Complexity in Nature

DiZerega, Gamble, and O’Neill seek to extend Hayek’s theory by observing that his arguments concerning complex systems are general in form and not limited to the particular systems he happens to discuss. Where there are complex, self-organizing systems on which humanity relies; where we cannot completely control these systems but may still undermine them through our actions; and where we cannot accurately foresee the full consequences of interfering with these systems, Hayek’s account would seem to recommend principled deference to the mechanisms underlying their functionality. This conclusion should hold for any system with the characteristics just enumerated. At the level of theory, there is nothing about market economies that makes them uniquely worthy of respect.

DiZerega, Gamble, and O’Neill contend that the ecological domain contains complex, self-organizing systems on which people rely—systems that we cannot completely control but that can be undermined through our actions, and that are insufficiently understood to enable accurate assessments of the costs and benefits of interference. Hence they argue that Hayek’s arguments should extend to these systems as well. As DiZerega has stated, consistency requires Hayekians to affirm the need to protect natural ecosystems in the same principled manner—and for essentially the same reasons—that governs their advocacy for markets (1992, 357; 1996a, 10-11; 1996b, 730-31). O’Neill likewise remarks that the complacent attitude that Hayek seemingly exhibits toward environmental issues represents a “failure to apply his own strictures about ignorance and complexity to human abilities to know and control complex open systems in the natural world” (2012, 1081).

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