Chaos theory and Hayek

Chris Burford cburford at
Sun Sep 17 22:36:48 MDT 1995

Chris B, London:

Chris S, fresh from his book publishing activities has posted
an admirably lucid comment on "chaos/Marxism/anachronism.

There is very much I would agree with in what he attributes to Hayek
(quote below).


a) it assumes the socialism is about rigid centralised planning.
Although Marx and Engels called, in the Communist Manifesto, for
the immediate formation of land armies, they also presumed something
described as the withering away of the state. Marxism can be reinterpreted
in a less rigid and mechanical way than has been assumed this century.

b) Chaos theory is  neutral, but both sides may attempt to
use it. A clear pamphlet on Chaos Theory by the right wing Adam
Smith Institute in London suggests that it vindicates of course
right wing economics but specifically the Austrian school of Hayek etc.
- one reason why I have always followed Chris S's contributions with

But there is a catch for them. Fine reading of the argument suggests that
actually it *is* wise not just for companies but also for countries
to prepare themselves for the difficulties of predicting the future
and one of the ways of doing this is to invest in education. And IMO
that opens the door also to other social engineering possibilities.

Therefore admirers of Hayek in practice may wish to exert some social
guidance over the means of production. Socialists, who might prefer
outright social ownership of the means of production, also wish to argue
for social guidance and control.

c) Hayek may be sophisticated in his theory of knowledge but his political
position sounds a crude polarisation. I obtained "The Fatal Conceit,
The Errors of Socialism", 1988, Routledge, and on the second page of the
introduction, "Was Socialism a Mistake?", he writes

"there is no known way, other than by the distribution of products in
a competitive market, to inform individuals in what direction their
several efforts must aim so as to contribute as much as possible to
the total product."

Capitalists cannot afford to operate on that principle, and especially
the biggest monopoly companies do not.

Every market in history has been regulated. The question is,
will they be secretly regulated for the capitalists, or openly
regulated for the workers?

Chris B.


Moreover, no individual can know the whole, nor can any individual know
completely the workings of his or her own mind.  Hayek gives us a lesson
in cognitive humility, but in social humility as well-- because no
individual or group of individuals can know completely the consequences
of individual or group action, since unintended consequences are quite
simply, an extension of sociality.  And since no human being can master
such unintended consequences, the idea of human control over all aspects
of the social totality, envisioned in the Marxian ideal of communism, is

Hayek is no raving individualist here.  He is fully dialectical.  He
recognizes that the whole is an organic totality, that knowledge is a
social product, and that internal relations are essential to the whole.
He merely believes that nobody can know fully the nature of these
internal relations in the complex network of an organic totality; to fool
oneself into believing that one can control that totality is not only a
pretense of knowledge--it is a prescription for calculational chaos and
ultimately, oppression and brutality.

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