Socioeconomic Creationism

Patri's recent post on economic creationism reminds me of a similar analogy that's been on my mind recently, though I call it socioeconomic creationism. While Patri is correct in identifying the rejection of science shared by metaphysical and economic creationists, I think the similarities run deeper than this. Metaphysical and socioeconomic creationists both commit the same basic fallacy; the only difference is that they apply it to different sets of phenomena.

Metaphysical creationisism is the rejection of the idea that the physical features of the world around us and/or life are the product of spontaneous order, instead insisting that they must be the product of some form of intelligent design.

Socioeconomic creationism is the rejection of the idea that the social and economic features of the society in which we live are the product of spontaneous order, instead insisting that they must be the product of some form of intelligent design.

For example, if some have much more wealth than others, the socioeconomic creationist believes that this is the product of government policies specifically designed to transfer wealth from the many to the few, rather than the natural result of market transactions between people of disparate abilities and preferences.

If the average man makes more than the average woman, the socioeconomic creationist concludes that this must be due to the misogynistic oppression of women, rather than the natural outcome of men and women having different preferences, opportunity costs, and/or abilities.

From the recent increase in the price of gasoline, the socioeconomic creationist infers a conspiracy among greedy oil producers and gasoline refiners, rather than recognizing that this is the natural and predictable result of rapidly-growing demand coupled with relatively inelastic supply.

In both forms, I think the fallacy is the same. Lacking a clear understanding of how spontaneous order works, creationists fail to see how it can produce the phenomena they observe, and from this they infer the existence of a designer.

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Of course, this argument

Of course, this argument would only work if there were a genuinely free market.

Not at all

Why must something be either 100% true or 100% false?

We live in mixed economies. Laws of economics still apply, for the most part, to mixed economies. The reason Michael Jordan is rich is that a lot of people were willing to voluntarily give up a part of their income to watch him play. It has nothing to do with a central planner.

Obviously, some jobs are directly tied to govt handouts, like being the CEO of a company that only exists due to subsidies, or working for the IRS, or being a union-worker that has monopoly privilege via law. And even for those positions, there's a process by which people achieve those positions that often does not rely on central planners, i.e., to work for the IRS, you have to get a college degree, apply for the job, interview, etc. Obviously, the vast majority of people would be better off without those rules, but in relatively freer countries, IMO, you can make a somewhat valid assumption that people who are better off are better off because of "different preferences, opportunity costs, and/or abilities" as Brandon wrote above, and not because of central planning.

Obviously the solution to a

Obviously the solution to a society where bad policies are adopted by people who erroneously attribute social institutions to design rather than evolution is to design a set of social institutions from scratch and try them out at sea, right? (I know I'm not being reasonable, I just couldn't resist saying it.)

Seasteading, anarchy, and libertarianism

For the benefit of those who aren't familiar with Seasteading, I'll point out that the value of Seasteading is precisely that it doesn't rely on a single design of social institutions, but that it promotes multiple, competing, pluralist designs by reducing the cost of exit and making it easier to form new communities with new social institutions. The same can be said, to a lesser extent, about anarchism as opposed to libertarianism, in that anarchism allows for lots of different kinds of social institutions to develop and compete with each other for customers. And libertarianism, of course, while less pluralistic than either anarchy or Seasteading, is more pluralistic than pretty much any other political ideology out there. So if you were to rank these concepts in terms of the ones closest to a fully unplanned, spontaneous order of social institutions to the ones furthest away, it would be: Seasteading->anarchy->libertarianism->other forms of liberalism->non-liberal ideologies.

If you're going to be unreasonable...

...at least use a recognizable alias.

True in a free market

Not to say it can't also be true in a less than free market, but clearly institutions do matter; and laws can indeed make some better or worse off at the expense of others.

Socioeconomic creationism is the rejection of the idea that the social and economic features of the society in which we live are the product of spontaneous order, instead insisting that they must be the product of some form of intelligent design.

In a free market, they are the product of a spontaneous order. In a planned society, was it spontaneous order that led to planning? This isn't obvious.

