Can we intentionally improve the world? Planners vs Hayekians

Hayekian view:
`1. It’s very hard to predict in advance how a plan will affect the world.

  1. Most plans to improve the world have failed, some catastrophically (see: Marxism).
  2. Most improvements to the world were not the result of planning, but rather the result of some mixture of serendipity and people pursuing their own ends.
  3. If we all limited ourselves to projects whose social value can be justified, then we’ll be stuck exploring a narrow slice of project-space, and will be missing out on some of the highest-value projects simply because they didn’t seem valuable from within our current, limited worldview.
  4. Therefore, the optimal approach to improving the world is for each of us to pursue projects we find interesting or exciting. In the process, we should keep an eye out for ways those projects might yield opportunities to produce a lot of social value — but we shouldn’t aim directly at value-creation.
    The lines between Planners and Hayekians start to blur in some interesting grey-area cases, such as Bell Laboratories, which produced some of the 20th century’s most valuable innovations (lasers, transistors, information theory, etc.). On the one hand, Bell Labs was funded by AT&T with the explicit goal of producing valuable innovations, which makes it seem like a point for the Planners. But on the other hand, one thing that made Bell Labs distinctive was how much free rein its researchers were given to explore projects that were interesting to them, without having to produce short-term results or justify their work in terms of a bottom line.

Published

2017

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