The Fatal Conceit

Why are there are more of us humans now than 100, 300 or 10,000 years ago?

Some reasons are external and beyond our control.  For example, we benefited from the Earth not having collisions with large asteroids or comets recently.

Other reasons are in our control.  It’s those reasons that F.A. Hayek writes about in his book, The Fatal Conceit.

In the book, he explores the idea that over time, through many trials and errors, humans discovered ways of interacting with one another that result in more of us.  Those ways of interaction that produce more of us aren’t necessarily right or wrong and were not developed by design.  They just happen to work or not.

We naturally use those ways in our daily interactions.  Why did you give a friendly wave to the driver that let you merge into traffic?  Why did you stop at the stop sign?  Why did you pay for the coffee?  Why did the coffee shop sell it?  Why did you leave a tip for the waitress?  Why did you not take the tip that was still on the table from the previous customers?

We know those interactions as law, tradition, social norms, human rights, beliefs, etiquette, prudence, respect, benevolence, propriety and property rights.  These interactions evolve over time based on what works and what doesn’t.  We each learn these standards from trial and error and socialization with older generations and sometimes we contribute to their evolution when we try something different and it works.

Those ways of interacting have allowed each of us to live a more prosperous life as we benefit every minute of every day from voluntary actions of an extended order — or a large number of people we don’t know, haven’t met and may never in our life time see.

Hayek’s Fatal Conceit is the belief by some that a small group can design and control the evolution of this thick and ancient web of human interactions to achieve intended consequences, without incurring negative unintended consequences.

The fatal conceit is why a politically and economically centralized Rome died out and centralized companies die off.

I recommend reading Hayek’s The Fatal Conceit.



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