For example, if some have much more wealth than others, the socioeconomic creationist believes that this is the product of government policies specifically designed to transfer wealth from the many to the few, rather than the natural result of market transactions between people of disparate abilities and preferences.

In a free market, wealth follows disparate abilities, under planning wealth is transferred from the many to the few. So, while your analysis holds well for free markets, institutions do, of course, matter.

The problem is that people tend to fall into your fallacy wrt the free market, and assume planning can make it better.

I have always agreed with

I have always agreed with this, Brandon, but let me offer a devil's advocate view that twists what you say just a tad. It's wholly possible for someone to accept your view of the creation of socieconomic phemonena out of the primordial socio-soup, yet still believe that it can be made better. The analogy is not that these people are "socioeconomic creationists" akin to evolutionary creationsts, but that they are "socioeconomic engineers" akin to biogenetic engineers. The latter, while still accepting evolutionary theory, does not see what evolution has wrought as being the best state of being, and thus use science to improve upon it. Likewise, the socieconomic engineer accepts socioeconomic evolution as explaining the current state of being, yet sees room to improve upon matters.

Now, there are obvious problems with my analogy, and certainly we see everywhere we look examples of arguments that obviously flow from "socioeconomic creationist" thinking; however, more sophisticated people could make "socioeconomic engineering" arguments independent from the creationist point of view, and we could be getting close to making a strawman argument if we did not also specificallly respond to the mistakes in the engineer's arguments.

Right.

To clarify, I'm not saying that all non-libertarians are socioeconomic creationists--some of the more sophisticated critics of libertarianism are, as you say, socioeconomic engineers, not creationists. Socioeconomic creationism is mostly a populist thing.

Re: Socioeconomic Creationism

For example, if some have much more wealth than others, the socioeconomic creationist believes that this is the product of government policies specifically designed to transfer wealth from the many to the few, rather than the natural result of market transactions between people of disparate abilities and preferences.

Well. Isn't it empirically true that there are specific government policies which, either through design or through unintended consequences, tend to profit the rich, hinder and impoverish the poor, or do both at the same time? If you doubt it, I can name some examples.

Can you think of any actual examples of people who fall back on the claim that poverty is substantially caused by government policies, rather than by voluntary market forces, who do so because they're simply unable to understand how spontaneous orders work? Every proponent of such a claim that I can think of (Kevin Carson, Roderick Long, Brad Spangler, Benjamin Tucker, Lysander Spooner, Gabriel Kolko...) is relatively clear on the notion of spontaneous order; they get to the conclusion that government policies cause poverty not by explanatory default, but rather because they can point to a bunch of concrete examples of government policies that really do this.

In my experience, most of the real "socioeconomic creationists" with regard to wealth, tend to attribute poverty to tightly coordinated conspiracies ("international bankers" and the like), or else to the personal greed and vices of individual business people, not to structural factors like government policy.

If the average man makes more than the average woman, the socioeconomic creationist concludes that this must be due to the misogynistic oppression of women, rather than the natural outcome of men and women having different preferences, opportunity costs, and/or abilities.

You seem to be presupposing that "misogynistic oppression of women" and "spontaneous order" are two mutually exclusive explanations of the situation. But why make that claim? There's nothing in the concept of a spontaneous order that requires that all spontaneous orders be benign. It may be that if certain kinds of ignorance, folly, or vice are widely distributed throughout the population, then lots of little individual acts of stupidity or evil will, without the design of the participants, add up to a large-scale, malign spontaneous order that goes beyond the intentions of the participants.

"Preferences, opportunity costs, and/or abilities" aren't the only factors that can contribute to the individual decisions from which a spontaneous order emerges. And not all "preferences, opportunity costs, and/or abilities" are independent of prevalent prejudices and traditions, either.

Can you think of any actual

Can you think of any actual examples of people who fall back on the claim that poverty is substantially caused by government policies, rather than by voluntary market forces, who do so because they're simply unable to understand how spontaneous orders work?

