Wherein Coyote Beats Scientific American by Over A Year

From Scientific American Magazine - January 2008 via the Mises Blog

...As with living organisms and ecosystems, the economy
looks designed"”so just as humans naturally deduce the existence of a
top-down intelligent designer, humans also (understandably) infer that
a top-down government designer is needed in nearly every aspect of the
economy. But just as living organisms are shaped from the bottom up by
natural selection, the economy is molded from the bottom up by the
invisible hand.

I need to read the whole article, it looks awesome, but in fact yours truly made the same observation over a year ago (emphasis in the original - I was going through an overuse-of-bold-type phase.

So here is this week's message for the Left:  Economics is a
science.  Willful ignorance or emotional rejection of the well-known
precepts of this science is at least as bad as a fundamentalist
Christian's willful ignorance of evolution science (for which the Left
so often criticizes their opposition).
  In fact, economic
ignorance is much worse, since most people can come to perfectly valid
conclusions about most public policy issues with a flawed knowledge of
the origin of the species but no one can with a flawed understanding of

In fact, the more I think about it, the more economics and evolution are very similar.  Both are sciences that are trying to describe the operation of very complex, bottom-up, self-organizing systems.  And,
in both cases, there exist many people who refuse to believe such
complex and beautiful systems can really operate without top-down

For example, certain people refuse to accept that homo sapiens could
have been created through unguided evolutionary systems, and insist
that some controlling authority must guide the process;  we call these
folks advocates of Intelligent Design.  Similarly, there are folks who
refuse to believe that unguided bottom-up processes can create
something so complex as our industrial economy or even a clearing price
for gasoline, and insist that a top-down authority is needed to run the
process;  we call these folks socialists. 

It is interesting, then, given their similarity, that socialists and
intelligent design advocates tend to be on opposite sides of the
political spectrum.  Their rejection of bottom-up order in favor of
top-down control is nearly identical.


  1. Roy Lofquist:

    Dear Sir,

    You posit a false analogy. The economy works from the bottom up because it is driven by intelligent human beings. Evolution contends that speciation is a result of fortuitous random changes.

    Evolutionists avoid the fatal flaw in their argument, the origin of DNA, by saying "That's not our field, we don't study that". If you would, Google "DNA Origin". If they can't explain DNA then the rest is flim flam.

    Roy Lofquist
    Titusville, Florida

  2. Andrew:

    Wow, a random commenter just disproved evolution! What are the odds? I eagerly await your revolutionary paper on the topic, Mr. Lofquist.

  3. Roy Lofquist:

    Dear Andrew,

    Random commenter? I dunno. I just googled my name and it seems I have made over 12,000 comments in recent years.

    No, there is no revolutionary paper upcoming. There are, however, thousands of papers available on the web that deal with the subject.

    I did not "disprove" evolution. I simply pointed out that there are no plausible theories that explain how DNA came to be. Since the underlying premise of evolution is that random changes to DNA are responsible for species then it would seem incumbent upon the theory to account for DNA.


  4. ArtD0dger:

    Nice little SciAm piece. Bet the author catches hell for citing von Mises and Bastiat.

    I would speculate that an even more general principle is at work here. ALL complexity, once properly defined, is the result of bottom-up processes. Top-down systems merely re-arrange existing complexity -- when they don't stifle it altogether.

  5. Gil:

    Don Boudreaux posted about "Social Creationism" in August 2005.

  6. steve:

    I think the analogy fails on two key points.

    Economics does not appear (at least to) me to be a complex, self-sustaining, intelligent system; it appears rather chaotic. Or, at best, it works like gravity, the money attracting more money. Certainly the results of an economy operating over time seem to be mappable out on a bell curve, some good, some bad, most mediocre, the average slightly above the null point. It does not function without continuing intelligent input, from humans.

    Second, Economics relies on some fundamental top-down organizing principles. The most important one is the basic moral or ethical idea that you honor contracts. If you don't honor contracts, some top-down forces will intervene (SEC, the court system) and penalize you. International economics rely upon international (top-down) trade agreements in which to function.

    The complexity inherent in economics comes from intelligent input, many times top-down, attempting to deal with the collision of other intelligent beings acting in their own interests.

    Which brings up the final point that you've got intelligent beings interacting (mostly) intelligently to create an economy, not acting randomly. The economy is a product of intelligent design. We are the intelligence.

    So the economy is not a good analogy of evolution. Evolution acts without intelligent input.

  7. scripto:

    Dear Roy,

    Let's assume DNA poofed into existence 3.5 billion years ago. I take it you have no problem with evolutionary theory from that point on?

    Looking forward to comment #12,001.



  8. markm:

    Scripto: Exactly.

    And this illustrates how real science works. Unlike religious revelations, you don't get all the answers at once. Instead, you work on one piece at a time, get that nailed down, and stay prepared to make adjustments when there are other pieces to fit in.

  9. djohnson:

    I suppose another key difference is that the intelligent design folks don't insist that, since the complex system in question needs top-down control, THEY should be the ones at the top -- socialists have been known to do that.

  10. Scott:

    Another difference between evolution and economics is that we can observe, in real time, the proof that economies are bottom-to-top driven. We cannot say the same for the process of evolution, which is why creationists still feel obliged to reject Darwinism long after they accepted heliocentrism as proven.

    Fossils are static snapshots of a particular individual organism - which may happen to look a bit like a lizard and a bit like a rat. But the saurorattus could just happen to look that way, and not actually be a transitional between reptiles and mammals. Pure random coincidence, as it were, ironically.

    And as for the opposite ends of the political spectrum that ID proponents and socialists seem to stand on, it's pretty simple actually. ID proponents want to credit God, while Socialists want to be god.

    Not to say that ID and evolution cannot coexist within a fundamentalist religious framework: