We talk a lot about emergent, or spontaneous, order here at Tuttle Twins. But how is emergent order different from central planning and which is best?
Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Ronni: Hey, Brittany.
Brittany: Hi, Ronni.
Ronni: Okay, so I am pretty sure that you’re very familiar with the book, The Tuttle Twins and the Miraculous Pencil. Right?
Brittany: Not only am I familiar with the book, but I used to work for an organization called The Foundation for Economic Education, and Matt Leonard Reed, the founder is who wrote I Pencil, which the book is about.
Ronni: Yeah. So you’re definitely quite familiar then.
Brittany: Oh, I’m familiar, yep.
Ronni: So, the main focus of the book is this idea of something called spontaneous order, which sounds kind of like a big concept. How would you describe that since you worked for?
Brittany: And we’ve done a few episodes long time ago on kind of trying to explain it, but it’s hard to explain. So spontaneous, let’s break it down. Spontaneous is something that just happens, right? There’s no planning. It’s like the opposite of planning. It just happens. And then order, of course, order. So, spontaneous order is like when you get an ordered society or something ordered without somebody pulling the strings, without an authority figure, without a government stepping in and telling people what to do. It would be like if there’s a bunch of kids playing at recess or playing on the playground and well, I guess the bell would, we’ll just say the bell rings. I don’t know who’s in public school and who’s in the bell rings. And instead of your teacher saying, everybody lined up, the kids knew what was going on. They knew what works or actually, here’s a better example. So let’s say you’re playing basketball with friends after school or whatever, and you need to break up into teams. I know when I was a kid, we just picked a team captain, and then everybody just kind of picked, it’s basically your ability to organize without someone being there telling you what to do. So if you were that kid picking basketball teams, a teacher didn’t have to step in and tell you, okay, this is what you have to do. You just did it because you didn’t need somebody else to tell you how to do it. So that’s spontaneous order. It’s when an order is created without planning. The government always tries to do with the economy and everything else.
Ronni: Yeah, I like that you talked about the social spontaneous order as well, because I know in the miraculous pencil, it focuses mostly on spontaneous order, but then production, no one knows how a pencil is made because so many different people play a part. So it’s a miracle, and we need everyone to be able to do their jobs so that we can create this one pencil. Now there’s another word for spontaneous order. So if you’re looking up information online or reading more about it, you’ll also hear emergent order. So, as you mentioned, spontaneous order or emergent order, you can use either term. They pretty much mean the same thing, I believe. Right? Have you heard that? They mean.
Brittany: Oh yes, they’re interchangeable.
Ronni: I was like, I think they’re the same thing. I prefer
Brittany: Spontaneous emergence seems like less fun to me. I like when she’s like, oh, it’s spontaneous order.
Ronni: Maybe so. But I have heard people then say emergence, which I think can also kind of be like a math term. Maybe that’s why I lean more towards, oh.
Brittany: That’s really interesting, the numbers girl, and I’m the anything but numbers girl.
Ronni: So, as you mentioned, the spontaneous order, I’m just going to say emergent order in this episode, but it means the same thing. But that applies to other things other than production. And so I was thinking about all the different things that we have in today’s world that only came about because of emergent order. These are not things that could have been done with central planning. Oh, lemme jump in and explain central planning. So Brittany, what do you think central planning means as opposed to emergent order?
Brittany: So, central planning is when a government, usually somebody is intervening and calling the shots. Adam Smith talked about this invisible hand that runs the market, which is just when people work with each other to see what we need and working together to build pencils, things like that. Now, the government’s central planning is when the government tries to plan all that out. There’s no invisible hand. There’s no invisible force. It’s just the government saying, you’re going to do this, it’s going to cost this. You’re going to only make this money and you’re going to only sell it to these people and at this store. So that’s what central planning is. It’s when a central authority, a central government is doing all the planning.
Ronni: I always like to think in my head when I think central planning, I think of centrally planned cities, and then somebody is like, we’re going to make the city just like this road is here. This house is here. It must be built like this. So I always think for some reason, that’s the visual I get in my head.
Brittany: And zoning laws are some of the worst.
Ronni: Zoning Laws. But so going back to emergent order, I like to think of all the different ways, all the different things that we have in today’s world that are amazing. And that only came about because people were free to create on their own. So one of the biggest things in today’s world, of course, is the internet. I mean, the internet is such an enormous part of our lives. But here’s a question. Who created the internet? Do you know?
Brittany: No, I don’t.
Ronni: Well, what would that look like to create the internet? I mean, we say the internet code, right?
Brittany: It would just be code.
Ronni: Yeah. Well, the internet is honestly kind of a nebulous thing, meaning that it’s not clearly defined. It’s just our communication through our networking communication. But what we all know is the internet is basically just refers to the entire system. So I think there was a time when it, was it Al Gore maybe who had that claim that he invented the internet?
Brittany: He created the internet. That’s right.
Ronni: I don’t think he actually did. But because the internet as we know it now, was not created by anyone, it couldn’t have been go back to when the first network connection was. I don’t even know what year that was. Was it 1970s?
Brittany: Actually? It has been, yeah. Yeah. It may have been, I don’t know.
