Order Without Equilibrium: A Critical Realist Interpretation of Hayek’s Notion of Spontaneous Order

Fleetwood, Steve. Cambridge Journal of Economics (1996) 20 (6): 729-747.


An economic system requires a principle of organisation. An adequate theory has to uncover and elaborate this principle. Hayek rejects the principle of equilibrium, opting instead for a transformational principle of order. A theory of the latter requires an elaboration of real market processes, and the social structures and mechanisms that govern these processes. The structures and mechanisms that Hayek elaborates upon are social rules and the telecommunication system of prices. The philosophical approach Hayek adopts to obtain this transformational principle is a quasi-critical realist one. This critical realist interpretation of Hayek’s notion of order illustrates that one can abandon equilibrium without falling into analytical anarchy.

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