Rules vs Orders. The wisdom of Hayek and Popper

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

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17 Responses to Rules vs Orders. The wisdom of Hayek and Popper

  1. Nob

    What really disgusts me in an era of “regime uncertainty” are all the anti-capitalists who are suddenly business experts and tell us if you can’t abide by the rules then you shouldn’t be in business.

  2. Iampeter

    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.

    He could’ve just written:

    Stuff and things will happen for some reason or another.

    It has about the same level of content and touches on about the same level of fundamental points.

    Pink Batts was a nice example on a smaller scale.

    Howard’s Climate Office is a nice example on a smaller scale, but none of you opposed that and you kept voting Howard in for another decade. Given this, it’s not even clear what your opposition to the Pink Batts scheme is.

    Without clarity around the fundamentals at play it just becomes a game of random words and arbitrary positions held for equally arbitrary reasons.

  3. Rafe Champion

    PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE TROLL

  4. Don

    Rafe, do you mean the “results of the move to orders” rather than “to rules”? Although Popper didn’t feature in the curriculum when I studied public administration, his view sets out a requirement for good government. Another way of putting it is that we must have the rule of law, not the rule of men

  5. Another Ian

    If I was to use the term “government wisdom” it would be likely that “laughter” would be the only response that might not be censored when reported here.

    However I have found “government enthusiasms” to be a term recognised for things like “pink batts”

  6. Andre

    Hate to be a pedant but nearly every article about the diabolical Rudd ceiling insulation thought bubble policy labels it “pink batts”. The legitimate companies that lost much of their business when this rolled out were mainly installers of well regarded ceiling batts (most pink) that have been installed safely and effectively for years. The cowboy installers that climbed on the Rudd subsidy bandwagon used cheap imported (guess where from) foil insulation that a) does not insulate very well, and b) can, if installed carelessly, connect with damaged electrical wiring and cause electrocution of the installer and/or house fires. That is in fact what happened causing four deaths and numerous house fires.

  7. Rafe Champion

    Don, thanks for that correction!
    And thank you Andre, correcting misconceptions can be pedantic or helpful and this is helpful. I have been mocking “pink batts” for no good reason. To get the story straight, Rudd brought pink batts into disrepute and I am pleased to acknowledge that batts are just fine if you choose to get them from a reputable installer.

  8. Iampeter

    PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE TROLL

    Uh-huh. So when I’m pointing out something you disagree with I’m a troll, but when you agree you’re response seems totally different.
    So you’re pretty dishonest but that is just par for the course here I suppose.

    Also, nothing that I posted could even accidentally be mistaken for a troll comment.
    It’s as if you have no real interest in these topics, only pretending to be interested in these topics to impress, who exactly? People who don’t know anything anyway? Why bother?

  9. Rex Anger

    IamGloboGym (He’s better than you- And he knows it!) telling us how he thinks, while projecting it all onto us. Again.

    Yawn.

    Butthurt No, U! and petty namecalling incoming in 3…2…1…

  10. Iampeter

    IamGloboGym (He’s better than you- And he knows it!)

    The most important thing is that YOU know it and boy does it trigger you.

    Butthurt No, U! and petty namecalling incoming in 3…2…1…

    Um, but it is you. I know it’s a waste of time trying to explain this to someone that is so nutty that you are basically a sandwich spread, but you have once again done the very thing you’ve accused me of doing. That’s all you do.

    Anyway, don’t let me interrupt you pretending to discuss politics, or whatever it is this is supposed to be.

    Here let me help resume the conversion:
    Don’t you guys like institutions? What about traditions and stuff? Other words that sound like what you think someone someone discussing politics might through in too.
    OMG don’t you think that something should be done about something for some reason? Or what about another reason? OMG we are so informed and deep!
    Politics!

    Carry on, I won’t interrupt….

  11. Aynsley Kellow

    Don. You probably did encounter Popper, but once removed.

    Linblom’s incrementalism., set out in his classic article ‘The Science of Muddling Through’ (1959) was essentially Popperian piecemeal social engineering, He also gets the prize for the best sequel in academic publishing: ‘Still Muddling, Not Yet Through.’

