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Do you see markets as instances of spontaneous order/self-organization?

+3 votes

I'm asking this because we get a few pro-capitalists on this site as well as the fact I've often run into the argument that markets are indeed spontaneous, self-organized phenomena, almost on par with eco-systems. I disagree for many reasons, but I'm curious as to what other anarchists see.

This question is sort of an extension of a conversation regarding complexity and complication found here:


asked Dec 17, 2015 by AmorFati (7,780 points)
edited Dec 17, 2015 by AmorFati

ba@, i think we're talking past one another. it may be that my writing is a bit more...er...complicated than need be. ingrate's answer was definitely sniffing along the a similar track as me when they brought up Perlman and some of JZ's work on 'origins.'   

when economists and/or ayncaps bring the spontaneous order of markets up they usually take the process of civilization and all its specialized labor, etc., as a given. that is, civilized living is living as a human should/ought live and with increasing levels of what they term complexity, and i term complication, we will only get 'better.' progress: the great secular eschatological hope.

(the great moral dilemma of is/ought philo-sophists have wrung their hands over for centuries is resolved in this way by simply ignoring it in this moment, only to come back to it later when civ itself isn't under scrutiny. too messy)

in terms of markets, what was once given freely, shared and perhaps even bartered, is now sold, as you're saying, in an increasingly alienating manner.

where a complex living pattern becomes an ever more complicated system is kinda where my question arises.

af, perhaps i need an ancap to explain it to me....but do you mean that they see the concept of interest (and the accompanying rise of inflation and debt) as spontaneous, natural, self-organizing?

i think i understand your meaning about the shoulds and oughts and increasing levels of complexity....but i can't understand the comparison of an eco-system to a monetary system, as they work in completely different ways as far as i interpret them.
i am digging the answers and discussion coming from this question!

@af: definitely agree about physical markets being notably different from, and preferable (in a civilized context) to, electronic markets.

after reading some of the comments (and answers below), i guess what i really meant was "financial" markets (in comparison to physical marketplaces). markets where the products being bought and sold are nonexistent ‚Äč(funny money) abstractions and/or speculations. always more efficient in the electronic/digital world.

[quick edit for clarity]

ba@; i wouldn't say ancaps believe markets are of the same order as eco-systems, but i've definitely encountered the notion that markets are the most 'natural' expression of human order since, for ancaps, they are like ecosystems in that they arise spontaneous within (civilized) human relationships. hayek, and of course mises and rothbard, were proponents of the idea that the 'free market' is a spontaneous order when 'the state' isn't fucking with it. after all, laissez-faire is just like the tao, per rothbard anyway. it's also worthy of note that the 'progressive' house economist paul krugman believes that capitalist markets, in a 'mixed' form, is spontaneous.

as to interest, that's just part of the voluntariness of the spontaneous free-market in the ancap literature, ie loaning money/credit. interest is simply the payment/wages for the capitalist loan-shark.

edit to add this link to hayek himself in a speech if you can bear it.

funky@, yes, i'm enjoying this and am glad that others are too. i wasn't sure when i posted the question, tbh. but our conversation in the prior thread (complexity/complication) reminded me of some of the arguments made by capitalists. so, i thought we could have another question/answer on @101 to demonstrate, and in my eyes undermine, the silliness of ancap logic through dissecting a major, and largely unexamined, presupposition of that logic. the funny thing is for me is that this kind of play could be used for many of modern civilization's features, like, as mentioned before, schooling.

as to electronic markets, i see them as an extension and continuation of the capitalist paradigm in that so-called cyberspace, and an instant invite into most peoples' homes, is simply another form of cyclical (primitive) accumulation; TV but with a far more active participation from so-called consumers themselves.

2 Answers

+2 votes

Spontaneous? No. Market economics developed over centuries or more. The problem is, they did develop as a natural outgrowth of human activity.

I think the trouble we (anarchists) run in to arguing with ancaps, etc. is that to some degree, markets (including "free markets" I suppose, that is a strange abstraction that needs a lot of dissection) are self-organized, inasmuch as they are organic in development. Capitalism as it exists now is highly controlled and regulated, but markets and economic exchange didn't develop thanks to a shady cabal of power-hungry men scheming to gain global control.