Well, I don't how well he understands how spontaneous orders work, but the kind of person that comes to mind is an unreconstructed Marxists like G. A. Cohen. Although given Cohen's treatment of Nozick's Wilt Chamberlain example, I think Cohen would agree that Wilt Chamberlain is rich as a "natural result of market transactions between people of disparate abilities and preferences," but also claim that allowing these sorts of market transactions to take place (or allowing Chamberlain to keep the fruits of the market transactions) is inherently unjust, and that a government that allows Chamberlain to keep his income is unjustly "transfer[ing] wealth from the many to the few" by allowing Chamberlain to keep money that is not rightfully his (even though he "earned" it).

Lots of intelligent redistributionist socialists argue along the same lines; it's not that they don't understand how markets and spontaneous orders work; they simply don't care (presumably because they disapprove of what they expect the results of markets to be, compared to the better results of their preferred alternative system). I'd include people like Noam Chomsky in this category.

Micha: Lots of intelligent

Micha:

Lots of intelligent redistributionist socialists argue along the same lines; it's not that they don't understand how markets and spontaneous orders work; they simply don't care ....

Right, which is why they don't provide a good example of someone who falls back on government causes of poverty by explanatory default, either. Their position is wrong, but not because they (like biological creationists) fail to understand the concept of spontaneous self-organizing systems.

Serious Marxist theory, for example, actually involves quite sophisticated use of the concept of spontaneous order in explaining the emergence, sustenance, internal conflicts, and ultimate collapse of the capitalist class structure. (The idea is certainly not that all the evil capitalists got together in a big meeting and made a big plan for taking over the world and exploiting the workers. Any serious Marxist theorist would very quickly trash a theory like that as a form of "utopian socialism" and a case study in "bourgeois individualism.") Of course, most of serious Marxist theory (as well as Cohen's egalitarianism) is wrong, but it's wrong for reasons other than being somehow "creationist."

There are lots of people who do fail to get the concept, but they're mostly concentrated among the most vulgar of vulgar Marxists, and the usual lot of nativist pseudo-populists, economic conservatives, and Social Democrats who take up most of the space in mainstream American political debate. None of whom, as far as I can recall, have ever leaned much on the government as a supposed cause of poverty or socioeconomic inequality. (Conservatives who make the typical conservative arguments against AFDC/TANF and other forms of government welfare may be an exception; but they don't claim that urban poverty is being caused by deliberate government efforts to create it. And they rarely say that poverty as such is caused by government action. They take urban poverty as we know it more or less for granted and then claim that government welfare programs make it worse.)

I emphatically urge everyone

I emphatically urge everyone to read Rad Geek's article in The Freeman, which I belive he's already referenced. Here it is again: http://www.fee.org/publications/the-freeman/article.asp?aid=8204

To talk science you must walk the empirical walk

if you want to talk in terms of science you must realize, as others above have noted, that empirical evidence to the contrary is detrimental to your theory/metaphor. Of course in a truly unconstrained natural system there will be a bell curve but there are plenty of documented cases of systemic issues which cause our economy not to be that perfect capitalist market, whether they be societal or governmental.

I think it might be more helpful to extend the metaphor to one of population ecology. Just as different populations of species exert selective pressure on each other, creating a population dynamic, the economic system does the same.

The government is one of these species and does exact downward selective pressure on different groups at different rates. however, just as food and water availability create upward selective pressure things like racism, parents socioeconomic status, and geographic location also play a role in determining a populations success.

i think my problem with your argument is the examples you use which have obvious imperical counter arguments which argue for the effect of government or entrenched mysoginy on womens wages and oil prices, for example. Categorically calling someone an economic creationist because they see evidence that outside factors exert control on economics, or that one subset of the economy or government works to artificially affect another part, is hard to fathom. i like Trents metaphor of an economic engineer, although in this case it would be an economic Fish and Wildlife Service helping to stabilize populations and bring them into balance (flattening the various bell curves to some extent to benefit the greater ecological system and keep all the species alive and well)

Yet you're governmental creationists.

That's right, markets are produced from the natural interaction of human beings but government was placed on earth by the old ones using eldritch magic. See, I can be absurdly pretentious too.

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socioeconomic creationalism.

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