if this was a simple dichotomy, so my remarks are, I think, worth making anyway.)

But real social orders are rarely (ever?) of either extreme. The extremes are ideal types, and real orders more or less instantiate the types. Read the rest of this entry »

Individually Unintelligent but Collectively Brilliant

July 24, 2011

by Mario Rizzo

Today on CBS Sunday Morning there was a very interesting program about ants. In the aggregate inept creatures create amazing structures. And what’s more they do it without central direction. However, they are extremely specialized. They follow, in effect, fairly rigid rules, involving imitating the actions of other ants of like kind. They do complicated things with simple rules. Arguably, one of the scientists interviewed said, humans are too smart. From the point of view of society, it pays to have mostly ignorant individuals making “stupid” choices but leaving the overall order unplanned.

There are fairly obvious connections between this story and the discussions about economists of zero-information traders that produce efficient social outcomes.

I have two main reactions.

  1. What is human intelligence for? The story of the ants gives the impression (through the program’s discussion about certain human parallels) that intelligence gets in the way. Why has evolution produced the conscious deliberately choosing mind?
  2. I hate the ants and their society. This was a visceral reaction in part but also in part a reflective society. I would not like to live in a society in which people did not reflect on themselves and on the social order.

While I think we can learn much from studying ants and their societies, I think we need to think more deeply about what is relevant to human societies. And why.