Popper was probably following ideas picked up in his correspondence with Hayek when he wrote about the distinction between rules and orders in Chapter 17 of The Open Society and its Enemies . He considered that the institutional method of changing the rules in a transparent manner, after public discussion, with lead-time for major changes that impact on people’s plans, can be a rational and systematic process. In contrast, discretionary decisions of the rulers or civil servants are likely to be short-term expedients, implemented without public discussion and without reference to a robust framework of policies and precedents.
The method of personal intervention must introduce an ever-growing element of unpredictability into social life, and with it will develop the feeling that social life is irrational and insecure. The use of discretionary powers is liable to grow quickly, once it has become an accepted method, since adjustments will be necessary, and adjustments to discretionary short-term decisions can hardly be carried out by institutional means. This tendency must greatly increase the irrationality of the system, creating in many the impression that there are hidden powers behind the scenes, and making them susceptible to the conspiracy theory of society with all its consequences—heresy hunts, national, social, and class hostility.
That was written a lifetime ago, my lifetime anyway, born on July 12 in 1945, the year when Popper’s book appeared. It is all happening now, at the National Cabinet and especially in the Belt and Road State, the southern outpost of Xi Jinping’s empire.
Pink Batts was a nice example on a smaller scale. This is the label attached to Kevin Rudd’s rush to drive ceiling insulation and the disaster of the scheme is a reflection of the silly policy, not the value of insulation. If it was a good idea to have ceiling insulation it could have been promoted and sensible people would have done it with their own money using the existing firms that were doing the work. If it was deemed to be imperative there could have been legislation, discussed in public and in the House, then a vote and maybe a scheme in some form or other with public assistance in cases of hardship.
Instead we got a major bungle, a stampede to implement the scheme, frauds proliferated, the legitimate industry was destroyed, young men died in ceiling spaces and billions were wasted.
The result of the move to orders or maybe short-term “rules” to do this or that, is “regime uncertainty”, a buzzword of fairly recent times, meaning that nobody quite knows what the rules will be next week. This a crippling problem for entrepreneurs like small traders and especially independent contractors who are being squeezed by the new corporatism (fascism) – the partnership of government regulators, big business and the trade unions. Ken Phillips has described this and maybe Judith Sloan as well.
Section VII is the relevant part of chapter 17 of The Open Society, it is a long chapter and a lot of ground is covered before section VII including some of the weakest parts of Popper’s thought – his economic interventionism – that he revised after correspondence with Henry Hazlitt.
Liberty Quote – Antifa especially combines monstrous privilege with what philosopher John Gray calls ‘the problem of being lightly educated’. — Helen Dale