Like most things I hate (and most things I love) about humans, it developed over a long time, as humans made choices that seemed sensible? expedient? practical? in the moment. These choices developed from lots of other s/e/p choices made before them (most likely generations before). By the time we are talking about deeded ownership of property, monetary transactions, capital, and the rest, we are already so far down a path that it is, without stepping away, hard to conceive of other options, and when options are available, most people choose what seems most s/e/p in the moment.

This is one of the things I most appreciate about anarcho-primitivist explorations such as Zerzan's Origins essays ,or Against His-Story, Against Leviathan! by Fredy Perlman, is that they explore the roots of how we got to a place where things are so fucked, and they look at it as a series of decisions based on those that came before. Granted, JZ tends to become a bit dogmatic in his conclusions, but the asking and the probing of where all of it began is really helpful and important.

The thing is, markets might've developed organically. So does cancer in a body. Does that mean that one with a cancer just should embrace it as a welcome spontaneous or self-created part of themselves?

answered Dec 17, 2015 by ingrate (19,820 points)
edited Dec 18, 2015 by ingrate
i agree - jz's critique and explorations of the origins of civilization and it's impact are some of the most truly radical i can ever remember coming across. his subsequent repetitiveness and dogmatism is a huge turn off, and it unfortunately probably prevents many folks from getting deep enough in to see how useful his early work was. plus, let's face it, he is not a very interesting writer - much less speaker (at least to audiences - in more personal/intimate settings he can actually be much fun).

i like this answer.
what are some more of his early works called? Im sure i would love to read it.
jz's books:


all his books are just collections of essays, best i recall. it has been so long since i have read any, i can't reliably recommend which are the least annoying to read. :-)  elements of refusal, future primitive, and running on emptiness are ones i do remember reading. future primitive i remember having some definite issues with, but i also think it had some good stuff in it.

others might be able to point more specifically to essays of interest.
as far as JZ goes, i'd definitely second 'elements of refusal.,' although his constant name-dropping grated on me after awhile.
thanks guys, certainly depressing stuff to think about, but its also one of the only things i hate about, i much more hate the idea of society just continuing the same way (even though it will until mother nature teaches it a lesson, which considering how serious climate change is, it certainly will one way or another...)

I would definitely say that Elements of Refusal is the best curated collection, and contains many of the Origins essays, some of the more contemporary essays in that book may be less relevant now, but they (well, some of them) are still interesting reads. FC Press also put out a more recent book called Origins that collects what I presume JZ considers the included works to that point. I found it less engaging than EoR, but then again, I'd read all the essays, save maybe one, previously.

Like funkyanarchy, I found the book Future Primitive somewhat less engaging, although I think it had been overhyped to me, which might've been the issue. It does include the title essay, which I liked, and the Nihilist Dictionary. Sadly, the newer update Future Primitive: Revisited does not include these essays (Nihilist Dictionary).

Running on Emptiness is a good read as supplement to EoR and Future Primitive, but I don't know if it provides a lot new, other than a very humanizing autobiographical essay that I found extremely engaging.

I would also be remiss to not suggest checking out the collection Against Civilization, which JZ edited (and has some contributions to), but which is a collection of anti-civ(ish?) work from disparate sources.

Most of the important stuff is on The Anarchist Library, but I personally appreciate the intentional curation that goes into putting together a physical book, as opposed to randomly snatching essays from the clouds.

i read running on emptyness a while ago, i like it how he includes information about his life to help the reader make sense of him as an author
+2 votes

I think this is a great question, btw

I believe that the behaviors of markets are often spontaneous and self organizing. However, to look at markets as being the product of "free actions of individuals" as the conservative/libertarian point of view often posits, is incredibly misleading since markets (as we know and describe them) exist in a context of coercion and expediency. 

It doesn't matter if the actions are "spontaneous and self-organizing" when there is a lot of fear and pressure involved, and when the most powerful markets are controlled by (or "in bed with") the institutions that create this fear and coercion.

answered Dec 18, 2015 by anonymous