Ronni: Something. I could be a guest. I’m sure someone out there listening already knows the answer and they’re like, come on, Ronni, it’s this year. But whoever first came up with the whole idea of the network connections for computers, there was no way that they could have planned nor foresaw how we use the internet in today’s world. Sure maybe they had an idea that it could be this big thing, but how we use in all the intricacies they could have never seen. So the internet was not created by a person. It’s an example of emergent order or spontaneous order. What about the roadway system? Do you know anything about ancient history or how our roads came to be?
Brittany: I don’t know how our roads came to be. I know that there are some places, but our roads are pretty centrally planned now, unfortunately. But I know there’s places, I think it’s Germany where you have the Autobahn, which has no rules, but it is still built it. But people just drive however fast they want to. But I don’t know the history of roads other than trading. They were used for trading.
Ronni: I don’t know all the history of roads, but you mentioned an interesting point that I want to touch on, which is you said our roads are centrally planned and that they have a system. Well, where do you think that our road rules came from? How do you think those developed over time? Do you think just one person one day sat down and said, Hey, I’m going to create all of the traffic rules everywhere and this is how they’re going to work. Do you think that they slowly evolved over time?
Brittany: I think they probably at first slowly evolved over time, and then the government stepped in and just did whatever they wanted to do. That’s usually what happens.
Ronni: I agree with that, except I think that there is an underlying spontaneous order to our roadway system because a lot of our roadway system thinks things like a roundabouts. A lot of places don’t have them, but a lot of places do have them. Where did roundabouts come from? It’s because somewhere, I don’t know where, somewhere in Europe they use them, and after they’ve been using them for a while, other people picked up on, Hey, this is a good idea. And slowly they kind of infiltrated. We have some roundabouts in our city, but where I grew up, there weren’t roundabouts. So ideas like that are still being picked from different places throughout time. And our roadway system is, I believe it’s actually an example of spontaneous order, even though it may seem that now it’s planned by the government, but they got their plan.
Brittany: I like the roundabout example though. I always think about that. I’m like, if everything was just roundabouts, we’d probably be fine without any traffic lights or anything because roundabouts just, it’s spontaneous order to me. It’s all right, you start here and we’ll just work each other in. That’s funny to me. But yeah, no, another cool thing about this that I like, sorry to cut you off just at some point, is if you watch a flock of birds is one of my favorite things. Birds aren’t telling each other. There’s no set plan of where the birds are going to go. But if you watch them when they’re migrating, they all flow together. It’s like you look like it looks like it’s one thing, but no one planned it. It’s just this emergent, the spontaneous order. And I always think that’s a really cool example.
Ronni: I love that you brought that up because when I was reading about emergent order, and I didn’t get deep into this, but one example is apparently ant colonies and ant colonies also do the same thing. That’s how they work. So, we talked a little bit about central planning and how central planning, maybe at first it seems like a good idea because it seems, oh, we’ll put together this whole city and it’s all going to be laid out perfectly. And look, we planned it. You guys get to live here. Yay. So it sounds like that, but when you limit the ability for just regular people to be able to come up with things on their own, you end up getting so much more like an enriched environment because there’s no way, even the best city planners, or best if they’re doing the planned city, there’s no way they can think of every single possible detail interaction or new ideas that is going to arise individually from that group of people. And if you stifle that at the beginning, then you’re never going to see whatever new innovations come up. Do you remember, I think we talked about this a couple of months ago, and I know it was an article in the magazine, but we were talking about the Dutch farmer’s protest, and then we contrasted. So that was because the government was stepping in and saying, we need fewer carbon emissions. So, farmers, you have to do this. And the government was enforcing that and it led to all this horrible stuff for the farmers. And we contrasted that idea with the students who created that machine that could remove the styrofoam from the water. And what I loved about that is it showed when you allow people to create and innovate on their own, you come up with such better ideas than trying to force down and just say, oh no, we can’t do anything that makes gas emissions anymore. So you probably already know that, but it’s essential.
Brittany: But we’re not talking about, we’re talking to wonderful listeners. No, but I love this. Is spontaneous orders one of my favorite topics in the world, so. To me, that’s what we’re all about. We could do a million episodes on this and keep doing new parts of it. To me, it’s so important.
Ronni: Yeah, I know we’re just about some of the episodes, but the last thing I wanted to throw out is a big topic that everyone’s talking about lately is the World Economic Forum. And I think one of the reasons everyone is aware of it is because they pretty much want to do central planning of the entire world. They want to organize the entire world and tell us how we can function with our cities and how we can order things that can be delivered by drones and how we can’t own anything and all of that fun stuff. But that’s one of the main reasons why the World Economic Forum feels so dangerous, is because its ideals are to be totally centrally planned and not allow for spontaneous or emergent order, which is the natural organizing of people.
Brittany: And it’s also, we’ve talked about this before. We’ll talk about another because you’re giving me some good ideas, which is the knowledge problem, which is that belief that people think they have enough knowledge to plan for each of us, and it’s just so silly they can’t. So, alright, well, this is such a good topic. Again, I think we could do so many of these. And I know, Ronni, you said a word that I would like to do. I’m going to bug you to do a whole episode on this because I saw you talk about the word fractal and fractals are my favorite thing. That’s the only time I care about math. We’re going to have to do that.
Ronni: Talk about math it is definitely about math.
Brittany: So, thank you for listening, guys, and don’t forget to like and subscribe to the podcast and share with your friends. And until next time, we’ll talk to you soon.
Ronni: All right, see you later.