The Pretence of knowledge

Historically people ceased living in tribes and formed society because of the greater efficiency of the division of labor.  Slowly, over the span of generations, complex social patterns developed.

People specialized in various crafts and productions were organized in increasingly deep chains. New technologies were gradually developed. Complex trade patterns developed to finally span the globe. The usage of money replaced barter. Tools and machinery were increasingly used and improved. Common law and customs developed to make rules and deal with disputes.

Today the division of labor forms a very complex global web of relations. Billions of people with different backgrounds wants, dreams, qualifications and geographical location participate. Each influence this big mutual cooperation by their decisions about where to work, what to do at work, where to live, how to specialize what to buy and what not to buy, how to save, how much to save etc. Each person strives in his everyday face with reality. Decisions are made some are good and are rewarded others less good with lessons for adjustment to be made.

This global division of labor is astonishingly complex. Indeed it is so complex that it is impossible for anyone to see all relations no less understand them. And even if someone somehow at one point in history should grasp and understand it all the knowledge would the next minute be outdated as as billions of people make new decisions, new developments and new connections.

This was the profound insight in the Nobel Lecture by F.A. Hayek in 1974 entitled “The Pretence of knowledge”. The social sciences, the study of human action, are inherently complex. It is impossible for anyone in detail to understand the complex operation of society.

This is a lesson to be learned for all the *great leaders* who see it their task to “fix” society:

Don’t try fixing something you don’t understand. Try also a little humility. Society combined consists of billions of people. Although you think you are smart those billions of people combined are light years smarter than you. Although you think you know a lot; those billions of people combined know by far more than you.

In short; If you care for the welfare of your fellow men. Leave them alone and free to live their lives as they see best. Please get out of the way. Laissez nous faire!

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Filed under: on October 12, 2010 at 8:49 am Comments Off

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