  12. Rex Anger

    So, I call Petey’s arrogance out and his inevitable petulance in reply. And boy did I get it good!

    The most important thing is that YOU know it [That Petey is allegedly better than me, and he knows it!] and boy does it trigger you.

    Closely followed by:

    I know it’s a waste of time trying to explain this to someone that is so nutty that you are basically a sandwich spread

    Called it! 🤣🤣🤣

    Don’t ever leave Petey, you’re so much fun to trigger when you come here and pretend to talk about politics or philosophy, and then accuse me and the other Cats of everything you are doing when your obviously not trolling posts are clearly not understood and blown clean out of the water. After all, if we are such dummies and loons, why bother explaining anything to us?

    It makes us all wonder why you keep persisting with this right-wing blog, given all the nasty left-wing conservativists and religious nutters infesting the place…

  13. Tim Neilson

    Poor old Iamashiteater.

    The main, though not sole, cause of his problems is his conceit.

    He’s got no qualifications, has never accomplished anything, and is unable to hold down even the lowest level job.
    His ignorance could be corrected. His stupidity could at least be allowed for. But his conceit prevents him from admitting his problems and taking the necessary steps to progress towards attaining some genuine grounds for self-respect, albeit at a humble level.

    Instead he comes onto this site, sneers and poses, deluding himself that his cartoon like binary dogmatic absolutist generalities, grounded as they are in total ignorance of whatever subject he’s pontificating on, are evidence of his supposedly superior understanding of “politics”.

    Then when he’s subjected to a humiliating bottom spanking he either goes into a trouser-soiling emotionally incontinent meltdown, screaming that everyone else is “confused” or “triggered”, doesn’t understand “politics” etc…, or indulges in his childish and dishonest habit of claiming that everyone else doesn’t understand his brilliance but he’s not going to be bothered explaining it to them.

    Thus we see here, he sees a passage from Popper, is too stupid and ignorant to derive any understanding from it, but is too conceited to realise that the deficiency is in him, not Popper, so he just launches a trademark sneer. As usual his comments on this thread contain nothing of any factual or logical value, they’re solely about deluding himself into a state of totally specious self-satisfaction.

  14. Iampeter

    @Rex and Tim – tirelessly describing their own actions in thread after thread.

  15. Tim Neilson

    Iampeter
    #3510049, posted on July 11, 2020 at 5:15 pm

    It’s the truly brilliant “No-U” defence!!!

  16. Rex Anger

    @ IamLackingAnyBetterReply-

    Oh noes! You’ve got me and Tim skewered! Whatever shall we do?

    Discuss Popper and Hayek, and how their rationalism and logic on how society could/should work would never fly with you? Because it is utterly at odds with your dictatorial ideology?

    After all IamLavrentyBeria, you have expounded in relation to Michael Flynn (and no doubt Roger Stone), that abrogating a man’s rights before the law and as a human being is perfectly acceptable if he is someone you dislike, or works for someone you dislike.

    And, IamInfanticidal, you have yet to explain to me how supporting abortion is a right-wing position ‘cos individual rights, when you cannot even explain how the privilege of a little tempeorary pleasure from a spot of rumpy-pumpy outright cancels the right to life of the little human being you and your playmate gambled into existence.

    In much the same way, IamNotActuallyAFreedomSupportingLiberalCapitalistAtAll, you have arbitrarily dismissed Popper’s thoughts on how rules and mores and other stable governing elements of society can be catastrophically disrupted by the whims of its governors. Withput presenting any counter-perspective, clarification or suporting ev8dence for your opinion. Not that you would ever tell us, because we’d never understand or we’re so nutty that you are basically a sandwich spread.

    Then, IamAVeryBadTroll, you decided to get snarky at the original poster when he identified your reply for the sneer it was. And the rest of us when we agreed with him.

    To quote the leftist Bad Orange Man you hate so much: Sad!

  17. Don

    Thanks Aynsley, certainly Lindblom as well as Simon, Etzioni through to public choice theory. Government — ministers and bureaucrats – seems to have given up attempting rational analysis in many fields of intervention, all the while claiming it is giving matters that very consideration. Laws are ill-considered, then made badly and applied inconsistently. The handling of COVID will make a great albeit depressing case study.

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